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day one thousand eight hundred twenty-seven

There's a flash of light, and Daniel turns, instantly alert.

"Colonel? Daniel?"

"Sam?" Daniel tries to squint at the figures silhouetted against the late afternoon sun, but Jack is pushing him back, taking a protective position in front of him.

"Daniel! Sir!" He can't believe he's hearing her voice—like an echo from the past, but for the waver of emotion that says she's just as shocked.

A slender form breaks from the group and rushes towards them, the backlighting giving her a blonde halo as she runs.

Jack tenses and falls instantly into a defensive stance, knees lightly bent and arms spread to prevent anyone or anything from getting through him to Daniel.

Sam falters and stumbles to a stop before getting within Jack's reach. Now Daniel can see her puzzled and hurt expression. "Colonel?"

"Jack." Daniel touches him lightly on his shoulder, but Jack doesn't loosen. "Jack, it's okay. It's Sam. She won't hurt us; they won't hurt us. We're going home." He feels the slightest of shifts in the muscles beneath his hand. Jack is hearing him through the flashback. Daniel lets his thumb drift over and soothingly rub Jack's neck, an intimate gesture he's never made outside the cocoon of privacy.

In his peripheral vision he sees Sam watching. A quick succession of surprise, hurt, understanding and resolve flashes over her features. She draws herself up parade-ground perfect and salutes smartly. "Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter and SG-3 standing by to render assistance." She holds the position, unmoving, looking over their shoulders while her former commanding officer lets the habits and training of another lifetime come forward to respond to the structure she's giving him.

Daniel lets his hand drop as Jack straightens and gives a quick salute back. "Carter. Get us the hell out of here."

She doesn't outwardly sag with relief, but she does relax into a blinding smile. "Yes, sir!"

It's not over—not while Jack gives a cautious nod to Colonel Reynolds and a suspicious stare at the SG-3 Marines they've never met, not while he keeps himself between Daniel and everyone else. But maybe it's the beginning of the end.

 

day one

The sacrifice of the ... chosen ones? Beloved ones? Daniel's brain is already teasing bits of meaning from the carved letters as quick, light strokes of his brush reveal them. The context of the words won't be clear until he's read the full wall, if then, but the art of translation is an irresistible puzzle, instantly absorbing.

Which is why it takes him a second to register the abrupt "Hey!" of surprise behind him. It's the burst of P-90 fire that made him spin around, just in time to watch Jack collapse to the ground. It takes another second—while his brain is still screaming "Jack!"—to realize he should stop gaping, drop his brush and reach for his 9 mil. By that time he feels the sharp sting in his neck. The brush drops to the ground, and so does he, world fading to gray.

 

day three

Daniel drifts towards consciousness. He peeks between his eyelids and sees high stone walls and bars. Great.

"Aaah!"

And there are the decidedly unquiet tones of an awakening Jack, not shy about letting anyone within a hundred yard radius know how pissed off and cranky he is. The feeling of relief is tremendous.

Daniel eases himself up to a sitting position with a wince, and looks over. His feeling of relief drops a notch. His cell is separated from Jack's by a good six feet; they won't even be able to reach between the bars to touch.

Jack raises himself with a far more dramatic grimace. Daniel had imagined, once upon a time, that military men suffered with silent stoicism. Then again, Daniel has also since learned a lot about the kind of pain military men suffer in the field. Unfortunately.

"You okay?" Jack is squinting over at him.

Daniel nods agreement, then feels the backlash of headache the movement creates, and winces again.

Jack lets out a puff of breath. "Yeah. Carter and Teal'c?"

Daniel shakes his head, much more slowly and carefully this time. "No idea. I saw you go down, then they got me. The old mine was far enough away that I doubt they heard you fire. It's entirely possible they didn't miss us until the next check-in."

"Giant honkin' ship."

"Could have been cloaked. Or maybe Sam and Teal'c are here, somewhere else."

"That's the kind of sunny thinking I like to hear." But Jack's face betrays he's been thinking the same thoughts.

They look away, and take in their surroundings instead. Their two cells are at the end of a long, wide corridor, or tunnel, with some sort of guard seated at a desk at the other end. It's hard to tell from the perspective, but the far end appears to be a junction for more corridors. Perhaps the guard has sightlines to more cells like theirs, or maybe they're just passageways.

Their own cells are barred enclosures built into the end of the corridor. Overhead, some ten feet off the ground, small openings in the wall send streams of white daylight through a light swirl of dust. Above those, the back and side walls arc in a large dome to meet the vaulted ceiling. Daniel squints back towards the guard, and sees a similar rounding at that end.

Daniel catches Jack's attention and gives an eye flick up towards their dome and down to the other end. "A St. Peter's kind of thing?"

Jack glances and raises his eyebrows. "Little pitchers have big ears?"

"Maybe." It's discomfiting to think the guard might be able to hear everything they say, echoed down the long space.

"Aaah," Jack teases, "Ut-bay oo-day ay-thay eak-spay ig-pay atin-lay?" He waggles his eyebrows in triumph.

Daniel can't help but smile. "We don't know what they speak, but we'll probably want to 'Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra' just in case." He'd discovered that showing the Star Trek episode about metaphorical language was one of the best ways to get through to new gate teams that they would be dealing with aliens—people with their own long history of references, who would in turn not understand Earth references.

So far, in their transfer from planet to ship to stargate to stargate, the few times Daniel had gained anything close to consciousness he hadn't heard any familiar language before getting knocked out again. Daniel is hoping that now that they seem to have arrived at a destination they can learn something about where they are and why.

He winces at the noise as Jack starts in with the obvious, shouting down the corridor, "Hey! What's going on? Shouldn't you be taking us to see your leader or something?" He gets no reaction at all from the guard.

Daniel studies the stone block walls—no writing or markings. The cell door fastenings look unfamiliar. He doesn't recognize anything around them, so he begins to try to extrapolate what kind of people they're dealing with—their level of technology, the tools they use.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Col. O'Neill

Q: What can you tell us about the planet where you were held?

O'Neill: All we knew about the planet was that we were someplace with a fairly temperate climate—probably near an ocean or lake, but far enough that we didn't smell water. We never knew what was outside the complex—sand or plains or forests.

Daniel tried to figure out what kind of agriculture they had from our food, but it was mostly stews and soups. There were chunks of meat in the stew, but you couldn't tell how big an animal they came from. There were vegetables and fruits and grains, so either the planet had agriculture, or they traded with someplace that did.

Q: Did you recognize any constellations?

O'Neill: We never saw the night sky, so I don't know about the constellations. From the way light moved across our cell windows, it looked like there were two moons. Only ever saw one sun; it looked and felt pretty much like Sol.

 

day seven

Daniel is drugged again. Hands he can't fight off lift him, strip off his clothes, and efficiently wash him down, then redress him, like a doll, in his uniform pants and boots. A strong grip holds his head still as someone else draws lines of kohl around his eyes. He flops, uncoordinated as his brisk, practical handlers massage a lightly perfumed oil into his upper body.

Legs rubbery and brain trying unsuccessfully to process where he is, he's propelled forward by a firm grip under his arms. He's pulled through the corridors to an arched opening that takes him outside. Packed sand flies lightly away from his stumbling boots. It takes him a moment to synch the light crunch he hears against the background roar to his footsteps. He's on the good stuff.

The supporting hands pull him up a step onto some sort of dais, and it's not until his arms are pulled up that he drops his head back to look up. Crossing the blue sky overhead is the top of some sort of frame, with two chains hanging down. Daniel watches his wrists being placed into the cuffs before he connects—not good—and tries too late to struggle. Not that he's strong or coordinated enough to get away anyway.

His escorts pull away, and now it's the chains that keep his balance.

He looks blearily around him. The noise clarifies as the sound of a crowd in some sort of arena, where he's the central spectacle. He slowly gets all his mental ducks in a row and puts together the picture. He has no glasses, no shirt. He's hanging from some sort of structure meant to display him to a crowd of hundreds? A thousand? He's half naked. He's drugged to the gills.

Not good at all.

He's distracted by the entrance of another set of guards. Hanging between them is Jack, also stripped to the waist but for his dog tags, who looks to be fully unconscious. Daniel sees the flash of a bright feather—attached to a needle? One of the guards gives it a swift poke into Jack's shoulder, then they drop him more or less gently to the sand and leave.

It doesn't take Jack long to stir. He sits and shakes his head to clear it, then leaps to his feet and takes in his surroundings sharply. As soon as he sees Daniel he jumps onto the platform and comes close enough to him that their bodies are pressed front to front.

"Are you okay?" he whispers in a gravelly voice into Daniel's ear.

Daniel gives an uncoordinated nod, then drops his head back so that they can see each other's faces. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan ..."

Jack narrows his eyes and flares his nostrils. It almost looks like Jack is scenting him, like an animal. "Poppies?"

Daniel gives the best imitation of a shrug he can, with his arms overhead. "Something like." Jack looks murderously angry.

He starts to look at the manacles holding Daniel's wrists, but a sudden loud roar from the crowd makes him turn, alert. Across the way another door has opened, and someone else enters the arena.

The newcomer walks towards them, aggressive purpose in his stride. He's heading for Jack with the nasty grin of someone who's spoiling for a fight. The glance he gives Daniel is appreciative in a completely different way.

At that, Jack leaps from the dais and puts himself between the stranger and Daniel.

The setup is ridiculously primal. As Jack and his opponent size each other up, it's reminiscent of anthropological studies, of primate behavior, of battles for dominance that give the victor leadership—with the responsibilities for protecting the troop, as well as sexual rights over the members. "Civilized" humans, of course, sublimate the urges into contests where physical domination gains the victors titles of leadership—the Heavyweight title, the Stanley Cup—and access to groupies, while the rest of society lives the contest vicariously. Daniel wonders about this society, where outsiders are brought in ...

The first attack on Jack by his opponent pulls Daniel sharply out of his hazy abstraction.

Jack looks focused, the single bright and hard-edged thing in Daniel's blurred field of vision. His fuzzy brain and inability to help are frustrating—Jack shouldn't be out there without backup. Still, he has faith; he's trusted Jack with his life since their first mission.

The fighter facing Jack is a straightforward brawler. Daniel doesn't see any evidence of art or finesse—just a raw energy determined to bluster through Jack's protection to get to him.

The guy doesn't stand a chance.

Jack dodges the windmill punches, and delivers a few hard, well-placed hits. His opponent gets lucky with one wild swing at Jack's face before Jack flattens him.

The noise from the crowd swells, or maybe Daniel only notices it more, now that he doesn't have to expend any of his limited focus on the threat from the other fighter.

Jack leaps back onto the platform, into Daniel's space again. He runs his eyes over Daniel carefully, his hands hovering with the need to follow, for confirmation. "All right?"

Daniel knows he looks wide-eyed and worried, but can't stop himself from staring deeply into Jack's eyes, only flicking briefly to the red mark that will soon be a heck of a black eye before capturing Jack's gaze again. "I'm fine, Jack. Are you all right?"

It takes a while before Jack realizes he should answer. "Yeah, fine. No big deal." They hold each other's eyes for a long moment before Jack crumples to the ground, another feathered barb stuck in his shoulder.

When the guards free Daniel and lead him out of the arena, the dizziness again prevents him from keeping track of their route. Although he's pretty sure that somewhere nearby another group of guards is carrying Jack's unconscious body. When his escorts heave him into his cell, he discovers he was correct—next door Jack is being carried in and laid out on his bed.

Daniel crawls over as close as he can to Jack's cell, and watches through the two sets of bars as one of the guards takes out a small pot and dips his fingers in. Whatever is in the container gets smeared lightly and efficiently around Jack's eye. He then takes up Jack's right hand and treats his grazed knuckles.

After a cursory check over the rest of Jack's body, the guard steps back and another steps forward, pulling out a long knife. He raises it over Jack's heart.

"Nooo!" It's incomprehensible. Jack won his fight. They treated his bruising. And Jack ... Jack can't die. Daniel's gut clenches at the thought of the loss, while some part of him distantly registers that he is screaming. But he's helpless, as the knife comes slowly down and slices. But ... but it is a slice, not a thrust.

Daniel watches, confused and sick with dread, as the first guard steps forward again with another jar, and pulls out a fingerful of thick black jelly. It gets worked carefully into the newly made cut and the edges wiped, then another salve is spread over the length of the wound.

The guards turn and go, leaving Daniel and Jack to their confinement. Jack is unconscious, and Daniel slumps to the floor next to the bars, unable to resist his drugging any longer.

 

day eight

"Hey, Princess Leia."

Daniel reluctantly faces consciousness. He becomes aware of unhappy muscles first, and the hard floor. Then his wakeup call registers. He glares, squinting, at Jack's cage. "Yes, Chewie?"

"Your mascara's running. I'm kinda wondering why they didn't go with the gold bikini while they were at it." Jack takes a nonchalant spoonful of the gruel that serves as breakfast.

Daniel groans, and rolls and heaves himself into a standing position. He's hunched over and limping as he makes his way towards his own food bowl—sleeping on stone just doesn't work after thirty. A few long pulls from his water carafe help clear the fuzziness, though what he wouldn't give for coffee. Still, Jack's question is enough to nudge the brain cells into motion.

"For all we know, the kohl"—which he'll get around to washing off after breakfast, thank you—"is like stage makeup, for the spectators. Or maybe it's just their fashion. The clothes, I'm not sure. We're obviously here under duress—they have to drug us to get us in and out of the arena. So maybe we're billed as 'captured exotic foreigners,' being exhibited in our strange native garb."

"Oh, yeah, nothing sexier than a pair of BDUs and a set of tags." deadpans Jack.

Daniel shrugs. "Thousands of gay porn flicks can't be wrong." And hides his satisfaction as Jack nearly snorts gruel out his nose in surprise. He starts in on his own breakfast. "You okay?" he asks, after swallowing down his first spoonful.

Jack shrugs a little stiffly. "I've had worse in bar fights. This stings like a bitch, though. What the hell happened?" He pats gingerly along the dark line running diagonally from shoulder to breastbone, just under his collarbone.

"That was a little present from the guards, after they dropped you off. Freaked the hell out of me when they pulled out the big knife." Daniel looks over at Jack closely. "How's the eye?"

Jack pats gingerly around it. "A little tender. Should be fine by tomorrow."

Daniel shakes his head. "I was sure it was going to be black and swollen. They treated you with some sort of salve, though. Must really work."

"Huh," responded Jack, and ate another spoonful. After the pause he said, "So, they like to keep their gladiators pretty, too?"

"Apparently."

They eat the rest of their breakfast in silence.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: Who were your captors?

Jackson: I [pause] I don't know. We were able to learn little to nothing of our captors or the planet we were held on. We were never talked to, and very rarely talked in front of. They wouldn't, they wouldn't interact. What little I heard, I didn't recognize at all. I never saw writing or art of any form. Architecture was strictly utilitarian.

[rises and paces]

Clothes were all over the map. Not down to the whip-stitched hides level, and no obvious synthetics—fabrics seemed to be mainly natural, with some processed leathers. Colors ranged from neutral shades to very bright, but they might have natural substances that could produce those bright colors. Or they might trade for fabrics. Styles didn't signify anything—kilts, robes, shirt and trousers, chitons, leggings, tunics—even among the guards. Hair and beard styles, as well. They might be a trading culture, or they might adopt styles from the people they capture for their games.

I couldn't, I couldn't figure out anything about them.

 

day twelve

Daniel is again drugged and primped and perfumed, and hauled through the corridors. He has been practicing martial arts forms in his cell—slowly, so the guards don't read it as defense practice—to keep sharp, be ready for his moment to escape. But addled by the drugs, his sense of direction is no better this time than the last. Still, the end destination is the same. In the glare of sunlight and too many greedy eyes, he is strung up on the platform, while Jack is dumped and awakened in front of him.

Again, Jack is preternaturally alert, focused intently on Daniel, but this time instantly aware when the door across the arena opens. He spins to place himself between Daniel and the threat, another jacked-up bruiser spoiling for a fight. But this one has a black scar running diagonally across his chest, like Jack's. Huh.

He also likes to fight dirty.

Jack fights dirtier.

It's crude and it's brutal, and Jack will have a mess of bruises, but he practically kicks the man's head off to put him down for good.

When they're back in the cells and the guard pulls out the big knife again, Daniel gets it.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Col. O'Neill

Q: Colonel, I can see some of the the black scars Dr. Fraiser reports on your neck and face. I understand that you bear similar ritualistic scars elsewhere.

O'Neill: [rolls up right sleeve and demonstrates] Oh, you betcha. My "badge of honor." See, you win, you get another slash with the knife. Then they rub some inky goop into it that dyes the scar, and put a sort of sealant over the top. Heals it up, though, and keeps it from getting infected. You go back into the arena, you face someone with the same number of stripes. Kinda like being seeded for a tournament.

Q: The report says you have over a hundred of these on your body.

O'Neill: Yup.

Q: Twenty down your chest and abdomen, twenty down your back, ten down each arm, ten down the front of each leg, ten down the back, four on the front of your neck, four on the back, and one on your left cheek.

O'Neill: [silence] They earned privileges, too. Once I had the eight scars on my upper chest, they let Daniel move into my cell.

 

day twenty-nine

Daniel stumbles between his guards, supported by the grips on his biceps. As they pull him through a cell door, he realizes it's Jack's—that Jack is being carried in as well, and laid out.

This time when Jack gets scarred, Daniel is as helpless as ever to stop it for all that he's in the same room. His two supporters shake him a bit, as if to get him to stand upright, and one of Jack's guards waves a jar in Daniel's line of sight, then catches his eyes. It's the first time Daniel can remember anyone interacting directly with either of them in any way at all.

The guard waggles the jar, then holds out in Jack's direction, while holding Daniel's gaze.

Ointment for Jack's bruises. Yes. As if Daniel hasn't been watching them like a hawk—a near-sighted, drugged-to-the-gills hawk—from next door for the past several weeks.

The necessary information imparted, Jack's guards leave. Suddenly Daniel reels from a sharp smell under his nose. His own guards let go of him, but he finds his legs slowly solidifying under him. By the time they reach the door, he's nearly sober.

"Hey! What the hell are you doing with us?" Daniel leaps to the bars, but the guards are already walking away down the corridor, completely uninterested in them again. He slams the flat of his hand against a bar in frustration.

Finally, he turns with a sigh and takes a look at Jack. There is now a symmetrical chevron of black lines scarring his upper chest. Some threshold of accomplishment? Jack has earned the right to have Daniel with him? Or they figure Daniel has had enough time to learn how to take care of Jack, and they can leave off the nursing and get back to guarding?

Still, Jack does have a few bruises and small scrapes to treat, so Daniel applies his newly alert brain to cataloging the damage. There's a painful-looking line on Jack's ribcage already starting to bruise, where he was thrown against the edge of the arena dais. Daniel feels gingerly, but fortunately doesn't find any breaks, so he gently applies ointment along the length of the wound.

He pulls Jack's boots off, then his pants. He remembers a mean kick to the thigh, which is showing up mottled and ugly already—so he treats that as well.

Since they have plenty of ointment, he takes his time carefully looking over the rest of Jack's body, taking care of every tender-looking spot. He worries about Jack's hands—how many bare-knuckle punches can he make, at two fights a week? But so far they've healed up just fine between matches.

Jack doesn't so much as stir. Daniel has nothing to do except watch over him and think through for the thousandth time how they might possibly escape. Still, he's comforted by watching over Jack from touching distance, rather than several feet and two sets of bars away.

 

day thirty

Waking up in the morning is worlds different without the drug hangover. Another point in favor of whatever the stimulant is that brought him out of it the day before. This morning he hears the guard leaving the bowls of cooked grain for them.

"Hey!" Daniel leaps to his feet and approaches the man. "These ointments, uh, healing salves ... Our people would be very interested in them." He rushes back and picks up the jar to demonstrate. "Really, we have a lot of things to trade. If we could just talk to someone—your people could benefit ..." But he's speaking to the man's back. The guard has already turned to meet his second, and they leave. Daniel would almost swear they're deaf, except that they seem to respond to audible cues. It's more like he and Jack are from some Untouchable caste and should be ignored at all costs, except for a certain level of care for their valuable performance purposes. The inability to communicate is becoming beyond irritating.

"Daniel?" The sleepy voice sounds confused.

Daniel rushes back. "Hey, how are you?"

Jack comes fully awake in a flash and takes in the room at a glance, returning his eyes to Daniel, perched on the edge of the bed.

"Yeah. For some reason they decided we could be roomies. Maybe they just got tired of playing nurse with you."

Jack glances down at his dressed wounds and raises his eyebrows.

"I'm no Janet, but I think I can put goop on a bruise."

Jack pats Daniel's arm a few times to indicate Daniel did fine, then rests his hand there with a small squeeze. It's the first time they've been able to touch each other, awake and lucid, since they were taken, and it's remarkably reassuring.

Jack swings himself off the bed and goes for his breakfast. "Or maybe I've earned my 'benefits' for winning my matches." They'd talked—obliquely—about the way Daniel's assumed subservience to Jack's protection in the field put him in a role to be either kept or won away, sexually.

Daniel blinks, but Jack drops his voice to a whisper and continues on. "Might be useful. We get under the blankets, I can work on wrestling moves with you—show you holds, describe ways to get out of them. We can dance, do some 'push hands' and the ol' 'wax on, wax off.' "

Jack's right; having someone to spar with will improve Daniel's muscle memory and preparedness for a fight, even if slowed down and not noticeably martial. Daniel will just have to see whether wrestling under the blankets turns out to be a side benefit, or unbearably frustrating.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: How do you mean "conditions improved"?

Jackson: Once Jack won twenty stripes, they moved us into a larger cell. It had a nicer bed, more light. A bathtub with lukewarm water on tap—that was welcome. They sewed us some new clothes that imitated our uniforms. A special meal once a week—I think it was their week. Every five days, anyway. But it was still a cell. It had iron bars and a guard down the hall. We were still drugged and taken to the arena whenever they wanted. And we were still bored out of our minds.

Q: It must have been difficult for you, without reading material. What did you do to pass the time?

Jackson: Well, you know Jack and me—drove each other crazy. Sometimes. I tamed a small lizard, although it didn't really learn any tricks. Took turns singing. I was hoping Jack singing ABBA at the top of his lungs would convince them to let us go, but unfortunately they were made of sterner stuff.

Q: [laughs] Sterner stuff than I am, son. I'm glad you survived it. What else?

Jackson: Calisthenics for Jack. Yoga and martial arts—well, disguised martial arts—for me. We designated prime time, for storytelling.

 

day forty-two

"You know, the theme of a trickster aspect to wishes is common throughout folktales. There's the Japanese fisherman's wife, the genie in the lamp--"

"Aht! Hush! It's my story time. So ... Maggie grabs the monkey's paw and a limousine pulls up, delivers a new pacifier, then drives away. Bart's had it with stupid wishes, and wishes for them to be rich and famous, and it comes true, but everybody hates them and thinks they're stuck up."

"See, that's just like the Japan—"

"Quiet! This part's for you. So then Lisa grabs the monkey's paw and wishes for world peace. And everybody in the world melts down their guns."

Daniel raises his eyebrows.

Jack looks smug. "And then Kodos and Kang come and enslave the Earth."

Daniel gives Jack a cool glare. "You do remember that we met over a nuclear bomb. And I'm still the hippie peacenik of the team?"

"Weeell," Jack hedges. "Lisa's still a genius."

Daniel rolls his eyes. "Okay, fine. If you had a monkey's paw, what would you wish for?"

Jack runs a hand over his jaw and muses. "I wish Sparky would learn to fetch."

Daniel groans. "Bullshit. That's as bad as Maggie."

"What would you wish for?"

Daniel shook his head. "To be out of here—I don't care where. A roof over our heads, food, water ... But freedom. No more being drugged, no more being dragged off to the arena. No more of these sons of bitches who won't even look us in the eye."

Jack flops on his back across the bed. "Yeah, that would work, too."

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: You were both drugged for the arena. How did they get to you to do it?

Jackson: They deal with fighters; they don't take chances. The guards never once, in the entire time we were there, got near us without bars or drugs to protect them. Even then, there were always at least two guards together.

Whenever they wanted us for the arena, we didn't know anything was coming until suddenly I was loopy and Jack was out cold. Avoiding food or water didn't have any effect, so we finally realized they must have had a way to deliver a gas into our cell.

They'd knock us out, then give me the happy drug. They would carry Jack to the arena, and stick him with a dart that woke him up in super-aggressive mode. When he was through with his fight, they'd shoot him from a distance with another dart to knock him out again.

After we got used to the routine, they left me with a sort of equivalent to smelling salts, so that after a bout I could sober up and wake Jack up, or we could just sleep off the drugs, whichever I thought was best at the time.

Q: You say there were two guards at all times. To prevent escape?

Jackson: [nods] The place was escape-proof. The cell door was never opened unless we were drugged. For things like food delivery there were still two guards, and they had a way to slide the trays in without getting too close. We had to return the trays and all the utensils in order to get a new tray of food. We tried a hunger strike, but going into the arena on three days of no food ended that.

The utensils were wood and the walls were stone—there was no digging out. Jack secretly sharpened one of the spoons into a shiv during the hunger strike, but they searched the room while we were in the arena and took it.

The guards switched around constantly. We rarely saw the same guard more than once a month, so couldn't develop relationships with them. Not that they paid any attention to us anyway.

Shouting at them got no reaction at all. We tried the fake medical emergency trick—I did a throwing up thing—and they used the gas on us. Apparently somebody checked me out and decided I wasn't dying, so they ignored us again.

It was [pause] it was unsettling. Even people on Earth raising, I don't know, race horses or fighting cocks, pay more attention to their animals than the guards did with us.

 

day fifty-six

Jack is getting that look about him. He's pacing a bit more than usual, and Daniel can feel the frustration building up under the neutral exterior.

"Got the cell measured yet?" Daniel uses his most infuriatingly bland voice, the one that means that the harder the sarcasm is to hear the more of it there is.

"Don't start," snaps Jack.

"Well, I was really hoping you had calculated how to shawshank the situation."

"Sure, buddy, I'll just order that Raquel Welch poster and get right to work. I'm sure I can ask for a rock hammer our next turn in the yard, and we'll be on a beach in Mexico in no time. I don't notice that you've been able to Spartacus yet."

Before Daniel can warn him that his voice is rising, Jack switches gears—presumably incomprehensibly to the guards. "Tengo no mas que tres deberes: Tengo que protegerte; tengo que sobrevivir hasta rescate; y tengo que hacer todo que puedo a escapar de aqui."

"And your problem is?"

"Not doing so hot on number three, am I?" Jack slams the edge of his fist against the wall. "I just ... I can't ..." He leans back against the wall and lightly knocks his head against it.

Daniel gives him a direct look and his "simple truth" voice. "As long as number one and two are covered, I'll deal. We won't stop looking for our chance on the other, but if we can't, we can't."

Jack slides down the wall and sits against it. "Yeah."

 

day one hundred fifty-two

The cell is lit with the gray of pre-dawn rather than the silver-white of moonlight, so Daniel doesn't mind that he's too wakeful to go back to sleep. He rolls onto his side to check on Jack. Yesterday's opponent got in a few good licks, and the cut over Jack's eye has opened and bled a little in the night. It's not large enough to need stitching, but this planet doesn't have some of the smaller amenities like butterfly bandages.

Daniel's gaze slides to Jack's hair. It has more silver, just in the few months they've been here, but Daniel hasn't mentioned it. The guards keep it short, shaving them and trimming their hair before matches, while they're drugged up—to keep their distinctive foreign style, Daniel supposes. It makes the new gray hairs stand out more, but Daniel doesn't mind. It looks nice. Distinguished.

Just at that moment Daniel realizes his hand is in Jack's hair, fingers following his musing thoughts. He also notices that Jack's eyes are open, watching him. Seeing the unguarded affection Daniel hasn't kept from his face.

Jack closes his eyes and relaxes for a fraction of a second into the intimacy of the touch, then gently lifts Daniel's hand away. "Still on the good stuff?" His mouth has a teasing smile, even if there's a hint of sadness in his eyes.

It suddenly strikes Daniel that it's a little bit ridiculous that he's been—they've been—playing by the old rules. Maintaining the status quo on autopilot.

He deliberately strokes Jack's hair again. "No, I'm quite sober."

Jack jerks his head away and closes off his expression. His voice is cutting, but low, always mindful of the guard. "C'mon, Daniel. They've been shooting me full of steroids and you full of rohypnol for months. You think it's not affecting us?"

Quietly, Daniel tries to push the words into Jack, rapid-fire and intense, before he can stop them—because now that the possibility is there, years worth of repression is breaking free. "It's not ... I know that there's this 'other time'—this, this dreamtime—when you're pumped full of adrenaline or testosterone or whatever they run through your blood, and I'm blissed out enough that I'd drop and suck you right there in the arena if I weren't chained up, and this isn't about that. This is about us. The real us. This is what's been there since Abydos, and we weren't going to talk about it until after you took the uniform off for good; but we are light-years away from the SGC and they have no idea where to find us. So you're going to have to decide for yourself whether you get to have one thing—one thing—in your life that you want when everything else got taken away, or whether you can't do it because you don't have that walnut desk to push the letter of resignation across. I think you can guess what my choice is."

"Dammit, Daniel!" The frustration comes through even in the whisper. "It's not ... The regulations are there for a reason. Not those ones," Jack waves dismissively, "the fraternization ones. I have to protect you. I have to protect you. I have to be able to. And if my judgment is clouded by emotion, I can't do my job."

Daniel barks a laugh, then drops his voice again. "Jesus, Jack! Your emotions haven't been out the picture with any of us, ever! It doesn't stop you from doing your job."

But Jack is shaking his head. "I can't, Daniel. I just can't." There's honest pain in Jack's voice, and Daniel will fight tooth and nail against faulty logic or a narrow point of view, argue against what Jack thinks until the cows come home. But he can't tear Jack's heart apart, ever, not even when it tears his own.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Col. O'Neill

Q: Are you adjusting all right, Colonel, being back home?

O'Neill: I don't [pauses] Call me Jack, sir. I don't [pauses] I don't think the Colonel is ever coming back.

Q: [pauses] All right, Jack.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: You know that we never stopped looking for you, don't you?

Jackson: I know—you never leave a man behind. But I also knew that you had no idea where we were, and weren't ever likely to find out. I think it was harder for Jack to let go of the expectation than it was for me. Part of it was that he still felt responsible for me; part of it was that he'd given up in the past, and still been rescued. After, well, when it became clear he wasn't letting go, I wouldn't talk about when Jack got rescued from Iraq, or Edora—I would change the subject. I didn't [pauses] we never stopped looking for the opportunity to escape, but I just didn't think it did us any good to expect the cavalry.

 

day two hundred sixty-three

The shock of the latest contestant breaks through Daniel's foggy awareness—the drugs interact with this guy differently, or he's just crazy. He heads directly for Daniel with single-minded purpose, ignoring a hundred and seventy-five pounds of lethal fighting machine between them. He wears a crazed leer, like Daniel's the answer to every wish he's made for the last twenty years.

Even seeing Jack out of the corner of his eye running towards a flying tackle, Daniel tries to back up in alarm. The manacles hold his arms in a vee, barely giving him an inch of escape, and Daniel forces himself to remember. Shift balance to the left foot, then right. Be prepared to use the attacker's momentum against him. Groin. Instep. Solar plexus. A kick here takes his feet out. There, numbs his arm. Daniel runs through his self-defense options like a mantra, trying to get his breathing back under control while Jack, now seated atop his opponent, unleashes a vicious flurry of jabs. The guy is still trying to crawl away, towards Daniel.

Don't stop. Don't stop. Daniel realizes he's chanting encouragement to Jack under his breath, his muscles tensed to kick the shit out of this man if he gets free. Which is not happening in this lifetime. The madness makes him strong, but not smart, and he's no match for Jack.

Jack is up. The crazy guy is down, unmoving. Daniel is having trouble tracking what's happening. Jack is in front of him. "Are you okay? Hey, Daniel."

Daniel slowly raises his eyes to Jack's and lets the eddies of time coalesce back into the here and now.

"Are you okay?" Jack looks worried. Like maybe he's about ten seconds from looking for someone else to beat until whatever's bothering Daniel gets fixed.

Oh. Oh.

Daniel nods, numbly. Maybe all the drugs were a bad batch that day.

After the guards give Jack his stripe for the day and leave, Daniel crawls on the bed to give Jack his wakeup hit, then pulls Jack's arms around him and curls up. He thinks woozily about the arms of Morpheus, while he hears a warm voice saying over him, "It's all right big guy. I gotcha."

 


* "I only have three duties: I have to protect you; I have to survive until rescue; and I have to do everything I can to escape from here."

 


Chapter Text

day two hundred sixty-four

Daniel wakes up in the morning with Jack's arms still around him, Jack's nose lightly tickling the hairs at the back of his neck. He snuggles deeper, and feels the hardness pressing against his backside.

Even better.

It's an indulgence, but Daniel will take what he can get, a handful of what if fantasies spinning through his head without completing themselves. Jack will be ready when he's ready—there's just no telling without the kind of official demarcation he knows Jack had always expected would divide his military career from the rest of his life.

The light in the cell is turning from gray to pink. Breakfast will be coming in another hour or so, which will wake Jack if nothing does before.

The hand flung over Daniel's waist rubs up and down his belly as Jack stirs in his sleep, and Daniel bites back a groan. Just that one sweep brings him hard. Then he feels the hand freeze, and he knows Jack just woke up and realized what he was doing.

He puts his own hand on top of Jack's, soothing. It's okay.

Oh, but then Jack does it again, strokes up and down Daniel's front, and Daniel can't stop himself from arching with pleasure, his ass pushing back into the cradle of Jack's hips, pressing against Jack's hard-on. Oh god, it's today, now. It has to be.

He wriggles around inside Jack's hold, and searches Jack's eyes. Jack isn't giving anything away, but he's also not running scared or backing off, so Daniel brings a hand up to lightly stroke his jaw, leans forward and kisses him. A small touch, but lips soft and slightly open. He does it again, and Jack nudges his own lips against Daniel's in encouragement. Daniel nearly whines in the back of his throat. Yes. God. He feels Jack's hand cradle the back of his skull, part support, part press to hold Daniel against him.

Daniel blends small, open-mouthed kisses into one long one, and finally feels a tongue touch his lips. Maybe he does whine then, but he's pretty sure there's a swallowed cry that comes from Jack, too, when their tongues meet.

Daniel pushes his hips forward, so that their bodies can press together from head to toe, especially the yearning bits in the middle that really, really want to press.

The sensation of hard against hard makes Daniel go woozy for a moment. Then he's rocking his hips helplessly against Jack, desperate for the feel of Jack against his cock despite the boxers bunching awkwardly between them.

"Daniel. Daniel." Jack is murmuring against his lips, and it's the best sound in the world, but then Jack is pulling back and gripping Daniel's hair to pull his head back, and Daniel is pauses and blinks. No! What the—.

"Shorts," says Jack and a minute later it works its way through Daniel's haze of lust.

"Right. Okay." They separate the inches necessary to be able to push their underwear down, knees knocking in their scramble.

Daniel sees Jack give a glance down the corridor to the distant guard before he adjusts the sheet over them to make sure they're covered.

Then their eyes meet and there's a single breathless pause before Jack reaches for Daniel's hip and pulls them together. And then he reaches for Daniel's cock.

The feeling of Jack's hand on him sends a wave of intense tingles skittering across his whole body, and another when Jack squeezes their two cocks together in his hand. Daniel lifts his knee to rest just below Jack's hip, giving Jack space to do whatever he likes down there because just about anything is going to make Daniel explode.

Daniel threads one arm under Jack's head as a pillow, and brings the other over the top so that this time he can stroke Jack's hair while they kiss.

From Jack's tongue in his mouth and hand on his cock, the universe expands outwards, Daniel spiraling out with it. But still anchored by the heavy throb under Jack's stroke that pulls his focus back in as he gets closer and closer ...

"Ah!" He buries his cry in Jack's mouth as his hips jerk of their own accord while he spills over Jack's hand and belly. Jack stills his hand while Daniel comes down.

"Mmmrph." Daniel grips a shoulder, hooks his heel behind Jack's knee and rolls, pulling Jack on top of him. Jack looks down on him questioningly, and Daniel slides his hands down to Jack's ass and gives an encouraging squeeze. So Jack slides his hard-on between their slicked bellies, alongside Daniel's soft cock, and the sexiness of Jack rubbing himself off against Daniel cuts through the afterglow and makes him wish he could get hard again immediately. He settles for loving every second of watching Jack lost in the pleasure of sliding against him, until Jack goes over the edge and comes, clutching Daniel tightly and muffling himself against Daniel's neck.

Daniel cradles him gently and waits for their heartbeats to steady. When they've come down a bit, he squeezes a gentle notice on Jack's shoulder—I'm just getting up for a second—and rolls them sideways so that he can go get a damp towel. He cleans himself quickly, then rinses and wrings the towel and brings it back to wipe Jack.

He's been taking care of Jack's wounds, and they've been living together for months—there's not a lot of body modesty left. But this is a precious intimacy, and Daniel feels an unexpected surge of emotion at being able to touch Jack this way.

The feeling takes him by surprise, the way it did once before. Daniel is used to being self-contained, not needing anyone. When a brave, playful, beautiful woman snuck behind his defenses six years before, Daniel had hardly known what to do, but fortunately she took him in hand. Losing her had left his inner compass desperately searching for her magnetic pull, until he slowly regained his own center.

Now he realizes Jack has been inside his walls, too, all along. He'd known that his and Jack's coming together had been inevitable—that their compatibility and spark were obvious to both of them. But he only understands at this moment how vulnerable he is to Jack; that Jack is not just some dear, infuriating companion on the road of life, but an essential part of him, entwined in his very being. The rush of joy and the stab of fear come at the same time. The connection they've made is not something he can take for granted.

Daniel waits until they're both ready to relax their comfortable snuggle before he asks, "So, what was this, for you?" Knowing Jack has no desire to talk about it.

Sure enough, "Daniel—" is bitten off, two syllables and a compressed diphthong of sheer frustration.

Daniel presses on. "It's not possessiveness, some kind of ... claim to stake after yesterday." It's a statement, not a question—Daniel's confident in his read there. He muses over the next sentence. "It's not just caretaking, because I had a bad day."

Jack rolls his eyes at that one, although nurturing is such an essential part of his personality that it weaves through everything he does with those he cares about. It wouldn't get his dick hard out of the blue, though, or Daniel would have considered letting a little neediness show before now. Maybe. Though he's not really fond of either manipulation or showing his emotional vulnerabilities—usually.

"I just need to know that you're not going to wake up tomorrow and say it was a mistake—that you're not going to shut me out, or deny this." And, okay, maybe he lets a tiny amount of neediness show.

Jack shakes his head and reels Daniel in close, tucking him under his chin. "Uh uh. Fucking this up with you was the one thing I was never, never going to let myself do." He strokes the flat of his palm along Daniel's hair. "I know you've been waiting, but I had to be sure, for me, that I didn't think I was making a mistake."

Daniel nods his head, knowing Jack will feel the movement against his neck. It's why he didn't force the issue sooner. He untucks and rolls up and over to kiss Jack. "Thanks. I just needed to hear it out loud."

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Col. O'Neill

Q: You earned your first eight stripes in roughly two months. At that rate, you would have been in over two hundred fights by now.

O'Neill: The higher up in rankings I got, the less I had to fight. Like in a tournament—fewer opponents at the top, but they were better. Still, I had to win, every time. I had to.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: Do you think there were others who were paired, like you were? With one as the protector?

Jackson: [pause] Yes.

 

day four hundred fourteen

The path through the corridors from their new cell is almost becoming familiar to Daniel. Not that he can actually remember it, but maybe there's a subconscious muscle memory—the number of steps or something. A dance routine he's finally learned after enough practice. He sniggers inside his own head at the thought of dancing with his escorts.

As if they read his mind, they step on his feet. Or not really. Maybe he stepped on theirs? The rhythm changed, anyway, messed him up. He sways clumsily between them and squints into the light. Oh, right. They've stopped at the archway. He blinks stupidly for a while before he registers the noise of the crowd and realizes the fight before theirs must still be going on, longer than expected.

He's never seen anyone other than the guards and Jack's opponents—the crowd's too far away to count. He wonders whether the contestants in the arena will be carried past him.

A loud cry goes up outside, and Daniel figures that's the end of the match. But the noise doesn't die down. Daniel frowns, concentrating. And then he hears a lone voice of anguish cutting through the buzz. As he focuses in on it, he notices the lower, quieter unh, unh, unh in countertime with the breathy gasps from the man crying out in desperation. He pulls automatically against his captors, his whole body crying, "No," wanting to stop what's happening just outside, but he doesn't have the strength or the coordination to walk on his own, much less break free. He can only hang, pale and sweating, and wait for the horror to be done.

The steady rhythm finishes on a grunt of triumph, and Daniel's guards wait patiently for some unknown signal that tells them the arena is clear. The previous contestants must have been removed through different doorways, and Daniel is perhaps a little glad he didn't see them, after all.

It's bad enough, when he's pulled up to the platform and chained, that he can see a small smear of red at his feet that looks, maybe, like something trickled down the inside of a leg and was smudged by a heel. He stares, transfixed, then begins to pull frantically on his chains.

Jack must have been woken up, because he's on him immediately, running his hands over Daniel's body to make sure he's all right and searching his face for what's the matter. Daniel can only give him a mute plea to get him the hell out before the door across the arena opens. Jack wastes no time in sprinting across the sand and pounding the day's opponent into the dirt before the man knows what hit him. After a brief pause where he stands over the lump at his feet, fists still clenched and daring any more resistance, he runs back to Daniel, his face asking, "Are you okay?" before it goes slack and he drops.

The crowd is not terribly enthusiastic in their cheering, but Daniel can only feel relief, as hands grasp his wrists and release the manacles, and he's pulled out, away, away from the whole horrible scene.

In the cell, Daniel doesn't even bother with the counteragent to his drug, just quickly rubs some salve on Jack's knuckles. He rolls Jack onto his right side—the new slash is on his left arm—then nestles in, pulling Jack into a tight spoon around him before passing out.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: Were all the fighters prisoners, or were there some from the local population?

Jackson: We didn't know. Some we definitely knew were from elsewhere by their fighting styles, but most we couldn't tell. We mostly assumed they were prisoners.

We looked for the opportunity to form an alliance with someone else against our captors, but every single fighter we saw was too far gone on stimulants to reach. It was difficult. [pause]

Jack knew that he was likely facing someone who had been kidnapped the same way we had, but he was dosed with the drugs as well. Even if he hadn't been, he was still forced to defend us. Sometimes with lethal force. [pause] Jack was in the military long enough. He knows how to deal with the ugly side of doing what has to be done. But I think every time he had to kill to stop an opponent, it took something out of him.

 

day eight hundred twelve

Even through the drugs, Daniel can see this fighter is good. Really good. And tall. And strong. But there's something that looks familiar ... feint, spin, attack ...

Jack's focus is like a laser, and he's matching his opponent perfectly.

Oh. Of course. This man must have come from somewhere he could have learned Jaffa fighting forms—Daniel learned these moves from Teal'c. It's the first sign Daniel's seen of someone who might have been on a world that might be known to a System Lord, which is one step closer to something recognizable, here in the ass-end of the universe where he hasn't made any connections with anything he'd learned in five years of gate travel.

Unfortunately, the fighter is unrelentingly aggressive as well as skillful, and Daniel doesn't think he's likely to sit down in the middle of the arena for a heart-to-heart chat about his home planet and whose Jaffa he learned to fight from. Still, Daniel might have an advantage.

"Kel kek, hashak!" Okay, so slurring dope addict isn't really the voice of authority, but Daniel's sure he shouted loud enough to be heard. "Kree lo tak!"

No reaction at all. Apparently this was a human slave who had been able to spy on Jaffa warriors, or learned from someone who had, but hadn't been close enough to the Jaffa to learn their language.

Fortunately Jack was taught by the best, and is holding his own. Unfortunately, everyone now knows Jack was taught by the best.

A buzz of worry for the future chases around Daniel's brain. Jack's main feint in his arsenal used to be pleasant befuddlement, but here the drugs that bring out the aggressor in him exposed him immediately as the dangerous opponent he is. So far he's been able to express it in straightforward punch-ups, matched against relatively unsophisticated fighters. He's up to forty-three stripes, though, and it was only a matter of time before he fought an opponent with some level of skill. Now all his secret advantages are gone. Except one.

Daniel refocuses on the fight, slowly pulling from his memory all the counters he's learned to Jaffa-style strikes. He's strung up and jelly-legged, but he'll be as ready as possible to be Jack's secret weapon—the archeologist who's better at combat than the people on this planet would ever give him credit for. Because every member of the team has to be prepared to be backup.

Jack matches blow for blow, but he's having trouble compensating for the other man's longer reach. Both men are reeling, as they pound on each other, and refuse to give up. And then it happens ...

Jack's opponent lands a kick to the ribs that takes Jack's breath, followed by a blow to the head that spins Jack half around and drops him to the dirt. Daniel loses all awareness for a moment, until it rushes back with the sound of the crowd cheering. Daniel's thoughts crawl with painful slowness from worry for Jack, to realization of what's next, to readying himself to take on this fighter with whatever he can do with two boots and determination.

The man turns slowly around, swaying a bit from his own wounds. He takes an unsteady step towards the dais, and Daniel looks for a weak spot he might be able to exploit. The man takes another step. Daniel ponders the fact that Jack's last secret weapon will be exposed today, too, but there is no way he won't fight tooth and nail in self defense. Then he tries to remember his strike plan as the vagaries of his thought processes pull him out of the present moment. Again. Right—right knee, that was it.

Then the fighter is moving more quickly toward him, but he's not really moving—he's falling. He's falling and his face registers an almost comic surprise just before the side of his head meets the corner of the dais with a sickening thud.

Looking along the length of the man's still body, Daniel finally comes to Jack's hand, wrapped around an ankle. The hand pulls off and back, and presses against the ground to help push Jack onto all fours. He raises his head and squints towards Daniel.

"You okay?"

Daniel nods. "Yeah." He avoids looking at the caved-in skull leaking red and gray between them.

Daniel's okay, Jack's okay, and they still have one advantage their keepers don't know about, even if Jack's cover is blown.

Not that Jack will be able to do much with his skills at the moment. Or for the next couple of months. The guards leave a larger pile of medicinals than usual. One of them catches Daniel's eye long enough to mime that the liquid in the jar is meant for Jack to drink, before he goes back to their usual disinterest in him.

As soon as Daniel is able to move properly, he's at Jack's bedside. The cut over Jack's eye is bleeding profusely, so he presses against it with a small cloth. Blood, both fresh and drying, mottles Jack's entire forehead, hiding the actual wound, so Daniel fishes for the water jug. He cleans enough to see that it's deep, and prepares the needle and thread. He's always thought he was fairly good at tasks requiring fine motor control--necessary when handling fragile artifacts—but his line of stitching resembles a kindergartner's first attempt at quilting more than any kind of professionalism. Still, the cut is closed and can heal now. He dabs the ointment for cuts and scrapes on top.

Next he gingerly feels along Jack's ribcage and finds cracks in two of them under the reddened bootprint. He spreads the bruise preventative around the area before carefully rolling Jack to wrap his ribs tightly with the long strip of cloth left in the supplies. Too bad the stripes these days are on Jack's back, because the best position for his stitches and the ribs will be lying right on top of the latest cut. But the stripe is the lesser injury.

The rest of the bruises and scrapes are easier to deal with—it has unfortunately become routine. Once they're done, he can't put off the last check. He passes the smelling salts under Jack's nose, and immediately lays a gentle hand on Jack's shoulder and hushes him still. "Careful, you have a couple of broken ribs."

Jack grimaces as he registers the pain. "Peachy." He sounds groggy.

"Sorry to wake you, but I have to check you for a concussion. How's your head?"

"Hurts." He looks miserable.

"Close your eyes a minute." Daniel supports Jack's head with one hand and tilts it slightly towards the high window openings. He covers Jack's eyes with the other hand, to shut out the light. Then he says, "Open your right eye and look at the light," as he shifts his hand to the side. The pupil contracts. "Now the left," and that pupil reacts, too. Daniel cradles Jack's head in both hands, and looks back and forth between the two eyes. The pupils look the same size. "Do you feel sick at all? Nauseous?"

Jack slowly, carefully, shakes his head no. "Not like concussion nauseous. Just a little iffy from the pain."

Daniel gradually lays his head back down, and Jack's eyes shut. "I don't think you have a concussion. They left something I think is for pain. You want to try it?"

"Stupid question." Jack makes a gimme gesture with his fingers, and Daniel fetches the jar. He gently raises Jack's head enough to take a sip, then lays both Jack and the jar down.

Jack slips back into unconsciousness relatively quickly. It's much, much longer before Daniel can leave off watching him to crawl cautiously onto the far side of the bed and sleep himself.

 

day one thousand two hundred twelve

"Wanna dance?" Jack pulls him up and into the classic position. Daniel grins. He'd never learned ballroom dance before, but he's pretty sure the pastiche Jack has come up with in their circumstances would be wildly out of place at the average Earth dinner dance. Partly because even though Jack starts out in the lead, Daniel gets pushy during his half of the box step.

Not to mention the self defense practice woven in.

Jack takes hold of Daniel's shirt and Daniel runs through Jack's long-ago whispered instructions. Push against me. Now hold my hand on you and drop back from my resistance. When my arm straightens, twist away and push your other hand down on my elbow. Okay, ow. Not so hard. As part of the dance, it probably looks like Jack is doing some variation on a dip or spin, and when Daniel eases up, Jack gracefully twirls back in.

They waltz around the room, Daniel working through the various ways to use an attacker's momentum against him and immobilize him. Right now they are lightly going through the movements. Other times Jack will hold still and provide a force to push or pull against so that Daniel can do isometric exercises to build up strength.

The Brazilian slaves who danced their martial arts practice under the eyes of their masters wouldn't recognize the waltz form, but they'd appreciate the spirit, Daniel thinks. Unfortunately neither he nor Jack has ever studied capoeira.

After a good half hour of training, Jack growls low in his ear, "Time to wrestle?"

Daniel gives a quiet groan. "You know, me getting a hard-on every time we practice is not the kind of association I should have if I'm actually fighting an opponent."

"Can't help it," Jack murmurs into his neck, as he nudges Daniel towards the bed. "I'm irresistible." It's only too true, but Daniel snorts for form's sake.

Still, they hide themselves under the sheet from the eyes of the guard, and Daniel practices trapping Jack's leg with his own and flipping him using an arch of his hips for leverage.

Daniel forces himself to wait an estimated half hour before they indulge for real in what they were feigning for the guard.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Dr. Jackson

Q: Could you determine anything about their society? Did you see couples, or families?

Jackson: It was men, all men. I never saw or heard a woman. I don't know if their entire society was segregated, or it was just that women weren't allowed into the arena. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a large male-only subpopulation, though.

Q: Why is that?

Jackson: Homosexual relationships were normalized and assumed, with rigid role expectations for dominant and submissive partners. Starting from the day they took us, they assumed Jack was my protector and that I had no defense skills—being caught with an archeology brush in one's hand will do that, I guess. Jack encouraged me to play along, be "the damsel in distress," so that they'd underestimate me. It worked for a long time—nearly the whole time I was there.

 

Excerpt, Debriefing Transcript: Col. O'Neill

Q: What would happen if you lost, other than the consequences for Dr. Jackson, of course. You wouldn't receive another stripe? Would you drop back a rank in the tournament, so to speak?

O'Neill: [pause] We don't know.

 

day one thousand seven hundred eighty-two

Daniel blinks and hopes to keep the sweat out of his eyes. It's a hotter day than usual, and he needs to keep his wits about him. This latest fighter is trouble.

It was only a matter of time before the raiders from this planet came across someone else who really knew what he was doing. The Goa'uld were just as interested in discouraging the development of any kind of fighting skill in their slaves as literacy and technology, but there were people and planets that escaped their notice.

This guy has some fancy moves like Daniel's never seen, and Daniel has the advantage of coming from the homeworld of the Tau'ri, where multiple advanced martial arts developed in the absence of the Goa'uld.

He blinks again and concentrates. After years of practice, he's able to ride the drug so that the losses of concentration come in short waves that ebb quickly and let him focus again. It's like watching reality as a slide show with fade-in, fade-out transitions, but he's generally able to follow the thread of what's going on.

His other trick is to work through his katas in his head, tightening the muscles and visualizing following through with the moves. He watches Jack's opponents and imagines which strikes might have a chance, if he needs to defend himself.

With this one, it wouldn't be easy.

Still, Jack is ... Jack. Decades of experience in multiple forms of combat, formal or not, and absolutely ruthless in doing what needs to be done.

They are hammering the shit out of each other, and Daniel will have a lot of first aid to do afterwards.

Stop thinking of afterwards. Concentrate. Vulnerable points: Solar plexus. Knee. Instep.

Jack lands a blow to just the right point to make the other fighter's right arm drop, numb and useless. They stagger around each other, hunched, hurting and bleeding, looking for an opening.

Jack aims a kick at his opponent's right side, where he's at a disadvantage. But the guy manages to raise his right leg and use it to spin Jack off balance, then plant that foot and bring the other leg up in a powerful high kick that snaps Jack's head sideways and sends him crashing to the dirt.

Jack doesn't move.

Daniel's mouth goes dry. He can hear the other man panting.

Daniel flexes his arms in the manacles and prepares to support himself, hanging, so he can use his legs to strike out.

The victor makes his way unsteadily towards the dais, wearing a truly hideous grin of triumph. Daniel balances his weight and only loses concentration for a moment before coming back to himself. Closer. Get in range. There.

A brutally hard fast blow between the legs bends the guy over, and Daniel immediately brings his knee up to crunch the already broken nose. Pain makes the man stagger, hunched, into Daniel, so Daniel pushes him backwards with his foot, just far enough ... In a move not unlike the one that put Jack down, Daniel swings his leg in a vicious arc and kicks his attacker unconscious.

He hangs, breathing heavily in the hot, dry sun, sweat and fear prickling all over his body. The crowd seems to be murmuring loudly, spectators turning to each other in surprise at the turn of events.

His secret's out, but he still feels a small stab of pride that these assholes finally learned that Daniel Jackson, geek archeologist and virgin sacrifice, is no slouch in combat. The only problem is that he doesn't know what comes next.

The guards haul Jack out without their tranquilizer barb—he's still out. Daniel feels a sharp sting in his shoulder, then knows nothing more.

 

day one thousand seven hundred eighty-three

Daniel doesn't realize he's in a fitful doze until a twinge of pain behind his forehead wakes him up enough to realize a low-grade headache has been slowly pulling him out of sleep.

Then he remembers the day before and wakes in a hurry.

He's in their cell. Jack is lying on the bed beside him, watching him—apparently waiting for him to open his eyes.

"It's about time, Sleeping Beauty." But the worry on Jack's face says he's not entirely sure flippant was the right tone to take this morning.

"More like Dopey." He tries to yawn and gives it up with a wince. "I got your industrial strength drugs yesterday after I knocked out their super warrior."

Jack's face relaxes a fraction. "Yeah?" He reels Daniel in and presses him close. "Tell me."

"Mmph," says Daniel against Jack's neck. When Jack eases up, he rests his head on Jack's shoulder and tells him, "Classic groin, nose, kick to the head. You already had him weaving—all I had to do was finish him off."

Jack is compulsively stroking Daniel's hair, running his hand from temple to nape over and over to reassure himself. "You okay?"

Daniel nods against him. "Yeah. Just the ..." he waves his hand "drug hangover." He reconsiders. "Maybe I bruised my foot a bit. Hey, speaking of bruises ..."

Daniel lifts himself up and checks Jack over. The massive contusions he should have are instead a small sprinkling of light marks that will fade soon. "It looks like they took care of you while I was out." Suddenly he realizes. "There's no new—" He makes an abortive move towards Jack's right cheek, where the new stripe would have been sliced in.

Jack gives a small shrug. "I didn't win."

"Wh—" Daniel is going to ask what they do with fighters who lose, but he's not sure he wants to explore the question. What if they take them out back and shoot them? For that matter, what are they going to do with him? Will they still let Daniel "belong" to Jack? If he does go back into the arena, he expects they'll shackle his legs during future fights and he truly will be helpless, barring a lucky head butt. Unless they turn him into a solo figh—

There's a tingle and then the world flashes white.

The flash fades and everything's cool grays and blacks.

Daniel blinks to clear his head and make sense of ...

"Where's Thor?" Jack is already rolling to his feet, and Daniel follows his sightline towards an Asgard standing behind a control console.

God, yes, the Asgard!

"Thor?" asks their rescuer. He—it, whatever—seems almost ... off.

"Yeah, you know, Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet? Good buddy of mine. He didn't send you?"

"He did not. I was intrigued by the readings from your—" He cuts himself off. There's definitely something going on with this Asgard—he looks frozen except for some very surprised blinking. Whatever he was expecting when he beamed them up, it certainly wasn't Jack.

Daniel pushes himself to his feet as well. "Hi, I'm Daniel Jackson and this is Jack O'Neill." Wow. It feels like a lifetime since he's done the introductions to aliens thing. "We really are good friends with Supreme Commander Thor. Is there any way to let him know ...?"

The Asgard's blinking goes into double time. Then he says, "I regret to say Supreme Commander Thor is engaged in battle against the Replicators at the moment. I will let him know at the earliest possible opportunity. Meanwhile," he busies himself with searching for something via his console, "I will find you a secure location ... Yes."

He manipulates the console and Daniel notices the stars streaking by outside the ship window. "Um, you know, thank you for getting us off that planet. But ... who are you?"

The Asgard sounds reluctant. "I am Loki." He adds, "When you see Commander Thor, you will tell him that I beamed you up and brought you immediately to a safe place and nothing more, yes?"

"Uh, sure," says Jack.

Daniel leans close to whisper, "Loki is known as a trickster god. We should be careful—"

There's another flash, and he and Jack are standing on another planet. They look at each other in surprise, then their surroundings.

 

Dispatch Transcript: Lt. Col. Carter

General Hammond, we have ... we have recovered Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson. [pause]

Excuse me, sir.

When Thor said he had a message from another Asgard that would be of interest to us, I never suspected [throat clearing]

The Asgard scientist Loki informed Supreme Commander Thor that he had news for him approximately two months ago. Because of the Replicator war, Thor only recently got the rest of information from Loki.

It turns out Thor was in such a hurry to pick up myself and SG-3 because Loki had reported that he had found the Colonel and Daniel and transported them from the planet where they were being held to a village on an abandoned planet.

Once we arrived in orbit, scans showed that there were standing houses, orchards, a stream with fish—everything they needed to survive until rescue. We haven't learned what exactly happened to them yet. They appear to be shell-shocked and are currently resting. Physically they seem a little on the thin side, but healthy; the Colonel has some sort of tattooing or scars.

But it's them, sir. If you could contact Teal'c and ask him to come back. The Colonel and Daniel are coming home.

 

Report: Dr. Fraiser

In contrast to their physical health, both men are having difficulty adjusting psychologically to social interaction. Colonel O'Neill has no conscious memory of being touched by anyone but Doctor Jackson, other than in combat, for the past five years. Doctor Jackson only remembers being touched by others while drugged and being manipulated to be put on display.

Separating them causes anxiety for both of them. Even under the best of circumstances, while both are together and in the presence of people they know and trust, they still exhibit a wariness of others and a protectiveness of each other, particularly the Colonel.

I'll be keeping an eye on Colonel O'Neill's hormone levels and behavior for any long-term effects of the drugs he was given. They appear to be contributing to his aggressiveness and suspicion. Despite the years of drugging with a stupefacient, Doctor Jackson's mental faculties show no signs of diminishment. The people who held them seem to have a remarkable understanding of pharmacology.

I am confident that continued exposure to the familiar SGC environment will help, though I recommend they not leave the base until their extreme defensive reactions relax. I'm sending both to therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.

At this point in time, neither man shows interest in working towards returning to duty, which is consistent with the trauma to sense of identity inherent in the situation they found themselves in. If Colonel O'Neill wasn't planning retirement, I would be probably be recommending medical discharge.

 

day one thousand eight hundred eighty-five/day one

Jack hangs up the phone from the General's call, and turns to Daniel with a smile.

"So, you're not Colonel O'Neill any more."

Jack shakes his head. "It's official. Ready to go?"

"Yeah." Daniel tosses his duffel in the back of the truck. They hadn't even had to discuss the option of crowded, hectic airports over driving.

Jack backs out of the driveway and points the nose of the truck towards Minnesota.

It's the first day of the rest of their lives.


Chapter Text

"Sheriff."

"Jesus, Wade, you got receptionists and phones with hold buttons and everything up there, now."

"Jack? Jack?"

"Yeah, in the flesh—so to speak. I will be soon, anyway."

And that's how I found out Jack O'Neill was back.

His CO had called—almost five years ago it was now—asked for a recommendation for someone to go out and keep up Jack's cabin, prep it for winter. I asked him why he was asking me, and he said he figured Jack played poker with me whenever he was up—still don't know how he knew that. Then he gave me the bad news that Jack was MIA.

Anyway, I passed the General on to Jenny Carstairs, best handyman in the county—don't call her any of that handyperson crap where she can hear you—and she ended up doing the maintenance spring and winter, twice a year, for the last five years. Said General Hammond paid her with checks from his own account. I couldn't decide whether I was surprised or not that Jack could have such a good relationship with a commanding officer.

And then Jack was back and coming up to Minnesota, but he said he wanted to see me, in a sort of semi-official way, when he got here.

The day he was due, I swung by the cabin, and there was his big old Ford. Jack met me at the door, and I can't say it wasn't a shock, even if I hid it, seeing him with gray hair and black scars striping his face and neck like something out of a National Geographic.

He passed me a pop, though, sat me in one of the porch chairs, and two sentences in I got over it. Jack was still Jack. A little more serious and quiet than usual, but hell, he'd been a POW for five years. Who wouldn't be?

The reason he had me out, though, was to let me know he had PTSD. He called for someone named Daniel, who joined us on the porch, and introduced the guy as his partner. Said they'd served together before and been taken at the same time. From the way Daniel stood close to Jack I figured out pretty quick partner meant partner—another surprise I kept behind my cop face.

Jack explained there was the possibility he might get real defensive if someone seemed aggressive towards him or Daniel, that he didn't want to disturb the peace but it might not be in his control. They meant to live a quiet life out at the cabin, but he he didn't have to spell out for me that we get yahoos coming up every hunting season with more beer than sense in them. Guys like that might get confrontational over anything, never mind if they get weird about Jack's looks, or make Jack and his friend for queer. I told him I appreciated the heads up, and I'd do what I could to see that things got stopped before they got started.

And I did. All my deputies are solid—they take "protect and serve" seriously and aren't fond of troublemakers. Besides, a good number of them know Jack from back in the day, and the rest of them have met him now at poker night. Daniel comes along, but he won't play poker unless he gets a chance for a rematch with chess, and Jack's warned us off that. Good guy, though, friendly and a quick sense of humor, when he feels comfortable. And good for Jack, anybody can see that. So yeah, they've been adopted by the department.

I passed the word on the QT to a couple of other people in town, too. Solid people, not big on gossip or stirring things up. So there's a sort of informal network actively looking out for Jack and his friend. Once or twice a local has stepped in front of folks that looked like trouble who were heading towards them, created a distraction.

The rest of the town's permanent residents look out for them, too, in their own friendly way. It's rural Minnesota—you say "vet" and "POW" and that means something. Not like the coasts or the big city, where a vet with PTSD might just as easily end up on the streets. More likely here I have to watch out that no one's too neighborly, and Jack and Daniel get their privacy. Good thing the cabin's twenty miles out.

There are a couple of women in town who see the tragic Jack O'Neill, heroically bearing the scars of his imprisonment, and wish that they could be the one to take care of him, and a few who see the handsome Daniel Jackson, and wonder why he's throwing his life away with the broken-down old colonel and his creepy tattoos. I don't waste a minute's conversation on either topic.

Oddly enough, the men in town don't rumble too much about Jack turning queer and shacking up with a guy. The man gave his service to his country and was obviously broken by it—both of them had been. Most folks figure they've earned the right to do whatever it takes to get a little peace, as long as they don't flaunt it. Which they don't.

So Henry over at the market doesn't blink when they come into town to stock up on groceries and toiletries, and stop in the personal care aisle for lubricant. Just rings it up and bags it up without any comment. Henry's good people, doesn't get into people's business.

He's never even told me that the two never buy liquor. Jack gets the non-alcoholic beer and Daniel gets water or juice or pop, but I only know this since I'm one of the few people that gets invited out to their place. Daniel's said neither one of them can stand being out of control, even a little buzz from alcohol. That makes sense. And I'm glad I won't have two guys tanked up on alcohol and a little off in the head on my hands, for their sakes and for the sake of my job.

They get visitors now and then. Carstairs and I finally got to meet General Hammond in person, and he was just like I expected. Good man, salt of the earth. Real big black guy came—I remember him from years ago. He'd been one of those types who couldn't take the mosquitoes, and I notice he visited during winter this time.

Three beautiful women drove up—a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette who Jack introduced as his niece, Cassie, just graduated from college. The other two were obviously military, but seemed almost like they were both Cassie's moms, and what with Jack and Daniel and those two, it made me wonder if the military was blowing smoke about the no gays thing. But then the blonde, Carter, mentioned her husband Pete, so I guess it was maybe a little wishful thinking on my part there. But those were two seriously gorgeous women.

It's good to have Jack here, even if he's not the same Jack I knew before. I hope it's a quiet life for him here, up in God's country, with his friend. They seem happy enough, anyway.