Equipment bleeped softly to itself; keeping a beat to which only it could ever want to dance. Janet Fraiser had newer, darker shadows under her eyes, telltale proofs of another lost night; another wrestling bout with Death undertaken and endured. Despite her diminutive frame, the good doctor had left the Grim Reaper on the ropes more often than not, and last night had been no exception. Now they were at the watching and waiting stage. Well, some of them were.
Colonel Jack O'Neill was pacing up and down the infirmary as nurses and orderlies watched him nervously and made sure they kept the hell out of his way. Every now and then he turned around and glared at Janet Fraiser interrogatively.
"Colonel, I am not forcing them to wake up."
"Until they wake up we have no idea where Daniel is. Who took him. If he was still alive when they –" He faltered and put a hand up to his head. She saw his face contort as he wrestled naked anxiety back to anger. "I need to know where the hell he is, Doctor. Now wake them up and make them tell me!"
His yell did what her doctoring had not and Griff groaned and stirred. Jack bounded across to his bedside like a leopard pulling down a zebra.
"Colonel, he's suffered a serious blow to the head. He may not be –"
"He's tough, Doctor, he can take it. Griff!" Jack focused his attention on the man.
"Damnit, Major, wake up and tell me what you remember."
Griff groaned again and opened his eyes. "Jackson...?"
The anxiety in the other's man voice made a vice close around Jack's heart. He sat down abruptly and put his head in his hands. "He wasn't with you. When we went through the gate you were all lying there half-dead and Daniel was gone. Do you remember?"
"They took him!"
Griff started up and Dr Fraiser hurried to soothe him. "Major, try to relax. You have to stay calm or else –"
Griff shook his head to clear it and then looked across at Jack who was watching him with weary resignation. Griff closed his eyes briefly. "They just – they came out of nowhere, we didn't even see them."
"Were they Jaffa?"
"No. Not Goa'uld."
Griff drew a deep breath before he answered. "Johnson thought they were slave-traders."
"Shit!" Jack was on his feet and running his hands through his hair in an instant. "Why did they take Daniel? Why him and not the rest of you?"
Griff moistened his lips. "I'm sorry, Colonel."
"It wasn't your fault. They jumped you, it happens. I don't blame you, I just need all the information you can give me." Seeing the man's face, Jack narrowed his gaze. "What? What is it you're not telling me?"
"Johnson understood a little of what they were saying – look, maybe he was wrong, I mean..."
Jack's voice was steely: "Tell me."
Griff sighed and closed his eyes again. "He said they took Jackson because he was the... prettiest."
Daniel woke up in something that rattled and jolted to the realization that he wasn't alone. He could smell sweat on another human body; hear the creak of wheels turning; feel rough sacking against his elbow; wood against his hip. A cold breeze fluttered over him like a shroud, leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake.
He opened his mouth to say: "Jack...?" and then closed it again. What was that Griff had told him? 'If you're ever captured, you need to learn as much as you can about the people who are holding you prisoner before you ever even think about opening your mouth.' Griff had said it anxiously, obviously worrying that Daniel wasn't taking it in. Ever since that business with the Unas, Griff had been a little over-protective, but Daniel had been able to see the sense in what he was saying and he remembered it now. So, he would just lie here and play dead for a while and see if he could work out what kind of people had grabbed him away from SG-3.
Since Teal'c and Sam had gone off to visit Jacob Carter with the Tok'ra, he and Jack had been at something of a loose end. He had been almost relieved when SG-3's anthropologist had gone down with the flu since he'd been itching to get off base. Recently he'd started feeling uncomfortable when he found himself alone with Jack but he had no idea why. This was a man he cared for and trusted more than any other living thing on any planet in any world, and yet he found himself trying to avoid being alone with him. When Jack invited him over to watch the sports channel, he would make some lame excuse and get out of it. It was almost as though he was afraid to be with Jack, and yet afraid of what? He knew he wasn't afraid of anything that Jack might say or do. He trusted the man absolutely. Trusted Jack so completely it almost frightened him because way back when he'd made a resolve never to get that dependent on another human being again, and look what the hell he'd been and gone and done: first fallen in love with a woman who was now dead, and then decided to rely utterly on a man who had already contemplated suicide once. Yeah. He sure could pick 'em. But...if he wasn't afraid of what Jack might do or say if they were alone together that suggested he must be afraid of something he, Daniel Jackson, might do or say if they were alone together. Except that didn't make any sense at all. Did it?
For whatever reason, he'd jumped at the chance to go exploring with SG-3 even though it meant receiving worried little lectures from Griff every evening as the man attempted to fill in what he perceived to be all the gaps in Daniel's education that might end up getting Daniel injured or killed. After the inevitable lectures about self-defense, he'd told Daniel a lot of about what happened to good looking young men in prison, for instance; saying in disbelief, "Didn't Colonel O'Neill warn you about any of this stuff? What about when you were stuck on that prison planet? You're saying he never told you zip?"
And Daniel had a sudden memory of Jack taking his glasses from his face, so gently, and slipping them into his pocket. You have to trust me on this, Daniel...signs of weakness...not a good thing when you're in prison. That reassuring little pat on the arm. No, Jack hadn't need to tell him anything because Jack and Teal'c between them had already decided that they were going to make damned sure nothing happened to him.
But now he didn't have Jack and Teal'c to take care of him; there was just him, Daniel Jackson, doctor of archaeology, prisoner of someone who reeked so strongly he could smell him from here; lying, jolting on a board floor – some kind of wagon, had to be – with only...with nothing. He had no weapons. Another cold breeze chilled him with its breath, making him shiver, wishing for a warmer jacket, wishing for...Daniel suddenly realized why he was so cold. He was naked. But there was something heavy and cold on his ankles and, yes, on his wrists as well.
And now it was coming back to him, a few scattered words: …Merchandise...better price...take him, the young one, take him...don't mark him. That's right, there had been a cloth pressed to his face, something like chloroform although it hadn't burnt the skin the way chloroform supposedly did, something that had sent him straight to sleep. SG-3 were probably all dead. God, no, not more good people dead. He closed his eyes, seeing their faces, trying to tell himself they might be alive, they could have survived but he knew in his heart the chances were unlikely. It took a moment for him to realize that if they were dead there would be no one left to tell anyone else what had happened to him. They'd been slave traders. He'd worked it out a few seconds too late, just before he could drag out his sidearm and defend himself. They'd jumped him and pulled him away from the fighting and the one holding him had stroked the back of his hand up his cheek and told him what was waiting for him. Told him, as he was pressing that cloth to his mouth and darkness was closing over Daniel like a wave over a drowning man, that he was going to be sold at public auction to the highest bidder and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop it….
Too long. It was taking too damned long. The Tok'ra had taken hours to send the help they needed and now there was all this cloak and dagger crap to delay them even further. Jack swore as he fought his way into the complicated embroidered underwear the damned Tok'ra had insisted he had to wear. It was all sashes, wrap around tunics, silk pants, heavy robes, thigh length boots, and attitude, on this trip. At least the layered clothing would help hide all the weapons he was secreting on his person.
Hammond had instantly overruled the rescue mission Jack had originally proposed, comprised of three teams of Marines and enough fire-power to blow away half the planet. Cooler heads prevailed, not to mention the little detail of that damned Tok'ra turning up to tell him Daniel wouldn't even be on that planet any more, and after much argument Jack grudgingly admitted that a covert rescue operation had the best chance of success. Thus he was traveling to the planet as a wealthy tyrant with so much swash in his buckle Errol Flynn was a wuss by comparison. Carter, much to her vocal displeasure, was staying behind this trip. So was Teal'c. Which sucked. But the Tok'ra had been adamant, and much as Jack hated to admit it, the Tok'ra were pretty much running this rescue.
The hardest thing about this mission so far had been to keep it to two people. Griff had discharged himself from the infirmary – and he'd pay for that with a butt-full of needles courtesy of Fraiser – showing up in the Gateroom, swaying on his feet, but volunteering to lead the mission. Ferretti, coming back from an off-world mission, had promptly turned around on the ramp, as had the rest of his team, insisting they were ready to join the rescue. It was tempting to take them all up on it and go back to that planet with enough teams and firepower to blow away anything that stood between him and Daniel.
Shi'rak, the enigmatic Tok'ra, had nixed all such suggestions. He'd been quietly determined from the outset that they had a choice between him and Jack traveling in his tel'tak to the planet where he believed Daniel was now a prisoner, or him going alone and sending Daniel back to them if and when he happened to come across him. Apparently there was no Option C on this trip.
Jack tightened the strap around his ankle securing yet another knife. Maybe he was having to go along with the Tok'ra but no one had said he couldn't carry as many weapons as he liked. Between the zat and the knives he had hidden on his body, he could take out the whole damned group of slavers without anyone the wiser if it came to that.
Slavers. Jack couldn't get Griff's words out of his mind. "...they took Jackson because he was the... prettiest." No doubts about what they wanted Daniel for. There were pictures he couldn't get out of his mind, too; scenes like bits of a bad porno movie kept playing through his head over and over: Daniel, stripped naked, being paraded in front of a mob of the kind of men who bought good-looking young men – for their pleasure; Daniel, stripped naked, tied spread-eagled on a bed while some hulking, slobbering sadist ran cruel hands over that soft, beautiful skin. If anyone else so much as touched him --
Whoa! Jack gave his head a sharp shake. What the hell was that? Along with the rage simmering in him like a pot on the verge of boil, and the worry that had spread its tendrils through his entire system, there was something else. It was that same pang of what he'd felt when he saw Ke'ra flirting with Daniel, and Daniel, still vulnerable from losing Sha're, falling for it and responding like a flower opening to the sun. If he didn't know better, he'd say that feeling – then and now – was jealousy. But that was nuts. He was just worried and angry and scared and… He slammed his locker door shut and spun around, heading for the door. And what the hell was he doing standing here wondering about what he was feeling when Daniel was in danger? That Tok'ra had better damn well be ready to go or he was leaving without him.
By the time the wagon stopped creaking and bumping along the uneven earth it had been dark for some time. Daniel's head was pounding and he was cold, damn it. It was a blessed relief when his head stopped vibrating against the rough wood of the wagon base. But his relief was short-lived as rough hands grabbed him and hauled him out of the wagon. He wasn't given time to find his feet before he was dragged unceremoniously into a long wooden building. The chain manacling his ankles was just long enough to allow him to stumble along without tripping, but only barely. The smell of unwashed flesh and of too many people crowded into one room hit him immediately. But it was the smoke from the fire in the pit in the center of the room that made his eyes water and his sinuses burn. So disoriented was he at first that it took him several moments to remember that he was standing buck naked in front of dozens of clothed people.
Feeling his cheeks burn, he quickly dropped his gaze to the packed earth floor and wished he could just disappear. But in the next second he realized wishing wasn't going to make the situation any different. He was a captive with no weapons and no information, and the only hope he had of getting himself out of this was to pay attention to his surroundings and get as much information as he could. How many times had Jack tried to tell him that?
Steeling himself, he lifted his head and forced himself to look around the room at his surroundings. His first shock was to discover that he wasn't the only nude person here, but that didn't do much to reassure him. Judging by the youth and good looks of the others in a similar state chained to posts and the walls, they weren't destined to be work slaves either. Whereas many of the captives displayed defiance and anger, it didn't escape his notice that the other dozen or so naked men and women scattered throughout were the ones with their heads down, the ones who had given up and had no fight left in them. Unconsciously, Daniel raised his chin in stubborn defiance. He wasn't going to give up that easily. When Griff didn't report in, Hammond would send a rescue unit, and he had no doubt that rescue would be headed up by Jack O'Neill. When Jack didn't find his body there was no question he would launch a search and he wouldn't give up until his teammate was found.
But would it be too late? Daniel licked his lips nervously. He didn't believe in that 'death before dishonor' stuff, but he was under no delusions about a society that killed an entire team in order to kidnap one man, chained people to walls, stripped them naked, and bought and sold them to satisfy their own pleasure. He doubted that anyone who bought him would be doing it to show him a good time. His life expectancy as a slave could be very short indeed.
A tall, swarthy man dressed in fine robes with rings on every finger approached them and let his gaze travel slowly over Daniel's body, an approving smile on his lips. "Very nice, Ka-tan," he murmured. "You won't have any trouble finding a buyer for this one."
Taking a deep breath, Daniel decided he had to risk it, and took a quick step toward the man. "Excuse me. My name is Daniel Jackson. I'm a peaceful explorer from -- aahhh!" A sudden, sharp blow to the back of his head sent him plunging to his knees, his vision fading for a moment. He squeezed his eyes shut and gave his head a shake, regretting it immediately as the pain continued to reverberate behind his eyes.
"You need to keep better control over your merchandise, Ka-tan," the tall man chided, clucking his tongue. "The auction is tomorrow. No one will buy an insubordinate slave, no matter how beautiful."
"There'll be no further trouble from him," his captor growled, pulling him roughly to his feet by grabbing a handful of hair. "I'll use Mirtaah." He gave the hair in his hand a vicious pull, and it was all Daniel could do to choke down a cry of pain. "And if that doesn't work," he hissed into Daniel's ear, "I'll cut out his tongue."
The swarthy man tsked. "Would be a shame to cut out his tongue. His new master might find it very useful." With a bark of laughter, he turned and walked away. Immediately Daniel was yanked in the opposite direction, the strong, thick fingers in his hair never losing their painful grip. With his hair leading the way, Daniel's field of vision was limited to the packed dirt floor and the legs of other captives. Suddenly he was given a shove and landed hard on the ground, but he had no chance to recover because his hands were immediately pulled over his head and he heard the clank of metal as the chain between his wrists was fastened to a ring in the wall.
With Ka-tan's threat still buzzing in his ear, Daniel nevertheless felt he had to try to get through to his captor one more time. "Please, you have to listen to me," he urged. "My name is --"
With a snarl, Ka-tan again grabbed a fistful of hair and slammed Daniel's head back against the wall, stunning him into silence. When the spiraling white dots in his vision cleared he realized his hair was once again in a painful grip and that a brutal hand was gripping his chin. Between the two holds, his head was forced back until he was afraid his neck might snap. Without warning, someone loomed over him and one eyelid was peeled back. Daniel got a brief glimpse of what looked like a small bottle being upturned over his eye before real panic set in. With a cry of denial, he tried frantically to struggle out of the inexorable grip, but all he achieved was to have his head slammed back against the wall once again. Something wet splashed into his eye, followed immediately by a burning sensation.
"Oh, God! Stop! Stop! Please!" But no amount of pleading or trying to struggle free stopped the man from lifting up his other eyelid and dropping liquid into that eye as well. Only then did the brutal hold on his head vanish.
"Oh God..." Daniel tugged frantically at his hands but couldn't get them anywhere near his eyes, so he squeezed his eyes shut, praying the tears caused by the burning sensation would wash out whatever that liquid was. "What did you do? What did you do to my eyes?"
He heard Ka-tan issuing orders to someone nearby. "Give it water and see that it's ready in time for the auction tomorrow."
"Yes, Ka-tan," was the submissive reply. It sounded like an old man. The one who poured the liquid into his eyes? Daniel remembered seeing a old man with long grey hair in the group that abducted him.
"What did you do to me?" Daniel demanded, blinking hard as tears streamed out of his eyes. The burning had eased, but now his eyes felt dry and sore. And... His breath caught painfully in his chest as he frantically turned his head, blinking rapidly. "I can't see! I'm blind! What did you --?"
"Quiet, you fool!" A harsh whisper sounded urgently in his ear. "Or Ka-tan will cut out your tongue. I've seen him do it to others."
Daniel was gulping in shallow breaths of air. "My eyes --" How could he be who he was and not be able to see? How could he translate words he couldn't read? How could he identify cultures that were now invisible to him? How could he never see the faces of his friends again? Not see...Jack again?
"It doesn't last, lad. It's Mirtaah," the old man said, as if that explained it all.
"It doesn't -- " Daniel's voice cracked and he swallowed hard. "It doesn't last? You mean it's not permanent?"
"Never seen it to be. It's used to keep those like you under control. Ka-tan doesn't want you causing trouble at the auction. It'll wear off in time."
"In time? How long?" Daniel demanded, trying to keep his voice steady but unable to stop a tremor getting through. "How long am I going to be blind?"
"No more'n three suns, I'd say. I've seen it last longer and I've seen it last less, but it mostly lasts three suns."
Daniel slumped back against the rough wall, his mind spinning, the trembling in his limbs easing a bit. "Three days," he whispered, despair washing over him. Three days of being blind, of being helpless, of having no chance of escape. The auction was tomorrow. That meant there was nothing he could do. He was going to be sold at auction like a chattel to the highest bidder, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop it. Unless... He snapped his head around in the direction of the voice. "What's your name?"
"My name?" The man sounded surprised. "I'm called Horuk."
Daniel tried the name out. "Horuk." He took a breath and lowered his voice to a whisper. "You could help me. I don't belong here. I'm a peaceful explorer --"
"You're the property of Ka-tan," Horuk broke in firmly. In a sharp whisper he added, "It would be worth my life to help you. It's best you accept what is to be. There's no escape."
"There has to be --"
"There's isn't." Something cool and hard was pressed to his lips. "Water. Drink."
After a brief hesitation, Daniel tasted the water, which seemed to be fresh and clean, and drank it greedily. After the dipper was removed he felt a rough blanket draped over him.
"It's not much," Horuk said gruffly, "but it'll help with the cold. I'll be back tomorrow morning to get you ready. Try to get some sleep. You've a long day ahead of you, lad."
Daniel twisted around trying to call him back. "Horuk? Horuk!"
But there was no answer. Horuk was right about the blanket; it wasn't much protection against the chill, but at least it covered his nakedness. Daniel settled back against the rough wall, suddenly aware of the smells and the sounds around him. The smell of unwashed humans and bodily waste was almost overpowering. But worse that that in his blindness were the sounds. They seemed to be magnified in his dark world. He could hear muffled sobbing, cursing, the sound of flesh being slapped, moaning, people muttering in their sleep, what sounded like someone being -- Oh God. Daniel tried to shut out the sounds, tried not to think that he was chained up here utterly helpless, tried not to think about the cold seeping into his bones or his stomach growling for food or how alone he was.
Gritting his teeth he focused his thoughts on Jack and Sam and Teal'c. Jack. He pictured his friend's face in his mind. Silver hair; chocolate brown eyes that could be cold as steel or warm as a summer's day, bleak with despair or alight with laughter; the tiny laugh lines around his eyes that crinkled when he smiled; the sound of his voice: serious, teasing, anxious, gentle. A little kernel of warmth formed inside him, fighting back the panic. Jack would come for him. Jack would save him. Jack never let him down. He felt much calmer when he focused on Jack, so he fixed that thought in his mind and held onto it. Jack meant 'safe' to him. He wasn't ashamed to admit that. He really didn't think there wasn't anything his friend couldn't do if he put his mind to it, and Daniel knew he would be determined to find him. So he would. Daniel almost smiled at the thought. That was settled then.
Heaving an unsteady sigh, Daniel tried to relax, thinking of how good it was going to be when Jack found him, how it would feel when Jack blasted these damn chains off him and pulled him to his feet. Jack would lead him out of here, a strong arm around his shoulders, making jokes even while he was casting anxious sideways at him to make sure he was okay.
And he would be okay. Because Jack would find him. Jack always found him. Just like Daniel always found Jack. Didn't matter if Daniel was a prisoner under the sea and Jack believed he was dead; didn't matter if the stream split and sent them through different gates; didn't matter if Jack knew Daniel was on a pyramid ship which had blown up and Daniel knew Jack was on a pyramid ship which had spread itself across the cosmos like a shooting star; somehow they also knew the other one was alive and still in need of their assistance. So Jack would find him sooner or later. All Daniel had to do was hang in there and wait.
As he watched the chevrons on the gate dial up, Jack darted a sideways glance at the Tok'ra who was going to be his guide for this little trip.
Jack still didn't know what else he could have done but agree. They knew nothing about the slavers; the Tok'ra apparently knew quite a lot. They didn't know where Daniel had been taken; the Tok'ra could apparently make an educated guess. The Tok'ra were offering assistance in the form of a guy who was apparently a guide, soldier, and translator combined. Shi'rak certainly seemed very efficient, and he was willing to take Jack with him, now, right this minute to try to get Daniel back. There was bound to be a catch, of course, and when they were on board the tel'tak and there was nothing Jack could do but agree, he was sure he'd hear all about it, but in the meantime, the Tok'ra were all they had.
Jack darted another sideways glance at the Tok'ra. Shi'rak's host was apparently called Kendar but he seemed the quiet type and so far it was Shi'rak who'd done most of the talking. This Shi'rak was certainly a very impressive specimen, six foot three, broad shoulders, a strong profile and hair so black it was practically blue, but there was something about him which just rang Jack's alarm bells.
"Jacob was most unhappy he could not accompany you himself," Shi'rak said again as the wormhole engaged. "But he could not have been here in less than ten hours and once he had heard all the facts of the situation from Major Carter he felt that speed was of the essence."
"Yeah, we're kind of working on that assumption ourselves," Jack said pointedly.
"There are other problems we may encounter which I will explain upon the way," Shi'rak added.
Jack opened his mouth to say 'No, explain them now' but then realized that if he did there would be a further delay. He settled for saying, "Make sure you do that," as he led the way up the ramp to the wormhole.
"Godspeed, Colonel," General Hammond said quietly. "Bring him back safely."
Jack glanced over his shoulder as Shi'rak stepped into the wormhole. "I will, sir," he said determinedly.
Daniel was so exhausted that despite his noisome surroundings, he actually did doze off. Only to wake with a start when a beefy hand was clamped over his mouth and he felt other large hands intimately exploring him under his thin blanket. He tried to shout, but his cries were muffled against the hand that almost covered his nose as well. A throaty voice snickered in his ear. "Just relax and enjoy it, boy. We won't take long."
"Just long enough to get what we want," another voice laughed as cold fingers slipped between his legs.
With his hands chained to the wall and his ankles manacled, Daniel stood no chance. He struggled as much as he could but found himself almost helpless against the combined power of two strong men. He felt himself being flipped over onto his stomach, the blanket whipped off him to expose him to the cold night air. Calloused hands squeezed his ass, then his cheeks were parted and a thick finger brutally probed his opening while he bucked wildly against the two men holding him down. No! Get off me! Get off me! He twisted around trying to get loose, trying to kick them despite the heavy chains on his ankles, trying to sink his teeth into any part of them he could reach; determined that they weren't going to do this to him without getting seriously hurt in the process; his reactions only a fraction slowed by disbelief that there could really be people aroused by the thought of raping someone against his or her will.
Suddenly there was the sound of something hard hitting flesh and surprised cries of pain as the weight on his back disappeared. He heard Horuk shouting obscenities and the two men howling with pain as blow after blow fell. "This is Ka-ten's property!" Horuk shouted as footsteps scrambled away. "Any harm comes to him and you'll have Ka-ten to deal with!"
Finally there was silence, and Daniel felt a strong hand on his arm, helping him turn over. "Are you all right, lad?"
Reaction made his voice shake, but he managed to spit out, "I'm no one's property."
The hand was removed from his arm. "Being Ka-ten's property is the only thing keeping you alive in here, boy," Horuk said coolly. The blanket was once again tossed over him. "You best get some sleep. There'll be no more trouble tonight."
Daniel listened as Horuk's footsteps faded, and he was alone once again in his dark prison. Slowly, awkwardly, he pushed himself back against the wall and pressed against it as tightly as he could. Sleep? No, there would be no more sleep for him tonight. This time the shaking didn't stop; and this time, not even thoughts of Jack could keep the night terrors at bay.
As they walked towards the city glistening in the sunlight ahead of them, Jack was still trying to digest the information Shi'rak had given him. He supposed he should know by now that 'help' from the Tok'ra generally came with a price tag attached to it. And once more the Tok'ra seemed to have their Tau'ri allies by the short and curlies. Didn't mean it didn't piss him off to have to bend over and take it from these guys again though and it also explained why Jacob had tried so hard to persuade them to delay the rescue mission until he could have got there. He'd obviously realized that the only Tok'ra who wasn't going to try to turn Daniel's capture to their advantage was Selmac. As things were, Shi'rak had made them an offer they simply weren't in a position to refuse and in true Tok'ra fashion he'd done it when it was too late for them to do anything except agree. By the time Jacob could have got to them, Daniel would have been sold to the highest bidder, taken home by some ruthless son-of-a-bitch who would strip him naked, chain him to the bed and –
Oh Christ, he wasn't going to think about any of that. They needed Shi'rak and Shi'rak needed them. He had a mission he wanted to complete. A drug the Tok'ra were desperate to get their hands on, the recipe for which was jealously guarded by a Goa'uld by the name of Shamash. The snake had apparently done some serious body-swapping in his time but was currently in a male host. As far as Jack could work out this Shamash seemed to be a cross between a high class pimp and a Beverly Hills film producer, only instead of offering his guests ten lines of coke in the bathroom and a starlet to go, he offered the common or garden ones the human of their choice and a few interesting aphrodisiacs, but the really favored special guests got to sample a drug called 'Nen'ntar. It was the Nen'ntar the Tok'ra wanted to get a sample of as they hoped it would prove invaluable in their efforts to interrogate captured Goa'uld. No one was too sure if the stuff made people happy and carefree, amorous, suggestible, or made them feel as if they really were God Almighty, but by all accounts heroin was a Mars bar by comparison.
The trouble was this Shamash wasn't giving anything away. He obviously knew about the Tok'ra, and had rooted out the last two who'd attempted to infiltrate his palace and had them killed. Anyone approaching him was going to be met with serious suspicion. What Shi'rak was hoping was that this Shamash was going to approach them.
Jack looked at the small pouch he was carrying again. If diamonds were a girl's best friend, he supposed these babies were Daniel's best hope of rescue. According to Shi'rak a king's ransom was pocket money compared with these things. They were beautiful baubles that also happened to be an invaluable component in one very specific Goa'uld device: the sarcophagus. Shamash's had been purposefully damaged by the last Tok'ra operative to break into his place: his last action as the Goa'uld had killed him straight afterwards, but by then the damage had literally been done. Shamash needed a whole pile of these priceless crystals to fix it and they weren't exactly easy to find. The Tok'ra had got these from a captured sarcophagus. Now, rumor had it Shamash was in need of another spin cycle in that soul-eating box, the only guy to offer him any was one Arris Boch, and the mercenary was apparently asking for so much Nen'ntar Shamash' pleasure palace wouldn't be able to run after he'd paid up. Negotiations were stalled.
Then they arrived, carrying a bag full of crystals and intending to buy what Jack suspected would be the prize draw of the sale. That was going to get Shamash's attention. Then Shi'rak was hoping the snakehead would invite them to be his guests at his pleasure palace, and would offer Jack some Nen'ntar in exchange for the crystals. From the Tok'ra's perspective Daniel getting grabbed was a great opportunity for them. They desperately needed an example of the Nen'ntar and as only the most privileged guests got to sample it, they hadn't so much as seen the stuff so far. And given the gains the Tok'ra had been making recently the Goa'uld were getting more and more wary of anyone with a snake in his head who they didn't know personally. Human rulers of minor principalities were apparently a less worrying prospect as everyone in Goa'uld town knew the Tau'ri were no threat to anyone. Apparently that propaganda was still holding up pretty well despite the fact that by Jack's last calculation they had been at least instrumental in taking out Ra, Apophis, Hathor, Sokar, and Cronos. Shi'rak however had informed him that Ra's death had been put down to an uprising probably fuelled by the Tok'ra; Apophis had been betrayed by shol'va within his own Jaffa who had probably been led astray by the Tok'ra; Hathor had been killed by the Tok'ra; and the Goa'uld were claiming that they had got rid of Sokar themselves because he was a threat to the System Lords. Apparently no one was talking about Cronos at all but if they did it would probably be the Tok'ra who got the credit for that one too. After centuries of denying the Tok'ra even existed they were now being blamed for everything everywhere. The Tok'ra might be the despised and hated distant relatives of the Goa'uld but at least they had the same biology, and way back when had crawled out of the same primordial sludge. Better to admit one's renegade cousins were a problem, apparently, than to admit that slave stock were capable of killing their masters. The System Lords themselves might know the truth but it wasn't filtering out to the minor snakes so for the moment humans were perceived as less dangerous than possible Tok'ra.
Jack was feeling moderately pissed about that, especially as the Tok'ra were always bitchin' about them killing Goa'uld and saying it wasn't the right way to go, but were now apparently getting all the kudos. What the hell was SG-1? Chopped meat? He gave himself a mental shake. He was going to have this one out with Jacob later, for the moment he got to play the tyrant and Shi'rak was his representative. Which meant Shi'rak was only allowed in the outer rim of the palace while he would hopefully get an invite to Snake Central to be offered lots of mind altering and performance enhancing drugs. All those years of just saying 'no' were, however, going to stand him in good stead because Jack was going to play hard to get and Shamash was going to try to woo him. Jack was apparently supposed to allow himself to be wooed. Once they had the Nen'ntar they could go home again. That was Shi'rak's plan anyway. As with all Tok'ra plans it was complicated, sneaky, and seemed to involve the Tau'ri putting their asses on the line. The only things stopping Jack from pointing that out were the fact that Daniel really needed him to come through for him; Jacob was one of his favorite people in the world; Martouf was dead and still mourned by all of them; and because it was only due to that Tok'ra who had risked her life for all of them in Hathor's bunker that Jack O'Neill was still someone fighting the Goa'uld instead of now being a Goa'uld. Annoying as the Tok'ra undoubtedly were, when he started doing the math Jack had to admit that they owed them.
Jack was just hoping Shamash was away today and he got to buy Daniel back before anything too horrible happened to him. Then went home. End of mission. Round about now he was hoping for as little excitement as possible but the tweaking in his knees told him he probably wasn't going to be lucky this time….
Daniel couldn't get used to this enveloping darkness. He was yanked to his feet roughly and stumbled, putting out his hands to steady himself only to have a rough hand seize his hair and pull him upright.
"I said move!" He was pushed forward and stumbled again, automatically hunching his shoulders and ducking his head down as the blackness into which he was being propelled enveloped him like a landslide.
Denied sight, all of his other senses were so heightened that he was horribly aware of the stink of human waste, sweat, and fear. And arousal. A disturbing undercurrent among a sea of bad smells. A callused hand rested briefly on his ass. Shocked, he pulled away, blundering into the hard bare body of another man. A manacled hand hit him, he heard the chain clank, felt the metal strike his cheekbone. There was an immediate snarl of anger, the crack of a whip. "Don't mark him!"
Another voice, soothing, "Don't worry, he's the kind who's only improved by a few bruises." A rough hand slapped his ass and Daniel wheeled around, snarling at the man who'd touched him, feeling ready to bite, like an animal cornered and desperate enough to do anything. His heart was beating faster and faster and it was getting difficult to breathe. He felt nauseated; choked by the sharp tang of urine and body odor. Everyone stank. Even he stank. He could smell his own fear, his own defeat. He was going to fight. Whoever bought him had better not rely on him going easily because he was going to fight with everything he had.
He could feel the panic surging up inside him and knew he had to conquer it. He had to think clearly. Had to find a way out of this.
He swallowed hard. Christ, he was naked, chained, blind, and about to be sold at public auction. What could he possibly do?
"Move!" A shove in the back that made him stumble, flinching from the darkness which could disguise but not cushion a thousand sharp corners, obstacles, stairs, unwieldy objects against which he could tear his flesh or break his bones.
A hand seized his hair and pulled his head back, foul breath heating his face as a harsh voice whispered, "Your lovely ass is going to make my fortune today, boy."
"Don't bank on it," Daniel hissed back tersely.
Another shove sent him stumbling out onto a different floor surface. He heard the hollow sound of wood, felt sunlight on his head. Not too hot yet but with a feel of it coming in the air. Early morning on a planet that heated up fast. But he had only seconds in which to take in those impressions before he was overwhelmed by other information. Vendors selling wares, calling out the day's bargains in what sounded a little like Sumerian. The smell of hot pork, sour with boar taint, on the morning air. The expectant rustle of a large crowd all talking at the same time. Hundreds of people jabbering, chattering, arguing, laughing and whistling.
Daniel was seized by someone who felt like a solid wall of muscle and manhandled to what seemed to be the back of a platform, shoved against something that felt like cloth. A backdrop against which the slavers were displaying their wares, he presumed. The noise was dreadful. The thought of all those strangers gazing at him equally dreadful although for the first time he wondered if perhaps it was better to be blind. At least he wouldn't have to look in the eyes of the leering bastards who were contemplating buying him.
The thought of anyone thinking that they could own him, own anyone, because they paid across a sum of money, made him jerk his head up defiantly. His heart was still hammering at twice normal speed. He was still on the edge of panic. The only thing holding him back from falling straight over that abyss was the thought of Jack. Jack would move heaven, earth, and hell itself to try to get him back, never rest until he found him. For the moment all that might lie beyond the veil of Daniel's blindness was a sea of sneering faces, but sooner or later Jack would track him down and rescue him. That thought gave him not just hope, but strength, a candle flame of warmth no amount of obscene commentary could snuff out.
Daniel faced the people he couldn't see with determination, expression a careful blank. Maybe he couldn't do anything about being paraded naked in front of these merchants like a piece of meat, and maybe he couldn't do anything about being bought and sold like a heifer, but he could at least pretend not to be scared of what was coming to him. Jack would have managed to pull this off with dignity, Daniel would have bet on it. Defiance. A few wisecracks. A look in his eye that said someone was going to pay big for this later. Well maybe Daniel couldn't feel it but he sure as hell could fake it. As he wasn't a Special Ops trained AF colonel who could kill with his bare hands the chances were that when he found himself alone with whichever son-of-a-bitch bought him, he wouldn't be able to tear out the guys lungs and use them for a catapult the way Jack could. But he could at least look as though anyone who bought him was going to be walking with a limp for a very long time.
Jerking his head up, he stared stonily out into the darkness that was already smelling of arousal, trying to project defiance with every cell of his body. Inside he thought about Jack coming to rescue him, clutching it to himself with such strength of belief that it felt as real and as comforting as a pebble held in a child's hand.
Think about Jack. Just think about Jack.
Grey hair. Those warm brown eyes. The feel of Jack's hands in Daniel's hair, his arm around him, rubbing his back, holding him close, that comforting whisper, "It's okay, Daniel. Everything's going to be okay…."
"How much for this pretty piece?" A hand in his hair dragging him forward. Raucous yells from the crowd. Disgusting. Horrible. He was naked in front of all of these men, totally exposed, unable to defend himself….
Think about Jack. Walking across the 'gateroom, wondering how Jack was going to react. Knowing he'd be pleased to see him really but wondering if Jack was going to snub him again, the way he had on Abydos that time, acting as though Daniel didn't even exist; that half-joking, half-apologetic little brush of the shoulder against his not enough to make up for a hurt that had stung far more than Daniel had expected.
"Come on now...You can see what you're getting and you'll be getting it nice and fresh and untasted by any other man…."
That hug. In front of everyone, too. Jack pulling him into his arms, breathing in his scent, those fingers in his hair, that murmured 'Space monkey'. The joy on Jack's face, undisguised, not giving a damn who knew how glad he was to see Daniel back from the dead….
"Ooh, some spirited bidding and I don't blame you. You think this boy looks special here just wait until you've got him alone in your bedroom…."
Just think about Jack, Daniel, just think about Jack….
Jack hadn't known it was possible to be this angry without the top of his head physically exploding. He was in such a white heat of rage he swore his brains were actually boiling in his skull.
The only real question was whom did he want to machine-gun first. For starters there were those fuckers up on that wooden platform who'd stolen his teammate – damnit, friend – and were now parading him naked in front of all these men; shoving Daniel around, grabbing him by the hair and twisting his head round so everyone could take a good look at how pretty he was, bruising his arms with their cruel fingers, saying...the stuff they were saying. They definitely deserved to die.
But so did the men in the crowd. Those ones standing all around him, licking their lips, nodding or gesturing over and over as the bidding climbed higher while they sweated in anticipation, a few of them putting the hand with which they weren't bidding under their robes to caress themselves as they looked at Daniel's naked body, smirking or laughing outright at the no-doubt disgusting things that son-of-a-bitch was saying about Daniel...Some of them weren't laughing, of course, they were just bidding with grim determination, gaze riveted to Daniel's naked body, watching the way the sunlight bathed his skin, admiring those long slender legs, those broad shoulders, that hairless chest...And his face, of course, never as vulnerable as now when those bastards had made him blind. Those blue eyes looked huge as Daniel turned his head, clearly trying to hear what he couldn't see, fighting desperation, a bruise on his left cheekbone standing out starkly against his grubby, bone-white skin.
Jack felt the rage spew up some more lava because that was his friend up there, damnit. A human being with thoughts and feelings and a life of his own, not just merchandise, some piece of meat for them to salivate over. Daniel was trying to project defiance but there was bewilderment in there too, unable to grapple with the kind of mentality that was a part of this process, that could trade in human suffering, that could enjoy his humiliation, could find someone desirable who so clearly loathed the touch of their hand. Daniel stumbled as the slaver jerked on the chain around his wrists, having to shuffle forward awkwardly because of the matching manacles around his ankles. The slaver leered at him, grabbing his hair again, whispering something in his ear as he pulled him upright.
As the other slaver ran his hand appreciatively across Daniel's ass for the third time, Jack's fingers tightened so hard on the P-90 he was carrying under his robes he was surprised they didn't break. Shi'rak had stopped translating what the slaver was saying, he'd said because it was important no one heard them speaking English but Jack thought it had more to do with knowing that he was right on the edge of cracking. All he wanted to do right now was whip out that gun and start killing people and if he'd had it confirmed that fucker was telling the world how firm yet soft-skinned Daniel's ass was and what fun a guy was going to have finding that out for himself he would have pulled the trigger.
Shi'rak had explained about the Mirtaah. How it was common practice to render slaves temporarily blind to prevent them trying to escape. Beatings marked the merchandise whereas Mirtaah left no visible trace.
No physical trace, but Jack wondered what it did to you to be plunged into darkness like that. Not knowing if the stuff was going to wear off or if you were going to be left like this forever. He also wondered what it did to you to be paraded naked in front of a bunch of leering sweaty men who wanted to fuck you, preferably against your will.
God, but it was hard not to start killing people.
He jabbed Shi'rak with his elbow, hissing "Hurry it up, will ya?"
"Do not speak," the Tok'ra warned him again. "And the timing is critical. A representative of Shamash needs to be here to see the crystals and as yet I can see no one who bears his insignia."
Jack glared at him. "Well, in case you hadn't noticed, while you're hanging around waiting for the sun to be over the yardarm, every son-of-a-bitch here is getting an eyeful of Daniel's assets and those fuckers up there are getting to cop a feel. So do you want to make the bid or do you want me to start shooting people?"
The Tok'ra looked at him and Jack guessed the guy was canny enough to realize that he was just about to lose it, because he held up his hand with one of the crystals glittering in it and crisply called out a word in the local lingo. He gathered theirs was literally the bid to end all bids because what followed was a collective gasp followed by an eerie hush. People were craning their necks to try to see the crystal in Shi'rak's hand, Daniel momentarily forgotten as they fought for a glimpse of that blue-white stone.
Jack's attention was riveted on Daniel. His teammate had his head jerked up, clearly trying to work out what was happening, listening intently, eyes open wide as he concentrated on trying to first hear and then translate what he heard. The sunlight was gilding his hair, reminding Jack of the first time he'd seen him when Daniel's hair had been so much longer and been turned golden by the sun. It had been like that when he'd come back from Abydos as well, but three and a half years living under a mountain had sucked the light from Daniel's hair although not quite, thank god, from his eyes.
God, Daniel's eyes were so big and so blue, his lower lip unexpectedly full, the kind of mouth women would kill for. Why had he never noticed that before? And Daniel's body was...well it wasn't difficult to see why there had been such a rush on the bidding where he was concerned. It was the kind of body men killed for – in both senses: strong shoulders, broad chest, slender waist, narrow hips, long legs, flawless skin which the sun was also gilding. It was hard to get his head round this. He was still shocked by Daniel's vulnerability; by his...beauty, which in these circumstances was just another vulnerability. He had seen Daniel naked so many times before but never like this, where his looks were being assessed, weighed, praised. All that frenzied haste to raise the bidding; all those clumsy fumbles beneath sweat-stained robes. All inspired by a guy he worked with every day yet never really looked at. Not until now.
Suddenly he was seeing Daniel in a way he'd never seen him before and he wasn't at all sure he liked it. He could see glimpses of Daniel up there, see this was a guy the same height, the same build, with the same face, as the man he knew, but there was also someone else: a beautiful naked young man with the sunlight gilding his hair, his slender wrists and ankles weighed down by chains as disfiguring as they were disturbingly erotic….
But Daniel was his friend. Daniel was almost a part of himself they knew each other so well. So why in the midst of all this rage he was feeling at the way his best friend was being mistreated was there also something that felt uncomfortably close to...jealousy? A sort of possessiveness coiled around his protective anger which didn't seem to have any right being there. The whole point, after all, was that Daniel wasn't a possession. He was a clever, compassionate, fairly special guy, of whom Jack was very fond. They'd been through a lot together. They looked out for each other. Daniel mattered to him one hell of a lot. They were teammates, friends, equals.
He thought that was a fair assessment, to call them equals, even if it was an equality of opposites; Daniel was the brains and he was the brawn; except Daniel wasn't exactly a little wisp of a thing and Jack didn't think of himself as pig ignorant either. He was streetwise where Daniel had book learning. He knew how to kill a man with his bare hands, granted, while Daniel most emphatically couldn't, but Daniel had pulled his weight on missions that involved physical effort as well as mental agility and never looked like flagging. Complaining, yes, flagging no. So it was reasonable he should be angry about the way Daniel had been ill-treated, both as his team leader and his friend. And it was fair enough that he should feel protective. Daniel always had brought out his protective side in a way that normally only children did. But that didn't really explain why mixed in with all his fury at the way his friend had been mistreated there was a simultaneously ice cold and white hot part of himself that wanted to put out the eyes of every man who'd got good look at Daniel's naked body, and which wanted to castrate every fucker who'd touched him. That was a little harder to explain.
Jack jerked himself out of his thoughts to the realization that a lot of important things seemed to have happened while he'd been standing there gawping at Daniel.
Some guy in silk robes was doing a lot of bowing and scraping to him. Apparently the way he'd been totally ignoring the guy was actually a good thing because it had evidently convinced this emissary of Shamash that Jack really was the kind of rich arrogant full-of-it bastard a Goa'uld on the take was eager to make friends with.
Shi'rak was talking to the guy then turning to Jack with signs of great respect, humility and a little fear. He'd just asked something in a language Jack didn't recognize. Christ, what were the hand signals they'd agreed again? Jack glanced at the man's outstretched thumb pressed in close to his thigh, was that a nod or a headshake? Better go with a headshake, he could always be persuaded later. He was supposed to be playing hard to get after all.
Jack shook his head.
The flicker of relief in the Tok'ra's eyes, not to mention surprise, told Jack that he'd got it right and the guy hadn't been expecting him to. Well, screw you, Shi'rak, he thought, he was after all, a Colonel in the United States freakin' Air Force, not a complete moron.
The negotiations went on. Both Shi'rak and the emissary from Shamash treating Jack like he was a capricious despot with a vicious temper. They couldn't have tiptoed round him more carefully if there had been broken glass on the floor and they'd both had bare feet -
Bare feet...He thought of Daniel's bare legs, his grubby feet, those manacles around his ankles blue-bruising the skin….
He risked a glance up at the place where the slaves were being paraded but Daniel was nowhere to be seen. He darted a hunted look at Shi'rak who gave him a warning glare in return. Had they bought Daniel or hadn't they? Screw the freakin' Tok'ra and their freakin' mission, he'd come here to rescue his friend, not –
The emissary was nodding rapidly before making Jack a low bow and then retreating backwards, still bowing.
Out of the side of his mouth, Jack muttered, "Did we get Daniel or didn't we?"
"Yes," the Tok'ra hissed it at him in annoyance, darting a glance around as he did so. "Shamash has made you a gift of him as a token of his esteem for your great reputation."
"What great reputation?" Jack demanded. "And where is he? Where's Daniel?"
"Doctor Jackson will be awaiting you at the palace of Shamash. And I will tell you what you need to know of the role you are playing later. Transportation awaits." Shi'rak made a show of bowing deeply and indicating the path that had opened up through the crowd; the sweaty merchants who only moments before had been eyeing up Daniel, now keeping a respectful distance so Jack could advance between their ranks without sullying his robes by any contact with them. Three litters waited beyond, one much larger and more ornately decorated than the other two. The emissary was still bowing and beckoning.
Thinking that the second they were alone he was going to turn this damned Tok'ra inside out and shake the information out of him, Jack stalked through the crowd towards the waiting litter as majestically as he could. He was getting an inkling as to how the Goa'uld was going to play it anyway. He'd made Jack the gift of a slave. Jack, if he had any manners, would offer the Goa'uld something in return, preferably one of the crystals.
Then hopefully he could grab Daniel, and Shi'rak and they could get the hell out of here.
Except as Jack climbed into the gold and crimson draped litter, wincing in sympathy as he did so for the poor bastards who were going to have to carry him through the streets, he knew that with the Tok'ra nothing was ever that simple. There was always a catch, and if there wasn't one written in, they'd damned well go out and find one. Along with pissing off the Goa'uld, it was what they did best.
But for the moment all he cared about was that Daniel was now hopefully safe from the lustful gaze and touch of all those other men and Jack would be able to see him very soon. With another spasm of rage at what had been done to his teammate, Jack remembered that how long it would be before Daniel could see him was a completely different matter.
As the 'sale' was completed and he was handed over, Daniel tried to fight but the men who evidently worked for his new 'master' were clearly much bigger and stronger than he was. The way they took pains to overpower him without leaving bruises chilled him more than the most casually brutal backhand. And of course, not being able to see left him at a serious disadvantage. They could easily thwart his attempts to escape and could move in to hold him still without him being able to anticipate their actions.
His 'owner' – he gritted his teeth at that word – was clearly wealthy, for until his successful offer the bidding had been climbing at a rate which Daniel supposed he should have found flattering. There had been some confusion about who had purchased him but the way the traders had fallen over themselves to get him off that platform and back inside to be handed over to these muscle-bound lackeys had suggested whoever it was must be powerful and probably the type to punish failure ruthlessly.
At least the bruisingly heavy chains had been unlocked from his ankles and wrists, although that relief was short-lived as they were immediately replaced by leather cuffs connected by lighter but still probably equally unbreakable chains. Then he was wrapped in what seemed to be a piece of rough cloth and thrown over the shoulder of a guy who smelt strongly of sweat. Daniel tried to struggle but the man had arms like iron bands. He told Daniel about the several ways he knew to discipline disobedient slaves that didn't leave any marks. The methods were not just painful, they were also extremely humiliating, and Daniel decided he would pick his moment and rebel then.
He was thrown into the back of what he had taken to be another cart but which set off at such a speed he supposed it must be something more like a chariot. For the journey he was held down by two more of the muscled lackeys, one of whom twitched back the cloth in which he was wrapped and ran a hand appraisingly down his body.
"Get off me!" Daniel snarled at him. He tried to kick at what he hoped was the guy's groin, but a knee was planted on his leg and he was held still.
Fingers stroked up and down his thigh. "You were bought by Sargon of Atakan." There was awe as well as satisfaction in his tormentor's voice. "They say he is the most brutal tyrant in all the Nine Systems. His appetites are legendary."
As fingers continued to lazily caress his thigh, the speaker told Daniel about all the interesting ways his new master was reputed to have killed previous catamites. By the time the cart stopped, Daniel was no longer swearing, not because he wasn't still angry but because he was afraid that if he opened his mouth he was going to throw up.
"Who the hell am I?" Jack hissed it at Shi'rak in annoyance as he was escorted down yet another long wide corridor decorated with the kind of pictures he definitely wouldn't have wanted his grandmother seeing. They'd been shown so much deference it was starting to make his teeth itch. Been ushered into chamber after gorgeous chamber. Offered all different kinds of refreshment. And all he wanted was to see his friend and reassure both of them that Daniel was okay.
"I have told people you are called Sargon of Atakan and that you are a tyrant of great wealth and power. We have been building up your reputation for a while."
"Yeah, I kind of got that from the way everyone was tripping over their own feet to get the hell out of my way when I looked at them."
"When we meet with Shamash, you must allow me to do the talking."
"Fuck meeting Shamash," Jack snapped. "I want to see Daniel. I want to know he's okay."
"I have already passed on your instructions to Shamash."
"What instructions?" Jack demanded.
A warning glance from the Tok'ra told him to be quiet, but he was still inwardly seething. He was really starting to build up a dislike for Shi'rak. The guy always looked so damned pleased with himself.
"I want to see Daniel and I mean two hours ago," Jack told him quietly. "It's not a request. Either you tell Shamash I want to go play with my...purchase right now or I'll tell him myself."
"A tyrant would never show concern for a slave. You are jeopardizing the whole mission," Shi'rak hissed at him.
Jack didn't blink. "Hey, as far as I'm concerned, rescuing Daniel is the whole mission." The swish of silk on the corridor behind him told him Shamash was approaching but he held Shi'rak's gaze. "Take it or leave it."
Shi'rak gave him a glare of annoyance but then turned to Shamash with an expression of respect plastered onto his face.
As the conversation went on in a language Jack didn't even bother trying to follow, he took note of the Goa'uld. Tall, dark, handsome, all the usual requirements. But some of the gloss was starting to wear off from this particular Goa'uld: age lines that had no business being there, a few strands of silver in the dark hair. He had the look of a matinee idol who was getting a little past his best, and there was a softness about him that made a vivid contrast to the Tok'ra. Where Shamash was sleek and self-satisfied, skin glistening with scented oils, perfume in his blue-black hair, the elaborate robes weighed down by ornament and gold thread, fingers heavy with rings, Shi'rak was well-muscled, poised, very much the warrior, albeit one now hiding his competence under a display of subservience.
It occurred to Jack that if he and Shi'rak got into a fight the guy was taller, broader, younger and stronger than he was. Apart from that, of course, they were perfectly matched.
Shi'rak was making graceful gestures of apology, Shamash of comprehension. The Goa'uld smiled at Jack who inclined his head the barest fraction, keeping his expression stony and uncompromising.
Shamash smiled again and Jack hoped his face was aching with the effort of concealing what he was sure really wanted to be a snarl. He said something to Jack that seemed to be a kind of polite joke and Jack again inclined his head, not troubling to hide his boredom, then he turned to Shi'rak and snapped his fingers, waving a hand at Shamash in the way one might ask someone to pay a bellboy.
He barely watched the exchange of the crystal, aware of but not really interested in the avaricious glint in Shamash' eye as the glittering gemstone was handed across to him. All his thoughts were focused on Daniel. He wouldn't know it was Jack who'd bought him. 'Bought him'. God, he hated that. Talk about 'Have that boy washed and brought to my tent...' They probably were bathing him, making him ready for his new master's pleasure. Stinking, corrupt, filthy system that bartered in human beings like they were supermarket cuts of meat.
Shamash was saying something gracious. Yea. Yea. Cut the chit-chat snakeface, just tell me where the fuck you've got Daniel stashed and let me get there.
Jack made an inarticulate sound, a cross between a snarl and a hiss of impatience and Shi'rak darted him a glance that was half warning half anxiety. The Tok'ra clearly thought Jack was likely to blow the mission any second. And the Tok'ra was damned right.
Shi'rak talked rapidly to Shamash with lots of bowing and fluttery hand gestures and Shamash was extremely gracious in response, making lots of hand gestures of his own that made the rings on his fingers almost dazzle Jack with their brightness. As he turned his head, the torchlight played on the grey in his hair, illuminated what were definite wrinkles by the eyes. Oh yeah. This guy was in serious need of another hot wash in the sarcophagus; those age-lines were definitely starting to show, and he could see something that looked very like panic flickering beneath the surface of all that arrogance. The guy was dying little by little, day by day, and Jack had the means to save him. No wonder this snakehead was being so damned obliging.
Then, finally, farewells were being said, Jack could incline his head an imperious fraction once again and this time Shi'rak was leading him with all due deference in what was hopefully the direction of Daniel.
The Tok'ra gave him a glare that should have frozen Jack's blood but he didn't freakin' care. Then Shi'rak opened a gold embossed door for him, swept an obsequious bow and said, "Your chamber, my lord."
It was a pretty grand place and Jack swept into the room as regally as he could, but the second he was inside the chamber, pulled off the heavy velvet robe and threw it onto the first chair he saw, then he strode across the marble floor towards the archway beckoning to him like a warm fire to a cold beggar. To the bedroom where Daniel had damned well better be waiting for him or there was going to be hell to pay….
Remembering that Daniel was blind, Jack opened his mouth to call out 'Honey, I'm home' but then as he saw that pale form lying prone and half wrapped in the gold-colored sheets, he swallowed the words down.
Daniel was asleep on the bed. Somehow he hadn't expected that, but it made sense. He clearly had been bathed: he'd been grubby earlier up on that platform yet he was definitely clean now and his hair was damp and tousled. As Jack drew closer he could smell a pine-and-almond scent and realized they hadn't just bathed Daniel, they'd washed his hair, oiled his skin, good grief they'd even given him a pedicure. They'd probably injected him with something or forced him to swallow something that made him drowsy and compliant. Well much as Jack wanted to reassure Daniel he was okay and his new master was a friend, he wasn't going to wake him up when he was finally getting some much-needed sleep to tell him something he could tell him just as well in the morning.
Edging a little closer to the bed, Jack sniffed cautiously. He had to admit that scent was pretty damned nice. He could see the bruise on Daniel's left cheekbone, the feather-soft strands of his hair drawing a ragged line across his forehead. The sheet had been wrapped around Daniel's body in a loose spiral covering his ass but not much else, so Jack could see the broad shoulders, his smooth back, the muscles on his upper arms, those long slender legs. He looked like Daniel and yet not like Daniel. That weird double-vision again of seeing someone so familiar it was like seeing his own reflection but also seeing this beautiful young man spread out for him naked on the bed. Chained to the bed.
Jack frowned as he caught the glimpse of the chain. Damnit to hell. The chain had been looped through the bed-head so Daniel was unable to get away. God, it could so easily have been someone else coming into this situation: Daniel laid out for whoever wanted him, too drugged or exhausted to put up any resistance, and manacled in place to be fucked however many times his new master felt like fucking him….
He shuddered at the thought of how close Daniel had come to what probably would have been a fate worse than death and then caught sight of the key on the marble table beside the bed. Well he could at least unchain him without waking him up. As he picked up the key, Jack couldn't resist just bending over Daniel, putting his face close to the younger man's face to inhale the scent of him, feel Daniel's breath against his cheek and know that he really was alive.
Given the fact Daniel was chained up, having to play possum, and couldn't see, the kick was pretty powerful.
One second Jack was bending solicitously over his teammate, the next a bare foot was slamming high into the inside of his thigh sending him spinning across the room to crash against the wall.
As his head cracked against the marble and he started to slide down the wall, Jack realized that he'd been incredibly lucky. That kick had been intended to smash his balls up into his brain and it had only missed its target by a couple of inches. When he woke up again, he really was going to have to commend Daniel for his determination. In the meantime he urgently needed to pass out.
As he drifted into unconsciousness he managed a faint protesting, "Oh for crying out loud, Daniel..." before darkness claimed him.
The first thing he became aware of was the sound of a softly pleading voice. It sounded familiar. And it sounded very worried.
"Jack! Jack, can you hear me? Jack, please be okay! Damnit, Jack, say something. Don't be dead. Please don't be dead…."
"Danny?" Was that his voice? It sounded more like a frog's croak, but it must have done the trick because he heard a sharp indrawn breath, then his name again, this time with a definite hitch in it. He winced as he opened his eyes and blinked a few times to bring everything into focus, resisting the urge to turn around and see if there was a crack in the marble wall behind his head. All other thoughts fled as the scene in front of him was brought into focus. Daniel was halfway off the bed, his arms stretched out behind him as he had obviously tried in vain to reach Jack. The cover that had been wrapped around him was on the floor in a puddle and he was completely nude, his beautifully formed body, glistening with oil, stretched taut as if in offering as he strained toward Jack. Jack had to swallow hard before he trusted himself to speak. "Daniel?" He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the insistent pounding in his head, and stumbled over to where his friend was half-lying on the floor, his face a mixture of hope and guilt.
Remembering the last time he'd approached Daniel, Jack stopped well short of those long, lean – and apparently lethal – legs and said cautiously, "Daniel? You know it's me, right?"
Daniel's head snapped up at the sound of Jack's voice, the words tumbling out of his mouth, "Oh God, Jack, I thought I'd killed you!"
Grinning affectionately, Jack eased down beside his friend and lightly ruffled the soft, shiny hair. "Takes more than a kick to do in Air Force colonels," he joked. "Although a kick like that came pretty close to closing the vault on the family jewels."
Daniel's eyes were staring at a point around Jack's shoulder, reminding him painfully that Daniel was still locked in his dark world. "I thought you were --"
"I know," Jack broke in quickly, moving his hand down to gently squeeze the back of Daniel's neck. "It's okay. That's not going to happen. We're getting out of here."
Large blue eyes shifted until they locked on Jack's face. Daniel tried to smile but it wasn't too convincing. "I – can't see."
Oh, Danny, what those bastards did to you. "It's only temporary," Jack assured him, careful to keep his voice calm and reassuring. "The effects wear off on their own."
Daniel slumped, whether from relief or as a result of his store of strength giving out, and immediately winced as the strain on his arms increased.
"Hey, hey, easy." Jack moved immediately to slide an arm around Daniel's back and helped ease him back up onto the bed. "First thing on the agenda is to get those damned things off, okay?"
Daniel seemed to be reeling from what Jack had told him. "Someone told me that, but I didn't know if he was telling the truth. I was afraid he was just telling me that to --"
"It's true," Jack broke in firmly. "I came here with a Tok'ra named Shi'rak, and he knew all about the stuff they used on you." Cupping the side of the younger man's face he said softly, "I promise, Danny. It's only temporary." His eyes swept over the pale face, taking in the luminous blue eyes and the bruise on Daniel's cheek, and gently brushed the dark mark with his thumb. "And we're going to get out of here. You hear me? We just need to play the part a little longer, and then we're going to get out of here."
"Play the part?" Daniel's smile was a little weak. "You mean...master and slave."
Jack winced as he retrieved the small, golden key from the floor where it had fallen and quickly fit it into the manacles around Daniel's wrists. "There wasn't any other way," he muttered apologetically.
"It's okay, Jack -- ahh!" Daniel sighed in relief as his arms were released and he allowed Jack to wrap his hands around his wrists and guide his arms back down. "I'm just glad it was you and not...you know…." He occupied himself with massaging his wrists, his face hidden as he dropped his head.
And not some bastard sadist who was going to come in here and rape you as many times as he pleased, Jack finished silently. "That was some welcome you had planned," he said lightly.
Daniel didn't lift his head, but his voice was even and matter-of-fact as he replied, "I figured I had only one shot at it and if I didn't disable him, maybe I'd make him mad enough to kill me outright."
At the sound of that carefully neutral voice, Jack went cold inside as he realized just how alone and without hope Daniel had been. Blind, at the mercy of ruthless slavers, knowing he was to be sold as a sex slave, chained to a bed awaiting the pleasure of the sadistic bastard who had bought him at auction. "Did they hurt you?" he asked abruptly, his hands curling into fists. He could send Daniel back with Shi'rak; the Tok'ra would make sure he got back to the SGC safely. He didn't need to speak the language to track down the bastards who had stolen Daniel and done this to him. In fact, that sounded like a damn fine plan.
Even though he couldn't see Jack's face, the sudden tension in Jack's body must have communicated itself to Daniel because the archaeologist raised his head and reached out, groping until he found one of Jack's arms. Patting it gently, he said earnestly, "They scared the hell out of me and knocked me around a little. That's all. I'm okay, Jack. At least..." A surprisingly sweet smile touched his face, and Jack felt his mouth go dry for some reason. "I am now."
You're here and everything's okay now. Daniel couldn't have said it any louder if he'd shouted. Jack looked down to see his own hand covering Daniel's where it rested on his arm. He licked his lips, gave the hand under his a quick pat, suddenly realizing Daniel was still stretched out on the bed as naked as the day he was born. He'd probably been that way ever since those slavers took him. It was a wonderful psychological way to beat someone down. Add to that the fact that they also took his sight away and... Jesus, Jack marveled, you are one tough geek. Bending over, he snatched the cover from the floor and draped it over the younger man's body.
Daniel's eyes went wide, then his cheeks reddened. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I didn't realize…."
"Daniel." The archaeologist bit his lip, but stopped talking, his eyes hidden by a sweep of long lashes as he lowered his face. Putting a finger underneath that stubborn chin, Jack gently forced his head back up. "You don't have anything to apologize for. None of this is your fault."
"Oh God." Suddenly Daniel's face went white. "Griff and SG-3. They were all --"
"Back at the SGC," Jack broke in hastily, "in Doc Fraiser's hands. A little worst for wear, but all alive."
Daniel's eyes slid shut in relief. "It happened so fast. They came out of nowhere --"
"I know. Griff gave us the report." The last thing he wanted right now was Daniel dwelling on what had happened and reliving the last couple of days. "Look, we're going to have to be on our toes tomorrow when we get out of here, so we'd better get some sleep. We're safe enough here," he continued, his voice softening. "Shi'rak's outside to make sure no one..." Jack faltered.
"Sort of our own 'Do Not Disturb' sign?"
"Something like that," Jack grinned, glad Daniel was able to joke about it. But as he was watching, a frown creased Daniel's brow. "What?"
"Jack, are you okay? You were knocked out for a while. Do you think you have a concussion?"
The pounding in his head had lessened somewhat but was still insistently throbbing. "I'm okay – hey! What are you --?" Daniel surged up off the bed, his hand immediately finding the back of Jack's head. Jack felt gentle hands slide through his hair as he watched Daniel's face scrunch up in concentration. It was fascinating watching indefinable expressions chase themselves across that mobile face so close to his while those long fingers lightly massaged his scalp. It felt good. In fact, it felt downright -- His sudden yelp of pain made Daniel jump.
"Jesus, Jack, you've got a knot back there the size of an egg!"
"Thank you for pointing that out, Daniel," he growled, grabbing the archaeologist's hand and pulling it away.
Daniel looked so worried and sounded so miserable, Jack felt his irritation melt away although the lump on the back of his head continued to ache. "It's okay, Daniel, I've had worse. It's just a headache."
Daniel was gnawing at his lower lip, and Jack found himself staring as even white teeth worried at the moist lip. "You probably have a concussion," Daniel fretted.
"All I need is some sleep," Jack protested, trying to tear his gaze away from Daniel's mouth.
"I'd better wake you up every couple of hours to make sure you're okay. Or maybe we should have – what's his name? – Shi'rak in here to --"
"I am not bringing Shi'rak in here." Jack immediately rearranged the sheet so Daniel's assets were once again fully covered. The Tok'ra had already got an eyeful of Daniel Jackson in all his glory at the auction and he wasn't going to get another chance. Jack realized he was going to have to find some way to clothe Daniel when they walked out of here tomorrow. Daniel may not be able to see it, but he would, and if he saw that he just might have to start shooting people.
He'd been quiet too long, and Daniel was reaching out hesitantly. When the other man's fingers came in contact with his face, Jack didn't flinch. He just sat there, lost in wonder at the feel of those slender fingers tracing the expression on his face as Daniel so often traced markings on a rock. Realizing reading his expression was exactly what Daniel was doing, Jack grinned, watching Daniel's expression as he felt the muscles in Jack's face move. When Daniel's index finger got close to his mouth, Jack nipped it playfully, and Daniel quickly pulled his hand away, laughing in surprise. Oh God, it felt good to hear that. He'd been afraid he'd never hear that sound again, never see that rare, sweet smile. Afraid he had lost Daniel for good this time.
Suddenly something else registered in his racing brain and he grabbed Daniel's hand. "For cryin' out loud, Daniel, your hands are like ice."
"You'd be cold, too, if you'd been naked for the last two days," Daniel retorted with some asperity.
"Why didn't you say something?" Jack fussed over him, tucking sheets and blankets around him. He could feel the thrum of little tremors racing through Daniel's body and thought it was probably due to the sudden release of tension and adrenaline as it was being cold, but he also knew if Daniel really was chilled to the bone, as was very likely, it was going to take more than a few blankets to warm him up properly. Without giving it a thought, he quickly stripped off his clothes and climbed into bed on the other side.
Daniel was lying on his back, his head tilted to follow the sound of Jack's movements. When Jack got into bed, Daniel tried to lie very still, but Jack could still see his body trembling with the telltale tremors. "Come here," he murmured, putting a hand on the other man's shoulder and pulling him onto his side. "Let me do this, Daniel. We've got to get you warmed up, okay?"
Murmuring half-hearted protests, Daniel finally allowed himself to be guided closer to Jack. But when Jack put his arms around the chilled body and Daniel felt the heat surrounding him, he pressed against the man with a sigh, burying his face in Jack's neck, trying to soak up as much heat as he could. Jack couldn't help the smile that broke out on his face as he ran a hand up and down the silky skin of Daniel's back and arms and felt the shivering slowly stop. Sharing body heat was a tried and true military method of keeping warm and he felt no embarrassment at all.
Besides...this was kind of nice.
Daniel dreamed he was wrapped up warm in Jack's arms. He could hear Jack's heartbeat. Smell Jack's aftershave. Smell the comforting, indefinable 'Jack' scent that signaled safety, comfort, and home. Other images kept trying to taint his pleasant dream: jolting in the back of a cart, the noisome horror of the slave pit, being plunged into sudden terrifying darkness by that burning pain in his eyes, the knowledge that he was naked and exposed in front of a crowd of leering men...But they all receded whenever he inhaled. He was cocooned in a protective warmth that smelt, and felt, and soothed just like Jack...
Daniel blinked and opened his eyes. Everything stayed dark but the scent was even stronger. So was the sound. The rhythmic beat of someone breathing. A man whose chest hair was against Daniel's face, whose heartbeat was sounding a comforting rhythm in his ear. He inhaled cautiously and felt relief wash over him. Definitely Jack.
"Jack?" Daniel suddenly remembered the lump on the back of the man's head. "Jack!"
"What?" Jack was jolted into wakefulness, his arms instinctively tightening around Daniel protectively as he did so. "What's up? Daniel?"
"You might be concussed," Daniel reminded him. "Do you know who you are?"
"Damnit, Daniel, I was having a wonderful dream!" Jack sounded comically indignant but his protective grip didn't slacken. He rubbed a hand across Daniel's back again, those callused fingers tracing a soft warm trail across his skin. "You're cold again. We've got to get you some freakin' clothes."
"I feel warm." He admitted it a little shyly but he had to admit there were certain advantages to being temporarily blind. He'd wriggled in close to Jack while asleep and the man's arms had circled him, Jack's legs had wrapped themselves around his, and their groins were pressed close. Thank goodness neither of them had woken up with morning erections or that could have been embarrassing. Come to think of it, had Daniel been able to see, he knew he would have been embarrassed anyway. He was after all, naked and in his best friend's arms. Jack, the good soldier who'd seen it all, might be able to take this kind of thing in his stride, but it would definitely have given this anthropologist a few problems if he'd been able to see Jack's face.
"You sure?" Jack sounded nothing other than concerned.
Daniel inhaled again, pressing his face against Jack's chest hair, feeling warm skin against his mouth. God, Jack smelt good. Felt good too. That lean body so familiar it was like an extension of himself.
"You okay, Danny?" Jack said it gently. Fingers stroked through Daniel's hair. "Were you having a bad dream?"
Daniel felt himself responding to that voice and touch, melting a little with the relief of it, the comfort it offered. Jack was like a big warm blanket he could just wrap around himself and...And wait a minute. How old did Jack think he was anyway? Their naked bodies were wrapped around one another and Jack was treating Daniel like a kid who'd had a nightmare and needed to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed until he stopped being scared of the monster in his closet...
Daniel abruptly pulled away, not sure where that sudden irritation came from.
"Daniel?" There was concern in Jack's voice.
Daniel moistened his lips. "I'm okay." He didn't know where that feeling of having been slapped had come from but it was still stinging. He forced himself not to sound pissy – Jack had gone all out to rescue him after all and couldn't have been kinder, despite the way Daniel had damned near crippled him. "Tell me about the mission."
Jack answered instantly: "Find Daniel. Rescue Daniel. Kill anyone who hurt Daniel."
Daniel couldn't help grinning at the speed of Jack's response. That definitely took off quite a lot of the sting of that slapped feeling. "You're getting soft in your old age."
"Tell me about it."
A hand gently cradled his face. Daniel started a little at the feel of it and then felt the warmth soothing the bruise on his cheekbone. Daniel felt his heart start beating faster as Jack's thumb gently stroked his skin. Jack was just looking at his bruise that was all. And he was looking at it closely, trying to assess if there was any damage to the cheekbone, that was why he was leaning in so close, why Daniel could feel his breath against his mouth, smell the scent of him so clearly...He swallowed hard but his voice came out more than a little breathless: "What about the Tok'ra?"
Daniel blinked in mock surprise. "Is that an order, Master?"
"That isn't funny." Jack's response was swift. "No jokes like that."
"Jack, the Tok'ra never do something for nothing. What did you agree to do to get them to help you come and find me?"
"I may have..." Jack's sigh warmed his cheek, sending a strange tremor down his neck. The man must be breathing on a nerve or something. "Okay, I may have said I'd help out with some scam the Tok'ra are running to try to get hold of some happy juice the Goa'uld here has the recipe to."
"Why do they want it?"
"Because they think it would be useful to them. Apparently it's like the Blood of Sokar only much, much better."
"It would have to be," Daniel wrinkled his nose, "that stuff sucked."
He heard Jack laugh and frowned. "What?"
"You're starting to sound like me."
Daniel moistened his lips again. "I knew I'd been hanging around with you too long."
Jack unexpectedly brushed his thumb across Daniel's cheekbone. "Okay, you know you don't get to run off with any more SG teams ever again now, don't you? As in not ever."
Daniel sighed. "And you know we have to help the Tok'ra with their mission, right?"
The hands were withdrawn from him and Daniel heard a soft thud which he realized was Jack falling back on the bed. The groan confirmed the man's lack of enthusiasm. "Do we have to?"
Daniel repressed a smile, trying to stay stern in the face of Jack sounding like a whiney eight year old. "Yes, we do."
"Oh for crying out loud..." It was a mutinous mutter, but it had defeat wrapped around it. Jack was too good a soldier to really want to run out half way through a mission.
"You'd better get out there and ask questions."
"Can I have breakfast first?" Jack protested. "And what about you? Aren't you hungry?"
Daniel abruptly realized he was ravenous and so thirsty he could drain an Olympic-sized swimming pool. He moistened his lips again. "Actually, now you come to mention it, I'm starving."
"Okay, room service coming up. There have to be a few perks from being a vicious tyrant with an attitude."
The pat on his arm was gentle, affectionate, but coming out of the darkness as it did, it still made him start. When the hand was quickly snatched away Daniel could still feel where Jack's fingers had touched him, as though they'd left a faint burn upon his skin.
"Sorry," the man said it a little breathlessly.
Daniel swallowed hard. "S'okay. Just – can't see where you're...coming from."
"I'll be right back."
He heard Jack get up, the rustle of cloth as the man presumably pulled something on or wrapped a robe around himself, and then the door was opened, the soft murmur of words he couldn't hear, the door closing again.
Left alone in the darkness, Daniel told himself firmly that it was only his being blind that made Jack's departure cause him that inexplicably strong sense of loss.
Despite the fact they were stuck in a Goa'uld brothel on a mission for the Tok'ra and Daniel was both naked and blind, breakfast was pretty damned good. He got to eat some good food and feed a Daniel who it turned out was pretty near ravenous with hunger.
Feeding Daniel was fun. He got to tease him a little, which he enjoyed and even Daniel seemed to enjoy. He tried out all the food himself first so he knew it tasted okay, but he still told Daniel there was a sheep's eyeball coming right up before slipping a nice succulent piece of fruit in his mouth. Turned out, of course, Daniel didn't mind eating sheep's eyeballs because they were a delicacy in somewhere unpronounceable he'd once been on a dig, so he swallowed it down quite happily. He obediently opened his mouth so Jack could pop in a chunk of what Jack told him what snakemeat too, before chewing ecstatically, saying it tasted just like chicken, then giving him a sideways grin that made Jack's heart do a strange little handstand he couldn't adequately explain. In fact Daniel ate anything and everything Jack offered him however it was described without a flinch, which Jack put down to overwhelming hunger or a rather touching faith that Jack would never really make him eat anything nasty. He hoped it was the latter but suspected it was probably the former. Then Daniel drank half a pint of something that tasted like a vanilla milkshake before lying back on the bed and saying 'Whew!' like a kid on a big dipper.
"What?" Jack had only just taken a test sip of the drink before handing it over to Daniel as he figured his need was greater.
Daniel giggled. "I think that's alcohol. Really really strong alcohol."
"Hell, that's just going to dehydrate you. Here, drink this." He made Daniel drink lots of water then led him to the...facilities so he could piss. The pictures on the wall were certainly an eye-opener and for the first time he felt a little relieved Daniel couldn't see them. Daniel was now giggling constantly and what with being blind and blind drunk managed to piss all over Jack's – luckily booted – feet.
He would have gotten angry but the way Daniel collapsed against the wall laughing helplessly and gasping "I really wish I could see your face right now, Jack..." was sort of cute. Albeit in a very annoying way.
It was relatively easy to steer a hiccupping and still giggling Daniel back to the bed and deposit him under the covers. Getting him off to sleep was a little harder as the alcohol Daniel had drunk was obviously intended to make slaves...compliant in every way.
"Hey, Jack...come and join me..." Lying in the bed, gazing up at the place where he thought Jack was, Daniel smiled at him before patting the sheet beside him invitingly.
"We could...snuggle some more..." Daniel giggled, turning over to bury his face in the pillow as though he'd just said something hysterical and exposing a lot of his naked body in the process.
"Damnit, Danny..." Jack pulled the covers over him quickly, throat unexpectedly dry again.
Daniel wriggled in against the bed like a puppy burrowing into straw in a barn, dislodging the covers again in the process. "I'm cold. You were all warm and...nice...Liked snuggling with you, Jack, liked it a lot..."
Quickly pulling the silk coverlet over that naked body, Jack barely managed to say: "Just shut up and go to sleep, will ya?" before Daniel drifted into slumber, still with a happy smile on his face.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, stretched out a hand to stroke Daniel's hair back from his forehead then stopped himself. He thought of the time he'd seen Daniel naked and under a sheet in Hathor's mock-up of the SGC. Christ, he'd been relieved to see him again but there hadn't been a lot of time for reunions. Trying to get two sedated and confused teammates up and into borrowed clothes had been hard enough work, but the relief had still been overwhelming. He'd never felt so alone as when he'd been told they were dead. And it was still scaring the shit out of him thinking how close he'd come to losing Daniel again; and losing him to someone who would have...
Jack gave his head a determined shake and made sure the coverlet was tucked in all around Daniel's smooth bare skin. He ran a hand gently through his hair, feeling its softness against his fingers, then bent down to listen to his breathing. As the exhalation gusted against his face, he smiled at the alcohol scent of it: Daniel was drunk as a skunk but otherwise okay. Just as long as he could be kept safe until he sobered up, he would remain okay. He decided that his job for the day was watching over Daniel.
Shi'rak, however had other ideas.
"What?" Jack automatically lowered his voice so as not to wake Daniel. Darting the Tok'ra a venomous look he said shortly, "I'm not leaving Daniel by himself in this place. He's blind and naked and drunk and...blind."
Shi'rak sighed impatiently. "I have already taken steps to obtain some suitable apparel for Doctor Jackson and his sight will be restored by tomorrow morning at the latest. He will be sober again long before then."
"Okay, that's good news." Jack admitted it with a grudging nod.
"But I expect you to fulfill your side of our bargain as well, Colonel."
Jack narrowed his eyes. "And that sounds like bad news."
The bad news was that the Tok'ra wanted Jack and Daniel to hang out in this Goa'uld brothel until Shamash gave Jack some happy juice to sample. Something he would only do when all the due boring freakin' ceremonies had been observed. In the meantime Jack had to pretend to be a tyrant and Daniel had to pretend to be his...well the polite word for it was apparently 'catamite', although that wasn't the one Jack used.
"Daniel can't pretend to be a...slave in front of other people."
"That was always intended to be the arrangement, Colonel."
"But this is a guy who when you give him an order says 'Why?' or 'In a minute, Jack' or 'Not now, I'm busy', or 'Have you seen this, it's really interesting', but never ever 'Yes, sir'. He may be able to speak twenty-three languages but he doesn't understand the verb 'to obey' in any of them. Trust me, he would make the world's worst slave. In fact he would be chucked out of slave school on day one and told never to come back."
"He is only required to play a part." Shi'rak clearly couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
Jack glared at him. "Do you have an STML problem I don't know about? Can we have a little memory check here? Daniel was kidnapped by slavers, who stripped him naked, chained him up, blinded him, then sold him at public auction to the highest bidder. When I walked into that bedroom last night he was expecting to be raped by a vicious sadist. I really think he might be feeling a little less than thrilled by the prospect of having to pretend to be anyone's 'property' for the next couple of days."
"As the two of you will both know your true relationship remains unaltered, where is the problem?" Shi'rak gave him an irritated glance. "The Tok'ra agreed to help you retrieve Doctor Jackson – something you could not possibly have done without our assistance – on condition that you reciprocated in kind, Colonel O'Neill. Are you now rescinding on the arrangement."
Jack glared right back at him. "Daniel has been through hell. Can't you understand that? I want to get him home, get him checked out by Doc Fraiser. I want to know his eyesight hasn't suffered any permanent injury."
"It has not," the Tok'ra returned impatiently. "As I have already told you. Colonel, the Tok'ra need a sample of this drug. I will not leave this place until my mission is completed, which means – "
"Which means I either bail out on you and leave you to get caught, tortured, and killed, or I hang around and help you get things done all the quicker. I'm warning you, Shi'rak, round about now it's a close call." He exhaled wearily. "But, okay, I'll wander round and act like I'm seriously interested in perversion. You stand outside that door and make sure no son-of-a-bitch goes anywhere near Daniel…."
Now, six hours later, it was taking all the self-control Jack had not to keep looking at his wristwatch. The one he wasn't allowed to look at because it was Tau'ri technology and he was supposed to be this...tyrant guy. He was so damned bored with the trip around Shamash's brothel he wanted to jump up and down on someone's head. Preferably Shi'rak's.
It had been an...educational day. The pictures on the walls had been interesting. So had the pictures on the floors, ceiling, and tiled in mosaics in the sunken baths. Shamash had given him the Grand Tour, offering him several...appetizers on the way. He'd turned them down. He'd thought about being polite and then remembered he didn't have to be. He could wave them away like a dish he hadn't ordered because he was an arrogant bastard who bought boys so he could fuck them against their will. That was quite liberating in its way. By the time he'd turned down about ten offerings of at least three genders, Shamash was looking anxious as well as more than a little worse for wear. Clearly, Jack was supposed to let himself get taken off to some boudoir to be drugged so the crystals could be taken from his pouch and probably replaced with fakes.
"They do not please you?"
"I'm very happy with your gift to me." Getting the words out was difficult but he managed them.
Shamash nodded his head at once. "And that pleases me greatly, but you should not restrict yourself. The boy is yours to take away with you. The pleasures these slaves can offer you are limited to your stay here."
As they passed under the torchlight, Jack caught another glimpse of the fine lines beginning to mar the Goa'uld's face, like china crazed with age. Once again, he saw a flicker of panic in the gold-glowing eyes.
Shamash darted him a sideways glance, assessing, rapacious, clearly trying to find something to offer 'Sargon' that would tempt him sufficiently for them to begin negotiations. If only the snake knew it, he'd had an ace in the hand and tossed it away as his opening gambit. All Jack had wanted was Daniel back, and the Goa'uld had already given him that free, gratis and for nothing. The Goa'uld inclined his head towards a red-corridor. "Would you like me to arrange something special for you?"
Jack looked at him sideways. "Special?"
"Let me show you." Shamash led the way along the thickly-carpeted passageway; their boots eerily silent on the gold and red-woven rugs. An over-muscled Jaffa who looked like the kind Hathor would have liked stood in front of a gold-decorated door. Shamash waved the guard aside with an imperious flick of his hand then snapped his fingers. As the Jaffa opened the door, Shamash looked over his shoulder at Jack.
"The slave I gave to you was intended to be the centerpiece of tonight's entertainment. If you like, that could still take place. I assure you, my Jaffa are most skilled at their work."
There had been a – very brief – moment when Jack had felt something that was almost pity for Shamash. The snake hadn't done anything to him, after all, and even if he'd been acting out of self-interest, he had bought Daniel from the slavers and handed him over to Jack before any more harm could befall him. So, Shamash had originally been a long way down Jack's list of Goa'uld I Hate Most. Until now.
Shamash opened a gold-paneled door and he felt himself going rigid with loathing, as he took in the scene, the room with statues and murals that certainly weren't PG-rated. That enormous bed; the opulent furnishing; incense-scented candles; everything red, rich, and palpably corrupt. Worst of all were the paintings on the wall. Acts of horrible depravity. Some of the paint so new and bright it looked as if the pictures had been painted within the last few weeks, probably from life. A cold sickness coiled through him like a snake; anger a fizzing white heat; all those beautiful boys and girls having unspeakable things done to them by men with the bodies of athletes. He recognized the Jaffa from outside the door in one of the pictures.
He stood in the doorway saying nothing, doing nothing, as Shamash turned and smiled at him. "I had intended your slave to help my Jaffa illustrate this for my guests. Being both young and strong I thought he might even survive to give a second performance." He traced a long-nailed finger across the newest illustration. "It could still go ahead if you would like to see this performed for you. It is very popular with my guests."
Jack took one look at what Shamash had been planning for Daniel and felt the sickness and anger rise up like bile. Five Jaffa. One slave. Lots of props. No, he very much doubted Daniel would have survived that, and if he had he would never have been the same person again.
Shamash gave him a glance over his shoulder, inviting, amused. "You like?"
"No." Jack's voice was so thick with rage he was barely comprehensible.
Shamash's disappointment was unmistakable. "A pity. It is so rare to find that combination of youth and beauty and physical fitness combined with that wonderful innocence. There is just something about...innocence."
You fucking piece of shit, you are going to die. "Yes," Jack said it evenly, trying to breathe around his anger. "There is." Something about innocence that gives you an obligation not to destroy it. Something about innocence that makes you want to protect it. Not to exploit it, smear it, corrupt it, shatter it. You're dead, Shamash, you are so fuckin' dead.
Shamash was gazing regretfully at the pornographic mural. "There are so many moments of perfection in this ritual – the realization from the victim of what lies ahead of him, the moment when the Jaffa first –"
Needing to get out of that room before his head exploded with suppressed rage, Jack said, "Shall we go?"
He wasn't sure quite how he made it back into the corridor. He just found himself striding away from that chamber as fast as he could. And for the first time his brain was cold and clear as any Tok'ra's. He wanted out of this place and he meant yesterday. The fastest way out of here was to get hold of the damned drug Shi'rak wanted. Right. He could do that.
Shamash caught up with him and led the way down another corridor, this one was wide and uncarpeted. Jack recognized the pictures on the walls this time so they were obviously getting close to where they'd started off. Shamash had presumably taken him on the circular tour.
Wanting to do nothing other than kill the guy, Jack snatched some deep breaths. He needed to ask about the drugs, get the negotiations going, and then they could get the hell away from this nightmare of a place. "As I said before, I am very...happy with your gift. However, I have heard that you have access to certain – "
As they rounded the corner he recognized the corridor in which his suite of rooms was situated. The one with the big golden door Shi'rak was supposed to be standing outside to keep Daniel safe. Son-of-a-bitch! Glowering at the empty space outside that door where Shi'rak should have been, Jack decided he was going to perfect a great new game when he got back to the SGC called '101 Ways To Kill A Freakin' Tok'ra'. That one could definitely be fun for all the family.
"Yes?" Shamash's face was all eagerness.
"Perhaps we can talk later?" Jack said it briskly. Daniel was naked, blind, and now drunk as well, and unguarded in a brothel full of perverts. When he found that Tok'ra he was going to turn him inside out.
Shamash looked disappointed then rallied. "Perhaps I can offer you something to enhance your...enjoyment of my gift?"
Jack was barely listening. "Yeah, whatever." He strode down the corridor, seized the door handle and practically sprang into the room.
Daniel was still lying on the bed. There was a sheet wrapped around his waist but apart from that the general impression was definitely of long slender legs, broad shoulders, a smooth bare chest, and a lot of golden skin. Then there was that vulnerable white throat where his head was thrown back, and wide blue eyes, open but presumably still unseeing. His head was in the Tok'ra's lap and Shi'rak was gazing down at him. He seemed to be enjoying the view. Jack slammed the door so hard they both jumped.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
Daniel looked up at him in surprise. "Jack?"
Jack's gaze was fixed on the Tok'ra. "I told you to guard him from outside. Not to come in here and get an eyeful for yourself. Maybe he can't see you but you can see him."
"Jack, there's really no need to –"
"Let me handle this, Daniel."
Shi'rak carefully laid Daniel's head back down on the pillow and rose to his feet. Jack was reminded again how tall and broad-shouldered the guy was. What a perfect figure the guy had. How much Jack hated the freakin' Tok'ra sometimes.
Shi'rak looked at him coolly. "I came to offer him my assistance."
"You go and talk to the snakehead perverts. I'll take care of Daniel."
"Your jealousy is not only unnecessary, it is also inappropriate."
Jack glared at him indignantly. " 'Jealousy'? What do you mean 'jealousy'? Daniel's my teammate. He's under my command, and that means he's also under my protection. Now get the hell away from him and stay the hell away from him."
Shi'rak strode towards the door, glaring down at Jack impatiently as he passed him. "Your irrational behavior is jeopardizing the whole mission."
"Well as I'm so irrational it makes even more sense for you to talk to the goddamned Goa'uld rather than coming in here to ogle Daniel."
Shi'rak closed the door behind him with a flourish that stopped just short of a slam. Jack bounced across the room. "Daniel, it's Jack, are you okay?"
Daniel moistened his lips and once again Jack found himself irresistibly fascinated by those even white teeth, the flicker of that pink tongue across that red mouth. "Jack, I know it's you. I can hear you very clearly. And I can see you." Daniel looked up at him pointedly. "Shi'rak found some eye-drops which he thought might speed up the blindness wearing off. They worked really well. That's why he was in here instead of outside."
"Oh." Jack grimaced in embarrassment. He supposed putting eye-drops into someone's eyes was probably easier to do if you had their head on your lap. All the same. "Still don't like the guy."
"I got that." Daniel sat up, blinking carefully. "Wow. Being able to see is wonderful." He turned his head slowly, blinking some more. "Those pictures look Roman. But that lamp definitely looks Etruscan." Another blink, another turn of the head. Finally he focused on Jack. A big blink, of surprise this time. "You look great."
The sheet had slipped off, revealing a tantalizing fuzz of loins. Jack found his throat had gone suddenly dry. "So do you," he managed hoarsely.
Daniel gazed up at him for a moment wide-eyed then suddenly dropped his gaze, ducking his head to hide what looked like a flush of embarrassment. He murmured an indistinct, "Thanks..."
Jack swallowed hard, trying to find a voice that for some reason seemed to want to lodge itself in his chest. "You're welcome."
There was an awkward silence before Daniel said, "Shi'rak got me some clothes. Would you mind...?"
It took him a moment to realize Daniel was asking him to do the decent thing and turn his back. He opened his mouth to say 'Daniel I've already seen you naked' but then closed it again. Yes, yesterday he had seen everything Daniel had on offer. So had half of the city. But today Daniel could see him looking and that made things very different. He forced a smile. "Of course. Sorry." He turned his back.
He didn't know why his heart was pounding so fast as he heard the sound of bare feet on tiles, of cloth fluttering against flesh. It sounded like silk. Then there was the sound of straps being tightened; or a belt, something leather.
Jack blinked hard, wondering why the hell the words 'silk', 'leather', and 'naked skin' were insisting on tumbling around in his mind like clothes in a dryer. He dragged his voice back up from his chest again. "You – okay? No hangover?"
"No. I think it's just supposed to knock you out for a while and give you...sweet dreams."
Daniel said the last hesitantly and Jack raised an eyebrow. "Oh. Anyone I know?"
Daniel didn't answer him, saying instead: "You can turn round now."
He turned around. "Oh boy…." He wondered who had sandpapered his throat. Presumably the same bastard who'd just turned up the heating to tropical levels.
Daniel had never looked so little like a doctor of archaeology. Carter in that dress the Mongols had put her in had looked unlike herself. It had been a surprise to see all those in-and-outy bits on her he'd never really noticed before. This was nothing like the same. This was.…
Jack tugged at the silk robe he was wearing, trying to get some ventilation to his abruptly heated skin.
He took a deep breath. Okay, this wasn't weird. This was Daniel in a...toga-type thing. The guy had been naked a minute ago so this could hardly be more revealing really, now could it. He was wearing a white silk cloth that sort of covered one shoulder and a tiny bit of his left side, was held in place by a wide leather belt, and which just about covered his white-loincloth-wrapped groin and ass. Apart from that there was a lot of bare torso, an awful lot of long bare legs, and some bare feet.
Daniel was gazing at him anxiously. "How do I look?"
Jack swallowed again. "Great."
Daniel held up a gold circle which he broke open. "Apparently I have to wear this round my neck as a sign of my...bondage to you." He wrinkled up his nose.
"Let me." Jack walked across to where Daniel was and took the circlet from him. It was made of rolled gold, inscribed with something on the outside, smooth on the inside. As he put it around Daniel's neck he was reminded of doing up Sara's necklace for her. Her holding her hair up in the days when she'd had long hair, saying 'Aren't you done yet?' Him pretending to fumble the clasp so he could breathe in her scent a moment longer, before bending to kiss the back of her neck.
Daniel obligingly bent his head forward. "Is it difficult to do up? I didn't look."
Jack let the short strands of Daniel's hair just brush against his mouth and nose as he inhaled the scent of him. His neck was so close to his mouth he could feel its warmth, smell the almond oil odor of his skin. It would be so easy to let his lips brush the nape of his neck, to kiss….
The confusion in Daniel's voice snapped him back to the present. He jerked his head up, fumbling with the clasp. "Sorry, couldn't see where it fitted together." He snapped the ends closed. "There you go. All mine." He froze as he realized what he'd said. "I mean – all done."
Daniel turned and looked at him for a moment, blue eyes a little confused. "You okay?"
Jack nodded. "Fine." His throat was so dry he felt as though he could drain an ocean. He wondered if there was any of that water left.
"Shi'rak said we could go down to the dining hall as long as I remembered to act like a slave and...wait on you and things." Daniel wrinkled his nose again. Jack didn't blame him.
"Are you okay with that? – because we can stay here."
He wished Daniel didn't look so damned surprised every time he was nice to him. But Daniel was giving him a glance that seemed to combine surprise, gratitude and shyness in a way they had never been mixed before. Like a new cocktail Jack had never tasted until now. It carried one hell of a kick. Daniel moistened his lips again. "Um – no, it's okay. Shi'rak said we'd probably learn a lot more if we mingled."
"Okay. If you're sure you...?" He would have said more but that rap on the door interrupted him. Probably just as well as he didn't seem to have too much control over what was coming out of his mouth right now.
"Enter." He called it with what he hoped was the right imperious drawl.
The slave came into the room carrying a tray upon which there was a jug and a single goblet. Jack opened his mouth to ask where Daniel's goblet was and then remembered that Daniel barely counted as human here, he was probably supposed to lap his refreshment from Jack's toes, or suck it from his...Christ it was hot in here.
"My Lord Shamash sends you his compliments..." The slave looked as if he was about to make a really long boring speech and Jack was thirsty.
"Yeah, yeah. Tell him Lord Sargon sends his gratitude." Jack took the tray from him, waved the slave out, who was staring at him open-mouthed, and shoved him into the hallway.
Daniel made a face. "You don't take trays from slaves. You wait until they set them down. Then I pour the drink for you and hand it to you. You never do anything for yourself."
"I know." He did know, too. Shi'rak had given him the long dull lecture about it the day before. "I'm thirsty." He poured himself a full goblet of the wine, downed it in a couple of gulps then set the empty goblet back down on the tray. "And now I'm hungry. Let's go eat."
"You can eat," Daniel reminded him. "I get the fun of waiting on you hand, foot, and finger."
"That sucks." Jack held the door open for him.
Daniel looked at him in fond exasperation. "Jack...?"
Daniel nodded at the door. "You – Master, Me – Slave, remember? Don't hold doors open for me. Don't talk to me like I'm a human being. Don't be nice to me in public."
"Screw that, let's stay here."
Daniel shook his head, his expression stubborn. "Shi'rak said we should try to mingle, and anyway, I've been in this room all day and now I can see again I want to take a look around. You can toss me the odd scrap of meat if you're feeling generous. Just try to remember I'm your possession now."
As Jack strode out into the corridor, the wine was sending a warm glow through him. More than a warm glow really, an interesting heat. He felt seven feet tall all of a sudden. Ready to do battle with giants if he had to. He glanced back at Daniel, following deferentially behind him with his gaze fixed on the ground; Daniel was looking amazing in that wispy toga thing. Really...beautiful. If any other guy so much as looked.…
Jack gave himself a mental shake. This was silly. But as he walked on down the corridor, Daniel's last sentence kept playing in his mind: "Just try to remember I'm your possession now."
He was starting to really like the sound of that.
Jack was really getting into his Lord Sargon act. Daniel was careful to keep his head lowered deferentially, as much to hide his grin as to play his own part, as he followed the swaggering colonel down the hallway. If he didn't know any better, he'd believe the man really was the proud, arrogant tyrant he was pretending to be. Proud, arrogant... well, not much of a stretch for Jack... Daniel bit his lip to stifle a snigger. No, that wasn't fair, he reminded himself. Proud and arrogant Jack could be, but he was also compassionate and kind and gentle, as he had proven so often, many of those times with Daniel. Daniel had lost count of the number of times he'd been depressed or hurt or in trouble, and Jack had been there. Jack was like some sort of guardian angel. Always showing up in his office just when he needed some support, always at his apartment door when he needed some company, always there in the nick of time when he was in danger of getting himself killed or eaten...or raped. He felt a shiver travel down his spine as he remembered once again how close it had been, how if not for Jack's stubborn refusal to let anything happen to him, he could have at the mercy of the kind of sadist who would buy a human as a slave and chain him to a bed for his own pleasure.
Daniel raised his eyes long enough to take a quick look at Jack, noting the strong profile, the silver hair shining at his temple, his proud carriage, the lean whipcord of a body displayed to perfection in his outfit. Those linen-like slim-fitting pants and knee-high soft boots only served to emphasize his long legs, and the close-fitting tunic with bright red sash around his middle showed off his fit body beautifully. But then, Jack always looked good, Daniel mused. Whether he was wearing his BDU's or fatigues or that leather jacket and chinos; he always looked like he belonged in the clothes he was wearing, unlike Daniel himself. Those damned fatigues the Air Force gave him never seemed to fit right, and Jack had made so many comments about his civilian wardrobe that he had finally been forced to go shopping one weekend and pretty much replace every shirt and pair of pants in his closet. He expected some snide comments from Jack the first time he showed up at the man's place in a new outfit, but he remembered Jack's eyes widening when he first saw him, then the little nod and a murmured, "Nice outfit." No jokes, no teasing, just the kind of acceptance Daniel needed.
But, then, Jack had always given him the kind of acceptance he needed. He would never have been able to fit into the military world of the SGC otherwise.
Suddenly a hand around his wrist snapped him out of his thoughts, and he was tugged closer to Jack. "What's wrong?" he whispered quickly.
"These people are lookin' at you," Jack growled.
They had entered the huge dining area while he was daydreaming, and Daniel noted there were quite a few looks being thrown in his direction. But that was only to be expected. He was, after all, supposed to be pretty much Lord Sargon's decoration. "Jack, that's the way things are here," he replied in an undertone. "It's okay."
"No, it's not okay," the other man said in a loud, aggressive voice. "You're with me."
"Everyone knows I'm with you," Daniel assured him, keeping his voice low enough so only Jack could hear him. "You're Lord Sargon, remember? No one's going to mess with you."
"That's right." There was a calculating note in Jack's tone that made Daniel look up. "No one's going to mess with me or you." A sudden tug on Daniel's wrist brought him tight against Jack.
"Jack! I'm your slave! I'm not supposed to be --"
"If you're my slave then you have to do what I tell you to," Jack countered, and let go of his wrist to rest his hand on the back of Daniel's neck.
Daniel felt a shiver run down his spine as Jack began a gentle caress of the skin exposed by the tunic. He swallowed. "Jack, I don't think we should --"
"But I think we should," Jack interrupted, turning smoldering eyes on him. Daniel felt himself pinned in place by that mesmerizing gaze, unable to tear his own eyes away from the look of... hunger on Jack's face. "You're my possession, remember," the other man reminded him huskily.
The bolt of annoyance that shot through him warred with the tingling on his skin where Jack's fingers were stroking him. "Very funny, Jack," he said coolly. "I realize this is a chance in a lifetime for you to make me do whatever you say, but try to remember we're on a mission here, and if we -- Ummph!"
Daniel's snitty outburst was effective smothered by the simple expedience of Jack's mouth covering his. So surprised was he Daniel could do nothing but stand there and allow it, his body reeling from the warmth of Jack's lips on his and the unexpectedly sensual sensation of Jack's tongue lazily curling around his. When Jack finally pulled back, Daniel could only stare at him, mouth hanging open as no words seemed to come to his short-circuited brain.
With an expression that was perilously close to being a smirk, Jack put a finger under Daniel's chin and gently closed his mouth. "It's not polite to argue with your master, Daniel," he all but purred. Cupping the side of Daniel's face, he rubbed his thumb over his cheek. "Just relax and enjoy it."
Just relax and -- the bastard! Trying not to think about how every nerve in his body was singing after that kiss and how the feel of Jack's warm hand on his face felt like it was burning right down to his soul, Daniel stiffened his spine. "Don't you dare pull this crap on me here, Jack," he hissed.
Tilting his head, Jack let his gaze roam freely over Daniel's face, then down to his throat, chest, and... "You're beautiful when you're angry."
With the kind of sound an angry cat makes when provoked beyond the point of endurance, Daniel tried to pull away from Jack, only to find a band of steel around his back, holding him tight. "Now, now, don't make a scene." Jack pressed his face against his, and Daniel shivered as a wet tongue explored his ear.
The natives were clearly finding the display of Lord Sargon and his plaything to their liking and they were drawing quite a crowd. Careful to keep his voice low and his face expressionless, Daniel managed a tight, "Jack, why are you doing this?"
Pulling away, Jack looked at him with an air of arrogance that hadn't been there before, and Daniel was never more aware of the two inch height difference between them. "Because you're mine." Hands swept down his back and rested possessively on his ass. "And because I can."
It was only catching sight of Shi'rak across the room that stopped Daniel from using a move Teal'c had taught him the day after they got back from Hadante. The Tok'ra was nodding happily, relieved Jack and Daniel were putting on such a good performance and playing their parts so well. Well, thanks for nothing, he thought sourly. Still, Jack wasn't getting away with this without knowing exactly how he felt about it. Realizing he shouldn't even be doing this much, he raised his head to look directly at Jack, but the acid words died on his tongue. Something wasn't quite right, besides the fact Jack's hands were on his ass and now he was gently squeezing, which was making it very hard to think. What was it, what was it... then Daniel realized: it was Jack's eyes. The pupils were contracted to pin points. It was almost as if he'd been... the wine! The servant had brought it and Jack had gulped it down, and almost immediately he'd begun acting weird. That had to be it. The Jack O'Neill he knew would never stick his tongue down another man's throat, in public no less, either to get a rise out of that man or especially for the sake of a Tok'ra mission.
Jack's hands were roaming freely now, and he was getting a good feel of just about every part of Daniel's anatomy. All too conscious of the fact that in his role as slave he was supposed to grin and bear it, Daniel tried hard to do just that. But when Jack pulled him tightly against him and began once again nuzzling the side of his neck, Daniel took his chance.
"Jack, they drugged you," he whispered urgently. "The wine. I'm sure it was drugged."
"Mmm." Jack was too busy nibbling skin to listen. "You taste good."
"Jack, listen to me, please. It's the wine. This isn't you."
"Feels like me. Tastes like you."
There was absolutely no way Daniel could extricate himself from Jack's octopus hold without looking like he was struggling, and that was the kind of Big No-No that could blow their cover to smithereens. As a slave he was expected to stand here and take whatever it pleased the great and mighty Lord Sargon to dish out, which left him very few options. The sight of Shi'rak coming toward them, therefore, sent a rush of relief through him. Perhaps between the two of them they could coax Jack back to their room and deal with this.
The Tok'ra stopped by Jack's shoulder and nodded deferentially. "My compliments," he murmured in a voice only Jack and Daniel could hear. "I see you have finally decided to accept the part of --"
Shi'rak never got a chance to finish his compliment. In a move so swift neither Daniel nor the Tok'ra saw it coming, Jack swung around and lashed out, his fist colliding with the side of Shi'rak's face with a force that snapped the man's head back before his legs folded under him and he dropped like a rock. Daniel stared at Jack in wide-eyed disbelief, quickly clamping his mouth shut to prevent himself from saying the words that immediately sprang to his lips.
For his part, Jack calmly looked at the unconscious man sprawled on the floor, then turned his cold, hard gaze on the gawking audience. "And that goes for anyone who touches him," he warned. There was complete stillness in the room which Jack let stand before turning back to Daniel and deliberately pulling him close again, resuming his nuzzling of Daniel's bare neck as if he'd never been interrupted. "He touches you again and I'll fuckin' kill him. I'll fuckin' kill anyone who touches you." The way Jack said that, so calmly, so matter-of-factly, told Daniel he meant every word.
Daniel could see Shi'rak beginning to stir and realized he had to get Jack out here before the Tok'ra got to his feet again. When one of Jack's hands found its way under his tunic, Daniel knew the time for subtlety was past. There was no way he was going to stand here and let Jack grope him like this in front of a leering audience, half of whom were beginning to grope themselves as they watched the show. "Let's go back to the room, Jack," he whispered in the other man's ear, making his voice as husky and seductive as he could.
Jack stopped immediately and pulled back, the naked desire on his face making Daniel flush right down to his toes. "Yes, our room." Warm fingers brushed over Daniel's cheek. "Beautiful and smart." As Daniel swallowed down a suitably caustic reply to that, his arm was gripped in a steel band and he had no choice but to follow in Jack's wake as the man strode purposefully across the room, heading straight for the door, smugness rolling off him in waves. Daniel didn't know whether to be relieved or worried; it was a relief to get out of public view, but he was worried how he was going to get Jack to listen to reason and sleep off the drug when all he seemed to want to do was make a meal of Daniel.
As soon as they were inside the room, Jack kicked the door shut with a flourish and Daniel found himself pinned up against the wall, Jack's hard, warm body pressed against every inch of him, Jack's demanding mouth covering his, Jack's eager tongue in his mouth. It was oxygen deprivation that was making his thoughts scatter like autumn leaves in the wind. Had to be. With an effort, Daniel worked two hands between their bodies and gave Jack a hard shove. It barely moved the man. "Dammit, Jack!" Daniel wrenched his head sideways, but all Jack did was bury his face in Daniel's exposed neck and begin nuzzling enthusiastically. "Jack, please!"
"Oh yessss. Asking for it."
Asking for it? "Jack, it's the wine. You drank the wine and it --" Daniel gasped as Jack's hands suddenly grasped his wrists and pinned them to the wall over his head. For the first time since Jack had found him, Daniel was scared. The man who had him trapped against the wall, who was staring at him with such open hunger on his face, wasn't Jack. This was a drugged stranger who wanted to have sex with him, whether he wanted to or not.
"Come on, Daniel," Jack murmured, rubbing against him, "you know you want to.…"
Daniel felt rage shoot up from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. Wine or no wine, drugged or not drugged, there was no way in hell Jack was getting away with that.
Bringing up his knee was instinctive; unfortunately so was Jack's counter-measure. The man shoved his legs hard against Daniel's, preventing any movement.
"Naughty, naughty..." Jack's voice was slurred, his eyes so altered by lust and drugged wine, they looked black; burning coals which Daniel was trying not to gaze into because the fire in them was...hypnotic.
Daniel tried to push him off, but with his legs pinned against the wall and his hands held over his head that only gave him his body. In fact, it basically only gave him his hips. Slamming his groin against Jack's erection didn't seem to put the man off at all. In fact as their loins collided, Jack closed his eyes in pleasure. "Oh yeah, Danny. Hit me with it…."
"I'll hit you with a fucking chair in a minute," Daniel hissed through gritted teeth. "Get off me, Jack, right now!"
"You want it and we both know it." Jack transferred his grip on Daniel's wrists from two hands to one. Daniel tried to use the opportunity to wrench them loose, but Jack was ready for him, gripping them tightly and slamming Daniel's hands back against the wall. "Bad boy, Daniel. Have to put you over my knee and spank you if you keep this up. Why are you fighting me when you know you want me to do this just as much as I do...?"
"Damnit, Jack, they drugged you! You don't know what you're doing. You don't want to do this, you don't want to nnngh –"
Using his now free right hand, Jack took Daniel's jaw in his fingers, tilted his head round and back, forced his mouth open then plunged his tongue deep inside.
Daniel struggled with everything he had but he could feel himself losing the fight. Jack's tongue was exploring his mouth thoroughly; Jack's body was rubbing up against his suggestively, letting him feel the bulge of a clearly very impressive erection as it was thrust against his loins, while Jack's fingers were like steel manacles pinning his wrists to the wall. Quite apart from the oxygen deprivation, Jack was just so much stronger than he was – something to do with the drug or had this inequality always existed between them and he just hadn't realized it until now? – and the way Jack was using his body weight and power to pin him against the wall was making it almost impossible for Daniel to push him off. There was a tiny spark of something thrumming through him which Daniel supposed was just...hormonal; his body automatically albeit treacherously reacting to being stimulated. There was a certain weakness in the knees - although that was probably just the lack of oxygen - and despite all his best efforts his groin was responding to the friction of Jack's erection being rubbed against his. But although his body might be ambivalent in its responses, Daniel was in no doubt how he felt about being jammed up against a wall and fondled: Jack had no right doing this, damnit to hell. And the scary thing was Jack wouldn't do this. Not for a mission. Not for a joke. Not at all. He would never make sexual advances to a teammate, particularly not against that teammate's will. This guy was a stranger and Daniel had no idea what this stranger might be capable of.
"No!" Daniel tried to say it but with his mouth full of Jack's tongue he couldn't get the words out coherently. "Not like this, Jack! Not like this!"
He didn't even know what he was saying any more; the panic was starting to blur his thinking, because this wasn't Jack. This was a guy with Special Ops training who could kill him with his bare hands, and seemed to have every intention of fucking him whether he objected or not.
Jack was grinding his hips harder against Daniel now, thrusting against him in rhythm to the tongue thrusting deep into his mouth. He removed his hand from Daniel's jaw so he could push a hand under Daniel's toga, reaching for the loincloth, pulling at the knot impatiently.
He came up for air to growl huskily, "Oh yes, Danny, fight me, come on, make it good for both of us..." Then he plunged his tongue back into Daniel's mouth as if it was his own private domain.
"No!" Daniel spat his tongue out, jerking his head round to the side to tear their mouths apart. "Get the fuck off me, Jack!"
"You want it..." Jack's voice was hoarse with lust, slurred with the drugged wine. There was absolute conviction in those dark eyes as he nodded in satisfaction. "You know you want it…."
Abruptly the body weight was lifted from him and Jack let him go. Daniel gasped with relief and then flinched as Jack grabbed him by the hair and dragged him towards the bed.
Think, Daniel, think! Daniel snatched a breath, trying not to panic despite the way his heart was pounding much too fast. If he fought he was going to lose. This wasn't Jack; this was someone who was absolutely convinced that he was irresistible, and that Daniel wanted him with every fiber of his being. He was now probably also convinced that Daniel really liked it rough. If he didn't get through to Jack in the next sixty seconds then Jack was going to rape him and they were both going to have to live with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives.
Thinking of what it would do to the Jack O'Neill he knew – the compassionate decent man temporarily buried under this Alpha Male Gone Insane – to wake up and find he was now a rapist gave Daniel the moment of clarity he needed. Fighting was a waste of time and energy. He wasn't ever gonna win against Jack on an ordinary day. Against a drugged and lust-driven Jack he might as well not even think about it.
As he was slammed down on his back on the bed, Daniel tried to scramble out from underneath another wave of panic. He had to think. Panicking was just going to get him raped, and Jack irretrievably guilt-tripped. Jack's weight landed on top of him so hard it knocked all the breath out of him. Immediately his mouth was claimed again, eager hands delved under his tunic; he heard cloth tear; Jack panting in his ear, hot breath gusting against that nerve again before the man nibbled a hungry trail down his face then began to bite and suck at his throat; one hand was delving between his legs, another was ripping at his clothing….
Even as he flinched from the teeth sinking into his neck, Daniel realized Jack only had two hands and they were both occupied, which meant his hands were free.
"Jack...?" he whispered it huskily in the man's ear.
Jack pulled back to look at him out of those stranger's lust-darkened eyes, panting hoarsely, "Yeah, Danny...?"
Daniel gave him his sweetest smile. "Sorry."
Then he hit him with everything he had.
Jack woke up to a pain in his head so intense it was like someone was trying to cheesewire their way through his brain.
He put a hand up to his head and blinked. "Ow...!" Blinking was a bad idea. Moving his eyeballs in any way was a bad idea. He got a brief blurry glimpse of painted tiles and then closed his eyes again. He just wanted to lie down on the floor and die, preferably quickly. The only consolation was that things couldn't possibly get any worse.
That was when a torrent of cold water was poured over his head.
"Ahh!" He gasped with the shock of it, but the water just kept coming, over his head, down his neck, in his eyes, nose, mouth; drenching him, freezing him. "Stop it! Stop it!"
He flailed with his right arm, the movement sending more pain lancing through his brain.
"Are you, you?" The voice was guarded, warning in it, but it was familiar.
Jack blinked painfully a few more times, trying to pull that blur into focus. It swooped and wavered for a bit and then became recognizably Daniel-shaped. "Daniel?" Daniel was the one giving him the water torture treatment? "What the hell are you doing?"
"Are you, you?" Daniel repeated it tersely.
As Jack gaped at him, Daniel switched on the faucet again, water torrenting out into the big jug thing Daniel was holding. The warning was obvious.
"I'm me," Jack said quickly. "I'm a me with the worst hangover I've had in...forever, but I'm definitely me."
Daniel switched off the faucet but gave him a wary look. "You'd better be."
Jack groaned again and ran a hand through his sopping hair. He was very cold, wet, and his head hurt, and Daniel wasn't even offering him an aspirin. What was with Daniel anyway? "Who else would I be?" he demanded.
Daniel glared at him. "How about Mister Thinks He's Irresistible? How about Mister Convinced I Want Him To Fuck Me Up Against A Wall?"
Jack gaped at him blankly. "What?"
Daniel's gaze was still stern but there was a hint of something else behind it now, the slightest hint of softening. He reached behind himself and tossed Jack what was presumably the nearest local equivalent to a towel. "Here."
Jack caught it automatically, although the movement sent another lance of pain through his skull. "You want to...run that by me again, Daniel?"
"You thought I wanted you to fuck me. You were very – certain."
Jack grimaced at the picture Daniel's words were painting. "What convinced me otherwise?"
Daniel held out his bruised knuckles for Jack's inspection. "Guess."
He put a hand up to his aching jaw and winced. Who would have thought Daniel would pack such a punch?
"Don't you remember anything?"
"No...I..." Closing his eyes, he tried to concentrate. He was getting flashes: Daniel with his head on Shi'rak's lap, that sudden heated reaction to the sight of it; Daniel asking him to turn around; Daniel in a toga-thing; Daniel bowing his head to present the back of his neck to him, the gesture so trusting, the pale skin there so vulnerable...A sudden thirst; a servant carrying a tray; drinking..."I drank something. Wine. I was thirsty."
"It was drugged." Daniel said it crisply. "Some kind of aphrodisiac." He hesitated and then held out a hand. "Come on, we'd better get you dried off." He was still trying to look stern but there was concern breaking through.
As he followed Daniel unsteadily, wincing from the stabbing pain in his head, Jack was getting more flashes: punching Shi'rak, groping Daniel, telling Daniel he wanted it, shoving him up against the wall...Oh boy oh boy, he was in deep shit and then some. This was not the kind of thing Daniel was going to forgive in a hurry. Unless...Jack decided he'd better play the pathetic card; the hungover card; the you-punched-me-on the-jaw-and-it-really-hurt card; and the I'm-really-truly-sorry-and-I'll-never-do-it-again card. Otherwise Daniel was going to consign him to the deep freeze and leave him there.
He groaned artistically. Daniel immediately looked over his shoulder. "You okay, Jack?" He was trying to sound stern but there was definite anxiety breaking through.
"I've been better." He darted Daniel an assessing look as he put a hand up to his head. The stumble was genuine but the speed with which Daniel was there to support him was still very gratifying. He just needed a bit more background here. Wincing, he said, "How long was I out for?"
"A couple of hours."
Hah! Daniel was trying to say it like he didn't care, but he knew Daniel, and two hours of Jack being unconscious after Daniel had hit him would have caused serious concern. The next stumble was put on, but it earned him his arm looped around Daniel's neck, and Daniel's left arm around his waist. "Easy," Daniel couldn't help the anxiety coloring the briskness this time. "That stuff was obviously pretty powerful."
"What the hell did that Goa'uld give it to me for anyway?" Let's try to shift the blame where it belongs here.
Daniel helped him to sit down on the bed. "You'd better get out of those clothes, Jack. You'll get pneumonia."
Under normal circumstances he would have made a comment about it being Daniel's fault he was currently soaked to the skin, but decided the path of penitence and no wisecracks was the only one to follow at the moment. "Okay." Hhmm, perhaps he didn't do 'meek' all that convincingly because there had been a definite hint of suspicion in those blue eyes.
Daniel handed him another towel-type-thing. "That wine was probably the house specialty. Shamash looked surprised to see you when we...made our appearance last night, so I gather it's something you only take if you're planning a night in. You must have given him the impression you were in need of...stimulation or something."
Jack broke off from rubbing his hair to look at him in indignation. "Well, I think I would probably remember saying 'Oh by the way, love the gift, just a pity I can't get it up too well these days or I could enjoy it more'."
"Well, according to Shi'rak the stuff you drank last night is what is traditionally prescribed for...older customers."
Daniel gave him a look that could have stripped paint from a wall. "Don't knock it. It obviously works. It certainly made you think you were God Almighty."
Jack decided to stick with meek and remorseful for a bit longer. He ducked his head. "I'm sorry, Daniel. You know I'd never –"
"Yes," the admission was sighed but unmistakable, "I know that wasn't you, Jack."
"I know you wouldn't."
"Not like that."
Realizing what he'd said, Jack jerked his head up. "I mean...I don't think you want me to...I would never think you wanted me to...I know 'no' means 'no'. Never had a problem understanding that..." He was gabbling and Daniel was looking at him in confusion.
"I wouldn't have hit you if I could have gotten through to you." Daniel obviously felt there was an apology needed as well. That was a very good sign.
As Jack peeled off his sodden robes, he put a hand up to his jaw. "All those self defense lessons must have paid off. That was one hell of a right hook." He pulled the robes off over his head and tossed them onto the floor. One thing about being in the forces was that you got used to never having privacy so it didn't bother him stripping off in front of Daniel. Except, as he gave his hair another rub and followed Daniel's gaze to his naked body, he realized that waving his groin in Daniel's face might not be the most tactful move he could make at the moment. He wrapped the towel around his waist quickly.
"I was thinking of you as well as me." Daniel had forgotten all about being stern and disapproving now. Given the way he was looking at him so anxiously, Jack gathered he must look as bad as he felt. "I knew you'd hate yourself if –"
The final memory hit him in a wave: throwing Daniel down onto the bed, biting the soft skin of Daniel's throat, his hands tearing at that toga, his fingers fumbling eagerly at Daniel's groin, his own erection hard and aching, not a single doubt in his mind that he was going to fuck the warm body between his knees, absolute conviction in his heart that Daniel was begging for this, that Daniel was just playing hard to get, that Daniel wanted to have a hungry cock rammed up inside him over and over….
"Christ!" Jack ran his hands through his hair. "What did I do?"
"You didn't do anything." Daniel sat on the bed next to him and reached out a tentative hand, touching his bare shoulder gently. "It's okay, Jack."
"No it isn't okay!" Jack looked at him in angry disbelief. "I would have raped you."
Daniel winced at the word. "It didn't happen."
"But how could I? How could...? I mean you and I get drunk together all the time...?"
"Jack, that stuff wasn't just alcohol. It was obviously a powerful drug created to have exactly the affect it did. It makes a guy think he's the best thing in bed since Giovanni Casanova. But you didn't have any intention of making me do something I didn't want to do: you genuinely thought you were irresistible."
"Yeah, and so do half the assholes who borrow their dad's car on a Saturday night in the hope of screwing a cheerleader, but I'm not seventeen any more."
"That's why it was scary and I think we should just drink water from now on."
"Unfortunately, that will not be possible."
Jack jerked his head round in disbelief. Shi'rak was standing by the bedroom door. He had a black eye that made Jack's knuckles start throbbing in sympathy and his expression was grim.
"Where did you spring from?" Jack protested weakly. He wondered if he should apologize for decking the guy, he probably should. On the other hand he didn't like Shi'rak and the guy had been coming onto Daniel. He felt vulnerable dressed only in a towel but rather liked the way Daniel immediately moved in front of him to block his bare torso from Shi'rak's gaze.
"What do you mean?" Daniel enquired.
"We need a sample of the Nen'ntar."
Jack waved a hand at the jug. "I expect there's some left. Help yourself."
"That is not Nen'ntar." Shi'rak said it with less patience than Jack would have expected from the Tok'ra. "That is just a stimulant for those who appetites overreach their vigor."
Jack opened his mouth to protest, took another look at the Tok'ra's black eye and the bite marks on Daniel's throat, and closed it again. He had better stay in penitent mode a little longer. He was still feeling sick inside at how close he'd come to seriously damaging Daniel. The way he remembered feeling, he would have considered beating Daniel into submission just another kind of foreplay.
"What do we have to do to get the Nen'ntar?" Daniel said it wearily. "And please tell me it doesn't involve Jack or I having to get naked with anyone else?"
"One of you must imbibe it before we can extract and synthesize it."
They both exclaimed in unison but Shi'rak looked unrepentant. He had that 'no more screwing around' look Jack had come to recognize from the Tok'ra all too well. "It is a very unstable compound outside of the human body, but once swallowed it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and is easier to work with. We believe we can identify its components if we can obtain a blood sample from someone who has recently taken Nen'ntar."
"Why don't you swallow some?" Jack demanded.
"I need to be in full possession of my faculties to fly the tel'tak or none of us will escape this place."
Jack met his gaze. "Last time I swallowed any Goa'uld happy drugs I damned near raped my best friend. I am not drinking anything else."
The Tok'ra looked at him coldly. "I would have suggested that Doctor Jackson would be a better subject in any case as he would be easier to restrain if by some chance the Nen'ntar made him violent."
"Is that likely?" Daniel ran a hand through his hair.
"Very unlikely," the Tok'ra assured him. "The purpose of Nen'ntar is to make the subject feel a strong sense of well-being, tranquility, and...compliance. That is why it would be of invaluable use to the Tok'ra in questioning Goa'uld operatives."
"So, you want Daniel to take something that will make him inclined to go along with anything you suggest? Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Daniel looked at him in confusion. "Jack?"
Jack continued to glare at the Tok'ra. "No deal. If Shamash offers me some Nen'ntar I'll pass it onto you. What you do with it then is up to you. But Daniel and I aren't being guinea pigs for the Tok'ra again. Is that clear?"
Shi'rak shrugged. "Very clear."
As the Tok'ra turned and headed towards the doorway, Jack couldn't help a spasm of unease. Was he just being paranoid or had that guy just given in much too easily?
"Okay, we're going to try something new. For a change, we're going to do what I say."
Lost in his thoughts, Jack looked up at the sound of Daniel's voice. "What?"
Daniel frowned, anxiety gnawing at him at the bewildered look on Jack's face. "Are you feeling okay?"
Jack rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced. "Headache. Don't know if it's the hangover or --"
"Or the fact I knocked you out for the second time in two days." Daniel smacked his own forehead in sudden realization. "Damn it, why didn't I think about that? You were probably already concussed and I knocked you out again."
"And if you hadn't, I would've raped you," Jack pointed out grimly. "Daniel, you did the right thing. I'm just glad you managed to stop me before I..." Daniel saw a shiver run through the other man as Jack lowered his head, shoulders slumped.
Quickly walking over to join him, Daniel laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "'You' wouldn't have done anything, Jack. You were drugged; you weren't responsible for your actions. Now..." He gave the shoulder under his hand a gentle pat, "get into bed. I'm going to go get you something to eat."
Jack's head snapped up, and he winced, but said forcibly, "You're not going anywhere without me."
Daniel gave him a level look. "Jack, after that little display of Alpha Jack in the dining area, I don't think anyone is going to try anything. You're the great and powerful Lord Sargon who pretty much threatened to eviscerate anyone who even looked in my direction. I don't think I'm going to have a problem." Jack winced again, but Daniel didn't know if the pain came from his headache or the memory of his earlier display. "Look, I'm worried about you being unconscious so long. I want you to rest and I want to get some hot food into you. Don't forget, you've still got to meet with Shamash before we can get out of here, and I'd like you to be a little more recovered before you do that."
Jack rubbed his forehead in obvious discomfort, but wasn't ready to give up yet. "I don't like the idea of you running around this freakin' Goa'uld brothel by yourself. Maybe Shi'rak could..." The words died on his lips and he looked up at Daniel ruefully. "Pretty much took care of that, didn't I?"
Now that Jack was Jack again, Daniel could almost grin at the memory of the Tok'ra dropping in an ungraceful sprawl at Jack's feet. "You sure did. Come on now, get under the covers and try to rest. I'll be back soon."
It was a sure sign of how lousy Jack felt that he actually did lie down and allow Daniel to tuck the covers around him. That did nothing to reassure Daniel who was already worried about the state of his health, thanks to being drugged with an alien substance and being twice knocked unconscious. When he was satisfied Jack was settled down, he walked across the room and had his hand on the door handle when Jack's voice stopped him.
Turning back, he found the man's eyes on him, an expression on his face Daniel recognized from all those times off-world when a mission suddenly went wrong. It was that somewhat desperate look Jack got on his face when he'd tried his damnedest to find a way of tucking Daniel away someplace safe, and failed.
Daniel nodded and gave the other man an encouraging smile. "I will." Then he left.
Well, that hadn't been hard at all. Daniel had received plenty of looks on his way to the dining room, all of them wary. It seemed no one wanted to mess with the explosive Lord Sargon, and that meant Daniel was given a wide berth as he went about gathering a hot meal for Jack. He'd already decided once he was back in the room that he was trying everything first in case any part of the meal was drugged. Call him mother hen, but as far as he was concerned, Jack's one experience with an alien drug was more than enough; he wasn't about to let him have another one.
He let himself quietly into their room and immediately heard the sound of soft snoring. Setting the tray of food on the table by the bed, Daniel leaned over his friend and sat down carefully on the side of the bed. Without hesitation, he gently laid the back of his hand on Jack's forehead to test for fever. Cool. No fever, and he was snoring, so Daniel presumed he was asleep and not unconscious. He let his hand linger there for a while, then watched fascinated as his fingers slid gently across Jack's skin as if they had a mind of their own, touching the silver hair by his temples. It was soft. Much softer than he had imagined. He could hardly remember Jack without this silver in his hair. Bemused, he continued to test the texture of the hair with his fingers, and didn't know how long he might have sat there with his fingers in Jack's hair if the man's breathing hadn't suddenly changed. Snatching his hand away as if he'd been scalded, he could feel his cheeks flush as Jack blinked and looked up at him drowsily.
Daniel forced a casual smile. "How're you feeling?"
"Fell asleep," Jack said in disgust, raising his head. "Wanted to stay awake until you got back." Suddenly he looked a lot less sleepy. "You okay?" he asked sharply.
"Couldn't have been any safer if Teal'c had been holding my hand," Daniel said cheerfully. His grin faded as Jack's frown suddenly deepened. "What?"
"Nothing," Jack said shortly, and rubbed his eyes.
"I brought some food," Daniel offered.
"I'm not really hungry." Jack dropped his head back onto the pillow and gazed up at Daniel, looking incredibly boyish even with the silver in his hair. "Just really tired."
Daniel chewed his lip worriedly. "Could be the after-effects of the wine or could be you have a concussion --"
"Or it could be I'm just tired."
"Or that," Daniel agreed, matching Jack's grin with his own. And for that moment he could almost forget that two days ago he'd been a blinded slave on sale to the highest bidder, without hope of escape, and that he and Jack were now essentially trapped on this planet on a mission for the Tok'ra and pretty much at the mercy of the guy Jack had decked in a fit of drug-induced jealousy. For a moment he could just think of how good it felt to share a joke with Jack. Then reality seeped in again. "Maybe we'd both better just get a good night's sleep. I can get more food in the morning."
With that, he stood up and walked around to the other side of the bed and began to strip off his tunic. He heard the rustle of covers as Jack shifted in the bed.
"Uh, Daniel, I think I should --"
"Sleep on the couch? I don't think so." Daniel knew Jack would be carrying around a measure of guilt like an extra backpack for some time to come, but he was determined that he wasn't going to add to its weight. Letting the tunic fall to the floor in a silken puddle, he slid under the covers and stretched out, aware that Jack had gone utterly still beside him.
Suddenly there was a sharp exhalation of breath beside him. "Jesus, Daniel, how can you even stand to share a bed with me?"
Daniel turned his head toward Jack, seeing the grim profile of the man. "Because you're you now, Jack. Not some drug-crazed stranger. And I trust you." He rolled over onto his side, closing his eyes and making himself comfortable. "Now go to sleep."
There was silence for a long time, then Daniel felt a light touch on the golden circle around his neck before Jack, too, rolled onto his side. Daniel heard a soft sigh, then he heard nothing more as he slid effortlessly into sleep, feeling safe and warm by Jack's side.
Jack awoke to the realization that something very important had happened. There were lots of things swimming around in his memory: Daniel kidnapped; Daniel naked, blind, sold, bought, safe; Daniel thinking Jack was someone else and kicking him across the room. Way to go, Dannyboy. The Tok'ra giving Daniel those eye-drops – Bastard son-of-a-bitch, get your hands off my Daniel. 'My Daniel'?
Jack grimaced. Oops. That sounded suspiciously like a problem, right there. He wasn't drugged now. Wasn't acting under the influence of some hormonal stimulant that turned him into an asshole who made the Touched look evolved by comparison. No, this was him: with a clear head albeit a muddy conscience, and he was still feeling a hot flame of possessive anger when he thought about Daniel's head in Shi'rak's lap.
Ohboyohboyohboy. This definitely wasn't good.
In fact he was learning all kinds of unwelcome things about himself this trip out, wasn't he? Such as the way he had slipped into acting like Daniel was his property with so little trouble it was frightening. It apparently just felt completely natural to him to do the whole 'Hands off, he's mine' thing with Daniel even before he was given mind-altering drugs. He hadn't even liked Daniel saying that stuff about how he couldn't have been safer if Teal'c had been holding his hand because he didn't want Teal'c holding Daniel's hand, and he didn't want Daniel thinking about Teal'c as representing ultimate safety. No, he wanted to be the only guy holding Daniel's hand...How pathetic was that? And then there was the self-realization about the way he couldn't seem to wrench his gaze away from his teammate's naked body every time it was presented to him. Make that his friend's naked body. The guy who respected him, liked him, trusted him. The one who only a few hours after a drugged-up Jack had made a pretty determined effort to rape him, had climbed naked into bed with him, told him so matter-of-factly that he trusted him, and then cuddled up to him for warmth.
Groaning, Jack put a hand up to his head. Oh god, he was pond scum. He was flea dirt. He was virus bacteria. He was lower than.…
Wait a minute. None of that was the important thing he needed to remember. The important thing he needed to remember was –
He closed his eyes and there it was; a gentle sensation spiraling into his dreams: Daniel's fingers so gently stroking his hair. Daniel's breath against his face as Daniel moved in close against him, those fingers cool and gentle against his skin, not just testing his temperature, caressing his skin, running the strands of Jack's hair between his fingertips...But had he imagined it or had it been real? Had this trip given only Jack those unwelcome awakenings about his true feelings for Daniel? Or had Daniel started getting unwanted yearnings for his teammate as well?
He jerked his head round to look at the sleeping man in the bed next to him and then swallowed hard as he saw the evidence for himself: Daniel's body was curled around a Jack-sized dent in the mattress; Daniel's face was close up against an Jack's head-sized dent in the pillow. It looked very much as if Daniel had snuggled in as close against him as he could and been breathing in his scent, taking comfort from his warmth, just the way you would with someone you.…
Someone you what? Cared about? Trusted? No, that had never been in doubt. Daniel had cared about him from their first meeting. And because of some weird internal radar possessed only by Daniel, dogs, and small children, Daniel had known he could trust him too. So much for his 'Get the hell away from me, you geek, I'm a tough guy who could eat you for breakfast' act. It had never convinced Daniel for a split second. So, caring and trusting were not the issue here. Love was the issue here. Daniel had clearly spent the night with his warm, firm, young - God it was getting hot in here - body wrapped around the place where Jack had been; had his face pressed against the back of Jack's neck, inhaling the scent of his skin; because it made him feel safer? Or because he was in love and didn't know it?
How did you clue in a guy who knew he was smarter than you were about something you only suspected? What if Jack was wrong? What if Daniel was just feeling really needy at the moment after all the crap he'd been through, and Jack represented the kind of comfort usually only a parent would give?
Only one way to find out. Jack leaned over the sleeping man carefully and stroked his hair back from his perfectly-formed ear, bending in close to inhale Daniel's scent before murmuring, "Daniel...?"
Daniel's hands automatically closed on the pillow and tugged it in close. He pressed his face in against the white linen he was hugging and sighed a happy: "Jack..." His fingers closed on the pillow as he said the word and the look on his face showed sleepy contentment and just a hint of possessiveness.
Jack looked at the way Daniel was hugging that pillow against himself and felt a lot of the tension drain from his body. Teal'c trusted him and cared about him but he was damned sure he didn't cuddle pillows while calling them 'O'Neill' too often. And he rather suspected Carter's pillows were more likely to be called 'Martouf' than 'Colonel' too. Daniel seemed to be the only member of SG-1 who snuggled in against soft warm things and took comfort from the belief that they were 'Jack'. Which suited him just fine.
So, as Kawalsky had used to say, what had they just learned? Well, he was pretty sure he'd gone and fallen in love with Daniel. The checklist of insane jealousy, possessiveness and anger when anyone else looked at him sideways had been his first clue, but the way the temperature soared every time he saw the boy naked or even thought about seeing the boy naked, had been a bit of a pointer as well. There was also that weird feeling he got in his stomach every time Daniel looked at him sideways or gave him one of those special smiles. So, yes, on the whole, quite a lot of evidence pointing towards that conclusion. And then coupled with that there was Daniel snuggling up against him with total trust even after he'd tried to rape him; risking his virtue wandering around a brothel full of perverts in a skimpy toga just to get Jack something to eat; and now the way he was cuddling that pillow and calling it 'Jack'. So, wonderful, he loved Daniel, and Daniel loved him, and one of them knew it. Now there was just the little matter of testing his findings – who said hanging around with scientists didn't teach you anything? – and sharing his data. Or preferably, having Daniel come to the same conclusion without Jack having to spell it out for him. Which was probably going to be the tricky part –
"My Lord Sargon...?"
Jack blinked in surprise as he saw the nervous slave standing there in a toga that barely covered his decency. He wondered how long the guy had been waiting to get his attention.
"My Lord Shamash would speak with you."
Sweat trickled down the slave's forehead and Jack realized he had probably been given a reputation by the Tok'ra for arbitrarily killing people who walked in on him unannounced. Thanks a bunch, guys.
Saying 'Actually I'm much too busy sitting here watching Daniel sleep' had a lot of appeal but he realized he'd better co-operate. After all, who wouldn't want to give up gazing at a naked Daniel snuggling in against a pillow he was calling 'Jack' to go and talk to a perverted piece of snakehead scum?
Sighing heavily, Jack got to his feet and pulled his robe around his body with what he sincerely hoped was a convincingly tyrannical flourish. He waved a hand imperiously, "Take me to him." But even as he wrapped a hand around the crystals at his belt to check they were still there, was mentally trying to get himself into the right state of mind to bargain with a Goa'uld, there was a large part of his brain that didn't want to think about anything except a Daniel Jackson who might, or might not, be in love with him….
"My Lord Sargon."
Shamash was nervous, borderline desperate. Someone used to giving orders, not having to beg. His chamber was done out in blue and gold, the usual glyphs alternating with a kingfisher trim. But what Jack really noticed was how white the Goa'uld's skin was, and how even the low lighting couldn't disguise the wrinkles around his eyes.
Jack inclined his head. "Lord Shamash."
"You are...that is I think you have said that you are interested in trying new and different –"
It was effortlessly dominating the room. Like some five star general with no conversation at a brass hat dinner; it didn't have to say a lot to still be the focus of everyone's attention. The sarcophagus. Gold panels gleaming quietly as it lay on its dais like a tiger sleeping off its last meal. Except it clearly hadn't eaten in a while. Shamash had as many grey hairs as Jack now. His host was ageing, and the Goa'uld inside was running scared.
The Goa'uld was still talking but Jack wasn't listening. He really didn't want to help this damned Goa'uld to renew himself. On the other hand there was no way the guy was going to hand over that drug the Tok'ra wanted without getting the crystals in return.
Jack decided to cut to the chase. "Do you want something from me, Shamash?"
"I – Why do you...?"
He'd never seen a Goa'uld so unsure of himself before, and on another occasion he might have been able to enjoy the view, but today he just wanted to get this dirty deal concluded so he could get off this world and have a hot shower.
"Yes or no?" He gave him the patented Jack stare. The one that bored straight into the other guy and made him squirm inside. The one he'd never used on Daniel and which probably wouldn't have worked if he had.
"Yes." The Goa'uld's hand movements were quick, jerky, the smile a cross between ingratiating and a snarl of hatred. "I have much I can offer you..."
"What do you want?" Jack kept staring at him unblinkingly.
"We should talk more of what I can offer you in return." The Goa'uld was trying to hang onto his dignity; to maintain a grip on the conversation.
Jack turned on his heel and began to walk towards the door.
The words were wrenched from the Goa'uld.
Jack didn't even smile. He turned back round, keeping his face blank, voice level. "What can you offer me in return?"
He noticed with detachment the way the Goa'uld's hand were shaking, how he stumbled in his eagerness to fetch the drug from the cabinet. Here was a snake going to pieces right in front of him, almost falling over itself in its desire to pacify him, and he couldn't even feel satisfaction. Once Shamash had the crystals he could renew himself again. Be the center of a web that dealt in slavery, rape, prostitution, torture, perversion, pornography, and drug-trafficking. And thanks to the Tok'ra he, Jack O'Neill, would have been a cog in that machine. Wasn't that special?
The words were tumbling from the Goa'uld: "This is Nen'ntar. A powerful narcotic which gives indescribable pleasure to those who take it."
Jack cut coolly through the sale's pitch. "Where do you get it from? How much do you have?"
"The recipe is known only to me. I can supply all you have a need for."
"What's to stop me taking this sample and making my own supply?"
Shamash looked at him with new respect. "The raw materials are unique to a mine found only in my domain."
"Then I want a percentage of all profits from your business." Jack cast a glance around the room as though assessing its worth. "I am not a greedy man. Shall we say fifty-fifty?"
"What will your contribution be?" Shamash enquired in surprise.
Jack shrugged. "I will give you the crystals you need to survive."
He allowed himself a thin smile. "You will give me fifty percent of all your profits."
He saw the Goa'uld's eyes flash gold with anger at the impudence of someone who although he might be a tyrant was still slave stock when all was said and done. Then he saw the cunning flicker in them; the ingratiating smile plastered back onto that lined face.
Jack reached into his robes and plucked a ballpoint pen from where it was still clipped to the top of the t-shirt he was wearing beneath them. "This is a recording device. It has transmitted your agreement to my terms to the leader of my army. Should I fail to return, he will ensure the payments continue to be made to my widow. He is a man of little patience but unwavering loyalty. I hope we understand each other." He pushed the ballpoint back into his robes with what he hoped was a suitably tyrannical flourish.
Shamash swallowed hard, then tried to look friendly. "My word is my bond, Lord Shamash."
"So my general will ensure." He'd never realized acting could be almost enjoyable at times. "Now, what about this drug...?"
Shamash could not have been more eager. "Believe me, it is like nothing you have even dreamed of. You must sample some at once."
Jack saw the flicker of low cunning and desperation flare in Shamash's eyes. He was hoping to drug him and make him rescind on the agreement, that was obvious.
"Here." Shamash held out a phial of something white and milky. "Everyone should experience a Nen'ntar dream at least once."
Pocketing the phial, Jack tried not to let the relief show on his face. Better and better. He had the sample the Tok'ra needed and he hadn't even needed to take the stuff himself.
"The crystals...?" Shamash's desperation reminded him that as far as the Goa'uld was concerned the deal wasn't yet concluded.
As he closed his hand over the small velvet bag, he couldn't help thinking of those slaves in the pictures on Shamash's walls; the ones who would have died being gang-raped as a public spectacle, the same way Daniel would have been if he hadn't managed to save him. There had to be a way to undo this afterwards. A way to take these damned crystals back. But for the moment, he owed the Tok'ra, and he needed a way off this planet so he was going to do this, even if it nearly killed him. But then he was going to come back, with a full unit, and a lot of C-4, get the slaves out and then he was going to blow this damned brothel to hell.
He tossed the bag to Shamash contemptuously. "Here you go."
The way the Goa'uld snatched them from the air like a bird of prey on a pigeon betrayed his need. His hands shook as he held the bag, unable to stop himself wrenching it open to gaze into its depths. Jack saw him sigh with relief. Then the cunning was back in his eyes as they glowed briefly gold, voice grating as he said, "Let us drink to our agreement?"
Jack nodded. "Okay." Shi'rak had told him he had to drink to seal the bargain. He supposed some things were the same as on Earth and this was one of them.
He watched the Goa'uld fetch the goblets, pour the wine himself, then Shamash was coming towards him with a smile on his face. "Here. I know it is a saying on your world that any bargain must be sealed with wine if it is not to be marred with blood, so let us drink to our new alliance."
Jack held up the wine glass, meeting that dark gaze without a flicker of expression. "Cheers."
Daniel felt his heart turn over as he came back into the chamber. He knew he was supposed to wait here – Jack had made that abundantly clear – but Jack had been gone so long, he'd had to go and look for him. He'd become a little lost in the maze of corridors. Had been seriously eyed up by an over-muscled Jaffa keeping guard over a locked room, and had beaten a hasty retreat. And now here was Jack: sprawled unconscious on the bed.
Daniel bent over him and smelt something that tasted like wine on his lips. "God, Jack, you didn't drink something a Goa'uld gave you, did you?"
He wheeled around to find the Tok'ra emerging from the bathroom.
"What happened?" Daniel demanded.
The Tok'ra shrugged elegantly. "Shamash was desperate but he is not stupid." His gaze flickered to the man sprawled on the bed as though he felt that couldn't necessarily be said of him. "He would naturally try to trick 'Sargon' into imbibing the Nen'ntar in the hope that it would make him more manageable."
Daniel felt rage well inside him. "I don't remember you telling Jack that."
Another elegant shrug. "I briefed him on the best way to handle Shamash so as to make him most likely to bring our mission to a successful conclusion."
"I may have told him that according to the customs of Lord Sargon's world a deal could only be concluded once wine had been drunk." A smile tugged at the Tok'ra's lips. "I may also have shared this custom with Shamash. If he chose to take advantage of it. That was his affair."
"You knew about this, didn't you?" Without thinking about what he was doing, Daniel grabbed two fistfuls of Shi'rak's top and pushed him back against the wall so hard the Tok'ra's head bumped painfully against it. "You knew and you let Jack walk right into it!"
Shi'rak pulled himself up stiffly but didn't try to break out of Daniel's grasp. "I suspected," he corrected carefully.
"You knew," Daniel shot back between gritted teeth, "and you let Shamash slip him that drug because you wanted it."
"You forget, Doctor Jackson, it is only due to the Tok'ra that you are free and alive instead of a dead slave," Shi'rak said coolly. "The price for the Tok'ra's assistance in your rescue was a sample of Nen'ntar. That price has now been paid."
That price has now been paid. Daniel felt a wave of anger build and crest inside him. This arrogant prick made Jack sound like a K-mart blue light special. His fingers tightened and the Tok'ra's fine silken tunic bunched in his fists. Then abruptly, as if he didn't want to be soiled by contact with the other man, Daniel abruptly released him.
"Jack was right about you. When it comes down to it, a snake in the head is a snake in the head, no matter what you call yourselves."
The Tok'ra's eyes glowed ominously. "We are not Goa'uld."
"You could've fooled me." Daniel deliberately turned his back on him. "Get the tel'tak ready," he ordered brusquely. "I'll get Jack there."
"Time is very short. We must leave at once and you may need help --"
"I don't need your help." Suddenly Daniel wheeled around, his jaw clenched. "Listen, I'm grateful that the Tok'ra provided the means to free me, but if anything happens to Jack because of this drug, you will answer to me, Shi'rak."
The two held gazes for a long time. The Tok'ra broke eye contact first. "I'll have the tel'tak ready." He turned to leave, then paused and looked back, and Daniel could actually see the symbiote withdraw as the host took over. Daniel realized he didn't know the host's name, but the man looked at him with undeniable compassion and said in a soft voice, "Doctor Jackson, Shi'rak did not lie about the Nen'ntar. It merely makes the person who takes it much more compliant and in addition lowers the defenses so that he is much more likely to say things he would not normally say. It would be very useful as truth drug if we can duplicate it. I would explain further but time really is of the essence if we are to leave this world alive. I give you my word that your friend should come to no harm as a consequence of imbibing the Nen'ntar."
The host had a soft-spoken way about him that reminded Daniel of Martouf, but he also knew that behind those compassionate eyes lay a snake just waiting to take over and make the Tau'ri dance to the tune of the Tok'ra.
"He'd better not," he retorted flatly, and watched as Shi'rak once again took over. The Tok'ra gave him a little nod, then turned and left the room.
"Oooh, Dannyboy..." Daniel turned to find Jack awake and stretched out invitingly on the bed, crooking his finger at Daniel. "C'mere." Patting the mattress beside him he added, "Right here."
With a sigh, Daniel walked over and sat down on the bed, looking down at the very relaxed, very happy man who was gazing up at him with a very goofy smile on his face.
"Jack, you've been drugged again," he explained carefully.
"Really? Don't feel drugged. Feel really gooood."
"Yes, I'm sure you do."
"How do you feel, Danny? Do you feel good, too?"
Jack was running the fingers of one hand lightly up and down Daniel's arm from wrist to elbow, leaving a trail of electricity in his wake. Daniel stilled Jack's hand by placing his over it. "I feel...worried."
Jack cocked his head. "'bout what?"
"About you." Daniel realized Jack probably wasn't getting any part of this conversation.
"Don't want you worrying, Danny." Jack slipped his hand from under Daniel's and laid it against the side of Daniel's face. "Don't want you worrying at all. Just want you happy."
Daniel was very aware of the warmth of Jack's hand against his face, the feel of Jack's thumb gently caressing his cheek, and the softness of Jack's dark eyes as the man looked up at him. He was mesmerized by those eyes, lost in the intensity of that gaze. Without saying a word, Jack pushed himself up and slid his hand around to cup the back of Daniel's head. He moved deliberately and slowly, with more coordination than Daniel expected, apparently waiting for Daniel to make some kind of objection. Funny, Daniel couldn't think of a single objection to make. A tentative pressure on the back of his head brought Daniel's head forward as Jack moved closer. Still couldn't think of an objection. Jack's mouth was barely an inch from his, he could feel the warmth of Jack's breath on his face, and then the barest brush of dry lips against his.
Daniel had a flash memory of the man Jack had been when he was under the influence of the drugged wine: arrogant, demanding, forceful. A hungry mouth claiming his, an eager tongue forced into his mouth, hands gripping hard enough to leave bruises, teeth biting his skin.
There was none of that this time. There was no sense of being forced, no demands, no arrogance. Jack's movements were tentative, asking not demanding, gentle not hard. The next time Jack brushed his lips, Daniel opened his mouth. There was a sound of surprise from Jack, then the pressure behind his head was increased and his mouth was claimed in a soft, lingering kiss. He felt the tip of a tongue lick his lips, then that sweet, warm mouth was gone. He was left staring at Jack, aware that his heart was racing in his chest and that he was gulping air rather than breathing. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to lift a hand and touch that silver hair, just as he had last night while Jack slept. Jack immediately tilted his head, leaning into the touch, like a cat asking to be petted. Daniel marveled at how different it was to do this while Jack was awake, his chocolate brown eyes on Daniel's face, his smile welcoming.
Then it was Daniel's hand behind Jack's head bringing him closer. Daniel closed his eyes with a sigh as soft lips nuzzled the side of his face, then pressed kisses against his closed lids. "Are you happy, Danny?" The throaty whisper sent a thrill through him and he felt himself blindly seeking that mouth again. Was he happy? Oh God, yes. Had he ever been happier? Had he ever felt so complete, like the last piece of a puzzle had been slipped into place. But just as their lips touched, realization hit and Daniel abruptly pulled away.
"God. I can't do this." The realization and frustration was enough to make him want to scream, and Jack was staring at him with a look of stunned naked hurt on his face. "I mean, we can't do this, Jack," Daniel said miserably, unable to meet Jack's eyes. "You've been drugged. It's the Nen'ntar. This isn't really you."
There was a moment of strained silence, broken finally by Jack's quiet voice. "What if it is me?"
Daniel's head snapped up. Jack's hand was still cupping the back of his head and he felt Jack's fingers threading through his hair, gently massaging his scalp. "Wha – what?"
"I said," Jack repeated carefully, "what if it is me?"
The feel of Jack's fingers stroking his scalp was apparently making it difficult for Daniel to form coherent thoughts. "You're drugged," he said cautiously. "The Nen'ntar."
Jack tilted his head. "What if I'm not?"
As the implication of that penetrated his spinning brain, Daniel jerked his head, pulling away from that stroking hand. Jack didn't try to stop him. His face burning, Daniel demanded hoarsely, "You mean this was all an act?"
Jack was watching him warily. "Just the part about being drugged."
Daniel felt like someone had just kicked him in the gut. "Why?" Daniel couldn't suppress the raw hurt in his tone. "Your idea of a joke, Jack?"
Jack flinched. "Jesus Christ, Daniel, what do you think I am? " When Daniel made no response, Jack took a deep breath and shrugged. He reached out to touch Daniel's arm, then reluctantly let his hand fall to the mattress instead. "I thought it might be a way to... find out if you felt the same way. I mean, if you didn't, I could always blame it on the drug and you'd never have to know any different. But if you did..." His voice trailed off as his eyes locked with Daniel's. This time he did reach out and gently touched Daniel's face. "I needed to know if you loved me, too."
It took every bit of courage Jack O'Neill possessed to make that confession. He'd done it now, cut out his heart and laid it in front of Daniel for him to do with as he chose. Jack's happiness was literally in Daniel's hands. Daniel was absolutely still under his touch, those huge blue eyes drilling into him as if trying to find their way to his very soul. They wouldn't have far to look; Jack had pretty much laid his soul bare. He knew how much he was risking. Their friendship meant everything to him, and if he'd screwed that up, he literally didn't know what he'd do.
Daniel was so still and so silent for so long that Jack was about to open his mouth and beg forgiveness, plead temporary insanity, insist he really was drugged, when Daniel moved. A hand was raised to his head. He felt fingers threading through the hair at his temple, then moving back so Daniel's hand rested behind his head. A gentle pressure brought him forward and he watched, wide-eyed, as Daniel came toward him. His eyes slid shut with a sigh as warm lips kissed a spot between his eyes and then Daniel mimicked his earlier caresses by lightly kissing each eyelid. Then that wonderfully sweet mouth was pressed against his and he was claimed (no other way to describe it; he was claimed) with a kiss that sent a flashfire of heat and desire through him.
When Daniel finally broke away, he rested his forehead against Jack's and asked, somewhat breathlessly, "That answer your question, soldier?"
Answered his question, promised him a lifetime of happiness and blew off the top of his head in one go. Who knew his Daniel was so talented? Framing that beautiful face with his hands, Jack looked into those soft blue eyes, and if he had any doubts at all, even after that kiss, they were answered now. Wrapping his arms around the lean body, he pressed Daniel into the mattress and looked down into the laughing, happy face of the man he loved. My God, did he look that soppy as well? Probably, and he didn't care. He wanted Daniel to know how much he loved him. But as he lowered his head to show Daniel just how much that was, two hands were pressed against his chest, halting his move. "What?" he demanded, gaze sweeping over Daniel's face anxiously, wondering if he'd done something wrong.
"Shi'rak," Daniel reminded him apologetically. "Tel'tac. Off this planet, remember?"
Jack dropped his head onto Daniel's chest and groaned theatrically. "The damned Tok'ra and their damned timing."
Daniel laughed softly as he lightly ran his fingers through Jack's hair. Jack didn't think he'd ever seen him look so relaxed and so...happy. Had he done that? How's that for making him feel ten feet tall and invincible? "We'll have time, Jack, I promise. But right now I just want to get off this planet and forget I was ever here."
Of course he did. The guy had been kidnapped, stripped naked, knocked around, paraded in front of an audience of leering men, sold as a slave and chained to a bed. Jack bent down, gave him a quick kiss, then rolled off and got to his feet, stretching out a hand.
Without hesitation, Daniel took it and was pulled to his feet and into Jack's arms. "When we get home, Doctor Jackson," Jack promised, "we'll do this right."
Eyes shining with the kind of mischief Jack had never seen before, Daniel gave him a deliberately provocative look from under his lashes. "You bet we will, Colonel."
Gritting his teeth, Jack carefully stood back from the tempting warmth of Daniel's body and took a deep breath. "You keep that up and we're going to miss our ride home," he growled. Grabbing Daniel's wrist he strode across the room. "Sooner we get home, the sooner we get to do this right. Let's go."
"Hey, wait a minute." Daniel dug in his heels, pulling them to a halt. "Didn't Shamash try to drug you?"
"Of course he did. But that two bit piece of garbage was so stoned himself I saw it coming from a mile off." Reaching into one of the pockets of his robe, he pulled out a tiny vial of milky liquid. "Unstable or not, this is Nen'ntar and that was the deal with the Tok'ra. We get them Nen'ntar and they help get you back."
Daniel looked at the vial dubiously. "I don't think Shi'rak's going to agree with your interpretation."
"That's why we're not telling him until we're back on Earth." Jack tucked the vial away safely into his pocket and gave Daniel a wicked smile. "I'll just have to keep right on playing the part of a guy drugged out on Nen'ntar, won't I?"
A slow, crafty smile creased Daniel's face. "Yes, I suppose you will."
"Probably have to put on quite a show for Shi'rak."
"I think we can manage."
As Daniel turned for the door, Jack put a hand on his arm and pulled him around, his expression suddenly serious. "Daniel, when we get back home, it won't be a show, and it won't be us pretending. It'll be the real thing."
With a gentle smile, Daniel reached out and trailed his knuckles down the side of Jack's face. "I know that. So let's get this over with so we can go home and get to that part."
Home never sounded so good.
"At last!" The Tok'ra grabbed Daniel by the elbow and pretty much hauled him and an unsteady Jack into the cargo hold, slamming his hand down on the panel by the doorway to close it, before running to the controls.
Daniel blinked after him in surprise then helped Jack weave a path to what Jack always persisted in referring to as the 'bunk beds' despite both Jacob and Teal'c's patient corrections. He sat Jack down on one of the lower bunks while the Tok'ra pressed buttons at a speed only Teal'c could have matched. A moment later, the view of the city was replaced by a swirl of stars streaking the cold darkness of space.
Jack, never a man to miss an opportunity, was playing the Nen'ntar card for all he was worth. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. As Jack found the pulse point of Daniel's neck and started sucking, Daniel had to admit he wasn't exactly hating this part of the proceedings himself.
"Doctor Jackson." Daniel looked up at the sound of Shi'rak's stiffly polite voice. "Perhaps it would be better if we placed Colonel O'Neill in the cargo area for the remainder of our flight."
"Lock him up, you mean?" Daniel asked coolly. "That won't be necessary." He shivered as Jack moved from nibbling his neck to licking his ear. "He isn't violent."
"No," the Tok'ra observed dryly, "he certainly isn't. But perhaps you would be more comfortable...?"
"I'm very comfortable, thank you," Daniel retorted, trying not to wriggle as Jack began stroking his thigh. He cast a glance up at the Tok'ra, his tone mild, "But you might want to reconsider using Nen'ntar as a truth serum for Goa'ulds if this is the effect it has on humans."
A flicker of annoyance passed over the Tok'ra's normally stoic face, and he turned on his heel and returned to the bridge without another word.
"Naughty, naughty," Jack mumbled, playfully nipping his neck.
"He had it coming. If he had his way, you would've been pumped full of that stuff just so he could get his precious sample."
"He's a Tok'ra," Jack pointed out, moving to bury his nose in Daniel's hair. "A snake by any other name..."
"I know, I know." Daniel sighed heavily. "I just wish we could find ourselves an ally who wanted to help us, not use us as bait or guinea pigs when it suited them."
"Forget the fuckin' Tok'ra," Jack growled, beginning to kiss a trail down Daniel's face.
"Tok'ra? Who are they?" Daniel obliged, shivering as a tongue laved his ear.
"I love it when you obey orders. Oh one more thing..." Jack broke off from nibbling Daniel's ear. "You need to change into something less comfortable before we go back through the 'gate."
"Oh. Okay. Why?"
Jack slid a warm hand along Daniel's bare thigh, voice husky, "Because if you walk through the 'gateroom in that toga, I might have to shoot someone."
Blinking at him in surprise, Daniel realized the man wasn't joking. Jack's jealousy was obviously something they were both going to have to work on, but in the meantime, it was probably easiest for all parties if he just borrowed some clothes from Shi'rak. Just as soon as Jack stopped nibbling his ear, of course, which didn't seem to be any time soon...
As the hand on his thigh became the hand on his groin, Daniel gasped at how good that felt, but thought he ought to offer a token protest. "What'cha doin'?"
"Hey, I'm allowed. I'm a poor drugged colonel who needs to be kept calm and pacified, and I think that means you have to let me have my wicked way with you." Jack punctuated the sentence with a kiss that made Daniel's head spin.
"Why do I think you're trying to take advantage of the situation?" Daniel managed between kisses.
"Maybe because I am," Jack agreed happily.
Daniel found he had no problem with that.
Jack thought the sight of the Stargate on PCX-338 was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. Shi'rak had landed the tel'tak practically on top of it, and in a matter of minutes they would finally be home. It was also good to get out into the fresh air and see a few trees. Although still keeping up his act of being drugged-up and amorous - hey, this was the only part of the trip he'd enjoyed so he might as well milk it - he was also relived to be able to suck some clean air into his lungs that hadn't been filtered through a Tok'ra ventilation system a couple of thousand times. When a kite wheeled overhead, calling a thin cry to the clear blue skies, he realized they really were almost home, Daniel really was both safe and finally his.
"Our agreement is concluded, Doctor Jackson," Shir'rak said. "You have been returned safely to the Tau'ri and the Tok'ra have our sample of Nen'ntar."
"Not quite." Jack straightened from where he'd been leaning sloppily against Daniel, who was now dressed conservatively in some borrowed Tok'ra clothes, his voice once more crisp and his disposition very, very sober.
Recognizing that immediately, Shi'rak stiffened. "Colonel O'Neill. I thought --"
"That Shamash had gotten that joy juice into me. Yes, I know you did. Well, hate to break it to you, pal, but all you've got in that little tube is a sample of my blood. Not so much as a trace of aspirin in it. But this..." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny vial of milky white liquid, "is the Nen'ntar. The only sample you're going to get, by the way, so I'd be careful with it." Without warning, he tossed it to the Tok'ra, who had to juggle it frantically before getting a firm grip on it.
Shi'rak's face was a picture of outrage. "You lied to me!"
"Oh, like your people have never lied to us. The deal was Daniel for the Nen'ntar. You've got your Nen'ntar and I've got my Daniel." Jack was aware of Daniel shooting him a warning look, but as far as he was concerned, he'd said exactly what he meant to say. "I'll call you for the return trip," Jack added coolly.
"Return trip?" Shi'rak was looking at him in surprise, and even Daniel was blinking at him in confusion.
"I just gave a pervert the means to...renew himself. That isn't exactly giving me a warm fuzzy glow inside. We need to go back there. We need to close that place down. Get those slaves out of there."
"Do you think we would really give a Goa'uld the means to save himself?" Shi'rak demanded. "Shamash is dead, Colonel."
"What?" He and Daniel both said it at the same time.
"How?" Daniel demanded.
Shi'rak shrugged. "The first crystal was genuine. The others were not. When inserted into the mechanism of the sarcophagus they would cause it to...overheat to the point where it would explode. The naqada within the sarcophagus would greatly increase the magnitude of the explosion with the result..." He moved his hands in a graceful gesture. "Shamash is dead. His palace is rubble. There is nothing to go back for, Colonel."
Daniel put a hand up to his head. "There were people in there. Slaves. Cooks."
"And the Tok'ra regrets the loss of them deeply but we have all had to make sacrifices. Nen'ntar could give Apophis or the System Lords what conventional torture never could: the location of the Tok'ra resistance. Without Shamash there is no Nen'ntar. The location of his mine and the composition of the Nen'ntar were both a closely-guarded secret so I doubt another Goa'uld will be able to make more. We are safer today than we were yesterday and the System Lords are one step closer to defeat."
Daniel met his gaze. "Don't your people have any ethics about not killing the innocent to get the guilty?"
"Do yours?" the Tok'ra returned.
Jack felt very old and tired. "We do the best we can." For the first time in a while he did feel some fellow feeling with the Tok'ra.
Shi'rak seemed to sense his change of mood. He looked as tired as Jack felt as he turned to look at him, shoulders sagging with exhaustion. "We are fighting a war against overwhelming odds, Colonel O'Neill. Sometimes we have to do things we would rather not, but for every 'innocent' we have killed, the Goa'uld have enslaved ten thousand. We both know what the stakes are." Shi'rak nodded to both of them. "The Tok'ra are grateful for your assistance in this matter and we are glad we could be of service to you also."
Stepping back, Jack nodded. "Thanks."
"But –" Daniel looked at the departing Tok'ra in disbelief. "Jack...?"
Jack reached out and rubbed his back briefly in consolation. "I know." He nodded toward the DHD and said quietly, "Daniel, let's go home."
Jack strode down the corridor of the SGC, his jaw clenched, as he tried to fight off the niggling insecurities that seemed determined to plague him. The longest medical in history was followed by the longest debriefing in history, which in turn was followed by the longest welcome back party in history. All of which meant he and Daniel had been separated almost from the moment they sat foot back on the ramp at the SGC.
In the infirmary Janet had taken charge of Daniel and he had been turned over to the tender mercies of Doctor Warner. Immediately after that Hammond wanted a debriefing. He wanted a very detailed, very long debriefing. He and Daniel might as well have been in separate rooms because even though they were side by side, they couldn't touch, couldn't really look at one another for support, couldn't say what they wanted to say.
Hammond had been as tactful as possible and hadn't pressed Daniel for details when Daniel showed signs of embarrassment, but it had still taken forever. Then right after that people started showing up. Sam was like a hovering big sister whose kid brother had been lost and was now safely back home. Teal'c wasn't much better. Griff and the rest of the battered SG-3 gathered around Daniel like they were closing ranks around one of their own. Then there was Ferretti and the geeks from Anthropology and the guys and girls from the control room and.…
And he'd lost sight of Daniel pretty quickly. That was over an hour ago. He only hoped Daniel was back in his office by now. And he only hoped that Daniel felt the same way about him now that they were back home as he did when they were on that planet playing their parts of master and slave and being drugged with all manner of Goa'uld joy juice.
But Daniel hadn't been drugged when he'd kissed him. Does that answer your question, soldier? No, that husky voice, the intensity in his eyes, the way he'd laid his claim on Jack... that was all Daniel. Wasn't it? Jack rubbed the back of his neck and flexed his shoulders, trying to ease the tension there. But did Daniel still feel the same now that they were back home, when the everyday world slipped back into place? Would he look at Jack and just see his friend? Not that Jack was downplaying their friendship; he'd do anything to preserve that. But he wanted more. He wanted Daniel's lips on his, Daniel's hands on his body, Daniel's body in his arms.…
He reached Daniel's office and stopped, looking uncertainly at the closed door. He wasn't sure he could take it if he'd lost that. True, he'd only had it briefly, but it was long enough for him to know it was what he wanted for the rest of his life. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then rapped on the door.
The door was immediately ripped open and he was confronted by a pair of accusing blue eyes. "Jack, where the hell have you been?" Then he was yanked inside, the door slammed shut, and he found himself pushed up against the wall, a hand cushioning the back of his head as a pair of warm, eager lips covered his. Jack felt his insecurities disappear as if they had never been. He had Daniel's lips on his, Daniel's hands on his body, Daniel's body in his arms...Daniel's willing, wriggling, pressing body in his arms.
Oh yeah. Heaven.
When his mouth was finally released, he was gasping for breath and Daniel was in the same shape. Then, as if suddenly realizing what he'd done, the younger man looked down, not meeting his eyes. "I thought...I was afraid you might have changed your mind," he confessed in a low voice.
So he wasn't the only one who'd been suffering an attack of the insecurities. Putting a finger underneath that stubborn chin, Jack applied gentle pressure until Daniel met his eyes. "Never," he said simply. And that was apparently the only thing he had to say because a smile threatened to split Daniel's face. It was no good; he had to taste those lips again. And while Daniel was happily sucking his tongue into his mouth, Jack shifted so it was Daniel's back to the wall.
Daniel was apparently so involved in the kiss he never noticed their reversed positions, even when they finally broke apart for lack of oxygen. He sighed happily, his warm breath brushing Jack's face and began rubbing against Jack. Jack was already hard and it didn't take him long to discover Daniel was as aroused as he was. He began to thrust against the very willing body pinned against the wall. He buried his face in Daniel's neck, tasted his skin, pressed closer, thrust harder...and was suddenly thrown back to that Goa'uld brothel, to the time he trapped a struggling, unwilling body against the wall, ready to take that body by force if necessary.
The sound of Daniel's voice, breathless, a little strained, brought him back to the present. He took a good, hard look at the face so near his and relaxed a little when he saw the answering desire and need in Daniel's eyes. Jack backed away so he wasn't pressing him so tightly against the wall. "Maybe we should...?"
"Hey." Daniel grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt and tugged him back into place. "Last time didn't count." A quick, hard kiss punctuated his next words. "We'll do it the right way this time." At the sound of that inviting, husky voice any doubt Jack may have had faded immediately
Oh, yes, they would do it right this time.
Hands fumbled with belts, shirts were torn off and discarded, eager hands sought bare skin, even more eager erections clashed as their bodies came together seeking the perfect rhythm. For two people who had never done this before (he was pretty sure Daniel hadn't and he knew damned well he hadn't) it was easier than Jack had thought it would be. Their bodies came together as if Destiny had decreed it. There were sweet kisses, the sounds of moans and whimpers, hands eagerly exploring naked skin, tongues tasting, teeth nipping. And there was the sound of a husky voice in his ear, saying things Jack never thought he'd hear from those lips. He fit his mouth over Daniel's when the younger man's body stiffened. As gratifying as it would have been to hear Daniel shout his name at the moment of climax, such a shout would probably have caused a passing airman to sound the alarm. As Daniel went limp in his arms, he buried his own face in Daniel's warm neck and muffled his own hoarse shout there.
When he opened his eyes again, they were both sitting on the floor in each other's arms, their pants down around their ankles. Daniel had a dreamy, contented look on his face and was lazily caressing one of Jack's bare thighs. Looking down at the tousled hair under his chin, Jack pressed his face into it, and Daniel lifted his head for a kiss.
"Mmm." Daniel settled back against the support of the wall, Jack's arm around his shoulders holding him close. "That was nice."
Daniel grinned impishly. "Fishing for compliments, Jack?"
"Just trying to put it in perspective," he shot back defensively.
Daniel seemed to consider that. "Okay, very nice...in the way a supernova is 'nice'."
That was better. Jack nuzzled behind a conveniently placed ear. "The Earth moved for you too, huh?"
"And a few other planets besides," Daniel agreed. He dropped his head back against Jack's arm and gave him a sideways look. "What do we do now?"
There was such a note of hesitation in his voice, such a look of uncertainty in his eyes, that Jack leaned over and kissed him again. "Now," he murmured against those lips, "we go home, Daniel. My place, your place, doesn't matter to me. I don't care where we go as long as we go together, and then we keep doin' this until we get it right."
Daniel spluttered with laughter, his eyes shining. "Might take a lot of practice."
"Oh, I'm counting on it."
"Your place is closer."
"Then it's my place."
Unlike every other day of his life, Jack woke slowly, and with a smile on his face. There were warm, even gusts of breath tickling his chest, a pleasant weight against his side, and a thatch of dark hair visible if he lowered his eyes.
Contentment. It had been such a long time since Jack had experienced that particular soul-deep feeling that it took him a moment to put a name to it. He was content, warm, happy...loved. Of their own volition, his fingers began to trace a feather-light line from the shoulder of the man snuggled against him, down the relaxed arm where it was draped possessively over him. Was it a miracle? Or was it fate? It felt like a little of both. It felt like he'd been missing a part of himself and that part was now filled – with Daniel.
He pressed a kiss into the dark hair, tousled and spiky from their night of mutual exploration in this bed. How long had he been in love with this guy and just hadn't admitted it to himself? It wasn't until they were in that Goa'uld brothel that he began to realize the truth. Fortunately, Daniel realized exactly the same thing about himself.
He pressed his nose against the soft hair, drinking in the scent of the man in his arms, and reminisced about their night together. Neither one of them had been particularly sure of what to expect from the other. That fast and furious up-against-the-wall scene in Daniel's office had been as much release of a build up of stress and sexual tension as anything else. But here at home things had slowed down with everyday, normal activities suddenly taking on new meaning. Who would have thought sharing a pot of coffee in front of the fireplace, exchanging tender, coffee-flavored kisses, could have been so satisfying? Or that a shower could be such fun? Or that the simple act of undressing – done a hundred times with Daniel on base – could have been so sensual and exciting? He grinned rather smugly to himself. And who would have thought this forty-four year old soldier with bad knees could have worn out a much younger brimming-with-energy archaeologist?
They'd learned a lot about each other last night. He discovered there were several spots on Daniel's body where a kiss or a lick or a gentle nip of the teeth sent him into orbit. He discovered, not to his surprise, that his linguist was a gentle and generous lover, not to mention a fast learner. And he discovered this wasn't just about sex. My god, he loved this man in his arms.
"Hmmm. Love you, too, Jack." The drowsy voice and the feel of a tongue lazily licking a nipple brought Jack abruptly out of his daydreaming. Either he had unconsciously spoken out loud or Daniel had read his mind. On second thought, what did it matter?
A pair of contented – there was that word again – blue eyes greeted him. "Hey," Jack said softly.
"Hey yourself." A gentle smile creased the younger man's face, and Jack drank in the sight of it. When had he ever seen Daniel so at peace? And didn't it make him feel ten feet tall to know he'd had everything to do with that? He bent his head for a kiss, and Daniel obliged, moaning softly as their tongues dueled lazily. When they finally broke apart, he dropped his head back onto its position on Jack's chest and sighed gustily.
"How long were you awake?" Jack asked, reveling in the feel of silky skin underneath his fingers as he caressed every bare inch of Daniel within reach.
"Not long." Long fingers skimmed over his ribs, raising goose bumps in their wake. After a brief hesitation, Daniel admitted in a low voice, "Just wanted to make sure this was real. You know...not a dream."
Jack's breath caught in his chest. After a moment, he said huskily, "Not a dream, Danny. Want me to prove it to you?" His hand slid down the long, graceful back and rested on that delectable rump. He gave one soft cheek a loving pat, then brought his thumb and forefinger together in a sudden pinch.
With a yelp, Daniel's head flew up, and Jack just missed getting his chin cracked by a very hard skull. "Jack! What the hell --"
Without missing a beat, Jack wrapped his arms and legs around his furious archaeologist and in the next moment Daniel was flat on his back and Jack was grinning down into a pair of outraged blue eyes.
Jack gave him his best leer. "Want me to kiss it and make it better?" he asked, immediately captivated all over again by the fact that, after everything they had done last night, he could still make his Danny blush. It looked good on him. Every single inch of him.…
When a sensitive part of his anatomy was suddenly taken in hand, it was his turn to yelp in surprise. A pair of very innocent blue eyes were batted at him. "Maybe I should make sure you know this isn't a dream, Jack."
Those amazingly talented long fingers were sliding slowly up and down his awakening cock and Jack moaned as he felt his shaft thicken in that sure grip. "Daniel...?"
"Yes, Colonel?" Daniel whispered throatily, giving him a deliberately provocative look from under his lashes. "Do you want me to...stop?"
Jack's growled retort died in his throat when Daniel suddenly tightened his grip and set up a new demanding rhythm. "Oh, God!" His hips began thrusting against the willing body under his and Daniel rose up to meet him.
"Come on, Jack, come on. That's it. For me, Jack, for me."
Jack responded to both the husky whispers and the hand that was providing such sweet torment. Their bodies moved together in the age-old rhythm, skin sliding against skin; it seemed impossible that sparks weren't actually igniting from where they touched. The scent of Daniel and musk filled Jack's nose; the sound of Daniel's husky urgings filled his ears; but it was suddenly catching the look on Daniel's face, seeing the open affection and trust in those beautiful, expressive eyes, the way his face scrunched as he focused all his concentration on the man in his arms, that sent the tidal wave of heat through Jack and melted his brain right out of his ears.…
When his senses finally got into gear again, he realized he was on his side, being held tightly by two strong arms, and he was being nuzzled. Soft, sweet lips were everywhere: his hair, his neck, his eyes. Who would have ever thought Colonel Jack O'Neill could feel so safe, so cosseted, so utterly... there was that word again... Content. Like he had found his place in life and it was here, in the arms of Daniel Jackson.
He opened his eyes, found himself greeted by twin pools of blue and a sweet, gentle smile, and decided this was how he wanted to wake up every single day of his life. Reaching out, he let his fingers slide through the soft tousled hair. "I must be awake," he sighed blissfully. "None of my dreams are ever this good."
Daniel's eyes were bright with happiness. "Mine either."
Jack decided that nuzzling was an excellent idea and began a little foray of his own, tasting eyelids, hair, lips, neck. Oh yeah. Multi-flavored archaeologist. Who needed Ben and Jerry's ice cream when you had Daniel Jackson to nibble on? Drowsy from the aftermath of sex - and perhaps still a bit worn-out from last night's activities - Daniel snuggled against him like a puppy seeking warmth. An arm over his ribs, a leg worked between his to anchor them together, head tucked under Jack's chin, in a position that had become immediately welcome and familiar to them. Jack felt fingers lightly caressing his back, a tongue tasting his chest, and then a very soft whisper.
With the heartache and loss they had both been experienced in their lives, it should have been hard to say those words, let alone commit to everything they meant, but Jack found it wasn't hard at all. "Love you too, Danny." He felt the long gust of warm breath against his chest as Daniel let out a long sigh, and soon thereafter his breathing slowed as he slipped back into peaceful slumber.
Jack looked down at the man in his arms, whose mouth was curved in a little smile even as he slept, and buried his face in Daniel's hair with a smile of his own. A little nap would be good, and when they woke up Daniel could prove to him all over again this wasn't a dream.