A delicious, appetizing smell floated through Daniel’s apartment. Stewed onions, fresh oregano and basil were tickling Sam’s taste buds. She inhaled deeply and thought about a summer in Italy. Not that she’d ever been there, but in her imagination Rome or Venice should smell just like Daniel’s kitchen right now. To complete the attack on her olfactory sense, there was the aroma of fresh bread that was currently baking in the oven.
Sam felt herself salivating.
Leaning against the counter, she watched Daniel cooking and puttering around. “Well,” she said as she passed Daniel the pepper mill and regarded with fascination how generously he added more herbs and spices that you would never find in her kitchen to the onion soup. “I think we’re nearly finished.”
“We are,” Daniel answered with a twinkle in his eyes and only a light sarcastic stress of the word ‘we’.
“Hey! I helped you chop all of these damned onions, didn’t I? Here’s two tear-stained handkerchiefs to prove it!” She bumped against his shoulder but paid attention to the spices in his hand so they didn’t fall into the soup.
Daniel laughed. “You’ve been a lot of help to me. And without complaining, I have to admit.” He stirred the soup once more vigorously. “We can call it ‘à la Samantha’ if you insist.”
Sam sighed. “No, no. I’m only your ... minion. You are the ‘chef de cuisine’. Your ideas and your creativity are in this menu.”
And she was right. Daniel loved cooking and experimenting with food while she hadn’t enough fantasy to create culinary tasty morsels. And perhaps lacking fantasy or having more than enough of it was the reason why he was the author and she was his agent.
“Do you think Rodney will be here in time?” she asked. She took a teaspoon from the drawer to try Daniel’s newest creation.
“If there’s going to be something to eat he’ll even be uber-punctual,” Daniel smirked.
Rodney McKay was Daniel’s publisher and editor. He had ‘discovered’ Daniel and won him for his publishing house three years ago. Besides their professional relationship they also met from time to time in private because Daniel was one of the few people who weren’t put off by Rodney’s sarcasm that sometimes bordered on rudeness. Daniel took Rodney at face value and didn’t take every word he said with a pinch of salt. If he was fed up with Rodney he just left without a word. Rodney then would sulk, but only for one or two days. He would dismiss their dispute and afterwards their teamwork continued just fine – until the next confrontation.
Rodney’s and Samantha’s relationship was a bit more difficult. As long as Sam was the agent and Rodney the publisher of the same author everything went smoothly. But if Sam’s authors were successful for other publishing houses, he picked them to pieces even in the presence of Sam.
Furthermore, Rodney had been in a hate-love relationship with Samantha ever since they’d both come to the Greater Denver area as their place of employment. He had had a crush on her at first sight. Tall, blond and intelligent, she was everything he admired in a woman. He had tried to get more personal with her, but she had rejected his advances; at first subtly, then, when he insisted and didn’t take a no for a no, with some harsh words and a lot of yelling on Rodney’s part. Afterwards there had been a total lack of communication for a few months and they had only talked to each other through their authors which had been a very unhappy situation for all involved. But gradually the situation had ameliorated.
Around a year ago Rodney had totally stopped making advances and their professional affiliation had improved tremendously. From time to time he still gave her long looks but Sam was convinced that these looks were more critical than pining. She suspected he had a new love interest and this was a sort of... comparison. They still engaged easily in heated arguments because both of them were very strong willed and stubborn, but Rodney wasn’t embarrassingly attentive any more and didn’t put his foot in his mouth whenever he talked to her.
Their official relationship had improved so much they were able to have dinner together, all three of them. They were going to discuss the upcoming ad campaign that would accompany the publication of Daniel’s latest book: “Gods from the Frost – Asgard and its influence on Nordic Mythology”. They had agreed on this title only after heated debates during more than one nightshift. The advertisement strategy behind this title was simple: The first part of the title should appeal to the masses and evoke popular scientific associations. The second part underlined Dr. Jackson’s claim on scientific research and serious historical arguments. This was a combination that had already worked for “Gods from the Desert – The Pharaohs and their influence on Ancient Egypt”; a surprise success which had been for months on the top of the bestseller lists for non-fiction books. It was still, after two years, among the top ten. They were hoping to repeat the success with Daniel’s newest work.
Sam blew on the spoon with the steaming soup until she judged it cool enough. She tried it carefully with the tip of her tongue. “Oh for Pete’s sake!” Sam coughed and nearly spat the soup into the sink. “Daniel! You have to add some water or cream or McKay will complain the whole evening that you’re trying to kill him!” She waved her hand in front of her mouth to indicate how hot the soup – figuratively and literally – was.
“When it’s ready I’ll add sour cream,” Daniel promised. Opening the door of the oven he took out the hot baguettes and put them on a wooden cutting board. “Here, please take the bread and ...”
The bell rang and Sam said, “I’ll answer it.” She put the baguette on the dinner table then went to open the door. Daniel heard that it was Rodney McKay, complaining loudly about the traffic, the idiots who had won their drivers licences in the lottery, and the rain which, please, could have started an hour later.
Sam answered soothingly and Rodney continued to whine about truckers, Porsche drivers, bikers, pedestrians – in short, everyone who dared using the streets when he was there.
Both of them entered the kitchen.
“Hi, Rodney. Nice to see that you’re still alive.”
Rodney grunted and pulled a bottle of red wine from a brown paper bag. He read the label once more, then he told Daniel, “It’s a French speciality and the bottle cost me a fortune.” For a second he looked as if he would prefer to keep it to himself but in the end he gave it to Daniel.
“Thanks, Rodney,” Daniel answered, biting back a grin. “I really appreciate it.” He studied the label and nodded approvingly. “Have a seat. Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”
Rodney and Sam took their places at the dinner table and Rodney gave a short lecture on French wines. At the same time he started munching on the baguette so that he was talking with his mouth full.
Daniel brought the onion soup, which was edible now thanks to the generous amounts of sour cream he had poured into it. The melted cheese on the toast was perfect and it smelled delectable.
Rodney was always very sparse with compliments therefore Daniel knew that Rodney’s “not too bad” was high praise. The nearly obscene sounds Rodney made while he was chewing on the tender sirloin steak with warm potato salad and homemade tomato sauce were indication enough that he also liked the main course.
They talked about the upcoming election of the mayor of Denver and made fun of some of the candidates. They tore apart the new, totally over-estimated film version of a classical novel they all loved, and only after the second helping of chocolate mousse did they start talking business.
Samantha bitched about a very bad manuscript somebody had sent her. “The author – and I use this word in regard to him with the utmost reluctance – calls it an `innovative new way of story-telling´. I call it incompetence. Hundreds of mistakes, extremely slow paced, no plot, no believable or likeable characters and ... no beautiful vampires,” she finished with a derisive smirk.
Rodney complained about two big booksellers who tried to dictate their prices and thus reduce his profit. “I’m really thinking about not working with ‘Zelenka’s Cheap Books’ anymore.”
Daniel wasn’t very happy with the alternate covers for the European market; he didn’t like the font.
“We can still change that,” Rodney promised. “Exportation abroad only starts in eight weeks, enough time for a new cover. Send me a short e-mail and I’ll forward it.”
Then they spoke about the campaign for Daniel’s book. All three of them had put a lot of effort into it during the last weeks. They compared their lists with the dates for the interviews and readings, not only in bookstores but also at two universities. They spoke about the promotional photos which were lovely and the autographing sessions scheduled in some of the big stores and shopping malls.
Daniel didn’t like this part of his job very much. His patience was often put to the test when reporters always asked the same, or even worse, the dumbest questions. Sometimes there were quarrels with self-appointed experts who believed they knew everything better than Daniel, even if he was able to name his sources and they weren’t. Daniel preferred writing, analyzing documents and records and chasing after rare scrolls because he needed them to prove his theories. He liked to talk to people because sometimes the oral tradition was even more exciting than old papers. But he knew that concentrating only on these aspects wasn’t the way bestsellers were made today. He knew that it was necessary to nurse the contact with his readers and the press, to sell himself as attractively as possible. Today, a good marketing strategy was nearly as important as the book itself.
As always, Sam had done an excellent job and all the press releases and invitations were on their way. With her usual accuracy she had booked flights and hotels and organized every detail of the three week promotional tour. She could be as pedantic as Rodney, and in the end there remained no question unanswered. Daniel was enthusiastic and told her so with a little hug. “Perfect!”
Rodney managed a, “Not too bad”.
To conclude the business part, Daniel made an espresso for himself, cappuccino for Rodney and latte macchiato for Sam. This obscenely expensive coffee maker had been the first thing he had bought with the money from his book. Its glittering chrome – among other things – showed him every day why he wrote.
When he returned from the kitchen, Rodney mentioned, “Sam told me that two weeks ago you received a couple of very strange letters? You... ”
Daniel interrupted him with a dismissive wave of his hand and added more sugar to his tiny cup. “Ah, nothing to take seriously. You know, the usual crap. A pining, female fan who wants to marry me and have my children and in the next letter she complains bitterly that I didn’t answer the first one. She went on with some threats saying that something horrible will happen to me if I don’t treat her seriously, or if I don’t contribute with her to the continued existence of mankind – that and similar nonsense.” Daniel sipped on his espresso.
“Don’t be so nonchalant about it and don’t say it’s not dangerous if you don’t know for sure.” Rodney shook his head. “You can’t be too careful. Show me the letters.”
“They’re on my desk.” Daniel indicated the direction of his office with his thumb, showing over his shoulder to the left.
“Then go get them! Chop, chop!” Rodney made a shooing movement with his right hand.
Daniel ground his teeth. He hated it when Rodney treated people without regard and respect – and didn’t even notice it. He was an excellent publisher with a wonderful sense of what people wanted to read. He often found the most promising authors and gave them the best marketing possible. But you had to be really thick-skinned to work with him and never take anything personally. Authors and agents alike, Daniel thought when he gave Sam a quick glance.
“I’ll bring them along when I grab the Grappa,” he promised as diplomatically as possible.
Fortunately, after a second of frowning, Rodney accepted the compromise with a tight-lipped, “Okay, fine.”
Ten minutes later, Daniel distributed three Grappa glasses and threw four letters in front of Rodney.
“Four?” Sam exclaimed totally surprised.
“There were two more in the mail; one yesterday and one this morning.” He shrugged.
Rodney grabbed two letters, Sam the two letters she hadn’t seen yet, and they started reading.
“But this is disgusting! Look at all these mean accusations, saying that you have no talent, that your books are boring, and that you write only for the masses with no regard to quality. They – whoever they are – call you a liar and a charlatan, and they hope you’ll rot in hell. And it goes on and on like that!” Sam put the letter down and gave Daniel a sad look. “This is so nasty. Their wording is so mean.”
“But Sam, they compare me to the traitorous Seth himself – that means whoever wrote this letter must at least have read my first book.” Daniel patted her hand soothingly.
“We have to do something. We should call the police,” she declared, poking the sheet of paper angrily with her index finger.
“We have to,” Rodney confirmed in rare harmony with Carter, and took the letter she was still holding in her hand from her so he could also read it.
“No.” Daniel shook his head vigorously. “We will not give these ... weirdoes a platform. That’s what they want. That’s the way they know how powerful they are. And I won’t give them the satisfaction. We will not cancel my public appearances and we will not involve the police.”
“Daniel, when it was only the two letters, I agreed with you. Obviously, they were written by a harmless nutcase. They ...”
“Harmless?” Rodney’s voice nearly cracked. “She wants to have sex with Daniel! You can read between the lines that she will even force him to reach her goal. In my opinion that isn’t harmless. That is as un-harmless as it gets. And you ... you two are so ... tough! Not calling the police, not informing anybody,” he remarked sarcastically. “This ... person speaks about forcing and killing Daniel, if he doesn’t do what she came up with in her sick brain!”
“Yes, she does,” Daniel answered. “But look, her sentences are totally twisted and there are a lot of mistakes; she starts with an argument and then loses her train of thought. She doesn’t finish her threats, she contradicts herself. And she even signs the letters with “Hathor” – the Egyptian goddess of love and fertility. Tell me, how seriously should I take her? I’m sure she doesn’t have the ability to plan anything through. She wants attention, writing that letter and sending it is already enough for her. ”
“And the letters you received this morning?” Rodney didn’t yield.
“They are different,” Daniel admitted. “They are formulated in a very distinct, emotionless way. They were very vague with their threats, not giving any details, and the writer is only threatening me with something abstract as “hell” – but they sound much more fanatic. He’s a zealot – and those are always dangerous.”
Rodney took one of the letters again, Sam the other and Daniel played with his spoon, watching them. He was worried, very, because it was the first time somebody threatened him in this way. But if he admitted his worries to Sam she would try to transform all those bookshops and lecture halls into fortresses. It was better to pretend nonchalance and not let see her how the accusations and the spiteful tone of the new letters had affected him.
For a moment the three of them sat in silence, pondering the situation, then the discussion started anew. In Rodney’s opinion the best thing they could do was to call the police. Just to make sure. After all, why did he pay that impressive amount of taxes each month with a portion of it going to the police? Now it was their turn to help him.
Daniel was against calling the police. In his opinion that was an exaggerated response because he couldn’t really imagine that somebody would try to kill the semi-famous author of popular scientific non-fiction books. “Of course I know that the written word is a power to reckon with. But I don’t spread subversive theories in my books or call for revolution. The people I write about have been dead for thousands of years. I think you overestimate those letters.”
Sam was torn. On the one hand she didn’t want to dramatize the whole affair and call off the ad campaign she had invested so much time in. On the other hand she would never forgive herself if something happened to Daniel because they had been too lax. “I think it would be best to hire two or three people who watch the public during the readings and protect Daniel while he’s signing the books. I’ll also speak to the managers of the bookshops and inform the person in charge at the university.” Sam looked from one man to the other.
“I hope that’s enough,” Rodney answered grimly. “Because I can’t imagine what a bookshop sales assistant can do against a fanatic. And besides... I...” Rodney trailed off. Suddenly he got a pensive look, snapped his fingers and beamed. “I have a great idea! The best! We’ll need a bodyguard! We engage somebody who’s only responsible for your security.”
Sam got big eyed and Daniel laughed. “I can’t afford a bodyguard with the percentage you’re paying me. I don’t know the sales numbers you’re expecting from the next book, but I can tell you it won’t be enough to cover the fees for that kind of protection. At least not someone who is really good, and does more than stand around nervously beside me playing with his gun so that nobody dares to ask for a signed copy.”
But now Rodney was a man on a mission and shrugged off Daniel’s objections. “Rubbish!” He closed his eyes, massaged the bridge of his nose and proclaimed triumphantly, “We’ll make this part of our advertisement campaign. ‘Brave Dr. Jackson fights for his conviction and not even deadly threats can prevent him from speaking the truth.’ I can already see the headlines. People will love it! It promises action and suspense for the dull book market.”
“But Rodney, we are speaking about Daniel here!”
“Exactly! Our young, courageous, unrelenting author.” Rodney underlined every adjective with a shake of his clenched fist. He said to Daniel, “It’s an advantage you’re easy on the eye and your female fans love you. Now the real kicker: we’ll engage a good-looking bodyguard that follows you wherever you go ... somebody like ... like ... George Clooney. What do you think? It will work marvellously! Everybody will be always be reminded how dangerous your job is. I’m sure that will send our sales figures rocketing upwards.” Rodney rubbed his hands in anticipation.
“But Rodney,” Daniel tried to stop his enthusiastic publisher. He didn’t like this idea and most certainly he didn’t feel like running around with a babysitter for the next three weeks. But that wasn’t an argument Rodney would accept so he came back to the monetary question. “I still don’t have the money to pay a ...”
“Wait, wait!” Rodney raised his hand. “No problem. Suddenly the perfect solution popped into my mind. Our publishing company will pay for the bodyguard. Cheyenne Mountain Press can set him off against the tax liability. This isn’t as bad as I thought originally.”
“Thanks a bunch, Rodney. I’m glad that you’re pleased I got these threatening letters,” Daniel said with a sigh.
“I’m far from being pleased, but I see how we can use an unfortunate situation to our advantage.”
“Rodney.” Daniel tried to dampen McKay’s enthusiasm. “We won’t find somebody acceptable overnight. And this whole bodyguard business will discourage people to come to the lectures and ...”
“Nonsense. Nobody will be discouraged. Why do you think there are thousands of people watching noisy, stinking car races that are hazardous to their health? Huh? Well, they hope that something terrible will happen and they are eye witnesses. It isn’t any different in your case.”
For a moment Daniel was totally shocked by McKay’s cold cynicism.
McKay profited from that and rose from the table. “Okay. I have to go now. I have to arrange everything, find a bodyguard who meets our expectations and inform the press. Thanks for the delicious dinner. I’ll let you know as soon as I find someone adequate. Until then, please don’t leave the apartment.”
“But I don’t want...”
Rodney grabbed his jacket and rushed out of door without waiting for Daniel to formulate his refusal.
Sam sighed and shrugged her shoulders when the door clicked shut. “I’d say we’ve been run over.”
“By a monster truck.” Daniel shook his head. He sighed deeply then started grinning. His grin got broader and after a moment they both were laughing.
“Rodney is ... impossible,” Sam giggled and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.
“Oh God, Sam. Now he’ll drag along some half-witted guy who’ll be gallivanting around us the whole time and always get in our way. Rodney will probably even force us to watch that film with Whitney Houston and ... what’s his name?”
“Right. I bet this movie is the only thing he knows about bodyguards. And I’m sure that’s all very cliché.”
Sam laughed out loud.
“You know that in the film the singer falls in love with the bodyguard?”
“Do I look like Whitney Houston?” Daniel laughed.
“No, not really.”
“So there’s no danger, even if Rodney should find a Kevin Costner or George Clooney look-alike.”
“That’s your type?”
Daniel sighed. “No, that’s not my type at all.”
Sam gave him a little pat on the arm and said sympathetically, “I’ll hope there’ll be someone for you in the future. You have been alone for too long.”
“I’m fine, Sam,” he assured her.
“Yeah, aren’t we all?” She gave him a little kiss on the cheek and said goodnight.
Daniel went to clean the kitchen.
“Jack?” George Hammond knocked on the frame to Jack O’Neill’s office door that stood open.
“Come on in.” Jack took his feet from his desk, saved his file on the computer and sat upright. “What’s the matter?” he asked his boss, the owner of ‘Hammond Securities’.
“I just had a very interesting phone call,” Hammond replied.
“Ferretti found out who opened the accounts on the Cayman Islands in the Kinsey case?”
“No, no. He’s still on it and it will take at least another month to check out all the connections.” Hammond let his heavy frame fall into the seat in front of Jack’s desk. “A certain Mr. McKay from Denver just called. He’s an editor and wants to hire a bodyguard for one of his authors who’s getting threatening letters.”
“And?” Jack gave Hammond a scrutinizing look.
“Well, this ... charming person insisted that I find him somebody elegant and not too dumb, who can at least read and write his name.”
Jack looked incredulously. “He phrased it like that?”
“Yeah, he did. And he added that he doesn’t want one of those gorillas with a mike in the ear, who look like they couldn’t count to three. His words, not mine.” Hammond took a deep breath, trying in vain to mask his respiratory difficulties. “It’s for three weeks if you accept. You’ll have to accompany Dr. Jackson to his public appearances when he presents his new book. So, if you want to work again in the domain of personal protection, this is a good opportunity.”
“Let me guess, this book of his, it is anti-Islamic and someone issued a fatwa?”
“No, it’s harmless.” Hammond shook his head. “It has something to do with Nordic mythology. To tell you the truth, McKay wasn’t too concerned or really panicky about the threats. This bodyguard thing seems to be more of a publicity stunt than a necessity if I understood him correctly. But he’s paying good money. I thought you would perhaps be pleased to see something else than your lists and excel charts for a while, return to the... action and adventure?”
“Wow, action and adventure with a bespectacled quill driver who’s menaced by a person wearing a tweed jacket and throwing ... a typewriter?” Jack grinned.
Hammond chuckled. “I Googled him and Dr. Jackson is indeed wearing glasses.”
“Okay. I won’t underestimate the danger, but this really sounds like easy money. Only to be on the safe side: when I’m working full-time for the next three weeks will I get at least two months off to spend the summer in my cabin?”
“You do, son. You do,” Hammond promised with a bit of a guilty conscience because he couldn’t even remember when Jack had had his last vacation.
“You said `Dr. Jackson´, right?” Jack’s fingers were hovering over the keyboard of his computer.
“Yes, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Cheyenne Mountain Press.”
First thing Jack did was to go to the photo section. When the pictures opened, he whistled approvingly. This young doctor was far and away from the cliché of the myopic lecturer with a knitted waistcoat in ugly colours. Dr. Jackson was sold to the public as the “new face of history”. In the photos he was posing with sprayed on jeans and a tight black t-shirt. He was holding his book so nonchalantly in his hand as if he were selling frozen pizza or the newest men’s deodorant. He had been photographed in front of the pyramids and he looked as if he were enjoying a nice holiday there. And the other photos, those at the desk in his living room with piles of books, a vase with flowers and a matching blanket draped over the armrest reminded Jack of one of those interior decorating magazines you’d find at the dentist or barber. Jack would bet that this wasn’t really the guy’s living room. But whoever did the advertisement for Dr. Jackson really knew what he was doing.
The next morning Rodney phoned Daniel to let him know that he had hired a certain Jack O’Neill, a former Secret Service agent, to protect him. “Mr. Hammond, his boss, has assured me that he’s a very good man with a great reputation who has worked for politicians and other famous people.”
“Oh. So the FBI or the CIA is going to watch over me the next weeks?” Daniel teased.
“I don’t know what organization he worked for. You can ask him yourself; he’ll be at your apartment this afternoon.”
“Today?” Daniel was startled.
“Of course. There are a lot of things to prepare, to talk about ... Uhm, your spare room is okay, isn’t it? Or shall I send Samantha along so that she can help you?”
Daniel was so perplexed that he totally overheard the, ‘Sam helping you cleaning your apartment’ part. “Spare room? Rodney! You aren’t going to tell me that this man will be living in my apartment for the next few weeks?”
“Where else should he live?”
“In a hotel? Ever heard of that? These were especially built for accommodating people you don’t want to have in your house. He’s staying there and then he can join me for the public appearances.” Daniel hadn’t been looking forward to be accompanied by anyone at every turn, but to have them in his spare room had never crossed his mind.
“And if somebody attacks you on your way to or from your apartment? You can’t rule that out, can you?”
“No, but ...”
Triumphantly Rodney continued, “You see, the only logical decision is that he is going to stay with you all the time.”
“Rodney, I think you interpreted the term ‘bodyguard’ a bit too literally,” Daniel complained.
“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Rodney stated precociously. “By the way, everything is already arranged; the guy is in the know and will be on your doorstep this afternoon with all his technical equipment.”
“Rodney, I would have never agreed to this if I had known ...”
“You’ll see; everything will go very smoothly.” Even over the phone Rodney was exuding a hundred and fifty percent confidence.
Of course, for Rodney everything was very simple, Daniel thought. He was only signing the paycheck, but he would have this man around his neck for the next three weeks. “We have to renegotiate!”
“No. No renegotiation. The contract is already signed by Mr. Hammond and me. And Hammond Securities will also take care of the anonymous letters and try to find out who wrote them. Okay, Daniel, I have to go now. See you later!”
Rodney hung up on him without giving Daniel the opportunity to say another word. Trying to reach Sam, Daniel found only the answering machine was responding. He tried to reach one of Sam’s co-workers, but the friendly lady told him that Sam had the afternoon off. Nice! Daniel thanked her crankily.
After an hour of indecision, Daniel started to tidy up his apartment. He took several boxes of books from the guest room – and not knowing where to put them, pushed them into his own bedroom. He vacuumed, watered the plants, emptied and then loaded the dishwasher with all the mugs and glasses he could find scattered around his apartment. And with every minute he spent on household chores, he disliked Rodney’s plan more and more. When he was collecting the last newspapers the doorbell rang. Daniel sighed deeply and went to open the door to meet his new “shadow”.
“Hi. I’m Jack O’Neill.” Silver-grey hair, a lean body, brown eyes and an ironic smirk – Rodney hadn’t exaggerated when he had said that he wanted a good-looking man. Perhaps he wasn’t in the same age group as Kevin Costner – but neither was Daniel Whitney’s age anymore.
Daniel gulped. “Hi.” He greeted O’Neill with a delighted smile. “Please, come in.” Who would have thought that Rodney’s and his taste in good-looking men would be the same? Daniel watched with an appraising look as the guy in the black jeans and the brown leather jacket carrying two big overnight bags and a rucksack entered his apartment. Nice ass. Daniel belatedly remembered to close the door. “Uh ... you can put your things here”, he indicated the whole living room, “or ...” Daniel made a few steps and opened the door to the guest room, “... or here.”
“Thanks.” His new bodyguard flashed him a smile. Daniel felt compelled to smile back.
His fascination with his new roommate lasted approximately two hours. After O’Neill had equipped his apartment with mountains of technical doohickeys, secured the windows and the door, he sat down at the dinner table and compiled a list of things Daniel was forbidden to do in the next weeks. “You don’t leave the house of your own. You don’t even open the door when the door bell rings, that’s my job now.”
“But that’s ridiculous!”
“If I had been your crazy letter writer you could have been dead by now or abducted or whatever pleasantries they had planned for you. You opened the door even though you didn’t know me.”
“But Rodney told me you would come this afternoon. Do you think that there is an endless coming and going of bodyguards?”
“I don’t know how many visitors you have. But I’d like you to write all the names of people likely to visit on a list, so I can check them out.”
“Why don’t you ask me to try to get a certificate of good conduct for each of them?” Daniel sniped.
“That certainly would facilitate my work.” O’Neill grinned saucily.
“Pfft.” Daniel shook his head, got up and started walking in circles in his living room, fumbling with some souvenirs from his voyages and adjusting them.
“Other than that, you should give me the phone numbers of all your business partners and your friends. If the number on the telephone display isn’t on that list, or if you don’t know the caller, I can record the call. We …”
Daniel stopped him angrily. “But so far I only got four letters!”
“That’s right. But did any of them promise not to use another medium?”
“Of course not.”
O’Neill made a funny face which clearly said, “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Well, go ahead and record sales calls for assurances and raffles. I don’t mind,” he said with a haughty gesture and a small pout.
“Fine. The list, please.” O’Neill extended his hand invitingly.
Daniel groaned about so much perseverance. “Look, this is more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” he tried to explain to his overeager bodyguard. “McKay told your boss already. There’s no real danger. There are only four letters and ...”
“In all the years I’ve been in this business, I’ve lost only one client. And that because he didn’t follow my advice,” Jack interrupted him. “So, we play it my way or ...” He didn’t finish the sentence but gave Daniel a stern look.
“I’m a grown-up, I can decide for myself!” Daniel was getting upset. He hated that patronizing tone of voice.
“You are my responsibility for the next three weeks,” Jack answered inexorably and went to adjust the motion detector at the front door.
“I hate you, Rodney,” Daniel mumbled under his breath and O’Neill snorted.
Daniel stormed out of the room, disappeared into his office and tried to do some research work for his next book.
They met again for dinner and watched the news together. Afterwards Daniel started channel-surfing. He stopped at a documentary about mating rituals of the golden poison frog in the virgin Forest of the Amazon. Not because he was overly interested in it, but because O’Neill started yawning. Yes, he knew, he was acting childish.
Jack fought against sleep for another ten minutes then he got up and returned with a book. It was a paperback and Daniel wasn’t able to read the title.
After a quarter of an hour he gave in to his curiosity and asked, “What are you reading?”
Jack turned the book so that Daniel was able to see the cover. He said at the same time, “Volume five from John Sheppard’s ‘Atlantis’ series.”
“Oh.” Daniel nodded.
Jack grinned. “You’ve never read it? It’s also from Cheyenne Mountain Press.”
“Of course I know John Sheppard. He’s famous. I met him three or four times on official occasions and last year he was invited to Rodney’s annual barbecue. But I’ve never read one of his books. It’s science-fiction, isn’t it?”
“Yep. About a pilot on board the Starship ‘Atlantis’ who discovers strange new worlds and fights against sinister aliens. Not your cup of tea?”
“I ... I seldom read anything else than professional literature,” Daniel confessed.
“You should try this. I can lend you the first volume.”
“Thanks ... I think,” Daniel answered still not really convinced.
O’Neill smirked and gave Daniel a short summary of the first volume. From there they discussed science-fiction and reading in general. They found out that they hadn’t too much in common book wise, but that they could easily agree on a lot of crap they didn’t like in everyday life. In the end, this first evening had been better than Daniel had feared.
The next three days passed in a whirlwind of activities. The premiere of Daniel’s book was on Monday afternoon at the Cheyenne Mountain Book building. After some introductory words from McKay – and after stressing once again the important role his publishing house had played in Daniel’s success – McKay turned to a giant poster, hidden by a dark blue tissue. When all the spotlights were on him, Rodney slowly pulled the tissue down and revealed the large cover of Daniel’s newest book.
“’Gods from the Frost – Asgard and its influence on Nordic Mythology’. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the famous Dr. Daniel Jackson!”
Daniel was a bit nervous when he saw all the cheering people and felt all the flashbulbs on him. But after he had started reading from his book the stage fright ceased, and in the end he was able to joke and answer silly and intelligent questions from the press. Interviews with newspapers, some local radio and a television station followed. In the evening he had talked nearly six hours non-stop and was very relieved when Carter announced the last reporter.
Afterwards there was another short meeting in Rodney’s office between Rodney, Sam and Daniel and they congratulated each other on how well the first day had gone. Rodney gave Daniel some advice for the next day, Sam reassured him that he had done fine, and after a hasty meal Daniel fell into his bed, totally exhausted.
Tuesday was the first presentation for the public, and there were even more people than the day before. But after the favorable reception of his book by the press, Daniel was a bit more comfortable and a little less nervous. O’Neill was a silent but steady presence at his side – and although Daniel wouldn’t admit it openly, he was relieved there was somebody who held the pushing and shoving masses at arms length when the book signing started. Now he knew how an actor or a pop star must feel and Daniel was very relieved that he had to live with this fame only a few days every two or three years. Afterwards he was able to live like a normal person again, because even if they knew his name, only a few people also knew what he looked like. The great advantage if you weren’t on TV too often.
The next days, lots of matinees, soirees, readings and autographing sessions in Colorado followed. Carter and McKay had planned out everything professionally. And it was clear from the announcement that there had been threatening letters, and that the grey-haired man at Daniel’s side was indeed his bodyguard, had increased the interest in Dr. Jackson’s book significantly.
Some evenings Daniel was totally wired when they returned to his apartment. So they played chess to bring him down from his adrenalin high. The game of chess lasted several days, because both were very cautious players who wouldn’t want to give the other an advantage by deciding too quickly.
On other evenings Daniel was totally drained from all the questions and answers. They switched on the TV, fought for the remote control and the “power”, to eventually get stuck with a cooking show or a sportscast. These were the evenings when Daniel whished he were alone, and had no bodyguard following him everywhere. He longed to run around in his apartment in his oldest pyjama bottoms and drink orange juice directly from the carton in the fridge without using a glass. Of course Jack didn’t demand accountability, but with a stranger in his apartment Daniel did a sort of self censorship concerning his actions and his attire.
At the end of the first week, on Friday morning, Daniel held a lecture at Colorado State University in Pueblo, and in the afternoon there was an autograph session in the bookstore of the biggest shopping mall in Pueblo. This was the last day in Colorado, tomorrow they would go to Santa Fé in New Mexico.
McKay had come to watch this success of his – and Daniel. He gave some interviews himself while Daniel was busy singing books and talking with his fans. Just when Rodney was ready to leave, he noticed that a local TV-station was pointing its cameras at Jack O’Neill.
What the …? He wanted to dash off and interfere, when somebody grabbed his sleeve and hold him back. Samantha.
“Rodney, wait. You launched this story, now you have to accept that the press wants to know more about your bodyguard. Let’s hope O’Neill isn’t too tonguetied. But from what Daniel told me, and from what I’ve witnessed, he’s quite capable of speaking for himself.” She chuckled when she thought about the endless discussion the two men had had in the car while driving to Pueblo this morning.
Rodney dug his fingernails into his palms, when the first question came. He was too far away to hear it, but he saw O’Neill smile and then give an answer that made the interviewer smile. The next question also went smoothly and gradually Rodney began to relax. “We have to find out when and where it’s airing,” he told Sam.
“No problem, I’ll get us a copy,” Carter promised and watched with admiration the good performance Daniel’s handsome bodyguard put up. He was very charming, even flirting a bit with the female interviewer, and seemed to have an answer for everything.
“Hiring him was the right thing to do,” Rodney whispered in her ear, very satisfied with himself. “I did good.”
“Yes, Rodney.” Sam sighed, but secretly she had to admit that he had been right. O’Neill had turned out to be the right move.
This evening they were home earlier than usual; it was their first evening without an official obligation. Jack pushed the chairs and the living room table aside and did some exercises on the rug to keep fit. Daniel prepared something to eat.
“You can cook?” Jack asked utterly impressed when he took the first bite of the tender lamb steak and it sort of melted on his tongue.
“Cooking is my way to relax,” Daniel admitted.
“Hey, I’m not complaining. On the contrary. There are worse ways to relax. You could be ... crocheting or knitting. Think of all the poor souls on whom your masterpieces would be forced for Christmas.”
“Potholders and long, ringed scarves?” They both sniggered, remembering embarrassing garments like that.
“Yeah, really hideous things.” Jack dug into his mashed potatoes and washed them down with an excellent red wine. Only one glass – after all, he was still on duty.
A duty that had been very pleasant so far. Dr. Jackson wasn’t as bookish as he had feared, on the contrary. He showed great interest in nearly everything. They’d had lively discussions while driving to the bookstores or radio stations. His vast interests came in handy when fans were talking to him; he was always able to give a witty response. And with his readers he was more patient than with journalists – or Jack. If their questions were too silly, he had a sharp and cutting tongue. But as he also accepted sarcastic answers from Jack, their arguments often ended in laughing together.
“Delicious,” Jack said and patted his stomach. “You could open a restaurant.”
Daniel smiled genuinely, and as an afterthought to all his musings about Dr. Jackson, Jack had to admit, that he liked his client. Very much.
Together they placed the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and Jack asked, “You wanna play chess?”
“I ...” Daniel threw a quick look into the direction of his office, fought an inner fight between leisure and work, and ended his sentence with a decisive, “Yes.”
During their game they talked about their respective careers. Jack summoned his up with, “Seventeen years for the Secret Service, eight for Hammond Securities”.
When that was all he was willing to say, Daniel told him about his studies, his fascination with history and the written word, and his work for the Berkley University. He mentioned his separation from the university by “mutual agreement” when his theories got more and more speculative, because he relied more and more on legends and myths, oral tradition and folksongs instead on “hard” scientific facts.
“One evening a certain Rodney McKay called me, told me that he had read on the Net about some of my pipe dreams and that he was sure they would make a good a book. At first I was reluctant to ... uh ... vulgarize my beliefs, but an empty wallet and a considerable advance quickly appeased my qualms. You know the rest.” He grinned.
Jack nodded. “Book two is out, you’re working on number three and someone tries to kill you for it.”
“I still believe Rodney’s exaggerating. Do you really think the mummy returns to kill me? Or the haunted souls of Valhalla?” Daniel spoke with a deep, spooky voice.
Jack shrugged. “If it isn’t Imhotep, it could be somebody else, using this book thingy as a smokescreen. An unhappy ex-girl-friend, perhaps?” Jack knew that he was stretching his professional credibility with this question, but all his background research had listed no known partner for Daniel and he was curious.
“There is no unhappy ex,” Daniel insisted to Jack attentively and pensively.
“Okay, if you say so. Tomorrow I’ll get the analysis of the letters – perhaps then we’ll know more,” Jack conceded.
The next morning Jack went jogging early, like he did every morning. When he came back, there was indeed an email from Hammond. But they didn’t learn much, besides the fact that the first two letters had been written by a woman living somewhere in Texas, using a ball point pen and cheap paper. The second letters had been printed with a very common printer type and had been posted in Denver. There were no suspicious fingerprints on the letters themselves, only on the envelopes, but as they had arrived through the US mail that had to been expected.
“So far we have no match with anybody in our data base,” Jack apologized.
While Daniel was preparing breakfast, Jack went to fetch the newspaper – and brought back another letter. Daniel read it than pushed it to Jack. It was clearly the same author as the last two – again the gross words and the rather obscure threats about Dr. Jackson receiving his just punishment. Daniel shrugged it off although it made him uneasy that the individual writing the letters was so obtrusive. He hadn’t talked to Sam about his concerns, and he wouldn’t start with Jack for whom he was only a very small fish in a big pond where he usually protected politicians and tycoons.
Jack scolded him to take it seriously. He promised to send the letter to Hammond. Sooner or later Jack hoped the sender would make a mistake.
Then they divided the newspaper in two parts, slurped coffee and ate toast with scrambled eggs. The article about a new system for the parking lots in Denver wasn’t very interesting and so Daniel let his thoughts wander. He was a bit astonished that it was so much fun to have someone in the house, someone to have breakfast with, someone to talk to about banal every day things. This “living together” part had been his biggest concern when Rodney had insisted that the bodyguard stay with him twenty-four hours a day. And now...?
Jack laughed out lout. “Daniel, listen,” he barely managed to say as he was laughing so hard while reading the newspaper. “Yesterday, Dr. Jackson, the famous author of ‘Gods of the Dessert’, has signed his latest...”
“What? No, they didn’t...?” He snatched the newspaper from Jack’s hand. “Oh, no!” He shook his head.
Between two barely suppressed hiccups Jack said, “A famous cookbook, huh? The next one will be titled “Gods of the Salad – from Caesar’s Dressing to Green Goddess Dressing.”
“Jack!” Daniel rolled the newspaper and bashed him over the head with it.
“Ouch!” But Jack didn’t stop smirking; Daniel smacked him again, until finally he had to give in and smile with him.
For a moment their eyes met, the residue of laughter in the crinkles around the eyes. Both were a bit breathless. Daniel’s lips were partly open, he looked happy and carefree. Jack’s thin lips formed a crooked smile bare of any sarcasm.
The moment stretched until Jack cleared his throat. “Pass me the butter, please?”
“Uhm ... of course.” Daniel pushed the tub to Jack.
“What’s on the agenda for today?” Jack tried to sound as professional as possible although the look on Daniel’s face had made his stomach flutter. Jack couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. But that was a really bad idea. Not only because Daniel was too young and happened to be his client, but also because... because... well, because. Jack didn’t want to analyze his feelings further and concentrated on Daniel’s answer.
“... in the Town Plaza. We’ll be back this afternoon, then we have enough time to pack our suitcases because our flight to Los Angeles is tomorrow at eight thirty. Sam won’t accompany us this time, but she’ll come to the opening of the annual ‘Book Week’ in San Francisco on Friday, where I’m one of the guest speakers.”
“Okay, so we better stop by my place after the reading and I can get some fresh clothes.”
“Where do you live?”
“Oh, that’s in the direction of Santa Fe. That’s perfect,” Daniel acknowledged and wondered at the same moment what Jack’s house would look like.
Eight hours later he was standing in the middle of a comfy living room with an open fire place, a brown sofa with ugly, striped pillows, a chess-board, a few photos on the mantelpiece and some diplomas and awards on the walls.
“That’s George, my boss,” Jack explained when he returned to the living room and saw Daniel looking at the photos. He stood behind Daniel and pointed over his shoulder at a middle-aged, bald, corpulent man in a Hawaiian shirt, who was grinning good-naturedly in the camera.
His breath ghosted over the sensitive skin of Daniel’s neck and behind his ear and sent a blissful frisson through Daniel’s body. Did Jack do it on purpose – and was he pleased with the reaction he caused?
“And this is T.”
No hair either. What was it with Jack and these bald guys? Daniel wondered while he savored every moment of this close proximity.
“We were together in the service. Today he owns four or five martial art studios. You’ve already seen the TV spot for them, haven’t you? A bespectacled pushover is entering one of those studios and T promises to make him look like Arnold’s brother. He then gives him a clap on the shoulder and the man struggles to keep standing?” He went to the mantelpiece and arranged Tealc’s photo. He needed a bit of distance, or Daniel would know more than he was perhaps ready to know. Jack felt the warmth and longing pooling in his groin and the first stirring of his dick. Daniel had an astonishingly influence on his libido.
“Sounds like I should make his acquaintance,” Daniel teased and looked assessingly down his body.
“Only for self defense,” Jack replied, “because I bet your biceps aren’t the logical consequence of typing. You do weight lifting, don’t you?”
“Uhm... yes. Rodney thought it would look better. You know the whole ‘sexy historian’ ploy.” Daniel’s hands were waving around animatedly.
“McKay is right.” Jack let his eyes wander over Daniel’s body until he saw a faint blush creeping into Daniel’s cheeks. Only then did he turn around and ask, “Would you like something to drink while I pack my suitcase?”
Daniel closed his eyes for a second. Why could O’Neill put him so off balance with a simple look? “No, thank you. I ... I’ll go and sit for a moment on your terrace.”
“Nope.” Jack shook his head.
“Ah, come on! Nobody knows I’m here.” Daniel took a step in the direction of the sliding glass door.
O’Neill caught his arm and tugged. “Accompany me to the bedroom.” He leered, waggling his eyebrows outrageously. He was playing with fire and he knew it – but it was too much fun.
“Such an offer,” Daniel snorted, answering Jack’s leer with a mockingly raised eyebrow. It was a game and if they didn’t pay attention it could change suddenly. He allowed Jack to steer him to the bedroom. He flopped into the armchair and watched Jack stuffing t-shirts, socks and underwear in a duffle bag.
“Okay. Anything else?” Jack looked around searchingly to make sure he hadn’t forgotten something vital for the next days.
“The lube,” Daniel said emotionless and pointed at the nightstand. Only the nervous nibbling on his bottom lip gave him away.
But Jack wasn’t paying attention, and he automatically followed Daniel’s pointed index finger. Only the moment he opened the drawer, he realized what he was doing. “Daniel!!”
Daniel burst out into a loud laugh. “You should have seen your look!”
“Ha, ha, very funny, Dr. Jackson!” Jack threw the tube at Daniel.
“Ouch!” Daniel was still laughing, but he bent to retrieve the lube from the floor.
Jack had the same idea, and their fingers met. “Better be careful,” Jack warned. His look caressed Daniel’s face and rested a moment too long on Daniel’s lips to make it casual.
“That applies to you, too.” Daniel felt breathless all of a sudden, but Jack had already straightened up again and tossed the lube deliberately into his bag for Daniel to see.
“Okay. We’re set. Let’s go.”
One hour later they were back in Daniel’s apartment. Daniel also packed his suitcase and while sorting through his toiletries bag, he noticed that the shaving cream was empty. Crap.
“Jack?” He entered the living room only to find out that the shower was running and Jack was humming off tone something that perhaps, with a better singer, would have been an aria from “La Traviata”.
Hmm. His watch told him, that the small 7-Eleven at the corner would still be open for exactly eight minutes. Not enough time for Jack to dry off, put on clothes and accompany him. But Daniel needed the shaving cream. He would be back within a blink of the eye, he promised himself. Jack wouldn’t notice he had been away at all. And after all, this wasn’t a prison, and he wasn’t a prisoner! Yes! Free shopping for free citizens! And if this was some tiny act of rebellion – so much the better! He fetched his keys from the sideboard and ran from the apartment, not bothering to take a jacket with him.
When he breathlessly re-entered the apartment a few minutes later, Jack was standing in the middle of the living room and talking agitatedly to someone on the phone. He looked up when he saw Daniel enter. “Okay, George. We can call it off, he just entered the apartment. .... Yes ... Yes ... We’ll talk tomorrow. Bye.”
The cell phone went flying to the sofa and Jack advanced on Daniel with wide steps. “We have rules!” he shouted and in a surprise move he backed Daniel against the wall, using his body weight to hold him there. Jack’s eyes were dark with anger and indignation.
Hey! All he had done was to run to the store! No need to manhandle him like that. After all, it was his apartment and his life they were talking about. And he was paying O’Neill – okay, indirectly, through McKay, but nevertheless, he was the client! And as a client, the last decision was still with him! All these thoughts were running through Daniel’s head, but he said none of them out loud because he also felt a trace of fear creeping up his spine. For the first time he realized that O’Neill had indeed been an agent and had possibly even killed people during his time with the Secret Service. Perhaps, angering him wasn’t the smartest thing to do. At least not as long as O’Neill’s arm was pressing on his windpipe.
“I’m sorry.” He croaked. “But...”
“No!” Jack pressed a bit harder. “In my job you don’t say ‘but’. That could be your death-sentence!”
Daniel opened his mouth and wanted to protest in earnest that nobody spoke to him and treated him like that! But when he wanted to inform Jack about this in unmistakable words – squeezed trachea or not – he noticed in Jack’s eyes not only rage but also a quick flicker of fear and sadness.
Oh, he was such an idiot! This wasn’t only about him! He remembered that Jack had told him that one client in his custody had died.
All the fight went from him and he promised, “I won’t do it again.” He held Jack’s scrutinizing gaze and felt the pressure on his throat slowly disappear. Jack smoothed down his t-shirt where it had been crumpled and his eyes never let Daniel’s.
“I give my word,” Daniel reassured him once more and was rewarded with the first hint of crooked lips.
“I’m sorry if I was a little rough.” Jack tried to remember that Daniel wasn’t his enemy but his client and admitted to himself, that perhaps he had overreacted He gave Daniel a bit more maneuvering room for breathing and stopped pressing him against the wall.
To lighten the mood and smooth the deep line of worry on Daniel’s forehead, he challenged him teasingly, “It’s good to see you so ... eager to please.” His thumb caressed Daniel’s neck before his fingers glided on Daniel’s shoulders.
“Don’t get too excited,” Daniel advised him, relieved that the tension had gone. Some treacherous part of Daniel’s brains wished Jack’s thumb would return to the caressing.
“What was so important you couldn’t wait until I was able to accompany you?”
“Uh ...” Daniel held the shaving cream into Jack’s field of vision.
“You know, we could have bought that at the airport tomorrow, while waiting for our plane.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Daniel squirmed out of Jack’s arms. “Perhaps it was more an act of self-affirmation than anything else?” he suggested grinning.
“It seems so.” Jack nodded and the warm expression in the brown eyes told Daniel that he had been forgiven.
“Okay, I’m going to finish my packing.”
“I’m going to think of new ways to keep you on a shorter leash,” Jack answered matter-of-factly, and was very pleased to hear Daniel choke and see him blush once more, before he disappeared in his bedroom.
The flight to Los Angeles was a bit turbulent, but with only half an hour delay they landed at the airport and took a taxi to the hotel. Jack had asked Sam about a suite for Daniel and him. After that shaving cream stunt in the apartment he wasn’t sure he wanted the author on his own, free to wander around whenever he felt like leaving his room. But as there was the Annual Book Week and the additional booking had been on very short notice, he had been happy to get a room in the same hotel, and after some massive bribing on Sam’s part, even on the same floor, adjacent to Daniel’s room.
Daniel changed his clothes, Jack checked his weapon and the microphones he and Daniel were wearing, and then they were off to their first presentation in a small, but very ‘in’ bookshop. They drove to a big shopping mall, where they were greeted by the manager – and by stand-up displays of Daniel as tall as the man himself. A dozen Dr. Jacksons in jeans and white sweater – one of the promo-shots – was leading the way to the autographing area. Daniel was very relieved that he had opted for black jeans and grey-black turtleneck pullover today and not the white sweater.
The neatly arranged area was filled with big posters of Daniel and his newest book, a small podium and nearly twenty rows of seats packed to overflowing. Jack was very relieved that there were already five security men from the shopping mall channeling the masses to seats and keeping the podium clear. He had a short talk with the chief of security and was very pleasantly surprised with his competence. One minute later he learned that Mr. Siler had also worked for Uncle Sam.
The manager climbed the improvised stage and when all the spot lights were on him and Daniel, he proudly announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome with me one of the most famous historians and writers of the world, Dr. Daniel Jackson!”
The people were cheering and clapping and wolf whistling and Daniel looked a bit overwhelmed with such an enthusiastic reception. He played down the issue and told the madding crowd that with only the second book written and published you couldn’t be already that famous. They liked his shyness and it took another five minutes to stop the applause before Daniel could start to read from his book.
“So, you’re working for this ‘famous’ Doctor,” Siler whispered grinning while he never stopped scanning the area with his eyes.
“Yep. For three weeks I’m on baby-sitting duty”, Jack understated his case.
“I bet it beats patrolling shopping malls,” Siler chuckled, downplaying too.
“Took me away from my computer.”
“I see. Computers are also my chief task. The drawbacks of getting old.”
“The advantages of not having your ass in the line of fire anymore,” Jack, whose attention never relaxed, corrected him.
Siler nodded. “You’re right. We should be more grateful for still being alive.” He frowned and spoke into his mike, “Walter? You see that woman in pink with the blue scarf on your left? Keep an eye on her. ... Yes, her. ... Siler out.”
The lecture went without incident, there were a lot of questions from the public and they were fifteen minutes late to start with their autographing session. This was even more work for the security men and Jack because the fans came into direct contact with Daniel. Jack stood directly besides Daniel and radiated professional competence. He even found himself on a lot of photos afterwards. The signing and autographing went well, the manager beamed, and slowly the crowd got smaller. The last to come to the desk where Daniel was sitting was a good-looking young woman with dark hair.
“So, you are Doctor Jackson, the new wunderkind of History.”
“I’m an author with an academic background,” Daniel answered politely with his standard reply.
The young woman brushed a strand of hair out of her face. She opened Daniel’s book on the first page and pushed it to him. “Please write: For Adria Maldoran and something like ‘I wish you all the best for the future’. The exact wording is up to you.”
Daniel started writing then frowned. “Is it possible that I know your name?” He looked up to where she was standing.
She gave a short laugh. “I feel very flattered, that my name strikes a cord with you. Yes, it is possible that you read my name on one of those bestseller lists – way behind your name. I’m the author of ‘The Books of Origin’.”
“You are with ‘Prior Press’, aren’t you? I think your books were received rather well.”
She shrugged. “It could be better. You know ‘Origin’ is such a complex concept, based on the old writings and oral traditions. I’m trying to give modern people a ... portal to this wisdom from the past which is still in us, buried under ignorance and oblivion. Have you ever read one of my books?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “I looked into the first one ...”
“But you’ve never finished it?”
“No, I’m sorry. There was a bit too much quasi-religious zeal in it for my liking, and not enough facts. I ...”
“You are right, because unlike your books, which are mere entertainment, ‘The Books of Origin’ follow a holistic concept, including both the body and the soul. It’s not always necessary to support a theory with facts; sometimes convictions and beliefs are more important. If you adhere to these principles, the path of enlightenment will open in front of you. You will become part of a greater self.”
Daniel swallowed the “mere entertainment” comment and concentrated on a more important aspect. “Uhm ... don’t you think there are already enough religions on this planet battling for supremacy?” He remembered clearly why he had put the book down after the first fifty pages. Although it talked about Egyptian legends and myths, a domain he usually adored and read everything he could put his hands on, Adria Maldoran had given them a twist Daniel hadn’t liked at all. He had also thumbed through her second book where she had slaughtered ancient Greek philosophy for her purpose. He had been appalled by her narrow-mindedness and her sense of mission and then dismissed this author entirely.
“But ‘Origin’ isn’t just another religion. ‘Origin’ is different.” She gave him a persuasive smile.
“I’m sure it is,” he answered ... and finished quickly the signing of his book. “Here, please. And I wish you luck for your next book.” He gave her an empty smile.
“You don’t even want to know what it is about?” she asked.
“Of course,” Daniel answered politely.
“I’m integrating Norse Mythology and its legends and tales into my belief system.”
“How ... interesting.” Hopefully, people read his book first, Daniel thought cynically.
Jack who had been listening with increasing unease and revulsion, decided to save Daniel. “Okay, Daniel. I think we have to stop here, otherwise we’ll be late for the reception at the Santa Barbara Ladies Book Club.”
Daniel really had to reign in his impulse to laugh out loud. He didn’t know if there was such a book club – but Ms. Maldoran wouldn’t know either – and he admired Jack’s imagination. But he knew there were no more official meetings today. He gave Jack a small smile and accepted the offered way out with relief. “Yes, yes. Thank you for reminding me.” He looked pointedly at his watch. “Ms. Maldoran, I’m sorry, I have to go.”
“Is there still enough time to take my photo with you?”
Only sighing on the inside – on the outside he smiled – he posed with her.
“I’m very pleased I made your acquaintance, Ms. Maldoran.”
“So am I, Dr. Jackson.” Adria shook his hand. “I’m sure sooner or later you’ll be able to recognize the advantages of ‘Origin’.”
“Uhm... yes. Good bye.” Daniel offered no resistance when Jack accompanied him from the podium.
“Puh... Thanks a lot, Jack. She was very persistent and her books are ... utter crap.”
“I assumed so from your answers.” He grinned. “Are you hungry?”
They made their farewells to Mr. Siler who recommended them an Italian restaurant in the vicinity with the best pizza in Los Angeles. They decided to try it out. Mr. Siler had been right, and two double cheese pizzas later, they were sated and a bit drowsy.
While strolling to their hotel they passed a cinema and Jack stopped Daniel with a hand on his sleeve and asked, “When is the last time you went to a movie theatre?”
“Two weeks ago? I go there regularly with Sam. We have to bitch about the newest adaptations from great books to horrible films. And you?”
“I sometimes accompany my nephew Charlie to the movies. He likes aliens, space ships and James Bond.”
“Like his uncle. What a coincidence.” He chuckled. “And you think with our opposite tastes we’ll find something to watch together?” Daniel gave Jack a quizzical look.
“Mating frogs?” Jack teased. But then he grabbed Daniel’s shoulders and turned him around so he was able to see the movie poster. “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” Jack read. “Based on a novel by Audrey Niffenegger.”
“That sounds perfect! Like they did it just for us. Uhm ... you wanna watch it?”
“Perfect. Tailor made for us.” Daniel bought two tickets, Jack bought the popcorn and they installed themselves in the comfy seats. It was already showing for the fifteenth week and so there weren’t too many people in the cinema. When the lights went down and the film started Daniel hesitated a moment, but then leaned his head against Jack’s shoulder. No guts, no glory.
Daniel didn’t know where he stood with Jack. Jack had sent so many mixed signals during the past few days. The attraction was obvious and nobody that wasn’t at least bi examined another man so openly, talked with so much sexual innuendo. On the other hand, Jack had never seized the opportunity to kiss him, not even when he had pressed him tightly against the wall. Perhaps it was time to let Jack know that he was interested. Daniel moved a bit closer.
Oh. It seemed somebody wanted to clear up a few things. And this wasn’t somebody who was drunk and resting his head on the next available surface. This was a totally sober Daniel who sought out close vicinity. Deliberately. Mhmm. Jack decided to get his facts straight on a very important question.
“Daniel?” Jack whispered into Daniel’s ear that was very near.
“If you don’t mind me asking, but are you extremely cuddly or ... are you gay?”
Daniel answered with a low giggle before he turned serious. “Do you have a problem with either of the answers?” he inquired. He lifted his head and searched for the answer in Jack’s eyes.
“No, not at all.” Jack let his index finger trail down Daniel’s cheek.
“Then I admit that I’m gay, even if Rodney gets a stroke now, because that doesn’t fit into my carefully constructed image,” Daniel confirmed contentedly and snuggled closer.
“Let’s forget Rodney for the moment.” Jack put his arm around Daniel’s shoulder.
From this moment on Daniel’s attention wasn’t on the love and grief of the time traveler and his wife that enfolded in front of him. It was on Jack, it was on them. This felt suspiciously like a ... date and not like a professional relationship to him, unless this was O’Neill’s way to deal with all young, male clients. The moment he thought it, Daniel was ashamed. Jack had flirted, yes, but that was all. None of the comments had crossed the invisible line between flirting and more – so far. Although he’d like to, if he was honest with himself.
Jack was so different from those academic types he had met at Berkeley. Working in the same field and fighting for funds always brought a certain rivalry and jealousy to a relationship. Stephen Raynor had been the best example. He had feigned love when all he had wanted were Daniel’s research results. Also Jack didn’t have anything in common with most of the writers and editors Daniel met from time to time at Rodney’s or Sam’s birthday parties. The egos of certain authors were much too big for Daniel’s liking.
Jack felt ... genuine, so sure of himself. He didn’t need to dress in fancy clothes, or always wear a colorful scarf to make him more interesting, like some authors Daniel knew. He hadn’t styled himself to be a ‘product’, like Daniel with the ‘sexy historian’ role Rodney had saddled him with. Jack radiated authenticity – and Daniel was falling for him.
When the film was over, they took a taxi to their hotel. Daniel had paid enough attention to discuss certain aspects with Jack. But when Jack asked him, “Too much science fiction, not enough literature?” he knew that his answers hadn’t been totally convincing.
Accompanying Daniel to his hotel room Jack made sure there was nobody hiding in the closets or under the beds. He even looked behind the curtains. When Jack saw that Daniel watched him with fond amusement, he purposely opened the minibar and looked into it. Daniel laughed out loud.
“You can never be too cautious,” Jack explained only half-jokingly.
“Yeah, there are dwarfs, hiding in my fridge because Snow White gave them orders to kidnap me.”
“Hello? This woman already has seven ugly husbands who probably leave their pointed hats on in bed; perhaps she wants a good-looking eighth?”
Jack watched for Daniel’s reaction for this thinly veiled compliment. Daniel bit on his bottom lip, joyful and a little sheepish at the same time. But before he could come up with a witty remark, Jack put his hand on Daniel’s neck, pulled him closer and pressed his lips onto Daniel’s, very chaste and no tongue. He hadn’t planned on doing so, in the cinema he even had decided against more than a simple hug, but...
Before Daniel really could kiss him back, Jack broke away. “I’m... I’d better turn in. Tomorrow will be a strenuous day.” His hand still lingered on Daniel’s arm.
“Thanks for the lovely evening,” Daniel answered, and astonishingly it didn’t sound like a platitude.
“You’re welcome.” For another second their fingers held the contact then Jack marched to the door at a decisive pace.
Once in his room he took a deep breath. It had been a lovely evening. But hell, Jack didn’t know what they were playing at. A re-enactment of ‘The Bodyguard’? Or weren’t they playing at all? Was Daniel really interested? Interested in what? Bedding a former Secret Service agent? Well, he wouldn’t mind. Although he knew that is was a really bad idea, to start something with a client, in the middle of such a stressful situation as personal protection usually was. That wasn’t a cliché taken from a film, but it was true that such a commitment could make your attention waver for a second with the memory of the hot sex from the evening before. And that was the moment the assassin would exploit. There was only a week and a half left. Daniel and he should be able to wait that long and keep their hands to themselves, although it hadn’t been easy for him to leave the hotel room when Daniel had watched him with the disappointed eyes of a beaten puppy dog.
The next day was business as usual. In the morning they visited a school. One of the teachers had read Daniel’s first book and thought it would be a good idea to have a “real” historian, reading from his book, in class. Daniel was a bit nervous because this was the youngest audience he’d ever read to.
There were about sixty pupils in the class, ranging in age from thirteen to fifteen. The youngest were in the first rows and listened – mostly – attentively to Daniel’s lecture. The elder pupils weren’t interested or thought it would be cooler to pretend to be bored. But as there were enough teachers in the class, they at least kept quiet.
Daniel read about bloody feuds, murder, greed, lost treasures, giants, magic potions and magic hoods. He drew the world tree Yggdrasil on the white board, Asgard, Midgard and Utgard and lots of names from Norse mythology, like Thor, Loki, Odin, Heimdall and Freya followed one by one. They were all interwoven, and slowly a whole net of relationships, betrayals, love and death manifested. And in the end, with reminiscences to Harry Potter and films like Beowulf, he had managed to capture most of his audience and made them gasp with Ragnarök, the final destiny of the gods and the end of their world.
Jack, who had listened often enough to the version for the adult public, liked this bloodier, mightier and more colorful version better. And not only because he had been more relaxed during the lecture than he usually was in the crammed shopping malls. Daniel had made the kids see that history didn’t have to be boring but could be as interesting as the next computer game, which were very often based on historical or mythological events.
“Any questions?” Daniel asked his young public.
At first they were a bit shy, but after one of the teachers had asked something about the snakes and dragons, they also started questioning Daniel. After a lot of historical questions, a boy wanted to know, “Is it true that you have a personal bodyguard, because someone sent you threatening letters? My mother told me so.”
“Yes, that’s – unfortunately – true. There have been letters.”
“Is it dangerous to be a body guard?” a girl asked Jack.
“Dangerous? It isn’t more dangerous than being ... say a detective or a policeman,” Jack answered.
And with that answer the interest shifted to him and they started asking about weapons, bugging devices, famous people he had worked for, etc. Jack gave Daniel an apologetic smile, but Daniel only shrugged and whispered, “As long as they learn something...”
So Jack told them about martial arts, endurance training, weapons, technical skills, computer skills, talent for improvisation and hard work. He didn’t make it sound like a dream job, but his enthusiasm and his fascination with this line of work were unmistakable.
“And if somebody tries to shoot Dr. Jackson, do you take the bullet meant for him with your body?” a girl, who obviously thought that that would be most romantic, asked with shining eyes.
Jack gave Daniel a quick glance. “Yeah, I’d do that,” he confirmed. There was murmuring and Jack added, “But before I do that, I’ll try to shove him to the floor.” He grinned broadly.
Daniel had no warning when Jack kicked his legs from under him, snatched him and protected his head when he was falling, and went down to the floor with him in a fluent movement. For a second Daniel was on top of him, but then he rolled them so, that his whole body was covering Daniel’s. Their eyes met for a second, Daniel totally taken by surprise and Jack grinning madly. The next moment Jack sprang to his feet and offered Daniel a hand. To his fascinated public he said, “You see, there are other methods than heroic death.”
“Do it again, do it again!” the younger kids shouted, but Daniel shook his head vigorously.
“No, once is enough.” He turned do Jack, smiling. “Thank you very much, Mr. O’Neill, for your ... uh .... dedication to teaching,” He brushed off the dust from his sweater and his jeans.
“Thank you very much for being a good sport, Dr. Jackson,” Jack replied.
The bell announcing the end of the lesson sounded, and the teacher thanked Jack and Daniel for their lectures and their patience. While the pupils stormed out of the classroom they heard a boy saying, “When I’m a grown up I’ll be a bodyguard.”
After this experience the afternoon book-signing looked rather dull. But Daniel fulfilled all wishes for autographs assiduously. In the evening they were invited to a vernissage where writers and artists had worked together on paintings with words. The result was very interesting and often unexpected. Sometimes the words complemented the paintings, adding to the atmosphere; sometimes they made a brutal contrast and required the spectator to think.
But Daniel was very tired and only an hour later he excused himself. He was yawning the whole time on the drive back. Jack, who had hoped for some private time, was a bit disappointed. After a short check of Daniel’s room, he wished him a good night and went to his own room.
On Tuesday they drove on the coastal highway to San Diego. Daniel’s schedule was so packed that it left them nearly no time to visit the town. So they were happy to fly to San Francisco on Friday, because they had an afternoon to themselves to explore the city. They crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, climbed Telegraph Hill and walked along Lombard Street. It was a nice break from all the days spent indoors and they both welcomed the warm sunshine and balmy breeze. At the marina they bought two crab sandwiches and took them to the beach, sitting side by side on the sand looking out at the boats and the Golden Gate while they ate their snack.
“You’re already nervous about this evening?” Jack asked.
“After the kids in school nothing can throw me off balance,” Daniel grinned.
“But there will be a lot people for the opening ceremony of the Annual Book Week. Carter sent me the guest list.”
“But they will not play on their cell phones, send text messages, pass little scraps around the room with God knows what written on them. It must have been very funny, because everybody, after reading it, looked in my direction.”
“Daniel, those girls were fourteen, fifteen years old. I think you have to be the sexiest historian they’ve ever seen. Take my word, the writing on those scraps wasn’t funny but filthy.”
“Not everybody’s mind is so ... so ...” He pushed his glasses up.
“What?” Jack teased when Daniel stopped mid-sentence at a loss for words.
“Filthy.” Daniel answered and crossed his arms defiantly before his chest.
Jack laughed wholeheartedly. “Where you are concerned, maybe,” he admitted after a while and got up. “We’d better go back to the hotel or Carter’ll throw a fit.”
“No, she’s made of sterner stuff. Remember, she’s working with Rodney on a daily basis.”
“Yeah, that’s a tough school, I assume.”
Daniel folded his sweater and made a makeshift pillow for his head, before he sank down on it. He shaded his eyes with his hand and told Jack, “Only fifteen minutes. Come on. Relax.”
Jack sat down again, but continued to monitor the walkway and the beach. He watched the two men with the dog, the playing children and their parents. He followed them closely with his eyes and sat up in alert when a young couple approached and only relaxed when they continued their stroll on the beach.
Daniel threw a handful of sand on him. “Stop being paranoid!”
“I can’t jump over my shadow. And you know...”
“Discretion is the better part of valor. Rodney preaches this all the time,” he finished the sentence for Jack.
“Hey! I wanted to say ‘you can’t be too careful these days’.”
“They absolutely belong to the same category,” Daniel laughed and let the sand trickle through his fingers on Jack’s thighs.
In the evening Jack went to knock on Daniel’s door. He whistled approvingly when he saw him. Daniel wore a midnight blue suit and Jack thought that he looked very attractive. Chic and enticing. Daniel’s eyes took in Jack’s appearance. He wore an elegant dark grey suit and Daniel thought that he looked very hot. Neither of the men said it out loud, but the appreciation was clear to see in their faces.
They met up with Sam, complemented her on her black and red evening dress, and together they took a taxi.
After a moment Daniel said, “Jack, I think this evening we should downplay the bodyguard part a bit. Most of the guests – unless they lived in a cave in the boonies – have most likely seen you on television and will know who you are. But we don’t have to make them uncomfortable.”
“What exactly do you mean by that?” Jack asked frowning.
“I don’t want it to look like I ... mistrust my colleagues. And they are like colleagues to me, even if we don’t work together directly. And because I don’t think that anybody else has a bodyguard, I don’t want you to accompany me on the stage, during my lecture. It’s only five minutes and ...”
“That’s out of question!” Daniel was able to hear the refusal in every single word.
“But Jack! That looks ridiculous!”
“And how ridiculous does it look being dead?” Jack asked coldly.
“Every waitress, every waiter, every reporter or TV oddball – it doesn’t have to be one of your highly valued colleagues – could be one of the two weirdoes who wrote the letters. The service personnel didn’t undergo a special security check because there won’t be any high-ranking politicians there tonight. You see, with a little bit of planning ahead you can gain admittance to this reception – even if you are a crazy fan.”
“But it looks weird!” Daniel insisted.
“You, in the morgue, would look even weirder! Remember, they’re all lying in those big metal drawers and have small tags dangling from their big toes.”
Against his will, Daniel had to grin. “I should be convinced by now?”
Daniel didn’t look too happy, but before he could make another comment, Sam said, “Daniel, I’m sure you have lots of photographs with your lecture, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have,” he answered in a questioning tone.
“What do you think about Mr. O’Neill coming with you on stage and ‘helping’ you with the equipment? He could project what’s on your computer to the larger screen. He would be near you but not in the capacity of a bodyguard – at least officially.”
“You’d do that?” Daniel asked hopefully glancing at Jack.
“Sure. If you explain to me what I have to do beforehand so that I don’t look like an idiot.”
“No problem. Great idea, Sam.”
“And you don’t have to suffer through further debates,” Jack smirked.
“That was my intention,” Sam confirmed with a smile and squeezed Daniel’s hand reassuringly.
The opening ceremony of the Annual Book Week took place in the ballroom of a splendid historic San Francisco Hotel. Colorful Tiffany Glass, old tapestries, marble staircases and columns and lots of wood paneling created a very festive atmosphere.
Jack hadn’t exaggerated; there were lots of people; publishers, writers and reporters; but also the mayor and some business men, all there to see and to be seen. Sam knew a lot of people and introduced Daniel and Jack as well. They sipped champagne, ate a lot of very tiny salmon and caviar appetizers and were very happy that they had already eaten the crab sandwiches earlier on the beach, because the small canapés were nice to look at, but they ‘didn’t even fill the bottom of your stomach’ as Jack described it.
“John!” Sam yelled and waved her hands. “John!” A tall, dark haired man advanced. He was smiling.
“Sam! Daniel!” He had to forego shaking hands because he had a plate in one hand and a glass in the other.
“May I introduce, John Sheppard, Jack O’Neill,” Daniel said and observed Jack very closely.
“Wow!” Jack grinned broadly and beamed. “Wow!”
“I’m pleased to meet you.” John nodded, clearly a bit overwhelmed by Jack’s enthusiasm.
Daniel explained laughingly, “Jack is my bodyguard, I’m sure you’ve heard about him. And you, John, are his absolute favorite author. He even coaxed me into starting to read the first volume of your ‘Atlantis’ series.”
“I see.” John gave Jack a smile.
Jack’s eyes once again scanned the surroundings then he said, “I’d like to ask you about volume four. Why does the captain order his first officer to save herself when they are likely to be captured by the Vertainii? Their chances would have been greater if they had stayed together.”
“But he was sure that she would be able to repair the anti-alpha-graviton-disruptor in time – and he was right!”
“Yeah, but only in the last second.”
“It’s like that if you have five hundred pages to fill,” John explained with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Well, if you put it like that....”
“Please excuse me if I interrupt your anti-whatever-disruptor discussion, but where is Rodney?” Sam asked.
“He isn’t coming. He stayed behind because of a lawsuit regarding a copyright infringement. There’s an online library in New Orleans with the same name. But I think Rodney will win this case because he can prove that he’s been using this name for two decades now. The hearings will continue until next Tuesday; perhaps he’ll join us for the weekend.”
Sam nodded. “Yes, I heard about that but I didn’t know it was this week. You want to sit with us, John?” Sam already headed for a table near the stage.
“Yes. Thank you.”
The evening started with the usual welcome speeches. Everybody thanked everybody else, taking great pains not to forget anyone important. It was a well orchestrated ritual. At least the representative who spoke for the authors made the public laugh, because she had constructed her speech like one of those Oscar speeches. She thanked everybody, including her parents, her dog and her two cats for the support.
In the second part of the evening some authors were invited to read a few paragraphs from their new books. There was a wide range of different themes; everything from non-fiction books that informed the public about the right care of your aquarium or the best way to duplicate and triplicate your money, to epic fantasy novels, blood-thirsty vampire stories, elegiac dramas from the South and abstruse New Wave poetry.
It was rather entertaining and amusing because nobody wanted to make a fool of themselves in front of such a critical public. Daniel wasn’t the only one using a PowerPoint presentation for his book, so nobody was astonished when Jack accompanied him to the stage.
Five minutes to convince your ‘colleagues’ wasn’t much so Daniel had pondered for hours on what to say and what to leave out. In the end he had decided to go with a short version of the lecture he had held in the school. After a short scientific introduction he came to the amusing anecdotes.
Jack had enough time to watch the public, because his job wasn’t too demanding and consisted only of pressing the ‘enter’ button whenever Daniel gave him a sign. There was nothing unusual in the crowd. People were sitting at their tables, eating, drinking and speaking softly. Waitresses ran around and brought beverages. Some guests were walking around, leaving the room and coming back. Everything looked normal.
Therefore Jack was totally surprised when suddenly a thick, yellow smoke developed directly in front of the stage and, in the blink of an eye, enveloped the first rows of tables and the podium. There was no detonation to be heard and there were no flames. Jack’s brain provided the only logical explanation: modified fireworks or a smoke grenade as used by paintball players. In the same second he asked himself ‘why?’ and the answer had to be ‘for a diversion’. The target was Daniel. Jack launched himself at Daniel who was only a few feet away.
In the meantime the first hysterical voices were heard. Orders like “on the floor!” and “get out of here!” filled the room. People who had inhaled the smoke were coughing. Someone yelled, “I don’t want to die” and chairs crushed to the floor, tables were overthrown and people who had lost their orientation rushed heedlessly to the right and the left, even climbed onto the stage.
“Keep quiet!” Jack shouted into the microphone he had taken from Daniel. “This isn’t a fire. It’s only modified fireworks! Go slowly to the doors, don’t push!” He let the microphone fall to the ground and a terrible shrieking noise of feedback filled the whole ballroom. “Shit!” He bent forward and turned the microphone off.
“We have to try to get behind the stage!” Jack tried to push and shove Daniel, keep an eye on the room, watch to the right and the left and orient himself in the steadily thickening smoke. That was damned difficult. The use of these smoke grenades was only allowed in the open air – and rightly so. In the ballroom their effective power was impressive. Jack realized that there must have been two grenades, one in front of the stage another on the stage itself.
His sixth sense made Jack turn around the moment he saw something glittering from the corner of his eye. He pushed Daniel to the floor and a blade or a knife missed them only by inches. They hit the floor and as planned by Jack he landed on top of Daniel, thus protecting him with his body. This was miles away from their playful demonstration in the school.
“Keep down! Keep down!” Jack ordered urgently and lifted his head a fraction.
His first reflex was to draw his weapon but he knew that is wasn’t an option here with the bad sight and the chaos. The danger to hit somebody innocent was to too imminent. The only thing Jack could do was to keep Daniel out of the line of fire. Daniel was coughing heavily and Jack felt his own eyes water and his lungs constricting. He blinked rapidly when a big shadow advanced on their position and he prepared himself to disable the attacker with an accurate kick of his foot. The man stretched out his hand...
Jack didn’t recognize the muffled voice, because the man was wearing a soaked table napkin in front of his mouth and nose – a clever precaution with all this smoke. Only when the man leaned forward did Jack recognize the characteristic black hair of John Sheppard and was able to divert his kick in the last second.
“Sheppard.” Jack accepted the offered hand with great relief and together they helped Daniel to his feet. Sheppard gave his wet cloth to Daniel and they tried to find a way behind the stage. Only a few steps were enough to lighten the smoke, so they were able to find the exit without problem.
Coughing and fighting for breath they entered the hallway outside the ballroom. There were people everywhere. Talking loudly and agitatedly or simply leaning against the wall with their eyes closed.
At least the hotel security had arrived and tried to calm the people down. Through a door to the ballroom that wasn’t entirely closed, the three men were able to see that the smoke grenade was nearly burnt out and the strong air conditioner had already started to clear the air.
Of course there was no trace of the attacker. It could have been any of the guests or the staff.
“Are you hurt?” Jack put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
Daniel shook his head, coughed and answered, “I’m fine. Some bruises from hitting the floor, but that’s all. Thank you, Jack. I ... Oh, damned...”
Jack saw how Daniel realized only in this moment how close it has been, that he really had been in a mortal danger. All the color drained from his face, his blood pressure dropped rapidly. Jack held him when his legs went wobbly, John took his other elbow.
“Somebody really attacked me. Wanted to ... hurt me.” Daniel’s voice was laced with disbelief, but after a few seconds he pulled himself together so that he was able to stand on his own legs again.
“Somebody followed through with their threats,” Jack confirmed.
“So, you aren’t here only for publicity reasons?” John asked.
“No. There have been threatening letters and McKay thought it would be a good idea to engage me.”
“I should send a gift basket to Rodney. If he hadn’t had this idea who knows what would have happened today.” Daniel was shivering and pulled his arms around his upper body.
Jack rubbed soothing circles on Daniel’s back. He wasn’t ready to answer the question if he did it to reassure himself or Daniel that everything was fine again.
Sam pushed her way through the crowd, and when she saw them she sighed deeply relieved, “Here you are. You’re okay?”
All three of them nodded and Jack said, “Peachy”.
Sam glanced at them assessing the three men but didn’t dwell on it. “I’m glad John found you. I called the police immediately and they should arrive any minute now. Did you see something or someone?”
“No, the thick, yellow smoke was very effective.”
There was the typical sound of police cars to be heard, and the next moment several police women and -men entered the hotel. A petite, but forceful, woman was in command.
“My name is Detective Janet Fraiser, and I’m conducting the investigation in this case. Please, everybody return to the ballroom – and don’t think of leaving the hotel before talking to one of my officers! That’s true for everybody, no exceptions!” She ordered the hotel manager to provide the guests with drinks and something to eat. She took up residence in one of the smaller conference rooms.
The officers walked around gathering personal data, and when Daniel gave his name, the policeman asked him to accompany him to the small conference room. “You are the first person Detective Fraiser wants to speak to.”
Jack, Sam, and John accompanied him.
“You all go by the name of Daniel Jackson?” Detective Fraiser asked with a raised eyebrow.
“My name is Jack O’Neill. I was with him on the stage when the smoke grenade exploded,” Jack explained. “And I’m his bodyguard and I will not leave him alone,” Jack countered Fraiser’s piercing look.
“I’m his agent,” Sam offered, less sure of herself than Jack.
“Mister?” A sarcastic ‘And-what’s-your-lame-ass-excuse?’ look hit John.
“John Sheppard. Uh... I’m a friend of Sam and Daniel and we shared a table.”
“Okay.” She looked them all over then decided, “Mr. O’Neill can stay. You, please wait outside the room until I’ll call for you.”
Detective Fraiser turned to Daniel. “Dr. Jackson the attack happened during your lecture, while you were on the stage with Mr. O’Neill. Can you tell me exactly what you remember?”
Daniel described the events, how there had suddenly been yellow smoke everywhere and how Jack had pushed him to the floor the next moment. There weren’t many details in his testimony. He remembered clearly the page of his manuscript, the last picture – but the events of the actual attack were blurred. He apologized for not being more helpful.
“That’s not unusual, Mr. Jackson,” Detective Fraiser told him. “Your brain shut down for a moment. I’m sure you can tell me all about the texture of the floor, or if you wondered if there would be stains on your new suit.”
“That’s right!” Daniel admitted. “I was only able to think about the new aftershave Jack had used.”
Fraiser laughed, Jack happily confirmed, “You’re right!” and Daniel blushed when he realized what he had said.
Jack’s answers were much more detailed. He even was able to tell Fraiser how much time had elapsed between the detonation of the smoke grenade and the throwing of the blade. But he hadn’t been able to see the assailant.
“But somewhere on the stage must be the knife, perhaps there are fingerprints?”
“I don’t think so. But my crew is securing the crime scene and if the blade is still there they’ll of course examine it. Let’s talk about suspects, Mr. Jackson. Who is interested in killing you?”
Jack and Daniel told her about the anonymous threatening letters. Fraiser demanded to know why the police hadn’t been informed. But Daniel was able to convince the detective that you couldn’t run to the police with every strange letter you received from a fan. Fraiser acquiesced.
“All those lectures were videotaped, right?” Daniel said pensively.
“I’m sure my folks thought about confiscating all the tapes,” Fraiser replied.
Jack added, “And what about personal camcorders or cell phones? Who knows, perhaps somebody recorded mom spilling the good champagne on the new dress of her neighbor and in the background there’s something that isn’t on the official videotaped version? If we are lucky, perhaps even the suspect?”
“These coincidences are rare in real life and it seems they rather belong to the realm of Mr. Jackson and his colleagues. But we’ll see if somebody pressed the record button at the right moment and captured something interesting.”
Detective Fraiser asked some more standard questions about what they had done during the day, where they had been. “Perhaps there is something that wasn’t suspicious when it happened, but now, in hindsight with all the pieces of the jigsaw-puzzle, it makes sense. A coincidence that in retrospect isn’t a coincidence at all, but somebody who was trying to find out about your habits?”
“We haven’t been in San Francisco long enough to have developed habits.” Daniel shook his head.
Detective Fraiser thanked them for their help and gave them her card with her telephone number. “In case you have an epiphany.” She smiled and asked them to send Ms. Carter and Mr. Sheppard in. “You may return to your hotel. If any questions arise, I’ll know where to find you.”
Jack wanted to go back immediately. “It’s much safer in the hotel than here in all the chaos.”
“We’ll wait for Sam and John. And I’m convinced with all the police running around, there is no safer place at the moment than this hotel.”
“Fine.” Security had only been pretence. Jack wanted to get Daniel to the hotel room to make sure Daniel was as calm as he pretended to be.
Fortunately, Sam and John arrived within a few minutes. During the drive to the hotel Sam asked continuously if Daniel was fine. If he was going into shock? If he was cold? If she should give him her jacket? If ...
“Stop, Sam!” Daniel smiled and took her hand. “I’m fine, really. I’m still a bit appalled that someone interrupted my lovely speech, but I’ll manage.”
“We should have cancelled the promotion tour.” She was full of self-recriminations.
“It happened during the ‘Book Week’. And I would have been there with or without a promotour.”
“But without this tour you wouldn’t have been in the hot seat.”
“Who wants publicity also has to live with the negative side effects.” He patted her hand.
Sam sighed deeply and Daniel pulled her into a quick embrace.
Once in the hotel, they all went to Daniel’s room and switched on the television. There was already a short report of the ‘incident’ on one of the local news channels. An eye witness told the reporter with a lot of drama how horrible those minutes in the ballroom had been.
“If you listen to him, you get the impression there had been a giant explosion and hordes of special task forces, armed to the teeth, had stormed into the hall.”
“He’s on TV, Jack. What do you expect?”
“Perhaps the reporter had asked him to dramatize a bit, who knows.” John shrugged.
Daniel’s cell phone rang and when he answered everybody in the room was able to hear Rodney’s voice because of the way he was yelling into the phone.
“Are you alright, Daniel? You’re okay? They said nobody has been hurt?”
Daniel held the phone at arms length. “Yeah, I’m fine. I assume you’re watching the news right now?”
“Oh, my God. Yes. That’s so horrible!”
“Calm down, Rodney. Thanks to your precautions my bodyguard was with me. I hate to tell you that – because your ego will swell even more – but this time you were absolutely right.”
“Don’t leave the hotel, Daniel! I’ll take the first flight tomorrow and come to San Francisco!”
Jack turned Daniel’s hand with the phone so that he could speak. “Mr. McKay, everything is under control. And the Detective who is leading the investigation is very competent. You can fly out here if you want, but I assure you, it isn’t necessary. Daniel, Sam and I will talk to the police again tomorrow and we won’t take any unnecessary risks.” Jack didn’t tell McKay that he thought that his presence here would be more of a burden than a gain.
John’s lips formed an inaudible ‘may I?’ before he took the cell phone from Daniel. “Rodney, calm down. I’m going to call you back from my room in a few minutes. We’ll talk about the next course of action. Okay?”
“John?” This one word was laden with so much relief that Sam turned to Jack and Daniel and raised her brow in a questioning manner.
Daniel shrugged, Sam turned down the volume on the TV and they eavesdropped shamelessly. John said, “Yes, Rodney. I’m here. I ...”
“You were in the ballroom when it happed, weren’t you?” His voice nearly somersaulted.
“Yeah. We were sitting at the same table. I ...”
“I’m so very sorry! That was never my intention! You have to believe me! I swear!” They had never heard Rodney talking in such an imploring voice.
“Rodney, dammit, it was my idea to visit the ‘Book Week’.”
“What?” It was obvious that Rodney had expected a different answer.
“Uhm ... Rodney you aren’t making a whole lot of sense at the moment. What do you say I go to my room now and I’ll explain everything to you calmly and in the right order, okay?”
“O...kay.” Rodney choked on this one word.
“Fine. I’m giving the cell phone back to Daniel now.”
“No, no. But tell him not to leave the hotel and call me back ASAP.”
“Done. See you.” John hung up and cleared his voice. “It seems there is some minor misunderstanding. I ... better call him back.”
“I hope you succeed to persuade him to stay where he is – at least for the moment – that would be great.” Jack’s hand that was not lying on Daniel’s knee made indistinct circles in the air.
“I’ll try my best.” John said good-night and went to his room.
“That was interesting,” Sam observed. “Was that really Mr. ‘Loudmouth’ McKay being ordered around by John?”
“I would have never thought that Rodney would be so upset about this,” Daniel mused.
“How much are you and Sheppard worth, I mean as authors, for Cheyenne Mountain Press?” Jack wanted to know.
“Jack! You don’t think that Rodney ...”
“Fears for his investments?” Jack completed the sentence. “To me it sounded like that.”
“Sometimes Rodney is a bit ... brusque, but I give him more credit,” Sam came to Rodney’s defense.
“Money seldom brings out the best in people,” Jack pointed out.
Sam got up and bent down in front of the mini-bar. “Anybody want something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I think I’ll hit the sack now. Tomorrow we’ll hear what Detective Fraiser says and then we’ll decide how to proceed.”
“We already had this discussion. The promotion tour will not be cancelled,” Daniel stated emphatically.
“That was before the attack.”
“As long as I’m responsible for your security, the final decision is with me.”
“Get accustomed to it.”
“Uhm ... guys ... I think it’s time for me to go to bed now.” Sam was already on a strategic retreat. “See you for breakfast.”
“But Sam, the lectures ...” Daniel called after his agent.
“Find a solution with Jack. Night!” The door clunked shut.
“Coward!” Daniel called after her then turned to Jack. “Jack, we ...”
“You don’t get it, do you? This isn’t about a crazy fan who wants to use you as a sperm donor. You could be dead now!” Furious about Daniel’s insouciance and misjudgement of the situation, Jack grabbed Daniel’s shoulders and shook him. “Dead!!”
“Hey! I know! I could be dead or in the hospital and being patched up.”
They stared at each other.
Of course Jack wanted to protect all his clients while he worked for them; accidents were bad for his reputation. But with Daniel it was more. He wanted – on a level that had nothing to do with “work” – to keep him from harm. He knew that Daniel was grown up, stubborn, self-confident and well able to manage his own life. But Jack felt an insistent need to protect him and keep him away from further bad experiences. With a rueful grin he had to admit that Daniel wouldn’t be too pleased to find himself in the role of a damsel in distress.
With a frustrated, “Damn, Daniel,” he let go of Daniel’s shoulders and rubbed his neck. “Well, I’d better head off to bed now.” Otherwise it would be too tempting to kiss Daniel’s pouting lips, and that would be totally the wrong signal in this stressed situation. Jack took his jacket from the armrest of the chair and searched for his tie. He spotted it on the small table. “See you tomorrow.”
Daniel bit on his lip. He didn’t want to be alone right now. He was convinced that the nightmares would come the moment he went to bed, because he knew he hadn’t really processed the attack yet. But he didn’t want to cave in and admit his fears to Jack.
“Uhm ... Sam told us to talk about the lectures.”
“Tomorrow, Daniel. We’ll discuss it in the morning.” Jack made sure he had all his stuff and went towards his room. “Sleep well,” he said before starting to close the door.
“Jack, please don’t shut me out.” With two steps he was standing in front of Jack and laid his hand on Jack’s biceps.
“That’s a very bad idea, Daniel.”
“If I don’t then I’ll touch you – in inappropriate places,” Jack stated bluntly.
“That’s exactly what I’m hoping for,” Daniel answered and gave Jack his most seductive smile.
“Let’s postpone this until you’re no longer my ... boss,” Jack tried for levity and to appeal to Daniel’s common sense. But he didn’t sound entirely convinced.
And of course Daniel immediately sensed this tiny insecurity in Jack’s voice and stance and said, “You are a bodyguard – so guard my body. Do your duty, Jack.” He took the jacket from Jack’s hands and draped it over the backrest of the desk chair. On an intellectual level he understood Jack’s reluctance to start something with a client. But he was usually more inclined to follow his heart than rules he regarded as obsolete. And in his opinion Jack wouldn’t loose his edge as a bodyguard whether they took this last step or not.
“It would be nice if you were always so eager to support me in my duty,” Jack grumbled but offered no resistance when Daniel pushed him in the direction of the bedroom.
Yes, he had sworn to himself to wait, and he still was convinced ‘in principle’ that he shouldn’t start anything with a client. However, working more and more from his desk and less and less ‘in the field’, Jack had started to miss something in his life. He had more time to himself and long weekends to feel how empty his house often was. Half-heartedly he had thought about dating someone – but at his age it wasn’t that easy to find a partner. And suddenly Daniel came into his life and turned out to be just the type of man he could imagine to have more than a one night stand with. And Daniel had asked him to stay – not for the first time.
Jack wasn’t sure he knew the difference between his wishes and Daniel’s anymore. And perhaps he was a tiny bit afraid that if he ignored Daniel’s flirting, he would offend Daniel. In the end Jack had convinced himself that there were more points in favor than aspects against as to why it was a good idea to bend his principles.
“I promise to listen to all your propositions. You have to believe me, I’m not keen on already finishing my ... successful career as a writer,” he answered with a grin.
“Nice to know that at least your fame is near and dear to you,” Jack teased.
Daniel pushed Jack onto the bed and dove headlong besides him. “Other things are even dearer to my heart but I didn’t want to overtax you.” Jack couldn’t miss the laughter in his voice.
“We’ll see who’s overtaxing whom, greenhorn!” Jack tore off the bow-tie Daniel was still wearing and threw it carelessly on the ground.
“Jack.” Daniel looked into the brown eyes that were surrounded by tiny laugh lines. His look rested a moment on the thin lips that were curled because Jack gave him an open smile.
Jack noticed that Daniel’s mood had changed. He put his hand on Daniel’s neck and pulled Daniel’s face to him. “That’s a very unprofessional decision,” he mumbled before he pressed his lips onto Daniel’s.
Unprofessional or not – this was the logical consequence of the past few days. Daniel immediately opened his lips to taste Jack and welcome him, to coil his tongue around Jack’s. Not being alone was only a side effect; this was what he really wanted.
The kiss changed from hungry to exploring to tender and savouring until Jack tried to regain the upper hand and Daniel resisted. Jack rolled Daniel onto his side thus effectively ending the kiss. “If you ever want to wear that suit again, wouldn’t it be better to put it over on that chair?”
“You are so un-romantic!” Daniel complained laughingly, springing out of the bed to do what Jack had proposed.
Jack got also rid of his grey trousers and folded them. Then he lifted the bedcover invitingly.
Daniel was crawling into the bed when he suddenly shouted, “Wait!” and ran to the bathroom. He returned with lube and a few condoms which he threw nonchalantly on the nightstand. He gave Jack a hopeful but questioning look.
Daniel beamed. He grabbed his shirt at the collar and tried to pull it over his head after only opening three buttons. He got stuck because the cufflinks were still closed.
“Mhm ... Jack. Could you help me?” He offered his hands that were “bound” by the shirt.
“Perhaps I should say no? It’s kinda’ kinky,” Jack teased. “Because then I could set the pace.”
Daniel pondered the suggestion and answered, “I’ve never done that before ... but it doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Wow!” Daniel’s answer surprised Jack in a good way.
“But perhaps another time. Now I want to touch you.” Daniel’s voice was – consciously or not – warmer and darker.
“Sounds good. Come here.” Jack fumbled with the buttons until Daniel was finally able to get rid of the shirt.
Once his hands were free he hastily proceeded to open the buttons on Jack’s shirt.
“Hey, we have enough time. We have the whole night.” Jack caught one of Daniel’s hands and held it to his chest.
“We’ve had enough foreplay! Since the moment you entered my apartment for the first time. Please excuse me if I want to get down to business.”
“Why so impatient?”
“I ... perhaps there’s still lot of adrenalin in my blood from the attack.”
“That’s very improbable from a medical point of view.” Jack’s hands caressed Daniel’s arms.
“You only want to hear that you’re so hot that I can’t slow down!”
Jack grinned cheekily from ear to ear. “Oh yeah. That’s the correct answer, baby!”
Daniel bent forward and kissed the smirk from his face.
They jostled a bit, mock-fighting. Gliding their hands over the other’s body, they learned each other’s sensitive spots. But they also found places where a caress that was meant to be erotic was only tickling and made them both laugh. There were also the bruises on Daniel’s body acquired while being pushed to the floor, and Jack took care of every single one – licking and kissing and mumbling apologies.
Pushing for control Jack kept Daniel in check, forcing him to a slower pace until Daniel whimpered out of frustration and hopeless arousal. His head thrashed on the pillow from right to left while Jack licked his hard dick with horrible slowness. He touched Daniel’s balls, but gently so that Daniel was balancing on the edge the whole time.
Daniel felt waves of lust submerging him and coherent thought became more difficult by the second. He wanted the waves to crush, to pull him into his climax. But at the same time he knew that this moment was immensely valuable because it promised that the tingling and prickling sensations would continue. He wanted the yearning and the sweet ache to last.
And he wanted Jack, wanted to be in Jack when they reached the point of no return. Daniel forced himself to concentrate. “Jack?”
“Mhmm.” Jack didn’t stop the tender kisses.
“I want ... to be in you when it happens.”
“What?” Jack lifted his head.
“Uhm ... actually, I’m a top.”
“Oh. Actually I’m a top, too.”
They traded an astonished look. It seemed they both had made a hasty judgement based on ... nothing.
“Oh, shoot!” Jack said half-laughing, half-baffled. “But what ... what does ‘actually’ mean?” he asked hopefully.
“’Actually’ means that I ... that I ...” Daniel had to decide if he should take the easy or the honest way out. He opted for the truth. “It means that I seldom trust anybody enough to place myself in their hands. I did it once, with a fellow student. After we broke up he boasted about it in the entire history department, with very derogatory comments. I swore to myself that I would never let that happen again.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It was a long time ago.” Daniel shrugged. “But now tell me, what about you?”
“I prefer to top because ... I love to have everything under control. Maybe an occupational hazard, I don’t know.” He grinned apologetically. “I want to protect my partner – and yes, I know that sounds like the most terrible cliché – also in bed. Well, somehow ...” Jack’s hands were painting circles in the air and it was clear that he wasn’t able to express with words what he really wanted to say.
Daniel hadn’t known Jack as long as he had Stephen Raynor. Nevertheless, he caught himself thinking that he had more trust in Jack that he’d ever had in Stephen. With Raynor there had always been a residue of caution. A reservation he had set aside trying to save a relationship that was already doomed. In hindsight, he saw that he had offered this concession as some sort of cement to mend a relationship that was beyond repair. He had failed miserably, and if he hadn’t been so single-minded at that time he could have guessed the outcome. Now he had to decide if he wanted to try again with Jack.
Jack scooted up until he was at eye level again. His fingers continued to glide over Daniel’s chest, tracing his rib cage and teasing the nipples that hardened immediately. Call him naïve and premature, but he had always imagined that Daniel would surrender to Jack’s strength and force. When, in the beginning, Jack had pressed him against that wall, he had noticed that Daniel had reacted by getting an erection. That had been his point of departure and never in his daydreams had he envisaged a Daniel that was exclusively a top. This promised to be interesting in the future if they had to negotiate the terms each time they were together.
But perhaps interesting was the best thing that could happen to a relationship, Jack suddenly realized, because there was nothing worse than boredom. He was sure he’d never have this problem with Daniel.
They both answered at the same time and had to grin.
“No, you go first.”
“Dammit, Jack. We aren’t in the kindergarten!”
“Makes you think of it, doesn’t it?” With a smile Jack kissed Daniel’s corner of the mouth and licked his lips. “What did you want to say?”
“The smarter know when give in?” Daniel sighed. “I only wanted to say ... that ... that I trust you.” He gave Jack an expectant and slightly nervous look.
The tension drained from Jack’s features and with a warm, low voice he said, “And I wanted to meet you halfway .... and tell you ... you know what ...”
Daniel grinned and caressed Jack’s arm. “Did we just change the problem from ‘nobody will bottom’ to ‘both will’?”
“Well, we both demonstrated our hypothetical preparedness and now we can wait and see how it develops, okay?”
With a grip he had learned during his years with the secret service, Jack flipped Daniel on his stomach and rolled onto him. Daniel struggled and fought against Jack. Jack held him down and they were back to playing power games. Daniel tried to unsettle Jack but he held him tight. So, this was what Jack called ‘wait and see how it develops’? Perhaps he should have anticipated something like that. Daniel’s disappointment grew. Involuntarily he stiffened.
All of a sudden, Jack felt like a first-class idiot. The whole time he’d gone slowly and the moment Daniel told him he trusted him, Jack went ... cave-man on him! There was really more blood in his dick than in his brain!
“I’m sorry. Please, relax.” Jack released Daniel’s hands but continued to lie on him and nuzzle his neck and shoulders. “Please.”
After a long nerve-racking moment, the tension bled from Daniel’s body.
When he didn’t say anything, Jack took it as a good sign. “Let me continue, where we left off. You were already so close, remember?” Jack lured and his knuckles began gliding up and down on Daniel’s spine until he leaned into the touch. “I promise to ... to put out for you ... later.” Jack stumbled over the last words and cleared his throat.
Daniel was amused that his always so self-confident ex-secret service agent had difficulties finding the right words. Perhaps ... he bucked carefully against Jack’s hold but with no intention to break free. He tested Jack’s willingness to hold him down without really forcing him. He felt Jack’s weight on him but no restraint. Jack’s body surrounded him with warmth and his heart beat faster. He realized that he loved Jack’s tamed strength. It gave him a feeling of security – and characterized Jack perfectly. There was harmony and a sense of rightness.
“O... Okay,” he whispered into his pillow. He trusted Jack with his life – he should trust Jack with his ass. Daniel knew that it wasn’t that simple, but at this moment it was a logical justification. He tried to relax.
Jack honored this sign of assent with kisses that trailed from Daniel’s hips slowly towards his ass. Jack pushed first one knee then the other between Daniel’s legs so that he was able to kneel between them.
Taking a deep breath, Daniel spread his legs further. Daniel couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so ... vulnerable, but so coveted. Jack’s kisses covered his shoulder blades and interchanged with tiny bites when he came to Daniel’s waist. Jack’s hands massaged the muscles in his ass-cheeks until Daniel groaned loudly.
“That feels so good,” he mumbled against the crook of his arm.
“Your private masseur with a very special, very private, service,” Jack joked. For a few minutes he continued with his massage then he pulled Daniel’s ass cheeks gently apart.
Even before Daniel had fully thought through how he must look for Jack at this moment, sprawled and open, and as if it wasn’t already too intimate, he felt Jack’s tongue licking around his hole. “Uh, uh.” What a feeling! All the supersensitive nerves at this spot were stimulated, and a pleasurable shock shot through his spine. When Jack continued with the licking, he pressed his hips higher. “Oh, my God! Don’t stop.”
He felt Jack give a soft huff of laughter and thought that it was very strange to feel Jack’s laughter at his hole. But before he was able to formulate a suitable remark, Jack’s tongue breached him. A hot-white beam rushed to his feet and to his brain, making him shiver all over. This was so good, so fantastic – and if Jack continued like that Daniel would come before Jack even entered him.
Jack was relieved that he had found the right strategy. Daniel followed all of his movements, tried to come closer and closer. He was constantly moaning, “More, more”. And when Jack replaced his tongue first with one finger and then with two he stayed as relaxed as he was. Jack had a lump in his throat, this trust was overwhelming. He knew this was a gift, and he was responsible to live up to the trust Daniel had placed in him. Hastily, he put on a rubber, then his fingers returned to play with Daniel and prepare him. Only when he was absolutely sure that there would be no pain whatsoever involved, he slowly entered Daniel.
“Okay?” Daniel’s body was warm and tight.
“Yes.” And it was more than okay. Jack moved cautiously in him and asked two more times if he was okay until Daniel told him breathlessly to make it harder. Only then did Jack’s movements get deeper and harder. Each time Jack hit his prostate, Daniel let himself fall into a sea of longing and desire. It lapped at him from everywhere and his whole body seemed to be one giant erogenous zone. Where his dick moved against the smooth sheets, little cascades of sheer bliss formed and rippled through him. He pressed more firmly against Jack, tried to feel him deeper in himself and offered himself even more shamelessly by spreading his legs even wider. But Jack didn’t change his tender rhythm and pulled Daniel along with him. Not in hard stumbling steps, but in a gliding, floating motion that narrowed the spiral of lust until Daniel’s only thoughts consisted of now, now, NOW!
He must have said or whispered or begged it loudly, because Jack wrestled his hand under Daniel’s stomach, took Daniel’s dick firmly in hand and ordered calmly, “Come.”
Daniel allowed himself to free fall into the spiral of pleasure and came.
Jack, who had constrained himself the last few minutes, loosened fingers that had been clinging to the sheets beside Daniel’s. He let go, and needed only seven, eight strokes until he spilled, panting.
Daniel’s comment was a satisfied, ‘so good’ and with a small chuckle Jack sank on his partner’s back. He breathed against Daniel’s sweaty skin and savoured the smell of sex and satisfaction. Then he rolled off, disposed of the condom and allowed himself to be pulled into a sluggish hug.
Leaning his front against Jack’s, Daniel wrapped an arm around Jack’s waist and sighed deeply when Jack put his hand on his hip, painting small, caressing circles.
“Don’t think you’ve ... converted me forever,” Daniel remarked lazily. His fingers were gliding over Jack’s sweaty temples and smoothed the short hair. “But maybe there’ll be a few less discussions in the future.” This gentle lovemaking had been exactly what he had needed after the stress of the last several days.
“I’m pleased to hear that. But I’m also looking forward to wrangling for supremacy,” Jack smiled.
“Me too.” Daniel lifted his head a few inches, searched Jack’s eyes and said, “I’m convinced we’ll be very good.” He beamed at Jack.
“Oh yes, we’ll be terrific.” Jack sealed the pact with another kiss.
While Jack pulled the covers up, Daniel picked some tissues from a box and gave some to Jack. They cleaned themselves provisionally. A few minutes later they were curled up against each other, fast asleep – even when Daniel would have sworn only two short hours ago that he wouldn’t get a wink of sleep after this turbulent day.
So far they had never awoken in the same bed, but from the time spent together in the apartment, they knew each other before breakfast, before showering, before the first coffee. It was okay that Jack continued with his routine of jogging for an hour before breakfast. But the shiny new thing was that he announced his intentions with a kiss to Daniel’s lips, ruffling his hair and recommending that he not fall asleep again.
Daniel mumbled something in the covers he had pulled up to his chin that sounded suspiciously like “ants in the pants ... your own fault ... no blow-job ... ask Sam.” Jack hoped that the last words had no connection with the first. He gave Daniel an encouraging slap on the butt, then he was gone.
Fifty-five minutes later he was back, and as a symbol of good will he brought a steaming cup of coffee with him. Daniel came from the bathroom and gulped it down gratefully.
“Sheppard called while you were gone. He told me he’s on his way to fetch Rodney from the airport,” Daniel said between sips.
“The airport? So McKay decided to come to San Francisco?”
“Obviously. Don’t ask me why, but it seems Rodney feels it’s very important that he speaks with us. Sheppard wouldn’t give me any details. They’ll be here for breakfast. I ordered room service.”
Jack frowned then shrugged. “Okay. I’ll hop into the shower ... or do you want to go through with your blow-job offer?” His hand trailed over Daniel’s arm.
“Really bad timing.” Daniel shook his head regretfully, placed his fingers over Jack’s and squeezed them gently. “Room service will be here within minutes, and so much stress before breakfast isn’t healthy.”
“Your loss. Fine, I’ll drag my astral body into my shower then.”
“Do that.” Daniel’s look held a promise for later. Jack went to his room to clean up and dress.
A few minutes later room service arrived, followed closely by Sam, Sheppard and McKay. When Jack came back to the room, they sat down at the table after a short greeting.
“So, McKay, why are you here in the flesh?” Jack looked at McKay who hadn’t said a word yet besides ‘good morning’ and was stirring his coffee absentmindedly.
McKay gave Sheppard an imploring look.
“Rodney, we talked about this,” Sheppard’s voice was stern.
“I ... I ... You tell them, John.”
“You let yourself in for this, now you’re going to straighten it out.” Sheppard crossed his arms.
Rodney’s look changed from begging and seeking help to challenging. “Fine,” he said snootily. “I was the one who sent the second set of threatening letters.” He put his cup down with so much momentum that coffee spilled on the saucer.
For a heartbeat there was utter silence.
Hesitantly Daniel asked, “You wrote the letters?”
“That’s what I said.” Stubbornly Rodney stared at a point on the wall.
“Rodney!” Sheppard gave him an outraged look.
“Yes, yes ... I’m .... terribly sorry. I thought the two letters from Hathor wouldn’t be enough for a publicity campaign. So I wrote two ... three more, to increase the pressure on Daniel.” Rodney didn’t make eye-contact but was trying to mop up the spilled coffee with his napkin. “I meant no harm.”
“No harm? You preposterous ass!” Jack roared.
“Hey! Mind your words!”
“You mind your words! You put Daniel’s life into jeopardy! You exposed him to mental anguish because he had been forced to read your garbage! And all your vile accusations!”
Rodney turned red. “I have ...”
“Stop it!” Sam interrupted the two squabblers. “This concerns Daniel. So it’s Daniel’s turn to say something.”
“Shut up, Rodney!” she snarled at him.
All eyes turned to Daniel who was still trying to come to terms with this new, surprising development. “Uhm ... that’s not very ... eh ... nice.” He was at a loss, and so he asked the question that interested him most, “How does Jack fit into this picture?”
“This idea suddenly popped into my head,” Rodney answered cantankerously. “At first I only thought about this press campaign. Later I realized that it would gain much more media attention if I also hired a good looking bodyguard.”
Sheppard threw his napkin onto the table and got up. He took a deep breath and pulled at Rodney’s elbow.
“I wanna talk to you, in private.” Trying to stay calm, he dragged the other man from the chair.
“John, I ...”
Adamantly, John pulled Rodney with him to the window. Daniel turned up the volume on the television so that they would have at least a bit of privacy.
The pantomime was enlightening enough.
Rodney was talking wildly with his arms; he was petulant and behaved a bit like a recalcitrant six year old. Sheppard was talking calmly to him, touched his arm, put a hand on his shoulder and patted his neck.
Sam sent an enquiring look to Daniel, he gave a shrug and Jack whispered, “Are they involved?”
“I don’t know. Rodney never told me,” Daniel answered.
“Me neither,” Sam confirmed.
Apparently, they had reached act two of their little panto now. Sheppard’s thumb caressed Rodney’s cheek. Rodney’s eyes were big and desperate and it looked like he was still negotiating with Sheppard, but some of the former vehemence was missing. Sheppard shook his head and Rodney slumped down a bit. Sheppard’s index finger went under Rodney’s chin and he forced Rodney to look him in the eye.
Sam was waiting for the explosion that seemed long overdue. She couldn’t imagine McKay permitting something like that and someone questioning his authority in any way.
Instead, Rodney nodded hesitantly and leaned his hand against Sheppard’s chest.
At this stage of the drama, the attentive onlookers weren’t too astonished that Sheppard bent forward and bestowed a tender kiss on Rodney’s lips. Suddenly this seemed to be the only logical conclusion to this little scene.
Jack was smirking; Sam pressed her hand to her mouth, trying not to laugh out loud.
“He met his match,” Daniel whispered, grinning broadly. Finally someone had found a way to shut Rodney up effectively. What an extraordinary day!
Rodney pulled Sheppard to him and kissed him with a passion nobody would have thought that he had in him, being only accustomed to the ‘official’ McKay. John answered the kiss with the same fervor.
Then they suddenly seemed to remember where they were and ended the kiss. Rodney was red in the face when he met the inquisitive looks of his friends, but that could easily be attributed to excitement or passion and didn’t have to signify embarrassment. Sheppard buried his hands in his pockets and they both returned to the breakfast table.
“Ehm ... yes”, Rodney started, “That... ehm...” He waved his napkin in the direction of the window, “let’s forget that. What I really wanted to say is ... why I’m here is ... Daniel, I’m sorry for all that’s happened. I never would have imagined an outcome like that. I only wanted publicity for you, and the letters seemed ... like a good idea. And all things considered, I still think that ... Ouch!”
Rodney looked daggers at John and finished his excuse lamely with, “It was a bad idea.”
Before Daniel could say anything Rodney continued, “And I want to make clear that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack! You have to believe me! I thought my heart would stop when I heard about it in the news. I was so afraid that John ... and you and Sam ... and of course also you, Mr. O’Neill,” he added hastily, “had been hurt! Those minutes until I finally got a totally incompetent policemen on the phone who could be bothered to answer my questions, were the worst minutes of my life!”
“This is such BS, McKay!” Jack replied disapprovingly, “I’m so glad I don’t have to work with you on a daily basis.”
“Rodney,” Daniel interrupted, “I want to recapitulate once more: when you engaged Jack there really wasn’t a problem, right?”
“Well, ... no, not directly. But now we’ve got a problem.”
“I noticed that. It remains to be seen if there is a connection between the two. Right now we should try ...”
“I cancelled all appearances for today so that we have time to plan a strategy,” Sam interjected.
“We should call Detective Fraiser and see what they found out while analyzing the data on the surveillance cameras,” Jack proposed and dialed her number. After ending his call, he told them, ”She’ll be here in half an hour.”
“That’s enough time to finally have breakfast,” Rodney said and snatched some toast.
“And enough time to clarify some things,” Daniel said pointedly, looking directly at Rodney. But it crossed his mind that without Rodney’s wacky plan he never would have met Jack, therefore the cross-examination was much milder than what Rodney deserved.
Forty minutes later, Detective Fraiser arrived. She brought a DVD and a laptop.
“Here you’ll find all the recordings from the official videos, the private camcorders and cell phones. Please take a look and see if you notice anything or anyone strange.”
There were a lot of people that at least one of the group knew, but all these people were on the guest list. They also paid attention to the personnel, but no one looked suspicious. Some of the cell phone videos were so blurred, dark and pixeled that Rodney bitched about the incompetence of some people, and how could anybody be so dilettantish with such an easy technique.
“Here, pay attention to the person on the left side,” Fraiser said and added smugly, “and, yes, Mr. McKay, the quality of the film is deplorably bad.”
There were two persons in the foreground, drinking and laughing, and one of the individuals suddenly snorted some of the champagne over the whole table. John commented on the missing table manners. But then they saw in the background the fuzzy shadow of a person who held something in her hand, let it fall to the ground, and disappeared. It could have been a napkin if a thick, yellow smoke hadn’t developed after a few seconds.
“Whoa! That’s him! Somebody really filmed the attacker! Can you zoom in?” Jack asked Fraiser.
Fraiser enlarged that part of the DVD. She fumbled a bit with the settings and finally said, “That’s it. It doesn’t get any clearer.”
“But that’s a woman and not a man,” Sam remarked and got nearer to the monitor.
“Exactly. That’s what we think,” Fraiser confirmed. “We extrapolated height and silhouette and now believe that our suspect is a woman between 5.6 and 5.9 inches.”
“There’s something familiar about her.” Jack frowned and cudgeled his memory.
“Please show us the whole sequence again,” Daniel requested and Fraiser complied.
Suddenly, Jack shouted, “That’s the Origin bimbo!”
“Yes, you’re right. That’s Adria Maldoran.” Daniel gave Jack an enthusiastic look – they were making progress! He would have never thought that Ms. Maldoran was so envious, but you lived and learned.
They explained to Detective Fraiser where they had met Adria Maldoran. Fraiser ordered her bureau to find Ms. Maldoran’s address. They watched the rest of the DVD and when they reached the end, Fraiser was informed that Adria Maldoran wasn’t in her apartment in Los Angeles and that her landlady hadn’t seen her for several days.
“This is bad.” Fraiser frowned and tapped her ball point pen on the table. “The attacks won’t stop. She’ll try again, because she isn’t satisfied with frightening Mr. Jackson. She wants more.”
“So we stop the book tour and appearances at once,” Sam declared categorically.
“No!” Daniel turned to Jack. “You guarantee my safety, don’t you?”
Jack was touched by Daniel’s trust. “I’d love to say yes, but unfortunately I can’t give such a guarantee,” Jack answered gently. “Sam is right; it’s too big a risk.”
“Dammit! If psycho wants to, she can also attack me at my home in Denver, when I go to the supermarket, when I take a stroll, or ... wherever. I can’t hide for the next few weeks or months.”
“Daniel is right.” John took his side. “If this were one of my novels the aliens wouldn’t be so dumb as to try the same thing in the same place again. They would think of something new – and that could be anywhere.”
“Which aliens?” Fraiser asked, totally perplexed.
“He writes science fiction,” Rodney explained, before John was able to answer.
“Ah.” Fraiser didn’t seem to be a great fan of science fiction.
“We should set a trap for her,” John suggested.
“An alien trap?” Fraiser sneered. Then she straightened in her chair. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t very professional. But I will not risk anyone’s life to catch a criminal – even if that works in your novels, Mr. Sheppard.”
Daniel said pensively, “But John’s idea isn’t that bad. If we could her make believe...”
“Gentlemen! Those are ideas for books! This is reality!” Fraiser interrupted.
“Let him finish,” Jack intervened, “because as long as she is out there, Daniel isn’t safe.” And even if he would have loved to be Daniel’s bodyguard for an indefinite amount of time, Jack knew that wasn’t a viable solution.
“Thank you, Jack. If we make her believe that the culprit had been arrested, the safety precautions finished, and my bodyguard sent home, then ...”
“Ehm ... Daniel ... that’s not what I was thinking.”
“’Make believe’, I said. In reality there are still undercover policemen.”
Rodney snapped his fingers. “Daniel will give an interview and tell the media how relieved he is that the nightmare has come to an end and he finally can live like a free man again. That must draw her in!”
A heated debate followed, but in the end they arranged an interview with the evening papers. Also Fraiser gave a short statement, but very vague so that nobody could use it against her. After the article was published, figured Adria would need twenty-four to thirty-six hours to arrange everything and in two days Daniel would go alone to a Starbucks – which would be crowded with undercover policemen.
Jack decided to procure some reinforcements and called his old buddy, Tealc. He didn’t tell anyone and Tealc’s discretion was legendary.
In the early afternoon, after everything had been arranged, Daniel, Jack, Sam, Rodney and John went to a restaurant before Rodney had to fly back to Denver. Rodney was so relieved that he had insisted on eating out, because they could only grill him in hushed voices about the accursed letters. He pretended to be contrite, and after a while they let him off the hook.
Sam asked instead, “Say, Rodney, John, what’s going on between the two of you?” She grinned impishly. If the two men had hoped that nobody would mention it they had been wrong.
“What did it look like?” Rodney griped. “The review for John’s new book?”
“That’s the new service for all of us?” Daniel teased.
“Pfft! There are authors you wouldn’t want touch with a ten foot pole! Uh... present company excepted of course.”
“Of course.” Daniel smirked. “So shoot!”
“Rodney and I have been together for nearly a year now.” John saw no necessity to play hide and seek any longer when the facts were clear.
“Yes,” Rodney confirmed. “That’s how long I’ve been putting up with this dimwit.”
“And I with this grouchy tyrant.”
Their laughing eyes made clear that these ‘pleasantries’ were tongue in cheek. Daniel tried to imagine how difficult living with Rodney must be. Or was John the more difficult? On the first glance he looked to be much more agreeable, but who knew what sort of temper he kept hidden?
“But you still have two different addresses?” Sam wanted to know.
“John kept his mini-apartment. For public appearance and ...”
“I can hole up there if the muses are cooperative and there’s nothing but writing in my head.”
“Alas,” Rodney sighed. “Oh, that didn’t sound right.” He waved with his hands and nearly knocked over a glass. “I only meant ... I didn’t want to imply that I miss the sex, but ... I ...”
Sheppard pulled up one eyebrow and Rodney realized what he had just said.
“Oh crap! That sounded even worse. Of course I miss the sex ... but ... but ... I think I better shut up now.”
Sheppard squeezed Rodney’s hand and agreed graciously, “I concur.”
“Ha! Don’t pride yourself on having the final say.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t put it on the list.”
“You have a list?”
“Oh. No. No, of course not.” He drank greedily from his glass until it was empty and asked Sam, “Question answered?”
“Thanks a lot. I got some interesting insight.” She grinned openly.
“You’re welcome,” Rodney commented sourly. “Okay, after I served as the comic relief, it’s time for me to drive to the airport.”
“We’ve still got half an hour, Rodney.”
Daniel ordered coffee for everyone, coffee being the panacea for everything. Jack asked about John’s new book, and they all came up with more or less crazy ideas for the next volumes.
“I’d like to see the ‘Altantis’ on an underwater planet,” Jack said.
“She could find a world where there’s still a culture that resembles those of Ancient Egypt,” Daniel tried to bring into play his field of expertise.
Sam couldn’t leave it alone and said, “Or the captain could find out that he loves his male scientist.”
“That has to be another series then,” John laughed.
“Hey! I like that idea! I’m convinced something like that would sell nicely. Novels featuring gay heroes are experiencing an upswing.” Rodney immediately saw an advantage for his publishing house – and the others saw the dollar signs sparkling in his eyes.
Daniel grinned. “John, I know what your next book will be about.”
“No! No,” Jack complained. “I wanna know how the story with ‘Atlantis’ ends before I want to read about ‘Queer as Folk’ in space.”
“I leave nobody behind, Jack,” John reassured the other man. The ‘Atlantis’ will finish her mission before I start to chase after gay captains.”
“Puh, glad to hear that.”
They continued to clown around, constructed the wildest scenarios for possible bestsellers, outbid themselves in absurdities, and Rodney managed to reach the airport with not a second to spare.
The rest of the day passed without further incidents. One short lecture at the Institute for Literature and an evening he spent with Sam and Jack, before Daniel followed Jack ‘discreetly’ to his room. Jack couldn’t bring himself to throw him out, not when Daniel was already working on the buttons of his shirt. Besides, he had acted once against his principles, how bad could a second time be?
When Jack started tossing and turning around half past six on a Sunday morning, Daniel sighed drowsily. Perhaps it would have been better if he had gone to his own bed? At least he would be able to sleep and he wouldn’t be kissed at this unearthly hour by a damned chipper Jack. Okay, the kissing wasn’t the problem per se, he liked it, even half-asleep, but how could anyone be so cheerful at this time of the day without coffee was impossible for Daniel to understand.
“I’m off to jog, sleepy-head.”
“Be my guest,” Daniel muttered.
“You wanna come with me?” There was too much laughter in Jack’s voice.
“Do I look like I want to do that?” Daniel opened one eye and squinted at Jack. Whoa, the man already was in jogging gear and was tying his sneakers. “Why can’t you run at a civilized hour?”
“Because early in the morning you have the beach to yourself, it starts your day perfectly, after that you’re fit and awake, because ...”
“I’m convinced. Thank you.” Daniel gave Jack a tiny smile and extended his hand. “Come here.”
Jack allowed himself to be pulled in. He promised, “’I’ll be back in time for an O’Neill Special before breakfast.”
“THAT sounds like an acceptable plan to begin a day!”
Another kiss, then Jack disappeared with a last wave of his hand. Only to knock at the door five minutes later.
Oh, no! “Jack?” Daniel called from the bed. Perhaps he could resolve the problem without leaving his warm bed.
“I forgot my keys,” he panted breathlessly from the other side of the door.
“Damm!” Sullenly, Daniel rolled out of bed and because he couldn’t see the key on first glance he shuffled to the door.
He opened the door, yawning. “Why didn’t you ask at the reception desk for a spare k...?”
A stranger, who would best be described as beefy, pushed him backwards until he fell to the floor. A second man entered the room and closed the door immediately.
But before Daniel was able to get up or say anything, the first man silenced him with a strip of duct tape over his mouth. Afraid that he wouldn’t get enough air and panicing, Daniel lashed out violently. He tried to escape, but the second man was beside him and they rolled him onto his stomach and tied his hands behind his back. When they were done, they rolled him back again. The first man took a photo from his pocket, gave Daniel a scutinizing look, showed it to his sidekick and they both nodded.
“Good. Then we’ll bring you to her. You should know that you can’t get away with things like that. If you fathered a child, you should pay for it.”
“Mhmmmphhmmm!” Daniel tried to protest, but they pulled him, not very gently, to his feet.
“Hey, Will, we can’t take him with us like that.”
Number two pointed to Daniel’s boxer shorts which were the only garment he was actually wearing.
“You’re right, man.” Will looked around and picked up Daniel’s jeans from the floor.
“If you don’t wanna run around half-naked you’ll help us dress. If you bitch you go like that, understood?”
Daniel nodded. The panic made him numb and divorced from reality. He felt as if it were happening to someone else. Will held the jeans for him and Daniel complied. Will pulled up the zipper and closed the button. In the meantime, his crony had chosen one of Jack’s sweaters and pulled it over Daniel’s head and his bound hands. The sweater smelled like Jack’s aftershave and Daniel knew that it was pathetic but the smell brought him back to the present.
He thought feverishly how he could let Jack know what had happened. He knew that he had no chance to get free. He continued to feign passivity until they had tied his shoes then he managed to break away. The moment of surprise was his and he was able to knock over the chairs and the floor lamp. Another kick with his leg brought the glasses and the bottles from the table crashing to the floor.
Another kick against the television set made the screen burst. By then they had cornered him, threw themselves on him, and wrangled him to the floor.
“Crap! Damn!” The beefy one slapped him in the face. “What do you think you’re doing? Do you hope that someone will hear you?” The insecurity in his voice suggested that it was exactly what he feared.
“We should go!” the other called impatiently.
Daniel snatched one of the bigger glass fragments and hid it under the pullover. As a weapon it was laughable, but better than nothing. While they were pulling him to his feet he cut his hand, dripping some blood on the rug. After one of the two partners in crime had checked that the hallway was clear, they brought Daniel to the elevator and went to the underground parking lot.
Hansel and Gretel, Daniel thought, bordering on hysteria while he was smearing blood against the walls of the elevator. Before they pushed him into the car he managed to leave another bloody mark on the cement. He didn’t know what else he could do to help Jack to find him.
Oh, God! Jack would be so upset when he found out how easy it had been to take him by surprise. And because of him, Jack would be worried sick. He would blame himself, because he went jogging, because they had persuaded him to go through with this plan. And now not only had Adria seen her chance, but also someone else whom Daniel suspected to be this crazy Hathor woman. At least the part with the child had sounded like her.
Daniel had no chance to find out where they were going because all the windows in the small truck were dark and they pressed his head down. After forty-five minutes the car stopped and Daniel was very relieved because he felt nauseous. He was very happy to breathe fresh air even if it was only for a few seconds before they pushed him into a warehouse, probably on the outskirts of San Francisco.
They forced him to climb stairs and his panic grew. They opened the third door in a long, deserted corridor, and Daniel saw an ordinary office with shelves, chairs, a desk, a computer and a copy machine. The woman sitting behind the desk rose and advanced on the three men. “You found him. Great. You’ll get you money as per our agreement. Please wait outside.”
The two men nodded and left the room. The woman pulled the duct tape from Daniel’s mouth, smiled at him and said, “So, Daniel, we have to talk ...”
Jack came back the hotel sweating and hoping for a nice shower – and to fulfil the promise he had made to Daniel. His, “Honey, I’m home!” dying on his lips the moment he opened the door and took in the state of the room.
“Crap!” He ran to the bathroom, but the last glimmer of hope disappeared when the door opened without problem. Daniel hadn’t barricaded himself there.
“Dammit, Daniel!” Jack repeatedly hit the wall with his fist. Then he forced himself to calm down and had a closer look at the overturned furniture. A smashed TV set, glass everywhere, a broken lamp – it looked as if a fight had taken place. He needed to call Fraiser and the forensic people immediately.
Just then the telephone rang. “What?” he spit into the phone.
The receptionist coughed. “Ehm, there’s a Mr. Tealc here to see you. Shall I ... ?”
“Send him up to my room and call the police. Ask for Detective Fraiser!”
One minute later, a tall, muscular man, clad in a t-shirt from a martial arts studio, entered the room. “O’Neill.” He inclined his head.
“T. I’m glad you’re here.” Jack got up from the floor where he had examined a spot that looked suspiciously like blood.
“The furniture in this room didn’t please you?” Tealc asked. “There are other ways to vent one’s displeasure.”
Jack sighed. “Unfortunately, it isn’t the interior decor. Somebody kidnapped Daniel while I was jogging.”
“From your room?”
“Uhm ... yes.”
Tealc tilted his head a bit and waited for further explanations.
Jack decided he should fill the big guy in and continued. “Okay, okay. Perhaps, I forgot to tell you that Daniel ... that me and Daniel ...” O’Neill looked everywhere but in Tealc’s direction.
“He shared your bed, O’Neill?”
“That’s it!” Jack said, very pleased that Tealc had found such a nice way to express it. Then he got serious again and pointed to the spot on the floor. “I think it’s blood: perhaps Daniel’s. Fraiser has to find out. Or we learn something about the assailant.”
“There’s also blood in the elevator,” Tealc said.
“A smear on the wall.”
“Perhaps a trail!” Jack walked up and down the room. “If you want to kidnap somebody you have to get him out of the hotel. The elevator goes to the underground parking. Come on, let’s check it out.”
“And Detective Fraiser?”
“She’ll call me when she gets here.”
They quickly found the blood traces in the elevator, on a column and on the floor of the parking.
“We should ask the parking attendant if he remembers the cars that left this morning,” Jack proposed.
They were lucky and it was still the attendant from the night shift. He was able to tell them exactly which cars had left the garage between a quarter to seven and a quarter to eight. When they had noted the details about the last car, Detective Fraiser called. They thanked the parking attendant and met with the police woman.
Fraiser put forensics to work at once and Jack and Tealc told her what they had found out so far. A few minutes later, Sam and John arrived because they had a date for breakfast. Jack introduced Mr. Tealc and told them what had happened. Both were shocked to learn about the kidnapping.
“In the meantime they can be anywhere,” Sam sighed and Jack gave her a nasty look.
“Contact the airports and check the passenger lists for domestic flights,” Fraiser ordered.
John was looking through the list with the cars and crossing some out.
“What are you doing?” Fraiser asked.
“Would you kidnap someone in a sports-car with only two seats?”
“The two Porsches, the BMW coupé and the old Pontiac Firebird aren’t made for three people, but they are cars the clients of this hotel drive. And nobody takes a yellow Lamborghini to kidnap someone; much too eye-catching. But there are also three small trucks and four midsize sedans. For two of the trucks the parking attendant remembers names. Let’s have a look at who has an office in the Bay Area, because I don’t think that they’ll drive around with Daniel for hours.”
“That’s a good starting-point,” Fraiser said, genuinely surprised.
They found a cleaning service that had been working for the hotel for decades and a plumbing service that nobody knew. They called the office but they weren’t missing anybody, all cars were accounted for. The enterprise was located in Dublin, on the other side of the bay.
“And if they work for their own account and their boss doesn’t know?”
“Besides installing heaters they’re also kidnapping people?” Jack, typing furiously on his laptop, didn’t sound very convinced. Sam shrugged.
“Detective Fraiser, you have to pay a toll for the bridges, do you not?” Mr. Tealc asked.
“Yes, but only into San Francisco.”
“That’s regrettable. So there is no chance the car is on one of the surveillance videos.”
“Depends on the lane they were taking. It is possible. I still have four officers. Two will check the videos and two are driving to Dublin, to find out why the truck was here. Cadman, you’ve finished?”
“I sent everything to the laboratory,” the young woman answered. “But as far as I can see it, the destruction of the room wasn’t due to a fight. Somebody did it to leave a message. Here, look,” Cadman’s pen pointed to the TV, “someone deliberately kicked in the screen. That’s why it shattered.”
“Good work, Laura,” Fraiser complemented.
“Daniel Jackson has shown great presence of mind,” Tealc praised.
The police departed and Jack ordered breakfast for them all. Tealc wanted to know, “What are your plans, O’Neill?”
“Shower and breakfast.” He marched into the direction of the bathroom.
Tealc didn’t question him but Sam shouted, “Jack! You can’t leave Daniel ... I mean there must be something we should do.”
“I think O’Neill does not whish to delight us with his strikingly masculine odor the whole afternoon.” Jack flipped him the bird over his shoulder.
“We are going to Sausalito, aren’t we?” John asked.
“Hey, how did you know?” Jack turned and gave John a puzzled look.
“There’s a Google map of Sausalito on your laptop. I don’t think you want to go there right now as a tourist; it must be somehow connected to our case.”
“Wow! You should write detective stories!” Jack said. “Guess who has an antiques shop in Sausalito?” They had to postpone their curiosity, because the room service knocked. While they set out the food, Jack hopped under the shower. When he came back, he enlightened them. “Vala Maldoran, Adria’s mother. What a coincidence, huh? Now eat up and let’s get going.”
“Shouldn’t we inform Detective Fraiser?” Sam already started to dial the number.
“Because I don’t plan on presenting a search warrant to Vala Maldoran. And if we call Fraiser we’ll have to wait for one.”
“You want to break in?”
“I only want to have a quick look around and see if Daniel’s in her basement.” As cool as a cucumber Jack ate his toast.
“I will accompany you, O’Neill.”
“You’re all coming. While you and I, “ he nodded in Tealc’s direction, “are having a look around, Sam and John will play difficult customers. I don’t know about the security measures in the shop, but if you distract the salespeople it will be a big help for us.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before but for Daniel I’ll try,” Sam proclaimed bravely.
“We’ll also look around and divert whoever is in the shop,” John confirmed. “Maybe we can even insist that we’ll only deal with the owner.”
Jack checked is technical equipment and his weapon. Sam squeezed herself in an elegant business suit and John dressed in a dark jacket and a tie. They looked as if the could afford expensive antiques.
They drove to Sausalito, but no one was paying any attention to the beauty of the landscape; they bitched and griped about the amount of traffic that kept them from getting there as fast as they wanted to. Mrs Maldoran’s shop was on Caledonia Street, ten minutes from the tourist shops on Bridgeway. They parked their car in front of a closed deli, only two doors from “Vala’s Treasures”. They had already examined the street and the location of the shop on one of those high resolution maps on the Net and had found that there was a backyard with lots of trees and bushes. Tealc and Jack went there. Sam and John entered the shop through the main entrance and found themselves in a glittering Aladin’s cave.
“This is incredible!”
“You like it?” An austere beauty with black hair appeared from behind a colourful Chinese folding screen decorated with red and gold dragons and beamed at Sam. “Vala Maldoran. How can I help you?”
“I’m amazed.” Sam’s look took in vases, wooden chests, old weapons and multi-coloured rugs. She wasn’t sure how many of these antiquities were authentic.
“My wife and I are looking for something decorative for our dining room,” John improvised. If he wasn’t too specific they could look around for hours.
“Any style you prefer?”
Sam wasn’t sure that anything here had style, but she didn’t say that out loud. “Perhaps something that ... will remind us of the ocean, when we are back in Colorado?”
“Hmm. what do you think about this old French sextant? Seventeenth century, brass with enamel, very lovely,” Vala pointed at a nautical instrument.
“What do you think, honey?”
At the last moment John remembered that he was honey and so he asked, “Isn’t it a bit too big for our dining room?” And with that they started their game. Whatever Sam liked, John hated and vice versa. They touched everything, made Vala show them one thing after the other and quarrelled.
Vala kept calm for a long time, but after half an hour she exploded. “You don’t need a new dining room decoration, you need a marriage counsellor!”
“Only because we can’t immediately decide on a wall hanging?”
“Immediately? There hasn’t been a single item you were in agreement about!”
Before the conversation could escalate, the shop bell rang and O’Neill and Tealc entered.
“If you need me, call me,” Vala said curtly. With a friendly smile she addressed herself to the newcomers. “How may I help you, gentlemen?”
“We’re looking for your daughter, Adria Maldoran.” O’Neill didn’t beat around the bush and that meant Daniel hadn’t been in the cellar.
“What has that hapless child of mine done now?” Vala sighed deeply.
“She’s involved in a kidnapping.”
“Actively or passively?”
“Actively,” O’Neill nodded. “We have a good reason to believe that she kidnapped Daniel Jackson, an author she met a few days ago.”
“Why would she abduct an author?”
“We thought perhaps you can help us with the motive?”
Vala went to John and Sam and told them, “We’re closing now. Have you found anything?”
“No, we still have to discuss it. Thank you very much for your help.”
Vala accompanied them with a tortured smile to the door, closing it behind them. Then she invited Tealc and Jack into her office. “Mr ...?”
“O’Neill, private investigator,” Jack introduced himself not being totally honest. “I work for ‘Hammond Securities’.” He gave her his card. Tealc forwent to give her a calling card from his martial arts studio.
She read Jack’s card and put it into the pocket of her trousers. “I don’t want to believe that Adria is mixed up in something like that. But since she started writing for ‘Prior Press’ she’s changed, and not for the better.”
“You know that ‘Origin’ is sort of esoteric crap, right? Well, she tried to convert me, tried to persuade me to follow her on the right path of enlightenment, to look to the bottom of my soul. She wants money for her sole true doctrine, that’s what it comes down to. They aren’t interested in anybody’s salvation; they are interested in our purses. But Adria embraces it wholeheartedly.”
“She wasn’t very pleased that Dr. Jackson’s book which deals with a very similar theme had been more successful than hers.”
Mr. Tealc chimed in, “We know that she is in San Francisco. Do you have any idea where we can find her?”
Vala was marching up and down the room nervously. “She isn’t staying with me.”
“Is there a special hotel she usually goes to?”
“Do you know where she could have taken Daniel?”
“Does she have friends in the Bay Area?”
“None that I know of.”
Jack wasn’t too pleased that his only lead was fizzling out, but he didn’t know what else to ask. “Okay. Thank you very much for your help. And if you remember anything, you have my phone number.”
“I’m sorry.” Vala escorted the men to the door. While turning the key she suddenly said, “Wait! ‘Prior Press’ has a distributing warehouse in Oakland.”
“It’s worth a try.” Jack looked at Tealc for confirmation.
“You’ve got an address?” Tealc inquired.
Jack was already typing hastily into his smartphone. “Prior Press – Oakland. Here we go!” His index finger pointed on the display. “It’s down by the docks.”
“With a lot of empty offices,” Vala said. “Let’s go and check it out.”
Before Jack was able to raise objections Vala continued, “I’m not staying behind. Perhaps I can talk to my misguided child before she behaves even more like an idiot. And if you don’t take me with you I’ll take my own car. So, what are we waiting for?”
Vala was a bit astonished when the niggling ‘customers’ also got in the car – but on the drive to Oakland they explained everything. She took it in stride that they had searched her cellar and only hoped that they hadn’t damaged anything. All in all, she seemed to enjoy the adventure. Jack called Fraiser and let her know where they were heading, but then he faked a drop in cell service before she was able to question him further.
Daniel had been totally convinced that his abductor would reveal herself as Hathor. Therefore he was very astonished when he saw Adria Maldoran. What was her goal? After all, the reading public decided who was on top of the bestseller list and who wasn’t, by buying the books or not. And if she wasn’t satisfied with her marketing he couldn’t help her.
Adria pulled the duct tape from Daniel’s mouth, smiled falsely at him and said, “So, Daniel, I think we have to talk ...”
Daniel wetted his burning lips with his tongue. “About what?”
“Fraud, plagiarism, bestseller lists ...”
“It isn’t my fault that we happen to write on the same subjects.” Daniel tried to sound as businesslike as possible. He was well aware that somebody who didn’t recoil from kidnapping could be very dangerous. And of course there were still the two combat machines outside the door.
“We don’t ‘happen to write’ on the same subjects! You stole my manuscript and used it for your first book.” She glowered at him.
“That’s nonsense! I met you for the first time only a few days ago!”
“You don’t have to know somebody to copy his or her text. You only need a computer and my manuscript.”
“I’ve never read one of your manuscripts. It was difficult enough to read through the first chapters of your completed book! Do you really think I’d be mad enough to look at your unfinished, uncorrected, half-baked draft?”
“But you did!”
“I did not!” Daniel answered cuttingly, forgetting all good intentions not to anger her.
They stared at each other for a few seconds then Adria turned around regally, went around her desk and sat down. “Four years ago I sent my first draft of the “Books of Origin” to ‘Cheyenne Mountain Press’. The manuscript came back with the usual standard letter. But only nine month later your ‘Gods from the Desert’ was published. Same theme, same approach – oral traditions and legends. Only the conclusion is different.”
“My God! You told me yourself that you are working on a book about Norse legends. Do I stand up and shout, ‘Plagiarism’? I regret to inform you, but it does happen that two authors have the same ideas,” he added sardonically.
“But this is no coincidence! Your publisher rejects my book, and hardly a year later have you written your bestseller!”
Daniel could relate to Adria. For her, it probably looked like theft. He could assure her again and again that he would never seek inspiration in her books for his books, but she wouldn’t believe him. Instead he asked, “Why did you kidnap me? What to you hope to achieve? I mean everything you told me so far, you could have told me during our first encounter.” For the time being he wouldn’t tell her that they had proof that she had thrown the smoke grenades.
“What do I want? I want a written confirmation I can give to the press. I want it in black and white that you stole my ideas. The glory of your first book belongs to me!”
No ransom? No threats to populate the planet with his offspring? It really was a matter of glory and fame? Daniel was flabbergasted. And there was another thing he didn’t understand.
“Why now? Why after all these years? Why didn’t you engage a lawyer to sue me and ‘Cheyenne Mountain Press’?”
“I didn’t have enough money for an attorney! ‘Prior Press’ even gave me an advance to pay my rent. Back then I thought I simply had to accept it. Until I read that there were other people who disapprove of your unfair business practices by writing threatening letters to you. That gave me the idea.”
“But it was never question of plagiarism in those letters!” Oh, crap! Rodney’s wonderful bodyguard plan had backfired spectacularly. But Daniel couldn’t be mad at Rodney, because by no means would he have wanted to miss the last two weeks with Jack. But now he had to try to engage Adria in a conversation, to stall her, to buy Detective Fraiser and Jack time to find him. Daniel was totally convinced that Jack would draw the right conclusion from the mess in the hotel room and was now searching for him.
“That’s what you say.” Adria brushed her hair out of her face. “Anyway, these newspaper articles inspired me to intimidate you.”
“Why did you throw a knife? That’s already bordering on assault.”
“A smoke grenade didn’t seem frightening enough on its own. So I took two kitchen knives, the only weapons I had available. It was never my intention to kill you!”
“That’s what you say.” He returned her words. “Okay, let’s assume I believe you. You frightened me. What now?”
She pushed a pile of papers and pen in his direction. “Here! Write a statement for the press in which you admit your plagiarism.”
“Your cronies tied my hands – it’s impossible.”
She called the two men back to the room and they tied Daniel’s feet to the chair, and only then opened the handcuffs behind him.
“Your friend, is he leftie or righty?” Will asked Adria.
After binding Daniel’s left hand to the chair they left the room again.
“Aren’t your friends a bit astonished how you treat a ‘friend’?” Daniel inquired mockingly.
“Oh, I made them believe you knocked me up and then disappeared. Therefore ‘friend’made sense for them.”
“And they believed you without proof?”
“I showed them a picture taken when we were still happy.” She gave him a syrupy smile.
“There is no such picture.”
“But there is. When you signed my book.” Her voice was full of triumph. “And I even have a handwriting sample from you. If you’re even thinking of altering your handwriting to invalidate the document – forget it. I know what your handwriting looks like.” She took Daniel’s book from a drawer of her desk and opened it on the first page. “Go ahead, write: today’s date, your address, and then in the middle and in capital letters ‘Press Release’.”
Damn her! She really had thought this all through! Of course Daniel’s first impulse had been to let the letters slant to the left which would have allowed him to claim – and rightly so – that this wasn’t his usual handwriting. But now, with the possibility of comparison... He wrote slowly and used a wrong street number in his address. He made it as far as ‘Press Rel...” when she furiously snatched the paper from him.
“No tricks! You can’t think I’m so dumb as not to know the right number!”
“Listen, Adria, nobody will believe you. You know that I’ll revoke it as soon as possible.”
“For the next three days you won’t be able to. And if you do it afterwards, who knows how many people will still believe you. And even if they believe you, something from this incident will always stick, your reputation will be marred. We’ll see if the next book is going to be a bestseller then.”
“Adria, you won’t get away with this.” Daniel talked to her about the lawyers that were at McKay’s disposal and how her reputation would suffer. He tried to explain to her at great length and with a lot of words why this was a bad idea...
There were a lot of people in the dock area of Oakland, but the warehouses of ‘Prior Press’ were a bit apart and in a less populated area.
Suddenly Sam shouted, “Look! There’s a blue Ford Taurus! It was on the list the hotel gave us!” John parked nearby.
Mr. Tealc said, “We must act on the assumption that there is more than one man and that they have weapons.”
“Yeah! And that’s the reason why T and I go first and you follow on my mark. Okay?” Jack asked.
Everybody nodded and Tealc picked the lock of a side door on the ‘Prior Press’ building. Hastily, they slipped through the metal door. Sam even took off her pumps, to prevent them from clicking with every step. They were standing in a huge stockroom. There were shelves with books, a fork-lift and two company cars – but no people. Nobody was working today.
“The offices have to be here somewhere.” Jack looked around, but there were no doors.
“There’s a staircase,” John, who had rounded a shelf, said and they followed him. They climbed the stairs on tiptoes and looked cautiously around the corner. There was a long hallway. Two men were walking up and down and talking.
“...my sister’s children are totally spoiled. If the clothes aren’t a special label they don’t wear them. Think of the expense with four kids!”
“You’re telling me! Why do you think I do this moonlighting thing? My wife is only happy with Armani or one the other Italians. I often ask her, ‘Carla, can’t you buy this t-shirt for half the price?’ But she only answers, ‘Nothing doing, Will. What will my friends say?’ I answered...”
“Those are the kidnappers?” John asked incredulously.
“All brawn and no brains.” Jack shrugged. “But still they might have weapons. We have to eliminate them before they can call for help.”
“Eliminate?” Sam gulped visibly.
“Make them unable to fight but not kill them,” Mr. Tealc reassured her.
In the meantime the two guards had turned around and marched straight back up to the staircase.
“T, when they’re turning around here you take out the one on the left, and I’ll finish the one on the right. Okay?”
Mr. Tealc nodded and they got into position.
“ ...simple blue jeans for nearly two hundred bucks!” the first one complained.
“Unbelievable. And when I tell you that ...”
The second the two men turned around to walk back, Jack and Tealc sprung from their hiding place. With two left hooks, they felled the kidnappers who slumped down. Tealc and Jack caught them and let them glide silently on the floor. They tied their hands behind their backs. Jack gave Sam an adhesive bandage he had taken from the first-aid kit in the car. “Just before they regain consciousness, put it over their mouths.”
“Okay.” Sam and John nodded and got to work.
Tealc and Jack went from one room to the other looking into them. Not all of them were open and then Jack and Tealc picked the locks. But room after room was empty.
“... only your signature is missing.”
“I won’t sign it.”
Adria sighed. “Daniel, we have come so far already. You don’t want me to call one of the men in the corridor, do you?”
No, of course Daniel didn’t want to get re-acquainted with them. But neither did he want to be transported to another hiding-place once Adria had what she wanted. The longer he stayed in one place the better the chances for Jack to find him. “With or without the signature, the document is worthless for you.”
“This is not up for discussion. Come on, sign it!”
“But Adria, if Rodney... “
The door opened with a bang. In the same moment Tealc threw himself on Adria, Jack placed himself between Adria and Daniel and looked around.
“She’s alone in here, there are two men in the hallway,” Daniel informed Jack quickly. Jack was here! He had found him! A wave of relief flooded through Daniel’s body and acting on an impulse he brushed the bogus press release on the floor.
“Are there any further accomplices, Daniel Jackson?” Tealc asked while duct-taping Adria’s hands.
“Are you hurt?” Jack’s finger traced carefully over the swell on Daniel’s cheek where one of the kidnappers had hit him. “We found blood everywhere.”
“Good. That was my plan. I cut myself with a broken piece of glass from the TV screen.”
“Hey, you watch too many crime thrillers,” Jack teased. He tried to reign in his emotions now that Daniel was safe and unharmed. Now wasn’t the time for an emotional release, even if he felt like it.
John, Sam and Vala entered the room after the loud voices had reached the hallway.
“Daniel!” Sam rushed to Daniel and looked him over anxiously from head to toe. “You’re okay?”
“Yep. Once Jack unties me I’ll be as good as new,” he lied, pointing with his chin into the direction where Jack was kneeling on the floor and cutting the bonds.
“Adria!” Vala went to her daughter and planted herself in front of her. “What on earth were you thinking? This time you’ve gone too far!”
“I only did what I should have done three years ago!”
“Bullshit! Write what people want to read, then you can stop being jealous!”
“Don’t try to ‘mother’ me! You don’t go around kidnapping people because you’re angry with them.”
Vala turned to Daniel. “So, you’re Daniel Jackson.”
“Uhmm ... yes.” Daniel shook his hand to increase his blood-circulation.
Vala looked him over. “Cute,” was her final judgement.
Daniel swallowed hastily.
Vala turned to her daughter again. “You don’t tie a handsome man like that to a chair – unable to move. Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
Daniel stared at his shoes. Jack asked him the question that had been on his mind the whole time. “How were they able to enter the room? I mean, you are myopic, but even with your glasses off you couldn’t mistake one of them for me.” He gave Daniel a lopsided grin.
Explaining the trick with the allegedly forgotten keys, Daniel offered, “Really, I thought it was you.” He hoped Jack would understand why he had disregarded every precaution measure.
“In other words, you’ve been observing Daniel for some days now?” Jack wanted to know, turning to glare at Adria.
“Yes. I wanted to kidnap him with the help of some false room service. But as you spent the night in his room yesterday and he slept in your room today, there was no opportunity. Your morning jog came in handy.”
“Never develop habits, one of the first rules,” Jack nodded ruefully. “I’ve been too careless.”
Daniel saw that Sam and John drew a totally different conclusion. John whispered, so that only Daniel was able to hear him, “Rodney will have a hissy fit if he hears about this.” He grinned from ear to ear.
“I couldn’t care less,” Daniel whispered back.
There was no more time for intimate conversation. Heavy steps came down the hallway and a well known, infuriated voice ordered, “Bring these ‘parcels’ to the police car.” The next moment a fuming Detective Fraiser entered the room. Arms akimbo, she shouted, “What the hell were you thinking, playing cops and robbers on your own?”
“Tealc and I are well trained for this type of ‘game’ as you call it. You can find our references in the corridor.”
“You don’t have police authority!”
“And you wouldn’t have had a search warrant before Monday.”
Fraiser took a deep breath.
“How is it possible you’re already here?” Jack asked surprised.
“Remember? I was already in Dublin checking on the truck.”
“Dead end. The driver visited a friend, living in the vicinity of the hotel. Everything was kosher.”
She talked to the young woman from forensics, “Cadman, get to it. And we, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to drive to the police station where I’ll take your statements.”
Nobody contradicted her. The whole band got going and drove back to San Francisco. They spent the rest of Sunday answering questions and filling in the gaps of the story. Vala paid a lot of bail money to get her daughter released from custody until the beginning of the trial.
Shortly after six, they were finally all allowed to leave. Daniel realized that the coffee in the police station had been the first and only ‘meal’ he’d had the whole day. Tealc and Jack remembered that breakfast had also been their last meal and only Sam and John had eaten ice-cream while they had been waiting for Jack and Daniel. But they were all too exhausted and too psyched up to go to a restaurant and so they ordered pizza to be delivered to the hotel.
After they had eaten and were sated they called Rodney and told him about the outcome. When he learned that he was indirectly responsible for Adria getting the idea to kidnap Daniel, he apologized to him. For the first time it really sounded as if he meant it. His contrite mood lasted until he learned that Daniel and his bodyguard had shared a room for two consecutive nights and that this would be put in a police report.
“You did what?” Rodney whined without any empathy. “Daniel, you know that we…”
“McKay,” Jack interrupted him. “Daniel will not ... organize his love life according to your advertising strategy.”
McKay ranted, “If I had know what I know now, I would have engaged an ugly, little, bow-legged – hey, wait, wait!” They could hear Rodney ‘thinking’ even over the phone and he continued with a lot more enthusiasm in his voice, “I think we can live with this new situation. Our good-looking author falls in a love with his handsome bodyguard and ...”
Daniel interrupted him. “We will not exploit this commercially! Are you listening, Rodney? You have my permission to cannibalize the kidnapping story. But not a word about Jack and me. And if someone asks, you tell them that Jack spent the night in my room due to security measures. Understood?”
“If you don’t want the yellow press to know about a gay publisher and his gay author boyfriend, you’ll do what Daniel asks you to do,” John stated uncompromisingly.
“Rodney?” It was good that Rodney wasn’t able to see the broad, triumphant smile on John’s face or he wouldn’t have agreed meekly, “Okay.”
Rodney kept his promise – or was afraid of John’s threat. The last week of the promotion tour that brought them to Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City before returning home, met with no further problems. There was a lot of interest from the media, but everybody accepted Jack in the role of protector. Daniel and Jack were careful not to supply new fodder for the media and kept their distance in public. And for the next few bookings they were ablte to get a suite with two bedrooms so that no one could know when Daniel went to Jack’s room in the middle of the night or if Jack climbed into his roomie’s bed.
On Friday evening Jack’s duty for Cheyenne Mountain Press ended and he asked Daniel if he would like to accompany him to Colorado Springs. They made a stop in Denver so that Daniel could pack a bag with clean clothes. Afterwards they spent a whole weekend doing nothing, sun bathing in the garden, watching videos and eating take-out. And they passed hours and hours in bed, on the sofa, under the shower ... learning as much as possible about each other’s likes and dislikes. And on Monday morning when Jack had to return to ‘Hammond Securities’, Daniel went back to his apartment in Denver, an apartment that suddenly seemed to be so damn empty.
It had been twelve days since they had last seen each other. Twelve long days! Jack had flown to George Town on the Cayman Islands to reconstruct the activity on Kinsey’s accounts. Finally an informant had blown the whistle on Kinsey and there was hope that they would capture the senator with his fingers in the honey pot. A tangled mass of deceptive business practices had been revealed, the illegal financial transactions being among the most harmless.
Nearly every evening Jack called Daniel. They had even tried – with a lot of laugher and meagre success – to have phone sex. But of course that was no replacement for holding the other person in your arms. Yes, Jack admitted to himself, he had been hit hard. In his daydreams Daniel was already moving in with him. But Jack also knew that the author valued his freedom highly and it was much too soon for such a suggestion. Therefore they commuted between Denver and Colorado Springs in the five weeks before his flight to the Cayman Islands, sometimes even for only three or four hours.
Tonight Daniel had promised to be at Jack’s house at six o’clock. Jack had been back since the late morning, had already cleaned up and gone shopping. He had decided to dabble at cooking dinner and not just throwing steaks on the grill or a frozen pizza in the oven.
“Mhhmmm, that smells delicious,” a voice told him from the kitchen door.
“I thought you were in the garden with the barbecue, so I didn’t bother to ring the bell. When I saw the back door open, I let myself in.”
Jack was about to dry his hands and turn around, but Daniel was already nestling up against him from behind and said, “Stay like this.” He pressed his whole body against Jack’s back and looped his arms around Jack’s waist. Kissing his neck he murmured, “So good.” He nibbled on Jack’s neck and his hands caressed Jack’s torso. “I missed you so much.”
“Ditto.” Jack braced himself against the counter and wriggled his behind into Daniel’s groin. He enjoyed the warmth of Daniel’s body, the knowledge that Daniel was in his house. He turned his head a bit so that their lips touched.
“Jack,” Daniel breathed and took the word like a talisman with him during their first kiss. Jack tasted like all the things he had already prepared and like the kitchen smelled – yummy. In combination with his aftershave he tasted simply like Jack, and Daniel opened his mouth with a small groan. Hell, he had missed him! More than he wanted to acknowledge, and more than he would admit to Jack, because it made you dependent; and he felt already very addicted to Jack. He not only had missed the proximity but he had also missed Jack rising early, Jack telling silly jokes and the back and forth bantering.
And he had missed Jack’s body; the hard, angular form, the well-trained abs over which his fingers were currently trailing. And the warm, naked skin, seductively smooth in some areas and hairy in other parts, and so very sensitive, so responsive when his fingernails teased it or when he breathed kisses in the right places. He needed more. Daniel ended the kiss that sure as hell must be uncomfortable for Jack with his head turned around like that. Daniel’s fingers found Jack’s belt, opened it and the button on the jeans and pulled down the zipper.
Gosh! He wasn’t seventeen anymore! But Daniel’s presence, Daniel’s fingers and his half-mumbled “Jacks” burned like flames through his body, made him hard and breathless within a few minutes. It was exhilarating to be feeling this young, this ... bedworthy and desirable again and to hunger so intensively for another human being.
When Daniel’s clever finger glided into his boxers to touch Jack’s hot, sensitive skin, a loud moan came from his mouth that usually would have made him feel awkward. But when Daniel answered with a breathless, “Yes, yes, yes,” and covered his dick with his hand, squeezing gently, he didn’t care what it had sounded like. For a few moments there were only Daniel’s hands that pampered him. This feeling matched perfectly with the warm light in the kitchen, the last sunrays that bathed everything in a red and golden light, the perfect smell of cooking and the intimacy of the room and the act. Like a private, opalescent soap bubble, this moment enveloped them, enclosed them; it was pure and simple bliss.
The bubble only burst when something on the stove started to bubble and sizzle. The boiling water in a pot made the lid hiss and sputter. But Jack wasn’t ready to let go of the good feelings yet and decided to push the pot to an unused burner. As a precaution he turned all the burners off. After he had secured everything he noticed that Daniel was using his momentary distraction to his advantage and was pulling down his trousers and underwear to his knees.
Daniel wondered if Jack knew how much he got turned on by Jack pottering around in the kitchen while he was fumbling with his clothes? These everyday chores that stood in a stark contrast to the erotically charged tension in the room made Daniel’s pulse race faster. And he wanted more than touching this skin he had fantasized about so often in his daydreams when he had been alone in his apartment. His fingers grabbed the waistband of Jack’s jeans and glided down Jack’s legs, taking the underwear with them. He enjoyed stripping Jack. He kneeled behind him and his hands skimmed over the insides of Jack’s thighs and with a gentle pressure he made Jack spread his legs as far as the trousers allowed. He pulled Jack to him at his hips. Jack moved a bit for balance and bent forward. He presented his butt in a very explicit pose, his hands still resting on the counter.
Daniel would have loved to tell Jack what a gorgeous ass he had, how breathtaking he looked, but he wasn’t able to say the words. Partly because he didn’t want to disturb the special moment that consisted only of heavy breathing and low moans, partly because he wasn’t sure he’d find the right words that sounded neither too sappy, nor too pornographic. Therefore he silently leaned forward, bestowed kisses on Jack’s ass cheeks and covered them with his hands, letting the impression of nearness and closeness permeate him. Finally.
Wow and double-wow! Major parts of Jack’s body were running on the adrenalin of pure passion. He was able to feel every breeze, every fine hair, every touch of Daniel’s fingers and tongue. Other parts faded into the background, but didn’t get numb and unfeeling. They vibrated like a background humming, forming the canvas for the intricate designs Daniel’s fingers were painting. For a second Jack thought about letting go, giving in, but then he knew that he couldn’t be this passive, that he also wanted his hands on Daniel’s body.
“Wait,” he said and turned around with an effort due to the pulled down trousers. This manoeuvre brought his dick at the same height as Daniel’s mouth and without hesitation he welcomed Jack in his mouth.
“Daniel,” Jack put his hands on Daniel’s hair, combing through the very short hair. Jack groaned when Daniel’s tongue did unbelievable things to his dick. Caressing Daniel’s temples he noticed Daniel’s glasses. He looked down, took them off and placed them in a secure place on the window sill. Thanks to this distraction he remembered why he had turned around in the first place and pulled Daniel up. Kissing him he whispered, “Get naked” and started fumbling with Daniel’s belt.
Daniel helped him. Less clothing really was a good idea. He kicked away his shoes and helped Jack to pull the trousers over his hips. Jack’s hand pushed into his boxer shorts and Daniel closed his eyes, fascinated. The long, slender fingers touched him in all the right places and fuelled his arousal. Hastily he got rid of his boxers.
“I want you,” he whispered against Jack’s cheek while pressing against him.
“So do I,” Jack replied and brought their bodies even closer together. Their dicks were touching, rubbing against each other and sending flashes of lust through their bodies. Jack’s fingers glided through Daniel’s crack, Daniel’s finger imitating the movement.
“Oh,” Daniel said and lifted his head. “That wasn’t only a figure of speech, was it?”
“Neither was yours.” Jack grinned.
“I’m sure you always wanted to try it on the kitchen table,” Daniel lured.
“No.” Jack laughed challengingly. That wasn’t entirely the truth, because Daniel bent over the kitchen table was a great favourite of his daydreams.
“Ah, come on, Jack,” Daniel wheedled. “The last few days made me impatient.” He wrapped his arms around Jack’s neck and rubbed himself shamelessly against the other man.
Jack supported his body and pressed Daniel closer to him. He fingered Daniel’s hole teasingly but he didn’t breach him. Daniel, the bastard, copied his move. Until now there very seldom had been a stalemate situation. When nobody wanted to submit they usually ended up with a sixty-nine. But here, on the tile floor, that wasn’t an alternative.
Daniel playfully bit Jack’s earlobe.
Jack gasped. “Daniel ... I .... I ...” They had to find a diplomatic solution for this situation. Jack took hold of both their dicks at the same time. “Like this, okay? After dinner ... we have time ... for more.”
Daniel didn’t complain because it felt wonderful to feel Jack’s hands in that place, to sense that Jack was as turned on as he was. He put his fingers over Jack’s hand and together they searched for and found a rhythm. It was the best of two worlds. They knew what they liked for themselves, they were able to adjust the pressure and the speed, and at the same time they felt another hand inflaming their passion.
Without words but with continually faster movements, more friction and a deep kiss, they tumbled over the edge, feeling this moment like an electrical discharge between them. Daniel was the first to come, but when Jack felt the sticky fluid on his fingers he wasn’t far behind. Their seed mingled, and this thought made Daniel moan out loud. The image in his head was even more erotic than the actual, sticky reality.
They stood for a moment leaning against each other, basking in the after glow, feeling the cooling down of the heat and the yearning, until Jack broke the mood. “You want something to clean you up?”
“Mhmm? What?” That question came a bit too sudden for Daniel.
“Kleenex?” Jack took two paper towels from a box and gave one to Daniel.
“Oh, yes. Thank you.” Daniel cleaned himself perfunctorily then he disappeared, shaking his butt in a salacious manner, into the bathroom. Jack laughed out loud.
When Daniel returned to the kitchen, Jack made him keep an eye on the oven until he was also respectable again. They took their place at the table and ate a well baked lamb roast with dark brown vegetables from the oven and rather well cooked cauliflower with thick gravy. Jack served a tomato salad with this special menu. It wasn’t a gourmet meal but Daniel appreciated Jack’s good intentions. As he wasn’t a picky eater and he was hungry, he went back for seconds.
“It’s a very ... interesting combination,” he said with cauliflower and tomatoes at the same time on his fork.
“Those are the meals I do best,” Jack replied proudly.
Daniel smiled. “Nouvelle cuisine.”
“I like that.” Jack beamed.
They talked about the sojourn on the Cayman Islands and about Tealc’s new ad.
When they came to the dessert, Daniel sensed that Jack was hiding something. “Jack, what is it? What do you want to tell me?”
Jack put his spoon on the table and cleared his voice. “I spoke to Hammond, and ...”
“A new job as bodyguard?” Daniel almost shouted with alarm.
“No, no. Yours is the only body I guard, if you allow it.”
With a sigh of relief Daniel put a hand on Jack’s arm and asked, “I’m looking forward to it. So, what did Hammond want you to do?”
“I wanted something from Hammond. He had promised me two months of vacation time. Of course he wasn’t able to keep his promise, but after tenacious negotiations we compromised on four weeks.”
“Thank you. And these four weeks ... I wanted to ask you ... do you think you could work on your next book … in Minnesota?”
“Minnesota? Your cabin?”
“Yep.” Jack’s facial expression was studiously blank. If Daniel was going to say ‘no’ he could dismiss it with a shrug.
But Daniel was enthusiastic. “You want to invite me for four weeks?”
“Yep. “ Jack still kept a slightly diffident air, but the smile was already in his eyes.
“Yes! Yes! That’s fantastic! The photos you showed me look wonderful. And I also have news for you. My next book will be a collaboration with John.”
“The story with the gay Captain?”
Daniel nodded fervently. “Yes. We are thinking about a team that will visit new worlds where old Earth cultures survived. They’ll use a time leap sphere – or something like that – to go there. John will be responsible for the science fiction part and I’ll handle the cultural background.”
“Hey, that’s cool!”
“I hope so. And I don’t think it’ll be a problem to do the research in Minnesota.”
He came around the table, squeezed himself between the table and Jack, straddling Jack’s legs. “And I can thoroughly research the parts where the captain and his scientist take part in strange alien rituals, are forced to participate in bondage games and have to prove to the aliens that they are really together ...”
“Oh, yes. I understand. And of course I’ll help you with your field work.” Jack’s hands held Daniel close.
“And provide input?”
“Provide so much input that it will be enough for at least ten volumes.” They both laughed. “Deal then?”
“Yes, Jack.” Daniel bent forward and kissed Jack. He couldn’t imagine that he hadn’t wanted Jack in his apartment and his life that he had been convinced that he didn’t need a bodyguard. He was so happy that the recent weeks had proved him wrong.
©Antares, June 2010