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Although the room was warmed by a charcoal fire, Daniel couldn't stop trembling.
Cushions were scattered across the floor, and the low table nearby was set with glazed earthenware plates and cups. One wall was open to the courtyard garden. Even without turning his head, Daniel could smell the sweetness of flowering plants, hear the trickling patter of a fountain. When he finally did look, he saw a creature with dull, dun-colored plumage making its way across the lintel, trilling and chirping at every step. Before it hopped down into the garden, it looked at him, its gaze pitiless and utterly without curiosity. Daniel was convinced the servants who came through the room from time to time would have looked at him with the same blank avian stare, if only they'd had eyes.
When the fragrant but colorless flowers in the garden began to turn ruddy under the last rays of the setting sun, one of the servants of the house came into the room again and put a kettle on the iron grate above the charcoal fire. When the water boiled, the servant dropped crushed leaves into the churning water. A smell that reminded Daniel of mint filled the room. After the tea had steeped for a time, the servant poured a cup and held it out to Daniel. He was very thirsty, but he didn't know if it would be safe for him to drink the infusion. The servant flickered, then stroked Daniel's face with tendrils like filaments. Its touch made Daniel dizzy with vertigo. More tendrils insinuated themselves between his lips and carefully pressed them open. Daniel didn't resist, and as the cup was brought to his open mouth, he drank.
Maybe if he were lucky, he thought, the tea would kill him.
The taste was exquisite. Not sweet, and nothing like mint, but deliciously layered and complex. He found himself gulping at it, wanting more, and he leaned after the cup when the servant took it away from him.
Time passed. He didn't get sick and he didn't die. Apparently the tea had been safe for humans after all. He slept for a while, and the courtyard garden was in full darkness when he was jerked awake by the sound of footsteps. He knew instantly who it was. After all, there was only one other being in the house who had feet. Daniel swallowed hard and sat up as straight as he could. The only light in the room came from the glowing coals. The steps stopped directly in front of him, a man-shaped shadow blocking the orange light.
"Hey, Daniel! You know what this place needs? Some tiki torches out in the garden! Really spruce things up around here."
Daniel wrenched violently, but the restraints held firm. The shadow knelt before him. "Easy, it's just me." A hand touched his face, and human fingertips, warm and slightly rough, stroked one cheekbone. "You're safe."
Daniel tried to bite, snapping his teeth furiously. The fingers were hastily withdrawn, and Daniel hissed, "Get away from me! Just keep the fuck away."
"They're not human," Daniel had said when the inhabitants of P4X 963 came into view for the first time.
"No. You think?" Jack was Jack, but even he drew closer to the rest of his team as the soft gray creatures milled around, vague and graceful as milkweed on the wind. Daniel realized they were hard to look at straight on at the same time Sam did, and while she speculated out loud that there was a special quality of light or color that made it difficult for their eyes to focus upon the inhabitants, Daniel suspected there was simply no sphere of reference for the visual centers of their brains to draw upon.
"You're on, Daniel," Jack said. The inhabitants were close now, bobbing nearly within arm's length and then drifting mildly away.
"You mean talk to them?" Daniel turned slowly, trying to will his eyes to focus enough to count the number of beings clustered around them. It was giving him a headache, like trying to read a distant sign without his glasses. That gave him an idea, and he pulled his glasses off his nose and stashed them in a vest pocket. That was better, actually. The vague outer shapes were easier to take in than the bewildering particularity of their bodies. "You know what they look like?" he said. "I saw a Portuguese Man-o-War washed up on the beach once."
"They don't look like jellyfish," Jack snapped. "Oh, wait. Yeah, I guess they kind of do, don't they?"
Having found a comparison did make it easier to look at them. What Daniel assumed had been the jitters of sheer xenophobia began to subside. Bred in the bone, apparently. Or maybe it was their experience with the goa'uld that made the wholly inhuman frightening on such a primal level.
Still ... "Jack, I'm not sure conversation is exactly an option here. The acquisition of language shapes the development of our brains in a very literal way. If it's the same for them, it may not be possible for our two species to reach consensus on communication as a concept, far less actually talk to each other."
Jack raised his eyebrows and looked pointedly at Sam, who shrugged and flashed something that was not quite a grin back at Daniel.
"C'mon," Jack said. "You talk to aliens all the time. Isn't that why we bring you along on these day trips?"
"No, usually I talk to human beings living on other planets." Daniel wondered if he were on the verge of getting angry, but he had to smile when Jack finally asked, almost plaintively, "Not even sign language?"
"Sign with what?" Daniel stabbed his open hand towards the gray shapes, which were drifting away from them now. "Look at them. They don't have faces or arms or legs -- I can't even tell what they do have."
Jack sighed. "Teal'c? Anything?"
"If the goa'uld have ever encountered this race, I have no knowledge of it."
"Huh. No goa'uld, no way to communicate. Pack it up, folks. Looks like we're out of here."
"We're leaving?" Daniel whirled on him at the same time Sam protested, "But sir, we're probably the first human beings ever to see them. And we're just going to leave?"
Jack was unimpressed. "Look at them, Major. Do you think they're seeing us?"
Even Daniel had to admit it wasn't an unfair question. What he had mistaken for a flurry of interest in their presence was looking more and more like a chance gathering, as if they really were jellyfish moving on the tide. He watched a cluster of the beings come together a hundred feet down the dusty thoroughfare, then scatter once more.
Wait a minute. "No, Sam, Jack, no, that's wrong. We can't be the first humans to encounter them. Don't you see? They've been to earth!"
"Oh yeah?" Jack was openly skeptical. Not in a particularly abrasive way, not for Jack, but making it clear he suspected Daniel of grasping at straws. "How you figure that?"
"It's the street. These houses. Doors and windows and roofs. This is the way humans build homes for themselves. I refuse to believe that beings who look like this could have developed the concept of verandas and garden courtyards without having seen a human society somewhere along the way."
"My God, you're right," Sam chimed in excitedly. "You must be. Maybe they even fought the goa'uld, like Omarocca did. If Teal'c is right, and the goa'uld don't even know about these . . . people . . . maybe they were successful. We can't leave without trying to find out more."
Jack gave a shrug and waved one hand in weary acquiescence and so they stayed, but finding out more proved easier said than done. Despite Daniel's efforts, the beings remained stubbornly oblivious to every attempt at communication. He introduced himself in a normal tone of voice, in whispers, then at a shout, first in English and then in a dozen other languages. He waved his arms in the air, ran around in circles, drew pictures in the dirt. The glyph for Earth, the stargate, random geometric shapes, the molecular structures of hydrogen, helium, lithium, and beryllium, and all the prime numbers in sequence up to 37, which involved a lot of chicken scratches in the road. With Sam's assistance, he set up a laser to deliver timed pulses of light into the clouds overhead, and then the two of them rigged one of their radios to blast ear-splitting bursts of white noise in programmed sequences.
Nothing. Jack and Teal'c's careful guard duty was entirely superfluous. Not only were the creatures unthreatening, they kept just drifting away from Daniel's impromptu performance theatre, forcing Daniel to run after them before beginning all over again. Jack finally stopped him when he tried to go after a cluster of the creatures which had congregated half a block down the dusty street.
"Give it a rest, Daniel. You're not getting anywhere like this."
Daniel bristled, but it was a purely instinctive reaction because he didn't argue with Jack, only offered another suggestion. "Well then, what about going into one of the buildings? They might react to that, but even if they don't, it'll tell us something about their culture, maybe about the degree of contact they had with earth, or at least with humans."
"All right," Jack agreed immediately, enjoying Daniel's look of surprise. "Pick one."
"Uh --" Daniel turned slowly on his heel, looking at the thoroughfare, the nearest group of beings, a cluster of two or three -- or maybe half a dozen; it was hard to tell -- floating unconcernedly away from them. "Well, what about this one." He gestured to a structure large enough to be a public gathering place, with a tall red roof, a veranda wrapping all the way around and an opening facing the street that was large enough from him to see a glimpse of the shadows within. A small but rigidly kept formal garden lined the stone pathway from the street, and a fountain filled the air with the trickling sound of water on stone.
Jack half-shrugged and half nodded. "Carter, Teal'c, you two keep an eye on things in the street."
"Sir." Carter had taken the camcorder during Daniel's communication attempts, but before she tucked it away in her vest she looked again at the tiny preview screen. Her voice was puzzled. "Sir, I'm really having trouble getting a clear picture of these creatures."
"And that surprises you? C'mon, Daniel."
The two of them walked up the garden path together.
Jack's house had a stale, closed-in smell after being shut up for more than a week. Two days offworld. Six more under Dr. Fraiser's tender care. Jack's shoulder still ached, and his insides felt trembly and weak, as though he were just recovering from a bad bout of the flu. Nevertheless, even Janet had finally agreed there was no reason to keep him any longer, and she'd reluctantly let him go home.
Daniel, she'd released after just twenty-four hours.
Jack slid open a patio door to let in some fresh air. The Peterson kid two houses down was practicing his bass guitar again. Didn't that boy ever go to school? Jack left the door open anyway. The breeze smelled sweet, like springtime and open spaces. Jack himself still smelled like the infirmary. It clung to his hair and clothes like cigarette smoke. He wanted a shower, but he wasn't supposed to get his stitches wet, and a bath sounded like too much work. Maybe he'd just have a nice glass of ice water, then take a snooze on one of the lawn chairs in the backyard, out in the sunshine. Do him a world of good, even with the musical accompaniment from the Peterson kid's bass. He wondered if Daniel was getting out, taking advantage of the sunshine and fresh air. It would do him some good, too.
Daniel had been so strong, too strong, maybe, through it all. He'd taken everything with scarcely a cry. He might never have broken, if Jack hadn't kissed him.
Drywall absorbed the impact of Jack's fist. It hurt like hell, but didn't do the trick. He could still see Daniel's face, bruised and desperate and so pale, tears streaming from under his closed eyelids.
Jack swung again, this time putting his fist through the windowpane.
Then the door had come back. For a long moment Sam just stared, dumbfounded. Nearly thirty-six hours they'd been looking for the door through which Daniel and the colonel had disappeared, most of that time with the help of SG2 and every piece of equipment they could gate through from thermographs to seismographs. They'd even tried digging, and the little Bobcat was still parked near their camp, piles of sandy earth heaped around it. Nothing in all that time. The colonel and Daniel, the pagoda-like building they'd walked into, the town, the street, everything except the silent inhabitants of the world themselves had vanished as utterly as though they'd never existed. In their place was a desolate landscape. Sam's fitful catnaps during that time were filled with dreams in which the landscape still looked like the dusty thoroughfare lined with houses that had so excited Daniel, as if all the buildings had turned to stone. When she was awake, though, she couldn't believe it.
Now it was all back. The red tile roof, the broad veranda and open front door. And Daniel's hoarse voice, shouting at them from the shadowed interior. "Sam! Teal'c! Oh, God, can you see us?"
She felt as though her chest had been caught in a vise ever since Daniel and the colonel had disappeared. Now it was finally released and she could take her first full breath in hours. "Hang on!" she shouted to Daniel. "We're coming!" The urge to dash in that invitingly open door was almost overwhelming, but it was too dim inside for her to see Daniel, and so she didn't let herself do it. Turning her head she bellowed for Teal'c and Ferretti. They both came at a dead run.
"Major Carter. What has happened?"
Both the men were looking at her, not at the structure behind her or at any of the buildings which had reappeared just as impossibly as they had first vanished. A collection of this world's inhabitants drifted past obliviously on the breeze. Not for the first time, Sam wondered if the things were even sentient. "It's here," she said again. "Help me get them out before it vanishes again."
Teal'c looked at her a moment longer, then raised his eyes. His face betrayed nothing, but Ferretti wasn't nearly so restrained. He obviously thought she was crazy. "You been out in the sun too long, Major?"
"Dammit, what's the matter with you? Teal'c, it's right here. Are you telling me you don't see it?"
"I do not."
"But that's impossible. It's the same red tiles on the roof, the same gardens and fountain, the front porch, everything!"
"Major Carter, I --" Teal'c broke off. Blinked hard.
Ferretti swayed on his feet and swore violently. "Jesus H. Christ. Where the fuck did that come from?"
"Let us retrieve Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson." Teal'c recovered fast, swinging his staff weapon into position, though he waited for Sam to give the OK before moving in. She followed him into the cool dimness of the interior, hearing Ferretti shouting orders to his team behind her.
She saw Jack first. He lay curled on his side, eyes squeezed shut, hands scrabbling uselessly at the close-woven straw mat beneath him. He was making terrible sounds, groans and half-uttered cries that turned her guts to ice. "Teal'c, help him. Get him out of here."
Teal'c nodded shortly, handing his staff weapon off to Ferretti. "Attend to Daniel Jackson," he said. He knelt and pulled O'Neill over his shoulders in a single smooth motion. Jack moaned, and Teal'c reassured him, his voice almost tender, "You are among friends now."
Only then did she see Daniel, and she wondered how she could have missed him in the first place. He crouched behind a charcoal fire pit in the center of the room, a dark shadow against the nearly translucent walls of the place. "Daniel." He was conscious, his head turning up to her as she quickly crossed to his side.
"It's Jack," he rasped, his voice thin with exhaustion and very hoarse. "I'm all right, but we've got to help Jack."
"We will. We are." She knelt beside him. Seeing his long shins drawn up to his chest, the white expanse of his bare back, she had thought he was naked. Now that she was closer, she realized he still had his boxers, but he was tethered like an animal, his arms bound together and secured to one of the building's interior supports, his legs tied at the ankles. "God, Daniel," she muttered, pulling out her knife and slicing through the lead that ran from his tied wrists to the column. The material was cloth, cotton perhaps, and she thought it might have been cut from Daniel's own BDUs. "Who did this to you? Are they still here?"
"Major Carter." Teal'c's voice was sharp with concern.
She looked up and had to bite back her own cry of alarm. The entrance leading to the street was gone.
Ferretti turned in a slow circle, Teal'c's staff weapon held before him. "Shit! Where did it go?"
"There has to be a way out," Sam insisted. "We'll punch through the walls if we have to, but the street is right out there. It has to be."
"Sam." Daniel grabbed her forearm and spoke with feverish intensity. "Please, the door is right in front of me. You have to see it -- you have to make yourself look. Jack doesn't have time for this."
She followed his gaze to the blank wall. "Daniel --"
"Just see it. There's a stone lantern on the path leading to the street, and SG2 is out there. They still see us. They don't know anything's wrong. Sam, believe me, the door is right there."
So it was. Sam felt a little bubble of horror rising in her brain at the sight. It wasn't like an optical illusion or even Nox or goa'uld technology. It was as though Daniel's insistence had simply willed that door back into place. She slashed through the strip of cloth binding Daniel's ankles. "Can you walk?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine." He staggered to his feet and would have fallen immediately if Sam hadn't steadied him. Ferretti was there in an instant, pulling Daniel's arm around his shoulder to support him and passing the staff weapon to Sam. "Watch our six, Major. I've got him."
Sam covered their retreat as they emerged into the sunlight. One of the vague creatures came floating into the room behind them and Sam came within a hair's breadth of firing on it. It paid no attention to them though, merely drifting past into the courtyard.
Out in the street, Daniel pulled himself free and staggered after Teal'c. Still in a fireman's carry over Teal'c's shoulders, Jack had begun to convulse. His head thrashed from side to side.
"He can't make it to the stargate," Daniel cried out. "Teal'c, stop, we have to do it here."
Teal'c couldn't have had any more idea what Daniel was talking about than Sam did, but he stopped at once and dropped to one knee so that Daniel and Ferretti could help lower Jack the rest of the way to the ground. Long shudders ran down Jack's body and he dug his heels into the dirt, kicking weakly. Sam saw his eyes were open and terrified before Daniel bent low over him, putting his hands on Jack's face.
"Jack, it's all right. We're gonna end it right now."
There were bruises on Daniel's back. As he knelt to comfort Jack, Sam could see bloodstains spotting his boxers.
"Help me turn him over," Daniel said, but before they could do it, another convulsion wracked O'Neill. His back arched hard off the ground and a strangled cry tore from his throat. Daniel cried out too in desperate sympathy. "Jack, I'm here. Just hang on, please, please."
"Geez--" Ferretti breathed at Sam's side. All four of them were turning Jack as gently as they could onto his stomach. His limbs were taut as bowstrings, and he was burning with fever. "What the hell's the matter with him?"
"Sam," Daniel said. "Give me your knife, quick."
She handed it to him pommel first, noticing as she did that Daniel had a black eye and his lower lip was split and swollen.
Daniel grabbed a fistful of Jack's T-shirt at the neck and used the knife to make a jagged, tearing cut the length of his shirt. "Oh God," Sam hissed. "Oh my God." Her eyes met Teal'c's. It couldn't be. They would have felt something. It couldn't be.
To the left of Jack's spine and just below the nape of his neck was a long stripe of distended, violently inflamed flesh. Around the immediate area the bruising was almost black, and pale red lines of infection spread out across both his shoulders. Sam laid the tips of her fingers along the livid stripe. As gentle as she was, the colonel screamed at her touch. She yanked her hand back, shaking. His back was on fire, and underneath the red-hot flesh, she could have sworn she felt something twitch.
"Have we got a sterile blade?" Daniel demanded. "Dammit, he doesn't have much time."
"Daniel, no." Sam knew what he was thinking, and it was out of the question. "We've got to get him to Janet. We'll kill him if we do it here."
"That thing will kill him if we don't do it here!" Daniel shouted. "Now get me a goddamned sterile blade before I have to use this on him." He brandished Sam's knife in a fury.
"This is not of assistance to O'Neill," Teal'c announced, and plucked the knife from Daniel's grasp.
Daniel looked down, his face pulled into an expression that someone who didn't know him might have mistaken for a smile. "Get me a sterile blade," he repeated, his voice very quiet, "Or he's going to die right here while we watch."
"Siegel," Ferretti snapped at one of his men and then jerked his head back to camp. The man took off at a run.
Jack's face was turned to the side and he was taking harsh, panting breaths. "Daniel?" he whispered between breaths. "Are you still here?"
Daniel reached for his hand and held it hard. "Of course I'm here, Jack. I'm not going anywhere. You know that."
Another convulsion gripped Jack. He clenched his jaw, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to ride it out, his knuckles turning white as he held on to Daniel's hand. Once it passed, he gasped for air, too exhausted to speak for long moments. He yanked at Daniel and, when Daniel's face was next to his, he whispered in a harsh voice, "I'm sorry," and pushed Daniel's hand away.
"Shut up, Jack," he said kindly, and laid his palm on the back of Jack's head.
Siegel dropped to his knees beside them. "I've got a razor from the kit." He was breathing hard. "And these." He proffered a handful of antiseptic wipes a little sheepishly. Sam understood. They did seem pathetically inadequate. Taking one of the packaged wipes she tore it open, but then hesitated a moment longer. Simply touching the colonel's back was going to hurt him. Not to mention using the razor. Her stomach was doing a slow barrel roll at the very thought.
"Daniel, you're sure this is the right thing?"
He raised his eyes to hers. "It has to be." Besides the bruises on his face, there were a series of tender-looking red blemishes, each a few centimeters across, scattered around his neck and trailing down his chest.
Teal'c shifted his position so that he could lay one big hand on each of Jack's shoulders. "Endeavor to take deep breaths, Colonel O'Neill."
"Yeah," Jack grunted. "Got it."
"I'm trying to sterilize the area first, sir, but I'm afraid it's going to hurt."
"Just get on with it, Major."
"Easy, Jack," Daniel breathed, taking his hand again. "Just take it easy."
At Sam's first touch, Jack shouted out loud, his body thrashing in reaction. Ferretti moved to pin his legs to the ground. "It's all right," Daniel chanted, as much to himself as to Jack. "It's all right. It'll be over soon." Sam stroked the antiseptic wipe between Jack's shoulder blades. She could hear the sounds Jack made as she did so and she felt the distended flesh yielding sickeningly under her deliberate touch. A perfect battlefield calm had descended on her, though, and none of it touched her. She tossed aside the first wipe and ripped open a second package, repeating the cleansing and wishing for a good old fashioned bottle of alcohol to douse over the colonel's back. Then she did it a third time. Jack's struggles were weakening. She looked for the razor blade and saw that Daniel had it now.
"I'll do it, Sam."
She didn't argue with him, mutely changing positions so that she was crouched near Jack's head and Daniel could lean over his back. But then he held up the blade and Sam saw how his hand was trembling. "No," she said, catching his wrist. "Let me."
"Would you people make up your fucking minds and just get on with it already?" Jack's pain-filled voice was less than a whisper.
"Sorry, sir. Right away, sir." They changed positions again, and Sam used the last antiseptic wipe to clean her hands before taking the razor from Daniel. Her own hand was rock steady. Jack screamed only once when she cut into his back, but as she slowly drew a long red line through the worst of the inflammation, she could feel his body shuddering in agony. When she dared to glance up, there were tears on the colonel's face.
Blood welled up darkly from the wound she'd made, trickling over his back and down his ribs. Wondering if she'd gone deep enough, she handed the razor to Daniel who took it with his left hand, his right still holding Jack's. Then she laid the heels of both hands on either side of the cut and pressed firmly.
Jack gasped. "Daniel," he moaned once. "Danny."
A greenish-white discharge suddenly exploded from the wound, mingling with the blood on his back. Sam didn't flinch, keeping the pressure firm until something hard and blood-soaked emerged from the now-ragged lips of the cut. At first she couldn't understand what she was seeing. She felt as though her eyes had suddenly lost the ability to focus, and the harder she tried to see it, the more blurred its outlines became.
It was like trying to look at the inhabitants of this godforsaken planet, she realized. At that instant the hard lump she'd cut out of the colonel's back began to uncoil like a serpent. With a cry of fury and loathing she knocked it away into the dirt. As the monster writhed weakly, clearly dying, Teal'c reversed his staff weapon and smashed it hard across the street, blasting it out of existence before it had stopped moving.
Sam staggered to her feet and walked away, shaking with reaction. When she finally turned back she saw that Jack lay sprawled and silent. Mercifully, he was finally unconscious. So it couldn't have been a goa'uld, because Jack would have been just as mercifully dead by now, Sam thought, trying to reassure herself. Daniel was loosely bandaging the wound with sterile gauze, unwilling to delegate the task to anyone else even though his hands were still shaking and his eyes were red. Ferretti's people had a stretcher at the ready. "Teal'c," she said, and wondered vaguely why her own voice was so hoarse now. "Let's get the colonel home."
He bowed his head in acknowledgment, and Sam was able to wait until Jack's stretcher was on its way to the gate before she sank to her knees and vomited into the dirt.
The doorbell rang while Jack was still trying to fit band-aids over the cuts on his knuckles. He swore in aggravation. His first hour home after a week in the infirmary, was it too much to hope that people would just leave him the hell alone?
The doorbell rang again. He cursed and stayed right where he was, holding his arm up in an attempt to keep from bleeding all over the hardwood floor. Blood traced winding trails along his forearm to his elbow, and a ragged corona of glass shards still gleamed in the broken window. He wasn't answering the door like this, he decided defiantly. Anyone who wanted to talk to him so bad could just call on the goddammed telephone. He turned his back to the door and went back to trying to stick another band-aid over the slippery, bloody mess.
Which was when Daniel, having given up on the front door, simply made his way around to the backyard and across the patio. "Hey, Jack, didn't you hear me? I think your doorbell must be out of order." He walked in through the patio door Jack had opened when he first got home. "I was going to give you a ride home. Why didn't you call when Janet let you out?"
Then he saw the blood. "Oh, shit." He immediately pushed Jack down into a chair and took the box of band-aids out of his bloody hands. "You can't fix this with band-aids. Don't you have gauze and tape? What happened?"
"What are you doing here?" Jack asked instead of answering any questions.
Daniel got a clean dishtowel from the drawer beside the refrigerator and wrapped it tightly around Jack's hand. "There, hold that while I find something to fix you up with. When I heard you were already gone, I thought I'd stop by and see if you needed groceries or anything. Do you still have that first aid kit in the garage?"
"All right, hold on. I'll be right back. God, what a mess." Then Daniel saw the broken window. His shoulders slumped. "Jack. You did that."
"Must have been some neighbor kid with a baseball."
"Really. All the glass is on the wrong side."
"Maybe he was throwing it around inside here."
"And maybe you're an amazingly lousy liar." Daniel shook his head. "I'll be right back." He stalked off, radiating anger. Jack heard him stomping down the steps into the garage, rattling around with unnecessary violence as he dragged down the first aid kit. Jack looked at the towel around his knuckles and wondered why Daniel was really here. When he returned, still angry, and began digging out the gauze and surgical tape, Jack asked him again.
Daniel looked at him. He was smiling, but it wasn't a happy expression. "What am I doing here. Right. So you want to wash those cuts before we wrap them up?"
Jack obediently went to the kitchen sink. The water made the cuts sting, but once the blood was cleared away, they didn't look too bad. He'd been afraid he might need stitches, and Fraiser would have had his hide.
"Put your arm down here." Daniel laid a clean towel on the kitchen table, and once Jack sat down and stretched his arm out, he squeezed out dabs of Neosporin over the cuts.
Jack tried again. "Daniel, for the last time, what the hell are you doing here?"
Daniel didn't even look up. "I already told you. I'm seeing if you need anything." He tore off two pieces of surgical tape. "Here. Hold these."
Jack took the tape while Daniel unfolded a large square of gauze over the back of his hand, and he asked Daniel, "Has it occurred to you that you might be the last person on the entire fucking planet I would want to see right now?"
That finally made Daniel flinch. He was silent as he finished bandaging Jack's hand. Then he snapped the metallic cover back on the roll of tape, threw the gauze wrappings away in the trash can under the sink and carried the first aid kit back to the garage. There was no stomping down the stairs this time. When he came back, Jack was still sitting at the kitchen table, thinking that as soon as Daniel left, he was going to pour himself a triple shot of Bushmills, his medication schedule be damned.
Daniel stood at the kitchen table across from Jack without sitting down. "Yes," he finally said. "Actually, Jack, that did occur to me. That's sort of why I'm here."
"Dammit, Daniel -- " Jack looked down at his hands. Curling his right hand into a fist made the surgical tape pull.
"So," Daniel said. "Groceries." He opened Jack's refrigerator and looked at the empty shelves. Jack had seen the inside of Daniel's fridge on more than one occasion, and knew it looked just the same as his. Milk on the verge of going bad if it hadn't already. Stale bread. Condiment bottles so old the lids were beginning rust. Only real difference was Daniel had jars of tahini and salt-cured black olives where Jack usually had the remains of a six-pack. "Want some vegetables for salad?"
"Too much work," Jack answered automatically. "I just go to a salad bar for greens. Daniel, would you stop for one goddamn minute here? You can't pretend that nothing happened."
"I can try," Daniel said calmly. "But I have to say, neither you or Janet are making it very easy for me. That reminds me." He swung the refrigerator door shut. "I guess Janet already told you we're scheduled for therapy."
"Well yeah, I figured there was no getting out of it."
"Might not be such a bad idea. I mean, while you still have some unbroken windows left in your house."
"You think seeing a shrink is a good idea."
"And we're supposed to coordinate our schedules and get back to Dr. MacKenzie. He wants us to make some of our sessions joint." Daniel's voice gave almost nothing away.
"You're kidding me."
"Are you surprised? You know, MacKenzie probably cries himself to sleep every night because he can't publish any of those SGC case studies he's always scribbling down in his spare time. How infection by a goa'uld-killing machine mimics the symptoms of schizophrenia, for instance. Bet you anything he's already having wet dreams about the article he'd love to publish about you and me in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma."
"Daniel." The reaction was so automatic that Jack had already stood and put his hand on Daniel's shoulder before he realized what he was doing. Daniel flinched, and Jack dropped his hand fast and took a step back.
"Oh God," Daniel whispered, and the frozen, angry mask disappeared from his face. "I didn't --"
"It's all right."
"I wouldn't have even said anything to Janet, but she already knew somehow. I think Sam must have seen something and told her."
"Daniel, you came back through the gate covered with hickeys and bleeding from your ass. I bet Janet figured it out all on her own."
Daniel blinked. "But Teal'c gave me his jacket," he insisted. "Someone even got me a pair of pants out of his pack so I wouldn't have to walk back like -- how would anyone --" He turned abruptly and stumbled toward the living room, almost hitting the wall before he found the sofa and sank into it.
Jack didn't follow him. Instead he stood and looked out the kitchen window. Beautiful day out there.
"Nice," Jack had announced. "Bring in one of those family entertainment centers, put down a little berber carpeting, and we'd be ready to go."
Despite the nonsense, Daniel could see that Jack was on high alert. They crossed the veranda together, but he made a point of preceding Daniel into the building. He took in his surroundings and signaled back to Sam and Teal'c who were waiting for them out on the dusty thoroughfare before stepping aside and allowing Daniel in.
"These things drink tea?" was the first thing that occurred to Daniel.
"Tea?" Jack looked at him blankly.
"Why else would there be a tea service?" Daniel knelt beside the low table in the center of the room to look at it more closely. Half a dozen ceramic cups were arranged beside a small metal vessel with a handle and a spout.
"A tea service." Jack echoed again. He blinked and shook his head as though he couldn't see it.
"Well, what would you call it?" Daniel bent forward carefully and sniffed at the kettle without touching it. There was a faint aroma that he couldn't quite make out. Mint, perhaps. He sniffed again. Definitely mint.
The walls of the structure were panels of a translucent substance thin as paper. The frame and support pillars were wood, or something that looked very much like it. Daniel hadn't realized from the outside that there was an enclosed garden, but one side of the room opened onto a lintel as broad as a step. Water splashed in a fountain just out of Daniel's sight.
Daniel rocked back and looked around himself before climbing to his feet again. "It's beautiful. But somehow --"
"I don't know about you, but I'm having a little trouble believing that those floaty things out there actually live here."
"Yeah. That's what I was going to say." There were mats on the floor that could have been woven from straw or bamboo, and round pillows in gray fabrics, embroidered or printed with horticultural designs. "You wouldn't think they would ever need to sit down. Or drink tea." Daniel walked to the step leading out into the garden and from there could see that rooms on every side let out into the enclosed courtyard. The scents rising from the dull-colored flowers were exquisite.
A dim shape moved in one of the rooms across the way. "I guess they do, though." Daniel pointed. "See it?"
Jack was at his side in an instant. "I think so. Hard to tell in the shadow. Do you think it saw us?"
"No idea. Do they even have eyes?"
Jack just raised his eyebrows.
"OK," Daniel said, grinning. "I can't tell either. You know, maybe that's why the garden seems to be planned on principles of scent and form instead of color. They're blind. Or at least colorblind." With Jack on his heels, he walked into the next room. It looked very much like the first, open and bare, with one wall letting out into the garden. The only furnishings were mats and pillows on the floor. The next room was the same, as was the next and the next. Some had charcoal fire pits in the center of the room, the ashes still warm.
They passed through every room, at length finding their way back to the one they'd started in without catching another glimpse of the being Daniel had seen across the garden. "Hiding from us?" Daniel pondered out loud.
"Or just floated away to hang with its buds on the street corner. Frankly, Daniel, I haven't seen anything that would convince me these things care one way or the other about us being here at all."
Daniel had to agree. In fact, the native inhabitants' utter indifference to their presence was making it hard for him to believe the little town here had actually been influenced by contact with humans at all. It was quite clear that SG1 was having no effect on them, at any rate.
"Hmm?" Daniel was examining the tea service again, this time allowing himself to run his fingers along the delicate edge of the cups.
"What happened to the front door?"
"What do you mean?''
"I mean what happened to the front door."
Wondering what in the world Jack was playing at, Daniel looked back at the entrance. Except it wasn't the entrance. He was looking instead out into the enclosed garden. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck start to prickle, he stood up fast. There were doors opening into the rooms on either side of this one, and the open wall facing the garden, but the door to the outside had vanished.
This was impossible. There had to be another explanation. "No, Jack, you know what happened? We just lost track of where we came in. This isn't the right room."
"Oh, it's the right room." Jack's voice was tight with anger. "C'mon, Daniel, we're out of here."
"You're planning on shooting your way through the wall? It's just the wrong room, that's all." Daniel turned his back on him and walked into the next room, where he was sure he would find the entrance. There was no tea service here, though, and no low table, and most importantly, no way out. His head spinning a little, he stepped out into the garden, thinking that perhaps he was mistaking it for the landscaping which flanked the entrance, but no, the fragrant garden was enclosed on all sides.
This just wasn't possible. He turned in a slow circle while the fountain trickled over moss-covered stones. He could see into every room that surrounded the garden, and none of them had an outside door. He felt dizzy, as though he were trying to look too closely at one of this world's inhabitants. Jack glared at him from the room that should have been the way out.
"Get your butt back in here, Daniel. I've got a bad feeling about this."
Daniel found that he suddenly agreed with Jack one hundred percent. He stepped across the lintel into the tea room just as Jack suddenly spun away from him, confronting something Daniel couldn't quite see.
"Out of our way," Jack snarled. "We're leaving right now."
Something came between Daniel and Jack. Daniel felt cold ribbons falling along his head, arms and shoulders, knocking his glasses off his face and coiling down the back of his neck. One of this planet's inscrutable, unfathomable beings. It was all around him, practically engulfing him.
"Get away from me," Daniel panted, trying to back off. "Please," he added, since he didn't know if the thing were hostile, far less even aware of his presence.
It didn't move away from him. Tendrils as delicate as twining sweet pea vines tangled in his hair. When he tried to shout, more slithered past his lips to fill his mouth, and then began to slip down his throat. Jack yelled for him, and then Daniel heard Jack's weapon discharge only once.
Though his eyes were open, nothing Daniel could see made sense anymore. There were no walls around him, no ceiling or floor. Instead he saw only vertiginous shapes and colors that made his stomach clench with nausea. He felt filament-thin tendrils brush his naked eyes, and he squeezed them shut in self-defense and tried to cover his face with his hands. None of his limbs obeyed him. For long, horrific moments, he couldn't even tell where his arms and legs were. He might have been a disembodied brain floating in space for all the sense of his own body he possessed. He wasn't choking anymore. He wasn't even sure he was breathing.
Then he felt something hard under his cheek, and realized he was free. Coughing and sputtering, afraid he was about to be sick, he finally managed to open his eyes. Jack was sprawled facedown on the other side of the room. On his shoulder was a fluttering, indistinct shape that reminded Daniel of a giant butterfly slowly opening and closing his wings. As the wings moved, the air all around undulated with shadows.
He tried to warn Jack, but nothing emerged except a strangled croak. Still dizzy and nauseated, he struggled to get up, wondering where the hell Sam and Teal'c were. They must have heard the shot, and Daniel couldn't believe paper walls would hold those two back for long. Raising his eyes, expecting to see them bursting in at any moment, he saw instead that the doorways to the neighboring rooms were crowded with a host of the planet's inhabitants. They seemed to be on both sides of the door at once, above and below, preceding and following themselves in a dizzying procession. The garden was so thick with them the only sunlight that made it into the tea room was thin and gray.
"Jack," Daniel called again, his voice a little steadier this time, and Jack groaned out loud and hauled himself up onto his elbows without opening his eyes. The butterfly on his shoulder twisted in upon itself, and the movement reminded Daniel of nightmares and madness. "Jack!" he shouted.
He flung himself across the floor, but he was far too late. The butterfly coiled once more upon Jack's shoulder and then corkscrewed into his body. The air around Jack rippled, and Jack's mouth opened wide in a silent scream.
Daniel's wasn't silent. "Jack!"
He was at Jack's side a moment later, almost weeping with horror. Jack was thrashing on the floor, and Daniel steadied him as best he could, yanking down the back of Jack's vest and t-shirt, trying to find an entry wound. There was a smear of blood at the nape of his neck, and a shadow of movement flickered just below it. Daniel laid his palm over Jack's spine, and felt something twitch under the flesh.
No, oh no. Oh no. Not Jack. Not again. It was unthinkable, impossible. Daniel wouldn't let this happen.
He fumbled frantically for his pocket knife, cursing himself when he couldn't find it immediately. Front pants pockets, back -- aw, Jesus, if he'd stowed it in his vest he'd never find it in time. Jack's convulsions were growing weaker, and he was moaning out loud now, harsh exhalations of agony. "Hold on," Daniel was saying over and over again. "It's going to be all right. Hold on, Jack, I swear I'll get it out of you."
Jack was curling slowly onto his side as Daniel finally found his knife, pushed deeply in a front pocket after all. He fumbled the blade open, trying to will his hands to stop shaking so badly, when suddenly Jack's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. His eyes were open and fixed on Daniel's, then on the knife Daniel held. His face was wet with perspiration and tears.
"Yes," Jack whispered, a drawn-out sibilance as he struggled to form words. "Do it quick. I can already feel it inside me." He let Daniel go and touched the side of his own throat. "Carotid artery's right here."
"Jack, no, I'm --"
"It'll be fast, I promise." Jack gasped in pain and clenched his fists hard, trying to ride out the next convulsion. "I won't even feel it. Danny, please, for me."
Daniel moaned out loud in grief but didn't waste time arguing with Jack. He pushed him to the floor and ran his hand over Jack's neck and upper back, looking for the monster inside him. It couldn't have bonded so quickly, it couldn't.
Suddenly Jack reared up under him, tossing Daniel aside. The knife went flying. Too late, Daniel mourned. Oh God, too late. He scrabbled frantically after the knife, but Jack was faster. His hand closed around Daniel's ankle and Daniel twisted onto his side, thinking with desperate hope that the thing in his body must not have complete control yet, because the real Jack would never have left himself so vulnerable. One of Daniel's feet was still free, and Jack's face was only inches away.
He kicked out, but it was only a glancing blow that Jack blocked effortlessly. It turned out Daniel was no more capable of smashing his booted foot into Jack's face than he was of cutting his throat. Jack knew it, and the thing inside Jack knew it too. It laughed at him and yanked with such sudden, overwhelming strength that Daniel's face scraped the straw mat. He tried to get to his knees, but Jack swarmed up over him, dropping his full weight on Daniel and wrapping his arm around Daniel's throat. Red flooded his vision as Jack's forearm bore harder against the side of his neck. Then Jack began to pull him up, bowing Daniel's back until his shoulders were off the floor.
"Jack --" Daniel's arms were flung outwards, grasping nothing. His head was pounding in time with each desperate pulse of his heart, and the muscles in his back screamed with the strain. He had no doubt at all that he was about to die. "Jack," he wheezed, "it's not your fault."
"Jack?" Daniel hadn't moved from the sofa, and he didn't turn his head to look at Jack now.
"You got anything to drink?"
"Sure." He got out the Bushmills and poured a couple of fingers into each of two glasses, adding a splash of water and an ice cube to Daniel's in the hopes it would encourage him to down it faster. Then he carried both glasses and the bottle into the living room.
Daniel hadn't moved a muscle, though he reached up mechanically for the glass when Jack handed it to him.
"So everyone --"
"Drink up," Jack interrupted, and took a healthy swallow by way of example.
"Yeah." Daniel drank. Though he didn't empty the glass, it was a start. Jack freshened his drink before sitting down across from him, but Daniel hardly seemed to notice.
"So everyone knows what happened. That is what you're telling me, isn't it? The whole base."
Jack took a slug of his own drink before answering. The whiskey tasted too good and he set his glass down before he could give in to the temptation to finish it in a swallow. "Everyone on the mission to pull you and me out got an eyeful. You've got to know that."
Daniel made a helpless gesture with both hands, sloshing a fair amount of his drink around in the process. "Actually -- well, really, no, I didn't. You were dying. That's pretty much all I was thinking about at the time. I'm, uh, I'm not even sure who was there." He set the glass down. "Sam, and Teal'c, right? Yeah, of course Teal'c was there, he gave me his coat ..." His voice trailed off.
"Hard to believe you still wanted to save me by that point," Jack muttered.
Daniel's head shot up, his eyes blazing. "Don't talk like that. You're alive, Jack. Everything else, we'll deal with. But if you --" Daniel's face got red and he twisted up his mouth, swallowing hard. When he spoke again his voice was tight and strained. "I thought we got this straightened out on the first mission to Abydos. Alive is better than dead."
"Yes it fucking is!" Daniel yelled at him, abandoning any attempt at control. He staggered to his feet and loomed over Jack, so angry Jack honestly thought he might throw a punch. He wrapped his fists in Jack's shirt, trying to drag him to his feet. "You've got no right to give up now, you cowardly son of a bitch. Do you hear me?"
"Daniel." He put his hands over Daniel's fists, still clenched in his shirt. "Don't do this."
"Don't do what, Jack? What do you think is going to happen to me if you cut and run now? I can't think, I can't sleep, and every time I close my eyes --" He broke off with a long, shuddering breath and let go of Jack's shirt.
Jack grabbed his wrists before he could back away. "Every time you close your eyes, I'm all over you. Jesus, you think I don't know that?"
Daniel stared down at his pinioned hands, and Jack felt his own face go hot with shame. Even his ears were burning. He could feel how badly Daniel wanted to jerk free, the way his whole body trembled with tension, but he didn't try. Jack didn't release him either. Fight it, Daniel, he thought. Fight your way out and get the hell away from me.
"I won't let you do it, Jack," he said quietly, and the realization that Daniel knew exactly what he was thinking shocked Jack so badly he abruptly let go. Daniel staggered backward. The ottoman caught him behind the knees, and he sat down so hard the stool upended, depositing him on the floor with a crash.
"Oh, dammit, Daniel -- " Jack jumped up to offer him a hand. "Are you hurt?"
Daniel waved him away. "Just my dignity," he groaned, sounding like his old self. "And there wasn't a whole lot of that to begin with." He curled slowly onto his hip, rubbing his tailbone.
Jack kept his hand extended. "Come on. Let me help you up."
Daniel looked up at him, and all at once his eyes filled with tears. He made a furious, slashing gesture with one hand and sat up fast, pulling his legs to his chest and dropping his head.
Cursing under his breath, Jack got to his knees beside the hunched figure. "C'mon, Daniel," he said, and had to stop himself from wrapping his arm around Daniel's shoulders. "Let's get off the floor at least."
"I'm fine," Daniel insisted without raising his head, his voice so muffled Jack could hardly hear him. "I'm fine."
"You and me both." Jack sighed and then, against his better judgment, he put his arm around Daniel anyway. Daniel flinched, and then for long, long moments, sat so still he hardly seemed to breathe.
The Peterson kid was still practicing two houses down, but every now and again the twitter of a songbird interrupted the drone of badly-played chords. The patio doors were still standing open, and it occurred to Jack, in his grief, that he might just get up and walk right out into the yard.
Into the garden where the sweet flowers had no color, and even the birds were gray.
"Oh, God, Daniel," he whispered, and tightened his arm around Daniel's shoulders.
All at once Daniel came willingly, so quickly in fact that he nearly bowled Jack over as he pressed his head into the crook of his neck. He flung both arms around him. "Jack." His voice hitched. "Jack."
Jack stroked the head buried against his shoulder, his own hand trembling. "We'll get through this," he whispered hoarsely, and had no idea how he would keep a promise like that.
Daniel didn't die. He never even lost consciousness, although when Jack let go he collapsed bonelessly and could do nothing to resist as Jack wrenched at him, dragging him across the floor, turning him this way and that. His arms and legs were dead weights, and he had a vicious headache from the momentary lack of oxygen and blood. When he opened his eyes, the light made the pain in his head worse.
This was no time to panic, he told himself. This was bad, this was really bad, but it was only temporary. Sam and Teal'c were going to show up any minute now, and they'd all take Jack to the Tollans and get that damned dirty monster out of him before it could do any more damage. All he had to do was hang on until the rescue.
Then he felt Jack's hands fumbling at his belt. He kicked weakly and tried to push the hands away. Jack slapped him hard across the mouth, and stars zig-zagged over Daniel's retinas like lightning strikes. When he could force his eyes open again he found himself stripped down to his boxers and T-shirt. His hands and feet were tied, his vest and sidearm piled in a heap on the other side of the room. Jack was nowhere to be seen.
With a groan, Daniel tried to sit up. "Sam!" he shouted. "Teal'c! We need help! Sam!" He yelled himself hoarse, suspecting that it wouldn't do any good, but he had to try. He'd already figured out the geography of this place wasn't exactly Euclidean. Sam and Teal'c should have been right outside -- they should have heard the struggle, the gunshot, everything, but apparently they had not. He had the insane idea that the building had somehow folded in upon itself, that the courtyard garden really was the same garden that had flanked the front walkway.
And the goa'uld were here. Had been here all along. Some breeding queen had taken the genetic material from these beings and spawned larvae that could use them as hosts. There was no sign of goa'uld technology or architecture, and that probably meant no naquada in their systems either, but regardless of how different they were from the civilization of the system lords, they apparently possessed their racial memory. Daniel supposed the incongruously human-looking homes were a reflection of goa'uld arrogance. A memory of their conquest of humans, not of the native inhabitants' contact with earth at all.
So he'd been wrong again. Spectacularly, amazingly and utterly wrong. He was the one who had insisted they stay and investigate.
"Teal'c!" he screamed again, his voice cracking. "Sam!"
Then Jack stepped in from the garden. He was grinning, looking so much like himself it nearly broke Daniel's heart.
"What in the world are you caterwauling about?" he asked, crouching down so he was face to face with Daniel. "You're making such a racket I can't hear myself think."
There were no glowing eyes, no basso profundo voice. Daniel swallowed hard. "Who are you?"
Jack cocked his head, his smile getting broader. "I'm Jack O'Neill. Pretty swell, huh?"
"No," Daniel said. "No, it isn't. Whoever you are, you've got to understand something. You weren't created with human genetic material -- the, the human code of life. The body of the host will reject you. Do you understand what that means? You'll die along with the host. Along with the real Jack."
"God, Daniel, listen to you. Always so serious. It's not like I'm planning to stay forever."
"Then let him go. Do it now, before it's too late."
Jack reached out and touched Daniel's face with two fingers. "Sorry about giving you a fat lip. That probably hurts, doesn't it?"
Daniel tried to lean away from his touch. "Please, I have no idea how much time you have."
Jack's hand slipped down and caught his jaw, holding his head still. He leaned forward until his face was only inches from Daniel's, and then licked at the blood on Daniel's lip.
Daniel started back, then brought his bound hands up and pushed Jack away as hard as he could. He landed on his ass, looking completely astonished.
"Look." Daniel tried to control his breathing. "I don't know why you took Jack as a host, but I'm betting it's because you have the genetic memory of life in a human body. Sight and sound and touch and taste -- God, maybe even stuff like the potential for a degree of autonomy, because this race is probably completely telepathic, communal as an anthill, right? Maybe you just want the sense of living in individual moments of time, because from what I've seen of this world's uh, people, I think you -- and them -- are maybe moving in a dimension or two more than plain old humans can manage."
Jack slowly got up, watching Daniel carefully. Listening to him carefully, Daniel hoped.
"And all right, now you've experienced it for yourself, but this can't go on. It can't. If you don't let Jack go, you'll get to experience dying in a human body. Do you, does this race, even know what death is?"
"I said, stand up."
"Why?" Daniel demanded warily.
"How 'bout because I said so?"
"That's not much of a reason."
Jack shook his head. "Well then, how about because I'll kick the living shit out of you if you're not on your feet in about two seconds flat?"
"Why's that any worse than you hitting me with your fists once I do stand up?"
"My God, Daniel, how the hell did Sha'uri ever put up with you? She must have enjoyed being Amaunet's host -- at least she could smash you up against a wall to shut you up."
That wasn't Jack, Daniel thought, with something hysterically close to relief. No matter how much it sounded like him and looked like him, he knew with an absolutely serene certainty the creature who could say that to him wasn't Jack.
Then Jack's booted toe caught him in the ribs, bowling him over, knocking the breath out of him. He curled up tight on his side, gasping, and knew Jack had pulled that kick. If he'd really meant it, he would have staved in his ribcage.
Jack bent down, fisted the front of Daniel's T-shirt and bodily dragged him to his feet. Daniel staggered, trying to find his balance with his ankles bound, still short of breath from the kick in the ribs. "How long have you been tagging around the galaxy after me, and you still haven't learned a goddamn thing about self-preservation? See, kicking you doesn't hurt me a bit. But a hard slap --" Jack straight-armed him, forehand, backhand, "--that makes my hand sting something fierce."
Daniel's ears were ringing from the blows, and his face felt numb.
"And a good punch, hell, that really hurts. If you're not careful, you can break a knuckle socking someone in the jaw. That's why I usually aim a little higher."
Jack drew back his fist and hit Daniel square in the face. When he let him go, Daniel collapsed in a heap. "See, Dr. Jackson," he said, standing over him, shaking his fist and blowing on his knuckles, "That's why you should pay attention when I tell you to get on your feet. Might as well make me hurt as much as you do."
They made a pretty good dent in the Bushmills before Jack cut them off. It had been a long time since he'd been drunk before noon. Both of them were sitting on the floor with their backs against the sofa. Jack had kept meaning to get up, but somehow had never gotten around to it, and now it didn't seem worth the effort.
Daniel looked mournfully into the empty glass Jack had refused to refill, and then slammed it down too hard on top of the coffee table. "Sorry," he said, startled by his own force.
"Don't worry about it." Jack looked at him again. "Hey, your shiner's showing." A half-circle of purple stained Daniel's left eyelid. "That wasn't there when you came in, was it?"
Daniel gently covered his eye with his fingers for a moment. "Makeup must have rubbed off." He touched the shoulder of Jack's T-shirt. "There it is."
Jack glanced down. "Oh great. Like people weren't already talking about us." The second the words were out of his mouth he realized just how unfunny that was. Daniel only raised his eyebrows at him and the expression on his face was priceless, so Jack lifted his hands in apology and said, "Since when do you know how to put on makeup?"
"Sam's been fixing me up in the mornings before work."
"Sam wears makeup?"
This time Daniel actually rolled his eyes. "Here in North America at end of the twentieth century, it's sort of a cultural norm."
"Well yeah, but Sam?" He was having trouble with the concept.
"Don't tell me you never noticed. C'mon, Jack, you were married once." Daniel broke off, looking absolutely horrified at himself.
Jack felt a sudden hollowness in his gut, too, but he looked away, and continued as though he weren't remembering the last time Daniel had mentioned his marriage. "That didn't teach me anything about makeup. Sara's always been a tomboy. Happier messing with the truck engine than she ever was at a cosmetics counter. Although there was this one time --"
"What?" Daniel asked weakly, after the pause had gone on too long.
"One time somebody gave her a gift certificate to one of those day-spa places. Mudpacks and body wraps and a haircut and makeover. The whole deal. She came home looking like a streetwalker." He looked at Daniel and made himself smile, surprising a wan smile from Daniel as well.
"Knowing the famous O'Neill tact, you probably told her so."
"She didn't mind!" Jack defended himself. "She agreed with me."
"Sure she did, Jack."
"It was kinda fun. We ended up not going out to dinner that night after all."
Daniel dropped his eyes, the smile gone. "You crazy kids," he said softly.
"You hungry?" Jack blurted out, before either of them could lapse into silence. "Must be going on noon by now."
"Would it matter if I was? I saw the inside of your refrigerator."
Jack heaved himself to his feet, waiting for the dizzy spell to wear off. When Daniel shifted around like he was going to get up too, Jack said, "You stay put," and stumbled to the kitchen. He wasn't really drunk. Just stiff from spending the last hour sitting on the floor. He held on to the kitchen counter with both hands and thought about food. Campbell's soup. Peanut butter and crackers. His bandaged hand was aching, and would probably start to hurt worse as the whiskey buzz wore off.
"You're the one who just got out of the infirmary this morning," Daniel announced. He'd made his way into the kitchen anyway, and leaned heavily against the counter next to Jack. "You should be sitting down while I make us canned soup for lunch."
"But you're the cheaper drunk," Jack returned. "Probably cut your finger off with the lid of the can. So Carter wears makeup? I guess I'd noticed lipstick once or twice, but --" He turned around, leaning against the counter like Daniel was. "Wait a minute. On missions. So that's why she's always kind of pale and washed out looking the second day. She doesn't pack her makeup offworld. Damn, you know, I used to think she was coming down with something."
Daniel snickered. "I know. You always ask her if she's feeling all right. We'd pretty much given up on you ever figuring it out."
"So my own people have been laughing behind my back for years. Why am I not surprised? Was Teal'c in on it?"
"I think he asked Sam about three and a half years ago if her cosmetics use had ritual significance."
"Of course he did." Jack opened the cabinet. "So, vegetable beef or cream of broccoli? Keeping in mind the milk's probably gone bad."
"How about making a pot of coffee?"
"Instead of food?"
Daniel shrugged and looked hopeful.
"Yeah, OK," Jack agreed, swinging the cabinet shut and pulling a canister of coffee beans out of the freezer. "Sounds good to me, too."
"And Janet is sure to approve."
"Yep. That's the best part."
Daniel smiled down at the floor, and then out of the blue said, "That stuff you told General Hammond."
Jack stopped measuring coffee beans into the grinder. "What stuff are you talking about, exactly?"
"Reassigning me. The general thinks I want to help SG11 with the excavation on P4Z-432, and he came down to my office yesterday to tell me personally that as long as Dr. Fraiser gives me a clean bill of health, I'm free to go. Why would he do that, unless you'd told him I wanted to go?"
"But you do want to go. You've been whining about it for weeks now."
"And you've been whining that SG1 couldn't spare me. What changed?"
"Don't play dumb. You know exactly what changed."
"No, I'm not sure I do. Are you angry at me, Jack? Or just ashamed of me now?"
"Oh for cryin' out loud!" Jack threw his hands up. "You saved both of us. You didn't let me kill you, and heaven knows why, but you even saved my life in the bargain. What more do you think I'd ask of anyone under my command?"
"But you --"
"Ah!" Jack held up his forefinger. "I don't want to hear it. We both got out alive. Like you keep telling me, that's the bottom line, and for once I happen to agree with you."
"Then why are you --"
Jack dumped a fistful of coffee beans into the grinder and flipped it on to drown Daniel out. Daniel's mouth kept moving though, hands gesticulating angrily, and he was still going strong when Jack finally had to turn off the grinder before he ended up with beans too pulverized even for espresso.
"-- found another way?" He glared at Jack, waiting for an answer to whatever he'd just asked, but Jack's own anger was ebbing as quickly as it had flared. He poured water into the coffeemaker as he said, "Daniel, it was me. I know there was a goa'uld inside my head, but it was my mouth that said those things, my body that did them."
"But it wasn't your fault."
The coffee smelled fantastic as the first of the hot water spattered on the grounds. A lot better than canned beef vegetable soup would have heating on the stove, and Jack wished he could just thank Daniel for suggesting the coffee, instead of trying to explain something so intimately awful to an absolutely determined Dr. Daniel Jackson. However, it was perfectly clear that nothing short of calling the SF was going to get Daniel out of his house without an answer.
"You say it's not my fault, but y'see, I can't figure out what that's supposed to mean. If I'm not the things I think and say and do, then who the hell am I?"
Daniel fell back a step, looking a little shocked. "Do you blame Skaara and Sha'uri for the things they did when they were --"
"No!" Jack roared at him. He braced both hands on the kitchen counter and lowered his head. "No," he repeated more quietly. "You know I don't."
"But you think that you, Colonel Jack O'Neill, should have been able to resist the goa'uld inside you. Even though that would make you the only host in the entire history of the human --"
"Don't push me on this. You wanted to know what's going on in my head, so I'm telling you. Don't complain now if you don't like what you hear."
"I'm not complaining," Daniel insisted, and his own voice was quieter now, too. "I'm not even trying to talk some sense into you, even though you could sure as hell use some. I just want to know why you're sending me away."
Well, that had been spectacularly stupid, Daniel thought gloomily, cradling his bruised face in his hands. His one job now, the only thing he could do anymore, was hold it together until Sam and Teal'c rescued them. Keep himself in one piece and not let that goa'uld do anything that would eat Jack up with guilt once they finally got out of here. Simple, simple objectives.
Instead he had immediately provoked it into beating him up.
No, no, actually, a couple of slaps and a sock in the eye didn't count as getting beat up. If Jack had really laid into him, he didn't suppose he'd be conscious now. Or alive even. Which was all the more reason to watch his step. Play along as best he could with whatever the goa'uld wanted. Hopefully suggest that, all the racial memories of the goa'uld notwithstanding, there were better things to do with a human body than use it to hurt other humans.
Jack was sitting on the broad sill that led out into the garden, munching a chocolate bar he'd scavenged from Daniel's pack, taking sips of water from his canteen. Some of the native inhabitants were in the garden, though Daniel couldn't tell how many, and he wondered if the goa'uld inside Jack could still communicate with them. How many more of them were hosts to goa'uld? How many were this race's version of Jaffa? Or was goa'uld life cycle completely different in these beings?
So many questions Daniel couldn't begin to formulate them all. What sort of a social structure did these beings have anyway? Did being slave to the goa'uld mean the same thing to them as it did for humans? How could it?
Jack suddenly turned to Daniel. "What are you looking at?"
"Why? You thirsty?" He raised the canteen.
"Actually, I was wondering how much longer you can stay in that body before the damage becomes irreversible."
Jack pressed his lips together thoughtfully, then got up and walked over to Daniel. "You look thirsty to me. Drink up." He all but dropped the canteen into Daniel's lab, forcing him to scrabble to catch it with his bound hands. Eyeing Jack warily, he brought it to his lips and tipped a little water into his mouth. Too late, he saw the flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and then Jack kicked the canteen out of his hands. It sailed across the room, throwing a silvery arc of water in its wake, before hitting a pillar and smashing to the ground. Water gurgled onto the floor.
"Dammit!" Daniel snapped, tucking his stinging hands close to his chest. An inch or two either way, and Jack's booted foot probably would have broken a finger. "You know, real humans don't spend all their time tormenting each other."
"Oh really?" Jack cocked his head down at Daniel.
"Yes, really. Come on. There are other ways to interact." Daniel took a deep breath, calming himself down. "Aggression is probably pretty heady stuff for you, but there are other emotions. They might not provide the same short, sharp shock, but they're far more pleasurable in the long run, believe me."
"And what might those be? I'd really like to hear you tell me all about them." Jack was openly smirking, but at least he didn't look like he was about to throw another punch, so Daniel decided this counted as progress.
"Well, like friendship for instance."
Jack scooped up one of the large floor pillows, dropped it in front of Daniel and plopped down on it. "Friendship."
"Yes, friendship. Someone to talk to, but more than that. Someone who understands you and trusts you, even when you don't always agree on everything. Someone looking out for you, who'll forgive you even after something really stupid or wrong because they -- because they love you, I guess."
"Like you and me," Jack said. His voice was treacherously gentle and his eyes were cold.
"Like Jack and me. Yes, exactly like that."
"So I would never haul off and pound you into the floor just because you pissed me off, say."
"Jack wouldn't." Daniel had never encountered a goa'uld with any interest in the host's personality before, and this one's attempt to assume Jack's was horrifying. "Not when he was in control of himself."
"You're saying it was wrong of me to do this. That it violated our -- friendship." Jack reached out and touched Daniel's bruised cheek.
Daniel flinched even though the touch was very gentle. "Jack wouldn't hurt me. I trust him with my life. That's why I want you to leave his body before it's too late."
"You're worried about him."
"Of course I'm worried about him! He's my friend, and I don't want anything to happen to him. Do you have -- is there any way you can comprehend feelings like that? You're in Jack's body, in his mind. Jack understands what I'm talking about. Surely you can --"
"Your skin feels warmer here," Jack interrupted, his voice thoughtful. He laid his entire palm over Daniel's cheek.
"It probably does. It's the bruising, where you hit me."
Jack nodded. He dropped both hands to Daniel's shoulders and then leaned forward very carefully to lay his own cheek against Daniel's. Daniel held himself as still as he could, though he couldn't control the stutter of his breath when Jack's hand curled around the back of his neck and then slid upwards until the ends of his fingers were pushing gently through his hair.
"Your heart's beating faster, too," he commented casually, his cheek still against Daniel's. He slipped his other hand under Daniel's t-shirt, stroking Daniel's belly and then his chest before flattening his palm over his heart. Daniel's bound hands clenched into fists, but otherwise he didn't speak or move. "Your skin feels warmer all over." He pulled back and looked Daniel in the face. "You're blushing. I can't even see where I hit you now."
Daniel stared back at him. "That doesn't mean you didn't do it."
"You said Jack would never hit you."
"You're not Jack."
"And I love you, too, Danny boy." He plunged his hand under the waistband of Daniel's boxers. Daniel yelped and tried to push him away, but this time Jack was ready for him. He caught Daniel's bound wrists and yanked him forward, throwing him belly-first over the floor cushion Jack had been sitting on a moment before. Daniel struggled up immediately, but Jack's hand closed over the back of his neck and forced his head to the floor. With his other hand he yanked Daniel's boxers past his knees.
Daniel fought wildly. His ears were filled with mewling cries of panic and harsh, panting breaths. A weight pinned him down, buttons and zippers rough against bare flesh. Teeth closed on the back of his neck, and he felt fingernails scraping his chest. He felt like he was being savaged by an animal, and he screamed for Jack. The teeth and the claws and the weight on his back abruptly went away. Daniel gasped, and then a fist came down.
Jack only hit him once, but it was enough. Daniel sagged forward, no longer using his hands to push himself up. Pain beat in waves across his back and poured down his buttocks and thighs like blood. He thought he might vomit from the agony coiling in his lower back, and he wondered if Jack had damaged his kidney with that punch. Jack was whispering to him, but he couldn't make out what he was saying and was pretty certain it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered anymore was not letting the goa'uld use Jack to kill him.
Daniel recognized this cold fatalism. He would have allowed himself to be chosen as a host, if it allowed him to be near Sha'uri. He could certainly lie here and let the monster inside Jack take what it wanted if it bought a little more time for Sam and Teal'c to find them.
It was only his body, after all. Nothing more than flesh and blood.
Besides, it was a million times worse for Jack.
Then Jack's voice was harsh in his ear, inescapably close. "There's a good boy, Daniel. A little slow on the uptake sometimes, but you usually come around sooner or later."
Daniel lay still. He wouldn't beg, he promised himself, because it would only hurt Jack to hear it, and he was certain it wouldn't dissuade the goa'uld. He couldn't help the hot flush of embarrassment, though, as Jack's hands slipped between his legs, stroking and probing. The pain in his lower back had become a dull, sick throb, and he almost welcomed it as a distraction from Jack's touch and Jack's voice.
"You know the only thing that would make this better?" Jack's voice taunted him. "If we were back at the base instead of here on this godforsaken planet. That's the way it always is when I imagine this." Jack's hands forced him open, and then he spat. Daniel felt warm spittle trickling down his ass, and he closed his eyes. "Yeah, I think about grabbing you in the locker room before you hit the showers. There are some people around, but nobody would interfere or try and stop me. They'd all just be wondering what took me so long."
Jack's blunt fingers punched into him. Daniel bit his tongue at the invasion, and he heard himself grunt as Jack pushed harder, jabbing at him. Fingers wriggling inside him. "Oh yeah," Jack muttered. "Works for you, too, I guess. See, I've got you down on the bench, and you're fightin' me and cryin' and beggin' right up until the moment I finally get my dick wedged up your ass. Then you just melt like butter."
For the first time it occurred to Daniel that even if they did survive this, Jack might never be able to forgive him for allowing it to happen. With that thought, panic began creeping over him again. Daniel could almost see it, hard white edges in his peripheral vision like a sandstorm coming over the dunes as Jack fumbled roughly, dragging him back, forcing his thighs apart. The bony point of one of Jack's kneecaps dug into his calf. His spit was already drying, but Jack forced his way in all the same, the head of his cock like sandpaper.
Daniel groaned and choked, sweating in pain. The sandstorm in his mind raged, and he knew he was losing. He was forgetting this didn't matter, that injuries to the flesh couldn't really hurt him. As Jack ground against him, scouring him from the inside out, it seemed to Daniel that he could taste the square grit of sand between his teeth.
"Should've done this a long time ago," Jack growled in his ear. He shoved Daniel's shirt up to his shoulder blades and lay down over him, his chest sliding on the oily sweat between their bodies as he thrust and jerked. "I could have saved you years of mooning over Sha'uri. "
Daniel saw his wife then, emerging like a pale shadow from the wildness of the storm, and he reached for her even though she was wrapped in Amaunet's cruel finery. Her palm burned as she raised it to him. He welcomed the blinding light, a flame licking through his mind. It freed him, and he drifted away until he could look down on the goa'uld using Jack's body with such casual brutality. He could see his own body too, torn and savaged in Jack's arms, but all his pity was for Jack, and he didn't know how to help. Trying to stretch his arms out for him, he found himself tangled in his own bedclothes. He tried to kick his way free, lazy and half asleep.
Then a hand touched his shoulder, and he realized he wasn't alone in bed.
Sha'uri, he thought, his heart buoyant with hope, and he rolled over to find Jack beside him instead. His eyes were shadowed in the darkness of Daniel's bedroom, but the distant city lights shining in the open window were enough to pick out the silver gleam of his hair.
"I thought --" Daniel began, but Jack laid his fingers over his lips to hush him.
"You thought I was Sha'uri."
Daniel nodded his head on the pillow. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, Danny," Jack said, his voice low and gruff with such love that Daniel felt tears start to his eyes.
"Hey, easy," Jack said then. He pulled Daniel to him, one arm gentle around his back, the other ruffling the hair at the back of his head. "Easy."
Daniel tucked his chin over Jack's shoulder and hugged him back, not trusting himself to speak. "Gettin' too old for this," Jack pretended to grumble, but he hooked his leg over Daniel's thigh, nestling closer, holding him safe against the warmth of his own body until it was over.
"For God's sake," Jack snapped back, knowing how angry and defensive he must sound. "I'm not sending you away. I'm not sending you anywhere. You've been wanting to spend some quality time with SG11 and a sifting screen, and I told Hammond it was OK with me if you did. What else do you want from me?"
Daniel ducked his head and pulled his shoulders in, his lips pressed together in a hard, angry line. Jack recognized that expression, and it made him dizzy with grief, having it turned on him. As though he were a beast who could be appeased but not reasoned with.
Considering what had happened, why should Daniel treat him any other way?
"All right," Jack confessed wearily. The last of the water steamed from the coffeemaker in a cloud as the pot finished brewing. "All right, dammit, so I thought it would be easier for you, for both of us. Just being out of each other's way for a while. Can you blame me for that?"
"I don't blame you for anything," Daniel said, sounding just as tired.
Then you're a fool, Jack thought, but he knew enough not to say that out loud.
"I don't know how else to tell you that none of it was your fault and get you to believe me, so just forget that for now. Jack, this is the bottom line for me, it really is. I know you don't want to talk about this, and I know you'd rather wash your hands of me and just act like none of it ever happened, but I --" Daniel broke off and squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment. When he finally opened them again he said, "Can I have some of that coffee?"
Jack shook his head, but he got down two cups and poured the first one for Daniel, who took it with both hands and slurped noisily through his teeth like he was at a wine tasting. "God, that's good."
"Daniel, what is it that you want to tell me?"
He looked seriously into his coffee cup. "Well, for one thing, you're the only one who knows what it was like," he answered at length. His voice was steady, but very quiet. "You're the only one I can talk to. You send me out with SG11 or whatever, and there won't be anyone."
Jack wanted to weep, to run, to shut Daniel up, to kick him out of the house. "You wanna talk," he said flatly, almost angry. "Do you even know what you're asking?"
Daniel raised his head and looked at him, and Jack burned his tongue on his own cup of coffee, taking too big a sip trying to avoid that gaze. He hissed and swore, slammed down the cup and got an ice cube out of the freezer to suck on.
Daniel continued to watch him, bemused now instead of tragic.
"Go'ammit," Jack mumbled around the melting ice cube, and Daniel actually smiled.
"You know in fast food places," Daniel said, "That warning they print on the side of the styrofoam cup?"
Jack spit the ice cube into his hand, glowering. "No, I don't in fact because unlike you, I'm not such a caffeine junkie that I'd actually buy coffee from McDonalds."
"'Caution, contents are hot', it says. Maybe I could bring you half a dozen or so of those little cups. You know, just to remind you to be careful."
Jack pulled out with a wrench that made him whimper, slapped his ass and said, "Jesus fuck, you're a mess."
Daniel lay where he was, listening to the sound of Jack's footsteps moving away across the floor.
Well, he thought numbly. Another brand new life experience. He'd been racking up quite a collection since first stepping through the 'gate. Enough to give him a basis for comparison. On the balance, it turned out that being forcibly sodomized really was a fate worse than death. Especially, say, being killed instantly by a dead-on blast from a staff weapon.
On the other hand, it wasn't nearly as bad as trying to kick a sarcophagus habit cold turkey.
Daniel sniggered to himself, and then wondered if he was losing his mind.
Shock, he figured. He knew in an academic sort of way what he should be feeling right now, but he wasn't sure he was actually feeling it. Although everything hurt, the pain only seemed to reach him through a buzzing, staticky distance. Like he was watching some TV version of a suffering Daniel Jackson on a black and white set with really bad reception. He felt sorry for the guy, but it didn't have anything to do with him personally.
He rolled gingerly onto his side to relieve the pressure on his trapped hands and wrists, and found one of the planet's beings right beside him. He started violently and flinched back.
The being made no move to approach. Daniel blinked sweat out of his eyes, and realized that it somehow held aloft a wide ceramic basin. As he goggled at the sheer incongruity of the sight, it lowered the receptacle to the floor beside him and then drifted out into the garden.
Absolutely astonishing. The goa'uld really was using this planet's inhabitants to fetch and carry. Daniel couldn't imagine how it did it, what conceivable threat or inducement could enslave a species who weren't even entirely corporeal.
The basin it had left was three quarters full of water. After a little while, Daniel inched closer, lowered his head to smell it -- it smelled like cold water and wet ceramic -- and then cupped his hands and brought some to his mouth. His stomach cramped as the water hit it, and he figured that was another effect of being in shock, so he forced himself to drink just a little more before using the rest of the water to clean up as best he could. His shirt was badly torn, and he managed to pull it over his head and rip off a sizable piece to dry himself. The spreading bloodstains stained the black cotton even darker. Awkwardly, but without embarrassment by this point, he finally used the basin as a chamber pot and was glad to see no blood in his urine. The pain in his kidney had been worrying him.
He pulled his boxers back over his hips, wincing, and settled down on his side on the floor cushions, wondering where Jack was. The very thought made his heart start to race again, which infuriated him. He was not afraid of Jack. The thing inside Jack could hurt him, but Jack was still Jack, and he needed Daniel right now. Nothing had changed between them. Daniel wouldn't let it.
He tried to think of nothing else except how important it was that he stay calm, and at length got his breathing under control again. His racing pulse slowed until he no longer heard it booming in his ears, and he found himself able to contemplate Jack without the threat of a complete panic attack. So where was he now? Just wandering around and around this Escher-folded temple? Or had he left to find Sam and Teal'c? The possibility was terrifying. They hadn't sensed any goa'uld here before, probably because of the lack of naquada, so there was every reason to think they wouldn't sense it in Jack now. He could kill Teal'c and infect Sam with another goa'uld before either one of them knew anything was wrong.
"Oh yeah, Daniel's inside trying to read some graffiti on the wall," the goa'uld in Jack could say, waiting for Sam to turn her back on him, for Teal'c to close his eyes in kel-no-reem.
The image was so vivid that Daniel struggled up, wondering what the hell he was doing just sitting here when the rest of the team was in danger. He examined the knots on the cloth strips that bound his wrists and ankles. Good hard square knots, not so tight they cut off circulation, but tied so he couldn't easily reach them. He was plucking fruitlessly at the knots at the back of his ankles, cursing the way his fingers still trembled with weakness, when he suddenly remembered his pocket knife. It had fallen from his hands when the parasite inside Jack had taken control, but it might still be somewhere on the floor.
He pulled himself across the woven mats, wishing he still had his glasses, unable to remember where he'd lost them. Probably in this room, too. If he could find his glasses he could find the knife. Or if he got the knife first, he wouldn't need his glasses. He was a winner either way.
Then the light changed and Daniel looked up, his chest contracting in panic. As before, though, it was only one of the planet's native inhabitants. Daniel couldn't tell if it was the same one who had brought the water before. It hovered in the window that let out into the garden, shifting and undulating in and out of focus until Daniel wondered if there were actually two or three of the beings on the sill. Eventually it moved into the room, and without any acknowledgement of Daniel's presence, it took the water basin and disappeared into the next room. Daniel felt a slightly foolish prickle of embarrassment but it faded quickly -- after all, it had either been piss in the crockery or use the floor -- and then he went back to searching. There was no gleam of metal, but it might be hidden under a cushion or be on the other side of the fire pit. Besides, there was a heap of rags in the far corner of the room that he suspected were the remains of his clothes. Perhaps his glasses were there.
He thought he was making pretty good progress, hunching and scooting across the floor and ignoring the pain in his backside. And then from behind him came Jack's voice.
"Whatcha up to, Daniel?"
He froze, expecting the same helpless panic to overwhelm him, but now that Jack was here again, he wasn't afraid. Sorrow throbbed like a physical pain, but he felt perfectly calm as he turned to face Jack. "I want my glasses back."
"Uh huh." Jack sounded skeptical. He pushed off from the doorframe and sauntered across the room. "Not really all that much to see around here, you know." He was carrying his weapon slung at his side, one arm resting on it, and Daniel thought nervously again of Sam and Teal'c. The creature inside Jack wouldn't even have to get close to hurt them.
"Well, I can't really tell without my glasses."
"You can't just take my word for anything, can you? You wouldn't believe me if I told you the sky was blue." Jack smiled a little. "'Course, depending on the planet, it might not be, so maybe you've got a point." He picked something up from the bundle Daniel had been laboriously trying to reach, and Daniel saw, as he'd suspected, that it was the ragged remains of his BDUs. Jack clenched his hands into fists and tore off a long strip. The ripping sound of fabric was shockingly loud. "I can't really take your word for anything either, I'm sorry to say."
He crouched before Daniel, looped the fabric around the crux of Daniel's bound hands and drew it tight. The barrel of the MP5 bobbed at Jack's hip like a steel phallus, and Daniel had to look away. Jack took in his reaction with a snort. "And to think I never understood why you didn't want to carry one of these babies. Guess we both get it now, huh?" He pulled Daniel a few feet across the floor, where he tied the other end of the cloth strip to one of the room supports.
"Jack," Daniel said quietly, and couldn't help but search Jack's face for some sign of his friend as he said his name. "Don't -- don't worry about this. I'm all right. I'm going to be all right."
"You're all right," Jack's voice said. "Glad to hear it, but I'm not so sure I am." He cupped his genitals through his clothes and winced theatrically. "Little one-eyed jack's feeling pretty tender." Then he lifted the machine gun and waved it in Daniel's general direction. "Come to think of it though, Carter's told me you can be awfully handy with one of these things when you decide to be. Took out an entire generation of goa'uld larvae with a clip, the way she tells it."
Daniel made himself look up at Jack's face, not at the muzzle of the weapon.
"Nothing to say? This has got to be a first. Why're you so quiet? Because you'd like to take me down the same way? Is that it? Give you half a chance, and you'd just blow me away, too."
Daniel blinked but didn't look away. The goa'uld wasn't exactly wrong on that count.
"Sorry." Jack shrugged. "It just ain't gonna happen. You know what I can do for you, though? I can give you a taste of what it feels like to be on the wrong end of an automatic weapon. Might make you a little less eager to use it on another species' offspring in the future, whaddaya think?" He laid the muzzle on Daniel's lower lip and released the safety.
Daniel closed his eyes.
"Ah-ah-ah. That won't work here. Lemme see those baby blues."
It didn't matter, Daniel thought, and looked into Jack's face. A stranger smiled down at him.
Daniel couldn't even fathom what Jack meant until the slick curve of the muzzle pressed harder against his mouth. "Suck on it. Pretend it's my dick."
Daniel couldn't do it. He didn't mean to antagonize the monster in Jack, but he could no more take the barrel of an MP5 into his mouth than he could flap his arms and fly to the moon.
The pressure didn't increase, which was a dim surprise to him, but then Jack said, "Open that pretty mouth of yours, Daniel, or I'll blow your head off right here, right now, and then I'll go find Teal'c and Sam and do the same to them. Hell, I'll even give it to Teal'c in the belly so he can feel Junior die first. You'd like that, wouldn't you? The way you feel about goa'uld larvae and all."
It turned out it wasn't an impossible thing to do at all, parting his lips to cold steel and the hot, bright reek of Hoppe's #9 . Easiest thing in the universe in fact. Except for the nausea curling in his gut and the pain of his gag reflex, it was easier even than dying. He looked for Sha'uri and for Jack as the barrel knocked against his teeth and slid over his tongue, but he couldn't find them.
In despair, he looked up into Jack's face as he raped Daniel's mouth with a gun. When Jack saw Daniel watching him, a tear slipped from the corner of his eye and slid down his face, unnoticed by the goa'uld using his body.
"Do you want to replace that broken window? I'd be glad to help," Daniel announced.
Jack just looked at him. Daniel seemed perfectly serious. You know, it was comments like that that often made him wonder why Daniel had ever been allowed through the stargate in the first place. "No," Jack said, instead of what first came to mind. "No, I don't want to. It can wait."
"I'm here. I don't mind helping."
Jack had a headache from the whiskey. The three slices of the pepperoni and black olive pizza they'd ordered once Daniel admitted that he actually was a little hungry were starting to make him feel queasy as well. "Daniel, you're drunk. You're not handling large pieces of broken glass. Or even small pieces for that matter."
"It's been a couple of hours. I'm not drunk." Daniel picked up the last slice of pizza, but then dropped it again and flopped heavily against the back of the couch. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I don't feel all that hot, though."
Jack shook his head. "Oh, that's a helluva surprise. Look, why don't you stretch out and catch some shut-eye. You'll feel better after a nap."
"I don't think so," Daniel disagreed, even as he shifted around and plopped his feet, still in running shoes, on the sofa. Jack thought about protesting, but seeing Daniel so unselfconsciously adjusting the arm cushions under his head, his eyes sliding shut once he got the cushions fixed to his satisfaction, Jack's objection died on his lips. Had their positions been reversed, Jack didn't think he could have gone to sleep so easily on Daniel's couch.
"Sorry, Jack," Daniel muttered. His hands were resting on his stomach, his chest rising with each long, slow breath. "I came over to get you some groceries. Not to make us both sick on pizza and whiskey for breakfast."
"Past lunchtime by now. And don't worry about it." Jack almost bent down to put his hand on Daniel's shoulder, but he stopped himself. "I've got some Pepto-Bismol in the bathroom. Y'want any?"
"God, no," Daniel breathed. His eyelids flickered.
"Sleep's probably the best thing anyway."
"Hmm." Daniel sighed, already out of it. Jack left him. It probably was the best thing, anything that got Daniel to lie down and finally get some rest. If Jack knew Daniel, he'd been living on coffee and no sleep the whole time Jack had been in the infirmary.
He padded back to the bathroom to get some Pepto-Bismol for himself. That damn pizza was sitting in his stomach like a brick. He'd known better, but convincing Daniel they should order one had been another distraction from whatever it was Daniel was so gung-ho they talk about. And to be fair, Daniel was willing enough to be distracted. Jack couldn't imagine what needed to be said anyway. Nothing could blunt the horror of what he had done in that light and airy room facing the courtyard garden.
He fumbled the triangular bottle of Pepto-Bismol out of the medicine cabinet and twisted off the lid. A little shower of the dried chalky pink stuff fell into the sink. He wiped the top off with the palm of his hand and then downed a third of the bottle.
His stomach protested immediately. Aw, Christ, Jack thought in disgust, scrabbling to the toilet and yanking up the lid just in time to vomit everything right back up again. He flushed it, hanging over the toilet for a little longer to see if anything else was going to come up, propped up with shaking arms. His skin felt hot, and sweat was dripping down his face. When he thought he could manage it he straightened up slowly, rinsed and spit and washed his face with a cold washrag. He felt about a million years old. He staggered out into the hall, hearing Daniel's light snoring drifting in from the living room, and was glad he hadn't woken him up.
Jack had been gone for hours. Daniel sat huddled in his boxers and tried to collect his thoughts. Something seemed to have splintered somewhere deep inside, though, and nothing would coalesce for him. He skittered wildly from his concern for Sam and Teal'c to grief over what Jack was suffering to fear for how long that goa'uld had been in Jack's body to incidental worry about his own health and sanity. There was no room left for dealing with the things he should be concentrating on, like figuring out a way to escape from this room. And there had to be a way, or Jack wouldn't have bothered tying him to a post, right?
So for a few moments he would attempt to think logically and carefully about what he had observed of this planet's native inhabitants, then try to figure out what those observations told him about their approach to architecture.
That only led to wondering how the goa'uld could have forced them to build this place originally, which led in turn to thinking about Sam and Teal'c looking for them with no suspicion that this was a goa'uld planet -- and incidentally, how many goa'uld were here, anyway? Was it already too late? Had Sam been taken the way Jack had been?
He thought about Jack's face, Jack's eyes. He was perfectly aware and awake, trapped in a body he no longer controlled. It had to be Jack's greatest nightmare. He'd begged Daniel to kill him before this could happen.
Terrible memories flooded Daniel, scenes from years, months and hours ago all churning together in his mind. Sha'uri dead on the ground beside him, Jack's knee on the back of his calf, his mother's screams as the walls came down, Hathor's face twisted in ecstasy, the gun in his mouth and Jack's tears all mixed up together and overwhelming him until he almost thought he would be glad to die himself, if he could be assured death would bring some peace.
He wasn't sure it would, though. He saw himself as a ghost haunting this room he hadn't been able to escape in life, watching Jack die terribly as his body rejected the goa'uld inside him. Then they would both be here forever, and he imagined Jack's shade looking at him in speechless contempt with empty, damned eyes, until Daniel thought he really was losing his mind.
He shook himself, swallowed hard, and forced his way back to the beginning. There must be a way out of this place. He just had to find it.
Time passed in a nightmare. The planet's native inhabitants -- servants of the goa'uld, as impossible as it seemed -- drifted occasionally through the room. One of them even brewed him a cup of tea. The sheer incongruity of it all made Daniel want to laugh, or maybe scream, and afterward he found himself puzzling over the ludicrous possibility that these beings actually practiced agriculture, which seemed so bizarre Daniel rejected it out of hand. Everything from the tea to the stone fountain to the coals in the fire pit must be imported through the gate, which meant there was some form of regular trade, and that, in turn, meant any time now more goa'uld or Jaffa might came through a stargate that Teal'c and Sam thought was safe.
He slipped back into the same circle of wildly discordant thoughts, infuriated almost to the point of tears that he couldn't stop them long enough to concentrate. He even slept for a short while, but the whole time he dreamed he was bobbing in the ocean, fighting to stay afloat while gigantic octopi far below wrapped their tentacles around his legs and tried to pull him under.
Late in the evening Jack finally came back. Daniel was still groggy from the dream, and so far gone that he swore at him and tried to bite when Jack touched his face.
It was a stupid thing to do, and Daniel knew it immediately. He tensed, mentally apologizing to Jack for having provoked whatever was coming. It would be far worse for Jack.
Only flesh and blood. The body didn't matter. He wished he could tell Jack and make him believe it so it wouldn't hurt Jack quite so much.
"So you like to bite, do you, Daniel? Wanna chew on me for while?"
Daniel heard the clink of Jack's belt buckle in the darkness, then the hiss of his zipper.
"I'm sorry," Daniel whispered, and then Jack's hands were on his face again, his thumbs against his jaw, fingers fanned out across his throat. He must have known Daniel wouldn't fight, but he forced his mouth open anyway, grinding his thumbs into the joints until Daniel's jaw swung helplessly open. He crammed himself inside, growing hard in Daniel's mouth. The pressure of Jack's thumbs was relentless and so excruciating Daniel couldn't help thrashing and arching up in a fruitless attempt to escape. His face was forced flat against Jack's belly, and Jack's fingers dug into the sides of his neck, trying to hold him steady as he pushed and thrust. The back of Daniel's head knocked repeatedly against the post.
He couldn't breathe, having to gasp for snatches of breath before Jack shoved forward again, but it was less important than the awful pressure on the hinges of his jaw. He felt his body growing slack and heavy, his neck muscles cramping as Jack's zipper scraped his cheek.
What a stupid, ugly way to die, Daniel thought. Jack would never forgive him.
The sandstorm was behind him. He couldn't see it, but he could hear it roaring in his ears. Jack was here, too. Not the receptacle for the goa'uld slowly strangling him with his hands and his dick, but his best friend Jack. Sitting quietly in the corner and watching him, and those brown eyes that flashed so sharply with anger or laughter were burned out and utterly soulless. Daniel wanted to weep, but he didn't have anything left for tears. The sandstorm had scoured him dry.
The wind suddenly stilled, and the silence was deafening. Daniel sagged forward, coughing and spitting. The back of his throat ached, and though Jack was no longer holding his face, Daniel still felt the crushing pressure of his thumbs. There was a sour, salty taste in his mouth that he couldn't get rid of no matter how much he spat, and he thought he might cry after all, but the tears wouldn't come.
He'd lost track of where Jack had gone in the darkness. He couldn't remember hearing his footsteps walking away. Was he still here? Eventually he raised his head, feeling a painful twinge in every muscle. The coals in the fire pit glowed red. He couldn't see the garden, but he could hear the trickle of the fountain, feel the cool evening breeze on his face.
Over the reek of sex and sweat, he could even smell flowers, their sweet scents sharper and more pervasive after sunset. The smells reminded him of gardenia and heliotrope, names that came back to him over a distance of nearly three decades, along with memories of a walled garden in a desert city, his mother's hand in his own, the stars twinkling overhead. He couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than laying himself down in that night-flowering garden and never waking up again.
Then Daniel saw a pair of red eyes glowing in the darkness beyond the fire pit. Jack was still here after all. He wanted to reassure Jack that he was all right, but he wasn't actually sure that he was anymore. He wasn't even sure what would come out of his mouth if he tried to speak. He might just start to scream, all his rage and grief and humiliation shrieking into the darkness.
He wouldn't do that. Once Sam and Teal'c had rescued them, after the worm had been cut out of Jack's neck and chopped into a million pieces, once Daniel was alone again, maybe then he could find some place where no one could hear him, and he would scream until there was nothing left. But not now. Right now he needed all his enraged shame. He thought it might be the only thing keeping him in one piece.
He looked back at the red eyes watching him in the darkness and wondered if they would be the soulless, smudged shadows from his visions and nightmares when he saw them again in daylight.
Jack awoke to the faint smell of linseed oil. He rolled over onto his back and looked up at his bedroom ceiling, trying to decide how he felt. All right, he supposed. A little fragile, but definitely better than he had a few hours ago. The stitches in his shoulder twinged, and the hand he'd put through the window was aching. He'd live.
He sat up slowly and wiped the sleep from his eyes. There was something about long afternoon naps that always left him feeling kind of surreal anyway. He staggered when he stood up, and had to brace himself against the wall with both arms until everything settled down. Then he went out to see what in the world Daniel was up to.
He should have known as soon as he smelled linseed. While Jack slept the afternoon away, Daniel had pried the rest of the glass out of the broken window. He was now busy scraping the remains of the glazing compound out of the sash channel. He wore a stiff, ancient pair of Jack's leather gloves which made handling the wood chisel a little awkward, but he seemed to be managing all right, working carefully and slowly, eyebrows drawn together in a serious frown.
"Daniel," Jack called from across the room, not wanting to startle him. Daniel's head jerked up all the same, but he forced himself to relax with a visible effort. "Jack. I hope I didn't wake you up."
"You didn't. I was ready to get up anyway."
"How you feeling?"
"Better." He stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered across the room to examine Daniel's work, not coming too close in bare feet. "How are you doing?"
"Fine. I couldn't sleep any more."
"I'm impressed." Jack waved his hand at the empty window frame. "I had no idea you were such a handyman."
"Oh. Well, I'm not, exactly." With his left hand Daniel picked up Jack's battered copy of The Complete Home Repair and showed it to him. "I found this on your bookshelves, so --" He shrugged. "The illustrations make it look easy."
"They always do. Let me get some shoes on, I'll give you a hand."
"Actually I think I've finished all we can do right now." Daniel laid the book on the back of the chair and clumsily turned the page with one gloved hand. "I thought I'd go the hardware store and get the rest of the stuff we need. Maybe stop for some dinner, too."
"Did you check behind the leftover plywood? I thought I still had some scrap glass back there, and I'm pretty sure there's glazing compound too. If I didn't leave the points and my glass cutter with Sara, we'll be ready to go. Half a sec, I'll go down in the basement and check."
He walked back to the bedroom for his shoes, and when he came back Daniel said, practically smiling, "You sound like a one-man glazier's business. Is it because you've always been such a danger to plate glass?"
"Not me." He started down the steps to the garage, Daniel on his heels. "Not always me, anyway. It was Charlie. Baseball, hockey, basketball. Hard on the windows at our old place."
"Oh," Daniel said softly.
He helped Jack shift the plywood forward, then held it while Jack looked for the glass he remembered leaving down there after the move. Bingo. Three feet by three feet, taped between two flattened cardboard boxes. They were going to have to move all the plywood to lift it out.
They worked in silence, shifting one piece of wood at a time. The garage was stuffy and much too warm, but since they were propping the boards against the door, they couldn't open it for ventilation.
Jack could tell the heat and the lack of food were starting to get to him, making him feel light-headed and cranky. His shoulder was aching, too. Janet probably would have told him that his first day out of the infirmary wasn't the time to plunge straight into home repair, but Janet wasn't here, was she? And Daniel seemed content to let him punish himself just as much as he wanted.
"I'll still need to go out," Daniel said suddenly, shifting one of the last pieces of plywood over to the garage door. "You don't have anything to eat in this house."
"Hold on, dammit," Jack said, suddenly angry for no good reason at all and knowing it. He just didn't seem to be able to shut himself up. "Would you at least wait until I'm sure I've got a glass cutter and glazier's points? Christ, for all I know the compound's dried up solid, too."
A moment of silence followed. Jack lifted the wrapped plate of glass up and away from its resting place against the wall and didn't look at Daniel.
"I'm not exactly peeling out of the driveway here," Daniel finally said in a mild tone of voice. "Careful with that glass."
"I am being careful," Jack snarled, ashamed.
"Why don't I carry it upstairs while you look for the other stuff?"
Jack grimaced, but managed not to say anything more. Daniel reached out his heavily gloved hands for the glass, standing close enough for Jack to feel his body heat. Jack had to steel himself not to flinch away. He didn't resist as Daniel gently eased it out of his hands, hefted it carefully and carried it away up the stairs.
Jack stood there, arms at his sides, before going to his workbench and looking half-heartedly through his tools and supplies. No glass cutter. No glass pliers, and no glazier's points either. He found the compound tucked way back at the back behind a box of drill bits, but once he'd pried off the lid he discovered the putty was dried and cracked.
It shouldn't have been a surprise -- after all, it had been at least five years since he'd replaced a window, maybe more -- but it infuriated him all the same. He deliberately knocked the can off his workbench and then whirled to see if it was going to hit the truck. Would have served him right, putting a dent in his own fender in a childish fit of rage.
The can bounced low and hit a tire instead, then rolled underneath. Jack was rather disappointed. A little physical destruction would have fit his mood better. He walked around the truck to see if it had rolled out the other side. Nope. Seemed to have stopped squarely underneath. He got to his knees awkwardly, the concrete very hard through his jeans, and looked. The can of useless compound was just out of reach. Dammit. He stretched out and inched his way underneath. Reaching for the can, he felt the stitches pull in his shoulder, and he was suddenly ambushed by a monstrously vivid memory of Daniel's body beneath his own, Jack's hips rocking hard and Daniel's back hot and slick with sweat.
Jack moaned, but it was too late to stop the onslaught. Daniel's face had been turned to the side, his anguish changing to emptiness, his eyes open but unseeing as Jack pushed and tore, mocking him with Sha'uri's name. It had gone on for a lifetime. For a thousand, thousand lifetimes, until the sickening flush of pleasure spiked through Jack like a knife to his groin.
He rested his forehead on the concrete floor. It was smooth and so cold in contrast to the stuffy garage that he felt shivers down his spine. He raised his head and smacked his forehead against the floor with enough force to rattle his teeth. The pain was gratifying and so he did it again, harder this time. It hurt like hell. He craned his neck, wondering if he had the nerve to really do it hard enough, when he heard Daniel's footsteps on the stairs, and then Daniel's voice.
"Jack? What are you doing?"
Jack sighed and laid his cheek on the floor. His forehead was throbbing hotly, and he wondered if Daniel would be able to tell what he'd done. "Nothing. The can of compound rolled under here." He snagged the can with his fingers and rolled it out. "It's dried out, like I thought."
"Oh. You need any help?"
"No." Jack inched his way backward out from under the truck. Daniel was holding the can and examining its contents seriously, though he reached out to give Jack a hand as he got to his feet. Jack pretended not to see it and got up by himself.
"You sure you're all right?"
"Just great. We're gonna have to start from scratch on the window. Looks like I left everything with Sara after all."
"Would she mind if you just borrowed --"
"Yes. No. I mean, she wouldn't mind, but that's not enough of an excuse to mess with her head by dropping in out of the blue."
"OK." Daniel was watching him too seriously. "Why don't you go upstairs and sit down while I move all the plywood back where it belongs, then we can both head out to get the stuff. And some dinner too while we're at it."
"I'm fine," Jack snapped, and began moving wood himself to prove it. He felt Daniel's unspoken disapproval, but he didn't say anything out loud, and that was fine with Jack. His bandaged hand was aching in earnest now and felt like it was bleeding again, and he was painfully aware of the stitches in his shoulder. He was also ravenously hungry and more than a little nauseated, and wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to keep down any dinner Daniel produced.
"You know what," he announced to Daniel as they moved the last of the plywood away from the garage door. "Why don't you just go home now? I can finish the window in the morning. You've already done all the hard work."
"Then it seems a shame to stop now," Daniel said carefully. "When we're so close to being finished anyway. Besides, we haven't gotten our stories straight yet."
"For MacKenzie. God, for Hammond too, for that matter." Daniel's voice wavered a little. "Or were you planning on just telling them precisely what happened?"
"Daniel." It was too damned hot down here in the garage to be having this conversation. "I haven't read your mission report yet, but I know you didn't exactly put down everything yourself."
"I put down what mattered," Daniel answered stiffly. "You were attacked and taken over by a goa'uld who couldn't survive in a human host. It was confused and hostile, manifesting that hostility in physical and some, uh, sexual abuse." Daniel shrugged unhappily. "Janet already knew. There was no point in trying to hide that part of it. The only mystery is why it didn't leave you once it became clear it was dying, but I figure the deterioration happened too quickly for it to disentangle itself from the host. Besides, it must have been completely dependent on you anyway to make sense of what had to have been pretty bewildering sensory input, given the nature of its previous host."
"I know all that," Jack said, even though he didn't. Not in those terms, anyway. "But nobody's asked me why it ... I mean, you haven't told them it was pretending to be me the whole time."
"It wasn't important," Daniel muttered.
"Oh bullshit it wasn't important! Have we ever encountered a goa'uld who had any interest in its host? Even the Tok'ra have that whole separate-but-equal deal going on with their hosts, though I'm not so sure about the 'equal' part. You know as well as I do that to the goa'uld we're just a convenient set of eyes and ears and opposable thumbs. They don't give a flying fuck about who their hosts really are. They just pretend nothing of the host survives."
Daniel started up the stairs, Jack on his heels. "Yeah," Daniel said without turning around. "I guess they usually do."
"So why did you leave it out of your report?"
Daniel stalked through the kitchen and got as far as the front door before Jack realized he was actually leaving.
Well, good. Having Daniel here was just salt in his wounds, and it had to be the same for Daniel, but before he could put his hand on the doorknob, Jack heard himself saying, "I really need to know."
Daniel didn't leave. His head dropped, and eventually he turned around and faced Jack. "The easy answer is that I've been a little freaked out and a little nuts ever since we got back, and I just didn't feel like talking about it."
Jack smiled a little. "OK, yeah, I can identify with that." The smile faded. "What's the hard answer?"
"You already know." Daniel spread his hands, looking down at them. "If I breathe a word about the goa'uld trying to assume your personality, they'll all want to know more. It won't be just typical assault and battery by a typical goa'uld anymore, it'll be about you and me."
He'd been wrong, Jack thought. He should have let Daniel leave, because he couldn't stand to hear this. He remembered holding Daniel as he cried by the sofa, promising they would get through this OK, and wondered how he'd had the nerve to say any such thing.
"I mean, the 'why' is no real mystery," Daniel continued, talking to himself as much as to Jack. "Despite its racial memories, that goa'uld's last host might as well have been a termite for all it understood about identity or personal autonomy. It had no idea how to exist in a human being living alone in sequential moments in time and space, so it tried to take over Jack O'Neill the same way it took over your eyes and ears and -- and your opposable thumbs -- because it simply didn't have a self of its own."
Daniel knew. Had known all along. Jack had only been fooling himself when he imagined Daniel might not have figured it out. Stupid of him. This was Dr. Daniel Jackson, after all. "So you lied to protect me. Why the hell would you do that?"
Daniel shook his head slowly. "Do you really think I'm going to let MacKenzie or anybody else go prying around in your head because of me?"
"Because of you? Where are you getting this?"
"Teal'c or Sam would have found another way, I know that. Jack, please. You've got no reason to forgive me, and I can understand why you don't want me around, so I guess I'm not asking you to change your mind, not really, but that second day, I swear, I couldn't figure out what else to do. I was just trying to keep us both alive."
Jack staggered, rocked to his foundations. "And you think -- Daniel. That's not -- all right, yeah, sure, it might have been different with Sam or Teal'c, but that's not your fault."
Daniel smiled in absolute misery. "Who else was there?"
"Christ, Daniel, you said it yourself," Jack gritted out, every word a burr in his throat. "I was there. The goa'uld took everything, not just my thumbs. It took me."
"No, I said it tried to assume your personality, your sense of self, but that doesn't ..." Daniel trailed off, and Jack could practically see the wheels turning. The moment he got it, Daniel's mouth snapped shut and his eyebrows shot up to his hairline. He stared at Jack with eyes like saucers.
"Oh," he said at last.
He dreamed of Jack in his bed during the night. He was slumbering at Daniel's side, snoring softly, one arm thrown over Daniel's chest. There was no ceiling overhead, and when Daniel raised his eyes he could see three moons, one of them just over the horizon and looking as big as the sky. The air was heavy with gardenia and heliotrope. He wanted, selfishly, to wake Jack up so he could share the moonrise with him, but when he tried to speak, he woke himself up instead.
The garden was gray in the stillness before the dawn, and the room where Daniel remained a prisoner was full of murk and shadows. He didn't think Jack was near, but the dark corners could have hidden any number of the planet's native inhabitants. Daniel wondered if they'd been watching him sleep. Then he wondered if they had any way of watching him at all.
He started to sit up, moving carefully and cataloguing his various aches and pains, when he felt a flicker of something behind him that made his stomach drop like he was on a rollercoaster. He turned his head fast, already knowing what he would see.
Gray moved on gray, patterns shifting in the darkness. Daniel flinched, hoping the servant wouldn't come any closer. Its outlines fluttered like laundry on the line, and for a moment he saw the tendrils he'd imagined on these beings yesterday. Its proximity was giving him vertigo, and he couldn't concentrate long enough to resolve it into a manageable form.
Then it drifted out into the garden, leaving behind water in a ceramic basin and an MRE pack. The green plastic gleamed in the dimness. Though Daniel didn't feel remotely hungry, he snatched up the package all the same. He'd be a fool to turn down food when it was in front of him. He read the label, squinting. "Jamaican" pork chops, pineapple and a poptart. Oh, lord. Not exactly food per se, but the military's even clumsier-than-usual simulacrum. Daniel shook his head and ripped open the pack. Like this was the time for him to get picky over his breakfast choices.
His jaws ached as he chewed his first bite of cold pork chop, and when he realized why, memories which had never really left came down like a rockslide. He felt the back of his head banging against the post over and over again; he struggled against Jack's bruising hands on his face. He could smell Jack. He could taste him. The goa'uld had been the one who attacked him, but in the flashback it was Jack who held him down and hurt him, Jack taking pleasure from Daniel's pain.
He pushed the food away and pulled his knees up to his chest, curling up as tight as he could, waiting for it all to retreat again to a manageable distance. He didn't try to cut off the memories, but he took deep breaths and let them wash over him without reliving them. Everything else they could fix later, as long as Daniel concentrated on staying alive and staying sane.
He wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't already too late on the second point. The flashback had been so powerful he was shaking from it, on the verge of hyperventilating, his vision blurred with tears. Last night he had been so strung out he'd lost his temper and snapped, and dammit, that could have been fatal. He had to stay in control, and that wasn't going to be easy because he was belatedly certain he had been hallucinating yesterday as well.
At the time, he hadn't even questioned those vivid moments when Jack had cradled him in his arms and whispered sweet reassurances to him. That had been every bit as real as Jack forcing his thighs apart and hissing obscenities in his ear. The only difference was one had actually happened and the other hadn't, and Daniel knew exactly what they did to people who lost the ability to tell the difference.
Frankly, he'd rather take his chances with the goa'uld.
That made him laugh. Quietly, and so close to hysteria he was glad no one was around to hear him. He splashed water on his face and wiped it away with the side of his arm. Then he reached for the execrable pork chops and made himself take another bite, then another one. Chewing still hurt, but he'd live.
What he was rapidly deciding was that just living wasn't enough. He had to stop the goa'uld from hurting him anymore. It was messing with his head, ruining his control, screwing him up inside. The snake was obviously getting off on the violence, and if Daniel couldn't hold it together, the next time it might kill him.
He snorted. Looked at from a certain point of view -- admittedly, a particularly bleak one --his years with the SGC had already been just one damned mind fuck after another. It would be pretty ironic if he finally lost it just because he literally got screwed.
Then he remembered Hathor and the months afterward and suddenly felt horribly naked and fragile. He closed his eyes, trying recapture his sense of resolve. He was going to live through this and so was Jack, and neither one of them were going to end up in the loony bin afterwards. Simple as that.
He went back to his breakfast, eating as much of the meat as he could, then choking down a bite of pineapple even though it was mushy and flavorlessly sweet. He drank from the basin and washed up, relieved to see that the bleeding hadn't worsened during the night. Hoping they were cleaning the basin before they brought it back to him, he pushed it away from himself at last, wrinkling his nose at the smell of his waste and sweat and blood, heavy in the morning stillness.
Dawn gave everything in the garden a pink tinge, and as the light improved, Daniel examined his bonds. He could only reach the knots between his wrists with his teeth, which was slow going. No going when he finally had to stop because biting and tugging at the unyielding cotton was making his mouth hurt too much. While he rested his aching jaws, he carefully got to his feet, the looped tether sliding up the pole and allowing him to stand. It felt good to stretch, despite the gritty pain in his backside and a head rush that made him stagger for an instant, on the verge of passing out.
He squeezed his eyes shut and leaned against the post, waiting for the darkness to recede from the edges from his vision. When he opened his eyes again, the room looked different. He stared around himself, trying to figure out what had changed. The doors on either side still opened into neighboring rooms; the garden had grown brighter in the rising sun. He blinked hard, and when he looked again, the sense of change was gone. Everything was as it had been, except, just for a moment there ...
Still dizzy, he sank slowly back to his knees. The garden was darker than it had been only an instant before, as though a cloud had drifted across the face of the rising sun. Except that wasn't quite it. The shadows had been different, and there had been a stretched rectangle of sunlight falling across the lintel.
Daniel gasped as the realization hit him. Just for a second, when he'd first staggered to his feet, the garden had no longer been enclosed. There had been no room on the other side of it at all, and the rising sun had been shining from the east across the open street.
They went to the hardware store after all. Jack couldn't believe Daniel had actually talked him into this. The two of them were walking wounded, no damn business being out in public at all, but here they were all the same. Or here Jack was at least, sitting on one of the rickety display pieces of garden furniture near the check-out registers while Daniel cruised the warehouse aisles for glass cutting supplies. Jack at least had sense enough to know he couldn't handle the crowds or the hike past acres of lumber and bathroom fixtures.
Daniel, apparently, had no sense at all. Jack had finally told him the truth, and once Daniel had recovered enough to close his mouth, he'd simply announced he was going to Home Depot. Jack hadn't been able to let him go alone, any more than he'd had the heart to try and talk him out of it.
It wasn't just about replacing the window anymore, and Jack understood that, he really did. He was just a lot less sure than Daniel seemed to be that getting the glass back in the frame, whole and unbroken, would accomplish what Daniel believed it could.
Then they were going to pick up a twelve pack of chicken taquitos and another dozen beef tamales from the Pico Rico's on the way home. With extra guac, sour cream, and the house's kickass tomatillo salsa. Again, that was Daniel's plan, and Jack hadn't bothered to raise even a token protest. Take-out from Pico Rico's was an after-mission celebration feast, one they usually shared with Sam and Teal'c at Jack's place. A triumphant, chipotle-flavored spit in the eye of the universe that once again hadn't managed to kill them.
So far Daniel hadn't suggested calling Sam or Teal'c though, and Jack doubted he was going to. Just as well. It wasn't going to be much of a celebration tonight, even if Jack did manage to keep down a couple of tamales.
About the time he had begun to wonder what the hell was taking Daniel so long to pick out a handful of tools and supplies that were sure to all be on the same aisle, he finally spotted him in line halfway down the rank. Daniel caught his eye and didn't smile, though he did raise his eyebrows a bit. His black eye was obvious, as were the smudged bruises around his mouth, but Daniel seemed oblivious to the sideways glances in his direction. Good, Jack thought. He shook his head and got to his feet, aggravated by how shaky he still felt. Probably the lack of food as much as anything else by this point.
Daniel's line was moving at a snail's pace, but none of the others seemed to be going any faster. What were all these people doing at a Home Depot so late on a Friday afternoon anyway? Is this what the whole population of Colorado Springs did for entertainment these days? Replaced float cups in their toilets and put up drywall? Jesus. Maybe they wouldn't mind being a goa'uld host so much after all. Might add a little spice to their lives.
The very thought made Jack's face burn with shame. What the fuck was the matter with him anyway?
Well, duh, easy answer there. He'd raped his best friend, and it didn't matter how well Daniel replaced the window or how many tamales Jack was able to choke down, nothing would ever be good or right between them again. He glanced up and saw Daniel's eyes still upon him, the beginnings of a concerned frown creasing the space between his eyebrows. Jack couldn't stand it. He shook his head and jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate he'd be waiting outside. Then he fled.
It was just as crowded outside. Pickup trucks and SUVs were double and triple-parked beside the loading bays, waiting for newly-purchased refrigerators and gas fireplaces and electric water heaters. The sidewalk by the exit doors was packed with lumber carts. Once Jack got out from under the steel canopy, he saw a magnificent sunset was just beginning to color the vast Colorado sky. This was what he missed most off-world, on all those planets that always seemed to have their stargates stuck smack dab in the middle of a rain forest. The mountains at his back and the eastern sky stretching all the way to Kansas.
Now the sight just made him feel more miserable than ever. He turned away and was nearly run down by a man pushing a cart loaded with an eight foot roll of pink insulation. "Excuse me," Jack growled, backing out of the way, but another voice yelled, "Colonel Jack!"
Jack looked up. On the other side of the cart was a gangly kid in a T-shirt and baggy jeans. He'd grown a good six inches since Jack had seen him last and he was sporting a ponytail now, but Jack recognized him at once. "Tom," he called back, "Why the heck aren't you at the ball field tonight?"
The kid came around the cart to Jack, grinning from ear to ear, and Jack thought he was going to give him a hug. At the last minute, seeming a little self conscious he shook Jack's hand instead, but his grin never faltered. "It's Thanh now. Getting back to my roots, man."
Jack had to smile back, taking in the fat silver hoops in one earlobe and the Wolverine T-shirt. "And that means you don't play anymore?"
Thanh wrinkled his nose, looking for a moment just like the scrawny kid who'd once played second base on the little league team with Charlie. "Aw, it's the playoffs. We lost to Academy night before last."
"Ouch. What were you doing to let that happen? Goofin' off as usual?"
Thanh laughed at him. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, Dad, you know Colonel Jack, right?"
Jack extended his hand to the man pushing the cart of pink insulation. "Jack O'Neill. I don't know if we ever got the chance to meet."
"Robert Nguyn," he said, and Jack didn't miss the way Thanh rolled his eyes behind his father's back. "Tom just thinks the world of you. He always has." He looked away from Jack for a moment, started to say something else, and then didn't. Jack understood. He'd had nearly six years to get used to the way the parents of Charlie's old friends acted around him now. Jack was a walking, talking reminder of the unendurable fact that sometimes God extended no special grace. No wonder they never knew what to say to him.
"I'm sure your mother's ready for me to put those burgers on the grill," Robert announced awkwardly, pushing the cart away. "Jack, it was nice to meet you."
Jack nodded and gave a half-hearted wave. Thanh and his father were well on their way when Thanh yelled back, "Hey, Colonel Jack! I'm gonna be playing hockey this season. You should come to a game."
Jack waved again, for real this time. "I'll do my best."
Thanh beamed, gave him a thumbs-up, and turned after his father.
"Hey," Daniel said at his other side. "Friends of yours?"
"One of Charlie's, yeah," Jack wouldn't look Daniel in the eye, knowing he couldn't stand sympathy right now. Glancing down, though, he saw Daniel was carrying a plastic shopping bag and large flat of taped cardboard under his other arm. Jack grabbed the plastic bag away from him and looked inside. No cutter, no pliers. Just the glazing compound and the points. "You went ahead and had them cut the glass for the window," he accused, pointing at the taped cardboard. "Dammit, Daniel, you know I already have all that glass at home."
"Well, yes, but I saw how expensive the tools were going to be, and it seemed cheaper and easier to get the glass cut here."
"You had the measurements," Jack realized, enraged. "Goddammit, you were planning this all along."
Daniel flinched a little, but he didn't back down. "Look," he said with forced patience. Only his rising inflections gave him away. "I didn't know it was such a big deal. Just come back in and sit down, and I'll get a cutter and the pliers or whatever it was you wanted."
"That's not the fucking point!" Jack hissed in a furious whisper. Not quite enough of a whisper, apparently, because he could see heads turning. Screw 'em all.
"Then what is the point, Jack?"
He was glad to hear the anger in Daniel's voice.
"You can't fix this. You understand me? This is something you will never be able to fix!"
"You do know you're not making a whole lot of sense right now, right?"
"You know what? Fuck you, Daniel Jackson. Just -- just fuck you." Jack turned and stalked away, shaking with rage. He had no idea where he was going or how he was going to get there. He just knew if he had to look Daniel in the face again he would do something really unforgivable. Like smash in Daniel's front teeth.
He'd gone less than half a dozen steps when Daniel's hand fell on his shoulder. "Jack, stop it."
Jack whirled around, fist already cocked for the blow, but when he looked at Daniel it wasn't rage he felt at all. Daniel was regarding him with utter exasperation and such tenderness that Jack's eyes began to sting. He stumbled back, but Daniel wouldn't let him go. Jack's throat got tight, and something deep inside seemed to be crumbling apart. He tried to say "leave me alone," but to his horror what emerged instead was a dreadful, braying sob. He couldn't choke it back. Another sob tore from his throat and then another. He was weeping out loud in the crowded parking lot in front of the goddamned Home Depot. Staggering, he would have fallen if Daniel hadn't yanked him forward and put his arms around him. He tried to push away from Daniel's support, but he was crying so hard he didn't have the strength to escape. He was falling to pieces, losing everything.
"Daniel," he choked between sobs, fists clenched in the back in Daniel's shirt, knees buckling, "I can't. I can't."
"C'mon," Daniel whispered to him, strong arms bracing him up. "Let's just get to the car."
"Is he all right?" A woman's voice, close at hand.
Daniel slid one arm around his back, under his shoulders, waiting for Jack to get his feet under himself before easing him forward a step. "He's fine," Daniel was saying. "We're both just fine."
Please get me away from here, Jack pleaded wordlessly, and Daniel was doing his best, one step at a time across a parking lot more vast than the deserts of Abydos. Jack's sobs were quieter, but they still shook him, ripping through flesh and muscle and mind and nerves, tearing him apart. Daniel was silent at his side, bearing him up, catching him when he stumbled. Cars slowed as they passed them, and Jack hid his face against Daniel's shoulder as best he could, and Daniel stopped to let him do it. By the time they finally reached Daniel's car, Jack felt as though he had nothing left at all. Daniel propped him against the passenger side while he fumbled for his keys, and Jack told him the truth. "I can't do it again."
Daniel stopped looking for the keys. He smoothed Jack's tears away with the side of his thumb. "You don't have to," he said, a sad, crooked smile on his face. "It's all over now. We made it."
Daniel didn't understand, and there was no way Jack could explain it to him. He had survived the guilt and grief of Charlie's death, but it had taken everything he had. He felt decades older now, and so terribly, wrenchingly tired. There were no reserves left for getting through so much guilt again. "I'm sorry," he whispered, the only thing he could tell Daniel, even if he wouldn't understand. "I'm so sorry."
"We've already been through this." Daniel had finally produced his car keys from a back pocket. He patted Jack's chest a little awkwardly, smiling and exasperated again. "It wasn't your fault. None of it was." He pulled open the car door. "C'mon, get in."
"Weren't you paying attention?" Jack demanded hoarsely, his throat aching with new tears. "Of course it was my fault! Those were my nasty little jerk-off fantasies the goa'uld was using. If I'd never thought about fucking you it never would have happened, so stop telling me that it wasn't my fault." Jack clutched at his head, feeling like it was about to fly apart in his hands, wishing it would, wishing Daniel would just let him die.
"Come on, Jack, for the last time, would you please listen to me?" Daniel grabbed his shoulders too hard, hurting him, forcing Jack to look at him. "It was not your fault. God! Your feelings saved my life. What do you think the goa'uld would have done otherwise? It probably would have had you breaking my fingers or winding my intestines around a tent stake or whatever the hell kind of thing you still have floating around in your head from black ops. Anything to get a reaction, anything to feel human. I wouldn't have lasted a day."
Jack pushed Daniel's hands away and dropped into the front seat. Daniel leaned in after him, and Jack thought he was going to say something more, but instead he straightened up and swung the door shut. Jack tried to lean over and unlock the driver's side door, but the reach hurt his shoulder, so he gave it up. Daniel slid in behind the wheel and put the key in the ignition without turning it. Both of them sat looking straight ahead, and Jack, still shaking, thought about what Daniel had just told him. He wondered if Daniel could possibly be right, and he was still wondering when Daniel said quietly, "I thought you were ashamed of me. Angry at me."
Jack finally turned his head. "Daniel."
"Because of what I did the next morning. The stuff I said."
Jack huffed quietly, choking on the phlegm in his throat. "Aw, Jesus. You got any tissues?"
"In the back seat." Daniel turned and reached back, rooting around on the back seat with difficulty. Jack looked at his downturned head and then away. When Daniel produced a handful of Kleenex, Jack wiped his face with them and blew his nose. "Better?" Daniel asked.
"Not really, no," Jack said, although he was. He blew his nose again. "Daniel, what makes you think I'd be angry at you for saving our lives?" His voice hitched. "For making love to me?"
He'd spent the morning watching the garden and picking at the knots securing the ties on his wrists and ankles. He was actually making a little progress at his ankles, shredding the cotton one thread at a time. The garden remained stubbornly closed in on all four sides, though. Daniel had even tried holding his breath until spots swam before his eyes, but it didn't help.
He was staring out into the garden, out of focus and a little cross-eyed when Jack suddenly appeared in his line of sight.
"Oh, that's real attractive," he announced. "Been pining for me, Danny?"
Daniel blinked and sat back. Despite all his planning and all his resolve, now that Jack was actually here the whole thing seemed ridiculous. Not to mention dangerous to the point of suicidal. This was a goa'uld he was dealing with after all, not Jack. And despite certain suspicions chasing around in the back of his mind, he wasn't sure it would have worked on Jack either.
He swallowed hard, and hoped Jack couldn't see that he was shaking. "Not pining, exactly. But I have been thinking about you."
Jack raised one eyebrow. "Oh, really?" He strolled closer and looked down at Daniel, who forced himself not to scoot backward. "That sounds interesting. What have you been thinking?"
He wasn't carrying the MP5 this morning, which Daniel took as a good sign. He seemed a little pale, but perhaps that was only the morning light. He felt guilty for hoping that Jack was getting sick. The last thing he wanted was for Jack to suffer any more, but he was afraid that unless the goa'uld was hurting, it would never leave on its own.
"Just -- stuff," Daniel said vaguely, then winced at his own cowardice. Coy wasn't going to work here, but all his interactions with the goa'uld so far had led to Jack kicking the crap out of him. Hard not to be cautious after that kind of conditioning.
Jack's lips tightened as he looked down at Daniel. "Stuff. Is that the linguist talking?"
"Stuff," Daniel repeated doggedly. "You know, like -- sex. How you really don't get it."
Jack stared at him. "Ah." He squatted down in a position that Daniel thought would have hurt Jack's knees in order to look him in the face. "I'm the one who doesn't get sex. That's good coming from the SGC's own celibacy poster boy." He grinned. "Ex-celibate, now. Were you planning to thank me for that?"
Daniel swallowed but met his gaze. "The thing is, I've been human all my life, and you haven't even been at it for twenty-four hours. Of course I know more about sex than you do."
Jack slapped him twice. The blows opened up the cut on his lip, numbed the skin on his face and make his cheekbones ache. "What are you tryin' to tell me here?" Jack demanded in a jovial tone of voice. "That I've been too easy on you?"
Daniel didn't back away, and when his vision cleared, he looked Jack square in the face again. "I'm telling you that Jack O'Neill isn't a rapist. You can force that body you stole to have an orgasm, but that's missing the whole point, it really is."
Jack slapped him again, hard enough to knock his head back. Daniel tasted blood in his mouth. "Doesn't feel like missing the point to me," Jack said. He licked his own thumb and forefinger, making a wet, obscene sound with his lips, then reached out and pinched Daniel's nipple until he gasped with pain. Jack's grin got bigger, and he let him go, then patted the side of Daniel's bruised face. "I think I gotcher point right here, eh, Danny?"
There was no other way, Daniel thought, his face burning with rage and pain. He covered his stinging nipple with his crossed wrists and fixed his gaze on the floor. No more screwing around, no more conversation. He had to stop the goa'uld before it damaged both him and Jack so badly that any rescue would be too late.
He didn't look at Jack again before hooking his thumbs under the waistband of his boxers and sliding them off his hips. He felt the blood pounding in his temples as he dropped his bound hands to his groin and carefully encircled his dick with his fingers.
"I just meant," he said, his voice sounding flat and mechanical, "that you're missing some of the pieces. You've worked out that sex isn't just about reproduction for our species, but it isn't all about -- all about dominance and brutality, either."
He raised his eyes a little, daring a glance at Jack through his lashes. He looked completely flabbergasted. Apparently disrobing had worked as shock value, if nothing else.
Good, Daniel thought, even though he was so hot with embarrassment he felt as though he were burning alive. It was the first time he'd ever caught this damned snake off balance.
"Daniel," Jack said at last, sounding thoroughly rattled. "What the fuck are you doing?"
But he didn't hit me, Daniel realized after a breathless instant. The goa'uld hadn't hit him.
"I'm just showing you," he said, his voice stronger with hope. "Something I think you might have missed while digging around in Jack's head. See, he doesn't want to force me. He doesn't get off on hurting me. There's a lot of violence in Jack, I know, and maybe a lot of rage. And when you, uh, crawled into him, he must have been furious, so maybe you think anger and violence is all there is. You'd be wrong, though."
"You think you know me better than I do?" Despite the attempt to recapture the old arrogance, Jack's voice was shaky.
"Think about what it was like with Sara," Daniel said, silently praying that Jack would be able to forgive him for this one day. "How Jack felt making love to his wife. She loved him so much, knew him so well. When he was with her, he felt safe and warm and loved and sexy, and when he could -- when he could give her pleasure, too, it was the best thing in the world for Jack. He'd never felt so good or been so happy."
He shifted back on the cushion and let his knees drop open as far as he could manage with his ankles bound. "I love Jack, too. I can't replace Sara in his life, but I could try to be as tender as she was, and I could understand him and hold him --" Daniel tried to stroke himself, but it was awkward with his hands tied. "And I want to. I want him so badly." Daniel looked up at the ceiling, then closed his eyes. "I don't think there's anyone alive who knows Jack as well as I do. I lie in bed at night and think about him kissing me and touching me. I think about how his body would feel against mine. I make myself crazy, imagining his lips, his hands, his . . . the way he'd be so hard from wanting me, too."
Daniel, on the other hand, wasn't getting hard -- if anything, his dick seemed to be shrinking in on itself -- and the clumsy position was hurting his wrists. A little panicked at the thought of losing whatever small grace he'd earned so far, he stretched his arms above his head and lay back on the cushions. He raised his knees and twisted his hips and hoped he looked sexy, not like a guy trying to hide the utter lack of an erection.
"You should really try letting Jack have what he wants," he whispered to the goa'uld. "Affection. Understanding. You could see how nice it is to inhabit a body making love for a change."
The goa'uld didn't say anything and didn't move. His heart pounding in his chest, Daniel finally said, "Please, Jack," knowing it was a worse betrayal even than mentioning Sara's name. "I've been waiting for so long."
He was still expecting the goa'uld to burst out laughing and then, in all probability, lay into him with both fists. All he heard was Jack rustling around. Then he felt the cushions give as Jack crawled to his side. Daniel had begun to tremble, and he couldn't turn his head to look. This was insane, completely suicidal. What had he been thinking? The goa'uld would never understand love as anything but a weapon. It would probably use Jack's hands to wring Daniel's neck, now that it knew for sure just how that would make Jack feel.
Apophis had loved Amaunet, Daniel thought then, and instead of being reassured, he suddenly wanted to cry.
At that instant Jack's fingertips brushed his face, touched his chin, and gently turned his head. "Daniel," he said, and though he was smiling, he looked as though he was on the verge of tears himself. "All you ever had to do was ask."
Daniel was still expecting the first blow. The goa'uld was going to kill him in some messy, disgusting way just for the heck of it, and as soon as Jack was free of his demon, he would blow his own head off.
What happened instead was that Jack ducked his head and brushed his lips over Daniel's forehead in a kiss softer than a sigh. His hands cupped Daniel's face as he kissed him again, this time on the cheek. "Daniel," he breathed. His fingertips stroked his jaw, tender over the bruises, then slipped around to cradle the back of his neck. He kissed the shell of Daniel's ear and sucked the lobe gently between his teeth, restlessly stroking his fingers back and forth across the short, shaved hairs above the back of Daniel's neck.
It was working, Daniel finally realized with astonishment. This was -- tender. By a fantastic stretch of a goa'uldish imagination, it was even almost loving.
Scratch that; this wasn't remotely like love, but at least Daniel had a decent chance of surviving it, and frankly, right now that was even better.
Weak with relief, he rocked his hips and moaned in encouragement. He added a whispered, "Jack, please," just so there would be no doubt, and the response was immediate. Jack ran his hands tenderly and urgently down Daniel's body before sitting up and tearing his own shirt off over his head. Then he stretched out over him again, his bare chest warm against Daniel's skin. He was touching him everywhere, trembling with eagerness. "I can't believe this is real," Jack said, burying his head against Daniel's shoulder. "Daniel."
His breath raised goosebumps down Daniel's sides. He felt Jack's lips pressed to the underside of his jaw, then the flick of his tongue and the scrape of teeth. He tensed, some part of him still waiting for the goa'uld's brutality, but the kisses remained gentle. Soft, suckling nips all around his throat, and after each one Jack groaned his name or sighed with pleasure. His hands were stroking the underside of Daniel's outstretched arms, caressing Daniel's chest, his ribs, touching his face, petting his hair. He moved down Daniel's body to scatter the same firm, bitingly sweet kisses across his chest, and Daniel's hips were pushing against Jack's weight of their own volition now, and Jack's hands and mouth surprised a groan from him.
He looked down, double-chinned, to see Jack's head at his breast. Jack's gray hairs shone silver in the sunlight from the garden, and Daniel hadn't anticipated the ache of tenderness he would feel at the sight of Jack holding him, far less the inconceivable frisson of pleasure that made him shake when Jack's lips closed over his bruised nipple in a sloppily wet, warm kiss. One hand was between their bodies, stroking the inside of Daniel's thigh. Daniel couldn't help flinching when soft fingertips brushed his dick, but it wasn't difficult to moan, "Please," all the same.
Jack flinched at the same time -- with pleasure, Daniel hoped --and went back to mouthing Daniel's breast with passionate enthusiasm. He shifted across Daniel, his hips moving, and when Daniel felt Jack's hard-on through his BDUs, he realized Jack was humping his thigh like a teenager. He drew his legs up a little, hoping to facilitate matters, and Jack tensed above him and gasped, shuddering. Daniel froze too, as shocked as Jack was, but he recovered faster, drawing his arms down to lay his bound hands on the back of Jack's neck.
He said the only thing he trusted himself with. "Jack."
Daniel wasn't trying to whisper, but it came out that way, and he could feel tears at the back of his throat. He hoped it sounded like passion, because if post-coital bliss mellowed a goa'uld at all, now was certainly the moment for positive reinforcement. "Jack," he said again, and felt his eyes getting wet.
"Oh, God, Daniel," Jack said, and gave a weak little laugh. Daniel blinked harder, but a teardrop rolled across his face all the same. "Daniel, I'm sorry. Christ, what you do to me."
"It's OK," Daniel whispered, and then worried that that didn't sound enthusiastic enough, but he couldn't imagine what else to say. Jack reared up a bit, supporting his weight on one hand, and stroked Daniel's face with his other. His expression was so naked Daniel could hardly believe it was the goa'uld looking down at him.
"I'll make it up to you," Jack promised softly, and then he lowered himself to kiss Daniel's mouth.
This had been the plan all along, Daniel reminded himself viciously. Just teach the goa'uld how to get its rocks off without killing anybody in the process. Great. It had worked. He could still taste blood in his mouth as a reminder of what was really happening, no matter how tenderly the goa'uld kissed him now. All Daniel had to do was keep playing along until Sam and Teal'c showed up, and God help him, he and Jack both might get out of here alive after all.
His eyes were still leaking tears, though. Jack's kiss was sweet and gentle, easing Daniel's lips open without force, one hand cupping the side of Daniel's face, and Daniel wept harder at the caress of Jack's palm. Jack must have felt the tears, because he drew away slowly, bestowing a last kiss on the side of Daniel's mouth before looking down at him. Daniel blinked, trying to focus through his tears. It was so damned unfair. He'd made it this far, and now he was going to lose it because his rapist had kissed him? Surely the universe couldn't be so cruel.
Oh, who the hell was he kidding? Of course the universe was that cruel, and a thousand times worse besides. He would have laughed if he hadn't been crying.
"Daniel." Jack was trying to wipe the tears away with his fingers, "What is it?" He laid his fingers on Daniel's swollen lower lip. "Oh God, you're hurt. Why didn't you --" He broke off, gazed searchingly into his eyes. "Daniel, are you afraid of me? Because I would never -- You know that. Not when I was in control of myself."
"I know, Jack," Daniel whispered.
"Then don't cry," Jack pleaded softly. He nuzzled Daniel's cheek as he carefully shifted his weight off him, curling up close beside him, one leg over Daniel's thighs, his arm over his chest. "I want you to be happy."
Then he'd fucking well better get happy, Daniel decided, struggling to pull himself together. Jack was kissing his ear and gently stroking his belly and chest with the flat of his hand, and it beat the hell out of being punched and kicked and strangled and ripped open. For both of them. "I am," he insisted, and turned his face to Jack's and saw that Jack was still watching with anxiety in his eyes. Daniel kissed his mouth, and when he drew back, the worried look in Jack's eyes had been replaced with one of sweet, melting wonder. "I've never been so happy in my life."
"Tent stakes?" Jack suddenly asked while they were sitting at a red light. Pico Rico's was halfway across town from Home Depot, and cross town traffic was a son of a bitch on Friday nights.
Daniel glanced at him. "Well, I don't know," he shrugged. "Whatever."
"Just for your future information, in my entire military career I have never even considered eviscerating anyone with a tent stake."
"Glad to hear it." Daniel nodded solemnly. "Can't blame me for being worried, though. You're always so mysterious about your black ops days, and given that I know more about the Peloponnesian War than I do about the last twenty years of covert U.S. military operations, I was just filling in the blanks the best I could."
"No tent stakes," Jack said firmly.
Jack wondered if they were actually joking about this. It sure sounded like it. Almost. Hard to tell with Daniel.
Daniel drove the next few blocks in silence then said, "Is this place on California or Nevada Street? I'm always getting them confused. Identical rows of strip malls."
"California. You've got another half a mile at least."
"OK. Yeah, you're right."
"Can dial his way halfway across the universe, but let him try to find a Mexican restaurant in the suburbs ..."
The side of Daniel's mouth twitched, but he didn't look at Jack.
Jack had a thought. He craned his head around to check out the backseat, which was empty except for the tissue box on the floor and a dry cleaning bag. "Daniel, where's the stuff from Home Depot?"
Daniel was slowing for the next stoplight. He waited until the car was stopped before banging his head gently against the steering wheel a couple of times. "Fuck."
"So it's --"
"I don't even remember." He banged his head again on the wheel and Jack put his hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Don't worry about it."
"I think I dropped it in the loading zone when I was running after you. Goddammit, I don't even remember."
"It's OK. You had other things on your mind."
Daniel snorted. "You want to turn around, see if it's still there? I'm sure the glass is broken. I think I just dropped it."
"No, I don't want to go back. I'm hungry and tired and it's been a hell of a long day."
"Yeah. Sorry, Jack. I'll go back tomorrow."
"Watch it," Jack said, after another silence that went on for blocks. "You're about to miss your turn."
Daniel swore quietly. He couldn't get over quickly enough to make the turn onto California and ended up having to go all the way around the block, which took an annoying amount of time in the heavy traffic. After the first flash of anger, though, Daniel seemed to get over it, and he was calm about the interminable wait at every stoplight. Or perhaps it wasn't calm, perhaps he was just as tired as Jack was.
That seemed more likely.
Jack started a mental checklist for the rest of the evening. Things To Do Before I Can Go To Bed, he titled it. One, pick up an obscene amount of food from Pico Rico's. Well on their way to accomplishing that. Two, drive home. Another ten or fifteen minutes there. Three, dinner itself. How long would it take Jack to choke down a couple of tamales? How much was Daniel planning on eating? Fourth, and finally: Send Daniel home. And there were no bets on how long it would take to push him out the front door either. Jack had been trying to do that since Daniel showed up this morning.
Jack's head was pounding, his shoulder hurt, and his eyes and throat were scratchy and raw. From crying, he supposed. Jesus, what a day. What a week. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. The streetlights were making his headache worse.
"Jack? You all right?"
"We're here. You wanna wait in the car while I go in?"
"Yeah." Jack sat up and leaned his head against the car seat back. He didn't open his eyes.
"OK," Daniel said. "Be right back." The car door opened and slammed. Sitting with his eyes closed, Jack supposed he must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knew Daniel was back, handing in two tremendous brown paper grocery bags. "Can you set these on the floor?"
The bags were warm to the touch and the smell of food was incredible. Oregano, garlic, cilantro. Cumin and ancho chiles and chipotle. Suddenly Jack was hungrier than he'd ever been in his life. "God, Daniel, this was a great idea."
Daniel smiled down at him. "Watch your foot," he said, and gently shut Jack's door. By the time he'd made it around to the driver's side Jack had ferreted out the taquitos, and the dozen, neatly stacked deep-fried corn tortilla rolls didn't seem excessive at all. Not nearly enough, more like it. He looked around for the salsa and guacamole, but apparently they were in the other bag, so he took a big bite of one plain, and it was fantastic all on its own.
"Aw, Jack," Daniel complained, not sounding overly upset. "Do you have to eat in the car?"
His mouth was too full to answer, so he just held the styrofoam container out to Daniel, who waved it away. "I'll wait till we get home."
Jack thought he showed enormous self control by shutting the container and putting it back in the bag after only eating one. It wasn't quite as good as it could be without the salsa, though. He could wait for the rest, at least a little while. "Good call, Daniel. These are great."
Daniel nodded, paying attention to his driving. He was tired, too; Jack could see it. Just as well the glass supplies had been left behind. As hardheaded as Daniel was, he probably still would have insisted on finishing the window tonight.
"So the thing with the gun," Daniel said suddenly.
Jack turned his head to look at him, hoping to God Daniel didn't mean what Jack thought he did.
"You know," Daniel persisted. Keeping his eyes on the road, he mimed a cocked gun with his right thumb and forefinger, and then touched his lips. "That must have been all the goa'uld's idea. I mean, you wouldn't -- you never --"
"Christ, Daniel! Do you really want to talk about that?" He was shaking, and all at once the close smell of Mexican food was overwhelming, nauseating in the close confines of the car. He rolled down his window to get some air, terrified that he was on the verge of losing it again. He tightened his hands around each other, squeezing until his knuckles ached.
"Never mind," Daniel was saying quietly and miserably at his side. "It's OK, Jack. Never mind."
It wasn't OK, Jack knew that. By no fucking stretch of the imagination was this OK, and besides, if anyone deserved an answer to his question it was Daniel. He'd earned it with his own blood. Jack choked and wiped his eyes, and felt Daniel's hand grasping his shoulder firmly. "I'm sorry," Daniel said. "I shouldn't be -- It's going to be all right, Jack, I swear."
"No," Jack blurted out, and was relieved that he didn't burst into tears again.
"Yes, it is. Just not right away, I know that. But I'm not going to let that --"
"Would you shut up and listen to me, please? Yes, all right already, the goa'uld found that in my head too, but it wasn't like that, I swear. It twisted everything."
Daniel put both hands back on the wheel and stared straight ahead. He was breathing hard enough for Jack to hear him.
"Are you sure you want to hear this?" Jack asked.
Daniel's head twitched, and the silence stretched out between them. Finally Daniel said quietly, "At this point, I think secrets are worse than the truth, don't you?"
Jack thought he was probably right about that. He clamped his hands on his knees and stared straight ahead just like Daniel was doing. "It wasn't like the goa'uld made it out to be. It was just a stupid little dirty fantasy. Just something to -- you know."
He could hear Daniel swallow. "Uh, yeah. I think so."
"But it wasn't violent. I wasn't forcing you. Like the deal in the locker room. I didn't imagine it that way either. Just the two of us taking a huge, stupid risk. I dunno why I thought it was hot. It was just --" Jack mentally threw up his hands. Daniel was right. Any secrets between them at this point just made things worse. "The thing with the MP5 was, we're offworld, and it's nighttime, my watch. I'm out walking the perimeter and then suddenly you show up, and I'm trying to read you the riot act for scaring me half to death, but you just shrug it off like usual --"
"So you're as unreasonable in your fantasies as you are in real life?" Daniel said wryly, God bless him.
"Yeah. Guess so. You make a suggestion that would be, uh, inappropriate under any circumstances, but especially on watch, but before I can tell you, you're, um, you've gotten down and put your mouth on the -- on the muzzle, and it's so -- see, you're trying to shock me, so I'll give in, and it works, because I can't believe you'd --"
"Jack. " Daniel cut gently through his stumbling attempts to explain. "I think I get the picture."
Jack let out a harsh breath and sagged back against the seat, feeling like he'd just aged ten years. "I'm sorry, Daniel. God, I never would have said anything. I never, ever would have done anything."
"I know." Daniel reached out suddenly and found Jack's hand. He held on tight for long moments, and didn't say anything more until they got home.
It took a while, but curled around Daniel, whispering endearments and kissing his face and throat, Jack finally succeeded in stroking him to orgasm. Daniel jerked, hearing himself whimper. The muscular contractions hurt his ass, and he had to close his eyes and turn his head because he couldn't stand for the goa'uld to see his face as he came. Beside him, wrapped close, Jack whispered his name breathlessly and squeezed and stroked him with deliberate tenderness, gentling him like a lover. He nuzzled his face to Daniel's shoulder. "Daniel," he said again, letting him go before the strokes could become painful. He rubbed his stomach, smearing semen as it cooled on Daniel's skin. "Aw, Daniel, love."
Daniel closed his eyes and turned his head back. "Kiss me?" he asked, keeping his eyes shut, and Jack whimpered too, scooting up to hold Daniel's head with sticky wet fingers. Jack's kisses remained sweet and gentle, for all his urgency. Daniel could feel Jack's erection pressed against his hip.
"Jack," he said when Jack finally raised his head and looked down at him. He couldn't bear that expression on Jack's face, so tender, so wondrously happy. Instead of closing his eyes again, Daniel smiled up at him. "Untie my hands, Jack," he murmured recklessly. "Let me show you just how good that felt."
Not Jack. That wasn't Jack at all. Daniel was almost relieved when Jack's eyes suddenly went cold.
"I can't, Danny." Jack's hands, which had still been cradling his head, now slid down and wrapped without pressure around his throat.
Daniel wasn't afraid. He didn't feel anything but a numb sense of disappointment in himself. He'd survived violent rape, but tenderness had undone him. He'd panicked, pushed too hard, and destroyed them both.
"I can't," Jack said again. "If I let you go you'll leave me."
"No. I couldn't. I love you." Daniel insisted, because he had to try.
"It won't be the same once we go back through the stargate," Jack said sadly. "It won't matter how much I love you, it'll never be like this again. I wouldn't let myself, and you wouldn't want me to." The hands around Daniel's throat slipped away and Jack kissed him again. "Just for a little while longer, Daniel. Please."
Daniel kissed him back, and shifted his hips as Jack fit his body over Daniel's. He was crying a little as Jack began to rock against him, but Jack only kissed his wet eyes and said, "I know, love. It'll be all right."
"While we're telling each other the truth," Daniel said. Jack looked up. He hadn't been telling anyone the truth about anything. He'd been innocently sitting here at his kitchen table devouring lukewarm taquitos and tamales.
"What truth would that be, Daniel?" he asked warily. It wasn't hard to guess this was something else he didn't want to hear and certainly wouldn't want to talk about. The Peterson kid had started bass practice again, and each note came drifting through loud and clear. It would have helped a little if they'd gotten that window fixed.
Daniel stabbed his half-eaten taquito into the guacamole and used it to scoop up what was clearly more than his fair share. He regarded it unrepentantly and then stuffed it into his mouth.
Jack watched him chew. Daniel was stalling. Great. Meaning it was something Jack really, really wouldn't want to hear.
Jack pulled another tamale out and unwrapped the husk. He didn't need another one, but c'mon, he thought to himself. Look at it there on his plate, the imprint of the husk still showing on the masa, the smell of spicy shredded beef rising in the air. Irresistible. And utterly painless to think about. This must mean he was getting better, if food was suddenly so important to him. He dumped salsa and more than his own fair share of the sour cream over it in revenge for Daniel hogging the guac.
"Something I feel like I need to say out loud," Daniel said as Jack shoveled a fork full of tamale into his mouth. "And not to Dr. MacKenzie, either."
Jack nodded to indicate he was paying attention and washed down the tamale with a swallow of beer. "Doesn't narrow it down a whole lot." Jack didn't mean it unkindly, though. "Isn't that kind of what we've been doing all day? Tryin' to clear the air before we have to take all this to MacKenzie? Make sure we don't tell him anything that he'd really like to know?"
Daniel quirked a near smile and stared at the table. "Yeah. I guess we have. The thing is, Jack, I had some, ah, trouble dealing with what was going on. Especially that first day. I wasn't exactly coping all that well."
Aw, Christ. "Daniel, nobody is supposed to be able to cope with something like that. You think I'm doing such a great job? Need I remind you how well I was doing handling it an hour ago in the parking lot of the freaking Home Depot, and I wasn't even the one who --" Jack was ashamed to hear his voice rising and of what he was about to say, so he cut himself off and tried again. "Daniel, dammit, you're coping. You're here in my house not even a week after we got out of there, giving me hell and pushing me around just like you always do. I'd call that coping. I'd call that damn well on the road to a full recovery."
Daniel was looking at him, still holding the last of a taquito in one hand. "I don't push you around, Jack."
"Where do you get this stuff?" Daniel demanded seriously. "It's like we're living on two different planets sometimes."
"Well you know, for about a year there we were. Maybe that explains a lot."
"Jack, this is serious."
"I'm always serious," Jack said, since he desperately didn't want to be anymore.
"I got shipped out to the funny farm the last time I told anybody something like this, so could you please just listen?"
Jack's heart sank. "I'm listening, Daniel, I swear, but anything that happened when --"
"I was hallucinating. At least a couple of times, maybe more. I thought I saw Sha'uri."
Jack reached out and gripped Daniel's forearm. "That's just the way our minds work under extreme pressure. It doesn't mean anything."
"No, I know that. Like an escape hatch when reality is just too much. Believe me, I know, and I know this time it wasn't real. But at the same time --" He calmed down, visibly regrouping. "I just want you to understand, Jack. I'm not trying to embarrass you or make you more uncomfortable than this whole mess already has. I just think it's important that you know. Maybe it'll even make it a little better."
Jack seriously doubted that, but he didn't say anything, just giving a tight, quick nod for Daniel to get on with it.
"I dreamed -- hallucinated, I guess -- when things were . . . really bad. And I thought that you were, that we were in bed together. You were holding me. You got me through the worst of it."
Jack let go. He had no idea how to answer Daniel's confession. He remembered Daniel's eyes turning blank and unseeing, and now he knew what Daniel had been escaping to. A part of what had kept him sane through that nightmare had been a fantasy of the two of them as lovers. He couldn't tell Daniel how that made him feel. Astonished. Dazzled with tenderness. He wanted to pull Daniel into his arms, and since he couldn't, he laid his hands flat on the kitchen table and noticed the bandage over his cut knuckles had gotten filthy since this morning.
He sounded worried, so Jack lifted his head and said the first idiotic thing that came to mind. "Well, that was kind of ironic."
Dead silence. Then, "Yeah. I guess that would be the word for it."
"Aw, dammit. I'm not trying to be an asshole."
"It just comes naturally?"
"I just meant it's kind of hard for me to believe that you ... I don't know."
Daniel was retreating into himself, sitting back in his chair, crossing his arms hard over his chest.
God, Jack thought miserably. He was getting this all wrong. "I'm not saying it means anything the way ... that way," he stumbled on. "It was a combat situation for all intents and purposes, and your head and your body were both just trying to survive, I know that."
Daniel wasn't relaxing at all. He was staring at the table, his expression fixed and unreadable. Remembering the ride home this evening, when Daniel, Daniel had reached out to him again and again, held him in the middle of a parking lot, kept him on his feet when everything was crashing down around him, Jack just couldn't stand it. He grabbed Daniel's hand across the table and held on tight.
"Daniel, maybe it does mean --" Jack pleaded, "maybe it means you'll be able to look at me someday without seeing first and foremost the man who raped you."
The moment the words were out of his mouth he would have given his right arm to take them back. He and Daniel both knew the score. There was no reason to give the awful truth of it any more power by saying it out loud. Daniel flinched, his hand tugging suddenly at Jack's as though he wanted to pull away. Jack opened his hand at once but Daniel wouldn't have it, turning his palm and grasping Jack's hand in return. Holding on hard.
"It won't do me any good until you can stop seeing yourself that way, Jack."
Daniel awoke with a start to find himself alone. He didn't know how much time had passed, but from the shadows in the garden, he assumed it was late afternoon. He sat up slowly, looking around himself to be sure neither Jack nor any of the planet's inhabitants were in the room with him. He found nothing but a fresh basin of water left within reach. Thoughtful of his captor. Captors. Maybe the whole planet had some kind of weird cleanliness fetish.
More probably it was just the goa'uld in Jack. Not surprising that it would be overwhelmed by the smell of human bodies. Daniel could smell himself, and he reeked. His belly and genitals were encrusted with dried semen, and it was a relief to wash himself and not think about anything else for a few moments.
Reality couldn't be put off for long, though. When he was finished he looked around himself again and wondered where Jack was, and whether he should call for him. Probably a bad idea since there was no telling how long the goa'uld's good humor was likely to last. Sure, this morning it had seemed like Daniel had made a conquest, but for all he knew, it was all just another game. Best to let sleeping goa'ulds lie. Every minute that passed without the goa'uld killing him was another minute closer to rescue, after all.
Unless, of course, Jack was curled in a corner somewhere, dying miserably as his body rejected a symbiote too arrogant or too weak by now to abandon its host.
It was an unendurable thought. "Jack!" he yelled. Nothing. He was still hoarse from all the shouting he'd done yesterday, but he kept it up all the same. "Jack! Dammit, where are you? Are you all right? Jack!"
"Calm down, Daniel. I'm right here." Jack's voice came from behind him, a terrible, gasping whisper. Daniel turned fast. Jack was still on his feet, but propped heavily against the doorframe leading into a neighboring room. His eyes were red and rheumy, his color dead white. His voice sounded like every word hurt him. "Looks like you were right, though. We shoulda gone ahead and gotten our butts back through the stargate. Leave the lovin' for another day."
He swayed on his feet and fell heavily to his knees.
"Oh, God." Daniel yanked desperately, uselessly at his bonds as Jack curled up on the floor.
"Could -- use some help here," Jack moaned, one hand outstretched on the floor, fingers scrabbling uselessly at the mat.
"I can't reach you," Daniel told him frantically. "Dammit, Jack, you've got to come closer. Throw me your knife, your radio, something."
Jack nodded and tried to pull his knees up under him. The effort exhausted him and he collapsed and lay still, oblivious for long moments to Daniel's cries. When he finally moved again, it was only to turn his head in Daniel's direction.
"Jack, can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear," he gasped. "It's too late for this. Get Carter -- Teal'c. You can't --" He trailed off for long instants, panting hard. "You can't do this alone."
"OK, right. Great. Getting Sam and Teal'c is a good idea. Do you know how? There's no door and no way out of here."
"What? Of course there's a door. It's right in front of you. Just have to --" He broke off, coughing and retching while Daniel struggled furiously to free himself and made no progress at all. When the coughing finally became less violent, Jack writhed slowly on the floor and panted for breath.
"Oh, Jack, please," Daniel moaned. "You've got to help me. If you can really see the door, please tell me how."
"Like jellyfish," Jack whispered inexplicably.
"What? Please, you've got to concentrate. I'm afraid there isn't much time."
"Jellyfish. Remember when we made first contact, how you told me they looked like jellyfish? Up till then, I hadn't even been able to see them, not really. "
Daniel remembered, but he couldn't imagine how it helped. It couldn't possibly be that easy. "You mean I just need to imagine there's a door there? But I've been trying since it disappeared."
"You never really believed it would work," Jack said. Both arms were outspread now, one cheek flat on the mat. He was shivering convulsively. "Danny, just pick a point in time and stick to it. You can fix the architecture of this place in time the same way you can fix its inhabitants. It's not so hard, I promise." Jack gasped in agony, his body convulsing on the hard floor, and when his shudders finally began to die down he whispered, "Carter and Teal'c are right outside."
Because there was nothing else he could do, because Jack was dying, Daniel turned his head and tried to see a door.
"I should have gone back for the glass and the supplies," Daniel announced, sinking down in the sofa until his head rested against the back. He crossed his long legs at the ankles in front of himself, and Jack had to swing wide to avoid tripping over him. Daniel's eyes were half closed, and he didn't notice. "We could have finished up the window tonight. Does that guy ever stop playing that damned bass?"
"Sometimes. Occasionally. I think he unplugs the amp and goes to school every once in a while, but I'm betting that doesn't last for much longer." Jack lowered himself into an easy chair and propped his own feet up on the ottoman. God, he was exhausted, and everything hurt. The stitches in his shoulder, his bruised and scratched knuckles. His heart.
Daniel was still here, though. He'd pushed and bullied all day long, until Jack had confessed every sordid detail of his sins, and he was still here. Incredible. Insane, probably, but no one had ever accused Daniel of having good sense.
"We could not have finished the window tonight," Jack said mildly. "You're too tired to even sit up straight."
"I'm still more awake than you."
"Not much of an accomplishment. I'm dead on my feet."
"You're not on your feet."
"Listen to you, Daniel. Jesus. Can't I say one damned thing ever without you jumping in to disagree?"
Daniel just laughed.
"Well, you're not driving home tonight, I'll tell you that much. I'm pretty sure the sheets are clean in the spare bedroom."
"I saw the spare bedroom. The sheets may be clean, but you've got about five years worth of National Geographics piled up on top of them."
Oh. "I was going to move them."
Daniel waved his hand breezily in dismissal. "Don't worry about it. The sofa's more comfortable than the mattress on that bed anyway. We can finish the window first thing in the morning."
As if in musical accompaniment, a few more wavering, badly-fingered chords came drifting in on the breeze. "Highway to Hell?" Daniel suggested.
"I thought he was working on 'Purple Haze."
"There's no bass in that."
"It would explain why he sounds like that."
Then the two of them sat without talking. For his part, Jack was waiting to see if the Peterson kid was ever going to stop playing, because if he wasn't then they'd better start moving National Geographics anyway if Daniel had a prayer of getting any sleep tonight. Eventually, though, he heard Daniel's breathing start to get slower and heavier, and Jack realized he was falling asleep even with the bass accompaniment.
He staggered to his feet and stumbled over to the sofa. "Daniel," he said, and stopped himself from shaking Daniel's shoulder. "C'mon, wake up. You fall asleep like that and you'll wake up with a crick in your neck so bad you won't be able to turn your head."
Daniel's eyes blinked open, blurry and unfocussed behind his lenses. "Something I've been wondering about," he said.
Jack turned around and sat down next to him on the sofa, suppressing a sigh. Might as well make himself comfortable.
"When did the goa'uld finally let you go?"
Jack looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"You know, when it finally realized how sick you both were. Did it try to get out of you then but was just too weak? Is that when it lost control? Because I'm thinking it might be useful to know that if we ever --"
Jack shook his head slowly, still having trouble understanding the question. "Daniel, that snake held on until Carter started hackin' away at my shoulder."
"No," Daniel said. He looked bewildered. "You can't be remembering that right. You told me how to escape. You asked me to forgive you --"
Jack closed his eyes. "I was pretty sick by then, and I don't remember a whole lot, but I sure as hell remember feeling the razor blade, and the way it let go of me then. Felt like nasty little tapeworms uncoiling out of my brain."
"Oh my God." Daniel rocked like he was going to get up and start pacing. "That can't be right. That would mean -- Jack. That goa'uld saved you. Saved both of us."
"Oh, come on. Probably it was just too sick to dig its way out on its own and thought it would escape when Carter pulled it out."
"That doesn't make any sense. It had your memories. It knew we would kill it the minute we could."
"Well, then maybe it just wasn't very bright."
"Or maybe it hadn't counted on what assuming your personality would really mean to it in the end." Daniel took his glasses off and stuffed them in his pocket. He wiped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "Jack, the way you feel about me ... you realize you convinced a goa'uld to sacrifice itself? For me. For us."
"I couldn't convince it of anything. If I could, do you think I would have --"
"It tried to be you, Jack. And you love me."
"That's --" Jack couldn't finish what he wanted to say. Couldn't finish any sentence right now, probably. He let his hands hang between his knees and looked at the floor.
"Hey." Daniel's voice was soft, and after another long moment, he put his hand on Jack's shoulder. Jack felt his eyes filling and his throat getting tight. Dammit to hell.
"Jack," he said, and he put his arms around Jack and gently pulled him close, holding him carefully. "I just didn't know." After a few long moments, when it became clear Daniel wasn't planning to let him go anytime soon, Jack put his arms around Daniel, too. Daniel's arms tightened as the Peterson kid managed a piercing feedback squeal that rattled the remaining glass in the window frames.
"That is definitely 'Purple Haze'," Jack mumbled into Daniel's shoulder.
There's a place I know where the train goes slow
Where the sinner can be washed in the blood of the lamb
There's a river by the trestle down by Sinner's Grove
Down there where the willow and the dogwood grow
--"Down There By The Train"
Johnny Cash, American Recordings (1994)
by Tom Waits, published by Alma Music Inc.
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