1. a. A view or vista.
b. A mental view or outlook: "It is useful occasionally to look at the past to gain a perspective on the present" (Fabian Linden).
2. The appearance of objects in depth as perceived by normal binocular vision.
3. a. The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole: a perspective of history; a need to view the problem in the proper perspective.
b. Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view: the perspective of the displaced homemaker.
c. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance: tried to keep my perspective throughout the crisis.
4. The technique of representing three-dimensional objects and depth relationships on a two-dimensional surface.
--American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
There was a standard interrogation. Deprivation, long hours of battering questions, discomfort. She had Jolinar's memories of torture and she'd been tortured for real and she really, really didn't want to go through that again, and she was starting to be very pissed at O'Neill for nixing every request she'd made for Special Forces training, because some of that would have helped her with pain management and goddammit what had he thought he was shielding her from? But mostly it was psychological. They didn't want information. They seemed to have all the information they needed. What they wanted was her. Her expertise, her talents, her brain. They needed her hands, her eyes; they needed her in one piece to function. And she was starting to get the weird feeling that they wanted her to understand their point of view.
They wanted her help.
It took four days to establish that, and get through all the preliminaries of physical and psychological abuse.
It was a relief when they established it. Chemicals, sufficient pain, threats to her family could make her give up information. Nothing could make her turn on the people she worked with.
"So," said Cornwell, the main interrogator. Apparently some kind of head honcho. Apparently she rated. "That was extraordinarily dull and tiring. But we can move on now." He gestured, and something that looked like a cross between a video arcade game and the quantum mirror was brought in. "This is the device we'd like your help with."
She didn't waste her breath to tell him to go shit in a box.
He smiled. "Did you know that as part of his arrangement with the Asgard, General O'Neill, just prior to his promotion, acquired sophisticated antisurveillance technology for his personal use?"
She shook her head. They'd dosed her with some drug to make her tractable, lower inhibitions. Mostly it made her feel it wasn't worth it to fight them. She didn't know why they'd bothered. Nobody was asking her anything that required her to resist or even bluff. That in itself could be to keep her off balance, but she'd take any opportunity to rest. No point pretending she knew everything about the general. If what Cornwell said was true, she was disappointed in him, but what the hell -- he'd earned some privacy. They were all sick of organizations breathing down their necks. Let him have his perk. It wasn't like he exercised any of the perks he was officially entitled to.
"His house is impenetrable to our most sophisticated spyware. And what would we find to get him on anyway, you might think? The man doesn't seem to have had a personal life since 1996, and before that it was the good husband, faithful to his wife, no kinks, nothing interesting at all. Do you ever wonder what he does with his downtime, Colonel Carter?"
She almost laughed, bitterly. "He goes fishing."
Cornwell laughed for her. "Ah, yes. Minnesota. No, I mean in Colorado Springs."
"No idea," she said.
"Oh, you have some idea. Some guesses. Tell me."
She sighed. "He drinks beer, eats takeout food, watches sports and The Simpsons. I don't know. Balances his checkbook."
"You've thought it through more fully than that, Colonel."
She shot him a look of disgust. "There's no rift here to exploit, Cornwell. I had a thing for my boss. It happens. I got over it. You can't humiliate me into turning on my team."
"Could we embarrass you into it? Drug you a bit more thoroughly, record confessions of every sexual fantasy you ever had about your coworkers, deliver them to the objects of those fantasies?"
Oh, crap. "If you're asking that then you're not actually going to do it."
"I'm not going to have to do it, Colonel. But suppose I did? Humor me."
"I'd be mortified, and he'd be furious at the invasion of my privacy, and we'd forget it and move on."
"'He'? Not 'they'? Surely you were interested in Doctor Jackson for a while. Surely you've considered the Jaffa."
She was more than pissed, and she was tired, and it was getting hard to figure out what the hell this was leading to. They were mature adults. Threatening to humiliate her to her team or even Pete would only get her angry, not turn her. She couldn't figure the angle here. She needed to be smarter than this guy if she was going to get out of this. Or get through it. Hang in until the hoped-for extraction. "They're all extraordinary men," she said. "Who wouldn't be interested? You go ahead and waste your time."
"So. O'Neill's downtime. Be more specific. I know you've speculated."
Go fuck yourself came to her lips. She managed to control it. He knew she was pissed -- they had her hooked up to physiological monitoring equipment, and she wasn't trained in biofeedback -- but there was no reason to make it easy for him. "I don't know. Maybe he works with disadvantaged kids somewhere. Coaches Little League. Plays poker with old service buddies. He must have had some relationships over the years that we never knew about. Or maybe he pays for it, some clean discreet escort service. Or maybe he's the gentleman he seems to be and doesn't do casual and he's really done nothing but whack off for eight years. As you say, it's only speculation. I don't know, and I don't care."
"Of course I am." Damn drugs.
"Suppose I could show you?"
A bolt went through her, sick and sharp, and her head came up. "Don't."
The word was out before she could bite it back. Cornwell smiled. It was a kind, sad smile. Because he knew he had something. He didn't have to lower himself to look triumphant. He really had something.
"You are so terribly ... chivalrous," he said, head cocked oddly. "You aren't afraid of what I'll show you, are you? You don't want to see it, but it doesn't scare you. You're afraid I have acquired some intel that could jeopardize the man's career. Would that be enough to turn you, Colonel? If I could ruin him?"
She bit down on misery. "No. I still wouldn't help you." She could think of a few things that would be grievous, irreparable. He was absolutely incapable of any of them, but panic pushed stupidly into bravado, and she said, "If you could take him down you'd have done it."
"Would we? Or would we hold our advantage until we needed someone like you? You know, you people really are almost impeccably clean. Unimpeachable. In eight years, not so much as a traffic ticket. One bar brawl appears to be it. But let me show you how this device works."
He manipulated an unseen control on the side of the device, something like a touchpad, she thought, and the mirror, which had reflected her haggard hellish-looking self, flowed through a liquid transformation -- and showed her again. At home, talking on the phone and pouring tea -- upsetting the cup, mopping the spill, the same way she had a few days ago, she'd been laughing at a riddle her niece told her. She remembered this. She'd gone into the living room after that, put the tea down, flopped back on the sofa. The mirror showed her doing just that.
She was looking at the past.
No. This was nothing ordinary surveillance couldn't have recorded.
Cornwell stroked the control again, and she was looking at herself in her lab, a pan-around of her typing on her laptop, not something a fixed camera could have picked up. Daniel came in. They chatted. She remembered the conversation. This was exactly how it had happened.
She was looking at the past. The past, apparently viewable in any location, from any angle.
Time and space were only dimensions. If a mirror could show you the equivalent here-and-now in other universes, there might be a mirror that could show you there-and-then in this universe. The ramifications were terrifying. A device like that would render security almost moot and privacy obsolete.
Cornwell stroked the control. He showed her the night she first slept with Pete. He moved the viewer away before things got heavy; she'd gotten the point, and she'd been there, after all. He showed her where the colonel had been at the time -- in his bed, propped up on pillows, a warm reading lamp on, catching up on aeronautics journals. He showed her where Daniel had been at the time -- in his bed, prone with his butt raised, masturbating.
She flushed deeply because it was beautiful, the curve of his body, the shadowed planes of his face, not because it was embarrassing; she'd slept with these men for eight years, showered with them, seen them in agony, held them while they puked; she'd seen Daniel's impressively tented fatigues every morning they camped offworld, the boner he didn't care who saw or mocked as he stumbled out in a quest for coffee. She steeled herself for what he'd show her of Teal'c -- or, worse, of Janet -- and against the sympathetic pain that went through her heart when Daniel gasped "Shaaa" as he came.
Cornwell left the viewer there. Sweats pulled back up, Daniel slept for a few minutes, turning onto his side, his back, flinging an arm up; his dreams looked troubled. Then Osiris materialized beside his bed. She'd forgotten. When she got together with Pete was when Osiris was manipulating Daniel's dreams.
"This would have been useful then, eh?" Cornwell said.
"We made do with traditional equipment," she said.
"Useful, then, when Teal'c was framed for the murder of his neighbor's abusive boyfriend."
She shrugged. "We got out of that one too."
"Not without cost."
"Are you trying to deal?" she asked.
"Not the way you imply. I've been straightforward about what I want. I want you to join us. I want you to see how profoundly your team has been compromised and how irresponsibly your commanding officer has acted, and how naive you've been, and how little they trust you. I want to maneuver you into a position where you will have no compunction about acting in kind."
She looked at Cornwell for a long time. He was probably fifty but looked older, as though ambition or illness had taken a toll; that and the febrile shine of his blue eyes were the only remarkable things about him. Thinning mouse-brown hair, medium height, medium build -- he was the poster boy for "nondescript." The kind of man you'd never notice in a crowd, unless you happened to glance right into those watchful, fevered eyes.
"Nothing you could show me would ever do that," she said. Bulling past the word naive, which implied that she was blindly ignorant of whatever it was.
"Let's find out." He worked the control on the viewer. "Thus far we've been unable to see back in time past a period of one year or out to a location beyond thirty miles of wherever the viewer is located. To see the past in Washington, D.C., would entail flying the device east, for example. But we are within thirty miles of Colorado Springs, and well within a year of what I want to show you. Let's start with ... oh, the night before we collected you."
The viewer found her in her lab. She'd worked late. Daniel had worked later; she'd said goodnight to him on her way out. The viewer followed her home. She worked out, made a salad for dinner; there was apparently a fast-forward function on the thing. She was stripping down, getting ready for bed, taking a late phonecall from Pete when the viewer left her house and moved to the general's --
And went past it and around the curve of road in the wooded development. Daniel's Wrangler was parking at the curb. He got out, slung his laptop over his shoulder, walked calmly and quietly between houses, through the screen of trees, around the edge of the lawn. Came up to the general's house from the back and let himself in.
They'd all had keys to each other's homes for years, kept quick-escape gear in each other's closets, duffels with spare clothes and fake ID and cash and keys to unregistered vehicles in storage. This was odd, but not that odd.
The inside of the house -- the general's house, which according to Cornwell was now equipped with sophisticated Asgard anti-surveillance technology but wasn't impervious to this -- was dark. The viewer adapted; not even pitch darkness could protect anyone. She could clearly make out Daniel propping his laptop against a leg of the coffee table, shouldering out of his jacket and tossing it on a chair, toeing out of his shoes.
Looked like he was going to sack out on the sofa. That made sense, she supposed. The general's house was closer to the base than his, and he'd often complained to her that he'd spent enough time in temp quarters to last him a lifetime.
Daniel moved down the long hallway -- unerring in the dark, but maybe the streetlight through the blinds was enough for him to see by -- and the viewer followed him into the bathroom. He didn't turn a light on. He took a leak. Pulled a spare toothbrush from the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, started brushing his teeth. What she couldn't make sense of was his not parking in the driveway. He was over at O'Neill's place all the time. Was O'Neill even there?
Daniel rinsed the toothbrush, shook the water out, put it back, went into O'Neill's bedroom, and started taking off his clothes. O'Neill was asleep in the bed, twisted into the mattress, pillow pushed up, face in the sheet, covers in a tangle around his hips -- apparently as naked as Daniel was getting.
Sam's mind did a mad scrabbling scramble away from what it appeared that she was seeing. Don't assume, she told herself. It wouldn't be what it looked like.
She'd long believed that if the four of them survived to old age, Daniel and the general would end up together somehow. Two men from devastated families, alone in the world, unwilling or unable to try again; bonded to each other, bickering and inseparable. The appearance of impropriety here was grave, Asgard or no Asgard, driveway or no driveway ... Daniel had stripped down to nothing ... but they'd slept together for years, this wasn't so different, and there should be comfort in seeing that they weren't as isolated as she'd believed -- that sometimes they had each other to go home to, in whatever weird capacity this was.
She could deal with that. They were entitled to that.
Daniel laid his glasses on the nightstand and got into the bed. He applied himself to untangling the covers the way he'd apply himself to extricating an artifact. O'Neill, who woke to the slightest change in someone's breathing offworld, whose eyes snapped open at the fall of a leaf, grumbled and groped at the covers but didn't wake. This would be it, Sam thought. Daniel would settle in and sleep. What Cornwell was trying to leverage her with was no more than a sweet, very private companionship, nothing for her to --
Daniel stretched himself out full-length against O'Neill, pulling the covers up under his arm and over O'Neill, and laid the arm over O'Neill's back. O'Neill made an irritable noise and grumped over onto his side, his back to Daniel. Daniel held on to the covers through the logroll, then tucked in, and O'Neill pushed back into him. O'Neill's arm came out and pulled Daniel's arm firmly around him. Daniel dragged the pillow down with his other hand, and O'Neill lifted his head with an exasperated growl and said, "It's fuck o'clock. Go to sleep." Getting the pillow solidly under both heads, Daniel pushed his face into O'Neill's hair, and smiled, and closed his eyes. Under the covers Sam saw the outline of long legs finding a comfortable twine.
As though they'd slept together, like this, really together, for years.
After the first shock of profound weirdness passed, a deep, almost sourceless ache of jealousy went through her. Not jealousy; envy. Her heart literally hurt. Why? God, they looked content. They went right to sleep. They were only holding each other. Nothing wrong with that. She'd never seen either of them relax that deeply, that quickly. It was a gift, to be safe in someone's arms. It looked alien to her, the two bulky, masculine bodies wrapped around like that, two men she'd thought she'd known better than she knew her fiance behaving in a way she'd never imagined. But it looked ... right.
"This is what you've got?" she said sharply. "I'm not watching this crap. Leave them alone. They're not doing anything wrong."
Cornwell gave her a look of pity that told her everything. "It gets better," he said, pressing a panel, fast-forwarding. "Or worse, depending on your ... perspective."
They turned in their sleep. Daniel murmured in dark dreams; the general murmured back, soothing. Sam hadn't known he was capable of a soothing murmur. Daniel lay on his back, arm flung over his head, and the general lay half on his chest, snoring. He never snored offworld; even in sleep he was aware that sound might give his position away. The general shifted, and Daniel turned, and they lay there face-to-face, breathing each other's breath. The general rolled again, then jerked awake, rigid, and Daniel wrapped tight around him. Said, "It's me," into his ear. The general said, "I know. I don't know what that was." It's this, it's us, he's observed, he feels it, and it hadn't happened yet, except it did, it is happening. Daniel said, "Go back to sleep," and the general did.
They turned again, as the blue of predawn grew beyond the window blinds. The general spooned up behind Daniel. His hips gave a lazy thrust. Sam rejected the implication. They were still asleep. Share a bed naked and things were going to bump, things were going to touch, hips were going to give involuntary thrusts. They were probably used to it. They were probably pragmatic about it. They'd probably joke about it when they woke up. They were secure in their straightness. They were so straight they could sleep together naked without anybody getting freaked about anything. They were the two most heterosexual guys she'd ever known. OK, she didn't know about Daniel, he was Mister PC Openminded Multicultural Guy and she shouldn't make assumptions about his sexuality. But O'Neill she'd have put a year's wages on. A career's wages ...
Daniel made a low sound and pushed his butt back against O'Neill. O'Neill half-woke and kissed drowsily into the hollow of Daniel's neck. Kissed.
Under the covers, O'Neill's arm moved down to an unmistakable angle. Daniel winced, lips parting, and whispered, "Yes."
Arousal flooded Sam's body. She blushed deeply, angrily. "Turn it off," she said. "I get the picture."
"I think you're still putting everything you've got into not getting the picture," Cornwell said. He gestured as she turned her head away; with vicious suddenness her head and jaw were clamped by gloved hands. O'Neill was pushing the covers down, turning Daniel onto his back. She closed her eyes, and got an electroshock wand in the side, the briefest touch but way too close to the kidney. As the haze of agony cleared, she heard: "Don't be stupid about this, Colonel. Just watch. I know you're telling yourself now that it's just stress relief, no more than you've seen other men engage in during wartime. A friendly handjob, maybe some frottage -- enough to get the general discharged but nothing for you to object to philosophically. You will watch the rest."
She watched the rest.
She watched her commanding officer go down on her friend. She watched his mouth and his hands play Daniel expertly. This obviously wasn't the first time. He knew every sweet spot, everything Daniel liked. Daniel sighed and opened his legs. He groped under his pillow, came back with a bottle, reached it down. O'Neill's mouth drew off him -- somehow it shocked her more to see the penis come out of his mouth than seeing it go in -- and he straightened to drip lubricant onto his left hand. Her throat went tight. She winced her eyes almost shut, but the nudge of the shock wand warned her not to try to shut out the sight of the general's angled hand, the general's slicked fingers sliding up into Daniel's body.
Daniel arched, pushing down onto them, his erection pushing to prominence. Naked and hard, he was breathtakingly beautiful. She tried to focus on the aesthetics and not the sexuality, but it was a losing battle. O'Neill bent down again, took just the head in his mouth, sucking gently, fingers pistoning slowly. His thumb stroked Daniel's heavy scrotum. He did that for a long time. Daniel made a sharp, very-close-to-orgasm sound, and then touched O'Neill's hair, suddenly, lightly.
O'Neill stopped, drawing his mouth off, looking up. His hand stayed inside. He leaned over, kissed a nipple. Said, "Come like this," in the lowest, gentlest voice Sam had ever heard from him. His fingers gave another, deeper push, and Daniel arched and made that sound again. O'Neill's right hand smoothed over his brow, his head, a rough, tender caress. The viewer's angle shifted so that Sam would see the general's face. He was smiling. His eyes were dark and warm. He was holding someone beautiful, someone he loved, on the brink of orgasm, and he loved it, and he loved Daniel.
He loved Daniel.
Daniel's eyes opened, a shock of blue, bluer than dawn sky. "No," he said.
"There's time, Danny," O'Neill said.
The Danny went right through her. She hadn't heard O'Neill call him that in years, and back then it was gruff and stern or mocking and patronizing. The way he said it now, it was sweetheart. It was honey. It was darling.
"No," Daniel said again, reaching a hand vaguely downward. He hissed as O'Neill's fingers slid out, then rolled to his knees and took the bottle and pushed the general flat on his back.
She tried not to look, but they made her look; she tried not to see, but she had to know. It was long, angled at the head, more veined than Daniel's, ruddier. Just as beautiful. She'd seen it soft a hundred times, but never hard. She swallowed longing, and watched Daniel lube it. He used both hands, pulling upward in long palming strokes. The general watched him too. His eyes were hot and intent. Daniel glanced up just as they lost focus and the general's mouth opened in a low huh. Daniel wiped his hands on the sheets, tugged the general up sitting, and kneed up to grab the headboard.
The general came in behind him, leaned around, and pulled Daniel's hands off the headboard. Then he put one arm around Daniel and reached down between them. He surged up as Daniel leaned into him and sank down. They pushed together on a shared groan and found an easy, rolling rhythm. Daniel's head lolled back. O'Neill's hands roved over the front of him, stroking belly, nipples, throat; one stayed to brush circles over his chest while the other went down to lightly stroke his penis.
His hips worked fluidly. His spine was supple as a dancer's. The hard, upright military man she knew could not be moving his body like that.
He turned his head, craning back to see Daniel's face. Daniel turned his head too, moaning into an open-mouthed kiss, and then his mouth dragged free on a sharper sound and he gasped, groping at nothing. O'Neill trapped Daniel's hands in front of him and held them still. His breathing got rougher, faster as he watched Daniel start to come. "Yeah," he said, hoarse and throaty. Watching Daniel. Deepening his thrusts. "Yeah. Yeah ... "
Suddenly Daniel writhed. It was some kind of signal. O'Neill leaned Daniel slightly forward and locked his arms hand-on-wrist around Daniel's hips. Muscle corded in his arms, his back, his butt as he delivered three grunting thrusts, each more powerful than the one before.
Sam flinched at the raw force. She'd been so lost in the gentle intensity of what she was seeing that she'd forgotten how strong, how male those bodies were.
The last thrust was almost brutal. Daniel let out a torn cry, a sound like none she'd ever heard him make, harsh and sexual. His hands clawed on O'Neill's arms. He arched into racking tremors, as though intense contractions were running up the back of him. O'Neill curled tight around him, face pressed against his, eyes shut. Daniel's penis jumped, drenching the sheet between his legs. He'd climaxed without a hand on him.
Whatever betrayal Cornwell expected her to feel, she didn't feel yet. She was shocked and wildly turned on and mortified by it. She didn't give a crap about Cornwell or what he thought of her. But the people you worked with, the people who were your family, shouldn't become your personal pornography.
She waited for it to be over. She assumed that O'Neill had come, too, up deep inside Daniel. They were stroking each other, groping, kissing deeply, sloppily, moaning. Gradually she became aware that Daniel was still moving on O'Neill, lifting in small pulls. God, he's still hard, she thought, and suddenly Daniel's muscles visibly clenching on him was the most erotic thing she'd ever seen in her life, and it really really needed to be over now, and it wasn't, and they wouldn't let her look away.
O'Neill murmured something and withdrew with care. They eased down onto their sides. For a while it looked like they were dozing, but Cornwell didn't fast-forward. After a couple of minutes, Daniel flipped onto his back. He pulled the pillows down and stuffed them under his butt. O'Neill helped him fold them and settle onto them, and then scooped up the legs Daniel lifted for him.
Daniel's arms went over his head. It was a posture of raw abandon. Complete submission. He was limp, flushed, trusting. O'Neill slid back into him and thrust in long, slow strokes, then shorter, more seductive. Shifting, searching, subtly changing the angle. Watching Daniel with his dark, intent eyes.
A whine rose up inside her. She swallowed it back. She'd tried to convince herself that he'd be a piledriver, no finesse, that his own virility would make him thoughtless and arrogant in bed. So all right. So he was attentive. Focused on his partner. Able to provide what they needed.
But god. Oh, god. She'd never have believed that he'd fuck another guy.
She'd never have believed that he'd fuck Daniel.
How could she have missed it? All the downtime they spent together. The spats blown out of all proportion. The fractured conversations that were like a private language between them. How long had they been doing this? The whole time? Could they have hidden it that well?
Why didn't you tell me, you stupid pricks? I could have helped you! I could have covered for you!
They didn't need her. They were doing just fine on their own.
They were a them. There'd always been an intensity to their friendship that neither she nor Teal'c had ever achieved, but it was subsumed into the team gestalt. O'Neill and Jackson had been there from the beginning, and she and Teal'c had come along later. But she and O'Neill were Air Force, she and Daniel were scientists, Teal'c and O'Neill were warriors. Teal'c and Daniel had a spiritual connection and a shared sense of being outsiders; they were the experts on extraterrestrial cultures and the Goa'uld. Everything had balanced. They were men and she was a woman. Daniel was a civilian and the rest of them were career military. They were human and Teal'c was Jaffa. They were the specialists and O'Neill was the commander. She thought, at the speed of thought, between one blink and another, of all the time Daniel spent with Teal'c, of all the time O'Neill spent with Teal'c, of all the time she spent with Daniel, of how she didn't spend enough time with Teal'c, and how of all of the interrelationships between them, it was Daniel and O'Neill who had a private life completely separate from the rest. A secret within a secret. How hard that must be. How much that must suck. And what a betrayal it was -- of the Air Force and of the team.
A betrayal she'd considered committing herself. She hadn't, because she wouldn't, and neither would he.
Except, he would.
He'd chosen Daniel instead of her.
Everything that was impossible between O'Neill and her was doubly impossible between O'Neill and Jackson. Or did rank trump gender? Daniel was a civilian but just as off-limits.
General O'Neill. Brigadier General O'Neill was taking a guy up the ass right before her eyes, right before the enemy's eyes. Not fooling around, not getting a handjob, a blowjob. Penetration. Fullblown sex. For the second time in the same morning.
Oh, please, she thought. It's not like it doesn't happen. It's not like there aren't four-star generals getting sucked off somewhere by their subordinates.
They weren't the generals in charge of Earth's only defense against slavery and annihilation. Earth's secret defense, Earth's wildly expensive defense, under continual scrutiny from antagonists and detractors waiting to exploit the tiniest hairline crack, waiting for any excuse to shut them down or behead them and take control.
You stupid, stupid, stupid, arrogant, reckless idiots! This planet will fall to Anubis because you couldn't keep it in your fucking pants!
Everything she'd worked for. Everything she'd trained her whole life to do. Everything she'd chosen not to throw away because she had the hots for her fucking boss.
"You can think about it, if you like," Cornwell said. "I'll release you, as a gesture of goodwill. My name isn't Cornwell, and nothing you've seen will enable your people to track us down. But periodically I'll be in touch. Do not doubt that I can accurately assess your sincerity. When you come to understand that your work has been irreparably compromised by this liaison, that you can no longer work with these men or under that command knowing what you know now, that the SGC can no longer be relied upon to defend this world, I'll be waiting for you. With more technology like this."
In the device, through the window into time, O'Neill was still fucking Daniel in a display of animal sexuality that was simultaneously the most loving act she'd ever witnessed. The gentle mastery, the supple flexion, hips rolling and circling; Daniel supine and erotically subordinate, blissfully submissive, flushing and moaning in response to the steady strokes. O'Neill was working entirely inside his body, deep and rhythmic.
He fucked beautifully, and he was fucking Daniel.
She wanted to reach for him, stop him, yank him out. She felt violated on Daniel's behalf. Daniel was precious to her. O'Neill was fucking him. Pushing his body into Daniel's, using him …
But Daniel loved it. His gaze roved slowly over O'Neill's body, down to where they joined, back up and over chest and shoulders and arms, stroking bunched muscles; when it brushed up into eye contact, his parted lips curved into a smile. When pleasure slid his eyes half closed, the hint of smile stayed.
She'd seen him go dazed and goofy just from the colonel ruffling his hair. Of course he'd be like this.
"Turn it off," she said again.
"What, before they come?" Cornwell said, in soft mockery.
"Turn the fucking thing off!"
"No, my dear, I don't think so."
"You'll desensitize me. Inure me to it. I won't give a shit anymore."
"Colonel, language. Why not let yourself become inured? Wouldn't you prefer that to the agonizing tangle of reactions you're feeling now?"
She couldn't turn her head, though the goon behind her had let go. The shock wand pressed over her kidney. Studies were inconclusive regarding the long-term effects of repeated tasering, and she'd been zatted too many times as it was.
"I'll be no good to you if you damage me with that thing."
"You're no good to me now. You're of use to me only if I can show you enough of what's been going on right under your nose for you to come over to my side. Do you know that we're better financed than the military? Hard to imagine, yes?"
He was seducing her with technology and funding while showing her intense pornography in an unthinkable breach of privacy. It boggled the mind.
That was probably the idea. With this in her face, it was hard to analyze the pieces of what he'd said, count the fragments of information she'd gathered over the last four days to see if they added up to the Trust or the NID or suggested some new equation.
Daniel was fully erect again. His hands gripped the bottom of the headboard. O'Neill's strokes were speeding up. Sweat dampened the hair at his nape. His arms tightened on Daniel's thighs, keeping him close, keeping the impact from jarring him into the headboard. Dawn light blushed against the blinds. O'Neill was grunting with every thrust now, working hard and tight. Daniel's helpless unhs got faster, higher. "Jack," he said suddenly, trying to lift his head, failing. The consonant blurred. "Jaaaa ... "
That was the sound he'd made into his pillow when he masturbated. It wasn't Sha're's name. It was O'Neill's.
O'Neill widened his knees and lowered his hips. In the slight pause, Daniel made a keening sound. O'Neill pushed up slowly at the new angle, shifting his grip on Daniel's thighs, locking him down tight. Daniel said, "Oh. Oh god," his eyes flying open. When O'Neill pushed up again, he said, "Oh god. Jack," starting to buck. Then he cried out and arched and came in three dribbling spurts over his own belly. O'Neill's hips jackhammered tight and close into that orgasm, impossibly fast. He grunted in the choked tenor that came out of him when he was in pain, and then jerked hard. He came for a long time, his whole body shaking, his head dropped, his spine trying to curl over, his fingers digging into Daniel's thighs.
Now she knew how he came. Now she knew how he looked, how he sounded.
O'Neill was exhaling in long, hoarse groans. Daniel had gone boneless. O'Neill's hips gave a couple of last pushes, and Daniel moaned in blurry appreciation. Gradually O'Neill's breathing slowed. Hands easing on Daniel's thighs, he gave a light tap with his fingertips, and Daniel nodded. He withdrew so carefully that it looked as though Daniel didn't even feel it. He dragged the pillows away, eased Daniel down, then ran his hands up Daniel's body and curled down over him, tenderly kissing one nipple, then the other.
"I'm going to be late," Daniel said, his tone somehow both dry and warm, his voice rich and low.
O'Neill licked a trail up between his ribs. "You're not gonna be late," he said. "You're gonna be a little less early than you meant to be."
Daniel moaned as O'Neill licked lower, tonguing up semen. "I'm supposed to have breakfast with Sam."
"Coffee shop or commissary?" O'Neill said, between licks, as Sam tried to recover from the weirdness of hearing her name.
Hearing her name while watching her CO lick come off her teammate's belly.
"Commissaaaah," Daniel said, on a more exasperated moan because O'Neill was tonguing his limp penis into his mouth and sucking it softly. "Oh, god, Jack, I love that."
"Mmng," O'Neill acknowledged, and kept doing it until Daniel's fingers brushed his shoulder. Then he straightarmed up and eased down on top of Daniel, full-body, full weight. Daniel's arms came around him; Daniel's fingernails ran up his back and then down his sides, from armpit to hip. O'Neill breathed a soft sound of pleasure, his skin visibly prickling, and then said, "You'll be on time for the commissary."
"I know," Daniel said, stroking long, light scratches into the general's back. "I meant to finish that thing first, though."
"You finished it in your head during the night," O'Neill said, the words muffled as he nuzzled into Daniel's ear. "Typing it in takes what, five minutes?"
"Yeah," Daniel said, smiling. He wrapped legs and arms around O'Neill, who grunted contentedly, and said, "Really have to shower now. I parked eight hundred miles away." He made no effort to get up.
"You don't have to do that anymore."
"I'm here too much. Couple of times a week, yeah, I can park in the driveway."
"I can't come by tonight. I have a thing."
"I know," Daniel said.
O'Neill grunted again, then said, "Shower." They still didn't move. The clock on the nightstand said 5:45. When it clicked over to 5:52, O'Neill stirred. He didn't look at it. He had a clock in his head; the watch on his arm was mostly for fiddling with, and to double-check if he got knocked out or something else messed with his internal timekeeping. He pushed up on his arms and looked down. "I love you, Daniel," he said, and dropped a soft, lingering kiss on Daniel's lips.
"What was that for?" Daniel said when O'Neill's head lifted. His tone was quietly amused, but his eyes were misty, adoring.
O'Neill frowned a little and rolled off him. "I don't know," he said. "I have a funny feeling about today. Watch yourself, all right? And tell Carter and Teal'c."
"OK," Daniel said, sitting up, then swung his legs off the bed and headed for the shower.
Daniel had told her. He'd input the last of his translation and told her about it at breakfast -- which he'd arrived for precisely on time and looking completely his normal rumpled morning not-enough-coffee-yet self and not at all just-got-laid tousled or fucked-boneless or postcoitally flushed -- and then said, "You know that Han Solo thing Jack does?"
She'd nodded. It was shorthand for the ESP the colonel had always seemed to have about when a situation was going to be dicey. It was a foreseeing of the unforeseeable, an intuition she envied, had never been able to develop in herself, and took very seriously. Becoming the general and ceding his field command to her hadn't diminished his sixth sense.
"He said we should watch ourselves today. A 'funny feeling.'"
She'd said OK. She hadn't wondered when Daniel had talked to the general, who wasn't due in 'til the 0800 briefing. They were on the phone with each other all the time. She never thought twice about any of it. She'd had no idea.
She wondered how many times she'd been spectacularly clueless. Spectacularly naive.
Why didn't you guys tell me? her heart cried again. Don't you trust me?
That was it. That was what Cornwell was looking for. They didn't trust her with this critical piece of information, this staggering risk, and so she should blow them off, say fuck you I don't trust you either, and go join the enemy, where trust was never going to be an issue -- where trust was never going to exist and so could never be betrayed.
Cornwell's people had beamed her straight out of her lab in the mountain fifteen minutes after her breakfast with Daniel, fifteen minutes before that morning briefing.
The general must have gone bugfuck.
She felt abruptly exhausted. Drained, worn out. Disappointed. Appalled. Filled with arousal adrenaline and then let down. Voyeurus interruptus. She missed Pete; she missed the comfort of Pete's arms, the sound of Pete's voice.
It had been four days since they'd taken her. Pete must have gone bugfuck. Concerns reared up in the back of her head, how uncomfortable it made her to have someone to worry about on the outside, a civilian she risked leaving behind. The concerns she had that her marriage would end up the same way her CO's had, collateral damage of the classified. She'd needed to talk to him about that for a long time, and she didn't think she'd ever get up the nerve. Not the nerve required to push past his cold shutdown of the subject and make him answer. It wasn't the time or the place to be thinking about this, but she was flagging, she was drugged ...
"Soon," Cornwell said. Her heart was hanging on her sleeve. She tried to compose herself. Fatigue was becoming a problem. "Soon you can go back. We can do a survey of the rest. A greatest-hits. The device allows something like bookmarking. Do you want to know when it started? You must be intensely curious to know if they've been carrying on this affair since the beginning."
"It's none of my business," she said. Broken record. Or had she not said that out loud yet? Cornwell just laughed, so she said, "You can't go back more than a year. I'm not going to help you expand the temporal parameters just to find out when my teammates started doing it."
"But you've considered some of the other things one could find out. Who shot JFK, for example. Whether it was your fault that Janet Fraiser was killed in action."
Her head came up sharply. He smiled again. She said, "I think that device should be destroyed."
"Oh, you don't really think that. You of all people."
"Yes. I do."
He cocked his head, his fevered eyes alight with a mild shock. "You really do, don't you?"
She said, "Can you record from it?"
"Of course. But I won't tell you how unless you join us."
His gaze had dropped just incrementally. It wasn't much to go on, but she smelled a bluff. He'd been leveraging her with truth, and he wasn't quite good enough to switch gears into deception.
He touched the controls again. They were located to the side and back of the device; she hadn't been able to get a look at them. She wanted to. She put that urge away.
Tiredly, she said, "Never let a guy have control of the remote."
"As you see, this is the day after then-Colonel O'Neill received an upload of the Ancients' repository of knowledge. We'll move quickly through the bits you know firsthand. Now, see, here. You made a hasty exit to avoid being seen to be the last to leave his private residence. Hammond drove the Jaffa back to Cheyenne Mountain. Leaving Doctor Jackson with Colonel O'Neill. This was when it started, Colonel Carter. We don't need access to the previous history to know that. As you'll see, they were as surprised as you are."
Daniel started to leave at least three times. They talked. They argued -- passionately, if the arm-waving theatrics were any indication. Cornwell stroked a control and the scene slowed to real time. Daniel stood with his back to O'Neill. O'Neill pulled him around by the shoulder. Daniel brought his forearm up in a block, basic self-defense, knocking the colonel's pulling hand away, and then let his arm drop.
His eyes were red, damp. O'Neill's head jerked back slightly. Then he pulled Daniel roughly into his arms. A kind of hug he hadn't given him in more than four years. Dropping his head into the hollow of Daniel's neck. Crushing him in his arms. Daniel's face looked shocked, then agonized. Slowly his arms came up. He patted O'Neill's back, a lame approximation of manly comfort.
Cornwell stroked another control. The scene became audible. O'Neill straightened, pushed back from Daniel, took his head in both hands. "Yes that was bullshit about translating. Yes I know your staff is fully versed in Ancient. Yes it was an excuse! I've been through this, Daniel. Do you think I could let it happen to you? All the knowledge you've ever dreamed of stored in your head and you not able to get at it? No way to touch it, no way to know what you know, after everything you already lost about being ascended? This beautiful, brilliant mind wiped out neuron by neuron?" He shook Daniel's head in his hands, softly but emphatically, three times: "No. Fucking. Way."
"I can't watch this happen to you again," Daniel said, in a hoarse rasp.
"I'm sorry," O'Neill said. In that choked tenor that came out of him when he was in pain.
It was the same conversation she'd had with the colonel six hours earlier. With Daniel it was completely different. The way he protected Daniel was completely different from the way he protected her.
The way he loved Daniel was completely different from the way he loved her.
They were right in each other's faces. O'Neill hadn't let go. Something changed between them. Some shocked comprehension of signals they'd been giving off for years and hadn't recognized in each other any more than she'd recognized it in them. All of them denying what was right under their noses.
Daniel blinked, his eyes full of longing and anguish, a moment of stunned vulnerability he seemed unable to shut down. O'Neill's gaze dropped to his mouth, his throat. Daniel's pulse was beating wildly, the artery visibly throbbing. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. O'Neill's gaze rose slowly. His hands gentled but didn't fall away. "Daniel," he said quietly. "Am I misreading this?"
Daniel's lips parted but he didn't answer.
O'Neill said, "Tell me the truth."
"I don't know what you see," Daniel said. "But no. I don't think you're misreading it."
O'Neill moved his hand. It looked like a shifting of grip, to get a better hold on Daniel's head by cupping the jaw. Daniel's gaze flickered. Responding to being handled, being held. O'Neill was only reaching around. He ran his thumb very lightly over Daniel's lower lip. His other hand moved down to Daniel's neck. Palming bare skin. "Is this OK?" he whispered.
"Yeah," Daniel breathed, without moving his lips.
O'Neill tilted his head, brought his mouth to within a breath of Daniel's. "Is this OK?"
"Not if they're watching," Daniel moaned in soft anguish. Through the intimacy of the viewer, Sam could see and hear what he said. For traditional surveillance, the words would be nearly impossible to tease free from the music still playing on the stereo, even with state-of-the-art equipment.
O'Neill made a low sound of pain and moved his lips to Daniel's brow, pressed them there for a long time, wincing deeply. "Daniel," he said, into his skin.
They sank into each other's arms. She'd never seen two bodies meld that way through clothing. Daniel shuddered; O'Neill's hand moved down to the cluster of nerves at the base of his spine and gave a push. The blinds were down, O'Neill was obsessive about sweeping for bugs, the only possible surveillance was exterior audio and infrared. Daniel's hands fisted in the pullover at O'Neill's sides. He shook his head. O'Neill said, "It's OK. Let it go."
To surveillance, it would look like a prolonged hug, two men admitting defeat. The words, if they were discernible at all, would sound like him giving Daniel permission to cry. The sound Daniel muffled in O'Neill's shoulder would pass for a sob. But to Sam, watching through time instead of space, up close, the press of erections through fabric, the rubbing, the clench of orgasm were unmistakable.
O'Neill came in complete silence. Only his face betrayed what had happened.
Sam would never forget that series of expressions. Ecstasy, pain, awe, intense release; and the oddest, most resigned sort of aggravation. The one thing he wanted most -- the one thing he most couldn't have. What a pain in the ass it was going to be, being able to have it. Or not. Or having to die, now that he had it.
She wished she'd never seen this moment. She wished she'd never seen any of this. It was their place to tell her, their choice. She should never have seen any of this.
"You're torturing me," she said. "But I suppose you know that."
Cornwell didn't respond. On the viewer, O'Neill held Daniel for a while, then set him back by the shoulders. "Stick around tonight, huh?"
Daniel gave him a don't do this look. "Your new couch doesn't fold out, and for some unfathomable reason you bought one a foot too short to stretch out on."
"Sleep inside with me. It's no big deal." O'Neill gave a lopsided grin, full of irony. "We're both guys, right?"
Daniel stayed with him that night. "All they did was talk," Cornwell said. He skipped ahead to where they were lying there, Daniel on his back in borrowed sweats and tank, O'Neill on his stomach with his arms around his pillow.
"So you're not just ... " Daniel said.
"What do you think?" O'Neill said.
"Never in my wildest."
"That was the idea."
"But how could you have not ... ?"
"Ass. You. Me. Yadda."
"God, you can say that again."
"Ass. You. Me. Yadda." O'Neill smiled against the pillow. "You know, you can call me Jack."
Cornwell said, "It goes on like that. Some of it can be translated into understandable English, some not. Apparently your commander speaks fluent Arabic and Spanish and has passable schoolbook French. They developed an interesting patois that night. It requires three interpreters to make any sense of, and even then half of it is too context-dependent to translate."
"The general's smarter and better educated than we give him credit for, most of the time." And we've been through far too much together for you to understand even a fraction of what any of us say to each other. She hadn't known about the languages. She supposed Daniel must have figured it out a while ago, and never said anything.
They kept some of each other's secrets. She didn't know how she'd keep this one. How she'd keep from them that she knew, now.
"They lay there all night talking. Trading histories. Your Doctor Jackson had rather an exciting childhood. And engaged in a lot of interesting activities during his college years that no background check ever turned up."
"You're trying to tell me I don't know them as well as I think I do."
"Daniel always knew the colonel better than I did. This isn't going to work on me, what you're doing. It doesn't matter."
"What do you suppose would have happened to your team if you had set up housekeeping with your commanding officer?"
"That would never have happened."
"Pretend it had. Pretend you are the Doctor Carter you met through the quantum mirror. Unencumbered by regulations."
"I wouldn't be in a field unit. There's no comparison." There was no Daniel in that Doctor Carter's universe. She wouldn't have had a snowball's chance with that Jack, if there had been.
Was Cornwell trying to leverage her envy of Daniel? No -- he was trying to make the point that the team wouldn't work if two of them paired off romantically. Had he missed the whole part where the colonel became the general and left the team? She had someone, Teal'c had someone; so now it turned out that Daniel had someone, too. It didn't compromise her team. That Daniel's someone was their commanding officer was the issue. Better to ask what would have happened to SG-1 if it had turned out that Daniel was sleeping with Hammond, or if Weir had stayed in charge and he'd taken up with her. They'd have been pissed, especially if he didn't tell them and they had to figure it out themselves, but they'd have stood by him once they knew.
Oh, god, she thought. Those weeks when he was stuck in the Rand Protectorate. No wonder the general almost lost it. He should have told me, goddammit. God fucking dammit.
They should have told her.
She realized that Cornwell had been talking, and manipulating the viewer, and she hadn't processed any of it. Fatigue. Mind wandering. In this case it was a mercy. But her attention fell on the screen again. It didn't look like a screen. It looked like a window. Possibly it was. It wasn't large enough for a human body to pass through. She wondered if they'd been foolish enough to try sending through an object. Or touching it. If it worked the same way the quantum mirror did ...
They could change all of history. Maybe they already had. She wouldn't know. Maybe they'd already taken her through, and she wasn't in the present she'd been snatched out of. They could work on her for as long as they liked, taking her back over and over again to a point days before any rescue could possibly ...
No. To go through the quantum mirror, there had to be a mirror at the destination. The viewer might use some of the same principles, but its function had to be different. There'd been no device like this in her house, her lab. As far as she knew there was no device like this in O'Neill's bedroom or Daniel's. It couldn't transport them bodily through time. If it could, she wouldn't be here now, because they'd have gone back and changed anything they felt like, and it would all be different; Cornwell's people would already run the world.
I have to stop thinking like this. I'll lose it. Concentrate. Concentrate on getting through this. They'll find me and extract me, or this guy will let me go, or they'll kill me. One way or another, it'll end. I just have to hang in until I can do something to stop it or I can't do anything anymore.
"Welcome back, Colonel," Cornwell said. "I won't bother repeating myself. We'll just move on."
He caressed the viewer -- it was starting to look a lot like an object fetish -- and ran through a series of bookmarked scenes.
None of it was easy to watch, but after she'd been shocked twice more and been revived from unconsciousness once she didn't have much choice.
On their right sides, in O'Neill's bed, O'Neill behind. He had Daniel in a tight lock, half turned down against the mattress, and was fucking him in deep, hard thrusts with long pauses in between. Daniel couldn't break the lock and he couldn't close his legs. He could bench more than O'Neill could and he was almost ten years younger, but he'd never wrestle his way out of an experienced grip like that. He was getting off on O'Neill's strength and O'Neill's control. She knew Daniel well enough to know that this was something he would need, and permit, only from O'Neill. One word would end it; but what Daniel was saying, when anything coherent came out at all, was "harder" and "deeper." They weren't pleas. They were orders.
O'Neill facedown in his bed and Daniel on top of him. This one was as gentle and intense as the other was hard and intense. Daniel was murmuring to O'Neill and rocking in him, slowly. When he stopped talking, O'Neill protested. Daniel put his mouth right against O'Neill's ear and said something in another language. O'Neill flushed deeply and groaned. Daniel's arms and hands covered his, fingers lacing. O'Neill was pushing against the top of the mattress, Daniel pulling. Daniel's hips worked O'Neill's down into the bed. He said, "Do you want my hand?" O'Neill said, "No, don't let go." Daniel began to seem very big, very dense, very strong. His beautiful, muscled body strained, his hips circling and probing. He was good at this. Better than good at this. But of course he would be. Part of her had always known that about Daniel, too. He said something else into O'Neill's ear, so low that not even the alien device could pick it up; she'd have had to lean through the viewer, lean right down next to them to hear it. O'Neill's body clenched. The mattress shook. Daniel rode the orgasm, smiling.
O'Neill on elbows and knees in Daniel's bed, forehead jammed into the mattress, one hand groping up to slam the wall, Daniel pounding into him; both of them dripping with sweat, both of them dead silent. It was Daniel's place. It wasn't safe. They shouldn't be doing it there. She tried not to think about the dozens of things that had happened in the past few months that might push them into a need that would supersede caution.
O'Neill's bed, in afternoon light, in sunset, in velvet dark the viewer made penetrable. It was beautiful and terrible to see the transported expression on the general's face when Daniel came into his mouth. The way he'd smile up at Daniel afterward, the sweetest smile; they'd smile at each other. In private, they were happy. They laughed. When was the last time she'd heard either of them laugh? She couldn't stand to think about the price they might pay for it. It was worse to see Daniel go down on the general. He had such a beautiful mouth, and it was a defining aspect of him -- his lips and his tongue, his eyes and his fingers, the tools with which he communicated with the past and other cultures. In everything Cornwell made her watch and listen to, Daniel never once said "I love you"; but he told O'Neill all the time, with his fingers, with his eyes, with his mouth.
There had been times when she was so attracted to Daniel -- his warmth, his light, his body -- that she'd almost considered the unthinkable. But it was the colonel she'd fantasized about going down on. She'd wanted to see his face go soft and anguished with pleasure, see his armor fall away in the intimacy of afterglow, find out what the man underneath was like. In private, he was that man all the time with Daniel. He didn't play dumb. His sarcasm was gentle. He was articulate and attentive and overwhelmingly affectionate. She could see why Daniel adored him, and she could feel how pale and flat her own desire for him had been. She had never met this Jack, didn't know him, would never know him; this Jack wasn't for her. He existed only for Daniel, and Daniel loved him with a depth of feeling that Sam would never have achieved. The Jack her otherdimensional analogue had married was Sara's Jack, she thought. In that universe, Daniel's Jack never came to be, because there was no Daniel.
Cornwell's tactic's backfiring, she thought. She was only coming to understand the two of them better. Now that the shock and shame of the invasion of privacy and the stark sexual situations was past, she felt only sympathy and envy. They had a bond few people were ever gifted with. She could only hope that after eight or nine years she and Pete were as close, and still as hot for each other. She was hurt and angry that they hadn't told her, but the risk they were taking was enormous, and they had a lot to protect. If she were in their place, she'd never trust another Air Force officer. And what she didn't know she couldn't tell. They were protecting her as well, not making her complicit in their offense. Could that be Cornwell's ulterior motive? To give her a secret so burdensome that she couldn't live with it, couldn't go on working with them? Probably it was one of the angles he had in mind. He underestimated her on that one. She loved these men. She'd keep their secret.
They'd already done a hundred impossible things before breakfast. SG-1 should never have existed, or should have been restaffed a year into its existence, or disbanded. She and Daniel and Teal'c should never have been risked in the field, certainly not on first contacts, recons; they were far too valuable to the program. Daniel had been searching for his wife, and she had been ambitious, wanting the promotions that field experience could bring her. Secretly she harbored ambitions of running the program itself one day, in O'Neill's place or in tandem with Daniel or someone like Weir, restructured under joint military-civilian oversight. Teal'c was a warrior, and warriors fought; he would never have agreed to sit in the mountain as their prize extraterrestrial. And so they had been SG-1 for seven years, against all sense and against all odds. Even with O'Neill in the control room, they were still SG-1.
The relationship between O'Neill and Jackson was against all sense and against all odds. But that had been their MO since the beginning. It was why the fate of the world always seemed to come down to them. It was why they kept lucking out. Breaking up O'Neill and Jackson, if it was even possible, would fundamentally destabilize the program. In the normal course of things, such men weren't permitted personal happiness; they sacrificed their private lives, putting their work and the fate of the Earth before their families. Heroes didn't get to live happily ever after. Could these guys actually manage it? First time in history?
Only if they kept an impossible secret.
The pornographic glimpses into the past were still moving through the viewer. Daniel had particular needs and tastes; O'Neill's only need and taste seemed to be making Daniel happy. Like a lot of strong, virile men who'd spent a lot of time in rough, hard circumstances, O'Neill got off hard on rough, hard sex; but he responded profoundly to gentleness, too, and tenderness; and mostly he didn't seem to care what they did, as long as he was touching Daniel. They were great in bed together, plain and simple. She could just not be pissed about that.
OK, she could. She was. She focused her rage on Cornwell for outing them. She could subvert his intent by failing to reject her team. But he still had this device.
She tried again to distance herself from what she was seeing. She tried to use the time to think.
It was possible that this was actually a variant of the quantum mirror, and that everything he'd shown her had taken place in a closely parallel dimension -- so close to their own that every detail seemed to mesh, but perhaps with one critical difference: that in her dimension, O'Neill and Jackson weren't having an affair. Cornwell hadn't shown her her own abduction, or any scenes of them worrying and trying to find her the past few days; that suggested that such scenes had never taken place in that dimension. When she got back -- if she got back, alive and in one piece -- she would decide whether or not to try to find that out, whether or not to confess what she'd seen and how much. For now, she had to operate under the assumption that all of this had happened, was happening.
Like a circus ringleader or an event emcee, Cornwell announced the finale. Her stomach twisted. He stroked the controls, and said, "Now you'll see the level of trust they have, and will never extend to you." She had already seen the level of trust, and it only made her more sympathetic. Cornwell had already failed. Whatever he showed her now -- some fetish, something more extreme than a few sex toys, some out-and-out S&M oh god not that, I can't watch them hurt each other -- it wouldn't matter. Still, she gritted her teeth.
They were just talking. O'Neill had a beer, Daniel had a snifter of something like Bailey's. They were on the floor in his living room, leaning back against the couch, which had been turned toward the fireplace, where a cozy blaze crackled. There was snow at the bottom of the windows; this had to be that freak snowfall last spring, not long after they'd gotten the colonel back.
"It was at the end," O'Neill said. "Right before the cavalry came. Well, before the cavalry came there was a breakout, a few guys got away, and then there was a lockdown for ten days and nothing happened, so it was about three and a half months in."
"You could have gotten away," Daniel guessed, swirling the Bailey's in his glass.
"Maybe," O'Neill said. "But then some other guy wouldn't have. There were a bunch worse off than me. Superior officers who had more intel than I did, people we hadda get out before they broke. It was common sense, not heroism."
"Yeah, well. What was starting to happen ... I figured I could take it, a little better than some of the other guys, maybe. And the lockdown put a stop to it, so the breakout saved my ass. Everybody benefitted."
"But you'd already been sodomized."
Sam jerked inside the restraints. She'd known about the prison stint; Daniel had figured it out, and told her. That was the way she knew most of what she knew about the general, come right down to it. But she'd never let herself think about it.
Oh god, she thought now. Oh my god.
"You don't have to do this, Jack," Daniel said softly. "If you need to tell me, I'm listening. But I don't have to know. I didn't tell you all that as part of a deal where you have to reply in kind. And you know that's something we never have to do."
O'Neill took a hard swig of his beer. "I don't want you to know this about me. I don't want you to have this picture of me in your head. But I never told anyone. Not the debriefers, not the shrinks, not my wife." He winced. "I need to tell you. How selfish is that?"
Daniel considered carefully before he replied. "You're doing me an honor. Can you trust me to see you the same way after you describe it?"
O'Neill looked at him for a long time. "Yeah. I can." He gave a funny sort of smile. "Don't you find it … odd … that trusting someone with the darkest crap from your past means more than trusting them with your life?"
The words tolled deeply inside Sam. "Turn it off," she said, low and hard.
"I've known the darkest parts for a long time," Daniel said, on the viewer. Sam knew that he meant the black-ops stuff. She wasn't cleared to know those things. Daniel wasn't cleared to know those things. She felt no surprise that O'Neill had told him anyway, and probably long before the relationship took this turn.
"No," Cornwell said, and she felt the nudge of the shock wand again.
"Those were ... sins," O'Neill said. "Crimes I committed because my orders were to use any means. This is different. This -- " He ground the rest out, low and hard: "This got me dirty in a whole different way."
"Turn it off, Cornwell," Sam said.
"Be quiet, Colonel," Cornwell said, watching the viewer.
God, god -- as if she were talking over a TV show. "No," she said, drowning out the response in the viewer, whatever compassionate, gentle truth Daniel spoke so that O'Neill would unburden himself of this last unbearable experience.
Cornwell paused the viewer while they taped her mouth closed and her eyes open and clamped her head in a metal yoke. She fought hard, kept fighting after they hit her, finally had to be shocked again. Maybe I just wanted to come back bloody and bruised, she thought, mind slurry with unconsciousness that wouldn't manifest. Physical proof of how hard I tried not to see this. She tried to knock herself out, but the yoke wouldn't give and the back of it was padded, and she didn't have the control to hold her breath 'til she passed out. Should have let me have that training, General. But they'd only have revived her and shown it again.
Cornwell resumed the "real-time" view of what had already happened, the story of what had already happened years and years before that.
" ... much to tell, after all that build-up," O'Neill was saying. "Chained up, spreadeagled bent over a table. Eight times, over maybe an hour. Dunno how many different guards; couple might have come back for seconds. We thought this stuff was against their religion. As near as we could tell they only did it as a last resort, a way to humiliate and demoralize the men they couldn't break any other way. They made us watch. First guy was a Marine, good guy, knew a lot and never spilled it. When they were done fucking him they blew his head off. The whole time they were doing me I was staring at his brains on the floor and the wall. I figured mine would be next. About half an hour in, I started looking forward to it." He took another slug of beer, choked on it, coughed hard into his sleeve, wiped his mouth, put the bottle down, went on. "They didn't blow my head off. There was all the usual stuff, tell us what we want to know and this'll stop, yadda yadda. I mean, fuck, I'd been there for three months, all my position intel was out of date. It was so stupid. There was no point to it anymore. They should have locked us up and left us to rot. I couldn't understand -- " He stopped again.
After a long moment during which the only sound was the low roar of the fire and the hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen, Daniel said, "I can present the anthropological theories on escalation of cruelty, but I think you know them already."
"Do they explain it?"
"No. They only describe its mechanisms. There's no sense to it. No evolutionary or biological advantage underpinning it. It's one of the inexplicable horrors of humanity. More horrific because it can't be explained. It's a form of psychosis. Which is academia's way of saying 'Shit happens.'"
For some reason that seemed to calm O'Neill. With quiet, blackest humor, he said, "Shit happened all right. And blood. No permanent damage, no sepsis, I was good as new a few months after shipping home, but no way to know that at the time. I thought they didn't have to blow my head off because my guts were hanging out of my ass. Three of them came around in front of me. Weapons holstered. I thought, OK. Next. I thought they were gonna unchain me. Instead two of them levered my jaws open, stuck a prop in there, splintery wood thing. One guy held my head up by the hair while the other guy jerked off. Right before he shot he shoved it down my throat. I've been through a lot of physical abuse, near-drownings included, but that ... " He stared into the fire, knees pulled up to his chest, arms locked around his legs. "I really thought I was gonna choke to death on that asshole's come." He glanced at Daniel, who had gone pale, and smiled bitterly, horribly. "Still think I'm so handsome that I bend the space around me?"
Daniel raised steady blue eyes to him. "Yes," he said. "That's still an understatement."
"They took turns," O'Neill said, in a but wait there's more singsong. "Six guys had me that way before it was over, and a couple of 'em tasted like they'd been up somebody's ass, mine or the dead Marine's. Still think so?"
Daniel's gaze remained steady. "Yes," he said. "I do. You are." He set his glass down and kneed around in front of O'Neill, who watched him with a wild sort of fear and something like anger. He took O'Neill's chin in his fingertips. He stroked his thumb over O'Neill's lips. "Open your mouth," he said softly.
"Daniel," O'Neill warned, a low growl.
Daniel leaned in, eyes open, and slowly kissed O'Neill's top lip, bottom lip. "Open," he said, even more softly.
With a wince that was almost a flinch, O'Neill opened his mouth.
Daniel opened his, and tilted his head, turning it. It was the same angle O'Neill's head had tilted to when he first went to kiss Daniel and Daniel said Not if they're watching. This was later; this was after O'Neill became the general, and got his antisurveillance device from the Asgard in partial repayment for routing the replicators. They didn't kiss this time either. Daniel ran his tongue over O'Neill's teeth, behind and in front, top and bottom. Licked deeply into his mouth, stroking his tongue up over the palate, back to the root of O'Neill's tongue, down under it. Drew back and licked gently around O'Neill's lips, outlining them with his tongue tip, and licked the fleshy part of the lips themselves, delving their fullness. Then he sat back on his haunches. "I love your mouth," he said. "I want it on me all the time. I want to eat it. Drink it. It tastes sort of woodsy, like ... wet tree bark in autumn." His eyes roved over O'Neill's face, and he smiled -- one of his real, unguarded, brilliant smiles, the kind that made the sun rise in your heart. "You are so damned handsome. You really are. I know you don't see it, so I think you're going to have to take my word for it."
"You know I fantasized about your mouth for years."
"Can't help thinking that sweet mouth shouldn't go anywhere near mine, where mine's been."
"So think that. Think that thought and then let it go. 'Cause otherwise I won't get to suck on your tongue anymore, and that would be really bad."
"I want you, Daniel. I want you in me. I don't have ... issues with that because of what happened." He picked up Daniel's hand and turned it to run the knuckles over his cheekbone. "You know how many times I've been punched in the face? That's how different the two things are. I love blowing you, I'm not gonna stop loving that. It's just ... " He winced, looked away; let go of Daniel's hand, leaned back against the sofa.
Daniel scooched back, pushed O'Neill's bent legs together, framed them with his own, and laid crossed arms over O'Neill's knees, resting his chin on them. "You feel dirty," he said. "You feel like I'm soiling myself when I'm with you."
Daniel smiled. "You're still trying to protect me from you."
"Yeah," O'Neill said. "Still doing that."
"So what can I do? I mean, besides telling you to cut the patronizing protective crap and let me decide what's dirty and what's not? Besides loving you and melting into a puddle at the sight of you and maintaining that I was right during that thing with Baal and you were wrong, and keeping on doing all those things in hopes that eventually it'll sink in and you'll start to believe me?"
"I do believe you, Daniel."
"No, you don't. It's OK. It takes time. I don't really believe the things you say about me, but I like to hear you say them, and it matters to me."
"I thought you were going to bring up the summit."
"Not unless you think I'm soiled because I sucked off a dirty old system lord to maintain my cover." For Sam, this shock was smaller, but her gut went icy cold. Daniel said, "Do you think that?"
"No," Jack said. "Still like to castrate the guy."
"Do you think about that when I suck you? Do you see a picture of me and Yu in your mind?"
O'Neill started laughing, and Daniel smiled, because he'd obviously meant to make O'Neill laugh, and somehow they were managing to be happy again, despite the horror, despite the baggage. "You know I don't," O'Neill said, finally.
"So, I didn't have to bring it up. I trust that about you. Maybe you can trust that about me too."
"I do. That's funny. I didn't think I would. I thought I'd tell you about that and it would fuck everything up. For a while, anyway."
They kept talking. Cornwell let the viewer run. Sam got the message: they'd achieved a level of trust they would never share with her, and she might as well just flip sides now, because she and the Jaffa were only going to become more peripheral to this.
Cornwell was watching her closely. She didn't want to watch him watching her, and so she watched the firelit room, watched Daniel give O'Neill back his forgotten beer, watched them sip their drinks and talk quietly, not really focusing on what they were saying. After a while, when glass and bottle were empty, Daniel pushed between O'Neill's legs and opened O'Neill's pants and lowered his head, and Sam startled as the viewer switched abruptly off. She realized guiltily that she'd been lost in what was happening, wanting to see it through to the end, see O'Neill come, see the look of sated gratitude he got on his face.
This was supposed to become an addiction, she thought, as they stripped the tape from her eyes, her mouth. Here, kid, first one's free. I'm supposed to go back to my life feeling that it's intolerable not being able to see into theirs. I'm supposed to get used to this. Want this vicarious thrill.
It had been starting to work. Cornwell knew that. It was what he'd been watching for.
She had an idea, but he was going to have to trust that he'd broken her.
"What now?" she said, trying for helpless defiance.
"Well, that's up to you, Colonel. There's more to this story. If you'd like to see it."
"You're wasting your time." It came out gratifyingly unconvincing. It was also an unintentional clue to her plan, but she didn't wince and he didn't pick up on it.
"Tell me," he said. "Of all the great mysteries, which would you most like solved? If you were to give in to me and choose, which would it be? Purely hypothetical. Satisfy my curiosity."
He was an addict. Cornwell was addicted to this. He was quick to latch on to the hope of co-dependency. She'd found his weakness.
"No. Whatever it is, you'll show it, and I don't think mysteries like that were meant to be solved. Not this way."
"Not this way, or not this easily?" He smiled, as though he'd scored a point. "Don't you see? Of course there must be a cost. The cost is embedded, implicit, in the knowing. Finding out hurts as much as wondering. But surely not as much as never knowing. Pick one thing. One thing of your choosing rather than mine."
She let herself look guilty and resentful. She felt the pull of the voyeuristic addiction, the secondhand thrill. She was ashamed of that. It wasn't hard to let it show.
"Or is there something about yourself you'd like to know? Perhaps something about yourself and ... say, Colonel O'Neill?"
"What are you implying? This doesn't show what could have been. Only what was. Right?"
"They talk about you sometimes, you know. O'Neill has told Jackson very honestly just how he feels about you. You can't tell me you don't want to see that. Or any of a number of other moments like it. Glimpses into his true desires."
She looked down.
"Come on, Colonel. This last thing and I'll let you go. How hard can it be, after what you've already seen?"
She came around slowly, but didn't play it too hard. Just hard enough that he believed her when she said, "There was one time."
"One time I'd like to have known what happened. What he said after I left."
"That Saturday, when he'd taken the Ancients' upload?"
"No. This was ... Never mind. It doesn't matter. It was too long ago anyway."
"Well, perhaps not."
She glared up at him. "You want me to jerry-rig the device."
"Modulate. Expand. Let us go back more than a year. Yes. Have I tempted you sufficiently? I believe I have. I believe that any more reticence on your part would be belabored and a true waste of our time. I know you're going to do it. You know you're going to do it." Softly, no doubt what he considered seductively, he whispered, "Just do it, Colonel."
They brought tools, and freed her hands.
It took her five hours. She was exhausted. She couldn't find a way to capitalize on the reduced restraints. But she figured out how to rig the device.
Cornwell took control again immediately to test it. She gave him a date four years ago. A time early in the morning, just before breakfast. The gateroom as a location. She said she'd tell him when it looked like they were getting to the part she was interested in.
He actually did it. Set it to that date, that time, then began forward-scanning. She didn't know why he kept up his end of the bargain; he'd proven that she'd reset the parameters, he didn't have to show her what she wanted to see. Maybe it was the psychology of addiction. He wanted a drinking buddy, somebody to shoot up with. It didn't matter; at this point, it would either work or it wouldn't, and if it did he would probably kill her. She was about to take his drug, his fetish, away from him. He might need her for other projects, but he was going to be way more than pissed.
Any time now, extraction team. Any time now would be good.
He fast-forwarded for a while. He didn't seem to cotton on. And in fact she was curious. Even as it skipped ahead, she got the gist. The same few hours, over and over again -- but in the mountain, where there was no natural light to show day and night, where there were always people on duty. Different enough that it wasn't evident to Cornwell that something was wrong. It would take a long time to cycle through; even on fast-forward, it could take years. They would never know for certain how long they had been looping; if there was anything far enough to be outside the influence, it moved too slowly from their perspective to give any meaningful measure.
Ironically, it did answer one question. "Stop," she said, as she caught sight of O'Neill handing papers to Hammond and dipping her into a kiss. She watched him kiss her with the queerest sense of wrongness. She watched herself come up, holding on to him, obviously swept away after the first startled moment. Then she watched her own reaction.
She let go of the colonel, and he let go of her, but she didn't step back. "Sir, are those in fact his resignation papers?" she asked the general.
Hammond double-checked and said they were.
She put her fist into O'Neill's spleen only because the laws of physics stopped it going straight through. "So I didn't just assault a superior officer," she said. Hammond said no, so long as he accepted Colonel O'Neill's resignation effective upon receipt. She asked him if he had. With a disgusted glance at O'Neill, who was on his knees gasping, Hammond said, "Yes."
When O'Neill had recovered and gotten back to his feet, she told him, "Do not ever even think of humiliating me like that again. Jack."
In the next loop, he started to sit her down for A Talk. She was fascinated. She was dying to hear what they'd say. And at that point the viewer's "screen" split, and split again, and split again. Trying to show the date requested, and determining that there were many points that met the criteria, and trying to show them all. Gradually it pixellated as the segments multiplied and shrank. Then the machine made an ill-boding grinding sound. The "mirror" cracked. Filaments of energy streamed around the casing, as if the unit had zatted itself. There was a small explosive sound from deep within, and the energy dissipated, and the cracked "mirror" went matte black.
Cornwell was way more than pissed. Before he could vent his rage on her, a code came through his pager. He made an abrupt, tight-lipped exit; henchmen came to take the device away and clear the room; the lights went out; five minutes passed; and then there were shouts, and flashlights, and SFs, and "We've got her, sir"s and "In here!"s, and she was blinking in the glare of a bare overhead bulb and looking up at General O'Neill as Teal'c unfastened the restraints at her legs and Daniel knelt down beside her and a medic leaned over to check her.
As the medic worked and the restraints were removed, she told the general, "Massive security breach, sir. They have alien technology that can beat any countersurveillance technology we have. I'm fairly certain it can see into the -- "
"They have a weapon our guys need to know about?"
"Well, technically no, it's a viewer and I broke it, for a while anyway, but it's potentially a formidable strategic advantage, and -- "
"Does it shoot people? Zap people?"
"Save the rest for the debrief. We changed the codes when you went missing. We're rounding up whoever didn't beam out. Your intel won't affect that, and no offense Carter but you look like ... "
The rest of what he said went into a sort of sensory-deprivation muffle. She looked at Daniel. She looked at the general. She noted the glance they exchanged, the glances they exchanged with Teal'c. She saw O'Neill say something coarse to the medic, who said something back. She could read his lips. It was about shock.
"I'm OK," she said. "I'm not in shock."
"You sure as hell seem that way, Colonel," O'Neill said, snapping back into audibility. He stepped out of the way as the officer in charge of the extraction directed medics and searchers.
She watched it all as though she were still watching the viewer. Everything she saw had happened a fraction of a nanosecond in the past. The time it took for the light to reach her eyes, even from three feet away at 186,000 miles per second, meant that nothing she perceived was immediate. They were watching the past every moment of their lives. Factoring in the time it took electrochemical impulses to travel along neural paths, everything she was sensing had happened, technically, even farther in the past.
"Wait," Daniel said, belaying medics who were going to move her onto a gurney. He hunkered down in front of her, drawing her attention to focus on him. He rubbed her knees. "This is real, Sam. This is happening right now. Do you know that?"
"It's not," she said, smiling at him. He'd always been such a good guesser. "It's all happening a fraction of a nanosecond in the past."
"By the time we perceive it?"
"Most of us. You have this weird intuition. Maybe you're actually in sync somehow. Like in the battle simulation. Remember? Only you were ahead then, and I wasn't real."
The general said, "You two share some drug experience and fail to inform me?"
"Shut up, Jack," Daniel said, too softly for any of the medics or SFs to hear. To Sam, he said, "It's a negligible difference. All our senses work with the same delay. Unless yours skipped ahead somehow."
"How do you know that's what's happening to me?"
"I don't know. Is it?"
"So, OK. So, you think you can come back from the future now?"
She smiled at him, a silly, goofy, affectionate smile. "I love you, Daniel."
"I love you too. You wanna come home?"
"Really do. I'll take that gurney, if you don't mind. I'm kinda wiped."
He squeezed her knees and got up, got out of the way. She watched him move around to flank O'Neill. She looked at the two of them, trying to know. O'Neill's eyes narrowed.
Teal'c stayed beside the gurney; he would accompany her back to the mountain. She had to spend more time with Teal'c. She had to make more past with Teal'c.
"You OK?" O'Neill said.
She looked warmly, sadly up at him. His suspicion had given way to something else when she looked at Teal'c. He had that soft, inquiring look that she used to take for restrained, unconsummatable love. But she knew, now, how he looked at someone he loved the way she'd wanted him to be in love with her. The way he was looking at her now -- it wasn't like that. Whether or not what she'd seen was this dimension's past, whether or not he was actually with Daniel, she knew one expression from the other now.
"I will be, sir. Is someone letting Pete know that ... ?"
"He'll be at the mountain when you get there. It's his source who led us here. He's your knight in shining armor."
"Yes," she said, as they wheeled her away from O'Neill. From O'Neill and Daniel. "He is."
She would never know what they said about her after she'd gone.
She wanted to tell Daniel the truth and get his advice on what to officially report, but if they agreed that she should tell only a partial truth, then she'd be weighing Daniel down with a secret, and she couldn't add another to his weighty list.
She wanted to tell Teal'c, but if he didn't know about the general and Daniel then she'd be outing them and it wasn't her place to do that; and if there was no general-and-Daniel in this universe, then she'd be effectively slandering them, or at least putting notions in Teal'c's mind that he might not have harbored before.
She didn't want to tell the general, and she thought that of any of them he was the one she should tell -- the whole, unedited truth. Confidentiality could be reasonably assured by a closed, off-the-record debrief. Dump it in his lap. He was her CO. If part of it concerned him, well, that was his problem. It was his job now.
Finally she decided to report everything but the substance, the content of most of what she'd been shown. She debriefed on the record, with her team present, and submitted her report, and took her two days' downtime, and waited, wondering who would be the first to ask her if she'd seen any more than she'd reported.
No one did. What she'd seen wasn't the concern; she was on the home team and had a high security clearance. Even if no recordings were possible, what her captors had seen was of major concern, but she honestly couldn't speak to that, and it didn't look like anybody was going to find them anytime soon. And there could always be another one of those devices out there somewhere. A knot in her belly, in all of their bellies, that they were going to have to live with.
She went to sleep gratefully in Pete's arms, but had troubled dreams in which Daniel lay in O'Neill's bed saying "It was never safe. It was only as safe as we could make it. It will never be safe," and then turned to her -- watching him, in the dream, as through a viewer -- and said, "This wasn't how it happened."
She couldn't tell Pete what had happened. She couldn't share what she'd been through. She could never share with him anything she'd been through. Pete couldn't always talk about his cases, but it wasn't quite the same thing, and if it was that wouldn't help; two silences didn't make a dialogue. She could only hang on and hope that she was making the right choice.
Work went on the way it always did. Telling her, or not, was their choice. All she had now was a suspicion she hadn't had before. No facts. No evidence. No certainty. So, no difference. No harm, no foul.
She'd seen them at their worst and at their most vulnerable. There was nothing fundamentally different about seeing them have sex. Nothing to change her opinion of them or her behavior toward them. She knew that Daniel liked cookies; now she also knew that Daniel didn't like hard stimulation of his penis when he was orgasming from anal penetration. It was just another thing to know about Daniel.
The trouble was, Daniel knew that she knew he liked cookies. Daniel was perfectly upfront about it if he had the runs or a zit on his ass. Daniel knew that she knew what he looked like naked. Until now, nothing she knew about Daniel was something he was unaware of or might object to.
Her silence was a betrayal of omission. On the other hand, so was theirs. She wasn't telling them, but they weren't telling her. And if that O'Neill and that Jackson had been otherdimensional, then she'd be outing them to themselves, which was worse than outing them -- even the potential of them -- to Teal'c.
At Ryac's wedding, O'Neill and Daniel stood close enough for the shoulders of their jackets to brush. It looked completely unconscious, and it scared her half to death. She checked all the surveillance tapes to make sure it wasn't glaringly evident. She wondered if she was losing it, seeing things. On one tape, it was there -- not as close as she'd thought, but there was a moment when O'Neill turned, made some comment to Daniel, and it looked for all the world like an affectionate rub of shoulders. She came this close to warning them. She kept talking herself out of it.
O'Neill asked her to drop by for half an hour on a Saturday to go over some paperwork related to Cassie's education. There was actual paperwork to go over, and it really wasn't appropriate to do it at work, although ordinarily O'Neill would have just closed them into his office or swung by her lab with the papers. Daniel was there when she came in, reading a multiply-folded newspaper in the kitchen while he stirred a big bubbling pot of spaghetti sauce that had made the stove a gory spatter. She tried not to peer around the general's house for evidence of cohabitation.
The paperwork was done in ten minutes, on the coffee table in the living room, and then O'Neill got up and said, "Carter, I'm gonna leave you to Daniel now, if you don't mind. He's got some stuff to talk to you about, this is the only secure location, and I'm a craven-ass coward so I'm outta here."
Sam got up, too, but said, "Wait. Sir."
He turned, loose-limbed, unhappy. "Carter, honest, I have a very urgent appointment with a pointless errand at the -- "
"I know," she said, and then winced.
"You know," he echoed.
Daniel was coming down the steps from the hall. "You know ... ?"
She bit her lip, took a breath. "I know."
They all just stared at each other.
Oh, god, what a huge mistake this was going to be if she was wrong.
"I know," she said again. "So it would be better if you don't leave, because that only makes it harder when we have to face each other again with this new, um. It's not a big deal. I mean, I'm OK with it. I'm a little pissed about the level of risk, but I don't object, um, personally." In excruciating agony, she silently appealed to Daniel.
"Sam," he said, slowly and quietly, "what did you see in the past viewer that you didn't put in your report?"
"I am so leaving now," O'Neill said. "You guys hash this out. I can't do this."
"Sir -- "
From the front doorway, O'Neill called, "See you Monday, Carter, bright and early," and then the door closed, the door of his truck opened and closed, the engine turned over.
"Sam?" Daniel said.
"Maybe you'd better say whatever you were going to say," she said.
"OK. Can we sit down?"
She sat where she'd been, in the easy chair that wasn't. He sat on the sofa.
"Thor gave Jack a surveillance jammer, but it's not portable, so this is the only place we can really talk," Daniel said. "I'm pretty much living here now. I keep the rented house as a front, stay there a few nights a week. Um ... Crap. This sounded ... I shouldn't rehearse things in my head."
"I saw you sleeping together," she said. "In the past viewer. You and the general. They showed it to me to make me feel a sense of betrayal so that I'd join their operation."
After a moment, Daniel nodded. "OK. Ah ... just sleeping, or ... ?"
"Or," she said. It was the hardest syllable she'd ever uttered.
"OK." Daniel looked down, then said, "I'm sorry. That must have been a shock."
"It was an unconscionable invasion of privacy," she said. The words came out fast and bitter; she hadn't realized how much rage she'd been repressing. She took a breath and heard cartilage crunch in her own jaw.
"Not a surprising one, though. I mean I'm not surprised that they looked. I am surprised that they showed it to you. I hope you won't be offended by this being my first question, but you were convinced that they couldn't record from the device, right?"
"Yes," she said, and explained why. It wasn't as flimsy as a hunch about Cornwell's evasion; she'd had time to work some figures, think it through, and though there was no way to test them, she had some theories she felt were pretty sound.
Daniel let go of a breath he hadn't been visibly holding. "That's good."
"I should have told you."
"I should have told you."
"You were doing me a favor by not involving me, and the risk was too great."
"And you thought that what you saw might not have been this dimension."
She explained her reasons for not telling him.
He nodded. "OK. I appreciate that."
"Does Teal'c know?"
"Teal'c guessed a while ago, and asked me. That doesn't make him more wily or observant than you are. He comes from a different culture."
"I still feel like the world's worst fool."
"Please don't, Sam."
"I mean, I'm happy for you. I envy you. I'm on your side. And it's none of my business. It's none of my business who my teammate is seeing and it's none of my damn business who my CO is seeing."
"I'm a direct report."
"Technically you report to me. I report to him."
"I report to him as a department head."
"That's different. You're not in the field-command hierarchy. You're the super uber civilian adjunct. And we don't have the same relationship to him that we had to Hammond, and I'm not arguing these distinctions with you. The point is, I don't object. OK? I just ... I should have seen it."
"You would have. Soon."
"Is that why you picked now to tell me?"
"I wanted to tell you right away. It was ... just never the right time. Once I realized that it was never going to be the right time ... " He shrugged. "And then I did wonder. About the viewer."
The silence was painful. For a while, Sam had no idea what to say. Finally she settled on, "You know I always figured the two of you would wind up together. I was kind of surprised when you rented that house instead of moving in here after you came back."
"Wind up together?"
"There's a bond between you, Daniel. There has been since the very beginning. This insanely complicated, unbreakable, unqualifiable bond. Neither of you dated much, as near as I could tell. You were done. A pair of widowers. I thought you were starting to be for each other what a life partner usually is. You're each other's other half. I hoped you'd both find someone else someday, but as time went on it seemed ... unlikely. I envisioned you bunking up together, for good I guess. Two cranky old men who couldn't live without each other and couldn't live with anyone else."
Daniel was smiling, just short of laughing. He smiled more easily here. He was home, here. "I see what you mean."
"I should go. I'll keep your secret. I'll cover for you any time it's necessary. But otherwise we shouldn't talk about this anymore. You should call the general's cell and tell him the coast will be clear in a second. Military etiquette actually makes this pretty easy. I won't do anything to make him uncomfortable."
"Sam ... "
"I don't want to talk about which rule he chose to break, OK? And I don't want to yell at you for risking his career and your safety and the program."
Daniel's smile was wry and a little insulting this time. "No, clearly you don't."
"OK, I do. But what purpose would that serve? It's nothing you haven't thought through, more thoroughly than I have, I'm sure."
"You're allowed to be pissed."
"Thanks so much for your permission." She swore, and rubbed her hands on her thighs. "Daniel, you're happy. Right? You've been happy all year, it's written all over you. That weight gain, I mean, look at that. You haven't changed the way you eat or work out, but you're not eating yourself up from the inside anymore, you're not wasting away because you're tormented and miserable and shut down. I love you, so I love seeing that. And from a professional standpoint, you are the program. You're the heart of it. Your mental health and personal happiness are good for everyone. The whole base is brighter and more relaxed. I don't mean to put a burden on you, but it's the truth. This is a good thing. That outweighs the drawbacks."
"I don't suppose I hear some rationalizing between the lines of that."
"Yes. You do. Some. Yes, I'm military. I'm a military brat. I grew up around military installations and I take military discipline very seriously. It's not just in my bones, it's in my DNA. Don't-ask-don't-tell is a crock, but it's the rule 'til someone fixes it. You're also fucking with the frat regs. It doesn't matter; you mean the world to him no matter what you get up to privately, he's been overinvested in all of us since very early on, et cetera. But sure, it bothers me."
Daniel was looking down at his hands. "Most of what you saw was ... in bed?"
"Most of it. I tried, Daniel, I swear to god I tried not to look -- they tasered me, they taped my eyes open … "
"It disturbed you. What you saw."
"No! Don't make it about that! He adores you. You adore him. That's what I saw. You know me better than to think I have any -- " No. It wasn't about her. She leaned forward and said, "Daniel, don't let this contaminate your memories. Please try not to do that. Don't look back on beautiful moments in your life and think They were watching this."
"It's sort of hard not to do that," Daniel admitted. He shifted uncomfortably.
Sam hesitated, then said, "Would it be better or worse to compare a few neutral details to see if I was looking at this dimension or not?"
"I've been trying to figure that out. I don't know." Daniel laced his fingers, squeezed his hands together hard. "I suppose I'd always rather know the truth. On general principles."
Sam took a deep breath. "In what Cornwell showed me, you and the colonel seemed to realize that the attraction was mutual last January. The day after he took the upload of the Ancients' repository. When we were all here, and Hammond came and told us he'd been reassigned. After the rest of us left, you stayed. You and the colonel had some kind of blowout argument."
Daniel looked up slowly, frowning. "What?"
"You stayed. You argued. Then it got kind of intense, and you kind of stared at each other ... " She stopped. "Maybe this is a bad idea."
"No," Daniel said, low and flat. "Finish."
"You stared at each other very hard and you both kind of went, 'Oh.' He asked you if he was misinterpreting ... He said, 'Am I misreading this?' You said, 'I don't know what you see, but I don't think so.' He, um, he turned his head, the way you do when you're going to kiss someone. He asked you if it was OK. You said, 'Not if they're watching.' He kissed you on the head instead. The forehead. You, um ... you embraced. He ... Daniel, I'm very uncomfortable about this."
"Try to summarize. It's the detail that's tripping you up."
"To ordinary surveillance it would have looked like a long hug. But it was clear that both of you ... that it was the first time ... " Hope surged through the discomfort. "This isn't what happened, is it?"
"It's similar to something that happened. But no. It's not what happened that night. We, ah ... " Daniel scrubbed a hand over his head, a mannerism he'd picked up from the general. "The first time we had sex was the night I came back here from Abydos."
Sam sat back, stunned. "Oh."
"I think you were looking at the past of another dimension."
How could what the viewer showed of the morning she was abducted jibe more closely with this universe than something that happened -- or didn't -- years ago? How could such disparate pasts result in such similar presents? It couldn't be coincidence. Were some things so powerfully willed, or destined, or necessary that they came to be no matter how unrelated or opposing their causes? Did some things just have to happen, and come to pass over and over again, in different ways? Or had the viewer been set to see only causally proximate dimensions? It had been limited spatially, temporally ...
She'd just gotten used to knowing what she knew, and now it turned out she didn't know anything. Or worse, that what she knew was close, but slightly off-kilter. She'd fervently wished that she didn't know anything, that she hadn't seen anything Cornwell had shown her. Now she felt a weird vertigo. This was good. It was good that she hadn't seen her Daniel Jackson, her Jack O'Neill, in their most private moments. But she'd seen something very like it. She had memories, now, of things that hadn't actually happened here. Except that they might have. Or close enough.
It was like having Jolinar's memories, except it was worse.
"Of course," she said, another part of her mind kicking into gear, part that had been working, mulling over this, bothered by it without her being consciously aware. "God. Of course. It wouldn't be possible. It had to be another quantum fork. The law of -- " She stopped. "I'm sorry. I'm having a scientific epiphany here and it's your life we're talking about. I'm sorry, Daniel."
"Don't be. It's good. This is good. I mean, yes I'm mortified, and all this means is that people in the future of some other dimension could be looking at us in this one at any time, but that's better than ... our own people. Us. And it's good news from a security standpoint." He gave a shaky laugh. "Except now we have to have this conversation all over again, because I haven't told you anything about what happened here. I thought you already knew."
"You don't have to tell me, Daniel. You told me what you planned to, that you're living here, that you and the general ... God, you are, right? I mean, you are ... "
"In a sexual relationship. Now. Yes."
But maybe what happened to him in that Iraqi prison didn't happen in this one. She shouldn't be glad for that. It had happened to a Jack O'Neill. But somewhere out there in the dimensions everything had happened to them that could possibly happen. Worse things than losing a son to an unthinkable accident with a sidearm, worse things than being brutalized in a foreign prison. She couldn't let her mind go down those paths.
"I'm not sure how much to tell you now," Daniel said.
"Maybe you shouldn't tell me anything."
"It hasn't been going on all this time. Since the beginning, I mean. You should know that. Otherwise you'll be revising the whole history of the team in light of this."
"I was already doing that. But I guess ... I can't help wondering if you were ... involved ... when the whole ... when he and I were ... That doesn't sound right ... " She floundered to a halt.
"The night I came back from Abydos, we slept together. It wasn't stress relief or a quickie. It ... meant a lot. But it was impossible. It got more impossible as time went on and the program became more important and it became more clear that none of us could walk away for any kind of personal reasons. There were fuckups because of it. I fucked up. The thing on 8596, for example. I knew that marriage cake was bad news, and ordinarily I might have said something, but I hesitated because I didn't trust my own motives, I thought I was or would come off as just being jealous. When he went off with Kynthia ... I mean, we should never have let him do that, Sam. Unprotected offworld sex under the influence of drugs? But I couldn't disentangle my professional responsibility and my personal issues. I thought, Fine, he's getting some, let him go get laid, it's none of my business. There were other times my personal crap got in the way. I shut it down as hard as I could. We both did. To the point where in those few months before 4C3 we could barely work together anymore. So what happened between you and him in the intervening years ... it wasn't unrelated, everything has bearing on everything, but it wasn't what you were just implying. We weren't ... involved. We weren't having sex. We slept together sometimes, but that's another thing. When things got really bad, we did that. We never talked about it. It was ... comfort. The only thing that helped. The only comfort available."
"I'm glad you had that," Sam said. "I mean it. I wish you could have ... "
"Yeah. Me too. So, I might as well, um ... While I was gone, Ascended, Jack had time to reevaluate his priorities. I shouldn't really speak for him but it's what he told me and it's relevant. He ... missed me. Even more than when he was on ... Never mind. He -- "
"On 768," Sam said. The smack in the face of seeing him say good-bye to Laira, understanding what she thought she understood about them, and herself, then -- to know that Daniel had figured into that mix was weird and unpleasant and hard to process.
"Yes." Daniel looked apologetic. Which meant that he'd seen her reaction. He'd known. Back then.
Well, of course he had.
"OK. Go on," she said.
"He thought I was gone forever. Then I came back, but I didn't remember. He helped me reestablish a life here. He never said a word about before. I actually ... I started to fall in love with him again before I remembered that there had been anything before. I knew that things had been bad between us, and they were good now ... you know, then ... and I didn't want to fuck it up with my ... inappropriate attraction. So that's how it was, until he slipped. He stopped me from putting my head in the Ancients' repository. He said I'd be needed to translate when he went Ancient. But that was a load of bull. My staff knows the Ancients' language. I have two linguists who have more facility with it than I do. It should have been me; I've been Ascended, I might have had immediate access to the knowledge, I might have been able to consciously manipulate the data instead of passively waiting for it to bubble up from my subconscious. He misdeployed his personnel. When he stopped me, when I saw the look on his face, I remembered. So yeah, I stayed behind that night after you guys left. But there was no argument. He said, 'You remember.' I said I did. He said, 'And now I'm dying. I'm leaving you.' I said that it seemed like one of us was always leaving, but somehow we always came back. He said he didn't think so, not this time. But that I should hold that thought, because if he made it through this we were going to find a way. Change things. Work it out, somehow, in some way we could both live with. He said he couldn't be my CO anymore, team leader, whatever, but we could work out the logistics; in the face of death, logistics seemed like no big deal. I slept in his bed that night. We didn't touch each other. Infrared would pick that up. We just slept. Someone really needed to be there anyway, in case he went Ancient in the middle of the night and started running around trying to build something. Anyway, when we got him back, and got you back, he got this spykiller thing from the Asgard. We've been ... together, since then. Since right before he was promoted."
"This hurts," Sam said softly, after a while. "That's so weird. I'm happy for you. I'm happy with Pete. Why should it hurt like this?"
"Maybe it can't end well, and you know that," Daniel said, just as softly. "The risk is huge. We're all in a high-risk occupation. The chances of both me and Jack making it alive to his retirement aren't great. We're nowhere near happily-ever-after."
"Maybe I'm just so used to tragedy that I don't know how to process happiness."
"Or maybe the inherently ephemeral nature of mortal happiness is tragic in itself, and the happier we are, the sadder it is, because everything ends."
"Now I know why I don't have philosophical discussions with you. There isn't enough Kleenex on the planet."
Daniel's cell phone buzzed. He looked at the caller ID, raised a finger to Sam, answered it. "No," he said. "Then don't or you won't be clear to drive and I'll have to schlepp out and get you. ... Now. ... Yes. ... I know. Just trust me on this. ... Yeah, yeah, yeah." He went to press the disconnect, then put the phone back to his ear. "What? ... God, no. Fuck you, Jack. ... Yes. And pick up some half-and-half. Yeah. Bye." Daniel looked at her. "So. Is it easier if you leave now and just see General O'Neill at work on Monday, move right along?"
She nodded. It wasn't just cowardice. It was what the general wanted, and it was the only reasonable way to proceed.
"OK." Daniel saw her to the door, gave her a long hug. "I do love you, Sam. I don't know why it seems important to say that again, but I do, so ... "
"He asked you if something 'happened,' didn't he. On the phone. That's why you said fuck off."
Mutely, Daniel nodded.
She leaned up and kissed him gently on the corner of the mouth, then drew back and smiled. "This happened too. Somewhere," she said.
"Yeah." He smiled back at her. "I bet it was really, really good, too."
Sam walked out to her car. She wondered if she was being watched. She wondered if wondering that was the height of naivete, if the only reasonable thing to wonder about was who was watching her. She felt she moved through tangible layers of watchingness, observed from the future, from other dimensions, from a satellite in orbit, from a van a few blocks away; from the Pentagon, from the high-tech lair of some well-funded shadow organization; through the neighbors' windows.
She drove down the street, around the curve; thought about the camera on the light around the next turn, that would send a traffic summons and a photo of her infraction to her home address if she ran the red on the busy street.
She took the turn, and recognized O'Neill's truck two blocks away. She watched it approach. Watched him come into focus behind the windshield, looking paramilitary in his shades and civilian clothes, one hand draped over the wheel. He lifted two fingers in acknowledgment as their vehicles passed and continued on, receding behind her, into a private life she had no part of, no entree to.
She watched the back of his truck in glimpses, glances into the rearview mirror, until it made the turn, signal light blinking, and left her view.