A/U – A/U
Summary: Jack and Daniel live in a world controlled by the NID and a fascist government. They have tried and failed to return to what was. Their lives are difficult, with Daniel forced to work under the thumb of Frank Simmons at Stargate Command, and Jack forced to be in command at Area 51. But they have a plan to escape, to find a better world. The only problem is surviving long enough to get there, and to make it work after they do.
Jack looked out of the plane’s window, watching the cloud cover wisp by. It was meditative, looking at it, although there was only one thing on Jack’s mind: his reunion with Daniel. It had been twenty-two weeks since Jack had seen him, and that reunion hadn’t been long. Twenty minutes. That’s it. It was a sad amount of time, and the sex had been needy and demanding. It hadn’t lasted fifteen. The remaining five had been reserved for afterglow and the refusal to let each other go.
There was something to be said for quickies. Sadly, that was how their first time had gone. Jack felt First Times were supposed to be slow, awkward, and then the curiosity and passion would take over and it would turn into exploration time. It’s always a surprise to both parties just how animated their partner would be. How skilled. Unskilled. How they measured up. Jack preferred skilled. Which was another way of saying experienced. In his mind. Mostly.
It had been Daniel’s impatience in charge that day. He’d been filled with need and lust and wanting to get at all the sex in every manner imaginable, all at once. It had been adorable. After four and a half as a married couple, Jack looked forward to Daniel’s impatience. It turned his slow lovemaking into a tortuous act, and when Daniel came, it was like a rocket: there was no way to focus on anything else. The world could end, and Daniel wouldn’t have noticed. The build-up made it so that there was nothing else in the world.
Jack’s thoughts weren’t allowed to wallow in pleasant memories. Anxiety flooded his attention, worry that he wouldn’t be able to see him. Twenty-two weeks. Why? Couldn’t they give the man a break? No. They needed Stargate Command’s top Linguist. The archaeologist part was maybe fourth or fifth on the list of skills they felt was useful. They. They being the NID. They ran everything.
The president, asshole that he was, had put him in charge of Area 51, ostensibly to protect Earth, but the real reason had been to get him away from the SGC and to make Simmons, and the president, money. In a normal world, Jack would not have allowed the NID or anyone else to take charge, to interfere, to gain tracking information on every country in the world thanks to some stolen Asgard tech. But the NID … they ruled by force, blackmailing anyone who objected and killed anyone who interfered or was deemed a threat.
They’d bombed Dakara for that reason. Teal’c, Bra’tac, and their rebel Jaffa army were gone. They were a hindrance to their plans, never mind a big problem for a Goa’uld/Tau’ri alliance. And unbeknownst to the public, people were spirited away to become hosts and slaves.
Jack shuddered, an odd combination of fear and hatred. Normally, fear was the foundation of a hatred born out of ignorance. But this was different. Knowledge was the foundation. It was fear for your loved ones, for the country, for the planet even, that caused a great deal of hatred toward those who caused it. Hatred was at its highest level now because there was literally nothing Jack could do to change anything. The NID was in charge. They would learn a lesson soon, though, while they were busy with the Goa’uld.
Daniel would have sabotaged the cause of all this, if only he and Carter…
For cryin’ out loud, O’Neill. I think at this point you can call her Sam.
Inwardly, silently, he sighed with an all-consuming anguish that was not reflected in his outward appearance. He had years of discipline to thank for that. She’d been his friend, his right hand. His security. And he hadn’t been able to protect her. Jack would never forgive himself. Neither would Daniel. It hadn’t been up to them, but irrationally, they felt responsible anyway.
All because SG-1 had discovered a weapon that allowed them to target specific enemies. In SG-1’s mind, they thought about killing Goa’uld while leaving the Jaffa alive. It could even distinguish between Goa’uld and Tok’ra. A quick, clean method to rid themselves of the Goa’uld. But to others, it was an assassination tool. None of them were able to stop the Pentagon, aka the NID, from grabbing it. Sam and Daniel had protested, of course.
That wasn’t the direct cause of her death. No one’s was a direct cause after acquiring that weapon. It had been all those goddamn dominoes. Didn’t matter anymore. She was dead, along with Jacob. Damn Tok’ra. Couldn’t they …
Jack stopped his train of thought again. It hadn’t been the Tok’ra’s fault. She and Jacob did what the mission required but they’d had insufficient intel. That sort of mission had happened to him a long time ago when he’d led a team with Kawalsky into an unequal firefight. And it had happened again. How could these people call themselves professionals and …
Jack closed his eyes. It wasn’t Martouf’s fault either, but in his slanted, biased opinion, husbands took the rap when their wives (or husbands) came to harm. It wasn’t rational or fair. And it was the way of the world these days, wasn’t it? Try to protect people. Fail. Try to make things fair. Fail.
And soon, they would be dead too if things didn’t go according to plan. All he had to do was play his part. Daniel had to take the lead because everything was up to him. Even under the NID, Daniel had a lot of control. He had earned it, doing one distasteful act after another in order to gain trust. To gain access. Their plan was now within their reach. It was the only sure way to win: to run. To escape. That didn’t always work. Carter, Teal’c, and Jacob had run. Unfortunately, they were gone. It wasn’t the reason they were dead. Not precisely. But he and Daniel had to run further away, to get beyond the NID’s reach. Beyond the Goa’uld. They had to get out before this place destroyed them too.
To that end, Daniel had somehow procured a Tel’tak on the black market. The thought filled Jack’s soul with a mixture of pride and awe. The ship had a functioning cloaking device and Asgard beaming technology. It currently orbited just off the point of the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility and for two years, it hadn’t ever been discovered. It turned out that Daniel was just as savvy with technology as he was at communication. He’d certainly played the NID well. But that luck would run out, so it was now or never. They had to do this together.
It was lucky that they’d been able to stay married. Normally, a secretive organization like the NID was like every other paranoid and extremist organization. Anything that was different was suspect and thus disallowed or made illegal. Being gay, for example. But not in America, where some leaders who came to power were gay. Including the leaders at the NID. Go figure. It meant that he and Daniel had been safe. In that way, at least.
Jack watched the plane taxi the runway and standby lanes, but he wasn’t paying attention to it all. All those trucks and towing carts and people running about to get the plane ready for disembarkation. Disembarkation. Embarkation. The latter used to be a good word, once, when applied to the gateroom.
It was time to grab his baggage, which consisted of carry-on only. No checked bags. No trail, apart from the recorded flight. All he had with him was his leather satchel and a small, black duffle bag. He’d left everything else behind, including his life, such as it was. Either his and Daniel’s plan worked, or they died. It was just that … well, not simple exactly, but required. Besides, all Jack really needed was his ‘go’ bag, which was what his duffle was. It included IDs, weapons, a survival kit, a change of clothes, and a few stolen tech items no bigger than a silver dollar—in case they needed to pretend to be other people.
He left the plane and entered the airport reception area, feeling chafed and uncomfortable. He hated Class As, but it was required of him during business travel and he was never considered off duty. He tucked his cap under an armpit, and wished he thought to wear the overcoat to hide his rank of General. Gritting his teeth and hoped no one stopped him, he headed for the exit terminal that would get him the hell out of here. He was once step closer to freedom and Daniel. Or death.
Hadn’t it been two years since he’d seen Jack? Nearly. Two weeks short. It may as well be rounded off since the weeks were all the same. He ran a hand through his long hair. It was now longer than it had ever been and fell to his shoulders. Jack would be surprised. He’d have kept his hair short, of course. Some things would never change. He tried to imagine Jack with long hair and it gave him fantasy ideas that he had to stifle immediately.
There was an ache deep inside him. A spiritual one. It was big enough for two. Jack and himself. The last time they were together, he’d been so urgent with him, as if not having his cock inside him meant they’d waste their chance. What if they were never together again? He’d never again feel him inside his body. It was primal and stupid, all things considered, but Jack hadn’t minded. There was all the reason in the world to believe it would have been their last time. Right now, all Daniel wanted to do was kiss the man for forty-eight … no, seventy-two … no, ninety … whatever. Kiss him until his lips went numb and his brain fell asleep.
In a sick, twisted way, that’s nearly what stasis felt like, although when you went in, it fucking hurt. The pain remained for a week and then dissipated. If you were taken out before that, you would lie in agony for twenty-four hours. And that was the whole point. Frank Simmons had outdone himself in the invention of punishments to inflict on those who crossed him. Fail him in any way and boom, into the deep freeze you went.
Daniel had been in one of those pods five times. For the first five months of the takeover. Once a month, he’d lose his temper. After the fifth time, Simmons had told him that since Daniel hadn’t put a value on his own life, he torture “Jack” instead. Simmons even started using “Jack” instead of “O’Neill” after he’d learned of their relationship. He’d then gloat by simply stating his given name, as if he owned it. In some respects, he had.
Daniel gave a technician a grim smile as he dropped off the latest translations for review. The man’s eyes had been dead. Not literally, but there was no life behind them. Hope had fled. He bore the mark of ‘traitor’ on his forehead. The sigil of Heru’ur, who’d refused to bow down to Baal, Osiris, and Nirrti. The three System Lords who’d made pacts with the Tau’ri.
The Tau’ri. A dirty word in the universe these days, and Daniel was so ashamed that there were times where he’d risk it all to assassinate the entire Pentagon—all of whom were in the NID’s pocket. He’d have taken out Congress for good measure, but it didn’t exist anymore. The president was a dictator with a private army, and one that had devastated the military with surprising speed—thanks to real traitors from within—while no one was paying attention. Americans were so consumed by poor wages and lying politicians that they didn’t realize they’d elected the monster they were running from.
Daniel returned to his lab, his expression set in an angry countenance. People avoided him if he even so much as looked at them funny. Simmons was rather proud now, having won Daniel’s compliance and further, to see him do as he was told no matter what the order was. Lately, Simmons had grown fond of extreme voyeurism. He’d sprinkle men for Daniel to torture and watch from a blackened observation room. This was only a recent development, hardly three months old. Simmons had conceived it after he’d shown Daniel a recording of his reunion with Jack.
“Lovely camera angle, don’t you think?”
Daniel had lost it. All of his discipline had gone out the window as a rage overcame him. He’d been facing that NID prick, so he’d called up the lessons he’d picked up a lifetime ago. Lessons from Teal’c. With grief for his lost friends coupled with fear for Jack, he’d placed a foot behind Simmons’s leg, sweeping backward while his hands shoved forward. Simmons had been on the ground, vulnerable, and Daniel brought his booted foot down for a quick kill. But before his boot connected to break that face, to collapse that jaw, to snap that bastard’s neck, he’d been shot from behind with a zat. According to Simmons, who’d gloated later, the guard had been ready to fire again and kill him when Frank had so magnanimously saved his life.
Daniel had wondered why he hadn’t been tossed in a pod. Later on, he’d found out that after five “sessions” in the pod, your brain degrades. Simmons couldn’t kill him. Daniel made him money. He gave him the translations on how weapons worked, on spies, on supposedly private alien meetings. Now, it was worse. Thanks to trying to kill him over a voyeuristic video, he was now forced to perform. It had taken all of his discipline to send his mind elsewhere while he inflicted pain.
Simmons had told him three weeks ago that he was rewarding him for his ‘performances’ with an unsupervised visit with Jack. Since then, plans that had been awaiting implementation had finally been put in place. It was the moment they’d been waiting for. Even within their surveillance state, Daniel had allies among those who travelled between the SGC and Area 51. All those things Daniel had secreted away were put into action.
Thankfully, his lab no longer had a camera. A concession, Simmons said, for the money he’d made off Daniel’s talents. And now, his talents as a torturer got him the thing he’d been hoping for. And all he’d had to do was …
Daniel wondered when the mental breakdown would come because sooner or later, the bill came due. And how would he tell Jack? He couldn’t keep it to himself. He told him everything.
After dropping off the report, Daniel headed back to his lab as if it were another typical day at Command Hell. But when he closed the door, he went to his desk and reached underneath in the space meant for the chair. With deft fingers, he found the latch along the top left dovetail that joined the left side of the desk to the top. A compartment’s door dropped open and Daniel retrieved something that looked like a leather bracelet cuff. He put it on his left wrist and flipped up a leather over-strap. He tapped a code on the tiny keypad and a holographic display projected from a tiny pinhole, showing the orbit of his Tel’tak.
Daniel swallowed. Hammond had gotten him this bit of tech, along with the Tel’tak. He’d paid for it by committing suicide before the NID had come for him. A tear welled in Daniel’s eye and he blinked rapidly to get rid of it. I’m sorry. It wasn’t his fault, but he took on the weight because he could. Who the hell was around to stop him? Jack wouldn’t be because he’d share in the guilt. A mutual admiration and sacrificial society.
Kneeling, he was about to do something to a tile in the floor when his bulkhead door opened. From the cubby hole his wrist cuff had come from, Daniel felt for a small triangular device and slid his fingers over it, arming himself. It was a Goa’uld assassination device.
“Jackson,” said Robert Makepeace, head of security.
Daniel poked his tongue into his cheek, hard, ordering himself to resist vaporizing this man—and thus destroy his and Jack’s futures. He remained where he was. “What?” he snapped, as if angry he was being interrupted. Well, he actually was.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of a problem,” he said, and grabbed the large splinter that hung from the underside of the desk top.
He’d been leaving it there for just such an occasion, as well as allowing himself to get his knee scraped once in a while. A minor form of self-harm that he considered a form of self-punishment. There was a cracking sound and he jerked his arm, stood up, and revealed a very thin, seven-inch long piece of wood. It covered the device, nestled between his middle and ring fingers. He gestured at his knee, showing a tiny rip with dried blood.
“What do you want?” he asked, not bothering to hold in his hatred.
“Boys want a bit of fun. Thought maybe you’d—”
“For fuck’s sake,” Daniel hissed, glaring at the smug man. “You just had a party last night. If you don’t keep it professional, you’ll end up in a pod for the rest of your insane life.”
“Fuck you, Jackson. You don’t get to tell me how to do my job.”
“I think I just did,” Daniel sneered. He could say these things, and take advantage. He was Simmons’ pet. “Now get out. I’m busy.” He paused, looking at the large splinter. “Unless you’d like me to shove this up your urethra and deprive your boys of their ritual cocksucking.”
“You sonofa—” Makepeace snarled, putting both hands on his zat, strapped at his belt. But he did nothing else. “One of these days, I’m going to get my chance,” he said in a low tone. “And on that day, I’m going to rape you into another life.”
“Out!” Daniel spat, showing no fear. You didn’t dare, not in this place. When Makepeace left, and the bulkhead door closed, Daniel dropped back on his knees and felt for the crack in the tile under the bottom left drawer of his desk. It was difficult, but he got it, even after peeling back half a fingernail. No big deal. He was used to pain.
His fingers moved on their own without ever having seen what lay in the depression of the tile. He’d had a map in his head and having done mental practice drills, he knew exactly what he was doing. He found the keypad numbers and tapped the long set of digits for the start code, then flipped a small silver switch. A red LED clock activated and began to count down from six hours.
He replaced the tile and stood up. He was now committed. No matter what happened, this entire mountain complex, including NORAD, was going to go up in a spectacularly horrific fireball. It would take out Colorado. Quite literally. It would spread outward for five hundred miles. Area 51 wouldn’t get touched, but they’d definitely get fallout. Anything left would be buried under rubble. The bomb, however, wasn’t nuclear. It was naquada. If it had been nuclear, he wouldn’t have done it. These people needed taking out, but Canada, Mexico, and the rest of the U.S. didn’t deserve radioactive fallout. Neither did the rest of the planet. The only regret was that the president wasn’t due until next week.
Once upon a time, the lives of innocents would have prevented his action, but the innocents in this mountain had no hope, no free lives. A janitor had once told him that if someone told him to hide a bomb, he’d gladly give his life to set it off and told Daniel that many others felt the same. Only fear of death or religious view kept them from taking their own lives. He’d seen it time and time again. It hurt him so much not to be able to help.
Once, there’d been the dream of rebellion, of taking back the government, to restore democracy. Surely two hundred million people could overtake a police and mercenary force of half a million. But the takeover had been so subtle, so long-term, involving dozens of corporations that bought the politicians and turned many parts of the government over to privatization, that when the switch was finally made, everyone had been caught with their pants down. The internet was killed, communications were monitored. Life had reverted to pre-1990. Those who could get out, did, until the borders were closed. Now, you needed a special pass just to board a plane out of the country. If you had the money.
Thanks to forcibly separating them, and the threats that had been made to keep them in line, he and Jack had had enough. There was no way to get out of the country the conventional way so the Tel’tak was the answer. Over the years as SG-1, they had built contacts offworld, as well as having a few other desperate avenues of escape. It was now time to call in all favors.
Grabbing a duffle from the single locker in his office, Daniel exposed his wrist cuff and flipped the leather overlap once again, but this time, he pressed a tiny blue oval gem. Anyone who’d seen a Goa’uld transport device on a Jaffa would have recognized the thing, only the one on the cuff was in extreme miniature. However, instead of a ring transport, a shimmering white light engulfed him and took him off the planet. Next thing on the to-do list: Grab Jack.
Through the Eye of a Needle
Jack drove the rental from Denver to a place called Squire’s Corner. It wasn’t on any map. It was forgotten by the locals, like all refuse was, and it would take three hours driving time from Denver to get there. He could have driven in from Groom Lake, the semi-official designation of Area 51, but it would have taken over a day and a half. And it would have been unusual and unusual was not on the program. Make no sudden moves. Don’t break from routine. Don’t take long drives out of state.
Jack had spent the last eight months flying to Denver on a regular basis, then taking three-hour drives from there. Sometimes he’d go to Wyoming. Sometimes to Aspen, Medicine Bow, or White River. There were places to vacation in Nevada, but not as lovely. He could’ve gone to Utah or California, too, but there was a reason to go to Colorado.
Everyone who had contact with him knew what that reason was: Doctor Daniel Jackson. Most of the time, he wasn’t allowed to see him, but he stayed nearby in case Simmons or one of his henchmen decided to be lenient. That was the rumor purposely spread, even knowing that Daniel was pretty much a prisoner in Cheyenne Mountain.
When had they decided to do something? To this particular plan of action? Jack couldn’t remember. He sat behind the wheel for a moment, then got out and opened the trunk, taking out several duffle bags and suitcases. He couldn’t have been seen packing this much, so he’d done it over time. Just like his haphazard travel plans. Having disabled the trackers on the car, he left it and hauled everything into the dilapidated shack no bigger than a standard bedroom.
Once inside, he went to a wooden day bed, flipped up the soggy mattress and pulled up a square piece of wood. Another key pad, and he entered the same long code Daniel had and pushed a red button. How long had it taken to create this, he wondered? Had it been Daniel’s mysterious friends? He’d find out who they were soon enough. Unless they were dead, then it wouldn’t matter anymore.
Jack checked his watch. Nineteen forty-three. The weekly presidential address would be starting soon and so all eyes would be there, not on any odd loitering in out of the way places where no one should be watching. Even satellite tracking would miss him at this hour. He had to give it to both himself and Daniel. They’d done the unthinkable. If only they had the resources to take back the country.
An ache filled Jack. It was like watching his home go up in flames. In his case, the second time, and more euphemistically. The literal burning had been when he’d been appointed as head of Area 51 and had been ordered to sell his house. He hadn’t had many buyers and those that wanted it, he wouldn’t sell to. He kept getting threats about robbing his house or harassing the neighbors. Intimidation tactics to force him to sell to the wrong people.
Jack’s response, and an unprovable one at that, was to stage an electrical fire that took it all down to the foundation. It was a glorious message and they still couldn’t prove he’d done it. Of course, these people weren’t from an insurance company trying to discover if he’d broken the law. They’d gotten a little message: Fuck with him long enough and he’d take them down in spectacular fashion. The only drawback was Daniel. They had his life to threaten him with, just as they had Jack’s life to threaten Daniel with. Still, boundaries could be pushed as long as you did a few distasteful things you’d order yourself to live with for the rest of your life.
Jack wanted to sit down, but he was too edgy, too suspicious. If he had to move, he needed quick action, which is why he’d changed his clothes to old jeans and a t-shirt. The only concession to fashion had been his black leather jacket. That was never getting old. Now, if he was busted, he had already plotted several avenues and means of destruction. The entire shack, for example, was wired to blow.
When he’d pushed that red button, not only did it send a signal to the Tel’tak, but it activated a bomb that would go off in five hours. It wasn’t one of those explosive devices. This one was like his house. It would burn old wiring that had somehow, someway, been left to rot. Plus, there was a little bit of acid and thermite for the call box under the bed’s mattress.
Taking out a standard issue energy bar, he nibbled at it, made a face, and put it back in his pocket just as a beam of light surrounded him and he looked up and muttered, “About fucking time, Daniel.”
Jack was put on guard when he and his gear appeared on a darkened bridge. “Daniel?” he whispered.
From the pilot’s chair, Daniel said, “Here. Get over here and take second seat. We gotta go.”
“Why, are we on a deadline?” Jack asked as drily as he knew how as he made his way to the console by feel.
“Nah, I just wanna take this out for a spin,” Daniel replied, making Jack grin.
The controls weren’t like the weird Goa’uld “glow lights”, as Jack had coined them once upon a time. The entire console panel looked Asgardian. Jack’s mouth fell open and he stared at Daniel. “The Asgard are helping?”
“Not exactly. They’re fighting some damn fanatical religious group called the Ori in their own galaxy. But Thor sent us presents.”
“Huh,” Jack said.
“Pray or do something,” Daniel said, clarifying unhelpfully. He moved the ship moved out of the shadow and guided it around the moon. “So far …” he said, then activated the hyperspace beacon and the greenish aperture opened up, sucking them in. “… so good,” Daniel finished.
“Uh, I didn’t pray,” Jack said, shocked.
“Say one now, and hope we weren’t picked up or followed.”
“They’d know already, right?”
Daniel shook his head and got up from his seat. “Sabotaged the computer. Virus should be going off now.” He moved over to one of the suitcases. “Otherwise, they’d already be on our asses.”
Jack took his hand, stopping him. He took hold of his chin and forced their eyes to meet. “Hey, you. Deep breath.”
Daniel inhaled through his nose, let out a slow breath, and wrapped his arms around his husband. “Hey you.” His brows knotted, and tears sprang to his eyes. “I love you.”
Jack closed his eyes against his own wetness, hugging Daniel back tightly, as if someone would snatch him away. “I love you back.” They held each other for a few long minutes, then Daniel pulled away to open the suitcase.
“Did you pack—”
“It’s in the left upper pocket.”
Sighing with relief, Daniel retrieved his wedding ring. He slipped it on slowly, his bottom lip trembling, then he shook himself when he felt he was too damn close to letting go. He couldn’t. Not yet. With a big sniff, he smiled when Jack held out his own hand, displaying his ring.
“Were you allowed to wear it again?”
Jack shook his head. “They outlawed marriage in Nevada, remember? It’s a ‘workers’ state.” He made air quotes.
“Fuckers,” Daniel said, disgusted, and returned to the pel’tac—which in this Tel’tak wasn’t on a wide podium but at the forward piloting console.
Jack grabbed some MREs and tossed them on what he considered a dashboard above his side of the console. “When will we be able to …” He waved a finger between them.
Daniel smiled wanly. “Not until we’ve reached Arillia.”
“How long’s that gonna take?”
Daniel made a face. “Five hours.”
“Jesus. Everything in our orbit lately has been three hours, five hours, six.”
“For example,” Daniel nodded, understanding what he meant, especially the last one. “It’s the first stopover. We can’t afford to be within six gate addresses to Earth, never mind in Lucian Alliance territory.” Jack curled his lip with active hatred. “You and me both,” Daniel nodded. The Lucian Alliance was basically an interstellar drug cartel.
“I almost wish I could see the shock on their faces,” Jack said, but he shuddered in shame.
Daniel reached across and held out his hand. Jack took it. “Me, too,” Daniel said, and he was referring to the emotion Jack was feelings. Jack knew it and squeezed his hand. “As for revenge, I’ll settle for being several thousand light years away. We need to get the hell out of here, Jack. Something’s really gone wrong with this galaxy.”
“So,” Jack said, after taking a deep breath. “The second leg is at …” He furrowed his brow, trying to remember the name and Daniel had no intention of saying it for him. “Rho’Shanna?” he asked, and grinned sardonically when Daniel nodded. “And the last leg is that Asgard-Altaren world, right?”
“Atalanta,” Daniel said. “In the Pegasus galaxy. But we’re only going there to use a device the Asgard Freyr told me about.”
“Atalanta. That was the name of a runner in the first Olympic games, right? She ran against Paris and he cheated by throwing down golden apples.”
Daniel beamed at him. “You have a magpie mind. How you pull out random shit like that amazes me.”
Jack grinned, but it turned down in consternation. “Hang on. The second leg is to the Tok’ra planet. So how in the hell are we to …” He grimaced and waved a hand, dismissing what he’d just said. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m tired. I’m not thinking straight. That’s where the random shit comes from.”
Daniel raised a brow. “What did you think you got wrong?”
“I was thinking in terms of going through gates, not flying this ship. Milky Way to Pegasus.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, wincing. “Uh, Jack. We are going by gate.”
Jack looked up from his pinched bridge. “We are? I’m not wrong?”
“Man, you are tired. Martouf has two generators to hook up to the gate. They dig the gate out to expose the chevrons, they they dial the address Freyr gave me.”
“Why did I think …”
Daniel gave him a sympathetic look of understanding. “I do it, too. Once, I couldn’t remember how we were going to get there. Our brains are scrambled. We’ve been under a dictator and the NID for two and a half years. Roughly.”
“Three. There’s no real timeline when the NID really took control. Openly doing it was three years ago.”
Daniel sighed. “Four years, we made alliances. And in three, we lost all our friends and those alliances have turned on Earth.”
“Yeah, the Tollan, the Nox, the Asgard. Although I’m happy that Thor and Freyr were rebels, wanting to help us.”
“I know,” Daniel said.
They were quiet for a while, and gradually, as he kept looking at his husband, almost as a reaffirmation that he was really here and not some hallucination, Jack noticed that Daniel had developed a tick in his cheek. He frowned, thinking he was mistaken, but he knew his husband. They’d been married for four and a half years now and they were together for two years before that. If Daniel had gotten so emotionally torn up that he’d developed such a thing, there had to be something Jack could do to help get rid of it. But maybe that wasn’t going to be possible until they were safe.
He got up and moved over to stand behind Daniel’s pilot seat and when he placed his hands on his husband’s shoulders, Daniel twitched, then relaxed.
“What the fuck did they do to you?” Jack whispered, bending over. The moment he touched his right cheek to Daniel’s left one, the silent tears began. He didn’t acknowledge them, and it took him a few minutes to realize he was crying. Daniel hadn’t answered the question and Jack didn’t need him to. If he wanted to talk, he’d talk. The same thing went for him. “There is nothing you can tell me that would make me turn on you. You know this, right?”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, and there was a metallic taste coming from somewhere above his sternum and it flavored his breathing. With it, came a taste of bile that he couldn’t shake. It wasn’t heartburn or acid reflux. It was the act of swallowing emotion and it was getting so bad, Jack was noticing. “You noticed the tick.”
“Uh … I, uh, had to do some things, um, to keep you safe, Jack. I’m … I’m sorry.” He suddenly froze, staring at the designs in the panels until they became blurry. “I … I don’t know if I can …”
“Shhh,” Jack said, crouching next to him and rubbing Daniel’s wet cheek with the back of his fingers. “We’ll talk later. You can’t lose control now. I know you’re strong. Stronger than me. But we have to wait to have our breakdowns.”
“Yes,” Daniel said, and he felt himself calming down. “I missed hearing that voice,” he said without thinking.
“What voice?” Jack asked, continuing to caress him.
“The voice that soothes me to sleep. That takes away the pain for a while.”
Jack smiled. “The voice that used to drive you crazy.”
“A million years ago.”
Jack leaned up and kissed him lightly. Daniel closed his eyes briefly, savoring the touch. “I really, really wish …”
“Grab a nap. I’ll spell you in two hours.”
“You’re sure?” Jack asked, brow knotting up.
“I am. You’re …” Daniel smiled a little. “Distracting.”
Jack chuckled and moved to the back of the bridge and hit a button with the side of his fist. The door opened to the back room where the ring device sat, but it was disabled; the crystal housing was open and empty. On the floor were several sleeping bags. Almost like camping, Jack thought, and then rolled his eyes at himself as he lay down, and looked at gold hieroglyphs.
An ominous thud woke Jack and he knew from the sound that they’d been fired upon. In hyperspace. He got up and ran to the bridge console next to Daniel and put a hand on the back of his chair.
“Are they insane?” Jack asked. “You can’t fire in hyperspace! They’ll kill us all!”
“Take the wheel!” Daniel said.
The slang made Jack’s lips turn up ruefully. “Need the more experienced pilot?”
“Yeah, and the fact that I’m going to reactivate the rings and send them a little present.”
“Who is it?”
“A Lucian Alliance ship. I don’t recognize the make, but the damn thing is giving off their signature.”
“Should we contact them? Give them a chance to surrender? Or back off?”
“Fuck that. Keep her flying. I won’t be a minute.”
Daniel gave him a wan smile and went to the converted sleep chamber and replaced the crystals in their housing and closed the drawer. He opened an orange containment bin and lifted out something that could’ve been a naquada generator but was twice as small. He flipped a few switches, then slapped some C4 on it with a timer, then wrapped the entire thing in a plastic-like bubble case. He threw the sleeping bags aside, set the contraption in the middle of the rings, then activated them.
“Punch it!” he screamed as he ran into the bridge.
Jack pushed a control stick forward and they shot forward with such force that they damn near plastered themselves on the viewport. “Shit!” Daniel said, trying to push away.
Jack twisted in place, lifted his foot and ripped off his shoe. He then stretched his leg out and with a few toes, tried, tried again, and finally managed to push the lever back. They fell back and the gravity in the ship was back to normal.
“Sorry!” Daniel said, massaging his neck.
Jack climbed back in the pilot seat and checked the controls. “My fault. I pushed it forward too far. Damn control was made for tiny hands.”
Daniel snorted. “No, you just haven’t ever flown these with Asgard controls. And you’re used to a helicopter stick. Check the sensors,” Daniel said, even as he did it himself. There was no one behind them, and the idiotic act of jumping into mega hyperspeed must’ve thrown them clear of the blast. “Where are we?” he asked, trying to read the passing systems in the continuous code that passed on a small screen.
“Shit,” Jack said, and hit a button while easing the throttle back a bit and they exited hyperspace. “We missed the mark by fifteen minutes. We have to go back.”
“Goddammit,” Daniel said, sliding to the floor and resting his back against the center column that separated the two pilot seats.
Jack’s heart tugged at him as he watched Daniel try to fight his exhaustion. “I’ll get us there. You, go sleep.” He reached out and placed a hand on Daniel’s head, like a benediction. Which was ironic since he once thought of joining the priesthood. When he was ten.
Without a word, Daniel grabbed a sleeping bag and brought it back to the bridge and laid it down before the center column. It was where Jack had blessed him, so he could easily do so again. Daniel shook his head as he lay down. His mind was scrambled.
Jack turned slightly in the pilot seat, watching him until he was sure Daniel was asleep. It was then that he consciously recognized the long hair. Natural blond highlights streaked through and underneath, at the nape of his neck, it was a medium auburn brown. It was beautiful, and he could easily get used to this look. It then occurred to him that it wasn’t particularly the fashion of the day, especially for those despicable lowlifes like Makepeace. He imagined Daniel sporting that hair, walking through the halls.
A grim smile caught Jack’s lips, and he whispered, “You did it to rebel, didn’t you?”
An hour later, Jack circled the planet, Rho’Shanna, preparing to set the Tel’tak down in a field inside of a set of Ancients’ ruins. He’d heard about this place from the Asgard, and he’d shared the information with Daniel. The little grey guys had smuggled information to him through artifacts they had allowed to be stolen. If it were up to Thor, Earth would have been freed from its oppressors, but he’d been overruled by anti-interventionists within their High Council. Fucking politicians. Even the Asgard couldn’t escape them.
After pinpointing the location in the sensor grid, he programmed the coordinates into the computer and set the ship to breach the atmosphere. No matter how many times he’d done this on Earth or any other planet, this part always made him nervous. As the old saying went, ‘shit happens’.
The shield held, however, and he flew through layers of clouds until the sensors told him to descend more directly below and he landed in the field. The ruins were good camouflage, taking up two square miles. Near their center, they encircled an intact village. The people who periodically stayed there were nomadic and the Tok’ra had made a pact with them, then disappeared underground. For now, the nomads were gone, so setting the ship down close to the village wouldn’t cause problems.
The moment the engines were off, Daniel startled awake. A nanosecond of memory skittered across Jack’s thoughts, acknowledging the lifetime ago when he’d driven infant Charlie in his Jeep to put him to sleep.
“We there?” Daniel asked, rubbing at his face.
Jack crouched next to him. “Yeah. How you feel?”
“Burnt out,” Daniel said, pushing himself to his feet. “But only slightly less worse than I did. That wasn’t enough sleep.”
Jack snorted. “Of course not. It was only an hour.” Daniel groaned and wavered slightly. Jack caught his elbow. “C’mon. We’ll get some sleep below.”
Daniel nodded. “Have you contacted them yet?”
“No, but I’m sure they’ve already detected us.”
Daniel grabbed his coat and the duffle he’d brought from the SGC. “Let’s go find out.”
They walked through brush and scrub grass that clung to the ground around the ruins and eventually found the edge of town. The buildings were made of a red stone and the ground was both dirt and cobblestone. A dry fountain marked the center and to the side was a large open space. They stopped in the center of it and looked around at the ground.
“Hello?” Daniel asked, when nothing happened. He closed his eyes. “Goddammit. If we have to sleep out—” A ring transport surrounded them, cutting off his complaint, and when they appeared in a Tok’ra tunnel, he said a little lamely, “Never mind.”
To their right, Martouf stood waiting. The Tok’ra uniforms had changed again. Now they were made from dark brown leathers in various patchwork designs. It was an odd fashion. Tok’ra. Jack held out his hand. “Marty, how ya doing?”
“Good,” he said. “You two?”
Daniel waggled his hand while he frowned at Martouf’s face. He had a dark red scar running from forehead to jaw down the right side of his face. It looked healed, but ghastly. “What happened? Why hasn’t Lantash healed that yet? Is he feeling okay?”
Lantash’s eyes flashed. “Hello, Daniel. Yes, I am ‘okay’, but we took a bad hit five days ago and Martouf told me to take my time healing him.” He reached up and touched his cheek, and Martouf continued the conversation. “It’s pretty hideous, isn’t it?”
“What happened?” Jack asked.
Martouf made a face. “I’ll tell you later. For now, I’ll just bet you’re tired.”
“You could say that, yeah,” Daniel sighed.
They were led to a small room, and with a concession to their privacy, a type of door had been attached. Jack’s eyebrows went up.
“For us?” he asked.
Martouf gave him a sad smile. “See you in eight hours.”
“Ten,” Daniel ordered, looking around as he dropped the duffle. He turned, then sent Martouf an apologetic look. “Sorry. Ten?”
“Ten.” Martouf left, pulling the door after him, and it made an odd metallic whine as it clicked shut.
“Weird,” Jack said, examining the tiny seam that served as the door’s outline.
“Whatever,” Daniel said, heading for a crystalline structure that held a mattress and pillows. It was wide enough for two men if they didn’t move around while they slept. “C’mon, Jack.” He found a blanket on a shelf. It seemed to be made of a soft alpaca-type wool. “Nice.” He laid down on his side, adjusted the pillow, and patted behind him. With a pained smile, Jack complied, hating the tick in the cheek that had returned.
It was twelve hours not ten. Martouf had given them a lot of time to recover, and perhaps he’d expected them to have intimate relations, but Daniel wasn’t in the mood and neither was Jack. They were in the mood for kisses and touching, just to keep contact, but nothing more was on their minds. Yet. Hopefully, that would change in the near future, but it wouldn’t happen on Rho’Shanna. Being around the Tok’ra, as grateful as they were, just wasn’t on the list of romantic places in the universe. Martouf might disagree, though. He and Sam had been married here.
Daniel and Jack joined them in what served as a dining hall, around a large, irregularly-shaped table. Jack actually liked the food of the Tok’ra. Most of it anyway. It was sort of a combination between Middle Eastern, Asian, and Mexican. The foods didn’t resemble them. It was the spices.
As he ate a wrap with a meat filling, Jack averted his eyes from Daniel’s plate. It had some stuff like pot stickers and a curious mini taco, but it also had a pile of jellied fish eyes on it. They weren’t really eyes. It was some sort of caviar, but they looked at you from that little dark blue pile. It was disgusting. Daniel had taught Jack to be adventurous in his eating, but there were limits. Across the table, Martouf smiled at him, finding it amusing, as both he and Daniel ate the caviar with crispy flat bread that served as a cracker.
Daniel nudged Jack with his elbow. “Relax. It won’t bite.”
“No, but I don’t like my food looking at me. Or yours.” Daniel picked up his plate to wave under Jack’s nose and he reared back and threw him a warning look. “Daniel, so help me, I’ll get up and leave.”
Since they weren’t about to be out of each other’s sight, that threat worked, but Daniel tossed his napkin over the caviar. “Happy?”
“Thank you,” Jack said, sarcastically.
The meal was mostly filled with Tok’ra talk about generalities. Supplies, rations, what needed fixing, who was in security rotation. No mission talk. No sad talk. No personal conflicts. It was part of standard Tok’ra life and Jack and Daniel appreciated it. They didn’t like to disrupt their eating. It made for bad digestion. Besides, they were under enough stress as it was.
After the midday meal, which is what they had since they had arrived in the middle of the night, Jack asked, “Any relevant chatter on sub-space?”
Martouf and the others nodded. “A bit.”
They were interrupted by a familiar voice.
Jack got up from the table and hugged the crap out of the Tok’ra who had greeted him.
“How the hell are ya?” Jack asked, setting him down on his feet.
“I am good,” Skaara said.
He still had the accent, Jack was happy to hear. “And Saroush?”
Skaara’s symbiote responded, “I am well, O’Neill. We are both very glad to see you and Daniel.” Skaara returned and they talked about where he had just come from: his farmstead, where he raised food for the Tok’ra, which apparently included a fish farm that Jack tactfully sidestepped talking about. “It is huge now,” Skaara was saying, and playfully imitated Jack’s penchant for exaggerating the size of a caught fish.
Daniel observed them, pleased that Jack was smiling. He’d so needed this. It had been quite a while since they’d seen Skaara. After being liberated from K’lorel by the Tok’ra, his mind had refused to settle because of the nightmares of the Goa’uld. Eventually, he’d taken on a Tok’ra symbiote and the nightmares had ceased. To Skaara, that was more than enough repayment for sharing his body with another symbiote, and Saroush was a gentle soul who preferred tilling a field to holding a gun. He and Skaara had that in common.
Daniel saw Martouf sit at a small table, occupied with a small device with many pieces that he was apparently attempting to fix. He sat down, watching him.
“Did you want something?” Martouf asked.
“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “It’s relaxing, watching you work with whatever that is.” When Martouf opened his mouth, Daniel held up a hand, assuming that the man was about to tell him. “I don’t need to know.”
“I think you should,” Martouf said. “It’s an interface that will bridge the two naquada generators we’ll be using to power the gate that will send you to Atalanta.”
“I was wondering how you were going to do that,” Daniel said, sighing. “I wasn’t ready to broach the subject.” He wasn’t. He was hoping they’d spend a day talking about everything but the reason for their visit: leaving for another galaxy. And they’d never see each other again. The same for Skaara and everyone else there.
“I’m sorry,” Martouf said, then Lantash appeared. “Is it hard, talking to us?”
“You and Martouf?” Daniel asked. Lantash nodded. “Not really. I’m just … I’m sorry about Sam.”
“Thanks,” Martouf said, bewildered at Lantash’s appearance and disappearance. “He’s out of sorts, I think. Sometimes we …” He paused. “It’s like when Rocha and Jolinar disappeared. We couldn’t seem to settle on who was going to speak.”
Daniel nodded. “You and Sam were very lucky. I’m glad you were together, even now. She wouldn’t have said it, at the time, because she was really diplomatic that way, but she was really glad that the Zatarc had been Anise.”
Martouf grinned a little. “She told me one night. She felt guilty.” He looked puzzled. “I couldn’t see how.”
“Anise was annoying, but she didn’t deserve what happened. Sam’s relief that it hadn’t been you just … it made Anise’s death more …”
“Heartbreaking,” Martouf finished.
“Yeah, a bit,” Daniel said.
They were quiet for a few minutes and Daniel watched Jack and Skaara with a change of mood. Happiness now turned to sadness. Jack would miss Skaara. He was a second son.
“How many have you lost recently?” Martouf suddenly asked.
Daniel blinked. “Where’d that question come from?”
“The look on your face. Grief.”
“It’s the grief to come,” Daniel said quietly, lowering his voice. “He’s gonna miss him.”
Martouf nodded. “You haven’t lost anyone recently then?”
Daniel’s face turned to stone. “One.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said, stopping what he was doing.
“Did you know them well?”
Again, a nod. A single nod. Daniel’s throat constricted, and heat rose in his eyes. He closed them and took a deep breath, controlling himself. “Our old commander of the Stargate program.” Jack heard. Daniel saw him turning, eyes wide. He winced. “I’m sorry. I was gonna tell you later.”
“Hammond?” Jack asked.
Daniel raised his wrist, displaying the cuff. “He’s the one who got this to me. He got our Tel’tak.”
“What happened? I thought he was, well relatively, safe.”
“He was,” Daniel said, swallowing. “But it was only a matter of time before the NID in Washington would find out who smuggled all that stuff to me at the mountain. He made sure he wasn’t going to be able to talk.”
“Will they trace it all here?” Martouf asked, eyes wide.
Daniel shook his head. So did Jack. “We made … I made sure that there’d be no trace.”
“How?” Martouf asked. “If you don’t mind revealing—”
“I blew it up,” Daniel said flatly.
“Blew what up?” Martouf asked after a stunned silence.
“The mountain. The whole damn thing. They’re not getting anywhere through that stargate.”
“Didn’t you have two?” Martouf asked.
“That one’s damaged,” Daniel said, grinning at Jack for a brief moment. “Somehow, someone at Area 51 disabled the crystals.”
“They have ships,” Jack sighed. “They’ll find some crystals, no matter the cost.”
“And they’ll have to hook it up somewhere else because that mountain is toast.” Daniel closed his eyes again.
“We’ve all done things, Daniel,” Martouf said. “Bad things, for the right reasons.”
“Doesn’t mean it won’t stay with you,” Daniel said.
Daniel took a break and returned to their quarters to lie down. He knew he wasn’t going to be very good company. The grief and guilt zapped you of strength and sometimes, you just needed to black out for a while.
Unfortunately, that hadn’t happened. Daniel was in the midst of a nightmare, involving Simmons and Makepeace. It was the culmination of fears he’d suppressed in order to get his job done and to prepare for escape. But now, they were there to force him to star in his own hideous play about torture and rape. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he bolted upright in bed to find Jack sitting next to him, taking him into his arms.
“Shhh,” Jack said, holding him tightly. Minutes passed, and Daniel kept silent, refusing to speak about what had starred in his nightmare. “In an hour, Martouf and company are going to start up the gate. They’ve already dug it out. Now they’re stabilizing it.”
Daniel nodded, and more minutes passed in silence. Eventually, he got the feeling that there was something else Jack wanted to tell him. He pulled away and stared at him. “What now?”
Jack flashed a grim smile. “It’s … they’ve captured a Goa’uld named Tanith. They say he’s the one who told the NID when Teal’c and Bra’tac would be at Dakara—” Daniel pushed away and ran out of the room. Jack was on his heels. “Daniel, they’re handling it!”
Daniel wasn’t listening. He found Skaara. “Where’s the snakehead?” Skaara pointed mutely. Daniel took off and rounded a few corners until he found a bunch of Tok’ra outside a shielded room. Inside, two Tok’ra were questioning a bound man. Tanith.
“You trying to get him to talk?” Daniel asked.
“Yes,” said an older woman with blond hair. “So far, we’re getting nowhere.”
“If you need someone who is experienced with torture, I can do it for you.”
A few Tok’ra looked at him in shock, but no one was as shocked as Jack. “What the hell are you …” Jack began, and then a horror settled around his heart. “Is that what Simmons had you …” He shaded his eyes.
Daniel was shaken out of his rage, realizing what Jack had just learned. He went to him. “I’m sorry. I just … how the hell was I supposed to tell you?”
Jack grabbed him by the hand and led Daniel away, roughly bringing him back to their quarters. Daniel hadn’t argued. “And so you thought you would do what?” Jack yelled at him. “Put what you learned to good use? Are you that fucked up in the head?”
Daniel blinked at him, at the enormity of the accusation and that it was Jack saying it. Part of him wanted to lash out, to get mad, to tell Jack to fuck off. But it was Jack he was looking at. It was Jack. He sank onto the bed and stared at the wall. His face drained of color. “I am fucked up in the head.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean …” Jack sat next to him and they were back where they started from, with Jack holding him to try and ward off the monsters. “You did what you had to do to keep me alive. I can’t, and I won’t, hold it against you. I’d be a hypocrite.”
Daniel felt a huge snap in his chest and the overburdened emotions he’d been holding in built into an ache almost painful. With Jack holding him, he let go. He put his arms around Jack’s neck and wept. It all came pouring out of him and he mumbled revelations that were unintelligible.
Jack held him tightly, rocking him back and forth. Eventually, the sobs turned to sniffs and his face was a mess. Jack handed him the bandana in the side pocket of his cargo pants and Daniel blew his nose. It made Jack grin a little, remembering a time when Daniel had done the exact same thing, forgetting that he’d just had the damn thing on his head and that he couldn’t put it back on. He continued to hold him with one arm, rocking him a tiny bit, and Daniel took a deep breath.
“It’s gonna be your turn next. And you can’t hold it in. It’ll kill you.”
Jack swallowed. “I’m a bit more experienced in the stoic thing. I’ll last a bit longer.”
Again, Daniel nodded. Someone knocked on their open door and they looked over their shoulders to find Skaara there. He looked a bit guilty.
“Sorry to bother you. It is time.”
The young Abydonian helped them bring their baggage to the stargate, which sat on the opposite side of the abandoned village. Jack gave Skaara a set of car keys and the young man frowned in confusion.
“What are these?”
“Keys to the Monte Carlo,” Jack said with a grin, making Daniel smile. “It’s symbolic, Skaara. The Tel’tak is yours.”
Suddenly Skaara hugged him fiercely, then backed away and held the keys up. “Thank you.”
Jack was reminded of the lighter he’d given him once. It made a hollow space in his stomach. “You’re welcome. Take care.”
Martouf and another Tok’ra waved them back as the generators were turned on and the gate dialed. It connected. For a moment, both Daniel and Jack had suspected that the gate wouldn’t establish a wormhole and the panic had been brief but deep. Feeling a bit numb, they heaved a joint sigh of relief.
“Time to go,” Jack said. They gave Martouf a hug, for Sam, then grabbed their gear and rushed through.
The Atalantian Reception Hall
Jack and Daniel stepped into near dark, enhanced by the light of the stargate. There were low-level lights along wall corners and from rows of Ancients glyphs that decorated the risers of a wide staircase. Directly across the stargate at the other end of the hall sat an enormous mirror.
They looked at each other. “Well, we made it,” Jack said, somewhat anti-climactically.
“Too bad we can’t tell Martouf,” Daniel said, with a hint of a smile on his lips.
The gate shut off and forced them to haul out their flashlights. They moved forward several feet, enough to be out of the range of a wormhole activation. No, they probably weren’t in any danger of a wormhole opening, but it was a long-engrained habit they unknowingly kept going.
“Tell me again how you found out about this place?” Jack asked. He walked over to the steps and set his baggage down before sitting next to it. He grabbed his waterskin, tied to his belt, and took a drink. Daniel joined him.
“I got a message from Freyr,” Daniel said. “About … two and half years ago. Not long after we lost our freedoms. They hadn’t closed up a few of the satellites for private use and he appeared, undetected, in my lab.”
“Okay, but why did he tell you about it all those years ago?” Jack wondered why he’d never thought to ask before now.
“I never asked. I just stored away the info. When I asked Thor about it once, he gave me the impression that Freyr is a little precognizant.”
“Yeah. Thor said, ‘He knows things.’ That was about as succinct as he would get.”
“Sounds like him,” Jack said, then frowned. “Wait, how have you been talking to him all this time?”
Daniel raised his hand, nodding. “I know, I know. It was Thor. He figured out how to get around security. Asgard.”
That pretty much explained everything. Advanced beings. Jack nodded. “And the Tel’tak?”
“Thor’s doing. He told Hammond and Hammond got me a message. An Asgard beam can’t be detected when it activates. Or rather, no one has the tech, except the Asgard and the Ancients, to detect it.” He gave Jack an arched brow. “Seriously, Jack. We’ve been fucked royally, but we hadn’t lost all our allies. Remember the sting you and Thor and the Tollan conducted? The SGC techs never caught on whenever they popped into the mountain.”
“Right,” Jack said, nodding. “Okay. How’d Freyr find out about this place?”
Daniel grinned. “I never got an answer. Just chalk it up to ‘Asgard.’”
Suddenly, lights began turning brighter, starting with the walls, then the staircase, then moving to the second floor and other darkened areas past that. They seemed to turn on by themselves.
“That stuff reacting to our presence?” Jack asked.
“Maybe they’re programmed to turn on when there are people here.”
They pulled out zats and went to investigate, and discovered an operations center with a unique DHD and a few empty rooms. Access ‘doorways’ were odd partitions that moved sideways to allow you to pass when you got close enough.
“Weird,” Daniel said, his voice echoing.
“Ancient,” Jack said, and earned a laugh from Daniel. It did his heart good to hear that rarity.
“Okay,” Daniel said when they both returned to the operations center. “Let’s go look for a control thingy.”
Jack snorted. “Technical term.”
“I never did get someone to name that little control device.”
“I still like ‘game pad’.”
It was Daniel’s turn to snort as they descended the steps and headed for the Mirror. It was twice the size of the stargate, though not in height. It was perhaps six feet higher. It was also buried in the floor, just like the Pegasus gate. That made Daniel frown when he looked back at it.
“What?” Jack asked, looking behind the mirror and pointing a flashlight in dark corners.
“Gates need to have all chevrons exposed to work across galaxies, don’t they?”
“So Carter used to say.”
“Yeah. But this gate has its eighth and ninth chevrons buried. So how the hell …”
Jack peeked out from one side of the Mirror. “Maybe that’s just for dialing out?”
“I don’t know,” Daniel said, chewing at the inside corner of his mouth. “’Kids with a gun’. There’s so much about the gate that we don’t understand.” He shook his head and refocused on the task at hand.
The Mirror’s ‘frame’ wasn’t a solid piece of rough naquada. It was rough along the outer edge, but on both ‘faces’ of the frame, it was as smooth as glass. The supposed ‘mirror’ was the same grey slate color as others they’d come across, but this one gave off a dull glow.
“I wonder,” Daniel said, crouching at one side, looking at the base where it met the floor.
“Hey!” Jack said, panicking. “Don’t touch it yet.”
“It’s off, Jack.”
“Okay, wait,” Jack said and came around and touched Daniel’s shoulder. Daniel touched the base and nothing happened. “Okay.” He pulled his hand away but decided to stay close. “What’re you looking at? You think it runs on crystals?”
Daniel shrugged. “No, but maybe it has its control center at the base, like the gate does. You never know. Besides this one’s not like any of the other Mirrors we’ve come across.”
“You’re right about that one. This is the super economy size.”
Like the stair lights, the Mirror’s frame slowly turned on, emitting a glow from under the glassy sheen of its surface. The mirror, however, remained opaque. Daniel and Jack backed away from it.
“Did it activate because we touched it?” Jack asked.
“I have no idea,” Daniel said, fascinated despite himself. He looked around, frowned, then back at the frame.
“It’s not reflecting that glow anywhere.” He pointed at the floor where the Mirror was entrenched. “No reflections.”
Suddenly a laser light emitted from a tiny aperture at the top of the Mirror. It threw a scanning beam over them, from head to foot, then turned off.
“You feel that?” Daniel asked.
“Was it trying to determine if we’re Goa’uld or something?” Jack asked. “Like Thor’s Hammer did?”
“I have no idea.”
Movement above drew their attention and they found a display of English alphabet characters running across the top face of the Mirror’s frame. They were colored a kind of neon blue with black or dark blue outlines, stark against the lighted background. Daniel tilted his head slightly, watching. “Wow.”
“It’s, uh, it’s learning our language.”
“How’d you determine that?”
“Well, look at it, Jack. Look at those characters. It’s English-based. Random, like putting together a puzzle.”
“I repeat my question.”
“Look. You can tell.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m going to ask you sometime later how the hell you know that, but for now, I’ll take your word for it.”
Suddenly the letters began pausing as others were inserted, constructing partial words.
“There, that should tell you.”
“Ah huh,” Jack said, wary.
“This is really cool,” Daniel said, smiling with awe. He blinked then when a coherent sentence resolved itself.
You are human.
“Yeah, we are.”
“Yes,” Daniel said, fully engrossed with a permanent look of wonder on his face.
Jack just stared at him, both amused and proud. He wasn’t so sure about the Mirror, though, but he kept his peace for the moment.
Are you here for transport?
Daniel blinked. “Why would you ask that?”
You are looking for an Activation Sentry. I do not possess one.
“Activation sentry,” Jack said, grunting. “I couldn’t have called that in a million years.”
“You heard that,” Daniel stated.
Daniel threw Jack a grin, like a kid at Christmas who got a new computer. “How do you work? What are you? Are you a mirror?”
“One question at a time, Daniel.”
Daniel gave him a sheepish look. But the Mirror replied anyway, and in order.
I work. To explain further would only confuse you because the language cannot be properly translated.
I am The Seshenal.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Jack said, nodding.
“Can you show us a place to go?” Daniel asked.
You need to be more specific.
“Okay,” Daniel breathed, but before he could ask a question, he frowned and backed up the conversation. “Wait, first, what is the purpose of The Seshenal?”
Transport to parallel realities. I was constructed at a time when my makers needed to flee their world because of a cataclysmic event. Nowhere in that reality was safe.
“You mean, something like a Gamma Ray Burst that would wipe out all life in its path?”
“How did you get here?”
An interdimensional transmutation of cholsynthetic particles collided with–
“Okay, never mind,” Daniel said, and Jack grinned at him. The Mirror stopped explaining. Daniel frowned, preparing a question in his mind, but Jack beat him to it.
“Can you find us a reality to go to where we will be safe?”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open. “You can?” He stared at Jack while the Mirror answered. “How did you know to ask that?” His husband shrugged. Immodestly. “Smart ass.”
Jack leaned in and kissed him. “Youbetcha.”
“Safe meaning that our alternate selves in that reality are dead?” Daniel asked. Well, he was asked to be specific.
“Huh. How about an Earth America that allows men to be married?” Daniel asked. He was being sarcastic, but the Mirror didn’t know that.
It is possible. It will however take several hours if not days. Do you have time to wait for that result?
Both Daniel and Jack stared at the answer in shocked silence.
Did you understand? Shall I repeat the question?
Daniel snapped out of it first. “Yes! I mean, I understand. Please proceed. I believe we have the time.” The Mirror began to ‘think’ by oscillating bluish-white lights back and forth along the front of its sleek surface.
He turned to Jack. “I hope we have the time.”
“There’s no way the NID will find us, Daniel.”
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes, I realize the chances are minimal to none, but it’s best to hedge our bets. If this Mirror can’t find us a home, then we’ll have to pick the best scenario.”
“We have two days’ worth of rations and water,” Jack told him.
“Hmm,” Daniel said, thinking. He walked up the staircase and crossed his arms. “It’s an Ancient outpost or city or something.”
Jack nodded. “What’s your point?”
“Maybe we’ll find food and water.”
They glanced at the Mirror before heading off to explore and found a message waiting even as the lights moved back and forth.
The food supply is meager but you will find it up one floor and down the corridor on the left. First door on the left. Water is plentiful and you will find it through receptacles beyond the staircase and on this floor.
“You mean a kitchen?” Jack asked, stunned.
“Let’s go,” Daniel said. They set their belongings near the mirror, just in case, and headed for the ‘kitchen’. An hour later, they returned with packets that were made from a type of foil, along with three gallons of water they brought in sealed containers that resembled large thermos. They packed them, then use water from the spouts they’d found in the kitchen.
Sitting in soft, sturdy chairs behind the operations center control panel, they sampled the packets before touching their own rations. If the stuff was edible, and they could digest it, where was the harm?
The only problem was … a bathroom. The Mirror directed them to a room under the stairs and down a hallway, then they had to activate a few buttons in order to turn on the system. It was similar to human toilets, since the Ancients were humanoid, but the damn things were oddly leveled. The back of the seats tilted upward, and Jack joked that apparently the Ancients never had to sit on the pot long. It had amused Daniel so much that his laughter had veered into a slightly hysterical slant. He waved Jack off as he gained control of himself.
The time went by excruciatingly slow and Jack was, for once, glad that Daniel had packed a few paperback novels. They found a lounge of sorts and Jack reclined across the middle of a backless sofa, enmeshing himself in the story. Or he tried to.
Daniel sat on another divan across the room, but instead of reading a book, he was examining a touch panel he’d found in operations that worked like a touch computer. Since he could read Ancient, he found it fascinating. It seemed to be a user manual for the DHD and it included hundreds of Pegasus galaxy gate addresses. He was able to call up a map for the Pegasus galaxy, where it placed an overlay of gate locations. There were thousands.
Jack set aside his book, turning it face down, and watched Daniel for a few minutes. That long hair was something else. His fingers twitched just a little as he imagined running his fingers through it. Daniel had had long hair a long time ago and they hadn’t been together back then. They were now. He had to convince Daniel not to cut it for a while. Or at least, not all of it.
He got up and walked over, sitting down next to his husband. Even wrecked, Daniel was gorgeous. “Whatcha readin’?”
Daniel showed him the tablet. “Check it out. A user guide to the DHD. Shows all the known gate addresses and where the gates are located in the galaxy.”
Jack looked, and watched Daniel play with it for a few minutes. “Hey,” he said, clearly bored, and with another thing on his mind.
“Hmm?” Daniel asked. When Jack didn’t respond, he looked up. Jack met his eyes. He had that look that said, ‘I am having fun watching you’. In the past, it meant Daniel was working too much and depriving Jack of his husband. He set the tablet down behind him and turned on his hip. It was a bit uncomfortable since there was no back to the couch. “What’s up?”
“I’m missing you,” he said. “We’re in a lull right now. And I’ve been dying to do this.” He reached over and threaded his fingers through Daniel’s hair. Even mussed, it was soft and sexy. “You did this to rebel, didn’t you?” he asked, airing his unheard question in another galaxy.
Daniel smiled softly and leaned into Jack’s hand. “Partly. Mostly.” His pleasant features scrunched up with dislike. “And because the base stylist was replaced with a Marine Corp barber. No, thank you.”
Jack wrinkled his nose. “Marine barbers.” He sighed. “No one wants to look like M—”
Daniel hurriedly put two fingers over Jack’s lips. “Don’t. It’s out there. I know who you mean.”
Jack sensed more than a fervent dislike. There was a story there. Question was, which way did he go with it? Treat it right now, and have Daniel talk about it? It was clear he didn’t even want to say his name, so it might be bad. Or should he nod and move on, ignore it as if it didn’t matter? Jack sighed. He knew the right answer.
“What happened?” He asked, taking Daniel’s fingers and kissing the knuckles before lacing the fingers with his own.
Daniel shook his head and leaned against him, resting his forehead on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s not important anymore.”
“The hell it isn’t. We’re fleeing this universe, Daniel. All the baggage we’re carrying, in here …” He tapped his temple. “All that stuff we had to put up with … it’s not meaningless just because we’re away from it.”
Daniel sighed and shook his head. “I’ve spoiled it.”
Daniel inched back and raised his head to meet Jack’s eyes. “You were trying to be romantic and I spoiled it.”
“No, you didn’t. I had to go and bring up rebellion. Stop trying to take the blame for the incidental stuff.” He held Daniel in his arms, but it was uncomfortable. “What do you say we go find a bed in this place. Or a comfy couch. These Ancients couldn’t have all been ascetic whackjobs.”
Daniel breathed a soft laugh through his nose. “Let’s move it to the gateroom. I don’t want to be in some bedroom when Mister Etch-a-Sketch finds us a home.”
Jack’s lips spread into a wide, genuine smile. “You made a joke.”
Daniel sat up and pretended to be offended, even with the grin. “I’m capable of it once in a while.” They left the lounge. “So, where …” Daniel pointed, and they headed down a hall and checked room after room. Finally, they found a wide sofa … or narrow bed … and it was oval shaped and curved in a slight dip.
“I don’t know,” Jack said. “That might give my back—”
Daniel reached down and grabbed one end of the mattress and pulled. It easily came out of the frame. He gave Jack a look that said, “You were saying?”
“Okay, that’ll work.”
It was fairly long, so it took both of them to carry it to the gateroom and they laid it down beside the Mirror. But they were so tired. When they sat down, they kept going, spooning together while watching the frame’s oscillation. It lulled them to sleep.
Six hours later, Daniel woke up, finding a jacket had been placed under his head. He pushed up slightly and looked over his shoulder to find Jack reading. “You’re gonna hurt your eyes,” he said dutifully.
Jack put the book down behind him and snuggled against him, his arms encircling him. “Hey.”
“Did you get any sleep?” Daniel chided as he snuggled against him in their preferred spoon.
“I did. I only woke up about twenty minutes ago or so. I couldn’t stay asleep.” He nuzzled Daniel’s nape. “I hope the jacket was okay.”
“It was, thanks.” He laid his head on it, staring out across the room to look at the gate. “It’s pretty. This green and blue. I like the constellation shapes. I wonder why they changed the design.”
“Different designers probably.”
Daniel snorted. “Possibly.”
“Think the gates differ by galaxy?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked up at him, stunned. “That was … really astute, Jack.”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
Daniel laughed and it was suspiciously like a giggle. In the back of their minds, as they talked, there was a thick, underlying tension.
“Jack?” Daniel asked, meeting his eyes.
Daniel studied him, then abruptly rolled out his arms and got to his feet. He gestured with his hand, asking Jack to get up. “Help me take this to the kitchen.”
Not asking why, Jack did so. Once there, Daniel slowly pulled off his t-shirt. Jack let a particular type of smile cross his lips as he did the same. Once naked, Daniel laid down on his back, knees bent.
Jack’s brows went up as he looked down at him. They usually laid on their sides and caressed for a while. “So soon?” he asked.
Daniel swallowed. “The one thing on my mind for two years was the thought that I might not ever have you inside me again.” He swallowed again. “I need that right now.”
“Lube? Condom?” Jack asked, half turning and pointing a thumb behind him.
“Lube, no condom.” He smiled when Jack bowed and left the room. When he returned, he brought the down jacket with him. “What’s that for?” Daniel asked.
“In case you want something under your neck,” he answered.
“Put it aside for now,” Daniel said and reached up. “Come here.”
“Why, certainly,” Jack grinned. He knelt between his husband’s legs and laid down on top of him while setting the lube by his head. The warmth of their skin touching made them both groan and Daniel wound his arms around Jack’s neck. Their lips met, mouths parting, and they tasted each other for a while, savoring the long-missed sensations.
Daniel breathed in deeply and broke the kiss as he reached between them to take Jack’s cock in hand. Jack’s groan of appreciation matched his own. He was almost hard, which was just fine. Daniel missed touching him, stroking him. Jack smiled against Daniel’s lips as he copied him, treasuring the gasp he elicited.
“You always did have great fingers,” Daniel murmured, his breath lightly caressing Jack’s lips with each word. To his delight, Jack’s cock twitched and filled. “That’s my man,” he said.
Jack took the lube and squirted it onto Daniel’s fingers. He pushed onto his knees and kept his gaze locked with Daniel’s while his husband stroked him. Meanwhile, Jack’s lubed fingers slid behind Daniel’s balls and massaged the space there before entering him. When Daniel’s eyes half-lidded, he smiled with sexual satisfaction. “Like that?”
“You know I do,” Daniel murmured, then something flickered in his eyes.
Jack’s widened. “Daniel?”
“I don’t believe—” Daniel gasped, and he reached down and squeezed his balls. “Shit. Get in me.”
Jack shook his head and took his hands away. “Lack of sensation will cool you off. Just wait.”
Daniel groaned a protest. “Please,” he said, and did what he knew Jack adored. He grabbed his legs behind the knees and pulled them practically to his chin. “Jack.”
“Damn,” Jack groaned. He hurriedly lay over him, pressing his weight against his legs, forcing them apart. His cock was at a great angle and he spread his own knees and thrust. Their long practice wasn’t lost, and his head breached the contracted muscle.
Daniel gasped, amazed at his own tightness. “Oh my god,” he said, eyes fluttering at the delicious burn.
Jack loved that look and he pulled back and thrust deeper just to get it again. And again. And again.
“That’s it,” Daniel said in a strained voice, forcing his eyes open to meet Jack’s. It would make him come quicker and he knew that Jack knew that too. It didn’t matter. He reached around to grab his lover’s ass. “Come on.”
“Say it,” Jack whispered as he established his strokes in a deep, even rhythm.
“Fuck me,” Daniel breathed, lifting his chin.
“That’s it.” Jack thrust hard. Just once.
“Fuck me,” Daniel repeated, tilting his head back a little more.
“Again,” Jack said. He thrust hard twice.
“Please,” Daniel pleaded, his voice harsh. Begging.
“I love you,” Jack said, and began thrusting in earnest, the pumping designed for friction. It always worked.
“Oh shit,” Daniel said, squeezing his eyes shut.
“No, look at me,” Jack pleaded. He was close, too. They were like kids and had been away from each other too long.
Daniel opened his eyes and gasped with each thrust and the sound was music to Jack’s ears. “Come for me, baby.” He pushed forward, gathering as much of his strength and weight into his hips, and slammed into him rapidly.
“Yes, yes, yes, oh god!” Daniel came hard and demanded that Jack keep going by digging his fingers into his ass cheeks.
Jack became dizzy with the sensations around his cock and his orgasm hit with spasm of heat and blinding pleasure. Their bodies jerked uncontrollably as they rode out the aftershocks, wishing it would have lasted longer. Jack relaxed, but took his weight into his elbows and knees as he rested over his lover and husband.
“I love you, too,” Daniel said. “That was wonderful.”
“Yes,” Jack said, pulling out and dropping to his side. He pulled Daniel against him, facing him. “Think we can sleep a little bit?”
“Definitely.” It was easy.
It was only an hour later. They awoke with their positions changed. Daniel was spooning Jack instead of the other way around, and to Daniel’s surprise, it got him hard.
Jack laughed and looked over his shoulder. “This is what happens when we’ve been apart for two years?” he asked rhetorically. Daniel only moaned and closed his eyes, dropping his forehead on Jack’s shoulder.
“I love you,” Jack said, and pulled at Daniel’s hip.
“I love you back,” Daniel murmured, thrusting lazily, without much thought or intention. Until Jack dropped the lube over his shoulder. Daniel looked down, then met Jack’s gaze. “Yeah?”
“Oh hell yeah.”
Daniel squirted the slickness on himself, then lined up and pressed the head against Jack’s entrance. As one, they rolled over, and slowly, always so slowly, Jack spread his legs. Daniel grabbed hold of his wrists. This was an old favorite and he was deeply relieved the challenge in Jack was still there, still wanting this.
“Tell me,” he whispered behind Jack’s ear, kissing down to the nape of his neck before taking a nip.
Jack groaned. “Fuck me.”
“What?” Daniel asked, pushing his cock further inside his husband’s body.
“Take me,” Jack gasped.
“You’re sure?” Daniel asked, and it was a pointless tease but they both enjoyed it. Jack raised his ass in response and Daniel began to thrust, allowing very little space between them. It was slow, easy, and he knew when the burn had passed because Jack’s muscles loosened just a bit. “That’s it,” he breathed, and slid his hands over Jack’s pecs.
It went on for minutes on end that stretched into twenty, then thirty. It was the best, Jack thought, and he relished the way Daniel fucked him. He knew when the lovemaking changed to raw need. Daniel always jerked his hips.
With a demanding groan, Jack pushed back, getting onto his knees. He dropped his head down and closed his eyes while gripping what mattress he could. “Fuck me.” Flat, hard. No nonsense.
Daniel dropped his mouth open and threw his head back as he pounded into his husband’s ass, catapulting headlong toward that cliff. The sound of his hips slapping against Jack’s ass brought him over the edge.
Jack came when Daniel did. As he did almost every time. He could tell by the grunting tone, and when it changed to a whine. His orgasm hit and tore a growling declaration from his throat. “I fucking love you!” They bucked against each other, wanting more and not getting it, and collapsed onto their sides.
“I fucking love you too,” Daniel whispered, and laughed breathily while holding onto him as tightly as Jack demanded.
After cleaning up and dressing, they brought the mattress back to the gateroom and plopped down onto it. They had nothing left to think about. There was very little to do but wait for the Mirror while cuddled in each other’s arms.
After hour thirty-one, they were dozing, mostly from boredom, when their lethargy was snapped out of them by the discharge of an energy weapon. It hit the mirror and to their amazement, a translucent blue shield spread over the mirror in the shape of a dome. Weapons continued to discharge but had little effect.
“Who the hell is that?” Daniel asked the Mirror.
“Who?” Jack asked.
Parasitical humanoids belonging to this galaxy. They feed off humans by draining their life force through the use of a fanged muscle in their right hands.
“Ew,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Not a picture I wanted in my head.”
You would prefer that to the physical feeding.
Daniel blinked and looked at Jack. “I think it learned sarcasm.”
“Okay, now it sounds like Teal’c,” Jack said, cringing as he waved at it. “You can stop doing that now.”
“Are we safe?” Daniel asked.
Until their weapons drain my shield. I will not be able to restore it until they stop firing.
“Can we hide behind you when that happens?” Jack asked, putting on his boots.
It will not afford you permanent cover. You will not live long unless you kill them first.
Jack opened his mouth when Daniel saw new words that sent both hope and fear through his body.
Success. I have found a world for you.
A dim room reflected from the mirror’s surface.
It was just in time. The Mirror’s shield was breaking apart.
“Get the stuff! Nice timing, Mirror.”
“Yeah, thank you, Guardian.”
“Guardian?” Daniel asked, trying to haul his duffles and backpack while attempting to put on his jacket.
“Didn’t you ever see that episode of Star Trek?” Jack asked.
“You watched an episode of Star Trek?”
“Mirror,” Jack addressed, ignoring Daniel’s surprise. “Can you stop them from following?”
Do you want them to follow?
“No!” they both said, finally settled.
Then they will not follow. You will be entering what appears to be a lab. The air is livable.
“Okay, thanks,” Daniel said. He looked at Jack. “Ready?”
“I was born–” Jack said as they touched the Mirror together.
A Universe of Differences
“—ready,” Jack finished, somewhat lamely. They looked around the room and it looked somewhat familiar. But then energy weapons came through the mirror and they hit the deck.
“Why didn’t we bring P90s?” Jack asked.
“How are we supposed to return fire?” Daniel asked. “We don’t know what that would do to the Mirror. The big mirror, not this … one.”
Grey dust suddenly poured through and the mirror turned to slate grey again.
Jack looked at it and then at Daniel. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve arrived at our destination.”
“What was your first clue?” Daniel asked.
He got to his feet and held out his hand. Jack took it and he hauled him to his feet. They did indeed arrive in a lab. Metal tables and chairs with caster wheels. A few refrigeration units. Computers with flatscreens. Standard lab equipment. SGC stickers.
“Jack?” Daniel said, drawing out his name.
“Yeah, I see it.” He turned to him. “What the hell are the odds?”
“That Mirror, Seshenal, did this on purpose.”
“Brought us to a place that would be able to send us back to Earth.”
“That’s assuming there’s a gate here and that this stuff wasn’t abandoned.”
Jack reached out and swiped a finger over the corner of a nearby desk. He held it up. “No dust. If it’s abandoned, it was recent.”
Daniel chewed at his lip. “Well, maybe …”
A woman in a lab coat entered the far end of the narrow building, stopped, stared at them, then squeaked and stepped backward into the door and fumbled out.
“Okay,” Jack winced, then held his hand out to Daniel in a familiar gesture. Deep breath in, slow breath out. “Here we go,” he said slowly, and they both raised their hands.
It took an hour for the base personnel to calm down, and they were composed of scientists, engineers, and support staff. Daniel recognized a few and kept stomping on the urge to say hi, as if they knew him.
They sat at a dining table, their backs to the table top. Four nervous scientists pointed sidearms at them. At least they didn’t have to keep their hands up anymore.
“Since when does the SGC give out Glock 45s to scientists?” Jack asked under his breath.
“Since these people might be under threat from outside forces?” Daniel answered drily.
“Didn’t one of them say this was the Gamma site?”
“Yeah, pretty sure.”
Doctor Bill Lee opened one half of the double doors at the end of the Quonset hut that served as a mess tent. He, like the others, was as white as a sheet. He was talking to someone outside. “I swear. I destroyed the operation device, so they got through from their end.”
He stepped aside and in walked Sam, Kawalsky, and Martouf. They wore standard warm-weather combat gear, desert tan in color. That told Jack and Daniel that either they just came from a desert environment or they’d crossed the mirror into one.
“Oh wow,” Sam said.
“Danny, love the hair,” Kawalsky said, and he said it like he and Daniel had been good friends.
Jack and Daniel exchanged looks. “Thanks,” Daniel said.
“So …” Jack said. “We headed for Area 52 lockup or some deep dark hole in the ground?”
“He sounds like Colonel O’Neill,” Kawalsky said to Sam.
“Because it is. Just not, you know, ours.”
“Hello?” Daniel said, rolling his eyes. “Care to tell us what you’re gonna do? ‘Cause if not, we’ll be glad to get out of your hair.”
“And go where exactly?” Sam asked.
Jack and Daniel looked at each other and shrugged before looking back at Sam. “Dealer’s choice?” Jack asked.
Sam frowned, confused. “Okay,” she said, grabbing a stool and sitting down several feet away from them. “Why did you come here?”
“Well, our world was …” Daniel began, but his words failed him.
“A big, stinking pile of NID-controlled rapture,” Jack finished for him. “We decided not to stick around anymore.”
“Took a big risk, coming here,” she said.
“Not really. We found a mirror that was,” and Jack waved a hand over his head and in the direction of the lab they’d come to. “Way, way bigger than that one. It knew where to send us and here we are.”
“How?” Sam asked, fascinated despite herself.
Jack and Daniel took turns explaining, finishing each other’s sentences like a pair of twins.
“Atalanta?” Sam asked. “You mean, Atlantis? Pegasus galaxy?”
“Yeah, except it’s Atalanta.”
“Ya think?” Jack asked.
Sam blinked, eyes wide to show she was startled, and she abruptly stood up. “I’ll be right back. Just … stay there.” She left in a hurry and Kawalsky and Martouf followed her.
“You spooked her,” Daniel said with a sigh, but in a tone that was meant only for Jack’s ears.
“Yeah, I think I should behave more …” Jack said.
“Yeah. How do I do that?”
“No idea.” Daniel leaned a bit to touch their upper arms together. “Do you think that was SG-1?”
Jack stared at the door and pursed his lips. “Maybe. It’s probable. And Carter deserves …” He closed his eyes and sighed. “This is going to be hard,” he said, quite a bit louder. “Should we have stayed where we were and just found another planet to live on?”
“I think it would have been too great a risk. Strange as this world is, especially since we look like people who’re dead, it’s still far safer. No one here is intending to enslave or kill us.”
“So far.” Jack paused, looking at the scientists and specifically, the one in the middle. Her handgun was shaking slightly. “Hey,” he said softly, and read her black name tag. “Braydon?” He held his hand out, palm down, and lowered it slowly. “Either calm down or lower that thing. I really, really, really don’t feel like getting shot.”
Her expression subtly changed from nervous to a wary puzzlement. “You sound just like him.”
The man to her right, Weller, said, “But he doesn’t act as rude.”
Jack frowned and exchanged an eyebrow lift with Daniel. “Rude?” he asked. “My counterpart was rude to scientists?”
“He had no use for them,” said the man to the woman’s left. Carpenter.
Jack only shook his head, making it clear he thought that was ludicrous. Which, of course, it was. How could you run a stargate program without them? You couldn’t. And there were scientists in the military. Carter was a perfect example. Well, his Carter was. He didn’t know if this one shared the same sort of background. She was Air Force, and a pilot. He had observed that when he’d noticed the patch on the right side of her flack jacket and the embroidered wings on the left. He shared this with Daniel.
“The scientist part is probably a common thread in many universes,” Daniel said softly.
Sam came back in and retook her seat on the stool, but she edged it a few feet closer. Martouf and Kowalsky—and Jack noticed the name on his flack jacket was spelled Ko instead of Ka—stood behind her.
“I’m waiting on approval from the leader of our facility back on Earth to approve bringing you home with us.”
Daniel lifted his chin. “Colonel Carter and others probably think we’re Goa’ulds.”
Jack shrugged. “A scan will easily clear that up. You can’t blame them for being cautious.”
“I don’t,” Daniel said agreeably.
As Sam watched them, listened to them, the frown became a permanent wrinkle between her brows. Her eyes traveled over them, and frequently went back to Daniel’s hair. Jack approved of her wariness and had no intention of complaining. When her gaze stopped on his wedding ring, then Daniel’s, her frown seemed to shift into annoyance. Jack could make an educated guess on what that meant: She thought they’d left their wives behind.
“You notice that?” Jack asked, under his breath, knowing Daniel had been watching her, too.
Daniel nodded. “It’s only natural to think we left them behind.”
Jack smirked. “Can’t wait to see the looks on their face when they find out the truth.”
“Care to share with the class?” Sam asked.
Daniel shot a small laugh through his nose. “At least the slang is the same.”
“Right?” Jack asked.
Jack held up a mollifying hand. “I heard you, Colonel.” Best to use their ranks so their already heightened sense of alarm wasn’t increased. He knew Daniel got the message when he’d used it.
“You were looking at our rings,” Daniel said, fiddling his with the thumb. “You think we left our wives behind.”
“Or maybe you think they were killed before we got across,” Jack said, mostly to Daniel.
“We didn’t,” Daniel said. He said in another undertone, “Do you think if we show them why we have rings, it’ll tell us a few things?”
Jack considered it. “Maybe. Let’s play it by ear.” Daniel snorted, making Jack smile.
“Okay, you two need to stop that,” Sam ordered. “If you’ve got things to talk about, feel free to say it loud enough for everyone to hear.”
“But if we do that,” Daniel countered, “then we risk offending you if whatever we say isn’t meant for your ears.”
“Then don’t say it at all,” Sam snapped.
Jack and Daniel blinked, caught by surprise. And unbeknownst to Sam, she’d just sounded like Frank Simmons when he had first taken control of the SGC. People had been whispering and he’d snapped, “If you can’t bother to speak up, then say nothing at all. I’m sure we’ll all be the better for it.”
“Wow,” Daniel said, staring at her. He looked at Jack. “Did she just sound like …?”
“Yep. Damn shame.”
“What are you talking about?” Sam asked.
“You reminded us of someone just now, snapping at us like that,” Daniel told her.
“The NID’s golden boy,” Jack said with fake geniality. “Frank Simmons.”
“What?” Sam asked, alarmed. She looked over her shoulder at both men. “Did I just sound like him?”
Kowalsky clamped his mouth shut, but Martouf looked thoughtful. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Samantha, but you did. Not by much, but you did. That said, anyone who snaps at someone will sound like the head of the NID.”
“You all need to adopt some paranoia where that asshole is concerned,” Jack told them. “I’m deadly serious. If you don’t think he’s been plotting to take over the SGC, you’re sadly deluding yourselves.”
“Is that what happened on your world?” Sam asked, less confrontational.
Daniel nodded. “Took him a long time to get to that point, but he arranged it. Had people put in place to support him, including the President.”
“By the time it was all over,” Jack added, “Martial law was declared, Congress dissolved, and we were under the thumb of two dictators. Did you have a rogue NID team in this universe?”
Sam exchanged looks with her teammates. “Yeah, we did. Kowalsky took them down in a sting.”
Jack grinned. “Attaboy,” and before anyone could object, he held up both hands. “Sorry, sorry. On our world, that was me.”
“Point is,” Daniel said. “Our … the old … the other SGC is run like one big rogue NID unit. We made enemies out of everyone, and the only reason Earth wasn’t attacked was because the NID made pacts with several System Lords.”
“You,” Jack said, waving his hand at Carter. “The other ‘you’, and Jacob, snuck aboard a space station and killed off a lot of those bastards.”
“I did?” Sam asked, alarmed.
“Yeah,” Jack said slowly and exchanged another look with Daniel. “The other Carter and her father, Jacob Carter, host to Selmak, bit the farm doing it.”
Sam looked again at her teammates and they seemed to come to some silent conclusion. It reminded Jack of the old days so much that a pit grew in his stomach.
“That happened here,” Sam said, and wagged a finger back and forth, pointing at them. “Only that was you two. And … you didn’t survive, either.”
“How long ago was that?” Daniel asked, sympathy in his tone.
“Four and a half years,” Martouf said when Sam hesitated.
“Which is why this is …” Sam began.
“Hard?” Daniel offered.
“Weird?” Jack added.
“Big time,” she said, letting them assume she meant both. She sighed deeply and pointed at their hands. Their rings. “Did you lose your wives? Or be forced to leave them behind?” Jack and Daniel rolled their eyes and it was so like the two she’d lost that it was damn spooky.
Jack looked at his husband. “You wanna take this, or should I?”
“You go ahead,” Daniel deferred.
“Okiedokie,” Jack said. He raised his chin as he turned his right hand palm up. Daniel clasped it. “No,” Jack told Sam. “We don’t have wives.”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. And Kowalsky’s. Martouf’s. All the scientists’. Although one of the men made it obvious who the homophobe was. It was only a matter of minutes before Jack and Daniel would find out who else had their head wired on backward. Jack wasn’t going to wait.
“So, who objects? I’m sure I’d be willing to straighten out any misunderstanding.”
“Me, too,” Daniel said, nodding. They were both grinning a little bit, but it didn’t reach their eyes. They meant business.
Sam held up both hands and looked at the scientists. She saw the man to her left looking a bit ill and she snapped, “Carpenter.”
He looked over. “Colonel?”
“If you disapprove, keep it to yourself or find another job.”
“Wow,” Daniel repeated, but he smiled a little to take the notion away that he was once again comparing her to Frank Simmons. “Uh, thanks.” To Jack he said, “That was unexpected.”
“But not unwelcome,” Jack nodded.
“Definitely,” Daniel nodded back. Together, they looked at Sam and continued to hold hands.
“How did that work?” Sam asked.
“It was legal, hello?” Jack said slowly. “Frat regs didn’t apply to married folks.”
“Indeed,” Martouf said, grinning.
Jack and Daniel stared at him, then at Sam. “Are you two married?” Jack asked. “It won’t be a shock to us. Your counterparts in our former universe were, too.”
Martouf’s pleasant mood turned briefly sad. “And you said she died. He lost her for a second time.”
“Technically, only once,” Daniel said, unable to stop himself from correcting someone. “I mean, if you’re referring to Jolinar, who was blended temporarily with Sam.”
“Technically,” Martouf said with a mild bow of his head in acknowledgement.
“Some things are the same,” Jack said. “And some things are different.”
“Expected,” Daniel said, mostly to Jack.
“I know. Still, it’s a bit weird.”
“You’re telling me,” Sam said.
She seemed to be warming up to them, now that the initial shock had worn off. It wasn’t over though and both men knew it. As if on cue, Sam’s IDF radio hissed and crackled around the voice that came through, startling everyone.
“This is Hammond. Colonel Carter, come in.”
“Yes, General,” Sam said, keying her mic.
“I am sending Doctor Fraiser through with a mobile scan unit. If they prove clean, they may come through. But let them know that this is not a free pass. A thorough debriefing is in order as well as a lengthy evaluation process. Please advise them accordingly.”
“Yes, sir. Understood. Will get back to you within two hours after Doctor Fraiser’s arrival.”
“She’s going through now. Hammond out.”
“Short, not so sweet, and to the point,” Jack said thoughtfully.
“Sounds like the man we used to know,” Daniel said.
Jack nodded agreement. “Where would you like us?” he asked, then paused as he looked at the scientists, not just Braydon. “But before you answer, could you please take those sidearms away from these people? They might shoot each other.”
They’d moved the meet ‘n greet party to another lab. This one was definitely medical, with all the paraphernalia that went with it. Sitting on cold metal beds, each, without mattresses, had them shivering a bit after just ten minutes.
Doctor Janet Fraiser’s deer-in-the-headlights look never once disappeared during the entire time she made three scans each of Jack and Daniel’s heads and upper spinal columns, not to mention examining the back of their throats. Next came the blood work and DNA samples, and a peculiar test that required a medical scope to go in through the mouth and take cells from the lining of their stomachs.
Sam had explained. “Replicators don’t eat. They can’t, therefore, duplicate the stomach cells’ specific PH balance. Besides, you would have stopped the test long before the scope went down your throats.”
“And if you catch one and you find out it’s a bug, then what?” Jack had asked.
“Technically, they aren’t bugs but—” Martouf had begun.
“Marty, don’t be so clinical,” Jack had complained.
Martouf had frowned at him, then looked at Sam. “Are you sure they died on that Space Station?”
He hadn’t gotten an answer from her. She’d just grinned a little and answered Jack. “We haven’t had the opportunity to catch one and perform the test. But we’d caught one that was neutralized by the Asgard, so we were able to verify the testing.”
“How were you able to do that?” Daniel had asked. “Doesn’t that mean they’ve been reduced to dust?”
“No,” Sam had said. “Neutralization means they’re frozen. They can’t be frozen permanently, but it gives the Asgard, and us, time to evaluate them and find the proper defense. In our case, we got to prove the theory with the test.”
A few hours later, the duo was cooling their heels back in the dining area, and it was lunch time. Many people lived at the Gamma site and Jack and Daniel were basically zoo specimens who got ogled at by a little over seventy pairs of eyes.
At the table closest to the doors, which was where their interrogation had started, they picked at their food. They sat next to each other on one side of the long ‘picnic’ table and across from them sat Kowalsky and Martouf, with Sam parked in the middle. No one else sat at their table, which would have comfortably fit ten more people. As a result, a few of the other tables were a bit crowded.
The low murmuring was getting on Jack’s nerves and he massaged his neck. When he closed his eyes, Daniel covered his hand with his own and caressed him with a thumb.
“We knew this would happen.”
Jack nodded. “There’s a big difference between knowing a thing and experiencing it.”
“I know,” Daniel sighed.
Janet came through the doors and approached their table, surprising them when she sat down next to Jack instead of avoiding him.
He cocked a brow at her. “I take it this means I don’t have crabs.” Daniel snorted out a laugh.
Janet tried hard not to smile. “Yes, it’s exactly what it means.” She placed a folder on the table. “Here’s a copy of the report, Sam. I’m on my way back. You need anything else?”
“They are who they are.”
“Hammond say when we go through?”
“It’ll be two more hours. He’s getting two VIP rooms ready.”
Jack looked at Daniel. Daniel looked at Jack. They both sighed at the same time. Two VIP rooms.
“If this shit continues,” Jack said to him, not caring who heard, “then I’m going to request we live somewhere else. Off that mountain.”
“What do you mean?” Janet asked.
Sam cleared her throat. “They’re married, Janet.”
And on cue, Janet’s mouth dropped open.
As they appeared through the event horizon and entered the SGC’s gateroom, Daniel finished his thought to Jack.
“We didn’t really think about this part,” he said, looking around and finding the same gateroom. One he recognized from his world. Correction. Their old world.
“What happens if Colorado doesn’t allow it?” Jack asked, clenching his jaw a few times. “I’m not going to tolerate living apart from you again.”
Daniel nodded reassuringly. “We’ll always be together, Jack. I promise.”
They reached the bottom of the ramp and found Hammond waiting there, in his Class As, sans jacket.
“General,” Jack said, holding out his hand.
There was no need to salute. He and Daniel were strangers here. They weren’t alive, so they had no military career, no education status, no identification, no documents, no past. They were blank slates and it was going to be up to this man, hopefully, to see they got what they needed … or let them go. To another planet, if need be.
Daniel held out his hand. “General.”
Despite his stern words on the radio, Hammond was a bit flummoxed as he traded grips with them. “I think you can understand how very unusual this is. We don’t really know how to handle someone from another universe remaining here.”
“I understand completely,” Jack said, his face grim. “To be honest, we hadn’t really thought this far ahead.”
Hammond stepped aside. “You’ll be shown to your quarters to freshen up, then I’d like you in the Briefing Room in two hours, please. I trust you know where it is?”
“Yes, sir,” they said together.
On level 24, Jack rapped on the open door of Daniel’s guest quarters, carrying his gear, then walked in and pointedly shut the door with a foot as he looked at the SFs in the hallway. They didn’t look his way and he wouldn’t have cared less if they had. He dropped his stuff beside the door.
Daniel had been taking off his boots to let his feet breathe and he dropped the second boot and walked over to Jack, putting his arms around him for a long, quiet hug. After a few minutes, he said, “Now what?” and sat on the hoke chest at the foot of the bed. Some people called them hope chests, which was really archaic. He patted the space next to him and Jack sat down.
He started taking off his own boots. “We decide how to live our lives. That Mirror said marriage was legal here.”
“Except I never asked for it to be legal at the SGC. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
“I think we were shocked it could choose for us. So I suppose if it’s backward here, we’ll have to emigrate to Canada.”
Daniel grinned. “Or Great Britain.”
Jack smiled, but both their expressions faded. “I feel stupid,” Jack said. “I meant what I said to Hammond. Why didn’t we think this far ahead?”
Daniel took a deep breath through his nose. “Maybe because we never truly expected to make it this far.”
Jack frowned, looking at the floor, and went through his thoughts before making it to the Gamma site. “You’re right. I thought we’d die together.”
Daniel made a face. “Some reactionary rebels we turned out to be.”
Jack laughed and put his arm around him. “So. Want to make plans or play it by ear?”
“Play it by ear, but as long as we’re together wherever we are, I think we can handle everything.”
Jack cupped the right side of Daniel’s face and brought their lips together. He kissed him softly at first, then Daniel turned toward him and slid his hands up Jack’s back as he opened his mouth for a deep kiss. Their tongues met and tasted, reaffirming and reacquainting, as if the Gamma site had washed them clean. Eventually pulling back enough to speak, Jack said, “Damn straight, we can. Just promise me again.”
Daniel searched his dark brown eyes, allowing himself to get lost there. “We’re not going to be separated again. I promise.”
“I love you,” Jack said, rubbing his forehead against Daniel’s.
“I love you back.”
A knock came at the door and Jack growled in his throat. “So help me, if they don’t …”
Daniel got up and answered the door. Sam stood there, and beside her, stood Teal’c, wearing the traditional robes of the Jaffa Nation. His hair was long. And in braids.
“Teal’c,” Jack said softly, and got to his feet.
“That was rather quick. When did you get a chance to call him?” Daniel asked her as he stepped aside to let them both in.
“At the Gamma site. I called up the council on Dakara and sent the message.”
Just as Jack did, Daniel pointedly looked at the SFs, daring them to look at him as he closed the door. “So …” he said, and walked over to stand next to Jack. Sam and Teal’c looked at each other, then at Jack and Daniel. “Now what?”
Teal’c held out his hand and Jack gripped his forearm. “Tek ma tae, Teal’c,” he said.
“Tek ma tae, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied, his eyes watering a little. He looked at Daniel and repeated the ritual.
“Carter?” Jack asked, looking between her and Teal’c. His expression was clear: What was Teal’c doing here and why did she bring him?
“I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be welcome here just yet,” she said with a grimace. “It’s the IOA, and don’t ask. Civilian oversight assholes. Just trust me. So I called Teal’c to see if he had any ideas.”
“I think you two are the ones with ideas, Sam,” Daniel said.
“How would you both like to return with me to Dakara?” Teal’c asked. “When you have been cleared to leave, that is.”
Jack and Daniel shared a look. They were both curious as well as interested. “To do what?” Jack asked the Jaffa leader.
“To live, O’Neill. To live.”
Daniel nodded, and got one from Jack. “By the way, Teal’c?” he said, with that half-smile that made both Sam and Teal’c shudder from déjà vu. “Love the hair.”
“Right backatcha,” Teal’c said, with a wink.
Jack burst out laughing. It was, finally, the most natural thing in the world.