|innocent_lex (innocent_lex) wrote in stargate_fic,|
@ 2008-03-22 14:11:00
|Entry tags:||fic:gen, sg1|
SG-1 Fic: Truth or Consequences
Just to kick this off, here is one I wrote for a zine.
Summary: The past comes back to bite Daniel and Jack.
Rating: 13 and up
Warnings: Violence, and probably some bad language in there somewhere
Approx 9,800 words.
Truth or Consequences
Jack threw the truck into park with gratifying finality. It had been one massive bitch of a week, culminating in the most frustrating day of SGC administrivia he’d had in months. He let his head drop back onto the headrest.
Daniel broke the silence. “I’ll take the groceries inside.”
Jack nodded mutely, unable to dredge up the energy required for a verbal response. He heard the clunk of the door handle and felt the chill as a flurry of snow rushed in through the open door. Daniel shuffled out, his grunts indicative of the trouble he was having balancing his laptop case, his files and the overstuffed bag of supplies they’d picked up on the way back to Jack’s place. The passenger door clicked almost shut. Daniel’s impatient muttering filtered back inside as the truck shook lightly. An image of Daniel doing the patented swivel-thunk manoeuvre with his butt to finally get the door closed brought a smile to Jack’s face. Some things were just too damn funny.
“Don’t think I don’t know you’re laughing, Jack.” Daniel’s voice drifted back to the truck on the icy wind. “And if you have enough energy to laugh, you can make the effort to get inside and help me put this stuff away. It’s not as if we get the chance to relax all that much these days.”
Jack drew in a deep breath and let it squeeze back out past tight lips. Daniel was right. It was the weekend; they weren’t due back on base for three whole nights and two whole days. All reports were signed and delivered. There was nothing that couldn’t be shoved to the back of his mind in favour of rustling up his speciality medium-rare steak and crisp baked potatoes, to be served with a side order of Daniel’s mystery dip and a silky smooth bottle of Merlot.
He forced one eye open in a flush of guilt. Daniel was at the front door, struggling to get the key in the lock without dropping any of his load. Jack pursed his lips in defeat. It was time to get off his bony ass and embrace the weekend. He shoved his door open and jumped into the snow, ducking his head against the swirling flakes. A swift kick to a tyre as he shuffled past satisfied his concerns about its solidity. This set would definitely last out the winter, giving him one less thing to worry about. The current to do list ran from ‘clean gutters’ through to ‘clear out basement’, with oddments such as ‘save the planet’ and ‘save everyone else’s damn planet’ popping up here and there among the rest of the vital house stuff. And speaking of house stuff, the door was firmly closed. What the hell was Daniel playing at?
Irritated once more, Jack fished out his key. He flung the door open and stomped inside, watching the snow flutter from his boots as he kicked them on the mat. “Daniel, you could have…”
An apple rolled gently past his boots, bounced off a piece of broken glass and come to rest in the sticky remains of a carton of free range eggs. This couldn’t be good.
Jack flicked his gaze upwards, his hands instinctively reaching for a weapon that wasn’t there.
The man holding the knife to Daniel’s throat flashed him a knowing smile. “You wanna shut the door? I think it’s time we got this party started.”
Nope, not good at all.
The knife tickled Daniel’s jawline, its touch maddeningly light. He wanted to reach up and slap it away, but the first twitch of his hand in that direction had earned him a warning nick that stung more than it should, and a whispered reprimand from the owner of the knife. He was kicking himself; he’d been so distracted by the stranger standing in the hall as if he belonged there that he’d been docile prey for the guy hiding behind the front door. And Jack looked as unimpressed with the situation as Daniel felt.
“Close the door, Colonel.” The knifeman’s hot breath drifted through Daniel’s hair.
Jack flashed a glance from one man to the other, obviously assessing his chances before he obeyed. The door shut with a thud. “What do you want?”
“For you to do as you’re told,” the second man spoke up, backing up his request with a rather large gun. “And not ask stupid questions.” The man stepped back and waved Jack through to the living room.
The muscle in Jack’s jaw jumped as he gritted his teeth. Daniel felt the knife press into his skin, ready to slice again. “Jack,” he murmured.
“Fine. I’m going,” Jack snapped, all the signs indicating he was now in an even worse mood than he had been all week.
Daniel felt a fist grasp a handful of his shirt, and the guy nudged him to follow. Daniel walked in an awkward shuffle, stumbling down the step into the dimly-lit living room, only two lamps lit to supplement the last of the daylight struggling through the closed curtains.
“What the hell is this?” Jack’s snarl was a mixture of surprise and fury.
Daniel followed his line of sight to the man relaxing on the couch as if he hadn’t a care in the world. A man who looked infinitely better than he had when Daniel had last seen him: The cuts and bruises were gone; the light was back in his eyes. And he was sipping red wine from one of Jack’s crystal goblets.
“Hello, Daniel. How have you been?”
“You know this joker?” Jack’s voice almost squeaked with his incredulity. He coughed to clear his throat.
Stephen put his glass down on the coffee table. He rose to his feet, the wrinkles dropping from what looked like a ludicrously expensive silk suit. “Stephen Rayner. Pleased to meet you.”
Jack ignored the hand Stephen extended.
Stephen studied him for a few more seconds before shrugging off the social gaff. “Yes, perhaps we should just get down to business. Would you like to sit down?”
Jack glared down at Stephen, not budging an inch.
GunGuy clicked off the safety on his weapon. “You heard the man.”
Jack deliberately ignored him too.
GunGuy shifted his aim to Daniel’s head, as if the knife at his throat wasn’t quite enough to get the message across. More irritated than intimidated, Jack dropped into the armchair, every muscle twitching with tense anticipation.
“You should know, I’ve had a very bad week,” Jack said, not quite conversationally.
“You have my every sympathy.” Stephen smiled. “The past few months haven’t been all that marvellous for me, either.”
“Really.” He knew the bored tone wasn’t fooling anyone, but he refused to give this idiot even an inch of advantage.
“Stephen, what’s going on?” Considering the position he was in, Daniel sounded remarkably calm. “If you wanted to visit, it might have been easier to call first.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? However, it seems your telephone number is some kind of state secret. And that’s just the start of the story.” Stephen took another sip of wine, then reached for the bottle sitting on the corner table beside the couch. As he refilled his glass, he asked quietly, “Where’s Sarah, Daniel?”
“Um… Look, can I sit down? I’d like to discuss this, but it’s rather difficult--”
“No, I don’t think so.” Stephen didn’t even look at Daniel as he interrupted. “I’m not here to talk to you; I’ve come to discuss the situation with Colonel O’Neill.” He flicked a glance across at Jack. “I’ve heard he’s the kind of man I can deal with.”
Jack studied the man across from him. The photograph enclosed with Doc Fraiser’s report from Egypt had been of a man hanging onto life by his fingernails. Fraiser hadn’t been sure he’d survive the blasts from the ribbon device without side effects, and had wanted to keep him under observation for at least the next few months. Even Hammond’s support hadn’t managed to squeeze the manpower out of the idiots in charge -- apparently Rayner wasn’t a security risk and wasn’t worth tracking. Yet another excellent decision by those with all the frontline experience of a five-year-old.
“Mr Rayner, I--”
“I have as many PhDs as Daniel, Colonel. I’d appreciate some respect.”
Jack’s lips twitched as he clamped down the derisive comment that itched to get out. “Doctor Rayner, I don’t respond well to threats.”
“I need information. Asking nicely gets me nowhere. Hence this.” He waved a hand vaguely in Daniel’s direction, still not looking away from Jack. The intense stare was kind of unsettling.
Jack resisted the urge to glance over at Daniel. “Perhaps you just haven’t asked the right people.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Stephen smiled. He leaned forward. “Where’s Sarah Gardner?”
Ah hell, what was the cover story on this one? They’d been over the options, but that was four months ago and he couldn’t quite remember which one they’d decided on. “She’s dead.”
“Is that so?”
“Daniel, is that what you told me while I was lying in a hospital bed, bleeding from my ears?”
There was silence for maybe a minute before Rayner nodded at KnifeMan. Daniel’s sharp gasp drew Jack’s gaze in an instant. Blood oozed down Daniel’s neck from the spot where KnifeMan was digging the tip of his knife into the soft flesh.
Jack thrust up from his chair. “Don’t!”
GunGuy switched his aim to dead centre between Jack’s eyes. Jack froze, gaze dancing between Rayner and the knife at Daniel’s throat.
Rayner narrowed his eyes. “Daniel?”
“No,” Daniel said through his teeth.
“What was that?”
“No, I didn’t tell you Sarah was dead.”
“No, you didn’t,” Rayner echoed. “What did you tell me?”
“This is ridiculous,” Jack began.
“Please sit down, Colonel.”
The knife pricked deeper. Daniel’s lips became a tight line.
“You weaved an elaborate story about ancient spores and insanity, isn’t that right, Daniel? You told me Sarah had lost her mind, that voices were telling her to do violent things, and that she’d been put in some mental institution for the protection of everyone else. That’s what you said.”
This time Daniel’s voice was stronger. “Yes.”
“And that’s a lie.”
“Well,” Jack jumped in, “It’s pretty accurate, actually.”
“You said she was dead, Colonel. Which is it?”
“What difference does it make whether she’s dead or just a basket case?” Jack snapped. “I’m so not in the mood for whining civilians with delusions of power and control.”
“Shit happens! It just does, and slicing people up with knives is not going to change that!”
“I’ve had a crappy week. This is the last thing I need. So how about you take your goons and just get the hell out of my house! I promise not to tell. Really. Just get out. Okay?”
Rant over, Jack realised he was standing over a stunned Rayner, one hand fisted in the man’s shirt. Oops. Huffing out a breath, he dropped Rayner like a hot potato and looked around the room. Daniel was staring at him like he’d grown a second head, but on the good side the guy with the knife had let his hand fall away from Daniel’s neck.
On the bad side, the guy with the gun was way higher up there on the professional bad guy scale than anyone else in the room. As soon as he had Jack’s attention, GunGuy grasped a fistful of Daniel’s hair and shoved Daniel to his knees. The gun -- a butt-ugly Sig Sauer P226 -- was thrust so far into Daniel’s ear that Jack thought it might cause serious damage without even being fired. Not that the guy looked like he would have any problem shooting Daniel. Ugly the weapon may be, but it was built for men who were serious about their work. And let’s face it, not even a novice was going to miss at that range.
“Colonel, please show Doctor Rayner some respect.”
So it talked. Jack studied the man for long seconds. His stance, his choice of weapon, his reactions -- all spoke to some serious training in this guy’s past. Special ops serious. Or covert. Or something else that Jack couldn’t quite put his finger on right now.
Rayner broke the silence. “It looks like this will take a while. Let’s eat.”
The bizarre normality of the statement succeeded in taking Jack’s attention from Daniel for a couple of seconds.
“Did you get something good for dinner?” Rayner asked as he walked a circuitous path towards the mess at the door, keeping well out of the way of Jack’s twitching fingers.
“Steak,” Jack replied. “Sixteen ounce rump.”
Jack flashed a smile. “I hope it chokes you.”
Daniel’s eyebrows danced as if they were trying to send Jack some important message, but whatever language that was, Jack didn’t speak it. He shook his head.
“Enough!” Rayner pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose, almost pouting. “Flynn, I’m going to cook. Make sure they don’t cause any trouble.” And he stalked off to the kitchen.
For a moment nobody moved. Then Flynn nodded to KnifeMan who scurried to the front door and collected a backpack. Jack weighed his chances, but with the Sig taking up residence in Daniel’s ear he’d be lucky to get six inches before Daniel’s brains were…
“Go with Kadinsky, Colonel,” Flynn said. He didn’t add anything, no threats, no warnings. He didn’t need to. This was a man Jack understood completely.
It took less than a minute for Kadinsky to tie Jack to one of the sturdy, metal kitchen chairs, his wrists trussed tightly behind him, the rope fastened to the back slats. Another minute and Daniel was tossed into the chair opposite him, Kadinsky doing the honours with the rope once more. It took a little longer, and a grimace and wince from Daniel, before Kadinsky seemed satisfied. Finally, he carelessly dropped the remaining rope on the table, leaned back against the wall, crossed his arms and smirked.
Jack wanted to punch the bastard’s lights out.
Daniel watched Stephen putter around Jack’s kitchen to gather ingredients, watched him put a large potato in the microwave to bake, watched him inspect the steaks, watched him select one and gingerly lay it in the hot pan to sear the outside. And then Daniel closed his eyes, tilted his head back and sighed.
Three days off. Just three uninterrupted, quiet, ordinary days. Was it really so much to ask?
Jack “ssss”ed across the table at him, a sharp, sibilant release of air. Daniel cracked an eye open.
Jack tilted his head and tried to shrug his shoulders, but his arms were trapped and he ended up just slipping down in his chair. Daniel opened the other eye and stared at the ceiling.
“Daniel!” Jack hissed. Daniel looked at him.
“We worked together at the Oriental Institute, with Doctor Jordan,” Daniel said.
“The one who was… who died?”
“That’s the one.”
Jack leaned as far forward as he could in some attempt at intimacy, the chair tilting with him. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “This the one who got his brain fried?”
“This is the one.”
A plate landed on the table with a crack. Stephen slid into a chair, sniffed appreciatively, and sliced into the steak. Its juices ran red; he always had liked his meat bloody.
Daniel let his gaze roam around the kitchen. Kadinsky had wandered over to the fridge and now stood with beer in hand -- Jack’s beer -- watching them; Stephen ate dinner in contented silence; Flynn was… looming menacingly was the best description Daniel could come up with. And he and Jack were tied to chairs, Jack glaring daggers at anyone who came too close. The whole situation should have been surreal. What did it say about his life that it just felt routine?
“Stephen, if you wanted to talk to me, you could have just used the phone,” Daniel said. “Or emailed, or written a letter, or even come for a visit.”
“I’m visiting right now.”
“You broke into Jack’s home and attacked us. That’s not normal.”
“And I suppose an archaeologist covering up proof of a technological civilisation that lived on this planet thousands of years ago is normal? Finding an Egyptian sarcophagus in a Mayan tomb is normal? And a friend with glowing eyes trying to kill me -- is that normal too? Well, is it?!” Juice dripped down Stephen’s chin from the half-chewed piece of steak he was screeching around. He stopped, swallowed, and took a gulp of wine, pressing knuckles to his forehead while the corners of his eyes crinkled in pain. Another swig and the glass was empty. He shoved his chair back and went to collect the bottle.
Latching onto the telling part of the outburst, Daniel said, “What Mayan tomb?”
“I know about it,” Stephen said. He slammed the wine bottle down on the table and leaned into Daniel’s space. “It proved your theories of cross-pollination of ancient cultures. That was three years ago, and you didn’t publish. And here’s this new evidence but you still didn’t publish. And then Doctor Jordan’s death, and Martha from records, and Sarah. All dead to cover up something incredibly important to archaeology! Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out? Did you think I wouldn’t realise you killed all those people because they might have stolen your chance to be famous?”
“You’re a complete froot loop,” Jack muttered. For once, Daniel wasn’t going to argue with him.
The raving lunatic backed off, which was a start. Whoever this guy had been to Daniel, it was obvious from Daniel’s aggrieved expression that he unfortunately still gave a shit about some facet of Stephen Rayner’s existence, be it a friendship they had -- surely over by now -- or just a hope that the idiot had some kind of decent life after everything that had gone down in Egypt. Everything that had gone down while Jack had been sitting by a lake with no fish, annoying Teal’c and having a snit about… hell, he couldn’t remember what he’d been annoyed about. So Daniel, Carter and the doc had gone off on some field expedition to face down a Goa’uld. On their own. Said field expedition had produced one system lord (escaped), many bruises and broken bones (par for the course), and a couple of deep-fried brains. A couple. Meaning two. So why was Rayner the only one acting like a paranoid crackpot?
Jack focussed on Daniel. “Was he always like this?”
“No, of course he wasn’t.” Daniel licked his lips and threw a furtive glance at Rayner. Rayner was doing the dishes. “He used to be a little annoyed that Sarah and I, well, that we, er… And also that Doctor Jordan trusted me with the more important research.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I’d say that he’s more than a little annoyed now.”
“Let’s move somewhere more comfortable,” Rayner said, not a trace of irritation in his tone. “The coffee’s on.”
Kadinsky moved behind Jack, knife at the ready. With one snap Jack was free of the chair but his wrists were still tied together. Flynn sauntered over to Daniel, cast a glance towards Jack and raised an eyebrow. Jack clenched his fists behind his back. Rayner might be crazy, but Flynn was as sane as they came. Either he was getting one hell of a large pay-packet or… something.
With one eye on Flynn and Daniel, Jack followed Rayner and sat on the couch like a good boy when he was told to. Daniel was directed opposite him once more, which was the perfect place for an easily seen threat. There was no way Rayner would have figured that out; he probably hadn’t noticed half of what was going on here. For one thing, he actually thought he was in charge.
“Why are you here, Stephen?” Daniel had his interested face on, as if this whole situation were just another culture to study.
“Weren’t you listening?” Rayner said.
“No, I mean, why are you here? If you wanted to talk to me, why not at my place?”
“Nick’s idea. Get you both together.”
“Flynn,” Stephen said, waving a careless hand in Flynn’s direction.
“Why would you want to talk to Jack?”
Stephen sighed. “I know you think I’m stupid, Daniel. You always have done. But I’m not going to let you treat me like an idiot any more.”
“Don’t deny it! Let’s just stick to the facts, shall we? Like where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing for the last five years. And how you came back from the dead. And what the hell a deep space radar project needs with an archaeologist.”
Silence landed on the room with all the subtlety of a meteorite. Daniel said nothing, but those little lines appeared between his eyes, and his brows beetled into a frown. Jack ran through a storm of possible responses but nothing made it past his lips. Rayner had searched for Daniel, had found him, obviously, and had been told enough to know the cover story. Which would sound ridiculous to him, considering what he’d learned during that whole Osiris debacle. Daniel, the archaeologist working on deep space radar telemetry, who actually wasn’t doing archaeology but was using his linguistic skills for… something to do with free thinking. That was it, yeah.
Jack opened his mouth to spout the cover story, and then closed it again because Daniel’s frown had turned into alarm.
“Stephen? Are you feeling alright?”
Of course Daniel would be concerned about the guy holding them prisoner. Of course he would. Then again, Rayner didn’t look so hot. The man was sitting hunched on the coffee table, pale and sweaty, the fingers of one hand pressing so hard against his forehead they would cause bruises, while the other hand gripped the table with white-knuckled strength.
“I have aspirin,” Jack said helpfully.
“I need to lie down,” Rayner said, his voice low, rasping, not much more than a whisper.
“No problem. Just untie me and I can get clean sheets from the linen cupboard, make up the spare room,” Jack said, a little louder and more brightly than was warranted.
Stephen relinquished his grip on the coffee table in favour of holding up a shaking hand, as if warding off the noise.
“Sorry,” Jack said, barely louder than breathing, and then wondered what the hell he was thinking.
“I’ll take your room,” Rayner said, each word vibrating with pain. “Daniel can keep me company. Sean, help me?”
Dissent tempted Jack’s lips before he remembered Flynn -- if anyone was going to be left alone with that man, it wouldn’t be Daniel. Not that he had any say in matters, as Kadinsky slid Rayner’s arm across his shoulders and tugged the man to his feet. Flynn seized a handful of Daniel’s shirt and shoved him into forward motion.
“Lead the way, Jackson.”
Daniel stumbled a little and Jack thought he might fall, but he straightened his shoulders and walked down the hall with the dignity and bearing and acquiescent silence of a man going to his execution. He didn’t even glance back. It made Jack’s teeth itch.
Jack’s bedroom was as unfussy and comfortable as the rest of his house. Even counting the number of times Daniel had stayed here -- first completely dependent on Jack’s hospitality, and then the overnight stays when the two of them had made dinner together, watched a movie, and talked late into the night -- he hadn’t gone into Jack’s room unless it was absolutely necessary. It was as if there was an unseen barrier that Daniel refused to breach, unwilling to invade Jack’s highly valued privacy to such an extent.
Kadinsky steered Stephen over to Jack’s bed. Stephen collapsed across Jack’s military-neat sheets, feet still on the floor, eyes tight shut, his whole body tense. He didn’t move, just puffed out one rapid breath after another. He sounded like he was in labour.
Daniel hovered by the door, wondering what he was doing in here.
With an expression that brooked no argument, Kadinsky caught Daniel’s attention and gave a sharp nod to the chair in the corner. Daniel knew it would be a good idea to move, that the knife Kadinsky was pulling out of his belt was sharp and already tinted with his own blood, but… Stephen was on Jack’s bed, spoiling Jack’s sheets. It was disturbing.
Kadinsky making a move towards him to set Daniel’s feet in motion. He took four shuffling steps across the room and sank into Jack’s chair, trying not to lean against the sweater neatly folded over the back. It wasn’t that hard, really; having your wrists tied behind you wasn’t conducive to a Jack-like relaxed sprawl.
Kadinsky sat on the end of the bed and watched Daniel try to get comfortable. He seemed fascinated by his prisoner, gazing at one part of Daniel’s body for several seconds before focussing on a new area. Daniel’s knees were of particular interest, which was peculiar enough, but Daniel couldn’t help but lean as far back in the chair as he could, sweater be damned, when Kadinsky stared at his neck, unblinking, for a full minute.
“Daniel?” Stephen’s croaking voice broke the silence but not Kadinsky’s concentration.
Daniel forcefully shifted his gaze to the man on the bed. “Stephen.”
“I don’t feel good.”
“Aspirin isn’t going to fix this, Stephen. You need to get to a hospital.”
“I’ve been to hospitals! None of them helped me. Just migraines, migraines, migraines. But they’re not migraines! You know that.”
“You’ve had them, Daniel. I saw you in Egypt.”
An odd chuckling sound emanated from Kadinsky. Daniel glanced at him to find the man was now staring at the brass belt buckle Jack had given him for Christmas, the buckle with the three major constellations of Abydos on it. Chuckling, and licking his lips. Daniel looked away.
“Sarah gave you the headache,” Stephen insisted, rolling over to face Daniel. His dirty loafers scraped across the comforter. Daniel cringed.
“I hit my head.
“You had the burn on your forehead.”
“It was a bruise.”
Letting loose a sigh, Stephen settled on his back and laid his head on the pillow. “I’m not going to argue with you. I need to sleep this off, and then you can tell me what you did to make Sarah crazy enough to try to kill me, and why you killed Doctor Jordan.”
There was no response Daniel could give that wouldn’t include wanting to slap the sense back into Stephen, so he stayed quiet. A glance at Kadinsky was enough to see the man was back to staring at Daniel’s neck, toying with the knife while he contemplated something that put a look of total concentration on his face. Daniel tilted his head back to look at the ceiling, then thought better of it and began an intensive study of Jack’s bedroom carpet, tucking his chin tightly into his chest.
The rope around Jack’s wrists was thin but sturdy, and it was tied with damn good knots. Challenging, sure -- daunting, even -- but challenges were just another way of the universe telling you you’d had it easy up until now. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t had enough practice at this, and, heck, he wasn’t doing anything else right now.
While Jack tried not to peel the skin from his wrists, Flynn wandered around the living room, inspecting Jack’s belongings with some interest. The mid-game chess board had garnered a “black or white?”, and an equivocal “hmm” when Jack said “black”.
“So,” Jack said. “Any chance you’ll tell me why you’re involved in this? If it’s money, I can double what you’re getting. Triple it.”
Flynn slid a book from the shelf and flicked through the pages. “You’re a history buff?”
“Military history, sometimes.” He peered at the book Flynn held. “That one was a gift.”
“If you like that sort of thing.”
“History should interest everyone,” Flynn said. “It’s important to know how we got to where we are.”
It seemed Jack should be able to make something of that statement, but for the life of him he didn’t know what. So he changed the subject, leaving the weirdness of the day’s events to simmer in his subconscious. “What’s up with Rayner?”
“Other than being deranged, you mean?”
“Other than that.”
“He says he had his brain melted by an ex-girlfriend.”
“And now he’s deranged.”
Jack wanted to bang his head on the coffee table. Or better yet, Flynn’s head. “That doesn’t bother you?”
Flynn slammed the book closed and dropped it on the floor. The next one obviously didn’t impress him, and it joined the first. Then another. And another.
“Do you mind?” Jack snapped.
“Why do you care? You said you weren’t interested.”
With an irritated sigh, Jack said, “I’m interested, okay?”
Flynn took another book from the shelf, read the back, and dropped it. “What are you doing with a guy like Jackson?”
“Hanging out, spending time.” Flynn didn’t look at Jack when he spoke, which might have been odd if Jack didn’t recognise the tactic.
“Daniel’s a friend,” Jack said.
“He’s not military.”
“He doesn’t understand the military.”
“Not all the time.”
“Yet you’re still friends.”
“Friendship isn’t about always agreeing,” Jack said. “I could explain it to you but it might go over your head. It’s hard to grasp concepts you’re completely unfamiliar with.” That got a clenching of Flynn’s jaw and a tightening of the grip on the paperback in Flynn’s hand before the book was tossed with studied nonchalance onto the growing pile. Which was strange, because this was all just part of the game and they both knew it. Looking at this man was like looking into a slightly warped mirror. Flynn’s training should have been embedded more deeply than that; he shouldn’t be showing his scars on the surface.
Jack picked at the scab. “So how much is Rayner paying you to leave your friendless existence and interact with real live people?”
Flynn turned then, and smirked. It was a deeply unattractive look. “Who said it was about money?”
“If not money, then what?”
“Maybe I wanted to have new experiences.”
Jack snorted. “This isn’t new to you.”
“And you know Daniel spends time here.”
The lack of response from Flynn was patient expectation. He was waiting for Jack to figure this out.
“Which means you’ve been watching us. And I don’t think you were doing it for Rayner.”
“You don’t remember me, do you, O’Neill?”
“We’ve never met,” Jack said.
Flynn shrugged and turned back to the bookshelves. “If you say so.”
Jack paused. He’d never seen this guy before in his life -- he was completely certain of it. This was the kind of asshole he remembered on principle. Flynn was messing with his head, trying to get back the points he’d lost with the friend thing.
Another book hit the floor. Jack sighed.
“You remember Martin Cromwell.”
“Hard to forget,” Jack said, flashes of capture and beatings and a filthy cell in Iraq skipping through his mind. He tried to figure out which way to go with this. Calm was one option, sure, but antagonistic always got him answers. “The gutless bastard didn’t understand you never leave a man behind.”
Flynn made it across the room faster than Jack would have given him credit for. The fist in the face was completely expected, though. It hurt like a son-of-a-bitch and knocked him on his side on the couch.
Jack wriggled himself back upright. “Sorry. Didn’t realise you two were dating.”
The fist came again, this time to the jaw. Christ, that man had steel knuckles. Jack’s head began throbbing; he thought maybe he had a loose tooth, poked at it with his tongue. He made it back to the vertical again, or at least a close approximation.
“Martin’s sister Nadia and I were married in the fall of ninety one. I’m sure you remember that year, O'Neill. That was the year you dragged your pathetic ass out of Iraq and blamed a real hero for your failures. Didn’t manage to get him tossed out, though, did you. So instead you got him killed.”
“What the hell are you on about?” There was no way anything like that leaked out of the mountain. Tales of black holes and time dilation and nuclear weapons? No way.
Flynn walked behind the couch. From the sound of it he’d moved on from books and was putting his grubby hands all over Jack’s picture frames.
“Martin told Nadia he owed you. He said you were in trouble and needed his help, and he was going to get you out of it. Next thing we know, he’s dead, you’re absolutely fine, and nobody’s talking. I checked on you, O'Neill. You’re a desk jockey, spend your life playing with telescopes. It must’ve taken some doing to set Martin up like that.”
“It was an accident!”
"You killed him and that just about killed Nadia, you little prick!"
Jack heard a telltale whistle just before something solid struck him hard on the back of the head. Whatever it was it shattered, shards dropping onto his shoulders and down behind his back. Jack could feel warm blood oozing from somewhere above his hairline, trickling down his neck. He tasted iron in his mouth. None of that held his attention for long, because he could feel something between his fingers -- a piece of that ugly china thing Sara had left behind when she’d moved out. A piece with sharp edges. He’d thank her for that later.
He grasped the piece of broken china firmly and began to scratch at the rope around his wrists.
Stephen was sleeping, but it wasn’t peaceful and it didn’t look to Daniel like it could possibly be healing. The muttering had started about twenty minutes after Stephen had collapsed on the bed. One word in ten was clear enough to understand, nowhere near enough to make sense of context or dreams or thoughts, but that didn’t stop Daniel’s brain from filling in the gaps and presenting him with images he didn’t want to think about. Memories of throbbing, burning pain as Osiris held the ribbon device to his head; Doctor Jordan’s death at the hands of a Goa’uld who should never have been on Earth; Sarah’s life stolen from her with only nightmares to replace it.
How many people knew years in advance how they would die? Who could have predicted that Jordan’s team would be so damaged by alien beings, leaving only Stephen -- the man who had been called the least of them by colleagues whispering behind closed doors -- behind to continue his mockery of a normal life. He had those things that many only dreamed of: wealth, fame, a measure of respect. It was the insanity, though, that his fans, his book-buying public, would never know about. Whatever happened in this house, whether Daniel and Jack came through this or not, Stephen was now destined to live his life out in a secure, extremely private mental health centre. With his actions today, he'd set his fate. Perhaps the cover story would be the same as Sarah’s, and wouldn’t that be ironic.
There but for the grace of false gods. How long had Stephen been under the ruby glow of the ribbon device for it to affect him this way? If Daniel had driven faster across the dunes, had figured out the answers that still eluded him until the truth was there in his face, had somehow managed to arrive fifteen or ten or five minutes earlier would that have made the difference? Was it his fault that Stephen was like this? There was no way to know how long Stephen had been under that ribbon device. It wasn’t as if the SGC had carried out experiments. Questions from Janet of “how long did Apophis ribbon you, Daniel?” went unanswered by him, giving little useable data. Pain had a tendency to interfere with perception of time, at least for Daniel, but anger never seemed to have that effect on Jack. “Too damn long,” was always Jack’s response. Too damn long. No kidding.
Realistically there was nothing Daniel could have done, no choice he could have made, that would have changed things. He had no gift of precognition. How could anyone expect him to wake up one morning and think ‘I must fly to Chicago today’ so that events wouldn’t bring him to this very point, so Doctor Jordan was still alive, so there wasn’t a manic ex-colleague asleep on Jack’s bed, and the bad guys with guns and knives were instead out there somewhere having a beer with friends. There was no guilt to be had, here, and he felt it anyway.
Kadinsky had been watching Daniel for a long time. The man evidently had the ability to sit for hours on end without the need to move. He blinked, he breathed, he stared -- that was as far as it went. Kadinsky wasn’t normal in any sense of the word, but at least he wasn’t coming any closer. In response, Daniel had kept as still as possible, as quiet as possible, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Daniel needed to move, to stretch tight muscles and ward off the cramp he could feel creeping into his shoulders. At some point Daniel would need to pee, and he hoped sincerely that Stephen woke up before that happened. He couldn’t imagine asking Kadinsky if he could go to the bathroom.
The muttering from the bed grew louder, and with the abruptness of a light flicking on, Stephen was sitting up, awake.
“How are you feeling?” Daniel ventured. There were fewer lines of pain across Stephen’s face than there had been. He looked rumpled now, though, his suit not standing up to the challenge of being slept in.
“Huh,” Stephen said, looking at Daniel as if surprised he was still there. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a pill bottle, shook some into his palm -- maybe two, maybe five -- and swallowed them dry. Stephen had been released from hospital, declared well by very competent doctors, but this behaviour was habitual, the actions ingrained and become automatic. Daniel didn’t know how long these migraine attacks had been going on, nor how frequent they were, but the repetitive pain alone would be enough to take the edge off a person’s grip on sanity.
Stephen stumbled to his feet, mumbled “bring him” and left the bedroom without another glance Daniel’s way. The instruction made Kadinsky move at last as if he only had purpose when Stephen was telling him what to do. Daniel wondered if that made him less dangerous or more.
Almost two hours to the minute after Rayner left the living room, he came shuffling back looking like death warmed over. A few faltering steps later and he’d made it to Jack’s favourite armchair, not so much sitting as collapsing under the force of gravity.
Flynn let only the most fleeting of contemptuous looks flash across his face before he left the chessboard and went to the kitchen. Daniel and Kadinsky passed Flynn on their way into the room, Kadinsky’s hand twisted in Daniel’s collar, and thank god Daniel didn’t look any worse now than he had two hours ago. A little wearier, if you looked closely. Trouble was, while Jack was looking closely at Daniel, Daniel obviously didn’t need to look at all closely at Jack to see what had been going on while he’d been out of the room. Daniel’s jaw clenched and he got that pissy look in his eyes that meant someone would be getting the sharp edge of his tongue pretty damn soon.
“Daniel.” Jack made sure he had the man’s full attention before he continued. “Leave it.”
For a moment Daniel looked like he might argue, then a minute amount of the tension left his body and he began to look around the room. “Did you decide the cleaner needed a challenge this week, Jack?”
“Well, I’ve been letting her off pretty lightly this past month, not having the usual all night parties, y’know.”
“You played some chess,” Daniel said, and he didn’t sound anywhere near as put out as he could have done. Unlike Jack, Daniel would remember where all the pieces had been when they’d stopped last weekend -- it would take only a minute to reset the board when this was over and done with.
Jack shrugged, or as close as he could manage considering the muscles in his shoulders were practically rock solid by now. “We got bored.”
“Of course you did.”
For a moment, Jack didn’t know whether Daniel was humouring him or playing along. The atmosphere was too strange, too unstable, for Daniel to relax that much, though. Stranger than Jack had picked up on, actually. Kadinsky still had his fist tightly twisted in Daniel’s collar and Daniel was very, very still, not even breathing too deeply. Jack studied Daniel’s face more closely. What the hell had gone on in that room?
The thought was interrupted as Flynn returned with a glass of water which he handed to Rayner.
“Stephen, can I sit down?” Daniel asked.
Rayner took a gulp of his drink, eyes closed to savour it like fine wine. “No,” he said. “We have things to talk about.”
At that, Flynn put his boot against the edge of the coffee table and shoved, unmindful of the remote controls that tumbled to the floor, and cleared a space in the centre of the room. The action sent warnings crawling through Jack’s gut. He gripped his precious shard of china more tightly and began to scrape at the rope around his wrists again.
There was an expression on Daniel’s face like he knew he should be concerned but he wasn’t entirely sure why. “What did you want to discuss?”
Rayner drained the last of his water and began to roll the glass between his palms, back and forth, back and forth. “I’m going to go public with what I know unless you tell me everything. Just so we’re clear.”
“And what exactly is it you think you know?” Jack asked, which earned him an annoyed look from Daniel. Let the man speak, Daniel’s expression said, and don’t interrupt, and let me do the talking because you have no idea what you’re doing.
“I know there was something wrong with Sarah and that you people covered it up. She isn’t in any institution because I’ve checked. I know the Air Force stuck their noses into something that they had no connection with. I saw the police report on the murders, all that garbage about Doctor Jordan and Margaret Willard being killed by some lowlife nobody who was coincidentally killed in a police shoot-out later in the week. But you can’t make that stick because the man was nowhere near the Institute when they were killed. So who did it? Are you going to blame this on Sarah, Daniel?”
And that was when Flynn gut punched Daniel. Daniel hadn’t seen it coming. Jack had, but foresight didn’t help when Daniel was folded over as far as he could trying to simultaneously catch his breath and not choke on the hold Kadinsky still had on his collar.
“You think Sarah killed Doctor Jordan, Daniel?”
Daniel drew in a shaky breath. “Of course not.”
Another punch, this time in the kidney. Daniel’s knees went out from under him for a couple of seconds. Kadinsky snickered, and shifted his hold to Daniel’s upper arms to pull him upright. Rayner got to his feet, went to stand at Daniel’s side, and leaned very close.
“No, of course you don’t. Because you know exactly who the murderer is, don’t you.”
“I rather thought it was you,” Daniel said in his best snake-baiting voice, and that was an oh-so-very-bad idea.
Flynn took the time to roll up his sleeves before he went for a quick one-two-three to the ribs. Daniel went white.
“You did it, didn’t you, Daniel? You should come clean, you know. It’s only fair.”
A minute went by without a response from Daniel, and Jack couldn’t leave it alone. “You were tortured by a crazy person in the middle of Egypt, Rayner. What the hell gives you the idea that was just some coincidence?”
“Jesus, Sarah Gardner went psycho and killed people, tried to kill you and Daniel and a couple of other good friends of mine. Are you really that stupid?”
Everyone’s attention was focussed on Jack, which meant no more obvious scraping away at ropes and Daniel might be a tad unhappy with him so this wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had, but it also meant the punching had stopped. For now.
“Daniel took everything away from me, did you know that?” Rayner was calmer -- not impressively sane, but calmer. “He took my place as Doctor Jordan’s protégé, took Sarah, took the best research. He wanted my success, wanted to take away everything I’d ever worked for. I can’t let him do that any more, don’t you see? I can’t. It’s not fair.”
“Stephen,” Daniel said, “you have so much now.”
Rayner spun to face Daniel. “I don’t!” he hissed.
“You have a publishing deal, and books. You’re famous. You have more money than I ever will.”
“It’s not enough. It’s not,” Rayner said, almost a whine. “I had Sarah.”
“You did?” Daniel couldn’t hide his surprise.
“She realised the mistake she made with you, Daniel. We had such good times once you were gone. You always got in the way and then you were gone and everyone knew you were wrong. It was better that way.”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said. He actually looked it, too, but Jack wasn’t stupid enough to believe it was for any of the reasons Rayner thought.
“You have the answers I need. You should tell me and then I can get what I should have had years ago. I can find Sarah and be rich and respected. It would be better, Daniel, better than this existence. I know you see that.” Rayner began to pace. “I don’t understand why you’d want to hide the proof that you were right all along. An unknown language that nobody has ever seen before -- where did that come from? Do you know how to read it? No, no, that’s not possible. But I found the amulet, I found the tomb, they’re my discoveries. You just have to give me my answers and this can all finish.”
“I, um…” It was obvious Daniel didn’t know what to say to that stream of blathering nonsense. Jack did.
“Say you get the answers you want, what then? Will you leave us to our weekend? We all just go our separate ways, no hard feelings, I suppose.”
The smile that crossed Rayner’s face was something that would scare small children. “You haven’t done anything to me, Colonel. I have no argument with you. But I can’t leave Daniel around to ruin things -- he’ll just make a claim against me, against my discovery. I won’t put up with that kind of behaviour any longer. It’s not nice.”
It was said so matter-of-factly as if any of the crap that he was saying made sense that Jack saw the horror on Daniel’s face before the meaning of Rayner’s words made it through to his own brain. Right now Jack didn’t give a shit whether the whole planet knew about the Goa’uld; there was no way Daniel was going to die to keep that secret.
Daniel licked his lips, a nervous habit Jack had tried and failed to break him of. “I won’t get in the way of what you want, Stephen.”
Rayner looked at him with pity. “You already are.” He stepped back and nodded to Flynn.
The fist flew. Daniel’s head snapped to the side. Flynn was predictable in his targets -- Daniel was going to have a shiner to match Jack’s own.
“Did you kill Sarah, Daniel?”
Daniel dragged a breath in. “No.”
Thwack. Another punch, this time to the mouth.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t know, or you won’t tell me?”
“I don’t know.”
Crack. Straight to the cheekbone. Flynn was just getting started. Kadinsky was grinning like this was the funniest thing he’d seen in months. Rayner had no clue he was the only one in the room who gave a flying fanny about all this Sarah damn Gardner Goa’uld taking over the planet archaeological crap. Enough was enough.
The lunatic swung to face Jack, his face screwed up in fury. “It’s Doctor Rayner!”
“Yeah, whatever. Daniel doesn’t know where your fruitcake girlfriend is, okay?”
“Sarah is not crazy!”
“She tried to kill you!”
“Hush!” Rayner pressed his knuckles to his forehead, either in an attempt to stave off another blinder of a headache or the onset of irreversible wackery, who the hell knew. “Quiet. You need to be quiet.”
Daniel struggled in Kadinsky’s grip. “Stephen, please, you’re not yourself. We can help you.”
“But you don’t,” Rayner whimpered. “You don’t help. You just make things worse. Always worse.”
“Only me, though,” Daniel said. “It’s not Jack.”
“He doesn’t matter. Isn’t important.”
“Then he should go. Make him leave and we can discuss this together, you and me.”
Rayner actually looked like he might go for it, right up until he said, “You never did think I was very bright, Daniel.”
Flynn said, “He isn’t the only one,” with a sneer on his face, and that just stopped everyone in their tracks.
Kadinsky snickered. It broke the silence, broke into what had to be the oddest moment of suspense Jack had ever sat through. Rayner frowned at Kadinsky as if only realising now quite what a weirdo he’d employed to do his dirty deeds. Flynn, it seemed, was simply at the end of his patience. In one swift move, Flynn pulled out the Sig and shot Kadinsky in the head.
There was none of that flying backwards across the room crap. Kadinsky dropped like a stone, his grip still firm around Daniel’s arms, even as the crack of the gunshot still echoed around the room. Daniel went down with him. Flynn was already shifting his aim downward when Jack surged up from the couch, knowing he wasn’t yet free of those goddamn ropes but with no time to care because this bastard was not going to shoot Daniel.
The gun went off as Jack crashed into Flynn. The two of them went flying into the coffee table. Wood splintered. Jack automatically tried to reach out to grab the gun, and the rope snapped at last, unfurling slowly, oh so slowly, from his wrists. Too slowly. Just too slow. Flynn shoved Jack off him, and kept on shoving until Jack was on his knees with Flynn standing over him, gun six inches from Jack’s forehead.
“He might not care what happens to you, O’Neill, but I do.”
“Flynn, what are you doing?” Rayner sounded utterly miserable. “You’ll ruin everything! You’re doing it wrong, doing things the wrong way, not how we agreed it.”
Jack risked a glance across at Daniel and thank god he was trying to sit up, bruises and cuts and blood spatters on his face, but still breathing.
“Flynn,” Daniel spoke up, sounding exhausted. “Please, whatever this is about, we can resolve it.”
“Shut up, Daniel,” Rayner snapped. “I’m in charge here.”
“You wanna tell him, or should I?” Flynn asked Jack, a wry smile on his face, and all Jack could think was this was going to be on his tombstone: Jack O’Neill, saved the planet; shame he was killed by raving nutters.
Flynn shifted his aim to Rayner, and snarled, “Sit down and be quiet.”
Daniel started to say something, but trailed off as Stephen Rayner sank to his knees. Rayner’s gaze skipped from the blood pooling under Kadinsky’s head to Daniel to Jack to Flynn like he couldn’t work out where the hell he was and what was going on. With a shuddering sigh, Rayner began to cry, great sobs shaking his shoulders, his chest heaving with despair.
It was Jack’s last chance. He surged up from the floor, his goal the Sig. He closed his hands around the weapon and Flynn’s fingers, thrusting up. Jack shoved his shoulder into Flynn’s chest, knocking breath from him. Flynn reacted at last, but not fast enough. Jack slammed his elbow into Flynn’s jaw and the man collapsed backwards like his strings had been cut.
Huh. Glass jaw. Who’d’ve thought?
Jack took a deep breath, then another, before he turned to Daniel and Rayner. Daniel -- with one eye closing up, blood on his face, hands bound behind him and bruises all over -- was doing his thing as best he could, comforting the wretched man who had ruined their weekend. There was some banging from somewhere, and Jack didn’t have time to try to figure out what it was. His defences were stuck on high alert. He leaned down and plucked the Sig from Flynn’s loose fingers, which was how he came to be the only armed man in a room full of beaten, unconscious and dead bodies when the police finally broke down the front door.
Oh-four-eleven. Jack blinked at the clock on his bedside table, looked at the dark ceiling then back at the clock. Oh-four-eleven. Something had woken him, and there was only one something it could be. Jack closed his eyes, determined he wasn’t going to do this now. Surely it was only fair he got to have at least eight hours of decent sleep before… just before. Not just fair, but the civilised way to behave. “Civilised, my ass,” he muttered, as he threw back the covers.
Daniel was sitting at the kitchen table, a coffee mug held tight in his hands. The room was lit only by the pale amber glow from the streetlamp outside. Jack hesitated at the door. Daniel had obviously tried to avoid waking him, tried to stay under the radar. It was equally obvious he was deliberately trying to avoid sleep, the small jar of powerful Turkish coffee on the counter a dead giveaway.
Police, coroner, and crime scene teams (who had cleared the bedrooms but not the living room) had been gone by midnight, pushed to their most efficient by a hovering general and stern-looking police captain. Jack didn’t care how it had happened, just cared that it was over and done with now, now, now. The clean-up crew had left around one, along with Janet who had deemed Daniel and Jack’s injuries not serious enough for a hospital visit but bad enough that “I expect to see you both in my infirmary by lunchtime tomorrow, sir.” Lunchtime. Because they were being given time for a lie-in after all this crap. An excellent plan, in Jack’s opinion. Less excellent in Daniel’s, apparently.
Carter and Teal’c had reluctantly left by two, Carter unhappy that Jack and Daniel had chosen to stay here over taking a hotel room or going to Daniel’s or going anywhere else at all. Daniel had persuaded her they’d be fine before Jack had needed to order her out, which was a good thing all around as she’d left looking slightly concerned but not pissy.
And now it was just the two of them, together but separate. Daniel hadn’t so much as sipped his coffee, hadn’t moved, hadn’t twitched, might have blinked but Jack couldn’t see that much detail in this light. Daniel was back to dealing with things alone that should be shared, if for no other reason than the pain had been shared. Jack shouldn’t -- couldn't -- be shut out of it now.
Decision made, Jack shuffled over to the corner cupboard and took out his half-full bottle of Laphroaig and a glass. Daniel didn’t look up as Jack sat across from him. Jack splashed two fingers of whisky into his glass, then thought better of it and added another. He twisted the glass back and forth between his fingers while he studied shadows of bruises, scratches, dark eyes. Daniel lifted his coffee and drank deeply, raising his gaze to acknowledge Jack’s presence at last.
They looked at one another for several seconds. Jack wanted to say something to break the silence, but nothing came to mind that wouldn’t sound trite or superficial or just plain pointless. Even Hallmark didn’t have a message of sympathy for the past coming up to bite you in the ass, or punch you in the face, for that matter. Daniel got that scrunched up look on his face that meant he was on the cusp of saying something important, but it melted away.
Jack sipped his whisky. “You want to…?”
“No,” Daniel said. “You?”
“No!” Jack said, and it came out more strident than he’d meant it to.
Daniel gave a lopsided, kind of pathetic version of a grin.
“You do that in public and you’ll scare small children,” Jack said.
“I guess you haven’t looked in a mirror lately,” Daniel shot back.
“I’m looking in one right now.”
Daniel looked faintly horrified.
“Oh, that’s charming,” Jack said. “I can just feel the love in the room. I’ll have you know kids can’t get enough of me.”
“You want some coffee?” Daniel asked, abruptly serious.
Jack watched him for clues, but knew this was all he’d get, all the invitation Daniel would offer. Coffee meant staying awake, being company in the dark. “Sure.”
Daniel dropped his gaze, a flicker of a smile curving his lips. He slid his chair back and went to fetch another mug, not trying to hide a slight limp as he moved around the kitchen.
Jack leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out under the table. As communication went, it wasn’t much, but it would do. It would do just fine.