Whispers of Innocence

By: sharilyn

EMAIL: sharilyn


I do not own the characters or rights to the series 'Stargate SG-1' and am in no way affiliated with those companies and individuals who do; I am merely dabbling a bit with the characters.

"Don't stand there and tell me not to be upset, Daniel; my God, you were THERE today, on the street! You saw what they do here, I've told you what Jimu offerred...what he expects ME to do..."

Jack's voice was a low growl of rage and something more than that; behind the sharply bitten-off cadence of his words lurked a level of sickened disgust and horror of an intensity that Daniel Jackson was certain he'd never heard in the Colonel's voice before. His blue eyes fixed worriedly on his companion's anger-contorted face, Daniel mused privately to himself that he fully agreed with Jack--the customs of this world were completely unconscionable. But right now was not the time to go into a long harangue about the evils that men do; right now Jack needed to calm down before he burst a blood vessel and stroked out right here in the guest quarters of the Jalonkins' head official.

"Yes, Jack, I saw," Daniel murmured quietly now, his gaze somber and not unsympathetic behind the lenses of his glasses. "And you have to know that Sam and Teal'c and I are every bit as disgusted by the Jalonkins' practices as you are. But we won't do any good here by freaking out and going homicidal on their asses; in case you haven't noticed, the Jalonkins outnumber us by a rather large margin, and even with our weapons we wouldn't be able to take on all of them and still escape unscathed, especially not if we take out their beloved leader. If we make enemies of them now, we very likely won't get out of here alive. I know it doesn't make this any better, but you have to understand, Jack, that in THEIR view, you have been accorded a great honor; it's fairly obvious that Casmira is the most highly prized daughter of the chief's house and that her parents hope to make a favorable impression on you by making a gift of her to you."

"She's eight years old, Daniel--EIGHT FUCKING YEARS OLD, FOR GOD'S SAKE!"

Jack's voice rose into an anguished, horrified shout of rage as he spun sharply on one heel and began to pace manically about the confines of the simple bedroom suite Jimu Harasha had so proudly led him to earlier tonight. A shudder of revulsion arced its way down Jack's spine as he recalled with vivid clarity the eager light shining in the Jalonkin chief's dark eyes as he'd flung wide the simple wooden door to this chamber and had gestured Jack in ahead of him, bowing almost obsequiously as he'd babbled about the great honor Jack and his team had brought to his meager dwelling by their mere presence. At first Jack had barely paid attention to the words spilling from the native's mouth, and it was only when he'd stepped fully over the threshold to survey his new digs for the nonce that his puzzled gaze had fallen on the huddled form on the bed across the room, and all of Jimu's stream-of-consciousness ramblings surged over Jack all at once, in a dizzying rush of sick comprehension.

"No," he'd said flatly when the import of what he was seeing had had enough time to sink in deep and hard, filling the jaded special ops soldier with a brand of appalled rage the likes of which he hadn't experienced in a very long time (and had secretly and fervently prayed never to experience again). "No, this won't do at all."

And at Jimu's patently genuine frown of confused dismay, Jack had pointed angrily at the small child curled up in a tight, trembling ball in the center of the bed and had shaken his head vehemently, his brown eyes nearly black with dangerous emotion as he turned back to his baffled host and cut into that man's agitated cascade of hurt exclamations.

"I cannot accept...the child," Jack had gritted out, his jaw clenching so tightly on the last word that his teeth gave a protesting creak as they slammed together in his mouth. "I have no...need...of her, thank you very much. Please, remove her and take her back to her own quarters now. Really, I'm fine alone here, I just want to settle in, meet with my friends, catch a little shut-eye..."

He'd tried VERY hard to remain civil in the face of this atrocity that he'd only glimpsed the barest hint of before now among these people--and one he had hoped like mad was merely a mistaken impression on his part. Surely the unsettling snippets of behavior he'd seen in the village today couldn't really be what his twisted mind tried to make them out to be, he'd thought to himself more than once over the course of the afternoon. The briefly seen instances of casual and wholly inappropriate touching that he thought he'd seen between a handful of adults and children on the streets were most likely reasonably explainable gestures that had just been sadly misconstrued by himself and his unsettled team mates...or so Jack had tried to convince himself at the time.

But now, standing in this room, he'd known with a sick, enraged certainty that his initial misgivings hadn't been at all unfounded. No, dammit; when it came right down to it, the reality was even worse than what Jack had allowed himself to contemplate so uneasily as he and the rest of SG-1 had received a guided tour of the large, bustling village earlier today. Worse, because here it was now, thrust baldly and without apology into Jack's face, his insistent host laying hands on him and pushing him urgently into the center of the room as the native man simultaneously demanded and importuned the coldly infuriated form of Jack O'Neill to move closer, ever closer to the unbearably small, vulnerable figure cowering on the guest bed.

"For you, all for you, great Colonel of the far places," Jimu had murmured persuasively, waving one arm toward the bed in an expansive gesture of pride and open invitation. "Is Cismara, is the loveliest of all my five daughters. Is young a bit, yes?...but good, she be very, very good to you..."

It had taken every bit of iron control Jack O'Neill possessed to refrain from launching himself at Jimu with a roar of pure, sickened rage and tearing the smugly smiling man limb from limb, his enraged heart already pounding with savage anticipation of the sound he knew the man's death screams would make as they rang like music in the Colonel's ears. The only thing that had ultimately served to save Jimu's miserable life was Jack's realization that the child--Casmira--was right there on the bed, able to see everything Jack might do to the sick bastard that was her father.

"If she no pleasing to you, you pick another, no? I have four more, all pretty girls, very pretty...all be good to you, yes? Maybe you like older, maybe Siphira, she of eleven seasons? Or younger than Casmira?...but no, this I am sorry I cannot do. My woman no allow--Hya you may not have. She has only five seasons, too delicate, too small...If you damage, she no good to you later. But Casmira, she sturdy, she will learn fast, give you much pleasure..."

"Get out."

Jack's voice was so low he wasn't quite sure himself if he'd spoken the words aloud; but the quick, nervous inclination of Jimu's head in his direction as the other man had tried to decipher his guest's rage-roughened command told Jack that he had indeed managed to free the words from the constricts of his disgust-thickened throat.

"Get the hell out--and take the child with you. I don't want her; I don't require ANY of your daughters, Jimu." His eyes flashing molten fury, Jack had pulled stiffly away from the native Jalonkin's insistent, plucking fingers and had crossed his arms tightly over his lean chest, clutching himself so hard he knew he'd have bruises later. But it was all he could think of to do to hold himself back from the near-overwhelming impulse to leap on Jimu and pound his pale, inquiring face into bloody pulp. Leave; for God freaking sakes, just take the kid and leave me alone! Jack had screamed silently inside his head to Jimu as the village chief stood gaping idiotically at this bizarre offworlder who'd had the effrontery to turn down the choicest of the fruit of his loins.

"I am head of village, O'Neill," the wiry, somewhat scruffy man had announced then in offended tones, his heretofore friendly brown eyes narrowing and darkening speculatively. "You no like my daughters, you no accept my generosity--be bad, very bad for you and your friends. My people will not like this, how you shame me in front of the whole village; you take Casmira NOW, tonight, or I cannot say you stay safe here, safe with my people. I offer much, I give you great honor; what answer you give now?"

"What will you do with her if I send her away?" Jack had found himself voicing the question in a stiffly grudging voice, his mind suddenly overtaken by horrid images of the little girl on the bed being somehow punished by her father for Jack's refusal to take her into his bed tonight. Jimu's shrewd eyes had moved from Jack's pale, furious visage to the desperately curled-up figure trying to make herself invisible in the middle of the room's large bed, and a crafty expression settled on the chief's stubbled face.

"Casmira be shamed by all if you no accept; she be tossed out with garbage, free for any street thug to take, to use for pleasure, maybe sell to bordellos on edge of village...Casmira's fate is in Jack O'Neill's hands, in this bed, here." A dry chuckle had escaped the man at his own clever wit, and Jack had literally growled like an enraged animal as he'd given in to the inchoate fury churning inside his chest and had moved with the speed of lightning to wrap long, impossibly strong fingers around Jimu's scrawny neck.

But even as he'd begun choking the life from the man struggling so ineffectually in his grasp--his overpowering rage making him blind to the fact that the villagers most definitely would NOT take well to him murdering their chief--the small child on the bed had suddenly morphed from frozen terror into fullblown fury, coming up off the bed and hurling herself at Jack in a flurry of punching arms and kicking legs.

"No kill, bad man! You bad, bad man, no kill my father, no hurt him! Kill you, I kill YOU..." Shrieking and sobbing hysterically, Casmira had tried with everything in her to tear this fearsome offworlder away from her father, her long, thick fall of radiantly blonde hair flying wildly about her face as she crouched down and fastened small, sharp white teeth into the back of Jack's left leg. Biting hard enough to puncture flesh and draw blood, Casmira had refused to let go, and the combination of the pain from the bite and the child's obvious hysterics over her father's impending death had snapped Jack back to some shaky semblance of rationality.

Trembling violently, Jack had forced himself to uncurl his fingers from Jimu's throat and had watched dully as the choking, gasping Jalonkin chief staggered back several steps, coughing raspily and rubbing furiously at his throat as tears streamed from his eyes and ran down his reddened face.

"Sorry, honey, I'm sorry...look, he's okay, see, I've let him go...please, darling, won't you take your very STRONG teeth out of the mean old Colonel's leg now?..."

Babbling inane words of comfort, Jack had reached down a tentative, beseeching hand toward Casmira and had flinched wildly back and almost fallen on his ass as the young Jalonkin female surged suddenly upward and refastened her teeth into the meaty part of Jack's left hand, worrying it like a dog with a bone as bubbles of Jack's own crimson blood welled up around her lips.

"OUCH, Jesus!..." Cursing a blue streak, Jack had gaped down at the child who was so savagely assaulting his hand, his addled brain completely stymied as to how to detach her without hurting her or making this whole, sorry mess even worse; but at that moment Jimu had rushed forward and delivered a brutally hard slap to the side of his daughter's face, the force of the blow jarring her teeth loose from their tenacious hold on Jack's hand and knocking the hysterically sobbing child to the floor at Jack's feet.

For one long, frozen moment Jack had merely stood rigidly, his shocked gaze traveling from the crumpled, shaking form of the little girl in the floor to Jimu's dark, infuriated glare; but before Jack could collect his wits enough to finish killing the other man for what he had just done to Casmira, Jimu had suddenly grinned up at him with an expression of inexplicable satisfaction and had murmured in a low, singsong voice:

"If others see marks on my neck, they take you, your friends, kill you all; I have the power, I can see you die long and slow and very, very hard. I think, O'Neill of earth, you take Casmira now to make me happy; you break her in, make her a woman, I hide marks on neck, never say word. You remain honored guest, prospective ally; in return I am greatly honored, as is Casmira. She will have pick of any husband she want after you take her; she will be known as dutiful daughter and former consort of the powerful offworld leader, O'Neill. What say you now; do you accept this fine gift I offer you?"

And Jack had gazed hopelessly down at the eight year old child crying so heartbrokenly at his feet and had known he'd lost. To turn Casmira away now meant death--or worse--both for her and for himself and his team. He didn't know how he was going to fake his way through this one, but he had barely enough sense left in his infuriated brain to accept the status quo for now and to send Jimu on his way, with the chief secure in his belief that the recalcitrant offworlder had finally come to his senses and was ready to take the most beautiful of Jimu's offspring into his bed.

"You drive a hard bargain, sir," Jack had murmured with deceptive softness, his brown eyes icy as they'd rested on Jimu's placid face. "Now that I...understand...I do accept your...gift. I will take the child. But only for tonight--only temporary, for a short while." It had taken all the internal strength Jack possessed not to regurgitate as those words left a sick, poisonous aftertaste in his mouth; and impotent rage set his limbs to trembling again at the expression of smug satisfaction that had arisen on Jimu's face.

"You will bed the child, yes?" Jimu had insisted, and Jack had gazed down with a look of unmitigated horror at the pitifully sobbing wreck of a little girl sprawled face down on the floor at his feet, his mind creating sickly lurid images of himself forcing the child down onto the bed and covering her tiny, helpless body with his own, the pictures forcing their way into his head despite his fierce, silent orders to himself to wipe such images from his thoughts, to think of something--anything--else...Oh God, how could he have envisioned such sickness for even one second?!...

"I will sleep with her tonight, yes." He'd heard the words leave his mouth, noting dully how amazingly calm and steady they'd emerged; and after a long moment of studying him with silent suspicion, Jimu had grinned suddenly, his face disarmingly cheerful and deceptively benign. Clapping his hands together in an exuberant gesture of satisfaction, Casmira's father had stepped forward, slapped Jack on the arm with genial conviviality and had then gestured indifferently to the child in the floor, his voice hardening as he ordered her in their own language to get up and submit herself to the offworlder.

"It's okay," Jack had murmured softly to her as she ignored her father's irate demands and continued to sob brokenly, the masses of her hair spilling around her shoulders like molten gold and hiding her face. "Please, honey, won't you get up now, before you make your old man mad again?"

His tone gently wheedling, Jack had dropped rather creakily to his haunches and stretched one hand gingerly toward the little girl. But the second his fingers touched the silky warmth of the hair at the crown of her head, Casmira had begun to shriek, her young voice rising in a terrified, high-pitched rhythm that had shattered Jack's already jagged nerves and drove Jimu into a paroxysm of fury. Before Jack could make a move to defend the child, Jimu had stormed over and yanked her roughly to her feet, his face reddening with rage as he shook her unmercifully and spat infuriated commands into her white, horrified face.

"Okay, dammit, that's enough! ENOUGH, I said!" Swallowing down a fresh resurgence of rage, Jack had reached out and dug strong fingers deep into the hollow of Jimu's shoulder, his implacable hold forcing the smaller man to relinquish his grasp on his daughter with an indignant gasp of pain. "Just get the hell out now; go on, go away. Leave us for the night--leave me with your daughter. I'll take it from here."

Feeling more and more sickened by this whole terrible scene, Jack had glared fiercely down into Jimu's face until the other man had given in with little grace, his wary eyes flitting suspiciously from his crying daughter's limply swaying body to the offworlder's stone-cold glower, as if not trusting Jack to actually carry through with their agreement.

"I'm certainly not going to sleep with her as long as you're in here, buddy," Jack had growled, and with a small, amused half-smile Jimu had finally taken his leave--but not before informing Jack that Cismara would be 'tested' in the morning to verify that her maidenhead had indeed been breached and virgin blood spilled on the bedsheets.

"Christ, that's great--just great," Jack had muttered to the closed door after Jimu had slithered his way through it and had left his daughter to Jack's mercies--tender or otherwise. His face twisting in helpless empathy for the terrified child shivering and tottering unsteadily on her bare feet beside him, Jack had moved very slowly and carefully past her to sit himself on the edge of the bed a safe distance away, self-consciously holding his body in a loose, nonthreatening manner as he pasted a rather constipated fake smile onto his face and tried his best to calm the little girl down.

"It will be all right," he'd murmured softly to her, unsure if she could even hear him over her soul-shattering sobs of dread and abandonment. "When I said I'd sleep with you, that's all I meant-SLEEP. I won't touch you, Casmira, I promise. CAN I call you Casmira, would that be okay?"

The child had refused to answer him, her slender little body shivering uncontrollably as she stayed rooted to the floor and kept up a constant, terribly disturbing keening that broke Jack's heart even as it grated on his last nerve and made him desperate to do or say whatever it took just to shut her up, to have even one moment of peace and quiet so he could figure this OUT,for God's sake...

"Okay, all we need to do is smuggle Carter in here, I'm sure she'd do much better with this whole calming down thing than I'm doing..." Jack had muttered distractedly to himself, his gaze fixed unseeingly on Casmira as he tried to think what to do next. God, what about Daniel and Teal'c; were they even now being offered the same 'honor' in their own guest rooms? Hadn't Jimu said he had five daughters in all, with four of them 'available'? Jesus, he certainly hoped his team mates weren't enduring the same nightmare, not to mention the other poor, cursed offspring of the fucking pervert running this village. Bleakly Jack envisaged a scenario similar to his own situation taking place in his friends' quarters now, with two other terrified little girls under the age of twelve cowering in fear at the prospect of being 'taken' by either Teal'c or Daniel; and what was going on with Carter now? Since this seemed to be a patriarchal sort of pedophilic society, surely she wasn't even now being offered some nubile young boy of her own to pleasure her all night?

Oh, God, we've gotta get the hell out of here, Jack had mused darkly to himself, and at that moment Casmira had suddenly grown silent, unnervingly so after her previous, hysterical caterwauling. And as Jack had gazed at her with an expression of dubious confusion on his face, the child had seemed to come to some momentous, shuddering decision and had pulled herself up to stand as straight and as tall as she could, her porcelain-pale face with its enormous brown eyes tilting reluctantly in Jack's direction.

"Cas?" he'd murmured uncertainly, an amorphous feeling of dread suddenly overtaking him; what was the poor little thing thinking now, what was she going to do? Half expecting the child to turn tail and dash madly for the door and freedom, Jack had been completely astounded--and not in a good way--when Casmira had suddenly dropped to all fours and had crawled like a shivering, submissive puppy to press her forehead to Jack's booted feet, her small hands moving tremblingly to wrap themselves around his ankles and hang on for dear life as she awaited her fate.

"Oh, God, no, don't do that, baby...please, come on, get up now..." His stomach roiling with nausea, Jack had leaned over and had very carefully placed both hands on Casmira's head, patting her with awkward gentleness and urging her to rise to her feet. Shaking violently, the child had merely continued to clutch at Jack's ankles as if nothing else existed, and it was with a reluctant sigh that Jack had been forced to take a firmer hold on the little girl's shoulders and physically pull her up, tugging two or three times before he was able to break her stubborn hold on his ankles and draw her to her feet.

"Please don't be afraid, Casmira; can you look at me, look into my eyes? I don't want to hurt you, I swear I'd never touch you like that..." His voice quiet and even, Jack had talked and talked to the distraught waif standing between his legs, his only physical contact with her now the lightest of touches to her left shoulder with the tip of one careful finger to steady her. "Hey, maybe we can go find my friend Sam, that's short for Samantha, and she's a really nice lady and I know she'd love to have you be her roommate for the night...would you like that, would you like to go meet Sam and she can show you some of the mysterious 'woman' things she's probably smuggled here in her pack...I know she's brought chocolate, anyway, and I'm sure you'd love that, it tastes really great..."

Casmira's trembling had eased the slightest bit as Jack had droned on and on, the pleasantly low, even tenor of his voice lulling both the child and himself into a tentative gray area of security; briefly, once or twice, her eyes had flitted up to his and then immediately away again, and the tear tracks on her face had begun to dry as the short, hitching cadence of her breathing slowed and settled into something approaching tranquility.

"There, you see? I'm not such a bad guy after all, huh? So okay, I'm a bit gray on top and I'm not exactly up on the latest Jalonkin nursery rhymes and games; but I think I could learn if you taught me a few of them. Would you like that, Cas? Would you like to be my teacher tonight?"

And it was only after the words had already left his mouth that Jack realized Casmira had misinterpreted his gentle proposition and thought he meant something else entirely; her small, poignantly graceful little girl's body in its disturbingly sheer costume of a pale yellow and white tunic had suddenly stiffened in abject dread, and the expression in her huge, fathomless brown eyes as she'd lifted them to Jack's nonplused face was one of crushed betrayal, along with a resigned hopelessness much older than her years.

"Cas, what--?" Jack had begun, but before he could even try to sort through the possible repercussions of what he'd just said, the child had suddenly flung her arms around his neck and had pulled herself onto his lap, reluctantly turning her body until she was face to face with the frozen-in-dismay Colonel and could fit both legs on either side of his, wrapping them around him and locking her ankles together behind his back.

"No, Casmira, oh no!" Jack had exclaimed roughly, but the little girl had bravely made up her mind to follow her father's instructions and had elevated herself just enough so that she could reach Jack's throat with her mouth. Completely immobilized by sheer shock, Jack had merely sat and done nothing for one long, agonizing second as Casmira began pressing light, frantic little kisses to his throat, her small bottom wiggling over his groin in a sick parody of erotic invitation. She had begun to cry again, making terrible little mews of shame and distress even as she pressed her flat little chest insistently against Jack's; and it was that godawful, haunting sound that finally broke the paralysis holding Jack still and had him surging up from the bed, wildly peeling Casmira's small, tenacious body off his own and practically flinging her onto the hard mattress of the bed.

"Jesus fucking Christ, STOP THAT!" he'd yelled at her, his gut cramping with a surge of such violent nausea that he'd barely made it to the small bathing cubicle adjoining the room before losing his lunch in a spectacular display of heaving abdominal muscles and sick, shivering perspiration. Oh, God, ohmygod, he'd thought dully to himself as Casmira curled into a tight ball on the bed and sobbed as if she might die from the intensity of her misery and fear. Dammit to hell, dammit to FUCKING hell! Jack had screamed weakly inside his mind as he'd continued to retch helplessly, one part of him drawn toward the terribly distressed child on the bed, wanting only to comfort and reassure her, to apologize for treating her so roughly, while another part of him wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of here and run far, far away.

God, I'm never going to want sex again--with ANYONE, Jack had groaned silently to himself as he'd struggled weakly to his feet. He'd never felt so depraved and dirty, so ashamed of just being a male adult with all the power and testosterone and fleshly hungers grown men flaunted so readily as a sign of their virility. As he'd forced himself to move back into the bedroom toward the heartbreakingly small and vulnerable child on the bed, the knowledge that Casmira's clumsy advances had filled him with repugnant horror rather than any type of desire proved of little comfort to him. My God, what kind of sick bastards find it EROTIC to diddle little kids? Jack had thought to himself with a sickened lurch in his chest at the memory of Casmira's desperate, awkward advances. This kid should be outside making mud pies and giggling with her little friends and learning her ABC's, not being handed off as a sex slave to the first stranger that comes along. Oh, God, what was he going to do with her now, how could he possibly convince her he wasn't some psycho child molester who enjoyed roughing up little girls? And what to do about the whole maidenhead/losing her virginity dilemma?

As he'd moved cautiously--and very, very slowly--back to the bed, forcing his face into an expression of calm serenity he most assuredly didn't feel down deep inside, Jack had spoken soothingly to the little girl, his heart twisting painfully in his chest as she'd curled up even tighter and had begun to shake her head from side to side--'Stay away, stay away!' signals emanating clearly from her huddled body.

"It's okay; I'm going to go find Sam now, she'll come sit with you awhile," Jack had murmured, hovering uncertainly for a minute at the side of the bed. When Casmira failed to respond, the distraught leader of SG-1 had turned away and headed for the door, only to be startled by the sound of rustling fabric and the sudden, frantic thump of small feet on the floor behind him.

"No, no go, no go, O'Neill!" Casmira had cried out and had flung her arms around him from behind, her small body impacting his with such force that Jack actually stumbled forward two steps before regaining his balance. "No, no leave, Father will know, Father will punish..."

Her sweet young face awash in frantic tears, Casmira had not resisted when Jack turned in her grasp and gently but firmly peeled her arms from around his waist; as he'd knelt down before her, his brown eyes dark with frustrated concern, Casmira had taken one long, shaky breath before stepping forward and pressing her face dejectedly into the front of Jack's shirt. Awkwardly the discomfited Colonel had lifted a hand to pat at the child's frail shoulder, murmuring soothing nonsense words as she slowly melted against him and raised childish, suddenly trusting arms to wind them around his neck. This wasn't sexual, this was merely a frazzled, exhausted little girl seeking the only comfort available to her right at this moment; and Jack had risen to his feet with the child clinging wearily but stubbornly to him, her legs dangling limply as she rested her head on his shoulder and begged in a broken whisper:

"No go; no tell Father; I be good, I promise. I try...I please you. You no like me?"

Tears had filled Jack's eyes then, and he hadn't been able to resist pressing a featherlight kiss to Casmira's temple as he carried her unresisting body back to the bed and gently laid her down on her back. Her large eyes fearful but resigned, the child had reached for the neck of her tunic, as though preparing to pull it over her head and undress herself; but Jack had reached gentle hands to arrest the motion of her small, trembling fingers and merely shook his head at her, his eyes swimming with sorrowful tears.

"No, baby; I don't want you to do that. I just want you to take a little nap right now, can you do that for me? I won't let anyone hurt you, and I won't hurt you, either. I promise. Go ahead, it's okay; sleep for awhile. Will you do that for me?" Casmira had nodded reluctantly, the expression in her eyes still half-fearful but increasingly relieved; and as she'd obediently closed delicate lids to block out the sight of the silver-haired offworlder leaning carefully above her, Jack had straightened and fumbled to slide the soft comforter out from beneath the child's exhausted form. Her eyes had jerked open again in silent consternation at the disturbance he was creating, but Jack merely smiled reassuringly down at her and held up the warm bed linen he'd slid from beneath her, pantomiming covering her with it. Sleepily Casmira had nodded acquiescence, and Jack had carefully settled the comforter over the child's slender body and then stood guard till her eyes slid shut again and her short, agitated breaths smoothed and slowed into the natural cadence of relaxed slumber.

It was only then that the deeply troubled Colonel had dared to slip from his room and go in search of his team, his furtive foray netting him a close call with what appeared to be a female house servant before he'd finally found Daniel lurking in a dim hallway, a notebook and pencil clutched in one hand as the bemused archaeologist peered myopically at the scribbled writing on a tired-looking vase balanced rather precariously on a narrow wooden stand in the corridor.

"Oh, hey, Jack; what's up?" Daniel had murmured, and the look he'd received in reply had clued him in that something was obviously VERY wrong in Jack O'Neill's world. But before he could even ask what was going on, Jack had grabbed him roughly by one arm and was tugging him back down the hall toward his assigned quarters and the sleeping child within, his voice pitched to a low, fierce hiss as he filled his friend in on recent events with Jimu. Daniel's eyes had grown bigger and bigger the closer they'd come to Jack's quarters, his complexion growing paler by degrees as empathic disgust filled his throat and gagged him in light of the story Jack was telling him.

"You have to help me, Daniel," Jack had hissed at him right before cracking open the door to his room and shoving the linguist inside ahead of him; but as Daniel had stumbled reluctantly across the threshold, his troubled gaze zeroing in almost instantly on the small, covered form in Jack's bed, Daniel had absolutely no clue what to do or say to fix any part of this nightmare situation. All he'd known for certain was that Jack did NOT deal well at all with any mistreatment of children in any way, shape or form; and as the younger man's gaze had flitted once more to the tumbled mass of golden curls snuggled under the comforter on the bed, Daniel was only able to think disjointedly but fervently to himself that Casmira had at least been lucky enough to be given to Jack and not to some sweaty old pig of a Jalonkin. Daniel knew that Jack would die before he'd ever let an innocent child be harmed like that, and as the archaeologist had moved hesitantly closer to the bed and absorbed the picture of naive tranquility Jimu's daughter projected in her sleep, he'd decided with a sense of grim resolve that Jack wasn't the only one here who'd die before seeing this little girl brutalized in any way.

But first things first; unless and until he was able to goad the infuriated commander of SG-1 into developing a rational, workable solution to Casmira's dilemma, Daniel wasn't willing to bet real money on Jimu's chances of surviving the earth team's first, ignominious visit to his planet.

"Jack, calm down, you need to calm down," Daniel had begged softly, and the fierce light of battle he'd seen in his friend's eyes in return had made him sigh with sudden weariness. God, it was gonna be a LONG night.

"I don't care what this society's social and cultural mores dictate, Daniel; it should be obvious to ANY human being--no matter where the hell they live in this huge universe--that grown men having sex with pre-pubescent girls is just WRONG. Not only wrong, but deeply, inherently EVIL, Daniel. How any normal man could even begin to be excited or aroused by a little girl's body...well, it's a sure sign of something so dark and twisted in their sick minds that I can't even comprehend or understand it. And I don't want to. And to make matters worse--WAY worse--Casmira was handed over to me by her own damned father, for God's sake! Jesus, Daniel, if you'd only been here, if you'd SEEN the way she offerred herself to me, tried to kiss me--"

A deep, full-body shudder of revulsion ran through Jack's tense frame at the unpleasant memory, and Daniel moved forward to lay a comforting, steadying hand on his friend's taut shoulder, his empathetic silence serving as tacit agreement with the other man's impassioned diatribe.

"I can't believe she did that, Daniel," Jack whispered roughly now, shifting his body around until his tortured brown eyes made direct contact with Daniel's somber blue gaze. "She was so afraid of me, Daniel, so traumatized by what she was being ordered to do by her father...but she was such a brave little thing...God, it just cut right into me, that stoic expression in her eyes! Despite her fear she pulled herself together and did what she thought she had to do; she tried to...to please me, to...Jesus, to AROUSE me, Daniel. I feel so dirty now, so sick about the whole thing! I keep asking myself why I just FROZE like that when she climbed into my lap, why I didn't stop her sooner; but I couldn't believe it was even really happening, it was all so horrible, so surreal--"

"Easy, Jack; easy," Daniel cut in softly, a twinge of sympathetic pain flaring tightly in his chest at the sickened, haunted look in Jack O'Neill's dark gaze. Noting the fine tremors that had begun in his friend's limbs, Daniel reached out with hands that were gentle but firm enough in their grip to offer steady support as they closed around the tensed, rock-solid muscles of Jack's upper arms and squeezed just hard enough to jerk the other man's tortured, inward-turned contemplation back onto Daniel's earnest face.

"This situation is not your fault, Jack; you did nothing wrong," Daniel tried to reassure his distraught c.o. "Take a look at Casmira right now and see for yourself what you HAVE done; that little girl is curled up, warm and cozy and sleeping peacefully, because you protected her--because you've watched over her tonight. Despite the fear you saw in her when she was first brought to your room, she obviously grew to trust you enough--and in a very short period of time, I might add--to drop her guard and fall asleep in your presence. On some level she knew you wouldn't hurt her, that you could be trusted."

"We have to save her, Daniel; God, we can't just gate merrily home after this and leave her to be bartered off to the first filthy old bastard her father can make a deal with to take her off his hands!" Jack exploded, his voice dropping almost instantly to a low, intense hiss as Casmira stirred fretfully at his enraged tone. "The very idea of any man touching that little girl in such a way, hurting her, taking her innocence and her childhood away!..." A sheen of tears suddenly glistened in Jack's sherry-hued eyes, the revulsion he felt backed by a steadily growing flame of unmitigated wrath at the very notion that the small child sleeping so trustfully in his bed might soon find herself the newest acquisition of some smug, filthy pervert of a Jalonkin male, one who would take her brutally and without any thought to the child's agony and terror at being so carelessly violated.

"What would you have us do, Jack?" Daniel interjected quietly, his gaze sympathetic on Jack's rage-reddened face even as he lifted one sceptical eyebrow and gestured diffidently at the vulnerable, golden-haired figure curled up in the large bed across the room. "This is just how things are in their culture; are we supposed to just march in under the aegis of forwarding our own interests and take away ALL the young girls under a certain age to save them from early marriages, all because we don't personally approve of the practice? Where would we take them, Jack; how would we explain to the authorities back on earth the sudden appearance of what--say, at least a hundred young girls--who speak a strange language and have absolutely no knowledge of earth and apparently no living relatives anywhere on the planet who could take them? Can you imagine that the powers that be would EVER give Hammond permission to allow us to kidnap these girls from their own homes and families just because we happen to find their cultural practices morally abhorrent? Even on earth there are still cultures who marry their females off at very young ages, Jack; this isn't anything new, it isn't something you've never had an awareness of before now."

"Well, I hadn't met Casmira before now, either, Daniel, hadn't seen the look of abject horror and hopelessness in her innocent young face right before she tried--in her clueless, clumsy, eight-year-old fashion--to SEDUCE me, for Christ's sake!" Jack rasped out, his infuriated gaze burning into his team mate's carefully steady blue stare. "And I don't need you to stand there playing devil's advocate and telling me shit I already know, so why don't you shut your trap and just go find Sam? I never said I wanted us to take all the little girls away from this place--though you and I both know that's exactly what I WOULD do if I could, dammit. And don't think for one minute that I'm going to be getting a good night's sleep anytime soon, knowing that after we leave here there are going to be all these little girls left unprotected and at the mercy of the men running this backwards, godforsaken culture. But I can tell you one thing, Daniel--Casmira will NOT be one of those lost, used little girls, not while I'm still breathing. I can do something to help HER, at least."

Jack's glare seared into Daniel with absolute conviction, unshakable determination rigid in every line of his body; and Daniel gave a small, worried sigh and dropped his chagrined gaze to his booted feet. "What are you going to do, Jack?" he queried softly. "You can't kill Jimu; he's the big chief around this village. And we can't take Casmira back with us; even one unexplained child to deal with back home is one too many. And don't try to use Cassie as an example--you and I both know that her situation was completely different from this one."

"When Jimu returns in the morning, he will have Casmira 'tested' to be sure she's lost her virginity," Jack bit out tightly, his gaze flitting grimly from Daniel's dismayed grimace to the child whose slight body asleep on his bed made barely a ripple beneath the thick comforter covering her. "I'm not an expert on this type of thing by any means, but isn't there usually...blood, and such?"

"Well, taking into consideration Casmira's size in comparison to your own...um, physical 'attributes'...yes, I would say that at least some degree of--of 'tearing' and bloodshed might be expected," Daniel murmured reluctantly, and both men's faces paled at the unwholesome images assailing their minds at Daniel's words. "But Jack, even if we were somehow able to 'fake' the blood or try to use our own, there's still the whole issue of Casmira being checked...down there...to see if her hymen is still intact. That's...er...the small bit of tissue blocking--"

"I know what it is, Daniel," Jack interrupted wearily, running a hand over his face as he turned away and moved with quiet resignation to stand beside the bed. His gaze dropping to the small figure murmuring restlessly now in her sleep, the troubled Colonel slowly stretched one long, tentative finger toward a stray curl of gilded hair peeping over the top of the comforter covering Casmira's frail body. But just before the digit would have wrapped itself carefully around the errant lock of hair, Jack's entire body gave a perceptible shudder of appalled revulsion at the realization of what he had been about to do, and he took a sudden, abrupt step backward, his eyes going completely black as he turned his gaze back to Daniel.

Don't do this to yourself, Jack, Daniel wanted to tell him; we both know you meant nothing sexual by reaching out to the child like that; don't start doubting and fearing your own impulses, you KNOW you would never, ever harm a child in that manner, Jack...But the closed-off expression on his best friend's face told Daniel clearly that such reassurances would not be welcomed right now. Jack was in danger of losing himself in the almost overwhelming morass of guilt and self-loathing he'd fallen into from the moment that desperate, frightened little girl had crawled into his lap, and Daniel sensed that the only way the other man would ever be able to live with himself was if he could somehow rescue Casmira from the lamentable fate awaiting her here in her world.

"Just...would you PLEASE go find Carter, Daniel? I--I need her here right now, maybe she can...help, somehow. At the very least, it might comfort Casmira if and when she wakes up during the night to find another female here with her rather than just yours truly. I just need to think about this for a bit, work something out..."

Jack's expression shifted from tormented to pensive as he flicked a glance that was half-beseeching, half-commanding, in Daniel's direction; and with a small nod and a sigh, Daniel turned to heed his commander's bidding.

"I think she's just down the corridor from my room; I'll go get her," he murmured and let himself quietly from the room, uncertain if Jack had even heard him. The commander of SG-1 had already turned away from his team mate and was pacing restlessly about the confines of the room, his hands ghosting up and down his lean thighs as though subconsciously trying to rub the sense of shame and guilt he felt right out of his body.

God, I hope Sam is better at calming Jack down than I was, Daniel reflected ruefully as he made his way down the narrow, silent corridors of Jimu's house--a rather primitive dwelling by North American standards but a veritable mansion by any Jalonkin measure. I didn't exactly handle matters with the greatest finesse in there, the linguist added drily to himself as he fumbled his way long the dim hallway. But he hadn't wanted to reveal to Jack just how much he himself was bothered by poor little Casmira's dilemma; his friend had enough to deal with as it was, without adding the burden of Daniel's troubled conscience to the mix. Still, I could have at least sounded more sympathetic, Daniel chastised himself as he found the door he believed to be the one leading to Sam's assigned bedroom and hovered uncertainly before it, one hand lifted in an aborted move to knock on the wooden panel before him.

I just hope this whole mess doesn't end in disaster, with dead bodies lying around and us running for our lives back to the gate, Daniel mused despondently as he made himself tap lightly but insistently at Sam's door. Whatever plan Jack might come up with over the course of the night, Daniel just hoped it would somehow save both Casmira and all of SG-1 into the bargain. It can never just be a simple meet and greet these days, he sighed mournfully to himself as the door swung abrutply open, revealing Samantha Carter's sleep-rumpled, mildly vexed face squinting out at him from her bedroom.

"Jack needs you in his quarters, Sam," Daniel began and sighed inwardly at the fleeting expression of consternation that crossed his team mate's face as she tried to discern just what the Colonel could possibly want with her at this hour; does EVERYTHING have to bear some repressed psycho-sexual connotation with me tonight, Daniel grumped to himself as he imagined the possible scenarios running through Sam's head, and then he released a silent breath of relief as Sam merely nodded and disappeared back into her room to retrieve her shoes. Hell, I may as well stop by and let Teal'c know what's going on, too, he decided as he slumped against the wall outside Sam's room and waited for her to re-emerge. We might need his input--not to mention his muscle--by the time this night is over. And as Sam slipped quietly out into the corridor to join him, her blue eyes mutely asking him for details, Daniel straightened up and led her back toward Jack's quarters, his voice barely above a whisper as he began filling her in.

Oh, God, baby, don't wake up now, not yet, anyway, Jack begged silently as Casmira suddenly began to stir beneath the comforter, small whimpers of fear emanating from her small body as she tossed restlessly in the grip of some dark, fear-filled nightmare. Jack could imagine only too well what that nightmare entailed, and it stabbed him to the core to realize that he was quite probably a key player in the terrible dream unfurling now within the little girl's unconscious mind.

"Sleep, honey; just stay asleep, everything's all right...you're safe, and a very special lady will be here any minute to sit with you and keep you company," Jack crooned softly to the child as he leaned carefully over the bed, hands folded behind his back in a nonthreatening manner just in case Casmira came fully awake to find him looming over her. "You'll like Sam, she's really nice," he continued in gentle tones as the little girl in the bed moaned and lifted both hands beneath the comforter, struggling against its constricting folds as though trying to ward off some frightening, unwelcome advance made by an unseen assailant.

"Shh, it's okay, Cas, it's going to be okay," Jack murmured, his own hands sketching helpless circles in the air just above the child's head as he wished her back asleep, his dark eyes skating desperately from the bed to the closed door across the room and then back to Casmira's agitated form again. "No one's going to hurt you, you're safe," he tried once more, and at that moment Casmira's eyes flew open and she shot up in bed with a thin, wavering shriek of dismayed terror, her gaze horrified and unfocused on Jack's distraught face as she struggled to free herself from the confines of the heavy comforter and scramble off the bed to safety.

"NONONONONO!" the child began to keen as she kicked wildly at the covers trapping her. "No, no call Father, no hurt!..." And as Jack moved helplessly toward her, loath to add to her fear but worried that she might injure herself in her demented struggles with the comforter, Casmira gave one loud, piercing shriek of pure despair and managed to slide her body sideways off the mattress onto the hard floor next to the bed. Landing with a muffled thump, the little girl pulled herself on her belly underneath the bed, fingers scrabbling madly for a hold on the rough tiles of the floor as she continued to sob brokenly.

"Ah, dammit, please don't do that, Casmira, please come out...I won't hurt you, I promise," Jack muttered hopelessly as he backed far enough away from the bed to assure the child that he wouldn't be able to just reach underneath it and haul her back out; he knew he should just move completely away and wait for Sam to arrive, but his overriding concern for the little girl's terrified state compelled him to drop rather stiffly to all fours and press his head cautiously against the cold floor as he sent his worried gaze on a search for Casmira's small, pressed-flat form hiding beneath the bed.

"Please, Cas, won't you come out now? It must be really chilly under there...and dusty to boot, no doubt. Come on, darling, you can come out. I won't touch you, I'll just stay right here, okay?" His eyes catching and briefly meeting the mistrustful gleam of Casmira's from under the bed, Jack moved very slowly and carefully to a sitting position on the stone-tiled floor, drawing his legs up close to his chest and loosely wrapping both arms around his shins to present as nonthreatening a demeanor as possible. From this vantage point he could no longer see Casmira, but he could clearly hear the short, shallow pants of agitated breathing coming from her frantic chest where she lay pressed against the floor. Forcing himself to take slow, deep breaths as if to counteract Casmira's hysterical gasps for air, Jack kept his gaze fixed resolutely on his lightly curled hands and held his silence, uncertain if the sudden hush in the room was more or less threatening to the child than the previous gentle cadence of his voice as he'd tried to soothe her.

C'mon, Carter, where the hell are you! he thought agitatedly to himself; and at that moment a light knock sounded on the door to his room, followed by the almost hesitant turning of the knob. As the door swung slowly open, Casmira suddenly made a harsh, agonized sound of terror from under the bed and came scrambling wildly out on the side nearest to Jack, her eyes huge and wild in her white face as her gaze veered from the opening door to Jack's nonplused figure still sitting in the same harmless pose on the floor. With a garbled cry Casmira pulled herself to all fours and scrabbled her way across the few feet of space separating her from O'Neill, her thin arms reaching desperately toward him as she cast one last, frightened glance at the doorway and the two shadowy forms filling it.

Oh, God, she thinks it's her father, come back to check on our progress, Jack realized with a sense of helpless dismay and empathy just as Casmira hurtled her small body directly at him. His legs falling open and sideways to accomodate the small child's frantic form, Jack found himself automatically reaching to enfold her in his arms as she flung herself against his chest, grappling desperate arms around his neck and hanging onto him for dear life.

"Good, I be good!" she was gasping/crying over and over, tears scalding her cheeks as she pressed her face into Jack's neck. "No, Father, no! I make happy, I be woman now!"

"Shh! Shh...it's okay, baby, it's not Father...it's just my friends, it's just Sam, remember I told you about her?..." Jack found himself murmuring inane words of comfort against the child's silky hair as his eyes traveled helplessly to the two chagrined figures of his team mates standing awkwardly just inside the room now. "See, look, it's okay. The pretty one is Sam, and the ugly fellow next to her is my friend Daniel--he's harmless, really he is. He just likes old rocks and pottery jars and things like that, you know."

As Daniel's eyes met his over the little girl's quivering body, Jack recognized the look of silent empathy and shared helplessness in the other man's gaze; and with a small, silent nod Daniel gestured at his forehead and then backed up through the still-open doorway, giving Jack to know that he was off in search of Teal'c now. With the slightest of nods Jack acknowledged Daniel's silent message and then turned his attention to Carter, who stood carefully just over the threshold of the room, her quiet study of the tableau before her filled with concerned compassion as she waited for the petrified child to calm down enough to be able to think rationally and realize that Sam wasn't Jimu, come back to punish her for not submitting herself to Jack.

"Hullo, Sam," Jack spoke up softly now, his arms staying snugly around Casmira's heaving form as he kept his tone light and airy. "Sam, this is my new little friend, Casmira; she's been sent to...ah...spend the night here, sort of like a big slumber party/sleepover kind of deal, you know? And well, ah, I figured that it just wouldn't be much of a sleepover if we didn't invite you. After all, I'm not much with the whole polish-your-nails-and-giggle-about-girly-stuff routine, you know?"

"Well, in that case, sir, I'm very glad you've invited me over," Sam replied cheerfully, keeping her voice pitched at a low, comforting level as she began to take slow, careful steps toward the entwined figures of her worried c.o. and the distraught child in his arms. "Sorry I'm a little bit late to the party, but I had to go back for some of my things. I mean, it wouldn't be a party without chocolate, would it?" she murmured and fingered the pack dangling from her right hand.

"See, Cas, I TOLD you Sam would have chocolate; between her and Daniel, we could open our own Hershey's franchise offworld," Jack murmured soothingly, his breath feathering over Casmira's shining hair. The little girl still refused to lift her head and look at Sam, but at least now her frantic, heaving gasps for air had settled down into a steadier rhythm broken only by occasional, convulsive hitches of respiration as she struggled to bring herself back under control.

"I even have a movie magazine, with lots of shiny pictures to show you," Carter spoke up softly, her blue eyes riveted to Jack's brown ones as she dared to come several steps closer. "I know, I know, sir...don't give me that look! So I packed a movie mag for once instead of a technical journal; I've got my goofy, carefree side, too, you know," Jack's 2IC continued spiritedly as the Colonel's eyes crinkled in a brief show of humor. "I think there are some pictures in here of the most popular kid movies of the past decade--I could tell you all about some of the stories those movies tell," Sam murmured directly to Casmira as she drew to a cautious halt a mere two feet away from Jack and the little girl.

"They're really wonderful stories, too," Jack urged softly, daring now to loosen his hold on the shivering child just long enough to lift one careful, exquisitely gentle hand to the back of her head. As he rested his palm very, very lightly against the back of her skull, Casmira stiffened momentarily and lifted her face to search Jack's open, friendly expression with deep suspicion; but behind the distrust in her eyes gleamed a shard of desperate, childlike hope, and Jack risked stretching his lips the tiniest bit into a slow, nurturing half-smile that seemed to go a long way toward helping Casmira relax. He could see in her pensive eyes that she had begun to reinvest a measure of trust in this silver-haired stranger she'd been sent to please tonight in all the ways women are supposed to pleasure their men. Casmira couldn't understand why this offworlder hadn't yet claimed her body for his own, and a small part of her fretted at the possibility that he found her so repulsively ugly that he did not desire her for his bed partner tonight. But the greater part of her spirit was simply and overwhelmingly relieved that he hadn't hurt her yet, and with the bewildering appearance of this offworld female who dared to dress and act like a male, Casmira became almost certain that this man called O'Neill had no immediate plans to take Casmira and make her into a real woman this night.

"Casmira," Jack murmured cajolingly to her now, and the child drew back and studied his face with absorbed perplexity as SG-1's leader carefully settled his hands on her arms and began to lift her away from him. "Cas, I want you to go with Sam for awhile now, okay? You can stay here in this room all night, both of you can sleep in the bed, there; I have a few things to take care of, but you won't be alone, understand? Sam will be good company for you."

"No." Casmira demurred, tightening her hold around Jack's neck and burying her face in his shoulder. "NO. I stay with O'Neill--I belong you now." Lifting the pale oval of her face up toward his, Casmira reluctantly pursed her lips as if readying herself to kiss the Colonel again; and with a startled growl Jack carefully but forcibly peeled the protesting child off him and pushed her toward Sam's sympathetic figure.

"No, honey, we're not going to do that," Jack stated quietly as Casmira struggled with silent fury in Sam's restraining grasp. "You don't belong to me, Cas; and if I can help it, you're not going to belong to any other man here, not for a long time."

"Sir--" Carter began, her blue eyes worried as she struggled to subdue Casmira without hurting her while simultaneously fixing her concerned attention on Jack's grim face. "Sir, I know you only want to protect this little girl, and I fully understand and agree with that. But if you go up against her father tonight in his own home,with his men and other supporters all around...it could be bad, sir, very bad. Casmira could still be hurt, sir..."

"I've not taken total leave of my senses yet, Carter," Jack growled in reply, cutting his second off before she could finish her hesitant statement. "There ARE ways around this particular...situation...and while you and I both know exactly what I'd LIKE to do to Jimu and these other men here, we also know--or I HOPE 'we' do--that I AM capable now and again of falling back on more diplomatic courses of action when necessary."

"Uh, sure, sir; you and diplomacy, the two go together like jam and bread," Sam murmured, and a tiny gleam of devilment flickered in her eyes as Jack shot her a disgruntled scowl that he was unable to sustain in light of the answering gleam of humor in his own eyes.

"I'm going to round up Daniel and Teal'c and see if we can't arrange a little 'audience' with Jimu before sunrise," Jack informed Carter now as he strode toward the closed bedroom door, his gaze flicking briefly to Casmira's delicate figure. The child had given up her struggles against Sam's gently restraining hold and had rather wearily surrendered to the female offworlder's maternal touch, plastering her body loosely against Carter's as Carter held one arm across her shoulders and lightly stroked the little girl's silky mass of long hair with her free hand.

"Thinking of making some sort of trade-off, sir?" Carter asked quietly, and Jack merely raised one scarred eyebrow in her direction, his eyes lightening in silent appreciation of his team mate's quick mental processing.

"I'm sure we have SOMETHING of material interest to offer the noble Jimu in return for the conditions I'm seeking to have met," Jack replied obliquely, and as his gaze settled with fierce protectiveness on Casmira's small, drooping form still being supported by Carter's shielding arms, Sam decided that if Jimu knew what was good for him, the village leader would definitely be making himself amenable to Jack's offer, whatever it turned out to be.

"Keep a close eye on her, won't you?" Jack entreated as he reached for the doorknob, and Sam merely nodded, her touch comforting on Casmira's head as the exhausted child briefly panicked at the sight of Jack preparing to leave.

"We'll be fine, sir," she assured her commander, and Jack's grateful stare dropped briefly to Casmira's pale, pinched face as she peered around Sam's waist and met his eyes with a silently beseeching stare of her own: O'Neill, don't leave...

"Go back to sleep, Cas; I'll be back before you know it," Jack murmured to her, and before she could say a word he had slipped from the room, leaving Casmira alone with Sam-who-dressed-like-a-man-but-smelled-of-flowers. Her eyes are kind, Casmira found herself thinking confusedly as Sam gently led her over to O'Neill's bed and settled herself on the edge of the mattress, laying her mysterious pack next to her and lightly patting the empty expanse of mattress on the other side of the pack, mutely inviting Casmira to sit as well. For a long moment Casmira merely stood sulkily, a tired scowl on her face as she glanced from Sam to the pack to the comfortable bit of mattress that seemed to be calling to her to sink down upon it and rest, just rest awhile...

And then Sam was moving very slowly and carefully to open the pack, was removing from its depths something wrapped in shiny silver paper, something smooth and brown that smelled intriguing, even delicious, and Sam was breaking off a tiny piece of the brown stuff and putting it in her mouth, her expression changing to pure enjoyment as she chewed and murmured "Mm, chocolate," around the creamy gob of stuff melting on her tongue ...And before she knew it, Casmira was curled up on the mattress under the comforter again, her mouth smeared with sticky streaks of delicious chocolate goodness and the rolled-up bulk of a brightly colored bit of offworld magic Sam had called a 'magazine' clutched possessively in both hands as the little girl fell into a deep, relieved sleep.

"O'Neill?" Casmira had muttered questioningly just before she'd given herself over to the blessed release of slumber; and Sam had rested a gentle hand on the child's forehead and had replied comfortingly:

"Don't worry; O'Neill will fix everything--he won't let anyone hurt you. You're safe here tonight, honey, safe with all of us. Sleep now, and I'm sure everything will be better in the morning." And as the trusting child settled down into dreamless sleep, Sam could only hope that she'd told her the truth.

"Out of the question," Jimu sniffed disdainfully, eyeing Jack with a jaundiced glare over the top of a mug of some sort of steaming, bitter ale. With Daniel's quiet voice translating the chieftain's words into Jack's waiting ear, the surly head of the Jalonkin village took a long quaff of the beverage foaming in his mug and absently smacked his lips before continuing. "What you propose is unacceptable," he yawned indifferently. "Your persistent refusal to bed my daughter is becoming quite tiresome and makes me question your claim to manhood. Perhaps you are UNABLE to perform adequately, O'Neill? If so, then I suppose I might pass Casmira along to one of your underlings as a surrogate for you--the dark one appears well-endowed and I'm sure would have no trouble relieving my daughter of her maidenhead."

"I will not touch the child," Teal'c replied flatly, his eyes boring into Jimu with the coldness of one who could deliver an agonizing death to the other man with no sign of remorse. "And you would do well to consider O'Neill's more than generous offer."

"Uh, thanks, Big Guy," Jack muttered distractedly, his own intent gaze never leaving Jimu's sneering face. "I appreciate your support. But I believe that with a bit of thought our host will come to appreciate the practical benefits of agreeing to my proposition; just imagine, Jimu, being the ONLY chieftain on the whole damned planet with access to the technology I'm offerring you now! You'll be able to command the respect AND envy of all the other chieftains, and you'll have at your disposal the means to travel swiftly and in comfort to all your extensive land holdings to check up on your tenants and your property interests, anytime you choose. With my staunch support behind you and with the alliance we would forge between us, your continuing position as this planet's most powerful and influential chieftain will be assured for years to come. As time passes my people and I will be able to offer you agricultural implements and technological advances that will greatly benefit your people and assure you of a long reign as chieftain. I see nothing but advantages in this whole deal as far as your interests are concerned; and we both know that the conditions I insist upon in return are small potatoes--are as nothing, in other words--in comparison to the deal you will have made."

"Indeed," Jimu muttered dourly, earning another dark glower from Teal'c's formidable bulk from where the Jaffa sat across the table in the chieftain's private dining room. "Your offer is indeed--'sweet'--was that not the term you used?" Jimu ruminated sceptically as he frowned at Jack. "And that makes me very, very suspicious, O'Neill of Earth. Why would you do this thing, agree to give me this...vehicle...of which you speak, in exchange for nothing more than a few useless plants and roots and the privilege--in name only--of bonding my Casmira to you in temporary marriage for a period of at least seven years from this date? There must be some hidden motive, some bit of trickery..."

"Perhaps we merely do things a bit differently on our world, Jimu," Jack said smoothly, forcing himself to keep his expression light as he reached for his own mug of ale and took a cautious sip. Grimacing at the dark, medicinal taste, he set the mug back onto the table and lifted clear eyes to Jimu's suspicious glare. "And since you've already offerred Casmira to me for the night, I believe that I now have first rights as far as staking my claim on her as my bride."

Jack could hear the choked gasp of air that caught in Daniel's throat as the linguist dutifully translated the Colonel's words into Jimu's language for the chief's consideration; his gaze never wavering, Jack nudged Daniel's ankle under the table in a silent command for his friend to get a grip and retain his composure, whatever was said here next. He wasn't about to let Jimu know just how concerned he really was for Casmira; if the wily chieftain knew just how desperate Jack was to protect the little girl's virtue from anyone else on this sick planet, he would undoubtedly up the stakes to such an extent that Hammond would refuse to allow ANY deals to be cut, thereby condemning the child to who knew what sort of hellish existence here.

"If I go along with this...'deal,' as you name it...then I must insist that the marriage between my daughter and yourself be legal in every sense of the word and of Jalonkin law--even if, in private, you are not man enough to actually consummate the marriage. I will not agree to a hasty signing of false papers; if I gave in to such fakery, those who consider themselves my enemies would find some way to use that against me later, would try to say that a false marriage is grounds to nullify the entirety of the alliance between your people and myself."

"So you're saying I'd have to go through with an official wedding ceremony and legally claim Casmira as my bride in order for you to agree to my offer," Jack mused, and Jimu nodded sagely, a light of shrewd satisfaction gleaming in his eyes.

"The people will demand to see evidence that the marriage has indeed been consummated, of course," Jimu added carelessly, making an abrupt gesture to the shuffling form of the old woman who'd entered the room to bring more ale. "Leave us, you doddering old crone!" he snapped, but not before reaching out to yank another tankard of ale from her tottering grasp as the old woman turned to shuffle arthritically from the room.

"My beloved mother," Jimu snorted after her as the decrepit female left them alone again, and Jack struggled to keep a disgusted frown from his face as Daniel tensed up in silent indignation beside him over the way Jimu had so casually demeaned his own mother in front of them all.

"I will agree to your legal ceremony," Jack said firmly, steering the conversation back on track as Daniel sighed unhappily next to him. The Colonel could practically hear his friend's thoughts in his head, could almost hear Daniel's fretful protests that this was SO not regular or okay and that Hammond would most likely shit a brick when they returned from this mission and he discovered what Jack had promised, what he'd DONE here...

"And as far as proof of consummation...I believe that, in honor of our new alliance, at least SOME of the customs of my own world should be observed during the course of this most important ceremony; and on MY world, the 'conjugal' aspect of such matters is deserving of the utmost reverence and privacy. Therefore I will NOT submit my new bride to the indignity of having the evidence of her sacred initiation into womanhood held up for all to see. On our world it is beneath the dignity of one from a family as exalted in position as your own and would be quite forbidden." Jack kept his voice clear and firm as he delivered his ultimatum, and he was relieved when Daniel translated his words in a voice every bit as clear and concise and no-nonsense as Jack's own.

For a long moment Jimu merely continued to sit in contemplative silence, his crafty gaze drifting from Teal'c's implacable visage to Jack's casually relaxed slouch at the table to Daniel's stoic and somewhat pensive demeanor as the tired linguist gazed unseeingly into the surface of his untouched ale. All around them Jimu's household slept, his wife and four of his five daughters apparently tucked away for the night in their own beds; Jack couldn't help but think about little Casmira huddled in his temporary quarters with Sam for company, and even as he hoped that the child was sleeping peacefully, he also found himself hoping that she wouldn't hate him for what he was about to do.

After all, as Daniel had so vehemently pointed out to him on their way to this impromptu nocturnal meeting with their host, this WAS a very different world and culture than the one he and Jack and Sam embraced; perhaps it was closer to Teal'c's in some ways, but even the Jaffa had curled a lip in disgust at the notion of allowing females as painfully young as Casmira to be given to grown men for sexual purposes. But that didn't mean that Casmira would appreciate these offworlders' meddling and interfering with the natural order of her life here on Jalonkin; maybe, rather than feeling gratitude for having been rescued from the clutches of some rank, smelly Jalonkin man and pressed into a life of drudgery and childbirth, Casmira might instead feel nothing but resentment and contempt for the offworld man who would soon make her different from all her peers. There was a distinct possibility that being given to Jack in marriage would serve only to set her so far apart from the accepted traditions of her own people that she would become for all purposes ostracized and ridiculed. Would Jack be able to handle the guilt from THAT? Daniel had asked him tersely as they were shown into this room by a whey-faced, less-than-enthusiastic house servant some ninety minutes ago.

"I'll do whatever it takes to give that kid as much of a childhood and as much freedom from the tyranny of this patriarchal, mysogynistic society for as long as I can, Daniel," Jack had retorted in hardened tones as he slid wearily into a chair at Jimu's private dining table. "I'd rather have her hate me for that than wake up screaming and shuddering in revulsion for years to come at the memory of MY hands or any other man's hands on her at this age." And the stone-cold determination in Jack's eyes had let Daniel know that any protests or arguments on his part would be totally disregarded; the commander's mind was made up.

"Very well, O'Neill of Earth," Jimu announced suddenly now, his tone dry as he sat up straight in his chair and fixed a look of piercing intensity on Jack's calm face. "I will agree to your...'conditions'...and I WILL give my daughter's hand to you in marriage. I agree that after the ceremony she will remain in my household--under my protection--for a period of no less than seven years, and in that time she will be your legal wife and as such will not be available to any man of ANY age in this village or any other. She will not be forced into any hard labor and in accordance with your wishes and her position as your wife, she will receive several more years of formal education under the tutelage of our most esteemed clergyman--something virtually unheard of among females in our society. I'm certain I don't need to tell you that this will make her something of a pariah among our kind, O'Neill--"

"Then you will just have to take the lead and work harder to change that, won't you?" Jack snapped back, ignoring the look of patented disbelief and distaste on Jimu's face. "Look, you're the leader here; you more than anyone have the power to change things, to improve the lives of your people. And if you EVER want to drag yourselves up from the muck of ignorance and oppression into real progress, maybe it's time you take a good look at half the population of your world and realize that females might have more to offer than just serving as cheap house labor and baby-making factories!"

"Oh, yes, O'Neill; I see just how valued females are in your society," Jimu burbled sarcastically, his eyes shining with enjoyment. "You are here, your men are here; but where is your much-vaunted female warrior? She has been sent to babysit my daughter and tell her sweet little stories to keep her calm. I see how superior your people are to mine, oh, yes."

"I know, I know; tiny steps, Daniel, Rome wasn't built in a day..." Jack grumbled in a muted aside to his team mate as Jimu burst into a paroxysm of raucous, highly amused laughter at the memory of Jack's awkwardly impassioned defense of women's rights. "But at least I've put the seeds of some new ideas in his thick, chauvinistic head," Jack added with grudging defiance as Jimu held his belly and laughed till tears rolled down his face. "And besides, if the rat bastard wants that vintage motorcycle and sidecar I promised him so he can tool around his little domain in style, then he'll damn well take care of Casmira and honor my wishes pertaining to her care; I WILL be dropping in now and again to check on his ass and make sure my 'wife' isn't being mistreated."

"Providing Hammond allows us to ever return here again, Jack," Daniel reminded him with an expression of more than passing concern etching itself into his face.

"Oh, I'm confident he'll see the practical side of continuing to carry on friendly relations with the decent folk on Jalonkin," Jack blustered with way more confidence than he actually felt. "We should keep an open door policy where this planet is concerned just for those plant things alone that Sam found growing wild outside the village--didn't she say something about their medicinal properties and how they seem similar in botanical make-up to that leaf from PX534 that might prove to be at least a partial cure for some weird disease Janet was going on about..."

"Yeah, that's real persuasive, Jack," Daniel sighed, but there was a gleam of quiet affection in his blue eyes as he studied his friend and commander's stubbornly set jaw and the light of anticipatory combat in Jack's eyes. "And just what do you think Hammond's reaction is going to be when he finds out you went and got married behind his back without his permission--and that the 'bride' just happens to be eight years old, Jack?"

"I'm sure, once I've explained everything to him, DANIEL, that he will see MY side of the story and will agree that I chose the only option available to me to deal with this situation," Jack mumbled,and Daniel threw up his hands and gave an exaggerated sigh, his frustrated blue gaze going to Teal'c as if in silent supplication. The Jaffa merely lifted one brow in an infinitesimal gesture of stoic commiseration, and as Jimu's hearty chuckles of unrestrained mirth slowly faded away into a half-drunken hiccup, Jack pointedly turned his attention back to his future father-in-law and briskly slapped one hand down on the table top.

"So, Jimu...what do you say to finalizing this whole deal?" he drawled, and Daniel repressed a tiny whimper of dread as both Jimu and Jack turned to him with expressions of steely determination. Times like these, I could shoot myself for learning all those languages, Daniel sighed silently as he pulled himself up straight and prepared himself for a marathon session of translating and contract drawing.

"So...does this mean you'd be committing bigamy if you should meet some nice lady here on Earth sometime within the next seven years and decide to marry her?"

Daniel's tone was mild, his voice pitched to a level of lazy inquiry, and as he reached across Jack's food-strewn coffee table for his ever-present cup of coffee, Jack gave his friend a scathing glare and chomped down hard on the cooling slice of pizza he held in his hand.

"Enough with the marriage schtick, already; it was already old before my very own team even uttered the first joke about it," the commander of SG-1 muttered sulkily as he chewed on the pizza with almost fierce concentration. "And I had the last laugh, anyway; after all your dire warnings about how pissed off the General was gonna be, he took it all rather well, I thought. At least well enough that I still have my rank and command--"

"Not to mention your head still attached to your body," Daniel snorted drily, and Jack gave him a second withering glare that had precious little effect on the unflappable archaeologist.

"Actually, I believe that General Hammond is still suffering from an extreme case of shock and is merely attempting to process his emotions concerning SG-1's mission to Jalonkin and Colonel O'Neill's subsequent nuptials to the child Casmira," Teal'c spoke up contemplatively, staring down at the congealing slice of pizza in his own hand. "Once he has had sufficient time for the totality of the events on that world to settle fully into his mind--"

"This could get ugly--really ugly, sir," Sam finished for her Jaffa companion around a mouthful of cheesecake. "But for what it's worth, it really was a beautiful wedding," she added with a reminiscent half-smile.

"You made a very handsome bridesmaid, Major Carter," Teal'c complimented her gravely, a gentle light shining in his eyes, and Sam shrugged and blushed faintly.

"Well, you know how that old adage goes--always the bridesmaid, never the bride," Sam muttered with a faintly defensive, faintly melancholy tone, and Jack heaved a silent sigh of relief as both Teal'c and Daniel forgot all about needling him in their haste to assure their female friend and team mate that she could have her pick of dozens of men and be married tomorrow if she so chose.

Slipping discretely from the living room under cover of a mumbled excuse that he needed more beer, Jack made his way to the blessed solitude of his kitchen and moved automatically to the fridge to procure the aforementioned beer; as he reached for the handle on the fridge, his attention was snagged by the somewhat grainy snapshot Carter had taken on their infamous last mission of a traditional Jalonkin wedding ceremony. Yep; there was Jimu and his frumpy, meek-as-a-mouse wife, both of them dressed in their grandest finery, and behind them lurked Jimu's colorless, arthritic mother and the two older brothers of Casmira, both of them budding chips off the old paternal block, Jack mused dourly to himself. And there were the four sisters of Casmira--technically his sisters-in-law now, Jack thought with the faintest stir of nausea in his gut at the realization. Oh, God, what HAD he done?! What kind of sick, twisted idea had he conceived in his head, thinking he should actually MARRY an eight year old child, for crying out loud?

But then Jack's gaze settled on the focus of all the frantic activity taking place in the picture, and something fierce and protective and almost unbearably gentle lurched to life and blossomed inside his chest, sending a rock-hard lump of unexpected emotion into his throat. There she was, little Casmira, dressed to the nines in her beautifully ethereal wedding robes, her masses of golden hair caught up in shining falls of artfully arranged curls that gleamed in the light of the camera's flash. She looked more than a little confused in the picture, Jack conceded, and felt his heart pierced through with a small stab of regret for having been the cause of her quite understandable consternation at finding herself being summarily married off to some strange offworlder she wouldn't see again for months or maybe longer. But as disturbing as it had been on one level to find himself pledging his troth to a CHILD (okay, that was disturbing on WAY more than one level, Jack admitted ruefully to himself now), he still couldn't really be sorry that he'd gone through with it. At least now Casmira would be safe until she was at least marginally old enough to deal with the implications of being TRULY married and in a sexual relationship someday; at least this way she would have SOME semblance of normal childhood joy in her young life. Jack intended to make sure of that, to do his damndest to ensure that he and his team made it back to Jalonkin at least once or twice a year to check on his 'bride' and be sure that Jimu was upholding his end of the bargain. Besides, they'd have to return ever so often to resupply fuel to the old motorcycle they'd given the chieftain so that Jimu could continue riding in grand style around his holdings, his regal body crammed into the creaky sidecar with admirable arrogance and aplomb while one of his two sons took turns driving the machine, all of them practically bursting with pride at being the ONLY ones on the planet with such a cool method of transportation. Jack felt bad about all the other little girls he hadn't been able to help back on that planet; but at least he'd been there for Casmira, and that was a start.

"Here's to the future, kid, both yours and mine though not necessarily together, thank God; and may all your fondest hopes and dreams come true," Jack murmured now to the pensive image of the little girl he'd left behind on another world but would certainly never forget. He'd done his best for her, done the only thing he knew to do to give her back the life she was accustomed to while yet keeping her safe; and while he regretted the nightmarishly complicated bit of cover-up and obfuscation his little escapade would require in order to keep the General from landing in terrible trouble over the whole mess, Jack was reassured that he'd done the right thing. As he looked into Casmira's lovely, still blessedly innocent little girl's face staring back at him from the photo, Jack drew in a relieved breath and knew that he WOULD be able to sleep tonight, after all.

The End