Daniel leaned back in his chair, rubbed his eyes and tried to will away his headache. The bright morning sun streaming through the wide windows stabbed into his head like hot knives. The shadow cast by the stone ring standing in his garden wasn't enough to ease the brilliance.
He tossed his glasses onto the cluttered desk. They teetered for a moment on the edge of a stack of yellowed computer printouts before sliding slowly down between the stack and a copy of Elston's Book of the Dead. He wasn't using that for his research, but more for the pleasure of having an old friend always in sight. A comfort in a world with fewer comforts than he'd expected. His glasses didn't seem to help much these days anyway, but the odds of being able to get a stronger pair weren't looking good. The glassmakers hadn't been able to work them into their schedule the last time he'd asked and he doubted their production line was in any better shape now. Still, he'd ask again. He was close to finding out what they needed, what he needed, to know, but he needed to be able to work for longer stretches and that was getting to be impossible. Other... duties aside, the almost constant eye strain coupled with the resulting headaches kept his research confined to only a few hours a day. He couldn't even take a painkiller since it interacted poorly with what he'd already had to take this morning.
Duty. Daniel grimaced at the thought of his afternoon's 'schedule'. He had three 'appointments' scheduled and would most likely be unfit for anything else afterward. He never had been before and there was no reason to think today would be any different. It didn't matter that it was killing him by inches. He had his duty. Duty to his family. Duty to his House. Duty to his world. He didn't have the luxury of having any duty to himself. Daniel flung himself out of his chair and angrily paced his office, letting the rage always simmering deep inside surface. He had to burn some of it off before the afternoon. It wasn't their fault and he'd be damned before he'd approach them with less than tenderness. They deserved it. None of them had asked for this... this abomination that had been forced on them.
"Niriti!" Daniel growled the name of the source of his rage as he picked up the small statue of her that sat on his desk. He hefted it wishing for the thousandth time it was the neck of his long-dead antagonist so he could crush it himself.
"Go ahead. Throw it. Might make you feel better." Daniel whirled in place to see his First Consort leaning carefully on the now open door of his office. "I never have understood why you keep it. It just keeps pissing you off."
Daniel closed his eyes, swallowed then took a deep breath and then another in an almost successful attempt to calm himself. "It helps keep me focused. I want to make sure I know exactly where my anger should be directed." With studied calm, Daniel walked to his desk and carefully set the statue back in its place.
His Consort nodded. This was an old conversation. "You don't want any of this to spill over onto those youngsters this afternoon."
Daniel turned his back on the doorway and leaned heavily over his desk listening to the slow footsteps approaching. "I can't do this any more, love. It's killing me. God! You must hate me. How can you bear to be in the same room with me?"
With an ill-concealed grunt, his Consort sat heavily on the edge of the desk next to where Daniel stood. "As to how I can bear to be in the same room with you, and that's a lousy pun, by the way, it's easy. I love you. Which also deals with the next part. Since I love you, it's obvious I don't hate you. What's more, I don't think I ever could hate you." Daniel started to speak, but a raised finger stopped him. "Let me finish, love." The finger lowered and a strong hand rested gently on Daniel's curved back before beginning a soothing massage. "Yes, I know what this is doing to you. I see it every damned time and it kills a little bit of me, too, since I can't do anything to protect you from it."
Daniel let the soft words wash over him and felt the rage loosen its grip just a little. Just like always. Someone forgave him his crimes, though no one but him seemed to see them as such. He could see them as nothing else.
"And, finally," the soft voice continued, "Yes, you can do it. Just like I do what I have to. What we all have to. This isn't the world we wanted, but it's the one we've got." Daniel finally looked up and met the warm brown eyes looking at him with such tenderness. The same tenderness he needed to find in himself and use on others.
"I don't deserve you, you know." A small smile threatened to emerge and he tried to let it. Maybe it would stifle the tears he felt building. The medicine always put him on an emotional rollercoaster for the first few hours. It would settle by the time he needed it to.
"Actually, I think you do deserve me." Warm arms pulled Daniel into a much-needed embrace. "After all, you're the heir to the House of Jackson, one of the few fertile men in this district..."
"A stallion." Daniel spat the hated epithet out.
"Well, if you mean hung like a horse, you'll get no argument from me, but as I was saying. You're all mine." Daniel pulled his love as close as he could and ran his free hand over the swollen belly keeping them from the kind of embrace he wanted.
"Not all yours, love. In a few hours I have to go..." Daniel couldn't get the rest of the sentence past the lump in his throat.
"You have to go and do your part to try and keep our species from dying out. Just as I do my part." Daniel tensed and then cursed himself silently for it. "I know, love, I know I've only had to do it six times and then only with the man I love." Daniel smiled at the declaration and softly kissed the beloved face before him. "You've had to be with more partners than you can probably remember and you always think I'm going to hate you for it."
Daniel hid his face against the shoulder nearest him and nodded in response.
"What you don't seem to ever remember is that the parts of you that matter most to me are all mine." Gentle fingers at his chin raised Daniel's head so he was looking once more into those beloved brown eyes. A nod of the head indicated the statue of Niriti. "Your body now belongs to humanity, but you only truly share your heart and soul with me."
Daniel felt the last of his earlier rage recede as a calm began to descend on his heart and mind. He knew it was in part due to the progress of the drug that would allow him to 'perform' properly in a few hours, but mostly it was due to the one in his arms right now. Daniel felt a chuckle bubble up from somewhere, "Humanity? That's a little..." his head shook slightly from side to side as he searched for the right word.
"I was thinking more along the lines of pompous."
"Hey, I'm pregnant. The baby ate my brain."
Daniel smiled as he kissed his love. "Ah, my mistake. I can see how that could be a problem."
"Oh, you have no idea. At least in a few weeks you get to hold him."
"I can't wait. Who knows, maybe this time..." Daniel let the sentence trail off. Neither wanted to voice the hope of every couple since the world they'd known ended. We really are a superstitious race, Daniel thought to himself. No one would wish for a girl out loud as if it would curse them. They'd been luckier than most, if it could be called luck to have two daughters born alive only to die within days. Their sons, their beautiful sons, survived, but there were only a handful of girl children in the world. None of them theirs.
Daniel held his love as close as he could and tried to pour all his love into their kiss. He tucked his love's head onto his shoulder and rubbed the tense back as if apologizing for what he'd almost said. "I love you, Jonathan. Never forget that I love you." The old conversation ended as it always did and Daniel knew he would do his duty as he always has. His eyes roamed his office barely seeing the clutter of artifacts and books, everything he could get of what had been found after Niriti died and her army left, until he got to the shrouded item in the corner. Yes, he would do his duty, no matter the cost.
He used to keep it uncovered, fascinated by the image of this same office it reflected, no, he corrected himself, projected. Until the day he looked more closely and realized that one of the windows in what he now knew was another room entirely was broken and there were leaves gathering on the floor. He'd never yet seen any people in it, which was eerie enough when he was standing in front of it, and thought it just an odd mirror. He'd ordered storm shutters installed on all the windows in the house that day. He'd tried to get someone to come look at the mirror like artifact, but with only half the population left alive everyone with any scientific bent was dedicated solely to solving the problem of simply surviving. He and a handful of others were the only ones trying to delve into the whys and wherefores of what had happened. Somehow he knew the room he saw was somewhere else and it belonged to another Daniel Jackson. A Daniel who made, or had made for him, different choices, choices that left his home empty and possibly his entire world. Perhaps he would remove the dark cloth covering the mirror one day and see what time had brought to that other place. But not today. For now, he couldn't bear the thought of a world without his love, his sons, himself.
Daniel pulled away just enough to kiss his Consort, no, his husband. The others were Consorts, men he'd married and given sons according to the new laws. He felt affection for them, but not love, not the love he felt for the man in his arms. As hard as it was to bring other men into his household it was easier than the parade of strangers brought to him to... service.
"Time to go?" Jonathan's hand cradled his face and Daniel nuzzled into it, grateful for the comfort offered.
"Yes, the first one... Jeffery, will be here in a bit. I need to get ready."
"Take off. I'll have dinner brought to our room when you're done."
Daniel gave him a quick smile, a last hug and then strode off to do his duty with the haunting image of leaves blowing across his office floor still in his mind.
Jonathan awoke with a start. It was late. The bedroom was draped in late afternoon shadows. The fire was low, but the evening chill hadn't settled in yet. The barest hint of a spicy scent lingered in the air. He smiled when he realized someone must have come in while he slept and lit a bit of the incense he loved. Jonathan had been very tired when he laid down for his nap, but he didn't think that had been there then. Bet it was Ian, he thought to himself then sighed and stretched a bit. Since the miscarriage, Ian had taken it upon himself to baby Jonathan, at least when Daniel wasn't. It was Ian's way of coping, certainly better than Jonathan's coping mechanism. Putting his fist through walls wasn't particularly useful even if it was momentarily satisfying. He shut down that train of thought with practiced ease and stretched, thinking instead how nice it would be to lie there in the soft bed and drift back to sleep, but it was getting late. He just hoped he didn't look as exhausted as he felt.
Jonathan listened to the steady tick-tock from the antique timepiece on the mantel. Too dark to see the face of his grandmother's clock he wished it would chime so he wouldn't have to move to see the time. The clock was one of a few treasured items left from his family. He grinned as a forgotten memory rose to the surface. He'd been so embarrassed to take his new lover home with him that first time. He'd never had problems introducing lovers to his family before, but he'd never been with someone so far out of his league. It had taken a while for it to sink in that Daniel wasn't just slumming or that he'd picked Jonathan specifically to annoy the elder Jackson. Daniel had noticed the clock almost immediately and his sincere appreciation of the beautiful piece had broken the ice. Bit by bit, Jonathan's family had finally accepted him as one of their own. When his mother died, he found that the clock had been left to them. He felt his eyes tear up a bit and silently cursed the hormones of late pregnancy. He was glad she'd died before the plague, but he still missed her. From time to time he wondered what she'd think of all this. Her son, her grandchildren. She'd always wanted grandchildren. He ran his hands over his belly and wondered what their boys were up to with their grandfather Jackson. He hoped the old man was making time for them.
The quiet clink of silver on porcelain from the sitting room made the clock redundant. It was very late. Beecham was setting their table for the quiet dinner he'd ordered for Daniel and himself. He took what passed for a deep breath these days, and began the laborious process of getting out of bed. Horizontal was what he wanted, but vertical was what he needed. It was just so damned hard these days. But he wanted to be up and about before Daniel got back.
Beecham greeted him in his quiet, formal way when Jonathan finally emerged from the bedroom, "Good evening, sir. May I get you something or call one of the other Gentlemen?"
Poor Beecham. He was of the old school and while he adapted to anything thrown at him, his training had never prepared him for serving in a home where the Lord of the Manor had three Consorts and all of them male. Having apparently picked up on Daniel's distaste for the word, Beecham always referred to his Lordship's Consorts as "the Gentlemen", at least among the household. Jonathan used to have to fight back a laugh every time he heard it but over the years he'd gotten used to it. It was a very small strangeness in an incredibly strange world.
"No, thank you, Beecham, I'm fine." Jonathan wandered to one of the floor to ceiling windows and twitched back the dark heavy drapes enough to stare into the gathering darkness.
"Very good, sir. If there's nothing else, I'll return with dinner when his Lordship's guest departs." Jonathan allowed a quirk of his lips at the almost imperceptible pause before the word "guest". Good ol' Beecham, this is almost as hard for you, in its own way, as it is for him... for us.
He let the drapes fall and turned back to the servant. He didn't think he'd ever get the hang of giving orders without looking at the person involved. "That will be fine, Beecham. Thank you." Jonathan watched the older man leave and then found himself alone with his thoughts again. He fussed with the place settings and wished, for the thousandth time since he'd gotten pregnant, for just one beer. He found himself moving things, making noise just to break the silence. Their suite was isolated from the rest of the household and it was easy to imagine there was no one else around. There was just the creak of an old house settling, the clock, the small sounds of the curtains in the breeze, the occasional birdsong. It was their refuge. Daniel's refuge. Even their sons' rooms were on the other end of the long hallway. Once the baby came, the silence would be a distant memory for a while. Jonathan could do with something, anything to break it at the moment. He was usually atypically calm during pregnancy, but not today. He'd seen something earlier, something he should report to Daniel. Something he couldn't, in good conscience, lay in his lap today. Jonathan knew he'd eventually tell him all about it, but not for a bit. He didn't want to think about it at all and toyed with the idea of just forgetting it. Chalk it up to a pregnant man's fantasies and ignore it. He wouldn't, but it was a nice thought for the moment.
Daniel was due back so he busied himself with trivialities in a vain attempt to stop worrying about what the night would bring. Daniel was strong, but days like today left him depressed and emotionally brittle. Once he came down off the fertility drug, he'd need contact. During the process, it was like walking through a minefield. Jonathan gasped and stiffened as the baby turned head butting his lungs in the process.
"Kinda restless today, huh, kiddo? Me, too." He continued to rub his swollen abdomen and relaxed as the baby inside turned again to follow the movement. That was probably the coolest thing about being pregnant. Something he'd never expected. Not that he'd ever, in his wildest dreams expected to be pregnant. What man had? When he'd first been selected as a likely candidate for the procedure, Jonathan had been horrified. Paternal gestation they called it. He'd already been reeling with the discovery that he was one of the hundreds of millions of men left sterile by Compton's virus. His problems didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. Women, regardless of age, had had it even worse. Janis Compton's discovery of the nature of the virus had been her last discovery before succumbing like every other human female on the planet. What a horrible thing to be famous for. His selection seemed like the final in a long series of insults. That someone had engineered a plague to kill the human race in such a vicious fashion seemed impossible, but there it was. And, so, here he was. At the beginning, after he'd finally agreed to go through with it, Daniel had teased him about being the mother of his race. Jonathan smiled at the memory. Daniel had been so young then. In darker moments, Jonathan privately decided that Daniel was aging in dog years. A quick smile flickered across his face. It didn't reach his eyes. Not a thought he'd ever share with his husband.
Husband. That's another impossibility he'd had to get used to. Being attracted to men wasn't new, but it's amazing how a plague followed by an alien invasion, however brief, can change what people consider important enough to worry about. And here I'd thought I'd never be a father. Jonathan chuckled at the irony and the baby kicked in response.
"Sorry 'bout that, kiddo. Can't wait for you to meet your Dad, though, you're getting heavy." The doctor would be by in the morning to check his progress and look in on Ian. He figured he had another few weeks yet, though according to Jose's baby pool most of the household thought it would be sooner. His... he never was quite sure what to call Jose and Ian. Nicholas and Patrick called them uncle and their sons called him the same. Officially, they were Daniel's Consorts, sort of co-husbands, though that term was frowned on in Daniel's class. Privately, they thought of themselves as brothers-in-law. It was more familiar, more comfortable. Though Jose and Ian were closer than any brothers-in-law Jonathan had ever known. He smiled. He and Daniel had skirted the edge of polite society before things went to hell, why should now be any different. Daniel didn't mind and subtly encouraged their private arrangements. He'd never said, but Jonathan figured it explained why he'd been so steadfast in his refusal to take on any more Consorts. There were rumors about how other heads of household dealt with their Consorts, especially those who used the fertility drugs full time. It was hard to tell how much was rumor and how much was fact, but if Daniel thought seven sons between them in six years were plenty, none of his "Gentlemen" would argue the point. The four of them had worked things out in what might otherwise be an intolerable situation. Daniel, hell, none of them, wanted to rock the boat. But the fallout, coupled with Daniel's innate sense of fairness, was more days like today than most men in Daniel's position had to put up with. Jonathan sighed and started to rearrange the sideboard to avoid the inevitable guilt that thought brought. The additional thought of Beecham exuding polite disapproval when he returned brought his hands back to his sides. Instead he settled heavily in an armchair with his feet up, wishing, again, for a beer.
A short while later, the clock chimed the half-hour and started Jonathan out of the light doze he'd achieved. Dozing beat worrying about the night to come and the conversation he needed to initiate eventually. At least the exhaustion was proving stronger than the tension. Almost immediately came Beecham's soft, distinctive knock on the door. The mouth-watering aroma of roast chicken preceded both cart and man and set Jonathan's stomach rumbling. Make that exhaustion with a side order of hunger over tension.
"His Lordship will join you momentarily, sir."
"Thank you, Beecham." Jonathan watched the man set out covered dishes on the sideboard and couldn't help but hope Daniel showed up before dinner got cold. Beecham finished his task and set the cart out of the way as usual.
"Does sir require anything else?" Before Jonathan could answer, the door flew open and Daniel breezed into the room, heading straight for Jonathan.
"That will be all, Beecham." Daniel's voice was steady and controlled, "You can clear away in the morning." A soft seductive smile on his face, he knelt next to Jonathan's chair, taking one of his husband's hands in his own, the other caressed Jonathan's distended belly through his loose shirt. Daniel's excited, overly bright eyes never left Jonathan's as he continued, "Please inform Ian and Jose that we will not be joining them for breakfast." Jonathan lifted his eyebrows in a silent question. They always had breakfast together as a family, even the children. Given their various duties to the household and the town, it was the only meal of the day when everyone who was in town was guaranteed to be home.
"Very good, your Lordship. If there's nothing else, I'll wish you both good evening."
"Thank you, Beecham." Jonathan spoke only to the older man's back as he closed the door.
Daniel gave up Jonathan's hand in favor of running his hand through his love's hair then pulling him in for a deep, passionate kiss. Jonathan's arms automatically embraced the other man. The position made it somewhat awkward, but not awkward enough to miss the shivers running through his husband. Daniel didn't seem to notice as he all but devoured the man now in his arms.
"God, love, I missed you today." Jonathan nuzzled the other man's neck and felt a moment's hope that maybe this evening wouldn't be so bad. It seemed the drugs had already started to wear off. "You would have been so proud of me, today."
"I'm always proud of you, Daniel. You're incredible." Hope died quickly.
"I need you, babe. I need you so bad." Daniel stood gracefully then helped Jonathan out of his chair and more securely into his arms. "Want to touch you." Daniel's hands slipped under the loose shirt to roam harshly over Jonathan's upper body, kissing and nibbling a little too roughly along his face and neck and moaning deep in his throat. "Need to taste you. Need to feel you under me, around me. Need to bury myself in your sweet body." Daniel's voice rumbled in his chest and despite the rougher than usual treatment, Jonathan couldn't have stopped his body from responding even if he'd wanted to. They enjoyed roughhousing on occasion, but this wasn't the time. Not with the baby so near his time.
Jonathan ran a hand through Daniel's silky hair and nuzzled his cheek, "Soon love, soon."
"Tonight, baby. Gonna make love to you all night long." Daniel's hand slid down inside the loose pants over Jonathan's belly until he touched the hard cock underneath. He licked Jonathan's ear as he pulled on his cock whispering. "Gonna make you come so hard, so good, then gonna bury myself balls deep and never come out." Jonathan swallowed hard and started to push away from the too rough hands on him.
"Daniel, wait. We can't. You know..."
Daniel's impatient growl interrupted him as he pulled him closer, "Yes! You're mine and I'll have you when and how I want!" He latched onto Jonathan's neck, biting him painfully, apparently marking his territory.
"Stop!" Grasping hands released him and Jonathan staggered back a step, nearly stumbling over the chair he'd been sitting in. He put his hand to his neck and then saw Daniel's face. All traces of arousal gone, Daniel was panting and sweating. His eyes were wide with fear and there was a smear of blood on his lips. Jonathan looked at his hand and swore. He dabbed the spot again, fortunately it didn't seem to be bleeding too badly. Damn, how much had the man taken today.
"Oh, god. Oh, god. I hurt you. Oh, god, love, I hurt you." Daniel backed away scrubbing at his mouth and babbling. "I'm sorry, so sorry. I hurt you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"Daniel, love, it's okay. See, it's stopped." Jonathan approached him slowly and reached out to hold him. "It was an accident. It's okay, love."
"No, no, no." Jonathan stopped and watched Daniel back away from him, shaking his head and trembling. "It's not okay. I hurt you, that's never okay!" Daniel shouted. He'd stopped backing up and Jonathan could see the rage building. "Get away from me! You know better than to come near me! How stupid are you? Why are you even here!" Daniel all but ran to the door and threw it open, gesturing angrily and shouting. "Get out! Get the hell out of here! I don't want you here!"
Jonathan stood his ground. This was worse than usual, but they'd been doing this dance far too long for him not to know all the steps. He just had to be sure to be out of reach during the rages. Ordinarily, he could handle anything the other man threw at him, but he wasn't quite at his best at the moment. He didn't really think Daniel would hurt him or the baby, but other man was clearly not himself and it wouldn't hurt to be cautious. He took a deep breath and spoke, keeping his voice calm and even. "Why don't you close the door and join me for dinner, love?" He stepped over to the sideboard as he spoke and calmly started taking covers off the dishes.
"Fuck you! Oh, wait. I can't, can I!" Daniel slammed the door and Jonathan relaxed a little. First hurdle over. He proceeded to ignore the angry muttering behind him, just making sure he was aware of the other man's location. Daniel often ordered him out of the room when he was like this, but Jonathan prided himself on never leaving. The counselors had taken them through this and as out of control as Daniel seemed right now, he'd always said he knew Jonathan would never go. It would be dangerous for him to be alone through this. If Jack had to be away on Council business, Ian or Jose, or both of them, could step in, but neither Daniel nor Jonathan wanted that. The other two men didn't have the same history with Daniel and Jonathan knew he feared screwing up his relationship with them if they had to bear the brunt of his "chemically induced psychosis" as he called it. This was why some men stayed on the drugs constantly. Smaller doses, over time achieved the same results, but Daniel hated the thought of being dependent on them. He also had a great deal more control that other men. For some, it meant preventing a murder.
Jonathan filled plates for the two of them, certain that Daniel hadn't eaten this afternoon. He probably wouldn't be able to finish everything on his own plate, but damn, not even the gut wrenching tension of the evening could compete with late pregnancy hunger. He hoped he could get through the night without monster heartburn. A chair scraped loudly over the polished wood floor behind him and he turned as Daniel dropped heavily into it. He sat sprawled by the table drumming his fingers impatiently. Jonathan ignored the glower and continued muttering and placed the plate on the table in front of the man who apparently considered himself Lord and Master. Lord he could accept as an accident of birth, but Master was another matter. Taking his own seat, he started to eat and waited for the next move in their dance. He already knew it would end in their bed with Daniel sobbing in his arms and pleading for forgiveness. Jonathan always told him there was nothing to forgive. This was a temporary aberration. It would pass. He only wished Daniel could bring himself to believe that.
After a long morning doing battle with his inbox, Jack O'Neill was a man with a mission. He strode down the corridors of the SGC with personnel scattering before him. He had one thought on his mind. Lunch. He was, ordinarily, a brave man, but the thought of facing that particular ordeal on his own was enough to make him toy with the idea of diving right into the Quarterly Projected Resource Allocations for Research and Development. All three volumes of it. On second thought, he'd decided he'd go into this battle as he had many others, with his team at his back. Jack doubted even Teal'c could save him from the special of the day, but, hey, misery loves company.
"Hey, kids!" Jack whipped into Carter's lab to find Daniel and Teal'c facing away from the door and standing on either side of Carter, looking over her shoulder at something.
"Oh, hey, Jack." Daniel turned nervously around to face Jack while the other two offered their own greetings without turning around, which was fine with Jack. If Carter was in the middle of something that might go boom, he didn't want to know. Daniel walked closer to Jack and started to lean against the worktable, then changed his mind and shoved his hands in his pockets. "How's things?" Jack noted the nervous body language, the too innocent expression and after applying his many years of reading people and those spent reading Daniel in particular he came to the inescapable conclusion that he was hiding something.
"Daniel?" He was sure the sound he heard wasn't Carter stifling a giggle. Majors don't giggle.
"Jack?" Ah, and there were the blinking eyes and the forced innocent expression. It was a good thing Daniel could take more punishment than half the Marines on base because he was lousy at unplanned subterfuge. It was a forgone conclusion that any System Lord worth his salt would always know right off the bat that Daniel was lying about something and whip out the ribbon device. Or maybe he just knew the man well enough to tell. No matter what, this was too much thinking after his morning with the threat of the commissary still looming before him. Talk about torture.
"Oh, y'know, nothing much." Daniel kept his eyes on Jack, trying to keep Jack's eyes on him. The trick probably worked great on terrified undergrads, but no so much on Air Force Colonels. "Sam had this, uh, this thing, she wanted us to look at..." Daniel waved a hand and looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"Thing? She has a thing?"
"I believe Daniel Jackson refers to the device brought back by SG11 from P4X-735. Major Carter requested our assistance in deciphering some of the markings found on the casing." Teal'c joined Daniel, completely blocking Carter from view. Pre-ascension Daniel hadn't taken up nearly that much room. The two of them formed a nice solid wall. A wall that exuded false innocence, Daniel, and placid affability, Teal'c.
"Exactly. Thank you, Teal'c." Daniel all but beamed in relief.
"Ah. Markings." Jack rocked back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets. He figured they knew he was toying with them. That probably accounted for at least some of Daniel's nervousness. The flipside of his knowing his team so well was that they knew him just as well. Keep messing with their heads or cut to the chase. Delay the inevitable heartburn or stop his stomach from trying to digest itself. Decisions, decisions. A lifetime in the Air Force had taught him how to make decisions and threat assess. At the moment, digesting his own internal organs was a real possibility. The heartburn was at least potentially theoretical. Decision time.
"Oh, Carter." Jack smiled happily at the reaction. Daniel hung his head in defeat and Teal'c looked, well, less placid. "Whatcha got?" Daniel and Teal'c might be able to give him the run around, but rank doth have its privileges.
"Sir, it's a device SG11 found on," Carter appeared next to Teal'c empty handed when Jack cut her off.
"PX-yadda. Yeah, I know. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum said that already." Daniel groaned and Jack decided to cut him a little slack. "Teal'c there's no way in hell I'm going to try and explain Lewis Carroll to a jaffa on an empty stomach."
"Indeed, O'Neill. I look forward to your explanation after you have eaten." Teal'c nodded in a way that told Jack toying with his team might not end up being as much fun as it seemed at the time. They each had their own ways of extracting revenge. Some of which included PowerPoint. What was he thinking? Of course it was fun, but the best things came a price.
"Lunch! Jack, that's a great idea!" Daniel looked like he'd just won the lottery or found the only existent copy of some book nobody ever heard of. Probably the book. "I'm hungry. Teal'c, Sam? You hungry? Why don't we..." Jack grabbed Daniel's arm as he started to pass him on his way out the door and dragged him to his side.
"So, Carter, care to show me your undoubtedly fascinating device? You know how much I just love alien tech." Fun was fun, but this was getting ridiculous. What could they possibly have that they don't want him to see?
"Of course, sir." Carter disappeared behind Teal'c then reappeared with something oddly familiar in her hands.
"Carter? Is that what I think it is?" The device looked curiously like the mirror controller, but not quite exactly. The one they used to have before it was destroyed at Area 51.
"If you think it looks like the mirror controller, we agree." Jack's teammates kept glancing guiltily at each other and then looking away. Apparently the doorframe fascinated Teal'c while Daniel seemed to be divining the secrets of the universe from the concrete floor, arms wrapped around his midsection. Carter had plastered her 'nothing-to-see- here' smile on her face and kept looking back and forth between her partners in crime and the device in her hands.
"Tell me they didn't bring a mirror back, too!" Damn! As if a 'gate open to one hostile universe wasn't enough, that damn mirror opened the door to an infinite number of hostile universes. He knew how he'd use it, if he were a megalomaniacal snake. Or a Destroyer of Worlds. Or any of the other power-mad aliens they'd run into over the years.
"Oh, no, sir. They didn't find a mirror, just the controller, which, if you'll notice is a little different than the one we had. If you look at this section here..." Amazing how fast Carter's mood improved when given the opportunity to confuse him. She was as bad as Daniel. He expected Teal'c to confuse him, what with being an alien and all.
"Aht! I don't want to know. As long as there's no mirror within five hundred light years of it and Earth, I'm a happy man." Jack checked the faces of his team. He didn't like what he saw. Something bigger than a new and improved controller was up. "Not a happy man?"
Carter glanced at the Tweedles and received a nod from Teal'c and a resigned shrug from Daniel. "No, sir. Not a happy man." She turned and led him to the back of her lab. There, on the floor was an open crate lying flat with something he'd never wanted to see again in it.
"That's..." Jack couldn't say it. How many times was this kind of crap going to come back to bite them in the butt?
"Yes, sir, that's the mirror we recovered from P3R-233."
"Are you nuts?" He couldn't believe it. "It was supposed to be destroyed. Know anything about that, Carter?" She looked like a kicked puppy. He knew she wasn't involved, but damnit, she was a Major in the Air Force, his subordinate. She shouldn't be leaving him in the dark on this kind of stuff. It would do her good to sweat a bit.
"Jack! How can you think Sam would be involved in something like that?" Daniel's nervousness was gone, his protective streak rose with a vengeance in its place. Jack let his choice of words slide. They knew each other far too well.
"Daniel! It's in her lab. It's here without my knowledge. What am I supposed to think!" Before Daniel could take up the challenge, Jack continued. "And don't think I've forgotten about you two." He jabbed a finger at Daniel. "You know better than anyone how dangerous this thing is," then jabbed at Teal'c, "and Teal'c knows better than to leave me in the dark on matters that could compromise the security of the whole damn planet!"
"Jack!" Daniel had apparently taken up the gauntlet after all. "It's done! It's here and this is important."
"It's always important, Daniel! Why am I the only one freaked about this?"
"Jack, we were freaked, too." Jack recognized Daniel in the 'lets be friends and not kill each other mode' he used off world. Didn't always work there, either. "But we've had a few days to get used to the idea. Besides..." Jack cut him off.
"A few days? Just when were you planning on telling me about this? When some snake even worse than the ones we know and love decided on a little trans-dimensional conquest?" Jack knew he was beginning to rant, but the whole alternate universe thing freaked him out big time. It was too big and too uncontrollable.
"Besides," Daniel apparently decided to ignore his rant and finish what he'd tried to say earlier. "According to what Sam found out from Area 52, there's a very simple way of keeping anyone from coming through." Daniel's hopeful expression lured him in. Jack sighed. He was toast.
"Enlighten me." Carter's turn at the plate.
"Well, sir, it seems that when the NID neglected to destroy the mirror," Even Teal'c raised an eyebrow at Daniel's muttered "like that's a surprise". Carter glanced at him and then continued, "They started studying it with an eye toward finding some way to secure it."
"An iris." Jack had to admit that he'd thought of that five, or was it six, years ago. Time flies.
"Right. But the material of the mirror, plus the inability to transmit through it like we can through an iris secured wormhole made that impractical if exploration teams were to be sent through." Whoa.
"The NID wanted to explore alternate universes?" Everyone else looked as uncomfortable at that thought as he did.
"Yes, sir. At least according to Agent Barrett."
"Ah, yes, Agent Barrett. Handy fellow to have around." Ok, teasing was better. The NID agent's interest in his 2IC had provided endless fodder for teasing over the improved relations between the SGC and the, seemingly rehabilitated NID. The warning glint in Daniel's eye urged him to stay on topic. "So, rogue trans-dimensional NID cells aside, what's this simple method of mirror protection Daniel mentioned."
"You're looking at it, sir." Carter seemed to be fighting back a smile. Daniel didn't even try to hide his grin. Even Teal'c looked less stoic than usual.
"Okay." Jack looked at the mirror. It was still in the shipping crate with the side covering the surface of the mirror removed. "I'm not seein' it, kids."
"Jack, look at it!" Excited Daniel was back. "Remember when you went through it?" Jack tried very hard to forget it, thank you very much. "If you touch it on either side, you travel into the selected universe."
Jack nodded and gave Daniel a 'get on with it' gesture. "And, so, therefore?"
"Jack! Look at it!" This was starting to drive him crazy. He knew Daniel and Carter were way smarter than he was, and Teal'c was no slouch in that department, but he was starting to feel like the one kid in the class who couldn't find the pony in the tree.
"I am looking at it! It's just lying on the floor of Carter's..." Oh. Oh! The others apparently understood he'd gotten it since they all relaxed and started to look somewhat smug. "So, someone tries to come through and what, they just fall back into their own universe?"
"Exactly!" Daniel has sworn he doesn't jump up and down when he's excited, but there it was again. Jack made a note to get a copy of the security footage. He was compiling a tape for future use. One day it would be very useful.
"What if they throw something at the mirror?" Gotcha. The Tweedles and Alice weren't sure about that one. "Y'know, the right angle would put it out of range of the mirror before it fell."
"O'Neill, one would merely have to keep the mirror covered or in a dark room to give a potential enemy no reason to feel the need to attack." Smug was back. There's nothing worse than a smug jaffa. Especially not one Jack couldn't, in good conscience, shoot.
"Right!" Daniel's turn. "When you're dialing the controller, there are so many options, who's going to bother with something that looks like it's at the bottom of a well?"
"Okay." Jack's admission was grudging, but he couldn't fault the logic. "It's better than nothing, but I still don't see why we should bother in the first place." Jack kicked the crate, "That thing is nothing but trouble and I can't really see Hammond authorizing us using it."
"Actually, sir, he probably wouldn't have until SG11 found this and the NID informed us of the error involving the mirror." She held up the new controller. "This controller seems to be a more advanced version than the one we had."
"PIP? Last channel viewed? Parental controls?" Jack mouthed 'sorry' and shrugged at Daniel after Daniel glared at him and whacked him on the arm with the back of his hand. Sometimes things just had to be said.
"Actually, you're not far off." Carter looked like her African violet just offered to virus check her computer. "We think this has a setting that remembers the last universe visited, it also seems to access a wider range of universes than the other model."
"More channels, huh? And that gets us, what?" Jack looked expectantly at his team. The battle was well and truly lost; all that was left was damage control.
"Think about it, Jack!" Carter and Daniel were like stereo speakers with Teal'c chiming in with the bass. And he was still hungry. "The little bit of research we did only showed universes fairly similar to ours."
"Except for the whole post-apocalyptic thing they had going with the snakes." Jack hated to kill anyone's enthusiasm, but reality checks were important.
"Well, yeah, that, but," Remarkably undeterred by reality, as usual, Daniel went on. "The farther we get from our universe the less likely we are to find the same conditions that brought the Goa'uld to power in the first place. It's an opportunity to visit worlds where humans were never enslaved at all. Maybe worlds where the plague never decimated the Ancients driving them to ascend. Maybe even universes where humans never evolved, which means there's potential for permanent research settlements with no danger of cascade tremors. Think of what we could learn!"
Okay, he had to admit, there was some good stuff there. He glanced at Teal'c and got the same look in response. Daniel and Carter were ga-ga over learning crap, as usual. Teal'c had the same concerns he did. He'd have to talk it over with Hammond. After he talked it over with Teal'c.
"I'm hungry. Let's go eat." Ah, that pulled the rug out from under them. A man can only deal with so much weirdness on an empty stomach. You'd think they'd be happy he believed them about the security thing. "C'mon." He gestured for Teal'c to precede him through the door and grabbed Daniel's arm before turning to Carter who was already in the corridor. "Carter!"
Jack pointed back to her lab. "SFs. Just in case."
She didn't quite roll her eyes, but seemed to recognize the value of the idea. Or just recognized the chain of command. She turned around, smiled the same smile she used when Jacob treated her like a five-year-old and headed back to phone for a security detail. "Save me a seat!"
Daniel stopped and tried to follow Carter. Since Jack still had a handful of his shirt, that was difficult. "I'll just go wait with Sam."
"No, Daniel, you will come with us. If you go back in there with Carter, neither one of you will emerge for hours and even you need to eat once a week or so." Jack kept tugging Daniel along the corridor to the elevator.
"Jack, I don't need you to..."
"Yes, you obviously do. Now stop whining and think of the gourmet delights that await you in the commissary." Jack called the elevator and waited, still retaining control of his captive. Teal'c, once again demonstrated his vast wisdom by staying out of the conflict.
"Gourmet? How about revolting." Daniel freed his arm with a jerk as he walked into the elevator. "And I don't whine!"
"Yadda, Daniel." Jack pressed the button and reflected that even going to lunch with his team was turning out to be as hazardous as going off world. He wondered if he could finagle two weeks' leave before diving into the Quarterly Projected Resource Allocations for Yadda report. Umm... maybe the mirror thing wouldn't be so bad after all. With any luck, there'd be an alien incursion and someone would torch his inbox. With that happy thought, he led his two teammates off the elevator and out to do battle with whatever was masquerading as meatloaf today.
At the sound of the heavy door opening, Daniel looked up from the books he was sorting through on the newly installed worktable. Jack's suggestion of moving the mirror to one of the isolation rooms made a great deal of sense. Especially given the older man's initial objections to the project. Jack hated what he called passive security and even Daniel had to admit this was better. Still, having to move all of their research material and equipment had been a pain. He glanced over at Sam who was still fiddling with various pieces of electronic equipment. At least all he had to deal with were some of his linguist references. She was still silently fuming over the whatever it was that ended up on the floor in more pieces than it started with.
"For the record," Jack approached the now-standing mirror and walked around it warily as if he expected it to pounce, "I still think this is nuts, but since the general and the Joint Chiefs disagree, who am I to argue?"
"Right, Jack. I keep forgetting. You never argue with the general." Daniel watched the man watching the mirror then gestured to the P-90 on its strap around his neck as well as the duffle in his hands. "Planning a coup?"
"Just being prepared." Jack tossed a zat from the duffle to Daniel. "I know that you and Pollyanna over there seem to be of the opinion that the two of you can handle whatever comes through there with your charm and good looks, but give me a P-90 and some C4 any day." With one last look at the mirror, he pulled another zat out of his bag and gave it to Sam then turned back to Daniel, "Besides, arguing with the Joint Chiefs is a good way to find myself hip deep in Antarctica. Been there, done that. Like to avoid it again, if possible."
"You'll get no argument from me, sir." Holding her zat, she approached the two men. "Shouldn't Teal'c be here by now?"
"He told me at breakfast that he had some research he wanted to finish before we got started." Daniel frowned. "At the time I thought he meant he was going to go back over our reports, but he did that yesterday, didn't he?"
"Research, Daniel?" Jack looked dubious.
"I hope you have not been waiting long for my arrival." Teal'c entered the room with a slim leather bound book under one arm sealing the containment door behind him.
Jack nodded at the book, "Research, Teal'c?"
"Indeed, O'Neill. I have been investigating the author you mentioned some days ago. I believe reading Through the Looking Glass to be excellent preparation for our mission."
"That's fiction, Teal'c and damned annoying fiction at that." Jack glared at Daniel. "You had to tell him about it, didn't you?"
"You were the one making Tweedle jokes, Jack." Daniel shifted from one foot to the other and wished they could just get on with it.
"Wasn't it the Taur'i philosopher Samuel Clemens who observed that truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities? Truth isn't." Teal'c looked rather pleased with himself. "Through the Looking Glass is among the strangest things I have yet read of your literature. As such, it should prove invaluable."
Jack grinned, "Your sense of humor's improving."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow in Jack's direction, "My sense of humor has never been in question, O'Neill."
Daniel faked a cough and turned away to hide his amusement. Jack was just too easy sometimes.
"Sir," Sam seemed have fought off her own grin at her commanding officer's expense, "if you're ready, we could get started now."
"Right." Jack gave Teal'c and Daniel one final glare before approaching the darkened mirror, the others followed. "So, let's go over the game plan for the day, kids. Today, we look, but don't touch." He caught each of their eyes as he said that. "Right, Daniel?"
"Jack! Why do you automatically assume I'm going to be touching it?" This was getting a little old. No matter how long they did this, Jack still assumed Daniel would be the one to go off half-cocked. As if the others hadn't gotten into the same trouble over the years. "I'm not the one who got an entire library downloaded into my head."
"No, but you are the one who pulled an Alice on us way back when." Jack placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder and squeezed. "I just don't want history to repeat itself, okay?"
"So the next time I find myself in the middle of a Goa'uld invasion, I shouldn't bother gathering the necessary intelligence to prevent it happening here?" Daniel regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. He knew what Jack meant, but damn, why did he have to keep harping on that.
Jack shook Daniel's shoulder. "Don't do that. You know what I mean." He leaned closer and lowered his voice, "Besides, I guess I owe you for the Lewis Carroll thing with Teal'c."
Daniel nodded, a half smile on his face, "You better believe it."
"So, Carter?" Jack pulled away and rested his hand on his weapon. "Got your super- duper controller thingy?"
"Yes, sir." Sam stepped up to face the mirror.
"Let's get this show on the road, then, shall we?"
"Wait!" Daniel dashed back to the table where his materials were laid out and picked up his camcorder. "I want to be able to record the images so we can study them later."
"Good thinking, Daniel." Jack waved him up to stand next to Sam. "Whenever you're ready, Major." He took up his position next to Daniel while Teal'c stood next to Sam, weapon pointed at the floor.
"I'm starting at the point where the old controller stopped." With a click and a barely perceptible hum the mirror came to life. The first image was of a blank concrete wall bare inches from the surface of the mirror.
"So, Carter, what would happen if you tried to go through to that?" Jack appeared to be measuring the available distance between the wall and the mirror.
"Well, sir, there are two schools of thought about that." Daniel hoped she'd keep it simple. He didn't think Jack would stand for the kind of explanation she probably wanted to give. "Some think that anyone capable of building an interdimensional gateway would also be capable of building in a failsafe that would prevent travel to a place where there wasn't enough room for reintegration." Daniel thought that sounded plausible, Teal'c, as usual, seemed to be soaking it up, probably in case it had tactical value later. Jack just looked bored. "Others agree that there's probably a failsafe of some kind, but that it would remove the stress of holding a traveler in transit by simply reintegrating the parts that would fit the given space and rejecting the rest."
There was a moment of silence while Sam's information sunk in. "Rejecting?" Jack visibly shuddered. "That is so not an image I needed." Daniel had to agree with him, there. "Next, please."
The next few stops were of the same wall before it changed to a storeroom. The storeroom remained for a few more stops and so on. The theory that the new controller allowed for greater granularity seemed to correct. "Sir, I can set the controller to make larger jumps. Perhaps..."
"Do it. I see enough concrete through the day without having to look at someone else's." Daniel paused his camera and checked the charge while Sam fiddled with the controller. He nodded to Sam when he was ready. She began to dial through the universes once again, pausing at each one long enough for them to get a good look and for Daniel to get a clean record of it on his camera. This time, they rarely saw the same image twice. Daniel hoped they'd be able to isolate specific groupings for more detailed study later. They still paused longer from time to time so Daniel or Teal'c could try to identify any writings they found. They could be missing quite a bit, but an overview like this was probably a good way to start. Sort of like doing a site surface survey. From a moving jeep. He shut down that memory and wondered, yet again, why anyone in their right mind would want to work in Central America. He'd had nothing but trouble every time he'd been there.
Sam paused at the latest one, "Stop!" Daniel peered through the viewfinder and then paused the camera to look closer at the mirror.
"Well, that's different." Jack joined him at his position closer to the mirror.
"Indeed, O'Neill." Teal'c had also moved closer.
The room on the other side appeared to have been someone's office at one time. The corner of a desk was visible as were bookcases containing almost as many artifacts as it did books. Leaves had drifted in from outside, adding a sense of desolation to the room. What held the attention of three of them was the stargate standing in what looked like the remains of a garden clearly visible through cracked and broken windows. Daniel, however, was captivated by the large painting on display. The man in the formal portrait looked very familiar, but not quite the same as he remembered. He swallowed, realizing who it must be, but Daniel had never seen him at that age. It was like seeing a ghost.
"Daniel?" Sam's voice cut through and brought him back to the here and now. "Are you okay?"
"Umm.. Yeah, I'm umm.. I'm fine, Sam." He needed to tell them. Jack had to have all the intelligence they could gather and while he wasn't sure this would be important, still he had to tell them. To say it. It shouldn't be that hard, but it was.
"Of course you're fine, Danny boy, that's why you're white as a sheet." Jack pulled him away from the mirror and turned Daniel to face him. "I know it must be hard to see all those books sitting there unused, but c'mon, it can't be that bad. Besides, I kind of like the idea of using the gate as a sundial."
"What are you talking about, Jack?" He pointed at the mirror again. Oh. Daniel hadn't noticed the gate at all. "Oh. Sorry. Didn't notice that."
"How could you miss it?" Jack looked concerned. "C'mon, out with it."
"The um... the portrait on the wall." Daniel gestured vaguely toward the mirror. "I think I, um, I think I recognize the subject." Okay, Daniel thought, I can do this. Daniel looked at them each in turn and saw that Sam was peering back into the mirror. He heard her catch her breath.
"Is that," She turned back to him, eyes wide, "It is, isn't it?"
"Is who?" Jack was starting to sound impatient.
"I think," Daniel swallowed again. "I think that's a portrait of my father."
"Daniel Jackson, how can you be certain?" Teal'c studied the mirror again. "Did your father not die when he was very young? The man in the portrait seems to be much too old."
"Apparently, he didn't... there." Now that the moment was over, Daniel started to feel more in control of himself. "My grandfather died before I was born, but I have some pictures. Dad supposedly looked a lot like him and that," he indicated the portrait with a wave of his hand, "looks similar enough, well, to be his son."
They stood in silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts while looking at the image provided by the mirror. Daniel had always wondered about those other universes where his life must have gone differently. It was a little disheartening to think that he had to go so far from their current reality to find one where at least his father had lived to late-middle age. He chided himself for that thought. He didn't know that was the case, they had so little information about the realities they'd encountered. Perhaps his was the only one where Daniel Jackson had gotten the short end of the stick. Still, this was the first time he'd ever been faced with it so directly.
"So, Daniel," Jack got his attention, "You up for Carter resetting her doohickey and take a closer look around this spot? See what we can see?" Daniel was gratified that Jack seemed to be giving him the choice. This could be rough, but the longer he thought about it, the more curious he became.
"Are you sure, guys? I mean, I don't think this was quite what the Joint Chiefs had in mind when they authorized this." He couldn't decide if he wanted Jack to take the out or not.
"T? Carter? What do you think?" Jack turned to the jaffa.
"The fact that their stargate is located in such a place indicates it is unlikely they have had much contact with the rest of their universe. Further, had an invasion occurred, it is highly unlikely that the building we see would still be standing." Teal'c paused. "Perhaps this is one of the universes where, as Daniel Jackson has suggested, the Goa'uld never came to power at all." Daniel couldn't fault him for that thought. Whatever had caused the building to be abandoned didn't seem related to the gate. Maybe there were other versions with people still around.
"Sir, I must admit that if we're going to explore, meeting up with Daniel's counterpart would be a lot more pleasant than some others I can think of." She had her hand poised over the controller, waiting for the order to make the change.
"Uh, Sam, we don't know that my, um, my counterpart would be there." Daniel had never met himself, if he didn't count the android. It had been weird enough meeting the others.
"Still, even if it was some other member of your family..." Sam trailed off.
Daniel shrugged. "The only one I knew well at all is Nick."
"Ya gotta admit, he was right. Go ahead Carter, do your stuff." Daniel nodded to Jack and then turned back to the mirror, bringing his camera up to start recording again. Yeah, he was up for this. He could do this. He realized he should have brought a tripod for the camera. The way his hands were shaking he feared the images would be next to useless.
Daniel sat at his desk and stared thoughtfully at the shrouded mirror. Ever since Jonathan had confessed what he'd seen, Daniel had had the urge to remove the cover and look into that other place. But after two days, the mirror remained hidden. It would be so easy. Just walk over and take the material in hand and pull. He'd always heeded the warning found with the object. It had warned that touching the surface could be dangerous, but didn't describe how. Or perhaps it did. There was a great deal he hadn't been able to translate yet. So little of the invader's language was as yet understood. At least by me, he thought. He'd always wondered a little about the origin of the technology that allowed a species of males to procreate. Had they really developed it on their own in only four years? He had his doubts, but the newly formed Grand Counsel insisted, so he kept silent. Besides, there was a certain irony in using the invaders' own technology to try and undo the damage they'd inflicted. He did think it odd that Niriti had apparently succumbed to her own weapon. There was more to it than they knew; he just wished he could find it.
Daniel shifted in his chair. Letting his mind wander wasn't dealing with the matter at hand. Four days ago, Jonathan had seen the cover on the mirror move as if blown by a breeze. Since Daniel no longer allowed the windows in his office to be opened and the mirror was out of the way of the internal ventilation system that left only one thing he could think of. Something from the other side had caused it. He'd once watched wind blow through that other room but it had no effect on anything on this side. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions, but he couldn't help feeling that the mirror had reached some other level of activity than he was used to.
Making his decision, Daniel rose from his chair and strode to the mirror. He'd probably see nothing more than a larger accumulation of leaves on that other floor. Maybe an animal's nest or two. Disturbing, but not dangerous. He reached for the drape over the mirror as it started to move just a little. Before it stopped, he grabbed and pulled it down and away revealing the object. Prepared for the usual scene, Daniel was more than shocked to see four people in what looked like a concrete room standing before him. One more shocking than the others. It vaguely registered on him that they were all wearing some kind of uniform. He knew his mouth had fallen open, but couldn't seem to close it. He dropped the shroud and, forgetting the warnings, reached out to touch the face of one of the figures. He felt a jolt of electricity and then the next thing he knew, he was staring at his office. His office, not the one usually depicted by the mirror. Daniel felt like he couldn't breathe. He jerked his hand back to his side, staggered backwards and only then realized where he was. Concrete walls. He looked wildly around the room and saw nothing but concrete and one window onto more concrete set high up on a wall. Harsh panting. Voices. There were voices. They were saying something about a doctor. He whipped around to see three of the four people who had been on the other side of the mirror. He looked back and again, saw his empty office.
"It's okay," Daniel didn't think anyone could hear him. He turned back around, cleared his throat and tried again, "You're safe. I'm... I'm not a carrier." Daniel tried to find a reassuring smile to give these people, but suspected he'd failed miserably.
More voices, but they weren't registering as more than noise. All his attention was focused on the woman. Daniel couldn't believe it, couldn't stop staring at her. She was the first woman he'd seen in over a decade. She smiled gently and offered her hand. "Hi, I'm Major Samantha Carter."
Introductions. He could handle introductions. This was something he could do on automatic, which was about all he could handle at the moment. Taking the smaller, seemingly delicate hand in his, Daniel responded, "Daniel Jackson, Earl of Cascadia, Heir to the House of Jackson, at your service, Major." He couldn't resist. He'd always thought it terribly old-fashioned and frankly presumptuous in the past, but he gently lifted her hand and brought his lips down to faintly kiss her knuckles. He grinned and gave her hand a squeeze before releasing it. "I can't believe it! You found a cure!"
"Cure?" Daniel turned to the man who'd spoken and got his second shock of the past few minutes.
"Jonathan?" Daniel blinked rapidly. This was getting stranger by the moment. "You're gray!"
"Tell me about it. Not a single gray hair before I met you. The you that's here, that is, not you... you." The man who looked so much like his husband seemed to mentally review what he'd said as if to make sure it made sense. He nodded to himself then and looked satisfied. Daniel couldn't help but smile at the familiar actions.
"Would it surprise you to know that I understood that, um, I think?" For a moment, Daniel wished Jonathan could be here with him, but he knew he'd never risk him like that. He shouldn't be risking himself. He couldn't believe he'd touched the mirror knowing about the warning. His father had always nagged at him about his impetuousness. He told him time and again that one day it would get him into serious trouble. It galled Daniel that he appeared to have been right.
"Not a bit." The gray haired man rocked back on his heels, arms resting comfortably on the weapon suspended from a strap around his neck. "Our Daniel generally understands me, so why shouldn't other Daniels?"
"Indeed, O'Neill, many times it has required Daniel Jackson's great intellect to comprehend your comments." Daniel turned to look at the man who spoke. His stomach knotted in fear. God no! This can't be!
"J-Jaffa! You're Jaffa!" He whirled around and started to panic when he realized the Jaffa was now between him and his only way home. "But that isn't Niriti's symbol!" In all his imaginings about the nature of the mirror it never once occurred to him that other places might still have Goa'uld in control. He cursed himself for his shortsightedness. "Whoever you serve, I won't let you touch my world!" Daniel shouted and as the words came out of his mouth he knew how ludicrous it sounded. There was no way he could stop these people if they wanted to harm them. But he couldn't bear the thought of being the one to bring more pain to his home. "Haven't you barbarians done enough?"
"Hey, who you callin' barbarians? T, come away from there, you're looming again." O'Neill gestured for the Jaffa to move away from Daniel and the mirror. "There you go. If you really think we're Goa'uld take off. Wouldn't want you to feel like you're wearing out your welcome." There was a hard note in O'Neill's voice, one he rarely ever heard from his Jonathan.
"Sir!" The woman, no, Major Carter, looked upset for him. He had almost no personal experience of the Goa'uld and their servants, but he couldn't believe any of them would give a damn about a single human.
"No, no, Carter, if he thinks we're snakes he's probably better off just going home and we'll try the next universe in line. Maybe that Daniel Jackson will be more polite." O'Neill drummed his fingers on his weapon. "Besides, I'm still waiting to hear about this cure he was talking about earlier. Sounded like something we might possibly be interested in."
"Cure to what, Colonel?" A small, dark haired woman entered the room accompanied by... himself.
"That's what I wanted to know, Doc." Daniel pushed past O'Neill to approach the newcomers. "Oh, here we go again. Watch it Doc, he kissed Carter's hand."
"You did?" his doppelganger asked in a surprised voice.
"It was reflex." Daniel answered slowly. "You're... me." He felt light headed as he reached out his hand to touch the other man's shoulder.
"Oh. Yeah. I guess you haven't done this very often." The newcomer smiled in a friendly manner and held out his hand, "Doctor Daniel Jackson. You're the first, um, me I've met."
He nodded feeling like he was moving through a dream as he slowly dropped the hand he'd reached out with and grasped the one offered, watching as they met. Daniel tried to speak, but the name and titles that had been drilled into his memory from early childhood fled. The myriad shocks of the past few minutes finally caught up with him and everything went black.
Voices. He could hear voices, but for some reason he was reluctant to wake up. Very weird dreams last night. The drugs did that to him sometimes. But now he felt warm, and comfortable like he was wrapped in cotton. Finally one voice broke through the haze. "Daniel, not now!"
"Jonathan?" Daniel tried to force his eyes open. "Izit time?" If Jonathan needed him, he needed to wake up. He forced his eyes open only to shut them against the bright lights shining down on him. That wasn't his bedroom ceiling.
"Sir? Can you wake up for me?" A woman's soft voice in his ear and he suddenly knew where he was. His eyes flew open again and he came face to face with the dark haired woman he'd seen earlier.
"It wasn't a dream, was it." He looked at the faces gathered around his bed. Only the Jaffa was missing. "You're not Goa'uld?"
"No, we're not." The woman, the doctor, he supposed, helped him sit up. "Take it easy, you've had a shock and I'd hate for you to pass out in my infirmary."
"Is that what happened?" He took the glass of water she offered and drank, more to have something to do than because he was thirsty. "Thank you... I don't believe I heard your name, Madam." When in doubt, formal was best or so his nanny had always taught him.
"He's gonna be a hard act to follow, Daniel." Major Carter bumped the other Daniel's shoulder and grinned at him.
"Carter, quit harassing Daniel. Did he harass you over Dr. Carter?" O'Neill's voice sounded so much like Jonathan's at that moment, Daniel thought he might cry. He was suddenly homesick.
"Ignore them, sir, it's usually for the best. And my name is Doctor Janet Fraiser, it's a pleasure to meet you." She took the glass from him, "Yes, you were shaking hands with... with our Daniel and just passed out. From what I've been told you'd had a few surprises thrown at you over a short period of time." While she spoke, she'd pulled a small flashlight out of her pocket. "I'd like to take a quick look at you and make sure you're all right, will that be okay with you?" She looked at the others around his bed. "Would you prefer some privacy?"
He realized he didn't want O'Neill to leave. It was silly. That wasn't his O'Neill, his Jonathan, but he had the same brown eyes and they carried familiar warmth when he looked at the Daniel from this place. "No!" He realized he'd spoken too sharply. "I'm sorry, I think I'm still a little on edge. It's okay, they don't have to go." A thought occurred to him. "Unless... well," he ducked his head and felt himself starting to blush.
"Oh! No, it's not that kind of exam." The doctor smiled in sympathy. "I just want to check your pupils, take your blood pressure again now that you're awake, that sort of thing."
"Oh." Daniel looked up at her over the top of his glasses. "In that case, please continue."
"I'd also like to get a sample of your blood." With quick, efficient movements, she shined a light in each of his eyes. "It's routine for..."
"Doc! I don't think our guest needs to hear all that." O'Neill smiled at the doctor, but his eyes were still hard.
The look reminded Daniel of how Jonathan used to smile at his father, especially when Daniel had been the subject of the old man's latest tirade. Protective. He's afraid I'm a threat. Suddenly things didn't seem quite so outlandish. O'Neill wasn't Jonathan, but he was a Jonathan O'Neill and Daniel couldn't find it in himself not to trust the man. "I don't mind, giving you a blood sample, Doctor." He smiled at them all. But there was still the matter of the Jaffa. His smile faded. "But I'm confused."
"Happens to me all the time." He had to give him credit. O'Neill seemed to be trying to at least pretend to be friendly.
"Jack." Daniel wondered if he looked like that when he spoke to Jonathan in that tone.
"Daniel." He had to duck his head to hide his grin. Jonathan definitely looked like that when he used that tone.
"What are you confused about..." the doctor hesitated. "I'm not quite sure what to call you."
For all that this was obviously a military facility, there seemed to be a distinct lack of formality. "My formal title would be Lord Cascadia," Daniel caught the looks exchanged between the people around him. "But I think that's a little much under the circumstances."
"So, Mister Jackson?" The insulting term sounded very odd coming from O'Neill. He must have seen Daniel's wince, "Not Mister Jackson."
"I'm sorry, no. That, um, that isn't considered very polite where I'm from." 'Mister' inevitably led to 'Mistress' for the bearing men in a relationship. Polite usage of both ended almost overnight a decade ago.
"Lord Daniel!" O'Neill looked very pleased with himself. Daniel's counterpart scowled at the older man and Daniel's homesickness raised another notch.
"Jack, I don't think that's an appropriate form for an earl." The other Daniel seemed embarrassed for him.
"No, really, it's, um, it's fine." He pushed his glasses up onto his nose. "And it'll make it easier since there's, well, two of us." He raised one finger to get their attention, "But, please, when there's no question of confusion, just, just call me Daniel." The echoes of a few childhood taunts were much easier to deal with than the alternative.
"Daniel it is." Doctor Frasier smiled at him and began taking his blood pressure. For just a moment it was as if the past ten years had never been. Not that he would give up his husbands for anything. He'd come to love Ian and Jose almost as much as his beloved Jonathan, but he missed the company of women. Missed their friendship. Their perspective. Their lovely voices. Boys' choirs were very popular at home and he now realized why. He used to think it was nothing more than the joy of hearing children where they'd thought there'd never be any. Now he knew with sudden clarity that it was because it was the only way to hear those light clear tones they all missed. He wondered if O'Neill liked opera.
"There, you seem to be no worse for your adventure this morning." The doctor smiled and gestured to another woman, a nurse, who brought her a tray. "Just let me get this blood sample and then we're through here."
"At which time, we'll all go down and have a conversation with General Hammond." It was easier if he didn't look at O'Neill. He looked so different, but he sounded the same.
"Look, um, Lord, I mean, Daniel," Daniel looked at Doctor Jackson, "there's something we should probably explain before we go." Doctor Jackson looked irritated at O'Neill, but his face cleared when he looked back. "About Teal'c."
"Teal'c?" He was stumped. He didn't remember anyone named... T, come away from there, you're looming again. He was glad the doctor had already taken his blood pressure because he knew it just shot through the roof. "Oh. Right. Yes, about, um, him."
"It's okay, he's not what you think." It was weird to see his face trying to reassure him. "He's with us fighting against the Goa'uld."
"Strange, isn't it?" Major Carter sat down next to him. "I met one of my other selves once." She smiled and Daniel couldn't help but smile back. "I didn't like her much at first, but she kinda grew on me. Give us a chance to show you we're not your enemies."
In a world where women still lived, Jonathan O'Neill was gray and his titles seemed strange, he could begin to believe in turncoat Jaffa. "I think I'm beginning to believe it, but,"
"Here we go." Yes, not looking directly at O'Neill was easiest.
"I still have a million questions."
"Oh, he's so you, Daniel."
"They began testing the oldest men first." Daniel sat across the briefing room table from his counterpart and listened with growing amazement. He'd stopped all pretense of note taking, just absorbing the man's fantastic tale. He suspected Jack was still skeptical, but that was Jack. Daniel found himself reading between the lines; hearing what wasn't being said. The other Daniel had told his world's story but left out his personal feelings. Daniel heard them anyway. He saw the lines that were missing on his own face. The scattering of gray missing from his own head. He felt the rage simmering under the world-weary surface. This man was on the edge. Through most of his story of Niriti's abortive invasion, the devastating plague, her mysterious death and her army's subsequent desertion, his voice had been nearly flat. Only when he mentioned Niriti herself had he spoken with emotion. Daniel, and he suspected everyone else in the room, recognized the hatred in his tone. They'd heard it whenever Daniel spoke of Apophis.
"Why the oldest first?" Janet Frasier looked up from her notes. She'd been scribbling madly trying to get every detail their visitor could give her.
"The theory was that with this procedure, men would be able to bear children longer than a woman would since ageing eggs wouldn't be an issue. Even so, the stress could be too much." Lord Daniel rubbed his eyes in a familiar gesture. "It was thought that the sooner the older men could begin bearing, the better," he paused and looked at General Hammond who was as rapt as the others. "And if the initial procedures didn't work." He stopped and looked down at his hands.
"It was no great loss if the old guys died, right?" Jack's irreverent comment cut through the silence.
"Colonel!" The general barked at his subordinate.
"Jack!" Daniel snapped at the same moment.
"No, it's alright. He's, um, well, he's right." Lord Daniel shrugged and nodded at Jack. "You have to remember, we were dying as a species." He sounded exhausted. Lord Daniel had been speaking in fairly general terms. Daniel knew there was a great deal about the personal cost they weren't hearing. The actual act of conception had been ignored completely. Janet had tactfully not requested any clarification, though Daniel figured she'd ask later. Hopefully, in private. "This was the only chance we had. Men volunteered by the thousands for the testing. Soon, when so few were found compatible with the procedure, the testing became required." He rubbed his eyes again and stared at his hands where they now lay clinched together on the table. "There were mass suicides across the world once we realized the women had been targeted. Whole cultures have died out rather than submit to... the change. Everything we were... Everything..." He slammed his fists down on the table and stood glaring at everyone, everyone except Jack. "You have no right to judge us! You sit here in your perfect world and you can't begin to imagine what we've gone through!" He whirled and strode the closed blast window, turning his back on everyone hands clinching and relaxing at his side.
"You're right." Daniel stood as he spoke and approached his other self. "We can't know and we're not judging you." He graced Jack with the glare he'd been spared earlier. "I know it can't compare to what you've gone through, but this is difficult for us to hear."
"Try living it!" Daniel cautiously placed his hand on the other man's tense shoulder.
"How can we help?" He ignored Jack's sigh and concentrated on the man next to him.
"Help?" Lord Daniel's voice sounded defeated and the rage fled leaving an almost palpable aura of pain behind. "Do you have any children, Daniel?" Haunted eyes bore into his.
"No," Daniel swallowed his own pain, "My wife died before we had the chance." His counterpart nodded and looked down at the floor.
"My sorrow for your grief." Daniel bit his tongue to keep from asking the origin of the apparently ritual phrase. This wasn't the time. "My consorts have given me seven living sons in the past six years." Even through the pain and sorrow, there was pride and love as he spoke of his family. "We have buried," the arms that had been held tight to his sides, folded themselves around his midsection as he spoke softly, "three sons and two beautiful, perfect daughters." A quick, sad smile graced his face. "We're luckier than some."
"My sorrow for your grief." Daniel repeated the phrase slowly, hoping it was appropriate, given that the other Daniel's society was apparently more formal than his own. His other self seemed willing to accommodate their ignorance, so he hoped his sincerity overrode any unintentional insult.
With another small smile he looked back up at Daniel, tears shining in his eyes. "You're dying to ask about that, aren't you." His voice was quiet, for Daniel's ears only. Daniel nodded; embarrassed that he was that transparent but not really surprised that the other man picked up on his unfamiliarity with the phrase. They'd spoken together before the briefing and found, unsurprisingly, that they shared many of the same interests and had had some similar experiences. Daniel was still working through the fact that the other man's father was still alive and that his mother had lived until the plague. That was far stranger to him than the idea of most of North America being part of the United Kingdom. "Thank you." Lord Daniel took a deep breath and spoke normally. "The plague is still active. It's still killing our daughters, and probably destroying the fertility of most of our sons. Our solution is far from perfect, but it's the only one we've got." He turned back to the others in the room, "Can you help us?"
"Lord Daniel," Daniel recognized the regret in General Hammond's voice. This was going to be an uphill battle. "While we sympathize with your world's plight, I don't know what we can do. We can't risk exposing our world to Niriti's plague."
Other voices drown out his own. Jack surprised Daniel by being the one who spoke the loudest. "General, surely there's something we can do without exposing our people." Daniel wasn't sure what was going on in Jack's head right then. There was a tightness around his eyes that told of stress. His normal restlessness during briefings had stilled as Lord Daniel's tale progressed. Daniel suddenly wondered who the 'Jonathan' he mentioned earlier was to their visitor. He had a feeling Jack didn't want to know.
"Sir." Janet spoke up. "If I may?" At her commanding officer's nod, she turned to their guest. "You said that almost all of your world's resources were devoted to reproduction and basic survival."
Lord Daniel nodded and replied, "Most of our industrial base crashed in the first year. We've limped along but it hasn't been easy. Biosciences receive the lion's share of our scientific resources. Every birth, every, um, miscarriage requires medical intervention. There is no more 'natural' childbirth. Add to that the injunctions against risking any man capable of reproducing." He sighed heavily. "Only sterile men, for example, are allowed to pursue some occupations or travel great distances. The only exception are men who have to travel to conceive or certain men who are the only specialists left in their fields."
"Sir, it may be that we can do something, even if it's only going over their data and offering suggestions based on our knowledge of the Goa'uld and on Niriti's methods." Thank you, Janet.
"Sir," Sam spoke before the General could respond to Janet's suggestion, "we could also supply them with research equipment, or medicines they no longer have the resources to manufacture." She smiled hopefully at Lord Daniel. "Do you think that would be of use?"
An SF at the briefing room door interrupted. "General? I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's someone," he glanced nervously at Jack and swallowed, "Someone else came through the mirror and he's demanding to see someone named Lord Cascadia." The sound of an argument drifted in from the corridor.
"Take your hands off me! I'll go where I damn well please!" Daniel glanced quickly at Jack who looked back at him. They both recognized that voice. Their first visitor was halfway to the door when their second visitor shoved past the SF. "Daniel! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Jonathan? What am I doing? What the hell do you think you're doing?" The two men embraced quickly. "Why are you here?" Lord Daniel led the newcomer, the heavily pregnant newcomer, to his chair and urged him to sit.
"I was looking for you!" He eased down into the chair, apparently oblivious to the shocked stares aimed at him from around the room. "Ian went to look for you and found that damned contraption uncovered. He's having hysterics, Jose's pissed as hell and if your father finds out, he'll have your head." Jonathan took a moment from his tirade to catch his breath and look around. Daniel met his eyes. "Damn! You were right, Daniel! He's you!" He looked back at Lord Daniel and then back to Daniel as if comparing the two. Finally he noticed Jack. "Shit! What happened to you? You're gray!"
Daniel found himself openly staring at Jonathan. Their relationship was suddenly all too clear, yet that paled in comparison to the man's condition. The alternate universe's plight had been little more than an intellectual puzzle, until now. They'd had little time to fully absorb the fantastic situation faced by the other Earth. They were now faced with direct evidence of what they'd been told which made it much more real and frankly shocking. It was orders of magnitude weirder than alternate Sam being a civilian. Daniel got a sudden image of Sam giving a Power Point presentation on the probabilities of various occupations and circumstances of 'their' lives in alternate universes. Complete with formulas and graphs. He choked down an almost hysterical giggle. After all the things he'd experienced since standing on the sidewalk in the rain after his disastrous last lecture he'd figured he was beyond this kind of shock. Never say never, he thought ruefully to himself. But if his reaction was this strong, what must Jack be going through.
Jack was still standing stiffly where he'd risen from his chair at the commotion. His face was closed and tight, reminding Daniel of the moments before battle and he felt himself respond in kind. A quick glance at Sam told him she'd noticed and reacted as well. They were so attuned to each other Daniel had to force himself to relax. He knew that if Teal'c were here he'd be on alert as well, something that would likely have terrified their visitors. Once he'd decided Lord Daniel was no threat to them, Teal'c had offered to excuse himself since his presence was still disturbing to the man. Jack had argued with him, but Daniel persuaded the general that he was right and their visitor would be more forthcoming without a constant reminder of the Goa'uld in the room.
"Jonathan!" Lord Daniel chided the other man then addressed the others, "Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce my First Consort, Jonathan O'Neill of the House of Jackson." He, in turn, introduced everyone to his consort before adding, "These people may be able to help us." He took the pregnant man's hand and lowered his voice, "Please, try not to insult them." He paused then added, "Pretend it's a council meeting."
Jonathan's whispered "Are you nuts?" barely reached Daniel's ears and he was sitting closest to him. Perhaps no one else heard. He wondered what it would be like if Jack was on any kind of governing council but decided he didn't need the resulting headache.
Jonathan looked away from where he'd been staring at Jack and rubbed his rounded belly. "The title thing is a mouthful. Just call me Jonathan." Turning to Lord Daniel he asked "I don't suppose I can blame it on hormones?" He rolled his eyes at his companion's slight scowl and looked back at Jack. "Um... look, I'm sorry, it was just a bit of a shock, y'know?"
Jack seemed to shake himself out of his immobility. "You're shocked?" He sat back down, his eyes never leaving his alternate self. "That looks... painful," he added with more sympathy than Daniel would have thought him capable of at the moment.
"I'm just sayin'." He had the good grace to look a little sheepish. Daniel tried to curb his irritation. As strange as he was feeling about all this, he really couldn't imagine how Jack was feeling. He suspected he'd get an earful eventually, but doubted he'd ever hear the most important parts.
"It's okay," Jonathan told Daniel. Then he shrugged and turned back to Jack. "It has its moments. It's the backaches, y'know? They're the worst." Daniel couldn't help smiling. He sounded like Jack complaining about his knees.
"Sir," Janet spoke, pulling their attention from the two O'Neills, "if it wouldn't be an imposition, I'd like the chance to exam you before you return to your universe." She glanced around the table, "This," indicating Jonathan's pregnancy with a gesture, "is an amazing opportunity to learn..."
"Opportunity!" Jonathan's voice thundered through the room.
"Jonathan, please calm down." Jonathan shrugged off Lord Daniel's efforts to calm him.
"Damnit, Daniel, aren't you hearing this? It was bad enough before! I certainly didn't expect to have to go through this crap all over again!" He turned his attention back to the others in the room. "What do you think I am, some sort of experiment? A research project? What is wrong with you people?" He turned back to his companion. "I thought you said they wanted to help. I won't be poked and prodded like some kind of brood mare!"
"We don't think that at all." Daniel said hurriedly. He hoped he could diffuse this before it got even more out of hand. Janet's request had hit a nerve. It didn't take an anthropologist to recognize the venom behind the words "brood mare". Daniel bit down on the urge to ask about it. So many questions, so little time for answers. "We think you're a courageous man who's gone to extraordinary lengths to save his people." Janet looked embarrassed. "Remember, we know you, um," he tried to banish the memory of Jack playing with his yo-yo in the control room yesterday. "A version of you anyway," he added dryly and waved a hand toward Jack.
Jonathan seemed to settle a little. He wasn't completely at ease, though, as he glared and pointed at Janet. "I still don't want her anywhere near me!"
"Love," Lord Daniel's voice was calm as he focused on the distraught man at his side. "No one's going to do anything you don't want. No one's going to hurt you and if anyone tried, they'd have to go through me." Daniel couldn't help but glance at Jack to see his reaction to the endearment. Jack's eyes met his and Daniel shook his head minutely and narrowed his eyes in warning. Jack's slight shrug indicated his acquiescence and Daniel relaxed a little.
"Sir," Janet took a deep breath before continuing, "I apologize if I insulted you. It wasn't my intention."
General Hammond cleared his throat and got everyone's attention. He smiled his most diplomatic smile, "This is obviously an awkward situation for us all. Perhaps this would be a good time for a break. We still have more than twenty-four hours before you have to return to your own universe." The general's timing was excellent, as usual. "Gentlemen," he addressed Lord Daniel and Jonathan who looked confused at the time limit mentioned, "a V.I.P. suite has been prepared for you. Doctor Jackson, would you escort our guests and arrange for whatever they require?"
"Of course, General." Daniel stood and waited halfway to the door for Lord Daniel to help Jonathan awkwardly rise from his chair. The wheels seemed to make it more difficult. With an audible groan he was finally on his feet and Daniel gestured to the doorway, "If you'll just come with me, gentlemen."
Daniel mostly stayed out of the conversation between the two men as they made their way to the guest quarters level. Lord Daniel filled Jonathan in on what he'd learned and Daniel added clarification when requested. Jonathan kept sneaking glances at him and shaking his head. They'd yet to tell their visitors about the gate, an omission Daniel felt was close to criminal. Security was one thing, but he thought this was taking it too far. He'd try again as soon as he could get back to the General, but for now, he'd take the opportunity to learn what he could. If gathering information from their guests meant delaying the inevitable conversation with Jack, it wasn't his fault. He'd be just as happy to never have that particular conversation. He had a sinking feeling that it wouldn't end well. Where was an alien invasion when you needed one.
Given me seven living sons in the past six years. Jack hit the heavy bag again. Buried three sons and two beautiful, perfect daughters. His gloved fist slammed into it again. Seven living sons. Another bone jarring thud into the bag. Buried three sons. Another hit followed by another and another. A single gunshot echoed through his memory. Sweat poured down his face and Jack felt the blackness encroaching. He'd stared into that pit before and it had nearly swallowed him. He'd once told Daniel that he could sometimes forget. What he hadn't told him was that sometimes he couldn't help but remember. He pounded into the bag and locked away each image as it rose in his mind.
Seven laughing children.
Five tiny coffins.
Blood-matted blond hair.
One small coffin.
He locked them away and he would keep locking them away until they stopped haunting him. Each mental turn of the key matched a fist slammed into the bag.
Jack stood in front of his locker, a clean wet towel still in his hands, and realized he couldn't remember how he got there. Gotta love autopilot, He thought as he started to dress. He'd been pretty pleased with how well he'd handled the briefing, earlier. He'd managed to shut down his initial emotional reaction to his counterpart, but then it had been over and he'd been alone with no one but himself and his ghosts to play to. Lying to himself was one thing, but his ghosts knew better. Jack hated spending time inside his own head. Too many landmines. Too many bricked up doorways. Damn! For the millionth time he wondered how Daniel could stand it. He certainly had enough of ghosts of his own. Maybe that's what drove him to cram so much useless information in his head. Easier to ignore the walled off spaces if there was enough other junk to hide them. Ok, so Jack thought it was junk. Unless he needed it in the field. And what did that say about his life that the kind of crap Daniel liked could mean the difference between life and death in the field.
Daniel. Jack slammed his locker shut and sat down to put on his boots. He just knew they were going to have a talk about this. Jack decided he'd rather gnaw off his own arm. What was it T said that time? "Ours is the only universe of consequence." Damn right it is! He didn't need anyone else around to tell him he was lying to himself. It didn't matter. He had things to do, pie to eat. The click of the locker room door as it closed behind him locked the last of the ghosts back in their bricked up tombs.
Jack sat in the commissary and took another bite of pie. Coconut cream wasn't his favorite, but the apple had looked like that crap they'd been served a couple of missions ago. Even Teal'c got sick enough to mutter about the inequities of fate robbing him of his symbiote. The less said about Carter's and Daniel's comments, the better. Not one of their more enjoyable missions. Jack had the place almost to himself, which suited him. A couple of Daniel's geeks were arguing over something or other at a table across the room but that was it. They appeared to be so focused on their argument they probably wouldn't notice an invasion. He needed the time to settle back into his skin. Their visitors would be leaving in a few hours and, if he was lucky, he could avoid any more contact with them. This hopping from universe to universe was unsettling. It upset the natural order of things. It was just plain wrong. He dismissed the little voice in his head whispering to him that what he did for a living pretty much fell into the same category. Gate travel, he could handle. That was just technology. At least, androids not withstanding, he didn't have to worry about meeting up with different hims. Especially versions of him that made Jack question some very basic truths about who he was. He took another bite and studied the pattern of the meringue on the last few bites of pie as if he could find inner peace there.
"Sir?" Jack looked up, surprised to find an airman standing near his table. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't noticed him come in.
"What is it, Anderson?" Maybe he was being sent to Washington or the Tok'ra had come to call. Either would get him out of having to deal with Lord Daniel and... him.
"Sir, the general would like to see you in his office A.S.A.P." The kid looked nervous. Jacked figured most of the base had heard about their visitors. He stifled a sigh. The next few weeks were so not going to be fun. But, eventually, something else impossible would happen and the pregnant Jonathan O'Neill would be shoved out of mind by SG9 turning into werewolves or something.
"I'll be right there, Anderson." The kid hesitated and Jack wondered if he'd been supposed to escort him. "Dismissed." Anderson turned and all but ran out of the commissary. Jack shook his head and drained his coffee cup. If Kowalsky were still around, he just knew there'd be pictured of Jonathan posted at strategic places around the base and a surprise "baby" shower for Jack. He did sigh then, still missing his friend after all these years. Setting his empty cup on the table, he stood and headed for the general's office. No one was close enough to hear his murmured "Absent friends."
Jack knocked on the general's door and was immediately invited to enter. "You wanted to see me, General?"
"Yes, Colonel, have a seat." Jack sat in front of the general's desk hoping this had nothing to do with the men in the V.I.P. suite but certain he couldn't be that lucky.
General Hammond eased back in his chair, "How are our guests doing?"
"Don't know. Don't care." George Hammond had spoiled him. His brief, but not nearly brief enough, stint under General Bauer had made that abundantly clear. Hammond allowed, even actively encouraged his subordinates to be people and not just subordinates. It was probably one of the most important factors in the success of the SGC. All these incredible people facing all sorts of outlandish situations needed someone like Hammond who could step back and let them do what they do best. The Bauers of the world only knew how to give orders, never when not to or when to just sit and listen.
"Colonel," He paused, "Jack, I know this must be quite difficult for you," That was George speaking, not the general. Another point in George's favor.
"No, sir, I don't think you do." Jack had to move. He did not want to have this conversation. It was bad enough that he knew he'd be having a version of it with Daniel, but to have it with his C.O.? Even a C.O. as understanding as this one? He got up, shoved his hands in his pockets and started wandering around the office. Jack stopped in front of the window looking out on the empty briefing room before turning back to the man behind the desk. "General, I'd like to request a few days of leave." He wasn't sure who was more surprised by that, the general or himself. For a man who could withstand torture without revealing anything, his mouth had a terrible habit of going off without any assistance from his brain.
"I think that can be arranged, Jack." George looked at him with a benevolent smile and Jack couldn't believe his luck. "After we've dealt with the current situation."
Jack found his boots extremely interesting for a few moments. "Can't fault a guy for trying."
George chuckled. "Jack, if I faulted you for being trying, you'd probably be a Lieutenant in Antarctica right now."
"Good one, sir." Jack's sick smile apparently provided further amusement for the other man. "So, what fun and games do you have lined up for me? Scrabble? Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Suicide mission?" Jack continued to wander around the office.
"Nothing you'd enjoy that much, I'm afraid." The humor in George's voice faded and the general returned. "Have a seat Colonel. You're giving me whiplash."
"Yes, sir." Jack dropped ungracefully into his chair to hear his fate feeling his ghosts scratching at the doors to their prisons.
Jack got off the elevator with every intention of delivering his message and leaving the dirty work to Daniel. Daniel wouldn't mind. Wouldn't even see it as dirty work. Besides, he was good at it. Jack would be calm and relaxed if it killed him. The general had impressed upon him that this was still a diplomatic situation when he turned down Jack's request for a zat. Jack had thought it a reasonable request. He certainly felt like he was going into battle. A zat seemed like a much more diplomatic choice than his P-90. He nodded with an absent "As you were," to the SF guarding the door and then knocked. A familiar voice bade him enter. He made a quick bet with himself as to which one it was as he opened the door. The Daniels were seated at the small table, a legal pad, a laptop and two coffee cups between them. "Hey, Daniel. Daniels" He gave them both his best 'don't mind me, I'm harmless' smile.
Lord Daniel returned a smile of his own. His Daniel scowled and looked suspicious. "Jack? Did you need something?"
"No, no, well yes, but I also thought I'd check on our guests." The bed was rumpled, but no one else was in the room. Before he could ask, the bathroom door opened and Jonathan came back into the room.
"That's, um, nice, Jack." Jack beamed at his wary teammate.
"Jack, isn't it?" Jonathan stood between the bathroom and the bed with his hands resting on his protruding belly.
"Yes. Yes it is. Or Colonel. Jack's fine. Jonathan, right?" Jack was babbling and he knew it, the pregnant man just nodded and rubbed one hand idly where it lay reminding Jack uncomfortably of his ex-wife. For the life of him, Jack couldn't figure out why the general thought this was a good idea. What do you say to your pregnant self from an alternate universe? He took a moment to really look at the other man. While his hair wasn't nearly as gray as Jack's, there were more lines on his face. He looked exhausted. Under the loose fitting pants and shirt he was generally heavier than Jack, pregnancy aside. Lord Daniel hadn't said how many children this man had borne, but it was a sure bet this wasn't his first. He'd been trying not to think about the relationship between the two men. It brought up too many things about himself that he really didn't want to think about. Things he'd thought he'd dealt with a very long time ago. He suddenly needed to know if they'd been together before Niriti. He just wasn't sure he'd like the answer. No matter what it was.
"Daniel taking good care of you?" He quickly reviewed what he'd just said. The amused smiles coming his way told him everything he needed to know. "I mean, our Daniel."
"I'm glad I'm not the only one getting confused here." Jonathan eyed the bed with obvious distaste and headed to a chair at the table, instead.
"Yes, Colonel, Daniel has taken excellent care of us." Lord Daniel rose from his chair as he spoke and stood behind the now seated Jonathan. With one hand on his consort's shoulder he continued, "Please extend our thanks to General Hammond. It was gracious of him to allow us the time to speak and a place for Jonathan to rest"
"That's the general for you. Gracious to the end." Jack stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
"Jack, if there's nothing else, we really do have a lot more ground to cover." Daniel tapped the pad in front of him with his pen.
"Learn anything interesting?" Jack wandered closer to the men, all now sitting at the table, looking around the room before standing behind Daniel so he could look over his shoulder and try to read the pad sitting in front of him. "What language is that?"
Daniel sighed and tossed his pen down and looked up at his friend over the top of his glasses. "It's English, Jack. I'm sure you've heard of it."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny." He looked at the pad again, but still couldn't make out anything on it. "Your handwriting's terrible. It's starting to look like all those other chicken scratches you like." Jack knew a delaying tactic when he saw one, even if he was employing it against himself. His emotions were all over the place and the familiar teasing with Daniel gave him an anchor. When he'd found himself at the door to this room, he'd thought he knew why he was there. Now, he wondered if maybe he'd given in too quickly. He could have fought harder. Could have tried to talk the general into doing this himself. Maybe some part of him wanted to be here. Of all the dumbass ideas you've ever had, Jack, that one takes the cake. He chastised himself silently. He had to do his job and get the hell outta Dodge.
Jonathan reached over and pulled the pad toward him so he could see it. "Damn, Daniel, his handwriting is as bad as yours." He glanced up at Jack and gave him a fleeting smirk before turning an oh, so innocent face to his Daniel.
"I thought you didn't like sleeping alone?" Lord Daniel's mild voice carried the same innocent tones Jack was used to, which made the content that much weirder.
Jack glanced at what he could see of Daniel's face to see his reaction to their guests. Daniel had picked up his pen again, but his face was unreadable. This is weirding him out as much as it is me. Yep, looked like they had a talk coming up, if they wanted it or not. He would have managed to ignore it, if it had only been him, but he wouldn't, couldn't hang his friend out to dry. He'd done that before and hadn't liked the result. Hadn't liked what it said about Jack O'Neill. Hadn't liked what it had done to Daniel, if he was completely honest with himself.
Lord Daniel took his consort's hand and raised it to his lips as if in apology for his tease. The action looked nothing like the kiss he'd bestowed on Carter and the Doc. This spoke of intimacy and, if Jack were completely honest with himself, love. The two men smiled at each other unaware of the frank stares from the other two men in the room.
Daniel cleared his throat and turned toward Jack. "So, Jack. You said you had something you needed?"
"Ah, yes." He had the others' attention now. "The general asked me to let you know that the President has given permission for us to fill the guys in," he smiled and nodded at their guests, "on what we do here."
"The who?" Jonathan looked confused. Jack figured he was the only one who heard Daniel's mutter. It sounded something like "it's about time".
Still holding his consort's hand, Lord Daniel answered him, "Sort of like a Prime Minister but without a monarch."
"Without a monarch? How can you have a Prime Minister without a monarch? That's nuts!" Jack was taken aback by Jonathan's response. The full implications of Daniel's counterpart being a nobleman, or whatever, hadn't really sunk in.
"We don't have a Prime Minister, we have a President. A little matter of winning a war. Does 1776 mean nothing to you?" He looked at the two blank faces before him.
"Jack," Daniel had his 'I'm going to be patient with you until you go away' face on. "In their universe, the American revolution never happened."
"How do you know that?" Jonathan turned to Lord Daniel. "How does he know that?"
"Calm down, Jonathan. We talked about this earlier," he explained and nodded at the rumpled bed. "While you were napping." Jonathan scowled.
"How could it not happen?" Jack might be a man of the universe, but there was something fundamentally unsettling to him to think that the country he'd devoted his life to didn't exist somewhere.
Daniel spoke up, "It's actually very interesting." Any irritation Daniel had felt over Jack's interruption was gone as he jumped up and started to pace rapidly, hands waving as he spoke. It was replaced by his almost pathological need to share every boring detail with Jack. At top speed. The thought made Jack smile. Some things never changed. "See, in their universe, George the Third died in an accident around 1765. That meant George the Fourth became king in his own right decades before he did here. Granted, he was only a child, but without the madness that marked his father's reign during those decades, the policies that sparked the revolution were never put into place and the United States was never came into being." He stopped and faced Jack, eyes bright with excitement. "Jack, you see what this means, don't you?" Daniel always asked him that and Jack almost always needed him to explain it. He should feel honored that his brilliant friend thought him capable of keeping up with what was going on in his mind, but generally it just gave him a headache.
"Um... no." Jack shrugged. "Sorry, Daniel, I'm not seein' it."
"It means I was right!" Ok, that little jump was going on Jack's tape. At this rate, he wouldn't have to buy the pizza for a month. On the other hand, if he ditched the bet idea and went straight to blackmail, he might get six months out of it.
"About?" Jack gave him a 'keep going' gesture.
"The mirror, Jack!" Daniel cocked his head to one side and lowered his voice as if talking to himself. Jack had always been fascinated by how the man actually talked in footnotes. He'd never known anyone else who did that. "Well, actually the controller, but that doesn't matter." Apparently back on the main text, he continued, "What does matter is that this helps prove that the farther we go along the controller, the more distant the point of divergence that caused the universes to separate!"
"Ah." He nodded. "Fascinating, Daniel. As always." Jack ignored the scowl. He'd delivered his message, now it was time to make his exit and start putting this whole mess behind him. "So, I'll be off. Daniel?"
"I'm sure you can explain things to these good people." Jack edged his way back to the doorway.
"W-Wha? Jack? Don't you think," Jack was a little surprised by the almost panicked expression on Daniel's face.
"No, thinking's your department. Yours and Carter's." Jack had his hand on the doorknob.
"Jack." He knew that tone. Daniel was not a happy camper.
"Daniel" Jack wasn't a happy camper either, nor was he in the mood to be pushed.
Daniel turned to address the others, "Would you please excuse us for a moment, I need," he scowled at Jack, "a word with Jack." A gracious nod from his counterpart had him hustling Jack out into the corridor.
"Jack! Where do you think you're going?" Daniel kept his voice low, but Jack knew that whisper. He'd be yelling if he weren't concerned with being overheard by the men in the V.I.P. room.
"Anywhere but here, Daniel. I can't," he glanced at the S.F. on guard duty and grabbed Daniel by the arm and dragged him down the corridor and into the first room he came to. Shutting the door to the storeroom he flipped on the lights and continued, "I can't be in there, Daniel. I just can't." He realized he was still clutching the other man's arm and released it, shoving his hands in his pockets. Seemed to be the safest place for them lately. He looked into his friend's eyes and hoped the perceptive man wouldn't make him say any more.
"Don't do this to me again, Jack. Don't hang me out to dry." Jack was thoroughly confused now.
"When have I ever hung you out to dry?" Memories of past missions flashed through his mind, but Jack wasn't sure any of those really applied. Unless... He'd apologized for what happened on Euronda and Jack thought Daniel had forgiven him, especially after he finally clued in and admitted Daniel had been right. "Euronda?"
"Euronda? Huh?" Now it was Daniel's turn to be confused. "No! Damnit, Jack! That was completely different. Besides, we both kinda screwed up on that one." Daniel always looked a little embarrassed when Euronda came up. Jack knew he'd been kicking himself ever since for not taking Jack aside to make his point about their hosts. 'Don't fight in front of the aliens' was one of the first things teams were taught before going through the gate. "No, I'm talking about the Langarans. I'm sure you remember them."
"Oh. Them." Not one of Jack's better moments, except for the end. It was a kick to watch them flounder when he and the general told them the SGC was withdrawing the offer to help them resettle.
"Yeah. Them." Arms wrapped around himself, Daniel wandered over to a table laden with boxes of something or other. He nudged one over a bit and perched on the edge of the table. "When Jonas came through the gate, I was glad to see him." Daniel was looking down at the floor so Jack couldn't see his eyes. "We'd gotten along well... um, before and then with the mission on Anubis' ship," his voice trailed off and he shrugged. "It wasn't a problem." Jack knew what was coming and wished he'd brought it up at the time. Jack had been selfish. He would never feel anything but hatred for that whole damn planet because of what happened there. Even now that Daniel was back, sometimes grief would hit him and he'd have to go to his friend's office just to reassure himself that he was there. The longer Daniel was back, the less it happened, but it still got him every time.
"Daniel." Jack wasn't sure what he should say. What he could say.
"Just hear me out." Daniel took a deep breath and looked Jack in the eye. "You walked out and left me in there with them." Jack was surprised at the accusation and that's exactly what it sounded like. The tone of voice was unmistakable. "Do you know when I finally remembered," Daniel cleared his throat and studied his boots. "Finally remembered my, um, death?" He met Jack's eyes again. Jack just shook his head. Daniel had never said much about what he remembered after he'd been cleared for regular gate travel. Jack had been too cowardly to ask. "It was the night after Jonas showed up."
Jack closed his eyes and sagged a little against the door. "Daniel, why didn't you say something?"
"What was I supposed to say? 'General, I'm sorry, I can't help save these people because it's giving me screaming nightmares?' I'm sure that would have gone over well." Now a spot on the floor captured Daniel's attention and he absently rubbed his boot over it.
"Damnit, Daniel." Jack scrubbed his hands over his face. Guilt was eating away at his resolve. "I'm crap at this sort of thing. What do you want from me?"
"I want your help." Jack stared at his friend. "I want to know that when this is all over there's someone I can talk to who might have a clue about how I feel. About how," Daniel fluttered one hand as if he could pull the word he was searching for out of thin air.
"Freaked?" Jack supplied the word that best described his frame of mind.
"Right. How freaked I am." He nodded his thanks for the assist. "It wasn't too bad before Jonathan showed up. But that just," He shook his head and shrugged.
"Yeah. I know." This wasn't quite the setting he'd had in mind when he'd envisioned this particular discussion. Jack had really hoped there'd be alcohol available before marching out into this minefield. Getting into these kinds of things surrounded by toilet paper and cleaning supplies was also a whole other level of bizarre that he thought he could do without. "You could always talk to Carter." Any hope he had of that working died as soon as he said it. He didn't need the expression on Daniel's face to tell him it was a really bad idea.
"I don't think meeting an alternate self with a different career is quite the same as meeting one who's," Daniel took a deep breath but Jack interrupted him.
"With my counterpart's child." Daniel nodded.
"Okay." Jack was a little surprised by how much easier this was than he'd expected. It wasn't just about him any more. It was about him and Daniel. A team thing. He could do this. Besides, Daniel helped pull him back from the pit once before. Maybe he could do it again. Maybe it wouldn't be as hard to deal with this if he didn't have to do it on his own. Maybe pigs fly.
"Okay?" Daniel looked startled. "Just, 'okay'?"
"Yeah. Okay. As in, you're right. I'll stick around and help you brief our guests." He wasn't nearly as relaxed as he sounded, but this wasn't as hard as he'd feared. He did owe Daniel one. More than one, really, but one was all Daniel was calling him on at the moment.
"Oh. Um, thanks, Jack." Poor Daniel always looked so flustered when he won. "I really appreciate it."
"Think nothing of it." Jack gestured to the door and put his hand on the light switch. "And when all this is over, we'll go to my place for the weekend and talk." He switched off the lights as they left and closed the door.
"You're volunteering to talk? I'm not going to have to pry it out of you?" Daniel asked in disbelief.
"I talk." Jack tried for indignant.
"You actually did a pretty good job in there." Daniel flicked his hand back toward the storeroom they just left.
"I did?" Jack thought he'd been pretty useless.
"Well, for you." Daniel didn't meet Jack's eyes.
"Thanks, I think." Talking was overrated. "In that case, we'll talk and drink." There, that should do it.
"Drink? All weekend?" Now Daniel was openly staring at him.
"Sure. Why not?" If he couldn't shut his ghosts up completely, he could at least numb them for a while.
"Works for me." Maybe they both needed that.
"Is that how I used to be?" Daniel's quiet question startled Jonathan. He'd drifted again as he often did late in his pregnancies. Though, with Patrick he'd been pretty much drifted through the whole thing. Just as well, since otherwise he figured he would have spent the entire nine months terrified of another miscarriage. He blinked back the sudden tears and managed to keep them from falling.
"What do you mean?" He had no idea what Daniel was talking about. He straightened up when his husband turned around from where he'd been staring at the door. A couple of steps brought Daniel right in front of him and Jonathan reached out to stroke his cheek when his husband dropped to his knees and took Jonathan's free hand in his.
"The other, um, the other me." Daniel leaned into the stroking hand. "Did I used to be like that? So," he paused and Jonathan knew he was searching for the right words. "So, irrepressible. So excited by unimportant things." Daniel's head bent to caress Jonathan's hand with his lips.
"They were never unimportant to you, love." He shifted the hand on his husband's cheek and used it to tilt the beloved face up so he could meet his eyes. "Yes, he's very much like you were," he placed a finger against the other man's lips, preventing the inevitable interruption. "Let me finish." A teasing kiss against his finger let him know he'd won this one. "But, he hasn't gone through what you have. His life has been very different." Daniel stood and changed his grip on the hand he held, urging Jonathan to stand. He nodded to the sofa across the room and led Jonathan to it.
"Let's get more comfortable." Once seated, Jonathan wondered just how he'd get up. That was getting harder and harder, but the feel of his love's arms going around him made him bite down on the image of him struggling to get up later. This was worth it. "I need to hold you, for now. Do you mind?"
"Silly question, Danny." Jonathan kissed Daniel's cheek and settled himself against the other man, shifting to find the most comfortable position he could. "I can't wait for this kid to make an appearance. Then you can hold him for a while." He felt the chuckle beneath his cheek where it rested on Daniel's chest.
"I can't wait, either. The doctor said it would be in the next couple of weeks, didn't he?" Jonathan closed his eyes against the uncertainty in his husband's voice. The doctor had come the day after Daniel had done his duty and the drugs were still messing up his mind. He often had trouble remembering things that happened for a couple of days after. Daniel never spoke much about the drugs effects anymore. Jonathan knew the loss of memory maybe more than the loss of emotional control tore at his husband. If only he could forget the... matings. They both feared the long-term effects, though they'd never spoken of it. The thought of his Daniel without the use of his quick mind made Jonathan almost physically ill. No matter what happens, love, I'll always be there for you. I'll always love you. Jonathan made his silent vow and snuggled a little closer to his beloved. He stifled the pang of guilt that arose. This time, he'd banked on Daniel not being able to follow everything Doctor Caruthers had told him. There would be time enough for that after their child was born.
"Yep, just a couple of weeks, but what does he know. I think it's going to be at least three." He couldn't see from this position, but he imagined he grin as he felt his husband press a kiss into his hair.
"He's never done this. I'm the expert here." Jonathan grunted and shifted as the baby head butted his lungs. "At least now I understand exactly why women liked having female obstetricians."
"Oh, so you want a female obstetrician now?" Again he felt the chuckle more than heard it. Daniel didn't laugh much anymore and Jonathan missed it. But his tease brought up something that Jonathan figured they needed to discuss.
"I had a thought while I was resting my eyes." He waited for what he knew was coming.
"You mean while you passed out and slept like a log, don't you?"
"I did not pass out or sleep or nap." He knew it was a lost cause, but a man has some pride.
"Of course not, love, you always snore when you're thinking." The laughter in Daniel's voice brought tears to Jonathan's eyes again. He was really looking forward to delivering this kid and getting his hormones back under control. At least as much as they ever were any more.
"As I was saying before the smart ass remarks," he gently poked the stomach beneath him.
"Oh, my deepest apologies, sir. Please continue." This time Jonathan nipped Daniel through his shirt and rode out the gentle retaliatory tug on his hair with good grace. They used to play a lot before everything went to shit. Jonathan missed it. He didn't miss the hand caressing his shoulder. They might not play as much, but the gentle touches had escalated. Jonathan appreciated gentleness these days.
"I should probably, um." He took a deep breath because he really didn't want to do this, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. "I should probably talk to that lady doctor before we go back." He traced concentric circles on Daniel's stomach, neatly avoiding the ticklish areas. Daniel's hand stilled.
"Are you sure, love? You sounded pretty certain back there in the meeting room."
"Yeah, well." Jonathan was sure Daniel couldn't see his scowl at the thought. Who did he think he was kidding. Daniel knew him too well. "I'll probably have to, well, apologize to her, first." He sighed and just lay with his husband, one hand still on Daniel's stomach, the other, tucked slightly between them, scratching lightly at his own. The itching from the stretched skin was driving him crazy. The air in this place was way too dry for his taste. Daniel's hand picked up the caress on his shoulder again.
"It might be a good idea." They fell silent for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts, just enjoying the peace of contact. "I should probably let her do a thorough check of me, too." The hand on Jonathan's shoulder squeezed him a little before stroking again. "Maybe," Daniel breathed out harshly before continuing. "Maybe she can find some way to adjust the, um, drugs or, or something." While Jonathan had missed some of what Daniel and Doctor Daniel had been talking about while he rested his eyes he'd lay hard currency on the fact that little or nothing had been said about that.
"So," Jonathan twisted a little so he could see Daniel's face. "When they get back, we'll listen to what they have to tell us and then we'll ask to talk to the lady doctor." Daniel's hand hadn't changed its motion, but his face was now shuttered. Doing battle with his demons. They'd both paid a high price for their world's continued survival.
"Yeah." The single word was all Daniel said, but his arms enclosed Jonathan more tightly. He couldn't tell who Daniel was trying to comfort most. It didn't really matter. Jonathan closed his eyes against his ever-present exhaustion and just enjoyed being held.
"So, do you think they're together?" Jonathan jolted awake. He must have just dozed off when Daniel spoke.
"Hum?" He stifled a yawn and rubbed his cheek against the broad, warm chest below him.
"Nice of you to join me." Jonathan tilted his head to scowl at his husband, who ignored the scowl and explained further, "Them. Us. The Colonel and Doctor Jackson. Do you think they're lovers?"
"Ah. Them." Jonathan took a moment and reviewed the interactions he'd seen between the two of them. "Hard to say. They certainly sound like us, but there's something," he paused, seeing in his memory the softness in Doctor Jackson's face when he looked at his O'Neill. "No," he shook his head and took the opportunity to press a kiss on the shirt- covered chest he lay against. "I don't think they are, but they should be."
"Yeah, I got that impression, too."
Jonathan grabbed the back of the sofa and started trying to pull himself out of his oh, so comfortable recline against Daniel. Damn bladder. With his other arm, he pressed against the solid chest behind him and felt strong hands easing him upright. He sometimes felt like a turtle on its back these days. "Thanks, love." One hand left his shoulder to stroke his cheek before running through his hair and down to the nape of his neck. He smiled and leaned toward Daniel to accept the offered kiss. "Umm... thanks for that, too." He braced himself and waved a hand in the air, "Could you..."
"Oh! Of course, here," Daniel jumped up off the sofa, stumbling a little over Jonathan's feet and took his arm as Jonathan started the laborious process of getting out of the comfortable sofa. Once upright, they embraced and Jonathan sighed then leaned against the other man for a moment before straightening.
"Gotta pee. Be right back."
Jonathan stepped into the small bathroom attached to the room and took care of his needs. Standing next to the sink, he washed up and looked at his reflection in the mirror. He hated deceiving his husband like this, but Daniel was still too fragile from his latest bout with the fertility drugs and now there was this. Stepping through an alien device into another universe with other people who looked and sounded like them. It was wrong on so many levels, but if... if these people could help, maybe the nightmare could end. Every baby that lived past his first few days was all the hope they'd had and he'd thought it was enough. Now, though, now he wanted it all. He wanted this child to live and he'd do whatever he had to do to make it happen.
As he turned the doorknob, he realized he'd been hearing voices in the outer room, but had been too lost in his own head to realize it before now. Thinking's a dangerous game, Jonny boy, best leave it to the experts. He headed out into the room and greeted their 'guests' as he clumsily rejoined his Daniel on the sofa. "So, you two get it worked out?"
"We, talked." Jack looked uncomfortable and Doctor Daniel just looked at the floor. Jonathan shared a look with Daniel.
"You mean he talked and you stammered a lot." He grinned at his counterpart's discomfort and not even Daniel's quiet, chiding "Jonathan" kept him from needling the man. "Y'know, I've found that kissing the daylights out of my Daniel generally shuts him up for a while."
"Jonathan!" Daniel's chide wasn't quiet this time, but he did try to hide his smile from the other two men in the room. Doctor Daniel was openly staring at Jonathan, his mouth hanging open. He started to speak several time and then just blushed and strode over to the table where his laptop and note pad were.
"Uh," Jack looked just as dumbstruck before finally finding his voice. "Something tells me that wouldn't work with my Daniel." He looked startled at his own words and glanced quickly at his Daniel who was looking back at him, blinking rapidly in apparent confusion.
"Hey," Jonathan decided to push just a bit more. "You never know 'til you try." He couldn't help but chuckle at their expressions. He knew he was right. They did belong together, they just hadn't gotten there yet. Maybe something else good could come of this disaster. The idea that there might be a Daniel and a Jona... well, O'Neill who weren't together just didn't sit well with Jonathan.
"Jonathan, stop it." Daniel had gotten his own mirth under control and seemed determined to drag them back on topic. Jonathan acquiesced but shared a last quick grin with Daniel who then scowled at him. "So," Daniel said, "you were going to tell us about what you do here."
"Right." Doctor Daniel sounded relieved now that the discussion had moved on to more neutral territory. "Approximately ten thousand years ago, an alien arrived in Egypt. He took on the persona of the Egyptian sun god, Ra." Jonathan settled into his husband's side and leaned his head back and down resting both on the back of the sofa and on Daniel's shoulder. He closed his eyes and let the familiar voices wash over him as he gave into his exhaustion. Daniel would fill him in later. Besides, expert or not, he had some thinking of his own to do. He was not going to sleep.
Janet stood just outside the briefing room gathering her thoughts. She could hear the voices inside talking quietly waiting for everyone to arrive. General Hammond and Teal'c were discussing something too quietly for her to hear. She and Daniel were the only ones missing, it seemed. Sam had cornered the colonel and was trying to convince him to back her plan for a project the general had already vetoed once. The snippets Janet heard let her know which project this was and she was more than sympathetic to the colonel's attempts to put her off. Sam had spent an evening a week ago rattling on about it over dinner with her and, truth be told, Janet had almost no idea what it entailed. The problem with having friends inside her own discipline was that they inevitably spent all their free time talking about work. The problem with having friends outside her discipline was that they still spent all their free time talking about their work, only Janet rarely caught more than one word in five.
She didn't want to go in until it was time to start, but she couldn't hang around out here forever, after all, she's the one who'd requested this briefing. Daniel, where are you? She'd been a doctor long enough to know she was projecting calm professionalism. Inside she was still reeling from what she'd learned of their guests. She'd been all but locked in her lab since they returned through the mirror two days before. Some of what she'd discovered made sense, but the rest was more problematic. She swallowed still hearing the echoes of Lord Daniel's familiar voice as he dispassionately described his experiences with the fertility drugs required to allow him to impregnate the men brought to him. In many ways, he was very different from their Daniel, but now she had an inkling why.
"Janet?" She turned to meet the concerned gaze of her friend. "Something wrong?" Hearing their Daniel's voice helped drown out the other one in her head.
"No, just not wanting to get involved in," she smiled ruefully and waved toward Sam and the colonel, "that." It was a small lie, but she really didn't want to get drawn into it. He peered around the corner and then looked back at her with a startled expression.
"She's still going on about that?" Janet realized Sam must have cornered him at least once over it. "Between you and me," Daniel lowered his voice conspiratorially, "I have no idea what she's talking about. When she mentioned how small the risk of losing the entire mountain was, I decided I really didn't want to know, either."
Janet stifled a giggle at his smile, "Me, neither, but she does seem to love going on about it."
Daniel looked a little guilty, "Not that you or I have ever," his voice trailed off and he waved his hand vaguely.
"Oh, no, we'd never do something like that." They shared another grin before she continued. "Think we should go in and rescue the colonel?" He ducked his head, pursed his lips and looked at her over the tops of his glasses.
"Well, I don't know that I'd go that far." Janet covered her mouth to hide her giggle.
"Of course, we do have to go in for the briefing." She smiled and was again struck by the differences between the two Daniels. For all that this one had lived a hard life, by anyone's estimation, he still had a spark that his alternate seemed to have lost.
"Oh, well, in that case, after you, madam." He smiled, bowed and waved her on in apparent exaggerated imitation of his other self. As she walked through the door, Daniel following, she started sinking into her professional demeanor, but not before her own smile had been noticed.
"Tell me he didn't kiss your hand, Doc." The almost gratified look on the colonel's face was at odds with his tone of voice as he moved to his seat near the general.
"Don't be an ass, Jack." Daniel turned from filling his coffee cup and wandered over to take his seat next to the colonel. Since this was her briefing Janet took the chair across from the colonel that Sam had left open for her, sitting, instead, in the one across from Daniel. She chose not to answer the colonel's flippant question, letting Daniel's slight scowl speak for her as they continued to bicker lightly about nothing. Some of the tension that had been apparent lately seemed to have dissipated since Lord Daniel and Jonathan left. Teal'c, who had been standing with the general, was already in his chair on the other side of Sam. She never ceased to be amazed at how quickly and unobtrusively he could move for such a large, powerful man.
"Doctor Frasier," the general's voice commanded their attention. "I understand that you have some information about our recent guests that you'd like to discuss." She'd given him an abbreviated rundown on her data when she'd made her request, but she hadn't gone into everything. She hadn't known everything she knew now when she'd talked with him.
"Yes, sir." She opened her folder and began by handing out copies of her data. She should have had it ready for them to read before they'd arrived, but she'd just finished putting the reports together. There was still a great deal of work to be done on the samples taken from their guests. "I haven't had a chance to read all of your reports yet, so some of this might be redundant, but I think it's important to understand the whole picture, or at least as much of it as we have." Nods around the table told her they understood and Daniel's raised eyebrow and twitching lips reminded her of their conversation in the corridor. Got it, Daniel, stick to English. You should consider it sometime, too. She raised her own eyebrows and suddenly he found the report quite fascinating. Got him.
"From my conversations with Lord Daniel and Jonathan, the humans of their world fall into four groups." She had their attention now. "First, there are men who are," she paused, "traditionally fertile. These men either have a natural immunity to Nirrti's virus, or contracted a very mild case of it. They are a fairly small minority of the population. Second, there are men who have undergone the paternal gestation procedure and are now capable of being impregnated and carrying a child to term."
"Bearing men." Everyone looked at Daniel. "They call them 'bearing men'."
"Right. The bearing men all contracted severe cases of the virus which left them traditionally sterile. "She noticed the colonel's wince. This must have been very strange for him. The two men across the table from her glanced at each other and the colonel shrugged. She hoped they were talking about this. She'd hate to have to order counseling if they weren't dealing with it. "Third, are the rest of the men who, as far as Lord Daniel knew, had all been quite ill with the virus. All are sterile and for one reason or another, aren't candidates for paternal gestation. This third group accounts for roughly three quarters of the population." She stopped and let that sink in. She knew Sam was doing the math to figure out how many men they had capable of reproduction. She'd already done it and hoped Sam would keep it to herself. It was in the report, but she didn't want to have to say it. Writing it was hard enough.
"The Aschen." Daniel's voice cut through the silence. Everyone looked at him with varying degrees of confusion on their faces. "This sounds like what the Aschen do." He looked hopefully into their faces. "Look, the world we met them on once had a large population, a growing industrial base. They would have been where we are in a hundred years or so if it weren't for the pandemic that left most of them sterile."
"Nirrti wanted a farming planet?" The colonel didn't sound convinced.
"Well, not necessarily that, but how hard would it be to enslave the entire population of a world that didn't already follow the Goa'uld?" He looked hopefully at Teal'c.
"It would be quite difficult, Daniel Jackson. The preferred tactic when subduing a populous world is to kill a great many in order to instill fear in the rest and have a smaller number to subdue." Janet was still occasionally uncomfortable when she thought about the decades Teal'c, her friend, had spent serving their enemy. "The resulting chaos makes the survivors more easily controlled and manipulated. The population is not allowed to grow large again until their complete devotion to the false god is obtained. The process can take many generations."
"So, Nirrti wanted to take over and decided to do it by killing off all the women? Does that make sense to anyone?" The colonel looked incredulous. "She had ships, right? Wouldn't it have been easier to just blast the planet to hell from space then move in?"
"Colonel, lets save the tactical briefing for later. Doctor, if you would continue? You said there were four groups." Janet nodded to General Hammond and returned to her notes before picking up the thread of her report.
"Yes. There are, supposedly, a very small group of females who have survived. Neither Lord Daniel nor Jonathan have ever seen them, nor do they know anyone who has. Even Lord Daniel's father, who is on their Grand Council, claims to have no more information."
"Could this be simple propaganda, Janet?" Sam shrugged her shoulders. "A way of giving the men hope that maybe things would eventually get back to normal?" '
"That could be it." Janet wished it were that easy, but there were too many questions to believe that anything would be simple.
"Actually, general, the colonel may have been right." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Colonel O'Neill looking pleased with himself. "There's a great deal about the situation on that Earth that makes no sense at all."
"I think we all found the situation difficult, Janet." She hadn't had a chance to talk much to Sam recently, so her friend hadn't seen the results yet.
"That's not what I mean, Sam." Taking a deep breath, Janet plunged into the heart of the matter. "My examination of Jonathan turned up nothing in particular that was out of the ordinary."
"Except for that pesky pregnant thing."
Oh, yes, the colonel is having trouble with this, and it's not over yet. Janet shook off the thought and continued, "Well, yes, except for that. In other words, given the extraordinary modifications made to his body, I found nothing that didn't seem to need to be there. Changes in his endocrine system mean his body is capable of manufacturing most of the chemicals required for gestation. An implant under the skin of his upper arm provided most of the rest. He has to take a few supplements, but not much more than a pregnant woman here would take. A few feet of bowel were removed to provide more space for the artificial womb, which, fascinatingly enough, was developed from his own tissue. No risk of rejection. There is also a mass at the base of the womb where genetic material, basically the substitute for the egg, mixes with the sperm and creates what is essentially a zygote. Also, a, um, pathway was constructed to provide sperm access to the new reproductive organs." She skimmed over the rest of the details and decided this wasn't the time. The men in the room were uncomfortable enough with the topic and it wouldn't help to alienate them any further. Besides, they were all intelligent, she knew eventually they'd realize that artificial insemination wasn't practical for an entire population. "Overall, he's remarkably healthy as is," she paused, "as is his daughter."
Stunned silence met her announcement. That was one thing they all knew the implications of.
"Does he know, Janet?" Daniel sounded like he was already in mourning. She glanced at the colonel and found his face completely blank.
"He does, but apparently he isn't supposed to."
"What the hell does that mean?" Blank to angry in five seconds.
"It means that doctors are not supposed to inform their patients of the sex of the children they carry." Janet found herself growing as angry as the colonel. "When the first girls were born and died almost immediately, some of the bearing men would try to abort as soon as they found out they were carrying girls. This led to the deaths of several and so doctors were forbidden from revealing the gender."
"So they make them carry them anyway, knowing they're going to die?" The colonel sounded like he was ready to kill someone if only the right someone were in the room.
"Abortion for a woman is a fairly simple procedure, but for a man, it's apparently much more difficult. As Jonathan explained, they don't have the medical personnel to devote to the procedure, which is apparently even more involved than the assisted birth." She noticed the skeptical looks around the table. "No, I didn't understand that, either, but I also didn't think it was a good idea to debate it with him."
"Thank you, Janet." Daniel had ducked his head the whole time she'd been speaking about Jonathan's child. He raised it only to speak and the looked back down at his hands on the table. For a moment she was reminded of his alternate who'd sat in that same manner, in that same chair just a few days ago.
"Even with that lack, they seem to have an extremely sophisticated level of technology, Doctor." The general glanced at Daniel. "Doctor Jackson, didn't you tell us that their technological level was approximately equal to our own?"
Daniel looked up again, apparently now in control of his emotions. "Yes, sir. Before the invasion, they were very close to us. More advanced in a few areas, like alternative energy, but not as advanced in others. They hadn't made it to their moon, yet, for example." Daniel tapped his pen on his folder. "They did have access to Nirrti's ship. Her jaffa didn't take that one, possibly because it was already in human possession. It did take nearly four years to develop the technology and we've seen ourselves how resourceful people can be when faced with," he shrugged.
"Total annihilation." Teal'c supplied the exactly correct, if terrifying, phrase.
"Which makes the rest of this even stranger." Janet didn't like her growing suspicion. "The results from Lord Daniel's tests were quite different. In order for a fertile man to impregnate a bearing man, he must undergo drug therapy to drastically increase sperm count and motility. Lord Daniel had undergone this therapy less than a week ago, and I was able to isolate some of the residual drugs. In addition to the expected hormonal cocktail, there were several others that I have yet to identify. Nor have I been able to fully identify why they were used in the first place."
"What do you mean, Doctor?" The general looked as confused as the others.
"The hormonal cocktail, in addition to some vitamin and mineral treatments, should have been enough to stimulate the higher levels required and without most of the reported side effects."
"Side effects?" Daniel leaned forward. "What side effects?"
"I take it he didn't tell you about that." Janet remembered, again, Lord Daniel's flat, unemotional voice as he listed them. Her friend shook his head and glanced at Jack who shrugged. "He reported feeling highly aggressive, which could be caused by higher testosterone levels, but even so, his sounded much too extreme to be just that and it wouldn't account for the mood swings. Also, he shows no other symptoms of overly high testosterone levels. He also said he had memory problems for several days after the therapy in addition to decreased appetite and difficulty achieving delta wave sleep, which then results in fatigue. He said the drugs made him feel out of control." She decided she'd hold off on mentioning the nightmares he'd have during those nights. They didn't seem important other than to show that he was reaching REM sleep. "He also showed some minor neurological degradation and admitted to being a little clumsier than he used to be."
"Is he going to be alright?" Daniel's concern was evident. Janet wasn't quite sure how to answer him but decided truth was the best bet.
"To be honest, I don't know. I wouldn't let a patient of mine continue a therapy with this level of side effects, but that isn't exactly an option for him."
"Janet." Sam had been fairly quiet during the briefing and Janet wondered just how she was coping. "Could some of these symptoms have been caused by the virus?"
"Lord Daniel never contracted the virus. I compared the antibodies in his blood with those from Jonathan's, who did have it, and Lord Daniel's was clear."
"How could you tell?" The colonel's question showed genuine curiosity, which intrigued Janet. He rarely seemed to care about 'all that sciencey stuff' as he called it. She sometimes forgot the keen mind that lurked behind the sarcasm and occasionally juvenile humor.
"Their Earth seems to have produced very similar pathogens to ours. I was able to identify and eliminate all but one, so until I can get more definitive data, I feel confident that this one is the antibody to Nirrti's virus." Now she was down to her guessing, which she hated to do, but this whole thing was fishier than the colonel's pond. "Sir, nothing about this adds up. Viruses need a vector, they need, for want of a better word, a host."
"When the other Daniel first appeared, he said he wasn't a carrier." Sam's quiet voice told Janet she was thinking.
"Right. So who is?" Janet saw dawning comprehension on several faces. "If I were in charge of a planet-wide catastrophe of this nature, one of the first things I'd do is to try and isolate anyone found to be carrying the virus. Any society capable of the kind of medical miracles this one is capable of should find that fairly easy to do. So why are children still getting sick? They haven't found an animal or insect carrying it. Yet, Lord Daniel told me that almost every child catches the virus within days of birth. Most survive, but the oldest boy born in this way is only seven years old. It could be another seven years before they'll be able to see if he's fertile or not."
"So, someone's doing this to them?" Janet felt a chill run down her spine at the colonel's cold tone and even colder eyes. He was taking this personally and she thought it was for more reasons than he realized.
"It's Nirrti. She's still alive. We have to tell them, general." Daniel had that look on his face. Sam called it his 'I know you're going to tell me it's impossible, but you know I'm right' look. She also cheerfully told Janet that it made her want to hurt him very badly since it was usually aimed at her. Mostly because he usually was right.
"Doctor Jackson, our guests were adamant that Nirrti was dead. Her host was well- known and the body was seen by many people." General Hammond didn't sound convinced of his own argument.
"Not if she moved to a male host, first.
"Shit." My thoughts exactly, Colonel.
"Daniel?" Daniel turned from his study door and smiled at Ian through the nagging headache he'd had for a couple of days. "Daniel, do you have a few minutes?" Daniel looked more closely at his third consort and realized he was upset.
"Of course, Ian," he reached for the door, "let's go." Ian's firm grip on his arm startled Daniel. Ian was a slight man, barely reaching Daniel's chin. Running the household had mostly fallen to him simply because he was the only one of the four of them who seemed to have an aptitude for it. Running a household like this, and in recent years, most of the estate, was a major undertaking that often involved matters far beyond the front door but Ian managed it like he'd been born to it. It kept him busy but required no physical labor on his part. Fortunately, his knack for organization and ability to match people with jobs meant he was left some time for his art. Not as much as he'd like, but enough for the time being. His beautiful sculptures and paintings were scattered throughout the house and commissions were starting to come in more and more often. His work was gaining popularity throughout Cascadia and beyond. He had an apprentice he was training to take over as a proper steward, but until that time, he was happy to take the burden off the others. Not to mention being unwilling to suffer through Jose's and Jonathan's frankly inept handling of household matters. Either one could handle things for a week or two, but beyond that they risked loosing good staff who just couldn't take it any more.
"No!" Ian's shout was as uncharacteristic as his hard grip and the pain in his head ratcheted up a notch. Daniel knew he hadn't had much time for his husbands since returning from the other Earth, but surely that was no reason for Ian's emotional state. "Please. Not in there. Can we go somewhere else?"
"Of course, sweetheart. How about your office?" He would have suggested the bedroom but Jonathan was resting and he got the feeling that Ian wanted to talk with him alone. Ian had miscarried a few months ago and the doctor wanted him to wait a little longer before trying again. Maybe that's what this was about. He seemed to have been handling it pretty well, but these things sometimes reared their heads at the strangest times.
Ian nodded in relief. "My office. Yes, that's perfect." Seeing him more at ease, Daniel slipped his arm around the smaller man's waist, kissed his temple and turned down the corridor to Ian's domain. Whatever was bothering Ian might be easier to face in a room where he was Lord rather than just married to one.
Daniel released the other man as they went through the doorway. He'd always loved this office, even back when Mrs. Amberson had held sway. She'd been a stern mistress for his home and had constantly clucked over his slightest indiscretion. In the manner of family retainers everywhere, she seemed more concerned about the family she served than the family itself. Not that Daniel had been a bad kid, but he hadn't actually been the model heir, either. His general indifference to girls aside, he hadn't been particularly interested in politics or in finance or in any of the other fields considered acceptable for a man of his station. His habit of slipping away from his bodyguards didn't help, either. She'd shaken her head and warned him that nothing good could come from his fancies. Told him that if he didn't watch himself he'd grow up to be just another useless lordling like that good for nothing Westridge. She'd been right about one thing, at least. The current Lord Westridge was about as useless as a man could be. The people of Westridge were lucky he had a cousin willing and able to take care of things.
It wasn't until the day he'd brought home an injured woman he'd found by the roadside that she finally seemed to begin to understand her strange charge. He'd been about fourteen and had gone for a bike ride, after escaping, again, from his stifling bodyguard, when he saw a woman on the side of the road. She was walking doggedly, but apparently not really looking where she was going. He passed her once but something made him turn around to get a better look. That was when he noticed that her clothes had once been of decent quality, but now were old and dirty and it looked like they'd been recently torn. Her hair was tangled and dirty but it didn't look like it had been that way for long. He knew there were poor people in the district and his parents did what they could to help them, but he'd never actually met one. There was something about this woman that was off kilter. That's when he got a good look at her face. It was bruised and there was dried blood near her mouth and nose and one eye was blackened and swollen almost shut. Her skin was pale beneath the smudges but it was her eyes that got to him. They were haunted and filled with more pain than he could have imagined. He'd asked her if there was anything he could do and she shied away from him, almost falling into the ditch. She just sat there rocking and begging him not to hurt her any more. Daniel had been at a complete loss. He had no idea what to do, but he knew he couldn't leave her out by the road. He'd finally convinced her that he wasn't the one who'd hurt her and urged her to get up and walk with him to the house. It wasn't far and he figured walking would be better than being left alone while he got help.
He'd taken her immediately to Mrs. Amberson. For all that he was a little frightened of that formidable woman, he couldn't think of anyone, besides his mother who was out of town with his father, more capable of taking care of his new friend. He'd rushed the woman into this very office, surprising Mrs. Amberson who'd been in the process of dressing down one of the maids for something or other. Daniel had figured he'd be in trouble for sure over this, but he wasn't going to let someone else suffer for that. He remembered how he'd squared his shoulders and politely asked for a moment of Mrs. Amberson's time as he urged the stranger to sit on the sofa near the door. She'd stopped in mid-tirade, said "Of course, Lord Cascadia," in the same tone she used with his father and dismissed poor Conners. When he explained what had happened, the woman had started to cry and rock. The usually stern Mrs. Amberson had then folded her impressive bulk next to the stranger, taken her in her arms and rocked along with her with more gentleness than he'd ever suspected her capable of and looked at him with that same uncharacteristic gentleness. Daniel had never seen that look on her face before, but he remembered that after that, he'd seen it from time to time and always directed at him when she thought he wasn't looking. In a softer voice than he had thought possible for her, she'd asked him to find Mrs. Felts and send her in with her medical bag. As he turned to leave, she said one last thing that he'd never forgotten, "Thank you, boy. We'll take care of her." She'd paused to murmur to the woman in her arms and then stopped him before he got through the door. "Daniel? I think you're going to be just fine, boy. Just fine." He'd never seen the injured woman again, but later discovered Mrs. Amberson had sent her to live with her own sister who ran an orchard outside of Portland.
"Daniel?" He started and realized he'd been lost in thought while Ian had opened the blinds and cleared off the sofa. I remember when I bought that for him. Absurdly, he was glad it wasn't the same one as he sat down rubbing his head in an attempt to ease the persistent pain. He patted the space right next to him inviting the other man to sit close.
"Sorry, Ian. This room always brings back memories. I think I just got lost for a moment." He smiled and put his arm around his consort, holding him close. "Now, what's this all about?" He tipped the other man's chin up and placed a quick kiss on his lips. "Or is this just a ploy to get me alone?" Ian laughed at his tease and snuggled into his arms.
"That's not a bad idea, now that you mention it." For the first time in days Daniel felt the first stirrings of his libido as his consort teased him back. He had an aversion to sex right after doing his duty and always welcomed the return of desire. He'd once spoken about it to his doctor, but had been assured that it wasn't caused by the drugs. Daniel had never mentioned it to the man again. He didn't want to see the pity in his eyes. Daniel began to caress the man in his arms and leaned down for a more intense kiss, the pain fading away. Ian surged against his body returning the kiss with matching passion before pulling away. "Ian? Are you all right? Did I hurt you?" Daniel felt close to panic at the thought. He was so used to Jonathan who was bigger than Daniel and solidly built. Jose, too, was large enough to not make Daniel worry that he might hurt him accidentally. Ian's slight stature always worried Daniel. He was so afraid he'd be too forceful in the passion of the moment and injure him. Jonathan always hugged him and told him Ian was tougher than he looked and that he wasn't going to break, but that didn't seem to help.
"I'm fine, Daniel, really." Ian stroked Daniel's face to take some of the sting out of his withdrawal from their intimate embrace. Daniel caught his hand and placed a gentle kiss in the palm before clasping it. "It's just that we need to talk and if we'd kept going, we'd both be snoring before long."
"Nonsense, Ian. I don't snore." Daniel had heard this rumor before, but surely he'd know if he snored.
"Oh, right." Ian smothered a chuckle. "How silly of me."
Daniel settled back on the sofa and again pulled Ian into his arms smiling as he did so. "So, out with it. What is it you need to talk with me about? It must be terribly important if you'd rather talk than have sex." He felt rather than heard Ian's chuckle as the man shifted to look into Daniel's face. He bit down on his irritation at being rebuffed. He was overly sensitive these days and didn't want to take it out on his husbands.
"I need you to promise me something, dear heart." Of all of them, Ian was the least prone to endearments and pet names.
"If it's within my power and harms no one, sweetheart, it's yours."
"I need you to promise me that you'll get rid of that thing in your study." Daniel stared into Ian's gray eyes and gently stroked his hair back from his forehead.
"Ah, babe, please ask me for something else." Ian broke Daniel's gaze, anger evident in his expression. "You've got to understand, those people Jonathan and I met there could be the key to saving us all. I can't let it go." His consort struggled out of Daniel's arms and stormed across the room where he began to pace rapidly. "Ian, please talk to me."
Ian stopped suddenly, facing Daniel. "You were gone," he blurted. He took a couple of steps toward Daniel before sinking into one of the armchairs in front of his desk. "I'd been looking everywhere for you. Beecham said you'd gone to your study, but no one saw you leave." Daniel watched the man as he gripped the armrests like he was hanging onto a wild horse. He was shocked at the fear in Ian's face. "I knocked, but you didn't answer. I was worried so I went into your study and that," Ian swallowed and looked like he was about to faint. "That thing was uncovered and I saw strangers looking back at me, but they weren't in the room and it wasn't your study..." Daniel strode over to the sideboard and poured a glass of water from the pitcher before going to Ian who'd started to hyperventilate.
"Easy, hon, shhh, just relax, it's okay." Daniel pulled Ian's hand from where he was gripping the chair and gave him the glass. While Ian took a drink, Daniel pulled him as close as he could and stroked him, murmuring quietly to soothe him. He felt the other man slowly relax. "Better now?" Ian nodded and leaned over to put his glass on his desk. Ian nodded. He rested his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. Daniel heard him mutter something, but couldn't quite make it out. He rested his hand on Ian's back and began what he hoped was soothing motion and tried to will his own rising pain away. Ian needed him, he didn't have time for that. "I'm sorry, hon, I didn't catch that."
"I said, I'm scared, Daniel." He looked up and met Daniel's eyes. "Jose is, too, but he'll never say it." Daniel's mind raced trying to figure out what Ian was talking about. He felt like he was falling or maybe had just forgotten how to breathe. Something was about to happen and he was powerless to stop it.
"Tell me, Ian. What are you both afraid of?" He was amazed he'd managed to keep his voice steady. He felt like he was about to break into a million pieces. The pain in his head was almost blinding. He thought encouraging Ian and Jose to form their own relationship was the right thing for them. It gave them at least the illusion of normality without having to constantly compare the way he treated them to how he was with Jonathan. He couldn't help how he felt and he wouldn't apologize, but he could and did give his other consorts as much freedom to be together as they desired. They'd moved into the same suite within a year of his marriage to Ian. He'd thought they'd been happy with him. He treated them as more than breeding stock, which was better than some bearing men had it. He'd become occasional lovers with each of them as they desired him. It did make the breeding sex more enjoyable since he knew how to please his lover. He thought it made it easier for them, too. He never demanded their presence in his bed, nor did he ever go uninvited into their suite. These days, if Ian or Jose wanted to spend the night with him, Jonathan would grumble, kiss them both and go and sleep with the other one saying he wasn't used to sleeping alone anymore. Daniel thought they'd found a way to be happy with the situation forced on them. What if he was wrong?
"We're afraid of losing you, damn it!" Ian shouted. He slammed a fist down on the empty chair arm. "Do you have any idea what it's like for us? What you mean to us?" Ian must have seen the confusion Daniel felt because he continued at a more normal decibel level. "And I don't just mean that we care for you, because we do, but that's only part of it and I think you know it."
"I'm not, um." Daniel was horrified to hear his voice breaking and felt tears welling up in his eyes. He stood up abruptly and walked back toward the sofa. He stopped in front of it, wrapped his arms around his chest and stared out at the courtyard. Daniel cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm not sure, Ian. I'm really not sure what you mean." Strong arms wrapped around him and Ian turned Daniel to face him before pulling him in to hold him tightly. Daniel freed his arms and wrapped them around his consort and rested his head on Ian's shoulder. Why did I ever think Ian was fragile? They stood together for a moment and Daniel allowed himself to be comforted by the younger man. Finally he pulled back and brushed the moisture off of his face. "I'm sorry, Ian. I don't know what's wrong with me. Other than this rotten headache."
"No, Daniel, I'm sorry, I wanted to talk about this, but so far I've only managed to have a panic attack and scare the shit out of you. Are you hurting badly? Can I get you something?" Ian smiled a little and Daniel shook his head at the offer as he felt a great weight lift. If he could joke like that it didn't sound like he was planning on leaving him. "C'mon, lets sit down and start over. I have to admit I already feel better, but I think we still need to talk." They sat as they had before with Daniel's arm around Ian and Ian snuggling close, his head resting against the taller man's shoulder. "If something were to happen to any one of the three of us," Daniel smiled when Ian put one finger over Daniel's lips. He figured he'd picked that up from Jonathan. "Let me finish." Daniel nodded and, as he would with Jonathan, kissed Ian's finger. "Don't try to distract me." They both chuckled at that and then Ian sobered and started again. "If something were to happen to one of the three of us, the rest of you would go on. Our sons would be secure and while the survivors would be sad, nothing much would change." Daniel started to speak, but a quick headshake from Ian stopped him. "If something were to happen to you all bets are off."
"How can you say that?" Daniel couldn't believe what he was hearing. How could Ian believe such a thing? "No matter what happens to me, you three and our sons would still live here. Nick would become Lord Cascadia and you'd be his guardians." He hugged his consort close. "Sweetheart, is that what's got you scared? I thought you understood this. This is your home! It will always be your home. No one can take that away from you!"
"Oh, Daniel, you're not hearing me." Ian ran his hand across Daniel's chest and up to his shoulder letting his arm rest across his body. "I know this is our home and that you and Jose and Jonathan and I are family. I don't think I can ever express what that kind of security means to me." Ian's words washed over Daniel leaving him almost drunk with relief. He enjoyed the feeling of Ian in his arms all the while cursing his wayward libido. His headache had died to a dull throb. We all need a vacation.This was the wrong time to be noticing how much enjoyed his youngest husband's scent and the weight of Ian's body against his. "But Daniel, you mean something else to us." Ian nuzzled Daniel's throat a little and pressed a light kiss on the spot where his whiskers had rubbed. "I see the men who are sent to you." Daniel stiffened. "Dear heart, who do you think coordinates the schedules with the Repro Council? With your doctor?" Daniel closed his eyes. He never knew. He'd never asked. The council letter would appear on his desk and he'd never given any thought to it. He hadn't wanted to know. He'd always wanted to shield his men from that part of his life. He'd never wanted to expose them to his shame. He'd failed. "Daniel, I talk to them before and sometimes... after."
Daniel tried to speak, but his mouth was desert dry. He tried again and managed to croak, "You talk to them?" He was horrified at the thought of gentle Ian trying to pick up the pieces after what was tantamount to rape.
Daniel felt Ian shift in his arms and then felt hands cradling his face. "Daniel, please look at me." Daniel could no more ignore that gentle voice than he could stop his heart from beating. He opened his eyes and looked into Ian's loving face. Perhaps what they felt for each other wasn't as deep as what they each felt for their partners, but Daniel realized in that moment that they did love each other.
"How can you bear to look at me?" Daniel whispered. He'd asked Jonathan that time after time and Jonathan had always reassured him. He had always forgiven him while in the same breath insisting there was nothing to forgive.
"What, you don't have any mirrors in your suite?" Ian chuckled and planted a kiss on Daniel's nose. "I'll order one for you."
"Don't joke about this!" Daniel couldn't believe Ian's cavalier attitude. He began to wonder if he knew the man at all. He felt the rage surfacing. He had to get away from Ian. He had to protect him. Daniel squirmed away from the other man and leapt to his feet. He was halfway to the door when Ian's voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Why are you running away, Daniel?" Daniel heard panting and then realized it was himself. Guess it's my turn for the panic attack. He felt an almost hysterical giggle start, but feared if he started, he'd never stop. He had to answer, but he didn't know how.
"I-I, um," he swallowed hard and tried again. "I'm, I'm angry. I need to, to get away. Need to protect you." There, he'd said it. He still hadn't turned around to look at Ian. He wasn't sure he wanted to. What would he see in his face? Laughter? Disgust? Or, worst of all, pity? "I never wanted you to know." He whispered. He raised his hands to his throbbing temples. The pain was beating at him, but maybe he deserved it.
"We understood that, Daniel. That's why Jose and I never mentioned it to you."
Oh, god, Daniel thought, Jose knows, too. He closed his eyes and wondered what they said when they talked about him. Did they laugh at his ineffectual attempts to hide his guilt? Was that why they'd moved into the same suite? So they'd have protection if he tried to force one of them? When did it get so cold in here? There was a sound behind him, but the roaring in his ears kept him from identifying it. Daniel yelled as if he'd been burned when Ian touched his arm. "Don't touch me! Don't come near me!" He could feel the hysteria rising and there wasn't anything he could do to stop it. He backed away from Ian until he bumped into the wall. Daniel scrabbled against the wall with one hand searching for the doorknob, never taking his eyes off Ian. He tried to step closer to it, but his knees folded instead and he slid down the wall landing on his butt with a bone-jarring thump. Daniel sat on the floor breathing heavily. Something was wrong with him, but he couldn't figure it out. Couldn't think. He felt like he was going mad.
"Daniel!" Ian rushed to his side but Daniel couldn't find the breath to tell him to stay back. "Are you hurt? Daniel, look at me." Ian ran his hands over the back of Daniel's head. "Did you hit your head? Talk to me, damn it!"
"H-hot. It's hot." Daniel swallowed and tried to control his breathing. He wondered how it had gotten so hot all the sudden. Need to have the unit checked. Can't have it going out with winter coming. He realized Ian was touching him. How could the other man bear it? "I need," more harsh breaths interrupted him.
"What do you need, babe? Tell me so I can help you."
"I need..." Daniel cursed silently. Ian kept asking questions and he didn't have any answers. If only he didn't feel so hot, so dirty, maybe he could think and figure out the answer. Ian deserved that. They all did. They deserved so much better than he could offer.
"C'mon, babe, tell me what you want me to do. Let me help you." Ian stroked his hair and gripped his hand. Daniel looked up and caught his eyes. They were worried and Daniel saw tears gathering.
"I've hurt you." He started to wipe away the tears, but pulled back. He was so filthy, he didn't want to get Ian dirty, too. "Please, I need to go," Daniel swallowed back a sob, "Need to go to my room, now." That was it, he needed to go upstairs. Then he could strip off his dirty clothes, get into the bath and scrub and scrub and scrub the filth away.
"Oh, Daniel." Ian turned his head to wipe his face on his shoulder and Daniel realized he'd spoken out loud.
"I'm sorry, Ian. I don't want to get you dirty, too." He watched intently as the younger man nodded and then reached over to pull open the door. Daniel hoped he'd leave so he'd be safe. He didn't want anything to happen to anyone else, least of all his husbands or... "Wait! Ian!" A new wave of panic gripped him. "Please, get the boys out of the way. I don't want them to see me. Please, don't let them see me," he begged. He couldn't be with them right now, he might get them dirty, too.
"Shhh, dear heart, the boys aren't here, remember?" Daniel tried to figure out what Ian was talking about. He couldn't figure out why the other man would say something like that. "Remember, hon? They went to visit your father a few days ago?" Daniel's panic eased and he nodded, his father would take care of them. He'd keep them safe and clean. That was okay. Clean was good. He didn't think he'd ever be clean again.
Ian half stood, still gripping Daniel's hand and wrenched the door open with the other. "Parker! Get Beecham in here, now!" Daniel watched as if in a dream. He knew he was sitting on the floor, but couldn't remember why.
"Ian? What's going on?" He thought he should be concerned by the tone in his voice, but it was like it was happening to someone else.
"It's okay, Daniel, everything's going to be fine." Daniel felt himself nod and couldn't find any reason to stop, so he kept nodding until Ian's hand on his cheek stilled the motion. "Babe, you're," Daniel watched as Ian composed himself. He seemed upset by something, but Daniel had no idea what it might be. "You're not well. I've called for Beecham and we'll get you upstairs in a few minutes." The hand was back on Daniel's cheek and he leaned into it. He thought he should be in pain, but couldn't remember why. Daniel heard someone muttering, but couldn't quite place it. It felt so good to be touched. To be wanted and cared for. He hoped whatever was bothering Ian wasn't too bad. Daniel was so tired, he didn't think he'd be much help at the moment. Maybe tomorrow.
"Sir, you needed me?" Contentment flooded through Daniel. Beecham would take care of it. Whatever problem Ian had, Beecham would help him with it. Running an estate this size was a big job. Ian did it well, but Beecham was always there to support him. Daniel wanted to reassure Ian and let him know that it was okay to rely on the older servant, but talking seemed like much too much work right then.
"Beecham, excellent. Lord Cascadia isn't feeling well. Could you help me get him to his rooms?"
"Of course, sir." Daniel barely noticed when Ian grabbed him under one arm as Beecham grabbed the other and they pulled him to his feet. He swayed there feeling almost drunk. "Sir, if you can stay with him for a moment, I'll have Parker clear the way." Beecham's voice stopped for a moment. "His Lordship wouldn't want to have his passage disturb anyone's work unnecessarily."
"Good thinking, Beecham. I've got him." Daniel marveled at how thoughtful Beecham was. His servants worked hard to take care of him and his family and Beecham knew Daniel hated to get in their way. Daniel's head wobbled up and he looked at where he was.
"Uh-oh." He knew he was in trouble now. "M'sh Ambershon ishn't gonna be happy with me. I'm not sh'poshed t'be here."
"It's all right, my lord." That was Beecham's voice again. He looked around until he saw him. "I spoke with her myself, my lord, she understands that you weren't feeling well and isn't angry with you."
"'Kay. Th'nksh, Beesh'm." Daniel was walking now, but it was dreamlike. He could hear that muttering again, but couldn't be bothered to tell them to keep quiet and let him sleep. He looked up at the stairs and hoped his father didn't catch him the next time he tried to slide down the banister. With one last sigh, he closed his eyes and slept.
"Jack, of course it has to be me!" Daniel couldn't believe they were having this argument again. He stuffed the laptop in his bag and checked to make sure he had all the files and reports Janet had given him. "We can't be certain that the children are being infected deliberately." He raised his hand to forestall the inevitable rebuttal. "It looks like it, but it's not a sure thing." He slung his bag over his shoulder and started for his office door with his friend stalking unhappily beside him. "Janet thinks it's highly likely that I have the same natural immunity that Lord Daniel does. If you go and we're wrong about the continuing presence of Niriti's virus, you'll catch it and probably get very sick."
"And what if Frasier's wrong about your immunity? Didja think of that?" Jack shouted, startling several people in the corridor. Daniel stopped and watched Jack continue down the corridor for a couple of steps before whipping around to glare at him.
"Yeah, I did think of that and so did Janet and Sam and Teal'c and the general and probably everyone who's heard about this mission." Daniel was getting serious pissed off with Jack's attitude. Worse, he could hear the hated whiney note creeping into his voice. It's not like he wanted to do this alone, but he really didn't have much choice. He was the only one they knew of who had a hope of being able to do this. Even though he was going through in a containment suit, there was no guarantee something wouldn't happen to it. Sending a woman was out of the question entirely. Sending anyone they weren't fairly confident could survive just in case they were exposed to the virus was out of the question. Daniel had the best shot. Being known to two people in the other universe didn't hurt, either. "If it happens, Jack, I'll stay until I'm clear of the virus and convince Lord Daniel to come here from time to time to avoid the cascade tremors." Jack still looked unhappy. "Look it was your endorsement that got the general to approve this. Why are you so upset that it worked?"
"I didn't intend for you to go alone!" Mother Hen O'Neill strikes again. "I could do it, Daniel. It's not like I'm planning on have children again." Daniel was gratified that Jack had at least lowered his voice.
"Jack, we couldn't ask Jonathan to come back here while you recovered. What if he went into labor while he was here? Janet's not sure she'd know how to handle it, not without doing damage." Jack's face closed down again and Daniel cursed himself for having brought that up.
"But maybe if she was born here," Jack shoved his hands in his pockets and turned back down the corridor to the elevator. Daniel followed, sighing deeply.
"I know, Jack, but we don't know enough yet. Maybe the children are all born with the virus already." A sad smile flitted across Daniel's face. For once he was the one preaching security. "We can't risk exposing our Earth to that." They entered the elevator and Jack hit the button for their floor.
"Have I ever told you how much I hate you when you're right?"
Daniel sneaked a look at the man next to him. Jack stood there with his hands in his pockets looking down at the floor.
"Yeah, I think you may have mentioned it a time or two." He smiled, just a little twitch of his lips but stopped when Jack glanced at him. Things had been odd between them since all this started. He'd found himself looking at his friend only to catch him looking back. They'd both look away, but not before Daniel had seen a variety of odd expressions on Jack's face. He wondered what Jack had been seeing. This was supposed to have been the lost weekend they'd planned. Daniel snorted. He and Jack had to be the only people on the planet who would schedule a "lost weekend". They'd put it off and he was wishing they hadn't. It was almost all he could think about, he just wasn't sure if what he was feeling was anticipation or gut-wrenching fear.
Daniel's mind had been constantly going over the interplay between Lord Daniel and Jonathan. They looked so right together. It had started sending his thoughts places he hadn't gone in a very long time. Places he was frankly uncomfortable with because he wasn't sure where they'd lead if he followed them to what seemed like their natural conclusion. He wasn't sure he was that brave.
Jack jolted into action slapping the stop button and halting their descent. When he faced Daniel his eyes were blazing. "Just promise me you'll be careful." Daniel just nodded, not sure where the passion in his friend's expression was coming from. "And if that gate lights up, you hightail it back to the mirror and come home. No fighting their battles for them. Got it?"
"Got it, Jack." He reached out and squeezed his friend's shoulder. "I'll be careful. I'm just going to relay the information we've got and see if I can get some answers to Janet's questions, then I'm coming home." Jack nodded and Daniel released his shoulder. Nothing more was said as they resumed their journey.
Daniel stood patiently watching the scene on the mirror while Janet fussed with his containment suit. So far, Lord Daniel's study was visible, but there'd been no one in it since just after the visitors returned home. He'd been wondering what was keeping Lord Daniel from his study. From their discussions, they shared a similar attitude toward their work and Daniel had given his counterpart a satchel full of information about the Goa'uld language and the political set up as Daniel knew it. Perhaps he was spending his time reading with Jonathan or the others. Daniel had been known to take books or reports to Jack's when Jack wanted to watch hockey. Sometimes it was nice to just share space with someone.
"Okay, Daniel, that's it. Remember, you've got twelve hours of air at normal activity levels, no more." Janet stepped back and Jack handed him the suit's helmet. "I've got to get back to the infirmary, now, but call me if you need anything. Good luck."
"Thanks, Janet. Hopefully your services won't be needed." Daniel smiled at the doctor.
"See to it, Daniel. You're a terrible patient. Not to mention that you come with even worse accoutrements." Aiming a sour look at Jack, she turned and left, with nothing but the receding sound of her heels in the corridor to fill the sudden silence.
"I hope you stopped by the men's room before you got into that." Daniel glared at Jack who smiled evilly at him. Jack wouldn't take on Janet if possible, but apparently Daniel was fair game. Of course Daniel was always fair game.
"Gee, Jack, no, wanna help me out of this so I can go?" Daniel decided Jack was going to pay for that one since now he wished he could go again before stepping through. He really didn't care much for the internal plumbing in these things, but it was too late now. No way would he give Jack the satisfaction. Instead he pulled on the helmet and closed the connections.
"Can you hear me, Daniel?" Sam's voice was loud and clear over the internal radio. Not that it would matter since he planned to do without that once on the other side. He did have a radio to give to Lord Daniel to make it easier, but figured they wouldn't need it as long as they both spoke loudly. With a thumb's up in her direction he picked up his satchel, and turned to the mirror. Janet's people had set up a decontamination unit around it so when he came back through there would be less risk of bringing anything unwanted back with him. He'd argued that it wasn't necessary since Lord Daniel and Jonathan hadn't brought the virus with them when they came through. Janet had just cocked her head and looked up at him with her hands on her hips. Even Teal'c had been known to stand down when Janet gave him that look. With one last look at the others, he stepped up to the mirror and touched it.
Daniel turned around immediately once he was through to make sure there was no one else in the room. Conscious of the rest of his team watching him, he walked slowly around the room taking it all in. He stopped for a brief moment in front of the formal portrait of his father. No, he thought, Lord Daniel's father. He reminded himself to call him Lord Cascadia while he was here. Daniel stopped a moment by the windows and looked out at the stargate in the garden. He shuddered at the thought of it sitting there right by the house. He shook off the image of hordes of Jaffa pouring through and taking control of this house and headed for the door instead. Daniel tried the door but found it locked. He turned back to the mirror and saw Jack and Sam looking back at him. Jack held his hands out to his sides, apparently asking what the hold up was. Daniel mimed what he hoped would convey that the door was locked. It apparently worked since Jack shrugged and mimed something back. Daniel shrugged and did as he suggested. Not that he could think of anything else. He felt foolish, but he knocked on the door and waited, hoping someone was out there to open it.
Daniel tried pressing his ear against the door but he couldn't hear a thing through the damned suit. He turned back to the mirror and shrugged again then raised his hand to knock once more. When nothing happened, he wandered back to the desk, thinking he'd look for a spare key. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Jack looking at him like he'd gone crazy. Yeah, Jack. Breaking down the door is a great way to win friends and influence people. He'd save that for a last resort. He grinned, though, at the irony of it. He'd stepped from one universe to another only to be stopped by the lock on an ordinary wooden door. And now he found that the desk was locked, too. Lord Daniel was apparently careful with his work.
Daniel shifted the satchel on his shoulder and turned back to the mirror. Maybe he should go and come back later when someone was in the room. Jack waved his hands and pointed behind him. Daniel turned in time to see the doorknob move. He gave the others a quick thumb's up and went back to stand a few feet back from the doorway. He suspected he was going to look pretty bizarre to anyone who came in and he didn't want to be right on top of them when they did.
The door opened revealing the shocked expression of a wiry, gray-eyed man. He was a few inches shorter than Daniel and held a bundle of keys. He wondered if the man was a servant. Probably a fairly highly placed one if he had keys to the master's study. Daniel smiled even though he didn't think it would matter much through the facemask. Just as he started to speak, another man arrived, shoving the first out of the way and pointing what looked remarkably like a shotgun at Daniel's chest.
"Oh, hey, that's not necessary," Daniel already had his hands up and made eye contact with the newcomer. He was almost Daniel's height, with deep brown eyes and black hair. He looked Hispanic. "My name is Daniel Jackson and I just came through the mirror." Oh, yeah, that's helping. The gray-eyed man looked terrified and the dark-eyed man with the gun just looked angrier. "Look, is your name Jose? If it is, then you should know that your Daniel Jackson met me and my friends a few days ago." That didn't seem to faze the man with the gun at all. The other man, though, seemed to be calming down and was speaking quietly and rapidly to his companion. Unfortunately, the damnable suit prevented Daniel from hearing what was being said.
"We don't know that, Ian!" Okay, that answers that, but he sure doesn't look like how Lord Daniel described him, Daniel thought. "He could be an imposter sent here to do god knows what. How do we know he didn't make Daniel sick on purpose!"
"Hey, wait, did you say your Daniel's sick?" Oh, god, what if we were wrong. "He was fine when he left us. Our doctor checked them both out and they were both fine!" The gray-eyed man, Ian, was speaking again, apparently becoming more confident because his voice was louder than before, but not loud enough yet to make out more than a few disjointed sounds from this distance. The man's manner, though added credence to Daniel's notion that he was facing Lord Daniel's other consorts.
"No, Ian!" The man Daniel was almost certain was Jose was getting angrier and angrier. Daniel figured he was simply frightened but that shotgun could do a great deal of damage if he got frightened enough. A stray thought intruded and informed him that Jose's slight accent was more Spanish than Mexican, though physically he didn't look European. Daniel shut that down. This was no time for linguistic and anthropological puzzles. "Why is he dressed like that? How long until the rest of us get sick like Daniel? I'm not letting him out of this room and I'm not letting him go until he tells us what's wrong with Daniel and how to cure him!" For the thousandth time since he first wore one of the blasted suits, Daniel wished it were easier to see through. Maybe if Jose saw him clearly enough, it might keep him from killing a man who looked like his husband.
"Wait, wait, wait! We didn't do anything to him! We only want to help." Daniel was starting to get a little desperate. He mentally measured the distance back to the mirror and his heart sank when he realized he'd never make it in time. He subtly turned his head a little, trying not to turn the mask covering his face. It was just enough that he could see the mirror out of the corner of his eye. Sam was there, but no Jack. Damnit, Jack! Don't you dare! Daniel knew what was going on and he had to put and end to this before Jack risked himself. Turning back to the gunman, Daniel tried again, "Look! What can I do to prove to you that I'm not here to hurt you?" He tried to keep his voice calm, but wasn't sure he managed it. Sweat was dripping into his eyes and he wouldn't be surprised if the other two men could hear his heart pounding. Time to try something else. "You're Jose, right? An-an-and you're Ian, right? I know that because your Daniel and Jonathan told me about you. Why, why would they do that if they thought we were a threat to you?"
"They wouldn't!" Ian spoke out for the first time. He seemed to have conquered his fear or maybe just realized things were getting out of hand. Daniel watched as he stepped between Daniel and Jose. Daniel hoped Ian wasn't just suicidal. "Please, Jose, don't do this. Think of what it would do to Daniel when he finds out." Apparently not suicidal. The gun didn't lower, but Jose's body language was easing, he'd stopped reacting and had started listening.
"Why is he wearing that suit, Ian? What's he afraid of? If he's really just like Daniel, he's immune to Compton's virus." Jose's voice was calmer, which Daniel hoped meant he'd survive this. He really hated getting shot at.
"Our doctors couldn't pinpoint the element in your Daniel's blood that gave him his immunity. They think I'd be immune, but they're not certain. We can't afford to risk me taking it back with me to our world." Daniel did his sly peek at the mirror again and Sam was still there. "Look! Look at the mirror!" He took the risk and turned a little bit toward it to draw the other men's attention to it. "See?" Both men took a good look for the first time. Jose's arms dropped along with his jaw. Ian didn't look any better. "That's my friend Samantha Carter. She prefers everyone call her Sam." Seeing that he had their full attention and the shotgun wasn't pointed at his chest any more, Daniel took a risk and waved a "hello" to Sam. Maybe if he made his world more real, it would help them connect with him. She smiled and waved back. Jose and Ian almost smiled back, but they were still in shock. Ian managed a little wave and Sam returned it. She seemed to have realized what he was up to and played along. Daniel turned back to his companions. "I can't risk her." Daniel's panic faded and his voice reflected that. Daniel watched while Sam gestured to someone out of sight and then Janet walked into view. "That's Janet. She's the doctor who examined your Daniel and Jonathan. She has a lovely daughter named Cassie." Janet waved, too and both men returned it with more confidence than before.
"They're real." The wonder in Jose's voice nearly broke Daniel's heart. "They're beautiful."
"Yes. Yes, they are. They're real and they're beautiful and they're very much alive. They're my friends. I can't let them be hurt. I have to protect them however I can."
"Jose, listen to him. He even sounds like Daniel." Ian put his hand on the barrel of the gun and pointed it down at the floor. "We need to take the chance. Maybe they can help us. Maybe they can help Daniel." Jose just nodded and stared at the women in Daniel's universe.
"I bought copies of Janet's records with me for your doctors to look at." Daniel hefted his satchel, but they weren't really paying any attention to him any more. Daniel tried his most persuasive tone. "Your Daniel told us that most of your medical science is devoted to reproduction. Maybe she's found something that your doctors simply don't have the resources any more to uncover. We just want to help you. Please, let us help."
Ian turned away from the mirror with obvious reluctance and took the gun from Jose's hands. Daniel couldn't help the relieved sigh that escaped. Jose's shocked gasp had him jerking back around to see what was happening back home before the image fully registered he heard a shocked "Wow!" from Jose. Daniel looked back at Jose and was surprised to see an appreciative look on his face. Looking back at the mirror and feeling a little like he was a tennis match, he found Jack standing in front of the mirror in boots, pants and a t-shirt with a containment suit helmet in his hands and a P-90 strung around his neck. "Oh, no. No!" Daniel approached the mirror and shook his head violently while trying to convey that everything was under control now. Daniel looked around and saw Ian standing behind him and to one side still holding the shotgun. "Ian, please, put the gun down. Jack has a very bad habit of shooting first and asking questions later. He won't do anything unless he thinks I'm in danger."
"Oh! Right. That sounds very familiar." Ian stepped up next to Daniel and held the gun up sideways in his hands showing Jack he couldn't fire it in that position. Then he slowly bent down, placed it on the floor and backed away a few steps. "He's hot. You're a lucky man."
Daniel's double take wasn't missed by his friends. Janet was leaning against Sam and laughing so hard she probably needed the support. Daniel closed his eyes and groaned. He'd forgotten that she could read lips, a legacy of a stint she did in a V.A. hospital. Probably why they'd called her back down to the containment area. Soon Sam was trying, not very successfully, to stifle her laughter while Jack looked like he'd taken a punch. Daniel raised his hands to his sides and shook his head helplessly. Jack snarled something to the two women who promptly tried to straighten up and compose themselves. They weren't altogether successful. Jack finally just looked disgusted with the two of them and held his mask up as if asking if Daniel needed help. Daniel shook his head hard and waved his hands in front of him in a negative gesture. Jack drummed his fingers on his P-90 for a moment, then tossed the mask to someone Daniel couldn't see. He gave Daniel a "carry on" motion and then turned to probably bark at whoever else was in the room.
"Oh, boy. He's not happy at all." Jose had come up to stand next to Ian. Daniel nodded. Jose was right. Jack was very unhappy at the moment. He'd get over it. "But Ian's right. He's very hot. Can't wait for Jonathan's hair to go completely silver if that's what he's going to look like." Daniel hung his head. This was going to be a very long twelve hours.
Jonathan relaxed into his chair. His back ached, but there'd be no relief for it in the foreseeable future. Daniel was sleeping again so he felt able to leave the bedroom, but he couldn't bring himself to leave the suite. Devon was still there. As Jonathan was the man in the district closest to delivering, there would, hopefully, be no call on his services in the next week or so. Jonathan shut his mind down on the subject of his impending delivery. That was the last thing he wanted to think about. The medics in the district had been put on alert to handle any accidents or ordinary illnesses that cropped up in the meantime. If necessary, the doctor would go, but only if it was something beyond their skills.
The past twenty hours had been trying. Ian and Jose had been there with him, but they'd both gone to take a break and stretch their legs once Daniel had calmed down some. Beecham moved quietly through the suite clearing away stray dishes and straightening up scattered blankets and pillows. Jose and Ian had been camping out there with him for the duration. Jonathan suspected Beecham had no intention of leaving, either. He'd remained at hand since he'd helped Ian carry an unconscious Daniel upstairs. Jonathan certainly wouldn't tell him to leave. He needed the old servant's calming presence. And occasionally, his was the only voice Daniel would respond to. At some level that angered Jonathan, but he buried the jealousy and reminded himself that Beecham had known Daniel since childhood. Given his husband's confusion, Jonathan was grateful someone could reach him at all. He tried to be grateful, at least.
"Sir, do you require anything?" Jonathan opened his eyes to see Beecham standing near his chair. The man looked as exhausted as Jonathan felt and so pale he feared the man would pass out. He started to shake his head as the thought of food turned his stomach at the moment, then something occurred to him.
"Yes, Beecham, I require that you sit down, put your feet up and take it easy." Jonathan sighed, he might just as well have told him to dance on the ceiling. "Look, Beecham, you're tired, I'm tired and neither one of us is leaving any time soon." Jonathan waved a hand at the sofa Jose had been napping on earlier. "Please, take a break. Daniel might need you when he wakes up so you need to be rested." Jonathan thought for a moment and glanced at the covered dishes still on the sideboard. "You haven't eaten, have you." Again, Beecham looked like he'd been slapped.
"No, sir." How could two simple words sound so disdainful? "It wouldn't be proper. I'll have my supper when I return to the kitchen." Damn, Jonathan thought, if he stands up any straighter he'll be popping some of those buttons right off.
"Nonsense." Jonathan pointed to the sofa. "Sit." When he hesitated, Jonathan pulled out the big guns. "Beecham, I can't manage here on my own." Jonathan rubbed his hand over his belly to illustrate the problem. "Daniel needs you. That means you're not leaving, not that I thought you would," he added hurriedly, "but that means you have to eat and rest just like the rest of us." Reaching for the buzzer by his chair, Jonathan summoned whoever was on duty. In the meanwhile, Beecham sat. Rather he perched uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa. The man acted as if this were the first time he had ever sat down in the presence of a member of the family. For all Jonathan could remember, it might be. A few moments later there was a quiet knock followed by the appearance of Parker. Of course it would be Parker. Now that Jonathan thought about it, Parker was the only one besides the family, the doctor and Beecham to have been in for the past twenty hours. Of course. Beecham would have ordered him to be on call for their suite. No one who hadn't already seen Daniel would be allowed near while he was sick.
"May I help you, Sir?" The poor man's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw Beecham sitting precariously on the master's sofa. Beecham refused to look away, but his face was turning an alarming shade of red.
"Yes, Parker, would you prepare a plate for Beecham? He's going to be staying here with me for as long as it takes and the man needs to eat. I'd do it myself, but I'd've needed you to help me up so this just seems more efficient." Parker made his way swiftly to the sideboard, glancing back surreptitiously at his fellow servant from time to time. He wanted to look at Jonathan, but had been too well trained to draw unnecessary attention to himself. Covert glances at another servant were one thing. Apparently, covert glances at the family were crossing the line. "Make sure you give him enough to last a while. Don't stint because that plate's not being fixed in the kitchen. I won't have the man weak from hunger." He took another look at Beecham. "Include a glass of wine or some beer or whatever Beecham normally drinks. I'm sure you know what he likes."
"Sir." Beecham sounded like he was being strangled.
"You do drink, don't you?" Jonathan was certain Daniel gave the man a case of something every Christmas, but he couldn't remember what it was at the moment.
"Yes, sir, on occasion."
"Good! I can't right now, so I'll enjoy it vicariously." Jonathan sighed. "I could use a drink right about now." Parker approached and placed a nicely full plate on the low table in front of Beecham along with the necessary silver and linen, then returned to the sideboard to pour a glass of Daniel's favorite red wine.
"Parker!" Beecham hissed and started to rise, but Jonathan stopped him with a raised finger. He settled.
"Sir, that's his lordship's wine, it wouldn't be right," the man was almost panicked.
"Please, Beecham." Jonathan waved for Parker to get on with it and let his voice express his exhaustion. He usually tried to keep up a front for everyone, but he needed to make his point and make it quickly. "Daniel won't mind. He'd be furious with me if he knew I'd let you wear yourself down to nothing." Bringing Daniel into it seemed to be helping. "Besides, I can't think of anyone else outside of his family that he'd rather share it with than you." Jonathan wasn't exactly certain what the expression on Beecham's usually expressionless face meant, but he thought the older man was pleased with the notion that Daniel valued him.
Once he'd finished serving Beecham, Parker stood attentively at Jonathan's side. "Sir, may I get you something?" Jonathan wondered if he'd played the exhaustion card a little too heavily.
"Please, sir, you need to eat something, too." Beecham had relaxed somewhat but Jonathan knew that look. He wasn't going to get away with it.
"I really don't know if I could right now." His stomach was roiling and the baby was alternately kicking his stomach and head butting his lungs. His mind shied away again from thoughts of his daughter. For some reason the confirmation from Doctor Frasier made it all too real.
"Sir, perhaps one of Cook's special drinks would go down well?" Parker looked hopeful at Beecham's suggestion. Now that he mentioned it, the fruit and yogurt drink might do the trick. In a few weeks, he'd hole up somewhere with a couple of bottles of whiskey, but he couldn't do that yet. He wouldn't do that yet, despite the current crisis.
"Actually, Beecham, now that you mention it that does sound good." Jonathan's public face was firmly in place. Beecham waved a much relieved Parker toward the door. "Parker, ask if he has any strawberries." If he didn't... "Wait! Only if no one has to go get them. I'll take whatever's available."
"Of course, sir." Slightly crestfallen, Parker left on his errand.
"Parker's going to have to rest sometime, you know."
"Yes, sir, but in the meantime, he needs to feel that he's helping." Beecham had apparently gotten over his reluctance to eat with his betters and took another hefty bite. After swallowing he continued, "His lordship wouldn't want the nature of his illness to spread throughout the household."
Jonathan nodded. Daniel wouldn't. "Thank you for thinking of it. It really hadn't crossed my mind."
"Sir has other matters to occupy him right now. It is my pleasure to remove whatever small worries I can." Somehow Beecham managed to convey his customary bow without getting up.
"You have no idea how comforting that is, Beecham." Jonathan settled back and considered dozing, but his daughter and his bladder had other ideas. He groaned and started to work his way toward the front of the chair.
"Sir, if I may." Damn, you move fast. Jonathan let the older man help him from his comfortable chair and then he waited until his helper got the message and returned to his dinner.
Jonathan made his slow way into the bedroom. Moving as quietly as he could he stopped by the bed to see how Daniel was doing. He looked fairly peaceful in the dim light. He was sprawled on his back taking up more than his half of the bed as usual. Jonathan wanted nothing more than to crawl under the covers with him with the comforting sound of his love's light snores to send him to sleep. Then he noted the dark circles and pain lines between his brows. Even in sleep his head must still be throbbing. Jonathan sighed and then held his breath as the ill man shifted in his sleep, reaching to grab the pillow next to him as he rolled over and hugged it to him. Jonathan didn't move until Daniel settled again. He felt tears well up as he realized it was his pillow being hugged so desperately. He wiped his eyes and headed on to the bathroom. Devon roused a bit in his chair as Jonathan passed him. He squeezed the man's shoulder as he passed and closed the bathroom door softly behind him.
Once finished, he waited until the plumbing quieted down then headed back into the bedroom leaving the door cracked to provide a little light in the bedroom. All was as he'd left it, so he passed through as quickly and quietly as possible so as not to risk waking the sleeper. He had just closed the bedroom door when the door to the suite flew open revealing Ian, Jose and someone covered head to toe in a bulky orange suit of some kind.
"Shh! Ian, keep it down! Daniel's sleeping in there!" Jonathan shushed the younger man and gestured at the odd member of their group.
"Jonathan, it's good to see you again." He knew that muffled voice. Jonathan moved a little closer and peered into the facemask of the suit.
"Daniel? What are you doing here?" Fear clinched his gut. "You didn't bring Jack, did you?"
"No! Though he almost joined us." Jonathan wondered what that meant and then noticed Jose looking a little embarrassed.
"Jose, what did you do?"
Daniel put a gloved hand on Jose's shoulder and squeezed, "It was just a little misunderstanding." Jonathan wished he could read Daniel's body language because he knew Jose. He was sure it was more than a little misunderstanding. Daniel was looking around the room.
Jonathan turned to Ian and Jose who still stood near Doctor Daniel. "Would one of you go in and sit with Daniel? I need Devon out here." Before either of them could speak, Beecham appeared at Jonathan's shoulder.
"Sir, if you please, I could sit with his lordship. It might be best if the other gentlemen remained with you and your visitor." The food seemed to have done the older man a world of good. He still looked tired, but there was new color in his face and he looked like he was willing to take on the world.
"Are you sure, Beecham? I don't recall you napping between bites." The older man would have looked insulted save for the subtle crinkling around his eyes. In all the years he'd been with Daniel, Jonathan had never seen Beecham smile. Well, of course he smiled, but only little 'all's right with the household' smiles. Never a real one. Early on, they didn't spend much time at the house. Later, after things changed, Daniel had commented on how strongly his mother's death had affected the old man. He'd come with her from her father's home when she married and had been more like a favorite uncle than a servant to Lady Claire Jackson, at least according to her son. Maybe he just didn't smile around them, around Daniel. Maybe it hurt too much. "I shall be fine, sir. It's not like I've never watched over his lordship while he slept. I'll send Doctor Caruthers out directly." Beecham put his hand on the doorknob, "Master Nicolas and Master Robert are very like their father." With a slight bow, he proceeded into the room. Jonathan couldn't decide if he should be pleased or terrified by the thought. From the look on Ian's face he had the same dilemma. Jose smirked at both of them. His sons hadn't been mentioned. Jonathan brought his wayward thoughts back to the present and turned to their visitor.
"That looks uncomfortable."
"Um, it is, actually. Who's Devon?"
"He's our doctor. We've told him about you and me, I mean Jack and, and all that." Doctor Daniel frowned and Jonathan wished he would take off that blasted mask.
"Do you trust him?" The question surprised Jonathan.
"Of course I trust him. We trust him."
"Jonathan, I wouldn't be asking this if it weren't important. Do you trust him with your world?" Jonathan bit back his knee jerk reaction and looked into the man's face. Doctor Daniel looked pointed down to Jonathan's belly and then back up. Jonathan felt the blood drain from his face. She told him! Rather than just stand there, he moved to his chair and sat heavily while his mind raced. What was he asking? He was grateful Doctor Daniel was keeping his secret, but what did it mean? How much did he trust Devon? Then, he realized he didn't need to think about it anymore.
"Yes, Daniel. I trust him with everything." Before Doctor Daniel could respond Devon emerged from the bedroom, carefully closing the door behind him.
"Devon, there's someone I'd like you to meet. Doctor Devon Caruthers, meet Doctor Daniel Jackson." The two men shook hands or rather Doctor Daniel shook Devon's hand. Jonathan had the impression that their visitor recognized him. Devon looked like he was going in to shock as he got a good look at the man behind the facemask.
"My god, I almost didn't believe them when they told me but you look just like him! You're an archeologist, right?" Doctor Daniel started to speak, but Devon kept right on. "You really are from a," he turned quickly to Jonathan, not releasing the hand he grasped. "What did you call it?" He whipped back to the suited man a huge grin lighting his face. "An alternate universe? This is incredible! We have to tell people! Jonathan, I know you and his lordship wanted us to keep this quiet, but we can't keep this to ourselves!"
"You have to! Please, if you haven't told anyone else yet, you've got to keep this quiet." Doctor Daniel's voice, though muffled, carried the same tone as their Daniel's voice when he wasn't going to take no for an answer.
"We haven't told anyone, but Daniel did call his father and ask him to return as soon as he could." Before Doctor Daniel could ask Jonathan added, "He didn't tell him why, just that there was business that required his presence." His husband's counterpart relaxed.
"Good. That's, that's good." He reached up in a familiar gesture as if to run his hand through his hair only to stop and look at his hand then shake his head in annoyance. "Look, we've got to talk and it has to stay within this room until we figure out what to do." Jonathan waved the others to sit and they spent a moment getting comfortable. Jose sat in another armchair with Ian perched on the arm. Devon chose a spot at the end of one sofa and Doctor Daniel carefully sat where Beecham had been. Ian jumped up and moved the dirty dishes away and poured drinks for everyone but Jonathan and their guest. Raised eyebrows in Jonathan's direction asked the obvious question.
"Parker's bringing me something to settle my stomach." Ian turned to their guest who held his arms out helplessly.
"Don't worry about me. I've got water, if I get thirsty enough." The scowl told Jonathan what their guest thought of that. He glanced at Jonathan and smiled. "I think my doctor would just shoot me if I drank anything here that she hadn't approved."
"She's little but very, very scary."
"She?" Devon sounded as awed as he looked.
"Beautiful, too." Ian, having returned to his place on Jose's chair sighed. "As is Samantha." He spoke her name with obvious reverence. Jonathan knew that Ian had never been attracted to women before they all died, but he understood the man's emotion. They drew him, too. They represented everything their Earth had lost. "But your Jack's gorgeous, too." He yelped when Jose goosed him. "Verrrry hot." He tried to get up, but Jose grabbed him around the waist and dragged him into his lap.
"Wait, when did you see them? You didn't bring women with you!" Jonathan didn't want to believe it not after what he'd heard while on their Earth.
"No! No, they saw them through the qua, uh, through the mirror. They were watching me when I came through, making sure everything was all right." A sound from the other armchair drew Jonathan's attention.
"I can see I'm going to have to keep you away from Jonathan from now on." Jose growled and started to tickle Ian but stopped before it got out of hand.
"Are they always like this?" Jonathan smiled at Doctor Jackson's perplexed question.
"Not always, but enough to be annoying." The other two were still wrestling quietly in their chair, which wasn't easy as it really wasn't big enough for both of them. "C'mon, you two, cut it out."
"Spoilsport. I had him right where I wanted him." Ha! Jonathan thought. I know exactly where you want him and it's not in that chair. He wondered if he should ever tell them about the fond memories he had of that particular chair. Maybe he would, but he'd save it for later. Much later. Ian kissed his partner and Jonathan watched as they settled back as they had been only this time Ian had his arm around Jose's shoulder and Jose rested one hand on Ian's thigh. Both faces reflected that reality had sunk in again, the moment of play gone.
"So, you didn't bring the women, either. That's good."
"Nope, just me."
"But I take it you didn't come just to say hello."
"No, actually, but before we get to that, what's wrong with your Daniel?" Devon launched into a quick recital of Daniel's symptoms. Starting with the initial breakdown he then described the mood swings, confusion, headaches and tremors. Doctor Daniel laid his satchel on the table and started pulling files and bundles of papers clipped together from it placing them in piles. He scowled while he listened and dug through them until he found what he was looking for. Scooting awkwardly toward Devon he opened the file on the table before both of them.
"Look at this. Doctor Frasier sent this for you, well, for a doctor, to see. Do you recognize these chemicals?" Devon bent over the pages and started firing questions at their guest. Doctor Daniel answered as best he could, but even Jonathan could tell he was out of his depth. Devon expanded a little on what their guest had been told during Jonathan's and Daniel's visit, even talking about the care given to babies immediately after birth. Almost all of them had some minor deficiencies of some kind, but there were effective treatments that took care of it within days. Between the two of them, though, Devon apparently managed to find enough common ground with what he knew to start making sense of what he read. He paged through the reports, eventually reaching over to those Doctor Daniel had left on the other side of the table. Devon's expression became more and more grim.
During one of the exchanges that left the other three completely lost, there was a knock on the door and Parker entered bearing a tall glass on a silver tray. Jonathan tried not to laugh, but the size of the man's eyes as he got a good look at their outlandishly clad visitor was almost too much. Parker placed his drink on the side table and waited for further orders. Speaking low so as not to disturb the two doctors Jonathan said, "its okay, Parker, he's a friend. But," he held up one finger for emphasis, "under no circumstances is anyone to know he's here. It's a," he searched for the right word, "a delicate situation." Parker relaxed. He understood delicate situations. Jonathan's early relationship with his master had also been 'delicate'.
"Very good, sir, if there's nothing else?" Jonathan shook his head and Parker retreated as quietly as he came.
During his brief exchange with Parker, their visitor had started filling them on his doctor's findings as well as some of their suspicions. Jonathan could tell there was something he was holding back. He knew that face too well. He'd already recognized that the two men were much alike and Daniel could never hide anything from Jonathan for long. Finally, with a muttered curse, Devon threw the file he was reading on the stack in front of him and stood.
"What the hell do you think you're pulling? What do you hope to prove with this," he waved his hand dismissively at the scattered papers, "this crap!"
Doctor Daniel placed his hand on his facemask then pulled the hand into a fist in obvious frustration. Jonathan could almost see the desired action, that hand rubbing his eyes while he thought. "I'm not trying to pull anything. We're trying to help!"
"Help? With this, this fiction? I don't know what kind of medicine they practice on your world, but here we deal in facts not fantasies!" Devon stalked over to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of wine. He downed it in one gulp and turned back to them. "Those results are preposterous! Half of those chemicals don't even exist. There's no way they could have been in his lordship's blood unless," he narrowed his eyes at their visitor who by now was standing and beginning to look alarmed, "unless your people put them there!"
"Devon!" Jonathan raised his voice to break through the other man's tirade. He knew Devon. He was just getting started. "They didn't do anything to us except be nice and feed us and offer their help. And keep your voice down." Devon still looked angry, but a little guilt at the thought that he might have disturbed his patient tempered the anger. "Doctor Frasier, well," Jonathan studied his hands, "lets just say I wasn't very nice to her when I met her and leave it at that." For once he was glad he couldn't see Doctor Daniel's face. He was embarrassed enough by his behavior. "I apologized and she was the soul of compassion and professionalism when she examined me."
"What about the side effects of the fertility treatments? Do you know what causes them?" Doctor Daniel's voice was calm and conciliatory all the while he was essentially interrogating Devon. Jonathan glanced at Jose who nodded approvingly. Jose had been a high ranking member of Seguridad Nacional de California before. He'd come north to marry Daniel as part of an arrangement between his great uncle, the Don of California, and Lord Jackson. One of Daniel's cousins had married into the Don's family. Such exchanges had been done for centuries to cement diplomatic relations between nations, but now the Reproductive Council occasionally 'suggested' such matches to ensure genetic diversity. These days he handled the estate's security and acted as a consultant for Cascadia's regional police force. Jose had remarked in the past how impressive it was that their Daniel could usually get anyone to talk about anything, but he relied on his position and the devotion, or the implied threat, that position accorded him. This Daniel had honed his skills in ways Jonathan didn't really want to think about. Even after hearing about their SGC and the ongoing war with the Goa'uld, it bothered him to think of any Daniel being put in such danger.
"There are no persistent side effects! Those that are reported by fertile men are the result of stress caused by doing their duty to society." Even Jonathan could hear the rote quality to Devon's declaration. He idly wondered what his counterpart would do right now.
"Then what's wrong with Lord Cascadia?" Again, the quiet almost submissive voice.
"I don't know!" Devon sank back down on the sofa and covered his face. "God help me, I don't know."
"Then isn't it possible that those chemicals are in his bloodstream and they're causing it?" The submissive quality shifted and became cajoling.
"Yes! No! Damn!" Devon looked at the other man on the sofa. "Doctor Jackson, those chemicals shouldn't even exist! I have no idea what they might do. They're impossible!" Doctor Daniel chuckled.
"This isn't a laughing matter, Daniel!" It had taken several attempts, but Doctor Daniel had eventually gotten Devon to call him by his first name.
"I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you. It's just that for a moment you reminded me of Sam, Samantha. She's always telling me something's impossible, at least until she figures out a way to do it." He grinned at Devon, who couldn't help but grin back.
"What kinds of things?"
"Oh, just, y'know," he waved his hand vaguely, "work stuff." Now it was Jonathan's turn to laugh. He'd heard about some of Doctor Daniel's 'work stuff'. It did sound impossible. Devon looked askance at Jonathan who mouthed "I'll tell you later" as his chuckles slowly died down.
"What kind of equipment did your Doctor Frasier use to examine these chemicals?"
Their guest blinked behind his mask. "I have no idea." Seeing the discontent etched in the other man's face, he continued, "Most of what I know about medicine I've learned either in first aid courses or from, well, from being a patient." A pained, haunted look crossed his face to be quickly replaced with a calm facade. Jonathan wondered what particular memory had sparked that expression.
"I need to go there." Devon made his announcement while looking directly at Jonathan. "If there's any chance that something I've been doing is making him ill, I need to know!" The doctor's anguished expression almost convinced Jonathan on the spot. As First Consort, these decisions fell on him when Daniel was unavailable. He glanced at Jose and Ian, but they'd been silent since their wrestling match. Jose shrugged and Ian nodded his head at Jose as if to say, "I'm with him." This was too far out of their experience. It was too far out of anyone's experience. Jonathan hardly thought that one foolhardy trip to Doctor Daniel's Earth made him an expert, but he was the only one they had. For the moment, it was his decision. He hated that but he also knew once Lord Jackson arrived, he didn't think he'd be able to override the older man. This told Jonathan all he needed to know about what he was going to do. Jonathan chewed his lip and ran his hands over his face. An idea had been forming ever since they had returned home. He'd been trying to ignore it. It was an impossible idea that had no hope of working. Then, Daniel's illness effectively drove it from his mind. Until now. He almost allowed himself to hope.
"Daniel, will your people allow it?"
Doctor Daniel nodded, paused and then nodded more vigorously. "Yes, I think they will," he glanced at Devon, "at least as long as there's no risk of infecting our world."
"No, no risk. No one here carries the virus." Devon's words sent a chill down Jonathan's spine. "Only a few men have been found to continue to carry the virus after they're exposed to it. They've been put in isolation and kept away from the rest of the population while researchers try to come up with a cure or at least a vaccine. They've had limited success." Devon added sadly. Jonathan had never really thought about this before, but now it hit him with blinding clarity. It should have occurred to him when Doctor Frasier questioned them about it, but there was too much else on his mind at the time. Too much strangeness. Jonathan wondered why Daniel hadn't thought of it, that's the kind of thing he'd usually have noticed. His illness must have been clouding his mind even then. Either that or the presence of the strange chemicals led Jonathan to make the leap. That and the realization that their guest wasn't telling them everything. Jonathan decided this must be what he'd been leaving out. He half-hoped he was wrong. But what if he wasn't... what if he wasn't.
"Devon, if none of us carry it," Jonathan found he had trouble getting the rest of the question out. "If none of us carry it, just how do our children get it?" Devon started to speak, to probably say he didn't know and then he looked down at the scattered papers he'd just been going through. The color leached from his face and he grabbed the sofa as if to keep from falling off. Jonathan knew what was going through the other man's mind, because it was the same thing going through his. All the reproductive drugs and the initial treatments required by their babies came from a single source which was controlled by the Reproductive Council. Their eyes met and Jonathan nodded.
"No. NO! I don't believe it!" Devon's voice didn't sound as certain as his words. "Do you know what you're implying, Jonathan? Do you know what that would mean?"
"Devon, we don't know anything." Doctor Daniel's calm, conciliatory tone was back. "Let's see if we can find out." Devon nodded and Jonathan decided it was time to act.
"Right. That's settled. Devon, grab the birthing kit and let's get going." Jonathan started the long process of trying to get out of his chair.
"Jonathan? Just where do you think you're going?" Ah, Ian. And he had that tone in his voice.
"I'm going with them." He held up a hand to forestall continued argument. "And we're taking Daniel with us."
The argument between Devon, Jose and Ian raged in hushed tones for the entire time it took Jonathan to change clothes and instruct Beecham to pack a bag for himself and Daniel. It's not that they didn't want Devon, Jonathan and Daniel to go. They wanted to go, too. As Jonathan had pointed out before heading into the bedroom, they needed to remain to keep up appearances. He took Beecham into the suite's bathroom to let him know what was going on and that he relied on the servant to help keep their absence a secret. It wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't going to be for long, but it was imperative that no one else find out about this. Beecham swore to secrecy with one exception. He wouldn't lie and he wouldn't omit anything if Lord Jackson asked about his son. Jonathan hadn't expected anything less and just instructed him to speak to his father-in-law in private.
By the time Jonathan returned to the sitting room, the battle was over. Jose was slamming down wine like there was no tomorrow. This might have been a problem except Jonathan had never known Jose to become drunk on wine. The man had an incredible tolerance for the stuff. Ian was still stalking around the room looking more than ready to rip the head of anyone who came within reach. He had to get control of this before one of them did something stupid.
"Guys?" Jonathan held his arms out and after a moment's hesitation from both of them, they came to him and they stood in a three way hug. Jonathan pulled away, still with an arm draped around both men's shoulders. "I know you want to come with us and I wish there was a way to do that, but there's not. I'd love to show you this place and the people. But the important thing is that they might be able to help Daniel. They might be able to help all of us, but we need Devon and Doctor Frasier to get together and do their thing. With both Daniel and I there, they've got men to study right at hand." He could see he was getting through to them. He knew he had to tell them the rest. It was killing him, but they had to know why it had to be him who went with Daniel. He squeezed them both a little. "There's another reason I have to be the one to go."
"That's an easy on, knucklehead." Jose ran his hand up into Jonathan's hair and gently tugged his head back and forth a couple of times. With his other hand, he stroked Jonathan's belly, grinning when the baby head butted his hand. "See? He wants to go, too."
Jonathan knew the tears were coming and he didn't see any way to stop it. It was all too much and Jose's words crashed through his carefully built walls. He felt Jose's arms come around him while Ian ran his hand through his hair and rubbed his back gently. As his harsh sobs died down he finally heard the soft murmurs of the other two men. He felt Ian kiss his shoulder and then there was a cold spot where he'd been. Jonathan raised his head from where he'd rested it on Jose's shoulder to look for the smaller man. "It's all right, mi poco corazon, he's just getting you something so you can wipe your face." Jose pulled him forward and leaned up to plant a kiss on his forehead then hugged him close again. Jonathan couldn't help but smile through his tears. They each expressed their protectiveness in different ways. Daniel hovered, Ian mothered and Jose got touchy-feely. And he did it in Spanish. "We've been there, mi amor, we know what it's like." Jonathan nodded, though he knew Jose hadn't ever faced this particular terror. Nothing terrifies like hope and for the first time in a very long time, Jonathan felt hope.
Ian returned and handed him a warm, damp cloth. He took it from him before the other man could wash his face for him. Ian looked a little embarrassed, which told Jonathan he'd been right. Ian was the worst of them all when it came to mothering everything in sight. The slightly red-faced man put his arm around Jose who still had one hand in Jonathan's hair. "Look, guys, there's more going on here than you know." He tossed the damp rag onto the floor and put a hand on each man's shoulder. "Yes, it's important for Devon and Doctor Frasier to have a pregnant man to refer to." Daniel would never let him live down being reference material. "So, I'm handy. I'm the logical choice."
"There's more to it, isn't there, hon." Ian looked at Doctor Daniel. "There's something you're not telling us." He looked back at Jonathan. "But you know what it is, don't you." He should have known he'd never get anything past them.
"You're right. There's something I haven't told you, yet. Daniel doesn't know, either and I think it's just as well that he not find out. At least not until there's no other choice."
"Out with it, Jonathan." And then Jose would jump right back to brusque.
"Well, since you asked so nicely." He took a deep breath and wiped his eyes one last time. "I'm going to have a girl." He looked into Ian's shocked eyes and then into Jose's grief-stricken ones. Jonathan leaned in to plant a comforting kiss of his own on the side of Jose's head then continued to hold him close. They knew what it was like to watch their daughters sicken and die in their arms over a matter of days. After Jose's daughter died, he was silent for almost two weeks. Jonathan spent most of that time touching him, holding him. More tears than words were shared, but it was healing for the both of them. Later, Jonathan found that Ian and Daniel had spent their time similarly, when they weren't trying to entice the others to eat or bathe or sleep.
"You must go, mi corazon. You must do what you can to give your, no, our daughter a chance." Jonathan felt the tears start up again. He sniffed and found a hankerchief in hovering over his hand.
"Thanks, Devon." He used it and then pulled each of his husband's consorts, NO, he thought, I think we just moved beyond that., he pulled each of his husbands into a full body hug and kissed each one deeply. He pulled back and gently wiped the tears from Jose's face then cupped his hand around Ian's cheek. "We'll be back as soon as we can." With that, he sniffed one last time, turned to the others in the room and asked, "Okay, who's going to carry Daniel?"
"What does he think he's doing?" Jack had been in and out of the mirror room since Daniel left. Gone were Carter's gadgets and Daniel's books. In their place was an array of medical equipment and a hospital bed. It was well short of the twelve-hour limit but he'd stopped in on his way to see the general. The SFs on duty had been about to report activity on the other side when he'd walked in. "Damnit Daniel!" The object of his ire couldn't hear him on the other side of the mirror, but he'd certainly get an earful when he got here. Jack approached the mirror. He shook his head and waved his arms trying to dissuade him from what appeared to Jack to be a massive mistake. As far as Jack was concerned they were just plain lucky that Lord Daniel and Jonathan had been clear of the virus. But Daniel was bringing them back. It looked like he was also bringing the bio guy from SG7 with him. Creamer or whatever his name was. He and Daniel were supporting Lord Daniel who appeared to be barely conscious. They were each carrying bags in addition to the one Daniel had taken with him. Jack could see Jonathan standing right behind them with his hand on Lord Daniel's shoulder when Daniel raised his hand to touch the mirror. Jack held his hands up once more and mouthed, "Wait!" before turning to the airmen in the room, "Abbott! Sims! Out, now! And get Frasier into the observation booth! Contamination protocol!" Once the door was secure, he glared at his friend through the mirror. He should have been on the other side of the door with Abbott and Sims, but that conversation in the storeroom haunted him. Then they were on this side of the mirror being drenched in the decontamination mist. "Damnit, Daniel!"
"Jack! Given Devon a hand and get Daniel on the bed." Jack wanted nothing more than to rip Daniel a new one and maybe the other Daniel, too, just because. Instead, he helped Carstairs get the obviously ill man into the waiting bed. His anger would have to wait. They had a situation and the sooner he got control of it, the better. Jack hated these kinds of emergencies. He'd much rather have enemies to shoot at. Maybe he'd shoot Daniel later. Jack watched his friend and future victim struggle with his containment suit for about thirty seconds with frankly ineffectual help from Jonathan before he batted the pregnant man's hands away and nodded to the bed.
"What's up with your Daniel?" Jack quickly stripped his Daniel out of the bulky suit and shoved it into his hands to deal with. He leaned close so only Daniel could hear him. "You are in so much trouble right now."
"When am I not in trouble, Jack?" He whispered back. Now out of the clumsy suit he juggled it for a moment trying to find a way to carry it without tripping while he looked around for somewhere to put it. He finally walked over to the corner where all the bags had been dropped and just dumped it next to them. Jack rolled his eyes, but decided that was the least of their worries. At least it was out of the way.
"Daniel had a breakdown of some kind yesterday. Since then he's been tired, confused and has a killer headache." Jack knew that tone having heard it coming out of his mouth more times than he cared to remember. Jonathan was, if possible, even more exhausted than he looked.
Jack and Daniel joined Jonathan who was trying to calm his husband and Crenshaw who was busily connecting his patient to various monitors. Jack heard him mutter from time to time apparently trying to figure out what one piece or another did. He took a good long look at Lord Daniel who was lying flat on his back looking around the room almost like he had the first time.
"It's okay, love, you're safe. You've been sick. We brought you back through the mirror to see if they can help you." Jonathan kept on telling the confused man where he was and what was happening, but Jack wasn't sure it was helping.
"Jon'than?" Jack realized he was looking at him. He had no idea if he should deny it or go along with the confused man.
"Shh, I'm here, hon." Now he was looking at Jonathan.
"B-b-but then who's that?" Lord Daniel struggled to sit up. Jonathan helped him and then took him in his arms rocking him a little and murmuring to him. His Daniel tugged on his sleeve and indicated they should move away. Jack followed him, more shaken by the other man's illness than he'd expected. Jack's stomach clinched. He'd seen his friend stretched out on an infirmary bed looking like that more times than he could count. In pain, confused, scared. Jack's head reminded him that his friend was standing next to him, but his heart ordered him to go to the sick man.
"I thought it might be easier for him if he couldn't see us at the moment." Jack nodded. No way did he want to get involved if he could help it. Yeah, right, like that was going to happen. He was involved and he was in deep. Jack didn't want to care what happened to these men, but he knew it was too late. He cared. He cared enough to have set up this mission for the sole purpose of getting Jonathan here so maybe his daughter would survive. It galled him that he was allowing his personal feelings to interfere with his job, but this was one he couldn't walk away from, no matter how much his head told him he should. Naturally, Daniel was bearing the brunt of his anger and knowing how wrong that was just made it worse. Jack felt like he was on an emotional rollercoaster. He needed a vacation. Taking in his friend's worn face, Jack realized he probably did, too. He felt his anger drain away.
"I couldn't just leave them there, Jack! Their own government is doing this to them!" Daniel did this to him every time. He'd do something Jack knew was dangerous and wrongheaded but then he'd hit every button Jack had to get him to go along. Nine times out of ten it ended up being the right thing to do and nobody got hurt. It was the tenth time that always ended in bloodshed. The worst of it was that Jack didn't think Daniel was manipulating him on purpose. If he thought he was, it wouldn't work nearly as well. No, he was just being Daniel.
"I know, Daniel. You're just being you."
Daniel gave him a quizzical look. "Jack, you were the one who was planning on bringing Jonathan here in the first place." Jack hung his head. "Don't tell me you changed your mind." Daniel had his arms crossed but hadn't gotten to the self-hug that had been his trademark early on.
"Crap, Daniel, I don't know anymore." Jack scrubbed his face with both hands and ran one through his hair. "This is all just so..."
"Confusing? Weird? Like being on a rollercoaster that goes on forever?"
"You didn't tell me you picked up mind reading while you were hanging out with Oma." Daniel bumped shoulders with him and gave him a quick smile.
"Uh, no. I've just been spending way too much time with you."
"Yeah, well, it's getting weird hearing you do your Shirley MacLaine thing on me."
"I'm not sure weird is the word I'd use. Maybe terrifying or..."
"Aht!" He bumped Daniel's shoulder back. He knew the pit was still waiting to swallow him, but Daniel was a lifeline of sorts. He wasn't alone this time. This time would be different. "Let's see what's what before Frasier gets here." He checked the observation booth, but it was still empty.
"I thought it might be a good idea to bring Doctor Caruthers along to talk with Janet." They moved slowly toward the bed.
"Caruthers! That's his name. It was driving me crazy." Lord Daniel was calmer and seemed to be drifting off to sleep. Jonathan was leaning heavily against the bed, still holding the sick man's hand and running his other hand gently over his hair.
"I beg your pardon?" Caruthers turned as the two men approached.
"You're, or rather the other you, is on SG7. He's new. I'm terrible with names." Jack held his hand out to the newcomer, "Colonel Jack O'Neill."
"They told me you were military, but it didn't seem real." He looked back and forth between Jack and Jonathan then shook his head. "I guess you people are used to this sort of thing."
"Nope. Never get used to it. Don't want to." Jack looked back over his shoulder again and wondered what was keeping Frasier. Daniel had gotten one of the tall stools from the edge of the room and was currently urging Jonathan to sit down. Nodding toward the patient, Jack asked, "How's he doing?"
Caruthers shook his head. "Not well, but the periods of confusion are getting shorter. His headache is getting worse, though, and he's sleeping too much. His body's not regulating his temperature as well as it should. At least the mood swings seem to be over." Caruthers studied one of the monitors for a moment. "This equipment is very similar to ours, but it's different enough. I'm not completely certain what it's telling me." Jack looked at him, his eyebrows raised. The other man smiled at him. "You're so much like Jonathan. It's uncanny. But then they're," indicating the Daniel on the bed and the one currently speaking quietly to Jonathan, "a great deal alike, too." He shook his head again. "This is just too strange."
"Strange is pretty normal around here. Doctor Caruthers, isn't it?" Finally, Jack thought as he whipped around to see Frasier bending over to talk into the microphone in the observation booth.
"Ah, good to see you, Doc." Jack turned back to the man next to him and rolled his eyes. "Here we go again." That earned him a glare from Daniel who still stood by Jonathan, one hand resting on the man's shoulder. "Doctor Caruthers, meet Doctor Janet Frasier."
"They told me you were beautiful, but," Jack could see the man was on the verge of tears. Looks like he wasn't the only one having trouble getting a handle on his emotions. He looked back up at Frasier. Jack had never really paid much attention to her looks. It was easier to just not notice subordinates. He'd learned that lesson a long time ago. Now, for just a moment, he tried to see her with the eyes of the man next to him and he had to admit she was very attractive. Especially since she wasn't shining that damned penlight of hers into his eyes.
"They did, did they? Well, thank you, Doctor, that's very kind of you." If Jack hadn't known better, he'd have thought the SGC's tiny terror was blushing, but that was obviously a trick of the light. "How's your patient? The colonel indicated there might be danger of a contagion. I thought Lord Daniel was immune to the virus."
Caruthers bristled at her words. "Doctor Frasier, I will not have his lordship insulted. His title is Lord Cascadia." Before she could respond, Jonathan's voice drew their attention. He spoke softly, probably in deference to the sleeping man, but Jack thought it might be all he had the energy for. He seemed to fading right before their eyes.
"Relax, Devon, it's not like that. They," he waved his hand to indicate Jack, Daniel and Frasier, "don't seem to have any nobility or anything like that. 'Lord Daniel' was a compromise that Daniel approved. They don't mean anything by it."
Caruthers still seemed ready to take exception to what he apparently saw as a deadly insult. Jack wondered if he was going to challenge someone to a duel. "Doctor, my apologies, Jonathan's right. Your Daniel, Lord Cascadia," she amended, "thought it would be easier than having us try to remember to call him such an unfamiliar name." The doctor still wasn't happy, but he appeared to be willing to drop it for now as he proceeded to answer Frasier's question. They drifted off into medical-speak and Jack tuned them out. Frasier would report what he needed to know later.
Moving over to stand next to the bed, Jack looked between the man on the bed and the man on the stool. He kept his voice quiet. "How ya doin'?" Jonathan shrugged.
"Tired. Worried. Pregnant. Tired of being pregnant." Jack nodded. He remembered Sara saying much the same thing.
"Y'know, you could go home and," the other man's expression stopped him. "Or you could just hang out here."
"I'm staying." He looked insulted at the very idea. "Would you leave?" Jack tried to put himself into the other man's shoes. If someone he loved had been lying there, he doubted he'd be willing to leave either. Jack glanced at Daniel and a montage of images of his friend lying in the infirmary ran through his head. He'd stayed with him more often than not, usually having to be run out by Frasier or the general. He shied away from the implications and quickly reminded himself of the times he'd stayed at the bedside of other teammates over the years. He didn't like the comparisons he found. Once again he was being taken places he really didn't want to go. Jack tried to tell himself that it was just because Daniel seemed to have such a knack for getting hurt. Yeah, Jack, tell yourself another one. He shook his head.
"Jonathan, no one's going to make you leave him." Daniel patted the tired man's shoulder and Jonathan nodded. "We're just concerned about you." Jonathan nodded.
"Devon's right. You're a lot like my Daniel." He gave them both a tired smile then gasped and sat up straight, twisting a little and rubbing his abdomen. Again, Jack flashed on Sara when she was pregnant. Daniel, for all his experience actually delivering babies, didn't seem to have had much experience with actual pregnancies. His face went white and gripped Jonathan's shoulder tightly.
"W-what is it? Jonathan? Are you all right?" Jonathan nodded, but his face was still reflecting the obvious discomfort he was feeling.
"Take it easy, Daniel, I think the baby just turned wrong." Jack wished they'd brought in another bed, but they'd only been expecting one patient. Jonathan looked like he seriously needed some horizontal time. He wandered toward the observation window where Caruthers and Frasier were still deep in discussion. The general stood behind Frasier and looked like he was getting about as much of the conversation as Jack was. Once in a while he'd look over toward the bed and scowl. Then he'd look at Jack and the scowl would deepen. Jack started to ask the dynamic duo to cut to the chase, but the general beat him to it.
"Doctor Frasier, is the base in any danger?" Frasier folded her hands in front of her and looked at Caruthers who shook his head with confidence.
"Not at this time, sir. None of the men in the isolation room carry Nirrti's virus."
"Doc, what does that mean?" He really hated it when scientists got cagey. "Yes" or "no" was what he wanted to hear. Nice and clean. Actually, "no" was all Jack wanted to hear. Jack met the general's eyes. It seemed he wasn't particularly pleased with her answer, either.
"Answer the colonel, Doctor Frasier. Are we in any danger or not?"
"Sir, could I speak to you privately?" The tone in Frasier's voice sent Jack's internal warning system to DEFCON 3.
"Of course," General Hammond gestured for Doctor Frasier to follow him as he headed to the door. "If you'll excuse..."
"Doctor Frasier?" Caruthers interrupted the general. "It's not necessary. We knew Daniel was holding something back and we figured out what you suspect." Jack glared over his shoulder at his friend who had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Colonel, don't blame him. You forget how well we know Lord Cascadia." Caruthers smiled as he turned back toward the observation window. "They're very much alike."
"So, that means, what?" Jack's patience in these situations wasn't unlimited and he was losing what little he had very quickly.
"It means that we brought a birthing kit with us." He pointed to the bag Jonathan had been carrying. Frasier looked just a little less confused than the general. Jack didn't need a mirror to know how confused he was.
"And, so, therefore?" He made a 'get on with it' gesture to the other man. Caruthers took a deep breath and 'got on with it'.
"It means that if, and I do mean if, our children are being deliberately infected with Compton's virus, the infectious agent," his face had gone white and he seemed to be having trouble continuing.
"It means," Jonathan's quiet, tired voice carried in the silence, "it's being spread through the supplements given to babies immediately after birth and they're in the birthing kit." General Hammond did not look happy. Jack tried to remember the last time he looked this not happy and decided it was a tie between the time he, Daniel and Carter got banned from O'Malley's during the armband fiasco and any time Simmons had been on base. Daniel had only thought he was in trouble. Jack had a feeling the man was going to be on the general's list for a very long time.
"Is it safe to break quarantine?"
"Yes, sir. We'll need to secure the birthing kit and keep it properly contained, but the men pose no threat." Frasier looked like all her Christmas wishes had just come true. Nothing like a freakish alien virus to get her blood pumping. He felt a brief moment of pity for her ex-husband.
"See to it, Doctor." She rose and didn't quite run from the observation room. "Doctor Jackson, once you've been released from quarantine, I'd like to see you in my office." Here it comes, Danny boy.
"Of course, general." Daniel was putting on a good front, but he hated being chewed out by the general almost as much as Jack did.
"Colonel, I'd like to see you when I've finished with Doctor Jackson. I think we need to have a discussion about the nature of contamination protocols."
"Yes, sir! Looking forward to it, sir!" The general smiled a not particularly nice smile at him before turning on his heel and striding out of the observation booth. This was definitely a new level of not happy for the general and generals had a lovely habit of spreading the not happiness around. He knew he should have left the room before the others came through, but he had to see this through.
Frasier erupted through the door followed by an eerily quiet flow of personnel. Jack snagged Daniel and dragged him out of the way as some descended on the patient and Frasier led Abbott and Sims to what Jack figured must be the birthing kit. They were carrying a case with the not reassuring biohazard symbol on the side. She placed the kit into it herself and watched closely as they sealed it.
"I can't decide if I want them to find the virus in there or not." Daniel kept his voice low.
"Yeah." Jack knew what he meant. "Damned if you do,"
"Damned if you don't." Daniel finished the thought.
"Still, it might mean,"
"Yeah. That would be great, wouldn't it?" Daniel smiled one of his rare broad smiles at the thought of Jonathan's daughter. His smile faded as fast as it appeared when Frasier pinned them both with her eyes and mouthed "infirmary, now" before turning to her patient.
"Guess she told us." Jack headed toward his doom with Daniel at his side.
"Thanks for, y'know." Daniel waved back toward the doorway they'd just emerged from.
"Not a problem. We're gonna get through this." Daniel nodded.
"Assuming we survive our meetings with the general." Daniel sounded as dejected as he looked. "I wonder if there's any chance of an invasion in the next half hour." Jack smiled at the hopefulness in Daniel's voice.
"I was wondering the same thing just the other day. But I was just hoping they'd torch my inbox."
"Think if we saved the world again the general might go easy on us?"
Jack pondered Daniel's question all the way onto the elevator. From the other man's expression, he was pondering, too. Just as the doors closed they looked at each other then back to the doors. "Not a chance in hell," they said simultaneously.
Jonathan lay on his side feeling his daughter moving under his hand and watched the activity around his husband's bed. Devon and Doctor Frasier had both urged him to sleep, but he fought it. Daniel was sleeping for now, but the sight of his all but colorless face coupled with the IV lines and monitor leads all over him frightened Jonathan more than the actual illness. There was something about being in a hospital setting that made the whole thing seem more real than it had in their own home. Daniel had worked himself to exhaustion before and Jonathan realized he'd been reacting to this whole mess as if that's all it was. Tears welled up in his eyes that he quickly blinked away. He knew if he let them go he'd never stop. He felt like a fool. A worried, exhausted, over-emotional, useless fool. They wouldn't even let him sit by his bed.
Devon had reminded him, rather guiltily as Jonathan recalled, that the baby needed him rested. Jonathan remembered having just grunted at him. Devon had never been pregnant and with the on-going revelations about the medicine they'd all been using, he wasn't feeling very trusting of his doctor and friend. It was Doctor Frasier's blunt "Don't make my staff have to pick you up and put you to bed after you fall on your face" that finally got him in this position. He'd never told anyone, but whenever he was pregnant he was paranoid about falling. No one warned him that she was psychic. How anyone could be that small and that scary was beyond him. Maybe he should invite her over to spend a little time with Nicolas and Robert. So far, only Daniel and his father had been able to contain those two for any length of time.
Jonathan sighed. Not that Daniel spent much time with the boys these days. He'd thought it was because he was consumed with work. Dealing with all the stuff the elder Jackson kept sending him ate up most of the time he spent at home. His staff in the capitol did most of the day-to-day work of managing Cascadia, but he still had to spend time doing what Jonathan playfully called "Earl Stuff". He smiled a little remembering how Daniel would scowl at him when it called it that. Now, Jonathan realized it was probably intentional. Daniel had been distancing himself from the children out of fear of what might happen if he lost it. Which brought Jonathan right back to watching the man in the next bed. The baby's head butted his hand and he rubbed the spot absently and slowly blinked back more tears. "It's okay, little one. Dad's going to be fine. You'll see him soon enough." He couldn't have told anyone if the tears were due to fear, dread or, what might prove even worse, hope. A last slow blink and Jonathan was finally asleep.
"I felt like I was twelve years old again being sent to the principal's office for arguing with my history teacher about the fall of the Roman Empire." Daniel was quietly complaining to someone. Probably Ian, who was likely mothering him again.
Jonathan lay there on the cusp of waking. What's the old man been telling him off for this time? He thought he should go ahead and wake up. It seemed like there was something he was supposed to get up and do, but he was still in that warm half asleep state where nothing seemed terribly important but staying right there. As always, the feeling gradually faded and about the time he realized he wasn't in his own bed another voice jolted him completely awake.
"Now, why am I not surprised by that?" Jonathan's eyes flew open and he suddenly remembered where he was and what was happening. On the other side of Daniel's bed sat Doctor Daniel and Jack, sitting side by side on an empty bed as they talked in low voices. Daniel was sleeping and for the first time since his breakdown he looked peaceful, his color was good and he didn't look like he was in any pain. He hoped that was because he was recovering rather than just the presence of some really good painkillers in one of those IVs.
"What, that I was ever sent to the principal's office?" Jonathan watched Jack roll his eyes and then bump his Daniel's shoulder with his own.
"That doesn't surprise me at all. It's just that most boys get sent to the office for skipping school or fighting or something fun. But no, you got in trouble for arguing over history." Jack shook his head in mock disbelief.
"It might be more accurate to say I got caught arguing over history." Jonathan knew that smug little smile. "And it was fun. Mr. Peters was an ass." Oh, yeah, he knew exactly who to blame for his and Jose's sons' ability to get into trouble.
"Oh? So, what didn't you get caught doing?" I bet he'll never tell you that one, Jack.
"Hey, Jonathan." Doctor Daniel shot an innocent look at Jack as he hopped off the bed and headed toward Jonathan with Jack a couple of steps behind him. "I hope we didn't wake you."
"Forget it, Jack. If he's anything like my Daniel, you'll never find out." He rolled to his back and stretched. "And no, you didn't wake me." Jonathan looked back over to Daniel's bed. "How's he doing? Have they said anything?"
"They said a great deal and I'm sure it was very informative, but I didn't understand more than about three words." Jonathan raised his eyebrows and resisted the urge to throttle the man. "Ah, those were 'he'll be all right".
"Jack, that's four words, one of which is a contraction so that might actually,"
"Don't. Just don't, Daniel." Turning to Jonathan he asked, "Is yours this annoying?"
Jonathan took a long look at the peacefully sleeping man and then back to Jack with a grin, "He has his moments." Daniel would be all right. He felt as if one great weight had been lifted. He was still carrying another, but it was easier to bear knowing his husband would be there for him. Jonathan started trying to sit up and realized he had his hand tangled in something.
"Here, let me help you with that." Doctor Daniel moved to the other side of the bed and helped him unwind the IV tubing and then hit the button on the bed to raise the head.
"What's this?" He raised his hand and followed the tube up to a bag filled with clear liquid.
"Frasier can't stand having someone in here without sticking a needle in." Jack sounded as if he spoke from painful experience. Doctor Daniel shot him a quick look that promised something dire if he didn't shut up.
"It's just fluids and a few nutrients. She and Devon thought it best since you haven't been eating much and," he trailed off. Jonathan looked at him and then at Jack.
"How long was I asleep?" The two men looked at each other but neither came up with a number. Jonathan wanted a number.
"Well, let's see, we both got our asses chewed by General Hammond. Some of us actually went home and slept in our own beds, unlike others who apparently prefer sleeping on keyboards." Doctor Daniel's earlier scowl returned. "Maybe ten or twelve hours. Depends on when you fell asleep." That made sense. He did feel better than he had earlier. Part of it was knowing Daniel was on the mend, but he'd felt better before he knew that.
"Where are the doctors anyway?" Now that he was sitting up, he couldn't see either doctor in the infirmary. Several other beds were occupied and a nurse was doing something at one of them. A couple of the men were talking quietly, apparently trying not to disturb the others. He felt a moment of panic. "What happened to them?"
Daniel looked confused and turned to see what he was looking at. His face had cleared when he turned back. "Oh, SG4 ran into a rockslide on their last mission. That's what Janet was up to yesterday when we got back."
"Oh." For a moment he'd feared they'd been horribly wrong about the virus. The last time he'd seen the inside of a hospital other than Devon's small clinic was when he was a patient with rows of other men who were ill or dying along side him. "Are they going to be okay?" The one the nurse was with looked kind of familiar, but he wasn't sure where he might have seen him before.
"Them? Oh, yeah. Just bumped around some." Jack nodded to the men who were awake then stepped a little closer to the nurse as if to see what she was doing.
"Yeah, Carlos and Tom are being released this afternoon." Doctor Daniel indicated the two men Jack had nodded to. "Howard's already gone home and Jeff should be released day after tomorrow." Jonathan realized where he'd seen 'Jeff' before. He looked back at Daniel and then to his visitors.
"Daniel," the urgency in his voice drew Jack back to his bed. "Please, talk to Doctor Frasier. Don't let my Daniel see him." Jonathan's heart was pounding. Daniel didn't need this right now. He saw the look that passed between the two men. "It's important!"
"Hey, take it easy. Daniel, why don't you go find the doc and see what she can do."
"Sure. I'll get her." Doctor Daniel smiled reassuringly at him and then headed off to find Doctor Frasier.
"So, what's up with your Daniel and Howe?" Jonathan closed his eyes and prayed that Daniel would keep sleeping for a while longer.
"It's," he wasn't sure how to say this. When they were here it was easy to forget some of the more unpleasant aspects of their real lives. Jeffery Howe represented the one that tormented Daniel most. "It's difficult and I'm not sure you'd really understand." Jack looked back at his Jeffery then back to Jonathan.
Jonathan licked his lips and looked down at his hands as he started stroking his belly. It was a nervous habit when he was pregnant. "It's very personal, Jack." He looked at his counterpart standing there looking strong and tall and more fit than Jonathan had looked in a very long time. A flood of conflicting emotions hit him. Embarrassment at his condition, anger at Jack for being normal, fear of the look on Daniel's face if he woke to see a stranger he'd probably impregnated. Daniel would say 'a man he'd raped'. "Don't make me beg, Jack. Jeffery did nothing wrong. Daniel did nothing wrong, but he never sees it that way. Isn't it enough to know that seeing that man," he gestured toward Jeff, "will hurt him a great deal?" Anger was getting the upper hand now. Was he this stubborn? This uncaring? "I won't let that happen!"
Jack looked at him then turned back to look at Jeff and then around again to look at Daniel. Jonathan could almost see the wheels turning. He knew the man in front of him was intelligent, though he'd already seen how he tried to hide that fact for some unfathomable reason. "Oh. Oh! You mean they," Jack closed his eyes for a moment and waved one hand between them. He seemed as unwilling to say it as Jonathan had been.
"Daniel does his duty." That's all anyone needed to say at home. The rote response reminded him with a jolt of Devon's comment about the effects of the fertility drugs. He hoped Jack understood that some things just weren't discussed any more than they had to be.
"Duty. Yeah." Jack grimaced. "I guess we've all had to do... things in the line of duty." Jonathan had seen that hard look in the mirror, but that was only since the plague had done it's damage and later only when the memories of his dead children couldn't be denied. He wondered just what kinds of things this man had done in doing his duty. Jonathan decided he really didn't want to know. He'd thought of this world as perfect, but the more he saw of what it had done to his counterpart, the less he could believe it. "Anders, could you come over here when you've finished?"
"Yes, sir." The nurse replied quickly then said something to her patient before leaving him. "May I help you, colonel?"
"Set up a privacy screen around these two beds. I'll clear it with Frasier."
"Yes, sir." She walked away and in a few moments Jonathan, Daniel and Jack were secluded from the rest of the infirmary.
"Thank you, Jack." Jonathan felt his anger recede. "I'm still going to ask the doctor to move us somewhere else." Jack nodded just as they heard the click of high heels on concrete. A moment later the curtain opened and suddenly the space was much too small as Doctor Frasier and Doctor Daniel entered.
"Jonathan, it's good to see you awake. How are you feeling?" She didn't wait for his response as she picked up his wrist and started taking his pulse. Having been through this routine he waited until she finished before answering.
"Much better, especially since Jack tells me Daniel's getting better." He couldn't stop smiling.
"Yes, he is. He's doing much better now. We isolated the chemicals that were causing the problem," Jack interrupted her before she could go further.
"Doc, I doubt he wants all the picky details." He looked at Jonathan and raised his eyebrows, "English, right?" Jonathan chuckled.
"Please. In English. I'm sure Devon will give me more of the gory details than I'll ever want to hear." He tried to look behind Doctor Daniel to see if Devon was standing back there. "Where is Devon?"
"He's still in the lab with our Doctor Caruthers. They're working on the supplements from the birthing kit you brought with you." She smiled and tried to stifle a laugh. "Neither one of them was quite ready for the experience. But once they got over the shock, they hit it off pretty well."
"Oh, god, two of them! Your Devon's a doctor, too?"
"Actually, he's a biochemist. Very useful pair of skills for this research."
"Our Devon told me once that he'd seriously considered being a doctor at one point." Daniel hitched one hip up on the edge of Jonathan's bed. "You've never said what you do, or did, before."
"Me? Oh, I was an electrical engineer. Still am. Power generation. I don't do as much hands on work as I used to, but I consult with Daniel's people in the capitol and did some work for Jose's family down in California." He thought they'd gone over this stuff the last time, but maybe not in this detail. "Petrochemicals have had to be almost abandoned because they're too labor intensive, not to mention dirty. We still run vehicles with internal combustion engines, but we're working on something to replace them." Not that the council ever releases resources for it. To say that this was a bone of contention for Jonathan was a gross understatement. "It just takes more time and more resources than we've got right now. We were already well on the way to converting to alternate sources for electrical power when the invasion happened. Cascadia is the first region on the continent to go completely off petrochemicals for power generation." He couldn't help the pride in his voice. Daniel had fought for every single power station and when they were turned down for funding, he'd dug into his personal fortune and paid for it himself. Horses were even making a comeback for a lot of agricultural work. They came out of Daniel's pocket as well. He'd insisted that Jose's 'dowry' be made up primarily of good breeding stock. Both draft and saddle horses. Jonathan remembered that argument with his father-in-law quite well. It was... loud.
"You left out that you were the one who came up with the basic design, Jonathan." Jonathan shoved Jack out of the way so he could see his husband more clearly. He lay on his side facing Jonathan, smiling a small warm sleepy smile, his blue eyes shining as if he hadn't seen Jonathan for a month.
"Daniel! You're awake! How do you feel? Does your head hurt? Can I get you anything?" Jonathan struggled to sit up more and tried to swing his legs off the bed only to be stopped by a small hand on the arm with the IV. He looked at Doctor Frasier with annoyance. "What?" He barely registered that Daniel was chuckling at his rapid-fire questions.
"Take it easy. I'd really rather you not get up until after you've eaten something."
"Don't wanna eat. Not hungry. Get this thing out of me." He reached over to take out the needle only to have his hand slapped.
"Jonathan! I'm the doctor here and I'll say when you can get up." He opened his mouth to complain only to be stopped by a stern look. "You're as bad as the colonel and I thought he was the worst patient possible. You can get up after you've eaten, not before."
"Love, why are you in that bed?" Daniel was still smiling a bit, but Jonathan could see the worry lines tensing around his eyes.
"I was tired is all and this was where I could be near you."
"Then why do you have an IV?" Jonathan felt guilty for having caused Daniel to worry when he'd been so sick.
"It's just fluids." He looked at the woman next to him. "Just fluids, right?" Was there something they weren't telling him? "Doctor Frasier, please tell him I'm all right." And while you're at it, tell me, too.
"All right you two, I see what's happening here and I want it to stop right now." Jonathan met his husband's surprised gaze. "It's bad enough I have to deal with it with these two," she waved a hand at their counterparts, "whenever one of them is in here. You," pointing to Daniel, "are feeling guilty for getting sick and making Jonathan worry." Daniel looked away and a faint flush colored his face. "And you," now that stern gaze turned on him, "are feeling guilty for exhausting yourself worrying. Stop it. Both of you. You're both going to be fine and neither of you did it on purpose. Feeling guilty isn't going to help anyone. It will irritate me, though, and it's never a good idea to irritate your doctor." Jonathan noticed that Jack and Doctor Daniel were also looking suitably chastised. She'd apparently hit a nerve.
"Well, technically, Devon's our doctor." Daniel had that look in his eye, the one that said 'because I'm the Earl, that's why'.
"Exactly. We're just on loan." Jonathan graced the doctor with a blinding smile.
"C'mon, Doc, we're not that bad." Jack was noticeably whining.
"Oh, really?" She crossed her arms and stared down her superior officer.
"Um, Jack?" Doctor Daniel was looking anywhere but at the doctor but he kept sneaking glances at Jonathan and the other two men. "She's, um, she's probably right."
Jack mouthed the word 'traitor' and then pulled himself out of his previous slouch. "Well, Major, if I'm not needed here, I'll just be going." With that he turned and stalked out of the enclosure, but not before giving his Daniel a dirty look. As if he suddenly realized he was on his own, Doctor Daniel stood up and sidled in Jack's wake.
"I should probably," he pointed over to the opening, "um, be going, too. Glad to see you both are feeling better. Um, I guess I'll see you later." Before he could escape, Doctor Frasier spoke up.
"Daniel, would you mind letting their Devon know they're awake?" Jonathan couldn't help but smile at his startled expression.
"Oh, uh, sure. I'm just going now." With that he all but fled leaving Jonathan, chuckling, Doctor Frasier shaking her head and Daniel looking on in shock.
"Tell me I don't do that, Jonathan."
"Okay, hon, you don't do that."
"God help me."
Doctor Frasier's smile changed from friendly to professional as she approached Daniel's bed and began to give her other borrowed patient a quick exam. Jonathan just watched and soaked up the sound of his husband's voice. He answered her questions clearly with no hesitation, none of the confusion that had marked his illness was apparent. The questions he asked about what had happened showed he remembered little after meeting Ian outside his study. Doctor Frasier explained about the unknown chemicals found in the fertility drugs supplied by Devon and a little about how they were flushing them from Daniel's system. Jonathan held his breath hoping his husband would just let that ride for the moment. Then he filled him in on the high points of his illness at home, but didn't go into detail with Doctor Frasier there. Daniel heard the gaps anyway and Jonathan knew he'd be tackling the problem of how much to tell him later. He didn't even want to think about it, much less talk about it. It was over and that was fine with him. When they were through, Doctor Frasier relaxed a little and leaned against Daniel's bed to wait for Devon.
"Daniel told me that you two want to be moved to a private room."
"We do?" Daniel looked at her and then at Jonathan in surprise. Jonathan thought quickly, he had to come up with a good excuse because he wasn't going to give the real reason. No way.
"We do. Okay, so I want to move." Looking into the expectant faces he plowed on, hoping he could convince them quickly. Daniel would probably see through him, but maybe he was still off enough not to notice. "It's just, well, at home it's not a problem, but here, well..." he trailed off. It wasn't a complete lie. He did feel awkward and on display and embarrassed and it was like it had been back in the beginning. He looked down at his hand rubbing over the bulge that held their daughter. He'd almost forgotten the nightmare of his first pregnancy. It was drown out by the nightmare of the sight of his sill born son and the fear that he'd gone through the whole degrading procedure only to find he'd never be able to carry a living child to term. Jonathan looked up and found his husband looking back, sympathy and understanding in his eyes. Daniel reached out with his hand, and Jonathan could just reach him with his. He blinked back the ever-present tears and squeezed the slightly trembling fingers before letting the other man take his hand back. As much better as Daniel looked, he was still tired and the action seemed to be about as much as he could manage at the moment.
"Ah." Jonathan was grateful for the compassion he could see in Doctor Frasier's face. It could just as easily have been pity or disgust. He'd seen that often enough in the early days. "I understand gentlemen. I'll arrange for you to use one of the isolation rooms for the duration of your visit."
"Thank you, Doctor. That's very kind of you." Daniel looked as if he'd like nothing more but to go back to sleep, but Jonathan knew that expression. He had questions. He always had questions. "As I was waking up, did I hear you say that Devon and, well, Devon were working on the supplements from the birthing kit?"
Damn, thought Jonathan, he would have managed to hear that. He'd hoped they'd have known one way or another before having to tell Daniel about it. Jonathan watched his expressive face and his hope of getting through this easily slowly died. The blood drained from Daniel's face and he gasped.
"My god! Oh, my god!" He stopped, trying to catch his breath, but shock and outright fear had him breathing too fast. Jonathan started heaving himself off his bed. Daniel was starting to hyperventilate. "The supplements! We've been," he was panting despite the doctor's attempts to get him to calm down, "every time! Oh, god, Jonathan! We did it!"
"Anders!" Doctor Frasier yelled for the nurse. Jonathan took her place at Daniel's side while she issued orders to her nurse.
"Love, we didn't know. We still don't know we're just making sure." He was lying and he knew it. No one had any real doubts, not after the tainted fertility drugs had been confirmed. It was the only thing that made sense. He awkwardly hitched himself up on the bed and put his arms around his distraught husband. Daniel's arms went around him desperately as he pressed his face into Jonathan's shoulder nodding as they started to rock together. Panting gave way to wracking sobs and Jonathan felt his shoulder getting wet. He felt corresponding wetness running down his own face. This was why he'd wanted to wait. As long as he was the only one who even suspected, he could keep it together for Daniel's sake. He could lie to himself and pretend he didn't know. Now, now all they could do was share their pain. The scarred edges of half-healed emotional wounds bled anew as guilt sliced through them. Together they grieved again for the little ones they'd lost. Children they'd murdered.
Melbourne and Carlos had been stillborn. With little Elias the miscarriage had come so late that it felt like a stillbirth. When Jose insisted on naming him, no one dissented. Their daughters, though. Jonathan buried his own face in Daniel's hair and sobbed. He could hear Daniel whispering their names over and over, his voice thick and broken. They'd been alive and beautiful and real. He'd held little Claire in her first moments and felt the life flow out of her as she died days later, unknowingly murdered by her own parents. He felt Daniel relaxing in his arms as a gentle hand settled on his shoulder. He looked through tear filled eyes to see Doctor Frasier hand a syringe off to Nurse Anders. She helped him lay Daniel back on the bed. Whatever drug she'd administered had calmed him and he was drifting back to sleep still chanting "Claire, Maria, Claire, Maria" in a thick slurred voice until his swollen, red eyes slid shut and he fell into a drugged sleep.
Jonathan clapped his hand over his mouth as he felt his own grief rising again. He wanted to lay with Daniel and take comfort from his heartbeat, his scent, the brush of his love's breath on his cheek but the bed was too narrow for them both to lie down. He allowed the doctor to ease him off Daniel's bed and urge him onto his own. She was speaking to someone, but he couldn't tell whom. He wanted to ask, to confess, to say anything, but he knew if he opened his mouth he'd start screaming and never stop. He felt like he was going mad. He couldn't do this alone. A small soft hand stroked his hair and another rubbed his shoulder. She murmured to him and offered what comfort she could while he sobbed helplessly into the pillow that was too small and too hard and didn't smell right. Jonathan wanted to go home. Just take Daniel and go home and lay down together in their bed and pretend none of this had happened. Ignorance may not be bliss, but this knowledge, this horrific knowledge was worse. They'd killed their own daughters! Now that the knowledge was shared, he couldn't deny it any longer. He'd killed her. He'd given her the supplements with every feeding. He'd killed her as surely as if he'd put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
Large hands replaced small ones and a familiar, dear voice spoke to him. Daniel? He pried open swollen eyes and saw Daniel's gentle eyes looking back. Jonathan lunged for him and held onto him as if he were a life preserver. He didn't let himself think of his sedated husband sleeping in the next bed. The man who rocked him felt right, he smelled right and the gentle soothing voice speaking his name eventually eased his grief enough for him to welcome the darkness when it came for him. If there were any justice in this life, he'd never wake up.
Daniel rubbed his eyes again and tried to concentrate on the tablet before him. He looked back over his notes and shook his head. It didn't make any more sense in English than it did in the original. It reminded him of some sort of Proto-Sinitic offshoot, but Asian languages weren't his strong suit. He threw his pen down and leaned back in his chair. He was getting nowhere. It would likely have to wait until their resident expert returned. He tried to remember when she was due back from maternity leave and drew a blank. Maternity leave. He'd retreated to his office to try and clear his mind, but everything seemed to remind him of Jonathan and Daniel. There were so many reasons why he didn't want to do that right now. From the moment he heard Daniel's tale he knew he'd have things to think about. Was this what Sam went through? Then, meeting Jonathan had added a whole new dimension to the matter. Now, this new thing with Jack was getting even weirder. Maybe this was normal, given the circumstances. He rested his elbows on his desk and buried his face in his hands and laughed uneasily. This situation was a lot of things, but Daniel decided the one word that didn't apply was normal.
When Janet had called for him to come back to the infirmary, he'd had no idea what he'd find. It hadn't taken long for him to figure it out, even without her hurried explanation. Holding Jonathan while he grieved had seemed the most natural thing in the world and he'd been glad to have been able to offer the other man whatever comfort he could. He'd been surprised by his own feelings of protectiveness towards Jack's other self. Lord Daniel and Jonathan were the men he and Jack might have been and that was the crux of the matter. Daniel knew something Jack didn't. He'd known from the first visit that the two of them had gotten together long before Nirrti invaded. Daniel sighed. Jack would eventually find out. The only question was would it be better for it to just happen, or should Daniel break the news to him. In a way he hoped it could just stay unsaid forever. On the other hand, an aspect of Daniel that he hadn't thought about for a very long time was emerging from the back of his mind and he had no idea what to do about it. Or if he should do anything about it. Just what he needed, another complication. But this wasn't about him and Jack. That problem would have to wait its turn.
Daniel got up to refill his coffee cup and he tried to imagine what the other men must be going through. Jonathan hadn't said a word. He'd just sobbed into Daniel's chest hanging on for dear life before finally falling asleep. Escaped into sleep, is more like it. He had nothing really to compare to it. The closest he could come was giving up Shifu to Oma, but he knew that didn't qualify. Shifu had never been his, or maybe only his by proxy. He'd known about him for less than a day before leaving him with Kasuf and then only saw him again when he met Oma. Now, he at least knew Shifu was out there. Somewhere. Perhaps they'd spent time together while he was ascended, but with the memories gone, it might just as well not have happened.
Daniel knew what it was to loose parents, friends, his sweet, beautiful wife. He knew the pain of children never conceived, but to lose a child and then to discover it was by your own hand. He only knew one person who could relate to that. A shiver ran down his spine.
"Idiot! I am an idiot!" He leapt out of his chair, stumbling over the trashcan and his own feet in his haste. He had to get to the infirmary. Daniel ran into the corridor grabbing the doorframe to help him change direction without slowing. Running flat out to the elevators he dodged people as best he could. The elevator took an eternity to arrive. He shifted from one foot to the other tapping impatiently on his leg. "Come on!" Finally the doors opened and then he paced the confined space for another eternity on his way to level 21. He spotted the emergency phone. "The phone! Damn! I should have just called her!" He slapped his hand against the wall and cursed. He was out into the corridor before the doors fully opened, knocking down an SF who'd been waiting for the elevator. "Sorry, sorry!" Hope he's never on an SAR when we're stuck somewhere. He dashed into the infirmary and skidded to a stop, his heart pounding. "No!" Their beds were empty.
"Daniel?" He whirled and found Jeff Howe looking at him like he'd just sprouted another head. "Are you okay?"
"Me? Fine. I'm, I'm fine. Do you know what happened to them?" He pointed to the now empty beds. He wondered, again, what it was about Jeff that had had Jonathan so upset. What was up with his counterpart?
"Oh, yeah, Doctor Frasier moved them out a little while ago. I think they were going to an iso room." Isolation room. Right! He'd forgotten about that. Daniel started to relax a little. They'd be under better supervision there.
"Thanks, Jeff. Have you seen Janet recently?" This didn't solve the problem, but it might make it easier to deal with.
"I think she was headed to the biochem lab about an hour ago." Jeff seemed to have something else to say, but looked like he had no idea how to go about it.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel was beginning to feel a little foolish for his overreaction. He still needed to talk to Janet, but if Jeff needed something, he could spare him a moment. Or two. Maybe two.
"Just... it's just weird seeing them, y'know?" Jeff rubbed his temple, neatly avoiding the bandage on his forehead. Daniel remembered he'd suffered a minor concussion which was why he was still there after the rest of his team had been released. "It must be even weirder to meet, well, yourself."
Oh, brother, you have no idea. Daniel smiled a little. "It's certainly different." Taking one last look at the empty beds, he turned to go find Janet. "Hope you're feeling better." Jeff's response trailed behind him and Daniel was in the corridor again. This time moving at a slightly more civilized pace.
"Janet?" He'd finally tracked her down in the commissary. "Got a minute? I need to talk to you about something."
"Sure, Daniel, pull up a chair." He sat down across from her and took in what she had on her tray.
"You're going to eat that?" It looked vile. He glanced back over his shoulder to see who else was in the room with them. It was an off-hour so there weren't many others. He was stalling and he knew it. Maybe he was really overreacting. Daniel lowered his voice and asked, "They didn't let Teal'c in the kitchen again, did they?" He'd tried some of Teal'c's cooking over the years. He hadn't gotten sick yet, but figured it was only a matter of time.
"God, I hope not." She grinned at him. She'd been there for some of their friend's culinary experiments. At least he hoped they were experiments. He'd hate to think those had been treasured family recipes. "What can I do for you?"
Daniel took a deep breath, but kept his voice low. This wasn't for public consumption. Fortunately, there was no one close enough to overhear them. "It's about Jonathan." Janet's smile faded and she sighed.
"I can't imagine how he's going to cope with this."
"See, Janet, that's the problem. I can imagine it." She looked at him curiously. "Janet, I've seen how Jonathan O'Neill copes with the death of a child." Janet dropped her fork as her face reflected her understanding.
"Oh, my god." She shoved her chair back and started for the door. "I'm an idiot."
Daniel followed close behind her. "My words exactly."
Janet's staff was amazing. Daniel had spent far more time with them over the years than he had ever wanted to, but watching them in action when he wasn't drugged out of his mind was a pleasure. The suicide watch took less time to arrange than he'd thought. That made him realize the Air Force probably had a procedure for it just like it had a procedure for virtually everything. His natural curiosity nearly had him asking how often she'd had to do this until he realized he probably didn't want to know. He was a little afraid of what he'd see in her face when she answered him. There were a couple of times when it might have been him in that bed with someone watching at all times. Daniel really didn't want to know. Maybe he used to and those particular memories had never resurfaced. He could live with that. "Thanks, Daniel. I don't know what I would have done if something had happened."
"Don't worry about it. I'm just sorry I didn't think of it earlier."
"I should have thought of it. I've seen the colonel's file. I should have thought of it." Daniel shook his head.
"Janet, we've all be working so hard to keep them," he pointed to the sleeping men on the other side of the observation window, "separate from us that it's no wonder it didn't hit you." He chewed his lip a moment. "It wouldn't have occurred to me except that the look in Jonathan's eyes was so familiar." He looked down at the floor. "And then I started trying to imagine what he must be going through and there's only one person I know who'd be able to do that." He looked back up at Janet and shrugged. "That's when I remembered where I'd, um, seen it before."
"Did I thank you for what you did earlier? That must have been difficult, but I didn't want to sedate him. I wouldn't sedate a pregnant woman if I could avoid it. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"I don't mind, Janet. I was glad to help." Daniel crossed his arms tightly across his chest and looked into the isolation room again. He wished he could talk to her. Tell her how it felt to hold Jonathan like that. Something was happening and it terrified him as much as it excited him. He wished he could talk to anyone about it. Daniel sighed. This was the wrong time and definitely the wrong place to be running that topic through the wringer. No matter what was going through his head and his life, Jonathan had it so much worse. "He was so lost, Janet." He and his Daniel needed them. Daniel's life would work itself out or not.
"They both are, Daniel. Jonathan seemed to have been handling it pretty well until his Daniel figured it out. They both just fell apart."
"Can you blame them?"
"No, no I can't. I haven't felt that helpless since," she glanced quickly away from him. "Well, in a long time." Daniel swallowed. They'd never talked about his death. No one did, really, which was generally fine with him. Remembering it was hard enough.
"Janet?" He placed a finger on her chin and turned her face toward him. There were no tears on her face, but her eyes were suspiciously moist. "Did I ever thank you for that?"
"I couldn't save you," she whispered. "I couldn't do anything!" He pulled her to him and hugged her close. He told himself it was for her, but her answering hug was more welcome than he'd expected. He pushed back stray images from his nightmares.
"No, you couldn't save me. No one could. It was too late the moment I pulled my gun." He rubbed her back gently and frowned, remembering. "I think I knew that at the time, but that doesn't matter. What matters is," he pulled back so he could look into her face and smiled a little, "What matters is you did do something. You were kind and you were gentle. You were there and that meant a great deal, even if I wasn't in any shape to tell you about it at the time. You did a lot and I'm more grateful than I can say."
They stood together for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts of that time. Wanting nothing more than to clear his mind of his death, Daniel concentrated on the woman in his arms. She felt good. Round where it counted, she was also an interesting mix of delicacy and strength. So why isn't this doing anything for me? Finally, Daniel pulled away, a little embarrassed by his display and more than a little embarrassed by his thoughts, but glad to have finally spoken to her about it. Janet seemed to feel the same as she cleared her throat and fell back into doctor mode. "Remembering that must have been difficult. Have you spoken to anyone about it?" Daniel smiled and resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
"Actually, yes. I have." He didn't tell her it was less than a week ago. She didn't respond. Daniel knew she wanted him to elaborate, but that wasn't going to happen. He'd talked to Jack. If he needed to talk again, which he doubted, he'd talk to him. Daniel's heart rate shot up as he thought, It always comes back to Jack. I don't know if I can do this. Janet sighed and gave in.
"Good." She didn't let him off completely. "Remember, if it gets to be too much, I can arrange an appointment with a therapist."
"Ah, got one who specializes in real death experiences?" His smile didn't quite meet his eyes. Her answering smile at his pun didn't quite meet hers, either.
"Right. Still, the offer stands." Daniel's smile faded. "If you need it." He nodded, accepting the condition. As long as he was going to be in control, he'd let her have her illusion. No way was he getting involved with anyone from Mental Health again if he could avoid it. Been there, done that, got the nightmares. "You're obviously dealing with this better than anyone could have dreamed, though why that should be a surprise considering everything else you've dealt with over the years is beyond me."
"What can I say, I've got a good doctor." The awkward moment passed and he followed Janet out of the observation booth, his mind already drifting back to the Proto-Sinitic tablet waiting for him on his desk. There were still a couple of resources he hadn't tried yet. This was much easier than where his mind had been wandering.
"I'll give you a call when they wake up."
"What? Oh. Right. Thanks, Janet." He gave her a perfunctory smile and turned away.
"Jonathan might want a cuddle." He did roll his eyes at that. He shook his head, gave her a little wave and headed back to his office hoping she hadn't spotted his physical reaction to her joke. He had to get a grip on this. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the back of the elevator. Now he was making suggestive remarks to himself. Daniel wondered how long it would take for him to feel really comfortable in his own skin again.
"Hey, Daniel." Daniel looked up from the book he'd borrowed from Dr. Weller's office to see Lou Ferretti in his doorway.
"Hey, Lou." Something was wrong about this. "Aren't you supposed to be," he searched his memory for the planet designation finally giving up when he couldn't come up with it. The planet had nothing to interest him, so he hadn't bothered to remember it. "Well, out there somewhere testing dirt?" He waved his hand upward.
"Yep, but the general decided we could wait until the hurricane passed."
"Yeah." The thought of stepping out of the gate into a hurricane had never occurred to him. "He's generous that way." Now, he was afraid he'd never stop thinking about it every time he stood on the ramp. He gave himself a mental shake and concentrated on his friend. "So, what can I do for you?"
Lou wandered in and leaned against the wall. "You seen the colonel recently?"
Daniel nodded. "A few hours ago, he was heading off to some meeting or other. Why?" Daniel slipped his pencil in the book to mark his place and closed it.
His friend picked at a button on his BDU shirt. "He seem bothered by anything?"
Warning bells were going off in Daniel's head. "No, not really, but," he paused, "you know Jack."
"Yes, I do and I didn't like what I just saw." Daniel was wondering just how much trouble he'd get into if he strangled a team leader.
"I often don't like what I see Jack doing. Was this something in particular?"
"Daniel." Lou seemed to be lost in thought for a moment. "Remember how he was on that first mission?" Daniel nodded, not really liking where this was going, but needing to know. "Well, I took my guys to the firing range when our mission got scrubbed. Needed to let them work off the adrenaline, you know how it is." Daniel knew. They all got a little hyped up before going through the gate. Having it called off at the last minute sometimes left teams floundering physically and emotionally. No matter how many times a team went through the gate, there was always a kick of adrenaline just from walking into the gate room. Jack usually dragged them, well, dragged him off to the gym to work it off, but the firing range worked just as well. "The colonel was there. Daniel, he looked," Daniel finally realized that Lou looked scared. Daniel stood up and approached his visitor. "He looked like he did back then. His eyes... let's just say we didn't stay on the range." He heaved himself away from the wall. "In fact, the place was empty except for him and Sergeant Miller and the only reason he didn't bug out is because he's posted there." Lou took a few steps toward the door then turned back around. "I thought you should know."
"Oh? Why?" Don't be stupid, Daniel, of course he'd come to you.
"Because you're the only one I know brave enough to go talk to him."
"Oh." Lou thought he was brave. While he didn't get hassled by the military types these days, they didn't generally go out of their way to compliment civilians. "Really."
"Or maybe it's crazy enough." Lou broke into a huge smile, slapped Daniel on the back and left his office.
"Right." He said to Lou's back. He snorted and shook his head then stopped worrying about the merits of brave versus crazy. Jack must have heard about what happened in the infirmary. Daniel rubbed his eyes. Lou was right. He needed to be the one to go talk to Jack. Who else could do it? He was, after all, Jack's best friend. Daniel was halfway to the elevator before he realized he'd left his office.
Daniel approached the small crowd gathered around the entrance to the firing range with trepidation. He slowed and a path cleared for him. He looked at them curiously and finally located Lou. "What's all this?" Lou shrugged.
"They're worried." He glanced at some of the faces. "Curious."
Daniel leaned in and lowered his voice. "Would you mind?" He nodded at the personnel in the corridor. "Probably be better if they weren't out here when," he let his voice trail off.
"On it." Lou replied quietly, "And Daniel, I'll have a word with the general if you want to take him out of here." Daniel nodded gratefully as Lou started to move through the group, dispersing them quietly and letting them know that "me and the doc would take care of things". Once they were all drifting away, Daniel went into the staging area between the corridor and the range. He paused just long enough to grab a set of ear protectors and goggles.
Miller was new, but seeing him standing unobtrusively in the back of the shooters area looking everywhere but at Jack let Daniel know this was someone to watch. The new sergeant seemed to understand Jack's need for privacy, only his own sense of duty kept him there. Too many soldiers had shown up at the SCG without that level of compassion. They generally didn't last long. Miller was studiously ignoring the base's 2IC who was in the process of decimating yet another target with his 9MM. Daniel didn't think Jack's choice of weapon was an accident. He had the impression Jack was emptying himself, his pain, his rage through the gun into the target. The ear protectors did their job, but he could feel the percussion in his bones, a corresponding ache in his heart. Whenever he thought of Charlie, Daniel always, always heard the screech of a breaking chain and the moment of shocked silence before the screaming began. That moment of silence sometimes lasted forever in his nightmares. Daniel pushed that memory aside, this was about Jack, not about him.
Daniel didn't like this room at the best of times. Of all things, it made him claustrophobic. Hell of a thing for an archeologist. He much preferred target shooting outside, but sometimes the underground range was all there was time for. Blizzards could be problematic for the outdoor range, too. The litter on the floor in front of the perforated paper told him Jack had been at this for quite a while. Daniel caught Miller's eye and mimed a question. Miller shook his head and indicated Jack was on his last clip. Seems Miller wasn't ignoring him after all. Daniel's estimation of the man rose. He nodded and then gestured to door, his eyebrows raised in question. Miller hesitated, obviously wanting to leave, but not willing to desert his post. At that moment, Lou walked in, jerked a thumb at the door and Miller left, apparently more than ready to turn his post over to his superior.
Daniel nodded to Lou and slowly approached Jack from the side. He knew better than to sneak up on him. He stopped a couple of stalls away and leaned on the divider. He waited and he watched. The man before him was a virtual stranger. Daniel had met him a very long time ago, but somewhere during that first mission, this man had started to disappear and be replaced by his Jack. Daniel pondered that phrase for a moment. He'd been using it a lot lately. He rubbed the back of his neck as his thoughts skittered around what it might mean. Coupled with all the other crap running through his head, he really didn't want to think too much about it. It's not like the other O'Neill even went by the same name, but it just seemed right to... to what? Claim ownership? Daniel frowned, not sure he liked that idea, yet the thought of not laying some sort of claim to his Jack made him uneasy. He knew he could be as territorial as the next man, but territorial over Jack?
Motion drew his attention away from his disordered thoughts and back to his friend. Right, that's all it was, he decided. Jack was his friend. His best friend. His best friend who was in pain and needed help, if he'd ever admit it or not. Jack fired the last shot and stood looking at the target. He ejected the empty clip and placed it in with a pile of others to his side, his movements smooth, but mechanical, his face carefully blank. Reaching for a new one, he seemed surprised not to find it there.
"Miller!" He shouted and turned to look for the sergeant. Daniel gave him a nod when Jack looked his way. Jack's expression wavered, a serious of unidentifiable expressions crossed his face before it settled into that same dead blankness Daniel remembered from all those years ago. He found it hurt to be faced with this passionless stranger again. They'd come through fire and death together. It was as if all their shared pain and joy had been wiped away. Daniel straightened up, took off his protective gear and took a few steps toward him. Lou got there first. Lou had his protective gear in his hand and casually reached for Jack's pistol.
"Here, Colonel. I'll take care of that for you." Jack looked at his hand as if seeing the weapon for the first time. He shuddered and handed it off to Lou who was frankly babbling about the targets, what a pain it was to find the time to come to the range. Daniel thought there was even a comment on the weather, but he wasn't sure. He was focused on Jack and wishing he knew what was running through his mind. He knew what was in his heart, but there really wasn't any way to reach that. Or, he stilled as a new thought hit him, maybe there was. This was supposed to have been their "lost weekend". A chance to figure out how they felt about meeting up with Lord Daniel and Jonathan. How to deal with all the crap their presence stirred up. They didn't have a whole weekend, but maybe they could have a night. Jack looked like he could do with getting completely wasted. If Daniel could convince him to talk a little in the process, so much the better. Maybe it would even help Daniel deal with his newfound stuff.
He looks like he could use a hug. Daniel felt himself blink rapidly as he wondered where that had come from. He didn't hug. Jack hugged. People hugged Daniel, sometimes. He'd always felt hugs were intimate and he rarely felt comfortable enough with people to initiate them. The sense memory of Jonathan's back under his hands and his body pressed against Daniel's rushed through him and Daniel's body responded as it had to Janet's joke. What the hell? Daniel started to shove his hands in his pockets and then realized that was a very bad idea. He finally settled on crossing his arms and was glad he was wearing his over shirt.
Finally Lou had possession of all the equipment and Jack stood there looking around, though Daniel wasn't sure what he was really seeing. "Jack?" The other man finally looked at him. "Are you all right, Jack?" He nodded, his mouth clamped shut. "C'mon, let's take off. Lou's clearing it with the general." Another nod and Daniel gestured toward the door as he casually spun on his heel and headed out of the range. A moment later, he heard Jack following him. Daniel got to the door and held it open for his friend. He waved at Lou and followed Jack into the now empty corridor.
The drive from the mountain was made in silence. Jack hadn't said a word since the range, just done whatever Daniel ordered or even suggested. He'd gotten into Daniel's car without argument. Jack usually insisted on driving his truck. Said Daniel's car was too cramped. He'd shut down. Daniel was beginning to doubt that he'd be able to bring him out of this on his own. He started to wonder if maybe he should just take Jack home and let him be for the night. Maybe he just needed some time alone. Daniel was equally afraid of what would happen if he were wrong. They'd lose him. He'd lose him and Daniel had lost almost every other important person in his life. He wasn't losing his friend. Somehow he'd have to find a way to reach him. He wasn't losing Jack.
The pit was opening before him and his ghosts were out of their boxes, lining up to push him in. Jack stared out the car window. He wanted to thank Daniel for knowing he needed to get out of the mountain, but he was afraid to open his mouth. He couldn't even remember changing into his civvies. Jack was teetering on the edge and knew it wouldn't take much to send him over it. His mind ran in an endless loop through his pain, his failures, his dead future stretching out before him. He thought he should care but was unsurprised to find he didn't.
"Got anything to drink at your place?" Something in Daniel's voice cut through his fugue and Jack finally dragged his attention away from the passing scenery. His friend drove with uncharacteristic intensity. Daniel had looked like that just before jumping out of the plane over Siberia. He'd seen that look on countless missions. Jack imagined he'd had the same expression when he'd shot out that window on Kelowna. Daniel was heading into danger but nothing short of his death would deter him. He knows I need to forget. Jack felt the pit slide a little farther away. Daniel's in the same boat. He remembered his thoughts in the storeroom. If he made this about Daniel maybe he could get through it. Bury his own agony and concentrate on the man next to him. He could do that. He was good at that. He didn't used to be, which is why Sara left, but Jack had learned a lot in the past few years. He quickly replayed the sounds in his head and tried to make sense of what Daniel had said a moment ago. The man had asked him something.
"Yeah. I think so." Jack was rewarded with a surprised glance and a quick grin.
"Stronger than beer?" He shrugged. Jack really couldn't remember what was there. Daniel took his silence for his answer.
"We'll stop. Dinner? You, um, you hungry?" Daniel's as crap at this as I am. Jack found the thought oddly cheering. He supposed he should wish Daniel had a magic wand that would make it all go away, but their similarity was comforting. He decided they had a lot more in common than most people realized.
"He's going to try and kill himself." Jack blinked. His mouth was running off without him again. At this rate, they'd never let him through the gate again. He'd be spouting GDO codes before the Jaffa could say 'Kree!'
"I know." Daniel glanced over at him then continued in the same soft voice, "I told Janet. She's handling it." Jack nodded. He should have known Daniel would catch on. Jack's head thumped against the headrest. He used the impact to push his ghosts farther away. "Yeah. Dinner." They shared a more comfortable silence for a couple of miles. "Pizza?"
More silence as Daniel watched the traffic as they drove through an intersection. "Chinese?"
"Burgers." Jack considered, very briefly, firing up the grill when they got to his place. "Wendy's?"
"Works for me." Daniel checked the traffic on Jack's side of the car and moved over two lanes. The closest was a little out of the way, but worth it. Their fries sucked, but the burgers were good, if a little odd.
"Why are the patties square?"
"I have no idea." Jack let a small smile loose and shoved the waiting shades farther into the shadows. They were still there, still taunting him with their presence, but, for the moment, their power was diminished. Jack turned back to his window. He had reinforcements now and they couldn't fight both of them.
The litter from their meal decorated the coffee table. They'd cracked open the first bottle of scotch before unwrapping the four triple patty hamburgers. Jack leaned back in his corner of the sofa glass in hand. Daniel was sitting on the floor between the table and the sofa. Jack watched him as he built something with the rest of the now cold fries. Jack had a nice warm glow from slugging back a few shots before dinner. The alcohol dulled his mind and the company kept him focused on something outside himself. And the company was great. Get a couple of drinks into Daniel and he did stuff like this. Beer got him philosophical. Wine maudlin. Liquor, though, liquor was much more fun. At least for the rest of them.
"Whatcha doin'?" Daniel turned and looked up at him over his glasses. Given that they'd slipped down to the end of his nose, it wasn't difficult. Looking through them would have been nothing short of a miracle.
"I'm building a fence, Jack." He enunciated very carefully, not yet slurring his words. Only someone who knew him well would likely realize just how not sober he was. His expression, however, seemed to question Jack's powers of observation and quite likely his intelligence for not being able to see the obvious. He turned back to his self-appointed task.
"Of course you are." Now that he knew, Jack could kind of make out a sort of rail fence-like structure in the semi-circular stacks of French fries around the puddle of ketchup they'd been using earlier. "Afraid the ketchup might escape?"
Again the look like he was a defective three-year-old. "Not ketchup." Daniel paused to take a healthy swig from his glass. "It's that, um..." Daniel stopped, frowning in concentration. "That, umm, thing from," he waved vaguely, "from that planet." Apparently satisfied that he'd fully explained himself, he returned to his construction site. Scarily enough, Jack knew what he was talking about. They'd run into a creature of some kind that, now that he thought about it, did sort of resemble a puddle of ketchup. Only that 'puddle' dissolved anything organic it came into contact with and they'd had to run to get back to gate before they became its next meal. Not to mention all its sisters and its cousins and its aunts who showed up for dinner. Daniel drained his glass and reached for the bottle sitting in front of Jack.
"Whoa, there, Danny boy, don't you think you've had enough for now?" Their hands met around the neck of the bottle. The warmth of the other man's hand startled Jack when he'd been expecting nothing but cool glass. Daniel shifted his position to get more leverage on the scotch and leaned against Jack's leg. He was warm and heavy. Blue eyes stared into his. Jack started to make a joke about what he would and wouldn't do on a first date but it died before he could open his mouth. Daniel's expression was familiar. It was usually directed at a puzzle he'd just untangled. Jack couldn't remember it ever being directed at him before. Then it was gone. The strong warm hand under his flexed and Daniel retrieved the bottle with a jerk and settled back into his own space removing his glasses and tossing them on the table. Jack's hand and leg felt cold where Daniel had been touching him.
"Nope." Daniel sounded suddenly sober. "I can still think." He filled his glass and gestured to Jack's with the bottle. Jack nodded, his numbed mind trying to work out what had just happened. He couldn't shake the feeling that something about their friendship had changed in the past week. That it had changed even more just now.
Daniel leaned back over pressing heavily against his leg again as he filled the glass. Jack was warm again. It spread from his leg throughout the rest of his body, settling somewhere very unexpected. Jack took a long drink from his glass and watched as Daniel shifted over so he was sitting right next to Jack's leg. He brought his glass with him and downed half of it before setting it down a little unsteadily on the table. Jack reached down and clasped his friend's shoulder. Just a friendly hand on the shoulder. He had an urge to do more when Daniel let his head fall gently onto Jack's thigh with a contented sigh. He wanted to resist the urge, but his scotch-muddled brain couldn't find any reason to do so. He moved his hand to Daniel's neck and gently stroked the fine hair with his thumb. Daniel rubbed his cheek against Jack's thigh and placed one hand on Jack's knee while the other arm snaked around the leg he was leaning on. His hand wrapped gently around Jack's ankle where he mirrored Jack's motion.
"That feels good, Jack." Jack wanted to agree with him, but for once his mouth didn't respond. It did feel good. Maybe too good. But that didn't mean he wanted it to stop. Daniel's hair was soft and he was warm and Jack was enjoying the way his body was responding to the unexpected contact.
"What's happening to us, Danny?" He ventured a little further running the tip of his finger around the back of his friend's ear. The hand around his ankle slipped down to gently rub the top of his bare foot.
"Not sure." Daniel's voice was as quiet as Jack's had been. "Do you want it to stop?" His hand was still running over Jack's foot, so maybe this wasn't his way of offering an easy out to his friend. Jack continued his cautious exploration of the area around his hand, never moving far as if this particular place was the only spot he had permission to touch. Touching anywhere else might break the spell.
"No." He decided to risk something new and ran his hand a little up into Daniel's hair. So soft, so silky. "No, I'm good." No lightning bolt and the ground didn't open up and swallow him. He smoothed down the hair he'd mussed and in a bold move ran the tips of his fingers down the side of his friend's face. He couldn't see Daniel's face, but he thought he felt him smile. His cheek and jaw were rough with stubble. Jack realized he found the change in texture amazingly erotic. It had been a very long time since he'd allowed himself to think in those terms about another man. Even then, he hadn't done much more than this. Fear of being caught and tossed out of the Academy had put paid to that relationship before it got off the ground.
Jack wasn't a kid anymore. He'd hurt too much, died too often to let this scare him. Escape total annihilation a few times and something like this didn't faze him. After two snakes in his head, this was easy, so very easy and Jack thought he might just let himself fall.
"Yes, you are." Now he did feel Daniel grin. The hand on Jack's foot moved away and he started to object until he realized Daniel was shifting around to face him. His foot was warmed again by the inside of Daniel's lower thigh and his leg was now partially embraced by a muscular arm. Daniel rested his chin on the back of his own hand and stared up at Jack. "You're remarkably calm about this." Jack just nodded and with newfound confidence cupped Daniel's cheek in his hand.
"It's easy." Noting the raised eyebrow at that comment, Jack added, "This is easy. Us." He carded through Daniel's hair and was rewarded with half-closed blue eyes and a soft almost-moan. "After," he returned his hand to the handsome face of his friend, "everything," he wasn't quite sure how to put it.
"Pain, torture, death?" The soft smile on Daniel's face made the words seem ludicrous, but somehow it fit. Everything seemed to be slotting into place all the sudden.
"Yeah, that." He ran a finger over the smiling lips. They really were an awful lot alike. At least in the things that mattered most. "After that, us is easy." Daniel put his hand over the back of Jack's and placed a chaste kiss in the palm.
"Yeah." He breathed the word into Jack's palm. "Us is easy." His warm breath caressed the place his lips had been and Jack felt a tingle in the pit of his stomach and the warmth below grew. Daniel nuzzled into his hand for a moment, then pulled back enough to clasp Jack's hand in his own, palm-to-palm, resting on Jack's leg. They sat like that for a moment, gently smiling at each other, gazes steady as if seeing the other man for the first time.
Jack finally identified what he'd been feeling over the past few days and it made him smile. This wasn't the time, not when things were still so new and definitely not after as much scotch as they'd had. "I want," he'd experienced the feelings before, but wasn't sure how to say it. He'd had enough trouble getting his point across to Sara.
"Yeah." But this was Daniel. Jack's smile widened. Of course he didn't have to speak.
"But," Jack wanted to say they needed to do this right, whatever this was. He knew what he wanted it to be, but that came with time.
"Slow," came the expected response. Jack nodded. They were in the middle of something and they didn't need the distraction of work. Jack didn't want to be thinking about Lord Daniel and Jonathan when he should be thinking about them. Daniel shifted and heaved himself up off the floor. Somehow he managed to retain possession of Jack's hand. He tugged. Jack took the hint and stood up.
"Slow." Jack agreed. "After it's all," Jack couldn't have held onto a train of thought with a tractor beam. He just wanted to dive into those brilliant blue eyes and never come out. Daniel reestablished eye contact as he raised Jack's hand to his lips. Jack held his breath as Daniel kissed his knuckles before releasing him. Suddenly there were strong warm hands on his waist, pulling him close.
"After it's over." Daniel whispered into Jack's ear and wrapped his arms around the older man, holding him close, running his hands sensuously over Jack's lower back nuzzling his neck. Automatically, Jack returned the embrace, feeling a surge of desire that wasn't entirely due to the pressure of his erection against the other man. He moved against Daniel a little and found an answering hardness. Jack had rarely had a lover who took the initiative. Whenever they did it was incredible. The feeling that someone desired him enough, trusted him enough to ignore his often dominating personality was the most amazing turn on for him. He got tired of making all the moves, all the decisions. His decisions usually risked someone's life. He didn't want that following him into the bedroom.
"Yeah. After." At least he hoped that's what he said. Jack really wasn't certain since there wasn't much blood flow to his brain and what blood was there was at least eighty proof.
Daniel pulled back enough to place a hand on Jack's face and whisper, "Works for me." He moved his hand through Jack's hair until he could clasp the back of Jack's neck, then pulled him close and kissed him. Whatever still functional synapses Jack had left fried in that moment. He opened his mouth and let Daniel in. Whatever the other man wanted was his. He would have signed over whatever was left of his soul in that moment if Daniel had asked him for it. Jack curled his arms up around the other man's broad shoulders. The half-remembered, half-imagined embraces of his youth faded in the reality of the strong mature man in his arms, the well-muscled arms around him. The warmth he'd felt earlier flashed to volcanic heat. He returned the kiss tasting salt, scotch and the faint tang of ketchup. Underneath was a unique something that whispered 'Daniel'. It melded with the heady scent of sweat and musk and Jack feared he might come right then and there.
He was reluctant to break their kiss, but he needed to breathe. "Oh, god, Danny, you're good at that." He panted a little into his lover's neck, unconsciously rubbing against him. His hands gently kneaded Daniel's back and he had to restrain his desire to rip the other man's shirt off so he could feel all that warm skin directly instead of through a cotton barrier. Strong hands ghosted over Jack's ass, their touch becoming more sure with each pass. All their touches had been gentle so far. It was as if neither of them was quite certain how to deal with a partner so near their own size and strength. Jack thought about the leashed power under his hands and how it would feel to be on the receiving end of it. The resulting aroused groan was answered with a deep chuckle that was felt almost more than heard.
"Oh, god, Jack, I want you."
Jack almost couldn't recognize the deep husky voice whispering in his ear. Stubble scratched his face as soft lips trailed kisses soothingly along behind. A hand squeezed his ass, the other gently gripped his short hair. A fleeting thought that maybe he should let it grow a little faded when he gasped in pleasure as teeth closed on his earlobe. A gentle tug followed by tongue and lips nearly sent him over the edge. "Me, too." Slow was overrated.
They stumbled their way to his bedroom, clumsy less from drink than from their reluctance to stop touching. Once inside, Jack let go long enough to close the door only to find himself wrapped up in strong arms that pulled him back against his lover's solid body. "I want to touch you." Jack nodded. He didn't trust his voice. He wasn't really sure he'd be able to muster the dexterity required to work the buttons. Jack turned in his lover's arms and started to undo his shirt but Daniel's hands stopped him. "Let me. Please." Jack traded taking off his own shirt for running his hands over Daniel's shoulders. Jack figured he got the best end of the deal.
Clever fingers made short work of removing the offending cloth and then they were on him. Touching, caressing, mapping his chest, his back, skimming over his sides and down to his denim covered thighs and ass. Daniel's hands left trails of fire burning in their wake. Jack wanted to burn, wanted to be consumed. He couldn't remember wanting anything as much as he wanted this. Taking the tail of Daniel's t-shirt he started easing it up. Once he got the idea across, Daniel took just enough time from his exploration to jerk the shirt off over his head before his hands started driving Jack out of his mind again. Lips found his again and the gentle touches turned urgent, passionate. Jack backed up, pulling Daniel with him, until he found his bed. Hands on his shoulders urged him to sit then Daniel knelt on the floor between his legs.
"Jack," Daniel ran his hands over Jack's legs, kneading his thighs. "I want," Jack leaned down and captured that incredible mouth in a searing kiss. He was right. It does shut him up. Daniel surged up to meet him. Jack scooted back on his bed until he was lying flat with his lover's weight holding him down until they broke their kiss, panting into each other's necks. "I need to," Daniel lifted his head and looked into Jack's eyes. Jack thought he could lose himself in those lust-blackened eyes. "I need to talk to you, to tell you something."
Jack stroked his lover's face, cradling it his hand. Daniel leaned into the caress like a cat. "Tell me, Daniel. You can tell me anything." His comment earned him a dazed smile and another passionate kiss. Maybe shutting him up wasn't the best idea after all.
Daniel pulled back again just as Jack needed to breath. "I need to take care of you," he said in a rush. "To protect you." Jack hadn't expected that. It surprised him, but after a moment, he wasn't sure why it should. Daniel had a deep-seated need to protect anyone he cared about, even when they turned out to be destroyers of worlds. He'd apparently stayed quiet too long. The arousal in Daniel's face started to give way to anxiety. "I know you can take care of yourself, it's just," he licked his lips and seemed at a loss as to how to explain.
Jack smiled and his friend's, his lover's face lost the anxious look. "I get it, Daniel." Jack ran a hand into Daniel's hair and pulled him down for a brief kiss.
"I can't lose you!" Daniel settled more heavily on top of Jack, squeezing him tightly with arms and legs as if by holding him down he could keep anything from happening to him. "I won't lose you." Jack heard the unsaid 'too' and his heart broke for the pain he heard in his lover's voice, the pain so evident in his expression. Daniel usually kept his pain to himself, but he exposed all the raw agony in his heart with those words. Jack twisted his hips a little and rolled them to their sides, legs intertwined.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm too heavy." Jack shushed him and reassured him with his hands and mouth. Anything to remove the anguish from that beautiful face. He decided he was willing to spend a lifetime doing that if that's what it took.
"I love it, Danny, just needed to change positions for a bit." Jack loved the weight on him, but Daniel was heavy and it was easier to talk this way. "You'll never loose me, not if I have anything to say about it." He stroked the silky hair under his hand. "No one's ever wanted to take care of me, before." Another kiss, more touches, "I think I like it."
"I'll always take care of you, Jack." There was that look again, the one that spoke of discovery, of a puzzle solved. "I love you."
Jack finally understood the power this man had over him. He'd been so right. They were easy together. So very easy. "I love you, too, Danny." He closed the small space between them and kissed him with passion, with hunger, with love. As he lost himself in the sensations he felt his ghosts slinking back into their boxes, the locks snicking shut behind them. As long as he had this, they had no power over him. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Jack felt free.