BARE ESSENCE

BY: sharilyn

EMAIL: sharilyn

 

I.

I've been in just about every sort of dangerous, hopeless, seemingly impossible situation this skewed universe can dream up; and in every case I've somehow managed to emerge from the crisis of the moment with at least some portion of my dignity intact. But this is fucking ridiculous. I keep telling myself there has to be SOME way out of this mess, but to date no brilliant insights have hit me like a lightning bolt from the blue. And speaking of blue, if it gets any colder in here, what passes for my manhood these days is gonna drop right off and break into tiny, frozen shards at my feet. Damn, I'm sick of this place;and if I have to go through one more day of all those eyes looking at me...!

God, this is getting old; it really hasn't been THAT long since we came through the stargate, but it seems like an eternity. Near as I can figure, my team and I were captured some three earth days ago by this gang of...of...well, whatever the hell they are, they ain't human. Not even remotely humanOID. And by using all my keen powers of observation and deduction during the past seventy-two hours, I've come to the conclusion that Daniel, Teal'c, Carter, and yours truly, here, aren't JUST being held prisoner--oh, no. Seems we've become the newest 'exhibit' in some sort of low-brow, traveling sideshow...

'Come one, come all, see the unbelievable alien freaks--live, nude, and uncensored!!' I can't even begin to read the squiggles that seem to pass for written language here, but I'm pretty damned sure that that's the basic message the nifty little neon-colored signs above our 'cages' is meant to get across to the public crowds thronging to see us. Yep, I'm sure those signs are just enticing little blurbs set up to draw in the paying masses as this caravan from hell lumbers from town to town, hauling my team mates and myself ever further from the stargate and from any hope of a speedy return to earth. Dammit, even if we escaped in the next five minutes--which would be a feat in itself, since Teal'c and Sam are in another cage somewhere clear across the compound--it'd take us a full week or more to find our way back to the 'gate again.

What the hell am I saying, IF we escape?! Hell, yes, we're gonna escape; no way am I gonna spend the rest of my life squatting naked in this big, transparent box, all my 'business' flopping for the unwashed denizens of this shithole world to gawk at and ridicule...And what's gonna happen once we're no longer a novelty to these...beings? What, then? Gruesome images of my team and myself being sold off to alien biologists for dissection and study dance ghoulishly in my head, and I curse aloud as I rise rather creakily to my feet and begin pacing (for what must be the hundredth time) the cramped, bare confines of this see-through prison.

"That won't do you any good, you know," a resigned voice murmurs sleepily from the corner behind me, but I'm in no mood for one of Daniel's scholarly treatises on cross-cultural/cross-species social behaviors this morn. So my only response is a rather hatefully growled epithet and a blistering scowl of displeasure thrown his way as I clump stubbornly back and forth, back and forth--exactly five steps from one transparent wall to the other.

"I wonder if they'll put us on display again today," Daniel mumbles, his tone more cautious this time in light of my obvious bad mood. As he uncurls his nude body from the corner where he's been sleeping and rises lithely to his feet, I find myself suddenly and inexplicably flustered by the sight of all the naked, well-toned flesh that's revealed as Daniel stands un-selfconsciously before me. Groggily he yawns and stretches his arms over his head, muscles rippling smoothly and showing off his flat-stomached torso to best advantage. As he takes a few deep, meditative breaths--the rounded curve of his rib cage expanding and contracting rhythmically with each respiration--I realize that the cadence of my own breathing has quickened, and I find myself abruptly turning my back on my friend and team mate as portions of my anatomy I'd rather not discuss suddenly stir to life.

What the hell is THAT about, I think half-angrily, half-defensively to myself as I listen to the agitated beating of my own heart, thumping away inside my chest like some acne-faced teen's opening his first Playboy magazine. It's not like I haven't seen Daniel naked lots of times before. Just the fact that he's so used to it himself and can stand there so heedless of his own nudity around me speaks of the comfort level we've achieved in one another's presence. But ever since this mission went so godawful wrong and we ended up in this damned, nomadic nightmare, I've found it more and more difficult to deal rationally with this whole Daniel-and-me-stark-naked-in-a-big-clear-box scenario.

"Jack..." Daniel's voice breaks into my disturbing thoughts, his tone vaguely apologetic; and as I turn to him with something close to a snarl twisting my face, he gives me his signature 'apologetic Danny' look and dips his head in resigned recognition of my terrible mood. "Um...sorry; I can see that you're not exactly a ray of sunshine this morn...but I REALLY need to pee, Jack. Are they going to come soon and let us...you know?"

"Does it look like I have my purple-and-blue-and-totally-icky-aliens interspecies communications device on me, Daniel?" I snark back a smart-ass reply, turning slowly in a circle with my arms spread to show him EVERY aspect of my naked,aging, battle-scarred carcass. Luckily my briefly 'perky' nether region has settled itself back down, no doubt depressed and demoralized by the ugly mood the rest of me is in.

"And even if I DID have such a handy little device," I continue snidely, "where the hell would I KEEP it? I'm not exactly sporting pockets for storage, here. But believe me, Daniel; if these alien sons of bitches DO suddenly decide to clue me in on their plans, I'll be sure to draw you up a list of scheduled potty breaks."

"Speaking of which, who went and pissed in YOUR Wheaties this morn?" I'm almost sure I hear Daniel mutter; but when I glare suspiciously at him, he merely shakes his head with longsuffering patience and performs his own brief pacing routine within the confines of our small prison.

Once more I find my gaze being drawn to his lean figure, my eyes sliding almost furtively across the span of his shoulders as he turns his back to me and paces the other direction. I tell myself that I'm just staring at him cause there's damned little else to look at in this box; there's nothing at all personal in my scrutiny of his body, I assure myself, nothing untoward or inappropriate...Never mind that I can't help noticing just how nice and straight and strong his spine is, how the line of his torso tapers down so elegantly to the taut, tightly rounded curve of his ass...and it's hard not to notice how leanly muscled his legs are, with their light, masculine dusting of blondish hair...Hell, even his bare feet are strangely alluring, with their strong ankles and the curve of his arches, leading down to the casual, strangely erotic grace of his toes...

OH MY GOD, I'm losing my mind. What is the goddamned MATTER with me?! Something like a desperate groan fights to escape my throat, and Daniel turns suddenly to face me, his blue eyes narrowing with concern.

"Jack?" he begins uncertainly, but I'm spinning dizzily away from his regard, closing my eyes as I try to shut out the image already helplessly emblazoned in my mind from the one, brief second of full-frontal he's just shown me. Oh, geez, he's no slouch down THERE, either, I hear myself thinking dazedly as I press myself into the far corner of our cage, wedging the all-too-visible evidence of my 'artistic appreciation' of Daniel's attributes into the corner with me. Arrggh, I'm really uncomfortable now; but I am NOT turning around and embarrassing myself, no way...

"Jack, are you okay?" Daniel asks for what must be the third time, and I realize dimly that he's been talking to me all along but I've been too...distracted...to notice. This has NEVER happened to me before--not with ANY man but especially not with DANIEL, for crying out loud. I really can't understand it, I don't have a clue why I'm suddenly thinking such salacious thoughts about someone who's been my friend for years...ONLY my friend, in the most platonic sense of the word...

"They're coming," I mutter now, relieved beyond measure to hear the unmistakable sounds of approaching alien feet. Gaining control once again over my traitorous body, I turn to Daniel just as the ungodly sight of four very large, very purple-blue, very bulgy-veiny-with-huge-honking-foreheads aliens appear on the other side of our transparent cage. Every morning and every evening they've come to let us out of here, herding our naked asses just far enough across their mobile compound to avail ourselves of the decidedly primitive 'facilities' they've set up for us; in the three days or so that we've been unwilling travelers with this merry band, neither Daniel nor I have seen much more than the backs of Teal'c's and Sam's heads as they were being herded away from their own potty break, pushed along in front of a separate entourage of alien keepers.

From what little I could see, they were both naked, too, and I don't even want to think about how emotionally stressful that must be on Carter. But as long as she approaches this professionally and objectively and remembers all her military training, she should be okay. And I know that Teal'c will do his best to minimize any humiliation or awkwardness Carter might feel at being forced into close, naked proximity with him in a small, enclosed space. The Big Guy has never been anything but respectful and honorable in her presence, and it's actually a relief to me that they have each other to rely on.

Just as it SHOULD be a comfort to me now to find myself here with Daniel, I think drily--to know that he's safe with me at least and that neither of us is in any immediate apparent danger. What's really got me flummoxed is this brand new, bizarrely sensual 'awareness' of my friend's body that's suddenly come to my attention here--oh, yeah, his very toned, very fit, very NAKED body. And I confess it might even BUG me--just a little--that he seems so blithely unaware of (not to mention, unimpressed by) MY nude form parading around in front of him for the past seventy-odd hours.

"Potty break, hallelujah," Daniel is murmuring at my elbow, and I force myself to snap out of this disturbing fugue state I seem to have fallen into. As one of the aliens triggers some sort of device fastened to what I loosely term its 'wrist,' disabling the invisible force field around our prison, I find myself instinctively placing my body in front of Daniel's, shielding him both from the perusal of the aliens and from any potential physical attacks they might launch against us. I can hear the slightest huff of resigned impatience erupting from Daniel's throat as he stays obligingly behind me, and it pisses me off that he's standing there making with the 'Let's all humor the over-protective Colonel' vibes again. Dammit, he knows himself well enough to understand WHY I have to put him behind me so often, WHY Sam and Teal'c and I have so often scrambled to cover his ass, literally, in times of danger.

Okay, so I admit he's become a much better soldier in general during our time together as a team; I admit that he HAS become somewhat more cautious and less blithely trusting of strangers, aliens, and unfamiliar situations since we first started going on journeys through the stargate. But if I AM still a TAD overprotective sometimes, it's just because old habits die hard...and because Daniel STILL has the nasty, annoying trait of forgetting his own safety when he gets excited about some new place or discovery or moldering old artifact. So I can stand here now, blocking his body with my own, without the least qualms of conscience troubling me; snicker away, Rock Boy, I think resentfully, just before Daniel gently steps around me and strolls out of our cage with complete nonchalance.

"What the hell are you DOING?" I bawl after him as I stumble to catch up with him and our silent entourage of alien captors. "Dammit, Daniel--"

"I REALLY have to take a leak, Jack," Daniel replies evenly, and as one of the alien uglies lifts a warty, knobby hand with four bulbous fingers on it to curiously stroke my team mate's bare arm, I grit my teeth and fight back the urge to smash the bastard's lumpy, misshapen face in.

"Hands off, Homely," I grit out, lifting my own hand to close it over the alien's; I suddenly find the idea of these creatures touching any of my team utterly reprehensible, and I swallow my own repugnance at the rubbery feel of this one's flesh under my fingertips just long enough to forcefully remove its offending appendage from Daniel's arm. I tense as the alien shifts its body toward me with a small grunt of displeasure at my interference; but as its rather large, watery violet eyes slide over my less-than-welcoming expression, it merely emits some sort of burbling, incomprehensible speech and continues herding us along.

"He's just curious, Jack," Daniel chides me softly as we walk, and my disbelieving gaze is met with his own quietly understanding stare. Apparently he knows ME just as well as I know him, at least where some things are concerned. But I'm in no mood for his serene, Zenlike air of longsuffering patience with what he sees as MY narrow-mindedness, and I snort disgustedly as he continues with his calm observations.

"I don't think they really want to hurt us," he murmurs. "To them we're like exotic animals or something. I don't think they...appreciate...that we're sentient beings, operating on an intellectual level that's equal--or at least close to--their own."

"Frankly, Daniel, I don't give a shit WHAT they think about us," I growl as we step gingerly in our bare feet across the bare, cold ground of this latest stopping place. "What I give a shit about is getting us the hell OUT of here and back home again. If these bozos want fresh material for their little freak sideshow, they'll just have to find it elsewhere. Hey, maybe we could give them the last known address of some of our old snakehead buddies...think THEY'D make good traveling-carnival exhibit material?"

"Well, maybe if we COULD initiate some sort of meaningful dialogue with these beings, they'd understand that it's wrong of them to hold us here against our will, to put us on public display for their people to see..." Daniel begins, and I give a harsh laugh and grip his upper arm with my hand, none too gently.

"Daniel, I have a feeling that these particular 'beings' aren't exactly the ambassadors of humanitarian goodwill for their planet," I mutter in his ear as we continue walking. "They're just like lowlife carnies on earth, in it for whatever money they can get; I'm sure that whatever passes for currency on this planet is definitely their main motivation for holding us against our will and dragging us all over the back of beyond!" At Daniel's stubbornly petulant expression, I sigh and try again.

"Look, what we need to do is study them to find out about their weaknesses, not try to become best buddies with them! We need to use whatever we can learn about them to help us figure out the fastest, safest way to get the hell out of here--preferably with all our gear and clothes--and hightail it back to the gate. You know if we don't report in by tomorrow, Hammond's going to be sending a search party; and I'd rather NOT have Ferretti or any of the others find us in some hick alien town days from now, languishing in those damned, transparent boxes and being ogled by drooling aliens. Left without a shred of dignity, Daniel, fodder for every lame, horrible joke coming around the pike at the SGC for months to come..."

"Okay, okay; I get it, Jack," Daniel sighs now as our 'escorts' lead us up to the blessedly opaque structure I've mockingly taken to labelling 'the privy.' "But if we can just establish a base level of communication and somehow get the point across that their actions are unacceptable--"

"Then, what? You think the big, lovable lugs are gonna turn all red--or whatever color it is they turn--with mortified embarrasssment and release us amidst tears and apologies and offers of moral restitution?" I scoff as we both squeeze into the outhouse doorway one of the aliens opens for us via its handy wrist device. Irritably I shrug away from the accidental brushing of Daniel's naked hip against mine as we manuever our bodies in the tight space that barely manages to accomodate two no-frills but thankfully serviceable versions of a toilet.

I will NOT think of Daniel's body, naked or otherwise, I vow grimly to myself as I turn and glare pointedly at the two aliens peering in at us from outside. I will just be glad that we're not expected to do our business right there in our cage, like mindless animals. I will NOT feel embarrassed at having to perform the basest bodily functions with Daniel Jackson right beside me doing the same and two or more ugly-ass aliens observing the whole routine from just outside like it's the newest spectator sport. Jesus, we've got to get OUT of this! I curse inwardly, especially as the realization strikes me that once again, dammit-to-hell, our captors have neglected to provide us with anything even remotely resembling toilet paper. God, I hate this mission.

II.

"How many do you think we had today?" Daniel asks me speculatively, his blue eyes glinting in the dying light of early evening. We're both lying flat on our backs in the middle of our cozy little see-through home, Daniel with both feet planted lazily on the floor and his knees drawn up, while I'm stretched straight out, my lower back complaining at the absence of a nice mattress to cushion my creaky old spine. You'd think, after almost a lifetime of sleeping outdoors on sleeping bags or mats or sometimes nothing but bare ground, that I'd be inured to the trifling discomforts of bedding down in such a fashion; but hey, these old bones of mine aren't getting any younger. I admit that if I could order up a nice, comfy bed right now, I'd do it in a hot minute.

"Oh, I don't know," I hear myself answer Daniel, my mind dragging itself laboriously back over the words he's just said to me and rewinding the tape to make sense of it all. "Maybe 500 of those ugly suckers? After awhile I stopped counting. The little ones aren't too hideous, but some of the adults...ugh. And I don't care what you say, those two that showed up at the end of the day were getting completely nasty with each other while they watched us. I don't have to know the EXACT location of their 'naughty bits' to know what I was seeing with my own two eyes. I'll probably have nightmares for weeks," I growl sullenly as Daniel chokes off a laugh beside me.

"Well, those two DID seem rather...amorous," he agrees ruefully, turning his head to smile at me in the growing dimness. "I got the feeling that they were this world's version of a horny teenage couple, and maybe the female was all grossed out by us ugly, scary aliens and so of course the male had to be all brave and studly and protect her..."

"While feeling her up in the process and giving HER the chance to let him do it without looking like this world's version of Brittney Spears," I finish drily. "But did they have to do it pressed right up against our so-invisible wall?! God, I thought I'd go blind."

"Well, you know what I think?" Daniel says musingly, the slightest hint of mischief coming into his voice. As I shift my bare ass to a more comfortable position against the floor and turn my face to study his, Daniel smiles and murmurs quietly: "I think that maybe all those aliens were hoping WE'D show THEM a little...action. Maybe demonstrate to them just how OUR species gets...nasty."

"Now that's just sick," I mutter disgustedly, my face blanching at the very thought of all those knobbly-headed, bulging-eyed whatever-they-ares waiting and hoping for Daniel and me to 'get it on' so they could watch. G-R-O-S-S.

"I could've done without that particular idea being implanted in my brain, Daniel," I grump now, sitting up with an almost silent groan of discomfort and pulling my knees up to my chest. "Why do you think up shit like that? Are you TRYING to make our involuntary stay here even more miserable and paranoid and disgusting than it already is?"

"Sorry, Jack," Daniel murmurs, though he doesn't sound THAT contrite. "Sometimes I just get these random flashes of...well, of insight, for lack of a better word. And I really, really think that the ones who captured us are hoping we'll put on a REAL show for their audiences."

"Daniel, these 'things' aren't COMPLETE idiots," I argue acerbically, wrapping my arms around my knees and glaring sideways at him. "Surely--especially since you and I are both stark naked and it's visually OBVIOUS that we're of the same gender--surely they understand that that just isn't an option, here."

"Maybe they all practice same-sex relationships on this world, or have animals who do," Daniel argues philosophically, and I scowl at him as I feel a lovely migraine building. Shit, I so do NOT need this conversation, especially following on the heels of my own disturbing thoughts earlier in the day.

"If all they practiced was homosexuality, then all of them would die off and go extinct," I retort impatiently, burying my face in my knees and heaving a big sigh. "And don't start up with your whole 'Maybe they're hermaphrodites or double-sexed or reproduce by budding or cloning'...or whatever the hell else your evil mind can come up with. I got the distinct impression that those two sex-starved aliens who paid good money--or its equivalent--to see us today were Adam and Eve, not Frank and Gary or Rose and Hazel."

"WHAT are you babbling about?" Daniel asks me with a mystified expression, and I just sigh and begin thinking idly about how nice it felt just now when Daniel's arm accidentally brushed up against mine...

DAMMIT, this has got to stop. S-T-O-P, stop. I am NOT gonna think of Daniel that way again, ever. EVER. Not gonna sit here on my naked, bony ass while he lies there all bare-skinned and sleek and glorious not even a foot away from me, his chest rising and falling easily with his breathing, his hands gesturing languidly and occasionally dipping down perilously close to a particular body part I refuse to think about but perversely can't NOT think about...

ARRGGHH...! It's those damned aliens, they've GOT to be siphoning some kind of kinky alien pheremone or hormone or sex drug into this cage, some odorless, colorless gas to make their newest additions more amenable to offering up a REAL show for their audience, as Daniel put it...What if it's true, what if I'm suddenly 'noticing' Daniel's body because of some outside influence? In a way that would be a real load off my mind, certain relief from the anxiety that's been steadily building in me all day. To be able to say that it isn't really me but is some alien drug whose effects I can't fight...but then, again, what if there IS no alien pheremone at work here, just MY own rampaging hormones in overdrive...

"Jack, you're not even listening to me," Daniel speaks suddenly right in my ear, and I jerk convulsively as I realize that he's sitting up and has pressed his completely, entirely, devastatingly naked body right up against me.

"What? What?" I squawk wildly, making a complete ass of myself as I jerk spastically away from the heat of Daniel's skin and fall clumsily over onto my side, my knees having stiffened up unbearably as I sat with them pulled up against my chest.

"Mmpphh," I mumble unintelligibly as my face makes painful contact with the floor of our cage. "Dammit, Daniel," I add irascibly as he leans over and wrestles me back up to a shaky sitting position. I want to yell at him to back off, not to touch me...at all...but with every brush of his fingers over my skin--with every look of muted concern that washes over me from his impossibly long-lashed eyes--I find that I'm entertaining more and more seriously the idea of just grabbing him and flinging him down, of covering his hard, muscled body with my own while my mouth swoops down to capture his in a hot, wet, mindblowing kiss...

"Charlie horse!" I yelp suddenly now in a distressingly high-pitched tone as I shove Daniel's deliciously musk-scented body away and struggle wildly to my feet, pretending to limp around the cage in great agony. And I AM in the throes of a specific agony, believe you me. "Just let me...walk if off...!" I gasp helplessly as I lean over to hide the damning evidence of my growing arousal.

"Jack, maybe I can help," Daniel fusses behind me, genuine concern tightening his voice. "Here, lie down, let me massage it, I have good fingers for that sort of thing--"

"GOD...! NO!" I groan, the sound thick and strangled as the head that is NOT on my shoulders reacts quite wildly to the word 'massage' alongside the mental image of Daniel's slender, talented fingers...

"But Jack, you're in real distress, here!" Daniel insists, dogging my anguished pacing with his own agitated steps. "I won't just let you suffer, let me at least take a look at it..."

"Leave it alone!" I growl out, bending almost double and flapping one arm weakly behind me in Daniel's direction. "Just...just let me be, Daniel; I'll be--I'll be okay in a sec. Why don't you just go and sit over there...WAY over there, for now?" My voice still sounds very strange, even to my own ears, but I can't help that. It's taking all my powers of concentration to convince Mr. Happy to heel, dammit, and the knowledge that Daniel is hovering RIGHT behind me, his own Happy Guy mere inches from my naked ass, is NOT relieving my 'charlie horse' to any appreciable degree.

"Honestly, Jack, why do you always have to play the stoic, suffer-in-silence role?" Daniel mutters irately; and before I can do anything to stop him, he's grabbing me from behind and turning me to face him, his fingers amazingly strong as they dig into my shoulders.

"Daniel, stop!" I growl out, my eyes going desperately to his; I try to pull back, to put some safe measure of distance between the front of his body and the front of mine. But it's no use; I'm still positively rigid with frustrated desire, and as Daniel forces me closer to him, the unmistakable form of that desire jabs him in his thigh.

"Shit," I say wearily, at the same time that a low, disconcerted "Oh!" escapes from Daniel's parted lips.

"Guess it's those damned, pesky alien pheremones," I offer weakly, and Daniel's eyes go dark as he purses his mouth and merely stands there, holding onto my shoulders and gazing down speculatively at the somewhat embarrassing spectacle of my cock feinting and jabbing imperiously at his leg.

"Alien pheremones," he echoes; and as his gaze slides back up to my pallid face, I am shocked to see his blue eyes darkening and dilating with a slow, corresponding arousal that seems as far out of his conscious control as my own.

"It IS some sort of alien influence, right?" I hiss hopefully, torn between the need to wedge myself into a corner of this cage and jerk off frantically, shamefully, and the need to grab Daniel's hand and beg HIM to do it for me. My eyes go wide and a loud rasp of shocked lust escapes me as I suddenly feel something incredibly firm and NOT of my own body springing to life against MY leg; Daniel nervously clears his throat, a look of combined embarrassment and hunger twisting his features, and it takes every single, fucking, iron-willed ounce of my self-control not to reach down and jerk HIM off now, some part of me ravenously hungry for the sensation of his rigid cock sliding up and down like heated silk in my hand.

"Are...are we about to give the ones who took us a REAL show, Jack?" Daniel whispers breathlessly, leaning in closer and closer until I can actually feel the warm puffs of air exhaled from his mouth. I wonder what his lips would taste like, how his tongue would feel rasping against my own, plundering my mouth as his hands roamed up and down my body...

"Dammit, back off!" I growl out, physically shoving Daniel away from me and turning my back on him; my whole body is hot and hard and trembling with desperate need, but the very idea of those alien goons somehow observing us with hidden devices is doing a pretty damned good job of cooling a big part of my ardor. I am NOT going to carry on like some kind of rutting stag here in this crystal-clear prison, subjecting my best friend--if you come right down to the semantics of the relationship--to my out-of-control libido. Hell, no; I am NOT gay, last I heard--and as far as I know, Daniel isn't, either. It HAS to be some sort of alien influence, and all we have to do is outlast it. If nothing else, we can each take care of our OWN needs, I think somewhat sardonically as I pace to the extreme farthest corner of our clear cell and turn to frown at Daniel.

He's still just standing there, arms crossed defensively over his bare chest, teeth nibbling worriedly at his lower lip while his still-respectable erection bobs gently against the nest of his pubic hair; my eyes lock with his, and I can't seem to tear my gaze away as his own dark stare fills me with sensations I haven't experienced in more years than I care to count.

"This is...uh...weird," he offers lamely after a moment, his voice low and shaky. "I mean, I've never even thought of you...THAT way...not really. Oh, sure, I've NOTICED you before--completely innocently, just in passing in the shower room and what have you...but I've never, ever...you know..."

"It's some alien influence, Daniel," I grit out again, my eyes flaring dangerously as anger overrides the straining lust coursing through me. "Has to be; I mean, it just isn't normal for us to suddenly start having these...feelings. Like this, out of the blue, so to speak...I'm sorry," I add with quiet chagrin, stalking back and forth at the front of the cell and glaring out into the growing shadows of night. "I didn't mean to...well, you know."

"Me either," Daniel blurts out from behind me, a strangely bereft note underlying his defensive tone; but by the time I turn around to study his reaction to my clumsy apology, he's already turned his back on me and is making for the corner of the cell farthest from me.

"Maybe we should just get some sleep," he mumbles indistinctly, and I find myself nodding absently, unable to resist watching as Daniel rather gingerly settles himself on the floor and curls up into a distressingly vulnerable ball. I find myself aching to go to him, both my body and my heart longing to offer him whatever comfort and reassurance I can, my heated flesh hungry for the sweet, rough friction of skin on skin, his and mine, coming together in a flurry of hot, greedy need...

"See ya in the morning, then," I mutter inanely, stupidly, and Daniel's head merely nods briefly in reply, his arms going round his torso as he hugs himself tight.

"Get us out of here, Jack," I think I hear him murmur hopelessly as he presses his chin down toward his chest. "Just...hurry up and get us the hell out of here." And as I retreat to my own lonely, cold corner for the night, I find that I couldn't agree more.

III.

"It wasn't just the pheremones," I mutter dejectedly to myself, on this our fourth evening of lovely captivity; I've just spent the entire day cooped up in this claustrophobic compartment of a cell with a naked Samantha Carter as my new roomie, and all I can say is...what the flying fuck is wrong with me?

Now don't get me wrong; I don't actually WANT to be attracted to Carter. Not because she ISN'T attractive and sexy and smart...she's definitely all that and more. And I'd be lying like a dog if I said I never had considered her in a sexual kind of way...UNLIKE my relationship with Daniel, which has always, always been completely platonic. So it's really bugging the living crap out of me that I could sit here ALL day in this cage with one of the most beautiful women I've ever had the pleasure of knowing and not have Mr. Happy do more than sigh dolefully, all because Carter--even with her creamy-soft, naked female skin and lovely breasts and tempting curves--is NOT Daniel.

There's just...well, there's just no contest. Mr. Happy knows what he wants, and he most assuredly is NOT overly excited to be shut up here with Major Samantha Carter, whom half of the base already thinks I'm screwing, anyway. Now, how ironic is that? Ain't life a bitch; here I should be struggling to quell my raging libido while valiantly holding myself back from putting the moves on her and thereby ruining both our careers in the bargain. And I'm sure if I did go over to her and kiss her and cover the tempting globes of her breasts with my hands, lightly stroking her taut nipples to attention, that Mr. Happy would at least sit up and take notice; I'm not DEAD, after all.

But for some inexplicable reason the idea of making out hot and heavy with my 2IC just isn't having the same oommphh factor as the one I experienced yesterday with Daniel. Maybe he and I WERE dosed with some kind of gas to make us...amorous...and maybe its potency wore off long ago and has dissipated completely from this enclosure, leaving both Carter and me immune to its insidious effects. But if THAT were true, then why do I start to get a boner the instant I picture Daniel's naked body in my mind?

It's damned maddening; I find myself sneaking covert glances at Carter every so often, sometimes startling her in the act of sneaking covert glances at ME, and each time I peek at her I find myself almost praying that Mr. Happy will be as thrilled with the sight of naked Sam as he was with the sight of naked Daniel. But so far it just isn't working. All I feel is pissed that the aliens came this morn and dragged Daniel away, depositing Sam in his place and carting my anxious archaeologist off to some experimental 'bonding' with Teal'c, I suppose.

Damn; the very idea that Daniel's libido might react as eagerly to Teal'c's massively endowed form as it did to my less-hulking but respectable enough capabilities really bums me out; I HATE it that I'm suddenly feeling jealous and insecure about my friendship with both men and that some part of me, even while loving Teal'c like a brother, would cheerfully shoot him ninety-nine times with my P-90 if he even so much as laid one finger on Danny. Danny; oh, God, don't let me start calling him disgustingly saccharine pet names, now. Jeez, I've got to get us OUT of here; there must be some sort of electroshock therapy Janet can give me to zap me back into my right mind again.

"Sir?" Carter's voice cuts into my dark thoughts, and I turn with a frustrated grimace to find her watching me, her wide blue eyes wary and shadowed with strain. I know this can't be easy for her, sitting here in her birthday suit with her C.O., who's also in HIS birthday suit...And I'm probably driving her slowly insane, what with my pacing like a restless zoo animal not six feet away from her while all my bits and pieces accompany me on my rounds like rejects from some National Geographic special that never made it to primetime.

"What's on your mind, Carter?" I ask her, my tone a bit more blunt than I'd intended. Wincing silently at my own brusqueness, I sigh and turn my back on the growing number of alien carnival-goers congregating just outside our cage. With my mind so preoccupied with sex, I've passed the point of even being bothered anymore by the hordes of pushy, curious natives pressing their unattractive faces and lumpy, rubbery bodies up against the invisible barrier that separates Sam and me from all of them. I just want us to figure out some clever, preferably non-lethal means for escaping this insane traveling sideshow and hustling our naked asses back to earth. Even the daunting possibility of having to step back through the stargate into the gate room on earth with not even a stitch of clothing on our backs has lost its power to make my gut clench; at this point I'd happily stick a red rose up my ass and dance the samba down the ramp if we could just get the fuck out of here.

"You had something to say, Carter?" I urge quietly now, dropping to a deceptively relaxed lotus position on the floor and ignoring the disappointed rumbles of alien voices on the other side of the transparent force shield behind me. Sorry, folks; this old tiger has prowled up and down enough for one afternoon, I think wryly. And if these ulgies are waiting around in the hopes of seeing me jump Sam's bones or vice versa, then they might as well call it quits and go on home.

"Yes, sir; I was just wondering...I was just wondering how far you think we might have traveled from the stargate by now," Sam murmurs unhappily, her blue eyes darting from the press of aliens in front of our exhibit cage to my face and then down to her own hands, now curling and uncurling self-consciously in her lap. She's been using her hands to shield her crotch from prying eyes--both mine and the aliens'--and I feel a sudden, hot rush of anger at the ones who took us and who are now putting my team through such stress and trauma. If I could just break a few of their fat, rubbery necks, even a few, give us all enough time and leeway to make a run for it...

"I don't know exactly how far we've come, Major," I reply to her question, forcing a note of cheer into my voice. "But this whole outfit is actually moving pretty slowly, so I would imagine that we can't be more than 100 miles from the stargate."

"So, if a search party stepped through the gate at noon today and began searching for our tracks or any other clues as to our disappearance...and IF they happened to find the faint trail of this caravan moving off across the plains and began to track us from that..."

"They should be able to find us in a day or two at the most," I finish quietly, my eyes steady on hers. "I have a growing sense that we're basically circling right back in the direction we originally came from, so that should make it even easier for a rescue unit to find us. And who knows--maybe we'll free our own damned selves long before then and meet up with them on our way back to earth."

"Sounds good, sir." Sam dredges up a smile for me, and I find myself wondering just what she and Teal'c were up to for the last three days...Whoa, don't even go there, I tell myself irritably, but I just can't let it rest. This could be important; if these aliens truly ARE trying to match all of us up with each other in some kind of love pairs for the purpose of bringing in voyeuristic customers, then who's to say they didn't use some sort of hormonal influence on Sam and Teal'c, as well as on Daniel and me? (Yeah, yeah, so I'm STILL sticking to my alien pheremone story for now...so sue me. But if I'm right, then maybe questioning Sam---delicately, of course, given the subject matter--about any erotic connection she and Teal'c might have had could possibly glean some useful info.)

Well, here goes nothing, I think ruefully as I give Sam a smile and motion for her to slide closer. She just eyes me warily for a moment, being careful to keep her gaze directed at chest-level or higher on my body; then, as I merely sit waiting patiently for her compliance, she heaves a sigh and reluctantly slides her lovely, bare derriere halfway across the floor in my direction.

"So, Carter," I begin pleasantly, giving her a smile that has her eyeing me suspiciously. "While you and Teal'c were together for those three days, did either of you notice anything...unusual...happening?"

"Unusual, sir?" Sam asks, and I clear my throat and continue gamely.

"Uh, yeah, you know...unusual," I drawl. "Like, oh, maybe certain interesting...physical...reactions, while you were locked up together in that cage?"

"You're talking about the aliens maybe doing something to us, sir?" Sam questions, her brow wrinkling in confusion. "Like maybe doctoring our food or water or, or--"

"Or piping some kind of odorless, colorless gas into your cage?" I add helpfully, and Carter merely shrugs and gives me a mystified and increasingly concerned frown.

"Are you saying that they did something like that to you and Daniel, sir?" she asks me, and I wave both hands at her in vehement denial.

"No, no, nothing like that," I mutter, my tone disgruntled. "I mean, at least we don't THINK they did that, but we were just a bit curious because, well, because..."

"Because?" Carter prods gently after a minute, and I heave a disgusted sigh and start up with the whole restless, agitated pacing thing again. If Carter doesn't want to see Mr. Happy flopping around, she can just damned well direct her eyeballs elsewhere.

"Look, all I'm doing here is trying to figure out a way to get us OUT of this situation," I begin defensively, my tone crusty. "And to do that I'm just--quite necessarily, I might add--reviewing everything that's happened to all of us and trying to come up with possibilities..."

"Yes, sir," Sam murmurs dutifully, but I can tell that she has no idea what the hell I'm babbling about; probably she's beginning to think that I WAS zapped with some kind of insidious alien device or chemical.

"Daniel--being the brilliant scholar that he is," I begin righteously, ignoring the startled look that comes to Sam's eyes at my unexpected tribute to our team archaeologist. "Daniel, as I was saying, has this...theory," I continue, justifying my words by telling myself that Sam is more apt to give my ideas serious consideration if she thinks they're DANIEL'S.

"Daniel's theory is that in this particular society--like most others we've ever come across--sex sells," I plow on doggedly. "That's the bottom line, to put it bluntly. If these alien bastards took us to be part of their traveling show and keep us as exhibits, they just MIGHT figure that they can get more interest going and drum up more crowds if some or ALL of us were to be, well...BUSY...with each other, in full view of their paying customers. If you know what I mean."

Sam's eyes have gone wide as I've been talking, and now they begin to narrow dangerously as she gives me a long, speculative look. I want to squirm uncomfortably under her scrutiny, but instead I stand up straight and tall and remind myself that I AM the Colonel here and deserving of her respect and attention, even sans uniform and most of my dignity.

"We figured--Daniel and I--that these aliens at least have enough sense to realize that three of us are...er...males...and only one of us is..."

"Female?" Sam fills in drily, and I nod brusquely to cover the sudden, inexplicable flush of embarrassment that rises in my face.

"Yeah, that," I nod shortly. "So we wondered if maybe they might be trying to figure out which one of us...guys...might be your, your---well, you know," I say vaguely.

"My 'mate,' sir?" Carter finishes, her eyes now radiating a definite gleam of dangerous ire. As I nod lamely, she frowns and taps one perfect fingernail against her chin in thought.

"So what does that have to do with them pumping some kind of odorless gas or treating our food or whatever it is you seem to suspect them of doing?" she begins confusedly; then her eyes widen again and a small 'o' of enlightenment rounds her mouth.

"Are you saying that you think the aliens have been trying to make us all want to...with each other...to make us feel--"

"Horny?" I finish drily, and Sam's face flushes a rather interesting shade of pink.

"But why would they do that to you and Daniel, if what they really want is for ME to hook up with Teal'c?" she ponders. "And why would you even think they WERE doing something like that to begin with; I mean, what sort of evidence do you have...?"

I'm really pacing now, a LOT, and as another breathless 'oh' of revelation escapes Sam's lips, I don't even want to turn and look at her. But the uncomfortable silence between us is even worse than anything I might see in her eyes, so I turn and scowl grudgingly down into her intrigued, speculative face.

"Maybe they didn't necessarily mean for Daniel and me to be...attracted...to each other," I grump, silencing her with a blistering glare when she opens her mouth to make a comment. "We figure that they just sort of made a...blanket sweep, so to speak, of all us males, to try to--quite literally--'arouse' interest in being with YOU. To add a little 'zest' to their little traveling show exhibit. Hell, maybe they even planned on--on--well, sort of passing you around, from one to another of us. Just to see if one of us really IS your mate..."

"Starting with Teal'c," Sam fills in, her eyes glittering with something feral and dangerous and downright scary. "So, what you've been trying to work your way round to is to ask if Teal'c and I, if we..."

"I'm not saying you DID anything," I hasten to interject, raising both hands defensively at the look in her eyes. "We--Daniel and I--were both just...concerned...about the two of you because of some...symptoms...we both were feeling, and of course unless these guys are all homosexuals or some such and just don't care WHO they pair up..."

"All of this is very...interesting," Sam interrupts, taking pity at last on my increasingly incoherent babbling. A light of real scientific curiosity has taken up residence behind the indignation that's been glaring out at me, and I breathe a small sigh of relief at having engaged her formidable brain on something besides her fascination with Daniel and me.

"I can tell you, sir, that Teal'c and I never experienced anything...physical between us. Or chemical, the whole time we were together," she says musingly now. "I mean, sure, Teal'c is a very attractive man--VERY attractive," she repeats, a glitter of something that's more than just scientific curiosity appearing in her eyes. As I raise one eyebrow in her direction, she flushes slightly and seems to give herself a quick mental shake, a rueful half-smile curving her lips.

"Well, I don't THINK we suffered from any sort of covert influence," she murmurs disparagingly now. "And the whole time we were together, Teal'c and I were mainly focused on figuring out a way to escape, as I'm sure you and Daniel were doing."

"Oh, yeah, of course," I mumble, biting the inside of my jaw as I realize guiltily that neither Daniel nor I ever really made much headway in devising clever escape schemes. Can I help it if I was...distracted...by other matters?

"Teal'c tried--once--to overpower the aliens so we could escape," Sam is narrating musingly, a slight frown marring the smooth line of her forehead. "And while they didn't hurt him, they also made it clear that they're a lot tougher than they look. But I'm sure you already found that out for yourself, sir," she finishes, and I merely nod lamely.

Of course. It's me, after all--battle-hardened Jack O'Neill, who's spit in the faces of countless Goa'uld and gotten the living shit kicked out of him for his trouble. So, sure, in Carter's book I would already have taken a definite shot at this newest crop of lumpy, rubbery aliens...NOT. God, I'm really slipping, here. This isn't like me at all. Can't even do my job, I've been so embroiled in helpless lust. If we ever DO get back to earth, I should just retire and go sit on my porch in a rocking chair, dozing and drooling all over myself and having wet dreams about Daniel...

"Yes, well, I guess we ALL discovered pretty damned quick that we can't just FIGHT our way out of here," I mumble cagily now, darting a quick glance at my 2IC; she's nodding sober agreement, her blue eyes level and trusting on mine, and I find myself wondering dolefully what Daniel and Teal'c are up to. And why I can't seem to get certain...stuff...off my mind.

If there truly are no nasty, sneaky little alien hormones or pheremones or whatever floating around in the air to fuck with our vulnerable human bodies, then why the hell did I react to Daniel the way I did? And let's not forget that a particular portion of his anatomy also stood up and did its little happy dance for ME in return. And how are we gonna explain that to Carter later, when she fully realizes that, while she and Teal'c were sitting there behaving themselves and NOT becoming aroused beyond bearing, Daniel and I were obviously experiencing...something? Just my line of questioning today has made that all too plain. Damn, how do I always manage to maneuver myself into these sticky situations?

Well, I think stubbornly to myself, maybe there IS some form of hinky alien tinkering going on and it's just affecting all of us in different ways...maybe it's only using me as the catalyst and I'M the one who feels the attraction...But no, that can't be right, because if it was just me, I'd be all hot and bothered over Carter right now, as excited over her body as I was over Daniel's...and that's just not happening. So maybe Daniel is the catalyst, in which case he and Teal'c could be having a very 'interesting' time together right now...

And I so do NOT want to go there again, I groan inwardly. So let's just line it all up and compare scores, so to speak. If my increasingly untenable 'tinkering' theory is to hold up at all, then it shouldn't JUST be Daniel and me who are affected, right? So far we have Sam and Teal'c together--nothing. Sam and me together--nada. Daniel and Teal'c together--there damned well BETTER be nothing. Me and Teal'c together--hasn't happened yet, can't even IMAGINE being attracted to the Big Guy in that way. But who knows, maybe it WILL happen if we end up together. How about Sam and Daniel? Again, hasn't happened yet, so who knows? And then there's Daniel and me...God, just the thought of it has me getting hard, and I have to make a quick detour to the corner and stand there like a naughty schoolboy, pressing my face into the crook of my arm as I try to regain control.

It must be Daniel, I muse hopelessly, envisioning the lean, fit lines of his body and squirming uncomfortably as images of him rubbing that body up against Teal'c right now fills me with a jolting combination of both jealous rage and helpless arousal. And Sam...I can visualize equally well Daniel covering her beautiful body with his own, plunging into her while she rakes her nails down his back and cries out his name...

"Colonel, are you all right?" Sam's voice sounds right behind me, disturbingly close,and I heave a huge, shaky breath and choke out some acerbic reply that sends her back a few blessed steps, all her instincts for self-preservation aroused by my tone.

"Let's...let's just be quiet for awhile and try to figure out a way to escape," I mumble over my shoulder, turning my head just enough to level a blistering scowl at the group of aliens pressing themselves up against the invisible front wall of our cage.

"There has to be some way to get one of those force field thingies away from one of them or figure out how to break the beam ourselves or SOMETHING all technical and scientific for you to figure out," I add rather snarkily. Sam doesn't answer me, and I know I'm being a real bastard to her; but this headache is building and building in my skull now, and I'm pissed as hell at the part of me that's missing Daniel here with me. I should just be RELIEVED that we're not being forced into these close quarters anymore, given the nature of what was starting to happen between us; it's much better this way, being here with Carter. I'll just let her figure out the brainy stuff, and once she's come up with yet another of her brilliant solutions, I'll step in and do the ass-kicking detail so we can round up Teal'c and Daniel and our clothes, then get the hell off of this planet.

"Just...just try to come up with something, Sam," I say more gently now, turning back to give her a wry grimace. "I just have a bastard of a headache right now; think I'll go curl up in the corner here and take a short break."

"You do that, sir," Sam replies, her gaze suddenly pitying on mine; shit, I HATE it when she does that womanly, 'you-poor-deluded-alpha-male' flutter of her eyelashes at me. But I don't have the energy to start up with her over it; she's all too perceptive right now, and standing here literally nekkid before her has me feeling all vulnerable and exposed in more ways than just the physical.

Sighing to myself, I pad over to 'my' corner and curl myself up like a dog in the wild, presenting my back and the curve of my white ass to the world at large while I wrap my arms around myself, much as Daniel did last night. Idly I wonder if he's doing the same thing I am, if he's thinking of me while I lie here thinking of him...I hope Teal'c is looking out for him, in a purely protective, platonic way, of course...God, Carter, do your magic, I think now with quiet desperation. If we don't get out of here SOON, I'm going to completely lose my mind.

IV.

"Ah, Teal'c; welcome to my castle," I announce with false joviality as Teal'c steps with his usual cool composure into the confines of my cell. "I guess it's our turn to be roomies, eh?"

"So it would seem," Teal'c agrees with a minute nod of his head in my direction. He turns slowly, leveling a look on our captors that is both dignified and dangerous and has them scrambling to reactivate the force shield as quickly as possible.

"Tell me, Big Guy," I continue casually as the aliens depart and Teal'c turns his attention back to me. "Did you and Daniel come up with any...ideas...while you were together?"

"Daniel Jackson is a man of many interesting 'ideas,' O'Neill," Teal'c responds cryptically, settling himself onto the floor in his customary meditative pose. "Is there a particular idea that you would have me speak of now?"

"How about some sort of escape plan idea, for crying out loud?" I exclaim in exasperation, and Teal'c looks up at me with a smile so beatific it takes my breath away. The Big Guy definitely has charisma, I think somewhat dazedly as I take an instinctive step back; but he's also kinda...scary...when he smiles like that.

"Daniel Jackson and I are confident that we will all be well away from this place within twenty-four hours, O'Neill," Teal'c speaks up now, his words tranquil and confident as his eyes begin to close in the first stages of kel'no'reem.

"Oh, really? And would you care to SHARE where that confidence comes from?" I retort sarcastically, plopping my bony ass down a couple of feet away from Teal'c's impressive nude figure.

"We have devised a plan," Teal'c answers calmly, cracking one eye open just long enough to give me a reprimanding glare. "We could not execute this plan earlier, as it requires the close proximity of Daniel with Major Carter for it to work; but now that the aliens have switched us around again and the two of them are together, the time has come for the plan to be implemented."

"WHAT PLAN?!" I yell, and Teal'c heaves a longsuffering sigh and opens both eyes, his gaze resting imperturbably on mine.

"Daniel Jackson believes that these aliens are desirous of instituting some sort of...breeding program...with the four of us," Teal'c began evenly. "Since Major Carter is the only female in the group, it seems logical to deduce that these aliens have been exchanging male partners with her over these past few days in the hope that she might...bond...with one of us. Or all of us, when it comes down to any hope of future offspring."

Teal'c pauses, watching me for my reaction, and I merely nod and gesture impatiently for him to go on. "And...?" I prod, and he dips his head in my direction.

"Daniel came up with the idea--providing Major Carter is amenable to it, of course--of making the aliens THINK that the two of them are 'interested' in one another in a carnal way. If Daniel and Major Carter can distract the aliens in the morning with a show of amorous interest in each other at the same time that the two of US are being escorted to the 'facilities,' then you and I can overpower OUR guards and obtain the device which will disable the force field on the cage holding Daniel and the Major. THEIR guards will be too busy watching them to notice what is happening with us. If we are able, you and I will use the alien device to enter the building I believe is being used as storage for our clothes and weapons; once we've obtained them, we will make our way to the cage holding our friends. When our team mates see us approaching to rescue them, they will continue to keep their guards distracted long enough for us to disable their cage's force field. At that time the four of us will unite in overpowering the guards and will then make good our escape; the other cage has a direct view to one of the transportation vehicles used by this group, and I observed the aliens driving it and believe we will have little trouble figuring out how to make it function."

"And that's the big escape plan?" I huff, my forehead wrinkling unhappily. "Sounds pretty shaky to me, Teal'c; so okay, we both already know that Carter will say yes to helping Daniel distract their guards, and we both know that these goons really do like to watch us doing even the most mundane and boring things. So THAT part might work. But there are just so many other variables and things that could go wrong..."

"Have you then come up with a BETTER plan, O'Neill?" Teal'c answers reprovingly, and I have to shake my head and admit that no, I haven't.

"Then we will wait till tomorrow morning and carry out the plan that we DO have," Teal'c announces with superb Jaffa e'lan. And as he closes his eyes and descends effortlessly into that kel'no'reem business he's always doing, I sigh and drag myself over to survey today's crop of trickle-in carnival goers.

Daniel and Sam, huh? I think morosely as some fat little alien kid presses his face right up against the invisible wall between us, his lumpy nose lined up just exactly level with my left nut. Yeah, kid, get a closer look, I snort to myself as the tyke's mother or father or whatever the hell it is grabs its offspring's arm and pulls the kid away from its absorbed study of my private parts. Geez Louise; after this little stint, NOTHING Janet can do to me in the infirmary will make me bat an eye. Hey, Doc, I've had alien kids sniffing my crotch; what's a little old proctological look-see in comparison?

God, it's gonna be a LONG day, I mope silently to myself; and while my previous, near-hysterical preoccupation with thoughts of Daniel's naked body has waned considerably in his absence, I still feel that same, disturbing frisson of erotic excitement every time I think of him. And I don't like admitting that part of me feels downright jealous of Carter, getting the chance to kiss Daniel and grope him and feel his hot, hard body pressed right up against hers...God, what a mission report THAT would be, I think distractedly, my head dizzy with thoughts of Daniel's hands sliding all over Carter, those images then morphing into thoughts of those same Daniel hands sliding, gliding all over ME...

Oh, yeah, I sulk silently, flagrantly parading a very alert Mr. Happy right in front of a fascinated crowd of ugly aliens; it's definitely gonna be a VERY long day. Teal'c's low rumble calls to me, courteously requesting that I sit kel'no'reem with him, and I realize that my tension must be palpable enough to disturb his own efforts at meditation. With a resigned sigh I turn and join him on the floor, my fierce expression daring him to comment on my unmistakable state of frustrated arousal; with his usual equanimity, Teal'c merely waits patiently for me to 'arrange' myself so I can sit more comfortably, and then he declares simply:

"We begin."

But as I allow my eyes to slide closed, trying dully to shut out all the distractions around me, I hear my Jaffa buddy murmur to me, very quietly, "With Daniel it is the same; and I do not flatter myself in either case that I am the cause." My eyes fly open at that, fastening onto his calm face in shock, but he merely smiles very briefly and continues to breathe, the measured cadence of each respiration gradually pulling me down, down, into a place of blessed sanctuary.

V.

I can't believe we pulled it off. As we barrel down what passes for a road in these parts--all four of us blessedly alive and uninjured and hell, yes, DRESSED--I can't get over how easy it was to subdue those goons, especially once one of them got a painful taste of a bullet in his leg. We were lucky, I know, just damned lucky that things went as smoothly as they did. If even one thread of the flimsy plot we cooked up had unraveled...

But it all came together perfectly this morn; as usual, my team and I worked together like a well-oiled machine, and it didn't hurt that Teal'c is strong as an ox and pretty much took our two guards out single-handedly. That was a lucky break, ending up with only two aliens to walk us to the latrine; apparently all the others just couldn't resist catching the 'show' Daniel and Carter were putting on over in their cage'o'love, and the two we wound up with must have drawn the short end of the stick.

Once we'd taken care of our two guards, engaging them in a hellava wrestling match before we finally prevailed, Teal'c and I made our furtive, naked way across the still-quiet compound and did a little quick experimenting till we figured out how to key the aliens' wrist devices and open the doorway to the storage building Teal'c had noticed earlier. We were elated to discover all our gear, weapons, and clothes stashed inside, and I was just damned glad that--for whatever reason--the aliens seemed to have had no interest in our weapons.

"I don't know about you, but I'm taking five seconds more to get dressed," I whispered to Teal'c, shimmying gratefully into my pants as he quickly checked that our guns were all loaded. He merely nodded briefly at me, the smallest of smiles curving his mouth, and after I'd hastily thrown my t-shirt on and stepped, sockless, into my boots, I grabbed my P-90 and stood guard while Teal'c dressed as quickly and silently as I had.

The whole time we were getting ourselves together, I couldn't seem to keep my mind off what must be going on with Daniel and Carter; I knew that they wouldn't let things go TOO far between them, but the longer it took Teal'c and me to come to their rescue, the more 'into' it they would necessarily have to go to keep the aliens' attention on them and OFF of us. As Teal'c hoisted his staff weapon and gave me a nod, I could see in his dark eyes his understanding of my anxiety; what might have been a small glimmer of amusement flared briefly in his gaze, and then he was gesturing for me to go ahead of him.

We made our way across the deserted carnival midway, eyes searching for any sign of aliens waiting to take us by surprise; but it was still way early and not a soul seemed to be stirring. When we made it to the cage holding Sam and Daniel, we couldn't see anything going on inside for all the alien bodies jammed up against the invisible barrier, treating themselves to their first-ever HUMAN peep show. I wanted to open fire right then and there, but Teal'c's cooler head prevailed; and in moments we'd managed to corral the seven decidedly over-stimulated aliens who'd been enjoying my team mates' creative playacting.

And it WAS just playacting...mostly...I found myself insisting mulishly inside my own head as a drowsy-eyed, swollen-lipped Sam and an undeniably up-for-it Daniel stumbled out of the cage so the disgruntled aliens could take their place.

"Thank God you got here when you did, sir," Carter was panting breathlessly, her eyes lighting up in delight as Teal'c reached into her pack and handed her missing clothes out to her. "If we'd had to keep going for even five more minutes..."

"Believe me, I'm not sure I could have LASTED another five minutes," Daniel was muttering with bemused chagrin, and Sam blushed prettily as he lifted a slow, devastatingly charming smile in her direction. I felt my gut tighten up in instant, ugly jealousy as they exchanged a decidedly private silent message with their eyes, and I bit back a disgusted oath and snapped an order to Daniel to get himself dressed. Gratefully Daniel accepted the bundle of his clothes from Teal'c's waiting hand, murmuring a quiet thanks as he did so; and while both he and Carter finished wriggling into their uniforms, Teal'c and I made our way to the alien's version of a truck and spent several minutes figuring out how to get it powered up and moving. The others joined us soon enough, and just like that, we were out of there.

"So," I hear Sam say from the seat behind me now as I continue steering our purloined vehicle down the road toward the stargate. "How long do you think it will take us to get back?"

"Not long; maybe three or four hours, judging by the leisurely speed of this baby," I holler back over my shoulder. "That is, IF no one decides to come after us. If we have to stop and engage those idiots again, it might delay us a little longer."

"They will not pursue us, O'Neill," Teal'c replies in a tone that will brook no argument, and I merely shrug and smilingly agree. I don't think they will, either; we've gotten a good enough head start, and now that they know what our P-90's are capable of, I don't think they're up for another taste. I almost regretted shooting that one stubborn one in the leg when he wouldn't back off, I think to myself as we head toward home.

I'm so NOT thinking about Daniel right now, not even looking behind me every once in awhile to see him there, sitting in back next to Sam. I know that he just did what he had to do to help us all escape, and I really don't think he and Sam will take what happened between them back there any further at some later date. But, still...I can't quite wipe from my mind the sated, langorous satisfaction simmering in Carter's eyes when she stumbled from Daniel's arms into Teal'c's outside the cage; and I DEFINITELY can't wipe from my mind the sight of Daniel's yearning erection as he followed in her wake, his lips all puffy and red and looking thoroughly kissed...

"I believe we are leaving the roadway, O'Neill," Teal'c's calm warning sounds in my ear, and I bite out a curse and wrestle the truck's drifting wheels back onto the gravelly ribbon of road, embarrassed and angry that I've almost driven us right into a ditch in my distraction.

"Sorry, sun was in my eyes," I mutter lamely, and wisely no one has any comment to make. As the truck drones steadily onward toward the stargate, our silence gives way to easy, quietly murmured conversation among my three friends, and I can hear in all their voices just how eager they are to get back home and put this latest, not-so-great mission behind us. It's going to be hard enough to live it down, once the rest of the base finds out through the grapevine how we were stripped of our clothes and put on display for aliens; I have a feeling the jokes and innuendos will be pretty much constant for the next little while.

But that's okay; we've all run that gauntlet before and, truth be told, even participated in some kidding and sly remarks ourselves at one time or another. It's just an inevitable part of being in an organization like ours. Actually, it can be a good thing, a way of reassuring ourselves and our fellow soldiers that we're still alive, that we made it through another potentially tragic adventure and came back to tell the tale, however humiliating the final chapters might be. It's hard to take it too personally; but I'm hoping that this time around, the guys back on the base won't pick on us too unmercifully. Hell, the rest of my team will probably take the kidding better than I will this time around, I think grumpily as I risk a quick glance behind me and catch Daniel's eye. I'm still having a hard time dealing with this whole, bizarre 'attraction' thing that went on between us, and it makes me feel guilty that some part of me is relieved that it will be Sam and Daniel who'll have to shoulder the lion's share of the laughing whispers and rumors that will undoubtedly circle around the SGC for awhile. It will take the focus off ME and MY feelings on the matter, and I have a feeling I'm gonna NEED some private time to deal with all the confused shit in my head concerning Daniel.

But what ABOUT Daniel, a little voice nags inside my head; what about HIS confusion, HIS little moment of Jack-attraction, for lack of a better term? If it was all just temporary and he's over it already, then why did he give me such a dark, troubled look just now, a look filled with a nameless longing that has my blood quickening and my groin tightening with helpless arousal? For crying out loud, I think gloomily as I wrestle what passes for a steering column on this thing over a huge rut in the road; just let it go, just drop it. Daniel and I are nothing if not dual masters of denial and emotional repression. This will just be one more instance of stuffing down our feelings and sitting on them till they go away and everything is back to normal. But the question nagging incessantly at me as I drive us home won't be denied, won't stifle itself: what if I don't WANT things to go back to 'normal'? I can feel Daniel's eyes on me now, boring silently into the back of my neck, and I have this gut feeling that this thing isn't over yet between us...not by a long shot.

The End (for now...!)

 

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