"He was what?" Jack said, rounding on the man behind him.
The man, a local functionary whose interminable sentences periodically dissolved into mumbles and who wrung his hands a lot, winced and hunched down into his own shoulders, but managed not to stagger back. "Sold," he said, repeating the last word that Jack had gotten from his last sentence before it trailed away into a mealymouthed blur. "Removed from his overnight accommodations by claim of" mumble mumble reallyfastmutter "and taken to be sold at the dawn market of" mumble mumble mumble reallyfastmutter.
Jack stared at Teal'c, who raised an eyebrow and made no mention of Simarka, then said, "Aren't you folks supposed to be past this stuff?" Raised from barbarism in the last generation by some hit-and-run elder race who'd also left them technology Daniel had been negotiating for access to, desperate for the validation of peer relationships with older and more dependable cultures, these people never shut up about how they valued civilized behavior, and scrambled at every turn to demonstrate their own sophistication. Mostly that involved exhibitions of unfathomable social etiquette and the display of volume upon volume of legal code. They think that codifying everything makes them ... classy, Daniel had said in an aside to the team at the dinner in their honor the night before. The question I can't answer yet is what, exactly, they're codifying. Beyond, you know, what kinds of, um, stoneware to wear at a formal event and which utensils to use for what food. Jack, appalled by the Flintstones fashion show and flummoxed by the countless unidentifiable "utensils" arrayed at his place setting, hadn't paid much attention to that statement at the time. Now, as the functionary produced a slate-bound manual from which to cite sources for his explanation, Jack remembered it. Here was at least one answer to Daniel’s question.
"If we turn to the relevant subsection of the oral-claims clause of the tertiary property code," the functionary began, "we quickly see that -- "
"Let's not and pretend we did," Jack said. He gestured Fix this for me at Carter and You're with me at Teal'c. "Just point me to the market of whatever-you-just-said and tell me what I'm gonna need to buy him back."
> > > > >
Buying him back turned out to be no problem. Affording him turned out to be no problem, although -- hey, had to give them credit for taste, if nothing else -- he was by far the most expensive item at the bordello where he'd wound up. The functionary's superiors, immovable on the legal technicalities and essentially uncomprehending of the problem but embarrassed and eager to resolve the dilemma, provided the funds, and the transaction, with Teal'c as backup, went smooth as butter. The hitch came when Jack went into the back to pick up his purchase and was informed of the requirement that all items be sampled first. Thoroughly. With a witness.
"They have a no-returns policy," Daniel said, with what passed for a shrug in the manacles and leather webbing they'd hung him up in, a few feet off the flagstone floor, naked except for a leather G-string jockstrap kind of thing. "It's pretty sensible when you think about it. Can't claim you didn't know what you were getting into. You know, going in."
Jack ignored the puns and circled him slowly, checking his body for injuries or signs of abuse. No visible bruises, no scratches or abrasions; nothing swollen, unless you counted the prominent swelling in the leather pouch. "Anybody try the free sample so far?"
Daniel shook his head, thank fuck, and then said, "But it's not a free sample. You're taking your new ride for a test drive. As I've found out the hard way, what they've codified is their mercenary code of conduct, substituting rule books and contracts for swords and invasions and bloodshed. Property rights and terms of trade are paramount in this society, and they will still shed plenty of blood in defense of the rules in their books. You back out of the sale, you not only forfeit half the purchase price but you ... "
Jack thumbed his radio while he finished the visual assessment and while Daniel forged on into car-leasing and real-estate analogies. "Teal'c, stand by," he said. "We may have a little problem here, over."
"Acknowledged, over," Teal'c's voice replied at the same time Daniel finished, "So just go out and explain that you bought me for Teal'c, and send him in."
Non Sequitur of the Week Award to Daniel, thirty-seventh week in a row. Jack gave his head a little shake. "Say what?"
"Non c'è uscita legale da questa situazione e l'unica alternativa ad un 'test drive' sarebbe per voi di uccidere molte di queste persone o per loro di ferire o uccidere noi, l'uno o l'altro di cui mi renderebbe più peggio di se qualcuno dovesse provarmi," Daniel said, in a burst of Italian as sharp and bitter as it was heartachingly fluid and beautiful. And startling; it took Jack a few seconds to process it. There's no technical way out of this and the only alternative to a 'test drive' is for you guys to kill a whole lot of these people or for them to injure or kill us, either of which would make me feel a lot worse than if someone were to ... The last word meant 'test me' or 'try me out,' but it meant 'probe me,' too, and no way was the play on words accidental.
"No one probes," Jack said, gruffly and awkwardly in a language he understood better than he could speak, on a flare of anger at Daniel for picking that language deliberately over something Jack was fluent in like Spanish or Arabic, and at himself for being unable to switch gears into one of those to answer. Despite or because of the surprise shift in language or the tone of the exchange, the designated witness -- a burly bouncer type who exemplified these people's warrior background -- came up off his wall and freed his hands and shifted his weight off his heels. He wore the standard tunic of overlapping slate shingles suspended on light chain. The shingle-mail clacked as he moved.
Jack pretended to be oblivious, made a show of considering what to do with Daniel while he examined the suspension gear to gauge how much of it he could get Daniel out of before he had to deal with the guard. Cutting the main line would dump him on the stone, freeing his arms would dump him on his head, and freeing his legs wouldn't do him any good, although it would give him weapons that might help when the reinforcements piled in. If he moved right now, while he and Daniel still seemed to be debating, he could probably take the guard and get Daniel safely lowered with one hand free before the backup arrived --
"No, Jack," Daniel said, sensing Jack's psychic spring wind up, and his sharp tone motivated the bouncer to gesture through the door for three more shingled musclemen to come in.
"Shukran, shukran jaziylan," Jack said in a bright mockery of gratitude, internally uncoiling while he rolled his eyes and made 'easy guys, settle down, no problem here' gestures at their quadrupled audience. Then he finally took a good look at Daniel's face. Skin flushed, pupils dilated ... crap. "Are you on something?"
In a flood of English, Daniel said, "They gave me a drug to keep me physically responsive and cooperative, all the sex workers here take it, also dilates the pupils so you look like you're into the customer, they believe it's harmless and hopefully it is, sex work here is mainly part of the service industry and they're regular employees, human trafficking is an occasional house sideline, but anyway that's why the erection and why the eye thing."
"Did kinda wonder about the boner," Jack said casually, clamping down hard on fears about this mickey they slipped him, running four-on-one scenarios in his head, estimating how long before a couple more teams could get here assuming Teal'c radioed Carter right away and she phoned home, "but what I mean -- "
"I know what you mean. Send Teal'c in, Jack. No puedes hacerlo."
You can't do it. "You impugning my virility, Viagra Guy?"
"Yeah and speaking of which, they gave me this stuff a couple of hours ago and I've been hard ever since, which is apparently not how males from this planet respond, and I really wouldn't mind getting off so I don't end up hospitalized." Seamlessly he slid into Baghdadi Arabic: "So how about you turn off the battle simulations in your head and solve this the easy way where nobody gets hurt, OK?"
Jack tried a few variants of Dunno about yours but in my book sexual violation qualifies as hurt and just got a few variants of It's not violation, I consent, it's just sex from Daniel. The bouncers had filled the four corners of the room and were watching with restrained impatience. They had every angle of observation covered, so there'd be no faking the penetration part. He didn't want to call Teal'c in here -- he figured that Teal'c would do whatever Daniel said he preferred, but Teal'c would never forgive himself, and the two of them had way more than enough of that kind of baggage -- but if he was going to swap places he had to do it now.
"OK, listen to me," he said in Spanish, moving close to Daniel's side, barely restraining an urge to put a soothing hand on him, thinking, OK. OK is OK in every language I know. No is no in three of them. No is no in this one. He forced himself to make eye contact and was relieved but mildly surprised when Daniel's gaze glanced off his and away. Weird; he hadn't seemed that embarrassed about this. It was generally almost impossible to embarrass Daniel in any significant way. Jack took a breath, and said, "I do not want Teal'c to be involved in this, but if it has to happen I have to know whether you prefer Teal'c or you're trying to protect me. What do you want, Daniel?"
In a half groan, half whisper of English, Daniel said, "I want you not to ask me that question."
Frowning, distracted by outside sounds he couldn't identify, Jack said, "Why?"
"Because this drug acts like a truth serum too," Daniel said, mixing Spanish with the English now. "A real truth serum, not an inhibition-lowering narcoanalytic. There's only so long I can go on heading off your questions and evading them on a technicality, and if you phrase it right and ask me straight out my right to privacy is boned, so don't, please, Jack."
Everything's a fucking technicality around here. Daniel had said 'boned' in English. It should have been funny. This was so not funny. Everything's a fucking violation around here. "Just answer in a language I don't know."
"Come on, no chemical can possibly -- "
"Turn you into a caveman, age you ten years overnight, make you see aliens you just met as humans who've been on your team for -- "
"Well, how do I know what not to ask you if I don't know what you're trying not to tell me?" Before he got any more tangled up in that, he said, "I need this information, Daniel."
In pure Spanish now, a liquid lilting caress of Spanish that was combining with the unavoidable sight of Daniel's body aroused and presented to him on a platter to override Jack's mission-mode suppression and fill his penis with blood, Daniel said, "If you stall much longer these witnesses are going to cry foul, and there are contingents here that would love to get control of us through a legal tiff or a social scandal, which is what this is about if you hadn't noticed."
Noticed you're still not answering the question. But Jack wasn't pushing, either. He was confused and afraid to hear something he didn't want to hear and he had to get his shit together and handle this situation, now. He thumbed his radio. "Teal'c. Status. Over."
"A handful of the local constabulary have arrived," Teal'c's voice said. "They are unthreatening at present, but Major Carter has been prevented from contacting the SGC and it appears we are on our own. May I speak to Daniel Jackson, O'Neill? Over."
Jack blinked. That was a first. He looked at Daniel, and Daniel nodded, so he said, "Affirmative, go ahead," thinking Constabulary. Contingents. Peachy.
A flood of some Jaffa dialect issued from the radio, then the word "over." Cocking his head at Daniel, Jack leaned down and thumbed the transmitter. Daniel responded in Teal'c's language. Jack glanced at the guards -- sometimes hearing Goa'uldy-sounding stuff made people on gated planets hinky even if they didn't have a beef with the Jaffa -- but they were holding position, apparently prohibited from interacting unless some rules got broken. Then Daniel said, "Let him talk now," and Jack released the transmitter. Daniel's eyes winced closed at whatever Teal'c was saying, and when Teal'c said "Over," Daniel said "Whatever, over and out," and Jack told Teal'c to report any change of situation and signed off. He didn't have to say, "So?" He straightened, and waited.
"The concierge explained the deal to him," Daniel said, "and he explained some things to me. He won't be able to do this, physically. Not wired that way. That option's out. So ... " He briefly shut his eyes. "Just tell me you'll still be able to lead a team I'm a member of."
"Of course I will," Jack said. His answer was reflexive, immediate, certain, and Daniel believed him; but something about his tone was the last straw for the bouncers. One pushed off his wall and went out -- to talk to the 'concierge' or, worse, the 'constabulary.' The others weren't looking antsy anymore; they had the stillness and blank expressions of men who were waiting for an imminent go-ahead.
The radio crackled Jack's name, Jack responded, Teal'c said things were heating up, Jack acknowledged, signed off, swore, and said, "Daniel. There's a shitstorm brewing out there and the team's CO and anthropologist cannot be in here anymore. I'm gonna be very blunt with you here."
"I'm sitting down."
Jesus. "My dick up your ass. Trauma? Yes or no."
"I might come in you. I probably can't stop it."
"You should come in me, so they'll believe you had a good time."
Genuine, unruffled calm. So what did Daniel not want him to ask? What? What should he make sure not to do or say if they did this?
It had gone past 'if.' "So we're doing this," he said. The fourth bouncer hadn't come back in. No sound of weapons fire from outside, but raised voices down the hall. It was cold in here. Too cold to be hanging immobilized and bareassed.
"Yes," Daniel said.
After checking him over, Jack had taken station by Daniel's side. Now he went around between Daniel's legs and faced Daniel straight-on. Saw Daniel blink into a frown at the bulge in his pants. "Yeah, I'm a pig," he said. "On the bright side, it saves time, and don't hand me some garbage about this outting me, you know this part's not going on any fucking reports." Daniel nodded, and kept his gaze politely at chest level while Jack twisted fingers in his fly to open his pants without unthreading his belt. "The P90 stays on," Jack said. "I'm sorry."
"No problem." Daniel's voice closed down tight at the end of it, as if he was maybe trying not to say something else.
"You know where they hide the lube?" Jack asked, since there was nothing in here but stone and metal and leather, and grunted as he wrestled his erection through his fly. He'd improvise something if this was the one bordello in the universe that didn't provide basic supplies.
"Yes," Daniel said. Jack lifted an exasperated glare to him, and caught on Daniel's direct stare. "In me, Jack. They prepped me thoroughly for the buyer."
"They put fingers in you?" Jack snapped.
"Plugs," Daniel said. "Very impersonal. Increasing in size, so by the way you can skip the whole finger-progression thing. Just ... " He managed to make a flinging gesture with his right hand. " ... dive right in."
Jack breathed through the outrage. The burn subsided but left an almost out-of-body clarity: Here he was, dick in hand, his friend abducted and sold and stripped and violated and hung from the ceiling, about to collaborate in this fucked-up culture's rape of both of them.
One thing you could say about standing with your dick in your hand: the last thing anybody expected you to shoot with was a firearm. He had a zat on his left hip. He didn't have to kill them. No egress meant cornered, but it also meant defensible. The doorway was too narrow for two abreast; they had to come through one at a time. He could keep zatting until ...
Until the first guys he zatted woke up. Until they tossed in some tear gas or worse. Until they dragged Carter here and overran Teal'c and used them as leverage. Until he got desperate enough to try punching a hole through one of the stone walls with a shaped charge and blew them to hell because the room was too small and the stone was too thick.
He put a hand on Daniel's thigh to keep himself from putting it on a weapon. He was still staring into Daniel's eyes. Daniel knew what he was thinking, same as before. Daniel was warning him off, same as before. His expression was a mixture of pleading and threat. Jack's was pure pleading. They were begging each other. For forgiveness, to get it over with, to find another way -- Jack didn't even know anymore. His penis was drooping in his hand, his own barbaric physical reflex reaction to sexualized Daniel fading in cold reality. He'd hesitated too long. No puedo hacerlo. Now he really couldn't do it.
The hallway voices got louder, and a single file of ambulatory pitched roofs clacked into the room. Jack stuffed his dick away, buttoned back up, and rested a hand on his P90. He put the other back on Daniel.
First in was the original bouncer-guard, followed by the establishment's proprietor and manager in tunics of shingles so iridescent they looked like fish scales. The bouncer took his crew off high alert with a subtle gesture, and Jack's tense gut eased slightly. The manager -- the tall, gaunt woman Teal'c had called a 'concierge' -- looked harried and unhappy, and the owner of the joint looked downright insulted. Behind them came a handful of armed guys in blue slate shingle-mail, presumably the constabulary. The one at the rear wore gilt-edged shingles strung on shinier chain. He came up just short of arm's length of Daniel, right hand resting on the cudgel at his belt, and asked Jack politely if the item in question was not to his liking.
Now that it seemed the gang was all here -- including Teal'c, behind the constables, controlling the doorway -- Jack automatically recalculated their odds of successfully fighting their way out. The odds sucked no matter how he ran it, but the earlier in the scenario he got Daniel freed and armed, the better their chances got. He thought about how many times they'd shot their way out of a corner, and how effective Daniel had become in those situations. Now they had to talk their way out instead of shoot. Now Jack had to rise to the occasion with something other than his dick. Daniel was drugged and incapable of dissembling and couldn't tell him what to say. He had to function outside his specialty, the way Daniel had been doing in every firefight for years.
"It's exactly what I wanted," he told the head constable. "It's exactly what I paid for. I bought it and it belongs to me. In fact, it belonged to me before, so it's mine again. It's mine twice over. Which, according to the third rule of prior ownership in the Uniform Code of Interplanetary Commerce recognized on all civilized worlds in this galaxy, means I'm exempt from having to prove that it pleases me."
The constable considered this load of complete bull with mild bewilderment, then said, "You were prepared to do so not moments ago."
"Sure," Jack said. "To keep the peace." Inspired by a glance at the bouncers flanking the aggrieved proprietor, he said, "With the one witness we agreed on. Then those three guys came in. No civilized person would continue in front of an audience that size." Everything's a technicality, he thought. He drew himself up, lifted his chin. "Four witnesses when you stipulated one? That's a violation of my privacy! An insult to my integrity! An affront to my dignity!" The proprietor went pale. The concierge shifted uncomfortably. Jack realized what they were really afraid of, and how to hoist them by their own petard: "I should sue the pants off you!"
For a second he thought the ploy had backfired; instead of looking aghast at his threat, they looked confused by his phrasing. Then, speaking up from his position behind the lines, Teal'c said, "Colonel O'Neill means that he has cause to bring suit against this establishment and seek substantial monetary compensation."
The proprietor and concierge both turned to the head constable with sick 'please tell me he's wrong' expressions.
"He has clear right of action," the constable told them, and reeled off a blur of supporting references.
Within minutes the constables were clearing the room and two attendants were turning wall-mounted cranks to lower Daniel to his feet. Jack asked for clothes for Daniel, who'd been carried off in nothing but his shorts, and they said they'd fetch some. Then he asked for an antidote to the drug, and they said there was none; in one of their people it would wear off in a few more hours, but with the Terran they couldn't say, since it seemed to affect him differently. As they went to leave, Jack said what about the persistent erection, and the trailing one gave him a funny look and replied that the cure for that was the same as for any other.
"I don't think she meant a cold shower," Daniel said. He'd come into Jack's arms when his legs started to buckle, the P90 jammed between them, and except for the low sound that tore out of him when the erection in question dragged across Jack's thigh, this was the first thing he'd said since the crowd had pushed in.
"Can you manage, you know, yourself?" Jack was dubious; if he let go, Daniel would crumple, and Daniel was shivering, his skin clammy under Jack's hands.
"I don't know. I can try."
"OK. After you put on some warmer stuff." He kept holding Daniel, and Daniel relaxed and gave himself over to being held, and Jack closed his eyes to weather a poignant surge of desire to just wrap him up and keep him safe from all the crap that kept coming their way. When it ebbed to a reasonable level, he said, "You gonna need to clean up? I didn't ask for soap and water."
"Nah, I'm not too smeary on the outside."
Jack swallowed down a reprise of his reaction to how Daniel got smeary on the inside, and occupied both of them with moving over to where a wall would offer more support.
The attendant came back with an armful of clothes. She bent down to deposit it on the floor beside them, then came up with a billowy, droopy, linen-ish kind of shirt and held it up, prepared to put it on Daniel. Jack told her to just leave everything. When she was gone, the room was finally empty. "So this jock thing," he said to Daniel. "It's underwear, or what?"
Daniel shook his head. "It's ... gift wrapping. Up to the buyer whether to check out that part of the merchandise or save it for a treat at home." He was trying to untie the leather cord, but the knots were beyond his fumbly fingers. They'd tied the damn thing stupidly tight around the waist, probably because Daniel's hips were too slim to hold it up. "Can you just cut this?"
"If you can hold completely still."
Jack got him out of the strap and partway into the longjohns-cum-jodhpurs, got the big white shirt onto him, and the ragged-cut animal-skin overtunic that left him looking more Tony Tok'ra than Barney Rubble. There was a belt. There were sandals. He left them for the moment.
Teal'c came back and reported that the municipal transport that was supposed to wait and return them to the ministry building had instead returned their government escort, but that Major Carter had reacquired it on that end and would pick them up within half an hour; then he took up sentry duty just beyond the doorway, his back to them. The brighter lights of the hallway cast his shadow reassuringly into the comparatively dimmer room.
Daniel was propped against the wall. He stayed upright as long as he had something to lean on. The clothes had warmed the shakes away. Jack gave him a handkerchief and turned on an angle for protection and privacy, but kept his shoulder against Daniel's to buttress him. There was some movement, some jiggling; a frustrated huff of breath; some more jiggling; a low "Fuck."
Jack didn't say anything or look around, just tilted his head enough to express inquiry.
"I don't have the motor control."
Half an hour 'til their ride showed up. Forty-five minutes back across town, twenty more out to the gate. Too long. "You want a hand?"
Jack turned. Daniel looked pale and miserable. Jack slung his left arm around Daniel's neck, hooked him in close. "OK," he said, low and easy. "It's OK." He pressed his brow to Daniel's temple so that he wouldn't embarrass him by looking at him or insult him by looking away. Daniel leaned into the bracing hold and warm contact. Even offworld, in mission mode, in danger, it felt as if it would be the most natural thing in the world to nuzzle and kiss. It felt as if Daniel were expecting that, straining toward it, which was weird, since Jack never projected like that. But Daniel received the support gratefully, no question there, and that was what mattered.
Daniel's right hand was holding the handkerchief over his erection. Jack moved his right hand to cover Daniel's. Daniel let his drop away, taking the cloth with it. Jack let his fall lightly on Daniel's penis. "OK?" he said, quietly and seriously.
"Yeah," Daniel said, barely voiced.
"It's just me," Jack said.
"I know. It's OK, Jack. I, I, I, I want this. Go ahead."
Jack wondered why the stuttering all of a sudden, but judging by the hard-on the drug was still active, so "I want this" was the truth. So he went ahead.
It was thicker than his, with a less defined glans, or maybe it just seemed that way because it had a foreskin and his didn't. He started slow, a gentle pressing back-and-forth, and worked up to long, easy pulls. For a while there was just the rustle of clothes, the puffs of his own breaths bounced back at him off Daniel's cheek, the feel of Daniel's skin against his brow and under his fingers, the scent of Daniel's sweat and Daniel's groin. Then Daniel’s hips twitched, a hard, involuntary arousal response, and Daniel’s thighs parted, falling open as far as the lowered waistband of the breeches would allow, and Jack’s awareness focused on the messages that Daniel’s body was sending him.
More jerks of the hips were sloppy pushes urging him a little faster, a little harder; Daniel didn’t have the coordination to fuck his hand, but the desire was clear, and Jack’s purpose here was to do it for him. He adjusted the angle of his hand and firmed his grip and pumped for real.
Daniel’s left hand had been spread on the tunic’s skirt, holding it up out of the way. It fisted now. His right hand groped at Jack’s thigh. He whined softly. His body arched.
"Yeah," Jack said, just a whispered huff, "yeah, yeah," not thinking, just holding, pressing his face into Daniel's, giving him all the help and comfort and solidity and reassurance he could while his hand pumped away.
"Jack," Daniel said, on a rising note, the way he used to call for Jack in the field when he came face-to-face with something huge and strange and unexpected, when something was about to overwhelm him.
“Right here,” Jack said softly.
Daniel’s penis spurted fluid. Daniel gasped breaths, but didn't groan or shout. Jack gentled his hand but rubbed with his thumb and index finger, pushed the foreskin up the shaft in little squeezes. He followed as Daniel collapsed back against the wall, held him steady through a few twitches and shudders, breathed with him, cradled his softening genitals. He was so focused on easing Daniel down that it took him a while to register the voice in his head telling him to back off, he'd crossed way over the manual-assistance line.
They'd nosed blindly towards each other at the climax, and their faces were mashed together, Daniel's cheekbone in Jack's eye socket, Jack's mouth on Daniel's jaw. Jack drew away a little, and felt Daniel start to follow, then pull back. He touched brows with him again, apologetically, as he carefully released Daniel's package and unstuck their bodies. Daniel offered the handkerchief so he could wipe his fingers. Together they got Daniel arranged comfortably in the breeches and got the breeches laced up correctly.
"It's staying down," Daniel said, in weary relief.
"Yeah." Jack hadn't said anything, but he'd been worried about that too -- that the drug-enhanced erection would persist through ejaculation, or come back after. He tugged the tunic's skirt down over Daniel's hips, front and sides, and snugged the belt around his waist. "Shoes now, then we're outta here."
The sandals had broad, stretchy straps to wrap ankles and calves. Daniel slid down the wall to sit on his butt and try to do one while Jack knelt in front of him and did the other.
"What about that?" Daniel said, and gestured.
Jack looked down at his tented pants. He didn't know when he'd hardened again. He'd noted the stunning fact of Daniel arched in ecstasy in his embrace with what he'd thought was calm dispassion -- not just because it would be skeevy to get a charge from it, but because it was so intense that he couldn't afford to feel it at all. Apparently he'd reacted involuntarily again, but detached himself so effectively from his own response that this time he didn't notice. "It'll go down," he said. He started untangling the mess Daniel's rubbery hands had made of the other set of Ace-bandagey straps. "Here, I've got this."
"So now I know what the sticking points were," Daniel said while Jack wrapped, as if they'd been continuing a conversation through a series of minor interruptions. "I learned a lot from the market and from the people here. The negotiations should go very smoothly now."
"They'll go very smoothly for the team we send back," Jack said. "You can brief them thoroughly. In the briefing room."
"That's a complete waste of time and resources. I can close this deal in under an hour, and the science team can get started right away."
"You can't even tie your shoe."
"Don't be an ass." Daniel stuck out an arm for Jack to help him up. Jack pushed to his feet and clasped Daniel's elbow and lifted. Daniel had more strength in his legs than he'd had before. "The more I move the more the circulation will come back."
"OK, then: How the hell are you gonna haggle on truth serum?"
"That's the beauty of it," Daniel said, with a flash of genuine smile. "I don't need to lie -- we're offering a perfectly equitable exchange, and now I can address their reservations -- and they're familiar with the drugs the pleasure houses use, so they have to believe me."
They moved to the door. Jack kept his cool on the way out, didn't react to either the aggressive posturing of the bouncers or the unctuous kowtowing of the owner. He and Teal'c kept Daniel between them, down the long hallways and through the front lounge and out into the rainy, dismal street. He offered Daniel his shades, but Daniel waved them off; his pupils were still force-dilated, but the daylight was too weak to bother him. One un-shiny constable was left of the group, under an awning across the street, keeping an eye on things. Fat lot of good he'd be if there were trouble now.
Scanning the blank greystone building façades and the vehicular and foot traffic, Jack said to Daniel, "They think you're property. How do you have any standing to make deals? They think I bought you. They think I own you."
Daniel nodded. "That's how," he said. "That's how this all happened. Warriors are above negotiating contracts and treaties. Once a general agreement to ally or do business is established, the details are hammered out by underlings, amanuenses -- scribes and secretaries who are the property of the warrior elite -- and then the warriors take credit for the sophisticated legalities."
"So when I said you'd be working out the details, they assumed you were like those guys?"
"It was more about your phrasing," Daniel said.
Jack glanced at him, then returned his attention to their surroundings. "What'd I say?"
"You called me your cultural specialist. Or maybe 'my anthropologist' or 'my linguist' or something, I'm not even sure now, but you made an oral claim of ownership while you handed the treaty-making over to me, thus confirming my status by their standards. In this culture, oral claims are taken literally. In this culture, possession is nine-tenths of the law. In this culture you look after your possessions or it's tough luck if someone swipes them and fences them during the night."
And I didn't look after you, and somebody swiped you during the night. He'd requested separate sleeping quarters for everyone. He remembered the look he'd gotten from the housekeeper asking if he was sure about that. "Dammit," he said softly.
Daniel shrugged. "We didn't know. Now I know. I also know exactly how to secure our access to the technology in those silos. It'll be fine, Jack." He looked over. "That was a stroke of genius, by the way. Threatening to sue. I would never have thought of that."
"I see that drug is wearing off," Jack said, with half a smile.
"Yeah, it's really not," Daniel replied, and then Carter came rumbling up the cobbled street in one of the city's heavy-wheeled transports, and their little side trip was at an end.
> > > > >
At the long granite-and-feldspar table in the glittering Quartz Hall of the Ministry of Extraplanetary Relations, Jack watched Daniel do his thing, and felt the strangest, warmest swell of admiration. It wasn't just pride in a member of his unit performing up to standards. It wasn't love; he'd been in love with Daniel for a long time, and sexual contact didn't change that, or compromise his lockdown on those feelings. He was way too far past his teens to watch Daniel at work and thrill to the secret knowledge of intimacy; there was no oh my god I touched him there or holy crap, he came in my hand. It wasn't even deepened appreciation for Daniel's skills after his own modest attempt to wing it. He was a traditional, old-school, behind-the-lines air commando, extractions and intelligence gathering and surgical strikes, and however black the covert ops got, they'd never involved deep undercover work, so he was pleased with the mumbo jumbo he'd concocted and the creative solution he'd improvised. But he didn't need firsthand experience to appreciate what Daniel did, and how well he did it. What warmed him was the simple pleasure of watching Daniel Jackson in action. Articulate, engaging, even charming; unassuming, sometimes deferential, but steely, and savvy, and relentless. Energized and focused by the new data he'd acquired, not a thought for what he'd gone through personally in acquiring it, and using every scrap of it to get the SGC what it needed in the fight against the Goa'uld.
Interplanetary bargaining was just as much an example of Daniel adapting to meet the needs of the team and the SGC as learning to function as part of a fighting unit was. He was no U.N. diplomat, no international-relations expert, no treaty negotiator; he was a guy who dug up old stuff and figured new stuff out from it, a guy who explored the structure of language the way chemists and physicists explored the structure of matter. But he was the closest they had, so he filled the niche. Theoretical astrophysicist and pilot Carter had become a ground operative too, and an engineer, and a unit commander, because they needed her to be those things; extraterrestrial army general Teal'c had adapted to American small-unit tactics and a completely alien culture. Jack had been called on to change the least, he thought as the talks wrapped up. First principle of leadership was to know yourself and seek improvement, and beyond stretching to meet the unique challenges each mission presented, he hadn't made much of an effort towards either of those for a while now.
But they needed him to be exactly what he was, he thought, pressing his name and rank with a stylus into wet clay at the bottom of a tabletful of fresh legalese, so maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.
In the transport, heading back to the gate, Daniel said, "I want to make an agreement with you too."
Owing to some more of that impenetrable local protocol, the two of them were alone in the middle vehicle of a small diplomatic convoy. The vehicles were like Age of Steam hansom cabs with paleolithic fittings, and the operator was up top and couldn't hear them; the rest of their team was in the vehicle behind theirs. If this conversation had to happen, this was the place for it. But Jack said, "I'm not talking to you 'til that stuff wears off."
"You want me to be able to lie about this?"
"I want you to have a choice. Otherwise anything I say could inadvertently force you to disclose something against your will. You're the one who pointed that out."
"I also told you that it's not like sodium thiopental. You can't force me to tell you anything. What I choose to say just can't be a lie. Or an inaudible whisper. Or in, you know, Hindi or whatever."
"Failure to reply can speak volumes."
"Huh. Wow. You really are better at this than I thought."
"You're trying to mire me in technicalities so that we run out of time for the conversation I'm trying to have."
Jack really hadn't been, but he said, "Well, you're falling for it."
"I totally was." Daniel looked delighted. The sight was rare and breathtaking, and Jack looked away, which probably made Daniel shut it down, because his tone was businesslike when he went on, "I'm assuming that what happened in that room stays in that room. I want to extend that mutually agreed-upon amnesia to this car ride. There's no longer anything I object to you finding out, but it won't matter anyway, because whatever's said here stays here. OK?"
"You don't need a special dispensation to have a confidential talk with your team leader, Daniel."
"I don't want to talk with my team leader. Are we agreed?"
"If I'm hearing you right, you're asking to ask me things you can't ask me."
"I'm not military, so actually I can, and I'm not, because what you're talking about your body already told me. Are we agreed."
Jack sensed personally perilous ground here, but shutting Daniel down always led to problems, and in this case the problems could be especially damaging. So he took a breath, looked straight at Daniel, and said, "All right. Yes."
"OK." Daniel cleared his throat and returned his gaze to the rugged terrain ahead of the vehicle. "So. What I'd like to know, Jack, is whether that was kindness or something more, back there."
That wasn't the question Jack was expecting. In fact, it was easier -- a one-word answer would cover it. But before he could regroup, Daniel was talking again, calm and matter-of-fact but very fast. "I know you can't act on it in any event, I understand the UCMJ and the regs, the oath I took didn't include those but I did take one too and I took it in earnest and I know how seriously you regard yours. My job performance won't be affected either way, this is a purely personal question, and you won't hurt my feelings if the answer's kindness." The smooth, flawless speed of his delivery put Jack in mind of TV announcers listing side effects and disclaimers at the end of commercials for medications that should be prescribed as needed, not advertised like cereal. "You're a good guy, Jack. You're the kind of guy who offers warm human contact when he's helping another guy out in an excruciating situation. You're also a sarcastic thickheaded hawkish dick enough of the time that I'm frequently dissuaded from letting you know that I appreciate your humanity and ... generosity. But I do. I've also fallen for you, kind of hard actually, which is the information I was trying to protect before and why I'd like to get this straight before we go back to business as usual." He took a breath, deep and long enough that now Jack could have gotten a word in if he weren't speechless. "So probably that was just you being you, and that's great, I mean nothing I say should be taken to minimize the virtue of that in any way. But I got a sense that there was more involved -- not just a sexual reflex you were managing, but ... well, more. I can deal with my stuff, I've been dealing for a long time, it's just not knowing that kills me, and now that the issue's been raised, it would make things a lot easier on me if you could settle the question of whether I was projecting or not."
They were less than ten minutes out from the gate; any moment now it would be coming into view through one of the boulder-tumbled gaps between grey-green mesas. "You weren't," Jack said. With a last hard blink of astonishment, he added, "Apparently neither was I." Then he swiveled on his butt to turn as much of his body as he could towards Daniel, one leg hitched up on the bench seat, one arm up on the backrest. "It was basic human decency," he said. "It was also affection. We've been friends way too long for impersonal to cut it in that situation. But yeah there's more. There's ... a lot more."
Daniel looked at him for a long time. Even drawn and weary, he seemed impossibly beautiful to Jack. His gaze was clear and steady; Jack thought his pupils might finally be constricting a little, but he had kind of big pupils anyway, so Jack couldn't tell if the drug was wearing off. Finally he nodded, a quick firm dip of the head. "Then it means even more that you'd tell me," he said. "Thanks, Jack."
Jack stared at him. "I think my declaration of love may have been insufficiently clear."
"Nooo, I got that," Daniel said slowly, and cocked his head.
"So that's it? 'Thanks'?"
Daniel frowned. "It has to be."
"No it doesn't."
"I'm a walking dishonorable discharge. I'm forced retirement on legs. I'm a court-martial waiting to happen."
"You think they'd discharge me for that? After the kind of ops I ran for ten years? You think given my history and my value they'd butt heads with me over sex?"
"Um ... " Daniel looked more confused than reassured. "Yes?"
"Even Kinsey wouldn't try to make that one fly. In the category of things that get swept under the rug, it's not even a dust bunny."
"I don't think it would be just sex, Jack."
"Well, I'm very glad to hear you say that, Daniel, because I sure hope it won't."
"There's still fraternizing."
"Oh, yeah. Can't jeopardize that commander-subordinate dynamic. Next thing you know we'll be on a first-name basis, I'll be spending my downtime with you, you'll be questioning my orders ... "
"OK, OK, I get the point." Daniel was starting to smile; he looked exhausted and amazed, harrowed and relieved at the same time. He looked almost happy, which was the weirdest of all, and not just because of the circumstances. Jack realized that he'd seen Daniel intent, engaged, excited, absorbed, satisfied, amused, but he'd almost never seen him plain old happy.
Up ahead, the gate loomed against the stone-colored sky. Jack swiveled back around to face front. "So you're amenable to resuming this line of dialogue at some point after we leave the vehicle."
"I think we can dispense with the prior agreement, yes -- but I'm hoping that talking won't be the primary focus, at least initially." Daniel was facing front too, but Jack caught the curve of lips in his peripheral vision.
Reluctantly, loath to put a damper on the moment but duty bound to get an accurate read on Daniel's condition before they left the privacy of the vehicle, Jack said, "Listen, Daniel ... "
Daniel's small smile didn't falter. "I'm OK, Jack."
"Some serious shit went down on this mission."
"And when doesn't it?" Daniel turned to him, and the smile warmed. "Object penetration counts as sexual violation. I know that. But it doesn't feel that way. They were very professional about the whole thing. It felt like a medical exam. I'm shaken up, I'm tired, but I'm OK." His eyes searched Jack's. "Believe me?"
Jack blew his remaining tension out with a huff of something like amazement -- at the situation, at their crazy lives, and most of all at Daniel for being Daniel -- and gave a slow, firm nod.
The transport rolled to a stop in a rock-walled parking area a couple of dozen yards from the DHD. Carter and Teal'c's vehicle pulled in beside it while Daniel was groping around the door on his side to figure out the opening mechanism. The driver hopped down and opened Jack's door for him. Giving up on the far door, Daniel scooched over, and they got out on the same side.
> > > > >
Daniel was stumbling with fatigue when they got to his apartment, after medical finally cleared him and he briefed Hammond and the science team so that he had the best possible shot at a full twenty-four hours' rest at home without being called back in. The second time he dropped his keys, Jack picked them up and unlocked the door for him. Inside, he shepherded Daniel straight into the bedroom and sat him down on the bed to help get his clothes off. It wasn't the kind of nonverbal activity Daniel had alluded to; but when Jack set two water glasses on the nightstand and got under the sheet with him instead of going out to sleep on the couch, Daniel sank into his arms with a moan of relief and gratitude more profound than any sex act could have produced.
Jack nuzzled into his bangs, and touched lips to his forehead, and smiled when Daniel pressed into the kiss. Most natural thing in the world.
"So," Daniel said, as if they'd sat down in the living room to continue their chat. "Your dick up my ass. Still on the table?"
Jack's brows went up. He blinked, then said, "Is your ass on the table?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"Well, as a matter of fact, so's mine."
"Yep. But not tonight. No more questions now. Sleep."
"OK," Daniel said. Jack felt a "but" there, but Daniel was already half gone, and whatever else he was trying to say slurred away into a mumble that turned into a snore.
Jack wrapped him up close and warm and went to sleep content in the knowledge that for this little while, at least, nobody was taking Daniel anywhere.
^ ^ ^ ^ ^