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Strange Medicine in the Desert

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As a live test of the change in gate-transit protocol after 884, Jack counted it a success.

They got a hit on the next address on the dialing roster, they sent a MALP through, some friendly folks came up to say hello in a descendant of some family of languages Daniel could identify but not speak, an expert from Daniel's staff came down to translate the friendly folks' friendly greeting, Hammond cleared them for a first-contact, half his team waited with the civilian translator on the ramp while he and Daniel went ahead to radio back an all-clear, and they got to listen to their radios calling their names all the way to the transport the friendly folks dumped them into after zapping them with a paralysis beam.

Two of them nabbed, instead of four plus a green civilian.

Some friendly folks stayed behind to have a conversation with the translator through the MALP. They got to listen to that too. Jack hoped that Daniel caught enough to give him some idea of how it would affect the SGC's response, assuming they didn't spend their entire visit immobilized and had some choice about to proceed. The transport sped them away, and they lost comms just as Hammond was transmitting a code that would have told him what to expect. Judging from the part he heard, it was either "hold tight, we've got this" or "you are seriously fucked, you poor bastards."

They needed to work on those codes.

He felt padding underneath him, the vibrations of an electric motor, the mild jouncing of a vehicle on paved road, the rub of his own uniform, the pressure of fingers working his harness clip, the weight of his weapon lifted off his chest. He couldn't move his eyeballs, and he couldn't blink, so his eyes were streaming. Through the blur he could see light crossing the roof of the transport; something like caustics, suggesting water nearby; no shade from buildings to either side, and only sky in his peripheral vision. A bridge? His heart was beating and he was breathing, so the not-blinking was weird, but it became moot when a big shadowy hand crossed his field of vision and passed over his eyelids, sliding them closed. It was a decidedly corpse-like sensation. He hoped it didn't freak Daniel out when they did it to him.

Two sets of hands started stripping his clothes off.

Crap.

He tried to grunt, to communicate some kind of reassurance to Daniel, but his voluntary muscle control was nil. The light crossing his eyelids dimmed somewhat, the sound of the motor picked up a close echo, and the motion changed to that of a vehicle negotiating side streets. He memorized the turns while the mystery hands bent and lifted and posed him to pull away the last of his clothes. Then they took his tags, and he couldn't clench his teeth to ground his reaction. But when they rolled him on his side to strap his upper arms together across his back, he felt Daniel's breath on his face, and the red rage cleared away.

Ankle restraints were slipped over his feet and snugged, and he felt the fold of a strap between them, which meant hobbles, which meant they were going to be able to walk soon. He could roll and kick out, he could roll up and head-butt, and he could still bend his lower arms from the elbow; if the paralysis wore off before they left the confines of the transport, he had ample weapons to take out two of the handlers, and the ability to retrieve and use his blade and firearms. If there were more than the two handlers he'd seen, it might be a problem, but Daniel kicked like a mule, so the main risk there was injury, because they'd need a mobile hostage while they retreated, and he'd need Daniel to manage that hostage. Long way to the gate now, barefoot with captive in tow, but makeable. Worth a shot, and the slim hope that some technicality would keep the paralyzers from working on them twice.

The ominous sound of a lot of voices in an open space up ahead became audible at the same time that wrist restraints snapped on, strapped together across his tailbone. There went his rifle; down to knife and sidearm now. The crowd-murmur got closer, and a louder voice, rallying or speech-making. The transport rounded one more corner, and the noise level rose abruptly -- then doubled as the louder voice said something in the tone of an MC announcing the next act. The crowd response sounded like cheering, not torches-and-pitchforks. But the vehicle came to a halt, and the back doors opened to flood it with light, and he still couldn't move. Plan A no longer an option.

Two handlers rolled him, lifted him, moved him towards the back doors, set him down; he felt them doing the same with Daniel, then one climbing out. Lifted again, moved, nippy breeze on his bare legs; pushed up sitting, legs lowered, chill metal of tailgate or bumper against the backs of his thighs, cobblestone under the soles of his feet. Then the same hum the paralyzer weapon had emitted before, and he was opening his eyes and roaring protest, a ferocious tingling itch in every cell, re-mobilized as suddenly as he'd been immobilized. Edge of a grassy park squared off by rows of brick buildings, side view of a stage, guy in a gold hat parading around on it in a swirl of robes, six-sided video screen looming two stories high at the back of the stage, crowd off to the left, guards-officials-whatevers everywhere and a paralyzer module clipped to every uniform belt. One handler was hanging on to his restraint straps to stop him surging to his feet. He twisted instead, to check Daniel, and the hanging-on handler said something in a soothing tone that made him want to punch her in the face. Daniel looked OK, except that they'd taken his glasses off along with everything else.

Two guards-officials-whatevers took him by the arms and walked him a couple of short steps from the transport. Ten-inch hobbles; not terrible, but running was out. It was damned cold out here. If they were being sold into sex slavery, the bidders were going to have to make a fair allowance for shrinkage.

The handlers sat Daniel up and unzapped him, and then he was talking a mile a minute, trying language after language in quick succession, ignoring the two handlers' shushing sounds and gestures. The one behind him climbed out of the transport and came around in front to try and reason with him, and the next thing there was a sharp crunch and Daniel was rolling up into the transport and the handler was staggering back, hands flying up to a bleeding nose.

Through the resulting confusion of people bumping and reaching, Jack dropped to bent knees and then sprang out of the dislodged grips, twisting to land on his back in the transport bed. Daniel was pivoting on his butt with a nine-mil in his hand. If they could have kicked the doors closed, they'd have had a chance; cut the restraint straps, drive back to the gate, use the transport as cover to dial. But that assumed that the chassis would block the paralyzer beams, and anyway, the doors opened out. Jack was immobilized with his hand on his knife grip, and he slumped over a wheel casing in what felt like slow motion after the burst of action. Daniel keeled over onto the padded bed. His hair tickled where brushed Jack's shin. A red mark on his forehead where he'd butted the handler was going to come up a magnificent bruise.

Good try, Doctor Jackson.

While the kidnappers regrouped and the stage announcer managed the restive crowd, the only thing in his fixed, swimming field of view was Daniel, a floppy jumble of naked limbs, pistol fallen from limp fingers. It should have been him and Teal'c, but they'd switched right before embarkation, to put Doctor Koh in a military sandwich.

The shifting artificial light from the screen overpowered the daylight with a sparkly surreality. It was like a Times Square New Year's Eve out there, the crowd all standing and waving little colored cloths as if they were waiting for the ball to drop. Moving pictures ran around the side of the screen, but he hadn't been able to make out what they were; focused on his captors, he hadn't spared the show enough attention to see more than the announcer and a big podium. Didn't seem like a slave auction; definitely wasn't a gladiator pit; hopefully wasn't an executioners' platform.

Some burly uniforms came and lifted them out, held them standing while some other uniforms unzapped them, made clear that there'd be no more nonsense. The handlers took off in the transport. One of the guys holding Daniel made a threatening move when Daniel kept tossing out languages to see if one stuck, and Jack threw him a look and a headshake; Daniel looked intense frustration back at him, but laid off the talking. He visibly switched into observation mode, trying to profile the culture through whatever he could see without his glasses. Jack set the lay of the land in his head in case they managed another breakway: Early-industrial-age buildings mixed with futuristic-looking synthetic structures. Clusters of food and trinket stalls around the periphery of the square. Moderate vehicular traffic beyond -- Segways on steroids, more transports, a bus pulled by what looked like a cross between an elephant and a velociraptor. No vantage points above four stories to track them from if they found some alleyways to disappear into, no way to know what was in the sky. Then he looked up at the screen.

It was visual chaos. It was Disney's Fantasia remixed by a serial killer on LSD. It was every night terror you'd ever had and couldn't remember afterwards, every corner-of-the-eye threat that disappeared when you looked, a seething soup of every primitive backbrain fear of what hid in the shadows. Freakish shapes formed and dissolved -- shrieking mouths, menacing eyes, jagged jerking figures. Forlorn bursts of bright colors were drowned in blacks and greys, torn apart in bloody smears. Monstrous flying things with scythe-boned wings strafed the screen; bright razors shredded a wash of deepest-depression blue into seeping sickly yellow streaks that crawled with a pulsation of maggots.

It was Hell's fucking Jumbotron.

Jack turned to Daniel and mouthed, "What. The. Fuck."

Daniel gave a helpless shrug, squinting at Jack, squinting at the screen. Big as it was, it was probably only a blessed blur to him.

One of the uniforms, observing their exchange, produced a ghastly smile and said, with dark relish, "Keekeeeeeetay."

Jack's eyes flicked to Daniel. Daniel's head gave a minute shake, but the faraway focus of his gaze said that he was listening. Trying to connect up the things he was hearing with whatever rudimentary knowledge he had of the Earth language this one started out as.

Jack didn't look back at the screen. The images made him deeply uneasy, even a little sick. Could be some subliminal embedding, some neurological effect, and if the show was just this town's version of a horror flick, he didn't need the adrenaline boost. He watched the crowd instead. A few of them were watching him; curiosity, a hint of hunger, no antipathy. A lot of them were watching the screen. But an equal number were watching the announcer, their eyes following him as he moved around the stage, gesticulating and talking in bursts. He kept pointing at the screen, but those folks kept looking at him. As if he was narrating some story it was telling.

As if he was translating.

"Keekeetay," the uniform said again, still watching him, and nodded, as if he'd finally gotten it.

"Keekeetay!" the announcer boomed, and pointed straight at Daniel and him, and abruptly they were lifted by the guys to either side and carried up the side steps to the stage.

There was another guy there; the podium had blocked him from view. Naked, strapped to a chair under what looked like a 1950s salon hair dryer dressed up as a prop in a sci-fi flick. He was jerking in his bonds. Not struggling to get free; suffering from some kind of spasmodic fit. Jack couldn't see his face, but he could see froth dripping down his neck from his chin. He could also see the row of three more hair-dryer gizmos beyond that one. Thick cords came out of the backs and fed into a big cable that disappeared into the industrial spaghetti between the stage and the screen.

"I saw this on The Simpsons," Jack said out loud. "They all ended up with each other's hairdos."

He had no way to stop it, but no way, no fucking way in hell, was Daniel's head going in one of those things.

The announcer gestured to the gizmos, gestured to them, said some stuff; the guards walked them over by the chair-bound guy and turned them in a display for the audience. They were close enough now that Jack could hear the guy mumbling and ranting, even with the crowd oohing and aahing at whatever the announcer was saying about them. Daniel's knuckles brushed his thigh, tapped out a number: 421. A desert world in the territory of a minor System Lord. Jack vaguely remembered Daniel bemoaning their lack of safe access to it, because people there still spoke some language that was extinct on Earth. The guy in the chair was from another planet too.

Real nice welcome wagon they had here.

He could not see a way out of this. The best immediate option was to knock Daniel out, in hope that the hood things only worked on conscious people and it would buy some time, but Daniel wouldn't stay down for long. It wouldn't buy enough time for the SGC to negotiate their release or figure out what kind of weapon they were hit with and how to circumvent it. It wouldn't be worth the concussion.

"You gotta play dead," he said to Daniel, without turning his head. "They go to put us in those things, you go down and don't wake up no matter what they do. You hear me?"

"You too," Daniel said, a testy two-syllable warning that encapsulated an entire debate.

"One of us might keep 'em happy for a hrrgh." A fist jammed into his kidney turned the 'while' into a gasped grunt.

The announcer was building up to something fast, moving from them to the chair guy to the screen and back, stopping by the podium to read a passage from a book, then crossing to stand at the edge of the stage. He bent towards the spectators as if inviting all several hundred of them to share a secret. They got very quiet to hear whatever he said, and then he worked them up into a noisy crescendo, backing up with his arms spread, saying shorter and more emphatic things in a louder voice with every step. The guards rotated Jack and Daniel to keep facing him as he backed up. When he was just about to back into the screen, he spun around with a flourish, raised his arms to the nightmarish images, and shouted, "Fakaaaaaaaa maoneeeeeeee!"

The whole center section of the screen slid open. The announcer stood aside and made a sweeping gesture, and the guards moved Jack and Daniel toward the opening. Jack twisted to see that the guy in the chair had gone limp -- dead or out cold or just limp with the relief of whatever was happening to him stopping. A hard jerk on the arm made Jack turn back. The screen had gone matte grey. There were steps at the back of the stage, leading down through a corridor as long as the screen was deep, maybe six feet, and out into a brick courtyard.

Propelled by the guards, they minced down the steps in their hobbles. The announcer stayed on the stage behind them. He was chanting now. In the center of the courtyard was one of those futuristic-looking structures, a box of the same matte-grey stuff as the screen, maybe five yards wide and five high. The top and sides were covered in tubing. The front was a flat plane. No door, no windows. Some kind of altar?

The crowd had taken up the chant, but the screen baffled the noise, and in the close, comparative quiet of the courtyard, Jack could just make out the low sound of a small drone aircraft. In case it was theirs, he raised his face to the sky as the sound got louder. He'd caught the barest glimpse of an Air Force UAV when the guards shoved him and Daniel through the wall.

Jack tucked and rolled over his own shoulder and landed with his head towards the wall and his legs stinging from an instinctive attempt to slap the mat with what limbs were available. He hadn't felt anything when he passed through the wall, but the floor was solid -- just springy and yielding enough to cushion the fall and spare him a broken back. Daniel had hit facedown but managed to get his head turned. The guards didn't follow them in, and Jack squelched an impulse to launch himself headlong to get back out; if this was the holding cell it felt like, they were safer in here for now. But he swung himself around and gave an experimental push with his feet. From this side, the wall was solid too, made of the same bouncy synthetic as the floor.

No sound penetrated. His ears were ringing in the silence. The walls looked semi-opaque, but the lack of shadows from the attached tubes or surrounding foliage indicated that the light wasn't diffused daylight; it was some kind of ambient illumination from the walls themselves.

It was warm in here. That was something.

Daniel rolled over, rolled up sitting, then doubled over his drawn-up knees. "Ow."

"Hurt your back?" A forward fall into a soft surface could jam up the spine pretty badly.

"More like rug burn. I really didn't care about being naked until right this moment."

A full-body faceplant wasn't easy on the privates, either.

"We'll get some cream on that as soon as we get back. I'm pretty sure that drone was ours."

"It's not that bad. But good. That's good."

Getting a foot planted to push up standing was awkward in the hobbles but possible. Jack got up to mince around and canvass the space. Fresh water flowed continuously through a short trough on one side, and a short trough on the other held some kind of slop that might have involved rice. A three-by-five alcove in the back looked like combined toilet and shower facilities, with a grille-bottomed waste slot in the floor and enough water-dispersion discs set in the surfaces to spray you down from all angles. "Full-body bidet," he told Daniel.

"The pamphlet said there'd be a jacuzzi."

"Call the desk. We're changing rooms."

Daniel had hobbled over to check out the food trough. "I hate to tell you, but this stuff smells like coconut."

"You're not allergic to that, are you?"

"No, but I know how much you like it." He started moving along the wall, shouldering the springy stuff every couple of feet, making sure they weren't missing a disguised exit.

Jack was scoping out the ceiling, due diligence, expecting nothing. "One more reason to hold off eating it as long as possible."

Daniel finished bumping the walls, Jack finished casing the ceiling. The main space was only about ten feet by ten, and the whole box was completely sealed. No hint of breeze anywhere, and nary a vent to be seen; must be some kind of air exchange happening in the walls themselves.

"Where do we stand language-wise?" Jack asked.

"I have some understanding of the structure, but no vocabulary. I may know some words in related languages. If I focus on that for a while, I might be able to make some connections." He sat down cross-legged in a corner of the main space, on the alcove side, facing the wall they came in through. "Should I hope there'll be plenty of time for that, or hope I don't get a chance?"

Jack came over and sat between him and the water trough, grateful that he couldn't smell the coconut. He wouldn't lie to Daniel; the situation was not good. In a few hours, they'd have to drink the water, and then they might as well eat the food. There were easier ways to force drugs on them, so that posed only the usual risks, and hey, at least diarrhea would be an easy clean-up in that alcove. The food and water suggested that their captors expected to hold them here at least a day, and probably longer than that. But you didn't work up a crowd that way unless you planned to deliver before too long. He figured they'd be under those hoods in three days tops. About the maximum time he figured it would take the SGC to beg or barter or bust them out of here. Neck-and-neck.

"Couple of days," he said. "At a guess. Based on the accommodations and how Dick Clark was acting."

"Dick Clark?"

"That announcer guy."

"Orator chief, probably."

Jack's arm jerked against the restraint bands as he went to gesture at his head. You didn't realize how much you used your hands until you couldn't. "The hat was kind of Gouldy. You think he's a snake?"

"If he's posing as a Terran deity, it's not one I'm familiar with. And the behavior was all wrong. If there was a Goa'uld here, if these people didn't come here somehow from whatever planet they were initially transplanted to, it was a long time ago. Is the architecture as much of a mishmash as it seemed? I couldn't see all that well."

"Like two time machines collided in a meadow."

"Same for the clothes. There's more than one culture involved here, one way or another." He glanced at Jack. "Do you think the images on the screen were a projection of what was in the other captive's mind?"

Jack nodded.

"Not memories, though. Not like what the Tok'ra device projects. I could tell that much."

"Hallucinations maybe." Jack grimaced. "Voyeuristic enjoyment of someone else's bad trip. Lovely form of entertainment."

Daniel frowned, as if something about that didn't add up, but then he seemed to let it go, closing his eyes and settling down into his tailbone, probably to mull over the language thing.

Nothing about this entire situation made sense to Jack, so he closed his eyes too, and left Daniel in peace to think.

At least he could catch up on his sleep.

Fifteen minutes later, Daniel was shifting position for the fifteenth time in a vain attempt to sit comfortably in the restraints, and Jack, who had the field operative's ability to power-nap under almost any conditions, was wide awake and running in circles in his head, trying to figure a way out of a situation he knew full well they had to hunker down and endure.

He got up and used the facilities, which consisted of standing over the waste slot and letting go. Squatting over it to take a dump was going to be challenging with the hobbles on, but the rinse cycle was aggressive and thorough; if he'd been turned the other way, he'd be squeaky clean right down into his butt crack after the head-to-toe blast of warm water, which also took care of the unavoidable spillage on the hobble strap. A blast of warm air followed, and when it stopped, he was a little damp in the crevices, but basically dry. Overkill for a quick leak, but after some of the places he'd been locked up, he'd take it.

"You OK?" Daniel said, gaze dipping briefly down his body as he came back out and around to their corner.

The water pressure of the crotch-angled spray was calibrated for the back, not the front. He might have let out a bit of a yelp when he found that out. "You're gonna want to pee facing out." He gave Daniel a glancing once-over in turn. "How's the rug burn?"

Daniel looked down at his penis. It was slightly red, but not abraded. "Looks OK," he said. "It doesn't hurt."

"And the head?"

"That hurts," Daniel said. "Just the bruise, though. No headache. I'm fine, Jack."

"Yup," Jack said. He was always fine. Jack found that admirable and exasperating in equal measure.

"Why do you suppose they left us bound when they can paralyze us with the push of a button? It's not like we could climb out of here, or dig an escape tunnel."

No control panels to reach for, not so much as a spray nozzle to rip out and repurpose as a tool or weapon. "The paralyzers might have some limitations."

"Like, one too many zaps and it's permanent?"

"Or fatal. Or maybe they're just saving the hassle of putting the restraints back on when they bring us out."

"Or they have to break them to remove them."

"Waste not want not." Speculation about the reasons for the restraints was as close as Daniel would come to complaining. Hands-behind-the-back really sucked. This was more arms-to-the-sides, with the upper-arm strap as insurance against the bendiness of people more flexible than Jack was, but it still made sitting comfortably a challenge. "The bands were elastic when they put them on."

"And a few minutes ago the front of this box was permeable."

Jack scooched out, away from the wall. "Turn around. Lemme see if I can do anything."

It was awkward getting his hand positioned, but he worked on the wrist restraints with his fingers for a while, picking and pulling, twisting and stretching, hoping to trigger some kind of invisible catch. Then he rolled to his knees and had Daniel stand up and tried chewing through the strap. It was like very tough sushi, and his teeth didn't make the slightest dent. He kept trying until he figured that anyone else would have given up, and then tried some more, in case it was designed to resist a reasonable effort but might yield to the unreasonable.

"No go," he said in the end, sitting back on his heels. He wiped his mouth on his shoulder. "Sorry."

"Truth," Daniel said. "Speak." He turned suddenly, oblivious of his package swinging around almost in Jack's face. He muttered a blur of syllables that sounded like the same words pronounced a bunch of different ways, then something about glottalization and reconstruction and some other term that sounded English but was Greek to Jack. "'Faka maonee' must be soothsaying, and I think 'keekeetay' is, is ... farseeing, foretelling. Prophecy." He crouched down to get closer to eye level with Jack, who had shifted around onto his butt to get clear of errant body parts. "I think the guy on the stage was interpreting the images on that screen as auguries."

"They're reading brain entrails in DiamondVision?"

"That's my hypothesis." He sat down with a thump, no graceful way to get seated from a crouch without arms to balance. "It explains the guy's behavior, the people's reactions, and the projection device. The kidnapping too -- they'd need fresh subjects to get new readings, new input."

"And a little hit of something to make it interesting."

"To free the mind to find truth, or see into a supernatural world." Daniel sighed. "So, no eating or drinking?"

"There are a dozen ways they could dose us without putting it in the food or water. How're my pupils?"

Daniel peered at him, leaning close. "Normal."

"I got some shower water in my mouth and I feel OK. I don't think this changes the ingestion risks. You go ahead if you want."

"I'm good for now."

"How sure are you about these words?"

"I'm sure about the other Polynesian words. They come up frequently as examples of -- It doesn't matter. I read them and they stuck in my head, I just had to connect up what I've seen on a page with what I've been hearing. There could be other words with different kinds of similarities that mean other things. It makes sense in context. I don't know if that means it's right. It's all I've got."

"It's more than we had. Good work."

"If I could just talk to them, make them understand how much real information we could give them ... "

"And queer Dick Clark's deal? He'd be as thrilled as that canon guy in Simon's village." He looked at Daniel, bruised and uncomfortable and itching to take action. "I saw a UAV, Daniel. I looked right at it. It couldn't have missed us, two bareass pink guys where everybody's brown and dressed. They know where we are. Koh can communicate. Carter'll get around those devices. We trust our people."

Daniel took a deep breath, let it out slow. "I know."

Jack considered the featureless space. The soft white glow from the surfaces blanked out the shadows cast by the other surfaces, which screwed with perceptual cues and left him feeling kind of seasick. They were barely a week out of those isolation rooms at the SGC, and if this place reminded him of the padded cell they'd stuck Daniel in a few months ago, odds were it reminded Daniel of it too. He was still appalled at himself for letting that happen -- and if he started brooding on stuff like that, he'd be losing his shit in here sooner than later, so that had to stop right now.

He got up, stuck his face in the water trough, and drank. Might as well settle that question. He paced the room, if you could call the little mincing hobble-steps pacing, trying to put himself in sentry mode. Quarter hour, half an hour, no sentry mode, but not the least feel of trippiness either. "I think the water's clear."

"I hope that other guy's OK," Daniel said. "The guy in the chair."

It didn't bode well that the guy hadn't been tossed in here with them. "If it's possible to extract him with us, I'll see that it happens."

"There could be more captives somewhere."

"Whatever we can do, we'll do."

"You were right about the new protocol, anyway. At least it's only two of us in here."

"Should have been even more cautious, after the tropical paradise that wasn't."

"We can only be so cautious before we're not going at all anymore."

Jack didn't say that more cautious could have included him going alone as the forward scout, which Hammond had nixed, or him and an SF or a Marine to watch each other's backs, which Hammond had also nixed, because they did not have enough SFs or Marines and if the members of SG-1 were too valuable to risk on a forward recon, they were too valuable to risk out here at all. Which Jack believed to be exactly the case, in addition to believing that the teams should be expanded to include two more SFs apiece, which higher had nixed because redistribution of existing personnel would mean a decrease in the number of teams overall, and they wanted the maximum number of units out there looking for weapons. At least it meant that he didn't have to have the argument with Daniel about sending rank-and-file into danger instead of going yourself. In Daniel's world, the military's hierarchies of expendability did not compute, and it would have been a painful, unending debate.

"So," Daniel said. "Twenty questions? I left the playing cards in my other pants."

Jack groaned. Too many captivities under their belts, way too many twenty-questionses.

"OK, how about this. A man lives on the twentieth floor -- "

"Short guy, elevator buttons."

Daniel thought for a second. "There's a yacht in the middle of the ocean -- "

"No ladder. Idiots."

"A man walks into a bar ... "

"Hiccups."

"Hans and Fritz ... " Daniel waited. "Are at the airport ... " He waited some more. "You really don't know this one?"

"Not so far. Keep going."

They ran through all the riddles and puzzles they could think of, then invented a few, then gave it up in favor of base gossip. Current events when the gossip ran out. Movies, music, the usual. They sat. They paced. They did sit-ups. They sat some more. They shifted position, constantly, fitfully. Facedown on the floor wasn't bad except for the glow right up against the eye socket. Daniel found a deep kowtowing pose that he could live with -- knees tucked under, head butted on the floor, arms relaxed and hanging from the straps. Jack did better stretched out on his side and tilted back against a wall enough to hold one arm at the limit of its straps; when his lower arm fell asleep, he'd flip around the other way.

Hours passed. Jack felt every second of them. He couldn't find the state of quiet readiness that he went into on watch. He seemed completely incapable of napping. The mush in the food trough was flushed away and fresh mush pumped in. Neither of them ate it. In the morning, Jack thought. If they were still here.

After an especially long silence, Daniel said, "Jack."

"Yeah." Jack sat up straight, alerted by the flatness of Daniel's voice.

"I can't sleep."

Nothing new there. Jack slumped back into his closest approximation of leaning-back-against-the-wall, scooched down because his arms couldn't bend but his neck could. "Neither can I." He kept his tone neutral to mask his annoyance at the false alarm. "We're both keyed up."

"Seriously, I can't sleep." Daniel lifted out of his tucked curl and sat back on his heels. "I was up late last night helping solve the puzzles to get the trapped team out of that temple. It's been a stressful day. If I'd gone home, I'd have crashed an hour ago. I'm not that uncomfortable. I'm bored. I'm tired. I should be able to sleep."

Jack sat up again, slowly. He stared at Daniel. Daniel looked back at him, eyes intense.

It wasn't hallucinogens.

It was sleep deprivation.

"Fuck," Jack said softly.

"Yeah," Daniel replied.

"You think it was the paralyzers?"

"Maybe. It's not the water. You drank it, I didn't, we're both affected."

"Could be this light." He hadn't kept his eyes closed for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch. Or maybe it was working on them through their skin, maybe that was why the nudity.

He tilted his head as he processed the information that Daniel had been on a silent water strike. He'd been to the trough a couple of times, but Jack hadn't checked to make sure he was drinking. Dammit. "Go drink some water."

"You've tried to sleep? You're not trying to stay on watch?"

"I've done my damndest to sleep. Drink some goddamn water, Daniel."

Daniel went to the trough, slurped greedily for a long time, then went into the alcove and pissed like a horse. Avoiding that too, apparently. Must have had to go for a while, if he was dehydrated and still holding that much. A sharp oath when the spray hissed on told Jack that he'd forgotten to face front. He came out and drank some more, went across and slurped up some mush, then crossed back to rinse his face in the flowing trough water and have one more drink before he sat down again. "It could also be environmental," he said. "Something about the planet that the residents are immune to, that only affects offworlders. Maybe they're just capitalizing on this, not causing it."

"Explains the restraints, anyway," Jack said. "Keep us from wanking ourselves to sleep."

"And then put us in the same cell?"

"Well, hopefully that was a glaring oversight."

"Or they know that wanking doesn't work, and the restraints are to keep us from self-harming when we get delusional."

Jack echoed, deliberately, emphatically, "And then put us in the same cell?"

"OK, if it is an anti-masturbation measure, then either they don't know that we could get each other off, which is highly unlikely if the people who put us in here are as human as they appear to be, or it's unthinkable to them that we would. In which case, if they're observing us, violating a taboo might be a quick way to get disqualified from the prophecy program."

"Or an express lane to the gallows."

"Also possible. Or all these inferences are flawed, since they didn't just lock us in chastity belts."

"We can only work with what we've got." Right now he'd have preferred a chastity belt, if it meant he could cross his goddamn arms and scratch his goddamn head. "Sexual dysfunction's gonna kick in before the worst of the sleep dep. We can't wait 'til it gets bad."

"Inducing orgasm has risks too. We don't know what's keeping us awake. We don't know how oxytocin might interact with that mechanism. Or whatever else the brain produces. Dopamine? Neuroscience isn't my field."

"Yeah, well that's why I'm the test pilot. The risks, I mean. If I fall asleep afterwards and wake up unimpaired, we do you. If I have a stroke or something, you hang in there and hope for a timely extraction."

Daniel was silent for a while, looking down. Maybe not so matter-of-fact about this as he'd seemed. Jack was steeling himself to broach the issue when Daniel said, "This really scares me, Jack. Extreme sleep deprivation is ... very ugly."

Mildly, Jack said, "I'm aware."

Daniel looked up. "Yes. Of course. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm just sayin'. I hear you." Drugs might wear off. Brain damage wouldn't.

No way in hell. No fucking way. Not that brain.

"You got what, five hours last night?" he asked Daniel.

"Four. It was a tricky temple. What time is it now?"

The clock in Jack's head should be trustworthy for another day or so. "'Bout 2200 base time." Daniel had slept four hours in the last forty. "We'll give it eight hours. Try blocking the light out, eyes closed for a full hour, no cheating. Work out hard and give fatigue a fighting chance. Eat more, in case there's tryptophan in that stuff."

"All that to delay a blowjob?" Daniel said, with a wry smile.

"Sexual contact's a last resort, and I won't discount the taboo thing."

"I don't mind, Jack. It won't change anything."

"Neither do I, and no it won't. We exhaust the other options first. Come on. Up."

He warmed them up, got them stretched, then worked them out hard, every exercise he could think of or improvise to maximize fatigue within the constraints. The springy floor made them work harder, made them fall more often, and kept them from getting too banged up by the falls. Nobody sprained an ankle. The irony of no jockstraps did not escape him, and he spared Daniel the jogging in place. During breaks, he made jokes, tried to get Daniel laughing, counteract some of the stress hormones. To avoid temporarily crippling himself, he gave Daniel more vertical jumps, but made up for it in roll-ups, which were a bitch and a half to do with bound arms. The cool-down was another exercise in improvisation, with limited arm and leg motion. The alcove obligingly provided a fresh blast of warm water every time you stepped away from the waste slot and came back.

This was stuff he knew, and it felt good to be doing something -- taking action, breaking the monotony. Keeping his eyes closed for an hour meant staying relatively still, which he could feel actually raising his stress level, and doing it again after forcing down a bellyful of bad-tasting slop wasn't any easier. They both stayed quiet in case one of them managed to drop off, but at the end of the second hour, Daniel wasn't snoring, and Jack could feel his wakefulness like a palpable force.

"I know you're not sleeping," Daniel said from his kowtow curl. "Can I open my eyes now?"

"Sure."

Daniel uncurled and sat back on his butt to stretch his legs. No wince, at least. "I don't think this is working."

"Me neither. Nevertheless, we're gonna run through it again."

He ran them through it twice more. Lighter on the explosive bursts and heavier on the resistance work the next time, because fatigue was going to result in injury; moderate calisthenics the third, as they were both pretty much crapping out by that point. They couldn't lay their arms over their eyes to block the light, but their legs were available, so he had Daniel spend a good two hours under the crook of his knee. Daniel didn't drop off. Jack's next meal came back up, and he was lucky to make it to the waste slot; he kept the third down, but it sure as hell wasn't making him sleepy.

It was six in the morning at the SGC, and they were both very, very tired. That some kind of sleep-suppressing mechanism was in play was no longer in question, whatever was generating the effect. Daniel reported the cotton-headed feeling he got midway through the day after pulling an all-nighter. Jack was craving uppers for the first time in twenty years, his flagging system flailing out for something to make him work faster and better so that he could figure out the controls and pull them out of this nosedive.

He was slump-leaning back against the wall in what had become their home corner, legs stretched out, ankles crossed. Daniel was beside him, weight on one hip, legs folded, shoulder against the wall, eyes closed for what little respite it gave from the light. He'd sat down close to Jack an hour ago.

Jack turned his head and looked at him. Daniel opened his eyes. Raised his brows. Jack nodded.

Daniel shifted up onto his knees and bent down to Jack's groin. The way Jack's dick was lying on his thighs, Daniel had to pretty much scoop it up with his face to get it into his mouth. Jack's body jerked reflexively at the scrape of stubble and the intimate contact. Then Daniel took the whole length of him in, eyelids sliding down, and Jack was flooded with an unexpected relief, to feel that soft vulnerable part of him enclosed and shielded after so many hours hanging exposed. Daniel's mouth was gentle and warm and safe, and when it started to turn him on, when he started to swell inside the wet heat and soft suction, it didn't feel like lust; it felt like gratitude.

He'd expected to be sucked up fast, worked with dedicated efficiency. He'd taken it as a given that Daniel would be practiced at this; they knew each other's histories, knew things about each other that weren't in any file. But was taking his time. They'd had an unpleasant day. This was something that could feel really good. He was making sure it felt really, really good.

It was like a shot of morphine easing chronic pain. His skin flushed warm, his muscles relaxed, the ache in his shoulders faded to insignificance. Pleasure replaced weariness. He wanted to say Daniel, shove over, lie down, let me in there, you've gotta feel this, it's fantastic, came so close to saying it that he had to think Stick to the plan at himself in so many words to stop it. The only brains that were going to explode in a chemical-versus-suppressant showdown were his.

Daniel worked him up to a taut hardness, more beautiful sucking and bobbing than anyone had a right to look doing something like that and way more than Jack had any business thinking about, then opened his eyes and twisted to look up and check with him. The corkscrew sensation on his glans brought him sharply to the edge. He managed a nod, not even sure what he was nodding to -- yes finish me, yes it's good, everything was yes, a world of yes. Daniel adjusted his position and went down again, slow and easy and then faster, tighter, lips a blur of motion and slickness up and down the shaft. Jack was shooting before he could say easy, you don't have to work so hard, just suck the head, powerful pulses from deep in his groin, intensely, sweetly good.

Daniel's mouth slid away, gently draping his dick over his balls; his legs had snapped out to the limits of the hobble strap. He murmured "Thank you," and Daniel said "Shhhh," and he let go and drifted, sinking into himself, deliciously relaxed, skin and muscle suffused with warmth. The room seemed darker, and he hoped that meant he was falling asleep, not dying, but he was detached, floating, unworried. The darkness was soothing, wonderful -- until he caught a glimpse of what he was falling into, a flashing of knives and black water --

He gasped up sitting, waking. Daniel came off the wall and pivoted to mirror his position. He was back in the glowy room. Isolation box, hotbox. It felt like he'd spent a long time somewhere else in the blink of an eye.

Quietly, Daniel said, "Hey."

He gave Daniel his name-rank-service-number, the year, the president's name, told him to hold out some fingers, told him how many. "So I guess that was a bust," he said, then added quickly, "No offense -- hell of a blowjob, happy to reciprocate."

"No, you slept for twenty minutes."

Jack squinted at him.

"Really. You were out. Snoring. REM sleep, I guess, because your eyes were moving. You were twitching, too -- that had me kind of worried, but I've seen you do that when you're just starting to fall asleep, so ... "

"So now it's your turn."

Daniel blinked, as if he'd been expecting a longer debrief before they switched. Then he knee-walked away from the wall and rolled onto his back in front of Jack. Jack thought that Daniel should probably kneel, so he could curl over into his kowtow to sleep, but it was Daniel's call.

Jack got his legs under him, got lined up with Daniel's hips, and bent down to him. Daniel's dick was already a little bit hard, flopped up towards his belly. The rug-burn redness had faded into a general ruddiness of arousal blood flow. Jack wet his lips, angled his head, swallowed it down, and brought it upright. Daniel stayed silent and still, but a little hard changed to very hard right away.

In Jack's experience, absent other instructions, people gave the way they liked to get. He tried to do Daniel the way Daniel had done him, work him up slow, then do his best to jerk him off with his lips. He had everything good and slick and thought he was matching the speed Daniel had set, but after a good five minutes the objective remained unsecured. He could drop it and request direction, but for all he knew Daniel was right on the brink, so he tightened his lips and increased the speed as much as he could and forged on.

After another minute, Daniel said "Hold up" very softly. Jack stilled his head and waited. That gave him too much space to think about how much his back and neck and abs and thighs ached, and how much he really needed to not think about how much he liked having Daniel's dick in his mouth. He was more than willing to comply when Daniel said, "Just -- I'm sorry. Just take a break for a second."

He straightened his back and got off his knees. When Daniel started to say something else and then didn't, he said, "You know, hard sucking right on the head really does it for me. That more what you're looking for?"

Daniel huffed out a laugh. "You should have said."

"Didn't need to. Seems like maybe you need to say."

"It's not -- " He swore, then took a breath. "I need to thrust. I mean, I need more in-and-out. It's been a while since I had oral sex and I thought ... or any sex, actually ... but I guess the lack of sleep is ... I'm sorry."

Jack couldn't move his head up and down any faster than he had been. Daniel saw him glance at the food trough, followed his train of thought, said, "No, absolutely not." Jack said, "Absolutely not because you don't do that, or because coconut rice mush -- "

"Because coconut rice mush! God, Jack. If nothing else, the bidet cannot handle that."

Jack could think of some slop-aided options that didn't include getting grain up into unrinseable places, but indulging his creativity would clearly come at the expense of Daniel's state of arousal at this point. Instead he said, simply, "So thrust. I'll hold still and you thrust all you want."

"Jack, I've been through this with other partners, without your hands free you're not going to be able to -- "

"Daniel." Jack loomed over him, back up on his knees. "I'm going to be able to. I promise I won't let you hurt me. I'm having some trouble keeping straight what's professional and unprofessional to say here, so just believe that it's OK with me. It's OK. OK?"

Daniel gave him a long, hard look, well aware of Jack's penchant for self-sacrifice. Then he said, "OK. But start slow. I'm kind of worked up in a, a ... crap, what is the word ... a counterproductive way."

"You got it," Jack said, in his lowest, warmest voice.

He started very slow, taking it down in stages, a little light suction, rubbing with his tongue, working up spit around the shaft and slicking his lips in it, probably crossing that unprofessional line with the tongue swirls but Daniel was right, this should feel exactly as good as it was supposed to feel, and maybe he'd been too mechanical before, overcompensating for his own impulses.

After a couple of minutes Daniel visibly relaxed again, and when Jack closed his eyes and let himself enjoy the pure pleasure of sucking on a beautifully hard dick, Daniel made a hoarse, very turned-on sound, and the hard dick got appreciably harder. When Jack started a slow, sensual up-and-down motion, Daniel's hips started rising to meet the downs, and drawing back on the ups, and they found an almost effortless rhythm, increasing the tempo together, gradually and steadily. When the hip motion outstripped what Jack could comfortably match, he found a midpoint and held still.

He heard Daniel's breathing hitch and then quicken as the action shifted entirely into his control. The steady thrusts got a little faster, a little deeper, and Jack felt a vicarious twinge between his own legs when the afterburner kicked in. He tried to get up over it more, curve his body to offer more throat. Daniel groaned, raggedly, when his dick sank deeper, and in a few strokes he was snapping his hips at double speed and yeah, that might have been a challenge to take for any sustained period of time, but Jack would have happily met the challenge if his mouth weren't already filling with fluid.

He tightened his lips to catch it, and Daniel went still on an upthrust, letting out a long whispery breath like an outcry with the voice forced out of it. After a few seconds, his hips sank down and his thighs relaxed. Jack followed with his head, still holding most of the load in his mouth, then pulled off carefully and swallowed, leaving the wet penis in the crease of Daniel's groin.

For a few seconds he stayed completely still, afraid to do anything to disturb Daniel's slide into sleep, just watched his breathing, watched for eye movement. Then Daniel said "Lie down" in a sleepy, scoldy slur, and so he rolled down onto his belly, head facing Daniel, cheek on the floor. Daniel's breathing evened out, and he inhaled a soft snore, mouth half open. Just sleep-open, not congestion-open; his antihistamines would have worn off by now, but the box must be scrubbing the air, because he hadn't gotten sneezy.

Selectively permeable prison walls. Wonders never did cease in this job. If the advanced-tech folks were still around somewhere, just leaving the nightmaremongers to do their thing, maybe Hammond could find the right button to push in the automated ambush system and talk to a supervisor.

Or maybe they couldn't sleep when they got here either, and all the stuff they built couldn't help with that, and they were gone.

Or maybe this was a sleep-suppression box, and it didn't matter who made it, and the only use these folks had for offworlders was as augury fodder, and there'd be no negotiating with them.

No way to get out of here, no way to find out.

We trust our people. We do what we can.

Daniel's eyeballs were darting around under the lids. No twitching, though. Maybe they were nice dreams.

Jack was just beginning to hope that Daniel had completely beaten the suppressor when Daniel opened his eyes, looked around blearily, blinked a few times, then focused on him.

Jack said, "Do you know that one of your nostrils is way bigger than the other?"

"How long did I sleep?"

"A solid twenty."

"That's it then. That's what we've got. Twenty minutes every ... however long it takes to get it up again." Daniel's arm twitched, probably an impulse to reach up and rub the sleep from his eyes. "I'll take this over brain damage or heart failure. But I feel worse than I did before."

"Think you can go again?"

"I wish. But not anytime soon."

"OK, me neither. Couple of hours, we'll try again."

Daniel tried to sit up, and fell back with a groan. "God, god, all I want to do is sleep."

Jack had felt refreshed. This was the other side of the coin.

This was when the torture started, when you started to feel like that.

Except that this was different from a bombardment of noise and strobe lights and buckets of water keeping you awake. Maybe, if sleep was dragging at Daniel like that, it was an indication that more sleep was possible. Jack had come bolt upright out of something like the night terrors he had when he was a kid, shot of adrenaline killing any hope of drowsiness. Maybe, if Daniel lay back and closed his eyes for a few more minutes ...

"OK, that's not happening," Daniel said. "Was that ten minutes?"

"Say what?" Jack said.

"Was that ten minutes," Daniel said. He was lying on his front. He'd just been lying on his back. "Shit, am I not speaking English? Te pregunté si han pasado -- No, it was definitely English."

"I just lost some time," Jack said. "You tried to sleep some more?"

Daniel rolled, pivoted, sat up. "Yeah." He'd winced through the movement, sore muscles and stiffness, but he was watching Jack carefully. "I said I'd give it a try, you said that was a good idea but I should roll over. You were right. I mean, it felt better changing -- God, what is it with P words? Position."

Jack tried to breathe through the vertigo. They both relied on his time sense. He'd expected it to go, but not this soon. Or maybe he'd been wrong all along, maybe it was already telescoping, maybe his mental points of reference were completely fucked.

"Then all we can do is go with the flow. It's not like it would help us plan for escape. We're here as long as we're here, whether we can measure it or not, right? It's OK, Jack."

Either he'd lost another chunk of conversation in which he'd actually participated without being aware of it, or this box came with a side order of telepathic powers. He rolled and wrenched himself up sitting. "Right," he said, focusing on his mouth, listening to himself. He looked at Daniel. "You said 'It's OK Jack' and I said 'Right,' right?"

"Yes," Daniel said. Then, "I think it's time for a shower for you."

"It's not time!" Jack burst out. "It's too soon, Daniel, it's been a day, even if I'm off by hours this is only the day after an all-nighter, we've pushed through way longer than this without sleep. I know this stuff, I've been through this. This isn't how it goes."

"Maybe this is how it goes when you force a power-nap under some heavy sleep suppression."

Jack jerked hard at his bonds, frustrated to hell with not being able to raise his arms. "I got a full night's sleep the night before last and you got four hours. You're losing a word here and there. I'm losing whole conversations."

"OK, first?" Daniel scooched closer, as if he'd been waiting for an opening to make this point. "We've been under a lot of different alien influences in the past few months, forget the aggregate of the past three years. You with me?"

"Months, years, mind whammies. Second?"

"Second, you were answering me. Holding up your end of the conversation. If you're zoning out, maybe your brain is resting the, the ... Dammit. The nonessential systems."

"Autopilot." Jack laughed, bitterly. "And shit like this is why I don't fly planes for the Air Force anymore." He glanced up. Daniel knew about the go pills, knew what he'd gone through getting off them, would probably connect the dots, but he added, just in case: "I just said no."

Daniel nodded. "But this is different. That's why it's different. And brains adapt to disability in amazing ways."

Daniel's thigh was warm where it had bumped up against his shin. Deliberate, Jack realized. The contact grounded him. "We're beating this thing, Daniel. I'm gonna be massively pissed if it backfires."

"I don't think it is backfiring. We might just have some unforeseen weirdness to deal with." He knocked his knee companionably against Jack's. "'Unforeseen,' get it?"

Jack laughed softly, shaking his head, not at the joke but at how stupid cute Daniel could be, and at himself for being charmed by it. The laugh was tired but genuine. He always felt better after he laughed, just not for long enough to make a difference.

"Hey," he said as he thought it, "nobody came busting in hollering about taboos."

"Or complaining about the snoring. I guess they're not monitoring." Daniel glanced at the wall they came in through, as if he'd maybe pinned some hope on getting booted, then looked resolutely back. "Shower? If I have to be awake I'd rather feel awake."

"You go," Jack said, although he kind of wished he wouldn't. "I'll just zone out here for a few."

It was more than a few. He didn't know how much more. The time it took Daniel to hobble to and from the alcove, the time it took for a couple of blasts of water and air, and then ... he didn't know. He worked on being OK with not knowing. He responded when Daniel felt like talking, less when Daniel was obviously talking to get him engaged with something. Sometimes Daniel backtracked, and he knew he'd been gone for a while. He worked on being OK with that too. As long as it didn't happen when he had to be in action, it actually was kind of OK. It was like fast-forwarding through time he didn't want to suffer through second-by-second anyway. In between was the time it took to drop a load, sore thigh muscles shaking because there was no goddamn rim around the waste slot, and get hosed down and blow-dried. The time it took to force down some slop to keep his strength up and stop his belly grumbling. The time it took to get himself up and over to the water trough.

The third time he thought he should get up and drink again and then didn't feel like bothering to get up and thought screw it, he became aware of himself doing it, and also became aware that nobody had been talking for a while. "Hey, Daniel." A disinterested grunt in response; he pushed himself over, pushed himself up onto his knees. "Daniel."

"What? I'm right here."

He was; he'd been staying close since it became obvious to both of them that physical contact kept Jack calm. Too calm, Jack thought; too early for learned helplessness, lethargy, depression, but this wasn't following the script, the script had gone down the waste slot however long ago a long time was. "It's nap time."

"We talked about this, remember? Male bonding over how much it sucks when you're only good for once in a night?"

"I'm sure you were humoring me, Doctor Still-in-his-thirties, and it's been long enough."

"It's been like an hour."

"It's been like three hours. Split the difference?"

They sixty-nined this time, for efficiency's sake and because there was nothing to test and no need to keep watch after. Jack's dick was as listless as he was, but Daniel was already firming again before they'd even gotten lined up right. If the back-and-forth slide of meaty cock in his mouth hadn't brought him up, or Daniel's tender lips and agile tongue, just the fact of Daniel's anticipatory arousal would have. It was all Daniel right from the start -- all Jack had to do was hold his head up and keep his hips still and let Daniel work -- and that twanged a cord deep in Jack's libido, the part of him that deeply craved just letting go and lying back and being fucked. His neck was killing him, and one arm was numb, and trussed up like this it felt like dolphin sex, but the harder Daniel fucked his mouth the harder he got, and he came whining through his nose, shaking, while Daniel applied the perfect suction to the head of his cock. Daniel went off before he was done, fast stuttering strokes through bursts of come, so it didn't matter that Jack couldn't say don't stop; and Daniel suckled through his orgasm, taking Jack's cock down in a helpless surging greedy gulp that pretty much blew Jack's mind with hotness. He whited out in a double-stimulation overload. When it passed, there was a period of stunned stillness and nose-breathing, then a sloppy, awkward disengagement, and then Daniel twisted his hips and pushed a thigh under Jack's head, and Jack didn't so much release himself to sleep as pass out with his face in Daniel's sac.

He woke up staring at the glowy floor, tilted over against Daniel, whose leg had pulled out from under him when he toppled onto his back. His face felt like a glazed doughnut. He licked at the dried come on his lips. Tasted good. No hint of coconut. Daniel snorted out of a snore, and cleared his throat. Jack rolled over and stared at the glowy ceiling and licked at the dried come on his chin.

"So, um," Daniel said, after a while. "Wow?"

"Wow," Jack said.

"You didn't mind the, at the ... ?"

"Icing, Daniel. Mind-blowing icing."

There was a short silence; then Daniel said, "Go again?"

They went again. And slept again. And went again, and there wasn't a hope in hell for Jack that time, but he un-mouthed Daniel's dick to say "Keep going anyway" because the gentle heat and wet and tongue felt as good as sex. Afterwards, too energized to close his eyes and shut down, he watched Daniel sleep, telling himself the flood of affection he felt was situational, hormonal, a by-product of the oxytocin war, not something he should worry about. He had the hots for everyone on his team, one way or another, and a fair number of support staff to boot -- that's how it was in a job like this, everybody felt it, everybody took it in stride -- and he had plenty of affection for Doctor Jackson, always had, when he wasn't driving him bugfuck in myriad and ever-evolving ways. Daniel woke up, and they spent a pleasurable few minutes or an hour making really, really sure that more orgasms weren't immediately available. Then they showered, ate, drank. Told jokes; played a few rounds of the System Lord's Snake, the SGC version of the Minister's Cat; switched to Six Degrees of George Hammond when Daniel got frustrated hitting word blocks. At a ratio of three naps to two, they tried to figure out how many more rounds it would be before Daniel caught up to him sleepwise, but basic algebra was a casualty of the general deficit. They played drinking games at the water trough until they were full, even though there was nothing juicy left to find out and they saw through each other's bullshit too easily to make bluffing a challenge.

It was pretty nice, as imprisonments went. As nice as it could be when they were too fried for thinking games, too wired to just stare at the walls, too worried that if they shut down they'd stay that way. They were holding the fort. They weren't much crankier than they ever were. Jack lost time, Daniel filled him in. Daniel lost words -- really lost them, couldn't come up with them for love or money, got pretty agitated about that even when Jack could supply the word -- and Jack said "Hit me in Spanish then, or Farsi," and Daniel lit up like a Christmas tree when the linguistic cross-wiring worked. That gave new life to the System Lord's Snake. They made spitballs out of rice mush and let them dry halfway and played sit-on-your-ass soccer until the spitballs fell apart. Jack taught Daniel his favorite bawdy songs, and Daniel improvised harmonies.

And god the sex was good. If the erections were a little slower developing, if it was taking a little more work to get off, well, that was bound to happen eventually, and on the bright side, every round lasted longer, and the challenge and the striving made it hotter. But the suppressor had time and physiology on its side. Jack had no access to the clock anymore, but he knew they were losing more ground than they gained. Daniel was still waking groggy and logy, more miserable every time, but sleeping well; Jack's naps had become twilit horror shows.

"I'm not sorry if that's it," Daniel said, the third time they tried and failed to get it up, after it turned out the slop didn't work as lube at all, and even rimming wasn't doing it anymore. "I didn't want to start hating this."

You're starting to hate this? a small, hurt, wordless voice said, deep in a part of Jack he didn't usually leave open like that. "We have to survive," he snapped. "We'll try again. In a while."

"You keep saying that."

"And we'll keep doing it, dammit."

"I mean you've said the same thing like five times in a row. I take it back, OK? I take it back already. Give me a fucking break."

Jack sat up. "OK, now you're gaslighting me."

"I'm what?"

"You are totally fucking gaslighting me. Stop it."

"I'm --Why would I do that?"

"I don't know, Daniel, why would you pretend to drink water instead of clearing your little experiment with me?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You keep me apprised. Of everything. Is that understood?"

"Are you talking about when we got here and we were trying to figure out -- "

"You ever treat your CO as a test subject again, you'll be off the mission roster indefinitely."

"Yes sir Colonel sir. I beg the colonel's fucking pardon for this thing I did god knows how many fucking days ago that I think made sense at the time but I can't defend because I'm a little fucking impaired right now."

Unmoved, expression military-flat, Jack repeated, "Is that understood."

"You're not my science project. Roger wilco. Loud and clear. And fuck you too."

Jack was on his feet. His voice was very quiet. "Crossing a line there, Doctor."

"Am I?" Daniel was right in his face. "You want to see how far over the line I can cross? You really want to test that?" His eyes were glassy-bright, his jaw cocked, his chin up, all stubborn righteous aggression, and the bruise on his forehead slid over and down his temple before snapping back into place like stretched elastic. He squinted hard at whatever he saw on Jack's face, then said, "What the hell are we doing," and turned away.

Somewhere just outside the walls, a phone was ringing. It had been ringing for a while.

"Shit," Jack said.

They apologized, after a while, stiffly. They drank a lot of water, in case it was dehydration, although they knew it wasn't. Jack rolled onto his side and curled up into the closest thing he could get to a ball. Friction anger faded into a deep, horrible lethargy. He'd take being pissed over this, but he didn't have the energy or motivation to start another fight.

The phone wouldn't stop ringing. He knew it wasn't real. That made it worse. He kept seeing movement out of the corners of his eyes, shadows in a room with no shadows, and hearing squeaks, like a door being eased open or a footfall on a loose board. It put him on alert every time it happened, priming him to react to things that weren't there. It ran him up against his own exhaustion, like a twitch in a floppy limb banging it into a wall, over and over again.

When the flock of giant scythe-winged bat-things came screeching through the wall on a low strafing run, he found out he could still flinch. Not real, he thought sluggishly, not real -- but he didn't know for sure they weren't; who was to say that with technology like this, they couldn't be using the screen to generate weapons-grade monstrosities? Maybe this all had nothing to do with prophecy and everything to do with arms production, and right before they took you out to the brain salon they unleashed some of the shit the last guy made, to prime the creative pump.

He closed his eyes, but he could feel their wings beating against the walls.

Daniel was oblivious, lying on his back in the middle of the floor. Jack said his name; no response. Jack knee-walked towards him, shrimped along the floor when he tripped over his own knees, got to his side. "Daniel," he said. He couldn't touch him, shake him; he pressed up against him, pushed his face against his scruffy cheek.

"You were gone," Daniel said. The words were slurred. He sounded drunk in a way he never sounded when he was drunk.

"I was right there."

"I called you."

A deep foreboding went through Jack like a chill, coldly real, no paranoid delusion. He pushed closer. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I must have zoned out."

"I tried to find you. I was worried."

"I was right there," Jack said helplessly, knowing what he was going to hear, having to ask anyway. "You couldn't see me?"

"No," Daniel said. "I went all around the walls. I thought they took you. I did the middle. There's a word. Like a grid. I thought I did it all."

"Can you see me now?" He lifted his head, pulled it back a little to look at Daniel's face.

"Not really. It's OK. You're OK. They didn't take you?"

"Nobody took me. I was right here."

Daniel frowned. "Your heart's beating really fast."

"Yeah," Jack said.

"That's not good."

Jack nuzzled his cheekbone, up over the beard growth. "Does this feel good?"

"Of course."

Tip of his nose around the curve of Daniel's ear. "How 'bout this?"

"That's nice."

Jack kissed the soft skin behind his sideburn, kissed down to his neck, and Daniel rolled his head to give better access, making a low, pleased sound. Jack ran his lips lightly down the long tendon, across the collarbone, down the sternum. Kissed across to the nearer nipple. "This feel good too?"

"I know what you're doing."

"I know what I'm doing too." He breathed over the nipple, brushed his mouth around it, slow and easy, circling.

"Won't help. Too late. Blurred vision. ... Oh."

"Good, right?" Jack said into his skin, nuzzling into the side of his pec.

"Yeah." Just a whispered response, but the nipple was coming up hard, and his skin was prickling, and he was pushing closer to Jack. There might be one more chance. A way to carve one last chunk of sleep from this big box of no.

He kissed the nipple. Touched it with the tip of his tongue. Licked, in a long, slow, wet circle, around it.

Daniel moaned. It was half pleasure and half despair.

All they'd done was suck each other up. Sometimes sweetly, yeah, gently, yeah, but all focused on one area, and all focused on just sex. Why the fuck I didn't think to make love to you before I don't know, but it's not too late. I'm not gonna let it be too late. It was cavalry time, the beard growth proved it, and in a couple-few hours when they busted in here they weren't going to find Daniel in a coma.

He kissed across to the other nipple, lipped it softly; kissed up the other side, around the ear, across the cheek. Kissed Daniel's eyes closed, and stroked Daniel's face with his face. When he brushed his lips over Daniel's mouth, Daniel's back arched, and this time his moan was hoarse and sexual and yearning. Jack touched his mouth softly to Daniel's parted lips, and gently opened him up, and found his tongue. He could feel the flush of desire through Daniel's body. He could feel the swell of an erection against his thigh.

He started down.

"No no no," Daniel said, lifting his head.

"Too soon?" Jack said, low and easy, his heart hammering in his chest.

"Too far," Daniel said. "Get on top. Can you get on top?"

The distrustful paranoid track that the chemical deficit had carved in Jack's head said that Daniel was going to get stubborn and insist that Jack try to come with him, and that was fine in a sixty-nine but it was all Jack could do right now to move, he was not going to rub himself hard humping anything, even Daniel. Just let me do this, dammit, he thought -- but he understood what Daniel was asking. He wanted skin against his skin. He wanted weight and breath and heartbeat. He wanted the whole body, not just a mouth around his dick. They got lost in their heads, unmoored in this timeless shadowless space, and Daniel couldn't see him. If he went down on Daniel, he didn't know where Daniel would go.

They'd only ever been OK when they were next to each other, touching. He wouldn't leave Daniel on his own again.

He got on top. It took strength he couldn't spare and coordination he didn't have, angling his torso across Daniel's and levering his pelvis over, and by the time he'd straddled Daniel's legs it felt like he was crushing the breath out of him with his chest, but exhaustion hadn't made Daniel any less big and solid than he was. He had plenty of air to breathe "Oh god" when Jack eased his hips down into Daniel's hips and their genitals touched. "Oh, god. Jack."

The hard-on was still hard. Jack bent his shins up some more, hooked his feet under Daniel's calves, got his own knees planted; got his forehead planted, face smushed down between Daniel's neck and shoulder and the blinding floor. He got the leverage to move his hips, and tried to shift his package so he was rubbing abs against the hard-on. The shifting slide sent a shudder of arousal through Daniel's body. Daniel tried to tilt his hips up into it, and made a broken, demanding, affirmative sound.

My turn for rug burn, Jack thought, and started thrusting.

Slow and sultry at first, his back screaming, his thighs burning, breathing his own breath in the humid space his face was jammed into, neck straining as he tried to leverage more upward pull from his chin. The more whole-body motion he put into it, the more voiced Daniel's huffing sounds got. He couldn't hold his weight up, started letting more of it down, and Daniel's groans got deep and chesty and his body went tense with straining to push into the thrusts.

Jack's muscles gave way. He sank into Daniel, full weight, nothing left to give but the roll of his hips, the primal motion of sex. He ground his cock and balls into Daniel's, hot and sticky and squishy and raw, hanging balls tugging and bouncing against marble hardness, limp dick bent against rigid shaft, rolling and rubbing. With the weight off his neck he was able to lift his head enough to drag in some fresh air, and he breathed it out into Daniel's ear, saying, "Come on. Come on, baby. Fuck me. Come for me."

Daniel spasmed into orgasm. He cried out sharply several times, and while it lasted, that beautiful sound was all Jack could hear. When Daniel went limp, passing into an unconsciousness that Jack could only hope had some quality of sleep, Jack used his last ounce of strength to shift to the side, give some weight relief, let him breathe.

The little juice he'd gotten from vicarious arousal and the drive to complete a critical task ebbed away. He just lay where he was, slumped half across Daniel, Daniel's warm skin the only thing left that didn't hurt in the unbearable white universe, while the box creaked and moaned and the wings beat against the walls and the phone rang, and rang, and rang.

> > >

Rough, harsh hands, dragging at him, slipping, catching, hauling him up sitting. Angry voices, arguing. Not rescue. Attack. He snarled and twisted, fighting the handling, but he was too weak, too heavy. Daniel's leg against his leg, still there at his nine o'clock. He reacted to motion cues from the air and the visual blur and got his teeth into something fleshy. It flung him off but he took some skin and hair with him. Piece of an arm, he thought, spitting it out. Trying for a piece of the hand that cuffed him in return, laid his cheekbone open but didn't retract fast enough, nearly got a finger. Then that whining hum, and paralysis, and a shove on his chest knocking him flat, head whacking the floor hard. Only him, though; he felt and heard them rousting Daniel out of sleep, slurred protest, his name, and Daniel saying some words in what sounded like the local language; angry surprise in the pissed-off voices, more debate.

It was so clear that even his impaired brain could put it together. They'd come in to haul them away for their scheduled stint under the hoods, and found Daniel sound asleep and Jack dangerously functional, not the drooling lumps of sleepless delusional putty they were supposed to be, and now they were arguing about what to do.

I won, you motherfucking pieces of shit, Jack yelled from inside his immobilized body. I beat your goddamn box. I got him to sleep. Now take me. Take me. Take me.

No more biting, no more fighting. The second they unzapped him he'd be frothing at the mouth and gibbering to beat the band. He didn't need to be hallucinating to give them a Jumbotron horror show. Stick my head in that thing and I'll show you shit so sick you'll never sleep again. All the bloody entrails your tiny hearts desire. Just take me. Take me. Take me.

Nobody took him. Nobody took Daniel; he'd have felt the bouncing, seen the blur of movement. He heard argument, peevish resignation, consensus. His heartbeat sped up; he might be imagining all this, and if he wasn't, they might have just concluded that the best thing for it was to put the defective stock down.

Then the hellish white glow, which was all he could still see through the blur of his fucked-up vision and tearing paralyzed eyes, dimmed and turned green -- the soothing green of deep summer woods -- and a wash of sweet relief through his tortured brain carried him off like the tide.

When he came around, he could see, and think, and move his sore, aching arms within the restraints, more or less; and his legs were free; and Daniel was beside him on the bed of the jouncing transport, watching him through red-rimmed, swollen eyes, gaze clear and alert. Handlers sat quietly to either side. Different handlers. They looked bored.

"It was the box?" Jack said.

"Seems that way."

"Didn't undo the wear and tear." He felt like he'd been through the spin cycle a couple of times. A few times. He could use an antacid. And some Dramamine. And an aspirin. And an ice pack for his cheekbone. But his head was clear.

"It only seems to have adjusted our brain chemistry," Daniel said. "But again. Not my field."

Jack had just enough time to start speculating about what fresh hell they might be heading for and how much this trip would complicate the rescue effort when the transport stopped, backed up, pulled forward, backed up again, stopped, and stayed stopped. Someone outside yanked the doors open, and there was the stargate, and there was the MALP, past a uniform holding a paralyzer module pointed at them.

The handlers opened the armbands and wristbands with some kind of tool, then backed off. The uniform with the paralyzer made a come-on-out gesture. They got out, struggling and slow, not much help to each other when any attempt to reach up or out with their arms brought excruciating pain. The uniform backed up. They stumbled forward. Jack went to one knee in the packed dirt, painfully. Visions of execution swam in his head, the two of them held here until the next time the SGC dialed in, their deaths a warning display for the MALP camera, even though it made no sense to run the box through a restore cycle only to grease them anyway.

Still fucking freezing out here.

The handlers in the transport tossed two bundles down. The doors slammed closed and the vehicle motored away, leaving them in the center of the ambush ground, covered by the uniform with the paralyzer, surrounded at a distance by other uniforms securing the periphery, sighting down the barrels of tube weapons with attached power packs.

Free to go.

Jack twisted to look around at the DHD, trying to think of where they could dial that wouldn't put some population at risk of raiding parties or expose the address of a potential alpha site. A guy in dusty brown leather was huddled at the base of it, facing the gate. He regarded Jack with no interest. It was Chair Guy, the other captive.

"No weapons, unsurprisingly," Daniel said, "but our GDOs are here." He'd knelt down to open one of the bundles. Jack saw boots, BDUs, his cap. Daniel reached in, slow and stiff, and came up with something in his hand. Opened his fingers. Jack's tags.

Jack dug around in the closer bundle and traded Daniel his glasses for them. There was a moment when their hands touched, a graze of glances; then tags and glasses went back on.

They dressed as fast as they could, which was not very fast. T-shirts were impossible; they made do with jackets zipped all the way up. Empty tac vests, no holster belts. Daniel suggested a destination, Jack approved it. Jack stood in front of Chair Guy while Daniel went around to dial.

"Wanna come with?"

Chair Guy looked up at him, then looked back at the gate. A wince rippled around his eyes, pain or sadness. He didn't move, or speak.

"He might not know his address," Daniel said.

"We know it."

"Yeah, but we can't send him back there."

Jack would enjoy sending some of the rest of these folks there, but not enough to risk their technology falling into snakey hands. "Can you talk to him?"

"Nope. Cartelli should be able to."

"Go ahead and dial," Jack said, and, in an act of supreme heroism, reached an arm out to offer the guy from 421 a hand up.

Two wormholes later, they came out onto the gate ramp with the MALP trundling ahead of them and Geraj sandwiched between them, to find a gaggle of engineers apparently on stand-down around a UAV up on its mount.

The UAV was bristling with weapons.

"Little drone action planned there, General?"

"Planned, but happily unnecessary," Hammond said, moving them with a shift of weight and stance into the hands of waiting medics. "Doctor Jackson, Doctor Cartelli is on his way down as you requested. Welcome home, gentlemen. I'll await Medical's recommendation on whether to delay the debrief or not."

Jack's recommendation was that they leave that UAV weaponized and bury those nice people's gate for them. No Goa'uld getting hold of the tech, no other travelers getting nabbed and boxed. Higher wanted them to keep negotiating; Hammond and Koh had been negotiating with a brick wall for the past four days, and Hammond wanted to lock the address out of the dialing computer. Given the loss of the reconnaissance UAV, higher saw no gain in sacrificing another expensive piece of hardware in what amounted to meddling with an extraterrestrial culture. Daniel said, "Are you sure it was the Pentagon you were talking to?"

CTs and CBCs and MRIs and every other alphabetical thing in the infirmary said that he and Daniel checked out normal -- bruises, chafing, strains, fatigue, nothing that vitamins and a few days' rest wouldn't fix, and Jack's cheekbone didn't even need sutures -- except that Jack showed some residual energy from the paralyzer effect. This seemed to come as no surprise to Fraiser. As it turned out -- no surprise to Jack -- Teal'c had made a few runs at the place, behind flashbangs and tear gas, in an EMP-shielded radiation suit, everything anybody could think of. The zappers got him every time, and Junior couldn't override the effect. They also sent him on his way every time; the first look they got at his symbiote pouch, Koh translated what they said as "See? See? As the prophecy foretold!" Which Daniel said was probably the image of a Jaffa projected onto the screen from Geraj's mind, since he came from a Goa'uld-dominated planet. Teal'c came back emitting that low-level energy, and Hammond put the kibosh on manned assaults until they had some better shielding. The science department had nothing to go on but the MALP footage and that energy reading, but they'd been working 'round the clock. Carter had gone pretty short on sleep herself the past four days. Hammond had confined both her and Teal'c to quarters with orders to rest, which was why they weren't there to greet Daniel and him at the gate.

He expected the same, but by the end of the initial debriefing, the energy had dissipated. Fraiser released them, and Hammond told them to go home.

It was the middle of the afternoon. They'd been offworld for a hundred hours.

They picked up a pizza with three meat toppings and ate it at Jack's dining table, swigging caffeine-free cola from ten-ounce bottles, some mellow jazz on the living-room stereo. "It's like Urgo," Daniel said, laughing, and Jack smiled and grunted an affirmative. The golden sunshine pouring through the windows, the colors and motion out in the garden, the twining rhythms and harmonies of the music, the sugary bubbly drinks, the taste and texture of the food -- everything was hyperreal and marvelous. They took that into bed with them, sliding into the enfolding comfort of bedcovers, wrapped in each other's limbs and the sounds of a normal world -- cars and trucks out on the road, planes overhead, birds outside the windows, the ticking pendulum of the cuckoo clock down the hall. They slept for nine hours straight; got up in late evening to pee, get a drink of water, pop some ibuprofen, check the dressing on Jack's face; went back to sleep.

When Jack woke up again, a little past one, Daniel was already awake, lying quietly half underneath him, idly stroking his hair. Jack reached across to the nightstand, pulled the cord on the lamp, and grabbed Daniel the book he'd been reading himself to sleep with back before the mission to 884. "This OK?" Jack said. It was Citizen Soldiers, a Second World War book, popular history from a couple of years ago.

Daniel smiled like the sun rising. He'd really missed reading.

Jack tucked up against him and dozed in the soft warm light. Daniel inhaled most of the book in about an hour and a half. When he'd read his fill, he traded the book for the bottle of Astroglide, tugged the light off, and offered Jack the bottle.

Jack gestured you keep it and rolled onto his back in the middle of the bed, dragging his pillow over under his head. "OK?"

"Mm-hm," Daniel said, soft warm smile in the darkness, and moved into the space Jack made for him between his legs.

Daniel opened him up slowly, exploring with light, silky fingers, both of them awed by the wonder of doing this unbound. Daniel fucked him even more slowly than that, rocking deep inside him while he lay back with his thighs in his hands and his eyes closed and floated on swells of ecstasy, safe and comfortable in his bed, safe and comfortable in his head, no terror of getting lost in the darkness behind his eyelids. Fraiser had given them both some analgesic cream, but neither of them had put any on yet, because, this; Daniel stroked it onto his penis when he was getting ready to come, and the soreness had felt kind of good as he hardened, a little zing of extra stimulation he didn't mind, but the soothing of the soreness was nirvana. He came in a sweet, clenching spasm around the meaty thickness of Daniel's dick, Daniel stroking his shaft with one hand and swirling cream around his cockhead with the other.

"Can I stay in you?" Daniel said quietly, scooping his thighs up for him so that he could completely relax.

"Come in me," Jack said, craving the feel of it. "Deep as you can. Hard as you want."

Daniel leaned into his legs and stroked long and slow and slick for a long time, pausing once to re-lube, drawing it out as much as he could. Then he gave a series of short, stabbing thrusts, a deep, straining push, and climaxed with a groan, clutching Jack's thighs, bent over Jack's chest, looking into Jack's eyes. Jack smiled through his own wincing pleasure -- vexing, argumentative Daniel was angelically beautiful in orgasm -- and when he could move his face again Daniel smiled back. The smiles bounced off each other, got bigger; they were laughing by the time Daniel collected himself to withdraw, and Jack's laughter pushed him halfway out before he'd even started to pull. That made Daniel laugh harder, and the only reason they weren't still laughing when they'd gotten the covers untangled and their bodies comfortably horizontal was that nobody had any breath left. But the smiles stayed for a long time.

Being awake to enjoy the afterglow was a priceless luxury. No objective, no demands. Just pleasure, touch, presence; warm skin, soft blankets, the nodding leafshadow cast on the eggshell walls by the property lights outside. They drifted on contentment, breathing, stroking. After a while, they drowsed a little, and woke, and drowsed again, and every waking was better than the sweetest dream, and they could sleep again, sure that when they woke it would be to this.

Finally, around five, when the sky was starting to think about getting light, Daniel took Jack's chin in a firm grip and kissed him, very deeply, for a long time, making love to him with his tongue, his lips; then drew softly back, and swallowed, and said, "So, I should go."

"Yeah," Jack said. His hand tightened on Daniel's ribs. He untightened it. That was hard. "I know."

"This isn't some situational, you know, thing, because of the thing."

Jack smiled at what sounded like sleep-dep aphasia but was just the way they always talked about stuff like this, the ordinary halfspeech that was their private language. "I know," he said. "It's real." He rubbed Daniel's warm, sleep-soft skin, palming it open-hand, not closing his fingers. "I know that's why."

On the powderkeg crazy front line of planetary defense and interstellar conflict, American military rules about sexual conduct were just ... irrelevant. There'd never been so much as a lovers' spat among SG unit personnel, the command's incidence of sexual assault and sexual harassment was zero, and orientation was just another datapoint. But they had a responsibility to supervise themselves. To recognize when their personal lives were headed in a direction likely to compromise their effectiveness in an already impossible job.

It would be like needing to sleep, needing Daniel, wanting Daniel, wanting to be where they were right now. And what they had to do out there, they had to be awake for. Jack had to find a way of keeping this planet safe. Daniel had to find the harcesis, keep his promise, keep helping Jack look for a way to keep the planet safe. It would be torture, not renewal, coming home to this and then having to go back to that. Good sex, pleasant company, that would have been great. That's what he would have expected, if he'd thought, a week ago, about what things might be like if he and Daniel ever actually tried hooking up.

This was way, way more than that.

Daniel rose, dressed; Jack got up too, threw on some sweats, went to see him to the door. Daniel put his hand on the knob, then turned and gripped him in a crushing hug. Jack thought the muscle in Daniel's arms might be the only thing keeping his heart from cracking apart.

"It's not forever," Daniel said. His voice broke on the last word.

"Nope," Jack agreed. "But it will be, if and when."

"If you don't find someone else. Someone ... "

"Easier?" Jack laughed. It helped, a little. "I meant if we live." He drew back, cupped Daniel's cheek. "The beard was nice. You should give that a shot again one of these days."

"One of these days," Daniel said, smiling, holding his gaze with well-rested, red-rimmed eyes. "Promise."

Jack watched him get into his car, back into a K turn, head up the drive. Then he turned the hall light off, went back to bed, and fell asleep looking out at the porch light shining softly in the rose glow of dawn.