“Jack, we have to help them.”
Jack peered through his field binoculars, flat on his belly in the grass, perched at the top of a low rise. “We’re outnumbered,” he said without looking at Daniel.
“They’re not expecting company, sir,” Carter added. “And we’re behind them. I think we could do it.”
Jack sighed, rolled onto his back, and then slid down the hill until he was covered enough to sit up. “I know we could,” he said. He raised a hand to Daniel, freezing him with a look. “But that doesn’t mean we should.”
“They are searching for hosts,” Teal’c said, peering down the hill without the aid of binoculars. Four Jaffa and what appeared to be a Goa’uld, judging by the hand device he wore and the lack of forehead marking, were culling people from a milling crowd of natives. The Jaffa held their staff weapons up and ready, but had so far met with no resistance. A small line of the young and beautiful had already been selected, and they stood in front of the crowd, still and silent.
“Yes, and we can stop them,” Daniel pressed.
“And what happens when their boss comes by wondering where the hell his new hosts are?”
Daniel frowned at Jack and turned back to watching the selection process. “There’s something strange about those people,” he muttered to himself.
Carter slid up beside him, lying flat and peeking through a thick clump of grass. “They don’t seem that worried, do they?”
Daniel nodded. “Yes, there’s no panic, no attempts at escape. And we’re close enough to hear the Jaffa yelling at them, but do you notice none of the natives are speaking? How often do you see a completely silent crowd?”
“Perhaps they are too intimidated to offer resistance,” Teal’c said. Below, another young woman was drawn from the crowd. People touched her as she went by, hands brushing against her shoulders and hair, brief squeezes on her arms. She nodded to them, acknowledging the contact, and stood where she was directed without any sign of fear. The other selected ones touched her as she joined their group, one man brushing his fingertips over her face. She smiled at him and returned the gesture.
“Weird,” Jack muttered. “It’s like they want to be chosen.”
“No,” Daniel said slowly. “Nobody is stepping forward, or trying to attract the Jaffas’ attention. They’re just waiting. It’s more like they simply don’t care.”
“Maybe there’s more going on here than we know about,” Carter suggested.
Jack snorted. “Isn’t there always?”
“So what are we going to do?” Daniel asked, twisting to look at Jack over his shoulder.
“Keep your head down.” Jack brought his binoculars back to his face and surveyed the situation again. Five unfriendlies, a whole assload of spooky, quiet, apathetic natives, and four on his side. High ground, element of surprise, and close enough range to make hitting any of the bystanders unlikely. They even had enough zats with them to take crossfire casualties out of the equation. So yeah, they could take them. Still didn’t answer the question of whether they should.
“Teal’c, you know the snake?”
“I do not,” Teal’c answered. “He is most likely a minor underling in the service of a System Lord. Which one, I do not know.”
Jack nodded. If they mixed in here, they could be making things worse. Pissing off whichever Goa’uld had sent the little raiding party would only come back to bite the natives on the ass. On the other hand, there had to be a reason the locals didn’t seem even slightly worried. Nobody had that good a poker face. Hell, there were kids in that crowd, little kids, and they were playing, darting in between the adults’ legs, completely unconcerned. Something was totally out of whack here.
“Zat them all,” Daniel said immediately. “Send them through the gate to Cimmeria.”
Jack couldn’t help a little smile. Only Daniel would still be thinking of the host, although he figured the Jaffa were screwed either way.
“Zats would eliminate crossfire problems,” Carter said, and Jack nodded at her.
“What’s the SOP here, Teal’c? If a host hunting party just disappears, what happens next?”
“That depends on many factors,” Teal’c replied. He spoke without once taking his eyes off the activity down the hill. “If the Goa’uld who sent them is badly in need of hosts, or if the Jaffa were highly trained and valued, another group would be sent, searching for them. But if the Goa’uld is powerful, and has many Jaffa, then the planet will simply be passed by, the lost Jaffa forgotten.”
“Just makes you warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?” Jack muttered. “Okay, we need more intel. Carter, go around to that ridge,” he pointed, and she followed his arm and nodded once, already strapping her weapon up and preparing to rise. “Once you’re there, see if you can tell us which snake they’re working for.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, drawing back from the visible hilltop and slinking through the trees, her hat pulled low over her head to hide bright blonde hair.
Jack looked back at Teal’c, who was frowning slightly and watching her go. “I know you’re better at the stealth thing, T,” he said, “but I need you here for all that Goa’uldy knowledge.”
Teal’c simply nodded, but the frown eased.
“Jack,” Daniel said softly. “Come look at this.”
Jack got back on the ground, lying beside Daniel with their shoulders pressed tight together. He handed over his field glasses without being asked, and Daniel took them absently, flicking Jack a brief smile. “What’s up?” Jack asked.
“Looks like the Goa’uld in charge isn’t happy with their attitude.” Daniel twisted the focus knob, craning his neck forward as if an extra couple inches would make things clear. “He’s yelling and making the hand device light up, but so far, he hasn’t actually used it. They’re all pretty much ignoring him.”
Jack chuckled and narrowed his eyes, squinting down at the crowd. He could hear the Goa’uld speaking, his low, scraping voice hollering something about bowing before their god. The natives weren’t buying it, obviously. They went where the Jaffa told them to go, but for the most part, they could have been a bunch at a social get-together. Small clumps of people formed, others circulating among the crowd at large, while children played on the fringes, wholly unconcerned with the weapons pointed at them.
“They’re still not speaking,” Daniel mused, speaking more to himself than Jack. “I thought maybe they were just very quiet, but with the binocs, I can tell their mouths aren’t moving. Maybe they don’t have a spoken language? They do seem to touch quite a bit. People face each other and make some kind of contact, usually from the waist up although there are exceptions... eye contact is prevalent, fingers and knuckles against the face are also quite common... they seem calm, relaxed... crap!” he said suddenly, ducking his head.
Jack followed suit, dropping flat in the grass and turning to face Daniel. “What?”
“One of them saw me. Looked right at me.”
“One of the Jaffa?”
Daniel shook his head slightly, his cheek rubbing in the dirt and leaving a long streak of reddish brown on his face. “No, the natives. I was looking at one particular pair, and suddenly, they both turned and looked straight at me. I swear they were smiling at me.”
“Great. Didn’t I tell you to keep your head down?”
Daniel dropped his gaze for a moment, but said nothing. Jack sighed and cautiously raised his upper body, propping himself on his elbows and making sure the top of his head was still concealed behind the thick, wiry grass. “Well, it looks like your friends didn’t give us away. At least, nobody is yelling and pointing this way, which is a good sign.”
“Right.” Daniel dragged his belly along the ground, edging forward until he could see again. “I don’t think they could have seen me, Jack. I was pretty well hidden. It’s more like they knew where I was.”
“Uh-huh,” Jack said. Not to knock Daniel’s ability in the field, but sometimes the guy did let scientific curiosity get the better of common sense. And after five years of this crap, he should know better.
Jack’s radio clicked twice, and he pulled back, skidding down the hill on some loose dirt and sitting up. “Carter?” he said into the mouthpiece, keeping his voice low.
“Sir. I’m about eighty yards from your position, at two o’clock.”
Jack tapped Daniel’s leg and held his hand out, and his binoculars were grudgingly passed back to him. He scanned the area Carter had indicated and saw nothing in the first two passes. Then, on the third look, a tiny flicker of movement and a flash of paleness that might have been her face, or her hair. “Gotcha. What do you see?”
“If I remember the cheat sheets Daniel made for us correctly, then they’re working for Ba’al.”
Jack nodded even though she couldn’t see him. “Alright. Hold your position. If this goes down, you’re going to be our lead shooter.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said, and Jack saw the brief flicker of movement again as she pulled back further, disappearing entirely into the trees.
“Teal’c? What do you know about Ba’al?”
“He is a System Lord,” Teal’c said. “He is known to be cold, deliberate, and not prone to unconsidered actions. I do not know him personally, as Apophis never saw fit to challenge him in battle.”
“Uh-huh.” Jack looked toward Daniel again, but the other man was absorbed in watching the natives. Jack was happy to see that at least his head was down. “Okay, so, is Ba’al the type to come sniffing after a few missing Jaffa?”
“It is unlikely. Ba’al has thousands of Jaffa. One scouting party and one minor Goa’uld will not be greatly missed.”
He turned back toward Daniel. “Yeah?”
“We’d better choose one way or another soon. It looks like they’re almost done, and we’re between them and the gate.”
Jack flopped down beside Daniel again and wriggled forward. The Jaffa had stopped circling the crowd now and stood back, holding their weapons out halfheartedly, as if they realized they wouldn’t get to shoot anyone today. Ten natives had been drawn out, and now stood in a small, separate clump next to the Goa’uld, who was waving his arms and making some big dramatic speech. Jack caught the phrase “bestowed upon you the great honor of serving your god” and rolled his eyes.
“These guys need to get some new lines.” He reached over and put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder, getting his attention. “Okay, we’re doing this. Zats only. You take the Jaffa on the left there.”
Daniel nodded and pulled his zat, lifting his shoulders and stretching his arms out in the prone firing position.
“Carter,” Jack said into his radio.
“We’re taking them. I want you to hit the Goa’uld first, in case he’s got one of those shields. Then you pull back, and we’ll take the rest. Zat him twice if you have to, but make sure he goes down.”
Jack turned to Teal’c, his eyebrows raised. Teal’c nodded once and crept forward, his zat ready. Since Jack was the only one without a zat, he snapped the scope onto his P-90 and drew a bead on the Jaffa furthest to the right. Teal’c saw his aim and moved to cover the two remaining Jaffa.
“Carter,” he said. “Now.”
It was over fast. The Goa’uld went down with one shot, and the Jaffa all wheeled toward Carter’s position, weapons up, but she was already gone. Daniel and Teal’c fired at the same time, and Daniel took Jack’s mark before Jack had a chance to fire. The natives stood still and watched the Jaffa drop, and then immediately swarmed over them.
“Crap,” Jack muttered. The Goa’uld wasn’t going to stay out long, not from one zat blast, and the Jaffa would bounce back quickly as well. They’d wake up mad.
“Jack?” Daniel was already standing, edging toward the silent, busy crowd.
“Yeah, I know.” He clicked his radio. “Carter, nice shot. You and Teal’c are going to hang back and cover us in case more company shows up. Daniel and I are going in.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter sent back. Jack caught Teal’c’s eye and received a curt nod. Then he ran down the hill after Daniel, who was already several feet ahead of him.
“Dammit, Daniel,” Jack snapped, catching him by the arm and holding him back. “Can you, for once, wait for my orders before you go charging in?”
“I knew what you were going to say,” Daniel retorted, tugging them both forward. “Jack, they’ll wake up soon.”
Jack sighed and let him go. “We’ll talk about this later,” he warned.
Yeah, that sounded like Daniel was taking him seriously. He wished the man would realize Jack did know what he was doing, and he generally had a reason for orders, and the reason was usually saving Daniel’s ass. But no, for all his genius, Daniel couldn’t seem to grasp that one.
The natives pulled back as they reached the bottom of the hill, revealing four Jaffa and one semi-conscious Goa’uld, neatly hogtied.
“Huh.” Jack stopped, staring at them. They were even laid out in a row, heads all facing the same way. The staff weapons, zats, and the hand device were in a pile well out of their reach.
“I get the feeling these people know what they’re doing,” Daniel murmured out of the side of his mouth.
“Release me at once!” the Goa’uld shouted, his voice slightly muffled by the way his face was mashed into the ground. “You will suffer for this insolence!”
“Yeah, give it a rest,” Jack muttered. “Shut up unless you want me to shoot you again.”
The Goa’uld twisted and looked at him, his eyes flashing gold. “Tau’ri,” he spat, and then fell silent.
“Nice to meet you too.” Jack turned, spread his hands, and smiled at the natives. “Hi, folks. Quick work with the ropes there. Didn’t know you had it in you.”
Daniel stepped up beside him, giving him a none too subtle nudge with his shoulder and a quelling look. “Hello. We’re peaceful explorers.”
A man stepped forward, short, round, and balding, and beamed at them. “Hello, Daniel,” he said. “Hello, Jack.”
Okay... Jack looked behind him, wondering when he’d entered the twilight zone. “Daniel?” he asked, in his you-better-have-an-explanation tone.
Daniel glanced at him distractedly. “Ah... you know us?”
That was not the explanation Jack had been hoping for.
The man nodded, reached up, and pressed his palm flat against Daniel’s chest. “We know you. Also your friends, in the trees.” He lifted his hand and pointed unerringly to Carter’s position, then Teal’c’s. “We knew you were here, and that you would stop the raiders.”
“Right,” Jack said slowly. “Well, that’s a neat trick, since I didn’t even know we’d be stopping them until about five minutes ago.”
The man smiled and said nothing.
“So, you know our names,” Daniel said, trying to steer things back on track. “May we know yours?”
“I am Alten. I speak for my people.”
“You lead them?”
He shook his head. “I speak for them.”
“Yes, well, this is all lovely,” Jack cut in, “but maybe we should deal with these guys before we all get to know each other?” He waved at the Jaffa, who were now stirring, and the Goa’uld who was glaring balefully and struggling against his bindings. His wrists were beginning to bleed noticeably.
Two women standing near the Goa’uld frowned at him, then touched Alten, who turned and touched them in return, hands on shoulders and arms and one fingertip to the taller woman’s cheek. They looked at each other for a long moment, and then Alten reached down and placed a hand on the Goa’uld’s forehead. “Stop,” he said softly.
The Goa’uld stopped struggling immediately, and lay still.
“Nice,” Jack said, raising his eyebrows. “Think you can teach me that one?”
Alten laughed, but Jack heard nothing derisive in it. The alien sounded fond, indulgent. Several others in the crowd came forward, touching Jack, patting him, an especially tall man running his fingers through Jack’s hair. “Jack,” Alten said, shaking his head and smiling. “You are just as we imagined.”
Jack batted the hands away when they became a tad too personal, and grabbed his hat back, tugging it hard onto his head. “Well, thanks. I think.”
“You’re telepathic, aren’t you?” Daniel asked excitedly. “That’s why no one is speaking? Can they speak at all, or is it only you? How do the rest of you communicate? Is touch necessary to transmit thoughts?”
Alten laughed again. “Daniel. Oh, Daniel. You, too, are what we expected.”
Daniel blinked, shut his mouth, and then opened it again. “Right... well, okay, you were expecting us? Is that a function of the telepathy? Precognition? You knew we would save you from the ‘raiders,’ as you called them...” He frowned, looking down and tapping a finger on his lips. “But you also knew who we are? You knew what to expect of us, personally?”
“Perhaps you should ask your friends to join us,” Alten invited. “There is no more danger.”
“You know, I get the feeling there was never any danger to begin with,” Jack said, folding his arms. “You guys don’t really worry about the Goa’uld, do you?”
Alten smiled. “So you will ask your friends to come out of hiding? We would like to meet them as well.”
“I’ll bet,” Jack muttered. He keyed his radio. “Carter, Teal’c, come on down. Apparently they’ve been expecting us.”
He waited for them to acknowledge, and then eyed the aliens again. They were feeling up Daniel now, crowding in around him, reaching up to touch his chest, shoulders, and hair. His cheekbones seemed to especially fascinate them, and one removed his glasses to better touch his forehead and the bridge of his nose.
“Um, okay... I’ll need those back... hey! That’s, ah... attached...”
Jack grinned and folded his hands over his P-90, clipped to his vest, the muzzle pointing down. He noticed that with all their touching, the aliens never once reached for their weapons.
“Oh...” Daniel sounded dazed now, rather than merely flustered. Jack straightened and leaned forward, frowning. He could barely see his archeologist, so surrounded by the silent, curious people. He pushed forward and two of them shifted, until he spotted Daniel in the middle of what looked very much like a group hug.
“Jack? They’re, uh... very friendly, aren’t they?”
Jack snorted. Friendly was something of an understatement. The aliens were actually petting Daniel now, stroking his back and his hair, and the group seemed to rock slightly.
“Oh, sure,” Daniel mumbled. “Just a little, you know... crowded...”
“Hey, sir,” Carter said, coming up behind him. “Where’s Daniel?”
“Daniel Jackson appears to be somewhat overwhelmed,” Teal’c said, as he joined the group.
“What do you... oh.” Carter began to smile as she stared at Daniel, who was succumbing to the inevitable and had relaxed into the close group. “Daniel?” she called. “Need any help?”
Daniel’s eyes opened lazily, revealing widely dilated pupils. “Actually... maybe I do... something that feels this good has to be bad for you...”
The smile dropped off Jack’s face. Should’ve known better. His whole team was down here now, and surrounded. He raised his weapon, pointing into the air, but ready to take aim if it became necessary. “Alright, let him go. Now.”
“There is no need to worry,” Alten said, putting a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “They only wish to help.”
“Yeah, well they can help by backing off. I mean it,” Jack shot back. He glared at Alten, who, oddly, smiled again.
“So protective,” he murmured. “Of course.” He leaned over and touched a woman on the outside of Daniel’s group, which was growing by the second. She frowned, but passed the touch on, and soon the aliens were backing away until Daniel stood in the middle of a loose crowd, his eyes closed, swaying slightly. Several hands remained on his shoulders and sides, holding him up.
“All the way,” Jack growled, gesturing with his gun. Carter and Teal’c had both backed out of reach of the aliens and raised their own weapons, eyes scanning the crowd constantly.
Alten chuckled, sighed, and looked toward those still touching Daniel. They met his eyes and pulled their hands back, and Daniel sank slowly to the ground, sitting back on his knees. Jack gave Carter a look, and she moved in, patting Daniel’s cheek lightly and feeling his pulse.
“He seems okay,” she called over her shoulder. “It’s like he’s been lightly sedated, but he’s coming around.”
“You don’t have to yell,” Daniel muttered, leaning away from her. He yawned, arched his back, and got to his feet, looking around. Jack was pleased to see his eyes had returned to normal, and he looked no worse for the wear. In fact, he looked relaxed, peaceful, and oddly sated.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked Alten.
“They were helping him.”
“Want to be more specific?”
Jack glared. Alten smiled indulgently.
“Do not approach me,” Teal’c said suddenly, and Jack turned. A couple of the aliens had reached for Teal’c, but they backed away at his forbidding look.
“Good idea. In fact, let’s make that a rule. No more touching us. You guys pack a little too much punch.” Jack took two steps back, and Carter and Teal’c followed suit, Carter pulling a sleepy and unresisting Daniel with her.
Alten spread his arms, and his people fell back behind him, several of them casting wistful stares after Daniel. Jack gritted his teeth. Why was it, wherever they went, everyone seemed to want Daniel? Just once, he’d like to be the center of attention.
“We mean you no harm.”
“Yeah, well, ditto,” Jack said. “Peaceful explorers and all that. But you just about knocked out one of my team, and in my book, that’s harm.”
“He would not have been hurt.”
“You just let me be the judge of what hurts him, okay?”
Alten smiled in a way that made Jack very nervous. “We thank you for your rescue,” he began. “Although we have our own ways of repelling the invaders.” Behind him, several people joined hands and stared at the tied up Jaffa, and as one, they lifted from the ground and floated in a neat line, six inches in the air. Jack made a concerted effort to look unimpressed.
“Wow,” Daniel gasped. “Telekinesis too?”
“Or anti-gravity,” Carter added.
“I have not seen anti-gravity that could be focused in such a way without visible machinery,” Teal’c said. “This is technology beyond my experience.”
“Or not technology at all,” Daniel argued.
The group with the joined hands began to walk away, and the floating Jaffa followed, the Goa’uld taking up the rear. He was still clearly awake and aware, but didn’t struggle at all.
Daniel stared, leaning down and trying to see in the gap between the Jaffa and the ground. “Where are you taking them?”
“We have a place,” Alten said serenely.
“What kind of place?”
“They will be taught. We will not hurt them.”
“Taught,” Jack echoed. “Kind of like you ‘taught’ the Goa’uld to quit moving?” This was beginning to smell like mind control, which smacked of all kinds of unpleasant things. Reminded him of Hathor.
Alten reached out for Jack’s shoulder, then dropped his hand when Jack edged away. “He was hurting himself in his effort to escape. I merely spared him further injury.”
“You should know, the Goa’uld is actually two separate entities,” Daniel began earnestly. “The host has no control. The Goa’uld itself is a parasite that lives in the host. If you can separate them and save the host... can you do that?”
“Ah, Daniel.” Alten went to him, standing a head shorter, and pressed his hand against Daniel’s chest again. “You live up to our hopes.”
Daniel smiled uneasily. “That’s... good. So, does that mean you can?”
“They will be taught,” Alten repeated. Jack nudged his hand off Daniel’s chest, which Alten didn’t seem to take offense at. He simply withdrew and laced his hands behind his back, rocking back on his heels and grinning at them.
Jack was startled to see perfect teeth, which was usually an indicator of civilization. The less advanced places tended to not have dentists. Their clothes were simple, homespun things, and he had yet to see any sign of technology, but these people clearly had more than they were letting on.
“How did you lift them from the ground?” Carter asked. “Are you using some technology we can’t see?”
“Together, we are strong,” Alten replied.
Daniel nodded rapidly, apparently recovered from his impromptu nap earlier. “So it is telekinesis, then? When that group joined hands, they combined their abilities? And you didn’t answer my earlier question about touch being necessary for communication. Are there any other abilities we don’t know about? Pyrokinesis, for example? That’s the ability to create fire. And can you read us, or just each other?” He paused, holding a hand up. “Oh, wait, you can read us, can’t you? You said we were behaving as you expected. Or is that more a function of the precognition?”
Alten chuckled, shaking his head. “Ah, Daniel. We knew we would like you. And I can offer you some answers.” He turned to include the whole team in his gaze. “We can give you much. We do not have the technology you seek, but there are other gifts.” He frowned, looking more closely at Carter and Teal’c. “Although these cannot receive what we have to give.”
“We can’t?” Carter asked, raising her eyebrows. “Why?”
Alten walked up to her and rested a hand on her forehead, allowing his fingertips to slide through her hair. Carter held still, but shot him a warning look. “You were once joined, like the one I made still,” he said. “A trace remains.”
“Jolinar,” Teal’c supplied. Carter nodded, frowning. “And I assume you cannot touch me because of the larval Goa’uld I carry?”
“Yes,” Alten replied. “We could take it from you, and then offer you gifts, but you would not live long to use them.”
“Yeah, so let’s not do that,” Jack cut in. “And what gifts are we talking about?”
Alten gave him another one of those worrisome smiles. He looked far too knowing for Jack’s taste. He had the uneasy sense this guy knew every single thing that went through his head. “I will give you something myself, Jack,” he said. “Because you rescued us.”
Jack took a step back, his hands on his weapon. “Ah, you know, I think I’ll pass. Besides, you never needed rescuing in the first place. That’s why you clearly didn’t give a rat’s ass what the Goa’uld did.”
“Because we knew you would save us.”
“And what if we hadn’t been here?” Jack countered.
“Then we would have stopped them ourselves.”
Daniel frowned, holding a hand up in Jack’s direction, stilling his next question. “Wait, wait... you could have stopped them at any time? And yet you continued to let them push you around? Because you were... what, waiting for us to act? What if we’d missed them and accidentally shot one of you? What if we’d been hurt ourselves?”
Alten spread his hands. “Those things did not happen.”
“Lemme guess,” Jack said. “You knew it would go down that way?”
“Now, you begin to understand.”
“But why?” Daniel insisted. “Why go through all that?”
“We knew we would like you.” Alten swept all of them with his eyes again before focusing on Daniel. “You are so interesting. We wanted to meet you. So, we allowed it to happen this way. What is the harm? No one is hurt, and see, we are friends now.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Jack muttered. “Seems to me you tricked us.”
“You made your own choices,” Alten replied. “We did nothing to deceive you. You chose to see us as helpless, and you chose to intervene.”
Jack opened his mouth, and then shut it again. The little guy had a point, much as he hated to admit it. “Well, either way, we didn’t really save you. So thanks for the gift, but no thanks.”
“Do not thank us now, Jack,” Alten said, with his little, knowing smile. “You will bless our name later, when the gift comes to fruition.”
“And I say again, not getting the gift.”
Alten laughed, shaking his head. “Oh, Jack. You are simply delightful. Do you not realize? You already have it.”
“What?” Jack scowled, taking another step back. “Oh, hell no. What did you do?”
“Sir, maybe we should go,” Carter said, looking back and forth between Jack and Daniel. “Daniel was nearly unconscious earlier, and now they’re saying you have... something. We should probably get you checked out, just in case.”
“Oh, Sam, no, we can’t go yet!” Daniel protested. “We have so much more to talk about. And really, I feel fine. Great, actually. What about you, Jack, you feel alright?”
Jack shrugged. “I don’t feel any different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. And Carter’s right, you were seriously out of it.”
“Ah!” Jack held a finger up, waving it at Daniel. “We can come back later. They’re not going anywhere, and clearly, they can take care of themselves. They like us. We can visit anytime, right?” He looked at Alten expectantly.
Alten shook his head sadly. “You will not return, Jack. You do not trust us, and we are too powerful for your leaders to risk you. Since we have no technology to make us worth the risk, we will not see you again.”
Jack stared at the little alien. If he’d needed any more indication this psychic stuff was the real deal, he just got it. Alten had him pegged, dead on.
“Jack? Is he right?”
Jack gave Daniel a level look. “The final decision on any mission is up to Hammond, you know that.” At Daniel’s impatient expression, Jack sighed and admitted, “But yeah, he’s probably right. Let’s face it, Daniel, there’s a lot they aren’t telling us, and hanging out with mind readers isn’t exactly good for security.”
Carter sounded alarmed, and Jack wheeled to look at her, then spotted the group of aliens coming up behind them. He turned back to Alten, and the crowd still lingering with him. Many in that crowd were pressing forward as well.
“O’Neill,” Teal’c said. “They are surrounding us.”
“They only wish to say goodbye,” Alten said. “Please do not be afraid. You will not be harmed.”
“You say that a lot,” Jack retorted. “Tell them to back off. I mean it.”
“You will not hurt us,” Alten said quietly. “You know that, and so do we. Allow us this, and we will let you go.”
Jack scowled at him. It was no use bluffing these guys, and the truth was, he really didn’t want to go spraying bullets into the crowd. If it meant saving his team’s life, then yes, he’d do it, but if it was a choice between tolerating a little excessive touchy-feely stuff or killing a bunch of innocent people, he knew what he would choose. And apparently, so did they.
“Don’t go making anyone sedated, or whatever you did last time,” Jack warned, lowering his weapon. “And no more gifts!”
Alten smiled at him. “We have already given our gifts to you, and to Daniel.”
“Hey, I thought I was the only one! What did you do to Daniel?”
“Your gift is his as well,” Alten said. Then he reached up and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, which seemed to be his spot of choice. Others were coming in now as well, lightly tracing his back, gentle squeezes to his arms, stroking the back of his neck.
Carter and Teal’c had their share of curious touches, and Carter’s hair in particular attracted a lot of interest. Probably because all the aliens had variations of brown and lightly tanned skin, and dark hair. Blue eyes, however, were ignored, although Daniel’s cheekbones remained a hit. Daniel himself had at least twice the number of groupies than anyone else, all pressing close to him.
“Yeah, hi, you’re great too,” Jack grumbled, pushing the hands away when they got close to dipping below his waist. “Isn’t this cozy.”
“It’s actually kind of nice,” Carter said, leaning down to allow a particularly short woman to reach her hair. “They’re not being rough or pulling or anything like that. It’s almost... relaxing.”
“Just don’t relax too much,” Jack cautioned.
“They never touch the exterior of my symbiote pouch, or my tattoo,” Teal’c informed them. Jack nodded, and noticed Teal’c’s smooth head seemed to be almost as fascinating as Daniel’s high cheekbones. Many of the aliens were tugging on Teal’c’s shirt, encouraging him to bend so they could reach his head.
“Daniel? You staying awake?”
“Mmm-hmm...” Daniel had his eyes closed again, and Jack noticed that around him, the aliens weren’t staying at arm’s length as they did with the rest of the team. They pressed close, encouraging Daniel to lean against them.
“Hey, Daniel!” Jack snapped, and Daniel opened his eyes. “Stay with us, you got it?”
“I am, Jack... it’s just so nice...” His eyes were drifting shut again, his head dropping to rest on someone’s shoulder.
“That’s it.” Jack began pushing his way to Daniel, yelling over his shoulder at Alten. “I told you not to do this again! Make them stop, right now.”
“They only give him what he needs,” Alten protested, but the group parted before Jack obediently, stepping away from Daniel just as he reached him.
“Daniel?” Jack caught him as he started to fall, grabbed his shoulders and kept him on his feet. “You alright?”
Daniel opened his eyes dreamily. “Mmm... yeah... Jack, it’s so nice... warm...”
“Great,” Jack muttered. “Daniel’s high.” He looked over his shoulder, where Carter and Teal’c were now standing alone, each with a ring of aliens at a respectful distance. At least they both looked awake and alert. “Hey, Carter, we got anything to wake him up?”
Carter shook her head. “If you’re talking stimulants, then no, sir. We’re only carrying basic medical supplies, mostly painkillers, field dressings, and antibiotics.” She spread her hands and shrugged. “Maybe coffee?”
“Coffee has proven most effective in waking Daniel Jackson in the past.”
“Thank you, Teal’c,” Jack said. He turned back to Daniel and shook him, then thumbed open one heavy eyelid, peering into widely dilated blue eyes. “Daniel! Snap out of it!”
Daniel wrinkled his nose and pulled away, staggering over to the nearest clump of aliens and reaching for them. “Cold,” he complained, his hands spread wide, searching, his eyes half-lidded and sleepy.
“Oh no you don’t.” Jack grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back. He unclipped his canteen from his belt, opened the lid one handed, his other still holding Daniel in place. Then he upended it over Daniel’s head, soaking his hair and most of his shirt in cold water.
“Ah!” Daniel gasped, jerking away. “Hey! What was that for?”
Jack could hear Carter snickering behind him. “Needed to wake you up, Daniel,” he said, fighting back a laugh of his own. Daniel’s hair was plastered to his head, his shirt clinging to his shoulders, and water dripped down his face and neck, pattering to the ground when he shook his head like a dog.
Daniel glared at him. “And you couldn’t try coffee?”
“I did suggest it,” Carter said from behind him. Jack shot her a dirty look. She was smiling sympathetically at Daniel, as if she hadn’t been laughing a few seconds ago, the traitor.
Daniel shivered and sneezed three times in rapid succession. “Thank you, Sam,” he said, pointedly ignoring Jack. He turned toward Alten and smiled. “I hope we get to come back and see you again. I have so many questions. And even if we don’t, I want to thank you.”
Alten beamed and put his hand on Daniel’s chest, his fingers spread wide. “Daniel,” he said. “You will be missed.”
“Okay, I hate to interrupt the love fest, but it’s time we got going.”
“Daniel,” Jack interrupted shortly. “You’ve almost passed out twice now, and a few minutes ago, you sounded pretty damn high. You said yourself something that feels that good has to be bad for you. Now we’re getting out of here, and that’s final.”
Daniel scowled for a moment, but shut his mouth, nodding.
“Alten, buddy, it’s been fun,” Jack said, waving. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Alten grinned. “Jack,” he said, fondly. “Don’t ever change.”
Jack dropped his hand and cleared his throat, aware of Daniel and Carter chuckling behind him. “Right,” he mumbled. He turned to his team, striding past them on his way back up the hill. “You guys about done?” he called without looking back.
“Just about, Jack.” Followed by a not so muffled chortle.
“Are you sure you didn’t ingest anything?”
Daniel sighed and began buttoning his shirt. “I’m sure, Janet. We came, we zatted, we did this interesting group touch communication thing, and we left.”
Jack sauntered over, holding a cotton ball to the inside of his elbow, wearing his fatigue pants and black tee. “Translation—Daniel got group hugged by a bunch of telepathic aliens, got high, and nearly passed out. Twice.”
Daniel glared. Jack grinned at him, removed the cotton ball, and tossed it across the room, missing the trash can by a good two feet.
“Well, he’s in perfect health,” Janet said, frowning at the chart in her hands. “I haven’t gotten the blood work back yet, but all his vitals are excellent. Better than when he left, actually. His blood pressure is down to a much healthier level.”
“Great.” Daniel hopped off the bed. “So I can take a shower and write my report? I want to get some of my observations down right away, while they’re still fresh.”
Janet frowned, studied the chart again, and then sighed. “Well... pending your blood results, there’s really no reason to keep you. But stay on base, alright?”
“Sure, Janet,” Daniel called over his shoulder, already halfway out the door.
“What, I don’t get a goodbye?” Jack shouted to his retreating back.
“Bite me, Jack.”
Jack smiled at Janet and nodded. “He’s fine.” He turned to leave as well, looking forward to a change of clothes. P3R-whatever, which would hereafter be known as the planet of the touchy-feely aliens, had been damn hot. His shirt felt unpleasantly damp all down the center of his back, chilly in the temperature-controlled infirmary, and he could feel grit on the back of his neck.
“Hold on, Colonel.”
Jack winced and halted. “So close,” he muttered under his breath. “Yeah, Doc?” he asked, turning and offering his best charming smile.
“Sam tells me these aliens seemed to have certain psychic abilities—and that they said they gave you a ‘gift.’”
Jack felt his smile falter. “They said a lot of crap. Personally, I don’t buy the psychic bit for a minute.” Which was a bald faced lie, but he didn’t need to be tested to within an inch of his life just to satisfy the doc. He felt fine.
“Nevertheless, I want you to remain on base as well, until I get your lab results. At that time, I may want to do an MRI.” Janet fixed him with a steely gaze, daring him to object.
“Okay.” Jack felt sure that wouldn’t be a problem. His blood work would be normal, and he’d be out of there. Hey, he had to stay on base anyway, until the mission debrief, so it wasn’t like he lost anything by agreeing.
She nodded, folding her arms and studying him. Jack mirrored her pose and raised an eyebrow, waiting. “You’re sure you don’t feel any different?” she asked.
Jack raised one hand to his forehead, closed his eyes, and said, “Wait, wait, I’m getting something. Your favorite color is... blue? And right now you’re thinking...” He dropped the hand and stared at her, his jaw dropping. “Doctor! I’m shocked! And you’re a medical professional. Really, it’s not as if you don’t see my naked ass on a regular basis anyway. There’s no call for such thoughts.”
Janet snorted and waved him away. “You’re definitely not psychic,” she said. “If you knew what I was really thinking...”
“Sure, Doc,” Jack grinned, heading for the door. “Sure.”
Jack leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on his desk, crossed at the ankles. “Carter. What’s up?”
“I finished my mission report.” She waved a folder in one hand, as if he couldn’t see it.
Jack twirled one hand. “And? So? Therefore?”
“So I wanted to go over a few things with Daniel before I turned it in. Make sure I got the details right.”
He nodded. “Well, Daniel’s not here, Major.”
She gave him one of the smiles that he suspected covered a whole slew of insubordinate things. “Yes, sir, I can see that. I thought he might be, since he wasn’t in his office.”
“Try the commissary,” Jack said, dropping his feet to the floor with a thump. He turned back to his computer.
“Are you writing your report, sir?”
“Carter, you know better than that.” Jack turned his monitor slightly so she could see.
“It’s damned addictive, isn’t it?”
She blinked. “I wouldn’t know, sir. I prefer minesweeper myself.”
Jack shook his head. “Your loss, Carter. Go on, get Daniel. You’ll have to hurry, he’ll be almost done eating by now.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said, backing away. Freecell. Huh.
“Hi, Daniel,” Jack said as he walked into the briefing room. Daniel was standing in front of the coffee machine, pouring himself a steaming mug.
“Jack,” Daniel said coolly.
Jack flopped into a chair and groaned. “Oh, for crying out loud. How long are you going to hold this against me? You know we had to leave.”
Daniel set his mug down, took a breath, and abruptly sneezed. He gave a long sniff, coughed, and cleared his throat. “I know we had to leave. What you didn’t have to do was dump a whole lot of water on me and give me a cold.”
“What? Come on, you know better than that. It was hot out there anyway! Getting a little wet does not give you a cold.”
Daniel’s glare was punctuated by another sneeze. “Sure, Jack. It’s just a coincidence.” Then he sank into a chair and curled around his coffee cup, inhaling the steam, his eyes closed and his lips parted.
Carter came in, closely followed by Teal’c. She poured herself some coffee and sat beside Jack, passing her report down to him. “That’s the revised version, sir. Daniel was able to clear up a few details for me.”
Jack nodded, stacking the report on top of his own. Carter’s was, as always, much thicker. Probably speculation about the anti-gravity or whatever the aliens had used. He’d read the bullet summary in the front cover of the original, and it seemed to be mostly about possible technologies and why they should go back.
“So you found him?”
“She caught me just as I was leaving the commissary,” Daniel answered for her. “Where I was having a bowl of hot soup. Not that it helped.”
Jack slouched in his chair. “Geez, Daniel, sulk a little louder. I don’t think they heard you up at NORAD.”
Daniel sneezed, getting in the last word without even speaking.
“Good afternoon, SG-1,” Hammond said, sweeping into the briefing room. “Shall we begin?”
Jack leaned back and allowed Carter and Daniel to take the floor, each one arguing to head back to the planet on a follow up mission for different reasons. Carter was convinced they had technology that they weren’t talking about, especially as she’d noticed the perfect teeth as well. Since the natives seemed so friendly, and seemed to like them so much, negotiation for trade seemed like a good possibility.
Daniel’s argument centered around the unique mental capabilities the aliens seemed to possess, and the fact that they’d had absolutely no fear of the Goa’uld. He didn’t come right out and say that these abilities might be transferable, but he hinted around it. He also noted that SG-1 had been particularly well liked, and already had a rapport with the alien spokesman, so therefore should be the team sent back to planet.
Hammond let them run for a while, and then held a hand up, gaining immediate silence. A trick Jack had yet to master.
“Colonel? Teal’c? Any thoughts on this?”
Jack nodded to Teal’c, allowing him to speak first. Teal’c inclined his head, and said, “There was much they kept hidden, General Hammond. We do not know the extent of their abilities, nor their true intentions.”
“Which is exactly my point,” Daniel interjected. “We weren’t there long enough to find out anything. For all we know, their talents are based on something in the environment. There could be a plant there, or something in the air that with long exposure encourages the development of psionic ability. If we could find the cause, and possibly duplicate it, we’d have a solid defense against the Goa’uld.”
“Whoa,” Jack said, flapping a hand at him. “First of all, even if we can all become mind readers, would you really want that? We’re talking total chaos if everyone got it, and everyone would have to get it for it to be a viable defense.”
Daniel folded his arms and sank back in his chair, scowling. “I still think we should go back.”
Jack frowned at him. Daniel didn’t like to lose an argument, but this kind of petulant behavior was not normal. Not to mention the fact that he wasn’t even trying to listen to reason.
“I would recommend against that,” Janet said from the door. She held up a sheaf of papers, neatly clipped together, and nodded to the General. “Excuse me, sir, but I have information relevant to the mission.”
Hammond nodded. “Join us, Doctor. What do you have?”
She took a seat and placed her packet of paper in front of her, flipping several pages over until she found the one she wanted. “I’m concerned about some of the blood work results I just received,” she said. “Particularly those for Doctor Jackson.”
Daniel shifted in his seat and stared at the table, pointedly not meeting her eyes.
“Yeah?” Jack asked. “Give.”
“The initial workup showed slightly elevated endorphin levels. Now, since endorphins leave the bloodstream rapidly, given the amount of time elapsed between his exposure to the aliens and his blood test, his levels must have been extremely high. Which would explain the behavior you described, Sam,” she said, looking at Carter. “However, those high levels have caused his body to lower dopamine levels to compensate. The endorphins are gone now, but the dopamine is still low. Yours as well, Colonel,” she added, “although to a lesser extent.”
Jack waved a hand. “Meaning...?”
Janet indicated Daniel’s slumped pose with a flick of her eyes. “I’m sure you remember your experience with the light device on P4X-347? This is a similar affect, leading to irritability, depression, and irrational behavior. Now, the imbalance is much less severe in this case, but I would still strongly advise against returning to the planet.”
Daniel raised his head slowly. “Are you suggesting that I’m somehow addicted to some alien mind influence? Again?”
Jack snorted and received a poisonous glare.
“I wouldn’t say addicted,” Janet hedged. “You aren’t experiencing withdrawal. The imbalance is only borderline clinical depression, and should correct itself within a day or two. I’d like to draw more blood and see if there has been any improvement. If not, we can try some medication.”
“What about me?” Jack asked.
She shook her head. “Your dopamine levels are still within an acceptable range. They’re lower than your last blood test, but not something to worry about. You may notice a tendency toward irritability,” she paused and gave him a slight smirk, “but there won’t be any real mood changes.”
“So Major Carter and Teal’c were unaffected?” Hammond asked.
Janet nodded. “Yes, their results came back normal.”
“The aliens said they could not give us their... gifts,” Teal’c said, curling his mouth around the last word as if it tasted bad.
“Something to do with naquada, I’m guessing,” Carter added. “Although they were able to manipulate the Goa’uld, and I assume they would have been able to do the same to the Jaffa, if they’d had to. So naquada probably doesn’t block them altogether. Maybe it only limits their ability to induce the effect they had on Daniel.”
Daniel flicked his hand, as if dismissing the whole discussion. “But you said I’d return to normal in a few days. If the effects are only temporary, and not really that serious, I think it’s worth it. I’m certainly willing to volunteer.”
Hammond frowned, leaning forward and giving Daniel a long look. “Doctor Jackson, I must say I’m troubled by your single-minded devotion to this. These aliens are obviously powerful enough to overcome any team we send, and apparently they fixated on you as a particular target. What’s clear to me is that you were all essentially defenseless against a group of unknowns with the likely ability to anticipate your actions and, in a literal sense, read your minds. Not only is that a significant security risk, it represents an unacceptable level of danger.” He sat back in his chair and shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow another mission to that planet.”
Daniel opened his mouth, then shut it with an audible snap. “And Alten knew it all along,” he said after a moment of stony silence. “He told us he knew his people wouldn’t be worth the risk, because they didn’t have obvious technology. Guess he had us pretty well figured, didn’t he?”
“If his people hadn’t brought you to near collapse, twice, then things might have been different,” Hammond said levelly. “And perhaps you should go back to the infirmary now, Doctor Jackson.”
Daniel’s hands clenched into fists on the tabletop, and he ground his teeth together, taking a long breath. “Yes,” he said quietly, frowning at his tight hands. “Maybe I should.”
He stood and strode out of the briefing room without waiting for dismissal, leaving stunned silence in his wake.
“Well,” Janet said after a moment. “I think that confirms the dopamine problems.”
Hammond nodded. “You’d best go after him, doctor. Keep him in the infirmary if you feel there’s any risk he might do something... drastic.”
Jack felt his stomach clench and he took a controlled sip from his water glass. He knew all too well what Hammond was talking about, and he had no desire to find Daniel on the edge of another balcony.
“I don’t think that will be a factor, unless the imbalance has gotten considerably worse,” Janet replied. “Really, this is a much milder case than his experience with the light.” But that didn’t stop her from rising from the table and heading off after Daniel, her rapid steps clicking on the concrete floors.
“Well, that was fun,” Jack said, dragging his fingertip through the ring of condensation his water glass had left on the table.
“There may be an element of addiction after all,” Carter guessed, frowning in the direction Daniel had gone. “He wanted so much to go back to the planet, which suggests a certain degree of withdrawal.”
“Daniel Jackson may be susceptible to such influences, due to his past experiences,” Teal’c added.
“Yeah, don’t remind him of that, okay T? I don’t think he’s in the mood.”
Teal’c inclined his head as if to say, ‘duh.’
“Is there anything else?” Hammond asked, bringing the debrief back on track.
Carter’s “No, sir.” overlapped Jack’s “Nope.” Teal’c simply shook his head.
“Very well, you’re all dismissed. Take the weekend, people, get some rest.”
Jack stared into the fridge as if it might suddenly grow food if he looked long enough. He’d checked in with Fraiser just before going home the previous night, and had been told Daniel’s blood work was improved, and he’d been sent home. He’d spent the rest of the night eating pizza and watching TV, his all time favorite way to unwind after a mission.
Now, however, it was Saturday morning, he wanted some real breakfast, and the cupboard was indeed bare. “Crap,” Jack muttered, opening the freezer again. It was still occupied by a few microwave burritos, thoroughly frosted, and a box of ice cream with two extremely old scoops in the bottom.
Grocery shopping. Jack grumbled to himself as he got his coat and keys and headed for the car. He’d saved the planet, dammit. He shouldn’t have to go grocery shopping. Thor owed him, didn’t he? Maybe the Asgard could come through with a fridge that never emptied. Or better yet, one of those cool food things they had on Star Trek, where you just told it what you wanted, and zap, there it was. No cooking, no dishes. Jack could totally get behind that.
Jack’s Star Trek addiction was a closely guarded secret, though. He’d even made the occasional disparaging remark about sci-fi in general, just to throw people off the scent. It wouldn’t help his cynical colonel image if his Trekker tendencies were discovered. Too bad, or he would have suggested just such a food replication device to Carter. She could probably come up with it. The woman was more inventive than MacGyver.
The grocery store was immediately aggravating, cold and overly bright, with a droning voice announcing a clean-up on some aisle or another. As Jack watched, a little girl, maybe three years old, went running by shrieking with laughter and carrying a bag of candy the size of her head. Three steps behind and carrying a baby on her hip, the girl’s mother yelled at her to stop right this second. She was blithely ignored.
Jack felt his lips curve into a smile. Maybe his day hadn’t started out well, but clearly, it could be worse.
He grabbed a cart and started pushing it up and down the aisles, frowning when nothing was where he expected it to be. They changed the layout on this place every time he came in. He wound up in the shampoo aisle puzzling over the differences in brand name and price. A box a couple feet to his left caught his eye, and he studied it surreptitiously. Hair dye for men. Huh. The guy in the picture was grinning, his hair a dark brown, and beside him was a smaller picture of the same guy with gray hair.
Jack quickly glanced around, wondering if he’d been caught considering the dye. Two young women pushing their carts next to each other and chattering glanced at him, and the shorter one, a slightly plump twenty-something with dark blonde hair and glasses, gave him a distinctly flirty smile.
Jack grinned and pushed his cart past the hair dye, grabbing a bottle of store brand shampoo as he went by. He still had it, alright, silver hair and all.
Besides, if he showed up at work with brown hair, Daniel would wet himself laughing.
Hey, maybe he should mention the ladies to Daniel. It’d give him an opportunity to gloat a little, especially since half the universe seemed intent on getting into Daniel’s pants. They could have a little contest, going through the grocery store together, seeing who got the most appreciative looks. It would make the shopping less boring, anyway. Jack glanced down at himself, noting the worn jeans and dark green tee, overlaid with his favorite leather jacket. Nothing special, but he figured he had a fair chance of holding his own.
Decision made, he pulled out of the shampoo aisle, skipped the next two, and veered into the specialty foods, where he found Daniel poring over couscous and hummus.
“Daniel,” he said, bumping their carts together.
Daniel lifted his head, startled, his eyebrows lifting high over the rims of his glasses. “Oh, hi Jack. I didn’t know you were here.”
Jack shrugged and spread his hands. “Hey, even colonels have to eat.” He peered into Daniel’s cart, shifting a few items with a fingertip. “What the hell are you buying?”
“We can’t all live on pizza and beer,” Daniel replied dryly. “There are these whole other countries in the world with their own food, you know?”
“Communist,” Jack muttered. “Besides, I eat other things.”
Daniel looked pointedly at Jack’s cart, which so far contained milk, eggs, pancake mix, a case of beer, and a stack of five frozen pizzas.
“Not a word, Doctor Jackson,” Jack said sternly. “I would eat other things, if they didn’t require so much... you know, cooking.”
“I’ll have you know I make a mean pancake. Old family recipe.”
“Yes, provided you’re a member of the Bisquick family.”
Jack snorted and grinned at Daniel, who grinned back. “I see you’re feeling better,” Jack said. “No more cold?”
A sheepish look. “Ah... no, actually, I’d forgotten to take my allergy pills.”
Jack rocked back on his heels and offered a bland smile. “Ah.”
“You don’t have to say it.”
Jack blinked. “Moi? Did I say anything?”
Daniel eyed him suspiciously, and then broke into a smile.
“So, your dopa-whatevers are better as well?”
Daniel’s smile faded. “Yeah, I had to go in this morning to get re-tested, and Warner says I’m within a normal range now.” He dropped his gaze for a moment, then turned back to his food selection. “Sorry about yesterday.”
Jack shrugged. “No problem. I know you really wanted to go back there.”
“They could have taught us so much,” Daniel said earnestly, dropping a package of brown rice into his cart and turning back to Jack. “Wouldn’t you like to have the attitude they had about the...” He looked around the busy supermarket and twirled his hand.
“Sure, it’d be nice to not care who showed up at our door, but Daniel, you’ve gotta know what would happen if we could all do what they did. I don’t know about you, but there’s plenty of stuff in my head I want to stay there.” Jack kept his voice low, leaning close to Daniel as they walked down the aisle, pushing their carts.
Daniel sighed, walking in silence for a few steps. “I guess it’s another case of us being ‘too young.’”
“Yeah, but hey,” Jack slung an arm around his shoulders for a moment, “I’d rather be too young than too old any day.”
Daniel chuckled, giving Jack a sideways grin. “You would know.”
“I could take offense at that, Doctor Jackson, but I’m not going to,” Jack said primly. “Because there were these two women...”
Jack took a deep breath, held it, and then pushed out with his feet, feeling his knees protest as he worked the leg press. Technically, he had a bit more weight on there than Fraiser recommended for him, but he was increasingly aware he was the oldest man at the SGC still on active field duty. Not counting Teal’c, because competing with him never ended well.
Grunting, Jack pushed the weight out again, his hands tight on the grips and sweat trickling down his chest, dampening his tee shirt. He never worked out this hard the day before a mission, but they had nothing scheduled for the rest of the week, and he could afford to be a little sore. If he was going to keep up with Carter and Teal’c, not to mention Daniel, who was getting pretty built himself, he needed this.
Working out one last rep, Jack let the weights drop against the bar and sat up, wiping his face. “Hey, Daniel,” he said, not looking up.
Behind him, Daniel paused, blinking. “How’d you know I was here?”
“Hey, you can take the colonel out of Special Ops, but you can’t take the Special Ops out of the colonel.” Jack turned and grinned, raising his eyebrows at Daniel’s red running shorts. “Whoa... nice Daisy Dukes.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “You’re exaggerating. And it’s not my fault. I ran out of clean workout clothes, and Sam said I could borrow these.”
Jack stared, and then slumped against the backrest of the leg press and burst into laughter, one hand thrown over his eyes and the other pointing in Daniel’s direction. “You borrowed... you’re wearing Carter’s shorts? You... you... oh, I’m never gonna let you forget this, Danny. Till the end of your days.”
“Grow up, Jack,” Daniel grumbled. “They’re not that bad.” He tugged at the hem of one leg, wincing when it sprung back and rode up higher on his thigh. Turning and twisting his upper body, he tried to see his own ass, while Jack fell off the leg press and lay on the floor, howling.
“Oh god... Daniel, stop... you’re giving me a heart attack,” he gasped. “Seriously, they are that bad. Those things are painted on. How did you even get into them? They must be loose as hell on Carter.” He snorted and grinned up at Daniel, craning his neck until he got a view of sculpted ass, outlined in red cotton. “Or at least, they’ll be loose now.”
Daniel crossed his arms and stared down at Jack, turning to face him directly so Jack couldn’t look at his behind. However, this gave Jack an unobstructed view of his front, from below, which meant that Daniel’s loose tee hid nothing.
“Oh, crap,” Jack chuckled, sitting up and leaning against the leg press, still laughing in little fits and snorts. “The front’s even worse, Daniel. I mean it, don’t wear those things. I can’t be responsible for what happens if someone else sees you in them. You’ll be mobbed.”
“The front? What?” Daniel looked down, swallowed, and pulled the hem of his tee down in an effort to cover his groin. “Oh,” he said. “Uh... maybe I should skip the workout today.”
Jack pushed his laughter down and stood, clapping a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. Daniel was managing to control his blush reflex, but Jack could tell he was embarrassed as hell. “Hey, I’ve got some spares you can borrow,” he said. “Let’s just get you changed before anyone sees, or you really will never hear the end of it.”
“Good idea,” Daniel muttered, turning toward the locker room. Jack stayed behind him for a couple steps before shaking himself and catching up.
Jack took off his own sweaty tee and tossed it in the bottom of his locker, then grabbed a clean towel and wiped his face and chest. He pulled some loose gray cutoff sweats from his locker and handed them to Daniel, keeping his back turned while Daniel changed. When he looked, Daniel was wearing the gray shorts and holding a wad of red cotton in one hand, staring at it distastefully.
“You know,” he said, “Sam did seem awfully eager for me to borrow them. Maybe I should have suspected something then.”
Daniel sighed. “Well, thanks for these.” He stretched the waistband of his borrowed shorts out, pleased when they offered plenty of room.
“No problem. Have a good workout.” Jack waited for Daniel to reach the locker room door, and then called after him, “By the way, wearing skintight shorts and going commando is probably a bad combination.”
Daniel froze, his hand on the door knob and his back to Jack. Then he nodded once and made his escape.
Jack grinned and dropped his own shorts, wrapping a towel around his waist and heading for the shower. Those shorts really had been ill conceived, particularly with the obvious absence of underwear. It occurred to him Daniel was now wearing Jack’s shorts, still sans underwear. Hmm. Maybe he should get Carter a gift. Some chocolate or something. Just to say thanks.
Jack winced as he jumped off a low ledge, landing in a slightly deeper level of the tunnel. He waved his flashlight around, a long white blade of light swishing across the dusty room. The walls were not simple rock, as they appeared at first glance, but dirt encrusted mosaics, thousands of tiny little tiles making up scenes of some long ago civilization. All the pictures seemed to feature a bright golden sun overhead, so Jack was at a loss to explain why the people who made them stuck them underground.
The place was a warren, an interlocking network of tunnels, rooms, and unexpected steps ready to spill the unwary explorer on his ass. Which Jack had discovered about two rooms ago. Dust trickled down from the ceiling and covered the floor, ankle deep in places, hiding bigger chunks of rock just waiting to be tripped over.
If Jack had known he would be hanging out in a place like this, he wouldn’t have worked his legs so hard the day before. But then SG-11 had sent word back about the mosaics and the mysterious writing that was apparently further in, Daniel had promptly begun having kittens over some of the rubbings that were sent back, and he’d pleaded to be allowed to go.
Fraiser had grudgingly cleared him, and Jack, knowing the track record SG-11 had in general, and specifically with his archeologist, had insisted on going along. Carter and Teal’c had chosen to skip this one, which meant Jack was stuck alone with Daniel and SG-11, who apparently all thought of Daniel as a living god. They constantly went to him with questions, observations, and new findings, hanging from his every word. Daniel was incredibly happy. Jack was bored out of his head.
“The things I do for you, Daniel,” he muttered, kicking the dust up as he shuffled across the room. He shifted the package under his arm up a little when it began to slip, surveyed the three tunnels in front of him, and took the one on the right. The next intersection, a round room with a high domed ceiling and bands of alternating blue and green along the walls, offered seven possible branch tunnels. Jack was glad he wasn’t claustrophobic.
He took the third tunnel from the left and hopped down another step, gritting his teeth as his knees and sore thighs protested. At the end of the tunnel he paused, looking into the long, low rectangular room ahead. Daniel was sitting cross-legged in the dirt, his knees pressed against the wall, leaning forward and gently brushing centuries of dust off the mosaic. Behind him, an electric lantern cast a soft, golden glow over his work, glinting off the specks of mica in his hair.
His green fatigue pants were almost entirely brown, and his elbows were thick with dust. Dirt collected in the creases of his neck, and one long smudge crossed his face from chin to ear. As he moved, dust trickled from his sleeve, joining the small piles accumulating on his crossed legs. As Jack watched, Daniel’s nose twitched, and he turned his face into the crook of his elbow, smothering a sneeze. He sniffed, squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and then went back to his careful brushing.
Jack allowed himself a few minutes to watch. He’d had a long walk to get here, after all. He’d earned it.
Then he crept up behind Daniel, the ubiquitous dust muffling his footsteps, his breathing slow and shallow, undetectable. He waited until Daniel put the brush down and began sorting through his kit, probably looking for a different brush, and then he spoke right behind Daniel’s head in a bright, cheerful voice. “Hi, Daniel!”
The result was quite satisfying. Daniel yelped, tried to jump to his feet, and fell over with a heavy thud when his legs, stiff and nearly numb from being stuck in the same position for hours, refused to cooperate. He lifted his head from the ground and glared at Jack, then rose up on all fours and spit out some dirt.
“Jack,” he said. “I hate you.”
Jack grinned. “No you don’t. I brought you lunch. And a jacket.”
Daniel brightened immediately. “Really?” He stood and brushed the front of his shirt with his hands, sending clouds of dust flying but doing nothing to actually clean the fabric. “I was just getting really hungry.”
“I figured,” Jack said. He handed over the MRE, as well as a canteen of fresh water.
Daniel opened that first, drinking down half of it in one long gulp. “Ahhh...” He smiled at Jack. “Thanks. It’s really dusty down here.”
Daniel rolled his eyes and tore into the MRE, sitting against one wall and stretching his legs out with a groan. “This stuff is fascinating,” he said between bites of crackers and peanut butter. “The mosaics are so intricate, and so well designed. It must have taken hundreds of workers years to create them. From what I can tell, they aren’t painted at all.”
Jack nodded and wrapped the jacket around Daniel’s shoulders. Daniel leaned forward to accommodate him, still managing to speak and eat at the same time.
“I mean, painted mosaics are fairly common, but the resources and time necessary to find chips of rock that are naturally the color they wanted, especially given the size and variety of color here... it’s just staggering, Jack. Absolutely amazing. People put their whole lives into this. A lot of people. And considering nothing remains on the surface of their civilization, at least as far as we’ve been able to tell, they must have poured all their focus into this. All that energy, dedication, to create these tunnels—and the tunnels aren’t naturally occurring, either. I’ve been making a map as I go, and I’m beginning to see a pattern. They actually dug this place out, started from scratch, or close to it. Jack, it’s just...” He grinned up at Jack, shaking his head, and spread his hands wide.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
Daniel’s smile changed, turned into something fond and familiar. Jack was suddenly reminded of Alten, beaming at him, laughing indulgently and telling him to never change. He cleared his throat and Daniel looked down, opening a packet of pre-cooked turkey and rice.
“I know we won’t be able to stay here long enough to see it all,” Daniel said, staring over at the bit of picture he’d been meticulously uncovering. “Even if we spent the rest of our lives here, I don’t think we’d completely understand it. But I never could have found a place like this on Earth. This...” He looked at Jack, crouched across from him, meeting his gaze evenly. “This is why I stayed,” he said softly. “After Sha’re, and Shifu, when I thought, what’s the point? This is. This is what I love.”
Jack nodded, and then cracked a smile. “I was kinda hoping the company had something to do with it too.”
“Well, yeah, of course,” Daniel replied quickly. “I didn’t mean to imply... I mean, you and Sam and Teal’c, you guys are like family to me now. I wouldn’t want to leave. But this...” He spread his hands, taking a deep breath. “It’s always been about the discovery for me. Maybe we’ve drifted away from that lately, and I understand why, I understand the pressures, the dangers out there we have to prepare for, but sometimes...” He shrugged. “Sometimes I wish it could always be like this.”
Jack looked at him, at his dirty face and wide eyes and the simple pleasure radiating from him. He considered the cramped tunnels, his sore knees, and hours spent watching SG-11 get downright gleeful over rubbings of old walls. He thought of the rough field latrine, the gluey, tasteless rations, and sleeping on the ground.
“Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”
Daniel gave him a wide, uncomplicated smile that made Jack feel like maybe all the bad things he’d done in his life were balanced, a little, by making Daniel smile that way.
Then he shrugged back into the coat Jack had brought him, drawing it close around his chest and shivering. “Thanks for this, Jack,” he said. “I was getting cold down here.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, it’s damn hot on the surface, but I figured you’d be cold underground.”
Daniel swallowed the last bite of the turkey and rice, chased it with a bit of cracker, and took a long drink of water. “Much better,” he said. “You managed to get here just in time for me to avoid that ‘forgot to eat’ headache.”
Daniel gave him an odd look. “I must be getting predictable these days. You always seem to know where I am and what I’m doing.”
Jack shrugged. “Nah, you’re not predictable. I’m just that good.”
“Right.” Daniel stretched, putting both hands in the small of his back and arching until it popped. When he leaned back, his tee rode up to reveal a sliver of belly, the skin pale compared to his tanned and dirty arms. Jack reached over and tugged the shirt down, straightening the hem.
Daniel paused, frowning at him. “Okay,” he said slowly. “Bringing me food, I get, and even bringing me a jacket—a little unusual, but nice. But fixing my clothes? Come on, Jack, what’s next, tying my shoes?”
Jack drew his hand back, shrugging. “Dunno,” he muttered. “I saw it, I fixed it, no big deal.”
“Uh-huh.” Daniel gave him a long, puzzled look, but then seemed inclined to dismiss it, turning back to his mosaic. He settled back into his earlier indentation in the dirt, folding his legs and selecting a brush. His free hand pushed his glasses back up on his nose and then rubbed the back of his neck, scratching off more dirt.
“So,” Jack said after a moment. “Guess I’ll be going.”
Daniel nodded and waved at him without looking up. “Thanks for lunch, Jack. Oh, and be careful on your way out. It’s easy to get lost in here.” Then he paused in his careful brushing, and twisted, looking over his shoulder at Jack. “For that matter, how did you find me?”
Jack gave him a blank stare, and then looked at the ground, where he was relieved to find the answer. “Footprints,” he said, pointing.
“Well, yes, once you got far enough in, but SG-11 and I have been all over this place. There are footprints everywhere. How did you know which ones to follow?”
“What, you think Teal’c is the only good tracker?” Jack folded his arms, looking affronted. “I have been doing this for a while, you know.”
Daniel wasn’t buying it. He fixed Jack with a suspicious stare, and then shook his head. “You had Janet put a radio locater in me somewhere, didn’t you?”
“What?” Jack began to laugh, propping one hand against the nearest wall and bending over, guffawing at the ground. “Are you serious? You really think I’d do that?” He paused, and his face turned speculative. “Although... it would come in handy...”
“Don’t you dare!”
Jack grinned. “Don’t wander off and we’ll see.”
“I’m going back to work now,” Daniel said, crisply enunciating each word. “And when we get back home, I’m asking Janet about that locator thing. If I find out you even so much as mentioned the idea to her...”
“Relax, Daniel. Go, play in the dirt. Don’t make me come down here again when it’s time for dinner.”
Jack backed up to the room entrance and leaned against the wall, watching. The lantern cast a pale yellow circle of light, the corners of the room still deeply shadowed. Daniel was in the center of that light, and Jack had the sudden absurd idea the light somehow came from Daniel, that it was the energy, the passion he had for everything surrounding him in that glow.
Jack shook his head sharply and headed down the tunnel, flicking his flashlight back on. He needed to get back to the surface. Apparently the air down here was bad.
Liar, his mind whispered. Liar, liar, pants on fire.
And how had he found Daniel, anyway? He’d come up with that excuse about the footprints, but Daniel was right—this place was thick with them. Besides, the dust was loose, almost like sand, and didn’t hold a mark well. All he saw were indentations, with no way to tell who had made them. He could see his own footprints leading in, and Daniel’s beside them, weaving back and forth, meandering, doubling back, stopping by one wall and then another.
So, he could tell their steps apart, simply because his were in a straight line. But that didn’t hold water, because all of SG-11 wandered the same way. Besides, he hadn’t even looked at the ground on his way to Daniel. Had made no effort to call him on the radio, or get directions from anyone who might know where he was. Jack had simply gone to him, unerringly, unthinkingly.
It was the same way he’d known Daniel was hungry and cold. There was no process of logic, no concept of ‘well, it’s been five hours since he skipped breakfast so he must be hungry,’ there was just... knowing.
Jack stopped in the large, domed room with the blue and green striped walls. Seven passages to choose from, and he’d chosen the one Daniel had taken. Easily. Or what about knowing Daniel was coming up behind him in the gym the other day? He’d heard someone coming, yes, his skills weren’t so rusty that he’d been completely unaware, but to know it was Daniel? He wasn’t that good.
That day in the supermarket. He hadn’t even thought about it. Just, hey, let’s go see Daniel, since he’s here too. And then he’d gone straight to Daniel’s aisle. It wasn’t hard to figure out when his Daniel-compass had gotten so good, either. Hell, the first time it happened was when he told Carter where to find Daniel. He’d even warned her to hurry, because he knew Daniel was leaving the commissary.
Jack slid down one wall and sat in the dirt, thumping his head back three times, hard. “Shit,” he muttered. “Alten, what the hell did you do?”
Something was wrong. Jack checked his watch again, pressing the button on the side that made it light up. The sun had long since set, SG-11 had all come back from the tunnels over two hours ago, and Daniel was nowhere to be seen.
Ordinarily Jack wouldn’t be worried. Daniel did tend to linger when he was really fascinated by something, and there was no doubt the mosaics and design of those tunnels were a ten on the archeology scale. The whole place had already been declared solid by the engineering team, and there had been no indication of traps. Daniel was most likely lost in his work and didn’t realize the time.
And yeah, he wasn’t answering his radio, but the radios had been sketchy at best on this planet anyway. Once anyone got a few levels into the tunnel network, they failed altogether. So he was late, but really, there was no reason to worry.
Jack knew better. He couldn’t shake the uneasy, antsy feeling crawling over his skin. He paced, SG-11 gathered around the fire and watching him nervously, his hands rubbing his arms over and over. He couldn’t get warm. The temperature had sunk like a stone once the sun set, but it wasn’t cold enough to account for his shivers. Not cold enough to explain the goose flesh rippling up and down his back, sending prickles all over the skin of his chest and legs.
He bet it was cold enough in the tunnels, though. He bet Daniel was freezing.
Jack felt his pacing pick up until he was nearly running and he forced himself to slow down. He brought a hand to his face and rubbed his forehead, trying to focus. His palm was cold and damp, his fingers had a visible tremor. His chest felt tight, a rising sense of pressure coming up his throat, making his breathing fast and shallow. Jack knew what approaching panic felt like—he’d been there enough times in his life to recognize the signs.
There was no reason to panic. Worry, yeah, but panic was a gross overreaction. Jack stood still, his hands clenched at his sides and his eyes closed. He pushed the unease away, the circling, useless thoughts, made them distant. Examined them coldly, rationally.
This was not his panic. He became sure of that suddenly, not a logical conclusion, but a knowing. The sensations were baseless, without depth or solidity. Like a radio station over a tiny little handheld stereo with fading batteries. These things were coming to him from Daniel.
Which meant that Daniel was cold, Daniel was scared, Daniel was approaching panic.
“I’m going after Daniel,” he said shortly to SG-11. He headed for the tunnel entrance at a sprint, not waiting for their acknowledgement.
Jack stopped at the first intersection and concentrated, trying to pull up the easy knowing of Daniel’s location. It wouldn’t come—each choice felt equally good, and equally wrong. He was constantly aware of Daniel’s fear, and Daniel’s struggle to control it, to think rationally. He got no images, no actual thoughts, but the feeling was there, overlapping his own tension, like scratchy piped-in music at odds with front row seats at a live concert. Now that he’d identified the source, it was easy to tell Daniel’s feelings from his own.
Closing his eyes, Jack took a deep breath, holding it for the count of five before letting it out slowly. He was probably overreacting. Maybe his worry over whatever Alten had done to his head was confusing him, making him think something bad was going on with Daniel when really, Daniel was just working. And even if there was some trouble, Daniel was a resourceful guy. He was self-reliant, intelligent. Jack could count on him to make the right choices and do his best to get himself out of trouble.
So Jack would just go visit him, wherever he was working, and remind him he’d lost track of the time. Scold him thoroughly for worrying everyone, and then drag him from the tunnels. He could see it happening. He began rehearsing the speech in his head, beginning with the disappointed head shake, the tight, tired eyes, and the unfeigned relief at finding Daniel well.
His feet began to move. Jack opened his eyes and watched his feet carry him through the left fork, then the middle path at the next intersection. He went down three steps, then chose the first of four different tunnels.
Jack could picture the look on Daniel’s face, could see it clearly. Annoyance at being lectured, at first, impatience with Jack’s control. Then, when he realized how worried Jack had been, apology, concern. Well-meaning promises to not do it again. Earnest explanations of how it was just so fascinating, Jack. He was only going to look a little while longer, and you know, one thing led to another, and wow, was he really that late?
Four more steps down, two turns to the left, then the center path of three. Jack slid his steps deliberately, leaving long scuff marks in the dust, an easy path to follow out. His flashlight shone straight ahead, acting like a compass needle at each intersection, the light swinging to the correct opening every time.
Jack pushed the cold unease and growing fatigue away. It wasn’t his, anyway. He imagined turning down the volume on the tinny radio transmission, until it was just barely audible. Two rights, fourth of seven, then straight through without turning three times. He was deep in now, at least a quarter mile of walking behind him, the air still, damp, and colder with every step. He could see his breath puffing out in front of him, the cold biting at his exposed ears and making his knees ache.
He was getting close now, he could feel it. With proximity came a stronger sense of Daniel’s fear, and he began to lose the easy knowing of where he was. Jack turned the volume down again, as far as it would go, and the knowing came back. He pictured a bright blue thread in his mind, winding along the tunnel paths, connecting him to Daniel. He built the thread up, imagining it growing thick, strong, now a nylon rope. Slim but tough. He reeled it in, pulling himself forward, because it only went one way. He couldn’t pull Daniel to him, couldn’t make Daniel feel anything.
Jack frowned and thought about that. Was this thing only one way? Did Daniel have the awareness of his presence as well?
When focused on, the knowing slipped away, the rope elusive, dancing out of his grasp. Jack consciously relaxed, caught the rope with the corner of his eye. One-way, sure, of course. He knew it without thinking about it, without puzzling over it. To look at it directly would make him lose it again.
He saw the glow of Daniel’s electric lantern first, weak and dimming in and out, unlike his own bright white light. Jack picked up the pace, letting his forced calm dissipate, and the rush of relief he got from Daniel as the other man saw him knocked him against one wall. When he wasn’t choosing to shut Daniel out, the transmission was staggeringly strong.
“Jack!” Daniel stumbled forward, his arms wrapped around his chest, his teeth chattering. “Tell me you know how to get out of here.”
Jack nodded, rallying once the rush of feeling from Daniel eased. The encroaching panic had disappeared entirely. Jack allowed himself a small smile. Nice to know his mere presence was that reassuring. “Cold?” he asked.
“Just a little.”
He pulled Daniel close, rubbing his arms and his back, sharing his own warmth. Daniel moaned in relief and huddled against him, heaving a huge sigh. Jack knew he let it go on a little more than really necessary—Daniel was warm enough to make the ten minute walk out of here easily. Jack indulged himself for just a little while, though. He’d managed to harness an ability he knew nothing about to find Daniel, after all. He figured he was owed a little payback.
Jack pulled back eventually, turning and finding his trail with the flashlight. Daniel switched off his own light, which was mostly dead anyway, and moved with Jack, keeping their shoulders pressed close in the tight tunnel, remaining by his side. “I was lost,” he explained. “I thought I had myself a solid map, but I must have gotten turned around somewhere. There were some mosaics that were exactly the same as others in a different wing of the complex, and I thought I was there, but I just kept getting deeper in, and by the time I realized I was going the wrong way, my map was useless, and my light was dying. I was trying to go with the old rule of keeping your right hand on the wall and always turning right, but for all I knew, I was going around in circles. It was getting so cold and turning right kept making me go down steps, which I knew was wrong, but I kept thinking that it would pay off eventually. There are miles of tunnels down here, though, and without the light, I couldn’t even use the mosaics as a guide.”
Jack let him talk out his anxiety, focusing on following his back trail. “You’re lucky I came looking for you,” he said.
Daniel nodded and gave a full body shiver, his teeth clattering together audibly. Jack could feel the relief and fatigue pouring off him in waves, and Daniel’s strong desire for a hot cup of coffee and his sleeping bag. “I could have wandered in the dark all night,” Daniel murmured, as if he was just realizing it.
“Nah,” Jack replied easily. “I would have found you long before then.”
Daniel pressed more tightly against him as they went through a narrow doorway, and when the space opened around them he took his time moving away. “Thanks, Jack,” he said. He flashed a weary smile, visible as a glimpse of white teeth in a dirty face.
“No problem.” Jack put a hand on his upper arm, squeezing for a moment. “Bet you’d love a hot shower, huh?”
Daniel groaned. “Oh, don’t make we want it when you know I can’t have it. At this point, I’d settle for not being in a cold little room underground. Oh, and coffee. Really hot coffee.”
“We’re almost out now. SG-11 has a campfire going, and I bet your sleeping bag is nice and warm from sitting so close to it.”
Daniel closed his eyes and let Jack’s shoulder support some of his weight for a few steps, trusting Jack to steer him away from any obstacles. “That sounds good.”
Jack could feel how good it sounded to him, how badly Daniel wanted it. Daniel had been pushing himself full throttle since they’d arrived on the planet, dawn local time. He was entirely wrung out, drained by hard work, excitement, and fear.
“Don’t fall asleep on me yet,” he said, nudging Daniel with an elbow. “If you think I’m carrying you out, you can forget it. You fall asleep and you’re spending the night here.”
Daniel laughed softly and raised one hand to his forehead in the worst salute Jack had ever seen. “Yes, sir, Colonel sir,” he mumbled.
“Getting a little punchy, are we?”
Daniel was snickering, his steps beginning to tangle together. He was going to fall flat on his face if he didn’t focus a little. “Are we there yet?” he asked.
“Almost. Daniel? Don’t make me pour water on your head again.”
“You better not,” Daniel snapped, straightening a little. “I’d freeze to death.”
“Ah, don’t exaggerate.” Jack gripped Daniel’s arm again, under the pretense of steering him. Daniel could have frozen to death, oh yes. Could have, and likely would have, if not for Jack’s new skill. He would have looked for Daniel, of course. He would have rallied SG-11 together, and they would have combed the tunnels, but the place was huge, it swallowed sound, and the twists and turns would confuse anyone. Before the night was out, Daniel would have succumbed to exhaustion and hypothermia.
Daniel walked by his side silently, his shoulder pressing against Jack with more and more weight as his final reserves of strength were drained. Jack chattered at him as they walked, prodding him for responses every now and then, and soon his trail led them to an opening with visible brightness, the moonlight stunning after the pitch-black tunnels.
“Oh, thank you,” Daniel whispered as they walked into the open. Jack simply squeezed his arm again, uncertain who Daniel was thanking. As for him, he was thanking Alten. He summarily forgave the little alien for being annoying, obscure, and frustrating. Alten was now one of the good guys in his book.
“Hey, Daniel!” Major Cohen, a doctor of anthropology and the leader of SG-11, stood as they approached the fire. “I see the Colonel dragged you out, huh?”
Daniel sank onto his sleeping bag and held shaking hands toward the fire. Jack pulled him back slightly before he actually put his numb fingers in the flames.
“Daniel?” Cohen frowned, leaning down and trying to catch his eye. “Are you okay?”
The warmth and light seemed to revive Daniel a bit, and he sat back, giving Cohen and his team a tight smile. “Got a little turned around in there,” he admitted. “My light died on me.”
Simons, the team surveyor and engineer, whistled low between his teeth, shaking his head. “Man, it’s a good thing the Colonel found you. I bet it was cold in there.”
Daniel chuckled. “Slightly, yeah. Do we have any coffee?”
The others put together a cup of steaming coffee for Daniel, and Jack drew the edges of Daniel’s fire warmed sleeping bag up and wrapped it around his shoulders. He could feel the rush of warmth that ran through Daniel, and the release of tension as his muscles relaxed. Jack closed his eyes for a long moment, mirroring Daniel’s expression of delighted relief.
“Oh, warm,” Daniel murmured. “God, that feels good. Thank you, Jack.”
“Just what you wanted?”
Daniel nodded, and then accepted his coffee with a grateful smile. “Now it is.” He swallowed the coffee in three long gulps, heaving a heavy sigh as the heat spread from his chest and belly. He gave a jaw-cracking yawn and turned, stretching his legs out. Jack managed to get the rolled up shirt that Daniel was using as a pillow under his head before Daniel hit the ground.
“A little tired now,” Daniel mumbled. “Wake me for my watch.”
Jack snorted. Yeah, that was gonna happen.
He sat beside Daniel for a while, as SG-11 talked quietly amongst themselves. Then Jack set the watch schedule, leaving Daniel out, which was met with no objection. He’d seen quite a few worried looks sent Daniel’s direction, and he’d caught Cohen adjusting Daniel’s sleeping bag more snugly around him more than once.
Jack took first watch, and once he felt confident that everyone was asleep, he allowed himself a few minutes of indulgence, his fingers sliding through Daniel’s hair, hand resting on his broad back, feeling his steady breathing. Maybe Alten had given him a little more than awareness. He’d never touched Daniel quite so much, not even when he was sick or hurt. The urge for casual contact was low level, and seemed to slip away if he tried to examine it too closely. Much like the ability itself.
But the ability was growing, wasn’t it? More than just knowing where Daniel was, now it was knowing what Daniel was feeling. What he wanted, what he needed. Knowing it in such a personal, intimate way that Jack actually felt it himself.
Jack knew, rationally, that he should report this. He’d obviously been influenced by Alten and his people. Compromised, possibly. He was manifesting a genuine psychic ability. It should be documented, and tested.
Of course, trying to pin this particular knack down seemed to be difficult. Maybe trying to test it and quantify it would make him lose the ability altogether. Besides, what would happen if he told people? Daniel would feel self-conscious, for one. Always wondering if Jack was reading his emotions, if he was giving away too much. Daniel guarded his personal space zealously. He would not be pleased.
Then, of course, there was the possibility Jack wouldn’t be able to prove his claims. That the talent would fail him if he tried to force it. Then what? Sessions with the base shrink, endless medical exams, wary, uncertain looks from his team. From Daniel. And of course, he wouldn’t be going off-world. If he’d realized this ability and reported it before the mission, he wouldn’t be here now, and Daniel would be stuck in a tunnel somewhere, slowly freezing to death.
Jack shook his head. Keeping quiet was by far the better option. Besides, this was an incredibly useful tool. Constant awareness of Daniel’s location and general well being, without the knowledge of specific thoughts that would mean invading his privacy. Knowing enough to keep him safe, but not too much to overwhelm Jack with bits of language and knowledge and memories that he didn’t need.
His hand was in Daniel’s hair again. Jack watched it incuriously, smiling as his fingers developed a mind of their own and traced feather light over Daniel’s cheekbone. Apparently a preference for that particular spot had also been impressed upon him. Daniel, deeply asleep, didn’t even twitch an eyelid.
When Jack considered why he actually wanted to touch Daniel, his hand drew back. There was no why. Reason didn’t apply here. Thinking too much would only complicate matters. Jack grinned and relaxed, focusing on the still campsite, the quiet perimeter. His hand wrapped loosely around Daniel’s arm, the ball of his thumb rubbing the shoulder bone over and over.
Luckily, thinking too much had never been a problem for Jack.
Daniel bounced back quickly from his little scare, and after a solid night’s sleep, he was ready to go back exploring. Jack noticed he made sure to take two spare sets of lantern batteries with him. Confident in his ability to find Daniel again, should it become necessary, Jack had no qualms about letting him go. Daniel probably wouldn’t get lost, anyway. He’d be doubly careful now that it’d happened once.
So Daniel went traipsing off with SG-11, and Jack dialed the SGC and delivered the morning status report. He didn’t mention Daniel’s misadventure. That would only embarrass Daniel, and since it had turned out fine, there was no reason to go spreading it around.
Then Jack settled back in the shade of a large rock outcrop, in sight of the gate and the tunnel network entrance. He crossed his ankles, laced his fingers behind his head, closed his eyes, and set about mastering his new skill.
Jack was well aware any useful skill set needed to be polished, practiced, and so familiar that calling on it in an emergency became second nature. He believed strongly in the value of training, of drilling a concept into the mind until no thought was required. Until the process of raising a weapon, aiming, and firing was a reflex, until hand-to-hand combat required no planning, no cognitive effort. He needed to be able to find his awareness of Daniel no matter what was going on around him, just like he could scan, reload, and organize a cogent defensive line in the middle of a firefight.
So Jack called the knowing to him, reaching out for Daniel again and again. He relaxed in the growing warmth of the day, allowed his mind to find the natural grooves it fell into, and gently reordered those grooves until they led to Daniel. It was surprisingly easy, and he didn’t know if that was Alten’s influence or his own tendency to think of Daniel whenever he had nothing more pressing on his mind.
It was like reaching out and touching a wall without looking. Just feeling, confident it would be there, ready to support him. If he tried to look at what he reached for, it always flitted away, but as long as he simply expected it to be there, it was.
Daniel was happy again—he could perceive that much. Excited, his mind whirling with the speed of a trip through the wormhole. Curiosity, awe, a touch of pride at the way SG-11 deferred to him. Jack reached a little further, and found Daniel was leading the team to the place Jack had found him the previous night. He used Jack’s own long, shuffling footprints in the dust to guide them. Apparently just before his rescue, Daniel had discovered a room that showed what looked like a battle with the Goa’uld.
Jack shook his head, chuckling. Only Daniel would still be examining the mosaics when he was damn close to panic. Or maybe trying to make sense of the wall art was what Daniel had used to keep in control.
Jack couldn’t see Daniel—there were no images, no sounds. He knew what Daniel was doing, what he was feeling, and could feel it himself, the rush Daniel rode when he was in his element. He didn’t know the words Daniel said, but he knew Daniel was speaking. Daniel was excited again, looking at something, but Jack couldn’t see his face, couldn’t see him trying to focus. Couldn’t see what he was looking at. There was just the knowing that he was studying something.
So there were limits. Jack nodded, and then promptly began to push them. Maybe, if he relaxed further, allowed himself to slip into Daniel’s head a little more, he could get actual pictures. Could see through his eyes.
After an hour of trying, Jack was beginning to get a headache, and the tension was making him lose the easy sense of connection. He sighed, got up, and walked around the camp a few times, stretching his legs. Apparently his new abilities only went so far.
Alten’s people had been able to move things with their minds, to know what was going to happen—precognition, Daniel had called it. Jack wondered if he had any of that. He balked at the idea of actually trying to move pebbles on the ground, though. He could just imagine the reaction if SG-11 came up behind him and found him focusing on some little rock. Besides, even the aliens had to join in a group to move the Jaffa. Maybe it wasn’t something that could be done alone.
He wished he could go back and ask Alten exactly what he could do now. Of course, petitioning Hammond to reconsider a return to the planet would mean explaining why he wanted to go back. And he’d already decided telling anyone about this was a bad idea.
Besides, it was kind of cool, keeping it to himself. He was like a superhero with a secret identity.
Jack considered that for a moment, and then snorted, laughing at himself. He was a little old to be playing pretend.
He allowed himself to slip back into Daniel, walking with no real direction, riding the rush of Daniel’s feelings. Jack was bored, hot, and wishing for a shower, but Daniel was deep in scientific curiosity and the thrill of discovery. Jack could turn up his little imaginary radio all the way, and Daniel’s strong excitement and happiness was enough to drown out his own mild irritation at having nothing to do.
Jack looked up when he suddenly felt cooler and the bright sunshine winked out, and realized he had entered the tunnels. His aimless walking was not so aimless after all; he was heading for Daniel. He allowed his feet to carry him on for a few minutes, but then he withdrew from the connection a bit, pausing. If he showed up wherever Daniel was, again, it’d be a dead giveaway. The night before, Daniel hadn’t asked Jack how he found him, mostly because he’d been so tired and so relieved to be found. But Daniel was already suspicious. If Jack continued to pop up wherever he was, Daniel would start getting inquisitive. Jack knew perfectly well that secrets did not weather Daniel’s curiosity.
Sighing, Jack retraced his steps to the entrance. He began idly brushing a wall clean, revealing a picture of green fields lined with crops, speckled with flowers here and there. The chips of stone representing the sky were a particularly rich blue, and those that made up the sun appeared to be actual gold. Jack wondered how much a place like this would be worth to a tomb robber. Or how Daniel would react if someone suggested taking the gold back to offset some of the SGC’s expenses.
Jack chuffed and carefully dusted away some more caked dirt. Daniel would be beyond pissed. He could even picture the look on Daniel’s face, the little hoppy-around fit of temper, the waving hands. It had been a while since he was on the receiving end of one of those. Maybe it would be different now, with his new perception? If Daniel was angry, would he feel it as well? If they were fighting, then Daniel’s anger might feed his own.
Dropping his hand from the wall, Jack felt his smile fade. This thing could bite both ways. Last night, he’d been close to panic, because of how Daniel felt. He’d been able to separate their feelings, but only with effort. And he’d also been cold, because Daniel was cold. What if Daniel was injured? Hurt so badly he couldn’t walk? Would Jack be debilitated by feeling an echo of that pain?
Damn. Jack folded his arms, leaning his head back against the wall. There was too much he didn’t know. He needed to be able to shut the connection out when he had to. He could call it fairly easily now, touch the knowing without effort. But maybe it had grown too easy—and it had happened too fast. They’d only been back from Alten’s planet less than a week, after all. His abilities had grown stronger constantly since then. What if they kept going? Just how close was he going to get to Daniel?
Jack got up and began to pace, lifting his feet to avoid kicking up too much dust. He knew how to make the link slip away—all he had to do was think about it too hard. But in a combat situation, if Daniel were injured and Jack had to do five different things at once, would he be able to focus on pushing his awareness of Daniel to the back of his mind? What if, in combination with his own anxiety and stress in battle, Daniel’s feelings overwhelmed him? What if he really was compromised as a leader?
“Shit,” Jack muttered. Maybe this wasn’t such a cool gift after all.
Jack spun, his hands dipping toward his weapon reflexively before he realized it was just Major Cohen. “Major,” he said, as if he hadn’t just been caught completely unaware.
Cohen grinned, his eyes wandering to the patch of wall that Jack had cleaned. “I guess this place is pretty boring for you, sir.”
“Oh, I’m finding things to occupy me,” Jack answered. “Besides, Daniel is SO gonna owe me. I plan on collecting on this one for weeks.”
“Does Daniel know that?”
Jack folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “He will.”
Cohen’s lips twitched, and Jack could swear the Major was struggling to avoid saying something insubordinate. “Yes, sir, I’m sure. I was just heading up to request some more supplies.”
“More supplies?” Jack narrowed his eyes. “We have plenty of food for two more days. I know you’re not requesting an extension, Major.”
“No, sir, not at all. We’re asking for some lighting equipment. We found a huge room in there, and the lanterns aren’t allowing us to get a complete picture.”
“Ah.” Jack rocked back on his heels and nodded. “Well, carry on, then.”
Cohen nodded and walked past him, squinting as he stepped into the sunlight. Jack watched him go, and then flicked his flashlight on, moving deeper into the tunnels. Daniel was excited again, distracted. He wouldn’t question Jack showing up out of the blue. Jack could chalk it up to boredom if Daniel did ask, and brag about his superior tracking skills a little more.
Two more days on Tunnel World. Jack frowned as he let the link carry him through the passages to Daniel. Two days to practice control of the connection, and determine whether he was still competent in the field. Much as he liked having his little secret, he wouldn’t risk his people to keep it. If necessary, he’d split from the team, so he and Daniel would never be in combat together.
Jack hoped like hell that it wouldn’t be necessary.
Oh, yeah. Showers were definitely up there on Jack’s list of favorite on-world amenities. Tunnel World had also been dust world. He could feel the grit in his hair, under his fingernails, and between his toes. In the next cubicle, Daniel gave a low groan of appreciation, and Jack chuckled.
“Nice, huh?” he called.
“I think I carried about ten pounds of P27-990 back through the gate with me,” Daniel replied. “I have dust in my ears.”
Jack nodded and touched the link, calling it to him with practiced ease. He felt warmth, relief, and just barely, the sensation of Daniel washing his hair. Fatigue, satisfaction, a pleased glow at a job well done. Pleasant anticipation of sleeping in his own bed.
Then he shut the link out, picturing a concrete wall between himself and the little radio he used to visualize the strength of his perception. The wall slammed into place, and Jack was alone in his own head again, with only the vague awareness Daniel was close by and to his left. He nodded, pleased with how well he’d managed to control this thing.
Most of the time, it was easy to maintain low level awareness, a constant knowing of Daniel’s general location and well-being. If he wanted more, he could call it, and if he wanted nothing, he could shut it out. It had become familiar very fast, and now it was like breathing, or walking, requiring little thought. The true test of whether he could operate under stress would be a real mission, with real enemies shooting at them, but Jack felt confident he’d pass that test.
He was also relieved to find the knowing seemed to have reached a plateau. He still never got images or memories, no words, and only strong physical sensations came through. It was all safely vague. Emotions were the strongest, and even those only came in clearly when he was in close proximity to Daniel, or when Daniel felt them keenly.
He’d managed to get through the rest of the mission on Tunnel World without making it obvious he always knew where Daniel was. It had helped that Daniel was immersed in his work, and only peripherally aware of Jack handing him food and water from time to time. The incident on the first night, when Daniel had gotten lost, had not been mentioned again. Daniel seemed happy to forget it, and Jack was willing to go along. He might have wanted to tease Daniel about it, but having to feel Daniel’s irritation and embarrassment kind of put a damper on the whole teasing thing.
Jack left his shower first and got dressed, grinning at the small sounds of delight coming from Daniel’s cubicle. “Keep it down, Daniel,” he said, chuckling. “People will wonder what you’re doing.”
He felt Daniel’s flash of realization, and then warmth on his cheeks as Daniel flushed. “I’m not—it’s just so nice to be clean. The water is still coming away brown.”
“I’ll bet. Just enjoy it quietly, okay? SG-3 is due in here any time, and they’d never let you live it down if they heard you.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Daniel replied dryly, but Jack could feel the appreciation under the sarcasm. Daniel liked to be looked out for, even if he resented the implication he couldn’t handle SG-3 on his own.
Jack grinned and walked out, feeling more than a little smug. Daniel could be aggravating and impossible to understand at times, but he had the inside track now. He decided he’d have to arrange a poker game with Daniel in the near future.
“Oh, Colonel, you’re back.”
Jack turned and waited for Carter to catch up, walking beside her down the corridor. “Yep. You missed a good time, Carter. Nobody parties like SG-11.”
“I’m sure, sir.”
“So, how were things while I was gone?”
She paused, her face lighting up and her mouth opening. Jack stopped walking and turned to her, resigning himself to a barrage of technobabble when he saw the gleam in her eyes. “I think I’ve finally got the particle cannon refined enough for practical use,” she began. Jack nodded and let her run on. Particle cannon? Why did that make him think of Star Trek again? Jack considered asking what, exactly, a particle cannon was, but decided that would be unwise. Carter might actually tell him.
He felt Daniel come walking up behind him and turned, nodding to him. Daniel was pink from his long, hot shower, his hair still damp and uncombed, a few spikes sticking up in the back and his cowlick wreaking havoc in the front. Jack almost didn’t recognize him without dirt all over his face and a big, awestruck grin.
“Hey Sam,” Daniel said when she paused for breath.
“Oh, Daniel! I didn’t see you coming. How was the mission?”
Daniel beamed. “Amazing. I can’t begin to tell you.”
“Oh, yes he can,” Jack said. “And he will, and then he won’t stop. I have heard so much about mosaics in the last three days that I could tell you about them in my sleep. Please, for the love of god, don’t get him talking about them again.”
Carter grinned brightly at him, and Daniel gave a rueful smile, but Jack was startled by the stab of hurt and resentment he felt. Daniel showed none of it on his face. “Yeah, Jack’s probably right,” he said, grinning depreciatingly. “Besides, I still have the mission debrief to torture you with. I’m planning a PowerPoint presentation.”
Carter groaned theatrically, and then patted Jack’s arm. It was a casual touch that probably wouldn’t fly in a normal chain of command, but Jack was proud his team was closely knit enough to accept such things. Carter certainly didn’t mean anything by it. He thought. He knew it didn’t mean anything to him. But apparently, it pissed Daniel off. Irritation, followed by tired resignation. And none of it ever showed in his voice or manner, his expression perfectly at ease.
“We’ll never survive, sir,” she said, and then gave him a conspirator’s smile. “Maybe we can sabotage the projector.”
Daniel laughed, and it sounded real, but Jack knew it wasn’t. They teased him like this all the time, though. Why would it bother him that much? Jack could feel the resentment, and a sense of... what? Betrayal? And it was directed at him. Jack felt for the link, turned up the volume, and for the first time, got an actual image. He and Daniel in a dusty little room underground, sitting in the glow of a lantern, Daniel eating a cold MRE and talking, wide eyes bright in a dirty face.
The image was fast, so fast that Jack wasn’t sure if he was seeing Daniel thinking of something, or his own memory. He frowned, trying to get it back, but he could only feel the normal link now. Daniel was still chattering amiably with Carter, listening to her talk about her particle cannon, and he seemed fine. Jack could feel his happiness over his time on Tunnel World had drained away, though, replaced by a sense of bone deep tiredness and the growing urge to get away from the SGC, to get home. To get away from Carter, and from Jack himself. Daniel was tired of the pretense, of smiling blandly and pretending.
Jack trailed along after them, falling back a step or two as they chatted. Carter was leading Daniel to her lab, eager to tell him all about what she’d been doing. He could feel Daniel’s impatience with it, and his dutiful interest, allowing Carter to direct the discussion, giving up on sharing his own experiences off world. Was it always like this? Was that why Daniel had been so open in that underground room? Maybe Daniel always felt like he had to put up this front at the SGC, his shell of ‘nothing bothers me.’ Maybe it was only when he was doing what he really loved that he could be fully himself.
It clicked for Jack, why Daniel was so disappointed in him. Why he felt let down. He’d allowed Jack to see how much the work meant to him and Jack had taken him seriously, had really listened. Only to turn around and make fun of it as soon as they got home.
Jack sat down on a stool in Carter’s lab, essentially forgotten as Carter waxed poetic and demonstrated her new toy. Daniel made all the right sounds, his voice as bright and curious as ever, his mind able to grasp the basic principle, if not the higher physics. Jack watched him, and was truly stunned by Daniel’s skill, because he never would have known. Never would have seen through the front.
Jack put his arms around his middle, because Daniel wanted to do it and didn’t. Daniel wanted to retreat, to relax, to not have to make an effort to please those around him. But his determination to be a good friend, a good teammate, and a good soldier made his own desires secondary.
Daniel was interested, calm and happy by all appearances, and it was an exceedingly clever mask. Jack shook his head, and wondered how long Daniel had felt so hollow.
Jack sat bolt upright in bed, his hand fumbling for the lamp, gasping for breath. He blinked for a moment in disorientation, and then recognized his own bedroom. He ran a hand over his face and got up, deciding he might as well visit the bathroom, since he was awake anyway. It would save him waking later to do just that. One of the downsides of getting older.
Nightmares were hardly uncommon, and normally he shrugged them off once he woke, but for some reason, he could feel the unease mounting again, tightening his chest and making his heart thump against his ribs. He had the urge to run, to get out of the house, to just... go. Faster. He couldn’t go fast enough. Jack caught himself before he started pacing and put one hand on the doorframe, dropping his head and rubbing the back of his neck.
This wasn’t his nightmare. The thin, reedy quality to what he felt gave it away. He was receiving from Daniel again, had been even in his sleep, and apparently, Daniel was still dreaming. Jack felt for the link, strengthened it, and was aware of Daniel, asleep on the couch in his apartment. He’d been working, not his mission report, but his own personal theories and ideas about the mosaics and what they represented. Jack couldn’t see the laptop open on the table before him, or the scattered pages of notes, but he was willing to bet they were there.
He reached a little further, and got disjointed perceptions, a split screen, one with the steady knowing of Daniel on the couch, the other with a sense of running in the dark, surrounded by grasping hands. Things tugging at him, scratching his skin, clawing his back, wanting him. Chasing. Impossible fatigue, dragging him down, his legs like jelly, his chest burning, each breath a stab of pain. The need to go faster, and the inability to do so. A terrible feeling of failure, of disappointing everyone who mattered.
Jack shuddered and pulled away from the link, putting his wall up. He couldn’t do anything about Daniel’s bad dreams. Hell, they all had them. In their line of work, it was inevitable. Daniel was having a doozy, and Jack sympathized, but short of calling Daniel’s house to wake him up, all he could do was wait for it to be over.
Even with his mental walls and the physical distance between them, Jack felt antsy, anxious. He was aware of cold sweat trickling down his back, and his slightly elevated heart rate. He walked into the kitchen and turned the water on, waiting a moment for it to run cold before sticking a glass in the stream. He guzzled it, then set the glass down, pleased that his hands held no tremor. If this was a stress test of his ability to control the link, he was doing well so far.
Daniel still hadn’t woken up. He was getting close, though, judging by his escalating panic. He’d scare himself awake before long. Jack opened the fridge and pulled out some bread and lunchmeat. He slapped together a quick sandwich and ate it standing at the sink, refilling his water glass to wash it down.
Jack was putting the sandwich makings away when Daniel woke. He felt Daniel’s disorientation, which seemed to last for an awfully long moment, and then a heady rush of relief. Jack lowered his wall, allowing the connection to snap back into place. He leaned against the counter and closed his eyes, doing his best to send a little calm Daniel’s way. He’d tried transmitting a number of times, and Daniel never seemed to pick anything up, but Jack figured it couldn’t hurt to try again.
Daniel hunched over on the couch, his arms tight around his middle. Jack unconsciously mirrored the pose, rocking slightly. He felt the antsy feeling start again, but it wasn’t fear this time. Instead, it made him think of the days right after he’d decided to stop smoking. He wanted something. Needed it. The want was crawling on his skin, clenching his guts. Jack began to pace. He clicked his teeth together, his fingers tapping a quick, erratic rhythm. Whatever Daniel wanted, it was one hell of a craving.
“Get it, Daniel,” he muttered, unaware he was speaking aloud. He was fully into the link, his eyes half-lidded, and if he’d been in the same room as Daniel, he would have realized their breathing was now perfectly synchronous. “Whatever it is, get it.”
Daniel got up and ran water in his bathroom sink, splashing it over his face. Jack could feel how cold it was, how hot and sweaty Daniel was. He shivered, the skin all down his back prickling. The want was unrelenting, terrible. Jack didn’t know how Daniel could stand it.
“If this is about coffee, no wonder he’s such a pain in the ass when he doesn’t get it,” Jack said to himself. But it couldn’t be coffee. If it was something that easy, surely Daniel would have gotten it. Surely he wouldn’t just live with the want if he could avoid it.
Jack pulled back, shutting the link down again. He couldn’t take that twisting need. It brought back unpleasant thoughts of his return from Iraq, and the long, barely remembered time of withdrawal from the morphine the Iraqi doctors had hooked him on. They’d been trying to help him, and in the end, they’d been almost as bad as the prison guards who’d hurt him in the first place.
Was Daniel on something?
Jack shook his head sharply. No, that was impossible. Even if they weren’t subjected to constant medical monitoring, Daniel would never do that. Ever since his problem with the sarcophagus, he had an irrational dread of anything that could possibly be addictive. He even steered clear of strong painkillers when he was injured.
He could still feel the want, but it was easing now, and Jack reopened the link tentatively, relieved when Daniel seemed to have it under control. Daniel was back on the couch, thinking, typing, then scrolling with one hand and scribbling with the other. Jack could feel his focus, his stern self-control. Jack crossed his arms over his chest and scratched at his forearms. His skin felt itchy, too tight, confining. He chewed on his tongue, conscious of wanting to fill the need with something sugary and fattening.
Daniel didn’t seem inclined to go back to sleep. Jack squinted at the VCR. Three forty in the morning. No wonder he felt half dead. Shaking his head, Jack stopped in the bathroom, and then got back in bed. Daniel could keep ungodly hours if he wanted to. Jack knew the value of a good night’s rest.
He lay awake for a long time, wondering what Daniel needed so badly. What else was Daniel hiding?
Jack was sitting in an interminable training briefing, where his presence was technically required but he served no real purpose other than to hold down a chair. Some expert from the Senate Oversight Committee was up there explaining how they’d determined exactly how many weeks of training were necessary to create a field-ready SGC soldier. Jack glanced down at the little booklet the expert had handed out to everyone and rolled his eyes. He’d had months of training, years of real world experience, and there was still crap out there that managed to catch him by surprise. Alten, for example. Surprised the hell out of him.
Even his so-called best friend, the guy he’d rubbed elbows with for five years, the guy he’d literally been to hell and back with, still managed to surprise him. Jack was beginning to realize Daniel’s uncomplicated happiness on the world with the tunnels and mosaics was not the norm. That had been a special occasion, a rare treat. Daniel’s normal mode was not euphoric discovery, but rigid self-discipline. He held himself firmly in check at all times, putting on his public face every day and wearing it flawlessly.
Not that Jack didn’t know a thing or two about false fronts. His dumb colonel routine was down pat. A little too pat, sometimes. He’d overheard some new recruits wondering how the ‘old colonel’ had gotten his birds, much less his position at the head of SG-1, since he was clearly less intelligent than your average potted plant.
Perhaps it was time to stop playing with the yo-yo in public.
That was beside the point, though. Daniel was the point. Daniel and his sweet, naïve, non-combative nature. Only... not so much.
Daniel got mad more than Jack would have ever guessed. He got mad when the other archeologists in his department acted like they’d seen it all after only a few months of gate travel. He got mad when people complained about their kids, or their wives. He wanted to rail at them, to tell them how lucky they were to have a real family, but he simply nodded, smiled understandingly, and kept his head down. He got mad when the accounting department told him he couldn’t possibly have that new MRI, even though the physics R&D section had three of them. Priorities, you know.
Jack could understand those things. He didn’t understand why Daniel felt he had to keep it all hidden, why he bit it back over and over again, but he did get why it pissed Daniel off. There were some things, though, that he didn’t expect to bother Daniel.
Carter, for example. Daniel loved Carter like a sister. Respected her intelligence, her courage, her tenacity. Cared about her a great deal, and genuinely wanted her to be happy. But sometimes Carter could piss him off faster than anything. Usually those occasions involved Jack.
The other day, Daniel had been talking to Jack, excited about something or other one of the research teams had brought back. Jack hadn’t really been paying attention to the words; he’d simply listened, allowing Daniel’s pleasure in his subject to flow through the link. He’d felt Daniel’s surprise at not being interrupted, and the almost scary rush of fondness that had come when Daniel had realized Jack was indulging him. He’d stopped mid-lecture and given Jack one of those rare smiles, the kind that made him feel worthwhile.
Then he’d taken off again, full tilt, until Carter had walked up to their table in the commissary, greeted both of them, and proceeded to start telling Jack all about her latest presentation at the academy. She hadn’t meant to interrupt Daniel, not intentionally. Jack didn’t think so, anyway. Carter wouldn’t do that. She just got wrapped up in her own stuff sometimes.
Jack had turned to listen to her, and she’d leaned in closer, sitting on his side of the table, which did kind of shut Daniel out, since he was on the other side. Jack had gotten such a rush of anger from Daniel that he’d stared at him, his mouth hanging open. Daniel had looked perfectly calm, but Jack saw him grip the table for a moment, hard enough to turn his knuckles white. Daniel had blinked at him, and then asked Carter to go on, and all the while, he was thrumming with that tightly contained anger, that simmering resentment. And something darker as well. Jealousy, maybe, or possessiveness. Something that made him tighten his jaw until the link made Jack’s teeth hurt.
Jack got no hint of that anger when Daniel was alone with Carter. There was some irritation sometimes, when Carter would refuse to see his point of view, or insist on a rational explanation for everything, but for the most part, Daniel enjoyed his time with her. He enjoyed the opportunity to speak with someone who could think as fast as he could, who could debate things with him and meet him point for point. He thought of it as exercise for the mind, and Carter was an excellent sparring partner.
Apparently, it was only when Carter and Jack got together that Daniel saw red. Jack wasn’t sure what to make of that. The jealousy only made sense if Daniel had some feelings for Carter, and didn’t want Jack moving in, but he got nothing like that from Daniel. What he felt for Carter was strong, but strictly platonic. Familial, really.
In the front of the room, the training expert began discussing the merits of running all the training programs on the same planet. Sure, it would mean a bit of crowding, a little more organization to avoid friendly fire incidents, but hey, it was a whole planet. There was room. Why spend the money to open separate wormholes to different places when all the training could happen in one place? And furthermore, all the training groups should leave at the same time, so the gate would only have to be opened once.
When he started going on about making sure the entire team was assembled before opening the gate, to ensure the minimum amount of time it needed to be kept open, Jack tuned him out again. He bet this guy wouldn’t last ten minutes off-world. In fact, he’d have to introduce Teal’c to him later. Maybe an up close and personal encounter with an actual Jaffa would show him there were bigger things to worry about out there than cost overruns.
Daniel liked Teal’c. That wasn’t exactly news, but Jack had always figured there was a little resentment there as well, a little bad blood. Teal’c had been the one to choose Sha’re, after all, and then the one to kill her. He’d had no other options, but still. A thing like that could put a damper on the best friendship.
But no, Daniel harbored no grudge against Teal’c. He regarded the big Jaffa as a rock, an anchor, and trusted him implicitly. Daniel felt safe around Teal’c.
Until the link, Jack had had no idea how much time they spent together. He personally only saw Teal’c on missions, in the gym, and on the occasional team night. Their on-world work didn’t really overlap. Daniel, on the other hand, consulted Teal’c often. Goa’uld translations, Goa’uld political intel, Jaffa myths—you name it, Daniel wanted to know it. He spent hours working with Teal’c, and when Jack touched the link and found them together, Daniel was invariably at ease, as relaxed and peaceful as he ever got at work. Daniel didn’t have to pretend so much with Teal’c.
The meditation thing had been a bit of a surprise. Jack was glad Daniel had started meditating with Teal’c, though, because Daniel would probably have had a nervous breakdown years ago if he didn’t have that outlet. He kept so much bottled up, controlled himself so fiercely, that he desperately needed that chance to simply be. Jack often turned the volume up on the link when Daniel was meditating. It was like listening to a white noise machine. Soothing.
Often, when Daniel was angry, and particularly when he was angry with Carter, he’d seek Teal’c out. Just being in his presence made Daniel feel calmer. Jack didn’t know if he liked that or not. If anyone was going to make Daniel feel at ease, then Jack thought it should be him. After all, who was closer to him? Who knew him better, especially now?
When he caught himself venturing into downright territorial thoughts, Jack reeled himself in. Daniel was not a prize to fight Teal’c for. Besides, Teal’c would kick his ass.
Jack looked up, blinking and rubbing his eyes when the overhead lights suddenly went on. Apparently the slide show was over. And—looking around—so was the meeting.
“Just, ah... going over my notes,” he said, holding up a notebook as proof. It even had his writing in it. Well... provided little drawings of space ships could be considered writing.
The airman nodded, flicking his eyes sideways to another young airman, and then indicating Jack with a glance. “Yes, sir,” he said, in a tone that clearly implied Jack was having one of his dumb as a rock moments.
Jack drew himself to his full height. “The concept of running concurrent training programs really wouldn’t be cost effective anyway, given the increased logistics expenses and the amount of supplies a large group goes through versus several smaller groups.” Then he sauntered out, leaving the airmen gaping after him. He allowed himself a smug smile once he was in the hall. That ought to keep them guessing.
Feeling for the link, Jack found Daniel in his lab. Daniel was frustrated, tired, and hungry. He had a tension headache that centered behind his right eye, and his vision was beginning to blur from squinting at tiny lines of inscription. Breaching his domain right now was risky, but Jack felt up to the task. Some of the really good coffee swiped from Fraiser’s office, a packet of M&Ms from the vending machine, and Daniel would be putty in his hands.
“Thank you, Jack. If you must stay, please be quiet.”
Putty may have been a bit of an optimistic prediction.
“Whatcha doing?” Jack asked, sticking his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels.
Daniel gulped down half the coffee, tore open the packet of candy with his teeth, and glared at Jack over the yellow wrapper. “Jack. I appreciate you bringing this for me. You’ve now done your duty by your teammate. You have no further obligation here.”
Jack frowned. He was getting deep tiredness from Daniel, but only slight irritation. Daniel didn’t really feel pissy, he was only acting it to make Jack go away. The slur about obligation was designed to make Jack feel unappreciated and stomp off in a huff.
Jack wasn’t buying it.
“Eat your M&Ms,” he said blandly, sinking into a spare chair and raising his eyebrows, waiting for Daniel to comply.
Daniel sighed and dropped back into his own chair, propping his forehead up in one hand. “What do you want, Jack?”
“Why do I have to want something?”
Daniel waved his free hand without lifting his head. “I assume you came in here for a reason?”
“To bring you the goodies, of course. And you’re welcome.”
“I did say thank you.”
“I know. And it made me all warm and fuzzy, let me tell you.”
Daniel groaned and folded his arms on the desk, letting his head thump down. “Jack, what do you want?”
Jack dropped his casual air, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his thighs. “I want to know what’s going on with you.”
Daniel lifted his head enough to peek at Jack with bleary eyes. “What?”
“You’re barely sleeping lately, Carter is really getting under your skin for some reason, and you’re so tense at the end of each day that it takes you hours just to unwind enough to get some rest.”
“How...” Daniel straightened, his mouth hanging open. “Jack? Are you spying on me?”
Jack shook his head. “It’s my job to know these things.”
Wrong thing to say. Jack felt Daniel’s immediate withdrawal, felt his walls coming up. There had been a flicker of hope, a moment of... what? Feeling worthwhile? Like somebody actually cared enough to notice how miserable he was. But then Jack had gone and screwed it up.
“I’m fine, Jack,” Daniel said stiffly. “Consider your job done.”
“Daniel...” Jack sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “As your commander, it’s my job to know. As your friend, I want to do something about this crap, okay? Don’t tell me it’s fine. We both know that’s a crock.”
Daniel stared at him warily. “You want to do something,” he echoed. “What, exactly?”
“I hadn’t actually gotten that far in the plan.”
Jack shifted and offered a weak smile. “Well... not so much a plan. More like a... you know, an outline.”
“Uh-huh.” Daniel was starting to soften. Jack could feel the walls lower a little, and he cocked his head to one side, grinning endearingly. A little charm never hurt.
“Listen,” Jack said. “I’d love to get out of here. I’ve been stuck in the meeting that would not die all afternoon. What do you say we knock off early, grab a little something to eat, and head up to this spot I know. Big trees, great view, privacy. We’ll...” He shrugged. “We’ll talk.”
A slow smile spread across Daniel’s face. “You hate trees,” he said.
“I hate talking, too. You’re gonna owe me, Daniel.”
Daniel snorted and closed his reference book, powering down his laptop and neatly stacking his notes. “Can’t believe I’m playing hooky,” he muttered. “I haven’t done this since... well, ever.”
Jack shook his head and followed Daniel toward the elevator. He could feel Daniel’s mood lifting the closer they got to the surface. Mood elevator. Jack snickered at his own pun. Daniel gave him a funny look. Jack thought about sharing, and then decided against it. Daniel thought puns were only slightly cleverer than, say, Goa’uld propaganda.
He’d succeeded in getting Daniel out of his office and feeling happier, which was good. But he had no idea what they were going to talk about. Which was less good. Jack winced. He’d just discovered the flaw in his plan.
Maybe it would have helped if he’d had an actual plan to begin with.
“You know, Jack, relaxing usually entails actual relaxation.”
Jack kept walking, pushing branches out of his way, making sure none snapped back and hit Daniel. He’d learned his lesson after the first time he let that happen. “We’re almost there.”
“You said that an hour ago.”
“Oh, get real, Daniel, we’ve been walking for ten minutes.”
Daniel huffed and grumbled, but Jack could feel his pleasure at being out in the fresh air, away from the gray confines of the mountain and the ubiquitous fluorescent lights. They’d taken off shortly after fifteen thirty, and a stop at the deli for some sandwiches and potato salad had been accomplished quickly, meaning that they had plenty of daylight left. Jack switched the plastic bag holding the food from one hand to the other and ducked a low hanging branch. His spot was around here somewhere. It was just a tad more overgrown than the last time he’d been there. He supposed a few years would do that.
“You do know where we’re going, right?” Daniel asked, stepping gingerly over a mud puddle.
“Hey,” Jack protested. “Aren’t I the master tracker? Didn’t I find you on Tunnel World?”
“Yeah, about that...”
“Here we are!” Jack spread open a clump of shoulder high grass, revealing a small clearing. One side was defined by a curving creek, and the sound of the water had guided Jack as much as his own memories of this place. Tall fir trees, mixed with oak and alder bordered the other edges, leaving the clearing mostly shaded, but for a spot in the middle where the sun reached. Jack headed for that spot, aware of Daniel behind him, soaking up the quiet.
“Oh,” Daniel said softly. “Nice.”
Jack grinned and patted the ground, pleased that the dampness had been leached away by the warm afternoon sun. “Come on, let’s eat.”
They settled down on the ground, breaking out the food. Daniel had bought some bottled water and juice to go along with their picnic. He’d also gotten a double tall cappuccino from the deli, but that had disappeared in the car on the way up. Jack figured it was the only thing had kept him awake on the hour-long drive to the trailhead. He gauged the angle of the sun and decided they had time for him to con Daniel into taking a nap. They needed to leave before full dark, because he didn’t have a flashlight and he wasn’t sure he could find his way back to the car without one, but it was June, and the days were long.
“Thith is good,” Daniel mumbled around a mouthful of potato salad. He swallowed and washed it down with some apple juice. “You know, eating outside tends to evoke visceral responses in humans, perhaps a racial memory of when all meals were eaten in the open. It also generates a response of eating more quickly, which could be a holdover instinct of grabbing as much food as possible before stronger members of the tribe took it away, or before predators were attracted by the scent.”
Jack nodded and took a bite of sandwich. Since the link, he’d discovered that Daniel spoke expansively when he was most relaxed. Excitement, curiosity, pleasure—they all induced the tendency to ramble in Daniel. It was when he became terse and succinct that Jack sensed unhappiness or anger.
“We eat outside on missions all the time, though, which should make it commonplace,” Daniel continued. “Maybe it’s the difference in the setting? Not just the quiet or the solitude, because we get those off-world all the time... maybe it’s just knowing we’re not working, not on the clock. Or maybe it’s the absence of weapons.”
“Maybe,” Jack said noncommittally. He had a small knife in a sheath on his calf and extremely powerful mace in his pocket, but Daniel didn’t need to know that.
Daniel grinned at him, and Jack could feel Daniel knowing this trip was for him, knowing Jack was making the effort to put him at ease. Could feel Daniel’s warmth for him, a full, heavy feeling that smoothed over small irritations. And over that, Daniel’s curiosity, always engaged.
“Jack, how did you know I needed this? And for that matter, how did you know where I was in the tunnels that night? Lately, it seems like...” Daniel shrugged and spread his hands, the bottle of juice in his left sloshing. “It’s as if you’re always one step ahead of me.”
Jack opened his mouth to say it was his job, and then shut it again. Daniel didn’t want to hear that. Besides, it wasn’t true. Maybe it was time to tell Daniel what Alten had done? Jack hesitated to do that. Daniel might object, might feel that his privacy had been invaded. And in a way, maybe he’d be right. Jack did have a certain intimacy with him now, one Daniel had not agreed to. Didn’t he deserve a chance to make the choice for himself? Didn’t he have a right to know?
“I...” Jack shook his head. “It’s hard to explain. We’ve been friends for a while now. Maybe, after a while, people just... mesh, you know?”
Daniel frowned, considering. “You’re suggesting that you know me well enough to predict my patterns, to anticipate me?”
Jack nodded. It was partly true, after all. Even without the link, he had a pretty good handle on Daniel.
No you don’t, his mind whispered at him.
Well... okay, yeah, maybe he didn’t know as much as he’d thought. Now that Jack had the inside line, he was discovering just how much Daniel had kept hidden.
Daniel was nodding, his brows drawn low, one finger tapping his lips. “Alright, yes, I can see the merit in that theory. After all, there are certain physical requirements that remain constant. Knowing I’d be cold in the tunnels, or hungry after working all day, I can buy that. But being able to find me when I was lost? Knowing I haven’t been sleeping much?”
Jack noticed he didn’t mention his little problem with Carter. “The not sleeping thing shows,” he said. “And finding you was luck.” Which wasn’t a total lie. It had been very lucky he’d been able to find Daniel. They’d both been lucky Jack had his new gift.
“So much for the master tracker, huh?” Daniel said, smiling. “But even if I can accept luck and long association to explain how you’re able to do these things, it still doesn’t explain why.”
Jack blinked at him. That one he didn’t have a pat answer for. Why did he want to make Daniel happy? Well, because when Daniel was cold, hungry, and stressed, Jack felt it too. He didn’t like feeling Daniel’s unhappiness. Which made it kind of selfish, didn’t it? He only did things for Daniel so he wouldn’t have to deal with his negative feelings through the link?
“What, a guy can’t do something nice?” Jack shrugged.
Daniel peered at him suspiciously. “Not without some ulterior motive, no.”
“Daniel, you wound me. Here I am, looking out for the welfare of my friend, and you accuse me of some underhanded plan?” Jack shook his head sadly, holding his half eaten sandwich against his chest.
Daniel snorted. “Drama queen.”
“Hey! Look who’s talking.”
Daniel gave him a strange, speculative little smile and said nothing. Jack tapped the link and found a whirl of activity behind those seemingly innocent blue eyes. Hope, curiosity, apprehension. Wanting to say something, afraid of the results if he said it. Jack wished he could narrow the focus enough to know exactly what Daniel wanted to say. He could feel when Daniel decided against it, the hope flickering out, replaced with resignation and a staggering wave of tiredness. Daniel was tired all the time now, it seemed. Not just physically, but on every level, worn. Spent.
“Let’s look at the clouds,” Jack blurted suddenly, when he realized he was staring at Daniel for longer than he should.
“Sure. Haven’t you ever done that? You lay down on the ground and find shapes in the clouds.”
“Actually, I haven’t,” Daniel said, swallowing the last of his juice and lying down on his back in the grass.
Jack shook his head disparagingly and lay beside Daniel at cross-angles, the side of his head brushing Daniel’s shoulder. He was aware of Daniel feeling his hair, tickling his cheek, and he could tell Daniel liked the feeling, so he didn’t move. Maybe it was a tad closer than two guys would get if anyone was watching, but they were all alone, and Jack figured if he liked it and Daniel liked it, what was the harm?
“No cloud spotting, no hooky... you’ve led a sheltered life.”
“Sheltered is not the word I’d use,” Daniel replied quietly.
After a pause, Jack nodded, using the motion to edge slightly closer. He could feel the warmth Daniel radiated against his neck, even though Daniel’s shoulder was not quite pressed into that hollow. He raised one hand and pointed, leaning in again so Daniel could follow the line of his hand. “There’s a train.”
“Uh-huh... there’s the symbol for Ptah-hotep.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Of course it is.” He fell quiet for a while, aware of that strange want growing in Daniel again. Crawling on his skin, churning in his stomach, making his chest ache. The link was so much stronger when he touched Daniel, like his little mental radio suddenly lost all its static and came sharply in tune. Jack shifted and gritted his teeth, rubbing his knuckles on his chest to loosen the ache. He didn’t know how Daniel could lie so still and take that feeling. What the hell did he want? And how long had he wanted it, to tolerate the craving like that, so easily? Like he was so used to it.
“There’s a rabbit,” Jack offered, swallowing. He could feel the muscles in his legs twitching. He clenched his fists, and then relaxed them, stretching his fingers out. He wiped his palms on his shirt. Through it all, Daniel stayed calm, as if he wasn’t racked by this crazy need. It was driving Jack up the wall. He wished he knew what Daniel wanted, just so he could get it and give it to him. Immediately.
“It’s the crest of Setesh,” Daniel countered. His voice was thick, sleepy. At least that part of Jack’s plan was working. He could feel Daniel’s mind slowing, his body growing heavy and lax.
Jack decided Daniel was sleepy enough to accept a casual arm flung across his chest. It was about getting more comfortable, really. The ground was lumpy right where he was lying, and in order to shift, he needed a place to put his arm. He could feel the warm weight of it on Daniel’s chest, and the sense of wanting something eased greatly.
The late afternoon sun was warm, eased just enough by a low breeze. Jack could smell the grass, rich and alive, and hear the little creek splashing. The low sounds reminded him of the way the link felt when Daniel meditated. He turned on his side, allowing full contact with Daniel, who was now heavily asleep. Maybe with the increased touching, he’d be able to discern exactly what Daniel needed so badly. He didn’t think he could handle that want being transmitted to him anymore.
He closed his eyes and went as deep as he could, catching the thread out of the corner of his eye with practiced ease, relaxing into the connection. He could feel Daniel breathing, both from the outside, his chest rising and falling, and from the inside. He was aware of the warm weight of his body against Daniel’s, and he could actually feel his own heart beating slow and steady through Daniel’s skin. Lying in the grass, fully clothed, only their sides pressed together and his arm thrown over Daniel’s chest—and it was intimate. Incredibly so.
Daniel’s sleep was dreamless, heavy and soft, and it fell on Jack’s mind like a thick quilt. The want was completely gone now. Try as he might, Jack could find no trace of it. The link had never been so strong, with Daniel’s barriers down and their close proximity, and he still couldn’t figure out what Daniel wanted.
Jack sighed and opened his eyes, staring across the clearing, half his vision obscured by Daniel’s body. His face was pressed into Daniel’s shirt, which was soft and dry whereas the grass was unpleasantly scratchy on his skin. That, of course, was the only reason he burrowed into Daniel’s shirt.
Maybe he could employ a little logic here. Carter wasn’t the only one who could do it, after all. If he figured out where Daniel was and what he was doing when the want hit, maybe he’d determine what it was.
The first time had been after Daniel had that nightmare that woke them both up. Alone in his apartment in the middle of the night. Although Jack had to assume that wasn’t the first time Daniel had felt it, but only the first time Jack had been aware of it. Daniel was far too accustomed to the feeling for it to be new.
The next time had been in his office, where he had retreated after the episode with Carter and Jack in the commissary. He’d been angry for a while, but when that drained away, he’d simply been tired and wanting... something. Jack had been aware of Daniel trying to focus on the work, getting a headache, pacing with his arms wrapped around his middle. That was a common gesture when he felt the craving.
Now, here, lying in the field. The first two times Daniel had been stressed, and alone, this time he was relaxed and lying right beside Jack. That didn’t seem to compute. What did the three times have in common? And what made the want go away? The other two times Daniel had managed to bury himself in work, this time he’d fallen asleep. Distraction, rather than actually fulfilling the need.
Jack shook his head. Maybe there was an answer he wasn’t seeing, but for now, he had nothing. Daniel’s sleep was alluring, tempting him to join in. Jack arranged himself more comfortably, enjoying the sensations through the link of warmth and weight on Daniel’s body. He closed his eyes again, telling himself firmly to wake up when the sun was no longer on his face.
Jack glared at the computer screen. It chirped cheerfully at him, telling him he had fourteen new emails. Requisitions, personnel transfers, departmental budget analyses. Jack wondered if he could get away with turning his computer off and claiming he didn’t know what was wrong with it. Gee, Sir, I don’t know what happened to that file I was supposed to send. The screen just went blank.
Probably not. Even he couldn’t play that dumb.
Grumbling to himself, Jack opened the first email, downloading the attached forms. The morning had started out so well, too. After a long nap in the clearing, Jack had woken Daniel up and cajoled him back to the car, where he’d promptly fallen back asleep. Another brief waking had gotten him into Jack’s spare room, where he’d slept like a stone all night and woken in a rare good mood that morning.
They’d gotten coffee and raspberry pastries at Starbucks on the way in, and Daniel had given him a warm smile before disappearing into his office. Even before the link, Jack would have been able to read the gratitude behind that look.
So the picnic had been a success, even if he hadn’t found out what Daniel wanted, or why he got so upset with Carter sometimes. He also hadn’t come clean about the link, something which was weighing on him. Keeping it a secret forever probably wasn’t possible, and even if it was, he shouldn’t.
Jack turned it around, asking himself if he’d want to know. If Daniel could read him, even if it was only strong emotions and general location, would he want to know? Would he feel invaded, vulnerable?
Yeah, he would.
But it wasn’t as if he could get rid of the link. It was permanent, as far as he could tell. What good would telling Daniel do? He’d feel uncomfortable, it would damage their friendship, to what purpose?
Unless... what if Daniel really hated it? What if he insisted on returning to Alten’s world and asking them to get rid of it? What if Alten complied?
Jack shook his head. That was not an acceptable outcome. The link had far too many practical uses to get rid of. Hell, it had already saved Daniel’s life once. Jack was making a purely tactical decision about keeping it secret. It wasn’t that he wanted to hold onto that connection. It was about keeping Daniel as safe as possible. Because he was such a valuable resource for the SGC. Of course.
He had another half hour before he was scheduled to give a briefing on the care and use of SGC field weapons. Maybe he could ignore his inbox and go bother Daniel for a while. Jack reached, and found Daniel in Carter’s lab, bent over some alien machine, his fingers tracing an inscription. If he concentrated, Jack could feel the little bumps and grooves under Daniel’s sensitive fingertips.
Jack considered heading down there, but decided against it. Daniel, Carter and himself in the same room was apparently a bad recipe. If there had been any indication whatsoever that Daniel’s issues with Carter, whatever they were, would affect his performance in the field, Jack would say something. But so far, Daniel had it completely under control. If not for the link, Jack never would have known in the first place.
Resigning himself to the inevitable, Jack clicked on his next email.
Jack was discussing the merits of a zat gun versus a P-90. The zat dropped an enemy no matter where that enemy was hit, so a shot to the arm or foot was just as effective as a center mass hit. Plus, it had the added bonus of stunning without injuring, so taking prisoners alive was a cinch. On the other hand, it was only accurate at close range, and some aliens were immune to the energy.
He was about to explain the situations in which a P-90 was more appropriate when he felt a sudden, searing pain up his right arm. He gasped and hunched over, clutching at the arm with his left hand, the podium taking most of his weight.
He waved the airmen off, gritting his teeth and straightening. His arm looked perfectly fine, despite the sensation of fiery pain on his skin. He turned it this way and that, frowning, aware of several people hovering nearby, waiting to see if he needed assistance. The pain was ebbing now, fading to a low ache.
“Colonel O’Neill? Are you alright?”
Jack nodded absently at Corporal Jameson, who had been in the front row and was now close at his side. “Yeah... weirdest thing,” he muttered.
“Do you need to go to the infirmary?”
Did he? Jack wasn’t sure. On a hunch, he touched the link and nearly doubled over again. Daniel was lying on the floor of Carter’s lab, curled around his arm, moaning. Jack could feel medics pulling at him, putting him on a stretcher, Carter following closely along, explaining what had happened in a rapid, worried stream of words. Jack couldn’t hear them, and Daniel’s mind was too chaotic with pain and confusion to explain anything. All Jack got was the awareness of Daniel being wheeled quickly down the corridor and people talking back and forth over his head.
His arm felt like it was on fire, the pain intense enough for Jack to nearly start batting away imaginary flames in a panic. He was all too aware he was only feeling an echo of what Daniel experienced. He didn’t want to know what the reality felt like.
Jack pushed the link away hard, and the pain receded, making him sag in relief. He felt Daniel slip into unconsciousness, and the sudden, total absence of connection nearly took his legs out from beneath him. Suddenly afraid, Jack reached for the connection, blundering in his scrabbling attempts, losing the easy slide into Daniel’s head in his hurry. He took a deep breath and forced himself to pull back. Easy click, without pushing, just settling into place.
There it was, present but frighteningly limited. Daniel was in the infirmary now, but that was all Jack knew. He got no sense of what was going around him, no feeling at all.
Jack withdrew again, unnerved by how badly losing that knowing had shaken him. He’d grown more dependent on it than he’d realized. The habit had become so ingrained, the casual practice of reaching out to touch Daniel’s mind whenever he felt like it was now so familiar, that Daniel’s unconsciousness felt like taking a step and finding the floor suddenly gone.
“Sir?” It was the corporal again, putting a tentative hand on his shoulder. Jack realized he’d been standing at the front of the room, hunched over the podium in silence for what was probably a long time.
“Class is over,” Jack said shortly. “Dismissed.” Then he strode from the room, ignoring the puzzled, concerned looks.
He headed straight for the infirmary, rubbing idly at his right arm as he walked. Daniel must be coming around. The low ache was present even with his walls firmly in place. Jack cautiously opened a chink in the wall and allowed a bit more to come in, and then quickly shut it again. Daniel was awake, alright. Unfortunately for him.
Jack got far enough into the infirmary to see a flurry of activity around Daniel’s bed before he was repelled by a harried looking nurse. Frasier was in the thick of it, shouting out orders, and Jack flinched when he heard Daniel actually scream, a short, quickly stifled sound. It took three orderlies to hold him down as Janet cut the sleeve away from his arm. Jack caught a glimpse of blackened green cloth that actually seemed fused with the skin, and he looked away, his stomach rolling heavily.
“Give him something for the pain, dammit!” he yelled at nobody in particular.
“He’s in shock, Colonel,” Fraiser snapped. “It could crash his system.” She never stopped working with her hands as she spoke, her focus solely on Daniel.
He turned and spotted Carter, standing against the wall, wide-eyed and pale. “Carter. What the hell happened?”
She stared at Daniel’s bed as she spoke, a steady monotone, low and mechanical. “We were trying to activate a device that SG-4 found on P3R-489. Daniel was reading what turned out to be the instructions.”
“Let me guess—you got it turned on?”
She nodded. “We didn’t know what it would do. The instructions were perfectly clear... there were no warnings or anything. Daniel told me what would work and I did it...” She looked at him for the first time since she had begun speaking. “Sir, I turned it on. Daniel’s arm was right in front of it... I didn’t even think...”
Across the room, Daniel screamed again. Carter flinched and sagged against the wall.
“Doc!” Jack growled.
“Colonel, you will back off or I will have you removed!” Then, in a lower voice, “We’re giving him morphine now. I needed his vitals before I risked it.”
Jack could feel the medication haze blanketing Daniel’s mind, the pain easing, and then, scarily, the link faded altogether. He didn’t even have the awareness of Daniel’s location he’d had when Daniel was out cold.
He came up behind the group of medical techs, looking over their shoulders until he could see Daniel. The archeologist was drifting in and out, his eyes barely open and glazed, his mouth slack, his body limp. Jack could see him breathing, could hear the steady beep of the heart monitor, but he couldn’t feel Daniel at all. It was like looking at an illusion with no depth. He had the disconcerting sense if he put a hand on Daniel, he’d pass right through, like a mirage.
The drugs. Must be the drugs, dampening the link to the point of nonexistence. They’d wear off, and his connection would come back. Jack swallowed and ran his eyes up and down Daniel again. It had better come back. He hadn’t liked the idea of losing it before, and now that he knew what it was like, he absolutely hated it. He felt empty, hollow. Isolated. Like he’d lost a limb.
Fraiser noticed him and gave him a pointed look, crossing her arms. Jack looked back at her. She must have seen something on his face, because she directed him to a nearby chair, out of the way but within view of Daniel. He nodded with numb gratitude and sat down.
Jack was aware of Carter, still over by the wall. He should do something about that. Something to reach out to her, ease her guilt, invite her to be close to Daniel as well. He knew he should. Jack closed his eyes and tried to summon up some compassion to offer Carter. Some energy to reach out to someone besides Daniel.
She looked at him. He avoided her gaze, suddenly resentful of the demands placed on him. He didn’t have anything to give. Later, he told himself. He’d take care of her later.
Jack tried to touch the link again, feeling that sense of vertigo when it failed him. He swallowed and shifted in his seat, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. He could see Daniel. Daniel was right there. Real, solid, breathing. Definitely alive, if not well.
Fraiser was very carefully separating Daniel’s uniform sleeve from his skin, sluicing the area with saline and something brownish-red. Jack wasn’t sure what it was. Daniel twisted and mumbled complaints as the cloth pulled away, taking some bits with it that used to be part of his arm. Jack swallowed again, taking a deep breath. There was a smell in the air that the antiseptic wash couldn’t completely dispel, a battlefield stink of cooked flesh. Jack was all too familiar with it.
Once the sleeve was removed, thin layers of dead skin were scraped away, while Daniel writhed and muttered, despite the morphine. Jack forced himself to watch the whole thing. He saw Carter occasionally, still pressed back against the wall, her face a pale blur of pallid skin and dark, wide eyes. She watched the process as well, occasionally bringing a trembling hand up to her mouth.
Jack kept his head down whenever Fraiser looked his way. He knew he probably wasn’t supposed to be this close during the treatment process. So far, he hadn’t been kicked out, and he figured good behavior would only extend his grace period.
Eventually Daniel’s forearm was down to raw skin, slowly oozing blood, and Frasier wrapped it in white gauze. Jack was relieved to see the clean bandage. It made Daniel look patched up, on the mend.
While Fraiser had been working, the nurses had removed Daniel’s singed and bloody uniform and replaced it with a hospital gown. He had an IV neatly taped in his left arm, a pulse oximeter clipped to his finger, and the blanket was drawn up to his chest. Once his burned arm was no longer being touched, Daniel slipped into drugged sleep, dark eyelashes fluttering to pale cheeks.
“There,” Fraiser said softly, stepping away from Daniel and sinking onto a nearby bed.
“How is he?” Jack asked.
Frasier’s mouth tightened. “He has a severe third degree burn on his right forearm, as I’m sure you saw. The good news is that the rest of his body is untouched and his vitals are relatively strong. The danger now is from infection. Hopefully we were able to treat the burn fast enough to prevent that.”
Jack nodded, leaning forward and dangled his hands between spread knees, his elbows propped on the arm rests. “Long recovery period?”
“Relatively. I’d say a skin graft is definitely going to be required. The burn is over a small area, which is good, but burns still heal slowly and almost always scar. They’re also extremely painful. Daniel is going to be out of the field for quite some time.”
And on medication for the majority of that time, Jack added mentally. Which meant the link was out of commission. Maybe, with a lower dosage, he’d still be able to reach Daniel. He tried again, and again got nothing. Dead air. Like going to sit down and finding someone had whisked the chair out from under you.
Jack put his face in his hands and sighed heavily. He heard Fraiser get up and walk away, and eventually Carter came over and sat in the place she had vacated.
“What?” Jack asked, without raising his head.
A long silence. Jack told himself sternly to pull it together and be a good team leader. He’d wallowed long enough.
“Carter,” he said, meeting her eyes. “It wasn’t your fault.”
She nodded, blinking rapidly. “Yes, sir.”
He had the feeling that wasn’t an agreement. “Fraiser says he’s going to be alright.”
“That’s good,” Carter murmured. “When the machine turned on, there was this blinding white light. I heard him cry out, and this thud as he hit the ground, but I couldn’t see for a minute. I was kneeling down, trying to find him, and I think I touched his arm—it was still so hot, and he screamed, and I kept rubbing my eyes, trying to see him...”
Jack put a hand on her shoulder. “You got the medical team there fast. There was no way to know this would happen, Carter, so let it go. He’ll recover.”
She looked at him, and he saw that her eyes were very bloodshot. There were slightly red patches on her cheekbones and nose. Flash burn, he thought. “You should have the doc check you out. Make sure your eyes are okay.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “In a minute.”
He nodded and went back to watching Daniel. They sat together like that for a while, listening to the steady, monotonous chirp of the heart monitor. Eventually, Fraiser came back. She checked on Daniel first, and then turned to them, putting her hands on her hips.
“Sam, I need to check you over. You too, Colonel.”
Carter nodded, but Jack frowned up at her, sitting straight in his chair. “Me? I wasn’t even there.”
“Yes, but according to Corporal Jameson, who called me a few minutes ago to check on you, you doubled over while giving a briefing, clutching your right arm.”
Carter was staring at him. Jack gave her a blank look, as if he didn’t understand the implication. As if his mind wasn’t going a hundred miles an hour trying to figure a way to explain it.
“Creative way to get out of a briefing, don’t you think?”
Fraiser rolled her eyes. Carter was beginning to look speculative, which was bad. Carter could connect the dots all too well. Jack got up and groaned theatrically. “Alright, if you must, I’ll play along. Call Teal’c, willya? He’ll want to know about Daniel.”
“I’ll call him,” Carter volunteered, hopping off the infirmary bed. “You can check the Colonel out first.”
Frasier nodded and steered Jack toward an empty curtained off area, and Jack congratulated himself. He’d counted on Carter wanting to do something, to be useful rather than be looked after by the doc, and she’d taken his bait. Now all he had to do was snow Fraiser, and with any luck, Carter would forget the whole thing.
“Alright,” Fraiser said once Jack was perched on the end of the bed. “Jameson said you stopped mid sentence, grabbed your right forearm, and appeared to be in great pain for a moment. Then you dismissed the class and left. From his description, this happened exactly when Daniel was injured, and since you arrived here shortly after he did, I can only assume you came straight here from the briefing.” She crossed her arms and gave him a level look. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Damn. Snowing Fraiser might be harder than he’d anticipated.
She shook her head. “Try again.”
“Uh... sudden wrist cramp. I thought maybe I had a pinched nerve or something. I came here, and saw what was going on, and decided my wrist was not a priority. Felt better then anyway.” Jack added a guileless smile to his explanation.
Fraiser did not return the smile. “You expect me to buy that?”
Jack spread his hands. “Hey, what do you think happened? What am I, psychic? It was just a coincidence.”
“The things I’ve seen working in this place? I think it’s far more likely that you are psychic, especially considering your recent experience with the telepathic aliens.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Come on, doc, you don’t believe in that crap, do you?”
“Colonel, I have seen people switch bodies. I have treated an alien with another alien parasite in his belly. I have seen people walk through walls, devolve into Neanderthals, and recently, my adopted alien daughter developed the temporary ability to move things with her mind. I’d have to say that where the Stargate is concerned, I believe anything is possible.”
“Oh.” Jack scowled down at his hands. Damn Jameson anyway. If he hadn’t called Fraiser, none of this would be a problem.
The doctor nodded and pulled her penlight out. “I’m going to want a full blood workup, an MRI, and possibly a spinal tap.”
Jack winced. Spinal taps were not pleasant. “Let’s hold that option in reserve, shall we?”
Fraiser gave him a steely look and made no promises.
When Jack eventually jumped through all Fraiser’s hoops and made his way back over to Daniel’s bed, he found Teal’c standing by one side and Carter sitting in the bedside chair with a strange gray cutout over her eyes. It was thin, flexible plastic in the general shape of glasses, with “arms” that sat over her ears and held it in place.
“Nice shades, Carter.”
Her mouth pursed and she waved one hand. “Yes, sir. Thank you for pointing them out. I’d almost managed to forget they were there.”
“Glad I could help,” he replied cheerfully. “Something wrong with your eyes?”
“A little photosensitivity. They had to dilate my pupils to do the exam, and it’ll take some time for them to get back to normal, so in the meantime...” She indicated the slip of plastic with her finger.
He nodded and took a seat on the bed next to Daniel’s, since Carter had the chair. “Hey, Teal’c.”
Jack grinned. He suspected that Teal’c played his stoic alien bit up sometimes. He bet that under that exterior, Teal’c frequently laughed his ass off.
“Janet must have had a lot of tests for you, sir.”
“Doesn’t she always?” Jack muttered. “She was just enjoying the pleasure of my company too much to let me go.”
“That is unlikely.”
Jack frowned at Teal’c. “What, I’m not pleasant?”
“Doctor Fraiser has many duties. I doubt she would spend so much time with you if there were not valid reasons for doing so.” Teal’c elevated one eyebrow slightly, as if to say, ‘so there.’
Jack noticed that Teal’c had never assured him he was indeed pleasant. He considered asking for clarification, but decided not to push his luck.
“Oh, she thinks I’m psychic,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Carter sat up straighter, her raised eyebrows peeking over the top of her latest fashion accessory. “Really? What tests did she perform?”
Jack hunched forward, resting his forehead on his palms. “Not you too, Carter. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of a coincidence?”
“I have heard of a coincidence,” Teal’c added helpfully.
“Thank you, Teal’c.”
“However, I do not believe that a coincidence is the likely explanation for this incident.”
Jack stared at him. “Thank you, Teal’c,” he repeated in a very different tone.
Carter nodded. “Yes, sir, Teal’c and I have been talking about it. It does seem like you were somehow aware of Daniel’s accident. Can you describe what you experienced?”
Jack shifted uncomfortably on the bed. He really didn’t want to go into the whole link explanation here, especially if it turned out to be a moot point. He hadn’t been able to make contact with Daniel since the morphine, although he hadn’t tried in over an hour. The sense of reaching and finding nothing was just too unsettling. Maybe he could pass it off as a one-time incident? Yeah... no need to mention the entire history. He could cop to being a little bit psychic.
“I felt something burn my arm, and for a second, I knew Daniel was in your lab, hurt. That’s all,” Jack shrugged. “Maybe it was a little psychic, I guess. Must be all the MRIs.”
Carter frowned, tilting her head to one side. “You saw him? You had an actual vision?”
“No, it’s not like that. No visions, just... I knew.”
“Have you experienced anything like this before?” Teal’c asked.
Crap. He hadn’t wanted to lie directly to them. But it was for the greater good. People finding out about his talent was bad, he’d already determined that. Jack sucked it up and used his most convincing voice. “Nope,” he said airily. “And I don’t expect it to happen again. It was just a weird glitch.”
Carter managed to look skeptical despite having half her face obscured by gray plastic. “Are you sure you haven’t had any other unusual perceptions? It seems so strange for a psychic event to occur out of the blue.”
“That is not so, Major Carter,” Teal’c argued. “I have read of many unexplained incidents in the periodicals of this world. This morning, I saw a story of a woman who predicted a train crash would kill her parents. She insisted that they not take the train, and it did indeed derail, killing many.”
“Which periodical would that be?” Carter asked, wrinkling her nose.
Jack snorted, and then smoothed his expression to one of interest. Teal’c was helping his case, here. “T makes a good point,” he said. “You read about stuff like that all the time. With all the bending, folding, and spindling we’ve gone through, a few random brain hiccups seems likely, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose.” Carter folded her arms and sat quietly for a moment, watching Daniel’s steady breathing. “Maybe Janet’s test results will tell us more.”
Jack shrugged, happy she seemed to be dropping it. Teal’c was giving him the hairy eyeball, though. Jack looked blandly back, falling on his clueless persona with the ease of long practice. Teal’c gazed at him with an unreadable expression for longer than Jack was comfortable with, but he eventually dropped his eyes to Daniel.
Jack could actually feel his palms sweating. Teal’c was no slouch at the interrogation business, that was for sure. And Jack ought to know, with the number of times he’d been interrogated.
Daniel shifted slightly, drawing his leg up and turning toward his left side. Even in deep sleep, he held his right arm gingerly, avoiding pressure on it. Jack saw his respiration was getting slightly faster, his heart rate increasing a beat or two. The drugs were wearing off. If the link was going to come back...
Of course it was going to come back. Of course. Jack had shut himself off from it firmly, rather than feel its continued absence when he looked for it. But when he eventually felt for it again—and he would, really he would—it would be there.
So. No time like the present. Although, Daniel was still pretty out of it. Maybe it would be better to wait. Until he woke up? Yeah, that was good. Daniel would wake up, ask what had happened, because that always seemed to be his first question. Not, can I have some water, or even, can someone help me to the bathroom, but always, what happened.
But as long as he was waiting, why not wait until Daniel was off painkillers altogether? Just to be sure. Because that feeling of stepping out and getting nothing but air was beyond unsettling, it was like someone had cored his guts, leaving a huge gaping hole behind.
Daniel made a low sound under his breath and shifted again, tucking his bandaged arm close to his chest, cradling it in his other palm. He curled around it, a line appearing between his eyebrows, and Jack suddenly couldn’t wait any longer. He had to know if the link was coming back, because if it wasn’t, he needed to start adjusting to that reality now.
He closed his eyes and reached like he’d done a hundred times a day for the last week—and was that all it had been? A week?
Never mind. Think about Daniel, relax, find the line and follow it, that blue thread out of the corner of the eye...
Jack sagged in relief. It was there, right there, like it had never been gone. He pulled the link closer, slipping into Daniel’s skin, feeling the pain in his arm that was growing sharper by the minute, the gluey, nasty post medication taste in his mouth, the sense of logy heaviness in his limbs. Daniel was confused, tired, wanting to sink back into unconsciousness and avoid the pain. He was thirsty, dizzy, slightly nauseous. Jack could feel it all.
Jack’s eyes snapped open. “Yeah?”
Carter was frowning at him. “You looked like you were about to fall over, sir.”
“Guess I was dozing a little,” Jack shrugged. He waved at Daniel and leaned forward. “I think he’s waking up.”
Carter immediately turned, although Teal’c fixed him with that unreadable stare for a moment longer. Jack ducked it, rising to stand by Daniel’s bed.
“Daniel?” Carter touched his shoulder, then stroked a hand through his hair. Jack watched the caress with narrowed eyes.
Daniel murmured something unintelligible, cracking one eyelid and running the tip of his tongue over dry lips.
“He’s thirsty, and he wants to know what happened,” Jack supplied.
Carter and Teal’c stared at him. “O’Neill?” Teal’c asked, in his ‘and you know this... how?’ tone.
Jack shrugged, putting his hands up, palms out. “Lucky guess.”
Carter nodded and turned back to Daniel, leaning close over him, speaking softly. “There was an accident in the lab. We turned the machine on, and your arm was burned, but you’re going to be fine.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. ‘We’ turned the machine on? That wasn’t what Carter had told him.
Daniel nodded minutely. Jack could feel the headache the morphine had left him with, and that arm was really hurting now, the gauze feeling unbearably scratchy and tight, the skin burning, hot. Daniel wanted more than anything to dip his whole arm in ice cold water, to soothe away the lingering heat.
“Here,” Jack said, nudging Carter aside and helping Daniel sit up. “Drink this.”
Daniel accepted the water gratefully, holding it in his left hand and sucking hard on the straw. Jack had prepared it earlier, keeping it close at hand, knowing all too well what Daniel usually wanted when he woke up after one disaster or another.
“Thanks,” he murmured once his throat was functioning again.
Jack nodded, encouraging him to drink again. He had the link turned on full despite the pain, thrilled that it was working again. He wished they had some privacy, so he could really get close, like they had that day in the clearing, while Daniel slept. That was the connection he wanted most.
“Sam,” Daniel began. “Your eyes?”
She touched the plastic protecting her eyes. “They’re fine. This is because of the testing, not the accident itself.” She swallowed and took his good hand, holding it in both her own. “Daniel... I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have turned the machine on. I wasn’t even thinking of... it was a stupid thing to do.”
He shook his head, and Jack winced at the pain that shot down the back of his skull at the small motion. “Not your fault. I was standing too close... neither of us were being careful. Just an accident, that’s all.”
Squeezing his hand, she nodded, but Jack saw that her smile was a bit tremulous. He supposed he could forgive the hand holding. This time.
“Are you well, Daniel Jackson?”
Daniel summoned a tired smile for Teal’c, and Jack could feel the gentle swell of calm, the security Teal’c gave him. Which was beginning to bother him. Why didn’t Daniel feel that with him? Jack found himself glaring at Teal’c and quickly schooled his expression. What was with all the possessiveness? First wanting Carter to stop touching him, and then getting mad when Daniel felt safe with Teal’c? Hell, who wouldn’t feel safe with Teal’c watching over them?
It had been a bad day. A little stress, a lot of worry over losing the link, and he was being irrational, that was all. Jack nodded, glad he’d decided there was nothing... weird going on. Nothing at all.
“Colonel, I have your—” Fraiser stopped when she saw Daniel sitting up, and then bustled to his side, placing one small hand on his forehead and smiling at him. “Daniel, how are you feeling? Do you need anything?”
“I’m alright,” Daniel said, keeping his voice low. His head hurt too much to speak above a murmur.
Jack snorted. “Daniel, you are so far from alright you’re in a different time zone. Do us all a favor and take the damn meds.”
Jack could feel the brief flare of resentment, the mulish resistance to being forced into anything, quickly drowned by relief that he now had a good excuse for asking for pain medication. Daniel rolled his eyes, then flashed Jack a small, warm smile. “Alright, fine, I could probably use something,” he muttered. “You’ll nag me until I take it anyway.”
Fraiser busied herself changing the bag on Daniel’s IV, and then she turned back to him. “One to ten, Daniel.”
Jack pulled the link in close as he could, gritting his teeth against the pain in Daniel’s arm. He’d call that at least a seven, maybe an eight. Definitely an eight, considering that he didn’t feel it as strongly as Daniel.
“Three,” Daniel said. Jack gave him the eye, and he relented. “Okay, maybe four.”
Luckily, Frasier was well acquainted with Daniel’s tendency to fudge the numbers. “I’m giving you enough to take the edge off, but it shouldn’t knock you out.” She lifted a syringe, removing the cap from the needle and pulling the IV port close.
“Not morphine,” Jack and Daniel said at the same time. They looked at each other, and then Jack waved at Daniel to go ahead. “I’d prefer something other than morphine.”
“Daniel...” Fraiser frowned at the syringe, and then at her patient. “Burns are among the most painful injuries a person can suffer. I won’t give you any more than is necessary, and when it’s used properly, morphine has a very low incidence of addiction.”
Jack felt the frisson of horror that went through Daniel at the word ‘addiction,’ and the steely determination that followed. Daniel set his jaw and tried to fold his arms, but had to stop when he bumped the gauze bandage and stiffened, muffling a gasp. “Something other than morphine,” he repeated.
Jack cheered him on wholeheartedly. Hopefully some other, less narcotic painkiller wouldn’t knock the link out. He definitely didn’t want to go there again.
Fraiser sighed and withdrew the syringe, tossing it in the special ‘sharps’ disposal bin. She went off to prepare another one, muttering dark imprecations about stubborn archeologists and pigheaded colonels.
Jack sat down abruptly, getting a rush of dizziness from Daniel, who was beginning to sway dangerously. Teal’c shored him up, shifting the pillows and raising the head of the bed until Daniel could recline comfortably. Jack watched, his head spinning, aware of Daniel wanting the lights off and to just go back to sleep. That sense of duty came in again, the need to pretend, to smile wide and joke around and act like everything was okay. The pain was eating away at Daniel’s depleted reserves very fast.
Fraiser came back with another syringe and injected it into the IV port before Daniel could object. “That one was Vicodin,” she said. “And it’s the least narcotic thing you’re going to get, so live with it.”
Daniel nodded, allowing his eyes to slip shut for a long moment. Jack wanted to shoo everyone away, to let him relax. But he could think of no way to do that without embarrassing Daniel, and making him feel weak.
“Oh, Colonel, I was going to tell you before,” Fraiser said, turning to him. “I got your test results back.”
Daniel lifted his head slightly, and then let it flop back to the pillows. Jack could feel the medication working, making the sharp, burning pain withdraw slowly, throwing a heavy lead blanket over Daniel’s body. The link grew fuzzy, indistinct, but still very much present.
“What test results?” Daniel mumbled. “What’s wrong with Jack?”
Even through the fuzzed link, Jack felt the strong flash of worry... fear? He pushed a little harder, fighting the medication static. Daniel didn’t want him to be sick. Not right now, when Daniel himself felt so weak and unsettled. He needed Jack to be constant.
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Jack supplied quickly. “Fraiser had some wild theory she wanted to test.”
Relief, then curiosity. “Theory?”
Carter stepped in close again. “It seems the Colonel was aware of the accident. He was giving a briefing when it happened, and at that exact moment, he doubled over, holding his arm. Then he came straight here. He told us that he felt a burn on his arm, and he knew you were in my lab, hurt.” Her fingers wrapped lightly around Daniel’s good wrist as she spoke to him. Jack gritted his teeth at the touch, and even more at the comfort Daniel took from it. He put his own hand on Daniel’s shoulder, stroking slowly with the ball of his thumb. So there, Major.
Daniel was staring at him. Jack got speculation, suspicion, the edges of a realization that Daniel was too tired and too woozy to grasp.
“So Doc, am I psychic?” Jack asked, looking away from Daniel’s piercing eyes.
“Well, I doubt a blood test would tell us if you were,” she replied. “But your blood work was normal. Your MRI did show a slightly elevated amount of activity in a small area of the parietal lobe, but that in itself is not conclusive.” She shrugged, shaking her head. “There have been plenty of tests done on self proclaimed psychics which have shown the same meaningless results. This just isn’t something that can be quantified.”
“I wonder what a test on one of Alten’s people would show,” Daniel said. Jack twitched and looked at him, and found Daniel looking right back. Jack felt uncertainty from him; everything was still speculative, but Daniel definitely had a theory.
“Guess we’ll never know,” Jack replied quickly. “Hey, what do you say we get out of here and let you catch some rest, huh?”
Daniel narrowed his eyes, but allowed himself to be sidetracked. “I am a little tired,” he admitted.
Jack snorted. He could feel how hard Daniel was fighting sleep, the pain now a manageable ache, his limbs heavy and his eyes drooping. “We’ll turn the lights down for you on the way out.”
A flash of gratitude for that, and a small nod.
“See you later, Daniel,” Carter said, giving his hair one last quick stroke.
“Sleep well, Daniel Jackson.”
Jack smiled at the swell of affection Daniel felt for his friends, the simple pleasure he took in their company. He lingered for a moment, waiting for the others to leave, and then he sat down beside Daniel, resting his arms on the bed. If his hand happened to brush Daniel’s knuckles, well, that was just a coincidence.
“It was really nothing,” he said. “A weird brain fart.”
Daniel’s eyes were closed, but his lips tugged into a small smile. “Now, Jack, how would Alten feel if he heard you call his gift a brain fart?”
Jack pulled back abruptly, ready to issue an improvised denial, but Daniel was already out.
Daniel had been guessing, Jack told himself. Fishing. Daniel didn’t know anything for sure.
Of course, Daniel wasn’t going to leave it alone either. When he was a little less drugged and had a little more privacy, they was going to have this out, and Jack knew it.
Jack groaned and dropped his head onto his folded arms, his forehead pressed against Daniel’s side. How the hell was he going to get out of this?
Daniel managed to whine, charm, and generally argue his way out of the infirmary after only twenty four hours. He was sent home with Jack and some strict instructions on how to administer meds, change the dressing, and monitor for any signs of infection.
Technically, Jack was just giving him a ride home. Daniel could take care of himself one-handed, and while he did need a little help changing the dressing, he didn’t need a babysitter. Daniel would normally be the first person to point this out, but when Jack steered them toward his house rather than the apartment, Daniel made no objection. He gave Jack a sly, sideways look and nodded once, but that was all.
Once they arrived, Jack went around to help Daniel out of the car, which Daniel allowed only because his right arm was immobilized in a sling to keep him from bumping the burned skin on anything and getting out of the passenger side of a car left handed was a bit awkward. Once he was on his feet, though, he shrugged away Jack’s arm with a tolerant smile.
“I’ve got it,” he said, and gave Jack another of those looks. Those speculative, thoughtful, I-know-something looks.
Jack nodded and grabbed the bag of medicine, analgesic cream, and sterile gauze from the back seat. He hurried ahead of Daniel and opened the door for him. Daniel sighed, but walked through, moving to sit on the couch without being told.
“I’m really not a total invalid, you know. It’s just one bad arm.”
“I know,” Jack replied. He looked at Daniel for a long moment, drawing the link in. It was easy now—the oral meds were even less potent than the IV ones, and while the link did blur a bit right after Daniel had a dose, it came back fairly quickly. At the moment, Daniel was past due for his pills, and the connection was sharp. However, Jack could feel the pain in his arm, which was even sharper. “I’ll get you something to take your meds with.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed, and he nodded, still giving Jack that assessing stare. Jack got strong suspicion from him now, mixed with a certain fond tolerance for his coddling.
Jack was debating the merits of water versus clear soda on a stomach made unsteady by antibiotics when the low throb he was aware of in his arm suddenly spiraled up, seizing with shooting pain.
“Shit!” he gasped, hunching over and grabbing the arm. He turned the link down automatically, giving himself enough distance to function. Then he ran into the living room, finding Daniel hunched over on the couch, breathing hard, his left hand wrapped around the bandage, squeezing.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jack shouted, pulling Daniel’s arms apart. “Are you nuts?”
Daniel pushed him back, flopping against the couch and closing his eyes, panting. Jack could see sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip, and when Daniel wiped it away, his hand trembled. The pain he felt through the link was slowly easing, but it was still enough to make Daniel’s voice high and strained. “I knew it.” His eyes snapped open, pinning Jack. “I didn’t make a sound. You felt it, didn’t you?”
Jack stared, and then sank down on the coffee table, his knees almost brushing Daniel’s as they faced each other. “Christ, Daniel, couldn’t you think of a different way to test your theory?”
“Only way to be sure. Otherwise you’d just come up with some story about coincidence and luck,” Daniel said pointedly. “It was pretty obvious you weren’t going to tell me on your own.”
Jack ran a hand through his hair, then squeezed the back of his neck. He avoided Daniel’s hard gaze, but he couldn’t avoid the anger at being lied to that coursed through the link. “I’m gonna get your meds,” he muttered, rising. “Don’t do that again.”
“Doping me up won’t get you out of this.”
Jack paused, his back to Daniel, his shoulders tensing. “Okay, maybe I deserved that. But you need the meds, especially now. We’ll talk when you’re not hurting so much.”
Daniel said nothing, and Jack didn’t turn back to him, but as he got a glass of water and the appropriate dosages together, he could feel everything. Resentment that Jack hadn’t told him, curiosity about just what Jack could sense, and some worry over that as well. An uneasy feeling of being exposed, vulnerable. Anger at being made to feel that way. Jack winced at that last one. Pretty much what he’d expected.
“Here,” Jack said, giving Daniel the pills and water. Daniel swallowed the meds and handed the empty glass back, then leaned forward and opened his mouth. Jack stilled him with an upraised hand. “Don’t. Give them time to work, okay? I know you’re still in a lot of pain, and that’s not going to help matters any.”
Daniel frowned, but leaned back again, closing his eyes. Jack was glad the Vicodin didn’t dampen the link beyond all clarity. He would need every advantage he could get if he was going to convince Daniel not to walk out. Daniel being a little mellowed wouldn’t hurt either.
Jack sank into the chair opposite Daniel, staring down at the floor, suddenly tired and ashamed of himself. Using the link and Daniel’s pain meds to make this easier on himself? Daniel had every right to be angry. Jack had violated his privacy, had lied to him, and had used Daniel’s trust to get away with it. He’d meant well, he was sure of that. It had seemed like the best choice at the time. But really, how long had he thought he could keep this a secret? If he’d told Daniel right away...
Jack shook his head. Too late now. He’d made his bed, and now he’d have to sleep in it.
“You can still feel it, can’t you?” Daniel asked suddenly.
Jack raised his eyes, found Daniel gazing at him steadily. “Feel what?”
“My arm. It wasn’t just when I hurt it, or when it’s really strong—you said I needed the meds. You could still feel it. It’s not just sometimes, is it? It’s all the time.” Daniel’s voice was calm, curious, but behind the intelligence and rationale, Jack felt swirling resentment, and that ever present sense of being naked, defenseless.
“Not always,” Jack hedged. Then he ground his teeth together, angry with himself. He was still trying to get around this, still trying to hide things. “It can be always,” he added. “I can control how much I get.”
Daniel blinked. That was all he showed on the outside, a simple blink, but Jack winced at the rush of outrage Daniel felt. That Jack had experimented with it, that Jack wasn’t just carried along for the ride with this strange new talent, but had mastered it, was using it casually, like a tool. Daniel was wondering just how much Jack had snooped, and how long it would have gone on without Jack telling him a single thing.
“I see,” Daniel said. “And you’ve learned how to do that, have you? Perfected your technique?”
Jack nodded, hunching his shoulders against Daniel’s icy tone.
Daniel got up and began to pace, his head slightly muzzy and his arm throbbing. Jack closed his eyes against the swell of dizziness. “Sit down, Daniel,” he said quietly. “I know you’re mad, but calling Fraiser because you passed out while yelling at me isn’t my idea of a good time.”
“Get out of my head,” Daniel hissed. He stood before Jack, hunched slightly over his bandaged arm, secure in its sling, his face pale but for two hectic patches high on his cheeks, his eyes snapping. “If I want to pace, I will. I don’t need you prying into me and deciding what I’m capable of.”
Jack raised his hands and ducked, nodding. “Fine, fine. Do what you want. But I’ve only ever used this to help you. I never tried to... to take something you wouldn’t want to give.”
“Well, since you never asked, you wouldn’t know what I want to give, would you?”
Jack had no reply for that. He watched Daniel cross the room over and over, relieved when the dizziness passed. Daniel brought his good arm up and gripped the opposite bicep, squeezing himself as best he could one armed. Jack felt that strange, maddening want growing again, draining away Daniel’s anger. There was confusion, fatigue, lingering pain. The desire for escape, wishing he didn’t have to deal with this right now, wanting to not deal with it at all. Daniel didn’t like being angry with him, didn’t like the harsh words or the bitterness. He was angry, yes, and he felt sure he had a right to be, but there was also the sense if he backed down on this, he’d seem weak. He was fighting partly because he thought he had to, if he had any chance of keeping Jack’s respect.
Jack clenched his teeth and took a deep, controlled breath. That spiraling, gut-tightening want was growing strong now, making the skin on his arms and back twitch and prickle. He clutched the armrests of his chair and released them, then grabbed again. Daniel paced, his mind whirling, a hundred different feelings at once, and finally Jack couldn’t keep silent anymore.
“What is that?”
Daniel paused mid step, his left arm still snug across his chest. “What?”
Jack stood, mirroring Daniel’s pose unconsciously. “That... that thing you want! It’s driving me nuts. Whatever it is, would you just get it already? God, how can you stand it?”
“You...” Daniel dropped his arm slowly, shaking his head. “You can feel that? You can... it’s not just physical things? You’re getting actual thoughts?”
“No, no,” Jack backpedaled quickly. Daniel was absolutely horrified by the idea Jack could read everything. He had to make sure Daniel understood just how limited it was. “Nothing specific. No words, no pictures or memories or anything like that. I get some emotions, if they’re strong. I always know where you are, and generally how you’re feeling, but that’s all.”
“Oh, that’s all,” Daniel replied. “Like it’s no big deal. And how do you know you can’t get more? Have you tried?” He paused, and then shook his head, taking a step back. “You have, haven’t you? If there weren’t limits, how far would you have gone? And for that matter, how do I know you can’t get specific things? All I have for that is your word, and let’s face it, that hasn’t exactly been reliable lately.”
Jack stiffened, stung. “I didn’t want to lie to you.”
“Didn’t stop you from doing it, though, did it?”
Jack shook his head, then scrubbed a hand over his face. “Daniel, think of what would happen if I told people. You know the NID would be all over me in a heartbeat, and they’d be all over Alten and his people.”
Daniel paused, and Jack felt some of his anger slipping away. “I know. And as it happens, I agree with you. This kind of ability in the wrong hands would be disastrous. But telling the chain of command is not the same thing as telling me. I’m as much a part of this as you are, Jack, and I deserved to know about it from the beginning.”
“Hell, I didn’t even know from the beginning,” Jack said. “It wasn’t until we got to that planet with all the tunnels that I realized something was going on.”
“That’s how you found me, isn’t it?”
Jack nodded. “I could feel you being lost. At first I didn’t know what was going on—all I knew was I was jittery and cold and scared as hell, and then I realized it was coming from you.”
Daniel sank back onto the couch, staring at him. “Wait... you’re telling me you actually feel the same as I do? It’s not just knowing?”
“It’s hard to explain.” Jack spread his hands, and then dropped them. “It’s like... I can tell it’s coming from you, and it’s not as strong as something that’s mine... it’s an echo. But yeah, I do feel it.”
“That’s why... the picnic. Why you’ve been so...” Daniel rose abruptly, crossing the room, staring out the window. “Guess I was just kidding myself, then.”
Daniel snorted, halfway folding his arms again. He didn’t turn around, keeping his back to Jack. “Like you don’t know. I thought you were being so nice, showing me so much attention, because you wanted to...” He shook his head. “Never mind. Obviously I was way off.”
Jack closed his eyes, deepening the link, trying to get at what Daniel was talking about. Disappointment flooded in first, making his throat ache and his eyes sting. Terrible, crushing disappointment. Humiliation. Feeling like a fool. Tired resignation, acceptance that he was never going to get what he wanted. And he still wanted it, oh yes. The want had never really gone away.
Crossing the room to stand behind Daniel, Jack put a tentative hand on his shoulder. “ I don’t know, actually. I told you I don’t get specifics, and I wasn’t lying about that.” He sighed and dropped his hand. “Maybe you don’t trust me anymore, and I guess I don’t blame you. But would you please tell me what’s wrong? What you want so much that you think you can’t have? Because I swear, if there’s any way I can give it to you, I will. I can’t stand sitting here and doing nothing when you’re... like this.”
A flash of anger, and the line of Daniel’s shoulders stiffened in front of him. “Why? Because you have to feel it too? Don’t worry, Jack, we’ll find an excuse to go back to Alten’s world and you can return your little gift. Then you won’t have to deal with my problems anymore.”
“No,” Jack said quickly. “I don’t want that. If you... if you really hate the thought of this, if you want me to try to get rid of it, then... I’ll respect your wishes. But I got a preview of what it would be like without this link when you were on the morphine, and I don’t like it. Can’t stand it.”
Daniel paused, and then turned slightly, looking at Jack over his shoulder. “That’s why you objected to more morphine? It kills the connection?”
“Yeah. And that sucks big time, I gotta tell you. Like... I was hollow. Like being blind. I hated it, Daniel.”
“You don’t want to lose the link,” Daniel said slowly. “That was why you didn’t tell me? You thought I’d make you get rid of it?”
“Partly,” Jack admitted. “I knew you wouldn’t like it. I thought, if there is no way to get rid of it, why tell you? It would only bug the crap out of you without actually changing anything. Either that, or there would be a way to get rid of it, and then I wouldn’t be able to use it. I mean, like it or not, it did save your life when you got lost in those tunnels. And it could save you again someday.”
“That’s assuming you’re still using it.”
Jack swallowed, a cold wave of apprehension swarming through his guts. “You’re... does that mean you want me to try giving it back?”
“It means that it’s not just your decision. When you chose not to tell me, you made the decision for me. I never got to say one way or the other what I wanted, because you never asked.”
“Hey, I never wanted this gift in the first place,” Jack argued. “Alten put it on me without asking.”
“So that makes it okay for you to do the same to me?”
Jack sighed and shook his head. “No. I just... I had all these good reasons for not telling you. At least, they seemed good at the time,” he muttered.
Daniel turned, leaning back against the wall and regarding Jack steadily. “I’m sure they did. Jack, I know you meant well in all of this. You were trying to protect me, but what you don’t seem to understand is that I don’t need that kind of protection. I can make my own choices.”
“I know that now.” Jack grinned crookedly, relieved when Daniel offered a small smile in return. Daniel’s anger had lessened considerably, but Jack could still feel the calm, rational front covering his disappointment. Daniel was determined to salvage the friendship, to walk away from this with Jack’s respect, because he thought that was all he was going to get. But he wanted... what did he want? Jack was beginning to see it now, that Daniel’s want stemmed from him. Wanted Jack to... to do something...
“In fact,” Jack continued, “You handle a whole lot more than I ever realized. I never knew how much things bothered you before this.”
Daniel’s small smile faded, his expression growing cool. “Yeah, well, I’m sure everyone has their pet peeves. I don’t see any need to whine about things that aren’t going to change.”
“I think you should talk to Carter.”
Abruptly walking away, Daniel began pacing again, avoiding Jack’s gaze. “Thank you for your opinion, Jack. I’ll be sure to take it under advisement.”
Ouch. Jack winced, and then forged ahead. “I’m sure if she knew how mad you get at whatever she’s doing, she’d try to stop.”
Daniel shook his head. “It’s not her fault,” he said tiredly. “It’s my problem.”
“So what is it?”
Another head shake. Jack could feel Daniel getting really tired now, wanting to stop talking, wanting to just go to sleep and get away from the whole mess. The painkillers were making him feel thick and slow, and his chest hurt from trying to keep it all in, putting on that mask of composure.
“Daniel, talk to me. I want to know.”
“Oh, I think you know enough.”
Jack sighed and stood in front of Daniel, stopping his relentless pacing. “No, I don’t. In fact, I’ve been pretty much constantly confused since this whole thing started. What is going on with you? And for crying out loud, would you just tell me what you want? It’s driving me up the wall.”
Daniel’s eyes snapped to his, hard and bright. “Oh? Bothering you, is it? Hard to live with? Well, I guess you’d better get used to it. I certainly am.”
“I’ve noticed,” Jack said quietly. “In fact, I’ve noticed you’re used to a lot of things. Like sucking it up and smiling when I make fun of your work, even though you hate it. Like putting everyone else first. Like being so damn unhappy and not telling anyone. Yeah, you’re pretty good at being used to that stuff, but you know what? You shouldn’t be.”
“Don’t make that decision for me,” Daniel said, repeating the words by rote, as if he no longer cared one way or the other. All the fight had gone out of him. His shoulders were slumped, his voice soft. “I’m an adult, and I will decide my own behavior. I pick my battles, and I choose what to put up with. Don’t for one second think of me as anyone’s doormat. If I wanted to stop your teasing, or Sam’s obvious flirting, I would.”
Jack blinked, leaning back. “Flirting? What?”
Daniel gave a brief, bitter laugh. “You can drop the dense act right now, Jack. I don’t have to be a mind reader to see through it.”
Jack stared at him, shaking his head slowly. That was it? Carter’s little crush? Sure, he was aware of it, and it had even been a bit of fun toying with the idea, but it was never going to happen. She knew that, too. At least, he thought she did. It was just a game, a casual flirtation that would never turn into anything serious. Carter’s career and reputation were too important to both of them, not to mention how it would screw up SG-1. Yeah, she sometimes gave him the eyes, and touched him with a bit more casual familiarity than the average second in command, but there was nothing to it. No substance. That was what made Daniel so angry? So... possessive?
“So... wait. You think because she acts that way, there’s something going on?” Jack leaned in, catching Daniel’s eye. “There’s nothing between us but friendship. Come on, you know that.”
“I know. Which is why it’s my problem, and not hers.”
“What problem?” Jack threw his hands up in the air, barely resisting the urge to grab Daniel and shake him. “Would you just tell me already? I know when she gets like that, when she plays it up a little, you get mad... jealous, maybe. What, you have a thing for Carter I don’t know about?”
Daniel stared at him, and suddenly began to laugh, sinking into the couch and putting his face in his hands. Jack could feel the giddy exhaustion, the strange, teetering edge of actual hysteria, the fine line between laughter and tears. He sat beside Daniel and put a hand on his shoulder, then an arm around his back.
“A thing for Sam,” Daniel sputtered, wiping his face. “God, you really don’t know, do you? You don’t have the first clue.”
“Haven’t I been saying that?”
Daniel met his eyes then, his expression frighteningly honest. Daniel without his mask. “You really want to know what I want?”
“For the millionth time, yes!” Jack said, exasperated. Because he could feel that want now, somehow all tangled up with Carter and jealousy and Jack sitting so close, something about the arm around his shoulders and being alone in his apartment after a bad dream and playing hooky on a summer afternoon. Jack could almost see it, almost grasp the shape and pull it out into the light.
“You,” Daniel said simply. “The one thing you can’t give me.”
“What?” Jack was aware his voice sounded breathless, gut-punched.
“You had me pegged on the jealousy thing.” Daniel was so tired now, resigned, just wanting to get it over with. Jack could feel the surety of disappointment, the absence of hope. The relief of finally getting it out in the open. “You just had the wrong person. I don’t have a thing for Sam—it’s you I want. It’s always been you.”
Jack shook his head. There was a strange humming in his ears, like the highest key on a piano, barely audible. “Me?” he echoed numbly. “What?”
Daniel dropped his head against Jack’s shoulder for one moment, and Jack could feel him soaking it up, the closeness, the warmth. That was what he wanted. So clear now that he knew, so obvious. But then Daniel pulled back, rising to his feet as if gravity was working double against him. “I need some sleep,” he announced. “And you obviously need some time to wrap your head around this. I can’t talk about it anymore. In the morning, if you want me to... well, whatever you want to do about this. We’ll decide.”
Jack stared at him, his mouth working soundlessly. Daniel gave him a smile, such a sad smile, and walked away.
For a long time, Jack sat on the couch, aware of the fading warmth along his side where Daniel had been sitting. Aware of Daniel falling into an exhausted sleep as soon as he lay down. Aware of how blind he’d been.
Daniel wanted... him. Jack. He tried saying it out loud. “Daniel wants me.”
Nope. Didn’t make any more sense that way.
In the middle of the night, after a bad dream, Daniel wanted him. After seeing Carter flirt with him in the commissary and capture his attention, Daniel wanted him. In a clearing on a sunny afternoon, lying close together, Daniel wanted him. And now, tired, hurting, confused, Daniel wanted him.
Jack closed his mouth with a conscious effort. All his perception, all he could sense, and he didn’t know this? How could he have missed it?
He thought of Daniel, covered with dust, gilded with the soft glow of the lantern, all wide, shining eyes and effervescent passion. Would Daniel have shared that with anyone but him? And who did Daniel look at first when he woke up in the infirmary? Who did he assume would take him home? Who could cajole him into taking a break when he was tired and frustrated? Who was allowed to touch him more than anyone else?
“Crap,” Jack muttered, “I’m an idiot.”
Okay, Daniel wanted him. Jack knew it was real; hell, he’d felt it himself. He didn’t know how Daniel had kept up the façade, the cool, casual exterior, with all that going on inside him. Daniel was stronger than Jack had ever given him credit for.
But what was he going to do about it? He’d promised Daniel that whatever it was, he’d give it. Could he do that?
Jack thought of watching Daniel brush away ages-old dirt, seeming to glow with his own light. Of the way Jack himself glowered at Carter when she dared to touch him, to stroke his hair. Of seeing Daniel in preposterously tight red shorts and his eyes lingering. Of wanting Daniel to take comfort in his presence the way he did with Teal’c. Of lying next to him in the warm summer grass and spotting clouds, pleasantly aware of his closeness.
Huh. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a leap. Maybe he’d been there all along.
There was more to it than closeness, though. Jack wasn’t naïve. He knew what guys did together. Not something he’d done himself, aside from the occasional mutual stress relief on missions, and that didn’t count. At least, he’d told himself that it didn’t count at the time. It wasn’t intimate, after all. No eye contact, no holding, no connection. Could he handle intimacy?
But then, Jack had felt Daniel’s breathing from the inside. How much more intimate could you get? What did the physical matter when he’d been inside Daniel’s mind?
Jack nodded to himself. There was no point going over and over it in his head. It was time to shit or get off the pot, as his dad used to say. Why try to figure out whether he could deal with being close to Daniel with theories and logic, when he could just try it and see what happened?
Rising from the couch, Jack headed for the spare room, which really should be called Daniel’s room, considering how many nights he’d spent there. Daniel was sprawled out on the bed, on top of the covers. He’d toed his shoes off, but was otherwise fully dressed, including socks and glasses, which were skewed sideways and making a dent on his cheek.
Jack watched him sleep for a long moment, his eyes following the line of his chest, the slim hips, the long, long legs. He felt the familiar warmth that always came with really looking at Daniel. He’d never had a name for that warmth before. Apparently that was another thing Daniel had had to tell him.
He gently peeled off Daniel’s socks, and then opened his jeans, sliding them down his hips in little increments. Daniel muttered and tried to curl his legs back up, but Jack kept at him, and eventually the jeans joined the socks on the floor. He pulled Daniel’s glasses from his face, rubbing at the slightly red indentation that the arm had left where his cheek had pressed them into the pillow. Daniel wrinkled his nose and batted Jack’s hand away, making a complaining mumble.
Jack considered the shirt, but decided that trying to get it off over the sling would definitely wake Daniel up. He didn’t want Daniel to wake up until he was in the bed with him.
Quickly dropping his own clothes until he was down to tee shirt and boxers, Jack turned up the heat a bit and then lay on top of the covers beside Daniel. He rolled on his side and propped himself up on an elbow, indulging himself in a leisurely examination.
Daniel wore tan boxer briefs, snug on his waist and hips, the outline leaving little to the imagination. His simple button down shirt was rucked up on one side, revealing a generous swathe of belly. Jack traced one fingertip on the soft skin, amused at the way it twitched and rippled at his touch. He remembered fixing Daniel’s shirt when it rode up in that underground room and shook his head. The signs had all been there, plain as day.
He laid one palm flat against Daniel’s abdomen, just below his ribs, spreading his fingers wide. Closing his eyes, Jack concentrated on the feel of Daniel’s breathing moving his hand, and imagined he could feel the blood rushing beneath the skin. He fell into the link, relaxing into that easy connection. Daniel was deeply asleep, his mind still hazy with the pain meds, and the ache in his arm a distant, meaningless thing. Jack could feel the weight of his own hand, the warmth. He could feel Daniel craving more even in his sleep.
Jack laid his head on the pillow and then slid closer, draping one of his legs over Daniel’s and wrapping an arm around his waist. He had to hold back somewhat awkwardly because of Daniel’s burned arm, but with a little creative shifting and wiggling, he managed comfortable closeness.
It was delicious through the link, feeling his own body against Daniel, and the doubled sensation of Daniel against him. Daniel’s heartbeat from the inside and the outside. Jack brought one hand up and rubbed his knuckles over Daniel’s cheek, feeling the soft rasp of stubble, the slim, delicate arch of cheekbone, the hard line of jaw. Daniel made a low sound, a bare catch in his breathing, and turned slightly, leaning into the touch.
Jack smiled and stretched his neck, pressing a brief, soft kiss to Daniel’s forehead. Compared to the intimacy of sharing Daniel’s dreams, it was easy. It was all so easy.
Then he drew Daniel’s sleep to himself, wrapped his body in that heavy, dark blanket of nothing, closed his eyes, and drifted away.
Jack woke first, aware of a low, heavy sensation in his belly. He lifted one eyelid and looked down, and his lips stretched into a lazy smile. Apparently the Vicodin had not affected Daniel’s tendency toward morning wood. And either sleeping next to Daniel had done something for Jack, or it was just the link at work, because Jack had the same thing.
Touching Daniel’s mind, he found him asleep, but only just so, drifting in the shallows of near waking. He stroked one hand down Daniel’s belly, which was even more exposed now, his shirt rumpled up around his ribs. Daniel shivered slightly, and Jack felt the tingle all the way to his own groin.
Hmmm. This had possibilities.
He’d start with his hands. He’d performed hand jobs on other men before, so he could consider it familiar territory. Of course, those had usually been rushed, uncomfortable episodes, in a dark corner of some tent or behind a tree in the cold, drizzling rain. He’d never done it lazing in bed, pressed close, aware of a lot of skin and... skin...
Jack slipped a finger under one of the legs of the boxer briefs, brushing the inside of Daniel’s thigh. All the skin on skin contact was clarifying the link to the point of complete overlap, and he could feel the slow, stroking touch as if it was his own skin. But it wasn’t just like touching himself, because he could also feel Daniel’s reaction to it, the low pang of arousal, the slight shift of his hips, trying to increase the touch.
Jack snuffled Daniel’s neck, the spiky hair at his nape, and then kissed delicately just behind his ear. The resulting shiver coursed all the way down his back, seizing his balls deliciously. Definitely a spot he’d have to revisit often.
Daniel groaned and splayed his legs, tossing his head back and forth restlessly, but his eyes remained closed, and sleep still had a grip on his mind. Jack dared a little more, sliding two fingers up Daniel’s thigh until the tips brushed against the soft skin of his balls, making them twitch and tighten.
Jack bit his lip, closing his eyes and holding his breath for a moment. Daniel’s arousal, his want, was stunningly strong. Was it always like that for him? Maybe it was a function of youth. But no, Daniel wasn’t a teenager, and there wasn’t all that much difference between thirty five and forty five as far as responsiveness went.
Unable to resist, Jack withdrew his hand and brought it up, pressing his palm against the erection clearly molded in tan cotton. Daniel caught his breath and pushed up with his hips, his hands clenching on the bedspread. Jack, lost in the doubled sensation of touch on his own groin and Daniel’s reaction, pressed harder. His hips stuttered forward, beyond his control.
Freezing, Jack met Daniel’s wide, confused gaze. His hand was still right where he had left it, simply resting there, and he felt Daniel twitch against his palm.
“Good morning,” he said, and then groaned when Daniel’s hips moved involuntarily, pushing into his hand again.
“Ye-ah,” Daniel grunted. “It’s, uh... what are you doing?”
“Giving you what you want.”
Wrong thing to say. Daniel drew back, a practiced wall of self-control suddenly pushing away the arousal, the lazy, relaxed feeling. “No need to sacrifice yourself on my account,” he said coldly.
Jack rolled his eyes. “Would you stop? It’s not a sacrifice, okay? I should have said what we both want.”
Daniel looked at him warily. “Just like that?”
“Well...” Jack shrugged, offered a crooked smile. “I had to think about it a little, but basically, yeah, just like that.”
Jack didn’t need the link to feel Daniel’s disbelief. He nudged forward against Daniel’s hip, making a pleased hum at the sensation. “Proof enough for you?”
Daniel looked down and raised an eyebrow. “Hmmm... could be...” A wicked smile. He seemed casual, nonchalant, but Jack felt the rising hope, the need for real confirmation.
“Hey,” Jack said softly. He rubbed his knuckles down Daniel’s cheek again, watching Daniel’s eyes flutter closed for a moment as he nuzzled Jack’s wrist. That one simple touch did things inside Daniel that blew Jack away. He swallowed, then cupped Daniel’s chin, stroking his thumb over his lips once, a slow glide. “I’m an idiot.”
Daniel’s lips twitched, and Jack just had to trace them again, loving the softness, the way they gave and sprang back under his touch. “You are?” Daniel asked.
“Yep. Figured that out last night. Among other things.”
“Oh?” Wanting to ask. Not quite daring.
“I should have seen it,” Jack said. “Should have known that you... want me. And definitely should have known that I want you too.”
“Hmmm...” Daniel traced a fingertip down his chest, following the path of his sternum all the way to his navel. Jack sucked his stomach in self-consciously and Daniel smiled. “Want?” he inquired.
Jack shifted, sneaking a hand down, grinning at Daniel’s renewed interest. “Yep. Definitely want. Very much.”
A raised eyebrow. “Just... want?”
Jack closed his eyes. He knew what Daniel wanted to hear. Just didn’t know if he could say it. “You know,” he muttered.
“I’m not the mind reader. You’re going to have to spell it out.”
Jack glared at him. “This is payback for not telling you about the gift, isn’t it?”
“You’re not going to let me take care of this,” a firm squeeze, making them both twist and grind together for a moment, “until I say it.”
Daniel’s eyes were dancing, a slow smile spreading beyond his control. “Yep.”
“Well then...” Jack leaned forward, bracing his weight on one elbow to avoid Daniel’s bandaged arm, still in its sling. “Love you,” he whispered directly in Daniel’s ear. Then he closed his eyes and flopped back, blindsided by the rush of feeling through the link. He blinked several times, swallowing, startled by it. By how much Daniel had needed that. How much it meant that Jack had said it first.
Daniel tried to roll with him, but flinched back when his weight landed on his bad arm. He lay on his back, clenching his jaw until the sharp burn receded. “Damn,” he muttered. “Way to ruin the moment, huh?”
“Nah.” Jack curled close to him, stroking his fingertips down the center of Daniel’s belly, tracing the line where his hipbone curved into his groin. “I think the moment is just fine.”
“Mmm... glad you... ah... like it,” Daniel muttered. “Oh, there.”
Daniel lifted his head, his mouth open, eyes dazed. “You do? You... god, you can feel this too, can’t you? You can feel everything you’re doing? It’s that sensitive?”
Jack bared his teeth, and bit Daniel’s neck, gently, then licked a slim line up to his ear with just the tip of his tongue. Daniel squirmed satisfyingly, shivering. “It’s that sensitive when I want it to be... and when I’m touching you, that helps. Link is stronger when we’re closer.”
“Do you think... oh... think you could get off just touching me?”
Jack propped himself up and kissed Daniel, reveling in the response, from within and without. He could feel Daniel’s excitement, his wanting to be kissed, his frustration at not being able to hold himself up and take control because of his arm. “Don’t know,” Jack murmured between kisses. Daniel couldn’t get enough of them. Had years of wanting to make up for. “Let’s find out.”
As it turned out, he could. Which was a good thing, especially since by the time Daniel had finished, his arm had been hurting too much to reciprocate. Jack had gotten him his medication, some juice, and a little toast to cushion the meds, and they’d both gone back to sleep.
Thanks to the meds, Jack woke up first again. He still felt slow and sleepy, but that was more a function of the link being turned on full and Daniel’s medication haze wafting into him than actual tiredness.
He lay still for a while, drifting on Daniel’s sleep, getting little flickers of dreams here and there. Disjointed feelings, fluid and elusive, fading in and out. He felt when Daniel began to wake up. First, the awareness of warmth and weight on his chest. Dull pain next, the arm making itself known, followed by sleepy pleasure at the knowledge that he wasn’t alone. Daniel curled against him a little more, his face pressed against Jack’s outstretched arm, rubbing it a little, gathering sensation. Reveling in it.
Jack smiled and pulled back, stretching his arms over his head and arching his back, yawning widely. When he looked at Daniel, he found a drowsy smile and heavy, half-lidded blue eyes. “Hey,” Jack said.
A slow, languorous blink. “Hey.”
“Yes, actually.” Daniel’s eyes drifted down his body, and then back up, and his little smile grew, tugging up at one side. “I’m beginning to see the benefits of this link.”
“Oh?” Jack leaned in and kissed Daniel, deep and sleepy. “Such as?”
“Mmm... next time you fall asleep in a briefing, I can get back at you pretty easily, can’t I? I think it’d be worth me banging my shin on the projector stand just to see you jump.”
“You’re evil, Doctor Jackson.”
A plump, smug smile. “You started it.”
“Guess I did.” Jack stole another kiss, and then sighed, sitting up against the headboard. He could feel Daniel’s somnolence leaching away, and a certain apprehension creeping in. There were things left undecided, loose ends, and they both knew it.
“So,” Daniel said, sitting beside Jack. “Now what?”
Daniel just looked at him, and Jack found himself actually flushing at the rush of fond exasperation. Daniel wanted to touch him, he found. Wanted to explore every inch of him, to have the closeness that he’d denied himself so long. He was fascinated by Jack’s skin. The taste, the texture. He was starved for it.
“Love you,” Jack blurted, because he couldn’t help it. Feeling it from Daniel and from somewhere in his own guts left him drowning in the crazy, dizzying rush of it. He couldn’t take his eyes off Daniel. His palms itched and he grabbed the blankets to keep from pulling Daniel in. The way he felt, he wouldn’t be able to stop, and Daniel’s arm meant he had to control himself.
“Jack...” Daniel shifted, bringing their shoulders into contact. Warm skin, thin tee shirt, the sense of leashed power in his muscles. “You know.”
Jack nodded. He knew. Daniel had issues with actually saying it, things wrapped up in Sha’re and his parents and Sarah and everyone leaving him. Things Jack didn’t quite understand, but he got the gist of it. Daniel didn’t need to say it. Jack knew.
“So, this,” Jack indicated the two of them in bed with a wave, “is not a one time thing?”
“No. Definitely long term.” Daniel eyed him for a moment, and then dropped his gaze. “Providing that’s what you want as well.”
He said it casually, as if he could handle either answer, but Jack felt the tightness in his chest, the hope, the anticipation of disappointment. Daniel was already bracing himself for it.
“I wish,” Jack began softly, “that you had this same gift. That way, you wouldn’t have to ask. You’d know the same way I do.”
Daniel turned abruptly, kissing Jack with light, feather touches all over his face, brushing his cheekbones and his eyelashes and the tip of his nose. He could feel Daniel’s relief, the tightness, the self-protection releasing in a warm rush. Jack brought his hands up and cupped Daniel’s face, gentling the desperate kisses, pressing two of his own over each of Daniel’s eyes, then two more, until he felt no moisture beneath his lips.
When Daniel subsided, leaning against him, his head on Jack’s shoulder, Jack reached down and laced their fingers together. Daniel looked at their joined hands for a long time. Jack cleared his throat, looking up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. The simple things meant so much to Daniel. He’d have to remember that.
“So... keeping the link?” Jack ventured when Daniel felt calmer.
Daniel nodded. “Although I still feel a little weird about you knowing everything I do.”
“I can tone it back if you want. I always know where you are, but that’s all it has to be.”
“I guess it is pretty useful,” Daniel admitted.
“Saved your ass, didn’t it?”
Laughing softly, Daniel reached over and poked Jack in the belly, making him jump. “And you’re never going to let me forget it, are you?”
Jack grinned. “Nope. And watch the belly.”
“Mmm... getting soft in your old age?”
“Not soft.” Jack waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Did you forget so soon?”
Daniel snorted. “And speaking of that...”
“What are we going to tell Sam and Teal’c?”
Jack frowned, looking down at their joined hands. Daniel might be good at hiding his feelings, but Jack had always been a more up front kind of guy. He wasn’t big on lying to his teammates either, despite how proficient he’d had to be with it from time to time. “Depends,” he said finally. “Are we telling anyone about the link?”
Daniel’s nose wrinkled, and a line appeared between his eyebrows. “I don’t think so. I’m not too thrilled with the idea of everyone knowing you can get into my head any time you want.”
“But it’s okay for them to know I’m getting into your pants?”
Daniel snickered, and shoved Jack with his shoulder. “One track mind much?”
“Can you blame me?”
“Not really.” Daniel gave him a filthy, filthy smile. Then he sobered, his hand squeezing Jack’s for a moment. “The bottom line hasn’t changed as far as the link goes. If the wrong people found out, it would be terrible for you and for Alten’s people. Although I’m sure they could take care of themselves, we might not be able to stop the NID from trying to exploit you.”
Jack nodded, smiling a little at the thought of the NID trying to use Alten. He’d have them tied up in knots in no time. Either that, or hugged into submission. “So, it’s our little secret?”
Another filthy smile. “Not so little.”
“No argument from me,” Jack leered. “And I think I’ve got Carter and Fraiser convinced that the arm thing was a one time glitch. Since Fraiser’s tests didn’t show anything too weird, if it doesn’t happen again, they should let it go.”
“I don’t know if Sam will drop it so easily. She was there on the planet, after all. She can put two and two together.”
“I’ll have a little talk with her. Explain that pursuing this would attract the attention of the wrong people.” Jack sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “I need to talk to her anyway.” He smiled at the flash of jealousy from Daniel. “Down, boy. That’s why I need to talk to her. Tell her to stop.”
Jealousy immediately turned into concern. “Jack... I don’t think you realize how much she really does care for you. It isn’t just a silly crush to her.”
Jack shifted uneasily, a sinking feeling in his stomach saying he’d done something stupid. “Yeah,” he muttered. “I kinda knew that. But as long as it was just a game, I could flirt back and it didn’t mean anything.”
“You could tell yourself you weren’t hurting her by leading her on,” Daniel corrected, his face grim. “That wasn’t fair to Sam.”
Hunching his shoulders, Jack nodded. “Yeah, well, like I said last night, I’m an idiot. I’ll fix it, though, Daniel. I won’t hurt her.”
“I think it’s too late for that,” Daniel sighed. “But at least you can be as gentle as possible.”
“Am I telling her why?”
Daniel winced. “No. I think that would make it worse. Choosing her career and your own over a relationship, she could understand. Choosing me over her isn’t going to go so well.”
Daniel pulled their joined hands up and kissed Jack’s knuckles, then turned the hands over and began tracing Jack’s palm, feeling each of his fingers. He manipulated the joints, turning the hand back and forth, touching the delicate tracery of veins on the back.
“Daniel? Whatcha doing?”
“Your hands,” Daniel murmured, not looking up. “I’ve always wanted to feel them. Such strong, talented hands. You could always touch me with them, and I could never touch back. Always wanted to...” He paused, ducking his head, and Jack felt the rush of embarrassment, the feeling that Daniel had given away too much.
“Anytime,” Jack said softly. “Touch whatever you want. Yours, now.”
Daniel nodded, keeping his head down. Composing himself. Jack lifted his chin with his free hand, steering Daniel’s face toward him when the shimmering eyes tried to slip to one side.
“Hey,” he said. “That thing where you hide everything? Don’t do that with me. I can feel it anyway.”
Daniel swallowed, then leaned in, resting their foreheads together. “That... could take some time to get used to.”
“Not a problem. We have plenty.”
More small, frantic kisses, his face and neck and hair. Daniel’s eyelashes fluttering against his cheek for a moment, and then his hair tickling as he ducked his head, resting it on Jack’s shoulder.
“One thing I don’t get,” Jack said.
He nodded, his cheek rubbing against Daniel’s hair. “Alten said he was giving us both gifts, not just me. What did you get?”
Daniel leaned back, tilting his head up to meet Jack’s eyes. “Don’t you understand? I got you.”
“Ah.” Jack nodded sagely. “So, short end of the stick for you, huh?”
“Jack...” Daniel grinned, then put his head back on Jack’s shoulder, spending a few pleasant moments nuzzling his neck. “We owe him so much,” he whispered. “Wish we could go back and say thanks.”
“Nah,” Jack replied. “I’m sure he knows.” But just in case, he closed his eyes and thought as hard as he could—Alten! You’re the man.
Light years away, a chubby, balding man with wise eyes shook his head and chuckled. “Jack,” he said fondly, “don’t ever change.”