I don't consider myself a hard-ass. Smart-ass, yeah, okay, but not a hard-ass. In fact, if there was such a thing as a soft-ass, that'd be me.
Okay, forget I said that.
The point is, I'm an easygoing guy, really. I've been in the United States Air Force for twenty-six years and I've been an officer almost the entire tour. There's been only one time in my life during all those years when I buttoned myself up in a full-metal jacket and exercised my right to be a ranking asshole. That was after Charlie died, when I came on to the Stargate project. I had no interest then in making myself liked. I was plotting a course from one death to another. There were no points along the way.
Naturally, that'd be when I met Daniel. I didn't make a good first impression on him. He didn't make one on me, either. He had long, sloppy hair and the kind of brainy, distracted arrogance that I'd hated in most of my college professors. We had to relearn each other later, after I went back to Abydos. After he joined the team. It took a while for him to get me. The jokes and the casual attitude threw him off, I could tell--I'd mellowed back to more or less my usual self by then. Don't get me wrong. Charlie's death was still this great rip down the center of my life, and the new Jack O'Neill sometimes felt hollow. All facade and bravado, no heart. But I must have passed muster, because after a while Daniel started to warm up to me.
But he still thinks I'm a hard-ass. No matter what I do, he doesn't get the difference between an Air Force officer toeing the line out of necessity and one who'd eat your balls for breakfast and not even burp. He thinks I'm tough on him when I raise my voice or slap his ideas down once in a while. And, in some other world, maybe he's right. But hell, I usually regret any digs I manage to get in. And if I don't, you better believe he makes me regret it before much time passes. The fact of the matter is, I put up with a lot. I have a long fuse. But sometimes...bang.
"This is not the same conversation we've had before," Daniel was saying now, staring me down. "Though as I recall, the last time we debated acquiring technology by questionably moral means, I was right."
"And I admitted that," I said, measuring out my words, antagonized by the memory. "But if the Eurondans hadn't turned out to be neo-Nazi lunatics, you'd have been wrong and I'd have been right. There was nothing wrong with the mandate I was carrying out. It could have gone either way."
He cocked his head at me like a dog that doesn't understand your words, only your tone. He looked puzzled, but I could tell by now when his puzzlement was real and when it was a front designed to make you feel vaguely stupid. "You really believe that's all there is to it?"
Carter eased closer to us, almost into the charged air between our bodies. "Sir, with respect, I think we should--"
"Oh, we should, Carter. We should get Daniel a little bubble that he can live in happily ever after where there are no Gou'ald trying to wipe out upstart humanity." She shut up and ducked her head, while at the same moment Daniel raised his chin.
"Am I disappointing you, Daniel?" I asked. "What would you prefer, really? How about each time a handy new weapon against the Gou'ald is offered, I take out my checklist so we can ask ourselves, is it a nice weapon? Does it make us feel good about ourselves?" My voice raised toward the end, fueled with frustration.
His jaw tightened. I'd succeeded in making him angry. The drawback was that anger only made him want to talk more. "You're reducing this to absurdity so that you don't have to face what we're really talking about here, which is stealing the blood of people who've told us in so many words they don't want to facilitate biological warfare. You're talking about trying to recreate a disease that could wipe out humanity, not save it."
I narrowed my eyes and kept them on his, refusing to be distracted by the sharp cuts of his hands. He wasn't going to strike out, though it was hard not to read his movements as a threat on some level. I certainly was tempted to strike him, or at least restrain him and stick him in a closet somewhere for the remainder of the mission.
"No, you're right. I'm not facing that," I said, feeling hot and hostile. "I'm just a dumbass flyboy who follows orders, and I never question our mandate, because that would be wrong."
His mouth soured as I finished my sarcastic sing-song. "Fine, Jack. Do what you want." He turned away, waving a hand that dismissed me from his world. He only made it a few feet and seconds before he turned back, though. He could never let anything rest. "After all, I'm only here to follow orders, too, right?"
My eyebrows climbed. "You follow orders?" I said. That was rich. "Don't tell me I missed the flying pigs. I would have brought my camera."
We glared at each other, him with arms folded, me hands clenched, while Carter and Teal'c stood by waiting for a cease-fire. Or maybe to render first aid.
"You are a very angry people," said a voice from the corner.
Shit. Mekhu. I forced my posture to loosen, and turned to see the kid sitting cross-legged on a stool. Where the hell did he come from, I asked the others with a look. They offered various expressions of ignorance; Carter a small one-shouldered shrug. Teal'c, standing nearest to our visitor, walked over and drew back a wall curtain. Little door behind it. Cute.
"Mekhu." I managed a brief smile. "How, uh, how long have you been there?"
"Many words," he said with a grin.
"Ah, yes," said Daniel, darting a glance at me. "We do share many words." He rolled 'words' around in his mouth like he wanted to choose a sharper term. "But this doesn't mean we're an angry people. We get angry for a little while, but then we...get over it."
I had nothing to say to that, but it sounded good.
Carter smiled at the kid and went to kneel down by him. Times like this, I realized how good a mom she'd make someday. "When we argue, it's because we are excited by ideas that we want each other to understand."
Mekhu looked at me, then at Carter. "He has the loudest ideas."
"Not always," I said, trying to sound mild.
"Is it because you are the leaper?" he asked me.
"That's 'leader,'" Daniel said, speaking back and forth to the both of us and somehow making it clear he was mocking me on another level.
"Colonel O'Neill is our leader, yes," said Carter. "And his ideas are important. And, sometimes, the loudest." She apologized kind of sideways to me as she said that. And then again, she didn't. She was pretty fed up with chest-thumping males, I gathered. Even a chest-thumping male can sense these things. "But he listens to us as much as we listen to him."
"I do not think you listen," Mekhu said to me.
"Oh?" Thanks, pal. That meant a lot coming from a thirteen-year-old with bare feet and purple feathers in his hair. I wasn't sure if I approved of these young Karnakian terrors and that was saying something, because usually I get along with kids.
"Idu says that those who speak with the loudest voice are the least wise." Idu was his dad. They had a new-agey sort of relationship and called each other by their first names. It was part of the whole Karnakian thing. Equality. Equality was just one of several words they threw at you, and if they'd used it to mean something I recognized that'd be great, but what they meant by it turned out to be chaos and lippy kids and the absence of anyone in charge who could answer yes or no to a simple question. Equality was beginning to get on my nerves.
"Idu," I began, and then caught Carter's eye. "Idu has his own very interesting ideas."
"I still do not understand why you have leaders. To put one person above another--how can you ever speak as equals?"
"That's a good question, Mekhu," said Daniel. I made a face at him that he ignored. "What you practice we would call a meritocracy of ideas. It isn't unheard of." He gave me a cool, pointed look. Subtle as a trout smacking your jaw, that's Daniel.
"Leadership in itself is not an evil," said Teal'c. "Where there is necessity for defense against an enemy there is a necessity for leaders."
"Why?" asked Mekhu.
"To marshal and direct forces in battle, and to serve as an example of courage and wisdom that will compel adherence to a unified cause."
Satisfied, I watched Mekhu try to digest that one. "We do not battle each other in Karnak," he said.
"Your enemies fled," said Teal'c. "They could return one day."
Mekhu took out a feather and weighed it in his hand, then let it fall with a smile.
"Perhaps." He stood and scrutinized me. I felt more scrutinized than I cared for, in fact, and sensed a headache coming on. "You use words that you wish to have," he hesitated, "obeyed. But even the wind does not command the leaves on the trees to move. They move because it is their will to move."
Oh yeah, headache. "Okay," I said politely, searching for a reply that wouldn't be downright offensive. "I...hear you. And when you find a leaf that decides not to move, I'll be the first to take a look at that. Just let me know. Or let Daniel know," I added as if coming up with a bright idea. "I bet he'd get a real kick out of it, too." I smiled falsely at my archaeologist, who stared back like wood.
"You do not listen," said Mekhu. "You think the wind is a leader and that you are the wind."
"Oh, he is the wind," Daniel piped up, raising his brows. "A very strong, strong wind."
Carter hid a smile, and even Teal'c turned his face aside a moment. Right. Well, that was it in a nutshell. Some days you're their glorious leader, other days you're the wind.
Coffee. Sweet, sweet coffee. I sat down with my mug and warmed my hands, and wondered why there was never a plate of doughnuts lying around handy.
"The Karnakians have no government per se except as established by philosophical consensus. They're a peaceful anarchy, General. They have no system of legal sanctions, no institutions of authority. They relate to one another as equal members of an extended kinship group, loosely affiliated with other settlements along the nearest seaboard."
Daniel clicked off the projection of the mission map and circled back around the table to his chair. "No member of the community invokes authority or speaks for the whole."
Hammond glanced at me. I tipped up one shoulder and then hid behind my mug.
"What bearing does this have on your mission, Doctor?"
"Only that, as Colonel O'Neill has pointed out, we could in theory just take the blood samples that we've requested and suffer no organized retribution." His tone made it clear what he thought of that. "However, even an anarchy practices some form of social coercion. It's unlikely we'd be welcome back if we commit an offense they perceive as hostile to their way of life. Or to any individuals."
"Hey," I said. "I did not suggest that we hurt anyone."
"No, just jab them with a needle while they're sleeping."
"It's one option," I said flatly. "And if someone gave the order and it meant saving the human race, you bet I'd do it. In a heartbeat." I felt a flash of bitterness again at being the only one who'd say what no one else wanted to face, but that was my job, and I was doing it, same as I always had. Carter had said there were good odds of their blood being useful; I banked on Carter. I offered information and a range of alternatives, some of them a little dirty. When the stakes are high, that's what you do.
Hammond took an audible breath. "Gentlemen, thank you. I'm fully cognizant of both sides of this debate." He looked around the table. "If anyone wishes to contribute a fresh insight into this subject, speak now."
Carter, next to me, folded her hands on the table. "We have no way yet of knowing for sure whether there would be useful viral information obtained from a blood sample, sir. But if there is, it could prove invaluable in developing a natural physical defense against the Gou'ald. Though it was a fatal illness for the Karnakians that drove the Gou'ald away, we might be able to retro-engineer a vaccine that would render a human subject unsuitable as a host without the original illness or mortality."
"It would be a great advantage in our fight against the Gou'ald," said Teal'c.
"Though, uh, devil's advocate here--if we aren't useful to them as hosts," said Daniel, "what reason would they have to keep us around at all? Or, assuming they wouldn't just wipe us out, what's to stop them from enslaving us the old-fashioned way?"
"Guns," I said, flatly and only half-facetiously. "Big guns."
Hammond flicked a look at me, but I could tell his mind was busy assessing the issue. "You said every one of these people turned down your request?"
"Yes," I admitted. "Though we only asked--"
"A hundred," Daniel finished.
Hammond frowned. "How did they know what your purpose was in making the request? Surely you could have found someone who'd accept a lesser explanation, one that wouldn't raise these objections."
"They had town criers, sir, for lack of a better word," said Carter. "Whatever we discussed with an individual was usually broadcast quickly around the city." She shared a dry look with the rest of us. "It was quite effective. By the time we realized what was happening, the reasons for our interest were popular knowledge."
"I have to admit I find it hard to credit that no one among these people saw it in their own best interests to help us fight the Gou'ald." He shook his head once but didn't straighten his shoulders against the burden of command. I read the signs and cursed inwardly.
"At this time I cannot condone drawing blood against the express wishes of an intelligent people, by any means. With no certainty the results would even be of use, this would risk putting an unjustifiable strain on further talks. You'll return to the planet and pursue other avenues. If you're unable to obtain what you need, we'll have to curtail this initiative for now." He looked at me. "I'm sorry, Colonel."
"Sir," said Carter.
"There were some other indications that the Karnakians might retain Gou'ald technology. It's only hints so far, and they may not even know what they have. It's been several generations. But everyone we've spoken to concurs that the Gou'ald left PR5-358 very suddenly when the plague hit. We think there may be artifacts within some of the Karnakian dwellings."
Daniel spoke up. "We've seen rings worn by a few of the women that were almost certainly of Gou'ald craftsmanship, but tradition prevented their removal."
"I was going to test them," clarified Carter. "If we can find anything not currently owned or in use�." She trailed off with a twitch of her brows, point made.
"You're authorized to offer any standard trade agreement," noted Hammond. "And I'll have stores make up a package of goods for exchange. Is there anything further?"
"I think it's their idea of a joke," said Daniel, squatting to sift through the items left on our mat. He picked up a bunch of flowers, put them down. "Or a philosophical statement. Sort of like a koan. We ask for jewels and weapons, they bring us...items from nature." He puzzled at the array, then sat on the floor and began turning over shells and rocks.
"That's peachy. So what we'll do is present a bouquet to Apophis and ask him not to rip our brains out. Think he'll go for that?"
"Jack, this just proves my point. These people are committed to a peaceful ethos. Helping us to fight the Gou'ald would be fostering a conflict that goes against all their beliefs. That's how they see it."
I framed a picture in the air: "Sitting. Ducks. That's what these people are, Daniel." I was fed up and disgusted. A joke, he said. Some joke. They wouldn't be laughing the next time the Gou'ald rolled through their gate.
He looked up at me. "That's what we thought about the Nox."
I ran a hand over my head and walked away. I had no answer to that, but I knew--I knew--this was different. I stared out the window, over the rooftops and toward the sea. Pretty place. Reminded me of the Saudi coast. They had a big sunset up on display tonight. Wide and pink and orange. The water glittered in the distance and I could hear laughter floating up from the street. Trees swished, some birdlike thing landed on the rail and hooted at me, and I closed my eyes. It was always places like this that got nailed the hardest. We could come back in five, ten years and find a graveyard and blasted rubble. Daniel knew that, he had to, but he didn't see that.
He knew but didn't see. Evil was an abstract idea to him. No matter how much shit went down, he walked through it and came out the other side with the experience written like glyphs into his brain. He was a dry book.
I turned and stared at the back of his head, and knew I lied to myself. The accusation sounded good but all it took was one look at him to realize it was a crock. I couldn't make his pieces fit together any other way though, didn't get how he could feel so passionately one minute and then sweep life aside the next to make a place on his shelf for dusty, useless ideas. Ethos. What was an ethos if you weren't around to enjoy it?
Carter and Teal'c came in, dusty from head to toe and tired around the eyes. "No luck, sir," Carter reported. She dumped off her pack. "News of our visit had already reached the next village up the coast. By now there's probably not an inhabitant of this planet who doesn't know we want to collect their 'essence' to fight the Gou'ald." Carter doesn't often get ticked off, but when she does you can tell from fifty paces.
"Sorry to hear that, Major." I grimaced, waved a hand at our rug of treasures. "We, however, have collected some lovely shells, driftwood, and rocks."
She stared at the mat, then stared at me with big eyes. I shared her pain.
"Our trade proposal," I said. "We asked for jewels, they bring us--" I waved again. "Daniel thinks it's a joke."
Teal'c surveyed the booty. "I do not see the humor."
"Tell me about it," I said, sitting on a rickety chair.
"Where's Mekhu?" asked Daniel. "Did he come back with you?"
Carter sat across from me, and poured herself a cup of water from our hospitality pitcher. "He's here. He wanted to know if we'd be going soon, and I told him yes." She looked at me as she sipped her water. "He said he has a gift for you."
"For me?" I blinked. "Well, I have all the flowers I can handle. Don't know where I'd put any more."
She twisted out a tired smile. "Well, if nothing else, I think we can safely say that the Karnakians would be one of the stubbornest people the Gou'ald ever had to face."
There was an idea. "Maybe the snakes didn't leave because they got sick," I said, waggling my brows in a knowing way. "Maybe they went insane."
"Most Gou'ald are driven mad by the sarcophagus, O'Neill. Not by their hosts."
"It was a joke, Teal'c." He cocked his head at me. "Oh, never mind."
Mekhu came in, skipping barefoot across the stone floor with a display of energy that made me want to nap. Kids today. "Hey, Mekhu. Watch the priceless artifacts."
He bounced to a stop in front of me and then stood on one foot, scratching his toes down the other calf. "Your people are leaving, Colonel."
"Yes. Very soon." None too soon.
"You have not found your visit fruitful." I eyed him, not immediately answering. His dark hair was full of straw and he had blue spots of paint on each cheek. Mix anarchy and fashion and this was exactly what you'd expect to see.
"We enjoyed meeting you, Mekhu," said Daniel, coming to join us. "And your people. We appreciate the hospitality that you and your family have shown us. We'd hoped to learn more, though; to gain more tangible knowledge that would allow us to fight our enemies."
I was reluctantly impressed by Daniel. Grateful even, for his unexpected support. He'd gotten in a tiny dig there, and I could tell he was ready for another fishing expedition. I suppose it made sense. Even an archaeologist can't do much with a bunch of posies.
"We have been interested to learn of your ways," said Mekhu. He gave me a sly grin. "And we do not want you to leave unhappy." He pulled a dangling chain of gold from his pocket, and held it temptingly across his palms. "This is the hali al-Najidri. It has been in our family for many years and is a token of great esteem and honor."
"Hey," I said, staring at the links and jewels. Plain-looking, but who knew what fancy Gou'ald action it might contain. "Nice...trinket." I exchanged looks with the others, who were already busy exchanging looks of their own.
"Mekhu, are you sure that this is yours to give away?" asked Carter. She kept her voice steady and skeptical but couldn't hide how ready she was for him to say yes.
"Oh, yes." He showed off his white teeth.
"May I...?" Carter took it from his hands and turned it over. "I don't sense any naquada, sir," she said, disappointed.
"And it's not, uh, Gou'ald in style," added Daniel in a murmur, looking quickly to Teal'c for confirmation.
"I do not believe it is," agreed Teal'c. "It appears to be a simple ornament."
"So it's not--"
Carter shook her head at me. "No, sir."
Damn. I edged out a smile for Mekhu, who was holding the chain again. I couldn't really tell him this wasn't what we were looking for. "Thanks. We'll treasure it." I reached for it, but he drew away.
"It is for Daniel that you must wear this."
"You have shared anger. The hali al-Najidri is a circle of peace. To wear its gift is both to give and accept forgiveness."
"O-kay." I looked at Daniel, who pursed his lips and gave me no clue. "Mekhu--" I was going to double-check and make sure this wasn't the Karnakian equivalent of a marriage band, but then I couldn't bring myself to ask a question like that of a kid. Oh well. What the hell if it was. We were leaving anyway. "Sounds great. Daniel?"
"What? Oh." He took the chain and stretched it out for a moment, gave me and then Carter an odd, questioning look, then shrugged his brows and came around behind me. "I, uh, forgive you and ask your forgiveness." I felt the cold metal slide around my neck and tried not to make a face. "May this band contain and express the spirit of our friendship," he added from behind me, ad-libbing for what sounded like the hell of it. Give the man an inch of ritual, and he takes a mile.
"Ditto," I said, feeling foolish and trying not to notice Carter's smile and Teal'c's...well, it wasn't quite a smile, but something was creeping around the edges of his lips. Smirk, I'd have to call it.
Hated that. A great guy, Teal'c, but too pleased for his own good sometimes. Of course, who do you think taught him everything he knew?
We were over hill, over dale, and more than halfway back to the gate when I found out that I couldn't take the damn chain off. I had a heavy pack and a gun slung over my shoulder, and was drabbed out from head to toe, but there I was screwing around with my new gold jewelry and cursing under my breath. Oh, they tell you to accessorize, but they don't tell you it's for life....
"Carter!" I called ahead. And then, to the others: "Hold up." Carter came back down the line. "Get this damn thing off of me." I tugged at the metal on my neck, annoyed, and then lifted my head and stared off into space as she squinted and fiddled.
"Hmm," she said.
"Carter," I said, trying to keep my voice interrogative instead of warning. I really hoped that she wasn't going to tell me--
"I don't see a clasp."
"Really? That's odd. Let me see." Daniel edged in and took her place. His knuckles brushed my neck as he turned the metal around and around. I took a deep breath. Whoa. That was...odd. I wanted to jerk away from his hands but I also wanted--
"Okay, okay," I said, pulling away. "That's a neck, not a corkscrew. This can keep till we get back to base."
"It's probably very easy to open," said Carter. "But we may need better light."
On that note, we kept hiking gateward, under this huge grey and white sky that looked like a meringue. And wouldn't you know, it grew darker. Thunder rolled and lightning cracked and we gated from weather to calm, coming in out of the rain to the familiar boring walls of our gate room. Always good to be home, welcomed by guns. They're comforting, in the right hands.
Hammond was front and center waiting for us as we clomped down the ramp.
I pointed at my neck. "I went to Karnak and I all I got was this lousy necklace." He looked straight at me, tolerantly unamused, so I was obliged to go on. "They weren't interested in trade, General. They did give us some nice flowers, though."
Generals don't like to be confused, and it's not in one's best career interest to tease them. Hard to kick the habit, though. Especially when my team was always so quick to save the play.
"We went up the coast to the nearest village," said Carter, "and tried to find anyone who hadn't heard the news of our visit." She shook her head. "No luck, General."
"We also asked for any Gou'ald artifacts or weaponry they could find," added Daniel. "But they, uh, brought us gifts of nature instead." He dug into his pocket and handed a rock to the general, who turned it over in his hands. "At least we have evidence of an indigenous fossil record."
"I'm sure the President will be very glad to hear that," I said.
"I'm afraid not," said Hammond to all of us, bluntly. "But you did your best." He handed the rock back to Daniel and eyed me then. "What, pray tell, is that you're wearing, Colonel?"
"It is the hali al-Najidri," said Teal'c, as if this explained everything.
Daniel adjusted his glasses. "It's an expression of peace and forgiveness between two people. One of our hosts gave it to Jack--actually, he gave it to me to give to Jack. We'd been having a, ah, debate about policy."
Hammond gave a small grunt. "Why am I not surprised."
"We haven't been able to get it off yet," said Carter.
"Tell me that's not a piece of Gou'ald technology, Major." Hammond drew alert at her words and sounded ready to be alarmed.
"No, sir. We've checked. There's no sign of naquada."
"Nor do I recognize it as a device used by the Gou'ald," said Teal'c.
"Luckily, sir, it goes with my dogtags."
Yeah, that went over well.
"Report to the infirmary, Colonel," said Hammond dryly. "Before I have to write you up for violating dress regulations."
"Debriefing in one hour."
You know you're not really home until you have blood drawn, an MRI, a high-frequency blast from the old harmonica generator, and that damn penlight shone in your eyes. It makes me all misty. Really.
"Well, Colonel, your blood-work looks normal, and your MRI is clear. You're as healthy as you were when you left." Fraiser slid her pen back in her pocket.
"How healthy is that, exactly?"
She ignored me. Go figure. "I can't find anything to indicate that the necklace is interfering with your normal functions, or in fact having any effect on you at all."
I held up a finger. "It's not a necklace. Girls wear necklaces. From now on we're calling this a chain." Daniel rolled his eyes at me from where he sat, but hey, your mind decides these things for you during an hour of pricking and poking.
Fraiser smiled. "Well, your chain appears to be no more than that. And since you've experienced no unusual reactions--"
"Nope. I feel fine."
"--then I'd say you're unlikely to be at any risk wearing it for now, until we're able to find a way to remove it."
I stood and pulled on my jacket, and Daniel hopped off his bed. "Yeah, about that." I tugged again at the metal, wishing it were at least long enough to tuck down my shirt.
"Come back after your briefing. We'll be able to take another look and start a detailed analysis then if necessary. And in the meantime, if you should feel anything unusual--dizziness, nausea, headache--"
"You'll be the first to know."
I strolled out of the infirmary with Daniel tagging along at my side. "I hope we don't have to damage the piece to remove it," he said absently, by which I mean you could tell the remark was being radioed out from somewhere in deep space.
"I hope we don't have to damage my neck to remove it," I said, annoyed at his priorities.
"Well," he said after a moment, "that too."
"Their technology level isn't very high," Carter said. "But I wouldn't rule out a visit at some later date. If nothing else, it's worth trying to establish a relationship of trust. It may take time. Not every culture is going to be responsive on first contact. It's a lot to ask, when you think about it, sir--handing over blood samples to a bunch of strangers who show up on your gate-step."
"Agreed," said Hammond, and then asked her to estimate how long it would take to establish relations. She said something, Daniel said something, Teal'c said something. I poured myself a cup of coffee and let my team do their job.
Fresh coffee, I noticed, taking a sip. I poured another mugful and wandered back to the table.
"--might be responsive in time to a dialogue of reason rather than offers of trade," Daniel was saying. "They aren't a mercantile society. We may even have offended them with our offers, though it's hard to tell. From my own observations, I think it's unlikely they'd take offense in a manner we'd easily recognize. Uh, thanks," he said, taking the coffee I offered.
I stroked the back of his neck and then dropped into my chair.
"Did you take away any similar impressions, Major?" Hammond asked.
I stretched out in my chair and answered Daniel's frown with raised brows. What? Did I have something growing on my face?
"I couldn't say, sir. It's not really my area. I would agree though that the Karnakians responded atypically to offers of trade. They had no interest in medicines, technology, or even agricultural innovations."
"It would be difficult to establish a common bond," said Teal'c, "with a people who have no wish to raise their standard of living." Standard of living, I noticed, with an inward smile. I loved it when Teal'c showed off his Earth lingo.
"I think the point here is that they define their standard of living differently than we do," said Daniel, caught up again. "Not by technological development but by philosophical enlightenment. They live in harmony with nature and with each other--they have no need for a justice system, no need for a police force or a military presence." He lifted his hands as if trying to describe a bowlful of air. "How can you measure the value of that in terms of money or material goods?"
"They own things," I said, vaguely irritated, conflicting thoughts scratching around the door of my mind. Hated that. Distracting. Like dogs wanting to be let in, but less fun. "If they're such a perfect society, why do they have possessions? Why wouldn't they hand over their rings to Carter?"
"I don't know," Daniel said, turning my way. "They're not a communist society now, but they're still developing. It's only been, what," he looked at Carter, "seven generations since the Gou'ald left? Give them time and they might be that much further toward realizing a true Utopia."
"You think communism's a utopia?" I asked. Man, but he was unbelievable sometimes.
"What I think is--"
"Doctor Jackson, thank you. I'm sure that this would be a fascinating discussion for all of us, but I have another meeting."
We focused our attention Hammond's way. It was a surprise to all of us. "You do?" I said.
He stood. "Believe it or not, there are other SG teams on this base, and other duties that compel my time."
I affected hurt. "I thought we were special."
"You're very special, Colonel." Ouch. "And I look forward to reading all of your reports."
Infirmary. Again. Poked and prodded. Again. I closed my eyes and thought about how much I wanted to nap. Carter stood behind me, turning the damn chain on my neck again. Around and around and around....
"There has to be a clasp," she said with aggravation in her voice. "It was unjoined when Mekhu brought it to us."
"The exterior is definitely gold," Fraiser said as she peered into her microscope, before coming back over. "But it's plated onto a secondary layer, which is what must have stopped the cable cutter. I'll remove a larger area of the plating and try to take a clean sample for the microprobe." She began scraping at the thing while she and Carter talked over my head. Literally.
"What do you think it means that the designers of this plated the gold on a base mineral?" Carter asked.
"It could mean nothing--it could be the alien equivalent of costume jewelry." Scrape, scrape.
"But the way the links are joined suggests they might be threaded onto a common core."
"Something something something," Fraiser said. I tuned them out until I felt the scraping stop. The women were still deep in discussion. Give two scientists a single molecule to talk about and the fun will never end.
Impatience drove to my feet. "This is all very interesting. But I have a report to write. Let me know when you figure out a way to hack this thing off."
I went to my office. Small place. Glossy wooden desk with doodads on it. No windows. Half a mile below the surface, give or take a secret level. I sat down, booted up the thing on my desk and yawned.
Jean came in. "Sir, it's good to have you back." She handed me four batches of folders, one at a time, letting me stack them at my whim. "These require your signature. These you need to read as soon as possible. These are the reports that you should read but never will. And these are the landfill." I took the last handful of folders from her, then handed them right back. They had now officially passed across my desk.
"Thank you, Corporal." I started whipping through my first stack of folders, scrawling my name more or less near the dotted lines. "What's the intel?"
"Sergeant Agosta won the base middleweight title, the commissary is no longer serving pecan pie, and Captain Martinez had a boy, sir."
"Really? That's great. Hey, I should probably--"
"You sent a card, sir."
I raised my brows. "Was I tasteful?"
"They'll never believe it's from me." I handed back the first stack of folders, with full faith in Jean that I hadn't just authorized an ops audit or signed away my weekends to motivational command seminars. She left, and I thought about our recent mission and dawdled. I picked up a report on base security, opened the cover, closed it.
Time to get cracking. Open the program, load new report, and...stare at the empty form. I felt an odd restlessness.
Maybe I needed pie.
Forty minutes, a yo-yo, and a month of Dilbert later, I shook myself alert with a recognition of nothing accomplished. I had that disjointed feeling that comes with returning from a mission and trying to resynch with local time. When I checked my watch, it read 1710, but the numbers had no meaning. It was all about food, I decided. A sandwich, another cup or two of coffee, and I'd be back on track.
That restless feeling I'd decided was my stomach directed me to the commissary, but my feet took me to Daniel's office. He was sitting at a counter, laptop idling nearby, but he had a book open. Six or seven, in fact, if you counted the ones within squinting distance. Once he started typing, he'd be hard to stop--his mission reports were twice as long as everyone else's--but he always put it off. I liked that. Gave me something to nag him about.
He looked up for a second when I came in, then sank back into his book when he saw it was just me. I wandered around his office, picked up stuff that looked cool, and wondered how the hell he ever found anything. There was a stack of thick, heavy books on one counter. I pulled off the top one, flipped through the pages, then sniffed it.
"Was there something you wanted?" Daniel said, trying to act like he was noticing me for the first time when in fact I was bugging the shit out of him.
"No." I set the book down, then gave his question some more thought. "Thought I'd go get something to eat. You want to come with?"
"No. I'm not hungry."
That was his idea of a conversation. If I'd left then, he'd have given it no further thought. Some linguist. I sat down on a stool, picked up a pencil, tapped it against the nearest surface. I thought about the sound it made, about where pencils came from, about whether the Tok'ra had pencils, about possibly devising a system of field distress signals with Teal'c that would include broken or embedded twigs, about my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Godfrey, who used to say--
"Jack, please stop doing that."
I laid the pencil down, gave him my most upbeat look. "Sorry," I said. He dipped his head, and his whole face scrunched up. He wanted to read, this was clear, and he tried hard to ignore me. I stared at him because I could do that, I was a colonel. I stared at his forehead and glasses and at his mouth, which kept twitching. I remembered when his hair had been longer, and wondered for the first time why he'd never let it grow back. It wasn't as if he could pass himself off as a soldier. He was a brainiac, with buzz on the sides. But it worked for him, that whole look.
He met my gaze, sort of tipping his head up like a worried kid who wants to check if you're still on his case. "You're still here," he said.
I came up with something fast. "Thought I might write my report here," I said. "My office is--" What was the word? Empty? Boring? Quiet? "Cold."
"Cold?" He blinked.
"Don't you have a thermostat?"
I had no idea. "Sure...maybe." I paused. "I don't know."
"Okay." He went back to his book, so it appeared to be settled. I made a pot of coffee and sat down at a computer and with my notebook in front of me banged out my observations, assessments, and recommendations; logged the radio transmissions we'd made and the names of our local contacts, with descriptions; and provided all the other stuff that intelligence wanted to know, like the size of their militia and their tech-dev level and whether they used psychoactive recreational drugs.
It passed the time, and eventually I saved and filed what I'd written. They'd be sending it back to me sooner or later with an RMI attached, because I hadn't scanned in the map, which was buried in my pack waiting to be excavated. Of course, this was only the preliminary report. Tomorrow we'd have the post-mortem team meeting to fill and file the DTTD in all its boring glory.
I swung around on my stool and stretched. "How's your report coming, Daniel?"
He looked up from the notebook he was scribbling into. "What?"
"Your report. How's it coming?"
"You know I haven't written it yet."
I moseyed over. "Whatcha doing?"
"You know what I'm doing." I knew. Trying to capture the local lingo before it disappeared from his brain; like trying to capture water in a sieve, poor guy.
"Uh, no." He didn't look my way this time, and his attention faded from me as he scribbled more. I sat off behind him, watching his scholarly back. The curve of his neck. The movement of his hand. The way his arms framed the notebook and how his broad shoulders flexed every now and then. Ten minutes or so later, he straightened and gazed directly at the far wall; then, before I could begin to wonder what he might be staring at, craned a look over his shoulder.
"Why are you here?" He put his pen down and turned on his stool to face me. "Is there something you want to talk about?"
"Talk? No." God, no.
"You've been in my office for," he looked at his watch, "almost six hours."
I raised my brows and acknowledged this with a nod. "That's a record, isn't it."
"Yes." He sounded unthrilled.
"You," I said, pointing, "should eat something."
"I'm not...hungry," he said, and I marveled at how he did that, how by the time he worked out a three-word sentence you felt he'd thought about saying ten other things.
"Okay," I said, "I'm going to hit the sack."
"That's a good idea."
I went. Once I got down the hall I felt like I'd left something undone or unsaid, but I continued walking out of habit until I reached the nearest bunk room. I took off my boots and stretched out on the bed and thought about sleeping. I did sleep for a while, then I woke suddenly and sat up in bed, heart skittering. I looked around the room. I didn't recall a nightmare or sense that I'd heard a sound, but damn, I was awake. That sucked. I checked my watch: middle of the night.
It occurred to me that I'd asked Daniel if he'd eaten, but I'd never eaten anything myself. Pie, I thought. Pie. The commissary would be open. I was hungry, so I headed there and ate a trayful of stuff that I didn't really notice well enough to name. They had no pie. I filled out a complaint card.
Daniel's office was still lit when I returned, and he was asleep over his notebook. I put a sweater across his shoulders, a big woolly thing he never wears, then found a chair, rolled it near him, and settled into it.
I was more tired than I'd realized, and as it hit me like a hammer and my eyes closed, I thought: When he wakes up, maybe he'll tell me what the hell I'm supposed to do.
I woke and my neck hurt, and everything was exactly as I'd left it. Daniel's office was bigger than mine, but it still had no windows, and it was still the kind of place in which you could fall asleep and wake up and have no clue what hour or day or month it was. In short, we were buried beneath the surface of the earth.
Chairs aren't beds. I wiped a hand over my face and groaned, then bent forward and massaged the back of my neck. Daniel was still zonked, I noticed. I kicked his stool, and he seized upright and said urgently, "La wain bitwwaddi had darb?"
He turned around; his glasses were halfway down his nose. "Jack." He closed his eyes. "I'm asleep." He opened his eyes. "Or not."
"Time for breakfast."
Daniel pushed his hand up under his glasses so they rested on his fingers, and rubbed his eyes. "No," he said, getting frowny. "No. I was in the middle of a thought." And he turned and started writing in his notebook.
Okay. That was too much. I stood and reached my hand out, ready to haul him up out of that chair and drag him to the commissary. Then my hand dropped and I just...left by myself. I tried to shrug it off, but it bugged me. As I went through the chow line, I grabbed two of everything and carried it back to him. I was whistling when I returned, happy for no reason. Or no reason I wanted to evaluate closely.
He saw me, saw the tray, and stopped writing. "Breakfast is served," I said, putting it down in front of him.
"Jack, I don't want you to take this the wrong way." He spoke carefully and stared at me. "But I'm beginning to find this disturbing."
"What's that?" I grabbed an apple and a bowl of cereal and found a clear space.
"You've hardly left my side since we returned from PR5-358."
"So. That's weird."
"No, it's not," I said with certainty.
"I'm hanging out. It's what guys do."
"Oh." He gave that some thought and rubbed the side of his neck with another puzzled frown, so very Daniel he could patent it. Enough with the frowning, though, for crying out loud. I stood up and turned him around on his stool and began to massage his neck.
"What are you doing?" he asked, like he truly didn't know.
"Your neck's bothering you." I rubbed, and for a moment had the idea that this should have been strange. Instead it was...okay. Good. Good for him, and good for me. My head buzzed, and the rest of me felt peaceful, relaxed. Like a weight was sliding away.
"Jack, that's--that's, ah, good--wow. But I'm not sure this is so smart. What if someone came in. They could get the, um, wrong impression."
I stroked his neck with my thumbs. He shut up and tipped his head back into my hands. Heat spread through my body, familiar but different. I moved my hands to his shoulders and worked my grip as deeply as I could into his tight muscles. Yeah, this was definitely good. And it had never occurred to me that I could reach out to him like this. I wondered why not. So a man has dirty fantasies now and then. Perfectly normal. Doesn't mean every casual touch between two friends is off-limits.
"Oh," Daniel said. "Oh...ouch...ohhh." I moved and the back of his head brushed my solar plexus. He leaned forward without warning. "Okay. That's...that's good. I'm good now. Thank you."
Disappointed, I drew away. "I could keep going. Really. It's no problem." I knew how hopeful I sounded; couldn't help it.
"Um, no. Thanks." He didn't turn around. "I should...breakfast." He started to eat, and I picked at my own food, wishing he'd ask me to do more.
"Jack, are you following me?"
I paused mid-saunter, hands in pockets. Daniel had come to a standstill himself, there at the turn of the corridor.
"I happen to be going that way. To the elevator." I hesitated. "Up."
"You're stalking me."
"No I'm not," I said, offended. Loftily I brushed by him and headed to the elevator. Now he had to follow me. Ha.
We entered the elevator together. He was wearing his civilian clothes, I was wearing mine. We rode up slowly to the surface in silence. I could see him from the corner of my eye, staring at me like I was an alien visitor. After a minute, I turned my head and stared back.
"I'm going home now, by the way," he said. "Alone."
"Duh," I said, because what else could you say to that. Our forty-eight hours of post-mission detention were up, our reports were filled, and we'd been cleared to leave the mountain. I was going home too. I had things to do. Things I could do, anyway.
I wasn't stalking him. That was just silly.
In the parking garage, we went our separate ways and it was only coincidence that I ended up behind him in the north portal. I kept on his tail through the blast doors and up to the security booth and then watched his Kia zoom off after he was checked through. Once I'd been passed, I drove sedately out of the mountain and gates and hit the road. His car wasn't in sight, which was fine, because he was going home and I was going home.
Sunglasses on, radio on, windows down, one arm resting in the late sun. I sucked in the breeze and thought about what I wanted for dinner, and the evening ahead was looking dandy, until I began to feel hot around the collar. Literally. Damn chain. I plucked at it and shifted in my seat and grimaced, and repeated those actions for another three miles and then it finally sank in that the chain was getting hot and I stepped on the brakes and veered off the road in a panic.
Sitting on the side of the road, hand wedged between metal and neck, information flooded in. It was more than a touch of chain-burn. My head hurt, my gut boiled, my body crawled with rising anxiety. I dug out my cell and tried to decide who to call: Daniel or the mountain. I weighed these options in a haze, far longer than you'd think I'd have to, and then a splitting pain made me groan, and I hit speed-dial.
He had his phone off, the bastard.
I chucked the cell away, put the car into gear and floored it. I should have turned around, it was crazy not to, Hammond would have my scalp, but my car pointed the other way and my brain was fried. And the weird thing was, the faster and further I drove, the better I felt. By the time I entered Colorado Springs the heat clenching my neck had faded to warmth, like you might feel after a good shower. I headed for Daniel's apartment building and hoped he'd be there and not futzing around the supermarket.
When I helloed him through the speaker, there was a long silence before he buzzed me in; and when I got to his door he opened it and stood there with no welcome. Any other time, I might have felt like a jerk, but he looked really good with a ratty grey tee-shirt on and his glasses off, reminding me out of the blue of this guy I played football with in high school. Tim. Looking at Daniel, I had a brief, miserable moment when I wanted to step forward and do something rash. Energy welled up in me and had to spill out.
"This damn thing is Gou'ald," I said, yanking at the chain.
His face changed and he let me in--pulled me in, and closed the door. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"It got hot," I said. "And zapped me." I waved a hand at my head.
"Zapped you how?"
"Headache. Upset stomach. Ick. General ick." Tension buoyed my voice. The world felt funny. Good, bad, uncertain.
He crossed his arms and his face pulled into worry. "Are you sure it was the necklace--the, uh, chain? Maybe you're getting sick. We could have brought something back."
"It's this. I know it. If I hadn't been sure, I would have turned around."
"Why didn't you?"
I shook my head and looked around his hall for something to focus on. Masks. Rug. "Seemed easier to go forward."
"Which is the same reason why you haven't left my side for the last two days," he said, putting it together. "It must be the chain. It's compelling you."
"To what?" I glared, hating to have this put into words, hating to face up to what I'd deliberately not been thinking about.
He shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. Physical proximity, certainly."
"Shit." I said, and pressed my forehead
against the nearest wall. "Not again. Why do freaky alien things always
want to visit my brain?"
"I'm not sure I'd characterize this yet as visiting."
"Who cares?" I turned. "I want this off, I want it gone." Except I didn't want it gone, not strongly enough to make my words sound convincing. Convincing to Daniel, sure, but not to me. For him I'd wear this a long time, without complaint. Okay, now that came out of left field. I tried to wrap my mind around the two inconsistent thoughts. Cognitive dissonance, they called this. Fancy name for a headache.
"Yesterday," Daniel said.
"What about it."
"You, uh, rubbed my shoulders." He sort of rolled his shoulders as he spoke, remembering or nervous, or both.
"What about it?"
"Don't you think--"
"O...kay. But you have to admit it's strange that--"
"Daniel." Let it go, I thought, drilling him with a look.
And he did.
My neck burned.
"What sort of compulsion?" Fraiser asked, when we'd returned to the mountain.
Daniel and I looked at each other. "Proximity," we said together.
Fraiser raised her brows. "Nothing else?"
"No," I said firmly.
"Well--" began Daniel. I scowled his way. "--no," he finished. He didn't look happy.
"If there's something you're not telling me, gentlemen," said Fraiser, and left the threat hanging. Carter and Teal'c stood nearby. All eyes and ears were on me.
"No," I said again.
Fraiser assessed me, then nodded once. "Engineering has finished adapting the laser-cutter and I think we should be able to remove it now."
I twitched. "I'd like to point out again: Lasers. Neck."
She smiled, and said in that practiced reassuring doctor tone: "We'll be very careful, Colonel."
"Say again?" commanded Hammond.
"It broke the laser, sir." Carter, taking it personally, ducked her head like an a-plus schoolgirl who'd nuked chem lab.
"How does a piece of jewelry break a laser?"
Fraiser, hands folded on the table, gave me a sour face and the hairy eyeball. I almost got the feeling she held me responsible. "That's a good question, sir."
"Okay," I said, holding up my hands. "Now we know how not to get this thing off my neck. Let's focus on how we do get it off."
"Well, I hate to say it," said Daniel, "but we may have to return to PR5-358 and talk to Mekhu."
"What makes you think Mekhu knows how to remove it?" asked Carter.
"What makes you think he doesn't?" Daniel asked back in a reasonable tone.
Kids. Jeez. Hammond and I traded a glance.
"I'm ready to authorize another mission if it becomes necessary." Hammond rested his arms on the table. "But I'd like to rule out all other options first. I find it hard to believe that with all our expertise and a billion dollars' worth of equipment we can't manage to take that thing apart."
"Sir, I would advise that we make experimentation our secondary recourse." Fraiser spoke with care. That special tone of hers always chilled my blood. "We don't know yet how it could affect Colonel O'Neill if damaged. Already it's induced headache, nausea, tremors. So far, the burning sensation produced appears to be a kind of psychosomatic pain, but we simply don't know how these effects might escalate if the necklace is triggered."
"Chain, not necklace," I said, but in a subdued voice. I absently rubbed my neck, thinking about how it would feel if my head fell off.
Carter took up the thread. "When we sampled the secondary material under the gold plating and ran it through the electron microprobe, we found it to be a hard, dense mineral--denser than iridium. X-ray analysis confirmed that it had an unrecognizable diffraction pattern."
"I knew it," I said.
"That would mean we'd be looking at a material we've never seen before on Earth, sir."
"Given what we now know, it seems certain there's an inner structure around which the device is built. An unknown technology." She paused briefly to let that sink in. "We may not be able to determine its full function."
"However," said Fraiser, "I think we should consider that it may be designed to thwart removal. Its operative qualities suggest that it's meant as a," she hesitated, "disciplinary device."
Could this get any worse, I wondered, putting my head down on the table as embarrassment washed through me.
"You mean like a pet collar," Daniel said.
Oh yeah. Worse. I sat up again and narrowed my gaze at him. He shrugged once and pulled an apologetic face.
"Or an electronic monitoring device of the type used for criminal offenders," said Carter.
"But it didn't burn him when we left the planet," Daniel said, frowning.
"Because it's imprinted to you." Carter leaned forward, thoughts energizing. "Mekhu set this whole thing up. He said this was to be worn by the colonel, for you. When you put it on him, it must have established a signature of some kind."
"But if it's only responsive to individual control, that would mean it's a--" Daniel stopped, his mouth hanging open a half inch.
"A slave collar," said Teal'c.
Was it just me, or did he sound amused? I looked at his stern, disapproving face. Okay. Just me. Pretty sure about that. I gazed suspiciously into his eyes again, and he blinked back without twitching a muscle.
Eighty percent certain.
"Major, we need to get that device off of him now--safely. If it means returning to the planet, then you have a go." Hammond at least was taking this seriously, but in my moment of relief, Daniel said,
"Maybe we should test it." His detached interest raised my hackles.
"We should not."
"I'm not talking about anything serious. I mean, I could say, 'Jack, get me coffee,' and see--"
I stood, and he stopped, and everyone looked at me. I felt the urge to move and the need to sit back down. The longer I stood there, the more my neck burned and my head ached.
"Colonel, what's happening?" asked Fraiser.
"It's a pain in the neck, is what's happening," I said through gritted teeth, battling with my pride against a sudden, crazy urge to do Daniel's bidding.
"Uh, I don't really want coffee," Daniel said.
I sat back down with a thump, and then leaned my head against my fingertips, digging them into my temples.
"Sorry, Jack." Daniel sounded less enthused about his experiment now, and I was glad. All I needed was for everyone to figure out how much it fucking jarred me to the bone not to be able to serve him. Like I wanted to.
Erase that thought, I told myself.
I really tried.
"Mekhu!" I bellowed when we got inside the courtyard. "Get your feathered tail out here!" I strode around the dry fountain and across the stones. They had no doors here, and I wove in and out of the arches, passing through the empty rooms. My team followed, careful not to cross my path. I kept having this impulse to turn and request orders from Daniel, but told myself I was only doing what he'd want me to do. It worked well enough to keep the chain's interference to a low burn.
"Colonel O'Neill." I stopped short. It was Idu, with a welcoming smile that I wanted to wipe off his face.
"Where's Mekhu? I have a gift of his to return."
Idu's happy face stayed happy. "He has gone on walkabout."
"He is traveling." Idu waved a bony hand, jangling his bracelets. "To see the world. Many young ones journey when they come of age. He would have left sooner, but then you came to visit. He enjoyed your time together."
"Yes, about that," said Daniel from my side, in a dry voice. "He gave us a necklace--a chain--that we've discovered to have unusual properties."
"It's a slave collar," I said, yanking it up with one finger. "And I want it off now. Your kid seemed to this was a great idea for a joke. I don't."
"A slave--oh," said Idu, touching the chain. "This does look familiar. Yes. We found it in the cellar a few years ago, buried in a box with a scroll that warned of its dangers. It was a tool of the occupiers, with which they exerted control. A very bad thing. We returned it to the ground." I exchanged a brief, cynical look with Carter. Things like this never stay buried.
"Can you remove it?" asked Teal'c, who'd moved next to Idu and taken up serious looming.
Idu blinked. "Does it not have a clasp?"
I cursed, we dug up the cellar, we found nothing, we tore the house apart, we found nothing, I cursed. Idu wasn't able to help us take the damn thing off, and couldn't tell us in what direction Mekhu had gone, or when he'd be back.
"Can you narrow it down?" I asked, snideness a cover for the panic I tried to stifle; panic which was a cover for...relief? No way. No.
Idu shook his head at my question. I pressed: "A month? A year?" He only shrugged and gave me a sad look. He regretted what had happened, he said, but I noticed he didn't apologize for his son.
"Now what?" I asked, when our team had gathered in a huddle. "Suggestions. Options. Anything. Anyone." They were quiet, not even speaking with their eyes. "Someone throw me an inch of rope here."
"Searching a planet's surface on foot to find one boy would be a difficult and lengthy task," Teal'c finally said.
"Ya think?" I glared. Help, I'd asked for, not Jaffa pessimism. And even if it was realism, to hell with it. Teal'c gloomily dropped his gaze at my reply, and I felt ashamed of myself for a moment. But hey, I was the slave here now. Crankiness might be one of the few freedoms I had left.
"We can't even be sure that he'd know how to remove the device," said Carter. "Or whether he still has the scroll."
"Or whether it contains anything of value," added Daniel.
I didn't look at him. "So we go home," I said, blunt and bitter.
But the bitterness tasted almost sweet, and that made it even worse.
I slumped in a chair facing Hammond's desk.
"When that kid crosses my sights again, I swear they'll have to send in a squadron of Marines to hold me back."
"It certainly sounds as if he could benefit from a firmer hand," Hammond replied sourly. I tried not to read too much into that. He began to speak, then seemed to change his mind. After some more inner deliberation, he said, "We'll continue to investigate alternatives for the safe removal of the device, Colonel." He took a breath. I could feel the crash coming and braced. "But until this is resolved, I'm going to have to restrict your duties. There will be no off-world missions for SG-1. You will remain on base along with Doctor Jackson. I'm sure you'll both find plenty of work to keep you busy."
"General, please." Daniel would find ways to stay busy. He'd be happy as a clam. The only kind of work I could do on base would drive me out of my mind in less than a week. I couldn't come right out and say that to Hammond, but we both knew it.
"I wish there was another option, Jack."
I thought about requesting administrative leave, but couldn't think of any argument in its favor--they wouldn't let me leave the mountain and I'd be that much more bored. I was going to point out that this arrangement wasn't fair to Daniel, but I couldn't see how that would benefit me, so I let the thought slide.
"I'll be speaking with Doctor Jackson in a few minutes." He paused again to study me. I felt irked. I didn't need to be handled with kid gloves. "Is there anything you'd like me to convey to him?"
"Anything you'd prefer not to say to him yourself?" he elaborated. My confusion must have been obvious. "I'll be making it very clear that he is not to issue anything that could be construed as a command, nor is he to experiment in any way with the device without my approval and only then when Major Carter or Doctor Fraiser is present."
Oh, for crying out... "General, that won't be necessary."
"I believe it is. What occurred in the briefing room the other day demonstrated how easily influence could be exerted through the device. I'm not saying he would do it intentionally--"
"He won't do it," I said. "I trust him." And I told him with a hard, steady look that my trust better be good enough. After a few ticks of our watches, he nodded.
I left Hammond's office to find Daniel hanging around the briefing room, arms folded tight across his chest, glasses pushed back to rest on the top of his head. He looked up when he sensed me. I'd had a crack ready to roll off my tongue, an ironic at your service, master. But then his long body straightened from where he leaned, and my mouth went dry, and I wasn't sure I could say those words ironically. These last few days, if I focused too closely on Daniel, it was like I was wearing full dress blues and reporting to the President.
So say the President is this handsome young guy who's saved my life on missions, as I've saved his; he's worn my blood on his hands, as I've worn his; I've witnessed his grief and pain and anger, as he's witnessed mine; and now he holds full authority over me, could make me sink to my knees on a whim. And I'd do it, and more: hungrily, without question. I'd die for him, kill for him. He's my President, not a media joke or the passing tenant of a tarnished office, but the most honorable man I know, the stake to which I've bound my life.
Okay, flight of fancy. But I'm an airman. Anyway, that was Daniel to me. But he was still a bookish, frowning geek who could be irritating as hell. The contradiction teased a sore spot, and was only getting worse as time passed. I simmered with frustration I didn't know how to relieve.
He put his hands in his pockets, oblivious to his new power. "You, uh, want to get some lunch, Jack?"
"Yeah, sure," I said, and burned. But with pleasure.
We picked at our...stuff. Some kind of chicken casserole, I think. "If this is supposed to teach me the error of my ways, I'm not getting it." Disgusted, I dug my fork into the casserole and left it there. It remained standing straight up.
"I agree," said Daniel.
I prickled. "What I meant was--"
"I know, Jack. And I agree. This is wrong. And, frankly, I'm not that interested in having you leashed to me like an obedient puppy until god knows when."
"Not that interested?"
Vaguely disappointed, I pushed my tray away and leaned back in my chair. "I thought you might get a kick out of it."
Daniel stared. "Why would you think that?"
I shifted uncomfortably, unable to say what would make me think that. Little things, big things. The way he bucked every order he disagreed with. His arrogance, his moral certainty. Things I could list if we were fighting, but couldn't bring up when we weren't. Not without sounding like an asshole.
"Why would you think that, Jack?" he repeated more intensely. Light glinted off his glasses as he tilted his head.
I'd provoked him. It made me want to smile for the first time in days. Mean of me? Okay, sure, I admit it. "Your chance to turn the tables, that's all."
"That would imply I'm usually your slave," he said, clearly missing my point. Whoosh, right over that cropped head. Damn literalist.
"You're under my command."
"Oh, right," he said, but his tone said: Oh, that.
"Don't you want to get a little of your own back?" I prodded.
"My own what?"
I began to speak, discovered I had no answer, shook my head. Hard to tell when he was being clever and when he was being dense. Better safe than suckered.
My days quickly picked up a boring pattern. Get up, work out, eat, go have my neck examined, work a while on the computer, eat, have weird machines aimed at my throat, totally fail to have chain removed, work again, eat, play card games and board games, sleep.
For most of these activities, Daniel was my shadow. Or I was his. I set up a desk in his office and began backfilling six months of red tape. Now that was a joy, let me tell you.
For a while we tried to go our separate ways--trouble was, he could, I couldn't. I couldn't get in three miles on the treadmill without shuddering to a stop and seeking him out, couldn't hit the firing range for more than twenty minutes at a time without my hands eventually shaking hard enough to send a spray of bullets across the wall. When I wasn't with Daniel, I was angry and snappish; when I was, moody restlessness took hold and I acted, god help me, like a schoolgirl with a crush. Fraiser kept saying I should work on building up my resistance, that giving in might be feeding the chain's power, making me more dependent. I let her lecture me, but I didn't tell her how it felt, wanting to be near Daniel. How it felt being near him all the time and waiting for him to give me a task, an order. Purpose.
Waiting in vain. Because I'd been right to trust Daniel. Day one, he said to me, "I've been giving this some thought, and I need to be careful not to say anything offhand that would come across as an order," and then he wrote a note to himself on the blackboard: do not give Jack orders. He'd come up with that on his own. I checked. And that was that. He never asked for a single thing, never told me to do anything, not even, "Shut the door behind you, Jack." He was polite and oblivious and self-sufficient, and I was ready to strangle him, whenever I wasn't this close to begging him for a scrap of attention. Pathetic.
After a week of hell, further details of which are best forgotten, things took a turn. At first I was only amusing myself. It started with the CD player. I'd had Carter and Teal'c stop by the house (not just Carter; that would have been weird) and bring me back clothes, CDs, and the O'Neill family boom box that we'd used for yard parties. Soon as I had the last item in hand I installed it on my desk and cranked that baby. Took Daniel almost fifteen minutes to snap. A tolerant man, until I broke him. The louder I nudged up the volume, the lower he hunched over his computer and pretended that rotating random tracks from Toscanini and Aretha Franklin weren't making him insane.
I wasn't trying to annoy him; but it was a bonus. I let the music blow over me and played solitaire on my computer, too wired to work. I saw him approach from the corner of my eye, but when he tapped my shoulder, I still jerked in my seat, surprised by the pleasure. I looked up, brows raised expectantly.
"Jack. That's kind of loud," he said, raising his voice to speak above the music.
"Yes, it is," I called back, though he was less than two feet away.
"Can you turn that down, do you think?"
"Sorry?" I said, cupping my ear and ignoring the hot bite of my chain.
He began to make hand gestures. "Down, can you turn it down?"
He nearly lost his temper. "Turn it down, Jack!"
I turned it down to a whisper, and felt a jolt of bliss go through me. "Sorry." I smiled on the inside, while giving him a serious look. "Music's in my blood, Daniel. But if it gets too loud again, just tell me to lower it. I will." I sounded innocent, I sounded sincere. He looked suspicious but walked away.
I'd known as soon as I scored the hit what was in it for me: here was what I'd been missing, what would scratch the maddening itch I'd lived with for the past week. I tested the effect and confirmed that each time I drove him to snap an impatient order--and obeyed it--I earned myself a sweet little jolt right to the brain and balls.
I'm not a weak man. I've been tortured and tempted; fought morphine addiction not once but twice; had to resist the lure of my own gun. I've bent my will to finish missions even when I was concussed and fractured. Put a Gou'ald in me and I swear I'd fight the rotten snake to the death, preferably not mine. But since that collar went on I'd been frustrated on a whole different level and I was ready for any fix. A goose to the old libido now and then--that was harmless, wasn't it? I didn't answer my own question. I tossed good sense aside and went for the buzz and pellet like a trained rat. This was the flip side to pain; positive reinforcement, Fraiser would have called it if she'd known. I didn't intend to tell her.
I managed to ration two days of fun out of the music trick until Daniel figured out the concept of a standing order: that he could ask me not to turn it up again, and I'd have to obey. He wasn't happy about it, though; he crossed his arms and set the rule resentfully, only after five minutes of trying to reason with me failed. I didn't learn ignoratio elenchi for nothing.
"If I didn't know how much you hated all this, I'd suspect you were deliberately provoking me to issue an order, Jack."
"Oh, I hate this," I said cheerfully. And I did, sort of. But let a man get bored and horny and he'll do strange things to himself.
He gave me a skeptical, narrow-eyed look. "Don't turn the volume up again past three."
"Sure," I said, and got my happy jolt. Then I sat and pondered new strategies.
An hour or so later I blasted James Brown and let it draw Daniel to me. He was excited. He turned off the music himself and leaned over me, face glowing, eyes wide. "Jack, how's your neck--your head?"
"Fine. All fine." They hurt, actually, but it'd soon be worth it.
"You disobeyed me," he said, unnaturally pleased. "This is great! The chain isn't exerting any punitive effect?"
"Nope. But," I said, raising a finger, "I didn't disobey you."
"You did. Maybe you're becoming desensitized. We have to tell Janet--"
"You said not to turn the music up again past three. Oh, wait." I paused a beat. "Volume, you said. I thought--" I checked my watch. Fourteen forty-five, two forty-five. Yep. I held out my wrist to Daniel, like a slow kid showing off his birthday present. And if anyone else had seen me then, they'd have thought me mentally challenged, no question.
Let me tell you, acting that dumb takes years of practice.
Daniel's mouth hung open a moment in disbelief, then he straightened. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Jack, don't turn the volume past three on the dial again, as long as that CD player is in this office. Or near the office. And the same goes for any CD player in or near this office." He turned to move away, turned back. "And anything like a CD player that makes a lot of noise."
"No problem," I said.
Sir, yes, sir.
It was harder to get his attention after that. Daniel has a gift of concentration when he's busy with his books. I learned to whistle off-key, installed a dart board near his blackboard, left full coffee cups balanced half on his notebook and orange peels on the seat of his stool.
He started wearing headphones, ignored the dart board, moved the coffee cups, swept off the orange peels.
I began flying paper airplanes at his head. I'm in the Air Force. I'm good. He was stubborn, sensing by this time that I was trying to get something out of him.
"Stop that," he said, after the fifth airplane smacked him in the ear. One hit of joy, and my fun was over.
He never said stop bugging me, though, for which I was grateful.
Funny, too, when you think about it.
I like to keep scientists on their toes. Test them every now and then. See if they give me the same story twice. And then again, sometimes I just like to try people's patience. It's a military thing. You do it in the barracks when you can't do anything else, you do it while you're waiting for your turn at the simulator, and you do it when you're in charge, because that's what twenty-odd years of Air Force fuckheadedness does to your sense of humor.
"Tell me why I'm here again?"
Carter gave me a look that said she was tolerating me for my own sake, but right away she looked guilty, and then determinedly upbeat. It was like watching that woman with the different faces, Sybil something.
"I've got a good feeling about this, sir. This is a nanotech destabilizing catalyst--"
"Stop right there."
"Yes, sir." She smiled. "All you have to do is lie as still as possible. What we've got here should do the trick." She looked up, somewhere past my field of vision. "Hi, Janet. I was just getting ready." She tightened stuff around my head that was supposed to keep me from moving, then Fraiser appeared, made the usual small talk, and surrounded me with high-tech equipment. Some of it had lights.
"This will dissolve the material," Carter said, "almost like an acid, but the reaction is specific to the molecular structure of certain metals." It sounded like she was talking to herself more than me, but I gave a grunt to let her know I'd heard.
"Burn my neck off and it's the brig for you, Major."
"Hold still, Colonel."
I sighed as deeply as I could without moving anything, closed my eyes, and let her do her stuff. Loved Carter. Brain like a supercomputer, officer through and through, a hell of a good solider. And a decent person, under the doctorates and brass. I don't make that compliment lightly.
An hour later and the good major was nearly cursing.
"I don't get it," she said fiercely. "This should have worked." She gave me an upset look as if I might question her claim, while Fraiser released me from the wacky dental-chair-and-bondage rig they'd cobbled up. "I'm sorry, sir. I really thought we had it this time."
Guilt again. She was still kicking herself for letting me put the necklace on. We'd talked about this already. I'd told her firmly and seriously not to do that, but it was like telling water to flow uphill.
"You did your best, Major," I said, stretching and cracking my neck from side to side.
She didn't look pleased. "Well, that's not good enough," she snapped, before adding a quick sir as an afterthought.
No, it wasn't, but I didn't want to tell her that. I raised my brows at the two of them. "It's not hurting me, right?"
Fraiser shook her head. "Not that I can see so far. I can't find any narcotic effect, like we saw with the Atanik armband. I also can't find any sign that it's affecting Doctor Jackson. As long the device isn't used to enforce commands, the most significant influence it exerts may well be the restriction on movement outside a proximate range."
"Right," I said, pulling on my jacket. "Lucky for me, the good doctor takes regular showers and keeps a minty fresh scent at all times."
I left them on that note. What else was there to do? I had an hour's worth of headache, and that whole proximate range deal was sounding damn good.
"Captain Burgess has reported in," said Hammond. The tone of his voice said it all for me, but he went on. "Mekhu has still not returned."
"General," said Carter, pushing forward a clipped folder of documentation. "I've been outlining a plan for remote air reconnaissance with UAVs and a targeted ground search of the Karnakian coast using humvees and bogcutters. It may sound unconventional at first, but I think if you take a look at this--"
Hammond interrupted her gently but firmly. "I'm sorry, Major. I can't spare those resources."
I could sense how offended Carter was on my behalf. "Understood, General," I broke in before she could wind herself up and speak her mind. She shot a pained look my way and I stared her down, keeping it crusty on the outside, but secretly touched by her loyalty and doggedness.
"Have we made any progress in determining whether this device can be removed?" Hammond asked Fraiser.
"No, sir, I'm afraid not. The only thing we have determined is that this is definitely not of Gou'ald design."
"We think it must be appropriated technology," said Daniel. "Like the stargates."
"We still haven't been able to scan or analyze its interior." Fraiser flashed me a glance; by this point, she was acting like she'd failed to deliver a cure for cancer and I had two weeks to live. Of course, for cancer we had a solution, if you go in for that sort of thing. For this, zip. It was my own personal circle of hell. Sure, it might be a fun hell but I was doomed nonetheless.
"No worries," I said with false good humor. "We'll just transfer my commission to Daniel, and I can trot around chipping at rocks and playing pow-wow with the natives."
Not funny, their faces said.
"I wish it were so easy, Colonel. But this is a serious matter. As long as this child stays on the road, we've lost our best team."
It should have been a kick in the pants to hear it spelled out--that we were a team, and this wasn't just about getting me back to normal, but about getting us all back. But you know, right then, it was all about me.
"And I've lost every shred of independence," I reminded them sharply. I wanted to take the remark back as soon as I said it. I made a tired mental note: be more leader-like.
"That too, Colonel," said Hammond.
Teal'c looked my way. "I do not think that is so, O'Neill. The device does not require you to conduct yourself in a servile manner. Indeed, you behave no differently toward Daniel Jackson now than you did before."
I wondered if there was a criticism there, and squinted at him. He gazed back impassively. I was probably imagining things. Teal'c isn't exactly the poster Jaffa for politically correct military leadership. Even so, he had to be needling me. The man certainly picks his moments.
The meeting petered out after that, and Carter caught my arm in the hall outside the conference room as I was trailing after Daniel. "Sir, do you have a minute?"
"Sure," I said, reluctant but resigned.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing."
She'd stuck close the first few days after our return from PR5-358, but after the most recent failure in the lab she'd learned to avoid me. I'd become too testy for anyone to stand but Daniel, and only because he had no choice. My mood had nothing to do with Carter or the experiment, and I'd tried to make that clear to her, in a roundabout way. I wasn't sure I'd succeeded. After a couple of visits to the office, it had been apparent that she felt sorrier for Daniel than for me.
"I'm fine," I offered. "Dandy." Inside I was saying sarcastically, I'm a slave, Carter. I think she could tell.
"We'll figure this out, sir." She sounded so positive for a moment, I almost believed it.
I managed a nod; I didn't want to discourage her. I let her tell me about some plan she had to microlase or microwave the chain with an experimental semiconductor and controlled beams, but before she even finished the ache was gathering behind my eyes and I was rubbing my right temple. Her voice ran like a bubbling brook, and I drifted off, imagining what would happen if I went back to the office and went over to Daniel and...
I snapped back to attention. "I'm listening."
She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. The way she looked at me now was the same way she looked whenever I was wounded. At least I'd finally rated some of her sympathy.
"I should let you go," she said, and did. At least someone could.
After that meeting, further tests on the chain ground to a halt; partly because it was pointless, but also because SG-3 returned from P6Y-433 and turned into wolves. Not wolves wolves, but big hairy guys with long teeth. Not much of a change, if you ask me, but Fraiser got busy trying to find a cure that would make them stop biting people, and my problem got bumped down a notch.
Daniel wanted to help with the wolf problem, and I was on board with that, so we spent several days wrestling down our rabid comrades and picking up duty shifts in the control room. It was a loopy time (lupine even, said Daniel), and we were punchy. Late at night we'd sit at the control room computers--okay, he'd sit at a computer, I'd lounge nearby with a novel I never actually read--and trade stories from our past as we killed pot after pot of coffee. We hadn't done that in months. I was almost happy; it was almost enough. I brought him refills of coffee and trays of food. When I wasn't provoking him, he wouldn't give me orders, but he let me look after him.
Once, only once, he slipped. He told me to bring him a folder of system codes. He seemed unaware of what he'd done--but of course, he was only refusing to command me on principle; he didn't know how it affected me. I brought him the folder, put it into his outstretched hand. I was parched and the joy juice hit me hard, a spike of ecstasy through the center of my brain and everywhere else. He took the folder without even a glance my way, peering at the computer screen and giving me an absent thanks, Jack. I went into the nearest head and jerked off, sliding my hand tight and fast around my aching dick, riding the high as long as I could.
It wasn't enough, though. When the wolves were our people again, and we were reinstalled in his office, I went around the bend. I made a list one day of orders that I might carry out. I spent hours on that list, picking and choosing and refining my attack, but mostly just entertaining a lot of kinky, unlikely fantasies about how it might go down. I'd pretty much narrowed my focus to sex by then. It kept me distracted from the idea of Daniel as my commander-in-chief.
Sex with Daniel. It could happen. I'd seen him looking at me now and then in the locker room, the kind of shy, flirty looks men drop when they're not really sure what they want but have had some curious thoughts. And once in a rainy tent on a mission, I swear he gave me this outright steamy gaze, a silent invitation I ignored and thought about for weeks afterwards.
Working conditions had always kept me from trying it on with him. But working conditions had changed. And no one had a clue what was going on with me; no one could tell me I was nuts. I was like a guy who wakes up one day and snaps; gets obsessed with keeping the rabbits out of his garden, or putting under par before he hits forty. I knew that. I just didn't care. A man only lives once. Okay, some twice. Three times�you know what, never mind.
"What is this?" Daniel asked with a frown, when I'd finished the list and handed it to him.
He read down the paper, then looked at me over the top of his glasses. "Jack."
I held up a hand. "Listen. Here's how it works: you give the orders, and I see how long I can resist."
"We tried that already. Fraiser said--"
"This will be different."
"You won't revoke the orders." And she wasn't going to be there, I thought.
He blinked, looked at the list again. "What are you saying, you want to clean my office?"
"Uh, maybe because, no." His face set, and his lips pressed together.
"That's not a reason."
"You'd break something."
"No I wouldn't."
"Yes, you would."
"I'd be careful."
"My office doesn't need cleaning. Neither does," he eyed the list, "my gun, and I'm not going to let you give me a backrub again."
He did need his gun cleaned, because he took care of it for shit, but I veered away from that tangent and leaned in assertively. "Then you make a list. That's not important. The plan is to try and short-circuit the necklace."
"I thought we were calling it a chain."
"We're not calling it a chain any more. It's a necklace."
"I figure if I don't obey and hack it out as long as I can, it'll start to overload, then I'll obey and it'll flip its switch, then we repeat the cycle until it gets confused."
"Or until your head explodes." He put the list down. "I don't think this is a good idea. In fact, I think it's a very bad idea."
"Look," I said. "If I could give you an order, I'd tell you to do this. If you respect my authority at all, you'll do this."
Oh yeah. I'd nailed it. The look of guilt on his face was priceless, and he caved immediately. I loved him, I could have kissed him.
Hold that thought, I told myself.
He made me wait while he revised the list, crossing things off and penciling things in. His idea of creative authority was to make me stand on one leg and to translate a quote from Latin. At least I didn't have to do both at the same time.
So, behind closed and locked doors we drilled through a series of boring commands. For each one I'd meant to try and lengthen the interval before I obeyed. Instead, according to Daniel's stopwatch, the intervals got shorter. Each command gave me a big bang though, when I finally carried out the deed; and after two hours--Daniel is a patient man--I was sizzling.
"How are you feeling, Jack?" he asked me in that careful voice of his.
"Fabulous," I said, as I washed the blackboard with long slow strokes. "Keen. Grand." I was riding a huge wave, body-surfing its surge. Every inch of my skin tingled; my eyes were half-shut and my dick was half-hard. At some point I'd have to turn around. I wished it could last.
"Um, I think the board is clean now."
"Uh huh," I agreed, washing.
"Jack." He sounded worried.
"Stop doing that."
Oh, fuck him. I closed my eyes and glared at the picture of him I kept taped to my inner eyelids. In the picture he was frowning, arms folded. I couldn't even keep a naked picture in my mental locker. How lame was that.
Damn sexy man, though.
"Jack." He was right by my side, touching my back. I throbbed.
"Don't," I said, not knowing why. Upstart rebelliousness made my neck ache, but even that couldn't kill my ardor. I'd planned this better on paper, I thought. I'd been ready to�seduce him, or something. I made myself turn to face him.
"I think we should stop," he said.
"I don't think so," I said, and kissed his mouth.
"Oh," he said. "Wait, no--"
But I decided no meant yes, and I kissed him again. I never was politically correct. I pushed up his glasses and began working his mouth open with mine. He let me for a minute, I don't know why. Novelty, maybe. Then he broke away.
I resented him. I ached for him. Stopping just made me want to start again. "I need this."
"Need...this?" He raised one hand to his head as if trying to brush a thought away, then his face cleared. "Jack, the necklace is doing this to you."
"No, it's not."
"It has to be."
"No, I've pretty much always wanted to nail you," I said, hating my own crassness as soon as the words left my mouth, but unable to take it back.
He stared at me, bewilderment all across his face. "Why?"
Why? What kind of guy asks why? "Because you look like you'd have a tight ass. Why do you think?"
"I don't believe you," he said, flatly as a slap across the face. "I would have known."
"Oh, right." I rolled my eyes.
"What--you're trying to tell me you've hidden your orientation and an attraction to me--all this time."
"Yes, Daniel. Welcome to this thing we call the military." I watched his face closely, feeling my chest tighten. I was putting it all on the line here. I was still hard as hell and everything inside me was trying to get out, raw and honest and angry.
He wasn't even blinking. "You were married."
"What's your point?"
"When you were married--"
"I was another person then." Jesus Christ, let it go, I thought. I always tried so hard not to think about what a bastard I'd been; how little I'd deserved the good life I'd had. And when it had all gone to hell, I'd felt--
"I don't want to talk about it," I told him.
He blinked, finally. "But I could make you, couldn't I?" We looked at each other in silence a few moments, before he said, "I won't. I won't, Jack. I'm...sorry. I have to go. I mean. I'll stay close by, but I have to--"
"Daniel." I grabbed his arms, held him. Maybe my flirting theory was shot to hell, or maybe he was just being difficult. I decided not to care. I stroked my palm down the side of his neck, slid the other one up along the curve of his head. It felt so good. He only needed to let me do this. "Let me do this," I said, so roughly it came out like a demand instead of an offer. "I want to go down on my knees for you."
"It's the necklace, Jack." His eyes were bright blue, and too gentle. He pulled my hands down and held my wrists. "If you were in your right mind, you wouldn't be doing this. And when you are in your right mind again, you'll regret this. I won't take advantage of you."
"I think I'm sick of those morals of yours," I said savagely.
"It's not only my morals, it's your regulations."
"Screw regulations." I yanked out of his grip and caught his face in my hands and kissed him, but he knocked me back with a shove I hadn't been ready for.
"No, Jack." He held up a finger, making me feel like a reprimanded dog. "Don't kiss me again. Don't touch me again--not like that. Don't tell me about your private feelings."
Each command struck me like a blow. I stared at him, anguish twisting my guts. His face didn't show even a flicker of emotion. I'd seen how cold he could be in the past, but this....
"You'll treat me as a friend for as long as you wear that," he said. "No more." Voice even, gaze steady as a soldier's. He could assume command, I realized then. And I felt like I was looking at someone else for a moment, at a man who could order a surgical air strike without flinching, kill a city without mourning. He'd talk about their ethos after they were gone, study their dead languages and burial stones, and nothing would touch him.
He left me, and I sat on the floor and had a rest. It had been a long day. Hey, it had been a long life.
I don't know what I thought would happen after that, but things returned to normal. Almost. I sat and worked, he sat and worked, we went to boring project launch meetings, we played gin. I won, he lost. Carter snuck a bottle of Macallan onto the base and for two consecutive nights I drank alone in bed and jerked off drunkenly, thinking of Daniel's hands, how he'd grabbed my wrists, how it would feel to have him pin me down and force himself on me, issuing orders that I couldn't disobey. Both times when I got to the part of the fantasy where he shoved inside me, I bucked and shot hard across my chest.
Sometimes I fell asleep to a different type of fantasy, though. In this one, Daniel led me through the gate on a mission, across alien sands; he gave me his best blue-eyed gaze, and commanded me to destroy a Gou'ald ship that lay ahead of us, because I was the only one who could, the only one, Jack. And I would have, in a heartbeat, just to see pride touch those cool eyes. I'd have died a hero, to give him back everything he'd given me.
Both dreams were stupid. Both were making me crazy.
I behaved, though. Because he'd ordered me to. I had no words for how it felt, and even if I had, I couldn't have told him. It hurt. It was a big, fucking ache in my body like someone had beaten me all over. And I knew how that felt; I had plenty of muscle memory.
Teal'c, who'd been temporarily reassigned to SG-2, started visiting me more often between missions. We watched the sports channels together, and I told him about the rules of soccer, one of the few games I hadn't already explained to him in detail. He listened and asked typical Teal'c questions and made me feel almost okay. During the games, Daniel sat on the other side of the lounge and read books, or typed on his laptop. Not looking his way was an effort that made me dull and tired.
Carter was immersed in research, by choice, and sometimes we sat and had coffee. We didn't know what to say to each other, though. She told me about her work, I listened. One week she went on some sort of manic cookie-baking spree. After the fourth batch, I told her to stop, that I'd get fat.
And Daniel and I, we were okay. I felt as if he'd wrapped me in a straight jacket and gagged me and then left me walled up somewhere to suffocate. But other than that, we were like this. I learned more than I wanted to about Persian folklore and the Egyptian mummification process. I could tell he was getting cabin fever; so was I. We begged day-trips and hiked outside the mountain. We were a chain-gang of two.
The most pathetic moments of my day were when I brought him coffee or a sandwich and he thanked me and I got my charge. Not a full jolt like I'd get if he were ordering me around, but a weak buzz; enough to keep me hooked. He must have guessed after the scene in his office that I wasn't just going through the motions when I served him. But he didn't say anything. Not to me, not to Fraiser. He let me do it. We both pretended it was casual, that my gestures were devoid of meaning.
Fun all around.
After almost a month of this--three weeks of negative reports from Burgess--I stood in the control room one day watching SG-3 gate out and thought: I've got to get the hell out of here. I brushed past Daniel, took the stairs two at a time, and barreled into Hammond's office. I slammed the door behind me.
"Permission to return to 358 and search for that little Karnakian brat, sir," I said, frustrated rage pouring off my skin.
Hammond said into his phone, "I'll call you back." Not the red phone. Even through my haze of self-absorption I registered relief.
"Sit down, Jack."
I stood and glared. "No thank you, sir."
"I can't let you go back there."
"Excuse me, sir, but why the hell not?"
"You're not currently fit for command."
I planted myself at his desk and leaned forward, getting in his face. "I. Don't. Care. Let Carter take command. Let Daniel. I can't sit here another day and do nothing."
Hammond was picking up my frustration. "If I could let you go, you know I would, Jack."
"Oh, I know that, do I?" I pushed off from his desk and paced, running both hands through my hair, hating myself for acting like this, hating Hammond and Daniel and the world.
"I know it's hard, son." Son, he was calling me son. This was bad. Fatal. "I feel for you, I really do." He paused, and I stared elsewhere. I couldn't look at him. "Is there anything you need?" he asked quietly. "Anything you want me to talk to Doctor Jackson about?"
I cracked a laugh. "Oh, yes. Please. Tell him to take this damn necklace off me."
Hammond said nothing eloquently for a moment, before replying, "I'm sure he would if he could. It can't be very entertaining for the man. For either of you."
Oh, such administrative even-handedness, such diplomacy. I wanted to spit. I turned back to scowl at him instead. "Fun? No, it's not fun, sir. But Daniel has something to do. Daniel has translated three new languages. Daniel has written two new papers that no one can read because they won't be declassified until 2020. But I can't even go to a fucking throughput meeting without Daniel tagging along, while everyone wonders what the hell he's doing there and why I'm stuck uselessly on base."
"No one thinks you're useless, Colonel."
"I am useless, sir. God. If I could just take this damn thing off." I grabbed the necklace briefly, then squeezed my eyes shut and ground the heels of my hands into them.
He sat silently, and I stood silently, and then I sank into a chair.
"Colonel, I know it's not much, but if you'd like some time--"
"Oh, what's the point?" I said, sarcasm thickening my voice. "What am I going to do, hit the beaches?" Hammond looked at me with too much sympathy in his face. Too much sympathy all around.
"I'd do anything he asked," I said tiredly. The words tumbled out, shocking and horrible. I didn't look at Hammond. Didn't have to. Could imagine his face, and what he was thinking. I hadn't admitted it out loud before now. It was obvious to everyone, it had to be; but also obscene. The kind of thing you didn't speak of in mixed company.
"Anything," I admitted to Hammond, not caring what he thought, though I'd surely regret it later. "I'd toss myself on a grenade, sing him a song. He doesn't...he won't ask. Won't ask me to do anything."
"Colonel, I really think--"
"It makes the whole goddamn thing pointless," I said in disgust, pressing my head to the edge of Hammond's desk. I was at my own edge, looking down into the months ahead. Years, even. "If he had any decency he'd tell me to take this fucking useless hunk of metal off."
"Colonel, please." He didn't have to finish the sentence.
I sat up, gathering myself slowly together as the tide washed out. "Right. Yeah. I'm fine, sir." I closed my eyes. "Fine."
"Get some rest, Jack. Take a few days. If you need anything, I'll have it brought in."
I tried to imagine what he was thinking of. Booze? Pot? A mariachi band? Christ. My brain said take it off, just take it the fuck off of me. I was too tired to even rise from Hammond's chair.
"Take it off," I said. I opened my eyes and stared at Hammond, who stared back with the quiet reserve of a man who had nearly seen it all. "Take it off," I repeated.
Hammond ducked his head, as if unable to meet my eyes any longer. "I wish I could, Jack."
"Wait. No, no, no. Wait a minute. No." I shook my head, ran a hand over my hair. "It couldn't be--no, because that--" I paused, mind whirling. "Because that would be too--" I stood up, knocking back the chair, and ran from the office, down to the control room.
Daniel, waiting there, was startled to his feet by my arrival. "Jack--"
"Tell me to take it off," I said, wildly. He stared back, eyes big.
"Jack, calm down--"
I grabbed his shoulders. The necklace was toasting me with warnings, but I ignored it. "Tell me to take it off."
"Take it off," he repeated, trying to follow my words to their meaning.
That might even be enough. I reached up to the necklace, twisted it blindly. And it fell off.
Oh, yeah. I clapped Daniel's shoulders in crazy glee and really wanted to kiss him, a man-to-man spirit-of-the-moment kiss, but instead I shook him a bit and laughed. His mouth gaped and I grinned like a wildman. Then I hollered like that guy in Dr. Strangelove as he dropped from the sky riding the bomb. Carter and Teal'c came running up out of a convenient nowhere, and Hammond stood by my side and stared at my neck in blank amazement.
"Oh my god," said Daniel.
Carter's eyes got big. Saucer big. "It's off. What did you do?"
"I asked him to take it off," Daniel said, stunned. "He asked me to ask him to take it off, and I did, and now it's--" He waved at me.
"Off," I said. "Off, off, off."
"Thank god," said Hammond, and put a hand on my shoulder. "Good to have you back, Colonel."
You've got to let generals have their moments. "Thank you, sir."
"It is good to have you in command again, O'Neill." Teal'c inclined his head.
Daniel was grinding the heel of one hand between his brows, without seeming to be aware of it. "I can't believe we didn't--but it doesn't make sense. I couldn't take it off you."
Carter shook her head. "Maybe the
collar used to come paired with another device, a kind of master key."
I could have poked her for that one. "The command for removal may simply
have been a loophole in the system. There's no way we could have known,"
"Agreed," said Hammond. "Don't beat yourself up over it, Doctor."
"I," Daniel paused and looked at me, "will try not to, no. Yes." And I knew he'd been thinking of saying something else entirely, probably along the lines of, I could have been rid of him a month ago. I twitched my brows and let my eyes glitter knowingly at him.
And we all lived happily ever after.
Okay. No. Not quite.
After a period of medical observation shortened by my impatience and strategic obnoxiousness, I went home and Daniel went home, each of us on three days' leave that conveniently rolled into a weekend. I'm pretty sure he wanted to see me as little as I wanted to see him. The first night I ate two steaks and drank five beers and sang to myself in the shower and then climbed up on the roof to stargaze, and fell asleep up there. I'm lucky to be alive. I could have rolled off that damn roof.
The next day I paid bills and mowed my lawn and drank more beer. I let the sun shine on me. I drove out of the city into the mountains, leisurely and with no destination, then drove back. Total freedom of movement. Just thinking about the Bill of Rights made me very, very happy.
I intended to spend the remainder of my leave doing more or less the same thing, which was nothing. I thought about taking a fishing trip, though. I stood out on my deck Thursday evening, listening to the neighborhood kids laughing in the distance, and felt...and thought about fishing. And then I sat on my deck as it grew darker, played Aida, and drank myself into a low buzz. My neck, I noticed, felt light. Naked. No burning interrupted my peace, no sudden pain sliding around my scalp. Well, okay, a little headache, but it was the kind you could toss a couple of aspirin at and forget about. The rest of me felt good. I wanted to play with my suddenly naked body--naked under my clothes, I mean. That kind of naked.
So this was Jack O'Neill, under no compulsion. I sniffed the clean night air--grass, and some kind of flowers--and listened to the crickets and, because it was dark enough, stroked myself through my khakis with my beer bottle. My dick stiffened, and I thought about the last month. My head was clear now, supposedly. But I didn't feel that different. I didn't need to pick apart my subconscious to get that everything I'd done and said and wanted had been me. I'd known that all along. The necklace had just been a toy. Buzz and burn. Well, okay, there'd been that whole Supreme-Daniel thing, which thank god had passed off entirely. Mostly. I remembered thinking he could assume a command, that he was like my own personal President. Where the hell had that come from?
But the lust and the manipulation, yeah, that'd been me. Had to be, because I recognized myself easily, too well. What a shmuck. I was so glad Daniel had a brain in his head and a conscience. Though, to attribute his good behavior to conscience was to assume he'd even been tempted to...when his commanding officer started...mauling him and...oh, fuck, begging to suck him off like a faggot in a men's room.
I threw my beer bottle at the deck railing and bent over in my chair and cursed. And the fucking thing was, thinking about it again--I was angry at him. Son of a bitch. I'd wanted him so badly, I would have crawled for him. It would have excited me to crawl for him, to kiss his foot, to feel him pull me up by the hair and grab the back of my head and shove his dick into my mouth.
I grabbed my hard-on through my trousers, willing it down. Groaned. The resentment I'd tried to let go was returning, tightening in my balls. I'd hated this past month with a seething passion and how had I forgotten that even for a moment? He'd ordered me to keep my hands to myself, to keep my feelings to myself. God, it had been hell. Hell. Like learning not to breathe. Sitting across from him playing cards, chatting, chatting politely as if we were no more than two good friends who just liked to spend time together, while my whole body--everything in me--ached for him. I wanted to punch his lights out. I wanted other things. Two sides of a coin. I knew that. I wasn't stupid, I wasn't fooling myself.
Now is the time to feel guilty, I reminded myself. You kissed him, you offered sexual favors, you washed his blackboard like the teacher's pet in some trashy porn movie--you made an idiot of yourself, and you did it on base.
But I was only half-guilty. The other half was pissed. And horny. And kind of wondering if he was interested. I'd thought he was interested. How long had it been since he got laid, anyway?
Drunk enough to take risks, I drove to his apartment and made him let me in. He was waiting for me in his doorway, looking worried.
"Jack," he said, pulling me inside. Deja vu. "What is it?" He eyed my bare neck, confused but ready to think the worst. "What's wrong?"
I kissed him. Might as well go for the full court-martial. I pushed him against the wall and threw his glasses on the floor. I opened his mouth with my tongue and ground my entire body against him. Fucking beauty. He tasted like peanuts. He'd been eating them. Salty. It was the best kiss ever. I made him take it. I held his head tightly and pinned one of his arms to the wall. He could have broken away--for a second, maybe--but I'd have caught him. He didn't try to get free, though. Smart man. Daniel.
"Jack," he said, when I let him have air.
"Shut up," I said, and took his mouth again. He made a sound like a sigh, and his body was passive but his mouth was wild against mine. Frenzied. I let myself go, and deepened the kiss, giving him long hot stabs with my tongue. He shuddered and grabbed the back of my belt with his free hand, twisting at the leather.
We sort of tumbled along the wall--porn, good porn--heading by instinct for a flat surface. Bedroom: lamp was on, books scattered on the bed. I swept them off, growling with annoyance but liking the scene. Academic in bed gets interrupted, nailed. My kind of plot. And meanwhile he was showing me how eager he was, yanking off his shirt, unzipping his jeans with this clumsy hop, moaning at the way the material unfolded off his dick. Man, I knew that feeling. I tore off my own shirt to catch up, whipped my khakis open, down, off, briefs and shoes going with them. Already his floor was a mess.
"Oh my god, Jack," he said, staring me up and down. His cheeks were flushed pink. A quick blusher when he was turned on. Check.
"Bed," I said. An order he couldn't mistake. "Now."
His eyes went dark and he got on the bed and I had to grab my dick to keep from shooting. I didn't even know what I wanted to do with him first, but I climbed on the ride. I used to think he'd be awkward in bed, pretty but dumb. He wasn't. He was inexperienced, that's always easy to tell, but he was hungry and desperate and--hungry for me. He was hungry for me. It made me crazy.
I shoved against him dick to dick, only meaning to give us a jumpstart, but one thrust and that was all she wrote. Couldn't stop. His mouth fell open and I groaned and kissed him, and there were our tongues and our tackle sliding against each other and--bang. I broke free and gasped as I spilled onto him.
"Yes," he said, like he'd been trying to translate the word and finally got it in a sudden whammy, yes, like it blew him away. And then, chanting: "Yes, yes, yes, god, oh god, Jack, yes!" He went wild, clutching my hips. He shot between our bodies, dick jerking against my stomach.
I rolled off feeling forty-four years old and damn fine. "Whoa," I said, head whirling. When I'd caught my breath, I rolled back onto one hip and felt him up. His dick was hot; he groaned as I slid my palm up across the head and rubbed the stickiness all over. Then I bent over and licked up what we'd spilled. It'd been a while since I'd had that taste in my mouth.
"Oh my god," he said. I liked how he kept saying that. I wanted to make him say all kinds of things, do things, lose it and beg. I pulled up from what I was doing, and he rolled sideways to meet me. His mouth was soft and his eyes were slitted. Cat eyes. He looked well-fucked and I'd barely gotten started with him.
I had momentum, weeks of it. Okay, months. Years. I held his jaw to keep his face still and kissed him, long and wet and messy. He kept gasping into my mouth like kissing was some new thing to him. Good. I was doing it right.
I got him on his back again and worked him over, trying not to leave deep marks because who knew when we might get hit with a physical, but otherwise treating him like dinner. He liked it; I had to hold him down when I bit his nipples. Surprised me, how rough he was willing to get. He hardened again fast, but I wasn't in a hurry. I had a mental scrapbook of his body--leaning back on the steps of a stargate with his legs apart; wearing cammo; stripped to the waist under a red sun as he sloshed water over his arms. I'd wanted to sink my teeth into him, bury my face in him when he was sweaty and twitching after a long hike. I'd had to wait; now he could.
He sobbed when I finally sucked him off. Oh, yeah. It'd been a while for that, I could tell. And I don't think he was used to someone knowing what to do with it, either. That thought distracted me but I pushed it away. This bed was for the living and I didn't want his borrowed ghosts in my brain, snaking around and raising tasteless questions.
When he'd come hard in my mouth, and I'd swallowed it, I moved up against his body and took a look at his face. He'd been crying, really crying. I stroked my thumb along his right eyebrow for a while and let him calm down.
"Sorry," he said.
"That's not what you're supposed to say," I told him. He blinked through wet lashes at me. Under the tears, his eyes were clear and blue. He seemed like he might be happy, somewhere in there.
"I don't know what to say."
"Say, 'Thank you, Jack.'"
"Thank you, Jack." He smiled. Man, what a smile. I felt...goopy. I think I grinned at him. I know I kissed him again.
"Been a while, huh," I said when we broke.
The muscles that held his smile loosened, and it slid away. "A while. Yes." I kicked myself, but then he touched my face.
He kissed me some more, soft, not so soft. We slid around on the bed and let things tangle together, then I took his hand and moved it to my dick. He rested on one arm, started jerking me off; got sidetracked and tried doing some of the things to my body that I'd done to his, which was great, no argument from me. Then he gave me his mouth and I lost it and begged. He had a straight guy's mouth, clueless at sucking cock, but eager, and I loved it. I said his name over and over until my throat hurt, it felt so good saying it, Daniel, Daniel, and I held his head in place, my hands fanned on his soft hair, and it was fucking beautiful. I wouldn't come in his mouth, though; I made him pull back, and I jerked myself those last few strokes and then seized up as it hit me.
Then my brain went offline for a while.
A few hours later, I woke up and found him sleeping against me. The lamp was still on. I slid out from under his arm and walked through books and clothes to his bathroom, where I pissed and drank water from his sink tap. When I came back he was awake; I crawled back into bed next to him. I wasn't thinking about much then, not about the morning after or the military or missions or Gou'ald. I'd been in the closet a long time, and I was forty-four years old. I was comfortable enough by then to justify the life to myself better than most guys could. I did my job, I took care of my team, and I saved the world once in a while--didn't I deserve my blow job of choice?
"What are you thinking?" Daniel asked. Figured. These brainy types.
"Thinking's overrated." I touched his head. I wanted to keep doing that; I like the way a man's head feels against your hand, the hard shape of it and the short hair, and I'd never been able to touch him like that before.
"I like how you think," he said. "You thought of this." He said it calmly, but he knew what those words did to me. His blue eyes told me so. He's a generous man. I had to kiss him some more, then. He kissed me back sleepily; he looked awake on the surface, but his kisses were...okay, dreamy. There was nothing to say. Nothing I said would have come out right. I was glad he let me talk with kisses instead; I do pretty well with those.
I woke up vomiting. I rolled downward, waking from a nightmare, already throwing up. I hit something hard, a hardwood floor. I couldn't open my eyes, but I could feel the boards under my hands and smell its dust. Someone was touching me, Daniel, but I wasn't able to give him any of my attention. I retched and hurt and got down on my arms and knees in a sprawl that would keep me close to the floor. A hand stroked my back, held my head. I kept heaving until I was dry, and then I slumped and Daniel eased me away from the mess. I pressed my forehead to the boards, wouldn't have cared if I'd been lying in my own puke, but I wasn't.
"Oh, fuck," I rasped, tears in my eyes. Everything hurt.
"It's okay, it's okay," he said. "Easy, shhhh." He was gentle and he had fucking warm hands, and they were stroking me. I wished I could spare more of myself to appreciate what he was doing, but even that tiny splinter of observation was too much.
"What do you need? What can I do?" he said.
"Noth...noth...n." I would have told him to go away, leave me alone, but I knew he wouldn't. "Nothing," I managed at last. I spat on his floor a few times.
We stayed that way for a few minutes, then he started acting like people will do who aren't sick themselves. "Can you make it to the bathroom?"
I ignored him, kept my forehead on the ground. If I didn't move, ever again, I'd be fine.
"I'll be right back." His hand smoothed my spine again, then was gone. I lay belly down after he left, then decided this was no good, and pulled up one leg as far as I could toward my stomach. The invisible, hovering Daniel-presence came back and put a cool washcloth on the back of my neck. I was going to marry him. If I lived.
"We need to get you the mountain," he said. I heard this idea, but my mind couldn't encompass it. That plan would involve moving. He stroked me, then pulled a blanket off the bed and laid it over my body.
I shoved it off. "Nuh."
We stayed that way a while more, maybe days. Time kind of passes funny when you're trying not to vomit.
"Jack, I'm going to get you to the mountain. We'll take it step by step. Just hang on."
He was gone again. I faded in and out, not able to connect up sounds with actions. He must have been dressing. Some sense of urgency filtered in to me, though. "Dan..."
"I'm here, Jack."
"Um, sorry. One more time." He stroked my shoulder.
I mustered great effort. "Clean everything. Sheets. Floor. Me." Head hurt. "Change the sheets."
"Okay," he said, getting it, I hoped. "Okay." And time passed while he did that, changed the sheets, cleaned the floor, washed me off to take away the smell of sex. Then he got me dressed. I have no idea how. I was not cooperative. My body was shutting down. We got downstairs, to his car; I know it must have happened, but I was blind to the world. Then we drove. I pushed the window down, laid my head against it to feel the peaceful, heavy shove of air on my face.
"Story," I said into the wind, at some point.
"Story." Words made me want to weep. I could have killed myself then. The end of life seemed easier than trying to drag this out, all these stupid details. "Need...a story."
"Right, right. Uh, you came over. You'd been drinking, a little. To, um, talk." His voice came to me through the wind. "You stayed, you slept on the couch, you got sick. I brought you in."
"Great," I whispered. Great. He was perfect.
Next thing I remember, I was lying in an infirmary bed, wearing an IV and one of those thingies clamped to my finger. And the collar. Chain. Necklace. Device. It. I could feel its band around my neck, warm and alive, as if it had woken me.
I looked over to see Daniel's worried, sleepless face. He dragged himself out of glassy-eyed oblivion when he saw me. "Jack. How do you feel?"
"Dead," I croaked, and closed my eyes. Resigned, miserable. And relieved. I was a slave again. I didn't want to think about it. His hand was on my arm and it felt good.
Fraiser came up and did her stuff then, said some things I don't remember. Blah blah blah.
Fade to black.
"You had us worried, Colonel."
"So I hear."
Fraiser solemnly gazed at me. I couldn't decide if she was a military angel or a pain in the ass. I wasn't sure how I felt about anything yet.
"You suffered an acute systemic attack caused by withdrawal from the necklace--we think. We aren't sure how it was effected. Your symptoms were that of a fever--high temperature, muscle pain, severe headache--"
"I was there," I said irritably, forcing the words from my dry throat.
"--but we can't find any viral or toxic agent in your system."
"So what else is new."
After some more hovering around my bed, she left me alone to rest.
The days passed. I got better. Daniel came to visit often, full of guilty glances. He never stayed long, because I always sent him away. I was afraid the longer he hung around the more likely he was to start saying all the things he clearly wasn't saying. He kept getting that look, like words were crawling around inside him ready to burst out. The infirmary wasn't the place for that.
He was working from Fraiser's lab and bunking in an iso room, so he was never far off. But it felt far.
After a while they let me walk and dress myself and finally they let me out. Daniel and I moved back to adjoining quarters, in proximity but without a whole lot of privacy. Oh, they'd capped the cameras, but even so: it sucked. I was back to working out of his office, too.
Things felt more intense with the collar on again. I was amped, vibrating like a zat does when it charges. Impulses I'd fought before came back stronger for those first couple of days. I wanted to kneel to Daniel, to sir him, to give myself up. Yield. Obey. Wanted him to test me so I could prove myself. I wondered if getting again laid would help, but it was what you might call moot. It wasn't going to happen soon, not on base.
My mind would wander during follow-up visits to the infirmary; I'd be thinking these things, and Fraiser would be taking my pulse and asking how I felt: did I feel better, worse, different? I told her I felt the same.
The first few days after I got out I was still recuperating, according to the doc. I hung around Daniel and tried not to jump his bones or put coffee into his hand. You want jumpy, he had that covered. "You okay?" he'd ask me, with his arms wrapped up like a mummy's. And I'd say yes and eat him up with my eyes until he fidgeted. I'd had a taste of him now; he'd tasted me. It was hard to forget that. I wasn't trying.
Everyone wanted to talk to me, see how I was doing--Carter, Teal'c, Hammond, and of course Fraiser, who got paid to care. I was popular, in a victim-of-the-week sort of way. I think Teal'c took things the hardest. He doesn't show much of what he feels, and though I usually know how to read him I sometimes find out I've been getting only half the translation.
"How are you feeling, O'Neill?" he asked.
We were in the commissary, me eating spaghetti in a sauce made with lighter fluid, Teal'c eating meat that didn't deserve the name. Daniel had gotten up to come with us but I'd made myself tell him that it was okay, he didn't have to. I kept thinking of him, though. Of how my dogtags had swung and stroked his dick and how he'd gasped. Of how I'd like to be rolled onto my stomach and commanded to serve him.
"Fine," I said. "Marvelous."
"You do not look fine." He didn't give me the head tilt; he was staring straight at me. Head tilt would have meant I had room to negotiate. No head tilt, no dice.
"You put diplomats to shame, Teal'c. Don't ever change."
He didn't rise to the bait. "I would say the same to you, O'Neill. You must resist the compulsion that the necklace places on you."
"Hey, I'm trying."
"You must try harder."
I glared frostily. How did he know how hard I was trying? "I guess it's too bad your commands don't work, isn't it," I said with sarcasm.
A muscle was jumping in his cheek and his eyes were dark. "I do not command you. I speak as a friend. And as one who has had to kneel and serve false gods."
"Teal'c." His words were a knife's edge sliding across me. Elbows on the table, I pressed my head into my hands. "It's Daniel. Even if I wanted to kneel--" Even if, right. "--he wouldn't let me."
"That is irrelevant. You still must resist."
"You never wore one of these," I said, lifting my head and jerking my chin once.
"No. But every day since my prim'ta I have lived with a Gou'ald inside, a being that dreams of evil and whose needs determine my own. Such influences must be resisted, no matter what form they take."
My throat tightened as we stared each other down. I had nothing to ante against that.
Teal'c visited Daniel's office more than usual after our chat, giving me shadowed looks, inviting me to work out and play gin and watch ESPN. It was weird. Reminded me of when I turned legal and got into heavy drinking and Airman Piper tried to give me an intervention. He also wanted me to embrace Jesus but I was embracing elsewhere at the time.
I turned down most of Teal'c's offers, which caused him to turn down his lips and skin me open with his eyes. Man, that guy must have terrified every greenhorn Jaffa he trained, not to mention the poor bastards he delivered to the Gou'ald. Wouldn't surprise me if even a few of the snakes crossed the street once in a while to get out of his way.
Daniel encouraged me to go whenever Teal'c dropped by--though only with hopeful looks--and Carter popped in for pep talks, and then my third day up and around I went to be checked by Fraiser and she said something about gradated desensitization. That's when I knew there was a conspiracy. Turns out she was planning to have me remove the necklace and build up resistance a little at a time. "When you're feeling better," she said. "A few more days." And she smiled like it was something for me to look forward to.
For the first time, I was glad she didn't take my word about feeling okay. I was in no hurry to whip my collar off again and see whether I could puke myself inside out. The fact is, I didn't believe her plan would work, no matter what anyone said.
"The plan is worth trying, Jack." Daniel leaned against a counter. I couldn't help but notice how he kept his distance from me. "There's a good chance the withdrawal won't be so extreme if the device's influence is decreased by stages."
"Or maybe," I said, "I'm going to be your slave for life." I kept my face expressionless, voice level. I was sitting at my desk, watching him from across the room. Black tee, fatigues, body of a god. The usual.
"I don't believe that."
"I think this would be a good time to start adjusting to facts, Daniel." He twitched, tightening up with wild energy. For such a reasonable guy, he seems to hate it when I'm reasonable.
"Jack, don't resign yourself. Because I'm not. I'm not going--not going to--" He waved a hand broadly, would have knocked things off shelves if he'd been near any.
He whirled. "Spend the rest of my life in a sick parody of a Gou'ald system lord, joined at the hip to my own pet slave."
I felt something squeeze my heart. I couldn't answer. I could only stare at him, thinking with a sudden drop in optimism of the years we might have ahead, joined together by force. How little he wanted me...wanted that. I guess it was a lot to ask.
"Jack," he said. He came over and knelt down next to me, still vibrating with energy. "We've got to fight this." He made a fist and pounded it on the desk.
"And what if it can't be fought." I gave him a hard, challenging look.
"I don't know. But I know this isn't like you. Giving up."
The way he spoke, you'd think I was going to die or disappear if I kept wearing the collar. The more squirrelly he got, the less I appreciated it. His demands were the same as Teal'c's but his issues were different, and I took them more personally.
"It's me, Daniel. I'm still me."
"You're different with the necklace on."
"Don't be so sure."
We stared at each other, breathing each other's air. I was in a bubble with him, deaf to anything but my own heartbeat. They could have nuked us and I'd never have noticed. I wanted to reach out and trace his jaw, take off his glasses and fall into his eyes. He was the different thing in my life, and we'd taken that to the next level. And now he knelt for me, which was wrong but made me want him even more. It could be good, even like this. He just needed to see that.
"While you're wearing the necklace--" he began.
"Don't say it!" Fear spurring me wildly, I stood and loomed over him. He got to his feet.
"While you're wearing the necklace--"
"Daniel, don't say it. Don't you dare say it." My neck ached and I couldn't reach out to him but I was serious; I pointed my finger at his chest like a gun and raged inside.
"I have to. We can't...be together, not with this thing between us."
A pain shot up my jaw and clenched the entire surface of my skull: the price of denial. "Okay, fine. You set your terms. Do what you have to do. But if I have no say in the matter, then I am your slave. You ever thought of that?"
He stared at me, face white and eyes wide behind his glasses. Then he turned away and pulled at his hair, but his hair was too short for him to grasp and his hands slid off, unable to complete the gesture.
We didn't finish the conversation, as it turned out. Because just then the alarm sounded for a gate activation, and we weren't expecting any visitors.
Everyone had gathered into the control room. The lights were flashing and chevrons locking into place. It was the usual scene.
"What's up?" I asked, without excitement.
"It's the Tok'ra," said Carter.
"Oh, goody." I watched as the wormhole did its thing and then quieted into the rippling lake I sometimes saw in my dreams. Freya walked through--Freya, Anise. There's just no easy way to say that. Jacob was beside her, Selmak was inside him, and the rest of us stood there scratching our collective ass for about ten seconds before making a beeline for the gate room.
"Dad," said Carter, going up to give him a hug.
Freya slithered my way. I twitched out a wan smile to go with my nod and tried not to notice that she was wearing a deerskin bikini top and capri pants.
"Colonel O'Neill," said Anise briefly, sounding as usual like a snippy transvestite. Then she eyed Daniel more warmly. "Doctor Jackson." He murmured a hello, and she did that dip and swallow thing and up popped Freya, who put her focus back on me and smiled. "It is good to see you well, Colonel."
"Good to see you...two. Too. Well." Funny how simple things can go so wrong.
I greeted Jacob, Jacob greeted Hammond, Anise ogled Daniel, and Sam glowed quietly at the chance to see her dad. We stood around doing the politeness thing for less time than it takes a three-minute egg, then adjourned to the conference room.
"Things must have changed a bit in my absence," said Jacob in a dry voice as we were seating ourselves.
"Um," said Daniel, glancing around, "how so?"
Jacob gave me an almost invisible smirk--the kind your C.O. gives when he's about to assign you fatigue duty--and nodded at the necklace. "Very stylish, Jack."
"Oh, this old thing." I shot Hammond a look, to see how he was going to play it. Hammond took a breath, then looked to Daniel. Good grief.
"It's a gift from the inhabitants of a world we visited�recently," Daniel said. Even when he tells the truth, he sounds as if he's spinning a yarn. "It's, um, a symbol of--" He stretched an invisible cat's cradle between his hands and looked to Carter.
"Peace and friendship," said Carter, then gave a bright, false smile.
"So to what do we owe the honor of this visit?" Hammond asked with determination.
"We require assistance," said Anise.
"Let me get this straight--the Tok'ra need the assistance of the backwards, immature Tau'ri?" I feigned amazement.
"Yes," said Anise, without irony. Killed that one dead. I made a face for the benefit of the table and subsided as she continued. "A week ago while on a planetary survey we discovered a Gou'ald necropolis left abandoned on uninhabited world."
I held up a finger. "Pause."
"Necropolis," Daniel said. "It means 'city of the dead.' Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used to build elaborate networks of tombs in which royalty were interred." He blinked at me. "Interred means buried."
I nodded knowingly and Anise resumed. "The site is underground and could be immediately useful to us as a reserve location in which to stockpile supplies. We also believe from our scans that there is significant technology to be found inside. However," she glanced at Jacob, "the site is protected by a shield that does not permit entry to the Tok'ra. We have found no breach."
"The Asgard," said Carter. "Thor's Hammer." She looked at me. I twitched my brows back. I'd gotten there already.
"It does appear to conform to Asgard design," said Anise.
"You want us to go in for you," said Daniel. "To loot the place." He sounded four years' worth of cynical at that moment, and his face tightened up sourly like someone was pinching him.
"We want you to try and turn off the shield," corrected Jacob. "We can do the rest."
Daniel gave a short, joyless laugh. "Oh, of course. How...silly of me." I looked down the table and stroked him with my eyes, wanting to squeeze his shoulder in commiseration. Wrapped up in archaeological gloom, he didn't notice.
Well, never mind. I felt sorry for him, I did, but I was also ready to ride out of the gate naked on horseback if it meant a mission. "Sounds like just the thing we need, ay, General?" I begged him with my eyes. He frowned back briefly, then addressed our guests.
"I'm sorry, folks. I'm afraid I have no teams available to assist at this time."
There was an awkward silence, then Freya peeked out from under her snake and spoke up. "General, we understand that in the past the Tok'ra have not been forthcoming as your people would like. We regret any inconvenience or misunderstandings this has caused." Inconvenience. Nice word. Glossed over a whole lot.
"It's not that," said Hammond. "We're�tied up right now."
Jacob looked at me, then around the table, head cocked as he puzzled us out. "We caught you just before a mission," he said, testing the waters.
"Not exactly," said Hammond.
"We just--" Daniel began. Several people looked at him at once, and he shut his mouth with a snap.
"General, I think we should go." I ignored his exasperation. "The Tok'ra come to us, friends in time of need. How can we turn them away? Think of the technology. Think of all the--the stuff to be learned. By Daniel. Great stuff. Possibly written on the...walls." Okay, getting off course, not a problem. I pulled out of the spin. "Who knows what we'd be missing if we turned down this opportunity?" I concluded with a flourish.
Carter visibly nerved herself, then backed me up. "If the Tok'ra are right, General, there may be invaluable technology inside the structure. It must mean something that the Asgard established a shield around the place."
"Yes," piped up Daniel, "it could mean, 'Dangerous Gou'ald inside, do not disturb.'"
Oh, thanks, Daniel. Pick now to go on strike.
"If this structure does indeed represent an entire city, might there not be many Gou'ald at rest within?" asked Teal'c.
Damn them both. "Now how likely is that?" I meant it sarcastically, but then stole a glance at Daniel to see if he had an answer. An entire city of Gou'ald. They had a good point.
Daniel caught my eye and looked surprised to find that it was a real question. "I have no idea."
"Perhaps the shield is in fact meant to keep the Gou'ald in, not out." Teal'c was clearly bent on ruining my day.
"Then we'll be careful not to wake them up," I said.
"Colonel, I have not authorized this mission." Oops. Hammond sounded almost riled.
"Right, sir." I took a moment to study the table top with careful interest.
"And as I said, I can't do so at this time," he added.
"George, is there something we should know?" Jacob asked pointedly.
My muscles tensed. I didn't want to share my secret with the Tok'ra, but if it meant a mission, I was ready to swallow my pride. "General?" I said.
He eyed me, then sighed. "We have a bit of a situation."
We all took turns explaining about the necklace, piecing together the story as a group, while Jacob looked respectably serious and Anise far too interested.
"So that's that," I said when we'd covered the basics. "Aside from a minor costume jewelry problem, all systems are a go." Another silence, while everyone had private thoughts about that. Daniel's head was tipped drastically to one side, like he'd been sandbagged by doubt.
"We certainly appreciate your enthusiasm, Jack." Jacob cleared his throat. "If you think you're up to it--"
"Oh, I'm up to it."
Jacob and I looked at Hammond, who probably had a few choice words for both of us by that point. He was keeping them to himself, though. "I need to talk to my team, if you folks wouldn't mind giving us a few minutes." Or maybe not. We waited while our guests left, then Hammond turned a displeased and challenging look around the room. "Tell me why I should authorize this mission whose wisdom I gravely doubt. And no one better feed me a line about wanting to help the Tok'ra."
"We go in, turn the shield off, and get out," I said. "A walk in the park, General."
"That is far from convincing me, Colonel."
"It would be a good opportunity to test the scope of the necklace's constraints," said Daniel.
"And if the test is a failure, Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel's face twitched uncomfortably, then he ducked his head with a frown. Strike two. Come on, Carter. But she opened her mouth, then closed it without saying anything and tossed me a helpless look. A glance at Teal'c's stony face doused my hope that he might have something to offer.
"Okay, look," I said. "If there's any trouble, Carter can lead the mission. She'll get us home."
"I have no doubt in Major Carter's abilities. But I can't have a team operating under such a shaky command structure." Hammond shook his head. "I'm sorry."
I slapped my hands on the table, frustrated. "Then let Carter take us through the gate. Give her acting command for this mission." Hammond hesitated. I knew he couldn't be happy discussing issues of command in front of the others, but if I could stand it.... I pressed my advantage. "I'll follow her orders and Daniel won't give me any. Right, Daniel?"
"No, no orders."
"There you go," I said to Hammond,
trying to project confidence and flexibility and good mental health as
the words no orders sent a wave of discontent through me.
I'd rally, though, I just knew it.
All systems go.
First time you come out a wormhole, you nearly puke. Second time, ditto. Third time, it's like getting off a roller-coaster after a few hotdogs. After twenty times, you've learned what to eat beforehand and what not to eat, and figured out not to inhale as you hit the event horizon. A few hundred times, and you're finishing the same sentence you started when you went in. Except when you hit a new planet. Then it's guns up and ready for anything.
It was one giant sandtrap, with a lot of sun. A small herd of skinny goatlike things were kicking their heels and honking as they ran off toward a distant mountain range. I made a 360 degree assessment of our location and then stepped down from the gate with the others. The MALP rested on a slight angle in the sand off to one side, undisturbed. We were alone as far as I could tell.
"This where you parked?" I asked Jacob. "I don't see the car."
He chuckled and then raised his arm. "The necropolis is about five klicks in that direction."
We trudged. Somehow Anise ended up alongside me, her dune dress flapping around her legs as she walked. Can you say, impractical? She wanted to engage me in conversation about the necklace, kept quizzing me about how it worked, how it felt. I glared at her a few times, gave curt answers that would have deterred anyone sane, and once almost called to Daniel for help. Help, master.
Okay, maybe that wouldn't have been funny to everyone else.
I casually increased my stride and drew up next to Jacob. "What's that?" I asked, looking at this beeping silver thingy he carried in his hand.
"We left a locator at the site."
"Ah." We walked side by side a minute, then it became clear neither of us was going to say anything more, and I speeded up again and fell into place beside Daniel. He looked at me: pale face, big hat, sunglasses. My own lenses tinted my vision.
"How do you feel?" he asked in a low voice.
It was weird. I had to stop and think. I took stock of myself: necklace, gun, alien planet, Daniel at my side. I thought about our recent fight. I was still raw. But that had been on another planet, thousands of light-years away, and I didn't have to deal with it here. I felt okay. A bit anxious, but normal. Normal was turning out to be a state of mind where the old me and new me curled up cozily and understood each other: I'd drop and shoot hostiles by reflex, but throw away my gun and lick his boots if he told me to. Hiking through the sand, with the blood flowing through my veins for the first time in days, I thought again that given the right conditions, I could learn to get used to this. Too bad no one else could.
I did wonder for a half second what I'd do if he suddenly said, shoot the others. But I knew. My brain would fry and I'd shoot myself instead.
"I'm okay," I said. "Hot."
The necropolis didn't look like much from the outside. Just a doorway in the side of a hill, with a couple of stone lions on each side. Big door, though, and Daniel was excited enough for the rest of us, jabbering on about burial chambers and rock-cut tombs and Thebes. New Kingdom this, Nineteenth Dynasty that. It went on for a while.
We walked right up to the doorway and stood in a line and peered inside. Gloomy. I lifted my infrared binoculars and scanned the interior. "Long hallway," I said. "Curves at the end. Wide pillars. Lots."
"We can't go past the first columns," said Jacob.
We investigated and used Teal'c's staff weapon to zap the stones a bit, but nothing happened. The Tok'ra still couldn't pass, and neither could Teal'c.
"Do you have any idea where the shield device might be operating from, dad?" Carter asked. When Jacob shrugged, she lifted her brows then let them drop. "Okay. You and Teal'c guard the entrance. We'll head in for a recon then radio our findings back in fifteen. I'll take point. Colonel, you're on our six."
"Right," I said, and we walked inside, guns up, checking behind each pillar as we passed. It got dark quickly and we had to turn on our high-beams. The air was cool and it smelled of rock, tons of old heavy rock.
Daniel started talking again in a hushed voice. "If this really is a necropolis, we may be looking at a wholly innovative design that combined a sun-king's tomb with the burial complex of lesser royalty. If I'm right, there should be a shaft coming up after the curve in the corridor--the 'cave of Sokaris.'"
"Sokar," I said.
"Yes. The shaft represents the underworld through which the deceased must pass. After that we should come out into the main hall; the tomb chambers will lie beyond that. The whole design is meant to symbolize the travel of the sun god Ra through the darkness of night to be reborn." He played his beam distractingly around the corridor. "These friezes are incredible. You don't usually find work like this outside the sarcophagus chamber."
"I was just thinking that."
We reached the shaft and stared across, then down. "Okay, that's a big hole," I said. I looked around to see if we were missing anything helpful, like a ladder or a bridge. Nada. Daniel lay down on his stomach with his head and one arm over the edge, holding his flashlight.
"It's deep. I can't see the bottom." He got up and dusted off.
"It looks about ten or twelve feet across. I don't think there's any other way around," said Carter.
"No," said Daniel. "We'll have to traverse the edges." He shone his light across a strip of stone that hugged the wall along the edge of the shaft and looked less than a foot wide.
Carter shook her head as she studied the situation. "I don't think that's a good idea, Daniel."
"Well, we should probably take our packs off and leave them. But there are grips in the walls."
I followed his beam with my own and saw a series of hand-sized holes in the carved rock. "Didn't I see this in one of those Indiana Jones movies?" I asked. "There could be bugs in there. Snakes. Our kind of snakes."
He dropped off his pack and secured his gun and flashlight. "Keep the light on me," he said.
"Wait, Daniel--" Carter began.
But he was already edging along the shelf, the nutty son of a bitch. I swore inwardly. "Now you see what I put up with," I said to Carter. She grimaced, but said nothing until Daniel reached the other side.
"Stay there," she ordered edgily. She checked her watch, radioed our progress, then dropped off her pack and followed Daniel's example. I winced and watched, then did likewise.
Daniel started to lope ahead of us like a dog scenting fun but Carter managed to get back on point. I was impressed. We wound our way deeper and then came out into a large room with more pillars and artwork. "Wow," said Daniel, heading off toward a painting of pyramids and tiny people.
"Shield first, art later," called Carter sharply, sounding a lot like me. Daniel reluctantly turned and came back, eyes still wide with wonder.
On the far side of the hall another
corridor branched out in three directions. "The king's tomb must lie directly
ahead," said Daniel, flashing his light toward a doorway. "And the side
corridors probably lead deeper into the burial complex."
"So if you were a shield generator, where would you hide?" I asked them.
"Nearest first," said Carter, tipping her head decisively and striding toward the doorway.
And that's when a blue curtain slid down between us and she vanished.
"Energy field." I touched my fingers to the curtain. It stung me like needles, but I pushed my fingers in deeper to test its strength. "Fuck!" I said, yanking my hand away instantly and shaking it. "We're not getting through that." Daniel frowned and reached out.
"What did I just say?" I pushed his hand aside. My necklace heated up a notch with some kind of fuzzy warning. I really wish the damn thing had come with a manual.
"Oh oh," Daniel said, looking over my shoulder. I turned fast, gun raised. Another energy curtain had fallen behind us, cutting off our exit. We tried our radios without success.
"Doesn't this just feel like a Tok'ra mission to you?" I asked with grim sarcasm. "Has that feel to it." I looked around, pissed. "If we can find the generator, it may be what's controlling these," I waved a hand, "drapes." I paused, then realized I was waiting, and that Daniel was waiting too. "Now would be a good time to get in touch with your inner master," I said.
"Orders, Daniel. I need orders."
He gaped. "You're kidding." He blinked. "You're not kidding." He looked down the two open corridors. "What if you don't agree with--"
"It doesn't matter," I said tightly, thinking of Carter and what could be happening to her. "I trust you."
"You do," he said doubtfully, cutting his eyes at me.
"Look, I may disagree, but I'm not going to second-guess you." At least not out loud, I added to myself.
"You can advise me, can't you?"
"Oh, yes." I'll do that, you can be sure.
He flashed his light up at my face. "Wait. What if I tell you to tell me what to do?"
"You'll give me a splitting headache."
"Oh. Well, what do you think we should do?"
"I think we should pick a direction and move."
He turned in place. "Well, ancient temples were usually oriented north, with the burial chamber slightly west of the north-south axis--" He caught my look. "Uh, that way," he said, pointing to my left.
I could recount in painstaking detail what followed, but it's not new and different, so why bother? We walked deeper into the ground, found a bunch of tombs, and then some snakehead woke up and welcomed us like a spokesmodel for the damned.
"Kneel before your god," she said, swishing out of the shadows. Long, dark, deadly--except she kind of looked like a young Mary Tyler Moore. I could tell I'd have nightmares. She waved a hand and torches went on. Sweet.
"We're not your worshippers," said Daniel, which was going to get us off on the wrong foot, I could tell, but what can you do. "But we mean you no harm."
"You are ignorant of the gods." She smiled nastily. "But I will show you what powers you would be wise to fear." She lifted her hand, and Daniel gave up diplomacy and raised his gun. My own was already pointed at her belly. We shot her before she could ribbon us, and she went down in a heap with a startled expression. Guess she'd been asleep a long time.
"We call those bullets," I said. She gasped and died, eyes open.
Daniel and I looked at each other, then wordlessly pressed on in the direction she'd come from. The rooms connected like a maze, and the walls glowed coppery in the torch light, scratched with writing and hung with Gou'ald toys. Every now and then we passed another sarcophagus with one of those sleeping beauties inside it. I was getting twitchy.
"I'm beginning to think the barrier might not be an Asgard device after all," mused Daniel as if we were having just another casual discussion in the middle of a Gou'ald slumber party. "It might be their own technology--a defense against other Gou'ald."
"Uh huh," I said, not caring. We entered a hall in the center of which stood a pedestal with a glowing light around it. "Now that's gotta be something." We stepped up together and studied the thing. On the pedestal was a doll-house sized model of what had to be the snake nest we were standing in. Lots of little rooms, corridors, mazes.
"This must be the layout of the entire site," Daniel said, tracing over the glowing bubble with his fingers.
"Stand back," I said, then winced and bit my tongue. "I advise you to stand back. And, uh, can I zat it?" It was embarrassing to ask, but kind of a kick too.
"What? No." He frowned.
"Daniel, that's probably the shield device."
"Oh. Right." He rubbed his forehead. "Damn. My camera's in my pack�"
"Oh, go ahead." He stepped back and wrapped his arms around himself peevishly. "It's just another unique and priceless artifact that could provide invaluable insights into post-diaspora tomb design, but we might as--"
I zatted the thing. The bubble of light vanished and the model exploded into dust, and Daniel shut up. I got a mild jolt of happy juice, like watered-down whisky. When I checked my radio, I finally got Carter, and nearly groaned in relief.
"I'm fine, sir," she said. Her voice was staticky but level. "The king and I didn't hit it off, but he's not going to be complaining about that."
"Good to hear." Go, Carter.
"You two okay?"
"We're good. We took a turn off the main highway, but we can find our way back. Shield should be down now."
"I'll radio and coordinate with the others, then. We'll meet you in our last position." She signed off.
"We may want to get out of here," I said to Daniel.
"Yes," he said, but he was saying it from the other side of the room. "Oh my god."
I looked over just in time to see him disappear. Not again, I thought, panicked, and leapt to follow. Only an ordinary doorway, though. I stepped carefully through.
"Charming." I looked around with distaste, but unable to entirely quell my curiosity. Four clear chambers stood upright against the walls, each with a body floating inside, each body of a different race. The walls were white and painted in various characters with what looked liked blood, and there was another pedestal in the middle of the room with a box on it.
"I've never seen anything like this," he said, staring at the nearest corpse, then at the wall behind it. He turned in a circle as he spoke. "The only language I recognize is ancient Egyptian."
"Well, that'd make sense, because we've never met giant purple grasshoppers before," I said, approaching the nearest chamber cautiously and tapping my gun against the glass. Daniel didn't hear me. He was circling the room, craning his neck up at the walls.
"The languages must be those of the races they conquered. It could be boasts of their victories, or information about the host genetic structure. If the accounts are the same, though, we may be looking at a Rosetta stone of the oppressed peoples of the galaxy." His voice had a certain edge of manic urgency that always made me nervous.
"Look, I hate to mention this, but I'm thinking now there's a pretty good chance that when we killed the force field, we might have woken this whole place up."
"Huh," he said, focused on the nearest set of marks, speaking to me or to himself, I couldn't tell, and then he twisted sharply around to stare at the box on the pedestal behind him. A hincky feeling touched the back of my neck, just as he reached out to touch the box.
"Whoa-wo-wo," I said. "Ever heard of a little girl called Pandora?"
He rolled his eyes once before returning to his study of the box; I stepped back and raised my gun while he lifted off the lid by the flats of his hands. It made a tiny pffft sound as it opened.
"Oh oh," he said, looking inside.
"I think I broke the seal." He set the lid aside. "It's a scroll. A very old one."
"A scroll." I lowered my gun and tried to still my racing heart. "For crying out loud, don't do that." Ouch. I whacked myself in the head out of sheer disgust. Ouch.
"Well, not a scroll per se, but an ancient holograph with--fuck." I jumped at the violence of his voice. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Never having heard four fucks in a row from him, I was primed to freak. "What?!"
"It's been exposed to the air. I don't know what it's made of, not parchment or papyrus, but it's dust now--just--keeping its shape so far, thank god."
"Oh." Don't do that, I thought. "Too bad. So, again, I'm just thinking here, that maybe it's time to--"
"This is Gou'ald."
"Figured that," I said, reining in my impatience with marvelous strength.
"No, it's Gou'ald." His face was a knot of concentration. "It's the Gou'ald script, the original Gou'ald language, what they used before they began adopting the written languages of their hosts."
"Okay, now how the hell can you know that?"
He looked up, staring at me with a look that--well, that spooked me. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't�know." He gazed back into the box, a demented light to his face.
"Quick check," I said, raising a finger. "Gou'ald. Snakes. No hands."
"I know, I know. They must have devised a system of representation when they were still using the aboriginal Unas as hosts. And I--Jack, I think--I think I must have picked up some latent sense of the language through the ribbon device."
"Oh?" Now that was just crazy, but I was losing interest in the discussion. I walked to the doorway and peered out through the hall. No movement. Yet.
"We may never find anything like this again," Daniel was murmuring. "Thousands of years, and this one scroll is all we've ever seen. To have been preserved like this, with these cadavers and writings--it could be of incalculable importance. Fuck, fuck, oh fuck! The ink is, is, is fading!" He stuttered wildly. "I need to take notes." He scrabbled his notebook free of his pocket and began striking a pen across the page.
I should have been used to this by now; I certainly had our own script down pat. Daniel says stay, I say go, Daniel digs in his heels, I crack the whip. But I didn't have the whip hand now; I could only advise. Strongly.
"Daniel, there are about fifty restless Gou'ald between us and the exit. This place isn't going to fall into the ocean. We can get back later if we have to."
He didn't look at me. "The ink is fading, Jack," he said in a tight, distracted voice. He spared me a half-second glance from blue, passionate eyes. "You go on ahead. Get to safety. I'll catch up."
I turned and walked away automatically, then gritted my teeth and stopped, my face heating as I realized what he'd done. Turning around was like turning into a stiff wind, and for some reason the burning and pain were sharper than they'd ever been before, measured to exactly how hard my will was grinding against his.
"Don't do this," I said. He was already reabsorbed in his scribbling. "Daniel!"
He didn't even look in my direction. "Is your neck hurting? You really should go."
And it didn't matter how offhand it was: the order sent me heading out of the room again. I had to fight myself in order to stay, to turn around. It felt bad and wrong to choose punishment over reward, but I still had a working brain.
"Have you thought about what happens if I run across, oh, say, a stray Gou'ald or three?" I managed, forcing the words through my constricting throat.
He looked sideways and paused to consider me, face expressionless. "No. I hadn't thought. Stay." And he turned away again.
My body sagged with relief and I closed my eyes against tears of pain. "Well, I'd be happier about that except for the fact that we need to go," I rasped with anger. It wasn't so much the risk of danger now that burned me, but his defiant, deliberate obstinancy.
He went back to scribbling, spoke absently, flipped a page. "I thought you trusted me."
I opened my wet eyes and stared at his back. I hated him then. He'd taken advantage of me, and his command skills sucked. I couldn't believe this was happening.
Oh, but I could. This was exactly what he'd do. Four years of trust and teamwork apparently meant nothing to Doctor Jackson when you shoved some alien language in front of him. And I'd been ready to follow his lead. I'd been insane. Even that last buzz tasted rotten.
"I did trust you," I said, walking over to him. "I trusted you to listen to me. I trusted you to listen to your conscience, which is so busy every other time I come knocking. I didn't think after all we've been through together you'd screw me over just to jot down the secrets of ancient snake writing, which no one in his right mind would give a good goddamn about when a mission's at stake!"
That stopped the movement of his hand, and he jerked his head up sharply. "Listen to you? When do I ever not listen to you? I listen to you in my fucking sleep! Why don't you try listening to me for a change, Jack. Listen to me. Hear me. Process the words." He rolled his hand as if he were writing on the air, jabbing the pen toward me like a knife to punctuate each command. My ears ached with the power and rage of his voice, and my head rang with obedience.
"Good," he said, biting the word off. He spoke as he wrote, gaze fixed again on his stupid box of dust. "You asked for orders. You've been on my case for weeks, trying to rile me up. But when it comes down to it, you want what you want. You want your way, Jack, and you think if something is meaningless to you, it's meaningless in itself. And, oh, by the way, you suck as a slave."
My jaw worked with rage; I felt like the top of my head was going to come off. I'd roused his sleeping god. I'd pushed him to just where I wanted him, but it was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong fight.
"Jack," he flicked a cold look at me, "shut up."
I closed my eyes. I should have given up then. I didn't know if I'd spoken the truth, if the mission mattered, if the Gou'ald might actually wake. It was protocol, and it was necessary, and it was all we had. If he scored even one victory, he might think he could do it again somewhere down the line, which was a direct line to the day when the odds kicked in and our luck finally ran out.
I grabbed his hand, the one holding the pen. He was forced to look up at me. My heart was racing, but I held his gaze with all the strength I could muster. I said everything with my eyes I couldn't say aloud, and it was a lot of stuff. Daniel looked back and swallowed once, and I could see thoughts moving across his face, his own internal language that I didn't know how to read. I just wanted words I could work with, and he gave them to me.
"Tell me," he said.
"We have to go," I said. Nothing more.
He closed his eyes a moment, and I watched his power drain away, and then he opened them again and there was a wall between us. "Fine. Right. We should go." As surrenders went it was grudging, but it was all I needed.
He made as if to move away, but I grabbed his shoulders and held him in place and made him look at me again. I didn't have a clue what these things meant to him; he knew it, I knew it; but sometimes the way he stared at alien scribbles was like how I used to stare at Sara's pregnant belly, no clue what was inside yet, but amazed. And it terrified me, that he might feel that, and I didn't want to talk about it. But the world had righted itself and I sizzled. I moved my hand up behind his head and drilled inside, right through his glasses and his gaze.
"You want to tell me what to do, I'll give you plenty of opportunities," I said meaningfully. "I promise."
Daniel searched my eyes and I could feel it when the wall came tumbling back down, almost as fast as it had gone up. "Kiss me," he said. His voice was sharp and rude and an order.
I kissed him deeply, lost for a moment on the surge of my blood, my tongue curling slick with his. This was the joy of absolute obedience. No need to fight.
It was only the shortest of moments and he pulled away first. "We should go," he said. His eyes were slitted and he was breathing hard.
"That's what I've been saying," I muttered back.
Mission accomplished. And then we ran.
We were able to give the general a report that made him happy and didn't compromise the truth. Much. Carter had been locked in with a sleeping Gou'ald but killed the sucker as soon as his sarcophagus began to open. Teal'c and the Tok'ra had come running when the shield went down, and caught up with Carter right away. They'd picked off a few more yawning Gou'ald with slow reflexes before Daniel and I arrived on the scene.
Only a few of the snakes had woken; the rest were still getting their beauty sleep when we left. I did get slammed against a wall by one ornery guy who aimed his class ring my way, but Daniel took him out. Not one of the suckers had a personal force-shield, and I had to wonder if there'd been a time, back in the misty past, when the Gou'ald were easier to kill. If so, we were visiting the Land of the Lost. Good to get out of there, though. Plan was for the Tok'ra to come in fast on our heels and clear the place out before redecorating. I was happy to leave them to it.
Coming home sweet home meant check-ups, debriefing, reports. S.O.P. And when our post-mission custody was over, I went into Hammond's office for a chat, and when I came out I told Daniel we could toss on our civvies and get the hell out of there.
"He's really letting us go?" he asked, glancing at Hammond's closed door. He sounded as if he wanted to check.
"Home for the night, back in the morning," I said. We looked at each other. I was ready to hot-foot it out of the mountain before the general changed his mind; Daniel was dragging his heels. I bottled in my impatience while he dawdled, first in his office, then in the locker room. I'd already changed and kitted some extra clothes while he was still taking off his boots.
We got in our cars, and I followed him to his place. Whenever I pulled up behind him at a light, there seemed to be something grudging to the set of his shoulders and back of his head. I cursed procedure and delays; he'd had time to think and cool off since the mission and it was wrecking his nerve and my plans.
Once inside his apartment, he drifted around from room to room, finding excuses not to look at me. Open the balcony door, water a dead plant, rinse the sink. I stood in the middle of his living room and waited him out. He finally stopped in the kitchen doorway, tense and distant.
"If you want to watch TV--"
"That's not what I want." I narrowed my gaze; he evaded it.
"Well, I have some research to do, and then--"
"Oh, give it up."
He didn't twitch a muscle. Cool customer. "What?"
"Stop pretending you don't want to go medieval on my ass." He'd been tightly wound since our kiss and I knew he wanted to do more.
His brows drew together as if I'd given him a real poser. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
I cocked my head. "The necro-palace? Some heated tonsil-hockey? Ringing any bells?"
"Necropolis." He crossed his arms. "I wasn't thinking then."
"Praise god," I shot back. I took off my jacket and tossed it at his couch, where it slid to the floor. He watched me. "You need to think a little less often." I didn't move toward him, didn't dare yet, but I could feel the distance between us closing as the tension in the room ratcheted up a notch. "What you should learn to do," I said, pointing at him, "is seize the day."
"Days don't need to be seized, Jack. Days force themselves on you whether you like it or not."
Talk about your loaded remarks. "Maybe you should show me how that works," I said.
"Maybe you should--" He paused. "I'd prefer it if you--" He snapped and unknotted his arms and then turned and slammed one hand against the wall. "Why are you doing this?"
At the smack of his palm against the plaster my dick stiffened. His back and arms were flexing, head bent, and the outline of his ass and legs gave me religion. Why did he need an answer--why even ask? I went to him, but he whirled as I neared. Light flared across his glasses.
"I don't want to play whatever game you've got in mind, Jack."
"Yes you do. You're dying for it, Daniel." I reached between his legs and grabbed his dick; its need pushed against my hand. He breathed through his mouth a moment, then shoved my hand away.
"You don't know when to quit," he said, and his voice was shaky. Anger, hunger, I couldn't tell. I was dark inside with a storm and he was trying to hide from it. But I knew he wanted to join me. I reached between his legs again. He looked honestly shocked, then grabbed my shirt and twisted; spun me and slammed me against the wall and pressed himself against my back. I felt his hand snake between my legs and seize me. He didn't say anything and I could only gasp; his head was pressed to my shoulder and he was grinding his hard-on against my hip.
"I'm not your master," he said finally. His hand was jerking me through my trousers. My knees almost buckled.
"You are," I muttered. "Please, Daniel." I fought for breath. "Please." I humped into his touch and felt his hips speed up as he jerked against me. Then he let go and pulled away. I thought I'd fall.
"I could tell you to get out right now," he accused, "and you'd wait outside my door like a dog, wouldn't you."
I groaned and arched in shame and pleasure. My whole body was in flames. "Yes."
"L-look at you," he said. His voice was sharp but that stutter was lust tripping through him. "God, Jack. You beg for it like a bitch."
I splayed my hands against the wall, hoping it would keep me upright. I was rubbing myself off obscenely, wildly turned on. I couldn't see him, but I felt him behind me, not touching. My neck and face felt hot and my ears must have been bright red.
"What should I make you do?"
"Anything." I forced the word out.
"Get in the bedroom." And I went, dick tenting my khakis. I was breathing raggedly, head spinning. "Take off your shirt," he said, and then in a staccato voice: take off your belt, your pants, take it all off. He stood within inches of me while I obeyed, my hands trembling. When I was naked I started to touch myself--my dick was riding so hard against my belly it hurt.
"Don't you dare touch yourself," he said coldly.
I closed my eyes and choked out a gasp and came. The jolt dropped me to one knee and then both. I saw his hands in front of me as he fumbled with his belt, and when his dick was out, red and heavy and in my face, I pulled his hips closer and he pushed into my mouth with a harsh cry.
My head shorted out, I think. I'd never felt more like a cocksucker, and I loved it, I wrapped my arms around him and urged him to fuck my mouth. He cried out again and grabbed my head and shoved in hard, demanding. He came after a few thrusts, the head of his dick throbbing and shooting against the back of my throat. I didn't know I could do that. I freed him and learned to breathe again, coughing harshly, feeling like a mental case. Certifiable and savagely happy.
Released, he sank onto the edge of the bed and then lay back and flung an arm across his face. I lay on the floor. A few minutes passed before he spoke. "Get on the bed, Jack."
I pulled myself up and crawled across its surface; then collapsed belly down on the sheets. I felt him get up and then heard him undressing, the clatter of glasses tossed on something, before he came back over. He settled next to me and for a moment there was nothing, then he ran a hand down my back. I shuddered.
"Did you like that?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," I ground out. There was a pause.
"I don't, um, I'm not sure what to do."
Oh, god, Daniel. "Do anything," I said thickly against the pillow, "you can do anything." How many times did I have to tell him.
He kissed between my shoulder blades
and then down lower. I fisted the sheets and bit my lip, resisting the
tenderness, afraid it would send me shaking to pieces. His licked up and
down my spine, then he slid on top of me and took the back of my neck between
his teeth. He bit me and I pushed my head into the pillow and bowed my
neck for him even more.
"You look good on your belly," he said calmly into my ear. His body was long and hot and heavy on mine. "On your knees. You should always kneel to me. I bet you'd like that, too. I just need to learn to take what's mine, don't I, Jack?"
"Oh, christ," I said, unable to breathe for a moment. The need was pain. Daniel.
"Is that a yes?"
"Yes," I said, and pushed myself helplessly against the sheets.
He moved off me, dick sliding across my ass, already half-hard again. He was younger than me, full of juice. I wasn't far behind, though.
"Turn over," he said. "Look at me." I obeyed. He lay propped one arm by my side. His cheeks were flushed, but his eyes were clear and his voice deliberate: "You'll serve me now."
I did. I went for him hard, kissing him until my lips felt sore, and then biting down his neck. I forgot not to leave marks. I mouthed his shoulders and chest, sucked his nipples. He made little sounds of approval as I worked my way around his body. He looked good, lying there, muscles and naked skin. Small nipples and smooth chest, thick cock waking up bit by bit. He kept me humming with commands: lower, harder, faster. He gave them in his laziest, most arrogant voice and every word was like the twitch of a leash that led right to my collar and made my whole body jerk with need.
I moved my head down his abs, short hair rubbing his skin, and kissed him.
"That's nice," he said, cool as royalty taking notice.
"Is that what you want?" I muttered darkly. "Nice?"
He opened his eyes to stare down at me and in a trick of the light they almost looked gold for a moment. "No," he said. He licked his lips once and his dick bumped my chin as it surged. I rubbed my jaw against it.
"Do that again," he told me. I did it some more until he was shoving against my face, leaving slick trails against my skin. Then he stopped and tugged me up against him. We kissed, broke apart, kissed some more, and every time we broke he gave me a potent look. After a while I figured out that he wanted me to read his mind, but that was one thing I couldn't do. I could guess, though.
"You want to fuck me?" I asked.
His eyes closed and lips pressed together a moment before he answered. "Yes." A muscle in his jaw snapped.
He told me there was stuff in his bedside table. I hadn't gotten a look last time, but this was clearly Daniel's wank drawer. Kleenex, condoms, some arty photo book that you couldn't really call porn even though it had tits on the cover, and an old bottle of Astroglide. I thought about him jerking off, and about all the times I'd jerked off in the past four years, the house dark and empty and quiet except for the fridge running or the tap dripping, sometimes the TV on and muted while one of those kinky SoloFlex commercials played.
Christ, this was better.
I took out the condoms and lube and wondered if he had any clue what he was about to do. I didn't intend to ask; it was going well so far and I didn't want blood flowing to his brain. Only trouble was that if he couldn't connect the dots, he might stop giving me orders. I handed him the stuff and he looked at it, then let his gaze wander down my body. I could see him thinking, wondering to himself if he should gamble on his own ignorance or admit he didn't know what came next.
I could have helped him, but that wasn't my place.
"Get on your stomach," he said, frowning. "I mean, if that's--" I moved to obey, not needing to think. "Oh. Yes. Now I--stay like that--"
I did. I leaned my head on my arms and pushed my hips up a bit, and let him figure out the rest. He did. He slicked his fingers and worked them inside me. By the time he managed to get two of them up there I was panting, fading in and out, and then I was fucking myself against his hand. It had been over a year since I'd done this last, and that time had been quick and anonymous and not exactly fun.
"It's tight," Daniel said, and his voice was edgy; I could hear the power gathering in him again, dark and hungry. Ruthless. "You're going to be so tight, Jack."
I couldn't even groan. He moved between my legs and got himself ready and I waited on him, my asshole aching where he'd touched me, my dick hanging heavy and stiff. When he nudged inside I shoved back as hard as I could, and in a minute we were tight, I could feel it all inside me. He had a fucking beautiful dick. Beautiful. He didn't know what he was doing at first, but I could tell he was wild for it, any worries forgotten, and I waited on him more until he settled into a sharp cadence, and then--
"Oh, god," I said, digging my knees into the mattress and arching back against him. Fresh sweat broke out on my body. "Sonofabitch, yes, oh god, you sonofabitch--"
He groaned and drove in harder. I could feel his hunger and frustration and rage, everything he'd locked inside, climbing, wanting out. "Take it, Jack," he said, the words breaking suddenly with a gasp, "take it, take it, take it--"
Wildness seized me. He kept saying take it, take it and every time he did I tightened and strained and lifted, my arms were trembling, my thighs, and there was no way I could keep flying at this altitude, my brain would explode.
"Oh god," he said, riding me with short sharp strokes. "Oh god, yes, take it, you bastard, you sonofabitch, take it, Jack, take it--"
He was gripping my hips harder than before. I'd be able to recognize Daniel now by how his hands felt, even though I couldn't see them, and by how he fucked, the savage little twist to how he dicked me. He was behind me and giving it to me rough. I rolled my face into his pillow and grated out a sob as he nailed the sweet spot, and then he reached a hand to my neck and slid it under my collar; he pushed my neck down and I could feel the power of his command and what he was telling me, I'd do this to you if I could, I'd make you do everything I say, and as the collar tightened on my throat I came so hard I forgot my entire life. The only thing left in my head was him: master master master.
And that should have been it, but I kept soaring while his dick stripped me inside and out, as he took what he wanted at his own brutal pace. The rush was huge and dizzying, white light and voices, Callas holding E-flat in Aida, my first spiral in an F-15, and I didn't want it to stop, ever, ever, but he finally broke and cried out, and I came again as he jerked all of his passion into my guts.
Later, I told him that he hadn't been rude and that he didn't have to apologize for things he'd said during sex or for giving it to me good. I'd never have thought I might have to explain that stuff to a guy over thirty. That worried frown on his face, though--that was Daniel. He'd given me what I wanted, taken what he wanted, and now he was busy thinking again. I almost felt sorry for him, some days.
"I didn't hurt you?" he asked. I must have delivered a look, because he said, "I'm more sore than usual. I thought maybe..."
"It's exactly what I wanted for Christmas." I gave him that, let a minute pass, gave him more. "I like it rough. A lot of men do. It's fine."
"Oh." And I could hear him thinking
about that, about a lot of men, and the things I might have just
told him. I felt lazy, like melted butter. I suspected I'd tell him a lot
more about myself, if it occurred to him to ask.
A minute passed. "Um, when I said 'as usual,' I meant--"
"How do you know?"
"Daniel, I know." Whatever he was going to say, I knew.
I turned my head on the pillow to stare over at him, which was kind of awkward, but I didn't want to move the rest of my body. "You know that time on 665?"
He blinked. I could tell he'd have frowned if he wasn't so relaxed. "No."
"In the tent. It was raining."
"No, not really."
"You gave me a look."
"I did? What kind of look?"
"Hot. You were flirting."
"I was not," he said, but then he smiled as if remembering.
"Yes, you were. I could tell. That's when I knew you wanted me." I stretched my arm above my head and put the other one on my belly, across the dried streaks I would have cleaned off, if it hadn't meant getting up. He didn't say anything back; after a while I turned my head to look at him again. "You wanted me," I repeated, challenging him to say otherwise.
"I suppose it's possible."
"Well, I must have wanted you. I'm here now," he said reasonably.
I had to take that for an answer to the question I hadn't really asked. And he--he didn't even ask me any questions. I kept thinking he would, but he was quiet, and then he fell asleep on his side without even a sheet covering him. He looked good when he slept, different. I lay there and watched him, wondering if he was pissed off, if we'd fight about this later, if he'd fuck me again with the collar on, whether he'd let me fuck him, what it would feel like if he said, harder, Jack, harder while I was buried balls-deep.
Around every other thought, another kept creeping in: I didn't want the necklace to come off. It didn't fit in my life, I knew that, but if it did.... If Hammond cleared us for missions, if Carter led them, if Daniel always listened to me like he should, if we moved in together. If we never ended up on opposite sides of a wormhole. If people said, oh, Jack's a slave, the same way they said, oh, Sam's dad is a Tok'ra.
Your mind isn't supposed to be able to hold impossible thoughts, but mine did. Or maybe that's two contradictory thoughts. I don't know. It was a jumble in there. I guessed that it would have been easier if I hadn't been a colonel, hadn't known Daniel before, had no baggage. Easier if I didn't think so much, in my own way.
I didn't want to fight him. I kept remembering that perfect moment a while ago when I'd given it all up and everything else was killed off except him, the only source of power: master master master. No questions in my mind then, no doubts, I knew exactly who I was. Every particle in my body, the kind Carter keeps talking about, had been serving him. I wanted to feel like that all the time, not just for sex. It was the same kind of zeal they try to whip up when you join the military, and I hadn't felt it since I was eighteen years old and stupid as dirt and trapped in basic. I missed it.
I felt sane, but they say all truly crazy people think that.
Next morning, no vomiting. The collar was doing its work; things were looking up.
"Sorry about that," I said, as Daniel stared into the mirror and fingered the hickeys on his throat. He found a black turtleneck, put it on. It didn't look too weird, I told him. There's no weather in the mountain.
We had toast and coffee standing at his kitchen counter while flipping through sections of the newspaper. I decided, studying him with little glances, that he wasn't pissed about last night, and that we weren't fighting. He'd let out some of his aggression, and now he had the keen, satisfied look cats get when they've mauled a bird. If he had any issues left, he'd work his head around them sooner or later. He always did.
I whistled as I followed his car to the mountain; my world was Technicolor.
When I reached base, they held me longer than usual at check-point. I watched the airman flip through his clipboard, and tried not to grow paranoid. He gave me a message that the general wanted to see me immediately on my arrival. I drove on, hands tight on the wheel. My ass was sore. I would have been happier not seeing the general at all today, considering.
"Colonel," he greeted me, as I knocked on his door frame. He was getting out of his chair, smiling a little as he came around the desk. I relaxed as much as I could; my shoulders had been climbing up around my ears.
"General," I said warily.
"O�kay." We walked. His hand briefly hovered against the middle my back as he guided me down the corridor. I was nervous again. "Where are we walking?" After a beat, I added, "Sir."
"Well, we have some interesting news. I'd like Major Carter to explain things."
We got to the infirmary; Daniel was already there, arms folded. I looked at him, alarmed for a moment. He raised his eyebrows at me without speaking, but didn't seem worried. Teal'c was there too, and Carter and Fraiser. Okay, so probably not a surprise prostate exam.
"Colonel." Carter was full of suppressed...something. Beans, my dad would have said. Full of beans. Happy beans, jumping beans. She looked to the general, then back to me. "We have some news. I think it's good."
She went to a table and took a gold whatsit off a tray. It was a ring, I saw, a big one with a red jewel. Gaudy.
"I didn't want to get your hopes up, but before the mission I asked Anise if the Tok'ra might have anything like the necklace in their stores."
Sharply enough to make Carter pause, I looked over at Daniel. "I just found out," he said. He darted a look to the others, but didn't put too much emphasis on it. He was doing better than I was.
"Anise said she would have someone look," Carter went on, "and they think they've found a match." She turned the ring between her fingers. "This goes with another necklace similar to the one you're wearing. We believe it's the controlling device. It's possible that if the necklace is removed by the, um--" She paused, clearly unable to find a word.
"Master," I said.
She took a breath. "--that there would be no ill effects," she finished gamely.
"How do you know that gadget will work with mine?"
"We don't," said Fraiser from the wings. "But it's worth trying."
"And what if it fries my neck? Every thought of that? Daniel puts it on, points it at me, zap."
"The Tok'ra have already tested its function--" Carter started.
"Plucky folk, the Tok'ra," I broke in sarcastically.
"And it worked like a key to remove their own chain," she managed to conclude despite me. "Sir." She gave me the big-eyed, earnest look. "We have no reason to believe this will hurt you. The Tok'ra who tried on the chain has never suffered any residual effects. That was months ago."
I had to back away and pace. I laid my palm to the back of my neck and rubbed it restlessly. "Aren't we jumping into this a little fast, here?"
"Colonel, you've had this device on for over a month." Hammond sounded confused. "I thought you'd be glad to get it off." I scrunched my face up at the thought, couldn't help it, and he turned to Fraiser and Carter. "You told me this had no narcotic effects."
"No evidence of any, sir," said Fraiser pointedly.
"I'd like this removed now, if possible," said Hammond firmly.
Carter offered the ring to Daniel, who took it and slid it onto his finger. I stood as far away as I could, resenting the people I cared for the most, my anxiety rising. When Daniel came toward me, I backed up a step. "Don't," I said, holding up my hands like a crossing guard and ignoring the urgent flare across my body. I didn't even know what it meant anymore--how was I being disobedient, when I only wanted to keep serving him?
"Daniel." I'd meant his name as a warning, but it came out weak and unsure.
He tried to say things to me with his eyes that the others, behind him, wouldn't be able to see; and when that failed, he said quietly, "Jack, let me do this."
My hands lowered, and he took the necklace off.
The short version is: the damn thing stayed off and I never saw it again. I got better, if you can call it that, and things went back to normal. The real normal this time. Me in my office, Daniel in his, Hammond relieved, Carter pleased at yet another success, Teal'c satisfied in that quiet way of his. Fraiser monitored me for a while, then cleared me for duty. We started prepping for a new assignment, a gate-jump scheduled for the following week.
The long version...well, that was just the rest of my life.
"No withdrawal, then," Daniel said, during lunch that first day.
I shrugged. "Too soon to tell. Or so they tell me."
Three days later, he said, "Fraiser cleared you?" And I gave him a bland yep for the benefit of the security cameras in the corridor we were walking along. That night in his bed he gasped out my name as I fucked him. He even said, harder, harder. The sex wasn't quite what it had been with the necklace, no nukes detonating in my brain, but I was there with him all the way, giving him my full attention. I hadn't noticed before that I wasn't, when I had the thing on.
Lying next to him afterwards, I had to face up to the fact that I was kind of depressed. It was like being grounded in flight school, just as you were starting to tear up the sky. I wasn't going to tell Daniel that, though, not him or anyone. I'd live with it. Stuff like this is bound to happen when you go gallivanting around the universe, taking gifts from strangers. But there's never any point; it never happens for a reason. After all these years, I'd gotten to where I could go through the meat-grinder one week, drink away a weekend, then get back in next week's game without fuss.
"You know...I really didn't learn anything from this."
Daniel pulled himself out of his drift. "What?" He blinked. "Did you say something?"
"I said, go back to sleep."
"Mmm," he said, and I could feel his heavy eyes puzzling at me. Then he shifted closer and put a hand on my chest and drowsed off again with trust and obedience. His hand was warm and his breathing was quiet, and I heard a police siren in the far distance through his open window. A familiar sound, the kind that lets you know you've come back to Earth.
Okay, maybe I was better off bare-necked. It wasn't like I had a choice. And after all, who else would boss him around if I didn't do the job.
I was an acting colonel again and the status quo was good, I decided.
The status quo with sex.
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