Final Justice

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Major Angst, Major H/C (Daniel and Jack Whumping), Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17 (for subject matter)
Season:  8 - July 30 - September 15, 2004
Spoilers:  Message in a Bottle, Desperate Measures, Prometheus, Abyss (minor)
Size:  197kb
Written:  March 10,19-22, April 5-6, August 22-23,27-29,31, September 1, October 25-26, November 9-11,14,16,24,30, December 1,22-23,30-31, 2004  Revised for consistency:  March 19-21, 2007
Summary:  Jack and Daniel are taken captive and tortured.  Who is the mysterious mastermind behind it all?
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fic(s), “Black and White,” “Goofy and the Boys,” “For Better or Worse,” “Remember This Warning,” and “Odyssey of the Mind”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Sheila, Kat, Eve, Brenda, QuinGem, Drdjlover, Linda!

Final Justice
by Orrymain

“Mmmmm, I do love the way you do that,” Jack said in the entranceway of their home after Daniel had kissed him.

“So glad you approve, Love.”  Daniel sighed.  With a tone of regret, he added, “I wish I didn't have to go to that exhibit in Denver.”

“Me, too, but you promised that bigwig you'd help out in exchange for his cooperation with that doohickey of Carter's.”

“Everything is a doohickey to you, Jack.”

Jack grinned devilishly, his eyebrows arching as he responded, “I love your doohickey.”

“Jack,” Daniel whispered, his face reddening from the embarrassment of his lover's affections.

“You do good, and I'll meet you at the cabin,” Jack stated.

“Four whole days, just you, me, and ... nature,” Daniel sighed contently.

Jack loved the way Daniel's eyes were speaking to him.  He held his husband close for another tender kiss, and then he sighed a regretful sound.

“I'd better get to the Mountain,” the colonel spoke.

“Behave,” Daniel advised.

“I always behave.”

“Right,” Daniel replied, his voice full of skepticism.

“Drive safely, Angel.”

“You, too.  I love you so much, Jack.”

“Love you forever and always, Danny.”

====

The day had been rather uneventful at the SGC, much to Jack's delight.  He left the base on schedule in the early afternoon and stopped by the grocery store for a few supplies.

~Surprises to make my lover all gooey ... just love a gooey Danny.~  Jack laughed as he put the items in his cart.  He made a final stop at the Godiva shop. ~Sweets for my sweetheart.~  “Geez, O'Neill, you are beyond sappy nowadays,” he spoke aloud softly as he walked to his truck.  ~If Daniel heard me calling him 'sweetheart', he'd kill me.~  He laughed, his mind racing with fun-filled silliness. ~But what a way to go!~

Jack imagined the torture Daniel might inflict on him for using the endearment.  As he headed for the highway, he considered the possibility of risking his lover's wrath.

~It just might be worth it.~

Wrestling in chocolate, tickling sessions in the grass, being pinned on the bed: these and other 'tortures' filled Jack's mind with pleasure and delight.

~Yep, just might be worth it, Dan...Sweetheart,~ Jack chuckled as he continued driving.

====

By the time he reached the halfway point to his destination, Jack was longing to hear his husband's voice.  He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Daniel's number.

“D'oh, this is Daniel's voice mail.  If you have a voice, use it.  Yes, I know, I've been hanging around Jack O'Neill too much.”

Jack laughed loudly into the phone as he heard the beep.  Still chuckling, he said, “Now that's funny, and I know you did that just to drive me crazy. Paybacks, Danny.  What are you doing anyway - having an orgy with those rocks?  Put 'em down, get in your car, and I'll see you soon.”

====

Seeing Daniel's 1999 Shelby-American sports car in front of their Colorado cabin, Jack smiled.  He had to admit to being surprised that Daniel had gotten there first, but then again, they'd been looking forward to this getaway for a while, and now, he was only a minute away from those lips he hungered for.

The truck parked, Jack exited the vehicle, grabbed his bags, and carried them to door.

“Danny?  Daniel, open up!”  Jack grumbled as he fumbled for the key and then unlocked the door.  Walking inside, Jack began to bellow, “Daniel, why didn't ...”

Jack's heart stopped.  In an instant, he dropped the bags, no longer caring about their contents.  His chest was rising up and down visibly.  Slowly, with quiet, deliberate steps, Jack made his way across the rubble of the interior.

The cabin was in shambles.  The sofa was turned onto its back.  A lamp that usually sat on the table next to the sofa was on the floor, broken into pieces.  The curtains were torn, half on and half off the rod they hung from.  The floor was cluttered with small items and ruined decor that had once been on various pieces of furniture inside the small cabin.

His check came up empty.  Daniel wasn't there, but there was blood ... on the bed, against the doorframe of the bedroom, and on the curtains.  There were also dried, red droplets on the floor leading from the window to the door.

Jack noticed the oven was on, explaining the burnt odor that he had immediately noticed when first walking inside their cabin.  When he opened it, his heart ached.  Shoving aside the smoke that filtered through the air with his hand, he could tell the burned items were Daniel's favorite chocolate walnut cookies.  They were now small, crispy, black specks on a cookie sheet.

Jack walked outside to check Daniel's car.  There was no sign of vandalism or a break-in.  He went to his truck and pulled out the pistol that he kept in a specially-made locked compartment.  Then he saw the note on his windshield.  He backed away, looking all around the area, but there was no sign of anyone.  He carefully picked up the note and read it:

“Too bad, Jack.  We warned you.  You didn't pay attention.  We even gave you a second chance.  What a pity you didn't heed our generous warning. You should have listened.  It's time to pay the piper for your arrogance.  Lover Boy will soon be under six feet of ground.  Hope you said goodbye.”

Jack's heart was pounding, rage beginning to fill him as he shouted out, “LISTEN TO ME.  YOU HURT HIM, AND I'LL KILL YOU.  DO YOU HEAR ME?  I'LL HUNT YOU DOWN AND TEAR YOU APART!”

Jack spun around looking for signs, any signs of life or anything unusual, but all he saw were the things he had normally seen at the cabin for years.  He banged his hand against the door of his Ford truck.

~I have to calm down.~  The colonel took a breath as he ran his hand through his silver-gray hair.  ~Danny's life is at stake here.~  More anxious breaths flowed through him.  He closed his eyes as he fought to rid himself of emotions he couldn't afford at the moment.  ~I'll murder the f-ing creeps after I find him.  Calm down; I can't lose control.  Daniel is depending on me.  Pull back, Jack.~

Jack willed the rage to settle to warm heat instead of the boiling point it had been.  He realized that he couldn't afford sentimentality; he had a job to do.  Within seconds, Jack retreated, and the Special Ops-trained colonel took over, detaching the man from the emotion.

Cautiously, Jack went back inside the cabin to look for more clues and found a second note.  Someone was playing with him, and he didn't like it.  The second note had been pushed down onto a piece of the broken glass that jutted out from the window where the downed curtains were.

“Had you going there, right?  Well, Jack, we meant it.  Your precious Doctor Jackson is six feet under, buried alive.  He's going to die a slow death, Jack.  It's our little revenge for your impudence at ignoring our requests.  By the time he dies, he'll be a vegetable anyway.”

Upon reading the words, the lover overtook the military man, and Jack sank to the floor, shaking his head.  He crumpled the paper in his hand, his fist tightening around it as if he could choke the life out of the sender.  Jack was about to drown in sorrow when he again remembered that Daniel would be counting on him.

~Get a grip, O'Neill.  If you don't pull yourself together, Daniel will die.~

Within seconds, the colonel took over once again.

~He has a chance.  You've survived worse, a lot worse.  Focus.  Daniel needs you to find him.  He'll be waiting.  He trusts you.  He believes in you.  Now stop wasting time, and do your job, Colonel.~

The internal lecture over, Jack rose, putting the note in his pocket along with the other one.  He walked outside and called his 2IC.

“Carter,” the blonde answered the phone formally.

With a cracked voice, Jack spoke, “Carter, Boonie Bear may be down for the count.  Cabin.  Colorado.  Bring Teal'c, Ferretti, and Cornell.  Bring the Marines.  We don't have a lot of time.”

Jack hung up.  His heart was aching, but he knew he had to get a better control of his emotions.  It hadn't been this difficult to keep his feelings in check in a long time, but then again, the stakes were the highest they'd ever been.  Daniel's life was on the line.  He began a detailed search of the area, but came up empty.  Not knowing where to turn, Jack sat on the step of the cabin and imagined ripping apart the bodies of Daniel's abductors limb by limb in agonizingly slow steps.

~I'll feed you to the sharks; there won't be anything left.~

====

“Sir, what happened?”

Sam had arrived in record time.  The despair in her CO's voice had terrified her, and they had been out of the Mountain within ten minutes of receiving Jack's call.  With her were Teal'c, Lou Ferretti, and Jeff Cornell.  Twenty minutes behind them were Doctor Janet Fraiser and a dozen Marines, specially chosen by Sam for their discretion and loyalty to Jack.  They would be bringing with them a variety of specialized equipment as well as supplies for their search.

Jack told his colleagues everything that had happened since his arrival.

“Okay, Sir.  Is there anything we need to ... take care of before the Marines arrive?”

Jack knew what she meant, and together, the two went inside, leaving the others to again check the area for anything Jack might have missed.  He helped Sam make sure the cabin was devoid of any sign of his love affair with Daniel.  Everyone knew they were best friends and frequently spent downtimes together, so they didn't worry about needing explanations for the cabin retreat itself, but the personal mementos that exhibited more than friendship had to be hidden.

Part of Jack didn't care what the Marines found out.  If Daniel really had run out of his nine lives, Jack wouldn't be around to care about his career.  So in a small way, hiding the evidence of their relationship gave the Special Ops colonel a small measure of comfort by acting as a statement of confidence that they would find Daniel, he would be okay, and the two would carry on with the Stargate Program as they had been doing until now.

Thus, Jack was able to survive the further hiding of his true relationship with Daniel.  Otherwise, knowing what his 2IC was doing would have been much more difficult for Jack to handle.

Sam stowed anything incriminating in her vehicle for safekeeping.  By the time they were done, the Marines were just driving up.  Quickly, she organized the formal search for her friend.  The group divided up into four teams, and each took a different direction.

Janet stayed at the cabin to run a variety of forensics tests on the cabin and Daniel's vehicle.  While forensics wasn't her specialty, there was no one else they could call in at the moment, and because of the wide variety of cases she'd had as the Chief of Medicine at the SGC over the years, her forensics knowledge was more substantial than the average non-forensics experts.

Teal'c led a team to the south, Lou to the north, Jeff to the east, and Jack and Sam took their team to the west.  All team members were fully equipped with standard recon gear, including radios, weapons, and packs.  Since there were no tire tracks leading to or from the cabin other than the ones created by the SGC vehicles, Jack's truck, and Daniel's car, they assumed Daniel had to have been led away, or carried away, on foot through the forested area.

The teams kept in frequent contact, but other than planned radio checks, none had anything to report.  It was as if Daniel had vanished into thin air.

**Danny, where are you?**

It was no use.  No matter how often Jack had tried to reach his lover with their silent communication, there was no response.  He knew they weren't even close to his lover's whereabouts.

**I'm going to find you.  You just do your job, Daniel.  Stay alive.  That's ... an order.**

Though he knew it was probably in vein, Jack continued to talk to his soulmate, hoping that somehow, Daniel would hear him.

====

After nine hours, there had been no sign of Daniel, and no trace of the abductors.  The teams had returned to the cabin to rest for a few hours and to decide on their next move.  The Marines had set up tents outside of the cabin.

Talking over the situation inside the cabin were Jack's trusted circle of friends -- Sam, Teal'c, Janet, Lou, and Jeff.

“They couldn't just disappear,” Jeff stated as he sipped his coffee in the small living area of the cabin.

“There's no trail beyond ten or fifteen yards to the north.  It's as if they wanted us to think ...” Sam stopped mid-sentence.  “Sir, what if they didn't take him through the woods?”

“The lake?  A boat?” Jack asked, sitting up a little straighter as he thought about the next logical mode of transportation away from the cabin.  “Why didn't I think of that earlier?”

“Don't beat yourself up, Jack.  None of us thought of it, either,” Lou soothed.

“None of you are ...” Jack stopped, giving his friend a nod, though he didn't really feel better.  ~I'm his husband.  I'm supposed to protect him.~

Sam immediately retrieved her laptop to check boating records for the lake.  If she couldn't find the answers there, she'd have to make some calls in the morning.  Still, due to the reclusiveness of the area, there were only a handful of places where a boat could have been landed.

“Could it be a local?  Maybe they stole one,” Janet offered.

“Jack, it's possible they could have used a boat and returned it.  The owners may not even know it was taken,” Lou pointed out.

“You're right, Lou, and it's still too dark out to search.  Crap!”  Jack stood up, shoving his chair across the floor resulting in a loud grating noise.  “Maybe they used a rowboat.  Harder work, but no way to trace it.”  He walked to the chair and kicked it against the wall, unable to contain his frustration.  “He could be dead.  Buried in some hole.  Alone.  We *have* to do something.”

“Jack, Sam's doing everything she can.  When it's daylight, we'll resume the search.  We'll find him,” Jeff spoke.

“Take a deep breath, Jack,” Lou urged as he patted his friend on the back.

“Relax?  Are you out of your friggin' mind?” Jack asked sarcastically as he picked up the chair and slammed it back down, breaking off one of the legs.

“Colonel, this isn't helping,” Sam cautioned.

Jack leaned forward, placing his hands over his knees as he shook his head.  He closed his eyes.

~I love you, Danny.~

“Jack ...” Lou began.

“Okay.”  The colonel nodded at Lou, indicating he was regaining his much-needed control.  Standing up straight again, Jack calmly said, “We need a boat.”

“I'm on it, Sir.”

Sam smiled reassuringly at her CO.  He needed her to be sharp, and she was doing her best to think of every possible angle.  She placed the call, arranging for three boats to be at their disposal at first light.

In the meantime, the others decided they'd better get some rest.

====

Jack lay down in the bed, their bed, Jack and Daniel's bed.  It was full of memories.  Every bump and lump in the old mattress reminded him of some quiet or intimate moment with his soulmate.  Finally, after tossing and turning for quite a while, he gave up on sleep.

Quietly, the despairing man walked outside to the edge of the water.  He looked out and, seeing the reflection of the moon in the water, realized it was a full moon.  Then, he looked down and spotted a dark circle.  He frowned and knelt down to examine it more closely.

“Crap!”

Jack hurried back inside, going to the second bedroom.  He didn't want to wake everyone if he could help it, so he gently tapped on the door and slowly peeked in.  Janet and Sam were asleep in the bed, safely under the covers.

“Carter!  Doc!”  Jack tried to wake them from the door, but having no luck, he had to resort to more active means.  He walked over to the bed and cleared his throat.  “Carter!  Doc!  OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WILL YOU LADIES WAKE UP?” he shouted in a raised whisper and then reached over and pushed on the mattress a little to jiggle the bed.

“What?  Sir?”

“Colonel O'Neill?” Janet called out in surprise.

“Listen, I'm sorry.  Doc, it's a full moon out.”

“Sir, we should wait for daylight ...” Sam began.

Shaking his head, Jack interrupted, “No, I think there's blood at the edge of the dock.  I don't know how we missed it earlier.  Doc, please.”

“I'll be right out, Colonel.”

“Thanks.”

Jack turned and closed the door on his way out, leaving the two women along.

As Janet got up, she commented, “He's really on edge, Sam.”

“He's scared to death, Janet.”

“To be honest, so am I.  Daniel's lived through some nasty situations.  One of these days, his luck is going to run out.”

Janet saw Sam's refusal to accept that possibility in her expression.  The blonde major was determined; it showed in her focused eyes and her firm tone of voice.

“Well, it's not going to run out this time.”

“No, of course not,” Janet replied softly as she continued to dress.  ~None of us will do very well if anything happens to Daniel.  Okay, Fraiser, suck it up.  You can't get weepy here.  Focus.~

====

“Colonel, this was *not* here earlier,” Sam stated as she looked around the area.

“What?”

“I checked this area, in detail,” Sam explained.  “There was no blood here.”

“Could it be from one of the Marines?” Janet asked Sam.

“I don't think so, Janet.  They would have said something, and I didn't notice any injuries,” the major replied.

“I checked this area, too, when I first started looking for Daniel.  When I saw it tonight, I figured I'd overlooked it because ...” Jack looked away for a moment, “but I didn't.  It wasn't here when I got here,” Jack said.

“I'll run tests on this right away.” Janet took swabs of the blood.  When she was done, she stated, “There's no way this blood was here when you arrived, Colonel.  I'd say it hasn't been here more than ten hours tops.  It's dry, but ...”

Janet was deep in thought, her words dying out as her brain processed possibilities.

Sam and Janet went back to the cabin, leaving Jack alone on the dock.  He sat down, his mind wondering about the cruel game being played.  Oddly enough, this discovery made him feel a little better.  They had time; Daniel was still alive. They weren't going to kill him.  They were going to torture him, and Jack, and it was going to be slow and drawn out.  That's why the blood had been placed there.  Jack was now positive of the motives.

These people, whoever they were, wanted him to turn rogue.  He considered the possibility that it was an offshoot of the NID that had been trying to turn him, or maybe it was an old Special Ops nemesis who had somehow found out about the Stargate program.  Maybe it was Kinsey.

Since the beginning of the threat, when Daniel had been kidnapped from their home almost a year earlier, Jack and Daniel had spent hours going over ideas about who it might be, but they could never find an answer that fit all the way across the board.

Jack had a lot of enemies.  Was this one of them?  Or simply someone who sought power?  And why Jack?  He was a bit of a rebel, sarcastic, and sometimes even childlike in his behavior.  He was the 2IC of the SGC, but why not go after Hammond as the NID had done once before?

~Maybe they don't want the SGC.  Maybe it's all been a game, a game designed to make my life miserable.  But who?  Why?  If they wanted to kill me, why not just do it?  Why bring Danny into it, and why not just get it over with?  It doesn't make any sense.~

Jack was frustrated as he looked out over the lake, and he feared for his lover.

**Daniel, I wish you could hear me.**

**J'ck?  Gawd, Jack.  Love you.**

**Danny?**

Jack stood up, the silent voice of his husband causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up.  If Daniel could hear him, he had to be fairly close.  Their near-telepathic communication was almost always done when in close proximity, though Jack also realized there had been a handful of exceptions to that over the years.

**J'ck.  Cold; so cold.**

**Do you know where you are?**

**No, it's ... dark.  So cold.  Can't move.  Love you, Jack.**

**I love you, too, Angel.  I'm going to find you.  Tell me what you remember.  What happened, Danny?**

**Thought it was you.  Didn't worry about the noise.  Hit me.  I tried, Jack.  Stabbed ... me.**

**I'll find you, Danny.  Tell me which direction they took you.**

**Put something over my head.  Dark.  Water.  I was on a boat.**

**How long, Danny?**

**Not long.  Cold.  Jack, I'm so cold.  Dark.  I don't like the dark.  Gawd, I feel like I'm six-years-old.**

**Daniel, listen to me.  It's going to be okay.  I'm coming after you.**
Jack had begun running along the edge of the lake.  **Danny, where did they hurt you?**  There was silence.  **Daniel?**

Jack stopped and began running in the opposite direction, covering the same ground until he was back at the cabin, and then he kept going.  He ran as fast as he could, trying to reestablish the contact.

**Daniel?  Please, Danny?  Can you hear me?**

**Jack, where'd you go?**

**The wrong direction, but I've got you now.**

**Tired.**

**No, you can't sleep.**

**Where are you, Jack?**

**Danny, do you sense me any stronger right now than at first?**

**Ye...yes.  Hur-ry.**

**So demanding, my Love.  Daniel, how long on the boat?  Think ... five minutes?  Ten?  It's important.**

**Not ... long.  Why is it so dark?  Hungry.  Want coffee.  Am I whining?**

**It's okay; you're entitled to whine.**  Jack ran on, the full moon aiding his search.  The only other item he had to help him see through the thickness of the forest was a flashlight.  **Danny, when they took you off the boat, what happened?**

**Dragged me on ground.  Hit me.  Hands tied.**

**Did they take you somewhere in a car or anything?**

**No ... don't know.  Jack, they ... needle.  I felt a needle.  Woke up ... cold.**

**Drugs.  Daniel, did they use those drugs like before?  Does it feel the same?**

**Jack, hard to concentrate.**

Jack thought.  What was the point of leaving Daniel so close, if he was close?  There was only one logical answer:  It was a game, and Jack was the pawn.

~They want me to find him, but if that's true, then how would they make sure I did?  There has to be something I'm missing.~  **Danny?  Still with me?**

**Yes.**

**I need you to think for me.  Come on, Love.  Thinking is your specialty.**

**Try.  I'll try.**

**Okay.  When we come to the cabin, we normally just stay there.  But if someone was watching us, or someone thought they knew us, where or what would they associate with us?  Oh crap, Danny, I didn't ask that well.**

**I know what you mean.  Places associated with us near ... cabin.  Right?**

**Yeah.  Where have we gone?**

**Picnic.**

Jack thought, remembering past outings, and replied, **Yes.  You're right.  I'm coming, Danny.  It won't be long now.**

Over the years, when the couple visited their Colorado cabin, they would on occasion go for long walks.  Sometimes, they would pack a picnic lunch and go to a spot deeper in the woods.  It was a getaway spot from their getaway spot, located only a mile or so from the cabin.

At last, Jack reached the location.  With all the trees, it was hard to see, even with the full moon, but then his heart stopped as he saw the freshly dug dirt.

**Danny?  Talk to me.**

**Love you.  You sound ... clearer.**

**Yeah, you, too.  Hang on.  Just a minute, Love; I've got you.**  Suddenly, Jack wondered if Daniel could hear him if he spoke.  “Daniel, can you hear me?”  Jack frantically dug with his hands, desperately removing pile after pile of dirt.  “Daniel?”

**Jack, is that you?**

Jack smiled, hearing the silent words, and said with a raised voice, “I'm here, Danny.  Hold on.  Just a few more minutes.”  With a speed that he didn't know he possessed, Jack dug through the ground.  He wasn't surprised to see that the large box was only buried two feet deep.  ~Oh, yeah, I was supposed to find him.  This is a game.  A lousy, stinking, rotten ...~

**J'ck, so tired.**

**No, Daniel.  Just another minute or two.  Don't close your eyes.  I'm here.**  “Danny,” Jack called out as he tapped the box.

“J'ck?” a weakened voice responded.

“Yes, one minute.”  Jack reached into his pocket for his knife and then began to work on opening the box while at the same time encouraging his lover to hang on.  “I'm right here, Love.  Almost.  Just another minute.  Hang on, Danny.  I love you.  I've just about got it.  Just ... al...most ... yes!”

Jack finished prying open the box that Daniel had been stuffed into.  The wooden box was perfectly symmetrical, measuring four-feet wide by four-feet high by four-feet deep.  With his six-foot frame, Daniel had been jammed into it with just enough room to move his arms slightly.

“Oh, gawd, Daniel,” Jack spoke, then reached in and carefully pulled out his lover.

“Jack?”

Daniel's eyelids blinked several times.  He was shaking, weakened from his ordeal.  His legs and arms were cramped and stiff from being kept in a near fetal position for almost a full day.  He was hungry, but oddly enough, the captors had placed a large bottle of water in his right hand which Daniel had been able to move just enough so that he could drink the liquid.  The bottled water was the only thing that had kept him from becoming dehydrated.

Jack also noticed a couple of air holes had been punched in the sides of the box.  Small tubes led from the holes to the surface of the ground providing enough air to prevent Daniel from suffocating.

~They wanted him to live, or they wouldn't have left the water or cut those holes.  Why?~  Jack held Daniel to his chest, rocking him gently.  “I love you.  I love you so friggin' much, Daniel.  Geez, I didn't know what to do.  You're safe now.”

Jack rubbed Daniel's arms and back, trying to warm him.  He kissed the chilled head that rested on his shoulder.

“Ow.  Gawd, my thigh ... cramps.”

“Hold on, Love,” Jack said, moving to massage his lover's thighs, trying to relax the constricting muscles.  “Any better?” he asked after a couple of minutes.

“Yes.  Man, that hurt.  Jack, I was so scared I was going to die in that box.”

“I know, Angel, but it's okay, now.  Danny, you said they stabbed you.”

Daniel moved his hand that was covering the injury.  It was dirty, but it didn't look to Jack like it was a deep cut.  Not having anything much to use as a bandage, Jack pulled out a handkerchief.

“Keep holding on to this in case it starts to bleed.”  He saw Daniel nod as he moved his hand to hold the white cotton material in place.  “We'll rest here for a couple of minutes, and then we need to get back to the cabin.  Do you think you can walk?”

“Oh, sure.  I didn't die this time.  Walking is ... a piece ... of cake,” Daniel tried to tease.

“Piece of cake.  You got that right.”

Jack wanted to be relieved, but something was haunting him about this set up.  It was too easy for something that was supposed to be hard, for a loss that was supposed to be permanent.  Again, he wished he had been better prepared.  He'd made a big mistake.  He had been so anxious to rescue Daniel that he had gone alone, and almost as bad, without any gear.

Daniel had on a long-sleeve blue flannel shirt and jeans.  Jack was wearing a tan flannel shirt and jeans.  He, at least, was wearing a jacket.

After a few minutes, Jack didn't feel like they could risk staying where they were.  There were just way too many unanswered questions.

“We have to go now, Danny.”  Jack helped Daniel up and held him in his arms.  The young man started to fall back down, but Jack held him up with all of the strength he possessed.  ~Wish I had brought my radio.~ “One step at a time.”

Daniel nodded, but for a moment, he just needed to be held, and Jack was okay with that.

“Cabin,” Daniel whispered as Jack caressed his back.

“Isn't this touching?” a harsh, taunting voice came from behind Jack and Daniel.

Jack wanted to turn around quickly to face the threat, but if he did, Daniel would fall.  It ended up being a moot point as the next thing both men felt was a dart entering their skin.  In spite of his best efforts to hold his lover up, his body weakened due to the tranquilizer that they had just been hit with.

Daniel sank to the ground, ending up on his knees.  He wobbled a bit back and forth.  He looked over at the enemy, but was unable to focus on his attacker, seeing only shadows.

“Why?” the younger man asked before slumping to the ground on his side.

At the same time, Jack ripped out the dart, tossing it aside, and called out, with a voice full of venom, “WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?”  A moment later, he fell to the ground and rolled over on his back.  He groaned.  “Geez, Danny,” he said just before his eyes closed, the drug having taken effect.

====

When Jack awoke a few hours later, the first sensation he registered was the cold floor beneath him.  He slowly began to sit up when he remembered what had happened.

“Danny?” he called out, turning around to look for his lover.

Daniel was hunched up against the opposing wall, several feet away.  The room they were in was barren: no furniture or fixtures (except for a thin florescent light on the ceiling), nothing but four gray walls and a concrete floor.  Jack estimated the room to be no bigger than an eight-foot square, just enough for the two tall men to stretch out on the ground.

“Danny,” Jack said as he gently rolled his lover over.  “Hey.”  Jack let out a sigh of relief when he saw the blinking eyes gazing back at him.  “That's my Angel.”

“J'ck?”

“It's okay.  Let me see how that stab wound is ...”

“How is it?” Daniel asked and then tried to lift his head to see.

“Looks like they bandaged it, but I need to check it.  Hold on.”  Jack lifted the bandage and, in the lighted room, was relieved to see the wound was small.  “Do you remember the knife they used?”

“No, just the feeling of being cut.”

“I think you got lucky, Danny.  Looks like they probably used a knife with a small blade and didn't do any real damage; either that, or you've gotten flabby.”

“Very funny, Jack.”

“Sorry,” Jack said softly as he reapplied the bandage, “but it's a good thing you didn't bleed very much.”

“I'll make a note.  Jack says not bleeding is a good thing,” Daniel said in a mock tease, something both he and Jack often did to cover up the grim reality of a situation.

“I'm glad you haven't lost your sense of humor.  How do you feel?”

Daniel said nothing, but his eyes answered the question.  He felt awful, physically and mentally.  He was scared, for both of them.  Most of all, he just wanted to go home.

At that moment, Jack realized their captors had taken his jacket, probably to keep him from giving it to Daniel, which he had been about to do.  He also noted a strange thing: their watches had been removed, but their wedding rings had been put on their fingers.  He reached back to feel his jeans' pocket, realizing his wallet was gone.

“Come here, you.”  Gently, Jack helped Daniel to sit up, taking the opportunity to check for Daniel's wallet; it, too, was gone.  They leaned against the wall.  Jack placed his right arm around his lover's shoulder and drew him in close so that Daniel was able to rest his head against Jack's shoulder.  “It's going to be okay.  We'll get out of here soon.”

“Where are we?”

“That's a good question.”

“You mean you don't know.”

“Not a clue, Love,” Jack admitted as he enjoyed the simple act of Daniel breathing against his neck.  It meant life, and life was good.  “Danny, they took our wallets.”

“Jack, our rings,” Daniel said with alarm, finding the energy to jolt forward.

“We're wearing them,” Jack responded calmly, pulling Daniel back to rest against him.

“No, we didn't ...”  Daniel stopped, suddenly feeling the ring on his finger.  “But we didn't put them on.”

“I know.  Our watches are gone, too, so, whatever they're after, they don't want us knowing the time for sure, or have identification and money at our disposal, but who we are; that is, being married, is apparently a part of this.”

“Tired, Jack.”

“Sleep, Danny.”  Jack went over all the details, hoping to find an answer, but all he knew for sure was that he had to protect his husband at all costs.  ~I have to get him out of here.  Think, O'Neill.~

====

Two hours passed.  Daniel was shivering in Jack's arms, and Jack could feel the warmth emanating from the younger man.  Daniel was nuzzled into Jack's neck, and Jack had both of his arms securely around his lover.

~We have to get out of here.  Too much risk: fever, infection, who knows what else.  I've got to get you home.~  Jack wanted to reassure his lover.  “We'll get out of here soon.”  How many times had he said that, or similar words, over the past couple of hours?  It was too many to count, but he didn't know what else to say, especially since Daniel was now even warmer to the touch.  “It won't be long until we get out of here,” he said again.

“Right.”

“We'll go home and sit in front of the fireplace.”

“Big fire.”

“The biggest.”

“The girls in their beanbag ... asleep,” Daniel stated, desperately wanting Jack's words to become a reality.

“Yeah, they love that beanbag,” Jack agreed.

The colonel wished they were home with Bijou and Katie, their two beagles.  He was glad they had, at the last minute, decided to leave them home under the watchful eye of their neighbor, Mrs. Valissi.

Just then, a square plate in the room's only door opened.  Jack nudged Daniel and then moved, intending to scamper towards the door.

“Don't move a muscle, Colonel, or Lover Boy there will suffer the consequences.  Pretty, isn't he?”

White-hot rage boiled within Jack.  “Touch him and you die,” he warned vehemently, his face not hiding the death threat that his words verbalized.

“We're all *so* afraid of you,” the mysterious voice said, mocking Jack.

Jack watched as a package was dropped inside, and then the metal plate was put back into place.  He scooted over and examined the container.

~They don't want us to die, that's for sure.  Should I give these to Danny?  How can I be sure what they are?~  Jack glanced at his weakened lover, seeing the beads of sweat dripping down his pale face. ~He needs medicine.  Everything they've done says they want to torture us, not kill us.  What's the name of this stuff?  Paracetamol.  Think, O'Neill.  Have you heard of this before?  Maybe.  Read the label on the bottle.  Okay.  Okay.  Allergies.  Says it's not harmful, but Danny does have allergies.~  Jack looked again at his soulmate.  He had to go with his gut instinct.  ~I don't have a choice; I have to risk it.~

Jack took the items over to Daniel.

“Here, Love, take these, and sip this, slowly.”

Daniel swallowed the Paracetamol and then drank from a bottle of water Jack held for him.  Next, the older man wrapped the two blankets around Daniel and again held him close.  Soon, Daniel was asleep.

“I love you, Angel.  We'll get out of this, I promise.”  Jack kissed his lover's head and rested his cheek there.  “I have to figure this out.”

====

Daniel slept for several hours.  Mostly, Jack held his lover to him, but he also took the time to carefully check out the room, what little there was, which wasn't much but the walls and floor.  When Daniel awoke, it was to the secure feeling of being in Jack's arms and to the smell of hot food that had just been placed through the door.

~What is with these people?~

Again, Jack chose to take advantage of the gift of food.  Daniel's fever had been eradicated, thanks to the medicine.  Some warm food might just do the final trick in helping his lover to feel better.  Believing himself to be choiceless, Jack took the food to Daniel and insisted he eat at least some of it.

====

“Jack, what do you think they want?” Daniel asked later.

He was feeling much better, but, at Jack's insistence, was lying down, his head in his lover's lap.  Jack's fingers gently massaged Daniel's forehead, occasionally running through the archaeologist's silky hair.

“I'm not sure.  They say one thing, but do another.  I think it's a game, and we're the tokens.”

“You mean it's a maze, and we're the rats?”

Full of guilt for their current situation, Jack nodded and apologized for Daniel being a part of the nightmare.

“I'm sorry, Love.”

It was obvious to Jack that Daniel was suffering because of him.  It had been clear all along that the people responsible for trying to get at Jack were using Daniel to try and make their point; they'd actually admitted that much in their notes.  The archaeologist had been kidnapped, tortured, and addicted to an alien drug, all in the evildoers' quest to somehow get Jack to do their bidding.

“Not your fault.”

“Someone out there doesn't like me, and you're suffering for it.”

“A lot of people don't like us.  No guilt, Jack.  We're a package deal, a team, no matter what.”

“No matter what, Love,” Jack agreed softly, though still feeling responsible.

A moment later, they heard the sound of the door opening.  Daniel scooted up to lean his shoulder against Jack's.  Three men entered, their faces covered with masks.

“No!” Daniel objected when two of the men grabbed Jack and dragged him out of the space.

Daniel began to charge forward, but the third man punched him in the stomach, near the stab wound.  He collapsed to the ground, holding his abdomen as he sat on his knees.

**Jack, I love you.**

**Be safe, Danny.  It'll be ...**

There was silence, Jack's thoughts cut off.

**Jack?  JACK?**

The connection had ended.  Daniel feared for his heart, for the man he loved with more passion and love than he had ever known could exist.  He leaned back up against the wall, his mind searching for some kind of peace.

“The fire ... our girls ... love.”

Daniel's head leaned back against the wall, a single tear falling from his right eye and down his cheek as he waited for his lover's return.

====

Jack was taken to another room, much larger than the one he had shared with Daniel.  He was tied to a chair with a thick cord that went around his waist, and his hands were bound together behind him with flexi-cuffs.  A thick, black blindfold was placed over his eyes, and another thick cord roped Jack's legs together and then to the chair.

He felt thick cords or knots, or something of that nature, pressing between his back and the chair in a few places, but couldn't figure out why the cords, or whatever they were, were there.

“Okay, I'm a lamb ready for the slaughter.  Your point?” Jack asked sarcastically, hearing the footsteps of the men walking around the room.  No one responded, but the sounds of footsteps continued.  Jack whistled for a minute, then said, “You know, this is kind of a drag.  Aren't you going to get tired?”  More silence, broken only by the sounds of the shoes connecting with the hard floor.  “Have you considered a variation, perhaps a waltz.  Or a tango?  Of course, I'm a fox trot man myself.”

“You have a sharp mouth, Jack.”

~Yes!~  Finally, there had been a response.  That was progress.  “Oh, you do know how to talk.  That's refreshing.  Now, how about telling me what the heck is going on.”

“Pretty Boy already has.”

Jack's blood seethed at the term, but he couldn't show it.  He calmly asked, “Rats in a maze?”

“You disappointed a lot of people, Jack.  That wasn't smart.”

“Now see, I've never been accused of being smart before.”

“The dumb colonel bit, eh?  Doesn't wash, Jack.  The people who employ me know better.  They expected your cooperation.  They warned you.”

“Neutrinos.”

“Neutrinos?”

“Yeah, they go through things no matter how dense.  I don't think the neutrinos that get inside me ever find a way out.  Clogs my brain,” Jack volleyed back at his captor.

“Anything you say, Jack.  I'd laugh, but ... well, I have no idea what you're talking about so we'll just move along.”

“New topic?  Are you sure you can handle it?”  The next thing Jack felt was a sharp hit to his abdomen.  He grunted from the unexpected impact.  Then he heard a loud clang, and suddenly, the floor gave way.

Then he realized what the cords were against his back.  They were roped cables that affixed the chair to the ceiling because when the floor gave way, the chair dangled briefly in the air.  Then, Jack heard a grinding noise, and he felt the chair lowering as the cable moved downwards.  A moment later, the chair dropped to its resting place, falling into icy cold water that went to Jack's waist.

“This is a little ... refreshing,” he quipped.

There was no response, just the sound of the footsteps and then the sound of a closing door.

~Okay, what did we learn?  Maybe that I'm about to freeze to death?  How ... unoriginal.~

**Danny?**

**Jack?**

**Are you okay, Angel?**

**They brought in food.**

**Eat it, Danny.**

**Not hungry.  Jack, where are you?**

**No clue.  I'm, uh, a little tied up at the moment.**

**Did they hurt you?**

**A punch or two.  I've had a lot worse.**

**Jack, what's happening right now?**

Jack considered coloring his situation to spare Daniel, but his lover would know he was lying.

**Danny, I'm tied up in a chair, blindfolded, too.  Crap, I feel like a calf in a rodeo.**

**But you're okay otherwise?**

**For now.  They've lowered the chair into water.  It's ... cold, very cold.  I don't know what they have planned.**

**Did they tell you anything more?  I mean, what they want?**

**You were right.  We're the rats.  They're exacting revenge by torture.  I'm sorry, Danny.  I love you.**

**I love you, too.  Jack, think ... Netu.  Warmth.  Think hot things like roaring fires.**

**I'll think about you.**

**Jack ...**

**Danny, you're the hottest thing I know.  Hotter than hot.**

**Gawd, Jack.  Jack, I ...**

The connection ended.

**Danny?  DANIEL?**

Jack struggled to get free, but he couldn't budge even a finger.  Being a rat in a maze was definitely not high on his list of things to be.

====

Daniel hadn't even felt the tranquilizer dart that had flown through an opening in the door.  In his weakened condition, the drug had taken full effect in only two minutes, and he had quietly succumbed to unconsciousness.  When he awoke, he was in yet another room, lying on a cot.  He looked around, and saw he was alone.  Slowly, he sat up, his mind still a bit groggy.  Then, he remembered.

**Jack? ... Talk to me, Jack ... Jack, can you hear me?**

There was no response.  Daniel wasn't sure what the silence meant, but it scared him.  He wondered how long he had been out.  This room was unlike the other.  It had furniture, though very basic, a carpet, and even a toilet.  It was possible he had been moved 'out of range' from his communication link with his lover.

Glancing briefly at the door, Daniel conducted a detailed search of the room.  A drawer in a small table by the cot had a few Band-Aids in it, plus three rubber bands and a paper clip.  Daniel put the items in his pocket.  It wasn't much, but he didn't know if they would come in handy or not.

====

“How's it going, Jack?”

“Oh, I'm just ... chillin'.”

The voice laughed, then snapped his fingers.  At the sound and motion, Jack heard a man moving towards him.

“I brought you a present.”

“And it's not even my birthday.”

“Knowing how you and Lover Boy like to share, I knew you'd want to experience this.”

“It's so kind of you,” Jack smirked, wishing he could see what was going on.  He was already cold, his feet growing more numb with each passing minute, and he'd made little progress in trying to get the flexi-cuffs off.  All of a sudden, he felt his shirt sleeve being pulled up.  ~Oh, crap!~ Seconds later, he felt the prick of the needle against his arm as the man injected him with something.  “Another sleep inducement?” he asked, preferring it to be a tranquilizer and not anything else.

“Oh, no.  This is magic.  It's what we gave Lover Boy.  Of course, this is only your first dose.  Pleasant ... nightmares, Jack.”

The voice snapped his fingers again, and a second man carried a small tape recorder over by Jack.  He turned it on.  There was music, grating music, loud, steel instruments and out of tune violins, guitars, and pianos.  Haunting laughter filtered through the so-called music.

“Listen, Jack.  Listen and learn,” the voice said as he and the men left the room.

The tape grated on Jack's nerves, and then he heard the voices, voices that taunted Jack with words of Daniel's infidelities.  Words that spoke to Jack's insecurities, of how young and sexy Daniel was, and how old and broken down Jack was in comparison.

~No, I don't think so.~

Jack struggled to tune out the words.  He knew what the goal was: to make him think Daniel was using him, cheating on him, that their love wasn't true.  That's what they had tried to do to Daniel, and it been quite a struggle for a while until the young man realized that Jack wasn't the evil being his brainwashers had said.  The mind-altering drug was alien to Earth, but it was powerful.

~No, can't listen.  Think about ... snow angels.  We made snow angels in Boston.  We're going to have traditions, lots of traditions.  Love Danny ... he ... loves me.  SHUT UP!~

Jack wanted to kick the tape recorder, but he couldn't move, and his mind was beginning to play tricks on him, even as the cold threatened to overtake his body.

~I ... won't ... listen.  Heart ... Heart and soul ... my life ... my ... Danny.~

====

Hours passed, and finally, the door to the room Daniel was in opened.  Two masked men walked in.  One aimed a rifle at Daniel while the other placed food on the floor, and then they backed out, locking the door again.  They had refused to answer Daniel's questions about where he was and what they had done with Jack.

The young man stared at the food.  He wasn't hungry, but Jack was out there somewhere, and Daniel was desperate to find him.  He had to be strong, and that meant taking in nourishment, so reluctantly, Daniel ate the piece of bread and drank the cup of soup that had been given to him.  Thirty minutes later, the men returned, taking the tray and cup back out of the room.

~Okay.  Game time.  I remember, Jack.  I can do this.~

Walking to the door, Daniel took out the paper clip he had found.  He carefully straightened it, making a small notch-like hook on one end.  Holding his breath, he inserted the metal clip into the door and delicately jiggled it, his mind racing with the lesson Jack had taught him years earlier.

//Flashback//
“Want you.”

Daniel pushed Jack against the door.  They had almost died on this mission, and Jack had risked his life to save Daniel and the team.  For a moment, Daniel had seen a dark future, and then suddenly, SG-3 had come to the rescue.  A battle ensued, but the Marines proved victorious over the fighting Jaffa and their Goa'uld masters.

Something had ignited in the younger man.  It was an urgent need to be one with Jack, to join their bodies in a mighty union that would erupt grander than ever before.

As they headed for the bedroom, they tore off their clothes, article by article until both were naked.

“Just a second, Danny.  I'll be right back.”

Jack ran out of the bedroom, leaving an astonished Daniel behind.

“Just a second?  Be right back?  HEY!”

Daniel was ready to burst, and he thought he might since just the thought of Jack and those gorgeous chest hairs that stood out alluringly on his lover's firm figure made him tingle all over.  It was one of the younger man's favorite things about Jack's body, and he always loved to nuzzle and toy with those hairs.

~Mine, all mine,~ he thought possessively as he waited anxiously.

Jack returned, holding two chocolate truffles and a piping hot cup of Starbuck's coffee.  It was Daniel's favorite blend.  Jack flashed his Irish smile, waving the truffles, the coffee, and himself in front of the archaeologist.

“Gawd.  Want ... want it all!”  Daniel was about out of his mind.  Just as he was about to pounce, Jack looked over at the nightstand.  “See that?”

“SEE WHAT?  JACK, WE HAVE SOMETHING TO DO HERE!”

“Oh, and we will, Angel.  Believe me we will.  See the paper clip?”

“Yes, Jack, I see the freakin' paper clip.”

“Good.”

Jack flaunted his body, passed one of the truffles in front of Daniel's mouth, letting the younger man just lick it for a second, and then passed the coffee with its strong aroma under Daniel's nose.  Then, he made a beeline for the bathroom, locking the door.

“JACK?”

“Sorry, Love, but you've been having a difficult time with lesson 28C.”

“28C,” Daniel groaned.

“Get the paper clip, unlock the door, and then you can have me, the coffee, and the truffles.”

“I can go downstairs, Jack.”

“All gone.  These are the last two pieces of chocolate and the last cup of Starbuck's in the entire house; and, of course, I'm in here.”

Daniel was red with a combination of anger and frustration.  Yes, it was true.  He hadn't mastered the lock-picking lesson with less sophisticated tools.  He was able to do it with locksmith tools, but Jack had been telling him for months that situations might come up where he'd have to use whatever he could find, and that might be just a paper clip.

“Paper clips are easily ignored.  People don't realize all you can do with something so small.  It could save our lives,” Jack had preached.

Daniel had argued.  He couldn't imagine the scenario when he'd need to pick a lock, but one thing he did know, he wanted Jack, and he wanted him badly.  He was going to pick that lock, have his way with the man, and then kill him.

Nervously, Daniel tried to shape the paper clip as Jack had shown him on multiple occasions.  He grumbled, groaned, and cursed in numerous languages as Jack spoke dirty to him through the door.  It was Jack's form of motivation.

“Maybe I'll just kill him,” Daniel thought as he finally inserted the clip into the bathroom door.

“You, me, sex ... what I thought I'd do to you ...”

Daniel was harder than a rock.  He wasn't sure he'd ever been this hard before.  He might just die on the spot.  He calmed himself, remembering Jack's words: “Slide it through, gently.  Just ease it up on the end, just slightly.  Back it out, very slowly.  Press up oh so slightly.  Little precise movements.”

“Yes!” Daniel exclaimed when he heard the tumble of the lock turn.

“Way to go, Dannnnnmphhh.”

Daniel decided not to kill Jack.  The sex was too good.  However, Jack had become his slave for the weekend, under the threat of Daniel going to play with hard rocks of another variety.
//End of Flashback//

~Okay, Jack.  I remember.  Gently.  Up a little.  Ease back.  Small movements, very precise.  I can ... yes!  I did it!  Gawd, Jack.  I'll be your slave for the weekend when we get home; maybe the whole week.~

Noticing the key for the door hanging on a nearby hook, Daniel locked the door behind him as he quietly searched the area for his lover.  He realized they were in a large building.  He was in a huge foyer, with several rooms on all sides of it, and several columns running the length of the area.

The ceiling was high, and where he was, everything was gray and cold, including the cement floor.  He saw a stairway at the other end of the foyer.  There were also four small rectangular windows towards the ceiling.  Seeing that the stairs only went up, he wondered if they were in the basement of a building.  As he moved towards the stairs, he heard a noise.

Hiding behind a large column, Daniel watched two men put masks over their faces and open a door near the stairs.  Two minutes later, they exited, pulling off their masks.  He could hear laughter, but he couldn't make out their faces from his vantage point.  The men went up the stairs.

After a minute, Daniel made his way to the door, and using the paper clip, unlocked the door and entered.  He was proud of himself for shortening the length of time it took him to master the lock.  The room was silent, the tape having ended after three hours of repetitive play.

To his right, Daniel saw his lover, nearly blue, and quickly ran to him.  Jack was tied to the chair, his body had been lowered into freezing cold water.  He was shivering.

“Jack?”  Daniel dropped down into the water, instantly shivering himself at the freezing temperature.  He was grateful that the water was only deep enough to cover the lower half of Jack's body.  Daniel cupped his lover's face, shaking firmly.  “Jack, look at me.”

The older man looked confused and dazed.  He stared at Daniel, desperately trying to focus.  Daniel rubbed his lover's face and arms.

“Jack, listen to me.  I think you're on the verge of hypothermia.  Hear me, Jack.  I need you.  Come on, Babe.  Please.”

“Danny?” Jack responded groggily, not sure if he was dreaming or not.

He felt Daniel's skin on his, but it took it a minute to realize the younger man was rubbing briskly against his face and upper body.

“We have to be quiet.  We're getting out of here.”

Jack swallowed hard.  His teeth were chattering together from the cold that had swept through his body.

“You're ... mii...innnnne,” Jack said through his clanging teeth.

“Yes, I am,” Daniel affirmed, though wondering why Jack had said what he had.  “All yours.”

Daniel worked diligently to untie the shivering man, but it took several minutes, the knots being complex and tight.  Finally, Daniel released the last rope, and then he turned his attention to the flexi-cuffs.

“I can't get these off.  I need something to cut it with.”

Daniel looked around the room, his eyes settling on the tape player.  He opened it up and removed one of the pieces of copper wiring.  He used the wiring to rub against the flexi-cuffs, hoping to fray the plastic bindings.

“Rats,” he said softly a few minutes later, once again feeling like a rodent trapped in a maze.  The cuffs had loosened, which was good, but it was at that point that Daniel realized just how easily he'd cut into the flexi-cuffs.  ~They cut them at the end.  Why?~

Jack, who was slightly more lucid now, began to tug and try to work the cuffs off himself.

“Jack, don't.  They're going to come off.”

“Are you sure?”

“Rats in the maze, Jack.”  Daniel continued his efforts.  “What happened to your jacket?”

“Don't know; I guess they took it.  They did that a while ago, Danny.”

“Oh, yeah.  I was kind of out of it for a while.  I remember now; you didn't have it when we came to in that ... room.”

It took a while, but eventually, Daniel was able to create enough tension in the cuffs by using the wiring of the tape player that he could pull them off.

“Danny, can't move.”

“You have to, Jack.  We have to get out of here.  Come on.”

By sheer willpower, Daniel pulled Jack off the chair and out of the water onto the floor.  The older man had been like a dead weight, his legs too numb to work.

“Danny, go,” Jack pleaded.

“No, and don't waste time or energy on something that you know is ridiculous.  I'm not going anywhere without you, and you know that.  We don't have time to debate the undebatable, Jack.”

Jack nodded.  Daniel wouldn't leave him, just like Jack would never leave Daniel behind.

“Now, listen.  There are windows.  They're small ...”  Daniel stopped.  He had just noticed another one of those small rectangular windows, only not as high up, in this room which meant they didn't have to go back to the foyer.  This would be easier than he thought.  “We'll go through that window.”

“Numb, Danny.”

Daniel briskly rubbed all over Jack's body, kneeling to try and warm his lover's legs that really needed to function now, as he said, “You want me to live?  Then move, O'Neill, or I'm going to die right here and now.”

Motivation in the form of Daniel's life was unlike anything else in the world.  Somehow, from deep inside, Jack found a strength he would have sworn he didn't have.  With Daniel's assistance, they moved to the window.  Daniel retrieved the chair Jack had been tied to.  He stood on it and pushed open the window, surveying the area outside as he did so.

“Okay, I'll push you up ...”

“No, you go first.”

“Nice try.  I'll push you up.  Scoot out, and then I'll follow.  Jack, this is a big house ... or maybe even a mansion.  There are woods several yards away.  We need to get into the woods.  Come on.”

Knowing he wouldn't convince Daniel to go first, Jack called on every ounce of his Special Ops training to find the mental toughness to will himself out the window.  Still a bit numb and having difficulty focusing, Jack dragged himself through.  Then, Daniel climbed up, pulling himself out.  He grabbed Jack, half pulling, half dragging him into the woods.

They went as deep as they could until Jack collapsed to the ground, mumbling, “So cold, Daniel.  Cold.”

Daniel held his lover in his arms, encouraging, “Think warm thoughts.  Jack, we have to keep moving.  We don't know where we are or how long it will be until they find us.  We have to keep moving.”

“Mind is willing.  Legs are noncommittal,” Jack said, grateful that he had stopped shaking at the moment.

“I love you, Jack.  We're moving -- Now!  No arguments ... from any part of your body.”

Words from the tape suddenly thundered in Jack's mind.  He heard a man say “Love is just a game to Daniel.  He used you to keep him safe at the SGC.  He's cheating on you.  Nurses.  The nurses at the SGC want Daniel, and he wants them.  It's where he goes when he leaves you.  Love?  Love is nothing to Daniel, and you are his fool.”

“No, not a fool.”

“What?  Jack, please, you have to focus.”

Jack nodded, and they continued on, but soon, the older man was at the end of his endurance.  He was sure he'd collapse, but fortunately, that was when Daniel found a group of bushes that looked like it might shield them from anyone passing by.  He pulled Jack inside the thick, green shrubbery, and then found more branches and greenery to camouflage the few openings that remained.

Daniel moved to Jack and didn't like what he saw.  Although the shivering had stopped, he could feel the beginnings of a fever.  He feared Jack was also becoming dehydrated, but what scared him most of all were the bluish tint to his lover's fingernails.  He placed Jack's head in his lap and leaned over to kiss the hot forehead of his lover.

“I love you, Jack.”  ~Don't you dare stop fighting.~

There was a time when Daniel couldn't say those three words without Jack saying them first.  It had taken years of trust and assurances that happiness is truly possible, that the pain of a lost childhood didn't have to control him forever.  Now, Daniel couldn't say the words often enough, and it didn't matter who said them first, or even if Jack responded in kind.

“Love you, too.  Danny, I'm so cold.  Cold.”

Daniel pulled off the top layers of Jack's clothing, knowing the dampness was only making it worse.  Jack tried to help, but he was too weak.

“Cc...old, Danny.”

“Cold?  No, Love.  It's hot, very hot.”  Daniel had to get into Jack's mind or he feared he would lose him.  “Here,” Daniel pulled Jack up to him so that Jack's head was resting on Daniel's right shoulder.  Daniel's hands held Jack to him, and his chin leaned against Jack's damp hair.  Jack's right arm lay almost limply atop Daniel's.  “It's hot, Babe, steaming even.  You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because we're here.  You and me, our bodies together.  Your skin and mine, touching.  It's so hot.”

Jack smiled, then said, “Body heat?”

“Oh, yeah, but not just any body heat -- ours.”  Daniel vigorously rubbed Jack's back and then setting Jack down on the ground gently, began a thorough rubdown of Jack's lower body.  “Feel the heat love?”

“Feel you.”

Daniel needed a number of things to happen.  He had little to warm his lover with but himself; yet, he knew Jack's survival training and instincts were the best.  It was a battle of mind versus matter for the near-hypothermic colonel, and it was up to Daniel to make sure the mind won.

“Good.”  Daniel didn't stop.  Jack's color was returning and that confused look was less apparent.  Jack's chocolate brown eyes were more focused on Daniel again.  The archaeologist massaged and rubbed Jack's calves, thighs, and abdomen.  He kissed his lover in between his 'work'.  “It's very hot, Jack.  By the way, I'm your slave.”

“Slave?”  Jack perked up.  He lifted his upper body so that he was leaning on his elbows.  “Slave?”

“All yours.  You can do anything you like.  Anything,” Daniel said, pursing his lips seductively as he spoke.

“Okay.  I'll take ... but why?”

“Picking the lock.  Remember when you locked yourself in the bathroom?”  Daniel saw his soulmate's grin.  It had been a wild night, and clearly, Jack hadn't forgotten it.  “I never thought I'd need it, but once again, you were right, Babe.  You made me learn something I didn't want to ... again.  You forced me, and it's saved our lives.”  Daniel looked off, bobbing his head slightly, and then adding, “Again.”

“Don't change, Danny,” Jack stated.

Daniel smiled.  They'd had this discussion quite a bit.  Jack hated the things he had taught the younger man, but over and over again, those teachings had somehow come into use.

“My Slave,” Jack stated a moment later in anticipation of the event.

“For a whole weekend.  No, make that for an entire week.  Hot enough for you?”

“Geez, get over here,” Jack beckoned.

“Na-uh.  You come here.”

Jack grinned, and like a hunter about to shoot his prey, he found his legs worked just fine as he pounced on his lover.

“Everything working okay, Jack?”

Jack looked between their bodies and smiled.

“You tell me.”

It was crazy and insane, but nothing Jack and Daniel ever did would make sense to the average person.  They made love quickly and quietly, but when they were done, they knew two things.  Jack was in full working order, and it was definitely hot where they were.

====

“How are you feeling,” Daniel asked his husband a while later.

“Better.  You have a such an influence over me.”

Daniel ran his hand along Jack's cheek.  The touch made him tingle in pleasure.

“It's mutual.  Jack,” Daniel's tone changed from soothing and gentle to a more stern timber, “you need to rest a little longer, and I need to go find us some water.”

“Daniel, I don't think ...”

“My turn to think.”

“You always think.”

“Well, right now I'm thinking like you, not me.  We need water, and you aren't quite up to a long walk.  Stay here, and be very quiet.”

“The pupil instructing the teacher,” Jack quipped.

“Be still.  I'll be back.”

Daniel started to pull back the shrubs, when he felt Jack's strong hand on his arm.  The older man leaned up and for a minute, the two stared into the depths of each other's souls.

“I love you, Danny.  Be the smartest rat you can be.”

“I love you, too, and don't worry.  There isn't a maze in the world that we can't get out of.”

“Danny, I have to tell you something before you go.”

“I'm listening.”

“They gave me some of that blasted alien drug, the one they hooked you on.”

“Oh, gawd, Jack.”  Daniel remembered the tape player.  “They tried to brainwash you.”

“Didn't work; I'm too stubborn.”

“I love you, Jack.  I don't know what they tried to tell you, but you know how much I love you.  Our whole future is ahead of us.”

“I know, but just in case,” Jack swallowed hard, his eyes misting a little, “be prepared, huh?”

“I'll be prepared ... prepared to take you home and make love all night long.”

“I can go for that.”

“It's a date.”

“A hot date,” Jack said with a grin.

The lovers kissed, and then Daniel left to find water.  He was worried about the effects of the drug, shuddering at the remembrance of what he had lived through, but he knew Jack was strong mentally, especially with the years of special training he had gone through in Special Operations. They might die, but it wouldn't be because of any mind-altering drug, alien or otherwise.

====

Daniel walked through the wooded area, desperately hoping to find water.  He knew if he could just find the valuable liquid, Jack would be okay.  He still had no idea where they had been taken, but wherever it was, the large mansion was surrounded by woods that seemed to extend as far as he could see.

At last, Daniel spotted a well.  He waited and watched, looking all around the area before he moved forward.  He looked down and saw the cool liquid just waiting to be lapped up.  He lowered the bucket that was affixed to the well downwards, cursing the noise it made.  As he moved the handle, he nervously looked around, praying no one else was nearby.

It seemed like forever, but finally, he heard the swish of the bucket hitting the water.  He maneuvered the controls to scoop the liquid into its hold before beginning to raise it, but then the lines snagged, and the bucket wouldn't move.

Daniel cursed in Abydonian as he struggled to figure out how to make the device work.

~Geez ... I need Sam.~

As he looked down, he saw the line had caught on tree roots that were protruding into the well.  Finally, he took a big breath, realizing he had only one option.

~The rat doesn't have much of a choice here, Jack.  You need this water.~

As he pondered the situation, Daniel lowered his head onto his arms that were folded over the top of the well.  He was tired, but he had to get that water for Jack.  The fact that he also needed fluids didn't even enter into the young man's mind.

The well was narrow, only four-feet wide, if that.  He could see several of the tree roots that had worked their way into the deep pit.

~If I could put my foot there, and my hand there ... and then I could lean back ... yes, I could ... I could reach it.  I ... I have to reach it.~

Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, and then he climbed over, lowering himself inside the square opening.  It was cold and obviously damp.  The walls were slick from the moisture below.

“Ow,” he said as his finger jabbed against a sharp edge.  He gently eased himself further down.  He successfully lodged his foot on one protruding limb, and then another.  He was half way down when the bucket was within his grasp.  He pushed his foot in tight to the wall, and supported himself as much as possible with his left hand.  Then, with his right, Daniel leaned back to reach for the bucket.  Just as he made contact, the bucket gave way, falling downwards.

The movement startled Daniel, and he shifted slightly.  His foot gave way, and his hand slid from its spot.

**Jaaaaaaaaaack,** Daniel called out in his mind as he fell deeper into the well.

His head hit the side of the well, and Daniel's world went black.

====

**Danny?  Daniel, answer me, for crying out loud!**

Jack had been calling out to his lover for over an hour.  Something was wrong.  He thought he had heard the young man shouting silently, but while he wasn't sure of that, he had definitely felt the moment when Daniel's world had gone dark.  His heart had stopped beating, and he had felt a jabbing pain.  He knew instantly that something was wrong.

Finally, Jack refused to wait any longer.  He willed himself up and away from the safety of the secluded shrubbery and began to track his husband.

His weakened condition forced Jack to travel more slowly than normal, though Daniel's earlier actions had indeed managed to stop Jack's chills and numbness.

~Amazing what making love with that man can do for my health.~  

Eventually, Jack spotted the well, and immediately, he felt uneasy.

~It's a well.  No, Danny, you wouldn't have done that.  Please let this be my imagination.~

A cold chill ran down Jack as he made his way to the well.  Dread filled his soul, and his soul saddened to a new low when he looked inside and saw his lover's body hanging limply two-thirds of the way down.  As he observed the scene, Jack could see that Daniel was being held in place by what Jack feared were unpredictable and unsteady pieces of tree root.

“Daniel!”

Jack's heart was beating faster than normal, his pulse racing as he searched the area to see if there was something he could use to reach his husband.  As Jack soon discovered, there was nothing but trees.  In another situation, Jack might have gone for help, but not this one.  He didn't know where they were, or how much time they had until their hunters pursued them, and even worse, he didn't know how badly Daniel might be hurt.

**Whatever happens, it happens to us together.**

Jack climbed into the well and worked his way down to the man who owned his heart.  He reached over and grabbed the water bucket which had been flung loose earlier.  He untied the knot that bound the rope to the bucket, letting the bucket drop to the water below.  Then he put the rope around Daniel's waist, tying it securely.  If he fell, he wouldn't take his lover with him.  Jack was glad this well had a bucket that used pulleys, and not just a handle at the top.

He reached out to touch Daniel's cheek.  Daniel was unresponsive as Jack attempted to unhook him from the snagging limbs.  Using himself as a brace, Jack freed Daniel, who continued to hang limply as the bucket rope held him.

Using all his strength, Jack tugged on the pulley.  Slowly, Daniel rose upwards.

“Geez, Daniel,” Jack grunted, “You're ... going on a ... diet ... when we ... get ... through with this ... nightmare.”  Jack let out groans as he struggled to save his lover.  “No ... more ... truffles ... for you.”

Finally, Daniel was at the top of the well.  Jack secured the pulley to the nearest tree root.  This would be the trickiest part, and he was already drained of energy.

~How can I do this?  I'm exhausted.~

Jack wiped his hand across his brow, but just as he feel his most discouraged, he looked up and saw the man he loved more than anything.  His adrenaline surged.  He would do anything to keep Daniel alive.

~For you, Love; that's how I'll do it ... for you.~

Carefully, Jack worked his way topside, coming to a stop just below the younger man.  He positioned his hands on Daniel's rear end and pushed upward.

“Sorry, Danny,” Jack said as he eventually shoved Daniel over the top, and then climbed out himself.

Jack untied Daniel and dragged him into the woods.  Dragging wasn't his first choice, but he wasn't comfortable staying out in the open where the well was, and he just didn't have the strength to lift his life partner.

“Danny.  Danny, please wake up,” Jack said as he examined his soulmate for injuries.

Jack didn't find any new external injuries, not even a cut or bruise; the only visible injury was the original stab wound from when Daniel had been kidnapped.  He was pleased to see that the wound wasn't showing any sign of infection, something that would be disastrous in their current predicament.  Now, though, he worried about a concussion.  There may not be any visible wounds, but clearly, Daniel had hit his head and passed out.  The result of that could be deadly.

Leaning against a tree, Jack lifted Daniel into his arms and held him.  He didn't know what else to do, so he closed his eyes and prayed.  The two didn't hide their beliefs anymore.  They may not know who or what it was that so often saved their world, but they were sure that out there somewhere was a power greater than they.

“Please, let him wake up,” Jack pleaded from deep within his soul.  “I love you, Angel,” he whispered, rocking Daniel back and forth.

“J'ck?”

“Hey, Angel.”

Jack's grin was wide as he looked down at the face of his husband.

“Are we dead?”

“No, Love,” Jack chuckled, happy to have his prayer answered.  “We're still alive.”

“Ow!  Head hurts,” Daniel said as he tried to move.

“Shh.  No moving for you.  Let me hold you.”

“Jack, I don't ...” he struggled to remember the events that had brought them to this position.  “What happened?”

“I think you went after some water in ...”

“The well.  I slipped.  How did ...” Daniel moved quickly, causing his face to grimace, but he had to look at Jack.  “How did you get me?”

“I went after you.”

“How?”

Jack ran his hand along Daniel's hair and face, and then traced the outline of Daniel's jaw with his thumb.

“Love.”

It was the simplest and most truthful answer Jack knew.  Daniel smiled shyly, nodding slightly as he leaned back into Jack's embrace.

Together, the two drank in their love as they regained their strength.

====

The skies were darkening as nighttime approached.  Jack knew they should have tried to cover some ground, but he was weak, and his lover, his Danny, had fallen asleep.  Jack had roused the tired archaeologist several times in case he had a concussion, but Daniel had been immediately responsive each time, so Jack decided it was worth the risk to let him rest a while.

~Geez, the trust you give me.  I know you're scared, and I also know that somehow, you believe we'll get out of this mess, so here you are, asleep in my arms.  I love you so much.  I hope I never let you down.~

Earlier, knowing their need for water was approaching the critical stage, Jack had also returned to the well.  He had removed his shirt, tying it onto the rope, and lowered it into the well, letting it soak the water up like a sponge.  Having pulled it up, he sucked on the shirt, taking in the much-needed fluid.  He had then gone to Daniel and had him do the same thing off and on as they rested, until there was no more water in the shirt.

The weather had been so warm during the late afternoon and early evening that the shirt had quickly dried.  Though still damp, there was no more water to be extracted from it.

Jack let Daniel sleep for a few more minutes, but then he knew they had to get moving.

“Danny, we need to go.”

“Mmmm.”

“Wake up, Love.”

Daniel eyes fluttered open.  For a brief moment, he thought he and Jack were on the roof deck of their home, but then the nightmare flooded back to the forefront of his brain.

“Oh, I'm sorry.  I fell asleep.”

“It's okay, Angel.  You needed to rest.”

“Water?”

“Sorry, the ... shirt has dried up.”

Daniel sighed, and then his face contorted slightly as he moved.  The two stood up, Jack watching his husband very carefully.  As Daniel took a step, he wobbled.  Jack immediately reached out and pulled his lover to him.

“Whoa.  Are you okay?” Jack asked.

“Dizzy.  Just a little, though.  I'm okay, Jack.”

Jack kissed Daniel and smiled, trying to exude confidence and a brave front, but inside, he was worried about Daniel's head injury.  He hoped it was just a concussion, but he also knew the damage could be worse.

“You ready to give this a go?”

“Sure.  I'm ready.”

Jack put his shirt back on, and then together, the lovers forged onward. The older man used the stars to guide them, but he really wasn't sure what direction they should be heading.  Mile after mile, they trudged ahead, hoping they'd find their way to safety.

====

The couple had traveled for hours under the night sky when Daniel stopped, feeling completely discouraged.

“Gawd, Jack, we don't even know where we are.  We can barely see whatever is ahead of us; we can barely stand.  We'll never get out of here.”

“Yes, we will.  Let's keep going.”

“You're about to drop, Jack.  You need water.”

“*We* need water,” Jack corrected, looking at their surroundings, though it was so dark he couldn't see more than a foot or two in front of them.  “Let's go.”

Daniel sighed, but continued on, even though his head was throbbing.  He hadn't said anything, but he really couldn't see where he was going, and it wasn't just because it was nighttime.  Things were a bit of a blur. Their tormenters had taken away his glasses right after they had kidnapped him at the cabin, but he knew that the blur was more from the head wound than from the lack of having his glasses.  An hour later, though, he couldn't hide the ache any longer.

“Jack,” Daniel gasped, collapsing to his knees.

Jack turned and quickly knelt down next to Daniel.

“Your head?”

“Hurts; dizzy; you're all fuzzy.”

Daniel was swaying slightly from his position on the ground, and he put his hands up to his head for a second.

Jack looked around, surveying the area.  He spotted a group of bushes several yards away.  It wasn't much but they would provide a small amount of shelter for the two, in case they were being tracked.

~It's better than nothing.~  Jack helped Daniel up.  “Let's go over here, Love.  We'll duck down under these for a while.”  Reaching the area, the two sat down.  Jack arranged the bushes as best he could to be both a shelter and a shield from being seen.  “Hopefully, this'll work,” he said.

Daniel let out a noise, a sign of his weakened state.  Jack caressed his husband's cheek and then guided his lover into a more comfortable position and held him.

“It's okay, Love.  Things will be better in the morning.  For now, we'll rest, but I don't think you should sleep.”

“Head?”

“Yeah, since you're still dizzy and unfocused.”

“I'm sorry,” Daniel whispered.

“Don't be.  I was about to fall down myself.  We'll move on the morning.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Danny.”

====

Shortly after daybreak, Jack was roused from his sleep by a nearby noise.  He didn't know what frightened him more -- the noise or that he had fallen asleep, and that meant so had Daniel.

“Daniel, wake up.”

“Wha'?”

~Thank the heavens,~ Jack prayed silently in thanks for Daniel's quick reaction, but he didn't have time to express his gratitude for long.  “Shh,” Jack motioned towards the east.

The two sat quietly, but with their hands poised to help push themselves up in case they needed to bolt from their current location.

“This way,” they heard a voice say, and then in an instant, they saw the band of men.

“Daniel, let's get out of here,” Jack said, giving his lover a push as they stood up to begin their getaway.

The two began to run, but Jack's knee gave out, and Daniel's pounding head caused him to collapse shortly thereafter.  Separated by several yards, both found weapons shoved in their faces.

“Nice try, Colonel, but we expected more from you.  How disappointing.”

“Sorry, didn't realize we were your entertainment.  A bit hard up, wouldn't you say?”

The masked men said nothing.  Instead, they pulled up the two men, binding Jack's wrists together, and then doing the same to Daniel's.  Jack and Daniel were blindfolded, then roped together, and led back to the mansion where they were taken before another group of men.  Forced down to their knees, the next thing they felt was a punch in their abdomens.

“What's the point of all this?  Who are you, and what do you want?” Jack grunted in frustration.

“Remove his blindfold,” one of the men ordered.

Jack's blindfold was taken off.  Two men stood behind him, while two others forced Daniel up.  They removed his blindfold as well and carried him to a set of chains.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Jack shouted.

He watched as the men removed his lover's shirt and then strapped Daniel, face first, around a large marble column.

**I love you, Jack.  Don't forget.**

“TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ALREADY,” Jack demanded.

The man who appeared to be in charge laughed tauntingly from the shadows.

“I have what I want.”

The leader nodded, and Jack helplessly watched one of their captors wield a whip repeatedly into Daniel's back.

**Danny, I love you.  Be strong.  I'm so sorry.**

Daniel refused to cry out in pain, even after the fifteenth powerful blow, the whip lingering along his bleeding back.  Jack's screaming protest had gone ignored, the only response being a cackle of laughter from the man in charge.

The agony was just beginning.  With a nod from the leader, Jack was dragged over to the place where another man had done the flogging of Daniel's back.  The whip was forced into Jack's hands.

“Oh, no you don't, you ...”  Jack let out with a slew of obscenities.  He kicked and tried desperately to fight off the men, but they held him to the ground and strapped the whip to his hands.  Then, they dragged him back up.  “LET GO OF ME YOU ...” more curse words escaped Jack's mouth.  He knew what he was going to be forced to do, and he'd rather die first.  “NOOOOOOO!” he continued to yell and struggle.

**Jack, it's okay.  It's not you.  It's them.**

Jack was too busy fighting to respond to Daniel's 'permission'.  He couldn't do this.  How could he live with himself?  Another nod from the man in charge and two towering men forced Jack's hands to fling the whip, striking soundly against Daniel's back.

~No, I won't let you make me do this to my Danny, my Angel.~

Just as they were about to force the whip down again, Jack shut down, literally willing his body to collapse.

“What's he doing?” the leader asked.

“He's ... fainted,” came the answer.

Still conscious, Daniel watched his soulmate from the corner of his eye.  A part of him prayed they'd both die.  They'd be together, happy and at peace.  He knew Jack couldn't hear him, but he spoke silently anyway.

**Love you, Jack.  You're my Silver Fox and always will be.  It's okay.  No matter what they make us do.  In the end, we'll be together.**

“Tie him up over there so that when he wakes up he can see his dying lover.”

Jack was tied, hands behind his back, to a pipe.  He was facing Daniel's sweating face as it was held tightly in place against the cool column.

The men left the room, and Daniel heard the door click.  Things were turning dark again, the pain and blood loss continuing to weaken him.

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel spoke aloud.  The men knew about them, so he didn't feel the need to speak silently.  “It's okay, Jack.  Not your fault.  It's ...”

Daniel fell unconscious before finishing his sentence.

====

Jack let out a mournful groan as he struggled to wake.  At first, he wasn't sure where he was.

~Hands hurt.  Oh, crap.~

Everything came flooding back in a instant.

“Daniel?”  Jack tried to focus, and finally, a few feet away, he saw his husband, unconscious against the column.  “Oh, Danny.  I'm so sorry.  So sorry.”

Jack was overcome with guilt. He'd only inflicted one of the lashes that had caused the blood to drip down to the floor from Daniel's back, but that was one too many.

~I'll kill them.  I'll rip them apart.  I'll ...~ Jack's mind was full of rage.  Murder and revenge were all he thought of, until he looked at Daniel's face, and then all he felt was love and desire.  “Danny.  Wake up.  Daniel?  Angel?”

For a few minutes, Jack wallowed in their suffering.  He mourned their life, the family each wanted so desperately but now would never have; but then, he mentally kicked himself.

~You are a blasted idiot, O'Neill.  He's not dead.  Neither are you.  You pride yourself on being the best.  Well, time to prove it.  Danny's life is at stake, so think!~

Jack focused on his body.  The ropes binding his hands were tight, but was it an effective knot?  Could he struggle free?  The ropes around him kept him close to the pipe, but he wasn't crushed.

~A mistake?~  He began to relax, to calm his muscles.  He had to enter a tranquil state.  He'd learned how to meditate from Teal'c, just like Daniel had, though he didn't do it often.  ~Not my thing, but you never know what will save a life, especially yours, Danny.~

He also remembered how Daniel had used meditative techniques to help Jack get through knee surgery several years ago.  He had been a skeptic, but it had worked, so Jack knew it could be done, and right now, he needed it to work.

Jack began with a calming breath.  He focused on becoming relaxed, centered ... on Daniel.  He let the tension run from his body as he focused on them cuddling by the lake at their Minnesota cabin.  He heard the fish swimming, the birds chirping, and felt Daniel's soft skin against his.

~Relax, Jack.  Let your body be at peace.  No tension.  No stress.  Be limp.  Loose.  Hear Danny's voice, feel his lips.  Okay, that's it.  Calm.  My wrists.  Work the ropes ... gently.  Look for gaps, small pockets to play with.  Don't panic.  Wait.  Pull back.  See the lake.  Okay.  Try again, Jack.~

Jack focused on keeping himself lax and sedate while at the same time working the rope that bound his hands.  He felt the knots giving slightly.  He just needed time.

~Time.  Hang on, Danny.  I'm coming, Love.~  Daniel hadn't moved, but Jack could see the shallow movements of his abdomen against the column.  ~Hang on.  The rope is loosening.  Calm, Jack.  Lake.  Lovemaking.  Danny.~

An hour passed, and then another.  Jack's wrists were bloodied from his efforts, but at last, he was able to slip his right hand through the rope, and then to free his left.  He was surprised when the rest of the rope gave way easily.  As it dropped to the floor, he noticed there were just a few knots at the beginning of the rope.  After that, he must have just had the rope wrapped around him.  Once his hands were freed, Jack had been able to squirm out of the ties with little effort.

He rushed to Daniel, untying him and speaking soft assurances that they'd get out of this together.  Still unconscious, Daniel sank down to the ground in Jack's arms.

“Oh, Danny.  I love you.”  He looked around the room.  In the corner, for no logical reason, there were a few bottles of water and a cloth.  ~This is way too easy.~

Yet, Jack didn't have the luxury of questioning the ease of their release from the pipe and column.  Daniel needed him.  He retrieved the items and cleaned Daniel's back as best he could while placing water on Daniel's lips to try and rouse him naturally.

At last, Daniel began to come to.  Hearing a noise outside, Jack gently put his hand over Daniel's mouth.

“Shh.  They're outside.”

Daniel stared up at his husband, feeling only love.

**I love you, my Silver Fox.**

Jack looked down into Daniel's moist eyes.  He smiled lovingly and conveyed his own silent thoughts.

**Love you, too, Angel.**

When the noise was gone, Jack helped Daniel up.  The young man could barely walk.  Quickly, Jack helped his lover put his shirt back on, hating it when Daniel winced in reaction to both the movement and the fabric.

“We have to get out of here.  Our only choice is the same way we left the first time, through the window.”  ~... which doesn't make sense.  Why are they making this so easy?~

“Jack, I can't.”

“Yes, you can.  You have to ... for me and the girls.  Come on.”

Daniel's body was sore and dehydrated, but he reached down inside for some inner strength.  He loved Jack, and if he didn't find the willpower and the guts to climb out of the window, Jack would die.  With a silent grunt and scream, Jack helped Daniel raise himself up and climb out.  Jack followed, and again, they made their way into the woods, but this time, they went in the opposite direction of the one they had before.

They moved slowly, both drained of their energy, Daniel operating on sheer adrenaline and motivation to keep Jack alive.

“I don't believe it.”

“What?” Daniel asked weakly when Jack stopped suddenly.

“Shelter.  There's a tent set up over there, and ...”

“Jack, I'm ... I can't ...”

“Come on.”  Jack supported his lover as they walked towards a tree.  There, completely set up, was a tent.  It looked old and weathered, cut in a few places, but it was still standing.  Inside, there were blankets, bottles of water, aspirin, a first-aid kit, and army rations, still sealed.  “I don't understand this.”

“J'ck.”

“Danny, here, lay down.”

Jack tended to Daniel.  It wasn't smart to stay where they were, and he knew it was clearly part of the game their tormentors were playing, but Daniel was on his last legs.  They didn't have a choice, so as Daniel closed his eyes, Jack stood watch, pondering all they'd been through since the nightmare had begun.

====

“J'ck?”

“Hey, I'm right here, Space Monkey.”

Daniel tried to smile.  Jack used that term on purpose.  The nickname meant survival, so somehow, they'd get through this.  Daniel still had some of those nine lives left to live.

“Where are we?”

Daniel lifted his head slowly off of Jack's lap, or rather, he tried to, but didn't get far.

“Whoa.  You need to get your bearings first.  Here's some water.”  Jack eased the bottle of water to Daniel's mouth, carefully letting the liquid slide through his lips.  “Okay, we're ... I really don't know: in the woods somewhere behind that mansion, in a tent.”

“Tent?  Where'd you get a tent?”

“I didn't.  It was here.”  ~And I don't like that one bit.~

“Jack, it wasn't your fault.”

“Thank you, Love.”  Jack brushed back the bit of Daniel's hair that hung over his forehead.  He leaned over and placed a gentle kiss there.  “How does your back feel?”

“Hurts.”

“I put some antiseptic on it earlier.”

“How?  I mean ...”

“There's a first-aid kit here, fully stocked.”  ~And I don't like that either.~  “And there are some rations, too, so I want you to try and eat something ... AND I know ... but I want you to at least nibble on this ... for me.  I need you to get your strength back, Danny.  We need to talk about what's been happening.”

“I'll try.”

Jack knew that meant Daniel would do it.  No one was more determined than his lover.  The younger man had an iron will, an inner voice that made him keep on fighting no matter what.  Jack was counting on that at the moment; it was crucial to their ability to free themselves from the maze they were in.  He feared this might be their toughest survival situation to date.

====

“Jack, why aren't we moving?”

It was twenty hours later, and Jack continued to tend Daniel's wounds and help him to regain his strength.

“Danny, something is off here.  It's been too easy.”

“Easy?” Daniel asked incredulously as he leaned against his husband's shoulder.  “Somehow,” he winced from the pain of the whip wounds, “this isn't my definition of ... easy.”

“Think back.  Every time we've been caught, there's always been a way out, a way to escape.  Yes, we had to work at it, but ... Danny, these guys keep saying they want us dead, and at the same time ...”

“Rats in a maze?”

Daniel had thought back over their nightmare -- chairs in the right place, water always nearby, the unattended open windows, this tent.  When he thought about it, it was a long list.

“I think so.  They get us to the brink, and then let us escape.  They wait just long enough for us to regroup, and then they strike again.  And if I'm right ...”

“Then they'll show up as soon as I get a bit more strength back.”

“Yeah.”

“So ... what do we do?”

“That's what we need to talk about.”

“Oh.”

Daniel leaned a bit hard against Jack, who sensed his lover's need and squeezed him closer to his body.

“Danny, we can keep doing what we are.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe we can outsmart them.”

“Or maybe we'll just keep on being the rats.”

“That's a possibility.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“I'm not sure.  If I'm wrong, and we don't fight, then ...”

“Yeah, but what if you are right?  Jack, why?  What do they want?”

“That's the golden question, isn't it?”

“Jack, there was something familiar about one of the men.  I can't place it, though.  I didn't get a good look, and their masks hide too much, but ... I keep thinking I know him.  It's just a feeling more than anything else.”

“Any idea where you know this guy from?”

Daniel sighed, “No, but ...”  He paused, his mind searching to place the man he sensed he knew.  He shook his head in defeat.  “I'm sorry,” Daniel said softly.

“Don't worry about it.  If it comes to you, let me know.  In the meantime, let's get some more food into you.”

“Jack, they've been watching us for a long time, haven't they?”

Jack sighed discontentedly.

“Our security system hasn't been as secure as we thought, or, maybe that's why they've moved in now.”

“You mean because we just got the security system recently.”

“Yeah, so now they can't monitor us.  When we first swept the house, there were a lot of recording devices, but once the system was put it, they only managed to bug the outside and the cars.”

“Then Sam took care of that.”

“Gotta love Carter for knowing how to use those doohickeys of hers, so we've finally shut them out, completely.”

“Too late, though.”

“It's never too late.  We made them act, so at least the game is in the open now.”  Jack sighed.  “So, that explains how they know about us, the rings, the ...”

“The paperclip,” Daniel said, his face scrunched with worry and the knowledge that the lovers had been spied on for years.  “Jack, whomever is doing this has been listening to us for years.  Gawd.”

“Don't think about it.”  ~They'll pay.~

“It's hard not to.  They've been listening the entire time.”

“No, we've swept the house before, ever since that NID business with Harry.  They just picked their moments.”  Jack could feel Daniel's tenseness.  “Danny, don't let them win; don't let them take our privacy.”

“I feel ... gawd, Jack, it's almost like being raped, to know they were watching or listening when we ... gawd.”

“But they weren't there all the time, and we can't be paranoid.  Just ... think about us, not those scumbags.”

Daniel took a deep breath and said, “I love you, and they can't change that, and you're right.  We ... can't change the past; we can't go back and try to figure out whether or not they were listening.  It'll destroy us if we do.”

“Here's another thought.  Danny, I know you're thinking they were, well, watching us during those times, but maybe they were just listening in later, when we talked about it.  We've exchanged the rings many times, in lots of different places, including the truck and your car.”

“Even at the SGC.”

“Right, and even your training ...”

“The paperclip.”

“We've talked about that, too, so let's not assume the worse.”

Daniel looked up at his lover and asked, “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Make me feel better.”

“I'm just speaking the truth, Angel.  I don't like the thought of them spying on us, either, but now that we've talked about it, I'm not sure how much they learned from our ... intimacy versus us just talking about it somewhere.”

“I love you so much, and I don't care if they hear me.”

Jack smiled and caressed Daniel's cheek.  They kissed, a soft, lingering kiss that meant forever.

“I love you, Angel, and I could care less what those morons think about it.  Now ... eat!”

“Yes, Sir.”

====

The next morning, Daniel woke to find Jack missing.  Panicked, he quickly got up and called out, “JACK?”

“Whoa, Danny.  I'm right here,” Jack said, entering the tent.  “I was doing a little recon while you slept.”

“Don't do that,” Daniel ordered as he sat back down.

Jack saw the worry, the heavy breathing caused by Daniel's fright.  He sat down next to his spouse and took his hand.

“I'm sorry, but I didn't want to wake you up.  How are you feeling this morning?”

“I want to go home.”

“Me, too.  I just wish doing it was as easy as thinking it.”  Jack stood.  “Let's check you out,” he said, gently pushing Daniel to lay on the bed.

Jack checked over his husband's injuries -- the stab wound in his abdomen, the whip wounds to his back, and his head, making sure he hadn't missed any bumps or cuts from Daniel's fall down the well.  He wished Janet was around to tend to them properly, but he did the best he could.  Daniel's color had returned, and his heart and pulse rates were healthy again.

“We can't stay here, Jack.  Whether they know we're here or not, we can't just give up.”

“Okay, so ... you ready to make a run for it?”

Jack had begun to look around the tent to see if there was anything they could use to take water and other supplies with them.

“You sure didn't fight me very hard.”

“Do you want me to?”

“Gawd, Jack.”

“Danny,” Jack said, kneeling down in front of his lover.  “We either sit and let them catch us, or we keep trying.”

“One more time.  We need to be sure about the maze.”

“And if we're right?”

“I love you, Jack.”

Jack nodded.  They would not allow themselves to be rats forever.  First, though, they'd make sure.  They'd make another honest attempt to free themselves, to get home, but if once again, they were caught, tortured, and then magically saved, they'd have to consider other options.

“Let's pack up what we can for supplies, and get the heck out of Dodge.”

“Anything you say, Marshall Dillon.”

Jack chuckled, kissed his husband, and then gathered up some water and other supplies to put in a bag he'd found.  It wasn't a very sturdy bag, so he couldn't put too much weight in it.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

The two lovers exited the tent and began yet another trek through the forest.

====

For two hours, the couple forged through the endless woods.  Daniel was actually beginning to hate trees.  He was ready for the desert, just to be able to see something different.  Still, he, and Jack, kept hoping they'd find a road, a vehicle, anything that would signal the end of their torment.

**Danny?**

**I feel it, too.  We're being watched.**

**It is a maze.**

**We promised ourselves, Jack.  We keep trying, at least this time.**

They moved on, and then suddenly, a knife struck Jack in the arm, penetrating his skin.  Blood began to ooze from the wound, seeping down his arm.  He cried out in pain as he stopped his motion.  More from frustration than anything else, Jack sank to the ground, grunting as he moved.

“Jack!”  Daniel kneeled down as Jack rolled over to his back.  Jack's face contorted with the pain and agony he was feeling.  “This is going to hurt, Jack, but I have to take it out.”

“It already hurts,” Jack sniped.

“I'm sorry,” Daniel said as he touched the handle of the knife.  “Oh gawd.”

Daniel's eyes grew wide; his breathing hitched.

“Danny?  DANIEL!”

Daniel fell atop Jack's chest, and as the older man tried to rouse him, he suddenly felt a dart enter his body.

Seconds later, he was unconscious, as was Daniel.  Four masked men walked carefully to them.  They stopped and stared.  One kicked Daniel, then Jack to make sure they were truly unconscious.

“This stuff works great,” one man said as he removed his mask.  “Careful with the knife.  Wouldn't want to have to carry you back to the house.”

“Don't worry,” a second man said, putting on gloves to remove the knife from Jack's arm, then placing it in a container for safety.

“Let's get them back.  We're behind schedule.”

====

“Wha...what?”

Daniel's head turned back and forth several times in response to being rousted by the masked men.  He breathed rapidly as he saw two of the men hovering over him.  They were in yet another room, one with a very tall ceiling.  From a corner, he heard a voice.

“Rise and shine, Doctor Jackson.  Time to have some fun.”

“We're going to Disneyland?”

“Very funny.”

Daniel blinked, not really looking at the men as he got his bearings.  He noticed a new shirt had been placed on his body, and he'd been given a jacket.  His heart flittered when he realized his wedding ring was no longer on his finger.  Why would they put it on, and then take it off?  More importantly to Daniel, he wanted to know what they had done with the ring.

~These people are sick.  Gawd, what are we going to do next?~

With a nod from the apparent leader, the two men forced Daniel up, binding his hands to a railing at the end of the bed he sat on.  He saw Jack, once again tied to a chair.  Blood stained his lover's skin, his shirt having been removed.  His wedding ring had been removed, too.

One of the men slapped Jack across the face.

“STOP!” Daniel ordered, but his only response was laughter, and being forced to watch the man hit Jack again and again, until Jack came to.

“Welcome back, Jack.”

“Gee, thanks.  Can we go now?”  **Danny, are you okay?**

**Better than you.**

Daniel saw the grimace on Jack's face when one of the men suddenly took hold of the injured arm.

“Don't!” Daniel begged, knowing what was about to happen as he watched the leader pick up something.

**Danny, that's what they want.**

Helplessly, the archaeologist watched as one man emptied salt into Jack's open wound, causing him to scream out in pain, even though he desperately tried not to.

Daniel closed his eyes, trying to wish the nightmare away, but it didn't help.  When he opened them, he saw the agonizing expression of pain on Jack's face.  

“Come,” one of the men ordered as he started to release Jack.

“No, thanks.  I've made other arrangements.”

Daniel watched anxiously as one of the men slapped Jack and then injected him with something.  Jack's body went lax.

**Can't move, Danny.**

**A paralyzer?  Jack, we'll get out of this.**

**Love you, Danny.**

Jack's body seemed unresponsive to Daniel, but he knew the mind was there and working.  They were still able to communicate silently to an extent.  Moments later, the man cut the ties that had held Jack in place and pulled the now-unresisting colonel up.

“What are you going to do?” Daniel asked.

“Solicit some cooperation, Doctor,” the leader said.

“Cooperation for what?  All you've done is torture us.”

“You're right.  Isn't that a shame?  Gag him.”

“No, don't ... I ...”

Daniel's words were cut off as a black was cloth stuffed into his mouth, silencing him.  The long cloth was wrapped around his lower face, nearly suffocating him as well, his nose barely able to retrieve oxygen.  His breathing became more rapid as he saw the men bring in a ladder.

**Oh gawd.**

The men affixed Jack to a metal hold on the ceiling, his feet secured in a specially-made rack, and then hung him upside down.

**No!  Jack?**

**Can't feel a thing, Danny.**

~Yet,~ Daniel thought, his heart pained at what Jack was about to experience.

Jack was completely suspended from the ceiling, his hands roughly three feet from the floor.  He was facing Daniel, their eyes locked on each other.

“Enjoy the view, Doctor Jackson,” the leader said as he led the masked men out of the room.

**Jack?**

**Can't move, Love.  Interesting point of view, though.  Always wanted to know what it was like to be a bat.**

**I love you, Jack.  Gawd, I love you.**

**I know, Angel.  Love you, too.**

====

Hours passed, and Daniel could do nothing to help his now-unconscious lover.  He had wondered if Jack's being unconscious was a blessing, but just as he had decided it was, one of the men had come in, rousted Jack, and then left again.  The tranquilizer they had given Jack had worn off, and now, he was awake and able to feel every inch of the pain.

Neither could move, Jack still hung from the ceiling, Daniel tied to the railing of the bed.  Just as both were about to succumb to the overwhelming feeling of defeat, a man came in again.  His sole purpose was to inflict a moment of pain, punching Jack in the gut.

The masked man picked up a tray previously left in the room and carried it out.  As he exited, something fell from his pocket.

**Too easy.**

**What?**

**Rats, but I don't want to die like this, Danny.**

**Jack, I don't understand.**

**Keys.  When he left, keys fell out of his pocket.  Look down and to your left.**

Daniel was barely able to move his body to do as Jack requested, but when he did, he spotted the two keys.

**I can't get them.**

**Yes, you can.  There's a way.  Rats, remember?  They want us to get away.  Try, Danny.  I don't want to die here.**

Low on strength, Daniel struggled to get loose of the railing.  It took two hours, but he was finally able to push the thin metal bar loose, the railing falling to the ground.  He worried that the noise would attract their captors.

**They had to have heard that.**

**Won't matter.  They ... want us out.  Hurry, Danny.**

His hands free of the rail, the younger man was able to remove his gag and pick up the keys.  He rushed to Jack, shaking his hands.

“They took the ladder.”

“Bed.  Move ...”

Daniel looked over at the bed and then tried to move it.  It wasn't large, so he successfully placed it near his lover.  Standing on it, Daniel could reach the binds.

“You're going to fall, Jack.  You're suspended about three feet in the air.”

“Get me out of here.”

With just a slight hesitation, Daniel released the mechanism holding Jack's feet, and the older man crashed down onto the bed, unable to use his numbed hands for support.

Daniel rushed to his lover's side, his hands caressing Jack's cheek.

“There's a way out, Danny.  Let's not die here.”

Daniel nodded.  He went to the door, using the key to unlock it.  He recognized the long hallway where he had hidden before.  Apparently, there were several rooms prepared for their torture.  This one was just to the left of the stairs.

“Jack, you're too weak for the window bit.  We'll have to chance going up the stairs.”

“Chance?” Jack chuckled sarcastically.  “We'll make it.  It's the game.”

Daniel knew Jack was right, but there was no other option.  Daniel grabbed a couple of conveniently placed water bottles he spotted in the outer hall and shoved them into his jacket.  He found Jack's bloodied shirt discarded on the floor and put it back on his lover, and then he became a human crutch for his husband.

They made it up the stairwell undetected, but as they were about to head for the front door, they heard voices.  Daniel practically pulled Jack into the first room he could find.  It seemed to be an empty office of some kind.

~Where's a telephone when you need one?~

“Can't ... <gasp> ... do this,” Jack said as he began to collapse to the floor, but Daniel held his lover up.

He spoke firmly, looking Jack straight in the eye.

“Listen to me, Jackson-O'Neill,” Daniel said, using their married name to motivate his husband.  “We've come too far to just give up.  We agreed to give this one more go, and if I have to carry you out of here, I will.  Now, what's it going to be?  You want to crawl out of here like a baby, or walk out like a man?”

Jack sneered, leaning his head back against the wall.

“When did you get to be so tough?”

“I'm not.  I just love you, and we need to get out of here.”  Jack nodded as Daniel moved to check for voices again.  “I think they're gone.  Let's go.”

Daniel once again became a crutch, and as they moved out of the room, an object caught his eye.  It was just a glimpse, but it disturbed him.

~I've seen that picture before.  Where?~

The archaeologist had caught a glimpse of a photo that was sitting on a desk.  He wished he had time to search.  Maybe all their answers could be found here, but time was of the essence, especially with Jack being so weak.  Thus, he continued on with his first priority -- escaping.

Jack masked his pain by biting his lips, actually causing the lower lip to bleed slightly, but with his lover's help, he managed to remain quiet, and the two slipped out through the unguarded front door.

“Gawd, that was way too easy.”

“Rats, Danny, but let's keep going.”

“We'll go south.  We haven't checked out that direction yet,” Daniel stated.

What happened next was much like what had happened every other time Jack and Daniel had evaded their tormentors.  As soon as they had gotten far enough away, Daniel let Jack relax and did his best to tend to the new wounds that included abrasions on his ankles from the confines that had kept the older man hanging upside down.

Miraculously, or not, while Jack rested, Daniel found an abandoned campfire.  There were discarded foodstuffs and a blanket, though the blanket was old and tattered.  Over the next twenty-four hours, the minimal provisions helped to nourish the two, and then, as they continued traveling south, they came across a lake.

“Maybe there will be help on the other side.”

“Danny, if we're still in Colorado ...”

“We don't know where we are, Jack.  We've both been knocked out.  We could be anywhere.”

“Right.  Well, I'd never survive swimming.”

“Maybe I can find something for floatation,” Daniel said, looking around the area.  “Stay here, Jack.”  Daniel searched and hidden in the brush, another miracle.  ~No miracle; we're rats.  Gawd, I hate this.~  He didn't know whether to be happy or sad, but he pulled out the old, beaten rowboat and began to check it over.  It was in bad shape, but with some tree bark or vines, he might be able to patch it up enough to get them to the other side, or at least far enough where they could try to swim to shore.  ~Too easy.  It's just too easy.~

Jack helped Daniel to repair the rowboat, but as they were both exhausted, they agreed to rest for the remainder of the day.  Early the next morning, they climbed into the rowboat and began to paddle across the lake.  They tried to be optimistic, and yet, they knew it was a lost cause ... and sure enough, when they were half way across, a speedboat appeared out of nowhere.  A man stood at the edge, holding a tranquilizer gun.

“No more, Danny.”

“No more, Jack.”

One minute later, their world went black.

====

When Jack and Daniel awoke next, they were seated on a cement floor in a small room.  They were back to back, each of their hands and ankles tied, and a rope wrapped around their waists.  Their tormentors had tied the two of them together.  It pinched their skin, causing pain at the slightest movement.

“Danny, are you okay?”

“Dumb question, Jack.  Are you?”

Jack snorted, “As good as you.”

“In your dreams.”

“You are ... in my dreams.”

“Bad timing, O'Neill.”

Jack looked around at the cold, gray room.  There was nothing in it ... not one thing, just four walls, a ceiling, the floor, a metal door ... and, of course, he and Daniel.

“Yeah, I guess this isn't the ideal place to be romantic.”  He paused reflectively.  “I wonder how long we were out this time.”

“I don't know.  There's no way to know how long we've ... been in the maze.”  He paused.  “Seems like a year, though.”  After a quiet couple of minutes, Daniel said softly, “Jack, I don't want to be the rat anymore, no matter what.”

“Me, either, so ... we're agreed?”

“Agreed.”

The two leaned their heads back to rest on the other.  It was a reversal of what they so often did in leaning their foreheads together.

“I love you, Danny.”

“I love you, too.  I just wish ...”

“Wish what?”

“Our plans, for the future.  I'm sorry, Jack.  It's all my fault.  I kept putting the Stargate first.  I mean, not really, but in the end, that's how it seems.”

“No, Love.  No second-guessing.  We've both done what we had to do, what we believed was right.  I'll tell you something else.  We're not done yet.”

“Jack ...”

“No, we're not going to run through the maze anymore, but ... Danny, keep looking for options.”

Daniel smiled as he rubbed his head gently against his lover's.

“There's always an 'or'.”

“Always,” Jack said firmly.

“Okay, well, we need to find it then.”

“Daniel, you mentioned this a minute ago, but, if you had to guess, how long do you think we were knocked out?”

“I don't know.  Why?”

“Because I wasn't doing so hot when we were on that boat, and now I feel fine.”

“Me, too.  Gawd, who knows how long they kept us sedated.”

“They want us alive.  I think they kept us knocked out while they let our wounds heal a little; probably fed us through an IV or something.”

Daniel snorted, “They want us aware of the nightmare.”

“Oh, yeah.  They want to make sure we feel it, whatever it is they do next.”

====

Hours passed with nothing happening.  The two sat silently for a while, and, for a time, they simply chatted as if they were at home, talking about their future and even gossiping about various SGC personnel.

“I think there's sparkage there,” Jack said about Tracey O'Connor and Bruce Pittman.

Pittman wasn't assigned to a specific SGC team, but was what Jack called a “pinch-hit” man.  He went wherever Hammond needed him, often replacing others who were on special assignment or out sick.  O'Connor was assigned to the security detail.

“Are they allowed to have ... sparkage?”

“No, but it doesn't mean it's not there, now does it?”

“Gawd, no,” Daniel answered.

Both were smiling, and things grew quiet again.  Minutes later, Daniel took a deep breath.

“Jack, whoever is doing this, I think we know them.”

“I'm sure we do, Daniel.”

“No, I mean, I don't know ... there was a photo.  I've seen it before, but I can't remember where; I think it's important.”

The sound of a bolt being pulled drew their attention towards the door.  Moments later, it opened.  Three masked men entered, each holding a weapon.  They positioned themselves around Jack and Daniel, and then aimed their weapons.

“A bit of overkill, dontcha' think?” Jack said.  “I mean, we can't exactly fight ya here.”

“They've heard about us, Jack,” Daniel said.

“They have?” Jack asked, clueless what his lover was thinking.

“Yeah, they know we can just snap our fingers and get out of here.”

“Right.  Only one problem with that.”

“What's that?”

“I can't even feel my fingers anymore,” Jack retorted.

“I'll feel them for ya, Babe.”

“Now, I'm all tingly, just thinking about you feeling my fingers.”

“That's not all I can ...”

“You two think the world revolves around you, don't you?” a voice asked, clearly disgusted by the exchange.

The two looked around and saw a shadow against the door.  They couldn't make out the face.

~I know him.  I just ... where?~

Daniel's mind struggled to remember the voice, but he just couldn't do it.

“Look, you've had you're fun,” Jack said.  “Now either let us go, or get it over with.”

“What fun with that be?” the voice responded.

“Well, if it's fun you want, how about a nice game of Charades?” Jack asked snarkily.

“I prefer war games myself.  I like to be challenged, and it was a challenge, for about a minute.”

“What was?” Daniel asked.

The voice laughed chillingly.

“It was so easy.  Play naive; stay low.  Even after my father died, it was ridiculously simple.”

“Your father?” Daniel asked.

“My father.”

“And who was your father?” Jack asked.

“Moron.”

“Your father was a moron?  Now that I can believe,” Jack baited.

A weapon fired, and Jack felt a shockwave of pain flow through him.  He screamed.

“Jack?” Daniel asked, his voiced raised from concern.

“Oh, don't worry, Daniel.  Your lover is just fine.”

“Argh,” Jack said again, moaning from the stun of the taser-like gun.  “What is that thing?”

“Oh, just a little something the NID picked up once.”

“The NID?” Daniel asked in surprise.  “Who are you?”

“I'm surprised at you, Daniel.  I expected more from you, you being the great Daniel Jackson.  Oh, sorry, Daniel Jackson-O'Neill; the *great* doctor of archaeology who opened the Stargate.  Poor Sam Carter, a measly also-ran in the eyes of the Pentagon.  Tsk-tsk.  I so expected you to make the game more interesting than it's been.”

“Sorry; having a slow day.”

“Yes, going slow is your style, isn't it?”

“What?” Daniel asked.

Something was familiar about that verbiage.  He had to remember, and he was close, so close, but somehow, the answer was always just out of his grasp.

The voice laughed.

“Look, what is it you want?” Jack asked accusingly.

“I thought that was obvious.”

“Hey, I'm not that smart.”

“Right.  Colonel, you're one of the smartest men I know.  You're just not as smart as me or my father.”

“Your father,” Daniel echoed softly, desperately trying to place the voice.  ~Maybe the father is the key.~

“Fine, I'm not that smart, so tell me what you want with us.”

“I want you to suffer, Colonel.  I want you to pay the price.”

“Price?  What price?”

“Murder.”

“Well, if you're going to kill me, then kill me.”

“Did I say I wanted you dead, Colonel?”

“Then what do you want?” Daniel asked, his eyes darting around the room as he continued to try and sort out the puzzle.

“An eye for an eye.  My life is torture now, so that's what I want.  I want you to live a life of torture.  It's as simple as that.”

“If it's me you want, why involve Daniel?”

“Why?” he laughed, his tone haunted and cold.  “Now, that's a dumb question, Colonel O'Neill.”  There was a beat of silence in the room. “Why involve Doctor Oops?”  The voice moved to a distant corner of the room.  “Because he's as guilty as you are; maybe even more.”

~Doctor Oops?  What does that mean?~ Daniel asked himself.

“Guilty of what?”

“Ignorance.  He never took me seriously.  No one did, but I could have lived with that, with being passed by, but not after you killed my father, Colonel O'Neill.”

“For the hundredth time, who was your friggin' father?”

The voice nodded, and another blast permeated through Jack, causing him even more pain than before.

“Jack, are you okay?”

“Touching; just touching,” the voice mocked.  “You see, that's the other reason for keeping Daniel around.  Right now, it's you, but when it's his turn, that's when things will really get ... fun.”

“Fun?  This is your idea of fun?” Daniel argued.

“It's great fun, and it's fun I intend to have for a long, long time.  You see, I plan on torturing you both, over ... and over ... and over ... and ... well, you get the idea.  Welcome to your new home, gentlemen.”

The voice left the room, followed by the three men.  The door closed, and the lovers heard the bolt slide across the door.

“Danny?”

“What are we going to do, Jack?”

“I don't know.  Where's Thor when you need him?”

“Any idea who he's talking about?”

“No,” Jack answered.

In silence, the two tried to process what they had heard, but both felt a helplessness that was stronger than they'd ever felt before.

====

The lovers had fallen asleep, still tied up in the tiny, gray room.  Their heads still leaned back against the other's as gently as possible, each wanting to retain their connection.

Suddenly, Daniel stirred.  His eyes looked up and tried to focus on the nothingness of the ceiling.  He blinked several times, trying to figure out what was happening.

~Am I dreaming?  I don't ... odd; this is ... something's happening.  What's that noise?~

A grinding sound alarmed the archaeologist.  He started to lean forward, but was cut to the quick by the jabbing pain of the rope pulling against his abdomen.  He relaxed for just a moment, then called out, “Jack!  Jack, wake up.”

Daniel bumped his back gingerly into Jack's to rouse him.

“Ham and eggs, and bacon!  And pancakes; don't forget pancakes -- a double stack.”

“What?”

Jack shook his head and sighed.

“We were having breakfast at IHOP,” Jack admitted as he awoke.

“Sorry.  I take it you were hungry.”

“Were?  I'm starved, but that wasn't the best part of the dream.”

“What was?”

“We were ... naked.”

“Naked, at IHOP?”

Jack shrugged his shoulders and Daniel cringed at the thought, but then he refocused on their current situation.

“Well, I hate to interrupt your fantasies, Babe, but, uh, is it just me, or is the ceiling falling?”

“What?”  Jack looked up.  “How can you tell?  It's so dark in here I can't see my own hands.”

“Watch the corners; there's a ... grid or something there.  You can see it sliding, very slowly; and listen, Jack.  Listen.”

“Crap!”

“I love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too, Danny.”

They watched as the ceiling lowered, very slowly.  Then the grinding noise stopped, and the ceiling held its place.  A few minutes later, the door opened.

“Come to join the party?” Jack asked.

The men said nothing, but as two stood guard, two others worked to untie the ropes that held Jack and Daniel together and bound their hands and feet.

They were dragged to the center of the room and placed, side by side on two thin mats.  At the top and bottom of the mats were steel rings.  Their arms and legs were spread out and locked into the rings.

The men exited, and once again the grinding noise continued.

“I can't see the corner, Danny, but my best guess is that the ceiling is coming down some more.”

“I'd say you're right about that.”

“Jack?”

“I know.  Me, too.”

The room was so dark they could only see the outline of the other, but then, somehow, each extended their hands as much as they could until they were touching.

Daniel sighed.  They were connected, and that was what he needed.  Time passed slowly as the ceiling crawled downward.

“So, Danny, I always liked sandwiches.”

“Me, too, but I wasn't counting on being one.”

“A cement special?”

“Sounds ... tough.”  Daniel felt Jack's hand move.  “Hey!”

“Wait,” Jack urged.  It took some doing, but Jack somehow managed to hook one of his fingers around one of Daniel's.  “We go together.”

Daniel snorted, “You think they're really going to kill us this time?”

Jack sighed, feeling defeated and at a loss as to what to do next.

“Probably not.”

“But just in case,” Daniel affirmed Jack's earlier statement, “Together.”

“I wish I could see your eyes, Danny.”

“You can.”

“It's too dark.”

“Close your eyes, and see me.”

For several minutes, they both envisioned gazing at the other, their only solid link being their two fingers miraculously hooked together.

“Just thought I'd say goodbye, Jack,” the voice loomed from overhead.

“Oh, great.  The voice of doom.  Goodbye,” Jack said mockingly.

The voice laughed.

“Revenge is sweet, Colonel.”

“Yeah, well ... whatever,” Jack said, seeing the ceiling now only a few feet away from them.

“Any last requests?”

“Let Daniel go,” Jack stated, even though he knew it was hopeless a request; still, he had to try.

“I'll make it easy on ya, Jack.  Time's up!”

“JACK!” Daniel shouted.

The ceiling released to the floor, Jack's and Daniel's hearts racing from their impending doom.  They were about to be crushed to death, but what they hated most was that they would die without saying 'I love you' one last time.  Their deaths had been intruded on by some hidden evil who hadn't even bothered to tell them who he was.  It was over, without even a silent goodbye.

====

“Daniel?”

“Jack?”

“Are we dead?”

“I don't think so.  Ow!”  Daniel looked up, and just when he did, bright lights came on.  “Oh, gawd.”

“I always wanted to bungee jump, but not inside a building,” Jack growled.

Just when the ceiling had been about to hit the floor, a panel in the floor opened.  The steel rings had opened automatically, releasing their feet, and as the two dropped downwards, a bungee cord built into the steel rings and mat sprang lose.

Jack and Daniel had bounced into the deep basement level of whatever building they were in.  Now they hung in the air, several feet above the ground floor.

The bright light filling the room beat down on the two lovers.

“It's getting hot in here,” Jack said.  “There has to be a way down,” he added a moment later.  Realizing Daniel hadn't said anything, Jack called out to him.  “Danny, are you okay?”

“He's not going to kill us, Jack.  It's going to be one near miss after the other, just stuck in the maze, over and over again.  We're still rats.”

“We're going to get out of here.”

“I don't think so, Colonel.”

Jack's anger boiled.  He let out a slew of obscenities at the voice, but the voice just laughed.  He was about to say more when the steel rings holding the bungee cords released.  The floor below opened up, and Jack and Daniel fell into a deep pool of water.

“Great.  I love to swim,” Jack said sarcastically after coming to the surface and splashing about as he got his bearings.  “Danny?”

“I'm here.”

Daniel's voice was quiet, and the sadness in it filtered through Jack like an ache taking over his soul.  The older man swam to Daniel and took him into his arms.  Their wrists still had the cords around them which hampered their movements slightly, but Jack didn't care.  He needed to hold Daniel while he could.

Before he could say a word, the grinding noise began again.  He felt Daniel's body sag within his hold and heard a muffled sniffle.  The young man was emotionally drained, and it showed now in his physical exhaustion as well.  He became almost a dead weight to his lover, but Jack held on tightly.  He looked up and saw the ceiling closing down on them, but like Daniel, he knew it wouldn't kill them.

The archaeologist was right again.  The ceiling stopped just a foot short of the water.  Jack and Daniel were now in a deep pool at the very bottom of a building.  There was nowhere to go, except to tread water, which was incredibly difficult to do with the thick bungee cord still attached to their wrists.  The bright light could no longer be seen.  It was deathly dark, and the only sound filtering through the air was the haunting laugh of the voice.

Finally, the laughter stopped, and the only sounds heard were their own voices as they held on to each other while they treaded water.

“He won't kill us,” Daniel repeated.  “He'll make us stay here until we're on the verge of hypothermia, and then he'll give us a way to ... escape; and if we give up, he'll pull us out and set up something else.  He's doing what he said; he's torturing us.”

“We'll get out of here, Danny,” Jack said in a quiet voice.

“I know,” Daniel said, equally quietly.

Eventually, they freed themselves of the cords, something they knew was probably expected of them.  They moved to the edge of the pool, thoughts of crawling out in their minds, only to have steel fencing pop up out of the floor.  It was only one-foot high, but that was all it took to reach the lowered ceiling.  They were boxed in with no way of getting out of the pool.

As the hours passed, they did the only thing they could do.  They held on to each other, and to the lies they continued to speak.

“We'll get out of here soon, Danny.”

“Of course, we will.”

“It's only a matter of time.”

“Time.”

====

Daniel had been right, and in the process, they had completely lost track of time. Was it days or weeks since they'd been dropped into the pool?  They didn't have a clue.  The two men were subjected to one horror after another.  They were still the rats, the only difference being that their maze was confined to the space of a few small rooms. Whenever they were at the brink of death, their torture would shift.  They'd have moments of peace, treasured moments when they clung to each other and spoke of their love; and then, their world would be ripped apart, and again, they'd be on the edge of death.

Their captor always seemed to know when to make sure they had food and water, and if their injuries became out of control, they'd find themselves put to sleep, courtesy of a tranquilizer dart, only to wake up with their wounds bandaged or feeling stronger after being given antibiotics and other medications.  Sometimes, it was obvious they had been sedated for longer periods as bruises faded or wounds began to heal; other times, it seemed to be only hours.

It was an endless sea of days and nights of a torture that never ended, and, when added on to the nightmarish days that had preceded them, had worn Jack and Daniel down, physically and mentally.  Their bodies, though being healed enough to prevent death, were weary, and emotionally, the two were on edge.  Daniel, especially, was near the end.  He felt defeated in a way he had never felt before.

Their most recent torture had been to endure pungy sticks laced not with poison but with some alien substance Jack and Daniel couldn't recognize.  Every time they were stabbed with the sticks, it felt like acid burning through their skin.  They screamed from the pain, and yet, when it was over, the only evidence of the strange material was a tiny burn spot on their skin.

Now, they were huddled together in a closet that barely left them room to move.  They'd been placed there three hours earlier.  A tiny night-light was the only illumination they were granted; all the two lovers could see were their faces.

“I can't, Jack.  I can't do this anymore.  Help me.  Please, help me,” Daniel cried into Jack's hold.  “Make it end, Jack.  Please make it end.”

“Danny, there has to be a way out,” Jack said, moving back so they could look into each other's eyes.

Their clothes were nothing but rags after their various torture sessions; both had fevers, and neither had a clue how to escape.

Daniel cupped Jack's face as the young man pleaded, “Make it go away.  I'm begging you, Jack.  Please.”

“Danny, I can't.  You can't ask me to do that.”

“I can't do this any...more.  It's never going to end; never.”

“Danny ...”

Jack was cut off by a passionate kiss, and somehow, in the tiny expanse of the closet, the two engaged in a heated blending of their bodies.  It had been intense, a powerful ... goodbye ... in a space that felt like a coffin to both.

After another kiss, meant to be the last, Daniel begged his lover again.

“Make it go away, now; now with this memory, with us, together.  Make it go away.  I love you, Jack.  Always you; always you.  Let that be our the beginning of ... of another forever.  Please, Jack.  Make it go away.”

Daniel kissed his heart again .. and again ... and again.  Tears rolled down his face.  Slowly, hesitantly, Jack raised his hands, moving them up Daniel's back.

They paused their kisses.

“More than life, Jack.  We're forever, right?  Beyond ... this.  Love you.”

“I love you, my beautiful Angel.”  Jack's hands moved in front of Daniel's body.  He ran them gently along Daniel's sweaty chest, and then upwards to caress his cheek.  “Need you, Angel.”

“I'm yours.  Next life, Jack; our next life will be better.”

“This one's been pretty good, all things considered,” Jack said as he cupped Daniel's face.

“The best, Jack.”

“La Mio Bello Stella Cadente,” the older man whispered.

“My Silver Fox,” Daniel said, trying to smile.

“Space ...”

Jack stopped, unable to finish the nickname which symbolized surviving against all odds; somehow, it didn't seem to fit the day.

Daniel sniffled.  He took Jack's hands in his, but kept them level with his cheek.  He kissed the palm of the right hand and rubbed his cheek in it, and then did the same with the left.  Looking at his soulmate, Daniel placed the palms of Jack's hand back onto his cheeks.

“Not this time, my Love.  Not ... this time.”

“I love you,” both said at the same time.

Jack's hands slipped down to Daniel's neck.  Tears were now rolling down his cheeks, too.

“Love you, Jack.  Love you always.  My heart and soul, forever.”

“For...e...forever,” Jack finally got out, his breathing labored.  He didn't know if he could do this, but otherwise, they'd go on being rats.  It was worse than Ba'al's torture, courtesy of the sarcophagus.  “Remember Goofy?” Jack asked, a tiny smile gracing his face.  He heard Daniel sniffle and saw him nod as the young man recalled their first trip to Disneyland together.  As he talked, Jack's strong hands went around his lover's neck.  “What a picture that was -- you in Goofy's arms.”  Jack himself was barely able to talk, but he had to.  “You're such a snack fiend.  Chocolate: could never keep you supplied in chocolate.”

“It's the next best thing to sex,” the young man replied as he felt Jack's fingers massaging his neck, disguising his motive.

“My Danny.  Smores: I turned you into a Smores addict, too.  Never did get you to like Big Hunks though.”

“You're wrong.  I love the biggest hunk of them all, My Jack.  I love you so much.”

Jack nodded his head, and whispered, “Love you so friggin' much.”

Jack took a breath.  His fingers began to press harder against Daniel's neck, and then.

“Picture.  Smores.”  Daniel's eyes grew wide, so much so that even in the little light they had, Jack could see it.  “I know who it is.  Jack, I know who's doing this to us.  Gawd, I can't believe it.”

Jack closed his eyes, desperately trying to regain control over his body. His hands fell downward as if laden with lead.

“Oh, Jack.  I love you,” Daniel said, taking his lover's hands in his.  “I'm sure of it now.  I know who, but I don't know why.”  Daniel looked downward, shaking his head as he tried again to figure out all of the puzzle.  “Why, Jack?  Why would he ...”  Daniel paused, looking back up at Jack.  “Oh gawd.”

====

“Major Carter, has there been any sign at all of Colonel O'Neill and Daniel Jackson?” the general asked over the phone.

Sam cringed at the question.  They hadn't found anything new in quite a while.  It was as if Jack and Daniel had never existed; there was absolutely no trace of them.  Sam and her team, reduced from the original four teams down to two, had searched for miles, twice, and now they were on their third detailed search of the area.
 
“Nothing since we found the box, General, but we're still looking.”

“Major, I don't like to say this, but ...”

“Then, don't, Sir.  General, you know better than anyone that Daniel and the colonel are the reason the Stargate program exists.  We can't give up on them.”

Hammond sighed.  He didn't want to give up on the missing two, but he couldn't afford to hold onto false hope either.  It had been weeks since the two had disappeared.

“Keep me posted.”

“MajorCarter,” Teal'c approached, handing her his cell phone.  “SergeantSiler says it is most urgent that he speak with you now.”

“Thank you, Teal'c.”  Sam took the phone.  “Carter.  What is it, Sergeant?”

“Remember those missing tapes, Major?”

“Missing tapes.  Yes.”

“I found them, and Major, you're going to want to see them ASAP.”

“I'm on my way back to the base.”  Sam disconnected the call.  “He's found the surveillance tapes from when Daniel was kidnapped.”

“I will accompany you.”

Sam nodded, informed Lou Ferretti of their departure, and then headed back to the Mountain with Teal'c, leaving Lou in charge as the search for Jack and Daniel continued.

====

“I can't believe it,” Sam gasped as she watched the image play out in front of her.

Siler had given her the tapes he had found by accident and then had returned to his duties.

“I do not understand why the lieutenant would do such a thing,” Teal'c said.

“I don't, either, but we need to find out, and fast.”

Sam moved to the computer and called up the personnel file on the person in question.  She shook her head, struggling to find something that would make sense.

“There's nothing out of place:  education, certifications, recommendations, family.  Wait.  Hmm, there's no family listed.  That's a bit odd.”

“Many Tau'ri do not have family, is that not correct?”

“Well, technically, but usually parents are listed, even if no one else is.  It's strange to have nothing at all in the records.  Okay, well, let's see what he's been doing lately,” she commented, looking up work schedules.  “Nothing unusual there, either.  I'm going to tap into his computer.”

A noise beeped.

“A problem?”

“Nothing I can't handle,” she said, inputting numerous codes until she got what she wanted.  “Okay, I'm in.”  She began to sort through correspondence and work reports, and then ... oh my gawd,” she said, stunned.  “How did we miss this?”

Teal'c leaned forward to look over her shoulder.

“I was unaware of this, MajorCarter.”

“You, me, and everyone else.  Teal'c, if this is true, and I think it is, we need to find the lieutenant and fast.”

“I concur.  I shall inform GeneralHammond.”

“And I'll find out everything I can on him.”

Sam looked a bit pale and had a glazed look in her eyes.

“MajorCarter, are you ill?”

“I'm ... I don't know what I am, Teal'c.  Go on; I'm fine.  I'll meet you there in a few minutes after I find out more.”

Teal'c nodded and then left her lab.  Sam stared at her computer, wondering how she could have been so wrong about someone she had considered not only a friend, but a reliable and dependable co-worker.

~Samantha, get yourself together.  The colonel and Daniel are still missing.~

Quickly, she typed away on the keyboard, searching for the desired information.

====

Fifteen minutes later, Sam joined Teal'c in Hammond's office.

“Major Carter, I'm having a hard time believing what Teal'c just told me.  He has an exemplary record, and there's never been any indication of problems.”

“I know, Sir; me, too, but from the looks of it, it's definitely true.”

Sam handed Hammond a printout she had made of the man's communications that she had raided, and then she showed him the videotape.

“Sir, he inherited his father's holdings, and apparently, they were much larger than anyone thought.  It looks like he is as much a part of the rogue NID unit as his father was.”

“Do you think he has Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson?”

“I think it's a possibility.  He's on an extended leave, Sir.”

“For what reason?”

“He said he had personal issues that needed to be resolved.”  The three exchanged a look, and then Sam continued.  “We have to check this out.  From my review of the family holdings, there are three possible locations, one in Washington State, one in Missouri, and this one, in Idaho.”

“That's a lot of territory, Major.  Where do you want to start?”

“He's obviously very smart, General.  I think he's trying to outguess us. You see, we've been assuming that the colonel and Daniel must have been taken far away because there's been absolutely no sign of them at the cabin except for that ... grave.  Initially, when it was just Daniel, we found a trail leading into the woods, but it stopped suddenly.  Then, we found the blood on the dock, but it hadn't been there when we first looked for Daniel.  It was as if they wanted us to search the woods first, then the water.”

“To delay your progress?” Hammond asked.

“I think so.  Sir, after the initial searches, we began investigating other areas.  We haven't had any leads, but we've had to look everywhere we could think of for the Colonel and Daniel.  When we went back to the cabin two days ago, we found tracks leading to the dock.  They're new.  He's messing with us, General, and I think he's trying to lead us away from the cabin, from anywhere near Colorado.  I think the colonel and Daniel are here,” she said, pointing to the Idaho location.  “It's the only location close enough for them to be ... toying with us as easily as I believe they have been.”

“I want SG teams two, three, seven, and fourteen to accompany you, Major.  Take all the firepower you need, and bring them home.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

====

“Good morning, Campers.  Isn't that what you always say, Jack?” the voice taunted.

Jack and Daniel had been removed from the closet and now stood pinned against a wall by restraints that held them so tightly in place that they couldn't move, not even their heads.

“Good morning ... Gatekeeper,” Jack said.

For a moment, Jack had considered revealing that they knew the truth about their captor, but he changed his mind.  He hoped to have a stronger vantage point soon.  The one they were in now was too confining.

“Enjoying your stay at the Torture Inn?” the voice taunted.

“You think you're pretty funny, don't you?” Daniel asked.  “The truth is, you're a coward.”

“No.”

“Oh, yes,” Jack said quickly.

Daniel added, “Hiding in the shadows; letting others do your dirty work.”

“And you're not quite as confident as you seem,” Jack challenged.

The voice laughed, albeit with a hint of nervousness this time.

“You are fools if you believe that.  Both of you will spend the rest of your lives here; revenge is mine.”

“We'll get out of here, and when we do, we'll hunt you down.  That's a promise,” Jack said.

“You'll never escape.”

“Then show yourself ... coward,” Jack challenged.

“He's a kid, Jack.  Chicken.  He's playing a game, and he knows he's going to lose,” Daniel said confidently.

“SHUT UP,” the voice yelled, retreating from the room.

Jack and Daniel were each shot with the taser-like device that had first plagued them during an earlier torture session.  Pain rippled through their injured bodies as their legs and arms convulsed from the effects of the device.

**We've got to find out what that thing is.**

**We will.  When we get out of here.  Now that we know who we're dealing with, Jack, I know we'll get out.**

**I love you, Danny.**

**I love you, too.**

Their silent communication was cut short when four masked men came in to remove Jack and Daniel from their 'mounting' on the wall.

“Dinner time?  I'll take a Big Mac and ...”

Jack was punched in the abdomen, and before Daniel could react, he was, too.  For the next ten minutes, the lovers were kicked and beaten by the four men savagely.  It was the worst straight physical abuse they had yet endured.  Each tried to fight back, but they were outnumbered and too weak to mount much of an attack.  In the end, each slipped into unconsciousness, their battered, bruised, and bleeding bodies left on the cold cement floor of their tiny room.

====

“Crap!  I hate it when that happens,” Jack moaned as he came to.  “Danny?”

Jack rolled over, groaning from the pain his body felt from the movements.  He crawled over to Daniel who was about three feet away, still unconscious.

“Oh, Danny,” Jack said softly, seeing the dried blood that had seeped from his lover's mouth.  Jack ran the back of his hand along Daniel's cheek, and for a moment, just stared at his lover.  “We *are* going to get out of here.”

He wanted to make the words a promise, but something held him back.  He never lied to Daniel, and even though he thought their newfound knowledge gave them a fighting chance, they'd been through too much, and Jack wasn't so sure at the moment that they would get out of this alive.

“Mmm ... oh ...”

Daniel moaned in misery as he began to stir.

“It's okay, Danny.  We just took a beating, that's all.”

“Oh, that's, uh, good,” Daniel said, struggling to take a census of his body to see what worked and what didn't.  “For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.”

Jack snorted and helped Daniel to sit up.  They moved to the wall and leaned against it.

“My body's so sore,” Daniel said.  “I guess it's a good thing the lights are off.”

“Yeah, it's hard to see in here.”

Daniel looked at Jack and smiled.

“You're still my sexy and handsome Silver Fox even though you could use a shower.”

“First chance I get,” Jack smiled.  The two leaned forward and shared a painful kiss, their lips a little swollen from the beating.  “We'll work on that,” Jack joked.

“Ow,” Daniel reacted as he moved a little.

“Hurt much?”

“We've been through worse.”

“Then it's time to turn up the heat,” the voice said as he appeared in the doorway, still obscured by shadows.

“I'm shaking with fear,” Jack mocked.

“You should be.”

“Why?  Like I said, you're a coward, afraid to show your face.  You don't feel safe, and you shouldn't, because I'm going to break your neck when we get out of here.”

“You'll never get out of here.”

Jack stood up, his body moving slowly due to the various aches and pains of the beating.  He remained against the wall, and heard the sounds of guns cocking in preparation for firing.

“You are a coward, hiding behind darkness and masks.  You aren't half as confident as you pretend to be.  You know they're looking for us.  It's only a matter of time.”

“They don't know where to look.”

“I don't know about that,” Daniel said, standing up next to his lover.  “Sam's pretty smart.”

“Not smart enough,” the voice whined bitterly.

“Gawd, you're jealous.  She never returned your feelings.  Is that what this is about -- unrequited and misguided love?” Daniel asked.

“You don't know what you're talking about.”

~Now's the time.~  Jack smirked, “Oh, but we do ... Graham.”

====

Aboard the transport carrier, the SG teams readied themselves, and then waited. Sam spent the time reviewing as much correspondence and data as she could about the man she had thought of as a friend but who was now the enemy.

“MajorCarter, you look disturbed.”

Sam leaned back and looked at Teal'c as she responded, “I am, Teal'c.  I just don't get it, how Graham could have been so sweet and gentle, and then turn into this ... monster.”

“Perhaps this is his true character.”

“Maybe, but if that's so, he's a terrific actor.  I spent a lot of time with him, Teal'c, just talking.”

“DanielJackson said Lieutenant Simmons had a crush on you.”

“He said he did, but it was a long time ago; uh, back when we found the orb.  At the time, we thought it might be some kind of time capsule and were conducting tests on it.  Daniel and I were talking, and Graham was a little clumsy.  Daniel said he had a crush on me.  Poor Graham.  The microphone was on, and he had heard everything Daniel said.  But the thing is, he moved on.  He had a girlfriend.  Well, he said he did, anyway.  Reviewing his correspondence, I haven't really found an indication of any girl.  Maybe it was all an act.”  Sam sighed, a sad, mournful expression of her distress.  “We'd better get ready to land; we're almost there.”

Teal'c nodded, and returned to his seat.

====

The voice was silent.

“Cat got your tongue ... *Graham*,” Jack said, intentionally emphasizing the man's first name.

“How'd you know?”

“How many cowards are there here?” Jack answered snarkily.

“I am *not* a coward.  You don't understand.  I have spent years trying to get on an SG team -- *years*!  I worked my butt off, and I placed my life in danger, not that that sacrifice meant anything.  Years ... and all I was ever really allowed to do was be a robot ... 'chevron two locked'.  Why was I passed over, Colonel, time and time again?”

“I don't make those decisions, but it's looking like whoever did, made the right call.”

The voice, now known as the man he was - Graham Simmons - charged towards Jack and Daniel.  He grabbed the taser-like device from one of his men and shot Jack with it, causing the Air Force colonel to moan.  Jack kept his pain in as much as possible, not wanting to give his enemy the satisfaction of seeing him react.

“Oh, that's a big man,” Daniel taunted.  “More like a little man who needs big, bad alien weapons to do his fighting for him.”

“You don't know what you're talking about.”

“Yes, I do.  This doesn't make any sense.  You're doing all of this, torturing us, because ... why?  Because you were never put on an SG team.  I've gotta tell you the truth, Graham.  I don't remember seeing your name on the list of personnel wanting to be on a team.”

“I was there.  I put my name in every year.”

“Daniel's right.  I don't make the decisions, but he's right.  Your name was never on the list.”

“YES, IT WAS.”  Graham turned around in anger, walking towards the door.  He stopped suddenly, turned and stared through the darkness at the two men.  “Every year, like clockwork, I filed the paperwork, just like we're asked to, and I talked with General Hammond about it.  I was passed over.  You tell me why ... Colonel.”

“Your name was never on the list,” Jack reiterated.

“You're lying.”

“Why?  Why would we lie?” Daniel challenged.  “What good does it do us to lie?”

“I FILED THE PAPERWORK!”

“Here's a thought,” Jack began, “maybe Daddy Dearest didn't want you going off-world.”

“My father?”

“Oh, yeah.  We figured that out, too,” Jack said.

Daniel added, “How'd you keep it a secret, Graham?  I mean, uh, your personnel file had to show something like that.”

“Dad had connections.”

“His connections kinda fizzled after he landed in jail,” Jack quipped.

“And you put him there.”

“He committed treason.  Don't blame me for your daddy's disloyalty.”

“Don't mock him like that,” Graham warned.

“He shot Jack; left him for dead,” Daniel stated.  “So, murder is something you approve of, Graham?”

“No, I ... I didn't know about that ...”  Graham paused, but then he regrouped.  “You killed him, Colonel.  You got your revenge.”

“He was a Goa'uld.  He played with the bad guys, and sometimes when you do that, you lose.  By the time I caught up with him on the Prometheus, he was gone.  His eyes glowed.”

“No.  You killed him.”

“He was a Goa'uld, Simmons.  If I hadn't opened the doors, Daddy Dearest would have killed everyone aboard the ship.”

“You weren't like him, Graham.  What happened?”

“Nothing happened.  I just got tired of losing, of being the naive jerk.”

“Carter?” Jack asked.

“She never took me seriously.  Instead, what does she do?  Pine away over you.  Now that's a joke.  She's all strung out over you, and you're a stinkin' homo.”

Daniel sighed.  This wasn't the eager, young, dedicated man he had known over the years.

“You can think whatever you want,” Jack said sternly, “but if that's your reason for doing this, then you don't belong anywhere near the program and never did.”

“YOU'RE WRONG!  I WORKED HARD FOR MY POST AT THE SGC.  I NEARLY DIED THERE.  YOU NEVER GAVE ME A CHANCE, YOU ...”

“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” Jack mocked sarcastically.  “We've heard that already, and I'm telling you that you were never on the list.”

“Simmons,” Daniel said.  “It's the only answer.  He didn't want you to go off-world, did he?”  Daniel stared at the shadow near the door.  “Look, Graham, I'm sorry, but your father usually operated with his own agenda, and I'm guessing that if you think about it, you'll know the truth.  You may have submitted the paperwork, but I doubt it was ever processed.”

“I talked with Hammond.  He knew what I wanted.”

“And he probably wondered why if you wanted it so badly you never put in for the duty.  He's a major general, Simmons, not your babysitter.  He's not going to hunt you down and ask why you didn't file the paperwork to be on an SG team, even if you had told him that's what you wanted.”

“No,” Simmons said, shaking his head.  “He wouldn't have done that, not to me.  I'm his son.”

“Are you?” Daniel asked.  “Graham, Frank Simmons was ... well, he was the opposite of the person I know you to be.  He was greedy and wanted power.  That's all he cared about.  He wasn't even proud of being in the Air Force, always wearing a suit instead of his uniform, not that I blame him for not liking the military.  I even agree with him, to a point ...”

“Daniel ...”

“But, uh, that's neither here nor there.  The point is, with Frank Simmons, the Air Force was just a means to an end for him.  Being a father is more than a name, and I have a feeling Simmons didn't have a clue how to be anything but a name.”

Graham snickered, bobbing his head up and down in tight motions.

“I can't really say he ... cared.  I was with my mother most of the time.  He ignored her, but she wouldn't divorce him.  Catholic; old school.  He had so many affairs I lost count, but they never lasted long.  I don't think he ever really cared about anyone but himself.”

“Then why are you doing this?” Jack asked aggressively.

“He was still my father, and you killed him.”

“So all this is revenge for what happened on the Prometheus?” Daniel asked.

“That and ... everything.”

“Everything?” Jack repeated.  “Carter, not being on a team, and Daddy floating out into space?”

“And Daniel humiliating me in front of Sam.  He didn't even have the decency to apologize.  'Oops' and a smirky smile was all he said when he realized I had overheard his little gossip fest.  She was never going to take me seriously after that.  You and him, it's all your fault.  You can try and twist it, Colonel, but in the end, it's your fault.  You've been having a homosexual affair with Daniel for years, all the while stringing Sam along.  She never really looked anywhere else because of you.”

“You're wrong, Simmons.”

“No, you can't get out of this one.”

“Sam knew about us.  She's known from the very beginning,” Daniel stated.

“You're lying.  It doesn't make any sense if she knew.”

“Yes, it does,” Daniel responded.

Jack added, “Think, Simmons.  You've heard of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' right?  Well, Carter's been a decoy.  She's been helping us fool the Air Force.”

“No!”

“It's true, Graham.  Sam's been a great friend.  She's really helped us out a lot.”

“Oh no.  I heard about that zatarc thing.  No way you can get out of that!” Graham accused them.

“Daniel, I hate that machine.”

“You're not alone, Jack,” Daniel said.  He looked in Graham's direction. “Graham, SG-1 is special.  We're family.  Jack cares about all of us more than any team leader should care about their team.  It could have been Teal'c sitting there, or me.  It's ... part of why I love him so much.  He cares, and that's what that machine picked up on, nothing more than that.”

“You're both sick, having some sleazy affair ...”

“WHOA, RIGHT THERE!  As I know you know, Daniel and I are married, so blow that sleazy affair business out of your ignorant nose.”

“Married?  That's impossible,” Graham responded.

“No, it's not.”

“I don't believe you.”

“Wait, you put the rings on our fingers.”

“I did no such things.  What rings?”

“Cut it out, Simmons.  When we came to a while back, the rings were on our fingers.  Later, you took them off.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.  Married!  No way!”

**Jack, he's out of his mind.**

**Or something.**

Daniel decided to play along.

“Okay, so ... would it make a difference if you did believe us, that we were married?” Daniel asked.

“I don't ... you're trying to confuse me.”

“Where are our wallets?”

“Why?”

“Look inside,” Jack said, reluctantly playing along.  “We keep our rings in our wallets.  I love Daniel, and one day soon, the whole world is going to know that.”

“If we live to tell them,” Daniel said.  “Graham, Jack's wanted to retire for a long time so we could ... gawd, I hate this term, but ...” he sighed “come out, but there's still so much to do.  The Graham Simmons I know believes in that work, in keeping Earth safe.  So we've stayed, but soon, Jack's right; soon, everyone will know how much we love each other, and how much we've sacrificed to stay in the program.”

“Your father shot me in the back, Simmons; in the friggin' back, at close range, and then he ran.  He risked the security of not just the nation, but the world, when he helped Adrian Conrad escape, and then he kept him locked up, negotiating with him for what -- his freedom which could ultimately mean the destruction of Earth?  The Goa'uld inside Conrad was the winner; he took your father as a host.  After that, I didn't have a choice.  You've gotta understand that!”

Simmons said nothing, but abruptly left the room, followed by the four masked men.

“Jack, do you think we got through to him at all?”

“I don't know, but I still don't get it, Daniel.  He doesn't sound like he cares all that much about his long, dead papa.  Is this all about Carter?  I just don't buy it; it doesn't feel right.  Not being assigned to an SG team?  Maybe.  I've seen folks do crazier things for less than that, but ... does this feel right to you?”

“Jack, right now, nothing feels right.”

“Hey,” Jack turned to face his lover.  “Come here,” he said, taking Daniel into his arms.

“He might tell everyone.”

“He might.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, Angel.”

“Don't let go, okay?”

“I won't.”

====

“Jack, I've been thinking, and yes, I know, that's dangerous.”

Jack chuckled and placed a kiss on Daniel's head.  The two were seated on the floor, Daniel leaning into Jack whose arms encircled the younger man protectively.

“So what is kicking the hamster cage around now?”

“You're so warped.”

“It's a good thing you love me.”

“Gawd, I do, too.  Anyway, I was thinking about everything that has happened.  We've been lab rats, Jack, from the beginning.  The whole thing was so thought out.  I mean, this had to have been in the works for a long time.”

“I agree, and ...”

“And then we have this ... discussion with Graham, and he seemed so uncommitted.  I mean, we shook him, or did we?”

“Too easy?”

“Way too easy.  I think we're still rats.”

“You mean he acted confused and even contrite?”

“Yeah, that's exactly what I mean.  Look at the lie about the rings.  Why do that?  Why accuse us of a cheap affair when he knew we were married?  Answer: to get a reaction.  Why claim innocence about the rings, when it's so obvious that he was lying?  Answer: to get a reaction.”

“So maybe we weren't really making any headway,” Jack deduced.  “Maybe he was still acting, giving us the illusion of a breakthrough.”

“Exactly.  It's just another part of the torture.  He probably knew that eventually one of us would recognize him or piece it together.”

“He's giving us false hope by letting us think we have a chance of getting through to him and being released.”

“And it keeps us fighting ... and ... alive,” Daniel said softly, not looking at his husband.

Jack squeezed Daniel to him, but said nothing for a moment.  The comment didn't need a response, but it sure made a lot of sense.  Torture came in many varieties, including the mental, not just the physical, and apparently, Graham Simmons was well versed in both.

“So no clue why he's doing this?”

Daniel sighed reluctantly.

“Jack, I don't think we ever knew him.  I think maybe he was playing a role from the beginning, that he and Frank Simmons had some ... big plan to take everything over.”

“But they couldn't have known back then what the potential was.”

“No, they couldn't, but I think Graham was placed in the SGC, maybe just as a ... spy at first, or maybe just ... I don't know.”

“Spy's a good word.  He was there just to be there, to keep an eye on this new project, and as it grew ...”

“As it grew, Frank Simmons and the NID saw what the potential was.  I think maybe Simmons had plans beyond the NID from the start, Jack.  Graham was his secret.  No one knew they were father and son; no one suspected Graham.”

“He played Carter.”

“He played all of us, and we bought it, Jack.”

“So now what do we do?  Daniel, if you're right, we're no better off today than we were yesterday.  We're still in the maze.”

“One difference.”

“What's that?”

“Knowledge.  Knowledge is power, Jack.  It's time to stop the game.”

“Danny, the only way to do that is ...”

“Exactly.  I'm tired, Jack.  We're both injured.  Even if we escaped, we wouldn't get far.”

“So ...” Jack said hesitantly without finishing his sentence out loud.

“So,” Daniel said, “we make a run for it and ...”

“And we keep running, no matter what.”

“No matter what,” Daniel said, his head nuzzling into Jack's neck.

Jack sighed, pulling Daniel even closer to him as he did so.  He'd never felt so helpless in his life, but his lover was right.  The maze was endless, and unless they pulled the plug, they would never get out.

“So, let's make our plan.”

“They're probably watching, Jack; maybe even listening.”

**Isn't that a shame?**

Daniel smiled.

**Yeah, a crying shame.**

====

The lovers stood, hearing a commotion outside their door.  They faced each other, their hands joined together.

“Forever and always, I love you, Danny.”

Daniel smiled, and repeated the words, their words, the words that symbolized their world.

“Forever and always, I love you, so much, Jack.”

They kissed, wrapping their arms around each other.

“It never ends, Danny.  The circle, it goes ...”

“Forever,” both men said at the same time.

“Ready?” Jack asked.

Daniel nodded, a small smile on his face.  Jack couldn't resist.  He raised his right hand for one last gentle touch of Daniel's cheek.

“My Space Monkey,” he whispered almost inaudibly, and then they parted, backing away from each other by several steps.

The door opened.  Graham entered, two of the masked men behind him.

**Where are the other two, Jack?**

**I don't know.  Do you want to wait?**

**No.  Let's do it.**

Before Graham had spoken a word, Jack kicked him in the groin.  Daniel took on the masked man closest to him, kicking him in the knees.  He had doubled over, just as Graham had.  The other masked man prepared to shoot at Jack, but Daniel grabbed him, pushing him down.  They struggled for control of the weapon as Jack moved forward.

The man got off one shot, grazing Jack's right arm.  Daniel heard his lover react to the bullet at the same time he saw his enemy prepare to shoot again.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Daniel shouted.

With one swift move, once again drawing on the training Jack had given him, Daniel broke the man's neck.

“I won't let you kill him.  I ... won't.”

“Danny, let's go.”

Jack hated their captors even more now.  Daniel had been forced to kill with his bare hands, hands that belonged in the dirt, excavating, or all over Jack's body, loving and being loved.  They didn't belong around a man's neck, performing a deadly act.

He pulled Daniel up, and they ran out of the room.

“This way,” Jack called out, leading Daniel up some stairs.  When they reached the top, a man, not masked, was heading towards them.  Jack leaped at the man, catching him off-guard.  “You ...”

The words were muffled as the struggle ensued.  Daniel was about to help his lover when two other men appeared, and behind them, were three more.  They were outnumbered.

~We're going to die.~

It was a split second.  Daniel made his choice.  He pulled Jack's attacker off of him.  The men opened fire.

“DANIEL!” Jack yelled as his lover collapsed onto his chest, the younger man a victim of a gunshot wound.

More shots rang out as Jack felt blood trickling from his husband's body.

**I love you, Dan...**

As Jack faded from his own exhaustion and injuries, his arms went around his unconscious lover, holding him, perhaps, for the last time.

====

~Light.  Air.  I'm alive ... I think.  Lungs hurt.  Noise.  Where am I?  Focus.  Eyes need to ... wait, where was I?  That place ... Jack ...~  “JACK?  JACK, WHERE ARE YOU?”

Daniel sprang up in his bed to a seated position, pain shooting through his body.

“Daniel, it's all right,” Sam said, running to his bedside.

“Sam?  Where's Jack?”

“He's having an X-ray taken.  He's fine, Daniel.  You're both fine.”

“I don't know that I'd go that far, Major Carter,” Janet said, walking over to the two.

“Janet?” Daniel asked vulnerably.

She put her hands on his shoulder and eased him back down.  She looked over at two nurses and motioned for them to leave.  Once they had, Janet smiled at her friend.

“Daniel, trust me, I promise you, Jack is fine.  He'll be back here in a few minutes.”

Still breathing hard, Daniel relaxed slightly, but not by much.

“I thought ... I mean, we ... Graham ...”

“He's dead, Daniel.  They all are,” Sam stated, a hint of regret in her voice.

“Sam, he ... he wasn't who we thought.”

“I know.”

Janet touched Daniel on the arm.

“Listen, I know when the colonel gets back, you're going to want some ... privacy, so I want you to relax for a couple of minutes.  You'll get all the details later, okay?”

As curious as Daniel was, nothing mattered but seeing and touching his husband again.  They were in a private room, just the two of them.

“Sam,” Janet nodded towards the door.  Then she looked back at Daniel.  “There's no one watching.  When Jack comes back, I'll give you fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Thanks, Janet.”

“I'm just glad you're okay, Sweetie.”

“Me ... too,” Daniel replied weakly, involuntarily drifting back to sleep.

“I think he'll be out for a little while longer.  His mind may want to be awake, but he's been through so much, Sam.”

Sam glanced at the clock on the wall and stated, “Janet, I'm supposed to meet with the general in a few minutes.”

Janet also looked at the clock and nodded, replying, “The general wants to know when Daniel wakes up ... for real.”  She gave a small smile and added, “I'll call when he comes to again.”

“Thanks.”

====

“Sit down, Major,” Hammond said to the blonde as she entered his office.  “Where is Teal'c?”

“I am here, GeneralHammond,” the Jaffa answered as he, too, entered and took a seat.

“You've spoken with Colonel O'Neill?”

“Yes, Sir.”  She saw Hammond's expectant nod.  “Colonel O'Neill and Daniel were going ... fishing for the weekend.”  ~Fishing, right.~

~Somehow, I don't think fishing was on their agenda,~ Hammond thought as he sat back in his chair.

They all knew the truth, but they were at the SGC, and this was an official meeting to make a preliminary report of what had happened.  A more detailed session would be held when Jack and Daniel were both fully recovered.

“Daniel was kidnapped.  He was stabbed in the struggle and then,” she looked down, shaking from the nightmare, “and, uh ...”

“DanielJackson was buried alive, GeneralHammond.  O'Neill tracked him down.  Before they could return, they were overcome by  tranquilizer darts.”

“Thanks, Teal'c,” Sam said, having regrouped.  “Sir, over the last few weeks, both the colonel and Daniel were treated like animals in a cage.  They were apparently tranquilized for part of that time, and actually, General, they really didn't have a clue how long they'd been captured and trapped in Graham's vicious game.”  She paused, looking down for a second.  “They came very close to losing the game.  Everything that happened to them was planned by Graham Simmons.  They were ... tortured ... repeatedly.”

“I know this is unpleasant, Major, but ...”

“I understand.”  Sam took another breath, then continued.  “Daniel was in that box for an entire day, but Graham made sure he had air and had left him water.  He wanted Daniel alive.  He was the bait to get the colonel.  Once they were knocked out, they were placed in large crates and taken to an old Simmons family estate in Idaho.”

“How do you know the specifics of this?”

“Like some of the more prolific killers of our time, he was very detailed. When I checked his laptop at the mansion, he had written down observations; he, uh, wrote down everything.  This, along with the colonel's verbal report pretty much filled in the blanks.”

“Go on.”

“The colonel tended to Daniel's stab wound, but then they were both captured.  Several times they were knocked out with tranquilizer darts.  It was like a bad nightmare.  They were pushed to edge, and just when it looked like they might make it, the nightmare began again.  The first time, the colonel was separated from Daniel and placed in freezing water.  Daniel managed to free himself and get to the colonel.  They got away, so they thought.”

“Then what happened?”

“DanielJackson attempted to get water from a well and fell down it.”

Hammond listened in total bewilderment, amazed that his two colleagues were still alive.  What Sam and Teal'c were describing was like a bad movie that never ended.

“Major, did the lieutenant give any indication why he hadn't destroyed the tapes?”

“Yes, Sir.  According to his notes, he took more than just the tape from Daniel's office, hoping we'd think the tapes were just lost.  His problem was getting them out.  He hoped to take them out a few at a time and then destroy them, but the opportunity never presented itself, so he kept them hidden.”

The three continued to discuss the recent events, all very thankful their friends had survived.  Hammond's phone rang, interrupting the conversation.

“Thank you,” the general intoned, putting the receiver back down.  “Doctor Jackson is awake.  Doctor Fraiser would like you in the infirmary, Major.  I'll be up myself after I make a few phone calls.”

====

“I don't need a friggin' wheelchair,” Jack barked, but then he saw his lover, awake, and smiling discreetly at him.  Suddenly, the wheelchair just didn't matter.  He didn't argue, didn't say another word until he was safely back in his bed.  “Thank you, nurse.”

Twenty seconds later, the door was closed.  Two seconds after that, Jack heard the lock.

“That would be Carter,” Jack spoke, standing and moving to Daniel's bed.

“Jack, I thought we were dead.”

“So did I.  C'mere, you.”  Neither cared about the pain because when they were in each other's arms, as they now were, pain didn't exist.  “I love you, Angel.”

“I love you, too.  How?”

“You know what?  Let's talk about that later.”  Jack pulled back and cupped Daniel's face.  “Right now, we're on the clock, and I don't want to waste a second.”

“Me, either.”

With their eyes locked onto each other, they began to close the small gap between them as they inched closer and closer until their lips touched.  It was a slight bumping, and then they were apart by a mere fraction.  Their lips joined again.  Jack nibbled on Daniel's lower lip, and then ran his tongue between his husband's lips.  Moments later, their tongues met as their kiss deepened, moans escaping from their throats.

The lovers kissed for several minutes and then leaned their foreheads together.  They said nothing for a minute or two, and then Daniel shook his head, not losing contact with Jack.

“I really thought that this time was the last time.”

“Someone's on our side.”

Breaking the contact, Daniel looked into Jack's eyes and asked, “Why, Jack?  Why are we so special that all these ... things keep happening, and yet, somehow, we ... we, uh ...”

“Live to see another day?”

“Yes.  The odds aren't on our side.”

“Maybe they are, and we just don't know it.  Maybe ... maybe there's something we're supposed to do, a reason that we ...”

“Keep surviving?” Daniel interjected.  He saw Jack nod.  “There has to be a reason.”  Daniel raised his hands to Jack's face, his thumb and fingers running continuously across the skin.  “It's unreal, Jack.”

“I know, but I'm not going to second-guess it, either.  *He*,” Jack looked upward, “wants us here, so we'll stay.”

Daniel chuckled, “Like we have a choice.”

“We always have a choice, and I choose you.”

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel chimed as they began more kissing.

Then the couple heard a warning tap on the door.

“Two-minute warning,” Jack said.

“We should have told Janet a long time ago about us; it would have made our recoveries a whole lot easier.”

“And less stressful.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“Forever and always, Danny.”

Way too soon, the thirty-second 'da-da-da-da' rap on the door happened.  Regretfully, Jack stood and walked back to his bed.  When Janet opened the door, the two were smiling at each other.

“Thanks, Janet.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

The two men had spoken at the same time, and Janet grinned in response.  They were almost glowing, so much so that Janet had to turn around, supposedly to get a chart, just to keep from choking up.

“Okay, you two,” Janet finally said.  “I'll give you the medical run-down, and then Sam can fill you in on the details of what happened out there.  After that, I'll give you two five more minutes alone, and then the nurses come in to change Daniel's bandages.  I am going to sedate you both, no arguments please,” she said, holding up her hand, “because if I don't, you won't sleep.”  She again held her hand up, shaking her head.  “No, don't argue with me.  I ...”  She paused, looked at the two, and saw nothing but quiet smiles.  “Oh, well, good.  No arguments.”

Standing behind Janet's chair, Sam bashfully looked downward.  There was a feeling of such warmth and love in the room that it was almost overwhelming.

“Okay, well, where to begin?  The two of you were used like punching bags, I'm afraid.”

“Trust me, Doc, we know.”

“Maybe I can just give you the highlights.”

“That would work,” Daniel said.

“Both of you are suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, which no doubt has contributed to your weight loss.  We need to fatten you up,” Janet teased seriously.  “I have you on IV fluids, an isotonic saline and glucose, and broad spectrum antibiotics for your various wounds.  There are rope burns to your wrists, ankles, and to a lesser extent on your abdomens.  You have multiple bruises and lacerations all over your bodies.  How they didn't get infected, I'll never know.”

“Luck of the Irish,” Jack teased.

“I'm not Irish,” Daniel countered.

“Sure, you are ... by relation,” Jack said, winking.

Daniel rolled his eyes.

“Right.  You both have a couple of stitches in you from the stab wounds, and I've applied ointment to your whip wounds, Daniel.  Now, the colonel has one gunshot wound in the right arm, but fortunately, it just grazed you.  No infection or other complications with that.

“From that alien taser weapon, you have some small burns, but those seem to be healing on their own.  I've applied a cream, but, to be honest, I think time is what is healing those.  Alien weapons make me nervous,” Janet added as an afterthought.

“Those were weird, Doc; their purpose seemed to be to inflict pain but no real physical harm,” Jack observed.

“Yes, well, speaking of aliens,” Janet shook her head rapidly, “Colonel, even though they only gave you the alien drug one time, it was a potent amount.  There are still traces of it in your system, but it is minimal.  I don't expect it to give you problems like it did Daniel since he had repeated injections.”

“No withdrawal?”

“No, I sincerely doubt it.  You would have suffered other side effects by now, and from what you've told me, you only had the one episode where the attempt to brainwash had any impact.”

“That's right, Doc, but it was nonsense,” Jack said, looking over at Daniel.  He smiled.  “Nothing but nonsense.”

Daniel smiled back, something Janet and Sam easily saw.  Janet hemmed and hawed for a moment, and then continued.

“Daniel ...” the physician stopped, shaking her head.  With a sigh, Janet said, “Daniel, I don't know how you do it.  You were shot in the abdomen, but the bullet didn't hit an organ.  It passed right through you without causing any major damage.  You lost a lot of blood, but ... I just don't understand,” Janet said softly, but with a smile on her face as she thought about how Daniel continued to survive the most surreal scenarios.

“I understand,” Sam said.  “He's ... motivated,” she said, looking at her CO, who grinned back at her.

“Oh, yeah, definitely motivated,” Daniel echoed, his eyes shining as he exchanged a look with his husband.

“That must be it,” Janet said with a smile.  “Anyway, you also have a slight concussion from that fall into the well.  The ...” Janet stopped again, her face contorting from conflicting thoughts and emotions.  “The, uh, wounds from the whip are deep, but fortunately, they didn't get infected.  And, um, the ... I can't believe Graham Simmons did all of this.  Why?  Someone tell me why he thought he had to do this?”

“I don't know, Doc.  Carter?”

“I'm not sure we'll ever know.  From everything I've found out, he was a mole, funneling information to his father early on, but why he picked you out, Colonel ...”

“Maybe it's what he said,” Daniel stated.  “Maybe it's as simple as Jack being the one that opened that airlock.  Revenge, for the death of his father.”

“Twisted revenge.  Why go after you, Danny?” Jack asked.

Daniel shook his head.

“Sir,” Sam said.  “He wanted to hurt you.  Daniel's right; we're trying to complicate this.  He must have been very sick.  He went after Daniel because he knew you; he knew harming Daniel would hurt you more than if he had just killed you.”

“Sam's right, Jack.  It was just a big game designed to get to you.  Kidnapping me both times, the drugs, the blackmail for the technology ... he didn't really care about that; it was an excuse that he knew we'd believe.”

“Extortion as a cover-up for revenge,” Sam stated.

“Apparently,” Daniel said.

“He seemed so nice,” Janet lamented.  “I remember when he almost died.  He had a big crush on you, Sam.”

“That may have been part of the plan,” Daniel said.

“We'll never know for sure,” Sam said sadly.

“So, Doc, about ...”

Jack waved his hand back and forth between he and Daniel.

“You know what?” Janet stood, flipping down the medical charts she held in her hands.  “What it comes down to is this.  You were both tortured beyond belief.  You have some potentially serious injuries, but like always, you've come through it, together.  You'll be here for a few days, and then you can go home and ...”

“Only a few days?” Jack asked in total disbelief.

He had been sure that the SGC's Chief of Medicine would want to keep them there for at least a week.

“Colonel, let's just assume I said you'd had to stay here two weeks; you argue for one day; I finally insist on a full week; you drive me crazy, demanding to be released in two days.  Let's skip the arguing.  Four days, Jack, and, if all is well, you two can get out of here, as long as you follow my rules.”

“What rules?” Jack questioned.

“Until you're back in shape, I want you on a strict vitamin regimen, and I think mineral supplements, too.  No pizza; nothing with any grease whatsoever!  *None*!  You'll be on a bland diet - Jell-O, broths, and eventually scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes.  You may need some physical therapy, but we'll wait and see on that.  While you won't like my dietary requirements, I'm sure you'll like this one -- the hot tub.  With all the damage to your skin and the lesions, some time in a good hot tub will help.  I want you to get some softer bedding, sheepskin, perhaps.  It'll be gentler for your skin and obviously, more comfortable.”

“Bah, bah!  We're black sheep, and we want to go home,” Jack teased.

They all chuckled, then Janet added seriously, a softness in her tone, “You two seem to do okay at home, together.  Why mess with success?  Just ... follow my rules, okay?”

The lovers grinned, both nodding their agreement.

“You're getting soft, Doc.”

“No, I ... Listen, anytime you want the sordid details of your wounds, let me know, but essentially, it's the usual concussion, burns, stab wounds, minor this and that's ... like I said, you'll both be fine, if you can overcome the psychological ramifications, and I'm sure you can.  Excuse me, I need to check on something.”

Janet hurried out of their private room, closing the door behind her.  Sam had watched her leave, and turned slowly back around, her hands clutching the chair her friend had been sitting in.

“Is she okay?” Daniel asked.

“She will be, when you two are.  I don't think I've ever seen Janet react like that.”

“I know I haven't,” Jack said.  After a few moments of awkward silence, Jack said, “So Carter, details.  I know we've talked about it, but Daniel needs to know, too.”

“Yes, Sir.”  Sam explained everything that had happened that led the search team to the large mansion.  “So, it was just a matter of timing.  As luck would have it, we had just moved into position when we heard gunfire.  We made our way inside, and took out the two who shot at the both of you.  We were exchanging fire with three others when Graham and another man came upstairs. Graham ... he was about to fire at ...”

Sam looked at Daniel, a haunting look in her eyes.

“Carter?”

“He had a pistol aimed at Daniel's head.  I didn't have a choice.  They're all dead, Sir.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Daniel said softly.

“I didn't know if you were alive or dead, but he was about to pull the trigger, and I knew if he did, you'd definitely be dead,” she said softly.  “Um, there were two others outside.  They wouldn't surrender.  Ferretti got one, and Cornell another.”

She grew silent.

“Sam?”

“Daniel, we went downstairs and saw that horror chamber, or I should say horror chambers.  It's just ...”

“It's okay, Sam.”

“Carter, we get the idea.  Thanks.”

“Janet said you could have a few more minutes so ...”

“Thanks,” both men said together.

Sam backed out of the room and locked the door.  Jack and Daniel knew she was standing guard for them.

Jack got out of his bed and again went to sit on the edge of Daniel's bed.

“Jack, they're taking this hard.  We're alive.”

“Miraculously.  It was close, Danny,” Jack said as they joined their hands together.

“I guess if you think about it, it's, um ...”

“Let's not think about it.”

“Let's not,” Daniel agreed, and then they kissed, but instead of getting lost in each other, they simply held on.  “Jack, I don't think I want to read the report.”

“Then, you won't.”

“Hold me.”

“I am, Love.”

“Gawd, tighter, and don't let go.”

Jack didn't let go, not until the warning tap came at the door.  Then he kissed the man who was his heart.

“We'll go home in a couple of days and ...”

“And get drunk.”

“Yeah.”

“Jack, the girls.  Oh, gawd, we almost brought them with us.”

“I'm glad we didn't.  Carter said Mrs Valissi has been spoiling them rotten.”

“What about Michael Rittenhouse?  How do you think he knew about any of this?”

“What I think is that the man I went to see, the one that told me where you were when they kidnapped you; I think he's attached to the rogue NID.  He probably knew Frank Simmons and didn't like him anymore than we did.”

“So he did what?”

“When we were in Honduras, he leaked information to Mike.  Mike reported it, totally unaware that he was telling it to the man who had leaked it, and then he followed orders.”

“To give you a warning.”

“A little heads-up; that's why he couldn't tell me it was Simmons.”

“I don't understand.  Was he afraid of Graham?”

“Maybe.  Danny, if Graham Simmons pulled the wool over our eyes for all these years, he was capable of anything, but I'm not sure that's it.  In a sense, I think it was just twisted loyalty.  You don't rat out your team, even when you hate them.”

“So he had Rittenhouse warn you, but couldn't take that last step to tell you who was behind it all.”

“It was Frank Simmons' son.  Betraying him would have been the same thing as betraying Frank Simmons.”

“It's crazy.”

Another quicker tap was heard from the door.

“I love you, Angel,” Jack said, leaning forward for a kiss.

“I love you, too, so much.”

Sam walked in.

“Okay, the nurses will be in shortly, and General Hammond said he'd be by, too.  I'll see you two later.”

“Sam,” Daniel called out softly.

“Hmm?”

“Um, our ... wallets.”

Sam knew the question was not about their wallets, but about the rings that were normally kept inside of them.

“I found them in one of the rooms.  Um, the items you're concerned about are just fine.”

“You have them?” Jack asked, just to be sure.

“Yes, Sir.  Now that you're both awake, I'll bring them in tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Carter.”

“You're welcome, Sir.”

“I was afraid Graham might have destroyed them,” Daniel admitted.

“No.  He could have gotten a lot of leverage out of those,” Jack commented.

**The circle of our love.**

**It goes forever, Danny.**

**Forever.**

====

“I'm glad Janet prescribed this,” Jack said as he and his lover relaxed in a rented hot tub.

“It feels so good.”

This was their first day home.  Sam had seen to the installation of the hot tub, as well as having done some shopping for her friends.  It was a nice-size unit, allowing the two men to be comfortable in it.  At the moment, Jack and Daniel sat across from each other.  Their beagles lay quietly next to the tub, happy to have their 'parents' home.

Jack closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of the water against his skin.  He began to drift asleep, a closed smile on his face.  All of sudden, the water turned cold, freezing cold, and Jack couldn't move.  He began to shiver, and felt panic swell inside him.  His breathing became rapid.

“Jack?”  Jack's eyelids flew open.  “Jack, what's wrong?” Daniel asked as he hunched forward.

“Danny?  Where are we?” Jack asked as looked around, apparently confused.

“We're home.  We're safe,” Daniel said, sliding over to be next to his husband.  He took hold of Jack's hands, rubbing them as if to warm them.  “Jack, we're home, in our backyard.  The girls are here.”

“Geez, Danny, for a second, I was back in that place.”

“It's okay.  I love you, Jack,” Daniel said, pulling Jack into him.  He held on tight, still able to feel his lover shivering.  “We're home.”

“Danny, I didn't like being a rat,” Jack sighed.

“Me, either.”

“Next time, let's be cats.”

Daniel laughed, “Next time we'll be cats.”

====

“How's that feel?” the older man asked as his fingers kneaded into his lover's back.

“Mmmm.  I love the O'Neill Family Rubdown.  Oh, gawd, yes.”

Jack smiled and said, “You know, normally when you say that we're doing something else.”

“Mmmm ... don't stop.”

“Yeah, you say that, too,” Jack chuckled.

“Jack!”

“Sorry, but I miss you.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh, are you busy tonight?”

“Sore.”

“I'm sorry, Love,” Jack responded seriously, leaning forward to place a kiss on his lover's shoulders.  “How about here?”

“Oh, yeah, Babe, more!  More!”

Jack smiled, wishing they were making love, but at least they were together, and recovering.  This was their third day home.  Janet had dropped by earlier and was satisfied with their healing progress, and she had recommended massages to help with their sore muscles.

Jack continued his soothing motions, noticing how quiet it had become.

“Danny?”  Jack looked down and smiled.  “I love you, sleepy head!  Rest well, My Love.”

====

“No.  Hurts.  Not rats.  Can't do this anymore.  End it, Jack.  Please.”

Jack's eyelids opened.  Since Daniel had fallen asleep during his massage, he was actually on Jack's side of the bed, in a prone position.  Jack was on Daniel's side of the bed, sleeping on his back.  Hearing Daniel's anguish, he scooted over, lying on his side and reaching out with his left hand to try and rouse the younger man.

“Danny.”

“No more.  Please no more.  Can't watch you die.  Can't endure any more.  Not a rat.  Hurts so bad.  Everything hurts.”

“Danny,” Jack said, shaking Daniel's arm a bit more forcefully, but Daniel was so lost in his nightmare that he wasn't waking.

Jack was about to turn him over when Bijou moved up from her spot at the end of the bed and layered Daniel with a slew of kisses.

“Woof!” she said in between kisses to Daniel's nose.

“No ... Bij?”  Slowly, Daniel awoke, his body soaked from sweat.  “Bijou?” he asked weakly as he began to lift himself up a little.

“Danny,” Jack said again, his hand warming his lover's arm.  “You were having a nightmare.”

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel said, rolling onto his back.  Bijou nudged his arm slightly.  “Thanks, Girl.  I'm okay now.”

“Bij, good girl.  I'll take over now,” Jack told the beagle, reaching over to pet her for a quick moment.

“Woof!” Bijou responded as she moved back to the edge of the bed and curled up into a ball.

“Her ears are up,” Daniel said.  “I scared her, didn't I?”

“You wouldn't wake up.”

“I scared you, too.”

Jack leaned down and placed a kiss on Daniel's lips.

“I love you, Angel.  You were back in that maze.”

“Jack, we almost ... we almost didn't make it back this time.”

“But we did.”

“Why?”

“I don't know; maybe ... maybe there's something we're supposed to do, something pretty special.”

“You've said that before, but what, Jack?  What could we possibly do that would warrant our living through all these nightmares?”

“Oh ...” Jack caressed Daniel's cheek, and as he did so, Daniel moved his right hand up to gently rub against his lover's forearm.  “Starting a family maybe.”  Daniel smiled.  “Geez, you're beautiful.  Your smile, it lights up the entire room.”

“Jack,” Daniel responded softly, feeling embarrassed.

“I love you.”

“Make love to me, Jack.”

“What about Bij?”

Daniel looked at their precious and beloved Bijou.

“Hey, Bij, how about, uh, I mean, would you mind ...”

“Woof!” she answered, standing up and shaking her body, her ears flapping in the air.  With a smile on her face, she pranced downstairs to join her puppy in their beanbag by the fireplace.  “Woof!”

Jack chuckled, and then followed through, happily honoring his husband's request.
 
====

The next afternoon, Jack found his lover sitting quietly on the lawn, near Katie's play yard.  The youngest beagle was going on a dig, and Daniel was encouraging her, though he was quiet and, to Jack, looked a bit subdued.

“How's the dig?” Jack asked as he approached and sat down next to his lover.

“She finally found that bone you hid last month.  You did a good job with that one, Jack.”

“Hey, she needs challenges,” Jack mused.

“Where's Bij?” Daniel asked, looking around a bit.

“Where do you think she is?”

“Watching me from somewhere.”

Jack smiled and looked over at the beagles' large doghouse.  Daniel followed the gaze, not surprised to see Bijou lying in front of it, but still very much focused on Daniel.

“These are special dogs, Danny.”

“I know.”

“So why so quiet today?”

“That whole nightmare, last night's nightmare,” the young man explained.  “Jack, I need to say something, and, we don't need to talk a lot about it, but I really have to get this out.”

“Okay,” Jack said softly, reaching over to take Daniel's hand.  “I'm all ears.”

“You always are, even when I ask impossible things of you, things that ... thank you, Jack.”

Daniel's eyes were misting, and Jack leaned forward to kiss him, moving his free hand to caress Daniel's cheek, and swiping back against the younger man's ear.

“Why are you thanking me?”

“For being willing to do what I don't think I could have done for you, but at the time, I needed.  We were going to live in that maze forever.  I couldn't do it anymore, and I had no right, and it wasn't fair, but I knew you'd protect us, that you'd do ... Jack ...”

“You're welcome, Angel, but, uh, I'm glad that mind of yours figured things out enough to stop us from going forward with that little plan.  To be honest, Danny, I'm not sure I could have.  I ...”

Daniel's fingers covered Jack lips, and then he kissed him.

“Yes, you could because you'd do anything for me.  I love you so much, and I trust you more than ... gawd, Jack, I don't have words.  Just ... know that I know how hard that moment was for you, and as incredible as it may seem, I love you even more because of your strength and courage and ... I just love you, Jack.”

“Love you, too,” Jack said, swallowing hard as he tried not to lose control.  “I guess there was an 'or' after all.”  He saw Daniel nod as he remembered their nightmare.  “Angel, since, uh, we're discussing the hard stuff.  Are you okay?”

Daniel looked into Jack's eyes, and he knew what Jack was asking.

“I don't like to kill; I never have, but no one hurts you, not if I can help it, not ever, Jack.”

Jack's hand massaged the area between Daniel's ear and the back of his neck.  He nodded, looking away for a moment.

“The universe underestimates you, Love.”

“Just like they do you, too, Jack.  Maybe that's a big part of our strength.”

“Still, are you going to sit here and tell me you haven't thought about it?”

Daniel took a deep breath and looked at Katie, still digging in her search for more treasures.  He looked over at Bijou, lying on her side, letting the sun warm her, but still with her eyes glued to Daniel.  He sighed contently as he took in the country home that really was his home, the first he'd ever truly known.  He smiled and gazed into Jack's chocolate brown eyes, feeling his lover's fingers caressing his skin in tender, comforting motions.

“Thought about it?  A little, yes.  Regret it?  A little, sure.  Killing is something I wish neither one of us ever had to do.  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, without a moment's hesitation, because this, all of this,” Daniel pulled back just a tad to wave his free hand at the house, the girls, and Jack, “is my life.  Home is worth fighting for, and it's the one thing that really is worth protecting.

“I wish I hadn't had to do it; I wish the world was sane; I wish there was peace on Earth, that there was no hunger, that violence was a foreign concept to every being everywhere.  I wish a lot of things, but those things don't exist with any kind of consistency.  We're human, and we're fallible, and there are some evil people out there who don't care who they hurt.

“No, Jack, I'm not going to waste precious time, cherished chances to love you, enjoy time with our girls, and just be ... happy in our home; I'm not going to waste a second of that by letting myself be consumed with guilt that I stopped an evil person from ending everything good in my life for no reason except for the sheer pleasure of it.  Is that what you want to know?”

“Danny, I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Yeah, I'm one lucky man to have you.”

“It works both ways.”  Daniel grimaced a little.  “I think I'd better go inside.”

“What's wrong?”

“Nothing that lying down and snuggling with my husband won't cure.”

Jack smiled, got up quickly, and reached down to help Daniel up.  They kissed, and then leaned their foreheads together, just wanting that moment of silent unity.

“Bij, you're off duty for a while.  Relax, Girl,” Jack said as they walked by the doghouse.

“Thanks, Bij,” Daniel added, and then looking over his shoulder, he called out to Katie, “Keep digging, Girl.  I happen to know there's a meat bone in there.”

“Woof!” she responded, digging even more vigorously, earning little laughs from Jack and Daniel who returned to their bedroom for some cozy snuggling.

====

“Bijou, Katie, it's time to go!” Daniel called out.

The two beagles ran from the dock towards Daniel as he stood by the truck in front of their Colorado cabin.  After two weeks at home, Janet had declared them fit for light duties.  Before resuming their duties at Cheyenne Mountain, however, the two men had decided to spend a couple of days at the cabin.

As the dogs reached him, Daniel opened the door to the truck, and the girls jumped in, taking their spots in the cab.  Daniel sighed, looking out towards the lake.  He heard Jack locking the cabin's front door, but never took his eyes off the water.

“A dollar for your thoughts.”

Daniel chuckled, looking down and shaking his head.  He looked over at Jack and asked, “Inflation again?”

“It never stops, Love.”  The two kissed, and then Jack tossed a duffel bag into the cab of the truck, next to the beagles.  “So, what are you thinking?”

“That I love you, so much that not even that nightmare can take away the magic of this place.  I was scared about that.  I thought we might come back here and ...”

“And let the evil win out?”

“Yeah, but we didn't.  I swear, Jack, I didn't even think about it very much.  I had you and the girls and ... all that love surrounding me, I just didn't think about it.  Did you?”

“Not very much, mostly after you had that nightmare.”

“But even that wasn't so bad.  I mean, you know what I mean.”

Jack put his arm around Daniel's waist and pulled him to him.  He kissed Daniel's temple, and then both resumed their gazing at the lake.

“Yeah, nightmares are a part of our life.  You would have had it if we had been home.”

“Exactly.  I don't want to lose this place, Jack.  It's a haven and a refuge, and we need it, just as much as we need our house and the cabin in Minnesota.”

“Yes, we do.”

“If they hadn't of grabbed me here, they would have found a way to do it at home, or maybe when I was running an errand, at the library, or ... getting gas or something.”

“My genius.”

“It's finally over, most of it anyway.”

“Most of it?”

“That ... drug that keeps popping up in my system.”

“Janet's working on it.”

“I know, and you know something?”  Daniel turned to face his husband. “She'll figure out it.  I believe that.”

“I believe it, too.  The Doc versus some alien drug?  No contest.”  The two laughed and shared another kiss.  “If the alien drug is smart, it'll head for the hills.”

“Little Napoleon is on the case,” Daniel teased.

The lovers laughed some more.  With Simmons' connection to the rogue NID unit, they knew that had been how Graham had come across the mind-altering drug (as well as the alien taser weapon).  While it didn't cause problems on its own, when combined with other substances or stressful events, it sometimes wreaked havoc with Daniel's system.  Still, occurrences were now very rare, and Jack and Daniel didn't think about it much.

“Hey, Danny, I have an idea,” Jack said.

“I love your ideas,” the younger man responded, smiling at his lover.

“Can I get that in writing?”

“No, but what's your idea?”

“Let's stay another couple of days.  We'll tell Hammond we still aren't up to par.  He'll believe us.”

“Hmm,” Daniel said, playing a little with his lover's shirt.  “Playing hookey?”

“Yeah, like we did before in Boston.”

“I like that idea.”

“Bij, Katie, back to the lake,” Jack said, moving to open the door.  Then an idea occurred to Jack, and he smiled.  ~I just have to; at least once.~

“What?” Daniel asked, seeing the odd expression on Jack's face.

“Nothing, I just love you.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel responded, still feeling like he was missing something.

“Come on ... Sweetheart.”

Daniel stopped his movement and stared incredulously at his husband.

“What did you just call me?”

Jack chuckled and took Daniel into his arms.

“I just remembered something I was thinking about when I went shopping for stuff to bring up here.”

“And?”

“Sweets for my sweetheart.  Don't worry, Danny; I won't start using it.  It was a fleeting thought.”

The lovers kissed.

“No problem ... my Darling Dumpling.”

Jack coughed and said, “It won't happen again.”

Daniel smirked, “Good decision, Babe.  I'm very proud of you.”

Jack and Daniel both laughed, knowing that effectively ended the use of both of those endearments, and then they and their precious beagles walked along the lake enjoying a beautiful Colorado day.  A nightmare was over, and ahead of them, was a wondrous future, a future that included their cabin by the lake and leisurely days of doing nothing but swimming, fishing, sunbathing, and making love.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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