Part 9

Out of the cell, along a narrow passageway, up a flight of stone steps that were steep and narrow, treacherous in the darkness. It seemed to Daniel that they walked for hours without making any progress. The air, for the most part, was damp and foul smelling, though now and then a breeze would fan his face, cooling the sweat on his skin and bringing transient relief and, with that, a momentary resurrection of hope.

Twice Daniel's footsteps faltered on the worn stone as his aching legs gave way and twice he felt Jack catch hold of him before he could fall. The action was, once again, so unlike anything he had come to expect from their enemy that he took it as proof positive that Jack was in control here and not the Goa'uld. Had it been Sokar or Apophis beside him, they would not only have allowed him to fall but would have taken pleasure in his injuries, counting it one more victory over the weak Tau'ri. But Jack was in command here and Jack would keep him safe until they could all make their escape together.

"How ya doin'?" Jack asked as they emerged from the staircase into a long, vaulted gallery that looked to be lined with the same incandescent stone as their first cell.

"I've been better," he confessed, chest heaving with the effort of the ascent. It was something of an understatement. The last time he could recall feeling this weak was 52; in the infirmary at Cheyenne Mountain, as he recovered from his enforced addiction to the effects of the sarcophagus. Of course, this time the cause was more physical stemming, as it did, from a lack of food, water and sleep and maybe the air was thinner up here, too - how far might they have climbed anyway? - because it was certainly difficult to breathe. Whatever: the results were the same. Had someone told him he was free to leave, he doubted he could even have made it to the door unaided.

"Well, it's not far now," Jack encouraged, smiling. Even so, there was a shadow darkening his face as he looked at Daniel, seeing him properly for the first time since they had been separated. Moved by his obvious concern, Daniel patted his arm in what he hoped would be seen as reassurance.

"It's okay, Jack... I've come through worse..."

"And looked a hell of a lot better at the end of it! If I'd known..."

"But you didn't. It was 52;" He let the thought trail away. If Jack wasn't aware of his little Goa'uld infestation problem already there was no telling how he might respond when he found out. The Jack he knew had a deep and abiding loathing of the creatures. "It doesn't matter. Come on...." He managed to take three steps on his own before Jack caught his arm and slowly turned him around.

"You know, don't you?"

"Know - what?"

"About this... this thing in... my head. You know it makes me do stuff I don't want to do, and then forget all about it."

Such hurt in his voice, such despair. Sometimes too much knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing, others it can be the most heart-rending experience any human mind can endure. Jack knew all about Goa'uld infestation. He had witnessed, first hand, what it could do to a human mind, had seen it in Kawalsky, in Skaara - even in Apophis. That, in its way, had been the most difficult because up until then they had always assumed that the host did not survive, at least not for very long. Daniel may have insisted to others that they could save Sha're, but deep down he had always doubted that she would be fully restored. All that had changed when they rescued Apophis from Sokar.

Jack had wanted nothing more than to wrap his hands around the dying System Lord's throat and choke what little life remained out of him, or take a gun and blow him to Kingdom Come. It was there in his eyes, cold and hard, like shards of flint. Ugly. In Jack's mind the most painful, degrading death would have been no more than the snake head deserved. And then, without warning, everything he believed had been stood on it's ear and all bets were off. Apophis, close to death, had been too weak to maintain control and suddenly the mind of the host, subjugated for millennia, had broken through the barriers. Jack's face had shown nothing of his inner turmoil as he listened to the old man's words, the impassioned cries for his long-dead family, the ranting against the injustice of it all, but his eyes... his eyes had shown the horror and more, the comprehension, as he transposed this revelation onto those he loved and realised his greatest fear for them - the host did survive. Skaara, Kawalsky... Sha're... had all been trapped in this living hell and Jack, all his life dedicated to protecting those unable to protect themselves, had been powerless to help them.

Now the same thing was happening to him, he knew it and was as powerless to stop it now as he had been then. It was happening and it might only be a matter of time before the Goa'uld within him was able to take complete control and seal away forever the personality that was Jack O'Neill.

"Yes," Daniel said, compassion softening his voice. "I know. But we can help you, Jack. All we have to do is get you back through the Stargate..."

Jack shook his head and the flow of words faltered. "You know we can't do that. One way ticket, remember? They can follow us through, but we can't ever go back, that was the deal. You know what Maybourne said..."

Daniel had no idea what Harry Maybourne had said and wondered what the disgraced NID man had to do with anything. Was it possible he had hatched some plot in order to get back at Jack by hooking him up to some mind-control gizmo picked up on one of his off-world raids? Throw a switch and watch Jack become victim to the dark side which lurks within us all? If only Doctor Fraiser was here to take a look at him, find out if there actually was a Goa'uld hiding in there or if something much worse was going on.

"Easy, Jack," he soothed. "We'll find a way out of this, I promise." Jack shrugged - maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't - but the look he gave Daniel was composed of pure helplessness.

"I guess... If you say so, Danny-boy."

"I do. I won't go home without you, Jack," he vowed, knowing at once that he was now committed to that cause. Whatever the Goa'uld made him do, Daniel knew he would not - could not - desert Jack now, even if it meant sending Sam and Teal'c home and remaining here alone. He would never willingly leave Jack.

With a little cough to break the silence and clear the plug of emotion clogging his throat, he took a pace back and spread his hands. "So... When do I get the grand tour?"" he asked, meeting Jack's uncertainty with a reassuring smile.

"It's this way..." Jack gestured along the gallery. "There's only this floor and what's below. Looks like some kind of fire took out the rest, but that was a long time ago."

"Pity. Looks like an amazing place."

"I guess... but you'd know more about that than I do. Old buildings were always your department."

It wasn't often that Jack acknowledged his expertise and Daniel met the statement with a raised brow, while that part of his brain trained to do so kicking into archaeologist mode.

"Any idea what the place is?" he asked, looking around. "I mean, what it was?"

"Search me. Some kind of - royal residence? Whoever built it was long gone when we arrived."

We? Daniel mused, wondering if the reference was to the team as a whole or to Jack and his little Goa'uld passenger. "So... You just - took it over?" he asked, failing to keep the spark of anger from his voice. "Don't you people ever do anything for yourselves?"

Jack sighed. "Oh fer... We needed a base for our operation pdq and this was available - end of story."

Daniel saw the opening - just what kind of operation was he talking about? - but he let the moment pass, afraid that if he asked too many questions he might find himself back in the cell with no hope of ever getting out of there. In any case, from the references to Maybourne and the scene they had witnessed at the Stargate, he already had a pretty good idea what that operation might be.

He had no intention of apologising, really he didn't, yet suddenly the words were tumbling from his lips and he could think of nothing to stop them.

"I'm sorry... I guess I'm more tired than I thought. Didn't get much sleep last night, worrying about Sam."

"But she's safe now. The Healer will send word as soon as you can see her," Jack promised. "In the meantime, let's get you out of those clothes. You haven't smelled this bad since Abydos..."

Walking along the gallery, with Jack at his side, Daniel at last began to appreciate how vast and complex the structure must once have been, like an enormous film stage dressed with an unlimited budget. If the young Obi-wan had appeared from behind one of the columns, wielding his light sabre, Daniel would not have been surprised.

As they made their way to the far end of the colonnade, polished stone blended seamlessly into the opulence of marble, ebony and what appeared to be jade. Under other, more sociable, circumstances, he might have paused to appreciate the diversity of architectural styles and ponder the many cultures they might represent; might have gazed in wonder at the way each window along the outer wall had been constructed and aligned to give the perfect view over the landscape beneath, or stood with fast-beating heart as he tried to decipher the inscriptions that encircled the top of each towering column, each stroke etched deeply into the marble and inlaid with gold. He might have noticed all of these things, were it not for the anxiety he felt for his friends and his lingering sense of dread at what might lay in wait at his journey's end.

"In here..." Jack pushed open a door and Daniel found himself ushered into one of the most beautiful rooms he had ever seen.

"Oh... Wow!!" he sighed, hands falling loosely to his sides as he stood in the centre of the room and turned slowly through the three hundred-sixty degrees required to present their surroundings in all their splendour. All else was forgotten as his gaze roamed freely over a scene straight from a de Mille epic. Marble, creamy white and veined with amber, floor tiles of deep terracotta, acres of silver-etched glass that reflected back the light from the high arching windows, giving the whole chamber the feeling of being open to the air, and everywhere embellished with gleaming gold and the wink of lapis.

"And you have no idea who built this?" he mused, knowing well the Goa'uld love of all things decadent.

"No." Jack lifted a rough, earthenware jug. "We found it like this when we arrived. There's just this and a few other smaller rooms, and - well, I guess you'd call it a bathroom..." As he spoke, he poured a stream of colourless liquid into an army issue tin cup and offered it to Daniel. "Only water, I'm afraid. Rations are pretty basic around here since Maybourne cut off our supply line. We're down to the last of the MREs and whatever we can scavenge from the planet."

But Daniel waved the cup aside. He was thirsty - gods, was he thirsty! - but three years under Jack's command had taught him to be cautious and he was well aware of how easy it would be for his captor to have slipped something into the cup during their conversation.

Jack made a little snarfing sound of disgust. "What's up? You think I'm trying to poison you, Danny-boy?" Defiance flaming his eyes, he brought the cup to his own lips and drank deeply. "Satisfied?" he demanded, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth.

Daniel snorted, crossing his arms defensively over his chest as he stared down his damaged friend. "No. If that was meant to reassure me, don't bother. We both know that thing in your head makes you immune."

Jack's brow arched. "I thought I was the resident cynic..."

"Then I guess I learned it from you," Daniel countered bitterly. "Look - I don't want anything to drink or eat, I don't want your hospitality... I just want you to take me to Sam and Teal'c so we can all go home."

"Teal'c?" The older man frowned, then: "Oh, you mean the Jaffa. He's not here."

"Not here?" A chill of fear prickled the hairs on Daniel's neck. "What did you do to him?"

Refilling the cup and holding it out to him again, Jack shrugged. "Sent him home."

"Home? You mean to Earth?"

"No..." A smile, open and innocent, as if it had been the most natural thing in the world for him to do. "To Chulak. Well that's where he came from - isn't it?"

Daniel swallowed one fear, only to have it replaced by another. If Teal'c was really on Chulak it would be easy for him to make his way back to Earth. That was the good part. What didn't go down so well was the knowledge that, as soon as he heard of their plight, General Hammond would no doubt send a rescue team through the Stargate to get them out. At that very moment one of the other SG teams could be walking into an ambush, just as they had done.

"Yes, it was," he confirmed, feeling suddenly sick. Out of instinct he had reached for the cup and swallowed a large draught of the cool, sweet water before realising the possible consequences of what he had done. "You do know the general will send another team through to find us...?"

That fact seemed to have little effect on Jack, who picked up a bowl of fruit and offered it. "Oh, I doubt it. I told the Jaffa we'd be sending you and the major through as soon as she was well enough to travel."

"And will you?" Daniel asked softly. It was one question too many. The clay bowl sailed across the room, shattering against the far wall and spilling its contents over the floor.

"What the fuck do you think I am, Daniel?"

"Well I'm not exactly sure..." Voice rising, chin jutting defiance.

"Oh really?"

"Yes, really. One minute you've got Sam and me locked up in a cell, the next you're treating us like royalty. You remember me, but you don't know Sam and Teal'c is just 'the Jaffa'. You say you'll send us home - but then I remember what we found when we came through the gate. There's too many contradictions, Jack, so you'll have to forgive me if I show a little doubt here!"

Squared off, eyes smouldering anger, resentment, confusion, lips dripping the venom of fear. Daniel's chest heaved with the force of his outburst, Jack's face burned with acrimony roughly tempered with shame. They looked at each other, two friends pushed so far apart by what had been done to them; then they looked away, that simple communication too intense for either to endure for long.

"What's happening, Jack?" he asked quietly, mind desperately working to fit all the pieces together and make sense of the whole.

"I don't know."

"You have to..."

"Well I'm sorry to disappoint you, Danny, but like I told you before, I - forget things..." and he tapped the side of his head meaningfully.

Daniel swept his tongue across dry lips and slanted a look at the colonel. "You forget? Or do you just choose not to remember?" he asked, the words so cruel and accusing yet, if he was to make any breakthrough here, necessary. If Jack would not tell him the truth willingly, then he would have to be forced into doing so.

Shaking his head, Jack turned away. "I wish it was that simple," he murmured. "I wish I could just click my heels and put everything back the way it used to be... But we're not in Oz, Danny, and I left my ruby slippers at home."

The wave of desolation emanating from him crashed over Daniel and almost swept him away in its force, and he cursed himself for lashing out at Jack the way he had. It wasn't Jack's fault this had happened, he hadn't asked to become a host, in fact, it could be said that the man was every bit as much a victim as Sam had been, just in a different way, and it was time he got off his ass and took the initiative in getting them out.

He opened his mouth to apologise but, before he could do so, Jack pushed open another door and gestured him to pass through, mumbling "I promised you a hot bath..."

Squeezing past him in the doorway reawakened all of Daniel's physical responses to the man he still loved, despite everything, and he felt his heart quicken at the proximity. Pausing, he stole a look deep into the dark eyes. "I'm sorry, Jack, that was... really out of line..." But Jack ignored the words, telling him bluntly to get into the pool while he went to find him some clean clothes.

His attempt at reconciliation rejected, so lost was Daniel in his own misery, he failed to notice that suddenly he was alone, unbound and that the doors were both unlocked and unguarded. He could leave whenever he chose to do so and he didn't even know it.

Working on auto pilot, he kicked off his shoes and began to peel away the soiled ruin of his uniform. Gradually, however, little things began to impress themselves on his awareness; like the fact that, unlike the main room, the air around him was warm and moist, heavily scented by something that he couldn't quite pin down. Then there was the bath: no ordinary domestic tub this, but a wide, circular pool sunk deep into the floor, steam rising from the surface of the crystal clear water.

Must be a hot spring, he mused. That would probably account for the smell, too, the water collecting minerals as it flowed through the rocks beneath.

A stone bench, set at waist height, was obviously intended to be used for massage and, to complete the scene, a cool shower. Or is it a waterfall? he wondered, watching the stream bubble over a high ledge set into the far wall and tumble into a carved stone basin beneath. Jack had referred to this as the bathroom, but it was unlike anything Daniel had seen, except maybe in some of the ancient Roman bath houses, but even then, this was far more elaborate, far more regal. And it was the real thing, fully functional, and just waiting for him to make use of it.

Bone weary from all the torments he had endured since his arrival, he gave in to weakness and trod carefully down the stone steps, sighing as the hot, perfumed water crept inch by inch up his legs, swirling around his hips and on up, teasing his nipples and wrenching a soft moan from his lips as it lapped over his stiffened shoulders. There was gentle movement in the water, a natural Jacuzzi, rippling away the tension, soothing the bruising as it stroked his limbs and body, making him feel whole again. Ducking down beneath the surface, he rocked his head languidly from side to side, allowing liquid fingers to comb through his hair and massage his scalp, stripping away the ugly memories and, for a while at least, leaving him only the good time, the sunshine in his life. And at the centre of all those memories was Jack.

He found he could separate his life into for distinct eras: his early childhood, when his parents had been alive and the world had been his playpen; his youth and the early part of his career, when the academic world had been ranked against him and he had struggled so hard - and failed so miserably - to at least have his theories considered with respect.

Next came his year on Abydos, with Sha're. There, he had finally found the respect he craved, had been both scholar and teacher, learning their ways and sharing his knowledge to unlock the secrets of their past. On Abydos he had found happiness with his wife, his family, and from that had come love. He had loved Sha're, deeply, and would have been content to spend the rest of his life with her. He knew it, Jack knew it, but it had never been allowed to become an issue between them except on that one occasion, on Cimmeria, when Jack had forced him to choose between the absent Sha're and the very present Teal'c. At the time, that part of him already falling in love with Jack had wondered if Jack had feelings for him too and had used the destruction of Thor's Hammer to ensure the way was clear for him a while longer. Long enough for him to make his move. He never had, of course - he had quickly realised that Jack respected their friendship too much to ever do anything so underhand - and Daniel had berated himself long after for such disloyal thoughts.

Which brought him back to the present portion of his life and the axis about which it spun: Jack. He smiled at the realisation that Jack no longer simply featured in his life - he was his life, beginning, middle and end, full stop and no deviations. For the first time ever, Daniel Jackson was heart-over-heels in love and the object of his affection had quickly become the centre of his existence. Good times, bad times, highs or lows, feast or famine: Jack was always there, sunlight in his darkness, safe harbour in the tempest of his addiction, comfort in his grief. He had decided, long before the death of his wife, that it was Jack, not Sha're, who was his forever..

Now that dream was being torn away from him and an terrified part of him wondered if forever had died at the moment he last stepped through the Stargate. Could the situation possibly get any worse?

The water had a curious buoyancy and he floated on his back, with his arms outstretched for balance, as he gazed up at the domed roof. It was made of glass, an intricate arrangement of coloured panels that looked as if they might form some obscure design, although from that angle it was difficult to make out. Some of the panels were darkly opaque - damaged by the fire Jack had spoken of? - but the remainder glowed with the richness of the setting sun. It was a masterpiece of the glazier's art and yet another curiosity amongst the many he had already encountered. If only he had the chance to explore the place in detail, find out who had built it and what had become of them. Maybe, if they ever managed to escape, they could one day come back... Except he already knew what the general's reaction to that suggestion would be.

Easing himself upright, he stepped from the water and looked idly around for a towel, oddly unconcerned about finding one or about the fact that he was standing there naked. The air was warm, like a natural sauna, and he felt thoroughly, deliciously relaxed, his problems no more than little puffs of dark cloud on a distant horizon. He might have stopped to ask himself why he might suddenly be so unconcerned but at that moment the thought did not occur to him.

And then all thought became obsolete.

"I'd forgotten how beautiful you are..."

His head whipped around, body following in a heartbeat. Jack stood in the doorway, a bundle of cream-coloured cloth held tightly against his chest.

"I - ah - didn't.... I mean, I...." The heat of a full body flush stole the words from his mouth, adding to the rosy pinkness of his skin. Jack was watching him, clearly aware of his unclothed state yet not allowing his gaze to drop any lower than Daniel's face.

"I found these..." Jack told him, adding "Remember?" as he allowed the bundle to unroll. It was a robe of unbleached linen, of the type he had adopted on Abydos. But surely that couldn't be? Those clothes were back home, locked in the closet in his office on base. Jack could not have just - conjured them from thin air. Then again - Remember? - What was he supposed to remember? Was it just another twist in Jack's seriously scrambled mind?

Jack was moving towards him now, the robe held out to him, a sweet and almost shy smile on his lips. "Hope you don't mind... I wanted - something to remind me of - better times..."

Mesmerised by Jack's warmth towards him, Daniel turned and allowed the robe to be slipped over his hands and drawn up to his shoulders, his heart racing as Jack's arms wrapped around him from behind to cross the robe over his chest. He absorbed the contact, not expecting it to last - but it did, the simple action lingering into an embrace that gathered him against Jack's chest and brought Jack's chin to rest in the angle between cheek and shoulder.

Once again, Daniel found himself torn between desire and common sense. He knew what he should do, that it was dangerous to get so close to Jack in his condition and realised the danger he had opened himself up to, but at the same time it felt so good to have Jack's arms around him, to feel each puff of air from those lips brush across his throat, to allow himself to close his eyes and, just for a moment, believe that none of this had happened, that they were home and safe70; and that Jack returned his feelings.

"Relax..." The word, murmured against his throat, sent shivers rushing down his spine.

"Jack - ?" he whispered, hearing the anxiety in his own voice and trying so hard to will it away.

"It's okay, I won't hurt you." Velvet reassurance, stealing his resolve. "I gave you my word, remember? I meant what I said, I won't ever push you into doing something you don't want to do." His lips belied the statement, nuzzling into Daniel's skin, leaving a kiss there and the whispered revelation "But I can't change the way I feel about you."

The world seemed to fall from beneath the archaeologist's feet and spin violently away, leaving him floundering in confusion, his emotions swinging between longing and dread. Had Jack just confessed to something here? Or was it the Goa'uld again, taunting him with what he desired most to hear. He wanted to ask, needed to know, but at the same time he was afraid of what the answer would be.

"Anyone ever tell you, your timing's lousy, Jack?"

A lazy chuckle, accompanied by a tightening of the arms surrounding him and the touch of those warm lips against his ear as Jack - tough, military, heart-wrapped-in-steel Jack - cuddled him like a besotted teenager. "You did - quite a lot as I recall. I, on the other hand, prefer to think of myself as spontaneous."

"Reckless might be closer," Daniel heard himself tease, felt his own lips twitch in an answering smile.

"Spontaneous, reckless... Who the hall cares? If it feels good..."

"And does it?" he prompted, shocked at his own audacity.

"Holding you like this?" A sigh of contentment. "God, Daniel, you've got no idea..."

Very gently, not wanting to break the delicate mood between them, Daniel eased out of the embrace and turned around, facing him with a show of confidence he was only partly feeling. "Then... why don't you explain it to me..?"

"I can't," Jack groaned, screwing up his face at the very idea of opening up his heart. It was an expression Daniel had seen countless times and one that endeared Jack to him over and over. "You know I'm no good with words. If I was, you'd be with me, not her."



"What does she have to do with anything?" Daniel demanded, a sudden heat flashing through the words. "Sha're's dead, Jack - or did you forget that, too?"

"Forget it? It's burned into my memory, Danny-boy, you know that. I almost lost you because of it!"

Daniel shook his head, trying hard to unwind the tangle of thoughts. "But if you know that, why did you say I'm still with her?"

"Because you are! In there -" He shoved Daniel in the chest. "You're still with her, you still love her - and you always will. Undying love - what chance do I have against that? I left it too late... I always leave the important things too late..."

Jack loved him?

Realisation of the unquestionable truth almost brought Daniel to his knees. Jack loved him and, by the sound of it, had for a long time. Everything he had wanted since the day Colonel Jack O'Neill had walked into his life had been his for the asking, and he had been too wrapped up in his own misery, to see it. The irony of it was not lost on him. They had come all this way together in blind ignorance of each other's feelings, only to discover at the moment of revelation that they were being torn apart. He wanted to put things right but as he drew breath to tell Jack 'It's okay, I love you too', he knew and understood that the time for that was long past, another opportunity - probably the most important in his life - had been lost and, until and unless Jack was freed from whatever was controlling him, there was nothing he could do or say that would restore things to how they had once been.

"I'm sorry, Jack," he whispered.

"For what? I'm the one who screwed up here. I'm the one who 52;" He looked away, face contorting in pain as he struggled with himself.

When he raised his head it was the Goa'uld that was once more in control.

"Why wouldn't you stay dead?" it hissed. "I tried so hard to end this, but you kept on coming back. Why, Daniel? Why couldn't you just stay dead and make it easy on both of us?"

Cruel fingers dug into Daniel's cheeks as his face was captured and turned, held fast as the twisted lips came closer, and he prepared to meet the inevitability of the kiss. It came swiftly, harsh and uncaring, taking by force what he had for so long dreamed of giving freely. He tried to block the demanding tongue, to drive it out with his own, but the attempt only served to provoke the Goa'uld even more and in the next moment a hand had closed around his throat, steel vice to choke the air from his lungs and plunge the room around him into red-flecked darkness as he struggled to breathe.

Powerless to end the abuse, the strength draining from his limbs along with his life, he closed his mind to it, sealed himself away from the reality and let his body go lax, the last threads of consciousness hoping that by ceasing to fight the Goa'uld would release him. Maybe it would be better to submit now and get it over with, avoid further injury - or worse...

Then he thought of Jack - the real Jack - and the diminishing part of him that refused to give up hope reminded him that acquiescence would be a betrayal of them both, because the host survived, the memories remained intact, and if Jack was ever freed he would know what the parasite had tried to do, what Daniel had allowed and what he had fought. Such knowledge, and the guilt carried with it, would surely destroy them both. He would never be able to prevent the Goa'uld from using Jack's body to rape him, he accepted that, but their future friendship hung on the fact that there was a world of difference between rape and a consensual act.

There was something else, too, gleaned from Jack's own past. He had never openly admitted as much but, from the little he had revealed about those times and the other things heard and read, it had been easy for Daniel to do the math that led him to the obvious conclusion - Jack had been raped, at least once, during his imprisonment in Iraq. He had been unable to prevent it then, just as Daniel would be unable to stop the Goa'uld should it's mind be set on that path, but at least he would be able to draw on his own experiences, his own feelings and maybe, in time, they would both be able to come to terms with it.

The kiss ended so abruptly that Daniel almost staggered and fell - before he was caught again, Jack's hand wrapping in the edge of the robe and pulling him back, using the forward motion to strip the garment from him, the delicate fabric ripping in his grasp while the bulk of it trapped Daniel's arms behind his back.

"You really are a feast for the eyes, Danny-boy..." the Goa'uld smirked appreciatively. Lifting Jack's hand he circled a fingertip around Daniel's left nipple, trailed it across to the right, touch light as a feather, barely making contact. On, over the flat plain of chest and abdomen, tracing the muscles, following the trail of silky hair that marked the route from navel to groin.

"Having trouble getting it up?" he sneered as he stroked the length of flaccid flesh.

Daniel clenched his jaw and hissed through his teeth: "Might have something to do with being felt up by a shit-eating snakehead.... Sorry, but you really - ahhh! - you really... really don't do any-anything for... me..."

"Then maybe I should try harder 52;"

The Goa'uld closed in again, one hand kneading Daniel's genitals, the other clamping around the back of his neck as he forced his tongue into the unwilling mouth again.

It was more than Daniel could endure. Anger burned his senses, scorching through him to trigger a flood of adrenaline that drove him to fight against the violation, regardless of the cost. Drawing on reserves of strength he had no idea he possessed, he bit down - hard - on the invading tongue, so hard he tasted the metallic tang of Jack's blood in his mouth. The Goa'uld screamed with Jack's pain, blood streaking the hands that covered Jack's mouth. But Daniel wasn't done yet. The barriers were down, the restraint had snapped and a terrifying darkness filled his mind as, fury unleashed, he brought his knee up, impacting with Jack's groin, connecting sharply with soft tissue and hard, hungry muscle.

And still, it wasn't enough.

Fighting free of the robe that restrained his arms, a fierce backhanded blow sent Jack's body reeling, tipping him over the bench and sending him crashing to the floor. Even before he hit the ground, Daniel had vaulted the bench and was standing over him. A part of his mind registered that this was Jack, yet the need to defend himself allowed him to push that thought aside. God willing, he would get the chance to apologise to his friend when all of this was over; for now, he was fighting for his life and the dignity of both of them.

Howling outrage and agony, the Goa'uld curled on the ground, blood flowing freely from Jack's lips as both hands nursed his abused manhood. Watching him, the dark eyes flashing the Goa'uld presence, Daniel felt a feral delight in the pain he had inflicted and the defeat - however temporary - over his abuser. It was a feeling he had known before, a bitter triumph over their enemy. He didn't like the feeling, the lack of self-control, but he clung to it now, drawing strength from the transient victory to help him through the battle to come. He was not out of the woods yet - not by a long way - in fact, he would most likely pay dearly for this act of defiance - but it had shown the Goa'uld that he was not about to sit back and let himself be used and it had broken the little bubble of familiarity that had grown between them since Jack had come to take him out of the cell, had shattered the false sense of trust and put him back on his guard. It would happen again, he had no doubt of that, but next time he would be ready.

"Had enough?" he sneered. The Goa'uld spat a mouthful of Jack's blood onto the floor, it's eyes - Jack's eyes - blazing indignance.

"I'll kill you for that!"

"Maybe... On the other hand, maybe I'll kill you. You wouldn't be the first and... you probably won't be the last."

"You'd kill this host, when he loves you so much?"

No hesitation, no fear, no sign that the news was anything but old to him. "To save him from a lifetime as your slave? Yes."

"You hate us that much?" The Goa'uld sounded surprised at the notion. Surely everyone loved the Goa'uld...

Halfway to the door, Daniel paused and looked back, his face filled with sorrow. "I don't hate you," he said softly. "I despise you... But - I love him even more."

For a moment it seemed as if the Goa'uld was considering this response, then it occurred to Daniel that it was searching Jack's memory - a fact confirmed when it said: "You've never told him of your feelings. He believes you're in love with - Sha'uri?"

"I know - and I regret that. Maybe if I'd told him he'd have a reason to fight now... but that's something I won't know until I get him away from you."

"Then you will never know."

Not giving the Goa'uld a chance to taunt him more, Daniel turned and left the room without a backwards glance, one thought only in his mind at that moment. The mind, the personality, the spirit of the host survived, they knew that beyond doubt. That being the case, he had not only acknowledged his feelings for Jack in front of the Goa'uld, he had also confessed them to Jack himself.

Where did that leave them now?

Go to Part 10