Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat
Doctor Daniel Jackson.
That’s who he was. I am Doctor Daniel Jackson, he thought. He silently chanted the mantra that had kept him alive for the last eight months:
I am Doctor Daniel Jackson. I’m thirty-five years old. Six-foot, a hundred and … ??
His mind skipped this part because he had no idea anymore. There are times when he’s sure he weighed a hundred and eighty-five pounds, and that depended on whether he’d been fed and exercised. Like a prize bull. Then there are the times where he’d been defiant, when food and exercise were replaced with torture and starvation. From the beginning, the austerity happened when he refused to cooperate. The comfort came when he cooperated. The punishments were fearsome, but he’d been able to endure them so far.
I am a member of SG-1. I work at Stargate Command, within Cheyenne Mountain and under NORAD. I live in an open-spaced loft that sits over Connelly’s Bakery in downtown Colorado Springs. A coffee bar is next door and I visit it every day. They have great donuts and cappuccinos.
Daniel indulged in memory for a few seconds, but the present intruded and took over. He stomped brutally on recall. Stick to the facts, Jackson. Only the facts.
I was married to …
He shook his head once to stick to current facts.
I love Colonel Jack O’Neill. He knows it. He’s interested. But he resisted because ...
Heavy, heart-wrenching emotions flooded his mind and body. His heart was broken, and he was in danger of drawing tears. He squashed the feelings as viciously as the memory for comforting coffee, squeezed his eyes shut and thought of nothing until the feelings faded to numb anger.
He loved Jack. He missed Jack. He hated Jack.
No, it’s not his fault! Stop it!
He continued his mantra but faltered.
He resisted because …
Why? I don’t know. We were going to discuss it and then …
I am alone. I have been here for eight months, if my time keeping it accurate.
Where are they? Where are you? Help me, Jack! Help me before …
He repeated his mantra again, as he had done several times a day since his incarceration … his kidnapping and enslavement, but it too faltered as anger turned to well-loved and well-cared for rage.
I will get out of here. And when I do, I will kill every motherfucker who’s caused my suffering, starting with Thryx.
Daniel sat on the marble tile floor with his knees drawn up. He was a picture of relaxed waiting, but he was far from relaxed. To the right were the double doors of his room and he always sat beside them so he could see whoever came through them before they caught sight of him. He’d learned that from … who had it been? It hadn’t been Jack, though he’d probably love to take credit. The man’s ego was … Daniel inhaled slowly, his eyes closed briefly. Jack’s ego was why he loved him.
Stop blaming him for things that aren’t his fault!
Quite right. The blame was easily laid at the feet of those who deserved it. His torturers. Thryx was going to die. Slovych would be next. The former was his torturer, his would-be rapist, but Slovych wanted him pure because it would fetch a high price. Thryx was Slovych’s right arm. The Alliance would have called him Third, but Slovych called him Second. As for Slovych. He was everyone’s master. The sonofabitch fit the sound of his name. He was a mass of slovenly greed and he loved watching Daniel get whipped, loved watching him puke. He loved watching others get raped and occasionally, he’d get off his throne and indulge himself in sharing the rape. Daniel shuddered, and his mind tried to refuse the memories. He was thankful every day that he hadn’t ever been violated. Not that way.
A woman’s scream penetrated the thick walls of his quarters. It’s more a cell, but it has no lock. He shuddered, wishing the doors would shut out the sounds. He then ground his teeth as visions of mayhem danced through his brain. He promised himself that they would all die. It wasn’t just for himself that he saved promises to wreak havoc. He wasn’t the only victim. And his list of subjects ripe for vengeance was long, but they would start with the two who ran this slavery ring.
Slovych and his Second were part of an organization called the Lucian Alliance. They were filling in the void left by the System Lords who’d been killed off by other lords, the Tau’ri (Jack!), or the Jaffa Nation. In many, many ways, they were far worse than the Goa’uld. Even though the Goa’uld were psychopaths, they actually weren’t as bad as the Lucian Alliance.
The Goa’uld enslaved, tortured, and raped in the form of host takeover. A few of them raped in the expected, standard way but they loved torture more than sexual violence. Not so with the Lucian Alliance members. These people were sick. The sickest thing the Goa’uld had ever done was to feed on their own kind. The Alliance though? They were pure evil. The things Slovych would do to people was horrific. Daniel knew most of them by name and appearance and many of them by their covetous touching. There was that new member of the Alliance who was coming to browse through the master’s current stock of slaves. He was higher in the food chain than Slovych and though Daniel thought that hard to believe, he took the other slaves at their word.
What had been his name? Ana… something. Right. Anateo.
Once, when working in the kitchen, he’d heard Marita whispering to the other female slaves that he was very handsome, but that he preferred the company of men and hated women. If any of them feared for their lives, they would do well not to show defiance to this man in any form and to make sure no one spilled anything they served to him. He had been known to kill for less.
Try me, asshole.
Daniel’s jaw clenched so hard he felt a molar threaten to crack and he pushed off the floor and began to pace angrily. His quarters were sparsely furnished. There was a cot across the room, nestled in a corner. In the center of the room was a round, overstuffed lounging couch. Or bed. It was the site of so many hedonistic violations done in front of him in order to make him puke or to goad him into attacking the violator. Always Thryx. To resist doing so was the biggest torture of them all: the inability to retaliate to save someone else.
Thryx also took advantage of his position to rape new slaves, despite the fact that Slovych had first dibs. Daniel would have reported him but Slovych looked upon that action with vehement antipathy. He didn’t like snitches, despite the fact that he employed hundreds. Daniel had learned that in the first two hours of his captivity and the welts had taken weeks to heal.
There used to be a side table with a vase of flowers and a bowl of fruit, but Daniel had smashed the lot on his first day and they had never been replaced. Occasionally, Slovych would send him a bowl of fig-like snacks, but only if Daniel had performed well. That entailed a rich performance of humiliation that consisted of tears and angry cries, demands for Thryx or Slovych or his guests to stop. Thryx wanted Daniel to hate and loathe what he did to them, and naturally, it worked. But lately, Daniel had started acting. After eight months, he was becoming inured. What did that say? Was it like numbing a bruise if you hit it long enough? Or was he turning into one of them? No. It still made him sick. It filled him deepening rage.
The first time Daniel had puked, Slovych had ordered him punished but had changed his mind immediately after. He’d decided that puking was something to be desired and he now rewarded Daniel every time he did it. As a result, Daniel had tried to keep from doing it. Inurement. It was insidious. It was necessary. And Daniel hated himself for it.
Lately, that bastard’s new pleasure was to watch him panic under the threat of molestation or rape. He’d done it many times and each and every time, Daniel believed the threat was real. He couldn’t help it. Anyone would have. The last time had been three days ago. He’d refused to puke or look appropriately horrified during a sadistic rape.
“You dare defy me!” Slovych had said, and he’d come off his throne and walked down the side of the dais, marching toward him with a purpose. “Hold him!” he’d shouted to the guards. " Turn him over! Thryx! Get that ball over here!”
The ‘ball’ was a tall, rounded ottoman in the shape of a ball but with a flat base for security. It was used specifically to rape people, and it didn’t matter if they were facing up or down. They’d be strapped to it and brutalized for hours.
“No!” Daniel had cried out.
He’d been stripped naked and tied to it, face down. By that time, he’d fully believed. But just when Slovych had pretended to thrust his cock into his body, he’d only rubbed over him until he came, squirting his vile stench over Daniel’s ass and back. He’d then be thrown into the shower room and hosed down before being tossed back in his quarters. No matter how often that sick event happened, Daniel knew that one day, if he wasn’t sold, Slovych’s lust would override his greed.
For now, Slovych was saving him. Perhaps for someone specific. But an unspoiled slave was valuable. For that reason, he had Daniel checked every day, just in case his Second had lost control. Daniel wondered what would happen to Thryx if he’d violated a valuable slave. He never had yet, even though he raped others without his master’s permission. That sort of defiance was okay, apparently. The latest horror was the rape of animals. Daniel’s stomach roiled at the memory and he paused, swallowing water that quickly filled his mouth.
No, you will not. You. Will. Not.
He kicked at the divan with a bare foot and relished the pain when his toe bent. It distracted his body and his stomach calmed. He clenched his fists then abruptly relaxed them, choosing instead to smooth down the grey sleeveless tunic he wore over wide-legged pants. He thought he was alone, but one never knew.
Another scream, much fainter, resonated through the doors and walls and it was followed by a crowd of laughter. That sick bastard was hosting another one of his torture parties. Clammy chills swept through Daniel because he knew that he’d eventually be summoned to perform in fights. Sometimes as a torturer, though he’d be chained security for the latter in case he turned the implements against the buyers or Slovych.
It was usually women who went first. For a few hours, kidnapped women would be dragged into Slovych’s entertainment hall—a hall reminiscent of that woman’s father … Shyla’s father. What had his name been? Well, he became as sick as the Goa’uld thanks to her insisting he use the sarcophagus. God, why had he been nice to her? What the hell had been the matter with him? Didn’t matter. Slovych’s “friends” would gather for their De Sade debaucheries. Then it would be the men’s turn. Homosexuality wasn’t uncommon, but they saved it for last, like dessert.
Male captives would be dragged into the hall and for a while, Thryx and Alliance leaders would take turns humiliating and torturing them. Then Daniel would be called in and forced to use a whip on them. It always started with Slovych displaying Daniel like the aforementioned prize bull. Thryx would grab the rope attached to his thick leather collar and lead him into the center of the hall, then strip him for examination.
Alliance members would approach and walk around him, touch him greedily over the curve of his ass or pectoral muscle, cup his balls, or stroke his dick. The latter they did enthusiastically, loving the conflicting view of a hard cock and a defiant but humiliated face. Then came the whip that was shoved in his hand. By the end of his ‘duty’, his face would be wet from crying. The memory did him in and Daniel rushed to the bucket in the corner and threw up.
Thryx suddenly exploded through the doors, heading toward him like a man starved for water. Despite himself, Daniel tried to avoid him and Thryx, an ugly, bald, and meaty man with hands like vice grips, growled and lunged, snatching Daniel by the back of the neck.
“Is that how you want tonight to go, Pretty?” he leered, smiling through blackened teeth and foul breath. He was a few inches taller, at least eighty pounds heavier, and he loved defiance.
Even knowing that, Daniel was in no mood to play games. “Fuck you,” he said through gritted teeth, holding his breath against the foul stench of Thryx’s. The slaver laughed and ushered him out of the room, continuing to hold him by the back of the neck. Daniel was well-versed with this act. It meant that Thryx was going to get a lot of fun this evening watching him puke and Daniel groaned at the thought of his stomach muscles burning and straining at their overuse.
Jack stirred in bed, his fingers twitching, his palms aching. The dream, the same one he’d had for nearly eight months, was beginning again.
He lay over Daniel, looking into his beautiful face, his cock buried deep, hips moving slowly. Daniel held the back of his knees and spoke in husky whispers. “Faster, Jack, please!” Jack grinned and refused, continuing the slow thrust until his ass and thighs would shake from being withheld as he denied himself the intensifying desire to ram and twist.
This was a repeated event. Jack would wake up in the middle of the dream and curse at himself for not telling Daniel how he felt. For never hauling him into a closet and kissing the life out of him. The sex in the dream would end with orgasms, but then men would burst into the room and drag Daniel away.
Jack threw off the covers and sprang out of bed. He would find a way to end the Lucian Alliance in the bloodiest way possible. They were a nest of writhing, squirming maggots. They fed on death, unlike the Goa’uld. The snakeheads were predictable. The maggots weren’t. To a point. They could be counted on to behave worse than the Goa’uld.
Hating the sweat and grit on his skin, never mind the aching of his heart, Jack pulled off his boxer briefs and got into the shower, turning it hot to soothe away the straining muscles of his neck and back. His cock had been hard until the end of the nightmare, then he’d deflated so fast, it hurt.
He closed his eyes and leaned one hand against the shower wall under the sprayer. Water pelted his shoulders and slid down his back, rivulets combing over his ass. He wanted to jerk off, to think of him, but the guilt tore at him and ripped all conscious thoughts of arousal from his mind and body. Jack had no idea what Daniel was going through, but he could imagine. And unfortunately, he had a great imagination.
The phone rang as Jack drove his truck up the last hill before entering the mountain. He thumbed a button on the steering wheel console.
“Sir, are you—“
“Entering the mountain now, Carter. Practice patience,” Jack said testily and hung up on her. He felt bad about it a few seconds later but he’d apologize later with his usual, “About earlier…” and that’s all he’d say. All he’d have to say. It was, sadly, a repeated scene over the last eight months. He’d snap, then apologize. He knew she understood because she worried about Daniel too, as did Teal’c. Plus, after ten years of being together at the SGC, he could read her like a book. The reverse was even more true. Carter had more intuitive brains than she gave herself credit for.
He parked and rode the separate elevators down to the Command level, thirty-nine stories below ground. When the doors opened, he found Carter waiting for him and it only strengthened his opinion about her intuitiveness.
“Well?” he asked as she walked beside him as they headed for the General’s office. His office. She started off with the usual day-to-day operations, as his Second-in-Command was required to do. Sergeant First Class Walter Davis would normally have done this, as he had for General George Hammond, who now oversaw Homeworld Security, but Walter’s duties had shifted to being the head of Control Room Operations.
Carter switched to the acting statuses of all SG teams and by the time they were in his office and he’d sat down—a mug of coffee already waiting, given to him by whatshisname … Specialist Gardner?—she began the daily briefing of their search teams and intelligence operations.
Irritably, Jack made a ‘hurry it up’ with his hand. “Has there been a change since yesterday?”
Jack growled. “What the hell are the Jaffa doing? Sitting on their asses?”
Carter clenched her jaw. “Teal’c’s arriving today. He didn’t say if they had any positive information.”
Jack’s brows rose. “He’s coming here?”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said, a slight smile on her lips. “With Bra’tac and my Dad.”
“Hmm,” Jack said, brows creasing. “About fucking time the Tok’ra got involved. Gardner!” he yelled through the door. Monica came in a few seconds later and he paused. Had Gardner always been a she? Where the fuck was his mind today?
Where the fuck it always is, stupid. With Daniel.
“Get the usual refreshments for our incoming guests.”
“Already ordered, sir,” Monica replied with a hesitant nod. She could never be sure when the General would go off on a pointless, aimless rant. He’d never been that way before Dr. Jackson …
“Well done,” Jack said, and waved her out. Gardner disappeared with a slight frown on her face.
Carter watched her, then looked back at Jack. “She’s just worried about you, sir. We all are.”
“Well, you can stop when we get him back,” Jack said with a mock scowl. “Until then, my slow descent into madness is proceeding in fine fashion.” At her frown, he said, “I’m fine, Carter.”
Carter scowled. Hers was real. “With respect, sir, you’re not. No one around here is fine.”
Jack gave a growling grunt deep in his throat. “No. We’re not.”
An uncomfortable silence began. His feelings for Daniel were still secret, but he was displaying more than was usually warranted. Still, Daniel was a friend and a former teammate, so Jack was allowed to show more concern. At least Carter wasn’t feeling hurt over it. She’d had feelings for him for years until she’d met Joe Faxon, the SGC’s official ambassador to offworld nations. Plus, she and Daniel thick-as-thieves friends.
Startling her, he asked, “When are you and Faxon getting married?”
“Next year, sir.”
“Jesus, why wait?” Jack cleared his throat and was about to joke about it when they were both rescued by the intercom alarm system.
“Offworld Activation. Offworld Activation.”
He and Carter headed down the private stairwell and entered the Control Room. “Walter,” Jack greeted. “Jaffa and Tok’ra?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, his attention on a console screen that displayed the scanned signature of those arriving. After a beat, he said, “All clear,” and opened the stargate’s iris.
Jack nodded, and he and Carter headed to the gateroom. As they arrived, Teal’c, Jacob Carter, and Bra’tac entered through the event horizon side by side and proceeded to walk down the ramp. With a smile, both he and Carter hugged Teal’c, who hugged them tightly in return. While Jack clasped forearms with Bra’tac, Carter hugged her Dad.
Before any of the visitors could say a word, Jack abruptly asked, “Well?”
“We found him,” Teal’c said, and while the words held a touch of relief, there was a warning in his eyes.
“But?” Jack asked.
“It is a fortress,” Bra’tac said. “There is no way to breach it without gathering a large army.”
“Fuck,” Jack said, the word barely audible. “Briefing room.”
Once in the Briefing Room, the visitors were offered refreshment and joined Jack and Carter at the table. Jack silently noted that while Teal’c was always a stirring presence, his tight crop of curls had grown a bit on top and there were a few gray hairs at the temples. It gave him a huge measure of authority not normally given to the ‘young’, despite his Earthly advanced age of a hundred-and-fifteen. By contrast, Bra’tac was in his hundred-and-fifties.
He, Bra’tac, and Jacob (with his Tok’ra Selmak) had one thing in common with Jack. They always came to the point without the need for wasting time on pleasantries. That was reserved for social gatherings with stuffy higher-ups.
“Let’s have it,” Jack said as he sat at the head of the table. To his right, Carter sat looking over a digital tablet that Jacob handed her as he sat next to her. Across the table, Teal’c and Bra’tac exchanged looks. “C’mon,” Jack prodded. “We don’t have an army and you can’t spare yours. Alternatives.”
“We buy him,” Bra’tac answered.
Jack’s mouth fell open. “Excuse me?”
Bra’tac and Jacob exchanged glances, but it was Jacob who answered. “I’m sorry, Jack, but he was kidnapped by slavers who work for the Lucian Alliance.”
“A man named Slovych,” Bra’tac said. “A most despicable and …”
“I think the word you’re looking for,” Jacob said, “is sick.”
“And sick is someone …?” Bra’tac asked.
“Someone with abnormal desires,” Jacob answered.
“Ah, yes,” he said, and met Jack’s eyes. “Sick. He delights in forcing his slaves to torture and rape. If he has continued this pattern, this will be something he has done to Daniel Jackson.”
“Fuck!” Jack yelled, slamming his fist on the table as he got up to pace. “What else!” he said, throwing out an arm.
Teal’c said, as he watched his former leader with emotional eyes, “The current leader of the Alliance is Anateo. He is the one who murdered Colonel Madison, the commander of the Odyssey.”
“And?” Jack asked, puzzled, turning to them.
“He has made an alliance with Baal,” Bra’tac said. “And we received word that both were headed to the planet where Slovych has set up his business.”
Jack’s face drained of color. “Baal will recognize him from that mission on the Space Station.”
“Yes,” Jacob said, his face grim. “And he will use Daniel has a bargaining chip to coerce us into giving him something.”
“Like what?” Jack asked him.
Bra’tac and Teal’c exchanged looks across the table while Jacob gave Sam a pained smile.
“Well?” Jack demanded.
“One of your ships,” Jacob said.
“Oy,” Jack said, shading his eyes. “We can’t do that.”
“No,” Bra’tac said. “Which is why we show up and buy him before Slovych sells him.”
Jack nodded. “Buy him with what?”
“Gold,” Teal’c said.
Jack bared his teeth. “And how do we get it? Earth money isn’t worth anything off planet.”
“Gold is gold, Jack,” Jacob said.
“And just where—“ Jack began.
“I have some. Or rather, Selmak does. He’s willing to give it up. He’s of the opinion that you can’t take it with you.”
Jack smirked sourly. “Your influence, I’m guessing?”
“Maybe,” Jacob said, smirking back. “In any case, we have the funds.”
“And? How’re you going to get the money to this asshole?”
“Jack, we have a plan,” Jacob said. “One way or another, we’re not leaving there without Daniel.”
Jack looked at him, blinked, then looked at Teal’c and Bra’tac. “Is it a solid plan?”
“I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t,” Jacob said.
Jack closed his eyes and took a long breath. “Next time, Jake. Start with that.”
Daniel grimaced and held a hand against his ribs as he made his way to the kitchens for Evening Meal. Judging by his easy breathing, they’d only been bruised but it felt as if one firm shove would change that. He’d done as he was told, but when he heard jack-boots and snatches of formal Goa’uld outside the hall’s entry doors, a mix of fear and hatred shot through him and he’d refused to go any further.
For once, Slovych hadn’t cared. He’d been too busy. Instead, it had been Thryx and a few swift kicks had Daniel scrambling for his quarters. More amazing still was that the ugly bastard also seemed distracted and he’d simply motioned for the guards to get Daniel something to eat.
The head kitchen slave, Naveena, caught sight of him and frowned. She was the ancient woman who checked him for intactness. Or rather, to make sure he wasn’t torn and bleeding. She shook her head, her long, white braid swishing over her back. His heart went out to her. God only knew what had been done to her. She had a very old scar that outlined her left jaw. Where had she been before she’d been grabbed by the Alliance? Maybe she’d been old already and had been spared the vicious brutality that pretty women were subjected to.
She gestured to another slave, a thankfully-ugly girl of ten named Willa, and the girl rushed over to help Daniel walk to the long table that served both for eating and preparing. Other slaves, young and old, battered, and all wearing the same stained, grey tunics performed their tasks with alacrity, but all gave him mixed looks of apprehension and awe.
“What did you do this time?” she asked in Goa’uld. He could detect a Chulakian accent, but he wasn’t familiar with all of the planets’ cultures and languages.
“I couldn’t,” Daniel replied in the same language as he eased onto a stool.
He made a face. “Goa’uld are here, Naveena.”
She froze. “What?”
“I heard them just outside the Collector’s Hall.” She swore in Goa’uld and Daniel gave her a wry smile. “I know.” He winced. “At least Thryx didn’t break my ribs.” At her frown, he explained that Slovych had been too … distracted.
She snorted disdainfully. “They will have money.”
“No doubt. But I heard the name ‘Anateo’.”
She pursed her lips. “Daniel. You have been here a long time. Too long. You should have been sold by now. He is keeping you so that he jacks up your price. If they ultimately refuse to go higher than he wants, then he rapes and kills you. Eventually.” She paused and shuffled to the doorway and listened. “If there are many visitors, then perhaps the bidding will go on for some time and he will be happy. You will remain intact for a while longer.”
“Fuck,” he said softly between clenched teeth.
“The Goa’uld will be infinitely better than Slovych, child.”
Daniel shook his head. “Not if they want to use me as a host. I’ll die first. And then there’s the threat of recognition. That might get me something worse.”
“Recognition? You are known?” she asked, pausing as she spooned stew into a bowl for him. “You have never told me this.”
“To protect you.” Daniel leaned over and propped his head in his hands, sighing heavily. “Have you ever heard of the Tau’ri?” he asked, looking up and crossing his arms.
Naveena frowned in thought. “I do not think so.”
“I have!” said a boy in the back of the kitchen.
“Get to—“ Naveena started to reprimand but Daniel cut her off.
“Don’t,” he said to her and earned a scowl.
“He should not be shirking—“
“He’s not. He’s supplying needed information. There’s a difference.” The eight-year old dark-haired boy, covered in fading bruises, was sweeping the floor. “Cable?” he asked.
The boy shuffled forward, still sweeping, and spoke while keeping his eyes on his task. “They have been fighting the Goa’uld,” he said.
“How do you know this?” Naveena asked.
Cable snorted. “I have ears.”
Naveena rolled her eyes. “So have I, young imp, but I have not heard.”
“You have been here for a long time, Mistress. I only arrived three weeks ago.”
Daniel nodded, remembering, and reminded Naveena, “Slovych keeps information to a minimum, remember?” The old woman shrugged. “What else have you heard, Cable?”
“They have killed several System Lords.”
Naveena’s eyes grew wide with shock and Daniel shook his head. “Not by myself. Have you heard who was killed by the Tau’ri?”
“Ra, Hathor, Apophis …” The boy scrunched up his face as he paused. “Sekhmet, Isis, Kali, Osiris, Sobek—“
“Sobek?” Daniel asked, frowning. “Oh, you mean Sokar.”
Naveena’s shock was increasing.
“Um … Nirrti, Cronus, and … others.”
Daniel nodded. “That’ll do.”
The boy looked up from his work. “You … that was true?” he asked, eyes widening like Naveena’s. In fact, all the other slaves were mirroring him, staring in shock.
“Well, I personally didn’t kill all of them, but me and my people—“
“Oh, by all the gods,” Naveena whispered. “You are SG-1?”
“You’ve heard about us?”
Her face went white, the blood draining fast. “You are in horrible danger.”
“Well no shit, Naveena. Why do you think I’m worried?”
Naveena swept a hand at the other slaves, silently ordering them back to work. Her eyes remained on Daniel. “You are a dead man.”
“I always was, Naveena, regardless of who he thinks I am. I’m only surprised I lasted this long.”
“Luck and strong will,” she said.
Daniel shook his head, though he gave her a glance that thanked her for the compliment. “Sold or not …” He shuddered, then winced and pressed a hand to his ribs. He looked over his shoulder at the doorway. “I know I’m running out of time.”
She set the bowl of stew in front of him and handed him a wooden spoon. “Eat.”
Daniel stared hungrily at the food but paused, wondering if he’d puke it up and thus waste it.
“What is wrong?” Naveena asked.
“If I eat, and Thryx comes walking in here to drag me out to Slovych, I’ll only end up throwing it up.” He set the spoon down. “I’ll get punched in the stomach when I don’t do what Slovych wants, or if I’m sickened by whatever he wants me to do. Or have done to me.”
“Eat anyway,” she said. “Something of it will remain in you and you need it.”
Daniel weighed her words and eventually decided to eat, but as the spoon began its way to his mouth, a bellowing summons reached the kitchens. Slovych calling for him.
“Shit,” Daniel said, wincing as he got up. Turning, he held his ribs again and headed out.
“Live, Daniel,” Naveena called quietly.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he murmured, but in English.
As Daniel appeared, exiting the hallway that ran from the kitchens to the entertainment Hall, Slovych cooed, “Ah, my dear, precious Pretty, here you are.”
Daniel steeled himself when he caught sight of Jaffa wearing the tattoo of Baal. Approaching Slovych, he saw the back of Baal. The snakehead hadn’t changed his style. He still wore the same long coat with a high collar that covered close-fitting trousers, and all of it made from black brocade. He was talking to someone very handsome. Anateo? He wore the uniform of the Lucian Alliance. On his other side was that goddamn Lo’taur. That bastard would also recognize him.
What was different, when Baal turned his head to talk to the Lo’taur, were the stud earrings the snakehead now wore. They appeared to be made of ebony. It was hideous. He seemed to be taking on the persona of that ancient Earth deity full stop. That stone had only recently been discovered in resurrected temples associated with the old Sumerian god.
As Daniel walked slowly forward, he saw the Lo’taur wore the same earrings. He wasn’t wearing the same clothing, either. Instead, he wore similar clothing to his master but less elaborate. When the Lo’taur saw him, his eyes went wide. He whispered to Baal and the snakehead turned to look. When he settled his gaze on him, Baal frowned slightly, then it smoothed out and the corner of his mouth turned up.
In his resonant voice, and without taking his eyes off Daniel, he said to Slovych, “Well, well, well. Why did you not tell me that your preeminent slave was Doctor Daniel Jackson of SG-1?”
“SG-1?” Slovych asked, bouncing his gaze several times between Baal and Daniel. “What do you mean, SG-1?”
Baal turned to him, frowning again. “I find it astonishing that a man of your stature has not heard of the Tau’ri’s top infiltration team.”
Infiltration team? What the hell did that mean?
“Exploration, snakehead,” he said, and ducked when Thryx tried to backhand him.
“Enough, Thryx,” Slovych said, staring only at Daniel. “Do not mark the merchandise.”
Daniel’s heart hammered at the word, but his expression merely arched an eyebrow. “You’re selling me to this asshole? I thought I was favored merchandise.”
“We are negotiating,” Slovych said, drawing out the verb.
Baal turned to him, brows furrowing. “Are we? I was not aware that you had other buyers.”
Daniel recognized the tone, if his memory was still accurate. Baal was annoyed and that usually meant someone would die, although that would come later. Daniel was suddenly aware that someone else was taking a strong interest. The handsome one eyed him with a blatant fascination that was almost sexual.
“I just might be,” he said, walking toward Daniel but he kept his distance as he began to circle him.
“Anateo,” Baal said, scowling. “You accompanied me—”
“As a guest, yes, yes,” Anateo said, waving an airy, dismissive hand.
Baal’s back straightened and Daniel saw fear in the Lo’taur’s eyes as he took a step backward. “You dare defy me?” Baal asked quietly as he turned fully and approached Anateo.
Anateo had made a full circuit of Daniel and he looked past him and made note of the dozen or so Jaffa that had gone on alert. He gave Baal a sinister smile. “Come now, my Lord Baal. Did you think I did not take precautions against just such an attack? You Goa’uld are such arrogant, backstabbing bastards.”
“You speak of yourself, as well, Anateo,” Baal said, with a warning flashing of his eyes.
Anateo smirked at him, then turned to Slovych. “Ten million quantos of kassa,” he offered.
Slovych’s eyes narrowed. “That is a heavy sum. But I do not need food. I need payment.”
“Very well. Ten million gold destars.”
Daniel began to panic. If he was sold, his rescue would be that much harder. The last report he’d heard said that Baal had increased his army. If anyone had found out where they were and they were mounting a rescue, it would all be for—
Baal raised his right hand, flicking it a little. “Two sectars.”
If Daniel understood that correctly, a sectar was a hundred times higher than a destar.
“Three,” Anateo said.
“Four,” said Baal.
The haggling began and for a while, it was more of an argument than a discussion. Daniel frowned inwardly, trying to remember what a sectar was worth, precisely, when the former Lo’taur approached him, though he kept his distance at two meters as if he expected Daniel to attack. His eyes traveled over him like an appraiser.
He suddenly stopped walking and looked over at his master. “Something is different,” he murmured to Baal.
“Explain,” Baal said.
“I am sorry, my lord, but I cannot. I am positive, however, that something has changed with him. It is not due to age.” He squinted at Daniel, as if this would divulge whatever he was alarmed about, but still he didn’t explain himself.
“Then you should have said nothing,” Baal chastised. “If you cannot be clear, I will hear nothing from you, do you understand?”
“I beg forgiveness, my lord,” the man said, going to one knee as he faced his master.
Baal stared at him, a scowl forming, then two seconds later, it smoothed out and he waved his hand at the kneeling. “Get up and stand behind me. No more nonsense now.”
“Yes, my lord,” the Lo’taur said, relief obvious on his face. He moved to obey.
Daniel took another deep breath and looked down at the floor. Baal turned his attention back to the slaver and the Lucian Alliance captain and they returned to their quibbling. Antagonizing the Goa’uld could be done when his ass was out of the fire. Or at least, away from Slovych. Any arrogance or rebelliousness on his face and the pig would order Thryx to get the whip. Daniel’s back had only just healed from the last time and he knew that the scars there would break open if the lash ever came down again.
As his thoughts turned to wondering who he would be sold to, he found that the bargaining was now up to eighteen sectars. As usual, Slovych was forcing them to raise their offers. An old tactic, though Daniel felt that Baal and Anateo were smart enough to know that. He also suspected that neither man would pay up. Something was going to happen.
As they went back and forth, their haggling an obvious enjoyment to them, Baal’s Lo’taur side-stepped and approached Daniel once more. “You have changed.”
“It’s been a while,” Daniel said with heavy sarcasm. “The likelihood is obvious.”
“Yes, but this is outside the normality of typical change. Tell me what it is.”
“Go f—“ Daniel began under his breath, but everyone’s attention was diverted when one of Slovych’s soldiers appeared at the far doors and called to him.
“Master Slovych, another buyer is seeking entry!”
Slovych’s mouth turned up at one corner and he sneered at Baal. “Competition is ever sweet, is it not?”
Baal’s cold, hard eyes let the man know that he was not amused. “It was my understanding that this was a closed auction. It is bad enough that Anateo has decided to bid against me. For you, I will say this: do not to break any further arrangements.”
Daniel suddenly had the urge to tell Slovych not to trust Baal, but that was absurd. None of them could be trusted. Besides, he didn’t care what they did to each other. Still, the idea that he’d warn Slovych was laughable and he snorted quietly. The Lo’taur stared at him with undisguised … lust. Oh dear god. The expression filled Daniel with horror and he took a step back and bumped into the Thryx. The Second pushed him forward.
“Where are you going?” he asked, then lowered his voice. “I am unhappy that I won’t get to lay you out under me. Do not do anything to make me forget myself.” He pushed Daniel again.
The Lo’taur stepped closer. “You should be honored. You have these men vying for your … body.”
“Not you?” Daniel snapped sarcastically.
“I will get to you when the master is done. You will be sufficiently beaten to submission by then. I do not enjoy a fight.”
“Then find yourself a pliable doll,” Daniel commented in as bland a tone as possible.
“Doll?” the Lo’taur asked.
Daniel rolled his eyes and turned slightly away, though he kept his peripheral attention on the man. He couldn’t be trusted not to reach out for a grope. Suddenly Slovych yelled at the soldier to let the newcomer inside.
“She has retainers with her, my lord! She asks that they join her, given who you are currently hosting.”
Ten men entered, surrounding their leader, and Slovych snapped his fingers. His own guards surrounded the newcomer’s, as did Baal’s Jaffa. “Halt!” he ordered. She and her guards obeyed and the woman gave a slight bow at the waist.
Baal’s lips stretched into a grin that made Daniel’s spine grow cold. “Ashai,” he said to the woman in greeting. “What brings you here?”
“My ship, Baal,” she snapped, her voice revealing the snake within. “Did you think I flew here on astral wings?”
While they began a rapid of exchange of ripostes, Daniel frowned, examining her and her entourage. She was a tall, dark-skinned woman with long black braids. Her shoulders were draped with a dark, flowing cape that covered a thigh-length jacket over a tunic and form-fitting pants that tucked into high boots done up with both laces and straps. At her hips was a belt that carried two overly-long curved daggers and two sidearms. She stood a full head taller than her guards.
They were attired like their mistress. Helmets designed like overlapping wings covered their heads, the wingtips crossing over their chins. Their foreheads were stamped with a silver sigil on the forehead that resembled an hourglass. They were also armed with an incongruent pair of long daggers and pistols.
Who the hell was—
“Enough,” Slovych ordered. “Ashai, is it? Approach and tell me who you are.”
She snapped her fingers and her retainers remained in place while she approached Slovych. “I have heard about this slave of yours. I am here to buy him.”
“How? He was not on the auction docket,” he told her.
She smiled and gestured at Baal while keeping her eyes on the slaver himself. “I have spies among his Jaffa.”
“How dare—” Baal began, bellowing.
“We all have our spies,” Slovych said, drowning him out with his own, much louder, voice. The man was an excellent bellower.
Ashai grinned at Slovych. “You most of all, given your trade.”
“Indeed,” he said, seemingly amused. He looked at Baal and Anateo. “Well now. How high will the price go?”
Daniel studied her. Was she really Goa’uld? What if …
Behind him, the Lo’taur whispered, “My master will win and when he does, he will give me time with you. Tell me …” He edged closer so that his breath whisped across the back of Daniel’s neck. “Do you scream like a man or a woman?”
“Lurien!” Baal snapped, and the Lo’taur stepped back.
“Do you wish the collar? Get over here and mind your place.”
If Baal won, the moment he had the Lo’taur alone, Daniel would snap his neck. It would be a much easier task than with Thryx, who was a bear of a man with a boar’s temperament. Still, when given the chance once more, Daniel knew how to take him down. It was simply a matter of surviving it, which is why he hadn’t taken the chance in nearly eight months. Then there was Slovych, but that would be a lot harder to manage and would require escape and planning. Daniel didn’t care what the odds were.
“Enough!” Ashai said loudly and snapped Daniel’s attention back to the here and now. “Thirty!”
“Forty!” Baal crisply replied.
“Forty-five,” Anateo called.
“Fifty!” Ashai said in return.
The price kept going up and Slovych belly-laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.
“Five hundred,” Baal finally said, grinning at Ashai.
She ground her teeth. “Six.”
“You do not have eight hundred sectars,” Baal told her.
“Is that so? Are you my accountant?”
“It is known, Ashai.”
“Arrogance, thy name is Baal,” she said with a smiled and Baal lost his. “Eighteen primars,” she said to Slovych, and revealed a pouch she had slung over her shoulder under the cape. She tossed it on the ground at the base of the dais. Slovych’s eyes grew wide and hurriedly, he gestured at Thryx. “Verify.”
Thryx hurried to pick up the bag and he tipped some of the contents into his hand. They were gold coins. “They are genuine.”
“There is subterfuge here,” Baal said to Slovych. “It is counterfeit.”
“No,” Anateo said, sighing. “These are real, Baal.”
“Count,” Slovych ordered.
Eighteen primars? Daniel thought. That’s … was that nine million dollars?
“Lurien,” Baal said, stepping backward, toward Daniel, and the Lo’taur rushed over and grabbed Daniel around the waist while his forearm attempted to brace across his throat. Daniel kicked out at Baal, shoving him hard in the chest, using Lurien’s grip as leverage, then twisted in a move Sam had taught him and threw the man over his back and onto the floor. As he took a step intending to run, Ashai quickly strode over, slapped a metal band over his wrist and tapped a button on the back of her gloved left hand.
“I have paid. We are leaving.”
Daniel scowled ferociously at her, intent on doing her just as much harm as anyone else on his shit list, but she shoved a filter mask over his face while her guards donned masks and flung balls to the floor. The things exploded and began to fill the chamber with gas. On his wrist, tiny needles from the wristband punctured his skin and Daniel felt a nauseating sleepiness take over his mind.
A white glittering beam surrounded him and through it, Daniel could see Slovych screaming to his guards and Thryx raising a protective shield around them both. The last thing he saw was the look on Baal’s face, his gaze on him, as the man and his Lo’taur disappeared in their own transport beam. But that look wasn’t foremost on his mind.
No, no, no! I have to be the one to kill them!
When he awoke, Daniel found himself sprawled on a floor that was located on the bridge of an alien ship. He wasn’t shackled any longer by whatever those bracelets had been. So this woman didn’t want him as a prisoner? Or more likely, he was in no position to run so there was no need for restraints. Well, until he committed acts of violence and then he’d have to be restrained. Or killed.
He rolled over and came to a crouch, wavering slightly thanks to whatever drug that had been. The bridge was spacious. A large rectangular window showed nothing but hyperspace. He looked from there to the seat in the center, where Ashai sat.
“Relax, Doctor Jackson,” Ashai said as she crossed her legs.
“Why?” he demanded, referring to his rescue, as he slowly straightened. “Who are you?”
“Tok’ra,” she answered. “Sort of.”
He gave her a distrustful look. “Either you are or you aren’t. There really isn’t a middle ground.”
“I am Tok’ra but I am not a member of the organization. How do you humans put it?” she said, pausing. “Ah yes. Freelance.”
Daniel’s scowl returned. “Mercenary.” She waggled a hand. “Which means you bought me for someone else. Who was it?”
“Selmak,” she answered. “I owed her a favor. We are settling a debt.”
Daniel blinked a few times but said nothing. He ran through his memories instead, fragmented thanks to that damn drug. “We have to go back.”
She stared at him. “That drug must have stripped you of your wits. If you want vengeance or justice or whatever word you wish to apply, you will seek it by other means. I have fulfilled my part of the bargain. Next, I drop you off, then my part is done.” She got up and went to him, looking him up and down. An annoying smirk marred her lovely face. “I see why they want you, but honestly. It is a bit much, is it not?”
Daniel snorted with incredulity. “It wouldn’t have been that easy.”
She nodded and pointed to her right. “Go down that corridor. Three doors down, you will find a refreshment station. No clothing, so be glad you are not naked.”
“We have reached the coordinates, Captain,” said a man standing at a console right behind her.
“Exit hyperspace,” she said, studying Daniel’s eyes before returning to her chair. “Send out the standard greeting. Short range only.”
She looked at Daniel. “Go. Unless you want to remain as you are when you are delivered.”
He did. “I’ll stay here.” He narrowed his eyes. “Was that money real?”
“No,” she said, snorting out laughter. “Those men. They are tremendously stupid.” She snapped her fingers at him. “Goodbye, Doctor Daniel Jackson. Tell Selmak that I hope she has everything she ever wanted.”
“Okay. Thanks. Good—”
Daniel was abruptly beamed away with zero fanfare.
Daniel appeared in a familiar place. The council chambers at Dakara. Quickly, he registered Teal’c, Sam, Bra’tac, Jacob, and Rak’nor.
“Daniel!” Sam cried, and she hurried to him and gathered him in a hug.
“Hi,” he said, wincing. “Careful. Ribs.” He realized that he hurt everywhere, not just his ribs. His muscles, his bones, his neck, his head. Had he been ignoring them?
“Oh, sorry!” she said, releasing him quickly. “Are you alright?”
“Not really,” he said, but he gave her a smile anyway.
“Daniel,” Teal’c said, holding out his hand, but Daniel pushed it aside and hugged him, regardless of how much it hurt.
Over Teal’c’s right shoulder, he saw someone else and froze. Teal’c realized it and cautiously stepped away. Daniel thought that everyone seemed expectant, as if this moment was something to be revered. That was stupid. How could anyone know how he felt?
“Hey,” he said, blinking his eyes several times. He closed them tightly, then opened them slowly with a frown creasing his brows. What the hell was he blinking for? You’d think he was batting his lashes like some goddamn damsel flirting with her knight in shining armor. Oh. Right. No glasses. Jack approached. He was wearing a black tack vest, just like he used to when he was leader of SG-1. It put a lump in Daniel’s throat.
“Hey,” Jack said. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Slave diet. You can’t help but lose—” Daniel started, but Jack cut him off as he grabbed him in a hug and nearly took him off his feet. Daniel’s breath was squeezed out of him, but he wasn’t going to complain until he had no choice. Jack smelled wonderful and it took everything Daniel had not to hang on and inhale for a good, long time. “Jack,” he managed.
“Daniel,” Jack said, his voice gruff, as he let him go. “Let’s get you home.”
“Wait,” Daniel said, and he looked around for Jacob. “Ashai said to tell Selmak that she hopes she has everything she wants in life.”
Selmak spoke, but with a bit of laughter. “I am sure I have. How was she?”
“Big, arrogant, flashy, and a tough woman.”
Selmak smiled broadly. “Good.”
Daniel purposely looked at every single person there, including Jack. “Thanks seems a bit lame, but thanks. I owe you.”
“You owe us nothing,” Bra’tac said. “Many of us have owed you. We now repay that debt.”
Daniel frowned, not knowing what the hell the man was talking about, but he’d ask Jack later. “Okay.” He wiped his hands over his hips and a steel rod strengthened his back. “So, tell me. Who’s up for a bit of payback?” He received chuckles in response and it annoyed him. He stepped away a little bit and regarded them all. “I’m not joking. I intend to pay that fucker back for everything he’s done. If that means nothing more than sending a bomb to his planet, so be it.” He was met with stares of shock. “What?”
“Daniel,” Jack said, walking over, and putting an arm around his shoulders. “We’ll get to it. But right now, you need to heal. Let’s get you home. You can shower, eat, and get some sleep.”
Thoughts of revenge were temporarily exchanged for basic needs and long-dreamt-of desires, the least of which was a steak. “Okay, you have a point. Steak. Two. No, three, maybe. And I’d love a beer.”
“You don’t like beer.”
“I really don’t care.”
His clothes were too loose. Daniel stared at himself in the examination room and cringed. He was a lot thinner than he had believed and the belt he normally wore was now buckled three more stops. He’d had to tuck the tail under belt itself. It was humiliating. He was back to what he looked like when he’d joined the SGC. No, that wasn’t quite accurate. He had hard muscle now compared to back then, but he was a lot slenderer. On the bright side, he didn’t have stark collarbones. Janet came in and handed him a spare pair of his glasses.
“Thanks,” he said, gratefully, and put them on. “I’ve been without them for … well, since I was … kidnapped.” He’d almost said taken, but that was a word that was insufficient to the trauma. Trauma. Janet had used the term and now it ran around in his head like a goddamn gerbil on a wheel.
“Here,” she said, and gave him a couple of bottles. Vitamins and minerals.
“Thanks, but I could’ve bought these.”
“When you get to a store, you can, but for now, take these. Also …” She gave him a folded piece of paper. “Your diet plan.”
“What, I can’t eat what I want?” he asked, half-teasing. “I’ve never had a weight problem.”
“You have one now, but it’s underweight. It’ll take some time, so I’m not expecting you to regain your previous condition in only a few weeks.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Now, get to the mess hall.”
He gave her a fading smile. “Yeah. I’d rather go to O’Malley’s.”
“Whatever you like,” she said. She smiled at him, and it was filled with worry and sympathy. She took his hand and squeezed it. “I’m really glad you’re home, safe and sound.”
“Safe, maybe. Sound?” He shook his head. “It’s gonna be a while before I’m sound, Janet.”
“PTSS?” she asked.
“Partly,” he said, dropping the tone. “Janet?” he said, not really asking. “I want …”
He swallowed and shook his head. “To be normal,” he lied. He took his jacket and headed out of the room. “Thanks.”
“Sure,” she said, following him with her worried eyes.
Daniel knew his hair was long, but for cryin’ out loud, did people have to fucking stare? Sure, it looked sort of bad, a little wild and overgrown, like a wildflower field. But … rude people, every goddamn where. He didn’t quite know where to go to get it cut but he was not setting one foot in the base barber chair. No way in hell. The man would shave his head, like he damn near did six years ago. His neck had felt cold for a month. Bastard.
He walked up to Jack’s door, intending to walk right in, but he suddenly remembered where he was and whose door he was at. Why the hell had he taken the goddamn job as base commander? Daniel knocked.
“Yeah,” said Jack.
Daniel was unable to help the smile but the presence to his right startled it off his face.
“Oh, sorry, Doctor Jackson!” she said, and held out her hand. “Sorry. Monica Gardner. General O’Neill’s secretary.”
Daniel frowned at her in confusion and held out his hand. “Hi.”
“You don’t know me. I was appointed about two weeks after you disappeared.”
“Kidnapped,” he corrected, his anger rising. “I was kidnapped. I didn’t just go for a mindless stroll on the mountain and get lost.”
She blinked in alarmed. “I’m sorry, sir. I meant no offense.” She edged around him and knocked on the door with a knuckle.
“What?” Jack demanded.
She opened the door. “Doctor Jackson to see you, sir.”
Jack frowned at her and tapped his pen on the desk. “Monica,” he said, rising.
He walked around his desk and to the door. Daniel hadn’t moved. He was too busy watching Jack’s face. “I know you’re not new, relatively speaking, so I’m not going to get on your ass about this. But.” He kept his tone cordial and friendly. “Daniel doesn’t need you to announce him. He can just walk right in any time he wants. He’s a member of SG-1. My friend.” He thought a moment. “Probably my best friend. Certainly the oldest one here, outside of Kowalsky and Ferretti. So …”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.” She nodded at Daniel. “Good to see you, sir. General, I’ll be at my desk.”
Daniel followed her with his eyes and realized he’d walked right by her desk without noticing it was there. Or the outer office. Which was adjacent to the Briefing Room on the other side of the stairwell that led to the Control Room. He suddenly felt lost, and with that feeling came a sense of isolation and an unmooring.
“Daniel?” Jack asked, and he noticed that Daniel looked a bit confused. He guided him into the office and shut the door. “You okay?”
Daniel kept frowning and he looked over his shoulder at the door, then over at the other door of the General’s office that led to the Briefing Room. It was the same office. Used to be Hammond’s office. He had never used the secretarial entrance in his life. Why had he this time? A deeper sense of unmooring enveloped him.
“Daniel?” Jack asked, frowning now. “C’mon, have a seat.” He put a hand on Daniel’s arm and led him to the chair. Daniel sat down slowly.
“I don’t feel right,” he said. He finally looked into Jack’s face and those worried brown eyes.
Instead of sitting down behind his desk, Jack took the seat next to Daniel. “Okay, talk to me. What’s going on?”
Daniel waved the bag of vitamins. “Vitamins.” He waved the paper. “A diet plan.” He tugged the hair on the left side of his head. “I look like a shaggy dog, if I read the looks right on the faces I passed on the way here.” He pointed at the door. “I have never used that entrance. Ever. Till now.” He took a deep breath and dropped the bag and the paper on the floor, then bent over and held his head in his hands. “I’m lost.”
“Hey,” Jack drawled, and got up. He pulled Daniel to his feet and put his arms around him. “I’m going to shock you and pull some psychology crap on you.”
Daniel half-laughed and stepped away, blinking away the stinging in his eyes. And mostly, he had to get out of Jack’s arms. In a damn hurry. He’d been so aroused and tempted right then. It was a strong feeling and if he’d given in to it, he’d have kissed him. Or tried to. One of two things would have happened. One, Jack would have kissed him back. And someone would have walked in. Or two, Jack would have pulled away, rejecting him. And Daniel would have walked out.
Solution: step out, fast.
“Daniel?” Jack asked, frowning at the speed with which Daniel had moved away. “Did I do something wrong?”
Daniel cleared his throat, unable to keep Jack’s gaze. “Uh, no. You didn’t. I was just …” He cleared his throat again and forced himself to meet Jack’s eyes. “Pop psych 101. Go ahead.” He just knew his cheeks were pink. Jesus.
Jack took a deep breath and planted one butt cheek on the edge of his desk. “I’m going to guess that Fraiser said something to you about trauma. PTSS?”
“She did,” Daniel said, rolling his eyes. “I know the deal.”
“Apparently you don’t,” Jack said. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that what just happened, at the door, with the whole confusion deal, was a panic attack. You didn’t know where you were, right?”
“No, I did. I just …” He looked at the door. “I have never used that door. I don’t feel right. Not myself. I’m not doing the things I normally do.”
“You’ve been home for …” Jack checked his watch. “Four hours. Did you think it would all fall back into place after all that goddamn time being held captive? I only went through that for four months. I can’t imagine doing it twice as long.”
Daniel abruptly relaxed. Jack had been through something similar, so he knew. “I need a steak,” he said, imploringly.
Jack nodded. It was 1320 hours. A late lunch was called for. “Let’s go.”
“You’re in uniform.”
“And?” Jack asked. “We’re not going to O’Malley’s. We’re going to a place that opened up at the bottom of the hill. Nice little restaurant that caters specifically to those of us who work in the mountain. And they all think we work for NORAD.”
Daniel actually smiled as a desire to laugh filled him. He didn’t, but he was glad the desire was there. “Let’s go.”
Daniel was halfway through his second steak before he paused long enough to start talking again. “My system’s going to have a fit thanks to the red meat.”
“Tell it to go to hell,” Jack grinned. He’d finished his steak and now took his time with the wonderful blackberry pie the restaurant made.
Daniel grinned, but it faded quickly. He was growing uncomfortable. The eyes on him weren’t leaving and a severe rage filled him. He angrily attacked the remainder of his steak. Jack reached over and waved a hand over his plate.
“Stop. Take a breath. Then tell me what’s pissing you off.”
“I don’t need—” Daniel began, snapping at him.
“Stop,” Jack said more forcefully, but still quiet. “Take a breath. C’mon.”
Daniel set his knife and fork down. He stared at his plate as he swallowed, then took a breath.
“Drink your coffee,” Jack said soothingly. Daniel did. “Take a few more breaths. Slowly. Deeply. Calmly.” Jack watched him as the tension left his friend’s shoulders and neck. “Okay. You got mad. Why?”
“People keep looking at me,” he said, the tension returning to his jaw. “Why?”
Jack winced. “You had a lot of people doing that at that slaver’s fortress, didn’t you?” Daniel swallowed and nodded. “So you think it’s because there’s something sinister at work.” Again, Daniel nodded. “Well, you’re dining with a General who’s in a green utility uniform. You have long hair and you’ve lost weight, so you look ten years younger than you’re supposed to. It’s odd, to anyone looking. People are curious.”
“People can go to hell,” Daniel growled.
“Yes,” Jack nodded. “You want to go get your hair cut after we’re done here?” Daniel nodded. “Okay. But if you ask me, I think you look fine.”
Daniel blinked at him, shocked. “You do?”
Jack grinned at him. “Yes. When you got snatched, your hair was pretty short, even for you. Now you look like the guy I met almost twelve years ago.”
“I do?” Daniel asked, the shock continuing.
“Yep,” Jack said, and he went back to eating his pie. “Order some dessert, and think about it. Maybe you can get your hair cut a week from now. Don’t do it because you don’t want to be looked at. Fight off the impulse to react against something that reminds you of what happened at the hands of that sonofabitch.”
Daniel nodded slowly. But he wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet. He’d had too much of it shoved down his throat at Slovych’s palace. Literally. A pale pink, sickly sweet juice that purposely made his stomach queasy. Easier to make him puke when it came to witnessing the twisted barbarism of his mast … kidnapper. Instead, he ordered a salad with blue cheese dressing. Something salty and tangy.
“I can’t have sweets,” he revealed to Jack as he ate. Then slowly, quietly, he told Jack why.
Jack kept his face neutral, not wanting to scare Daniel or make him shut up. What he felt, however, was a deep hatred and he understood why Daniel wanted payback. He also knew that what Daniel was telling him was very likely the milder bits. He just listened attentively, nodding a few times to show he understood the revulsion Daniel felt. Was feeling.
“Reminds me of that shit we were force-fed on Naetu. By Apophis. Remember?”
Daniel cringed. “The blood of Sokar.”
“That’s the shit,” Jack said, drinking down the rest of his coffee. When Daniel sat back, clearly full, he asked, “Ready to go?”
Daniel nodded. He was silent the rest of the way to the mountain. When Jack returned to his office, Daniel was tempted to follow him, but the red meat was working against him and he went to his temporary quarters—a VIP room—and laid down for a nap. For once, he had a dreamless sleep. But there was a voice calling to him and he snapped awake.
“What?” he asked, sitting up. It was dark in his room. Had he turned out the light? He didn’t remember.
“It’s just me,” Jack said.
Daniel jumped and looked over his shoulder. Jack was on the bed, reclining against the pillows.
“C’mon, settle back here and go back to sleep.”
Confused, he just went with it and lay back in Jack’s arms. He fell back asleep and he didn’t dream. Exactly. He rested in Jack’s arms, floated there. Then there was a weightlessness and Jack’s hands were soothing him, comforting him, stroking him.
“Yes,” he whispered aloud, and groaned when he felt the orgasm approach. “Yes.”
A knock at the door woke him up for real. His eyes snapped open and he sat up. He winced at the aching erection as he got up to answer the door. He peeked around it as he opened it.
“Yeah?” he asked, sleepily.
“Hey,” Jack said. “You wanna get out of here?” He was in civilian clothes.
“What time is it?” Daniel asked, pulling the door all the way open. He was wearing a long shirt and it covered him up well enough.
“After six. C’mon. You can stay overnight at my place.”
“You sure?” Daniel asked. He still wasn’t sure he was awake.
“Yeah, of course, I’m sure. C’mon. Grab … whatever.”
Daniel snorted and grabbed his coat. He didn’t need his keys. He had no plans to go to his own loft. He didn’t want to stay there in the empty quiet. On the way to the elevator, he yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “I hope you have a spare bed,” he said absently.
Jack gave him a curious but amused look. “Yeah, I have a spare bed.”
They didn’t talk in the elevator but on the way out of the mountain, once again in Jack’s truck, Daniel asked, “I should have known that, right? About the spare bed?”
Jack was astonished, and worried, but he covered it up. “Yeah. Maybe that drug or whatever it was … Did you …” He didn’t know if he should ask while they were in the truck.
“What?” Daniel asked, and he tensed up.
Jack shook his head. “Not now. Wait till we get home.”
Home, Daniel thought. Jack’s place was home. Was it? Had it been? What the hell was wrong with him? “Home,” he said aloud. “I don’t remember. Why?”
“Just hang on till we get there. I’ll give you that beer.”
Daniel relaxed and nodded. “Okay.”
After putting his jacket on the spare bed, he went to Jack’s living room and sat down on the couch. He wondered if he should sit in the chair, but a discordant feeling told him not to.
“Here,” Jack said, and he was holding out a beer.
Daniel took it and watched as Jack sat on the couch too. It wasn’t that long, so he was practically sitting next to him, even if it was a few feet away. “Thanks.”
Daniel sipped and for once, enjoyed the salty, bitter taste. He took a longer drink. “Nice.”
“Right.” Daniel drank a bit more. His erection had mostly died but he had a feeling that any interest Jack showed would bring it all the way back in seconds. Jesus. Where was all this lust coming from? Or was it just a normal, simple need?
Jack watched him, careful not to make it look like he was staring. “So.” He watched Daniel tense a little, but it was a lot less than before. Go beer. “Your memory. There’s no delicate way to say this so I’ll just get to it. Were you tortured with electric shock? Like with one of those pain sticks?”
Daniel blinked. Why hadn’t he thought of that? “Yeah,” he said, dumbfounded. “Only it was a chain they had me shackled to and whenever I mouthed off or refused to do what I was told, which was pretty damn often for the first few months, I got a good dose of unregulated ECT.”
Jack grimaced. “That’ll be why then, Daniel. It’ll take a while for your brain to rewire itself. Remember when we came back from that planet that Chaka had been taken to? How we had some focusing problems?”
Daniel remembered that clearly and oddly, it was reassuring, despite the content. “I remember,” he said, almost reassured. “I just hope this isn’t permanent, Jack. If it is, I’m not going to be of use to anyone at the mountain. I’ve never been without the use of … my brain.”
“It’ll come back. You’ve been on hold, so to speak. Unable to focus on anything but getting free. On protecting yourself. On staying alive. Now, you’re home. You don’t have to live in that constant state of flight or fight. But it’ll take time. Give yourself that time, okay?”
Jack’s words relaxed him more and more and by the final question, he was so relaxed that he was falling asleep. “Okay,” he mumbled.
Jack gave him a sad grin, even though he couldn’t see it. He took the beer before it spilled and put a throw over him. He was deeply tempted to bend over and kiss him on the forehead and before he stopped himself, he did it. Daniel made a tiny sound but kept on sleeping. “Glad your home, Daniel,” he whispered.
“I love you,” Daniel murmured.
Jack froze. “Daniel?” he asked softly. The man was still asleep. He stared down at him and swallowed. Hard.
Absently, he wandered into the kitchen and fixed himself some popcorn, spilling it a little when he put it into a bowl. He kept hearing Daniel say those three words. He kept waiting for Daniel to wake up and say he was dreaming of his dead wife. And he kept telling himself that he was refusing to accept the reality of their feelings for each other. That Daniel had meant what he’d said the day before he’d been kidnapped.
They’d almost talked. Almost. There’d been that moment out on the deck. Jack had been turning a few hot dogs. Teal’c and Carter had been watching something on TV. What had it been? Didn’t matter. But Daniel was there, beside him, and they’d been talking about living by themselves. And somehow or other, Daniel had asked Jack if had any problems with a few of the gay men on the base. If he had problems with the change in the regs. It had been like a dam breaking.
“No,” he’d said. “I don’t have a problem with any of it. It’s about time, frankly.”
“And what if,” Daniel had said, “I told you that I was bisexual. Would you have a problem with it?”
“No,” he’d said. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Why didn’t you ever …” He’d stopped and then said, “Never mind. I know why.”
Daniel had nodded, and said, “I have to tell you something.”
Jack hadn’t seen it coming. At all. But later, when he’d thought about it, it had made sense. And what’s more, he’d felt the same.
“I love you as a friend, Jack. But I also think it’s more than that. And I was wondering if you feel the same.”
“Well, of course, Daniel, but—"
That’s when Kowalsky and Ferretti had shown up. Then it was time for ping pong and food and a movie. And the next day, his team had gone on their mission. And Daniel was gone. Out of his hands. Out of his life. And all Jack had was that day on the deck.
Jack snapped awake to someone screaming. Daniel! He ran to the living room, but Daniel wasn’t there. He then heard choking and coughing coming from the spare bedroom. He ran in, all the while remembering the nightmares he’d had after Iraq. Daniel was sitting on the side of the bed, bracing with both hands while he heaved choking breaths. Jack knew that sound. He was resisting the urge to scream.
He went over and sat down, putting an arm around him. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.”
“No it’s not!” Daniel protested, elbowing at him half-heartedly. “I’m sick of this! How long before they go away?”
“Never,” Jack said.
Daniel let out a short, pained laugh. “Great. I’ll go insane.”
“They fade. They’ll come out during times of high stress when you feel you have no control over whatever is going on. And don’t worry about how I might react. Everything is normal, no matter what. You can feel however you want to feel.” Daniel shied away from him slightly and Jack let him.
“I want to kill them all,” he said, rubbing at his eyes. “I’ve never hated anyone this bad, Jack. Not even Apophis.”
Jack kept his eyes on Daniel’s profile, trying to read him. To look for signs of impending violence. In this state, one would do almost anything. “I want to ask but I don’t know if I should. If it’s any of my business. Did they …?”
Daniel gave him a pained smile. “No. I wasn’t raped. But if he knew … Slovych was saving me for the highest bidder. He even whipped the hell out of his Second for attacking me. He said I’d fetch him a higher price if I was, quote, ‘intact’, unquote.” Daniel laughed again, and it was just as derogatory as before. “A virgin. Yeah, half a virgin. If he only …”
Jack frowned. “How can you be half a virgin?”
“Because I’ve only ever been on top. With men. With women, obviously. He might have killed Thryx had he managed to … violate me. Or in his view, ruin me.” Daniel swallowed and the half-smile on his face turned downward and silent tears of fear and desperation ran down his face. “I was planning it, you know.”
A huge chill ran down Jack’s spine, and it was laden with fear. “Oh damn, Daniel,” he said. His hand was still on his shoulder and he tugged gently to get Daniel to lean against him. To his great relief, he did.
“I would kill them both. Or try to. And end it all. I was at the end of that proverbial rope. If Ashai hadn’t shown up when she did …” The angry tears were gone but the desire to cry was in his voice.
“C’mere,” Jack said, and he moved back to recline against the pillows, inviting Daniel to rest against him. “I’ll be here if you have another nightmare.” Daniel resisted, but the look on his face was puzzled. “What?” Jack asked.
“I dreamed this earlier today,” he said, wonderingly.
Jack blinked at him. “Dreamed this? Right now?”
Daniel swallowed. “Something like it anyway.”
Jack shrugged, not wanting to examine it. And Daniel still hadn’t moved. “C’mon.”
Daniel resisted. “I don’t know. I don’t want to ruin your sleep.” That was a lie. What he was afraid of was waking up and kissing him without thinking. Jack looked at him oddly and holy shit, did he just know that he’d lied?
“That’s not it, but I won’t press,” Jack said, confirming it. “C’mere anyway.” He slouched down more.
Daniel hesitantly pushed backward until he laid back and rested against him and under one arm. It was heated and earthy and sexy and he wanted nothing more than to kiss him. It was so painful to have him here but out of reach. Still, Jack was here. He was holding him. And for now, that would be more than enough. Daniel relaxed, and before long, he was asleep.
Jack didn’t fall back asleep for twenty more minutes. He was too busy freaking out, just a bit. The weight of Daniel’s body against him was comforting. Like he was always supposed to be there. He loved him. He knew that. At first, as a friend. But then later, it had changed, and he’d known it that day on the deck. He wanted to kiss him. The urge was nearly overwhelming, but he swallowed and forced himself to think of other things. Like finding a way to let Daniel get his revenge.
The next morning, Daniel awoke rested, and to the smell of coffee. With a groan, he got up and relieved himself, then wandered to the kitchen. It was barely light outside.
“What time?” he yawned as he poured himself some coffee. He found Jack already dressed and making breakfast. “You’re up raring to go.”
“It’s how I am,” Jack said, facing him slightly and waving the spatula. “We have about an hour. I took my shower already. You go ahead, and breakfast will be done when you get out. Providing you take a ten-minute shower.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, taking his coffee to the bathroom.
On the edge of his mind was the duality of panic and comfort the night before, but he didn’t allow himself to think about it too much. He just let it be. Perhaps later or another time. He thought he needed to get his head straight first, although he was sure he had it on straight where Jack was concerned. It was just that he didn’t want the rest of his fucked-up emotions to muddy the waters.
Over the next few weeks, Daniel allowed himself to heal. He talked to Jack quite a bit about what happened, knowing he was sharing with someone who understood. The idea of talking to a shrink wasn’t appealing. He choked up just thinking about it. With Jack, it was okay. It was thanks to the night he’d spent in his arms, and how Jack had made a soothing and comforting ‘safe space’ for him.
During these weeks, he’d stayed on base. He wasn’t allowed to go offworld with Sam, Kowalsky, and Ferretti, and that was okay. He was happy that Jack had taken the choice out of his hands. He understood and accepted it because he didn’t trust himself to react properly. His PTSS was still too fresh and raw. His anger was still too close to the surface. He did a good job not snapping at them, or anyone else, but it was work. He didn’t have to do that with Jack.
He still hadn’t cut his hair. Jack had been right. He shouldn’t get it done just because he didn’t want people staring at him. Now, his feelings had done a one-eighty. He didn’t care who stared. He purposely didn’t want to cut it because of those stares. He had to rebel against the rules. It was a minor act of disobedience, although he was disobeying no one. It was a modicum of control. He got looks, but instead of wanting to run from them, he simply, and silently, said, fuck you. He was almost back to normal. Almost. At least his memory had returned. His emotions were another matter.
On day 22, Daniel was working on extending his knowledge of Ancient, also known as Alteran, when Davis’ voice came over the intercom not long after the klaxon had gone off, announcing an incoming traveler. Otherwise known as Offworld Activation, as opposed to Unscheduled Offworld Activation.
“Doctor Jackson, please report to the Briefing Room.”
That was odd. “Jeez, Jack. A phone call would do,” he mumbled grumpily, hating to be interrupted. When he got to the Briefing Room, he paused upon entering. Not only were his teammates there, but so was Teal’c, Bra’tac, Jacob, another Tok’ra named Malek, and Hammond. Daniel walked over to the three-star General and shook his hand. “It’s good to see you, sir.”
“Likewise, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond said, smiling warmly at him. His old familiar look of concerned spread over his face. “How’re you doing?”
“Day by day, sir, but better.”
“Good to hear.”
“Okay,” Jack said, exiting his office. “Daniel, everyone, take a seat. General, you can have mine ‘cause I’ll be standing for this one.”
“That’s okay, Jack, I’ll stand.”
When no one else took a seat, but instead sort of milled around the table, Jack looked around the room, then sighed. “I’m not the commander here or anything.”
People around him blinked, then realized what they’d just done and took seats around the table, and that included General Hammond. Jack gave everyone a half-smile as he walked to the other end of the table and stood next to the end chair. “Thank you,” he said sarcastically, but satisfied. He then looked expectantly at Daniel.
“What?” Daniel asked, and gestured at the empty end seat. “You want me to sit—”
Suddenly a beaming light briefly blinded everyone, and Thor appeared in the end chair.
“Greetings,” he said.
“—there?” Daniel finished lamely.
“No, just, you know, make like you’re joining this discussion.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and moved from the doorway to stand next to Thor, opposite Jack. He sort of cozied up against the corner, like a reassuring cocoon. It reminded him of Intelligence training, where you sat at a corner table in a restaurant because you didn’t want anyone coming up behind you.
Jack said to Thor, “Thanks for joining us,” then turned his attention to Sam’s father. “Jacob?”
“We finally have a chance to take out the Lucian Alliance’s slave network,” he began, and he handed out folders to everyone, but he handed three to Sam, who hand two off to Jack. He then reached across Thor and handed Daniel the second one.
Curious, Daniel opened it and found diagrams and inset paragraphs next to them, detailing a military action. His brows went up when he recognized the planet where he’d been held.
“General Hammond,” Jacob continued, “will be taking the newest ship, the Athena, out to rendezvous with a few Hatak vessels that the Tok’ra—” He gestured at himself and Malek. “—and the Jaffa—” He gestured at Teal’c and Bra’tac. “—have acquired for use in this operation. The Asgard, with Thor commanding, will command the fourth wing.” He nodded at Thor, who nodded back. “We’ll be attacking four separate planets on the outskirts of Baal’s territory, destroying the Alliance’s main operations on each of them except the last.”
“So who’s going after Slovych?” Daniel asked.
Thor answered. “We are. At last, the Asgard have finally eliminated the replicator threat and therefore, we are at last in a position to retake our former status among the protected worlds. We will no longer allow the Lucian Alliance or the Goa’uld to enslave the populated planets in this galaxy. They will leave voluntarily or we will encourage them to do so.”
“Baal’s gonna put up a fight,” Daniel said.
“As will the other Goa’uld System Lords,” Thor said. “Or I should say, the remaining System Lords. Baal is the one with the most territory. We will attack him first, after the Lucian Alliance has been neutralized, and the remaining Goa’uld will either leave or be destroyed.”
“Our task,” Jacob said, moving on, “is to help get rid of the Alliance. We have done as much intelligence gathering as we have been able to. Now—”
“Wait,” Daniel said, as he read the mission plan. “Sorry, but what about the people on the planets that the Alliance has forced this kassa crop onto? Are they going to recover or will a lot of them die from withdrawal?”
“Don’t worry, Daniel,” Jacob said. “There’s a plan already underway that will eliminate the addictive effects of kassa.”
“Now, we will have to deploy …”
As Jacob talked, Daniel quickly flipped through pages and he was about to close the folder when he caught Ashai’s name. It was her report on the strengths and weaknesses of Slovych’s palace and the surrounding stronghold castle walls. With her report was a map that Daniel had previous turned the page on because it hadn’t looked familiar—and it should have. He studied it carefully.
He’d never known what lay outside the main palace chamber, his quarters, or the kitchen. When he’d been kidnapped, he’d been rendered unconscious by a dart and then awoke, bound in shackles, in the room that would eventually become his quarters. He therefore found this new information fascinating and he automatically began looking for weaknesses and forming attack patterns. Ten years ago, he wouldn’t have known how to do that.
There were large ducts underground, and Daniel surmised they were sewers. But above ground, there was an interconnecting set of ducts within all the walls. What was that about? He blinked and stared harder, following their path. Not ducts. Passageways. Hidden. There was only one purpose for that. To spy on whatever room you were next to. His hatred for Slovych deepened. He could easily imagine that sick fuck spying on him when he thought he’d been alone. But he’d never really been, had he?
But wait. Worried for Naveena and the others, he scanned the area around the kitchen, and breathed a sigh of relief. He rechecked, in case he had it wrong, but no, the map told him what he thought it did: there were pipes in place of empty space. The only way to spy on the kitchen would be if there were cameras, and Daniel knew there weren’t any. They would have been of Goa’uld make and easy to spot. The bastards were predictable in their hardware. Once more, Naveena would have known about cameras, and the passages, and that there weren’t any around the kitchen. She had felt free enough to speak. To warn him, once she’d found out who he was.
Outside of the walls were several small rivers that interconnected and surrounded the stargate. It was, admittedly, a rather beautiful layout and would have been perfect for the native people to build a city around it—provided they didn’t have a lot of rainfall and weren’t subject to river overflow. But the Alliance and that disgusting fuck had moved in and taken over. Those poor people. Wasn’t there a way to—
Jack was talking to him. Daniel looked up over his glasses. “Hmm?” he asked, then realized the room was quiet and all eyes were on him. Embarrassingly, he found a few people smiling about his lack of focus on the discussion. He cleared his throat. “I was studying Slovych’s palace and the surrounding area. What were you saying?”
“In fact,” Jack said, trying not to grin. “That’s just what we were talking about.” He looked at Jacob and gestured.
“Danny,” Jacob began.
Jacob held up a hand. “Sorry, I forgot. Daniel. We have a problem with Slovych’s location. If we want to avoid killing innocents, we’ll need the slaves to be rounded up in one place so the Asgard will know who to beam to safety. Were you in this kitchen at all?” Daniel nodded mutely. “Okay, then what we’d like to do is transport someone in to gather as many slaves as they can and bring them to the kitchen. The Asgard sensors can tell us who’s in the building but if they’re human, there’s no way to tell if they’re master or slave or guard. Sending someone unknown in there will only make them panic, so—”
There was a prickly sensation between Daniel’s shoulders and at the back of his neck. Was that a sense memory against those shock treatments? “I’m not going in unarmed.”
“Of course not,” Jack frowned. “What on Earth made you think you would be?”
Daniel frowned and couldn’t answer. He shook his head. “Okay, so I go in and I try to round up every slave I can find. And then?”
“We will transport those humans a safe distance away from the palace,” Thor said. “The indigenous population still survives outside the palace, though their numbers are few.”
“I’ll need a tracker implant. If I can’t be located, Murphy’s Law says I’ll get recaptured. It’s just my luck it would happen. So, I need that tracker.” The table went silent and he sighed. Apparently, that hadn’t been part of the plan. “Listen, I’m all for going in.” He tossed the folder on the table. “But either give me a tracker, or write me off as a planned casualty because I will not risk being a slave again. I’ll take out as many as I can before dying myself.” He didn’t need to add that his death would be at his own hands.
“Not gonna happen,” Jack said. “And I agree. He needs a tracker.”
“We can provide that,” Thor said. He held opal stone and turned it slightly. Something beamed down in front of him and Daniel was reminded of all those stories about Loki and probes. It looked like a space gun, not some sort of injector. Thor took the ‘gun’ and got up, moving to Daniel. “Hold out your arm please.” Daniel did. “Do not move. This will burn.”
Thor placed the tip of the pointed ‘muzzle’ against his inner left forearm and the point that made contact did indeed burn. Daniel hissed while something that emitted light was injected into his arm. It glowed orange beneath his skin.
Frowning, he said, “Thanks.” Thor didn’t respond. He simply returned to his seat.
“Okay,” Jacob went on. “Now that that’s settled, let’s move on to—”
“Hang on,” Daniel interrupted. “Sorry, Jacob. But if I can’t separate all of the slaves, I’ll have to improvise. And you’ll have to let me do that.”
Jack knew Daniel, and his expressions. There was something he was envisioning. “Explain.”
Daniel retrieved the folder he’d tossed down and picked out the two sheets of paper containing Ashai’s report, then put the folder back down. He studied the schematic again and shook his head. His memory was accurate. There was no diagram for the cells. “The cells aren’t on this map. They’re underground but I don’t know where. They’re within hearing distance of where my own … cell was, which was just off the main chamber in the palace. Doesn’t matter if they’re guarded. I need time to empty them and get those people to the kitchens.”
Jack sighed and shaded his eyes briefly. “Okay. Anyone got any—”
“One moment,” Thor said. A holoimage appeared in front of him within a rectangular frame and it showed Slovych’s compound. “This is a live image. We have three cloaked ships monitoring the situation there.”
“I didn’t know you sent ships ahead,” Jacob said, slightly alarmed.
“It is prudent,” Thor said. “Daniel Jackson. Point to the location where you believe the cells are located.”
Daniel chewed at his lip as he compared Ashai’s map to the one on the holoscreen, until he realized the holoscreen was more accurate since it was a live image. He put the papers back on the table as he walked around Thor, then back again. He pointed to a spot on the map and his finger went through it. He jerked it back as if it would burn him, then looked at it when nothing happened. Sam giggled softly and gave her an embarrassed smirk.
“Okay,” he said, refocusing. “This section here, to the right of the main chamber. Or throne room, I guess. This small room here is where I was held. Now, you know how sound travels within a building?” he asked everyone. They nodded. “I could tell it was underground because of the deep muffling.” He paused and winced. “The … screams … came from …” He peered closer. “Directly under the throne room.”
“Could it have come from directly under your cell?” Thor asked.
“It’s possible,” Daniel conceded.
Thor spoke into the stone and the map elements on the screen glowed, dissipated, and faded. What took their place were darkened passageways and they were just barely outlined. “Something in the material underground is naturally shielding our sensors. However, the most likely place would be here.” Red dots appeared.
“Where’s the accessway?” Daniel asked.
To the north of the dungeon, a green dashed line appeared. It went up a jagged rise, intimating stairs, and exited into a ground-level corridor that connected to the kitchen. Daniel roughly counted ten yards from prison door to kitchen entryway. “Okay. I’ll need a zat, a knife …” He chewed at his lip again. “And something that will cut through chain. We can get the cuffs off later.”
“A knife?” Sam asked him. She looked worried and Daniel wasn’t sure if it was because she was worried for him or worried that he wasn’t capable. He hated that he couldn’t read her anymore. He used to be able to. Like a book. Would that return after rejoining SG-1? “Daniel?”
“Uh, sorry about that. Knife, in case the bonds they have are ropes. In any case, this will take a while.”
“Maybe it would go faster if you had company?” Jack asked.
Daniel stared at him. “Are you saying I can’t—”
Jack held up his hand. “No. I’m saying it would go faster if you had help.”
“Oh,” Daniel said with another wince. “Right.” He narrowed his eyes in puzzlement. “Am I being a touch paranoid?”
“No,” Jack said. “Just a touch … touchy.”
Sam and Hammond snorted.
“Okay, folks,” Jacob said, rising. Everyone else rose with him, except for Thor.
“Doctor Jackson,” Thor said. “You and General O’Neill will be picked up in one hour from this room. Please be ready.” He disappeared.
“He’s a bit abrupt these days,” Daniel told Jack.
“I know, right? Maybe this is what it looks like when an Asgardian is under stress.”
“Okay,” Jack said, clapping, and rubbing his hands together. “Everyone knows their jobs. Let’s get to them.”
Sam walked over to Daniel. “Hey. How are you feeling?”
He appreciated her worry. “I know I haven’t had time to spend with you, talking about what happened. I’m not exactly ready.”
“That’s understandable, Daniel.”
“But what I’m feeling?” He took in a deep breath and quickly glanced at Jack, then noticed that other people were hanging about, listening. He sighed and focused on Sam. “I want to help those slaves. But what I want more is to kill those fuckers who tortured me.”
“Daniel,” Jacob said softly, walking over. He gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek and a quick hello. “Hey, Sam.”
He looked at Daniel sympathetically. “I understand that need for revenge. Trust me. I get it. But don’t put yourself at risk. This is about the slaves, not you.”
Daniel stared at him, starting to get angry, but Jacob’s words sunk in. “I know. I’ll do my part.” He did not add that if he got the chance, once the slaves were safe, he’d take out those bastards. He only wished the zat had a torture setting.
Daniel and Jack stared out of the front ‘window’ of Thor’s bridge, as the ship zipped through hyperspace. They were travelling a lot faster than he remembered a ship could go, which reflected just how advanced the new ship design was compared to his old ship, the Beliskner.
Dressed in black with a tack vest, a zat, and a Tanto knife at his opposite hip, Daniel stood cross-armed. Jack mirrored him, including how he was outfitted, except he had his standard P90 clipped to the front of his vest. They had four hours of space flight ahead of them and just the thought of waiting was already making both of them a little twitchy. They’d only been aboard for half an hour.
Daniel sighed, looked down and examined the floor, and promptly sat down, crossing his legs. Damn boots made it awkward. Jack looked down at him, then eventually joined him.
“Would you care for seats?” Thor asked from his Captain’s chair.
“You have some?” Jack asked over his shoulder.
Thor moved an opal stone over one of the Asgard docking stations and two ‘chairs’ appeared. They were more like inward-curved ottomans and were very low in height.
“Ah,” Jack said. “Sorry, buddy, but they’re a bit too short for us. May as well cop a squat.”
“Sit down on the floor,” Jack clarified.
“Very well,” Thor said.
Jack frowned and got up, groaning a bit. He walked over to the Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet. “Hey. What’s with the clipped attitude?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re cold. Standoffish.” Thor blinked. “You’re not as warm and fuzzy as you usually are.” He was being partly sarcastic.
“Oh, I see,” Thor said.
Daniel looked over his shoulder, then got up and joined Jack. “Is anything wrong?”
“No,” Thor said. “The High Council has conveyed their disappointment in my … attachment … to the humans of Earth. More specifically, to you, and other members of the SGC. So I have tried to maintain a professional distance.”
“Well,” Jack said, even more sarcastically. “You’ve succeeded. Tell them that they don’t have worry about your so-called attachment to us pathetic humans.” He glowered at Thor and walked away, returning to the front ‘window’.
Daniel watched him, then turned back to Thor. “In case you missed it, that was Jack displaying sarcasm and disapproval at the same time.”
“I am aware,” Thor said.
To Daniel, he sounded resigned. “Why are they mad, anyway?” he asked.
“They are not ‘mad’,” Thor said. “We do not display such emotions. They are … disturbed. They believe that the only way to help less-evolved species is to keep a detached distance.”
“That won’t work if you keep naming ships after us,” Daniel said with a grin.
“I agree,” Thor said. “However, that is no longer an issue. Whenever I have named a ship after one of you, it is destroyed later on. Your names, the Council concluded, are bad luck.”
From the window, Jack growled as he stood with arms crossed. Daniel tried not to smile and partly failed. Since there was nothing else to say on the subject, he switched to his specialty. “Is there some way for me to learn how to speak Asgardian? I can easily read it, most of the time, but when you speak … I don’t believe our tongues and throats are capable of making the same sounds.”
“You are correct, Daniel Jackson,” Thor said. “You have easily grasped the metaphorical and numerical method of the Asgardian language, which your history has called Runic. But since we are not human, and our physiology is different, it would not be possible. While we appear humanoid, we are far from human.”
“Jack,” Daniel scolded. “Get over here and talk to him. Stop acting like a child.”
Jack looked over his shoulder, eyes widened in shock. “Excuse me?”
Daniel adopted a partial chagrin he didn’t feel. “Well? What would you call it if I did what you’re doing?”
Jack thought about it, chewing at his lip. “Showing annoyance. It’s allowed. But you also have a point. Dammit.” He walked back over and sighed. He bowed slightly. “I’m just feeling …”
“Bored?” Thor asked.
Jack grinned and looked at Daniel while he gestured at the little grey Asgardian. “There he is. I just knew he was in there somewhere.”
“Don’t talk about him in the third person while standing in front of him,” Daniel said in a mock-whisper. “It’s sarcastic. And I think the Asgard are kind of sick of our sarcasm.”
“Indeed,” Thor said.
They both looked at him and they were positive the tone was sarcastic. Or maybe it was just them. Jack was about to open his mouth, but Daniel shook his head quickly in a ‘just move on’ manner.
Jack cleared his throat. “Okay. So. Got any ideas about breaking the boredom?”
Thor blinked at him, then looked to the side, as if hearing something only he could discern. He looked back at them. “Perhaps the two of you would like a room for privacy. We can accommodate you. It is not built for humans of your size, but it could be comfortable. We can provide what you call blankets.”
Jack and Daniel stared at him, then at each other. “Is he inferring what I think he’s inferring?” Jack asked.
“I’m not sure,” Daniel hedged, looking back at Thor. He shook his head clear when he tried and failed to imagine whatever Thor was imagining. “Okay, sure. Where is it?”
Thor got up and they moved behind the Captain’s chair, passed a free-standing wall, and walked down a narrow corridor. On their left, they passed by several empty compartments, while to the right were long aisles with various electronic readouts, devices, and functions. The compartments were small, and none of them had doors. Daniel thought that if that’s what the Asgardian meant, the rooms would be way too small for the both of them to sit and talk or have a nap. Given that they didn’t have doors, Thor could not be inferring what Daniel’s and Jack’s minds thought he was inferring. And maybe they were … Not overreacting. It wasn’t an overreaction, but more a subconscious focus. There was a lot of unresolved sexual tension between them, and Daniel wasn’t going there. Not yet. For cryin’ out loud, they haven’t even kissed yet. Would they ever?
“Here,” Thor said, stopping. It was a wall until a thin line appeared, carved out a rounded rectangular door about five feet high, then slid left into the wall. The room inside was still small, but bigger than the others in width and height. There were two narrow ‘shelves’ on either side of the bare room and that was it. “You may close the door by touching a panel here,” Thor said, and gestured just inside the left side of the doorway. “I will call you when we have arrived at Xylmos.”
Daniel frowned. “Xylmos? That’s its name?”
“Yes.” He turned and walked back the way he came.
“Huh,” Jack said, and ducked as he ventured his head in, then stepped over the high threshold and entered the room. He looked around for the light source and it seemed to come from the entire ceiling. It was low-level. Subdued. Good for a nap maybe.
Daniel followed and looked at the door frame where Thor had indicated. There was a tiny two-inch square panel. He touched it and the door slid closed. The frame disappeared and the only indication that it had ever been there was the small square.
“Huh,” he said. He turned around just as Jack was sitting down on the right-hand ‘shelf’. He stepped to the left one and sat down. There was no need to walk. Two steps, there. It would only be two steps to join Jack on his side. The shelf felt sturdy and seemed to be part of the wall itself. “I don’t know about you, but it feels like he just created this room for us. Do you sense that?”
“Yeah,” Jack said, brows furrowed. They smoothed out a bit. “So. Nap?”
Daniel looked at him and started to chew at his lip.
Jack pointed. “Don’t do that. It means you’re thinking about starting a discussion.”
Daniel stared back at him, face blank. “I was trying to figure out if I could sleep.”
“Oh. Um. Carry on.”
Raising his brows a bit, Daniel asked, “You don’t wanna talk about anything?”
Jack stared blankly. “About what?”
“Don’t do that,” Daniel said, pressing his lips together. “We actually have something to talk about. What we started to discuss, out on the back deck, before this whole shitshow started.”
Jack sighed. “When you stayed over at my house, you fell asleep on the couch.”
Daniel was confused at the apparent subject change. He wanted to complain but chose not to. “Okay. And?”
“You … I put a throw over you and you talked in your sleep. You said, ‘I love you’.”
Daniel stared, eyes wide. “I did?” he stated, but it wasn’t exactly a question, even if the surprise made it sound like one.
“Were you maybe saying it to Shau’re or—”
“No,” Daniel said. “I was dreaming. I remember it. Because of what I said.” At Jack’s doubt, he added, “I can do that. Dream immediately without REM sleep. I felt how close you were, and I thought I was dreaming, so I said it.”
“Did you mean it?” Jack asked, holding his breath.
Daniel’s brows knotted, also in surprise. “Of course I did. And later, that was the best night I’d had in a very long time, Jack.” Jack nodded, but Daniel wondered what he was agreeing to. “Jack?” He wanted to get up and walk over to him, but he couldn’t make himself move. He asked the question anyway. “Do you feel the same?”
“About that night?” Jack asked, brows knotting. “Yeah.”
“You know perfectly well what I meant,” Daniel said. He swallowed.
Jack nodded acquiescence. His inner voice was screaming at him to say it. Just fucking say it. He’d been condemning himself for months, hadn’t he? “Yes,” he said, and made sure Daniel knew he was serious. “I love you.” Daniel stared back at him and for the life of him, Jack couldn’t read the man’s expression.
Daniel stood up and rubbed suddenly-clammy palms over the side of his trousers and the tack vest got in the way. He unlatched it and set it on the shelf, then took the two short steps toward Jack. The man just sat there, staring at him. And Daniel frowned. “Jack?”
Daniel was filled with exasperation. He reached down to remove Jack’s tack vest and Jack grabbed his wrists. Tight. Daniel winced and the grip loosened. “Well?”
Jack stared up at him, then let him go, shook off his vest, and before he’d fully risen, took Daniel’s face in his hands and brought their lips together. Closed, at first. Daniel inhaled sharply. Jack did the same. It said, “About fucking time.”
Jack was surprised by the dry warmth of his mouth, for some stupid, damn reason. He opened his lips a bit and Daniel’s parted with a sigh. That was all it took. Jack thrust his tongue, slowly, sensually, past his lips and was welcomed eagerly. If Daniel had touched him, he was unaware because he was too busy feeling how soft his lips were and how the taste of his tongue was … cool, slightly minty, and so fucking good. He explored further, moaning into his mouth, and Daniel moaned back, high. Jack finally registered hands pressed against his chest.
That sent a surge of desire through him and Jack wrapped his arms around him and pulled him in to deepen the kiss. Daniel changed direction while his tongue searched and explored. When it began to wrestle with him, Jack began to tease, making him chase it before giving in, then doing it again.
Daniel growled into Jack’s mouth and wound his arms around Jack’s neck to kiss him harder. He wanted to crawl inside him, to stay there forever and never move again. It didn’t even make sense, but he didn’t care and he wasn’t allowing his mind to think. Only to feel and respond. The two of them sank to their knees, unable to remain standing, but it was obvious that nothing else was going to happen. Could happen.
Eventually, they parted and at the same time. Daniel opened his eyes first. He was panting heavily as he watched Jack’s eyes open to meet his gaze.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Jack answered.
It was Daniel’s turn to start the second kiss and when they parted for air, they both met and kissed again. When they broke for air once more, Daniel pulled Jack even closer for a hug, resting his chin over his shoulder. Jack squeezed his arms around him and it made Daniel smile and return the favor. Just the feel of those strong arms was enough to make him hard and it was maddening not to be able to make love. But that would come. No pun intended. He laughed and separated, sitting back on his heels.
“What’s funny?” Jack asked. He reached over to palm Daniel’s cheek, then withdrew his hand.
Daniel had leaned into his touch and felt a sense of loss when it was withdrawn. “A pun just crossed my mind, that’s all.” He shared it and Jack smiled.
“Yeah, that’s funny.”
Daniel sighed, then turned and sat down, leaning against the back wall. Jack joined him at the same time. Their shoulders, hips, and legs touched in order to maintain contact. At first, his legs were straight, but it felt odd, so he raised his knees. Jack had already done so. Was that why it felt odd to have them straight? He shook off the question.
“Should we talk about this? I mean, what we do when we get home?” he asked.
Jack nudged his knee. “What happens now, you mean?”
“Yeah. I mean, we both know the deal. Two men. Professional lives.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “It’s obvious.”
Daniel nodded as he breathed in a sigh. “Yeah.”
Jack ventured slowly, “So … that leaves … the other thing.”
Daniel swallowed. “I’ve been dreaming about it.”
Jack’s brows went up and he briefly met Daniel’s gaze. “Me, too. Except mine ends in a nightmare.”
Daniel grimaced. “Mine, too. Maybe that’ll change now.”
“You think?” Jack asked, hopeful.
“I mean, it was out of anxiety because we hadn’t told each other how we felt, right?”
“Maybe, yeah,” Jack said, frowning, but it smoothed out and a sudden contentedness filled him. He dropped his knees and crossed his arms. “I think I can doze. I didn’t get much sleep last night, did you?”
“Not really, no.”
“Why didn’t we do this last night?”
Daniel’s eyes went drowsy. “Maybe it wasn’t time yet.”
Jack only grunted.
They were roused when the swish of the door was a sound they didn’t recognize, and they snapped awake. Seeing Thor, they got to their feet.
“We are in orbit,” Thor said. “I believe your minds require an allotted time to fully awaken. You will have it with no loss in the schedule.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Jack said, rubbing his face.
Daniel yawned. “Yeah, me too.”
They donned their vests and followed Thor back to the bridge. When they headed for the window, Thor stopped them.
“One moment, O’Neill,” he said, and picked up the same tracker gun that he’d used on Daniel. “You haven’t been tagged.”
Jack held out his arm. “I feel like wild game,” he said. “Ow!” he said, hissing.
“Yeah, it burns,” Daniel said.
“You didn’t look like it hurt that bad,” Jack said, raising his arm and rubbing at the spot.
“Well, we were in a crowded room. You think I’m showing any of those people fear of any kind?” Daniel asked, shaking his head.
Jack frowned at him. “Daniel, they’re your friends.”
Daniel winced. “Yes, and that doesn’t change anything.”
Jack eyed him. “We need to have a long chat when we get home.”
“About what?” Daniel asked, scowling.
“Daniel,” Jack said, and took his hand. It had an immediate effect and Daniel’s knotted brows smoothed out. “We’ll just talk, okay?” Daniel nodded mutely.
“Gentlemen,” Thor said, gesturing for them to look at a holoscreen. It was orange and in 3D, but nothing of the structure was detailed. It was merely comprised of outlines. For their purposes, Thor was showing them the ship’s detection of life forms. There were eight orange dots in the main chamber and one blue dot.
“What’s the blue dot?” Jack asked.
“Goa’uld,” Thor said. “I will assume it is Baal.”
“Shit,” Daniel said, disgusted.
“Indeed. We are cloaked, and so have not been detected. There is no one at the suspected entrance to the slave cells. You will need to adopt caution.”
“Yeah, we know the drill,” Jack said, a little annoyed as he unholstered his zat. “We’ve done this sort of thing before.”
Daniel was frowning at the eight orange dots. “I can’t tell if they’re all slavers.” He pointed to two dots closer together but separated from the other six. “That’ll be Slovych and Thryx.”
“You sure?” Jack asked.
Daniel nodded and pointed at the space they were in, going by the wall outline. “This is the throne, where they’re standing. A dais. It has steps that lead away in both directions and more steps in front. Visitors come by and they sit at a table to the right of the throne. Here. There’s one person separated slightly from the others and that might be the slave they’re … examining.” The blue dot was next to an orange one and stood a little apart from the others. “If that’s Baal, then that orange dot next to him is crazy-ass Lo’taur. That bastard is sick.”
“As opposed to?” Jack asked.
“Point. But he wants to be a host. So.”
“And …” Daniel winced. “A rapist. Or so he let me know.” He shuddered. “I don’t want to kill him, but I will.”
“Why not?” Jack asked. “He’s complicit.”
“Because he’ll suffer more being left alive when his beloved master is dead. Give him to Yu or someone. They’ll make use of him.”
“Daniel,” Jack said, taking his arm. “It’s one thing to leave them to die. It’s another to arrange it specifically. Don’t become them.”
Daniel stared at him, then realized what he’d said and how he’d said it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Jack. Maybe I shouldn’t be going down there at all.”
“No choice,” Jack said. “I’ll be right there. You won’t be alone.”
“Contact me with this,” Thor said, handing him a smaller stone. “Hold it and speak. Are you ready?” Thor asked.
“One sec,” Jack said, and he felt his side pocket for the mini blowtorch, then reached into the opposite one. He handed Daniel a pair of translucent eye protectors. Like goggles, but less bulky. “When I have to use the torch.”
“Ah.” Daniel put them on. “Always seems a bit pointless. If something hot and molten strikes your unprotected bits, it’ll be bad.”
“Speaking of,” Jack said, and pulled out two pair of leather gloves, minus the fingertips. He gave a pair to Daniel, who put them on. “So, you’ve gotten everything squared away?” he asked Thor.
“If by that you mean that we are ready to proceed, then yes.”
“Then we’re ready,” Jack said.
Daniel swallowed, braced himself, and hardened his feelings. This wasn’t going to be fun.
They appeared in a torch-lit corridor, alone. There was laughter coming from the left but it was further away. The main chamber. Before them was a barred door with a padlock. Jack pulled out the mini blowtorch from and clicked the button that ignited the gas. The blue flame was a lot brighter than a normal torch would have been, and thus, would burn whatever it touched much faster. He touched it to the padlock and in three seconds, the bolt was sheered. He carefully removed it and Daniel opened the door. They went inside and closed the door behind them, and Jack tossed the padlock on the ground—he’d already detected that it was made of earth and therefore safe enough not to make noise.
“They speak English?” Jack asked as they went down another torch-lit corridor.
“Figures. You know what you’ll say?”
Daniel nodded sideways. “Mostly.”
The corridor opened up to barred cells and the smell was nauseating. Feces and urine permeated the air, but it was curious that the smell hadn’t hit them the moment they’d opened the door. Hell, even before that, given the barred window. Daniel went to one cell and the occupant, an older girl no older than twelve huddled in the corner.
“You want to go free?” Daniel asked her. “I’m here to help.” He was surprised that there were no locks on the cells, but then, why would there be? There was nowhere to go. When you were thrown in here, your life was over.
“Daniel?” asked an old woman’s voice that he instantly recognized. “Naveena?” he asked, turning around. He opened the cell. “What’re you doing in here?”
“Ask later,” Jack said. “We go now. Round everyone up.” He was opening the cell doors, alarmed that they weren’t locked.
“Where?” Naveena asked.
“The kitchen. I have to get you all into the kitchen. Jack, do you have that opal stone Thor gave you?”
“Because maybe he can beam us out from here.” He was looking around and all of the kitchen staff was here. “Everyone’s in here.” He turned back to Naveena.
“The other cells are clear,” Jack said and activated the stone Thor had given him. “Thor?”
“I hear you, O’Neill.”
“Can you beam us out from here?”
“Okay, hang tight.” He looked at Daniel, then looked around him. Six people. “We need to get to the kitchen.”
Naveena strode forward. “I will lead you.”
“Are you sure?” Daniel asked.
“Yes. I am ready to die. If they see me, they will kill me and give you time to take cover.”
“That’s not happening,” Jack said, opening the door. He listened, then stuck his head out slightly, continuing to listen. Naveena stepped up next to him. She was so thin and wiry that there was room left between them. Without his go-ahead, she stepped into the corridor and looked both ways. She turned right and began walking and Jack frowned at Daniel, who gave him the go-ahead nod.
Jack shook his head and moved out into the corridor, then waited while Daniel lead the group past. The smallest one kept eyeing Jack’s P90 and Jack gave him a half smile and shook his head, then jutted his chin forward. Not for you, kid. Stop looking at my gun. Keep your attention forward.
They reached the kitchen with no one the wiser and Daniel nodded to Jack. Suddenly, a big swarthy man with a red face and large gut strolled in. Jack didn’t blink. He shot him with the zat. Before he could ask Daniel who it was, Daniel zatted him again, killing him, then once more, eliminating the body.
“Fucker.” Cable looked at him and smiled. Daniel didn’t give him a pleasant smile back, but he smiled. At Jack’s raised brow, he whispered, “Thryx.”
Jack jogged his brows as he pulled out the opal stone. “Thor.”
“You are with everyone?” Thor asked. “Can they understand English?”
Daniel shook his head. “No,” Jack said.
“They only speak Goa’uld,” Daniel clarified.
“All were in the cells?”
“Yes,” Jack said, and both he and Daniel had heard that tone before. Something was wrong with the slaves. As one, they backed up away from the slaves and aimed their zats at the group.
“What are you doing?” Naveena asked in alarm and anger. “Daniel!”
“I am registering a Goa’uld in your group.”
A young woman, no more than sixteen, flashed glowing eyes and started to run toward the entryway, shouting, “Tau—"
Naveena whacked her in the back of the head with a fireplace iron. The girl crumpled to the ground, dead. She scowled at the others. “Why did you not warn?” she asked. The girl had been in the cell with three of them.
Cable, who’d been alone, said, “No need. You know how it works. No one leaves alive. What good would it do to tell?”
Daniel translated, and Jack nodded. “Thor?”
“Do they wish to leave and move elsewhere on the planet?”
Okay, that was a break from the plan. “What? I thought you were going to do it anyway.”
“It does not hurt to ask.”
Daniel asked them quickly. “Is there some place you can go?”
Naveena nodded. She said it was ten miles north, though she used Goa’uld measurement.
“Very well. Step away, please.”
For the second time, they moved away. “Good luck,” Daniel said.
“Thank you,” Naveena said.
A beam transported them to safety, but Daniel couldn’t help but feel afraid for them. The old woman was too frail, even for the warm climate. He walked over to the entryway and looked out, then over his shoulder at Jack.
“No,” Jack said, and gestured for him to get away from the door. Daniel sighed and complied. “I get it. I do. But it’s not worth the risk.”
They heard a couple of bootsteps heading in their direction. It sounded like one person.
“Thryx! The master wants to know what’s taking you so …” A tall Jaffa with the gold emblem of Baal on his forehead stopped mid-stride in the entryway the moment he saw them. He was stunned enough for Daniel to zat him. Jack did the second and third.
“Okay, Thor,” he said into the comm device.
A few more bootsteps echoed in the corridor and the two men tensed up for another round of zat blasts, but they were beamed away before they were seen. When they reappeared on the bridge, the ship was rocked slightly from weapon’s fire.
“My apologies for the delay,” Thor said. “We have been detected.”
“How?” Jack asked.
“I do not know.”
“Who’s firing?” Jack asked. “Baal?”
“Correct. And two Lucian Alliance hatak vessels.”
The ship rocked again, twice, but it was like a nudge. Jack was impressed. “Upgraded the shields, I see.”
“Yes, but apparently not enough,” Thor said. “To be safe, please step away from the forward section and stand by me.”
They did so and a blue forcefield sprang up from the floor, surrounding all three of them. The battle, such as it was, went on for ten minutes but felt like an hour. Their nerves were raw, their emotions high. Daniel was keenly aware of Jack’s presence next to him and he wanted to grab his hand. It was stupid but he wanted to do it anyway. During a battle, the desire to connect was overwhelming. Did that mean he was messed up? No. Life-threatening situations made people want comfort. He met Jack’s gaze and the man actually put his arm around his waist, holding him. Embarrassingly, he got hard from his touch. He wondered if Jack knew. And if Jack was hard.
Jack was pissed. Baal had escaped. At least the overall mission had been a success. The Lucian Alliance was no longer a threat. There would have been a celebration but most of parties involved had something else to do: they gathered aboard the Athena and toasted champagne in paper cups with the former commander of the SGC: Lieutenant General George Hammond.
After returning to base, Daniel turned in his gear and went to the locker room. He wanted to leave, but he still didn’t want to go home. And there was Jack. He’d smiled and been friendly, but there had been a distance there. Daniel wanted to chalk it up to maintaining a professional appearance, but he could have sworn that Teal’c and Bra’tac had noticed it too. It had to have been his imagination. Jack had held him during the battle. It said more than words could express.
Changing into his jeans and t-shirt, and putting his combat boots back on because the damn sneakers had a hole in them, he made his way to Jack’s office. He saw him through the window, intently talking on the phone. When Jack saw him, he nodded and waved him in. That was reassuring. Daniel entered and sat down, waiting for Jack to finish.
“Yes, sir,” Jack said. “It was a success. We won’t have to worry about that threat against Earth … No, sir. Not necessary … yes, I’m sure.” He looked up at Daniel and cocked a grin. “Yes, sir, he’s fine … No, not alone. I was with him … yes, but he could have done it blindfolded. There’s nothing to worry about …”
Daniel frowned and decided he didn’t want to hear the rest of that conversation and got up to leave, but Jack waved him back down. With a heavy sigh, he shoved his hands in his pockets but remained standing.
“Thank you, sir. Have a good night.”
Jack set the receiver back in the cradle and only then did Daniel realize he’d been talking to the President. He felt a little silly.
“Jesus,” Jack said, and made an open and close gesture with his hand. “Yap, yap, yap. If he wasn’t the POTUS, I’d have ended that call five minutes ago, but he wanted a blow by blow.”
Daniel snorted. “So to speak.”
Jack grinned, but it faded. “Listen, I have to write up the after-action report for the dicks in D.C. You go ahead and head home.”
Daniel made a face and got up, heading for the door. “You didn’t need to call me in here for that, Jack.”
Jack got up and put out an arm, stopping him. “Hey, hey. What’s up? You’re mad.”
“No, I’m …” Daniel automatically said, then grimaced. “Yeah, I am, but for no good reason. Maybe it’s post-battle adrenaline crap.”
“Or maybe you’re mad you didn’t get to kill that bastard,” Jack said. “Which is why I wanted you in here.” Jack paused, then shut the door and placed both hands on Daniel’s upper arms. “He’s dead.”
“No one’s sure,” Jack said, dropping his hands to his sides. “Jacob says it might have been Baal, but whoever it was? They were really pissed. His neck was broken. And it wasn’t a simple snap, either.” Jack made a twisting motion around his head, indicating a twisted neck, not just a broken one.
“Good,” Daniel said, and swallowed. He suddenly backed up.
Jack sensed distress. Daniel wobbled a little and he gently pushed him into the chair and drew the other one up next to him. “Breathe. Daniel, breathe.” He did the same, showing by example, and caught his eyes. “In,” he said, breathing deep. Daniel copied him. “Out.” Again. Jack repeated this a few times before Daniel nodded. “So, what just happened?”
Daniel shook his head. “Not here. And Jack? I’m not going home home. I can’t. It’s too … full of echoes.” He made a face. “That sounds nuts, doesn’t it?”
“Not at all,” Jack said. He looked over at his desk. “Fuck it. The report can wait till morning. I can claim combat fatigue at my age.”
Daniel snorted. “I’d buy that if you were seventy, Jack, not fifty-two. I don’t think they will, either.”
“Screw ‘em,” Jack said. “They’re stupid.” Daniel laughed, and Jack smiled a triumphant grin. “That’s better. We’ll get home, my home, and have some dinner.”
“Can I get drunk first?”
Jack gave him a worried look. “Not a good idea.”
“Why not?” Daniel asked. “I’ve gotten drunk before after a mission.”
“Yes, but those were failed ones. We didn’t fail. So why get drunk?”
Daniel frowned. “I don’t know,” he said. “It feels like a failure because … I didn’t get to kill him.” He groaned. “That’s just wrong, Jack. I need a drink.”
Jack sighed. “Compromise? A few drinks, and we’ll have something special to eat instead.”
“Did you lock up?”
Daniel made a face. “No.”
“Go, lock up. I’m gonna clean up first, then I’ll catch up with you.”
Daniel was puzzled. “Can’t I just wait here?”
“Sure, but why?” He touched his shoulder. “Lock up. I’ll be up in a few minutes, promise.”
As Jack cleaned up in the General’s private restroom—yay for perks—he went over and over what was next on the agenda between himself and Daniel. At first, his knee-jerk response was to “play things by ear.” It was a direct response to his admission of love. It had happened in an awkward moment. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Daniel, it was how it was said. He was embarrassed for making it sound like it needed ripping out.
Over the years, Jack had gotten into the habit of putting his romantic life on hold. It never used to be like that. But then he’d married Sara and for a long time, he’d convinced himself that he was happy. Before Sara, and before committing to Special Ops and the occasional black op, he had gone all-in on relationships. Many didn’t last, but they were amicable breakups. People changed or moved on. No one’s fault. But the key was openness. The key, which was created by himself during college, was to get to know the person on the first day they’d plan to have sex.
Over time, he’d let that go. He’d done that with Sara, of course, but then, after, and because of Charlie, grief and the lack of desire had forced him to commit his energy elsewhere. Until he realized one day that he was in love with Daniel. He thought that one day, he would be able to do something about it, but it had never come about because he just didn’t have the power, in general, to do what he wanted. Then came the promotion and he’d jumped all-in again, but for a different reason: to keep his friendship with Daniel while also serving as his commanding officer. He’d get to him eventually, when the time was right. He was repeating the same mistake because he’d waited, then Daniel was taken away.
Five years ago, he’d discovered his feelings. But he’d left them alone. Then Daniel had died. When he came back, it was clearly a second chance. He’d given him time to adjust, to find himself and his purpose again, and all the while, he told himself that there’d be all the time in the world. Later, it became all about letting Daniel make the first move.
They’d known about their feelings for each other long before they’d said anything, but nothing had been declared. He’d let Daniel go first. It had been a cowardly thing to do. Don’t make the move. Play a stupid game. Then Daniel had been taken from him again, and this time, it was worse. Kidnapped by slavers. God only knew what was happening to him and each month that passed was torture in the extreme. He’d been a horrible person, taking his self-loathing out on everyone around him. For eight fucking months. Months.
But now, Daniel was home. He was an emotional wreck, but he was healing. And in Jack’s opinion, he needed something to focus on. To distract from the anger. He needed love and a foundation on which to build. The best thing: a relationship. And it was time for Jack to pull his head out of his ass and push forward, to commit with all his heart.
Most people would say that it was a time to get yourself straightened out before committing. But Daniel wasn’t a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, for fuck’s sake. He knew who he was. He had his head on straight. What he didn’t have was grounding. He was still a very angry man who needed security. So before he left and took Daniel home with him, he had to have a plan. And he was damn sure going to see it through.
Jack brought Daniel the drink they’d picked up at the store. His friend wasn’t a fan of bourbon or scotch. Not really into whiskey, either. But he seemed to like Southern Comfort, which was odd. However, he chose, of all things, the highly concentrated Canadian liqueur, Yukon Jack. It was a bit amusing, given his name was in the brand. Daniel had grabbed some grapefruit soda, too, and after arriving home, he’d mixed them both in a pitcher.
He’d already had one tumbler’s worth and now this would be his second. Jack would try to get him to stick to Coke after this. He knew from experience that alcohol was not the way to go. Hell, if it had been legal, a joint would have been better.
“Here,” he said, handing it to him as he retook his seat on the couch next to him.
“Thanks,” Daniel said, and drank half of it.
Jack sighed. “So.”
“So. Where’s the food?”
Jack smirked. “On the way. I told you. This place is awesome. The food is superb. But they do take their sweet-ass time. Worth it.”
“It’s just Asian.”
“It’s more than that. They have the sushi, or sashimi in this case, and they have all those other great Chinese dishes, plus Thai. How you can eat Szechuan is beyond me though.”
“And how you can tackle those hot Mexican dishes is beyond me, so we’re even.”
“Szechuan has chili spice.”
“Pepper, mustard, and horseradish. Totally different, and a different region,” Daniel grinned. “Although technically, wasabi isn’t really horseradish, but it’s in the family.”
“So, technically, not all that different from horseradish.”
Daniel grinned and dismissed the topic. “Anyway.”
“Anyway,” Jack agreed. He stared at Daniel and the warmth that had filled him since they’d arrived home increased. “About the kiss.”
Daniel blinked at him. “Are you going to say we shouldn’t have—”
“Nope,” Jack said. “The opposite.” He took a deep breath. Just dive in, O’Neill. “I used to have this ritual, a long, long, long time ago.” Daniel’s brows went up and to Jack’s delight, he set his drink down.
“Okay, hit me,” Daniel said. “Unless it has something to do incense and chanting, then never mind.”
Jack snorted and followed it with a chuckle. “Nothing wrong with that but this is way different. A long time ago, I developed a thing, a way of entering a proposed long-term relationship. And so, the question is, before I get into it, are you interested in doing that? A long-term relationship?” He felt a lead weight sink into his stomach. It was said. The question was out there. And damn, that was scary. Part of him wanted to take it back but … this was Daniel.
Daniel himself was taken aback. He had expected … well, he hadn’t known what to expect but he would have guessed that there’d be some sort of dance around commitment but not really asking for one. It’d start with a few dates, then they’d see where it went. “Are you sure?”
“You willing?” Jack pressed.
“Yes, but …”
“But? There’s a but?”
Daniel gave him a wry grin. “We kissed, and that was a big deal. You don’t want to date a few times, figure out if we really want this?” It was stupid, the moment he said it. “Uh, wait. That sounded …”
Jack frowned. “I don’t need to figure it out. We’ve been dancing around each other for almost twelve years. I think it’s time. Time we got serious. I love you. You love me. There’s really only one answer. Well, a sane one.”
“I … I don’t know.” Daniel frowned in thought. He was ready, yes. He’d wanted it a long time. But. “I’m afraid something will ruin it. Some outside force will … or maybe I’m just scared that it’s too good to be true.”
Jack took a deep breath. “Okay, I get it. What if something bad happens? What we don’t work out? What if we realize we can’t stand each other’s personal habits or some such bullshit. But there’s another saying: What if the sun won’t rise tomorrow if you wash your hair the night before.” Daniel stared at him in surprise. “That sounds bonkers, doesn’t it? It also amounts to the same thing. If, if, if. Fuck that. I love you. To me, that means something. I don’t say it easily.”
Daniel took a long breath. “So you mean there’s a commitment that comes with saying it.”
“Don’t you think so?” Jack asked, surprised.
“Yeah, I do.” He shook his head. “I’ve never had any luck with relationships. I attract the wrong sort, it seems to me. I mean, look at my history.”
“That’s not on you,” Jack said. “It’s on the circumstances and your loneliness. People pick up on that sort of thing. Unfortunately.”
“Why did those crazy bitches pick up on that and latch on? Is there something about me that—”
“You made yourself a hero. You wanted to protect and be their hero.”
“No, I didn’t,” Daniel frowned.
“Not consciously, but you did it. Predators take advantage. It’s not your fault, being who you are. On balance, there could have been a lot more women latching onto you and there weren’t. Take it for a positive.”
Still, Daniel resisted. “It’s just … I don’t …” He picked up the glass and downed the rest of his drink. “I need another one.” He started to get up, but Jack put a hand on his knee.
“Jesus, what is it with you and alcohol?” Daniel asked defensively.
“I don’t want you drunk,” Jack said flatly.
It was the tone or his sincerity, but Daniel really heard him this time. “Okay,” he said slowly, and relaxed back into the couch. “That’s ...” He took a deep breath, let it out, started to speak, paused, started again, and shut his mouth.
“What’s going on in that head?” Jack asked.
“Too many thoughts,” Daniel said wryly.
“Look at me and focus.”
Daniel frowned as he looked at him. “I don’t get …” His brows rose as it sunk in. He wasn’t in the moment. He wasn’t thinking about Jack. He was thinking about all the history and the problems and too many times where his heart had been broken or he’d broken others. This here, right now, was about him and Jack. Why was he bringing everyone else in history into it? He nodded as he took another breath. “I’m afraid. I want it too bad.” He looked down, thinking. Jack started to open his mouth to say something and Daniel held up a hand, stalling him.
Jack waited, watching him carefully. It was like watching a lateral-thinking computer figure something out. It made him grin on the inside, but he didn’t dare show it in case Daniel used it as an excuse to avoid what he really needed to say.
Daniel chewed at his lip. Was he ready? Yes. He had fantasized enough about it so now it was crunch time. Why hesitate? Because he was afraid it wouldn’t work out. Since when was that a reason to not do something? He’d never done that in his entire academic career. He excelled at taking risks. Why not now? He swallowed and plunged in. “Okay. We do this. So … now what? What’s the ritual?”
“Just like that?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, swallowing. “It’s scary. I mean, I’m scared it won’t work, but there’s nothing to lose if I don’t try, so … ritual?”
Jack smiled. “Okay. First, we wait till the food gets here.”
“And then we take it all into the bedroom.”
Daniel snorted a laugh. “Are you serious?”
Jack nodded. “One big aspect of any relationship is sex. You can’t have a healthy relationship without it. It’s just a fact.”
Daniel nodded. “I agree. But where’s the food come into it?”
“Relaxation. We get naked. We get used to seeing each other naked. We eat. We lie back. We relax. We talk.”
Daniel swallowed. “Okay. Then?” Jack winked at him. He winked at him. “You trying to be coy? After that explanation, you’re being coy?”
“We make love, Daniel. We take our time. We explore. Doesn’t mean we draw out the first orgasm. It means we commit to one long night of sex. We talk about likes, dislikes, fantasies, although not right away.”
Daniel smiled and looked down, feeling suddenly bashful. Where the hell was that coming from? “Okay. I’m in.”
“Is that a yes?” Jack asked.
The doorbell rang. Daniel froze, for no good reason, as Jack went to the door. Get naked. Talk. He’d never done that before in his life. The talking always came after. But it made sense. Talk before. There was something to be said, and it was hot as hell, for spontaneous sex. The rush. But it was already there, between them, because it would be a first time. They wanted each other. There was really no need to examine it and Jack’s plan sounded, well, actually, quite wonderful.
“Daniel?” Jack asked, and he jerked his chin across the living room. “There’re Japanese TV trays by the flatscreen. Grab two and bring them to the dining room.”
“Two?” he asked, getting up and going to the TV.
“For all the stuff we ordered,” Jack called from the kitchen. “Plus stuff to drink, including a pitcher of ice water.”
“Ice water?” Daniel asked, pausing in the hallway at the entrance to the kitchen. “I hope you mean to drink.”
Jack smiled at him as he walked to the dining table and set down a few serving dishes. “Yes, that’s what I mean, and it’s a perfect example of what we have to talk about. What you like, don’t like, and are willing to try.” He paused. “I’m not averse to ice, but it’s not for the ritual. That’s something for another time. Agree? Disagree?”
Daniel relaxed, and hated that he had to. “Agree. So?” he asked, raising the trays.
“On the table. We fill them, then carry them to the bedroom.” He started for the fridge, but paused. “And no, we are not involving food with sex. That’s one thing I don’t do. I’m not averse to the occasional whipped cream, but I don’t like eating food off people. That’s …” He made a face and shook his head.
Daniel was nodding all the while as he set the trays down. “Cannibalistic.”
“Exactly!” Jack said as he pulled out the pitcher of ice water that he always kept and proceeded to fill it with cubes. “Empty the bag, will ya? I got down four serving bowls. I figure that’s enough. Two per tray. Then the odd carton or five, plus condiments.”
With everything sorted, food wise, they proceeded to the bedroom. Jack had a king-sized bed, so this type of ritual, Daniel thought, was going to be easy to navigate. There was always that problem on smaller beds. Even queens were just not wide enough when you had two men six feet tall or more. But then, it all depended on the mattress. He paused as he put the tray down on the right side of the foot of the bed. He tested the mattress and was relieved.
“What?” Jack asked.
“Not memory foam. I hate that stuff.”
Jack held out his fist for bumping. Daniel grinned at the unexpected and surprising gesture and bumped fists. “I’ve never seen you do that before.”
“It’s not exactly standard issue military. Most of the young men nowadays do it. I used to, when I was young. Maybe that’s when that sort of thing started, I don’t know. But between us? I think it’s okay.”
Daniel nodded. He was learning so much about Jack this evening. Pleasantly surprising stuff and things he’d never dreamed of, yet made sense. He looked to the right and saw that Jack had a private bath. He walked over because there was something else he needed to do. It was a full bath, not just a sink and toilet, and the ‘full’ meant a shower and a tub, not just a tub with a shower head.
“Nice,” he said, and flipped the toilet lid.
“Thanks,” Jack said. As he waited for Daniel to finish, he began to unbutton his shirt while he kicked off his shoes and pulled off the socks, thankful that he wasn’t one of those guys whose foot odor made you queasy. Honestly, men needed medication for that issue and always thought powder was the answer. Morons.
Daniel came out of the bathroom and paused. “Time to …” He made a gesture at Jack.
“Yep,” Jack said, and walked past him to use the toilet.
Daniel felt awkward, since this was something that he either did right before sex, right before bed, right before a shower at the base, or right before changing into his uniform. And that last part was something he never thought he’d do in a million years until ten years ago when he’d joined SG-1. Now, he was stripping for a whole other reason. Sex, sure, but eventually, not right away. The sex he’d been fantasizing about was also a little scary because there was that thing about reality never matching the fantasy. Still, that didn’t seem to be …
Jack stripped in the bathroom, then came out and set his folded clothes on the chair he always used. He looked over at Daniel and was amused by his slow undressing production. He was woolgathering, that was obvious. He wasn’t focused on what he was doing, nor even half done. The shoes and socks were off, but he was thinking about something while struggling unnecessarily with a button, and it was only the third one. Grinning, he walked over to help.
Daniel blinked to the here and now when Jack reached over to help him out of his shirt. And he was naked. Gloriously, outrageously, wonderfully naked. Daniel had seen him that way a few times—it never got old, either—but this was completely different. It was sexual. And oh, my god, he was blushing because Jack was standing there looking goddamn gorgeous and … the sonofabitch found it amusing.
“Shut up,” he said as Jack took his shirt, folded it, and placed it on the dresser.
Jack decided not to say anything about that distractedness. There’d be no point. He just unbuckled Daniel’s belt and unzipped his jeans, then let him do the rest. When he finished, he put them with his shirt. All the while, he kept his eyes on Daniel’s face. Daniel didn’t. Grinning impishly, he slid his arm around Daniel’s waist, cradled his neck, and leaned in for a kiss.
Daniel was startled, and swallowed as their lips met. It was as if this was the first kiss. Because … skin. And … He inhaled sharply through his nose when their bodies touched. Their groins. Cocks, specifically. He was going to get hard, dammit, and how could he get hard and eat? The food was going to get cold and … Jesus, Jackson, focus on what you’re doing!
Jack felt when Daniel dropped whatever his mind was distracting himself with. He relaxed into him. Damn, he felt good. Best get to dinner before things got a bit more heated. He parted the kiss and moved an inch or so away, taking in those blue eyes. Reaching up, he slid his hands through that long hair. It was a sensual thing to do, but he couldn’t help it. It was a turn-on.
“What’re you doing?” Daniel asked, grinning.
“What I want,” Jack said. “Finally.” He wrapped his arms around him. “What about you?”
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out. “Yeah,” he said, as if it just came to him. “Finally.”
“C’mon, let’s eat. I’m actually hungry.”
“So’m I,” Daniel nodded.
Sitting on the bed, propped up by extra pillows, they ate each other’s food as well as their own, and Daniel was pleasantly surprised to find that Jack knew how to use chopsticks. He’d always used a fork before. As for talk. At first, it was typical. What favorite foods they liked. Colors. Cars. Leather or fabric. Ordinary stuff. Then Jack surprised him.
“Top or bottom?” he asked.
Daniel blinked at him and ordered himself not to blush. He failed. “Didn’t we cover this already after the nightmare?”
“Yes, but you said that’s what you always did, not that it was a preference.”
“Right. Well. Top, I guess.”
He looked odd when he said it, as if he wasn’t sure. There was a story there, Jack thought. “You guess?”
“It’s just … what I’ve always done.”
“We have a conundrum. Top.”
Daniel cursed himself a food. He should have known. Of course Jack liked to top. He … felt … like a top. It was a stereotypical thing to assume because it assumed that strong men, or strength in general, meant ‘being on top.’ Except that wasn’t always the case. “Yeah, a conundrum.”
Jack nodded. “I don’t always, but most of the time. It’s just the partners I’ve been with usually choose to bottom. With women, that’s a given. But men? I’ve bottomed a few times, but I prefer to top. You?”
“I just said,” Daniel said, drinking down some water.
“No, I mean, why top? Just top? You don’t want to bottom at all?”
“I’ve never wanted …”
Jack studied him. “It bothers you? It can be good, you know. With the right partner. And I can make it so that you’ll never want it any other way.”
Daniel snorted, but the idea of it scared him, and for one legitimate but outdated reason. “It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. But whenever I thought I could try, I would just …”
He wanted Jack. And he was actually interested in being on the receiving end. To have Jack in him made him shiver, and in a good way. But. There was that thing.
Jack sensed that this was a tender subject that needed careful navigating. It wasn’t a problem for him because he was ready to compromise, but Daniel had to do the same or resentment would arise. He couldn’t have that.
“Let’s put aside the food,” he said.
“Okay,” Daniel said, and he wasn’t stuffed, but he didn’t want to be. This sort of food was actually a good choice. Had Jack planned it out that way? Possibly. Once the trays were on the floor, and away from the bed, Jack settled in the center and pulled Daniel next to him. On their sides, facing each other, he began caressing Daniel’s sternum with the backs of his fingers, from his stomach to between his pecs. It was a slow, almost absent-minded thing to do, but it was something he knew from experience that it was soothing and fell under the heading of ‘not quite sexual’.
“Can I ask you something?” he asked.
“You don’t need permission,” Daniel said, puzzled. “Ask anything you want.”
“Yeah, but this has to do with sexual preference, and I mean in what you prefer, not whether you’re gay or bi.”
Daniel was curious. “Go ahead.”
“You seem to be nervous about talking about top or bottom. Why? It’s the basic part of the sexual relationship.”
Daniel began to copy Jack’s caresses. “Talking isn’t really the problem. It’s history. I had a bad experience that sort of ruined being on the receiving end and I haven’t wanted to try again.”
“What happened?” Jack asked, and stopped caressing.
Daniel didn’t think he should have stopped, but he needed to do something, to focus his thoughts, so he took Jack’s hand in his, threading their fingers.
“When I was eighteen, my boyfriend at the time wanted to top. He’d only ever bottomed so I was surprised. Turned out, a few of his friends, the shit ones who’re only your friends if you do things for them, you know?” Jack nodded. “Anyway, it turned out that they were telling him he wasn’t a man if he didn’t top. They told him he needed to be forceful about it, but he read that to mean physically forceful. So we’re about to make love when he forced me on my stomach and tried to …”
Daniel took a deep breath. “Tried. No. He did. He was brutal about it and after I punched him, I broke up with him then and there.” Daniel swallowed hard. He rolled off the bed and grabbed the glass of water. He took a few sips and returned to Jack’s side, bringing the glass with him. “I couldn’t do it again, have sex, period, for a long time.”
“How far did he penetrate?” Jack asked.
Daniel scowled at Jack, stunned at the question, but his brows smoothed out when he realized that Jack should know. “Not much. Maybe an inch or two.”
“So do you think you were upset that he was forcing you to do something you didn’t want? Or was it because he was forcing you to bottom?”
“The former,” Daniel answered instantly. He then stared at Jack, surprised by the revelation and how quickly he’d arrived at it. “How did you figure …?”
“The description. It was an attempted rape, Daniel. No, sorry. A rape. And it’s also why you didn’t want sex after that for a while. A normal reaction to rape or attempted rape.”
“I never … I never thought about it that way. Well, yes, I did, but I kind of whitewash it. I still don’t like to think of him badly because I chose to be with him. Makes me think I have rotten choices in men. Not all boyfriends were bad, but the bad ones sour the barrel, you know?”
Jack nodded. “How long were you together?”
“Five months,” Daniel replied. “Not exactly long enough to know each other. We just sort of fell into it. We had sex one night. We kept having sex. Figured it should be a relationship. He wanted it, and I just went along because sex with him was hot.”
“That’s not really a relationship,” Jack said. “That’s what the military describes as fuck buddies.”
Daniel snorted self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Your other relationships after that?”
“After that?” Daniel asked, unnecessarily repeating the question because he really didn’t want to discuss it. But this was Jack. He winced. “They were the same. I mean, casual. Then there was Sarah and Steven. That went back and forth and—”
Jack pushed up a bit on his arm. “Hang on. You mean that prissy little overachiever at the Oriental Institute? The one that tried to get you nabbed for murder? That Steven?”
Daniel grinned at him. “Yes. That Steven. He was a hot lay. And that was all he was.”
Daniel winced again. “I tried with her, but I was too preoccupied with my work. Osiris should’ve picked up on that when he—”
Jack put fingers over his lips to silence him. “No G talk.”
Daniel took his fingers away. “No G talk.”
“So after them?”
“What about you?” Daniel deflected. “We’re only talking about my past.”
“Daniel, there’s a point I’m trying to get at. Don’t do that deflection thing.”
Daniel set the water glass on the top of the headboard shelf. “You’re trying to tell me that my biggest problem is that—”
“No, I’m not. I’m not saying a thing. I’m only hoping you understand that you can try again. You’re with me now and I won’t ever hurt you.”
“I know that,” Daniel said, a shade too fast to be completely honest.
Jack deliberately took Daniel’s hand and placed it over his limp cock. “This won’t hurt you. Ever.”
Daniel swallowed. “Okay.” Jack raised his brows, his expression hopeful. Daniel couldn’t refuse that look. “Yes, I’m serious. And if you really want to, we can try. But I’m worried that I’ll freeze up and disappoint you.”
“Trust me?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Daniel said automatically.
“Then trust me.” Jack leaned over and kissed him again. Lightly. “Now. Onto the next thing.”
Daniel sprawled dramatically. “God, there’s more?”
“You’ll thank me later,” Jack grinned. “Now, how do you like to be touched? Kissed? Licked? Sucked?”
Daniel laughed and placed his hand over Jack’s mouth and Jack kissed his fingers, then sucked the middle one into his mouth. Daniel stopped laughing and stared as Jack sucked it like he was sucking on a cock. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “No one’s ever done that to me.”
Jack smiled and pulled the finger away. “If you react like that to a finger, imagine how you’ll react to my mouth on the real deal.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Jack, I’m not a virgin like that. I’ve had my dick sucked. I’ve returned the favor, and trust me, I really know what I’m doing there.”
Jack’s slow smile was hot. “Promise?”
“Oh hell yes,” Daniel nodded.
“So, what about rimming?”
Daniel blinked at him, then felt that goddamn rush of heat to his ears and cheeks. “Goddamn it,” he said, and threw an arm over his face.
Jack chuckled. “You really are easy to embarrass. Who the hell has been making love to you for the, I’m guessing, twenty-odd years? Dolts?”
“Dolts?” Daniel laughed, taking his arm away.
“Morons? Idiots? Imbeciles? They had to have been, Daniel. It’s the only explanation.”
“Doesn’t speak well of me though, does it?” Daniel said with a heavy sigh.
“Never too late to learn,” Jack said. “I’m a good teacher.”
“With no shortage of ego.”
“Hey, when you’ve got it, fl—”
“Oh, shut up. Let’s just move on to the next bit, whatever it is. Eventually, I’ll stop blushing like a schoolgirl.”
“It’s just blushing. Don’t assign gender to it.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Moving on here?”
“Okay, okay. Touching?”
“No, stop avoiding.”
Daniel sighed. “I like lots of it. Everywhere. I like a lot of kissing. As for how, don’t you just learn that as you go along?”
“Sure,” Jack agreed. “But it’s always best to let a person know beforehand what will ‘kill the mood’.”
“Ah,” Daniel drawled. “Gotcha. Okay. What kills the mood, for me, is to focus too much on non-sexual body parts. Like toes, feet, knees. Hell, even my belly button.”
Jack’s brows went up. “You don’t like someone touching your belly button?”
“Well, no. It’s annoying.”
“Why?” Jack asked. He was honestly curious. “How’d they do it in the past?”
“Like this,” Daniel said, and he reached over and dug a fingertip into Jack’s navel and scratched a little. Jack slapped his hand away. “See? You don’t like it either.”
“Nope, but that’s not how it should be played with. I’ll show you.” He bent over and drew a wet line with the tip of his tongue about five inches above the navel and when he got to the dip, he softened a bit, just a bit, and tickled it, went around it, and dipped in again. He then drew another line away and downward. He stopped an inch before he got to Daniel’s half-hard cock, then pulled back to return to resting on his elbow. “That.”
Daniel’s cheeks were blushing, but it was a flush of arousal this time. “Oh,” was all he could manage. “Okay. I liked that.”
Jack smiled and reached over, caressing his cheek with the back of his hand. “Now that’s a proper blush. And now you see what I mean.”
The real blush returned, and Daniel felt extremely awkward. He looked down, embarrassed. “I guess I haven’t ever properly—”
Jack leaned forward and kissed him, deeply, passionately. “Enough talk,” he said, coming up for air. “Enough talk. I’ll show you.”
Jack reached over and took Daniel’s cock in hand, but he slowly massaged instead of stroking it, and while he did that, he brought his lips and tongue to Daniel’s nipples. Moving from them to his collarbones, then returning to his nipples to tease them between his teeth. That was something Daniel enjoyed a lot and he kept doing it for another minute before he gave him a smile, then bent forward and took his cockhead into his mouth.
Daniel grabbed his head, but gently, and while Jack kept his eyes on Daniel’s, he played. He tasted, licked, and sucked. He refused to bob or do anything in earnest. “It’s about exploring,” he said as he pulled back.
“Okay. My turn.” At first, Daniel copied what Jack had done, but by the time he ventured down to his dick, his own experience took over.
“Oh wow,” Jack said, gasping, and he pulled Daniel away from his efforts. “That’s so not exploring. You’re gonna make me come if you keep going.”
Daniel licked his lips and rubbed them together. “I can’t help it. I love doing it and it’s something I’m good at.”
“Yes you are,” Jack said, and they settled next to each other again. This time Jack pushed him onto his back and reached down to stroke his cock as he kissed him for a while, with the occasional foray into other traditional erogenous zones. He found Daniel was ticklish behind his ears, but that he moaned with arousal when the center of his throat, just under the chin, was lightly bitten. Moving his fingers lower, he caressed his balls, glad to find that they weren’t overly sensitive. When he got to the spot between his balls and anus, he paused, caressing lightly. “You want to go further?”
Daniel swallowed and nodded. “Yes.”
Jack reached backward and opened the night stand to retrieve a bottle of lube. He handed it to Daniel, then asked, “Do you want to use a condom?”
Daniel slowly shook his head. He meant it. He kept his eyes on Jack’s and made sure.
“Okay,” Jack said, closing the drawer. “Squirt some on my fingers.” Daniel flipped the cap open and did so. “A bit more. That’s good.” He reached down and spread the lube over the perineum, then moved downward. “Spread for me?” Daniel did so, and he moaned when Jack spent a bit of time massaging the area below his balls. “Feel good?”
Daniel’s breathing was shaky. “Yes.”
“While I do this, stroke yourself.”
“Doesn’t it do anything for you?” he asked, but then he looked down. Jack was exceedingly aroused. “Uh, never mind.”
Jack smiled. “This is hot. I love doing it. Don’t you love giving pleasure?”
“Sure,” Daniel nodded. “I withdraw the question.” He inhaled sharply when Jack’s fingers massaged over his hole.
“All right?” Jack asked, continuing. Daniel nodded and swallowed. “Okay. One finger?” Daniel nodded. Slowly, Jack pushed, and Daniel’s eyes half-closed. “Okay?”
“Yes,” Daniel whispered. “More.”
Encouraged, Jack slid his finger further inside and began to move in and out. “How does that feel?”
Jack wanted to crook his finger, to rub that little nub, but he decided to wait. For now, this would do. Next, another finger. Then three. He worked slowly, sensually, and Daniel never realized, fully, that he was being fingerfucked. All he was interested in was how damn good it felt. Stroking himself while Jack was doing it helped. And it was hot, watching him do it.
Jack removed his fingers and applied a lot more lube to them as well as to Daniel’s rectum, then he leaned over and took his cock back into his mouth at the same time as he slowly thrust two fingers deep into his hole.
“Oh god, Jack,” Daniel groaned, thrusting his hips as he threw his head back and allowed himself to just feel. “That’s so good.”
Still, Jack kept away from his prostate, but he twisted his fingers and rubbed the passage, getting him used to the fill. The big test would be for something a lot larger, like his cock. But first, a small test. He pulled off and returned to the drawer and withdrew a dildo that was flesh-colored and a perfect replica of a cock. It was smaller than his own. Or Daniel’s, for that matter, but Daniel’s eyes widened all the same.
“Uh, wow. Really?”
Jack slicked it up and stroked it quickly, warming it up. “Yeah. If I entered you now, it would burn like hell and you might choke. Now, there’s no escaping the burn, but prep turns it into a turn-on instead of a turn-off. The best way to do that is with a little teaser. And this? This is prep. Now …” He reached down to position it. “Put your hand over mine.” Daniel did, and Jack returned his mouth to his cock as he began to gently, slowly, push the dildo head past the puckered muscle. At first, Daniel tensed up, but he backed off, pushed in, backed off, pushed in. Over and over, and all the while, sucking his cock. By the time he was truly fucking Daniel with the dildo, he was squirming and moaning. Good.
“You want me to replace this?” Jack asked as he got to his knees and slowly took his hand away from the dildo. He watched Daniel continue to fuck himself with it.
Daniel swallowed hard and stopped, handing the toy back to him. “Yes,” he said, huskily.
Jack lay down over him and wrapped Daniel in his arms. They kissed passionately for a while, and Jack made no move to try and enter him. He purposely guided his partner into relaxing, with the occasional stroking of his cock. When Daniel spread his legs, Jack knew it was time and he knelt between them. Daniel started to turn his body but Jack put a hand on his hip. “What’re you doing?”
“No,” he said, with a shake of his head. “That’s the easy, less painful way, but it’s impersonal.” He bent over and kissed him. “I’m making love to you. I’m not fucking you. There’s a time for that, and it can be hot, but only when you’re used to it and know that it’s a thing between us. It’s not for first times, in my opinion.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, and settled onto his back. He raised his knees, his feet on the bed. “Now what? I mean, I’m not an idiot. I know what’s next. Generally speaking. I mean, what do you want to do next?”
Jack moved forward and lay over him, between his raised knees. He rested his elbows beside Daniel’s head and rubbed against him for a bit. Daniel moaned appreciatively and caressed his chest with his hands. Kissing him deeply, he wound his arms around his neck and rubbed back, enjoying the shocks of pleasure that created between them. Jack was so damn hard, and so damn big compared to that dildo. But there was no anxiety. None. He’d never been so loved before. Never been so open and prepped. Jack had been right to do this the way he’d planned. The seduction, the caring it took. The love.
“I love you,” he blurted out between kisses.
“I love you back,” Jack said, coming up for air the third time. He handed Daniel the lube and moved off enough to give room. “Slick me up?” he asked, grinning.
Daniel did, and over-did. He couldn’t help but jerk Jack off a bit as he coated his cock, then recoated his cock. He then squirted a lot of lube over his own hole. “I don’t think I need more.”
“Trust me, you do,” Jack said. He rolled back on top and guided Daniel’s legs around his waist. He was about to tell him to remember to breathe but thought it might make him tense. Best to wait until ... He lined up and pushed a little, breaching the hole with the head of his cock. Daniel’s eyes widened, and his mouth fell open. He didn’t frown though. “Okay?” he asked.
“Go,” Daniel said, afraid of the burn, that it would get worse. But his cock was hard, Jack was hard, and if he felt like the dildo, this would be wonderful. “Don’t pull out and don’t stop.”
“But I’ll go easy,” Jack said, and it took everything he had to go maddeningly slow. He pulled back a little, then pushed, and repeated that several times until he was fully inside. “Okay?”
“Oh god yes, now shut up and fuck me,” Daniel breathed, and he reached between them to stroke his cock.
Jack let out half a laugh. “If you insist.” He began to thrust in an easy rhythm. Not too slow. Not to fast. And he angled his hips in such a way that he desperately tried to stay away from Daniel’s prostate. Occasionally Daniel dug his heels in, wanting him to go deeper, so Jack obliged, but only so far. He still had that surprise for him. He kissed him lightly, several times, then decided it was time. “It’s time,” he said.
“Time?” Daniel panted.
“To drive you crazy,” Jack smiled mischievously.
“You already are,” Daniel said. “Go faster.”
“Not quite yet,” Jack said. “Now, raise your knees higher and spread as wide as you can.”
Puzzled but curious, Daniel did. Tipping forward until Daniel’s ass was firmly off the bed so that his knees were hovering near his chin, Jack pushed up on one hand and reached between them. He placed the first two fingertips of his right hand just under the base of Daniel’s cock and massaged firmly while he adjusted his hips and thrust at a specific angle.
Daniel tipped his head back and dropped his mouth open, eyes wide with shock. “Oh … fuck.”
“There you are,” Jack said, smug and satisfied. “That’s your prostate.”
“Oh … fuck,” Daniel repeated, and he began to shudder. “Fuck,” he said between clenched teeth, then let out a harsh gasp, unaware that he’d been holding his breath. “Oh my god, Jack,” he said, and his voice was higher pitched. He gasped and looked into his lover’s eyes. “Jesus. Faster, please. I’m gonna …” He threw his back. “Oh god!”
Jack slid out halfway, then quickly pistoned, his cock swelling as he watched Daniel gasp and cry out underneath him. He was doing this to him. Something he’d dreamed of for years. When Daniel climaxed, he plunged in hard and deep, knowing his own orgasm was on the brink.
Daniel slapped the bed with his hands, writhing under the unbelievable strokes from Jack’s cock, the unbelievable weight of his body controlling them, and the unbelievable sensation of that damn button he’d heard about but refused to explore.
“Oh Jesus,” he said in a strained voice. “Oh, Jesus! You can’t be …” His mouth wide open in shock, he let go and welcomed the second orgasm. His back arched and he couldn’t stop writhing, trying to shift his hips from side to side. The way Jack fucked him was beyond good. He certainly had a thing or two to learn from him. When the orgasm began to abate, his body was still shuddering because Jack was not done. “Holy fucking shit!” Was he going to come again?
Jack pushed Daniel’s knees down as he continued his fast pace and slid his hand behind his neck and kissed him hard, thrusting his tongue into his mouth to wrestle with Daniel’s. Daniel broke off and bit at his neck, grazing his teeth over the jugular as he reached up and grasped his hair, pulling his head back. The slight pain of it combined with Daniel’s teeth was divinely hot, and surprisingly, Jack came hard because of it.
He kept grinding, rubbing that little nub, and Daniel orgasmed for the third time, though nothing escaped from his cock. It was dry, and weird, and good. “I fucking love you,” he said, whispering the words against Jack’s lips.
“I fucking love you back,” Jack whispered in return, his voice tight as his body shook. He opened his eyes and stared down at his lover as his body relaxed. Daniel was completely limp beneath him and the fact of it, the power it held, scared him because it was so intense. He’d never in his life felt this way. He moved off slightly, and slipped out of his body. Daniel groaned at the loss and he smiled at him. “Sorry about that.”
Daniel opened his eyes, and through panting breaths, asked, “For what?”
“Withdrawing,” Jack said, amused.
“No need,” Daniel said, brows knotting a little. “You’re funny, apologizing for nothing.” He groaned. “Good god, Jack. You’re never apologizing for that. Ever. Not after what you just did to me.”
Jack crooked a grin. “You see what I mean now? How good it can be?”
Daniel huffed out a breath and a half-smile. “Smart ass.”
For the rest of the night, they practiced touching, kissing, and Daniel was able to do to Jack what he had done to him. He fingered him, then used the dildo, while taking his cock in his mouth and doing wild and wonderful things until he eventually pulled a strong orgasm from him and swallowed it down his throat. It was the time where Jack was truly surprised because, like Daniel, he’d never had all of that, at once, done to him before.
“Didn’t I tell you how good I was?” Daniel said, half-joking.
“Smart ass,” Jack replied, lazily stroking his hair. “It’s my turn in a while.” And that’s when Jack taught him how to look for the prostate with his finger. When that happened, Daniel had run out of words. Instead, he mutely returned the favor.
Daniel walked into Jack’s office with a folder and set it on his desk.
“What’s this?” Jack asked, picking it up. Behind Daniel, in the Briefing Room, was Sam, Kowalsky, and Ferretti. “Daniel?” he asked.
“We’d like to go to P8Y-774. It’s the next designation in the new addresses we got from that Ancients’ database on Dakara. Teal’c says there’s probably an outpost there. At least, that’s what those ancient Jaffa scrolls say.”
“The ones he found in that second temple in the mountain?” Jack asked.
“Yeah. So if it’s true, and it’s there …”
“ZPM,” Jack said, standing.
Jack waved the rest of SG-1 in his office. “And?” he asked Carter. “How sure is Teal’c?”
“A hundred percent, but we’ll know when we send the MALP through.”
Jack nodded. “Okay, but remember. Don’t—”
“Go anywhere where there are Jaffa with Baal’s crest. We know.”
“Christ, sir,” Kowalsky said. “Isn’t it time we stopped pussyfooting with the bastard and go after him?”
“Not with one team,” Jack said, with extra emphasis. “Send the MALP. Call me down when you’re certain it’s not a colossal waste of time.” The three members of SG-1 loitered for a moment. “What?”
“We heard,” Sam said, trying not to smile.
“Oh,” Jack said, turning his laptop so they could see what he’d been reading. “You mean the news.” On the laptop wasn’t a newspaper. It was an Air Force Notification. He stood up and withdrew two rings from his pocket. Daniel smiled and held out his hand. Jack slid on the silver band, then let Daniel slide it on his own ring finger. “I’m not kissing you. This is still a professional work environment.”
Daniel smirked. After the clapping from their friends, Sam shoved her boys out of the office and left Daniel alone with Jack. She emphasized closing the door. Stepping back to use the door as cover, Jack pulled Daniel into his arms.
“You were right. I hate you,” Daniel said, smirking, though it belied the excitement in his eyes.
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
Jack kissed him. Deeply. Thoroughly. With an added thrust of his tongue for promises later. It usually involved something with scarves and widely placed ankles.
“Tease,” Daniel said, kissing him lightly before stepping back. “No, I don’t. I love you. And I expect you to show me in marvelous ways when we get home.”
“Count on it.”
Daniel left his office and walked down the stairs to the Control Room. Something caught his eye. He frowned as he picked up a dated transmission on top of a pile of ‘to be filed’ mission statements. It was the one that signaled success of that mission six months ago, when they’d eliminated the Lucian Alliance.
He’d come a long way since then. He no longer held the anger and resentment that fueled a desire for revenge. So much had changed since the night of Jack’s ritual five months ago. Two weeks ago, even more change. They’d had to keep it on the down-low, waiting for the time when they could sport their rings. And now it was official. He couldn’t help the grin all over his face.
“Daniel,” Sam said, snapping him out of his reverie. “Take a look at this.”
He walked over, fiddling with his ring. “What?”
She smiled at him, and it was a bit playful. “Take a look at what the MALP is transmitting. Is that the Furling language on those walls?”
Daniel bit his lips together, trying not to laugh, because he no longer needed to imagine what Jack would say.
~ end ~