Dodging the ever-present guards, Daniel had found himself going deeper and deeper into the heart of the palace, to rooms that he had never thought might exist. He knew they were the personal chambers of those who held Ra's favour, their ornateness reflecting the position of the occupant in the hierarchy that was the court of Ra.
Even as he hurried along the corridor, searching for somewhere safe that he could rest, to recoup his strength, his mind busily catalogued the hieroglyphs that covered every available wall. They were a constant source of fascination to him - that had always been the case ever since he was a small child, coaxing the forbidden knowledge from whoever he could persuade to share it with him.
And so it was that he had discovered the truth about Ra - the truth that now made him a hunted animal.
Not that I was much better off before, Daniel thought, angrily. I was lower than an animal to Ra and his servants even before I learned to read their script.
He could still feel the bruises that marked his back, turning livid purple now, causing an ache to run through him with every movement. His head ached from the blows he had received, and every so often the walls of the corridors through which he travelled began to sway slightly, mute testimony to the pain that throbbed mercilessly behind his temples.
Must find somewhere to hide, he thought, with a growing sense of desperation. Somewhere safe...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Where did it all go wrong? O'Neill thought.
He was seated in the lotus position on the silk-covered bed in his room, performing the rite of kel no reem. Even as he sat there in the semi-darkness, illuminated by the flickering light of candles, his mind was racing.
What was this uncertainty he was feeling?
His eyes opened, as if of their own accord, and lazily traced the hieroglyphs of rank that marked the doorway of his apartment. There, for all the world to see, not that many were allowed this deep into the heart of the building, were the things he had achieved through a lifetime of work and service.
And suddenly, over the past few days, it was no longer enough.
O'Neill closed his eyes once more, trying to concentrate on the rite that had always worked to centre him before. He knew the danger of his seditious thoughts - the penalty of any betrayal was death and dishonour, but that did not stop the unsettled feeling that had haunted him for longer than he cared to remember.
It had all been quite enough for such a long time - the power, the influence. When he had been a young man, first having taken on the role of First Prime to Ra, he had found a dark enjoyment in the fear that he had seen so clearly etched on the faces of those brought before him. It had sent a frisson through him, making him more ruthless with them than necessary, as if that were needed to mark his superiority over them as they squirmed before him.
Ra had always been distant, so that had not changed - was it his imagination, or did his master seem a little troubled these days? O'Neill frowned at the thought. If that were the case, then why did he not share his concerns with those who were closest to him?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The boots of the guards echoed dully in the hallway as Daniel hurried along. The sound seemed to be growing closer, and he could feel fear rising within him like a hand that threatened to choke his very breath. Wherever he looked, there seemed to be nowhere to hide.
As he reached a junction, corridors leading away to the left and right, his head began to pound once more, louder and louder as the footsteps of the pursuing guards were closing in as well.
Which way now?
There seemed to be no difference between the two, and he chose one, blindly scurrying down it, until he turned a corner and gazed in horror at what he found there. It was a dead end - the only break in the expanse of wall that faced him was an ornate doorway covered with a sheer hanging, which glistened gold in the candlelight.
The guards were coming nearer, so near now that Daniel could almost feel the ground echo under their boots, and he was forced into a decision. Taking a deep breath to steady his shaking hand, he reached out to slide his hand past the edge of the hanging, waiting for an exclamation as he pulled it to one side.
Inside, the room was in partial darkness, illuminated by the flickering of candles.
For a moment, the stillness of the room led Daniel to believe it was empty, before his eye fell upon the man who sat cross-legged on the bed which dominated one corner. He was stiller than a statue, so still that his shallow breathing could hardly be seen from the doorway.
Daniel hesitated, unsure of what to do, when a voice calling out from behind him, echoing down the corridor, made his mind up.
Hastily, he slipped into the room, moving silently across the stone floor. One eye was on the man who sat so still nearby, but he did not move - Daniel had seen a Jaffa in meditation once before, many years ago, and he remembered how even a dropped dish had not made the man jump, so deeply had he been in his trance. All he could hope was that the same was true here.
Looking round in the flickering light, Daniel realised that there was only one place that he could hide himself, behind an ornately carved chest that stood by the furthest wall. Sucking in a breath, he squeezed himself between the chest and the wall, his ears straining for the approach of the guards.
For a moment there was silence, punctuated only by the over-loud sounds of Daniel's heart pounding. To him, as he lay there, squashed against the wall, his breathing sounded thunderous, and he was certain that they would find him easily.
He heard the muttered conversation of the guards as they reached the doorway - it took a moment before one of them entered the room, and Daniel could hear the hesitation in the man's voice as he spoke.
"I am sorry to disturb you, my lord..." he began, his voice shaking a little. "We are seeking a fugitive from our god's justice..."
"There is no-one here but myself," a voice replied, calm and controlled.
"But, my lord," the guard protested, "he must have come this way..."
"Get out!" the other voice snapped, authority lacing the words with steel.
The guard mumbled an apology - the words were not loud enough for Daniel to hear, but the tone was clear enough. A few moments later, silence fell again, as the footsteps of the guards echoed off down the corridor.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Now what? Daniel thought, not daring to relax. I suppose I'll have to stay here until whoever this chamber belongs to leaves, and then...
"Come out," the voice said, shattering Daniel's thoughts with those simple words.
Daniel froze, the breath caught in his throat for a moment before he realised that his position there was known, and that he had no choice in the matter now. But why had the other man lied to the guards, saying he was alone?
As he carefully crawled out of what had been his hiding place, Daniel's mind was whirling, thoughts of flight and possible excuses he might make warring for supremacy.
It was lighter in the chamber now, the light of the candles enhanced by the glow of larger lamps that hung from two of the walls. The light glanced from the decorations, sparking from the rich gilding, every hieroglyph seeming to dazzle him with its inherent knowledge.
It was with some pain that Daniel got to his feet - the long run, combined with the beating he had received before his escape, had not been helped by the recent contortions necessary to try and hide. His head spun as he stood, and he blinked at the man who stood before him, the man who had lied for him.
His eyes slid past the gold emblem on the man's forehead, past the brown eyes that gazed down at him, locking onto the glyphs that marked the owner of this chamber as...
No! Daniel thought. How could I have been so unlucky?
With an effort he forced himself to look at the man rather than the surroundings, slumping his shoulders a little and looking down once his eyes met those of the other man, in a show of deference.
"Who are you?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill studied the man as he crawled from his makeshift hiding place, his experienced eye noting the way the man wavered slightly as he stood, doubtless favouring the result of a beating in the recent past.
Why had he lied to the guards? The man who stood before him was someone he had never seen before - another day he would have cheerfully thrown the younger man to the wolves, caring nothing for what fate might await him.
But not today. Something had made him lie, had made him empathise with the plight this fugitive faced, and he had reacted without a further thought.
As he watched the man, noting the clear blue of his eyes, he saw them almost imperceptibly widen as they took in the glyphs above his door and it was then that O'Neill realised what the young man's crime must be.
"Who are you?" he asked, watching the show of deference that the younger man was making with some amusement. He had seen eyes like those before, full of intelligence and defiance, and no matter how the other man might dissemble, he knew the act for what it was - a means of survival.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel saw that the First Prime of Ra was unconvinced by his show of deference. The man watched Daniel with amusement in his eyes.
Was that why he'd not told the guards? He wanted to keep Daniel for his own pleasure? Rumours about the preferences of the First Prime were rife, and Daniel had no desire to learn whether or not they were true.
The look on the First Prime's face was changing to impatience; obviously not a man used to waiting for a response to anything. Daniel knew his life was in his hands. How much blood had he shed in his service to Ra? What was another insignificant slave added to the list?
Swallowing hard, Daniel answered, "Daniel, sire." He kept his voice even and respectful. However unconvinced the man was by Daniel's stance, he felt there was no need to antagonise him. The tales of this man's cruelty spread far and wide.
The First Prime walked towards Daniel , experienced eyes measuring and calculating his appearance. He was seemingly unimpressed by what he saw.
"So why are you running? What crime against your god have you committed?" The voice was soft but cold, edged with command.
Without thinking Daniel blurted out a response. "He's not a god."
The words hung between them, and Daniel waited for death. The First Prime moved as if to hit him, but stopped and took Daniel's chin in his hand and hissed, "You deserve to die for such blasphemy."
The statement fell cold into the air between them, and Daniel wondered why he was still alive. Tired, scared and aching he just wanted this to be over.If this was the end then why was the man waiting?
"Then do it."
The man looked surprised at his defiance and apparent lack of fear. "In a hurry to die?"
"No, but you seem in a hurry to kill me."
Daniel heard his voice say the words, and was amazed at his own bravery. He had nothing left to lose. His realisation had given him strength. The First Prime of Ra, moved away from him with something new in his eyes. Respect, or maybe a sense that whatever decision he made now could change his life forever.
"Give me a reason why I shouldn't just hand you over to my guards, or simply kill you here?"
Daniel took a chance, "You have your own doubts or I would be dead already."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill looked at the young man before him and saw truth in his eyes. Was this what Ra was; so afraid of? His secret being exposed? Little things that he had dismissed as imagination, or ignored because they didn't fit into his life seemed to take on new meaning. He had a choice; he could kill this man now and continue with his life undisturbed, or he could find out just what he knew. Times were changing, and did O'Neill really want to be on the losing side? Why waste the rest of his life on a false belief?
Doubts or no doubts, there was no way he was going to let this slave get away with his presumption. He raised his hand and sent the man flying into a heap on the floor. Standing over the dazed man he hissed at him, "Well now you're here. I might as well listen. Talk fast, slave."
He stood back and waited as the other man struggled to his feet. Daniel wavered but managed to keep his balance.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel wondered how much more of this he could take. His vision was blurry and he could hardly stand, but he knew he had to keep focused or he'd die here. He took a deep breath and began to talk.
"My Lord. I learned to read the hieroglyphs." He saw the anger flash in the older man's eyes and steeled himself for another blow, but none came and so he continued. "Some tell of a time before Ra, when we were a free people who lived off the land. We lived as we pleased, married whom we loved. We raised families as we wished. We died old and grey. We lived for ourselves. We were not a rich people but we were a happy one. We had a sense of who we were, and what we wanted.
"We weren't killed or tortured at the whim of one so-called god".
"We belonged to ourselves and to each other. Knowledge was freely given and shared. Loyalty was something we gave to those who were deserving, and we received it in our turn, if we were deserving. Not because someone stood over us with a weapon in hand. Our souls and our bodies were our own.
"Then he came and all that changed. He enslaved us with fear, made us hate each other. Divide and conquer, a time-honoured strategy. He took our bodies as his own, made us complicit in our own destruction. The only power Ra has is that of our own fear and the technology that we make for him."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The slave's eyes blazed, his pain clearly all but forgotten in his intensity. O'Neill found himself almost hypnotised by the impassioned voice. A part of him screamed that this was all a lie, that it was blasphemy - but another part,growing in volume , told him he should listen. The flow of words, went on and on,until O'Neill had to stop it or lose himself completely.
"Ra isn't a god! He's an alien parasite who has enslaved our people." The passionate voice continued, never ending. Wearing him away. He had to stop it. Had to. "You included." The final phrase slammed into O'Neill's brain and he reacted as he always had, when he felt out of control.
"You will be silent slave." He raised his hand.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel saw the hand come up to hit him again and tried to move out of the way, but his tired body refused to cooperate.He felt the impact against his already throbbing head, and then nothing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill watched the man fall to the floor, his anger blazing. The arrogance of the man. A slave who had somehow learnt to read, had dared to question him. Challenge him. When Daniel remained still, O'Neill bent to shake him awake, but the effect of repeated blows had been too much. He didn't waken.O'Neill frowned in annoyance.
The impassioned, powerful voice echoed in O'Neill's head and he couldn't shake the feeling that this slave might be right. Was Ra really a parasitic alien? Had his whole life been based on a lie?
It was an uncomfortable thought. All those people who'd died in Ra's name. His own father had lost his life in one of Ra's great conquests. O'Neill had been proud of his father's loyal service and had been determined to follow in his footsteps. Was it all a lie?
He looked down at the unconscious man and realised that Daniel had received nothing from telling the truth except contempt and betrayal. He was an oddity in the world that Ra had created. A seeker of truth for truth's sake. He had had nothing to gain from this, and that was what made O'Neill begin to believe. He needed to know more, and this man seemed to be his only source of information.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As thought returned to Daniel again, a throbbing pain inside his head reminding him that he was truly still alive, unexpected as that might be, for a moment he had no idea where he was. The material that he was lying upon was soft, slippery, and dark as the starless night. His fingers gripped it in exploration, their calluses catching on its sheer surface, snagging it even as his eyes adjusted to the way the light glanced off of it.
Where was he?
He ached. Every muscle that he possessed told him that he had outdone himself, that he had over-stretched his stamina. Was the pain in his head that of sunstroke? It would not be the first time, if that was the case. He had always been susceptible, the joke amongst his family being that he had too often been caught in the sun - he had no sense, they said, no idea when to shut up and blend into the background.
Wherever he was, it was quiet. Not like the huts where he had lived with his family, before the plague had taken most of them, leaving him alone.
Daniel stretched, a tentative movement, testing the limits of his tiredness. It was then that he realised that he was naked, that the material draped across him, covering just his legs and lower back, was the same as that on which he lay. Where was he, and more importantly, where was his robe?
As he levered himself up from the softness of the bed, his arms protesting at having to take his weight, Daniel turned slightly, conscious of a movement behind him. As he turned, out of the corner of his eye he saw a hand descend onto his back, almost startling him into jerking away from its owner even before he felt the cool slickness of ointment touch the skin of his back.
He was off the bed in one movement, somehow gathering the material that had covered him with one hand and dragging it behind him in his flight.
Flattening himself against the wall, Daniel could feel every hieroglyph that decorated its surface scrape against the soreness there. Idly he wondered whether his abused back was leaving a trail of blood, even as his mind tried to make sense of what was going on here.
It all came back to Daniel in a rush. His flight, hiding here, his defiant encounter with the owner of these chambers, the blow that had sent him spiralling into darkness. As the memories came back, Daniel found himself clutching the bedcover closer around him, as if that flimsy material alone could be enough to protect him.
His heart sank as Daniel realised why he was naked. He had heard tales of Ra's First Prime, the man whose reputation alone was enough to strike a fearful obedience into the heart of the most haughty Jaffa. The man who had a reputation for something else as well...
Daniel swallowed nervously, his eyes intent on the man who stood before him, watching for any opportunity to escape, even as he knew the situation to be hopeless.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill had been a little startled by the speed and fury of the other man's reaction. He had hauled the younger man - what was his name... Daniel? - onto the bed bodily, in order to check the extent of his injuries. It had been obvious by the way he had been standing, even before O'Neill's temper had got the better of him, that he had been severely beaten recently.
Was that guilt he was feeling?
Why should he care for the well-being of anyone but himself?
Years of serving Ra, who had always been a merciless master, as well as the example of his father before him, had taught him to show none of the softer emotions. Like many of the Jaffa, he had married, even fathered children, but only because it was expected of him - in the end, his wife had been unable to bear to live with him. When he had been promoted to First Prime, that had been her cue to leave, giving O'Neill the excuse of more onerous duties to allow her that freedom.
But there was something about this stranger, this slave - a brightness in his eyes, not dimmed by the years of hard labour and hard knocks that he had obviously endured. There was a life to him that O'Neill envied, an elusive quantity that he knew had been driven from his heart long ago.
And now that same slave was glaring at him again, pressed against the wall as if he would melt into its' surface, the bedcover wrapped as tightly around him as he could manage.
Suddenly, O'Neill realised what he had thought, what Daniel had feared was happening when he had awoken so swiftly. Taking another look at the suppressed fury in the younger man's eyes, the First Prime began to laugh...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel was startled by the laughter. Of all the reactions he'd imagined, amusement hadn't been one of them. In all he'd heard about the First Prime, a sense of humour had never been mentioned. It felt at odds with the rest of what he'd heard of him.
Why was the man laughing?
"Oh little one, do not flatter yourself. I have no need to bed an unwilling slave."
Daniel flinched at the words, his anger growing. 'Little one'? The man was laughing at him. He hated being laughed at, always had since he'd been a child.
"When I woke up naked in your bed, what was I supposed to think?"
Daniel knew he was treading on dangerous ground, he'd experienced the man's anger once already. This was probably not the best direction to go in. However, the First Prime still appeared amused.
"I was attempting to ease your pain, not increase it. This ointment will ease the worst of the ache. Come back and lay down. You can stand if you like, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't dribble any more blood on my walls."
Daniel looked suspiciously at the First Prime, his humour again surprising him. However the promise of release from the pain was tempting. He kept the sheet well wrapped round him as he moved slowly to the bed. With a final half angry, half worried look on his face Daniel lay face down on the bed, his back exposed to the Jaffa's gaze. The sheets were cool and soft against his heated skin.
The First Prime's touch was unexpectedly gentle on Daniel's back, as he rubbed in the cold cream. The relief was almost instant and Daniel felt a flash of anger that this wasn't available to the other slaves. As if the opulence here wasn't enough reminder of the inequality in their lives.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill was impressed again at this man's continued spirit. Others would have been petrified into submission by this point. Well, most slaves would never have gotten this far, never mind still had fight in them. It had felt for a second that Daniel, yes the slave deserved the privilege of a name, that Daniel was the one in control, that he had chosen to lay down.
O'Neill wondered for maybe only the fifth time in his life at a system that brutalised such people. There was a fire in Daniel that used properly could have been a rare asset to Ra. As O'Neill gently rubbed in the ointment he was surprised that he actually enjoyed this. It had been too long since he had been gentle with anyone.
"So Daniel, what had you planned to do with your hard-won information?" O'Neill felt the younger man tense in surprise at the use of his name. Good, thought O'Neill, keep the man off balance. He had to have the upper hand in this relationship, as the rest of his life spiralled out of control because of it.
There was a respectful knock on the door, and O'Neill wondered if he should ignore it, but knew that it would only be questioned later. He kept his voice harsh and called out, "Enter, if you must."
He felt Daniel stiffen under him, and kept his hand on Daniel's back. O'Neill's deputy entered and stopped at the sight he saw. O'Neill glared at the man.
"This had better be important if you disturb my... pleasure."
O'Neill's second stood nervously at the doorway, his eyes flicking around the room, looking anywhere but at the figure prone on the bed. Daniel tensed under O'Neill and the man's breathing quickened, but O'Neill's hand ensured he didn't move. However every muscle was tautly coiled and O'Neill felt he could bolt at anytime. He pressed harder.
"Sorry my Lord but...," the man trailed off, as his eyes reluctantly fell on Daniel's back. The weals and bruising were still evident.
"Yes?" O'Neill let his irritation show and the Jaffa quailed under his glare. Whatever it had been was obviously not important enough to risk the wrath of his leader.
"Sorry to disturb you, Sire. This will wait."
The Jaffa left in a hurry. O'Neill let out a harsh bark of laughter, moved away from the slave, and waited for the explosion.
Daniel didn't disappoint he rose from the bed, forgetting modesty in his anger.
"He, he thinks I'm your... your. That you... you." Daniel was virtually jumping up and down. It gave O'Neill quite an eyeful, and he leant back to enjoy the view. Whatever he'd said, the man was undeniably attractive. Despite, or maybe because of the sun roughened skin and the obvious marks of hard work on the body. He had were well defined muscles and O'Neill found it hard to concentrate.
He cleared his throat and said loudly enough to be heard over Daniel, "You want to give a different impression, I'd cover up."
Daniel flushed pink all over and grabbed the sheet to cover himself again. He had obviously realised just who and what he was shouting at and quietened considerably. His tongue flicked lightly over his lip but he didn't retreat, merely looked around the room. O'Neill tried not to smile. He was beginning to like this man.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As the First Prime spoke, Daniel realised that the man had saved his life for a second time, and that with that decision had obviously decided on a course of action. Keeping the sheet close to his chest he spoke softly, "Thank you. I should be grateful to be alive."
Daniel wasn't convinced and it showed in his tone, but when he looked into the other man's face, instead of anger, all he saw was a raised eyebrow.
"You should be, yes. Now sit down. You were about to tell me what you were going to do with this knowledge you've gained."
Daniel knew that for the first prime, the matter of the Jaffa was closed. His mind was back on what he considered more important things.
The bed loomed at Daniel. He hesitated and then settled awkwardly on the floor, acutely aware of his nakedness. The Jaffa shook his head and moved towards Daniel, who flinched and then covered it up with a shuffle. The other man didn't appear to notice and threw Daniel what appeared to be two pieces of cloth. Gold and blue in colour. Daniel caught them automatically, and looked at them with a puzzled expression.
"Clothing," was all the Jaffa said before turning away. After a second of staring at the man's broad back, Daniel stood and shook out the outfit.
It was blue trousers and a tight sleeveless gold top. The material was softer then anything Daniel had ever felt in his life. It shimmered and as he put it on he savoured the silken feeling. So different from his own rough slave robes. Instantly he regretted his impulse. This was just another piece of evidence of how differently the two sectors of Ra's society were treated.
Daniel wondered who this had belonged to. Certainly not the man in front of him. He swallowed and said, "Ready."
The first prime turned back and eyed Daniel with a slight smile that made him uncomfortable. He felt his anger begin to return. He'd never been looked at in that way before and he wasn't sure he liked it.
Daniel looked at the man in front of him, really looked at him, and noticed his eyes. Although hard they still held, even after all the brutality he'd inflicted and seen, a small hint of what he could have been without Ra.
Daniel felt a small kernel of hope grow. Had what seemed to be a disaster turned into his best hope? The Jaffa spoke, his voice mildly irritated but nothing more.
"So for the third time, what were you going to do when you escaped?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel took a deep breath, wondering for a moment at his own audacity, before he began to speak again. Always aware of the First Prime's eyes upon him, dark with some emotion he did not wish to even begin to consider, he told the tale of his discoveries, the things that he had learned over the past months and years. That there were others, a small band who stood against Ra, even when they had believed him to be a god, and who would be heartened greatly by the things that Daniel had discovered.
Even as he spoke of the others, Daniel wondered if he was making a major mistake - after all, this man, even though he owed him his life twice over now, was still a Jaffa, bound to the service of Ra by oaths and blood, let alone the infant Goa'uld he carried inside him.
Still, the lack of emotion that he saw on the other man's face was enough to reassure him. Surely if he had signed his own death warrant by his words, the Jaffa's face would have given him some sign of it?
He was pacing as he spoke, up and down in front of where the other man sat, all too aware of the dark-eyed gaze that followed him. Daniel could feel the warmth of that gaze, even as he tried to put to the back of his mind how the other man's hands had felt on his skin, the unexpected gentleness of them.
He stopped then, feeling himself sway slightly as he did so - the Jaffa stiffened where he sat, almost looking as though he was about to stand, to come to Daniel's aid.
You're grateful to him, thought Daniel, that's all it is. Anyway, why would he ever look twice at you? He said himself, he has the pick of the palace to choose from, men and women, all willing to do whatever he wants for the chance of advancement.
"So what will you do now?" the Jaffa asked, making Daniel pay attention suddenly. "You can barely walk, let alone make it to wherever this resistance is based..."
"I'll take my chances," Daniel heard himself say, growing angry when he saw that same small smile re-appear on the other man's face. "I've looked after myself up till now."
"And a fine job you've done too," the other man replied. "Beaten to within an inch of your life and chased halfway across the palace. If it wasn't for me, your corpse would be rotting somewhere even now, as an example to others."
Daniel felt his face redden as the other man spoke, hating the feeling of obligation that he had towards this man, the sheer fact that he owed his life to the man who stood closest to the throne of Ra.
"What do you want me to do?" Daniel snapped, heedless of the possible consequences of his words. He had come so far, dared so much, that even the thought of turning back now repulsed him.
"You need to rest," the Jaffa said, in a calm voice. "Heal. Regain your strength. And then we will go in search of this 'resistance'."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The words fell together perfectly, confirming the tiniest of suspicions that O'Neill had formerly harboured. There was something so right about this, as if somehow he was being compelled to help this strange intruder who had destroyed all his comfort in his station.
He saw Daniel's eyes widen as he spoke the words, realising then how unexpected they were.
"I'll call for some food," he continued, crossing to the doorway. As he reached it, O'Neill turned slightly, glancing back at where Daniel still stood uncertainly, by the bed. "Stay here."
With those words, O'Neill lifted the hanging that covered the doorway and left, letting the material drop behind him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"What am I, some kind of dog?" Daniel muttered, watching the hanging that covered the door as the material stilled. "Stay here," he echoed, frowning.
Without the forceful character of its usual occupant, the room felt empty, the ceilings high and the atmosphere cold. Daniel suppressed a shudder as he wrapped his arms around himself, feeling the softness of the material he was wearing under his hands.
Daniel shuddered again on remembering the look that the Jaffa had given him when he had seen him in these clothes. It had been a look of assessment, somehow feeling as though he was being undressed by those dark eyes, and it had made him squirm.
Did I do the right thing in trusting him? Daniel wondered, as he began to move away from the bed. He is Ra's First Prime, after all...
Even as he thought it, Daniel realised the stupidity of that thought - by his own actions, the Jaffa had condemned himself to death, hiding a fugitive from the Guards, not once but twice.
And the second time...
Daniel's face burned as he recalled it. The warmth of the other man's hand on his naked skin, the pressure of those fingers keeping him still, had driven the blood straight from his brain.
He had been incensed that the Jaffa who had interrupted them had presumed that he was there to have sex with the First Prime, but much of Daniel's irritation at that idea had been due to the fact that he had momentarily wished it to be true.
Daniel crossed to the wall and began to translate the hieroglyphs there, in a desperate attempt to take his mind off the owner of this room. After a couple of minutes, he gave up, knowing his attempt to be futile.
Damn, he thought, crossing back to the bed and sitting down again.
Daniel felt the way that the bed dipped beneath his weight, remembering the way the material that covered it had felt upon his naked skin. He glanced back towards the door briefly, before settling back onto it again, meaning only to nap for a few minutes.
Before he knew it, he was asleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill returned with a servant in tow and indicated that he should place the food quietly and leave. The man bowed and left quickly. He was used to his lord's ways when he was 'entertaining'.
O'Neill made to wake Daniel up and then halted, as he took in the sight of the slave sprawled on his bed. The man was attractive awake, but asleep there was an innocence about him that was both endearing and beautiful. O'Neill fought the urge to touch him. He wanted to feel the warm skin once again under his hands. Caress and explore the body as it was revealed to him. This man had changed his world, and sparked emotion in him that he'd long suppressed as inappropriate for a First Prime.
What was it about Daniel that touched such a chord in him? He had bedded more beautiful men and women, had faced more formidable people, but none had made him feel so off balance, so uncertain. There was something about Daniel that touched a part of him long buried.
O'Neill hesitated, for once unsure on his course of action. Should he wake him? He didn't know how long it had been since Daniel had eaten, but did he need his sleep more?
He settled on a chair by the bed reluctant to disturb him. He wanted this man badly but why should the need be returned? O'Neill was everything that Daniel despised and rebelled against. He had no chance, and for once he had no intention of taking what he wanted by force. He wanted something more out of this relationship, but what exactly he wanted he was unsure of. He wondered how these rebels, or others as Daniel had called them, would react when their best hope of success turned up with the First Prime of Ra. He spared a grim smile at the thought of the response he'd receive. Would Daniel be enough to protect him? Could he manage not to kill people who annoyed him?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel was being chased by a group of Jaffa, braying for his blood, screaming his name in anger. He looked back in terror and then stumbled. He found himself unable to move and opened his mouth to cry out. He felt an arm reach down for him and he froze, waiting for the expected blow. It never came and he only felt a gentle hand on his back. He opened his eyes and looked straight into a pair of concerned brown eyes, registered where he was, and uttered the first thing that came into his head.
"Sorry, My Lord."
It made the other man smile,a surprisingly pleasant smile that made Daniel begin to respond.
The word startled Daniel, "What?"
"You might find it easier to call me O'Neill, the others may not take too kindly to you addressing me as My Lord."
"O'Neill." The word sounded strange on Daniel's lips and he tried it out a couple of times. O'Neill watched him, amusement apparent in his eyes, and Daniel suddenly felt embarrassed. He was acting like a love struck idiot, over a man who had knocked him unconscious only a few hours before and who had a reputation for cruelty that was unparalleled. The thought didn't help; he felt a rush of lust, and shifted uncomfortably.
O'Neill obviously mistook the restlessness for uneasiness at his proximity, and stood away from him quickly. The first prime waved at the food set out and indicated that Daniel should eat.
Daniel gasped as he took in the sight. He had never seen such an array of different foods. He and the other slaves were given basic food rations, and this was beyond anything he could have imagined. He virtually ran to the food, he touched it and smelt it, admiring the colours and the scent.
He heard O'Neill's amused snort and comment, "You can eat it."
Daniel turned around, suddenly angry at the man's nonchalance, "It may be nothing to you, but I've never seen this amount of food before. I'm not as privileged as you."
Daniel saw the man's eyes flash with a mixture of anger and something else. O'Neill paced the room,then focused his attention on the man in front of him. Daniel stood his ground, unwilling to show weakness by backing away. The force of the man's personality blazed out of him and without the strength of his anger to protect him, Daniel was overwhelmed. O'Neill didn't shout but the power of his voice was so compelling he had no need to.
"You speak so fluently about how we no longer own our bodies and souls, but do you truly understand how my body has not been mine since I became Jaffa? Without this gift of Ra I would die." He showed the pouch to Daniel, who flinched away from the sight.
The sarcasm and pain in O'Neill's voice made Daniel wince. He hadn' t thought of it that way. He felt obscurely guilty; he'd forgotten his own passionate outburst.O'Neill was as much a slave as he was, only in a gilded cage.
He looked down at his feet, staring at them, unsure what to say. Unwilling to apologise but wondering if he should. He brushed a nervous hand through his hair. He felt the man come closer and tensed himself for a blow, but O'Neill's voice when he spoke was soft,and held a ring of conviction.
"We've a lot to learn about each other, and it isn't going to be easy but I promise I will never raise my hand to you again in anger. Now eat, while we still have time."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel did not need telling a second time. Conscious all the time of the Jaffa's eyes upon him, he fell upon the array of food as if he had not seen food for days - he could not remember the last time that his stomach had been truly full. Although he could see the amused half-smile on O'Neill's face as he ate, the hardships that he had suffered in the past gave him definite priorities. He could survive mockery, but starvation was another matter altogether.
Once he had somewhat satisfied himself, Daniel found that sense of being watched to be something that overwhelmed him, making him feel more and more uneasy as the moments passed. What was it that O'Neill saw when he looked at him? What must he be thinking of the way that Daniel had almost shovelled food into his mouth, when O'Neill had doubtless never gone hungry for a day of his life. Daniel felt his face begin to burn with embarrassment.
Glancing round at the Jaffa, he took in immediately the way that the other man was merely toying with his food, noting the way that the other man's eyes snapped from their observation of him to peruse the contents of his plate.
"You..." Daniel began, more than a little uncertain. "You're not what I expected... I mean, I've heard so much of you..."
"Were you expecting me to have two heads?" O'Neill asked, without looking up. "Or horns, maybe?"
Daniel stiffened, feeling that he was being mocked.
"You have a reputation that means I should have not have been surprised if either were the case," he retorted.
What was it about this First Prime that he wanted so desperately to goad him into a reaction? Was he so weary of being alive?
"I am sure that reputation is well-deserved," O'Neill replied, looking up now.
Their eyes locked, with Daniel scrutinising the other man as if he had never seen him before. He could see more of what this man was, passing through all the things he had heard to the man who stood behind those stories. There was something indefinable in the depths, something that looked like a desperate sadness, something that struck a chord deep within Daniel, making him regret all the harsh things that he had said.
"I know stories for what they are," Daniel said, continuing to gaze into O'Neill's eyes, lost in them. "Sometimes things become more than they are."
"And sometimes not," O'Neillsaid, looking away. "I have done many terrible things in the service of my... in the service of Ra."
Those words, which the Jaffa need not have spoken, let alone the tone in which they were uttered, drove deep into Daniel's heart. That the other man had corrected himself, knowing now that his service to his god had been a lie, was surely a sign that things were changing?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill had watched the other man eat with a sense of enjoyment - Daniel had fallen upon the food like a vulture, as if he wanted to make up for his lack of experience by trying everything that was to offer. He had bitten back a moan as the younger man's agile tongue had flickered out across his lips, wiping some stray sauce from his mouth. All O'Neill could imagine was that tongue doing something else, something that Daniel would surely never agree to, even should he live to be as old as a Jaffa.
Picking at his own meal, O'Neill considered Daniel's circumstances, putting himself in another man's place for the first time in his life. The fact that Daniel was so hungry was no surprise - O'Neill had seen the rations that the workers received, knowing that the best and choicest of all things went to the palace, for those favoured by Ra. But, even though he had often feasted on the fruit of their labours, the Jaffa had never considered what it must be like for those who produced it. What must it be like to hunger and yet know that others feasted on the things you grew?
No wonder they hate us, O'Neill thought. We should think ourselves lucky that we have not been overthrown. If it were not for Ra...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We should go soon, Daniel thought, surprising himself with his reluctance to leave this place. He had only been here a number of hours and already there was something comfortable about the room, replacing its former cold and alien feeling. Was it the room, or the man with whom he was currently sharing it?
Daniel chanced a swift glance over to where the Jaffa sat, now nursing a cup of wine. That same look he had seen before was in O'Neill's eyes - the other man was far inside himself, contemplating something that Daniel could not even begin to describe. Suddenly the quiet in the room they shared seemed oppressive.
Even as Daniel began to speak, O'Neill's head snapped round, the dark eyes focussing on him once more. Daniel swallowed, a little nervously.
"I need to say something," Daniel continued, his voice far steadier than he expected. "But it seems as though every time I open my mouth the wrong things come out."
O'Neill was silent, his eyes thoughtful.
"I am grateful to you for saving my life, if a little puzzled by your actions."
"That is... understandable," O'Neill replied. "My reputation..."
"...is nothing that should make me forget what I've seen," Daniel said, interrupting O'Neill with a small smile on his face. "I've learned not to believe everything I'm told, but suddenly I forgot all about that."
"...afraid. Yes, I was. But that was no excuse."
"You should get some sleep, Daniel," O'Neill said, his words cutting across what the younger man might have wanted to say next. "I must meditate again. This day has been a little... strange."
Daniel watched as O'Neill settled down cross-legged onto the nearby rug, listening to the Jaffa's breathing as it evened out into the stillness of kel no reem. Finally, after a few long minutes had passed, Daniel moved as quietly as he could to the bed, even though he knew it would take far more to disturb O'Neill, before curling up on its soft surface.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was dark when O'Neill moved again, stretching in the candle-lit room as he got up from his position on the floor. This time, however, his attempts to meditate had been less than satisfactory, troubled as they were by thoughts of the man who was currently lying sprawled asleep on his bed.
Why? O'Neill thought. Why him? What is it about him that troubles me so much that I can't seem to get him out of my mind?
As he stood, one of the candles by the bed guttered, the last light that it shed flickering across Daniel's face before going out. Almost instinctively, O'Neill's eyes fell to Daniel's face, seeking what expression it held even as the darkness hid those features from him.
With a small sound, the man in question moved, his hand, still visible, clutching at the slick material of the bed cover.
O'Neill took a step forward before he realised that he had even reacted, the helplessness of that sound cutting through him in an unexpected fashion. The last time he had heard a sound like that, it had issued from his child, locked in a nightmare. O'Neill frowned as he thought of his son, remembering the grief that his wife had gone through, the grief that he, as First Prime, had not been allowed to share. It would not have been seemly for one who stood at the right hand of Ra to be seen to be so weak. Yet he had envied her, envied the freedom she had to bewail her loss, their loss, when he must remain stoic.
Crossing to the ornate chest behind which Daniel had hidden on his first coming to these chambers, O'Neill opened it and removed another candle. Normally he would have waited for the servants to do this, leaving it to them as part of their duties, but suddenly he needed to be doing something. And the fact that this particular 'something' gave him a reason to be close to Daniel and have a good excuse to be so was a thought that the Jaffa quashed ruthlessly as soon as it was born.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This time, at least, Daniel managed not to flinch when he woke suddenly and found the Jaffa nearby. The other man had his back turned slightly, so that this time Daniel was able to watch him for a moment. He watched as the other man trimmed the wick of a candle with deft fingers, feeling his mouth suddenly become dry as he followed the movements of O'Neill's hands.
Daniel swallowed, suddenly nervous.
What's happening? he wondered. This is... not wrong, just... strange.
There was something capable about the Jaffa, something he had somehow been able to trust despite the way that all his instincts had screamed at him. And so far he had not been disappointed.
Daniel shifted slightly on the bed, and the slight rustle of the fabric was enough to alert O'Neill. Fascinated, Daniel saw the Jaffa stiffen at the sound, even as his hands settled the candle they held in its place.
"You are awake, then," O'Neill said, turning to look down at Daniel.
In the flickering light, the other man seemed huge, a solid mass of muscle looming over Daniel. A rush of heat, an unexpected surge of desire, as dark as the wine he had so recently drunk, surprised the younger man and he was suddenly glad of the semi-darkness, as it would hide the reddening of his face.
"We..." Daniel hesitated, his mouth suddenly dry again. "We need to go soon."
Reluctantly, Daniel sat up on the bed, his eyes still intent on the shadow that was O'Neill. Much as he wanted to wallow in the luxury that he was so newly experiencing, Daniel knew that every moment they lingered increased the danger he was in, should he be caught. Should they be caught.
"I could go alone," Daniel said, suddenly, feeling the weight of responsibility for the man who had twice saved his life settle on him like the heaviest of burdens. "No one would need to know that you helped me."
"It's too late for that now, Daniel," O'Neill replied, turning away from where the other man sat.
As a result, he missed the slight sigh of relief from Daniel - he had not truly wanted to go alone, the whole thought of braving Ra's guards alone scared him more than he liked to admit, but he had not felt that he could make the Jaffa's decision for him.
"But we cannot go empty-handed," O'Neill continued, as he searched through the papers that occupied a small table in the corner of the room.
Daniel's curiosity drew him from the bed, all thoughts of resting driven from his mind. He hovered a little uncertainly behind where O'Neill stood, as though undecided on his own safety near the Jaffa, before his need to know overwhelmed any other concerns he might have had.
As if he could feel Daniel stood beside him, even without looking up, O'Neill began to speak.
"As difficult as you found it to trust me," he said, "think how much harder it will be for this resistance of yours to do so."
Daniel felt his face redden slightly again at this reminder of how things had been between them. The slightness of the clothing that he currently wore, combined with the proximity of the Jaffa was proving a heady mix. It was as though Daniel was suddenly more sensitive, somehow more alive, the warm air brushing his skin like an intimate caress.
"So," O'Neill continued, seemingly oblivious to the turmoil that Daniel was experiencing beside him, "we need something to allow them to trust us."
Finally, out of all the parchments that he had considered, O'Neill seemed to find one that met his needs. With a curt nod, he began to roll it up, leaving the others, those he had rejected, in an untidy pile on the table.
"Now we can go."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next hours were a quiet parody of Daniel's former headlong flight. O'Neill stalked through the quiet corridors of the palace like a jungle cat, his step certain and determined. They met few people on their travels, and those that they did meet seemed to have decided that it was best to pretend that they had not seen them - one glance at the glowering expression on the Jaffa's face was enough to send even the bravest of Ra's guards scurrying in the opposite direction.
Daniel hurried at his heels, knowing that all people saw when they looked at the two of them was Ra's First Prime being accompanied by a favoured slave.
He knew that most, if not all, of those they encountered would not have been able to even describe what he looked like. And why should they be able to? After all, he was merely a slave to them, of as much interest as a piece of furniture, attracting interest only if it failed to do what was asked of it.
That thought was enough to make him angry again, his eyes fixing on O'Neill's back as he followed the other man through the maze of corridors. The steadiness of the other man was a reassurance to him, even as he realised that they were nearing the outside world.
Suddenly Daniel was very glad that he was not alone - would he ever have been able to find his way out of here without someone to show him the way?
As they reached a doorway, Daniel saw the Jaffa hesitate, before the other man turned to him, the rising sun turning him into one dark mass once more.
"From here on," O'Neill said, "our presence will be less easy to explain away, so we may need to hide at a moment's notice."
Daniel nodded, unable to summon any words through the lump of fear that seemed to have occupied his throat.
O'Neill paused, and Daniel felt the weight of the Jaffa's dark eyes upon him. He knew that every thought was as clearly laid out on his face, now lit by daylight, as if he had spoken them aloud.
"Trust me," O'Neill said, his voice quieter now.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is too dangerous for him, O'Neill thought, seeing the expression that had crossed Daniel's face when he spoke. Maybe I should be the one travelling alone...
Even as he thought it, O'Neill knew that there was no way that he could possibly reach the camp of the resistance alone, even if he could persuade Daniel to allow him to do so. They would kill him as soon as they realised who he was, and there would be little he could do to persuade them to hear him.
Not that Daniel would let him do it anyway. Even in the short time he had known the other man, O'Neill had come to realise that there was an unexpected strength in him, something that had led him to defy everything that others took as the truth, risking all that he had.
There was as much chance that he could persuade Daniel to let him continue alone as there was that the sun would rise in the west tomorrow.
O'Neill turned on his heel, conscious of Daniel's presence at his back, willing himself to concentrate on keeping the two of them safe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In the end, it was far safer than they had expected. Following Daniel's whispered directions, O'Neill had led the way through the huddled tents that surrounded Ra's palace, his face wrinkling occasionally at the smells that the rising sun strengthened.
There had only been one occasion when the two men had been forced to seek shelter, the noisy advance of Ra's guards giving them ample warning.
What had been the most alarming for Daniel had been that they had little choice of a hiding place, ending up flattened into the shadow of a half-fallen wall, O'Neill's body pressed hard against him as the darkness of the Jaffa's robes hid Daniel in his lighter clothing.
Daniel had held his breath for as long as he dared, feeling his head spin slightly, trying to still his minutest movement for fear that they would be discovered. Whereas before he had feared only for himself, even, he realised, when he had suggested that he travel on alone, now Daniel's agile mind presented him with images of O'Neill being tortured and beaten for what he had dared to do.
The warm strength that was pressed against him, the roughness of the clay bricks against his back, that was all that was real to him at that moment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill was surrounded by rebels all poring over a map of Ra's stronghold that the ex first prime had drawn. Daniel was with a young rebel female called Sha're, he was explaining the glyphs to her. He felt eyes on him and looked up at O'Neill who was watching him. The Jaffa nodded at him and then turned to answer a question. Daniel touched Sha're on her arm and stood up to join O'Neill.
He had to be near him. What was it about him that he found so compelling? The easy strength, the complete confidence and the usually controlled power. The eyes that could be hard as stone and then soften as he looked at a child. Daniel had never thought that someone like O'Neill would appreciate children but O'Neill did. It was another dimension to him.
He stood behind the man and listened to him explain the workings of the inner sanctum.
A young rebel that Daniel remembered as Skaara spoke harshly, " How do we know this man speaks the truth? He is a slayer of many of our people."
Daniel was stung into defending O'Neill. Didn't the man know what he had risked to come here? What he had given up?
"He speaks the truth."
"You, dressed like that. How can we trust you? Lap dog to the First Prime."
Skaara glared at him, disgust clear in his eyes. Daniel stepped back, unsure what to say. The boy had touched on something Daniel had mixed feelings about.
O'Neill growled and stared at the young rebel.
"You are an idiot. Daniel brings you information that will help you overthrow Ra and all you do is insult him... Fool. You say what you wish about me, but recognise good information when it is given." He indicated the map. "This is a true copy of Ra's stronghold and if you have spies anywhere at all, let's hope they are less stupid then you. They have no doubt given you some of this information."
O'Neill glared at Skaara who eventually looked away furious but chastened.
Kasuf one of the rebel leaders looked at O'Neill with a slight smile, "Indeed we know that much of this is true and we appreciate your help. We are merely surprised by it."
O'Neill looked at Daniel and said softly, "I heard a compelling argument."
Daniel felt a warm glow inside and then looked at his feet embarrassed, why did O'Neill's regard mean so much to him?
"Daniel has a convincing air about him and the stories he tells us are useful."
"Thank you Kasuf." Daniel finally found his voice and added after a pause, "I would like to change."
He suddenly felt incredibly exposed. Sha're showed Daniel to one of the tents, and left him some clothes. Daniel's hands lingered on the soft material as he eased himself out of the tight fitting outfit. He laid the clothes gently on the floor, folding them neatly and then shrugged himself into the rougher, more useful clothing and felt suddenly safer but like he'd lost something as well.
The conflicting emotions annoyed him and then he realised someone was watching him.
He looked up, and flushed as he saw Sha're watching him with wide eyes, and a slight smile on her face. She moved toward him, almost cat-like in her walk and said huskily, "You have an attractive body Daniel." She gently caressed his cheek.
Daniel swallowed hard and found he couldn't talk, he rubbed his nose, stepped away from her, and looked anywhere except at her.
"Ahh Sha're.. I ahh.. don't think we...."
He hated how weak his voice sounded. She was a beautiful woman and he was unattached, but his feelings for O'Neill were complicated. He sighed as he thought of the Jaffa, a smile touching his lips.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The confrontation had left a nasty taste in O'Neill's mouth, he didn't want to make this any harder than he had to but Skaara was an idiot. Thankfully Kasuf seemed sensible. O'Neill had needed a break from the tension in the tent and had left the rebels to finish looking at the map, knowing they'd call him if they wanted anything.
He hoped they wouldn't send Skaara, the boy was irritating and O'Neill knew he couldn't hold onto his temper too long with the boy around.
Wandering through the tents that made up the rebel camp, he heard voices, one he recognised as Daniel. He wanted to see if the young man was all right, he'd looked uncomfortable as he'd left.
What he saw, stunned him more than felt comfortable with. Daniel and a woman were locked in a kiss, one that looked pretty passionate. How could he have been so wrong? Before they'd come here hed almost convinced himself the ex slave felt something for him.
He growled and then walked off, leaving them to their little secret. He was furious.
Damn slave, I've thrown my life away for nothing.
O'Neill knew that he couldn't go back and he also knew he would never truly be welcome here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel pulled away from Sha're breathing heavily, his heart pounding.
"We can't do this...
Sha're looked angry, her face pinched into a scowl, marring her features.
"This is about him isn't it ?"
"No, it isn't. I hardly know you. What would your family say?"
It wasn't a complete lie, he was unnerved by Sha're's forwardness and unsure of her motives.
"Coward. My brother was right. If you change your mind, I will be waiting."
She almost spat the words at him, but took the edge of them with a gentle caress on Daniel's cheek before she stalked out. Daniel let go of the breath he'd been holding and sighed a little, not sure whether in relief or something else.
He had to find O'Neill; they had things to talk about.
The Jaffa was hard to track down and the people Daniel spoke to were unhelpful or really didn't know. Occasionally Daniel suspected the former.
Finally Daniel tracked him down, in a tent on the outer rim of the camp. O'Neill's eyes were closed, but as Daniel entered he opened them and stared at him.
"O'Neill, I've been looking for you everywhere."
The ex first prime didn't speak, merely stood gracefully and watched him. Daniel flinched at the look on his face. He looked as if he'd been carved from stone. Cold, hard and unfeeling, the emotion that had so recently warmed Daniel was absent.
Finally he spoke and his voice mirrored his face, "You've found me."
Daniel shivered, not really understanding what had happened, they'd been fine when Daniel had left to change. He asked softly his voice a little shaky, "O'Neill, What's wrong?"
"I appear to have made an error of judgement."
Daniel's mind went blank as he tried to think what he'd done for O'Neill to be so angry. Was it Sha're? Had he seen him kiss Sha're?
"I should never have trusted you."
Daniel was angry. What did him kissing Sha're have to do with trust? They had no claim on each other and he could be with whom he wanted. Unless, there was something else, something more between them as he'd hoped. But how would he get the Jaffa to admit to it now?
He took a deep breath to keep calm and control his temper.
"Why don't you trust me anymore?"
O'Neill looked at Daniel and shook his head.
"You're just not what I expected Daniel."
O'Neill's voice was annoyingly smug, and grated on Daniel's frayed nerves, and he lost the hold on his temper. He raised his voice, almost shouting at the man. All the frustration he felt at him, all the uncertainty with this situation came out.
"Just what did you expect O'Neill? A submissive slave who remained forever grateful?"
O'Neill stepped back as if Daniel had hit him, and then said his own voice harsh, "If that's what I'd wanted I could have made sure of it the first time you walked into my life."
"And how exactly would do you think you would have done that?"
Daniel shut up as he realised the implication of what he'd just asked.
He felt sick. There was a heavy silence in the tent as the reminder of just what O'Neill had been, hung between them. O'Neill finally broke it, his voice flat.
"If you loathe me so much, go back to that woman. You seem well suited."
Daniel clenched his fists and glared at O'Neill and thought then that this was all they would be to each other. Antagonists. He walked out with a hissed, "At least she isn't as pig headed and ignorant as you O'Neill."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sha're had no sooner left the tent, leaving Daniel behind in a flurry of robes, than her arm was seized in a strong grip. She did not resist as she was pulled along, knowing without even looking who it would be.
"What is it?" she asked imperiously, her dark eyes blazing at the man.
"What were you doing in there?" the man snapped back. "You are betrothed to me, Sha're, never forget that!"
With a wince of pain, Sha're pulled her arm free of the man's grip.
"We may be betrothed, Yavin," she replied, "but we are not yet married. Do not think to order me..."
Seeing that this approach was not working, Yavin frowned, then tried another.
"Then will you not accept this gift from me, my beloved?" With a flourish, Yavin pulled out a small, fabric-wrapped package from the depths of his robes. Sha're paused, as if considering. "It is a gift fit for a princess..."
"Indeed?" Sha're asked, intrigued.
Yavin nodded, extending the package towards her, his gesture resembling nothing more than someone offering meat to a starving animal, as if careful to retain his fingers afterwards.
Sha're took the package from him, weighing it silently in her hand for a moment before she opened it. Inside the material, a golden chain glimmered, and Sha're's fingers were drawn to caress its shiny surface. Picking up the chain, she examined it carefully, noting the pendant through which it looped, frowning slightly at the markings on its surface.
"This is the mark of Ra," she said, her tone full of disapproval.
"As I said, a gift fit for a princess." Yavin waited, heart in his mouth as Sha're considered whether to accept his gift. After what seemed the longest moment of his life, she nodded, her fingers taking up the necklace and her head bowing to accept it.
With a small smile, Yavin watched his betrothed put on his gift, then turn and walk away without looking back at him.
"Have you done as I asked?" a voice inquired from the shadows cast by a nearby tent.
"They will come?"
"How could they not?" Yavin replied, his eyes still intent on Sha're's back, watching until she turned a corner out of sight. "But I don't understand why..."
"Because this way we both get what we want," the watcher replied, taking a step towards Yavin and out of the shadows. "You get my sister, before that newcomer enchants her further," Skaara continued, "and I get revenge on the Jaffa for embarrassing me in front of my father..."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was a hollow victory, Daniel realised, even as he turned away from the other man. His words had been hasty, chosen for their power to hurt - in reality, he had no intention of returning to Sha're, even if he had known where to find her.
He had thought that the Jaffa was mellowing towards him, that his former scorn might some time soon be replaced by respect, or maybe even friendship? But no, Daniel knew that hope now for the falsehood that it was. There could never surely be anything between them, their lives were too different for such a chasm ever to be bridged.
So why did he feel as though his own heart had been ripped out?
Daniel had wanted to hurt O'Neill, to punish him for not trusting, but it seemed as though the only person who was suffering was him. The last he had seen of the Jaffa, that familiar inscrutable expression was firmly in place, leaving Daniel still feeling as though he was bleeding inside.
What could he do now?
The only thing that meant anything to him now was knowledge, so that must be his only companion. At least then he would not have to fear betrayal or misunderstandings, and for the first time in his life he would be safe...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill tried to achieve kel no reem, his body relaxing into the familiar posture even as his mind raced and whirled.
He had destroyed himself, as surely as if he had committed ritual suicide, taking his own blade to himself when he was no longer able to serve his god. The Jaffa shook his head, rejecting that thought.
I was a fool, he thought. And now I must pay a fool's price, for trusting that slave. But what then?
He had no idea what to do next. It was as though he had thrown himself from a cliff, trusting to the air to hold his weight when he should have known better. What had he been thinking, turning his back on everything he had ever known to follow Daniel's persuasive words?
O'Neill took another deep breath and tried to centre himself once more.
He had made a mistake, one which might prove fatal once Ra's Guards caught up with him, so now he should only think of himself, planning for what little time he might have left. At least no-one else would suffer with him.
So why was it that every time he tried to achieve the much-needed trance state he saw Daniel's stricken face?
Every instinct cried out to O'Neill that he had been made a fool of, that he should hunt that slave down and destroy him for what he had dared to do. So why was the shocked emotion of Daniel's eyes all that he could focus on?
O'Neill sighed, taking another deep breath.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You seem troubled, Daniel."
Daniel looked up at the words, straight into the wise face of Kasuf. The older man's eyes sparkled with life, even though that life had surely been a hard one. There was a fire inside him that Daniel envied at that moment, weighed down as he was with guilt and indecision.
Where should he start? What could he say to this man to explain what had happened in the past few hours, the way his universe had been turned upside down by a simple misunderstanding and a lack of trust?
"It is good that you are here," Kasuf continued, "you and the Jaffa. We can learn much from both of you to aid our fight against the false god."
Daniel looked down, unwilling to shake Kasuf's simple trust by telling him that O'Neill would doubtless leave now, taking that hard-won knowledge with him. But how could he lie? He had to tell Kasuf the truth, and trust to what little he knew of the other man that he would not be an outcast here as he had been with his own people.
It was Skaara's voice, shattering Daniel's resolve. The younger man burst into view from between the tents, skidding to a halt as he saw Kasuf, his eyes narrowing slightly at the sight of Daniel sitting nearby.
"Good father," he panted, his head bowed as he tried to catch his breath. "We are betrayed! The false god's Guards are on their way to take us all..."
"What?" Kasuf snapped, the calmness of his manner replaced by an alertness. "How could that be? No-one knows we are here..."
"He knew." Skaara spat out the words, his eyes blazing at Daniel. "And the Jaffa."
"That's ridiculous!" Daniel's voice was swamped by the panic of those nearby, even as his body was buffeted by the inhabitants of the tents as they rushed to and fro, gathering what little they could carry before making their escape. "You can't believe that O'Neill or I..."
"There is no time for this now, Daniel," Kasuf said abruptly, turning back to him for a moment from his orchestration of the group's leaving. "But be assured I will know who betrayed us!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They had taken him by surprise, bursting into the tent where he was seeking tranquility and binding his hands behind him before O'Neill had been able to rouse himself to his own defense.
He did not struggle, knowing there was nothing he could do at the moment, and not wanting to ostracise the people who held his life in such a tenuous balance - the Jaffa could see the hatred and mistrust lurking so near to the surface in the men who surrounded him, and he would not give them the pleasure of an excuse to strike him down.
If they needed an excuse, that was. There was a coldness there in the eyes of those who surrounded him that made O'Neill shiver slightly, despite the almost oppressive heat of the desert, a coldness that had nothing to do with the climate.
He glanced around, hoping but also fearing to see Daniel there. Would he see the same coldness in the younger man's eyes now, a coldness that O'Neill knew he would be responsible for?
Without a word being spoken, the Jaffa was dragged from the tent which he had made his sanctuary, half-carried by the press of bodies surrounding him, out into the sunshine.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Kasuf..." Daniel pleaded. There was a servile tone to his voice that he despised, but as a supplicant to the leader of the resistance, Daniel knew he had no choice. "Kasuf, we are both innocent, you have to believe that..."
Kasuf turned from his directing of the camp's evacuation to cast sympathetic eyes at Daniel.
"I believe you to be what you claim," he said, "but how can we be sure of the Jaffa?"
"He has risked as much as I have," Daniel said, "if not more." He hesitated, suddenly unsure if his words were helping matters any. "I owe him my life," he continued simply.
"Then you feel an obligation towards him?"
"Yes... No... It's more than that. He defied his god to come here."
"And if he had another motivation for his actions?" Kasuf pressed, his eyes darkening with emotion.
Daniel shook his head. He had never considered the possibility. Could Kasuf be right? Could he have used Daniel, made him believe that he owed him his life, when all along he was just a puppet in O'Neill's schemes?
"No." Daniel's voice shook slightly. "No." This time the words were more certain.
"You have your doubts," Kasuf said, "and I have mine. That is all there is time for now. Later, when we are safe once more, then we will see what is truth and what is not..."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next few hours blurred into one.
The members of the resistance were only able to take what they could carry, melting away into the hills surrounding the encampment like shadows, moving in different directions to evade their pursuers.
Daniel had been with Kasuf, waiting till the last of the small group was ready to leave, certain all along that he could hear the approaching Guards. All he could think of was capture, and what would be his inevitable fate - he had been lucky to escape them once and knew that this would not be repeated.
And this time, there would be no First Prime to save him.
What would happen to O'Neill if they were caught? As terrible as his own fate might be, Daniel knew that the fate that awaited one who had betrayed a god would likely be unimaginably worse. He had heard that Ra had some device that allowed him to heal those who had his favour - could that be used to prolong the torment of one who had been a traitor?
A cold feeling gripped Daniel's heart. Even as angry as he was with O'Neill, even with the way the Jaffa's callous words had struck at him, he could not wish such a fate on anyone.
With a guilty start, Daniel realised he had not thought for a moment about Sha're since he had known they were under attack. He wondered if that proved anything, that his thoughts were of another altogether, someone he was less willing to think of...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Firelight flickered on the walls of the cave, even crowded as it was with those members of the resistance movement who had gathered there, waiting to hear their leader speak. Fitful muttering turned to silence as Kasuf stood.
"Bring forth the Jaffa."
From where he was standing, Daniel could see without being seen, the shadows of an overhanging shelf of rock hiding him from Kasuf and those who stood with him. He had an unobstructed view of the doorway, however, and found his breath caught as he saw O'Neill for the first time since the evacuation of the camp.
The Jaffa was led into the cave, his hands bound behind him, his carriage upright and proud. His eyes went straight to Kasuf as he entered, his dark gaze defiant in its directness. Daniel pulled back further into the shadows, his emotions churning.
He wanted to cry out at the injustice, that they were both innocent, but feared that this would only lead to being dragged into the centre of the gathering alongside the Jaffa. While one of them was free, he reasoned, there was a chance to prove their innocence - sharing O'Neill's imprisonment would be a futile gesture at best.
Could he bear himself with such dignity before those assembled there? On reflection, Daniel knew that was unlikely.
"Daniel claims that you are innocent, Jaffa," Kasuf said, his eyes clearly searching out the hidden man.
O'Neill said nothing, his back ram-rod straight, eyes still firmly locked on Kasuf. The older man seemed to move uneasily under the strength of that gaze, shifting slightly before speaking once more.
"Have you no words to say in your defence?" Kasuf asked, frowning now.
"You have already decided my guilt," O'Neill snapped, pausing as those surrounding him muttered over the tone of his voice. A swift glance from Kasuf silenced them. "What could I say that would convince you?"
"His guilt is clear!" a voice called from the midst of the crowd. The people surrounding O'Neill parted slightly, allowing Skaara to pass through. "Good father, how long must we tolerate this treachery?"
"Patience, my son," Kasuf replied.
"Are we safe, even here?" Skaara continued, turning to the crowd.
A few of those surrounding him nodded, jostling the Jaffa where he stood in their midst.
"If no proof of your innocence is brought forth before nightfall tomorrow," Kasuf continued, glossing over the words of his son as if Skaara had never spoken, "then you must pay the price. Our cause is too important to risk."
Daniel, from his vantage point, thought he saw O'Neill stiffen as this sentence was pronounced, but the flickering light hid the Jaffa's expression.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had expected no mercy and received none.
O'Neill had hoped, somehow, vainly, for reprieve. He had hoped that the voice of reason would prevail, futile though he knew that hope to be. And he had hoped to see Daniel.
Where was he? Why had he not spoken up?
The only evidence the Jaffa had that Daniel believed he was innocent had come in the words of Kasuf, rather than the eloquent words of the former slave. Those words, that voice, had convinced him to turn his back on a lifetime's service, and O'Neill had believed that they alone would be powerful enough to secure his freedom.
Instead of which, he was imprisoned once more.
O'Neill stumbled slightly as he was shoved into the small cave in which he suspected he would spend his final night alive. The looks in the eyes of those who were his guards told him all he needed to know, making him brace himself for the blows as they fell.
He saw the darkness in their eyes, the pain that he and Ra's guards had caused them, knowing each blow was a child orphaned, a house destroyed, a family torn apart. How could he defend himself, even were he not bound?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Do not ask me to do something I cannot," Kasuf replied, without looking round.
"You know we are innocent." Daniel's voice was firm, full of conviction.
"Proof is what I need, Daniel."
"Proof of what? Our innocence? Guilt is far easier to prove," Daniel persisted, as the older man turned to face him, finally. "You know that."
"I am the leader of those for whom the truth that they lived by has so long been a lie," Kasuf said. "You must forgive them for doubting, you of all people."
"I know it seems unlikely," Daniel said, "but I believe O'Neill. And I can't explain it."
"And that can never be enough." Daniel sighed, shaking his head. "You know how important it is, Daniel, that we trust one another, all of us."
"Important enough that you would kill the innocent as well as the guilty?"
"Important enough," Kasuf replied, "that I would give everything I have, do whatever I must."
"Then how are you different from Ra?" Daniel asked, watching Kasuf's face intently. "How can we defeat his lies if we are the same as he is?"
"You can't help him, Daniel." Kasuf's voice was sharp. "Do not endanger yourself on his behalf."
"I have to see him, Kasuf. Maybe together we can think of a way to prove O'Neill innocent."
Kasuf paused, his eyes measuring Daniel's intent, considering, weighing, before making a decision.
"Very well," he replied, after a moment's silence. "But you must not free him. He is too dangerous. I must have your word on it."
Daniel nodded, tersely.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It had not been as bad as he feared. There was malice in the blows, anger and a cold hatred, none of which could come as any surprise to one who had been in the service of Ra for any length of time. But even now, O'Neill could feel his symbiote begin to heal him, ironically enough it was likely that he would be well again in time for his own execution.
Somehow, even as each blow had fallen, even as he had been unable to defend himself, O'Neill had expected to hear Daniel's voice. How could he possibly be relying on another in such a way?
And where was Daniel anyway?
O'Neill sighed, sucking in a breath as the slight movement of his body sent a shooting pain through his back.
He had seen the way that woman, Sha're had looked at Daniel, an echo of his own feelings made flesh in the expression on her face. And in that moment he had hated and envied her in equal measure.
Was that where Daniel was now? With her?
Unbidden his mind supplied him with vivid images, each more painful than the last. Daniel kissing the woman, Sha're, his long fingers entangled in her hair. The two of them falling together, clothes vanishing as agile hands worked in unison, soulful moans breaking the silence. Daniel's back, beaded with sweat, strong muscles flexing.
Breathing deeply, O'Neill suppressed the cry of longing and envy that ripped through him, shredding his emotions in its wake.
So, when the darkness came, he welcomed it, longing for the oblivion it offered.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel's way had been barred at first by those guarding the Jaffa - they had been initially unconvinced by his statement that Kasuf had allowed him to visit O'Neill in captivity and it had taken all Daniel's eloquence to change their minds and allow him past.
It took a moment for Daniel's eyes to adjust to the dimness of the small cave, even from the flickering light of the torches in the tunnels surrounding them. A longer moment passed before he realised that the darkness that covered part of O'Neill's face was blood.
Daniel reached out a tentative hand towards it, his fingers feeling the slick warmth that had soaked into the rough fabric of the Jaffa robes.
If Daniel had ever thought he was angry before, that was nothing to the fury that ripped through him now. He had brought O'Neill with him, straight into the midst of those who had hurt him now, heedless of the danger to both of them. Was he as responsible as those who had inflicted these injuries?
He was thankful that the Jaffa was unconscious, even as guilt crept over him. How could the other man trust him now? After all that he had given up, by joining the resistance, and this was the thanks he received?
Getting up from where he had been crouched by O'Neill, Daniel stalked over to the guard, barely holding back the anger that he so wanted to unleash. This man would have been one of those who had beaten the Jaffa, Daniel knew that, but there was nothing he could do.
"Get me some water," he snapped, the words brittle with rage. Daniel saw the man's eyes widen at the tone of his voice, but carried on heedless of the danger. "What? Do you think he needs to be guarded now, after you've beaten him so badly he's unconscious?"
A slight smirk crept across the face of the guard, before he turned, leaving the two men alone. He returned after a few moments with a pottery bowl and a rough cloth, both of which he almost slapped into Daniel's hands, before leaving the cave once more.
Daniel took a deep breath, feeling some of the anger leave him as he turned back to where O'Neill still lay. Crouching down, Daniel placed the bowl carefully beside him, using the dampened cloth to wipe away the blood drying on the Jaffa's face.
As he removed the traces of the beating O'Neill had endured, Daniel wondered what other injuries the Jaffa's robes covered, hesitating for a moment before he began to look. Pushing back the rough fabric, feeling it move slowly against the other man's skin, it took a moment before he realised he was being observed once more.
O'Neill's eyes were opened, clouded though they were with pain, dark and unreadable.
Steeling himself, Daniel continued his examination, hesitating for a moment as he reached the Jaffa's pouch, his hand hovering over the X-shaped entrance. His fingertips brushed the sensitive skin, eliciting a gasp from O'Neill, his eyes narrowing in uncertainty and suspicion.
"Who did this to you?" Daniel asked, his voice more harsh than he wanted. He was angry with those responsible, not with O'Neill, but he could hear the emotion in his voice all the same.
Daniel saw the response, the almost palpable drawing back of the Jaffa, and regretted his words immediately. His anger was ebbing as swiftly as it had come. He wanted nothing more than to make everything right again, to free this man he had hoped considered him an equal, if not a friend. But his vow to Kasuf bound him as surely as the ropes bound O'Neill.
"Why should you care?" O'Neill rasped. The other side of his face, the side that had been hidden from Daniel before, was bruised and dusty, and Daniel reached out with the cloth once more, even though the Jaffa flinched away from him.
"Let me help you, or are you too proud to accept the assistance of a slave?"
As he had hoped, those words stilled O'Neill's movement, his back stiffening with pride as he accepted Daniel's attentions. Something surged inside Daniel, something protective, nurturing, and he felt his hand shake slightly. O'Neill's eyes, which had been focussed on the wall behind him, snapped back to Daniel then, still unreadable.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said quietly.
The Jaffa frowned, clearly puzzled by the change of topic.
"I thought I imagined you being here," O'Neill said, the words falling into the awkward silence that had fallen between the two men.
Suddenly it was all clear to Daniel, all those emotions he had tried so hard to deny. He had given his word to Kasuf that he would not free O'Neill, but that did not mean he could not comfort him, that he could not react instinctively to the emotions he saw in the dark eyes facing him.
Before he could change his mind, reconsider the inherent foolishness of his actions, Daniel acted, leaning over the Jaffa. A surprised expression, surely one of the most open he had seen, crossed O'Neill's face before Daniel was kissing him, his hands wrapped in the fabric of the robes.
When he pulled back, after what had seemed like the longest moment of his life, Daniel had felt O'Neill begin to respond, struggling a little against his bonds.
"Untie me," he muttered.
"What?" O'Neill snapped.
"I told Kasuf..."
O'Neill sighed, pulling back slightly from where Daniel's hands still gripped his robes.
"Daniel," O'Neill began, his voice quiet. "Daniel, we don't have much time."
"You think I don't know that?" Daniel snapped.
"Then help me."
"I can't. Not like that." With each word, Daniel felt his own frustration rise, mirroring the annoyance he could see building up within O'Neill. "I promised Kasuf. And I promise you I'll get you out of here."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill looked at Daniel's face and felt his throat unexpectedly tighten despite his anger and frustration at his helplessness and Daniel's stubbornness.
There was so much determination and passion in Daniel's face and it was all for him. It had been so long since he'd had anyone care that much for him, it felt like the beginning of a new life. This man wanted him, believed in him and it had nothing to do with the Jaffa's position in life, it was in fact in spite of it.
He had no choice but to trust this man and somehow O'Neill had never felt his life was in safer hands. He couldn't say any of this so unaccustomed to expressing how he was feeling.
O'Neill made his body relax and said softly, "I know you will."
Daniel's face relaxed into surprise at the unexpected expression of trust and the atmosphere between them although still charged was suddenly of a different intensity.
Daniel stood, obviously reluctant to leave and O'Neill resisted the temptation to growl at him. The memory of the kiss and the need for more was frustrating.
Before either could say anything more voices in the caves made Daniel's decision for him and with a regretful look back he left. O'Neill heard his footsteps echo and was left suddenly bereft.
He strained to hear the voices, struggling to move closer to them and recognised who Daniel was talking to, the woman Sha're. O'Neill was stopped cold at the almost seductive tone of Daniel's voice - for the briefest of moments he wondered whether he had been played for a fool. Had this been some game Daniel was playing? Then the Jaffa realised what was going on and fear for Daniel replaced his anger and he listened intently.
"Yes I've been to see him. I understand now he's not the man I thought he was."
O'Neill struggled at his bonds and swore in all the languages he knew. Damn the man. Here he was stuck in a cave, tied and helpless, and the idiot was playing a dangerous game. He hoped Daniel knew what he was doing.
Sha're's voice was silken and smug and O'Neill gritted his teeth, grinding them together painfully.
"Are you ready to take me up on my offer?"
The voices faded and O'Neill could no longer hear them. Bruises forgotten in the rush of emotion began to ache, and he felt suddenly weary. His fate was out of his hands; all he could do was wait.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel walked away from the caves with Sha're hanging onto his arm like she belonged there. He felt uncomfortable and had to fight the urge to pull away from her. But he needed to convince her that he was serious about not believing in O'Neill.
She was the one thing he had in his favour and as much as he hated using another person Daniel felt he had little choice.
He wasn't really paying attention to exactly where they were going, his mind still back in the cave with O'Neill. It wasn't until she said softly, "We're here," that Daniel took notice of his surroundings once more.
They were outside the entrance to a cave that was set someway from the main settlement. The predatory look on Sha're's face left him in no doubt about what she intended. Daniel suddenly realised what he'd got himself into. When he'd run into her outside the cave he'd not really thought through what he was going to do.
Sha're tugged on his arm trying to get his attention, and for a brief moment she looked suspicious until Daniel, mentally apologising to both Sha're and O'Neill, kissed her, then let himself be led into the cave.
The lights from several candles flickered on the walls and a blanket lay in one corner. Sha're stood in the light and began to strip slowly, her eyes focused on Daniel, her body moving seductively toward him. Daniel found he was undeniably attracted to her, and hated himself for his weakness as his body began to respond.
The flickering light highlighted Sha're's skin as she moved toward Daniel, and his eyes fell onto her neck. His gaze moved downward, his resolve faltering. Something triggered in Daniel's head as his eyes fell on the necklace, suddenly bright in the candlelight. He recognised it instantly, The Eye of Ra.
His arousal was suddenly forgotten. How was it she had this, was she the one responsible for O'Neill's situation? Anger briefly overwhelmed him and Sha're stepped back at the look on his face.
Daniel forced himself to not to shout at her. "Sha're where did you get that necklace?"
Sha're's hand went to her throat and she gasped and backed away slowly. Daniel put his hand to her shoulder, careful not to hurt her but tightly enough to stop her.
She blurted out the name and Daniel couldn't place it. He glared at Sha're and she flinched under his gaze, uncertain of his anger. Daniel took a deep breath and released his hold on her, stepping back to give them both some breathing space.
He forced his voice to stay calm and said softly, "Get dressed Sha're. I think we need to talk."
Sha're sat staring at Daniel once she had dressed, her face watchful. Daniel regretted his burst of anger but he was calm now and under control, certain he had the means to prove O'Neill innocent.
"What did you want to talk about, Daniel?" Sha're asked.
Daniel nodded at the necklace and said, "That. Where did you get it from? It's an unusual thing for the daughter of a resistance leader to have."
Daniel could see Sha're flush even in the dim light and her hand went briefly to her neck.
"Yavin gave it to me, he wants me as his wife."
Daniel then placed the man, young and handsome with a sour look on his face whenever Daniel was around, and obviously a friend of Skaara's as they were often together. Things began to add up for Daniel then. He saw Skaara's hand in this.
But would Kasuf believe a stranger over his own son? Daniel hoped so, but they would be no worse off if he didn't. O'Neill would still die.
"We must show your father this necklace," he said.
"Why? It is mine."
"This could prove the Jaffa's innocence, and find out the real traitor."
"Him again? It is always him. I refuse."
"You would willingly have an innocent man die rather than speak up?"
Sha're flinched from the disgust and shock in Daniel's voice and face and then nodded reluctantly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel had begged for an audience with Kasuf, pleading with Sha're to help him. For whatever reason, maybe because she still believed she had a chance with Daniel, she had agreed.
Kasuf listened with interest to what Daniel and Sha're had to say and looked at the necklace carefully.
"You wish me to believe that my son who has been taught to fight Ra since he was 5 years old would betray us? You ask that I believe in his guilt over that of a man who was Ra's second?"
Daniel sighed and studied his hands; he wasn't going to get anywhere with Kasuf, he saw that now.
"I only want you to consider it."
Kasuf nodded at them, and Daniel took it as a dismissal. Daniel was left with no other option but to confront Skaara. What he was going to confront him with was something he wasn't sure of.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill sighed as he felt strong calloused warm hands caress his face. He opened his eyes and looked up into warm blue eyes, darkened with passion. He tried to touch Daniel but found his hands were still tied and he groaned with frustration. Daniel only smiled and put his hands under O'Neill's robes baring the pouch. O'Neill froze, suddenly worried that the pouch would disgust Daniel.
His fear was put to rest as Daniel's hands caressed the sensitive area. The touch was feather light and tormenting but the sensations it produced in his groin made him groan with need.
As the touch became more insistent, more intense O'Neill thrust upwards to meet Daniel, who held him gently restricting his movement.
A sudden sharp pain woke O'Neill up and he realised with a frustrated whimper that it had been a dream. He'd loosened the ropes in his restless sleep and some circulation was returning.
The Jaffa wondered how much time had passed and if Daniel was safe. The pain was receding and he savoured the memory of the dream. O'Neill hoped he'd see Daniel before he died, if only to know that the other man, at least, was safe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel walked quickly through the quiet camp. He received a few nods of acknowledgement and there were a few whispers, suspicion about him was widespread.
He found Skaara lurking outside the perimeter of the camp. He jumped at Daniel's approach and then sneered.
"Well, if it isn't the lap dog..."
"Yavin's told me everything."
Daniel wasted no time in preliminaries because he was aware of the short time he had left to prove O'Neill innocent. Besides that, he was keen to wipe the smug grin off the young rebel's face.
How could he have realised that O'Neill would have an influence in his life in so many ways?
Skaara looked at him. "Told you what? There is nothing to tell."
"Only that the necklace that Yavin gave Sha're was a gift from Ra to you for betraying your own people."
Skaara's face lost some of its certainty.
"You can't prove any of this. O'Neill is still the main suspect."
"I'll just spread the rumour round camp, how I saw you talking to a strange man hours before the attack."
"No one will believe you."
"Can you be sure?"
Daniel wasn't sure he should be enjoying this as much as he was, but he would think about that later, when O'Neill was safe.
"You can't prove any of this, it is Yavin and your voice against mine, why should my father believe you?"
"Because I have the necklace and Sha're's words."
Daniel saw panic briefly flit over Skaara's face, he was clearly uncertain what Sha're might say about this and it showed. Daniel smiled at Skaara and then walked away without a glance. His heart was beating wildly and his hands were clammy, Daniel realised after a moment. Sweat was dripping down his back and his breathing was heavy, he couldn't believe he'd been so calm.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"I have your proof, Kasuf," Daniel blurted out. "Or I will do, very soon."
The sceptical look that Kasuf aimed at him was clear - he would need much convincing that his son, rather than O'Neill, was responsible for Ra's guards finding them.
"But I need your help," Daniel continued, trying not to let Kasuf's disbelief sway him. He knew that Skaara was guilty, and all that was left now was to prove it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The two men had waited, in silence, outside Sha're's quarters for the best part of an hour. All whispered conversation between them had long since ceased, and Daniel could hear Kasuf beginning to grow restless, losing patience with whatever Daniel had planned.
Just a little longer, Daniel thought desperately.
They had seen Yavin come to visit Sha're, once more coming to court her, and Daniel hoped that Skaara would know this was the other man's routine. Every so often they could hear snatches of the quiet conversation that came from within, a muted laugh, the occasional word.
It had not been that long ago, Daniel realised, that he had allowed himself to be led there, even though he had only done it to try and save O'Neill. He pushed down the thought of how his body had almost betrayed him, how close he had come to going from kissing O'Neill to doing more than that with Sha're.
A thought struck him then, as he listened to the sounds being amplified and distorted by the corridor in which they stood: when he had left O'Neill and gone with Sha're, how much had the Jaffa heard? Had he, so used to treachery and betrayal through his service of the false god, believed that Daniel was yet another who said one thing only to mean another?
"Daniel," Kasuf began, his quiet voice breaking into Daniel's increasingly worried thoughts.
Just as he spoke, there was a sound of movement, quiet footsteps approaching. Daniel shrank back into the small crevice that concealed them, indicating that Kasuf should do the same - with a tolerant sigh, Kasuf did so.
A slightly built figure approached, their cloak pulled up to conceal their face. It was only as they reached the doorway that they paused, turning slightly to check for others, that the cloak fell away slightly, revealing a familiar face.
Daniel felt a sigh of relief building within him. It was Skaara.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It took only a short time for Kasuf to become enraged with what he heard, as Skaara berated a bemused Yavin about his treachery. Daniel was forced to grip the older man's arm to restrain him from confronting his son, whispering what he hoped were calming words as he did so.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, when the confrontation within the cave had run its course and Skaara had stormed off, presumably in search of Daniel, Kasuf had shaken off Daniel's grip and emerged from the crevice.
For the first time since they had met, Kasuf seemed old, Daniel realised. It was as if the weight of his age, the things he had experienced in his fight against Ra, had all come upon him at once. His head was bowed for a moment, before he turned back to where Daniel stood.
"We should go, Daniel," Kasuf said, sadly, "and free your friend."
It was all Daniel could do not to break into a run, go charging through the corridors until he reached the place where O'Neill was being held. That he was able to walk alongside Kasuf, even nod to the guard and listen to the words that Kasuf spoke quietly to him, was a testament to his self-control. Kasuf, in turn nodded as he walked away, leaving Daniel alone in the doorway.
Suddenly almost afraid, Daniel hesitated for a moment. From where he was standing, he could make out the huddled shape that was O'Neill, as the Jaffa lay at the side of the small cave. Taking a breath to steady his nerves, Daniel moved towards him, circling round slightly so that he did not take the other man by surprise.
Drawing closer, Daniel saw that his caution, his concern not to startle O'Neill had been wasted. The Jaffa was asleep, his usually stern face relaxed in rest, even though his arms were still bound. Squatting, Daniel watched over him for a moment, his finger reaching tentatively to trace the gold mark of Ra that adorned O'Neill's brow, feeling its unexpected coolness.
As he had anticipated, the slight touch woke O'Neill, whose eyes snapped open. When he saw who was nearby, they softened, and O'Neill spoke, his voice husky from sleep.
"Daniel," he said, in a voice that suggested he was unsure whether he was still dreaming.
"O'Neill," Daniel said, "I'm here to free you, like I promised."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had been dreaming, not the intense heat of Daniel's touch this time, but a more languid one. A gentle caress, the lightest of touches on his skin, but making him writhe beneath it as surely as before, Daniel leaning over him with a smile that was full of knowing and something else, something he found hard to describe...
Then suddenly he was awake, unsure whether he had dreamt that touch after all, someone crouched nearby. Stiffening, for a moment, until he realised that it was Daniel. Daniel come to keep his promise, come to release him.
O'Neill let out a breath, hearing the croaking of his voice as he spoke the other man's name.
Sure hands pulled at the ropes that bound him, long fingers tugging at the knots until they gave way. And all he could see was Daniel, a slight frown of concentration on his forehead as he wrestled with a difficult knot, his lower lip gripped lightly between his teeth in thought and persistence.
O'Neill gasped as the ropes finally fell free, the blood rushing in painful floods into his hands once more. Daniel's hands were strong on his arms, pulling him into a sitting position, before they moved to massage his wrists, long supple fingers helping to rub away the aches of confinement.
"How did you persuade Kasuf?" O'Neill asked, in a desperate attempt to remind himself of his recent captivity.
All he could think of was his dream, the way that the dream-Daniel had touched him, the way those same fingers had driven him beyond what he had ever truly expected to receive from the other man.
Daniel's head was bowed still, all his attention focussed on the movement of his hands. O'Neill felt himself tensing under them now, not liking the way that Daniel was refusing to look up. Shouldn't he be overjoyed at his success, that he had kept his word and saved O'Neill's life?
With a swift movement, even though his abused muscles protested, O'Neill freed one of his wrists from Daniel's grip, his fingers gently cupping Daniel's chin and making the other man look up.
After the briefest of moments, Daniel looked away, then down once more. Then he seemed to realise that he was still gripping O'Neill's wrist and tried to pull away.
"Daniel?" O'Neill repeated, his voice puzzled. "What is it?"
With his other hand, O'Neill reached out and grabbed a handful of Daniel's robe, holding the younger man in place.
"I... nothing happened..." Daniel reddened as he spoke.
"Between me and Sha're. It was nothing," Daniel continued. "I didn't want you to think that anything... I mean, I wouldn't, not even..." He stammered to a halt, his face blazing with embarrassment.
"Daniel," O'Neill said again. "I know what you did. All that's important anyway."
Through the grip he still maintained on Daniel's robe, O'Neill could feel Daniel relax. He was no longer trying to pull away and the Jaffa began to let go. O'Neill watched with fascination as the heat began to go from Daniel's face, succeeded by a slightly sheepish smile. A smile that did all sorts of things to the Jaffa, making him remember a dream he had been wakened from not long before.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel could still feel the residual heat in his face, feel the embarrassment of admitting that he had almost... But O'Neill had reacted calmly, more calmly than he had expected, to his stammered revelations about Sha're.
Now what? Daniel wondered.
O'Neill still maintained a firm grip on the front of his robe and Daniel stared down at the Jaffa's knuckles for a moment, studying the way that the skin whitened there. He was trying his hardest not to think about the last time that the two of them had been alone together, or of his temerity.
He had kissed O'Neill, and even now the memory of that kiss burned inside him, taunting him. Looking up once more, Daniel swallowed nervously. He had thought about making O'Neill grateful to him, turning the tables on the man to whom he owed his life, but he had never given any thought to what might happen next between them.
Daniel had not lived a sheltered life - he had heard the stories told of what went on in Ra's palace. It was difficult to balance those stories with the man who currently sat so close to him, the man who was currently studying him so intently.
A strange emotion, which Daniel realised was an unorthodox mixture of fear and arousal, churned inside him. He could do it, he could lean forward and kiss O'Neill without much resistance, Daniel realised, but what would that action lead to? He shuddered slightly as he recalled the stories he had heard once more, the images that they produced both shocking and arousing him in equal measure.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He's afraid, O'Neill thought with a sudden burst of revelation, studying Daniel's face. Afraid of me.
Moving slowly, O'Neill tightened his grip on Daniel's robe, pulling the other man towards him in the tiniest of increments. As he did so, the Jaffa watched Daniel's face intently, his eyes scouring it for any sign of panic. As the two men closed the gap between them, O'Neill saw Daniel's eyes widen slightly, his tongue flick out nervously across his lower lip.
That last movement shattered the Jaffa's self control, making him jerk Daniel towards him for the last few inches as the fingers of his other hand wrapped themselves in Daniel's hair. The two men stared at each other across the smallest of spaces - Daniel's breath was hot on O'Neill's face, his eyes dark with arousal.
Not afraid now, O'Neill thought, his last coherent thought for some time, as their mouths met.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Daniel finally pulled back, panting slightly, it took a moment before he could speak.
"Not here," he gasped out.
O'Neill looked at him for a moment, puzzled. Then he realised what Daniel meant - if anything, this had been the place where the Jaffa had been held captive, a place of pain for him. Not the best place for them to look to the future, even if it had been the first place that the two men had kissed.
Daniel smiled as he watched the Jaffa get up, his smile growing as he watched O'Neill try to restore some order to his rumpled robes, brushing one hand swiftly across his tousled hair.
"What?" O'Neill snapped, though the former harsh tone he had been able to use on Daniel was no longer there.
"Come on," Daniel said, turning quickly to the doorway, in an attempt to hide the grin that was threatening to take over his face. "Let's find somewhere more comfortable."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill found himself following Daniel along a maze of corridors, pondering as he did so the strange turn of events over the past few days. Until he had met Daniel, he had always been the one in charge, the one who decided what happened in his bed and when. But when he had met the man in whose footsteps he was currently trailing, something had changed for O'Neill forever.
Suddenly, all the encounters of the past seemed a mere shadow of what Daniel seemed to be promising, even though O'Neill knew that there was much that was still a source of trepidation to the younger man. He had seen that so clearly just now, but had also seen that fear replaced by arousal.
As he turned a corner, almost walking into Daniel's back, O'Neill decided that he would do whatever was necessary, take things between them as slowly as he needed to, in order to never see that fear in Daniel's eyes again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As he hesitated at the doorway to the chamber he had been told was his, one hand resting on the curtain that covered it, Daniel could feel O'Neill's presence at his back, the solidity of the other man both reassuring and a little unnerving.
A stolen kiss was one thing, what they might well be doing when they entered this room was quite another....
Lost in his thoughts for a moment, Daniel jumped at the pressure of a hand on his shoulder.
"Are we going to stand here all night?" O'Neill asked, his voice rumbling in Daniel's ear, his breath hot against the younger man's neck.
Daniel shivered slightly, then stepped forward, pushing the curtain to one side. He heard it swish shut behind the two of them, crossing to the small pallet that stood to one side of the chamber without turning around.
He could hear O'Neill's breathing, see his shadow as he crossed the room to stand close behind him. Daniel felt himself stiffen in anticipation as he saw the shadow change, the movement of the Jaffa's hands as they came to rest on his shoulders.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Daniel," O'Neill said, his voice husky with the emotion he had so long been trained to suppress.
As he spoke, O'Neill's hands moved slightly, his thumbs coming to brush the nape of Daniel's neck, making him moan quietly as they stroked.
Daniel took a deep breath, willing himself to relax, to trust this man who had saved his life, no matter what he had heard about him before. He could do this, no matter how little he knew what was expected of him, Daniel realised, suddenly. That realisation made Daniel shudder, arching his neck under the continued caress.
Just as he was about to turn, though he had no idea what he was meant to do, Daniel felt one of Jack's hands slide from his shoulder, as he was pulled back against the Jaffa's chest. He could feel O'Neill's hardness pressing against him, the heat of the Jaffa's body burning its way through the material of his robe.
As he was about to protest, Daniel felt O'Neill's hand slide within his robe, seeking out the heat that he himself was generating, and his hips moved seemingly of their own accord to meet the Jaffa's searching fingers.
Their bodies were close enough now that Daniel, even as he was maddened by the slow approach of O'Neill's hand across his skin, could feel the Jaffa's breath against his neck, then the press of teeth against the skin where his neck and shoulder joined.
Knowing fingers wrapped themselves around him, making Daniel cry out, as O'Neill bit down, seemingly encouraged by the sound.
With a whimper, Daniel came, shuddering. He sagged back against O'Neill, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, the Jaffa's arm, now wrapped around his waist, all that kept him upright.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill smiled to himself, feeling the weight of Daniel slumped against him. He had been right when he had thought that Daniel was close to the edge, so close in fact that it had taken very little to push him over. He could feel Daniel's back start to stiffen once more, a sure sign that the other man was becoming aware once more of where he was and of O'Neill's own proximity.
Sliding his hand back to Daniel's hip, O'Neill straightened the other man's robe as he did so, giving Daniel a chance to recover his balance in more ways than one.
Of course, he was still unsatisfied and the way that Daniel's back was still pressing against him wasn't helping that matter at all. It was taking a degree of self-control for the Jaffa not to just shove Daniel down on the nearby pallet and take what he so desperately needed, but the look of fear he had seen in Daniel's eyes was enough for the hardness he felt to begin to fade a little when he contemplated that possibility.
And it didn't take much thought to realise that would destroy any trust that Daniel had in him, making them sworn enemies once more. As much as the fire he had seen in Daniel's eyes did something strange to him, igniting a desire in him that was a novel experience, that very edge of hatred and mistrust was taking things a little too far for comfort.
O'Neill sighed, his hand flexing on Daniel's hip, feeling the warm curve that lay beneath the shapeless robes. Strange that such a simple thing could make him feel so many ambivalent emotions, making him wonder why it had taken so long to walk away from the service of the false god, and what had stopped him doing so years before.
Daniel had half-turned in his embrace, not trying to get away at all, but watching him, a steady blue gaze. It was as though the other man could see through him read his thoughts as plainly as if they were written on O'Neill's face and in the end it was the Jaffa who looked away first.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel took a number of deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heart. He had been so ready that it had taken very little help from O'Neill for him to come, slumping back against the solidity of the Jaffa as he did so.
He could still feel O'Neill's hardness pressed against him, a point of heat burning through the material of their robes as if it was searing its way through to his skin. He shifted slightly, experimentally, and felt it move a little, the intensity still there.
Daniel frowned, wondering what the hell he was meant to do next. He was not completely inexperienced, but all of his experience so far had been with women, and what he had just experienced with O'Neill left him unsettled and unsure.
Why was his mouth as dry as the desert he knew so well?
All he had heard, all the rumours, came crashing back into Daniel's memory, making his body stiffen in the Jaffa's embrace. How could he know what this man might want from him in return for what they had just shared?
He could want...
Turning to face O'Neill, Daniel looked at him long and hard, his eyes never wavering even though it was a strain to do so. He had to know what this man expected from him, even if it angered him in the process.
O'Neill's face was an interesting one, especially up close. Intelligent brown eyes were framed by slightly greying eyebrows, one bisected by a scar, but it was the mark of Ra which drew Daniel's attention. The mark of a false god, taken on when O'Neill was so much younger, and yet he was cursed to carry it now, despite his rebellion against all that mark stood for.
It was the Jaffa who looked away first, his eyes sliding past Daniel's with a sigh of resignation.
"What..." Daniel cleared his throat and tried again, cursing his nervousness. "What do you want from me?"
O'Neill looked back at him, his eyes dark with desire, an illicit flame that struck somewhere deep in Daniel, making him respond despite his own concerns. He felt O'Neill hardening again, an insistent heated pressure against his hip.
"We could lie down."
How had he managed to make that sound so casual despite the way that his heart was hammering as if it planned to make an exit from his chest?
O'Neill nodded, taking a half-step forward and shoving Daniel along with him in small, shuffling steps. Daniel felt the back of his legs hit the edge of the pallet bed and leant backward, one arm feeling for its surface. His fingers brushed the rough blanket that covered it, even as O'Neill bent him back across it, his mouth latching onto the place where he had bitten Daniel before.
Daniel felt his heart begin to pound again, O'Neill's mouth insistent on his neck, his body pressing Daniel down into the pallet.
I can't do this, he thought, bringing his hands up between the two of them. I can't...
It took a moment before O'Neill realised he was being shoved away and Daniel tried not to panic as he pushed the Jaffa off, his breathing beginning to return to normal as O'Neill's weight was removed from him. When they were half-seated on the pallet, facing one another, Daniel realised that his hands were still resting on the Jaffa's shoulders.
Taking a deep breath, almost afraid of what he might see, Daniel hesistantly looked at O'Neill's face. He was frowning, Daniel realised, and the expression was clearly one of concern, maybe even verging upon guilt. O'Neill's dark eyes were still filled with desire, and that fact alone made Daniel pause for a moment, but there was something more there, something...
Daniel smiled then, shoving at O'Neill in the same way he had been pushed before, landing on top of the Jaffa. He found himself leaning back, his legs holding O'Neill down, his hands still cupping the other man's shoulders, one hand now coming across to slide between the two of them.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This hadn't been quite what he was expecting, O'Neill realised, as he gazed upwards at a Daniel so different from any he had seen before.
He had seen the fear flicker in Daniel's eyes, so real that O'Neill cursed himself he had not seen it before Daniel tried to shove him off, but it had been there. And that alone had made him hesitate, which had led to the position he now found himself in, lying prone with Daniel half-lying across him, one hand slipping between their bodies now.
What was it about the Daniel he was seeing now? There was something almost feral about him, the candlelight that lit this small cave catching in his hair, his eyes darkened with passion.
"He wants this," O'Neill thought, his breath catching in his throat. "And all I have to do is let him...."
Daniel licked his lower lip then, a swift flickering movement, and O'Neill was transfixed, his eyes intent on Daniel's mouth.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel shifted his weight slightly, sliding over to one side as his fingers made their way into O'Neill's robes, freeing him. He smiled to himself, thinking how swiftly their roles were reversed - it had only been a matter of minutes ago that he had been the one groaning as O'Neill brought him to climax.
This he could do. There was something confining about how they had been before, something that made him unable to breathe, something that made Daniel feel trapped. But this, this was another matter. Now he was in control.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"My lord," Skaara said, bowing low, his eyes fixed on the ground even as he straightened. Sandalled feet came into his view, halting before him in silence. "My lord, I am Skaara."
"I know who you are." The voice was cold, calculating.
"I am a humble servant of our god, my lord," Skaara continued, flinching as a handful of his hair was grabbed, twisting his head until his eyes met the cold dark eyes of the other man in the room.
"And someone who is prepared to betray his own father in that service."
Skaara nodded, feeling a small knot of fear grow in his stomach at the other man's cold, unwavering gaze. After a moment, the other man shoved him away, letting go of Skaara's hair and wiping his hand on his robe as though it was unclean. He turned away then, beginning to walk out, to leave the younger man to whatever fate the guards might dish out to him.
"I bring news, my lord," Skaara continued, desperate to win the favour of this man. "Of your predecessor, O'Neill."
The name brought him to a halt, turning slowly. Light glinted from the mark the other man bore, the Eye of Ra in gold on his forehead.
"You are the one known as Maybourne, my lord?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel slid his hand slowly under O'Neill's robe, seeking out the hardness that the coarse material outlined. Beneath him, the Jaffa moved slightly, restless, sucking in a breath as Daniel's fingers found him, the work callouses scraping sensitive skin.
He leant forward, nipping gently at O'Neill's jaw, entranced by the way the Jaffa's eyes closed in rapture, the trust that it took for this man to allow another to take the lead in this way.
The word was muttered, under O'Neill's breath, so quiet that, had he not been leaning forward, Daniel would not have heard it. His eyes opened once more, dark pools of passion.
Leaning back, Daniel shook his head. It did not take words for him to know what O'Neill wanted from him, and the thought chilled him.
O'Neill's eyes closed, in resignation, leaving a pang of guilt lurking in Daniel's heart. He wanted to trust the Jaffa, to believe that O'Neill would not hurt him, but there was still a seed of doubt within his mind, shdaows of the stories he had heard.
"Let me..." he said, sliding his weight down O'Neill's legs.
If he could not do exactly what the Jaffa wanted from him, at least he could give him some pleasure, as much as he was able to give. Daniel tried to shake off the memories, the dark feeling of foreboding that hung over him like a cloud. Things were different now.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill bit back a sigh of frustration at Daniel's words, closing his eyes to hide his disappointment. He had chosen this, when he had allowed Daniel to take a lead in what happened between them, so now he must bear the consequences of that decision.
Even if the thought of being inside Daniel, of being surrounded by him, made him burn with desire. Even if that thought haunted him, making even the blissful sensations of Daniel's hands on him a mere shadow of what he truly desired.
But he had never had to take what he wanted by force - there had always been enough people in the palace who were willing to give him what he desired in exchange for their advancement. That thought was enough to turn his fantasies of forcing Daniel, of making Daniel pay back what he owed - had O'Neill not saved his life more than once? - into something dark and bitter that horrified him.
That act, even though it might give O'Neill what he needed now could only destroy whatever trust that existed between them. Better that he take what Daniel was prepared to give than throw what they had built away for one lust-driven moment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"What do you know of O'Neill?"
Skaara looked up, boldly, at the question.
"I know where he is, my lord," he said, still looking at Ra's new First Prime. "And I can take you to him."
Maybourne paused, calculating. Could he trust this traitor? Surely a man who would betray his own father bore watching, to say the least.
"And as a reward for this service?"
"I seek only to serve my god." Skaara risked another glance at Maybourne as he spoke. The other man had walked away from him and was standing by a low window, looking out. "There is another man, my lord. One who is important to he who was First Prime. I believe he is also a fugitive from the justice of our god - his name is..."
"...Daniel," Maybourne breathed, not moving from his place by the window.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel closed his eyes, willing the memories to go away. All he could think of was the hands on him, the cold laughter as he was pushed down onto the bed, the fingers twined into his hair, holding his head still.
He was lost in them, no-one to rescue him, no-one who even knew where he was.
Just the smell was enough, the ripe musk making him gag, making him struggle against the hands that were... no longer there.
When he came to himself, he was crouched against the wall at the other side of the cave, a dishevelled O'Neill peering worriedly down at him. He had taken the time, Daniel realised, to tuck himself in, his rapidly diminishing erection hidden from view.
"Daniel?" O'Neill's voice was riddled with guilt, shadowed by the concern on his face. "Daniel, what's wrong?"
Daniel ran his hand across his face, feeling the pricking of tears. He shook his head, not trusting his voice, then held out his hand to push O'Neill away as the Jaffa came closer.
"Don't... don't touch me," he grated, his voice sounding strange to his own ears.
"I shouldn't have tried to make you..." O'Neill began, his voice faltering when Daniel began to laugh, a horrid brittle sound that echoed strangely round the small cave.
"Why does it always have to be about you?" Daniel asked, looking up, his eyes still suspiciously bright.
O'Neill had squatted down now, so their eyes were at a level, his dark gaze incisive. Daniel looked down, watching his fingers flex together.
"I was wrong," O'Neill continued, "it wasn't me, was it? Something happened, something that makes you afraid."
Daniel's silence was eloquent and O'Neill frowned. He had already calculated who had been responsible for the marks he had seen on Daniel's body the first time they met, the wounds he had tended himself, and now he suspected he knew who was responsible for other wounds that Daniel carried. Ones that were less easily tended and less visible, but no less painful.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Daniel...." Maybourne breathed the name, almost unable to believe this day had come.
For a moment he was no longer in the lofty-ceilinged chamber with the traitor Skaara, but back in a smaller room, darker, filled with the scent of fear. He remembered eyes full of fear but with a lurking defiance, a body pressed beneath his own, shaking beneath his exploring hands.
He had come so close to taking what he wanted, then it had been torn from his grasp by an ill-timed summons from the First Prime.
Maybourne had considered his choices, before reluctantly stepping back, watching with amusement as the object of his interest pressed himself against the furthest wall, his eyes blazing with anger.
He would see to whatever it was O'Neill wanted and then he would return and take that defiance, stripping it away with pain and terror, until the younger man was cowering before him.
How could he have known that the fool guard would let Daniel escape?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel took a shaky breath, trying to calm his racing heart. He was safe here, he knew that, but the memories he had tried so hard to suppress, pushing them to the back of his mind, had come crashing back upon him.
O'Neill was still there, crouched before him, the concern clear in his dark eyes.
If he had ever thought that the Jaffa would judge him for what had once happened, those eyes alone were an eloquent denial of that fear. Eyes full of understanding, that had seen the worst of things and still retained compassion.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Daniel. I..." He paused, as if searching for the right words. "What was done to you..."
"Nothing happened," Daniel said, feeling the weight lift from his shoulders with the compassion in every word that O'Neill spoke. "At least, not what Maybourne wanted to happen."
"Maybourne," O'Neill repeated, the coldness of his voice making Daniel pause for a moment.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had suspected, but now he had proof. He had seen the scars Daniel carried for himself, but now he knew who was responsible for them.
O'Neill rose from his cramped position, crossing over to the pallet and sitting once more. Daniel followed him, sitting as far away as the pallet would allow, pulling one foot up to rest on its surface as he leant back against the wall.
O'Neill looked at Daniel, a long appraising look which the younger man met boldly, his chin raising slightly in defiance. The Jaffa found himself almost wanting to smile, despite the circumstances which had brought them here - there was something about Daniel's resilience he admired, though he would never tell him that.
Maybourne deserved his bad reputation - he had always dogged O'Neill's heels, wanting to exercise the power that belonged to the First Prime of Ra. O'Neill had no doubt that, now he was no longer in the way, Maybourne had achieved that lofty position he had coveted for so long.
The thought of Maybourne anywhere near Daniel, let alone having the chance to make him so afraid, was like a cold fist curling within his stomach.
I'll make him pay for every scar, O'Neill vowed. No matter what it takes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel frowned, watching the light die in O'Neill's eyes as he spoke Maybourne's name - it was like watching the man he had come to know over the past days disappear, replaced by a stone-faced stranger.
And somehow it had to do with him, he knew that.
"This is not your fight, O'Neill," he said, wincing slightly at the way the Jaffa's eyes snapped to him as he spoke.
"Maybourne served me, Daniel. That makes his actions my responsibility."
The coldness had returned for certain, Daniel realised; O'Neill's voice was like the desert at night, an icy wind blowing through the very real menace his simple words outlined.
"What he did, what he chose to do is his responsibility, not yours."
Don't do this, O'Neill, Daniel thought. Don't go back to what you were because of me....
Daniel watched the expression on O'Neill's face thaw a little as his words sunk in, almost as if the Jaffa could read his thoughts. Or maybe it was becoming more difficult for O'Neill to pretend indifference, to hide himself away behind that blank impassive stare?
"Unless his evil actions were at your command," Daniel continued, watching O'Neill carefully as he spoke.
Those words had struck home, Daniel realised, seeing the anger flare in O'Neill's eyes.
"You think I..." O'Neill started to rise, colour flooding his face, either to pace the floor of the small cave or to leave it completely.
"No." Daniel leaned forward, capturing his sleeve and pulling him back down. "I know you didn't."
They were face to face once more, the grip Daniel had on O'Neill's sleeve holding them motionless.
Daniel smiled, scenting victory. He could see the arousal in O'Neill's eyes, even before the Jaffa moved to close the space between them once more; there was no mistaking it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You have your orders," Maybourne said, stepping aside to allow the guards to pass him. As their leader passed, trailing his men on their way to the cave entrance, he laid a hand on the Jaffa's chest, the gesture halting him in his tracks. "Remember my words?"
"Kill them all, except O'Neill and the one they call Daniel."
Maybourne nodded, letting the Jaffa pass him.
Soon, he thought. Soon...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Although Daniel was a heavy weight, draped across O'Neill on the narrow pallet, it was a burden that the Jaffa accepted tolerantly. Daniel shifted in his sleep, muttering something quiet that O'Neill could not decipher, a frown crossing his face like a gust of wind across the sand dunes.
O'Neill lifted his hand, brushing back a lock of hair, smiling to himself as Daniel stilled at his touch, the level of trust between them clear even when Daniel was not fully aware of where he was.
How could Maybourne have lived up to his reputation that way?
He had long heard rumours that the Jaffa terrorized the inhabitants of Ra's palace, but had discounted them as merely that, stories without substance, told by people with a grudge against Maybourne. No-one had ever stood up and said what was happening, though now O'Neill had to wonder at his own lack of interest in finding out the truth.
If not for Daniel, how long would he have continued blindly in the service of a false god, turning an equally blind eye to the evils committed by those who were under his command?
He had promised Daniel that he would not seek revenge, agreeing that it was not his place to do so, but that agreement rankled with him now. He wondered how much of this was down to Daniel, to a sense that Maybourne wanted to despoil something that was rightly his?
O'Neill stifled a smile at that thought, well able to imagine what Daniel's response would be to such a possessive statement, the expression that would cross his mobile face if such a thought were to be spoken.
If we speak of ownership, O'Neill thought, feeling the warmth of Daniel's sleeping body leach through him, driving away whatever cold places still existed within him, then who owns who between the two of us, Daniel?
This had been what he had sought for so long, but had never realised it, the reason why the liaisons within the palace, as willing as his partners had been, had left him unsatisfied. O'Neill knew now that he had wanted more than sex with a willing body - though freely available, that had never been enough to satisfy the emptiness within his soul since his child had died.
No, he had wanted more, wanted something that none of those casual encounters had been able to give - he had wanted trust, wanted someone to look at him the way that Daniel did, his eyes dark with a desire that was not fuelled by dreams of advancement.
And he had found it, even if it had been in the last place he could have expected it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The screams and the sound of staff weapons firing were the first indication that anything was wrong.
O'Neill had drifted off to sleep, his hand fisted in the material at the back of Daniel's robe, but he had stiffened instinctively at the sound of weapons, long years of training kicking in before he was even fully awake.
"What is it?" Daniel muttered, pushing himself back off O'Neill and rubbing his eyes with one hand.
Reluctantly, O'Neill released his grip on Daniel's robe, wincing slightly as the circulation returned to his hand.
"How could the guards have found us?" Daniel asked, frowning as he realised the answer to his own question. "Skaara."
O'Neill nodded, his face solemn, as Daniel rolled off him and got to his feet.
Leaving their cave, they found themselves in the midst of chaos, the corridor outside filled with bodies surging towards the exit, the cries of others echoing down the tunnels.
"Help me!" a voice cried nearby, and O'Neill turned, allowing the press of bodies to separate him from Daniel. losing the tenuous grip he had earlier had on Daniel's sleeve.
Sha're was there, half-supporting a heavily-pregnant woman, scowling up at him. Without a second thought, O'Neill took her other arm, the woman's warmth seeping into him, her grateful smile making him forget Daniel's whereabouts for a moment.
The next time he looked, he could see Daniel a fair way down the corridor, separated even more by struggling bodies, their eyes meeting as Daniel shrugged slightly with frustration and began to push towards where O'Neill was standing. Behind him, a guard appeared, grabbing at Daniel with a predatory smile.
"Daniel!" O'Neill yelled, concern lending an edge to his voice.
Daniel looked across, saw the concern on O'Neill's face and then glanced round, just in time to meet the guard's fist, before crumpling soundlessly against the nearby wall.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel's head pounded as he was half-dragged, half-carried through a long succession of corridors, before finally coming to a halt. He lifted his head tentatively, finding himself in a hall which looked familiar, if only from passing through it in his headlong flight days before.
And they were not alone, he discovered, turning his head slightly towards the sound of advancing feet. The grip his Jaffa captors had on his upper arms increased, as though they expected some response from him, some reaction to the person with whom he was about to come face to face.
Daniel let his head fall, closing his eyes in resignation for a moment as the full horror of his situation ran through him. He was back with Maybourne, as he had expected and feared, and this time there was no First Prime to save him, knowingly or otherwise. This time, Maybourne held all the power.
Daniel took a deep breath, willing himself to concentrate, pushing the pounding behind his temples into the background. He looked up, past the sneer on Maybourne's face and into the other man's eyes. As he had expected, there was no mercy there, just a blazing desire.
"Maybourne," he replied, wincing as the Jaffa holding him pulled him upright before forcing him to his knees.
"I've thought of this moment for a long time, Daniel," Maybourne said, moving closer. "You here, on your knees before me. And this time, there will be no interruptions."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"I cannot stay here, Kasuf," O'Neill said, frowning, as he paced the length of the room. The resistance had fled once more, this time taking refuge in an abandoned village, half-standing houses providing their only shelter.
"And what good will it do Daniel if you charge into the palace like a rampaging mastage and are captured by the guards, O'Neill?"
"You don't know the danger Daniel is in..."
Kasuf frowned at this, his voice hardening when he spoke.
"If any should know what Maybourne is capable of, O'Neill, who better than the people he has been trying to kill for so long?"
O'Neill sighed, slumping down onto a nearby piece of wall and cradling his head in his hands.
"You will rescue him, O'Neill," Kasuf continued, his voice softer now. "But you must use cunning, not strength, if you are to be successful. Your heart tells you to act now, but you must have a plan or merely join Daniel as a captive."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
At a signal from Maybourne, the Jaffa stepped back, letting go their grip on Daniel's arms and allowing him to slump down onto the cold marble floor of the reception hall. Abused muscles in his shoulders protested the sudden change, sending a twinge through Daniel's arms and down into his back.
Despite this, Daniel straightened up as best he could, raising his head and eyeing Maybourne defiantly.
"I'm not afraid of you," he rasped.
"You should be, Daniel," Maybourne replied, coming closer and grabbing a handful of Daniel's hair. Tightening his grip, the Jaffa twisted Daniel's head, making him look up and half-pulling him from the floor at the same time. "And I intend to make sure that you are..."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had to admit that it was a good disguise.
No-one who had known him as First Prime would possibly give him a second glance, dressed as he was. O'Neill frowned at the smell, grimacing as the mastage he was leading chose that moment to slaver up his arm, long agile tongue coating his hand with drool.
I hope you appreciate this, Daniel.
The thought of Daniel made him hesitate for a moment - the fact that he was in Maybourne's clutches sent a shiver through O'Neill.
I'll kill him if he's touched you, I swear it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You know what to do," Maybourne said to the waiting Jaffa, letting go of Daniels' hair and pushing him away to slump on the cold floor.
Before Daniel could react, before he had a chance to gather himself and try to escape, the Jaffa had grabbed him again, taking hold of his arms in a strong grip and pulling them along behind them relentlessly.
He could feel Maybourne's presence, like a lurking evil, even though the First Prime was not in sight, as the Jaffa brought him into a smaller chamber.
As he struggled against their grip, Daniel was pulled towards a set of hanging manacles, which were quickly fastened around his wrists, leaving him at their mercy. His feet could reach the floor, barely, if he stood on the balls of his feet, and Daniel could already feel an ache beginning in his calves.
Out of the corner of one eye, Daniel saw one of the Jaffa produce a knife and froze in position, sucking in a breath as it was used to cut off his robe. Cool air caressed his skin as Daniel tried not to redden, humiliation flooding him.
"Very nice," Maybourne's voice said from behind him.
Daniel's body shifted uneasily as he turned slightly in his bonds, feeling suddenly more comfortable if he was facing his captors. A sudden brush of fingers across the skin on his back made him flinch, pulling away from them as far as the manacles allowed.
"No rescue this time," Maybourne taunted, "this time you're all mine, for whatever I choose, for as long as I allow you to live..."
He had come closer, his hand now trailing across the thin skin of Daniel's side, until he was face to face with his captive. Maybourne's smile was predatory, cold, full of the promise of pain.
"Whatever you've given O'Neill, I'll take," Maybourne continued. "Before I'm finished with you, Daniel, you'll be begging for my favour."
"Never," Daniel said, with more conviction than he felt.
Maybourne smiled at his defiance, raising his hand till Daniel could see what it held.
Daniel could feel panic welling up inside him as he looked at Maybourne, twisting away from him as the First Prime brought up the blindfold. His movements were futile - it was tied across Daniel's eyes in a matter of moments, leaving him helpless in the darkness.
"Think on this, Daniel," Maybourne hissed into his ear, a smile pervading his words. "You're mine..."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As he had thought, the guards at the entrance hardly gave him a second glance. But that was not solely due to his disguise, but also the fact that their job was more to keep people inside the palace than out.
O'Neill smiled to himself as he thought of the long hours he had spent on such duty, as a younger man, never dreaming that he would know the power of being First Prime of Ra, or that he would then be prepared to throw it all away.
That was something the guards would not easily be able to understand, even if there were words in which O'Neill could describe it. It was as though Daniel had thawed some part of him that he did not realise had frozen, and that was something which he was determined not to give up, no matter the cost.
It had been a long time since he had felt such hope, despite the desperate circumstances they found themselves in, O'Neill realised, as he slipped into the inner part of the palace. Here his presence would be less explainable, there would be no chance of his bluffing his way if discovered here, no explanation he could give once the guards saw his face.
He could only use his intimate knowledge of the palace, and his long experience of the routines within which the guards worked, to allow him to slip unnoticed to where he hoped he would find Daniel.
If Daniel still lived...
What would he do if he was too late? O'Neill considered this, turning over in his mind a hundred different ways in which he could prolong the agony of Maybourne's death. Without Daniel, what then?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had known darkness and silence before, but this was different. There was none of the peacefulness of night-time, the relaxation of sleep after a long day's toil - instead Daniel shook with fear at every breath of air that caressed his skin, his own heartbeat seeming to deafen him.
He had no idea how long it was since Maybourne had left him, tied and defenseless, though it was clear that this was a part of the First Prime's plan to break his spirit. Was he there, even now, watching silently?
Daniel held his breath, straining for the slightest of noises which would tell him that he had an audience.
His senses were stretched to their limit, the inky darkness in which he found himself wrapping itself around him. Daniel could feel each draft of air across his naked skin, feel the burning in his calf muscles as he tried to support himself, the way the edge of the manacles cut into his wrists.
He had never been so completely alone, even after his family had died. He had spent much time mourning them, with the people of his village watching him as he lived in solitude, not expecting him to speak if he did not wish to, respecting his silence. But this was different.
The darkness and silence made it difficult not to think about what might happen next, a thousand tales of Maybourne's cruelty mingling together in his mind. And he was defenceless, naked and alone.
He had thought...
Daniel bit off that thought before it could complete itself, shaking his head at his own foolishness. Short hours before, he had been in the arms of someone who cared for him, he was certain of that, and his own fears had prevented him from giving to O'Neill what Maybourne now planned to take.
If only he had known...
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill paused at the door to the small chamber, fearing what he might see when he entered the room. It opened silently, not even a creak to warn inhabitants of his presence.
The room was dimly-lit, candles flickering from the wall, casting wavering shadows across the skin of the one person who was there. He was not surprised to see that Daniel was naked, his skin lightly covered with sweat, the scars on his back that had been so new when they first met still visible.
Daniel sagged in his bonds slightly, his legs shaking slightly as they tried to support his weight.
Without a second thought, O'Neill crossed the room in a couple of strides, seeing the way that Daniel's body stiffened as he realised he was no longer alone. O'Neill couldn't risk the chance that he might cry out, clamping his hand across Daniel's mouth to ensure his silence.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had no idea how he knew he was no longer alone - it could have been the smallest of noises, or possibly the movement of air across his sensitised skin. Still, when a hand was pressed across his mouth, rough cloth and a warm body pressing against his naked back, Daniel began to struggle.
What could he do, chained as he was? Daniel felt the man's arm wrap itself around his waist, in an attempt to hold him still, even as he tried to bite into the hand that was clamped across his mouth. It took a couple of moments for him to realise that the warm breath at his ear was a voice repeating his name, a few moments more to identify the owner of that voice.
All the fight went out of him in a heartbeat, sagging gratefully against O'Neill's body as the other man held him up. The hand was removed from across his mouth.
"O'Neill," Daniel croaked, after a moment, when the initial terror had begun to subside. "I thought..."
"Shhh," O'Neill muttered, pulling off the blindfold. Daniel turned towards him, as much as his bonds allowed, blinking after the darkness in which he had been immersed.
"What is that smell?" he rasped.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A wave of relief swept over O'Neill when Daniel spoke. He had feared the worst from the moment he had seen Daniel taken away, the entire time they had been apart he had been tormented by images of what Daniel might be suffering. Those four words had told him that his fears had been unfounded.
"It's traditional to be grateful if you're being rescued," O'Neill muttered into Daniel's ear as he reached up to release him from the manacles.
"Even if your rescuer smells of week-old mastage?" Daniel retorted, unable to hide a wince of pain as his hands were freed.
"Tradition is a strange thing," Daniel replied. "But I am grateful," he continued, turning in O'Neill's embrace to face him, feeling the rough cloth of the Jaffa's borrowed robes scratch slightly across his skin. "And I intend to show my gratitude..."
O'Neill swallowed at those words - suddenly the small chamber in which they stood seemed airless.
"Go?" Daniel asked. O'Neill nodded. "Like this?" he continued, stepping back out of O'Neill's embrace and looking down at himself.
"I think that might be a little conspicuous."
"Do you have a better idea?" Daniel asked, crossing his arms.
O'Neill gazed at him for a moment, smiling to himself as the stubborn look on Daniel's face began to change, to be replaced by one that looked more like embarrassment. Stepping back to the doorway, O'Neill checked that the corridor was still deserted, before pulling off his robe and handing it to Daniel.
Daniel looked down at the robe, clearly reluctant.
"This is your better idea?" he asked, looking up at O'Neill, who stared at him impassively. After a few seconds had passed, Daniel took the robe from the Jaffa's outstretched hands, nose wrinkling at the odours that drifted from it.
"All I need now is a helmet," O'Neill said, brushing a few stray mastage hairs from the uniform tunic he had been wearing under the borrowed robes. "Hurry up and put that on."
O'Neill crossed to the doorway once more, as Daniel dressed. It was still clear, and he summoned Daniel to his side with a curt gesture.
"If we should be captured," he began, looking round at Daniel.
Daniel shook his head.
"We don't have time for this," he said, "and I don't want to think about it."
O'Neill looked at him, eyeing the stubborn set to Daniel's jaw which belied the paleness of his face. Although they had known each other for such a short space of time, he already knew that look well, knew that there was no point in arguing.
"Then we had best not be captured," he said, leading the way out into the corridor, one hand snaking out to grasp onto the sleeve of Daniel's robe and pull him unceremoniously after him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This time their journey together through the palace had a strange sense of deja vu for Daniel. Before, he'd been more than half- terrified, almost jumping out of his skin at every sound, convinced that they would be captured at any moment. Now, Daniel felt as though he had faced some of the worst of his fears and overcome them.
Coming face to face with Maybourne once more had been the thing he had dreaded the most, but Daniel had escaped from him again with nothing more than fodder for his nightmares to come. It was as though he had conjured O'Neill up out of thin air to rescue him, when he had almost given up hope. Almost.
A small part of Daniel had been determined to survive, vowing that he wouldn't let Maybourne win whatever happened. But he had been glad not to have to put that part to the test.
As he followed O'Neill through the corridors of a palace that must be so very familiar to the Jaffa, Daniel wondered what O'Neill had thought. Whether he had been worried, whether he had felt relief on finding Daniel relatively unscathed, what he had thought when he entered the room where Daniel was being held prisoner. And what might happen between them next.
It seemed strange, but the sight of O'Neill had sent a pulse of warmth through him, despite the circumstances, reminding him of the intimacy they had shared. It had made Daniel want more than they had already experienced, so much so that the need for that lurked inside him, dark and powerful and full of seductive promises. Daniel regretted more than anything that they hadn't had the chance to share those experiences, that he had come so close to allowing Maybourne the chance to despoil that forever, and he didn't want to let that happen.
But he had no idea what O'Neill wanted from him, or whether there was any chance of something permanent growing between them. Whether they would even survive long enough to discover more than they already knew about each other. And it was that thought, more than any abstract fear of capture or torture that Daniel found pained him the most.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel's bare feet slapped on the cold marble floor beside him as O'Neill led the way through corridors that he knew as well as he knew his own face. Through passageways he had travelled first as a guard and later as Ra's First Prime, all others giving way to him as he passed.
But all of that power and supremacy was a thing of the past now. That was something he had turned his back on in one moment of rebellion, spurred by the man who now accompanied him. The man who until very recently he had feared tortured or even killed by the Jaffa who had succeeded him.
The thought of Daniel in Maybourne's vengeful hands tore at him still - even though the rational part of O'Neill's mind knew that Daniel had not been harmed, that seemed to make little difference to how he felt. Daniel had been scared - O'Neill had been close enough to Daniel when he freed him to be able to smell the stink of fear on the other man's skin. That in itself was no shame, though; he would have been more surprised if Daniel hadn't reacted that way, considering his past dealings with Maybourne.
O'Neill balked at the remembered promise he had made to Daniel, that he wouldn't seek revenge on Maybourne, the tacit agreement that it wasn't his place to do so. A dark part of himself wanted to crush the life from his successor, cause the same fear to appear on Maybourne's face that had surely been seen on Daniel's. But he'd promised, albeit reluctantly, and he was a man of his word or he was nothing.
He led the way deeper into the palace, figuring that Daniel's escape must have been discovered by now, and reasoning that their pursuer's first action would be to cover every exit. That they would wait for the two of them to try and leave the palace in order to capture them then.
O'Neill had no illusions what would happen should they be captured, particularly now Maybourne held such a position of power in Ra's entourage. He would likely be tortured to death and then revived in Ra's sarcophagus, before the whole process would begin again, until Maybourne tired of it and left him crippled and blinded to beg for scraps of food outside the palace walls.
And as for Daniel? O'Neill had a suspicion that Daniel would prefer the fate that he would likely suffer, agonising as it would be, to whatever Maybourne might have in mind for him.
But that wouldn't happen, not if he had anything to do with it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Where are we going?" Daniel asked, speaking for the first time since they had left the room where he had been held captive. "Is this the way out of here?"
"We can't leave the palace that easily," O'Neill said, pausing at a junction to allow the two of them to catch their breath. "Maybourne will know by now that you've escaped, so he'll have posted guards at every exit. They'll expect to just be able to wait there and catch us that way."
"But we have to leave some time, O'Neill," Daniel pointed out.
"We do," O'Neill agreed. "But this palace is a maze of passages and rooms. I doubt that there is anyone still alive who knows them all. There are a multitude of places for us to lie low for as long as we need to."
Daniel stretched slightly, feeling his vertebrae pop as he did so. He ached, his legs in particular protesting at the treatment they had received - first of all when he had been chained and more recently on their flight through the palace. But how could he expect to rest now, when they needed to put as much distance between themselves and their pursuers as they could?
"Tired?" O'Neill asked.
Daniel glanced at him sharply, almost expecting to see mockery in the Jaffa's eyes, but instead he saw only concern. He bit back the sharp response that tiredness and waning adrenaline levels had almost inspired.
"A little," he admitted. "It's been a long day," Daniel added, with a small smile.
"We will rest soon," he said. "I have somewhere in mind, Daniel, a place few people in the palace know of. Somewhere we can rest undisturbed."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill led the way into a darkened section of the palace, frowning at the footprints that the two of them left behind in the slight layer of dust that marked the beginning of the passageway. They were unmistakeable, in some ways, Jaffa boots and human footprints intermingled, but there was no way to remove them without that removal serving as a sign that someone had passed this way and tried to hide the fact. All they could do was hope their pursuers did not follow.
No torches burned here, and O'Neill felt Daniel take a tentative hold of his tunic, before following him without complaint into the darkness.
He followed the twists and turns of the passageway, feeling his way along the walls, his fingertips tracing long-remembered marks. Some of which he had left here himself, as a child growing up in the palace.
When he had been younger and journeyed here, life had been an adventure, something to embrace. But that had been before O'Neill had sworn allegiance to Ra, as his father had done before him, and his life had changed completely. Before he had taken the prim'ta and effectively enslaved himself.
Now all he could hear was the sound of Daniel's breathing behind him coming harsher now as the other man tired.
"Not far," O'Neill said, needing to encourage Daniel when all his darker instincts raged at him to chastise the former slave. To shake off the hand that gripped his tunic and leave the weakling scholar here in the darkness to meet whatever fate he might.
Where were those feelings coming from? What was he afraid of, O'Neill wondered, as he realised that he was shaking slightly himself. He had known from the moment he had left the palace with Daniel the first time, the moment he had taken the information about its layout to the resistance that he had effectively signed his own life away, so wasn't it a little late now to be panicking about anything?
It seemed, somehow, that the two of them were tied together, mingled somehow at the most basic of levels. Although his instincts were telling him to leave Daniel behind, that he needed to think of his own survival, O'Neill found that he considered the idea of escaping without Daniel an abhorrent one. That life on those terms was no kind of life at all.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He didn't like this.
If it hadn't been for his tenuous grip on O'Neill's tunic, Daniel was convinced that he would have run screaming into the darkness long before now. Or maybe just cowered in the corner and waited for death to overtake him like the darkness had.
It reminded him too much of what had gone before, the fears he had tried to push to the back of his mind since he had been rescued. Though he had been isolated in darkness, blindfolded by Maybourne, he had been anything but truly alone there, trapped as he was with the nightmares that inhabited his mind.
But he trusted O'Neill, that much was one of the few certainties Daniel held onto, grasping that truth as tightly as he grasped the material of the Jaffa's tunic. Even though a part of him wondered what O'Neill thought, whether he regretted allying himself with someone who was evidently such a coward, and whether the arousal he had thought he'd seen in O'Neill's eyes back in the chamber where he had been held was real at all.
All Daniel wanted to do now was lie down somewhere and sleep for as long as he could. And he had to trust that O'Neill would take him somewhere safe, somewhere they could both rest for a while. Somewhere out of this darkness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
One last corner turned and they were back in the more inhabited parts of the palace, but a part where it was far less likely they would be discovered.
O'Neill heard the shaky sigh of relief that Daniel gave when the light began to infiltrate the corridor they were travelling, and he felt Daniel's iron grip loosen slightly. He smiled to himself - they had survived this far, they were still free, still together, and if he had anything to do with it, they would stay that way.
"In here," O'Neill said, pushing a hanging away from a doorway to allow the two of them entrance. He frowned at the amount of dust the movement of the material dislodged, his frown growing as he heard Daniel cough. He turned, just in time to see Daniel's face, then continued into the chamber as Daniel flapped a hand for him to go on.
"Is it safe?" Daniel asked, when he had stopped coughing.
"As safe as anywhere in the palace," O'Neill said. "Few people know of this place and fewer still come here, or at least it has been so for a very long time."
He busied himself with lighting a few candles, blessing the haste with which these chambers had been given up. Their light gave the room a warmer glow, the smell of the wax immediately making him relax a little, as his mind associated it with kel no reem.
"Why?" Daniel asked, turning round in a small circle to inspect what he could see of the chamber, his curiosity piqued. "This chamber is even more ornate than yours."
"It belonged to Ra's Queen," O'Neill explained, as he crossed to the heavily decorated bed and sat down, watching Daniel's eyes raking the chamber. He could feel that his face bore a small amused smile, glad as he was to see Daniel's enthusiasm begin to re-surface. "Before she tired of it and demanded another set of rooms."
"Really?" Daniel turned and saw the expression on O'Neill's face. He tried to scowl, to show his disapproval at the amusement he saw there, but it just wouldn't stay in place.
"Indeed." O'Neill shrugged off the heavy shoulderpiece of his uniform as he spoke, before lying back on the bed, heedless of the dust that movement caused.
"And what about the bed?" Daniel asked, crossing to stand over O'Neill.
"What about it?"
"Is it comfortable?"
O'Neill took a chance and closed his eyes, even though he still listened intently to try and determine what Daniel was doing. He knew that if he continued to look at Daniel he'd remember that the other man was wearing nothing under that mastage-smelling robe and that would be the end of any rest they'd get for now.
There was silence for a moment, then the sound of rustling material. O'Neill swallowed, his mouth suddenly as dry as the desert. He knew that sound, knew exactly what it meant.
"I thought you were tired, Daniel," he said, without opening his eyes.
"And I thought I was supposed to be expressing my gratitude for a proficient rescue," Daniel countered.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he waited for a response.
Had he misjudged the situation? Was O'Neill really only wanting to sleep after all? He felt his face begin to redden, as he considered the possibility that O'Neill might not want him, that he had stripped off and all but thrown himself at the Jaffa, without success.
The desire he had been feeling, the need to experience something in order to drive away the darkness, twisted inside him. It seemed to be waning fast.
Then, when the Jaffa opened his eyes finally and looked up at him, Daniel realised that he had been right all along. Despite the tiredness in his face, O'Neill's eyes were dark with arousal, the unspoken pull between them stronger than ever.
"Gratitude, Daniel?" O'Neill echoed, his voice rough. "For your rescue?"
Daniel nodded. His throat seemed to have closed up on him, making it impossible to speak, even if he had the words to say. He hoped that O'Neill understood anyway, that he realised it was more than mere gratitude that he felt, it was also sheer relief at still being alive and unharmed, all mixed and mingled with the desire he felt towards the other man. It was a heady mixture, intoxicating, too strong for Daniel to resist.
He took a hesitant half-step forward, bringing himself to the edge of the bed. O'Neill lay there, the weighty shoulderpiece of his uniform discarded nearby, the underlying mail-like material stretched tight across his chest and abdomen. Fascinated, Daniel watched it rise and fall with O'Neill's breath for a moment, before crawling forward onto the bed itself.
With each movement, Daniel felt his boldness returning, felt the heat of O'Neill's gaze as he crawled up the bed until they were face to face. It was a little awkward for him, tired as he was, and after a moment Daniel felt his arms start to tremble a little from supporting his weight.
He lowered himself until he was laying on top of O'Neill. Heated evidence of O'Neill's desire rubbed against him as Daniel pushed himself back a little, until he was kneeling over the Jaffa, and he could feel that same heat brush now against his naked ass.
"Daniel," O'Neill grated out. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" He swallowed before speaking again.
Daniel's hand traced its own path to the slit in the material that allowed access to O'Neill's pouch, hearing the tiny gasp of pleasure that O'Neill made as Daniel's fingers strayed into that sensitive area. He felt movement under his hand, but managed not to react as he felt the tremors of movement from the infant Goa'uld - instead of wondering what the hell he was doing, Daniel concentrated on the shaky breaths that O'Neill was taking.
"I'm sure," Daniel replied.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill nodded at Daniel's answer, closing his eyes as Daniel's fingers strayed around the pouch once more, before they returned to the outside of his tunic. O'Neill took another breath, then opened his eyes again and reached for Daniel. Grabbing him by the arm, he pulled Daniel down to snatch a kiss, hearing the other man moan against his mouth, as he felt the answering hardness in Daniel's groin when they rubbed against each other.
Daniel pulled away slightly, his eyes wide.
"You know what I want," he said, sliding his hand down O'Neill's body once more. This time his fingers bypassed the pouch, moving down over the Jaffa's hip and across till Daniel's hand insinuated itself between the two of them.
O'Neill felt his breath catch in his throat, the trust that statement required after all that Daniel had experienced stunning him into silence for a moment. Was it just that Daniel was grateful? Did he feel an obligation to his rescuer? Or was there something more between them?
"Please," Daniel said, his hand splayed out across O'Neill's groin, fingers curling slightly. "Please." There was a desperation coming into Daniel's voice now, something that O'Neill hadn't heard before, an edge to it that worried him.
O'Neill managed to grab hold of Daniel's wrist, and used it to pull him closer, the candlelight hardly disguising the sheer anguish on Daniel's face.
"You're safe," O'Neill said. With his free hand, he found himself stroking Daniel's thigh, as if he could rub away the emotions he saw written large on the other man's face.
The rage against Maybourne was growing inside him once more. Promise or no, Maybourne would pay for what he had done to Daniel, O'Neill decided. Daniel's face twisted slightly with the effort of keeping control, the hours of fear and worry finally taking their toll.
"Everything will be well," he said, pulling Daniel down to rest once more, so that they were face to face again. Daniel turned his head, looking a little ashamed at his reaction. "You're tired, Daniel," he continued. "Rest now."
O'Neill's hands moved onto Daniel's back, his fingers gently tracing the scars that remained from the beating Daniel had taken on the day they met. So much had happened since then, to both of them. Somehow, O'Neill knew it could well be a long night; his hands continued to stroke across Daniel's back until the other man's breathing evened out into sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When he woke, he remembered everything. That was the worst of it, Daniel supposed, that everything he had done and said was recalled with such perfect clarity. Every embarrassing word and action carved into his mind like glyphs into stone, captured forever.
It was bad enough that he had practically fallen to pieces, with what must have been a delayed reaction to the terror he had experienced when he had been in the hands of Maybourne. But that O'Neill had seen it all....
Daniel sucked in a shaky breath, wondering absently why he was so warm.
It was only then that he remembered where he was, putting two and two together to realise that the weight across his back was O'Neill's arm. He froze, unsure. What might O'Neill's reaction be to him now, after he had embarrassed himself so completely in the Jaffa's presence?
Daniel opened his eyes, and it took him a moment to recognise the fact that he was lying half-draped over O'Neill, their legs twined together. O'Neill was still clothed, his face relaxed in sleep, and Daniel studied him for a moment.
He couldn't go on like this. He had to discover, Daniel decided, whether O'Neill wanted him or not, and if not then he would deal with that. This confusion was too much to bear, the chaotic emotions inside him making him wonder if he was losing his mind. He'd heard of that happening before, Daniel recalled - people who had experienced great fear losing a grip on reality in order to stay alive. Was that what was happening with him?
O'Neill shifted slightly in his sleep, muttering quietly to himself, and Daniel watched him till he settled once more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If his dreams were troubled, that was nothing new.
O'Neill struggled towards wakefulness, his mind throwing off the remnants of the nightmare that had surrounded him, the one where he was too late in finding Daniel and had to live with the consequences of his failure.
All in all, the nightmare itself had been mild this time round. Daniel's body had not been the horrifying tapestry of blood and brokenness he might have expected to find; he'd merely hung there in his chains, all life extinguished. No reproachful words this time, no mocking questions, just darkness and silence and the end of hope.
But reality was the warmth that surrounded him, the quiet breaths Daniel took in the silence of the room they now occupied, his limbs draped across O'Neill's body - all those things were a balm to O'Neill, grounding him.
They were together, they were alive, he had been in time.
He listened to Daniel breathe for a few moments, his eyes still closed; O'Neill revelled in the closeness they currently shared and wondered what to do next.
In some ways, he'd been surprised at Daniel's acquiescence only hours before, the way in which he had agreed to sleep when all that had happened to him, as well as the things that had almost happened, had come crashing down upon him. Daniel had to have been overwhelmed by it all, that combination of fear and exhaustion weighing him down inexorably even as its razor edge had driven him to offer something extreme.
O'Neill hoped that ready agreement to sleep was a sign that Daniel trusted him, even as his own baser instincts had rebelled against the idea of not taking what Daniel was so clearly offering.
But it would have been the wrong move, an indulgence that would have created a barrier between them. Though it was clear that Daniel wanted the intimacy between them that sex would ensure, was he really ready for all that he had offered to accede to? Or was it, as O'Neill suspected, more of a reaction to what had almost happened, wanting to replace the bad memories with better ones?
O'Neill opened his eyes, only to find Daniel watching him intently, his eyes wary.
As soon as their eyes met, Daniel looked down - at that loss of contact, O'Neill felt strangely and suddenly cut adrift. Daniel shifted slightly, a prelude to moving out of their current intimate embrace, and O'Neill moved his arm across quickly, trapping Daniel where he lay.
"Stay," he said, feeling the tension of Daniel's body through his embrace.
Daniel's body was like a tightly wound cord, its tautness indicating his readiness to leave the bed, and possibly even the room, at the first opportunity he was given. After a moment O'Neill felt Daniel relax slightly, though their eyes still didn't meet. He watched Daniel's tongue flick over his lower lip, those intelligent eyes closing.
He knew that look, knew it intimately even from their short time together; this was Daniel in avoidance, convinced he had done or said something he shouldn't have. O'Neill cast his mind back over the past few hours and came to the conclusion that there was only one thing that could have caused that expression this time.
It was embarrassment over his previous actions, plain and simple.
O'Neill concentrated for a moment on the memories from a few hours before; he sifted through them, remembering the avid look on Daniel's face and pushing aside the desperate words that had accompanied it. He'd been so aroused, he'd wanted so much to just roll Daniel over and take what he offered, regardless of the consequences, but O'Neill had known that the price of that decision would be more than he was willing to pay.
But that didn't stop his imagination working eagerly on that very subject now.
The idea of Daniel stretched out below him, lean body pearled with sweat, his long fingers clutching feverishly at the material of the bed. The sounds that he'd make as O'Neill lavished attention on him, hands and mouth tracing their own paths across Daniel's skin. His fingers tracing every curve of muscle and bone, mapping Daniel like an explorer, discovering every hidden part as he prepared to experience everything Daniel had offered him, would offer him....
O'Neill felt that picture stir him, as he knew it would, and he shifted slightly, allowing the evidence of his arousal to brush against Daniel's hip. Daniel had to know that things between them weren't one-sided; for no reason he could properly explain it was suddenly of vital importance that Daniel realise O'Neill hadn't pushed him away last night because of a lack of desire. Timing was everything, and it seemed to the Jaffa as though the right time was now.
As he'd expected, Daniel's eyes snapped open at this intimate contact, and they were dark with surprise.
"I thought you..." he began, before embarrassment seemed to overtake him once more; he fell silent, looked away, face reddening a little in a way which was obvious despite the candlelight. Daniel's eyes closed then, screwed tight as if he was afraid he'd fall apart otherwise, and he began to pull away, out of O'Neill's embrace, this time in earnest.
And this time, O'Neill let him go.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He seemed to have a knack for making a complete fool of himself.
If it wasn't throwing himself at O'Neill and being rejected, now that the Jaffa wanted him, Daniel had no idea what he wanted. He pushed himself away and out of O'Neill's embrace, his hands slipping across the warm material of the Jaffa's tunic, before turning to sit on the edge of the bed. He was torn, a part of him wanting to get the hell out of there, another part desperate to stay there with O'Neill, no matter what.
The coolness of the marble floor was a momentary shock to his feet, but the suddenness of the sensation also made everything seem more real.
This was easier.
He could do this, he could talk about all of this, as long as he didn't have to see O'Neill while he was doing it, as long as he didn't have to face the sympathy and understanding he'd see in those eyes. The look Daniel knew would be there, no matter how poorly he expressed himself; the certainty of its existence was alternately a source of exhilaration and terror.
"I thought you didn't want me."
Daniel would have been proud of himself, proud of the sureness of his voice, if he hadn't been so conscious that he was poised on a knife edge. This could go either way, destroying what already stood between them as surely as Maybourne would have destroyed him, had he been given the time. At least now Daniel felt that he was starting to understand himself a little, even if the vehemence of his own feelings surprised him.
This wasn't about gratitude, appreciation of rescue, or obligation of any kind, as much as he experienced all of those emotions and more. All those had been twined so tightly with the desire that he had felt, that he still felt, that it was impossible to pick them apart.
Now, adrenaline rush long past, exhaustion and fear a memory, desire was still there, like a banked-down fire. All it needed was the opportunity to burn again, to be stirred up once more, and Daniel was sure that it would consume him, devour him utterly, along with anything he touched.
The words he'd spoken sounded absurdly normal to Daniel's ears, his voice almost composed, as if this was the kind of conversation he had every day.
"Last night was about you being afraid, Daniel. More than anything else."
Those quietly-spoken words should probably have made him angry, angry enough to turn on O'Neill and shout at him, desperate to deny to both of them that he had ever been that scared. But Daniel couldn't do it, he couldn't lie like that.
And what would be the point anyway?
O'Neill had seen him, he'd heard him; he had to know the truth about how things had been, no matter how much Daniel might deny it now.
"All I could think about was what almost happened," Daniel said. As he spoke he fixed his eyes on a set of hieroglyphs on the wall opposite; Daniel forced his reluctant mind to try and make sense of them, all the while wondering if he could ever find the courage to look O'Neill in the eye again.
Knowing himself better didn't stop Daniel feeling embarrassed at what he'd almost done the night before. He'd almost made a mistake, done something he would have regretted, something whose consequences he was sure he would have struggled to live with. How O'Neill had stopped himself from taking Daniel up on his offer, how he had seen past the offer itself and straight to the motivation behind it all, was something of a mystery. But the guess he'd made, if guess it was, had been an accurate one.
Daniel felt the bed dip slightly behind him, heard the slither and rustle of fabric across fabric, felt the warmth of O'Neill's body as the Jaffa moved across to where he was sitting. He was there, close behind where Daniel sat, but still not touching him.
"I thought for just that moment that it would make everything right," Daniel continued. "That it would finally tell me what I want. What you want."
"It would have been a mistake, Daniel," O'Neill said. His voice was barely a whisper, but Daniel heard it anyway. He felt himself shudder, as if his fate had somehow been sealed by those few words, as if judgement had been passed on him, but still he needed to know.
"And what about now?"
Was that really him speaking? The words seemed to come of their own accord, slipping out of Daniel's mouth and into existence before he could think about them.
He managed not to flinch when O'Neill touched him, the most tentative brush of fingers across his bare shoulder, a delicate touch that curved across his skin, following a looping path that had to follow one of his scars. Daniel considered that for a moment, wondering how O'Neill could find them so fascinating, when all they held for him were bad memories. Things he wanted more than anything to bury in some deserted corner of his mind. He was marble, suddenly, motionless under O'Neill's hand, frozen in the moment.
"Now?" the Jaffa echoed, his voice husky.
Daniel nodded; words choked him, forcing him into silence. He felt breath move across his skin, warmth and wetness trailing across his back in the wake of O'Neill's fingers. Daniel forced himself to remain still, treasuring the moment, capturing it, focussed on the sensations.
"What about now?" O'Neill continued, the echoed words a mutter against Daniel's skin, the Jaffa's teasing breaths their only punctuation.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
How could Daniel still be so uncertain?
The mere thought of Daniel before, at Maybourne's mercy, and now here, with him, made O'Neill want to reassure him, convince him. Despite everything they'd experienced together, it was clear that Daniel was still unsure about how matters stood between them, and that was an enemy that needed to be overthrown. War needed to be waged against it until Daniel was convinced and his doubts defeated.
It was torture to go so slowly but the memory of Daniel's distraught face from the night before was enough to stay his hand. It made O'Neill determined to take all the care he needed, all the care Daniel needed.
He could feel Daniel trembling slightly, despite the lightness of his touch, and O'Neill wondered at his silence.
"Daniel?" O'Neill pulled back, the fingers that had been tracing the lines across Daniel's back moving to his shoulder, resting there rather than turning him.
Daniel took a deep breath, then let it out in one shuddering gasp, before turning his head slightly so that their eyes met.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You want me."
The words fell into the silence between them, surprising Daniel with their simplicity even as they left his mouth, as well as all the things far more difficult to express held within those few syllables.
"What gave it away?" O'Neill asked, smiling, and Daniel felt himself respond without a second thought.
His hands had been gripping the material as it curved over the edge of the bed, gripping it hard, and it took a moment before he could release his hold, sliding one hand back behind him. It was awkward, but the grip O'Neill had on his shoulders seemed to anchor him to the planet, and he didn't want to lose it.
He felt his fingers encounter warmth, trailing over the muscle of O'Neill's legs, the roughness of the material encasing them slowing his progress. Daniel let his hand trail across the greater heat he found, smiling as O'Neill shifted slightly in response to his touch.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, smiling. "It was just a wild stab in the dark."
Slowly, Daniel turned, bringing his feet up as he swung round. He felt the bed dip as O'Neill went with him, shuffling back across the bed to allow the movement, to give Daniel space to join him there. All he could see was the Jaffa's face; their eyes were locked as if looking away would shatter everything between them, destroying forever this one perfect moment.
He was over O'Neill now, their positions identical to the night before, but this time there was something else. Something missing. The desperation Daniel had felt then was long past, replaced by a certainty that surprised him more than he could express.
He looked down at O'Neill, sliding his hands under the tunic the Jaffa wore, pushing the material up towards his chest. The pouch lay exposed, and Daniel trailed one hand over it, gently, smiling to himself at the hiss of breath when his fingers contacted the sensitive edges. That was one response he planned to investigate thoroughly in the future.
Before he could push the material any higher, Daniel found his wrists held. In one swift movement their positions were reversed O'Neill was looming over him now, his eyes dark with promise and intent. He let go of Daniel's wrists as soon as Daniel's back hit the bed, pulling his tunic off with one swift movement and discarding it, then lifting his weight slightly off Daniel. One further movement, hands pulling at fabric, and O'Neill was naked, heat pressed against heat, leaning forward once more.
Daniel felt his resolution start to waver a little as the reality of his position sank in. He wondered if some of that made it to his face, when he saw O'Neill frown.
"If you're not sure about this," O'Neill began, shifting backwards slightly.
Daniel reached out and captured one of O'Neill's hands, pulling it from where it lay flat on the bed and moving it till it rested on Daniel's stomach. He urged it downwards then, rolling his hips slightly as he did so.
"I'm sure," he replied, gasping slightly as O'Neill obeyed his urging and long knowing fingers wrapped themselves around him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daniel's stomach had been warm beneath his hand, the skin as soft as he'd remembered. What Daniel had urged him to grasp then had been warmer still, as if all of Daniel's long-buried passion was now coming to the surface, burning away all the barriers that had stood between them.
O'Neill paused, hand stilling, just looking down at Daniel for a long moment, adding this image to the ones from the night before.
Daniel was sprawled on the bed beneath him, one hand still resting loosely over O'Neill's where it grasped him, the other clutching the material of the bed cover spasmodically. His eyes were closed, a tiny frown of concentration wrinkling his brow. Experimentally, O'Neill tightened his grasp a little, moving his hand, and was rewarded by an almost inaudible gasp.
He smiled to himself. No uncertainty where Daniel was concerned now, it seemed. Nothing but trust and desire. Suddenly, all O'Neill wanted was to see that, to know it for the truth it was, and for that he needed Daniel to open his eyes. Now.
"Daniel." After a long moment, Daniel's eyes opened, as slowly as if he was awakening from sleep. They took a moment to focus on him, but they were dark with desire, deep with the longing that O'Neill had known he would see there. "I wanted you to remember who's here with you," he continued, the pad of his thumb rubbing slightly across the underside of Daniel's erection as he spoke.
"I..." The words Daniel meant to say were lost in a moan as sensation hit. He bucked slightly under O'Neill's weight.
O'Neill eased up onto his knees, his hand still trapped under Daniel's hand, on Daniel's cock. His other hand slipped from the bed, till it was resting on Daniel's hip, fingers splayed across the warm skin of Daniel's flank.
"Please..." Daniel's eyes had closed once more, and the slightest touch of O'Neill's hand seemed enough to make Daniel's words draw out, their syllables mixed with sounds that were both rough and needy.
O'Neill slid his hand downwards, slipping it between Daniel and the bed, before moving upwards a little till his hand was resting under Daniel's back. He could feel the muscles tensing there, even as he urged Daniel over, smiling at the lack of resistance. If he'd ever thought Daniel didn't want this, want him, he was under no such illusion now.
As Daniel rolled over, slowly, a little less coordinated than usual, O'Neill moved with him. He let go reluctantly, his hands moving to Daniel's hips to help him into the right position.
Daniel was on his hands and knees now, and suddenly O'Neill realised how dry his mouth was. The level of trust necessary for Daniel to do this overwhelmed him and for a moment all he could do was look, feeling his own erection rise as he studied the perfection before him. Daniel glanced over his shoulder a little uncertainly, as if wondering why O'Neill didn't touch him, and the Jaffa found himself smiling slightly.
The first touch was a slow caress, one hand sliding across the skin of Daniel's ass, all in preparation for moving to take hold of his erection once more. Daniel hung his head, his breath hissing through his teeth, as O'Neill's hand met his heated flesh once more.
"Please, O'Neill..." Daniel repeated, grating out the words. "Something. Please."
"Shhh." It was like gentling a wild creature. As O'Neill's other hand came to rest on Daniel's back, he could feel the tiny tremors going through Daniel's body. "It's okay."
The urge was there once more, the urge to take, not to pause, not to wait till Daniel was prepared, till Daniel was ready in all the ways that were important. O'Neill bit his lip, biting that urge back, even as his other hand moved on Daniel's erection. Moisture was gathering at its head now, O'Neill could feel the nearness in Daniel's body, feel the tension under his hand as it lay on Daniel's back.
Moving closer, he reached round, gathering some of the pre-come with his fingers, before leaning back slightly and slipping them between the cheeks of Daniel's ass. They slipped across where he wanted them to go and Daniel reacted a little, clearly torn between paying attention to that and the almost-overwhelming sensation of O'Neill's hand on his cock.
O'Neill prepared him as quickly and thoroughly as he could, his fingers stretching and scissoring, all the while keeping Daniel distracted, bringing him to the edge of orgasm and then pulling him back from the brink. Daniel's breathing was harsher now, shuddering gasps interspersed with what O'Neill thought were curses. He expected no less as a result of what he was doing to Daniel, but if he didn't want Daniel to have the opportunity to panic - there was no other way O'Neill could think of that would have distracted him half as well as this.
When his hand slipped from Daniel's erection, fingers skating across the thin skin of his pelvis to come to rest on Daniel's hip, O'Neill clearly heard him curse, a guttural set of words that cast doubt on the Jaffa's parentage. O'Neill smiled to himself, his fingers finishing their work, his other hand moving to rest on Daniel's other hip.
Soon, if he had anything to do with it, Daniel would have no breath left for cursing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He wondered if he should have been more nervous than he was, considering what he was getting himself into. But the only emotion Daniel felt now was desire, each wave of it rolling over him like clouds sweeping across the sky. He wanted O'Neill in him, wanted it though he had no idea how it might be, wanted it though the intensity of his wanting was enough to make him wonder how he might survive the experience.
He couldn't imagine trusting anyone as much as he trusted O'Neill at this moment, exposing so much of himself, his needs, to anyone else. It wasn't just a physical thing, it was something more, something that he hoped would bind them together, something that he hoped O'Neill shared.
Daniel knew that he should consider the future, that he should think about what might happen to them in the days that were to come, but all that mattered to him now was what was happening in this room. The touch of O'Neill's hand on his skin, the experience that he was anticipating sharing with O'Neill, that was all that amounted to anything for Daniel right now.
Had that been his voice, so needy? Daniel was more than a little surprised he could still speak, that the sounds that issued from his mouth made any sense at all, when he felt as though he could shatter into a thousand pieces at any moment.
He felt O'Neill's hands resting on his hips, fingers caressing the thin skin across his pelvis. But it wasn't enough. He needed more. Then there was a pressure, pushing against where those talented fingers had been, and Daniel forgot about anything else.
The sensation was almost overwhelming, an odd mix of pain and pleasure; suddenly Daniel was glad for all the care O'Neill had taken in preparing him, stretching him, though truly nothing could have prepared him for this.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill had never thought that he would appreciate all the things he'd learned from Jaffa training as much as he did at this moment. Those long hours of guard duty, before he had been elevated to his former position of First Prime, had taught him infinite patience, and he was currently using every ounce of it with Daniel.
It was everything he had expected and more, and he longed to push, to take what Daniel offered, but knew that would be a bad idea. So he went slowly, though it was torture to do so, though every muscle in his back seemed to be quivering with the tension of holding himself back that way.
"Please..." Daniel's voice, and the quiver in it when he spoke, seemed to wrap itself round O'Neill, echoing up through their closeness.
Sooner than he'd expected, considering the care he'd taken, O'Neill found himself wrapped around Daniel, inside Daniel too, almost as if they shared one skin. Daniel was warm and silken on the outside, each rasping breath seeming to echo in O'Neill's ears; inside, Daniel was like fire. O'Neill was forced to take a couple of breaths, nuzzling the back of Daniel's neck in reassurance at his stillness, before he could begin to move.
He'd done this before, of course, but it had been a while. Even then, it had never been with anyone he cared about - O'Neill had never allowed himself to be fooled into believing that his favours were sought for anything other than hope of advancement. So he had always got what he wanted from them, not caring if he met their needs as long as his own were sated.
Daniel was a different proposition altogether, O'Neill realised, as he began to move. He had taken his time to prepare him, and now he wanted this to be a memorable experience for him, one that he would want to repeat rather than one he looked back on in dismay.
In fact, it was his intention to make this experience so memorable, using everything he'd ever learned from a lifetime of sharing such pleasures, that Daniel would be desperate to share this experience again.
Pulling back, feeling Daniel shift his weight backwards in an attempt to keep him enveloped, O'Neill began to thrust, angling each movement towards the place he knew would give Daniel the most pleasure.
The first moan ripped from Daniel's throat as if he was reluctant to let himself be heard. Or was it that he was a little embarrassed at the strength of what he was feeling? O'Neill smiled to himself and continued to move, searching for the perfect angle to make Daniel react once more.
They were moving in harmony soon, Daniel's hips moving backwards as O'Neill thrust, his own gasped breaths practically indistinguishable from Daniel's moans of pleasure. He could feel himself racing towards the edge, his rhythm beginning to falter a little, and that knowledge of his own closeness was all it took.
Completion left O'Neill draped over Daniel's back, his hand slipping round in search of evidence that Daniel was sated too, before the two of them knew only silence and sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was strange waking up to find someone draped round him. Daniel moved a little, as though he was testing the security of that embrace, feeling an ache in unexpected places. It should feel stranger than it did, he supposed, being this close to O'Neill, but all that he felt from the closeness was comfort. That, and a desperate sense of being wanted.
Daniel closed his eyes and tried to rest once more, but found he was too conscious of the proximity of another body to slip into sleep that easily. All those years of hiding what he knew, of being aware that he was somehow different because of what he'd learned, that dangerous knowledge, had meant that he rarely slept for long. It was a habit that had saved his life on more than one occasion.
O'Neill's breath was warm on his neck, an unexpected pleasure after a night of sensations he had never experienced before. As he had softened, that most intimate of embraces had slipped away, and Daniel wondered for a moment if they were still connected. He felt it, anyway, even stronger than before. He wondered if O'Neill felt the same.
He had to have done this with other men, but that was something he didn't want to think about - of course, the moment that Daniel had pondered that possibility, the idea began to fester in his mind. Had O'Neill felt that he had to do this, to somehow tie Daniel to him? As much as he wanted to think that the Jaffa's motives had been honest ones, how could he be sure?
He sighed, frowning to himself as O'Neill muttered and moved in his sleep, his embrace tightening fractionally as he did so. As if he was checking that Daniel was still there, with him.
Daniel tried to relax, but his mind continued to work, churning its way through images. O'Neill and men. O'Neill and women. Giving and receiving pleasure, holding others as closely as he was holding Daniel now.
He felt nauseous, just the thought that he was the latest in a long line of conquests was enough to make Daniel want to retch. He was close to struggling from O'Neill's embrace, pulling free of his arms and running from the chamber, heedless of the danger.
"Daniel?" O'Neill's voice, a muttered whisper, made his mind grind to a shuddering halt, and he felt himself stiffen slightly. "Go to sleep. Please."
That plea was enough, the simplest of words ripping through the images he had created and reminding him of why he had allowed what had just happened between them. Now, instead of O'Neill and others, faceless strangers receiving pleasure at his hands, Daniel remembered the look he had seen on the Jaffa's face just hours before. The care O'Neill had taken, the desire that had been in his eyes.
Foolishness. Foolishness and jealousy, that was all it was. What did it matter what O'Neill had done in the past? It wasn't as if he had been completely innocent himself, after all. They were here now, together, and that was what was important. All such thoughts could do would be to drive a wedge between them, and at the moment Daniel could think of nothing worse.
"I said 'sleep', Daniel," O'Neill muttered, the words mere breath against Daniel's neck. Closing his eyes, Daniel made himself relax, attempting to follow where the Jaffa led.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had missed this kind of closeness, O'Neill decided, as he surfaced from sleep. It was something he had experienced only rarely with his wife, and it wasn't till now that O'Neill realised how much he had missed that simple human contact. He was wrapped round Daniel still, but it didn't take much to determine that Daniel was awake, doubtless worrying about something or other.
It was true that their current circumstances weren't good - it had been a while since either of them had eaten, and O'Neill intended to remedy that as soon as he could, but they also needed to rest. Which, for Daniel, meant not thinking about everything and worrying over it like a dog with a rat.
At the end of the day, that would do neither of them any good.
He had already asked Daniel to go to sleep once, the second time he felt Daniel actually relax, and he listened to the way his breath evened out after a few more moments. Did he even want to know what Daniel's over-active brain had been working on? If he had been leaping to any conclusions, particularly anything about the two of them, O'Neill decided he could wait to find out and deal with it all then.
After all, it wasn't as if Daniel was all that good at keeping secrets.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next time Daniel woke, O'Neill was already moving, sliding off the bed and then attempting to reconstruct his Jaffa uniform from the scattered pieces of it around the bed.
Daniel gathered the bedcover around himself, suddenly feeling self- conscious, as he watched O'Neill pull on his tunic, then settled onto the side of the bed to pull his boots back on.
"Stay here," O'Neill said, standing up. Daniel nodded, feeling all the worries of the night before creeping up on him. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
O'Neill hesitated then, as if he could feel Daniel's eyes on him, then turned back to where Daniel was still sitting.
"Go. It's fine," Daniel said.
His voice didn't shake, and Daniel was proud of himself for exercising that level of control, despite the turmoil he was feeling.
O'Neill continued to look at him, clearly unconvinced by what Daniel had said. They locked gazes for a moment, and Daniel was the first to look away, scowling down at his hands where they clenched the bedcover tightly.
He felt the bed dip slightly and looked up, pulling back slightly when he found himself face to face with O'Neill. The Jaffa's eyes were dark with desire, and Daniel felt something inside himself lurch at that realisation - he had been wrong then, what they had done did mean something to O'Neill. And then he found himself closer, as the Jaffa slipped a hand behind his head and pulled him close for a moment, before backing off one lingering kiss later.
"Try and get some more sleep," O'Neill said, pushing himself off the bed. "Everything will be fine."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Somehow he'd known that would be Daniel's reaction. How he had realised that, O'Neill wasn't sure, all he could think was that he was getting to know how Daniel's mind worked, and it had been a certainty that he would wake up unsure.
He'd tried to alleviate that by kissing him, or at least lessen the amount of panic that Daniel might be going through, but their need for food was so great he couldn't hang around long enough to make Daniel feel any more confident.
Once he had brought them some food, there would be time enough to make Daniel's worries disappear. In fact, he was looking forward to that prospect immensely. For some reason, that was a project that filled him with great interest, and it was clearly something to which he would have to dedicate a significant chunk of his time and energy for the foreseeable future.
But first things first. Food, that was the priority.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The jealousy he'd felt was ebbing fast, Daniel realised, as he settled down in the bed once more, pulling the bedcover close around him. And in its place was a growing annoyance with himself. What was he thinking, acting like some lovestruck idiot? The fact that O'Neill had clearly expected him to be uncertain about what had happened didn't reassure as much as it probably should - it rankled with Daniel instead.
Despite his attempts to try and wrap his mind round the situation, Daniel found that his attention kept drifting. His thoughts were with the Jaffa, wondering if he was safe travelling the corridors of the palace in the way he was, if the risks he was taking to get them food were acceptable ones.
But what choice did they have? The alternative was to try and escape, thus falling into the hands of Maybourne, or stay here and wait for an opportunity to do so more safely. Not much of a decision, really.
He was asleep before he knew it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
O'Neill travelled the familiar passageways of the palace once more, remembering the last time he'd walked down this particular corridor. Back when everything he had thought secure and certain about his life had first been turned upside down by the words of a runaway slave.
He had to wonder if he would have done any different, if he'd realised then what he was letting himself in for. After all, skulking round the palace, a hunted fugitive, wasn't exactly how O'Neill had envisaged spending his time.
O'Neill felt the beginning of a smile form on his face, a reaction which he quickly stifled. It was in his interests to still appear the grim Jaffa; that alone was his best defence against the curiousity of the servants he occasionally passed.
O'Neill glowered at the next one he saw in an appropriately superior manner and frowned to himself as her gaze dropped to the floor, subservience written in every line of her body.
In hindsight, O'Neill realised that he hated it all. The looks, the way the palace servants would cringe against the walls to allow him as much space as possible as he passed them by.
How was it he hadn't noticed any of this before?
Had he been blind to it, so driven by his own desire for power that he didn't notice the people who he ground underfoot to achieve it?
O'Neill stopped at the junction of two corridors, considering which way was best. One led more directly to the kitchens, but the other gave more places to hide should that become necessary, even though this was something he had never had to consider before now. In the end he took the safer, if less direct, route.
After all, he reminded himself, before he met Daniel the most attention he'd pay to one of the palace servants would be if they did something amiss. If his food was cold, his chamber unswept. Otherwise they might as well have been ants, for all the notice O'Neill had taken of them.
He shook his head, wondering at the way Daniel had turned his life upside down. There was nothing he could do about that now, no way O'Neill could change how he'd behaved in the past - all he could do was change the future, both for himself and those around him.
When Daniel woke from a restless sleep, for a moment he wasn't completely sure where he was. A faint light came from the candles around the bed, a couple of which guttered as they reached their end, their light barely penetrating the entirety of the room. He blinked a couple of times while he focussed, taking in the rich decorations and the overall splendour of his surroundings.
It was as if his time in the palace had come full circle. His first introduction to the man he had come to know so intimately had begun in a room not much less splendid than this one.
Daniel remembered the way O'Neill had left him just hours before, with an ardent kiss and a promise to return, and felt a smile begin. He ached in unfamiliar places, the legacy of O'Neill's ardent attention, but there was also an unfamiliar emotion stirring inside him, he realised, something that would stay with him long after the aches themselves had dissipated.
And on top of that he felt a little embarrassed that he'd forced such a promise from O'Neill in the first place, that he'd been so easy to read, his insecurity so close to the surface.
Daniel sat up, stretching as he thought about what might happen next. That level of reliance on O'Neill had to stop, otherwise they might never get out of the palace alive - he had to pull his own weight in future, not rely on the Jaffa as he had been doing.
Which meant that he had to get dressed before O'Neill returned.
Reluctantly, Daniel picked up the smelly robe he had discarded only hours before, his nose wrinkling at the unpleasant odour coming from it. If anything, it seemed to be getting worse rather than better, though surely that shouldn't be the case?
Still, they had an escape to manage, and lying there on the bed spread out like an offering wasn't going to get them any further on in that plan, even if Daniel's body still ached with the memory of their intimacy.
Daniel shook his head, shoving those tempting memories to the back of his mind. He shrugged his way into the robe, sucking in a breath before the material went over his head and only letting it go once the robe was settled on his shoulders.
He had to get something else to wear, something that didn't smell quite so bad, and soon.
That invisibility that made him so uncomfortable, that air of arrogant disdain, served O'Neill in good stead. No-one questioned him as he entered the palace kitchens, no-one asked him what he thought he was doing as he piled food and jugs of water onto a tray and headed for the door.
He was aware of the servants eyes on him none felt brave enough to challenge a Jaffa, though their eyes followed him till he left the room. As he left the room, something else caught his eye and another item was added to the tray.
He headed back towards their impromptu sanctuary as fast as he dared.
It was partly a need to be certain that they had not been followed, O'Neill told himself, stifling the small voice that reminded him he needed to be sure Daniel was well. Let alone the memories that pursued him, heating his blood as he recalled what the two of them had shared not hours before. He took a deep breath - there was no time to consider that now.
O'Neill paused at one place where the corridors branched, listening intently, but heard no sign of pursuit. He would have said this escape was too easy - something about it niggled at him, something that made him uncertain. Still, there was nothing he could do but deal with any pursuers when they showed themselves. That was the only choice he had any more.
The trip back was more direct, a different route just in case they were being watched, and it seemed only a matter of minutes before O'Neill was pushing aside the curtain that covered the Queen's former rooms.
"Hungry?" he asked, crossing to place the tray of food on one of the low tables.
The question helped to cover the surprise O'Neill felt on seeing Daniel up and dressed. He had to admit to himself that he felt a little cheated, or disappointed perhaps? All the way back here O'Neill had been anticipating the pleasure of waking Daniel, but it seemed that particular pleasure would have to be deferred.
Daniel nodded, crossing to the food immediately. O'Neill stood back and let him have first pick - he, at least, had eaten with the resistance before he came to try and rescue Daniel. As for the former captive, O'Neill had no idea how long it was since he had last eaten. The way he was tearing into the bread O'Neill had brought seemed to argue that it had been a while.
He waited for Daniel to move away from the food, his eyes examining the finery of the room they were as if he had never seen it before.
It had been a while since this room had been inhabited; Ra's petulant and demanding Queen had only spent a matter of weeks in it before declaring that she would stay here no longer. New rooms, more splendid than these, had been her demand, ones to which Ra had been only too willing to acquiesce.
She had always got what she wanted - in this case her new rooms had been closer to those of Ra, closer to the centre of power in the palace itself. Her relationship with Ra had rendered him vulnerable, susceptible to demands that would have been ruthlessly quashed, along with the life of the person making them, had they come from anyone else.
O'Neill shook his head, trying to dismiss that train of thought.
Daniel sat on the edge of the bed now, intent, it seemed, on eating as much as he possibly could. At least he had reacted to the food, if he hadn't seemed pleased that O'Neill himself had returned.
A familiar cold feeling began to take up residence in O'Neill's stomach, driving away his appetite. He picked up a piece of bread, as much to give his hands something to do as for any other reason, and considered the possibility.
Daniel had seemed willing, eager in fact. But O'Neill's experiences in the past had all been about someone wanting something from him, the intimacy they shared becoming a stepping stone that would ensure that the First Prime gave them what they wanted. Like Ra's Queen had used her relationship, in fact, her motives cold, calculating and thorougly self-centred.
O'Neill watched Daniel eat, hardly conscious of his own fingers pulling apart the food they held - every movement was mechanical, he chewed on morsels of bread without realising he did so.
Could he have been so easily fooled? Could Daniel be just like the others he had known, just out for what he could get?
He couldn't be sure, O'Neill decided, as he thought back over the things they had experienced together, but something seemed to have changed between them since having sex together. And, try as he might, O'Neill couldn't quite figure out what that something was.
Suddenly the bread was like ashes in his mouth - he turned and dropped what little was left on the table, filling a cup with water to wash away the taste if he could.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel asked, crossing to the table to place a now-empty bowl there. He looked concerned, but O'Neill wasn't convinced, closing his eyes as his stomach did a slow roll. "O'Neill?"
He opened his eyes once more, the concern he saw in Daniel's face thawing the coldness inside himself a little.
"It's nothing," O'Neill said, the words still more sharp than he intended. "We should go soon."
O'Neill was right, Daniel knew that, but that didn't stop him from feeling uncertain about the idea of leaving this unexpected sanctuary. He had been tired, hungry and frightened, and now all those things had been dealt with - as a result, Daniel almost felt ready to face whatever Maybourne might throw at them next. Almost.
As he filled a cup with water, Daniel noticed a glint of light on metal. After taking a hearty swallow, he put the cup down again and pushed aside dishes till he came across its source. Daniel smiled to himself as he picked up the knife, running his thumb over its edge and frowning at its relative bluntness.
Of course it was a kitchen implement, not something a warrior would use and keep honed for action at any moment, but just holding it made Daniel feel a little safer. A little more able to defend himself should the circumstances arise. He would show O'Neill yet that he was able to look after himself, that he didn't need protection.
"When did you want to leave?" he asked, turning to where O'Neill sat. Daniel frowned to himself as he saw, or thought he saw, an odd look leave the Jaffa's face. "I'm ready when you are," he continued, studying O'Neill's face.
The only response was a terse nod.
"Did you think to steal a waterskin?" Daniel asked, turning back to the tray of food.
He lifted the jug of water, considering how much was in it. Daniel was proud that he didn't flinch too much when a skin slapped down on the low table beside him; he just nodded, picked it up and filled it.
Once full Daniel laid the skin on the table and considered the matter of the knife. After a moments thought he squatted, using the knife to start a hole a couple of inches above the frayed hem of his smelly robe - a few moments later he had a makeshift belt, which he secured around his waist and tucked the knife into. The dark hilt was almost invisible against the material.
By the time this was done, O'Neill had picked up the waterskin and was waiting by the doorway. His eyes seemed to rest anywhere in the room but on Daniel; this was oddly familiar, Daniel decided, and it wasn't an experience that he ever wanted to repeat.
"What is it?" he asked, crossing to where O'Neill stood.
"It's nothing," the Jaffa replied, turning to sweep aside the hanging.
Daniel shook his head. Getting information out of O'Neill when he was unwilling was like pulling teeth, an unpleasant experience for both of them. Perhaps they had gone full circle in more ways than one, not just in the place they currently inhabited, but in their attitudes towards one another?
As he followed O'Neill out into the corridor, Daniel considered this possibility. Although he had some evidence that things had changed between them, and not for the better it seemed, why was O'Neill still here with him if he didn't trust him any more? And what had he done to change the trust he thought he had seen when they had been so intimate?
It was a puzzle, one Daniel intended to solve.
They travelled in silence - to O'Neill the corridors seemed more oppressive now because of it. Not that they had talked much before while travelling the passageways of the palace, but the silence then had been a comfortable one, imbued with the trust that had grown between the two of them. This was different.
It took all the self-control the Jaffa could muster to stop himself from turning to Daniel, from demanding an explanation from him, looking for answers to questions he hardly knew how to ask. Instead O'Neill had to focus on each step he took, taking the two of them onwards and deeper into the palace.
He didn't know how he felt any more; his emotions were too twisted up with one another, becoming a knot of confusion that just kept on growing. All this was new to O'Neill, something he had discovered about himself in the time since he'd known Daniel, and he didn't like it at all. It left him feeling unsettled, uncertain, out of control. None of those were feelings with which he was familiar, or comfortable.
He'd learned to trust Daniel, some small instinctive voice telling him that he was doing the right thing. Had that been his downfall? Why was it that O'Neill had turned his back on his experiences, pushed them all aside as if they no longer mattered at all, when the two of them had met? He couldn't explain it, at least not in a way that made any sense.
O'Neill shook his head, pausing at a junction to consider which way they should go. He took a mouthful of water from the skin and then passed it to Daniel without looking round.
He'd trusted that Daniel was different, that he wasn't just after what he could get but that Daniel felt something more genuine than that. Surely he couldn't have just been taken in by a pair of blue eyes? No, whatever it was that had made him believe Daniel, it had been more, much more, than just a physical attraction. It had to be. After all, O'Neill told himself, he had never reacted this way to anyone else.
He made a decision on which corridor to take, trusting that Daniel would follow him. O'Neill could almost feel Daniel's gaze as it bored into his back - still, Daniel followed the Jaffa without comment, his bare feet slapping on the marble floor.
He had to believe that Daniel was everything that he'd thought he was, or else what was left for him now? O'Neill knew that he had thrown away everything because of what Daniel had told him, become a fugitive from the only life he had ever known. If Daniel wasn't what he thought, if all of that had been based on a lie, what could he do next?
Was he paying less attention than he should to their surroundings? That could have been one explanation for the way that the two of them rounded a bend in the passageways and found themselves face to face with a group of guards.
Before he could turn to Daniel, tell him to run, O'Neill saw more guards step out from one of the rooms they had just passed. An effective ambush, but one that he should have avoided, if he'd just been more alert.
Daniel looked nervous, his face drawn, lips compressed to one thin line.
"Move," one of the guards said, levelling his staff weapon at the two of them.
There were too many guards for him to try something heroic, even if he'd been alone - O'Neill nodded, then began to walk in the direction that the guard indicated.
He was barely aware of Daniel's presence beside him. O'Neill didn't look round - he chose to ignore Daniel, not wanting the guards to realise his inherent weakness, that they could harm him by hurting someone else. Maybe if he pretended that he didn't care about Daniel's fate that would protect him somehow?
If only these guards weren't taking them straight to Maybourne, that plan just might work. Assuming, of course, that Daniel would choose to go along with it. And that in itself was no certainty.
O'Neill lengthened his stride a little, stiffening his back and plastering as arrogant and hostile a look as he could on his face as he headed down the corridor into the unknown.
Daniel had been glad that O'Neill seemed to know where he was going, as the corridors they travelled turned and twisted till he'd lost any sense of which direction they were going. He'd been studying the back of the Jaffa's head as they walked, as if all the mysteries of the universe were written there, as if he could somehow get inside O'Neill's mind and figure out just what had changed between them.
One minute everything had been fine, better than fine in fact. O'Neill had left in search of food, the look in his eyes indicating that he would be hungry for something else as well when he returned. But when he *had* come back, laden with food for both of them, he'd seemed different somehow. Cooler, more withdrawn, as if something had changed between the two of them in the intervening time - the only problem was, Daniel had no clue of that something's identity.
So Daniel had studied O'Neill as they travelled, puzzling over him like he was a tricky translation, a section of hieroglyphics he could make sense of if he just kept at it. But he didn't seem to be making any progress.
None of it made any sense. They'd not spoken with one another, not argued over something trivial that now threatened to tear the two of them apart. For what seemed like the twentieth time, Daniel ran over the events of the previous few hours in his mind, step by step. There was something, it was there in the corner of his mind, Daniel was certain of it - elusive, it hovered like an almost-seen figure, disappearing when he turned to face it.
If anything the coolness with which O'Neill was currently treating him meant that Daniel kept expecting O'Neill to leave, that he would just turn a corner in the Jaffa's wake and find himself alone.
And that thought was one of the worst things he could imagine, worse possibly than being captured by Maybourne. After all, he had survived that twice, escaped from Maybourne twice. But Daniel knew he could never find his way out of the labyrinthine palace complex alone - would he be doomed to wander the halls as a ghost when the water he now carried ran out?
Daniel felt the reassuring weight of the skin slap against his side, rubbing the hilt of the knife he carried into his ribs. Maybe it had been a mistake bringing it? He'd shifted the waterskin a little, slipping his hand into the makeshift belt to move the knife a couple of inches either side when suddenly there was movement ahead.
O'Neill had stopped, sharply, and Daniel almost walked into his back - he peered round the Jaffa's shoulder at what stood in the corridor ahead. His heart made a desperate attempt to escape through his mouth when he saw what it was. Guards, three of them, with staff weapons.
O'Neill had half-turned, probably to tell him to make a break for it, doubtless planning some suitably heroic move to delay the guards. Daniel frowned. Instinct told him that wouldn't work, even as the other guards stepped into the corridor, effectively trapping the two of them.
Some days he hated being right.
Within a matter of moments they were travelling once more, this time with an escort. O'Neill stalked ahead, his back rigid with defiance and something else, something that Daniel couldn't quite identify. If he had thought that O'Neill was pulling away from him before, that the Jaffa had created a chasm between the two of them, then he had been mistaken. This time the gulf that stood between them was clear - it was written in every line of O'Neill's body, unmistakably written.
Damn him, Daniel thought, realising just what O'Neill was up to.
Just when he was starting to think it had all been a mistake, that the Jaffa was regretting the closeness they had experienced together, something like this came along and made Daniel think again. For someone who clearly had ambivalent feelings towards the person he was travelling with, O'Neill was doing a good job of protecting him, drawing all the attention of the guards to himself as if he could make Daniel invisible.
Daniel added another matter to his mental list of things to discuss with O'Neill. Assuming, of course, that the two of them survived whatever might happen next.
They had travelled much faster over these past few minutes than the relatively leisurely pace that O'Neill had set. The only sounds coming from behind him, as he walked, were the clomping of boots, the familiar metallic sounds of armour and Daniel's slightly wheezing breath.
These corridors looked familiar - they were travelling back into the heart of the palace complex.
The guards halted beside an ornate doorway and O'Neill felt a familiar sinking feeling. Of all the places that they had to be brought, it was a bittersweet irony that their final destination should be here.
He wanted to warn Daniel, caution him to keep silent and play the role that O'Neill had placed him in, but he wasn't sure what Daniel's response would be. He might go along with the charade, or he might rebel against it, that stubborn streak in his character surfacing at just the wrong moment. There was no way of telling, and O'Neill didn't have time to explain why he needed Daniel's cooperation.
One of the guards gestured for O'Neill to precede him into the chamber, his staff weapon's head blossoming open ominously when the Jaffa hesitated. He heard Daniel's indrawn breath - why should that sound of concern seem so right, so expected?
O'Neill led the way through the doorway, knowing just what he would see when he entered the chamber concerned.
"So," a voice said. "O'Neill. Then the rumours are true."
They had halted at a doorway, one which O'Neill seemed strangely hesitant to enter. For a moment Daniel thought that the Jaffa would do something foolish, regardless of the overwhelming odds against them, but in the end sense prevailed and O'Neill led the way into the chamber beyond.
If Daniel had thought O'Neill's chambers, and those that they had so recently left behind, were ornate, he knew now he would have to think again. This room was even more splendid, the candlelight that illuminated it glinting off the gilding on every wall. The rest of the walls were a deep rich red, clearly some kind of material as they seemed to move a little with each step that the newcomers took.
It was too much. Daniel felt his head begin to throb, even before he realised that they were not alone.
"So," a voice said. "O'Neill. Then the rumours are true."
Daniel found himself forced to kneel, one of the guards shoving him so that he hit the floor in an ungainly heap, the waterskin slipping from his shoulder to slap loudly onto the stone beside him. In front of him, Daniel could see the soles of O'Neill's boots - the Jaffa had clearly been made to kneel as well, though somehow he doubted he had made such a spectacle of himself.
The voice he had heard echoed oddly, but seemed strangely familiar.
He looked up, straight into the eyes of someone he recognised. Someone Daniel hadn't seen for a long time, had thought never to see again after the day she had just vanished without trace from amongst the slaves who served the palace.
"Samantha!" Daniel had blurted out her name before he realised something was wrong. The look that she gave him was not the look of a friend - her eyes glowed golden, she was clearly angry at his presumption.
"Who dares speak in our presence?"
He didn't dare glance round at Daniel, though O'Neill wanted to tell him to keep silent, that drawing Hathor's attention to himself this way was nothing if not a bad idea. He had seen the servants she had killed when her petulant nature had determined that one of them had wronged her somehow. Hathor's favoured position, as Ra's Queen, meant that she could do no wrong, that no-one was immune from her power, and O'Neill didn't want Daniel to be the next victim.
"My Queen," O'Neill said, looking up to where Hathor sat on her ornately carved throne. He had to bring Hathor's attention back to himself, away from Daniel. "It has been many moons since I was last in your presence."
She was still angry, that much was clear, her eyes flashing with golden light, but he had distracted her a little, at least. It was still very possible that she could lash out, end Daniel's life with as little thought as O'Neill himself might squash an insect, but the longer he distracted her, the more chance Daniel could survive this encounter.
"You are welcome here, O'Neill," she said, her eyes returning to their normal blue. There was something about them that was similar to Daniel - was it possible that Hathor's Host and Daniel were related somehow? It was clear that he had known her, at least. "But that you enter our presence with such a disobedient slave pleases us not."
O'Neill could almost hear Daniel begin to protest, to state that he was no man's slave. He had to act, before Daniel spoke again and sealed his fate once and for all.
"He is merely overawed by your presence, my Queen," he continued, falling back on the flattery that had always worked with Hathor in the past. The words choked him even as he spoke them, their hypocrisy left a bitter taste. Had he ever believed the honeyed words he had used on Hathor in the past? "Who would not be overwhelmed to see their Queen for the first time?"
Hathor looked unconvinced and O'Neill considered saying more; it was possible Hathor believed he spoke from his heart, but he had no way of knowing what she knew about his fall from power. Did she even know that he was a fugitive?
"I had not thought to find myself in your presence again," he said, after a brief moment of silence.
That was enough to bring her attention back to the first thing she had said, it seemed. Hathor smiled, a cold and avaricious look, no joy or life within it.
"We had heard tales of your downfall, O'Neill. That you had left the palace, left your position as our husband's First Prime." Hathor paused, as if waiting for him to deny it. "And we are interested in offering you a chance to regain your former position." She had risen from her throne as she spoke, descending the steps of the dais on which it stood. "Rise."
Slowly, O'Neill stood, his eyes fixed on Hathor as he did so. When the two of them were standing face to face, Hathor spoke again, her voice so quiet that O'Neill had to lean forward to hear her words clearly.
"We shall gift you with our trust, O'Neill," she said. "Serve us, and we shall reward your loyalty as we take what is rightfully ours."
From where he was still kneeling, Daniel wondered just what was going on. He wasn't close enough to either of them to be able hear the words exchanged between O'Neill and Hathor, and even if he had been he was still reeling a little from discovering what had happened to his childhood friend.
He had known Samantha for years, they had been more like brother and sister than anything else, but he knew that Samantha's father had considered they might marry. That wasn't such an appalling idea, Daniel had decided - after all, they were friends first and foremost, so that relationship could form the basis for something deeper.
Except that this had changed dramatically one winter day. Samantha had been taken away by the guards, along with a number of other young women from the village. And while they had been returned, most of them, telling stories of the ornate room in which they had been held, Samantha and a couple of others had never been seen again. Daniel had always wondered what had happened to them, always feared the worst but never thought he would see any of them again.
Samantha looked so different. Where once she dressed in common robes like him and the rest of the villagers, now she wore a dress of iridescent material, clasped about her waist with an ornately jewelled belt. Though her face was essentially unchanged, there was something about her eyes that proclaimed her as a Host for Hathor, something cold and calculating that Daniel had never seen in his friend before.
Was there still anything of the Samantha he had known in this woman who stood before him now?
Hathor was face to face with O'Neill now, the words that passed between them a mere whisper. Even if he craned forward, conscious of the guards that stood ready to slap him down to the ground once more, Daniel could only hear the occasional hissed syllable. Not enough to know what was being said, or offered, or promised.
He thought he saw O'Neill waver slightly.
What could Hathor possibly be saying to the Jaffa that would interest him? Yet he still stood there, intent, unmoving.
Surely O'Neill couldn't turn his back on what he had learned to follow Hathor? It seemed impossible that he could do so, but with the way things had changed between them so recently, Daniel was no longer completely sure.
After all, O'Neill had served Ra faithfully for many years, so what was to stop him from changing his mind about his rebellion? He could give his allegiance to Hathor, serve her in whatever plan she was making, and all that Daniel had worked so hard to achieve could be thrown away. More perhaps, since O'Neill knew where the resistance were currently hiding.
Daniel considered this, growing more concerned as each moment passed. Had he made a mistake after all? Done just what Skaara had accused him of and brought destruction to the tiny resistance movement?
No, he had to believe that the change he had seen in O'Neill was a real one. He couldn't have been fooled, or misled into thinking that O'Neill was against Ra now, could he? Or was it just that O'Neill had seen what sacrifice he would be making and decided that the price was too high?
She was standing close to him now, so close that their faces almost touched, her voice low and soothing, so low that he had to strain to hear the words. And it seemed right, the way it should be, the way it should have been all along.
"Serve us, O'Neill," she said. "Kill our husband and regain your rightful place as our First Prime."
He had been a fool. What could have given him the idea that he should turn from everything he knew, everything he had worked for, to follow a foolish slave into the desert?
"We shall rule this place. You shall lead our armies and crush all who would stand in our way."
His rightful place was as the servant of the Goa'uld, O'Neill knew that now. How fortunate he was that his Queen would take him back and that, despite all that he had done, she should trust him to serve her once more.
Hathor turned, crossing the short distance between where O'Neill stood and the dais and took her place on her throne once more.
There was something about the expression on Samantha's face that Daniel just didn't like. He had to keep reminding himself that the woman who currently sat on that throne wasn't his friend, that she was merely the puppet of a parasitic creature, but that didn't stop the pain he was feeling.
He wondered what it must be like for Samantha, whether she had any awareness of her fate. Or was she merely the shell inhabited by the creature who now ruled her? There was no way of telling - even if she was aware, the creature was strong.
"Guards, leave us," Hathor said.
Rough hands grasped the shoulders of Daniel's robe, in preparation for the guards to drag him from the room. He had to fight this - who knew what would happen to him if they took him from here?
"No, leave the slave." Daniel was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor once more, his knees impacting with the cool stone. "We have need of him."
Why did those few words send a chill through his body, Daniel wondered. He risked a swift glance over to O'Neill, only to see that he was still just standing there. He had not reacted at all to Hathor's order, not moved a muscle to protest Daniel being taken away. If he had a bad feeling about this before, Daniel knew now that something was wrong.
The guards bowed their way from the chamber, leaving the three of them alone - Hathor sat on her throne, O'Neill like a statue before her.
"A test," she purred, the words husky. "Prove your loyalty to us. Kill the slave."
Daniel began to get up from his knees. In hindsight, that order hadn't been completely unexpected, and he wondered what chance he stood of making it out of the chamber alive. Of course, Hathor's order relied on O'Neill's obedience.
"Of course, my Queen," O'Neill said, turning to where Daniel was crouched.
Their eyes met. There was nothing alive in O'Neill's gaze, nothing that could give Daniel hope that this was somehow a ruse, a way of making Hathor trust him so that he could destroy her. All he saw was blankness, which meant that he had to think fast or he might be dead very shortly.
"You don't want to do this, O'Neill," Daniel said, backing away. "Trust me, this isn't what you want."
There was no response, not even a flicker of recognition in O'Neill's face. It was clear he had no idea who Daniel was, no memory of what they had shared together in the time they had known one another. He had to be under Hathor's control somehow, it was clear he wasn't acting of his own accord.
"Slowly, O'Neill," Hathor said, her voice carrying from where she sat, watching avidly. "We would enjoy this fully."
Daniel's back was to the wall now, there was nowhere left for him to run to. Death was facing him with a face he had come to know better than his own. This was wrong, this was something that O'Neill couldn't live with, wouldn't be able to live with once he realised what he had done. If he'd been afraid for himself, unable to believe that this was really happening, Daniel knew he had to act, to save both of them from what was about to happen.
O'Neill was reaching for him now, hands outstretched to take Daniel by the throat and choke the very life from him. He couldn't let this happen. With one swift movement, Daniel pulled the knife he carried from its place in his belt and slashed upwards, catching O'Neill across the palm of one hand. If he had been completely honest, Daniel hadn't even been sure it would draw blood, but it did so, making O'Neill hiss with the sudden pain.
The effect was amazing. It was as if O'Neill woke from sleep, his face regaining all the life that it had formerly lacked, his eyes bright with life where before they had been blank.
"Daniel?" he croaked. O'Neill took a step back, cradling his injured hand to his chest, eyes wide with confusion and pain.
Daniel's horrified eyes fixed on the knife he still held. The knife that was red with O'Neill's blood. Even though he had known it needed to be done, that there was no other way to even try and break whatever control Hathor had over him, Daniel hadn't considered how harming O'Neill would make him feel. Daniel's stomach churned uneasily, rebelling against the idea of drawing his lover's blood.
Movement from behind O'Neill drew Daniel's attention away from the knife. It was Hathor, her face twisted with fury, advancing on the two of them with her hand outstretched, the jewel that nestled in her palm blazing with light.
"You have failed us, O'Neill," she snarled. Then she turned to Daniel, raising her hand a little more. "We shall kill this one who defies us, then you shall join him in death."
The pain blazed through his hand, fire ripping through his mind in its wake, making O'Neill wonder just what had happened. The last thing he remembered clearly was being brought into Hathor's presence, wondering whether Daniel would keep quiet about being called a slave and then.. nothing. Until the pain.
He glanced at his hand, automatically cradling it against his chest as he tried to stop the bleeding. Where *was* Daniel, anyway? O'Neill looked up from his hand, only to find Daniel just standing there, staring with wide eyes at the knife he held, the knife whose blade shone red with fresh blood. Just what had happened here?
Hathor's voice shook him back to reality and he turned to see her advancing on the two of them, her eyes glinting with the same power that made her hand device so deadly. It seemed that she planned to kill both of them now, but why had she waited so long to do so? And why send her guards out of the room, if that was her plan? Or... O'Neill's mind fumbled for the memories he knew were there.
No. He couldn't have allowed himself to be seduced by her, somehow made obedient to Hathor's will. Could he? But that was the only explanation that fitted. Knowing her cruel nature, Hathor had doubtless ordered him to kill Daniel, as a test of his loyalty no doubt, and he had obeyed. Except that she hadn't reckoned on Daniel fighting back in any way.
He had jostled his hand somehow and a fresh wave of pain swept through O'Neill. Daniel had done the unexpected, found a way through Hathor's control, even though it had clearly horrified him to do so.
Now it was his turn. If Hathor wasn't stopped, then she would do what she promised, kill both of them without any more thought than if she stepped on an insect. Even if he had been a fool, letting her control him, he couldn't let Daniel die at her hand. And it was clear that Daniel was in no state to fight her, still shocked by what he had already been forced to do.
As Hathor passed him, ignoring him, O'Neill stepped forward, grabbing the knife from Daniel's grasp. He was standing behind Hathor now, and he sank the knife into her side before she could turn on him, feeling its point rake across a number of ribs.
"Move, Daniel!" he snapped, as her hand jerked upwards. Daniel threw himself to the floor as the blast from the hand device took out a sizeable piece of wall roughly where his head had just been.
As Hathor struggled in his grasp, O'Neill pulled the knife out once more, before finding the right place this time, the blade slipping easily between the ribs it had hit before.
He had been so sure this time that he was going to die. How many times could one person cheat death, anyway? Daniel had seen the look on Hathor's face, the rage that fuelled the device she was about to use on him, and wished that it could have been different.
If only he and O'Neill had met in another place, another time, then it might not have come to this - they could have had time together, learned whether what they had was something that could last. Instead, it seemed everything would end here, in a room much like the one in which it had begun.
Daniel closed his eyes, not wanting to see his own death approach.
Then movement, as the knife he still held was taken from his hand, making Daniel's eyes snap open in surprise. O'Neill had reacted, even when Daniel had been sure no help was coming from any source, using Daniel's knife on Hathor now, as she struggled in his embrace.
The rage in her face was overwhelming, almost hypnotic. It was a combination of Daniel's own reflexes and O'Neill's snapped command that made Daniel move just before Hathor killed him, letting lose with a blast from that hand device of hers that would have taken his head off for certain.
From where he lay sprawled on the floor, Daniel watched the struggle between the two of them, recognising the death blow when it came, the ease with which the knife slid between Samantha's ribs. As the blade slid home, her struggles ceased and Samantha's body slumped against O'Neill's body and he lowered her to the ground.
"She's dead?" Daniel's voice sounded shaky, and O'Neill watched him out of the corner of his eye as he levered himself up from where he lay by the wall.
"Is not one tyrant bad enough?" O'Neill asked, as he crouched beside Hathor's dying body. "Should I overthrow one and replace him with another? What would be the good in that?"
"What about Samantha?" Daniel asked, sinking to his knees next to the body of his friend.
"Would you have preferred her to be Hathor's host forever?" O'Neill's voice sounded cold even to himself, each syllable he spoke clipped and harsh. "Trapped in a living hell, a helpless witness to every evil deed and word that Hathor chose to commit?"
His words were too harsh, he knew that, but somehow O'Neill couldn't stop them. He had to make Daniel understand that this wasn't something he'd enjoyed doing, it was something over which he'd had no choice, no control.
And he was angry too, O'Neill discovered, angry that he'd allowed himself to be controlled so easily. Angry that he had put Daniel in a position where he had to harm one he cared for in order to save him.
The truth was that he had Daniel to thank for his freedom and he didn't know where to start. Harsh words were easier than the apology that he needed to make, the words that he didn't know how to begin to say.
Daniel reached out and stroked a stray lock of hair back from Samantha's forehead, stopping himself from flinching when those so familiar eyes turned to him once more, somehow still alive. This wasn't his friend, it hadn't been her since she had been taken - what things had she witnessed, what had she experienced?
"You're right," Daniel said, finally. The words alone were painful, more so the realization that Samantha wouldn't have wished to live that way. She had been so full of life, a life that Hathor had stolen from her as surely as if she'd killed Samantha the day she was taken as a host.
He was reaching out once more, to make what gesture Daniel wasn't quite sure, when he became aware of a swift movement. Something was happening to Samantha, even as her eyes closed finally in death and her face relaxed.
He'd reacted without even thinking, instinct making him snatch up the fallen knife and use it to impale the symbiote as it escaped from its former host. O'Neill winced at the pain that raced up his arm as he drove the knife through the Goa'uld's quivering body over and over again. He couldn't allow this to happen, couldn't allow Daniel to be taken by that creature, enslaved by it.
It was Daniel's hand fastening over his, his fingers being peeled away from their grip of the knifes rough hilt that brought him back to reality. His hand ran with blood from the cut Daniel had made.
"It's over," Daniel's voice said, even as the world spun around him.
As much as he hated to pick up the knife, the one he had used on O'Neill and then had killed Samantha and the Goa'uld she was host to, he had no choice.
Daniel pulled it from the Goa'uld's body, wiping it quickly on Hathor's robe before using the blade on the edge of her formerly immaculate robe. He tore off a strip of material from a part not sullied with her blood, turning O'Neill's hand over palm-up and wincing at the damage he had done.
"You had no choice," O'Neill said. Daniel looked up from his contemplation of the Jaffa's hand. "I would have killed you."
"I know." He turned his attention to bandaging the cut, glad that the bleeding had slowed. "I just wish things could have been different for Samantha."
"She has been dead since Hathor took her." Daniel felt himself wince at the words and realised O'Neill must have seen his reaction when the Jaffa's voice softened. "You did what was right, for all of us, and didn't let your own feelings get in the way."
"And that makes it easier?"
"No." Daniel let go of O'Neill's hand and watched him flex it, tentatively. "Nothing makes it easier," O'Neill said. "Not now, but it will be better in the future. One day it won't hurt as much. Trust me."
"I do," Daniel said, surprised at his own ability to smile after all that had happened here. "And I think we should leave before Hathor's guards return."
He should speak to Daniel, O'Neill told himself, before the rift between them grew too wide, but the words just wouldn't come. How could he begin to explain his actions in a way that Daniel would understand? Did he even understand them himself?
O'Neill flexed his hand, feeling the pain from the gash across his palm as it brought him back to reality, the wound that Daniel had inflicted. He'd seen the horror in Daniel's eyes in the aftermath, the realisation of what he had been forced to do in order to stay alive, and that had heartened O'Neill more than he liked to admit. Daniel felt something for him, then, or he would not have been so shocked at his own actions.
But knowing that and speaking the words that needed to be said to mend their relationship were two different things.
He crossed to the doorway and listened for a moment, all too aware of Daniel watching him. There was silence from the corridor, not even the slightest sound of movement. O'Neill took a breath to steady his hand and reached for the hanging, pushing it aside enough to give himself a view of the surrounding hallway. Empty. He frowned, puzzled by this discovery.
Had the guards left entirely? That seemed unlikely. The sound of a boot scraping on stone from further down the corridor confirmed that it wasn't so. O'Neill let the material drop, covering the doorway once more - he leant back against the wall and considered their options for a moment. He had to think of something - a way for both of them to escape, for Hathor's death to go unnoticed long enough for them to get away.
"Are we trapped in here?" Daniel asked.
O'Neill turned to him, noting that he now stood with his back resolutely to where Hathor's body lay. Daniel had clearly covered her face - the face of her host, his former friend - before doing so.
"I have an idea."
Daniel hit the stone floor in an ungainly heap, wincing as his head snapped back against the wall with enough force to make him feel more than a little sick. He lay as still as possible, hardly daring to breathe, his eyes closed as he tried to remain limp. Surely there was no way this plan could work?
"Bring him," he heard O'Neill snarl at one of the guards. "Now."
Daniel concentrated on keeping his entire body limp, even though his fondest wish was that he could see the guard's face as O'Neill poured every moment of his years of command into this performance.
He sounded aloof, arrogant and totally in charge. So different from the man he had come to know over these past days, so like the man Daniel had met the first time they laid eyes on one another. Or at least like the man he'd tried to be.
"Our Queen orders that she not be disturbed," O'Neill continued.
His voice came from a little further away. O'Neill was clearly expecting the guard to obey and it was only a moment later that Daniel found himself being thrown over the shoulder of one of those who had guarded Hathor. It was all he could do not to react instinctively, not to struggle against the hands that held him, but if they were to stand any chance of escape...
Before he knew it, Daniel found himself upside down, his head swinging perilously close to the wall once more with each step as the guard followed O'Neill down the corridor. He opened his eyes a little and smiled to himself when all that was in view was the back of the guard's tunic.
Daniel closed his eyes again, letting himself stay boneless, as he was carried down the hallway towards freedom.
Once they were far enough away from Hathor's chambers, O'Neill turned on the guard, a swift blow making him drop his awkward burden as he himself hit the floor.
"Help me," he snapped, as Daniel got to his feet. They each took hold of an arm, dragging the unconscious guard into a nearby chamber.
"I can't believe that worked," Daniel said, with a smile, as the two of them returned to the hallway.
"Me neither," O'Neill said, stifling his own smile at the slightly shocked expression that appeared on Daniel's face. It seemed Daniel had much more faith in his plans than he did or he didn't realise how much of the success of a plan was down to luck and audacity. "Fortunately the guards here are as stupidly loyal as I remembered."
"How did you know he'd obey you?"
"I was First Prime for a long time, Daniel," O'Neill said. "Obedience is prized where those in the service of Ra are concerned."
"How much time do you think we have before Hathor is discovered?"
"Not long. But enough, I hope."
He headed down the corridor quickly, more conscious than ever of Daniel's presence close at his heels. There was no time for talk now - they had to get out of the palace as soon as possible, whether Maybourne was waiting or not. They had been hunted before, but now they had killed Ra's Queen. There was no chance that offence could be forgotten - Ra's vengeance on them would be swift and merciless.
They travelled in silence for quite a while before O'Neill stopped.
"We should rest," he said, his eyes resting anywhere but on Daniel. How could he admit, even to Daniel, that he was tired, that his hand ached or that he just wanted everything to be over?
"Is it safe?" Daniel asked, moving round till he was in O'Neill's eyeline, making it impossible for the Jaffa to look elsewhere.
"Safe?" O'Neill laughed, hearing the bitterness of his own laughter as he did so. "There's no such thing as 'safe' now, Daniel. We killed Ra's Queen."
"I was there, remember?" Daniel said, reaching for O'Neill's hand. He turned it over, palm upwards, his face intent when he looked up once more. "How is it?"
He wanted to pull his hand from Daniel's grasp. There was something about the emotions that quiet question evoked in him that shook O'Neill to the core. Something in the tone of Daniel's voice as well that said he blamed himself, believed he should have done something else - he'd clearly been associating with Daniel far too long if he could interpret him so easily.
"It will be fine," O'Neill said. He moved his other hand, tentatively, resting it over Daniel's. "We will be fine."
Daniel smiled. His hand was warm and alive, trapped between O'Neill's hands. Daniel's smile faded a little.
"You forgive me, then?" he asked, looking down at their joined hands.
"Your hand," Daniel began.
"You think I'd prefer to have killed you? Or to be Hathor's servant till she tired of me?"
O'Neill let go of Daniel's hand, feeling the coolness of the air against his palm as he did so, stark contrast to the warm life that had been beneath it. He moved his hand up to Daniel's face, feeling that warmth once more. His fingers moved, tangled in hair, and he used that gentle grip to pull Daniel towards him till they were face to face.
"You want my forgiveness?" he asked, looking Daniel in the eye. Daniel nodded. "You have it. And my thanks." He paused, searching for the words that wouldn't come, the words that couldn't express what he felt. Daniel was the eloquent one in this relationship, after all. "And more, much more."
He closed the distance between them, the movement slow and easy, giving ample time for Daniel to pull away. Not that he did, not that O'Neill ever expected him to.
O'Neill jerked back, wondering just what had happened.
"I'm fine," he replied. "Just a little tender right there."
Daniel had hold of his fingers, O'Neill realised, and was removing them from his hair.
"What gave it away?" Daniel snapped, taking a step backwards. An apologetic expression appeared momentarily and he looked down.
"Let me see," O'Neill said, stepping close to Daniel once more. His fingers parted the hair, their touch as light as he could manage. There was no blood, that at least was a relief, but Daniel winced again when O'Neill's questing fingers touched his scalp. "You'll live," O'Neill said, relieved. "But you should have said something."
O'Neill shook his head. "I was looking for something more helpful than 'oww!', Daniel. What if you'd been seriously hurt..?"
"I'm fine. Just bumped my head on the wall." He looked up again, taking O'Neill's hand and turning it palm upwards once more. "I did more damage to you."
O'Neill felt a smile forming and this time he didn't try and hold it back.
"I already forgave you for saving my life. Are we even now?"
Daniel nodded, closing the distance between them - this time O'Neill was careful where he put his hands.
He hadn't realised he'd missed this so much. The warm solidity of O'Neill's body against his own reminded Daniel of all that had passed between them and more, the things he thought he'd never experience again because of Hathor.
If her control over O'Neill had been stronger, not even the wound he'd inflicted would have prevented his certain death - Daniel knew that, even as he tried to push that knowledge somewhere deep in his mind. He couldn't deal with that now. He might not ever be able to deal with it.
It was better, Daniel decided, if he focussed not on what had happened but on what his actions had prevented. Or on the rush of blood within his body, the way he was reacting to O'Neill's advances, more eager and lustful than he'd ever thought he could be. As if his life before O'Neill had just been preparation, that the things he shared with the Jaffa were the only things that were real. It was clear that O'Neill's touch had woken something inside him, something Daniel had never expected to find in himself, something just a little wild.
Even if it wasn't safe, even if they shouldn't be wrapped together like this in a corridor where they could be discovered at any moment, there was nothing Daniel could do to stop himself. Not that he wanted to - after all, if they were facing death at any moment, what was the point of worrying about what might happen?
Sounds from further down the corridor, echoing strangely, brought them both back to their senses - Daniel pushed O'Neill away reluctantly, his hands sliding slowly over the metallic fabric of his tunic.
"When we get out of here," he began, not knowing exactly what it was he promised. O'Neill nodded, a knowing expression in his eyes that made Daniel smile despite himself.
They had been fugitives before, much of their time together had been spent running and hiding, but not like this. O'Neill's mind was moving as fast as his body, the only sound apart from the distant thunder of boots on stone their laboured breathing. They couldn't go on like this for much longer and it was clear their options were decreasing; the pursuing guards were effectively trapping those they hunted.
"If they should catch us," Daniel wheezed, pulling O'Neill to a stop.
"No." He knew without a doubt what Daniel was about to ask and O'Neill wasn't sure that he could do it.
"You know what will happen to us." Daniel's grip tightened on the sleeve of O'Neill's tunic. He didn't need to say more; shared knowledge of the horrors that probably awaited them flew between them without words.
Their conversation was interrupted then, a low grating sound coming from nearby making them both turn instinctively in its direction. A section of the wall was moving, turning slowly to reveal an opening, impenetrable darkness stark against the decorated wall that surrounded it.
"This way," a voice said from the darkness. They didn't move. After a moment, a figure emerged from the opening, face shadowed by the hood though the voice was clearly that of a man, deep and resonant. "Now."
O'Neill looked at Daniel for a moment, as he heard the sounds of pursuit come ever closer. Daniel nodded once and followed him into the darkness, his hand still keeping its grip on O'Neill's sleeve.
Though this had seemed like the lesser of two evils at the time, when placed against their imminent capture at least, Daniel was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea after all.
The slab of rock they had seen move began to return to its former place, the makeshift doorway closing as slowly as they had seen it open, and they were left in the velvet darkness. O'Neill's arm was warm under Daniel's hand, warm with a reassuring solidity that imbued Daniel with hope even as he wondered what would happen to them next.
A flare of light signalled the lighting of a torch, its guttering flame casting shadows across the walls of the room in which they stood as his eyes adjusted. Daniel could hear the footsteps of the guards in the corridor they had just left, moving past their hiding place, but they were muffled, more muffled than he would expect from the narrow span of stone that now separated hunter from hunted.
Daniel forced his attention back to the stranger, moving round so that he stood more at O'Neill's shoulder even though he wasn't really sure what use he would be should this turn out to be a trap. He didn't let go of O'Neill's sleeve, though - that was his lifeline, his link to sanity and security in the darkness, and as long as the Jaffa didn't openly object, Daniel had no intention of losing it.
"Who are you?" O'Neill asked, his voice echoing oddly in the darkened room.
A splash of colour on one of the walls, briefly illuminated by the flickering torchlight, drew Daniel's eye - he stared for a moment, squinting into the darkness, his curiosity piqued. Daniel was torn between discovery and safety, even as he considered the possible motives of their new-found companion.
"A friend," the hooded figure replied. "Someone who shares your cause."
What was that he saw depicted on the wall? It looked like the pictures of pyramids Daniel knew so well, representing the one that formed the basis of Ra's palace, but alongside the familiar shapes of men and animals were stranger ones, unfamiliar ones. He wanted to take a closer look but forced himself to pay attention to the conversation instead.
"Cause?" Daniel echoed, then wondered if he should have spoken at all. Should he be pretending to be less than he was, to pass as a common slave in hopes that could help them escape?
O'Neill interrupted him, his voice terse.
"Friends do not hide their identities from one another," he said. "Who are you?"
There was silence for a moment, punctuated only by the harsh sounds of breathing - there was silence from the corridor outside, the guards had clearly passed by. Then their companion crossed to the nearest wall, pushing the torch into a bracket there. Daniel let go of O'Neill's sleeve then, crossing to the wall without a second thought, poring over the figures painted there that the closer light revealed.
"What is it?" O'Neill asked, his voice close behind Daniel.
"I've never seen these figures so clearly," Daniel said, without turning round. His hands traced the story, so familiar from frequent hearing and half-obscured images.
"For good reason," the stranger said, his hands raised to the hood that shadowed his features. "Ra would not have any know his true identity. Or how would they still believe him to be a god?"
He'd accepted Daniel's grasp on his sleeve as a sign that things were coming back to what resembled normal between them. Once O'Neill knew that he would have scorned anyone seeking such comfort, but the things they'd experienced together, one way or another, had widened his horizons more than he'd ever expected.
Not that this meant, of course, that when Daniel finally let go, drawn to the images on the wall as though he was a moth drawn to the nearby flame, O'Neill had any intention of letting him out of arms reach. Particularly when they seemed to be stuck in this room for the time being with someone who was a stranger to both of them.
"Who are you?" O'Neill asked again, as their new companion pushed back his hood. He could sense something about the other man and that feeling made O'Neill uncertain. "You are Jaffa?"
"I was, once," the stranger said, his dark eyes shadowed with memory. O'Neill eyed him uncertainly - the other man was large, solidly built, even his loose robe failing to disguise the muscle that only years of hard training could create.
"Then you are a Host?"
This was going from bad to worse. Their terse conversation had managed a miracle, attracting Daniel's attention away from the images on the wall, his eyes intent now on the two of them.
"Not as you believe," the stranger continued.
"Then who are you? What are you?"
Daniel's mind was still racing with the possibilities opened to him by the images on the wall, even as he half-listened to the conversation between O'Neill and their newfound 'ally'. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel saw him push his hood back, and turned to discover the identity of their rescuer.
"You claim not to be a host," O'Neill said, "but I sense a presence in you."
The stranger smiled a little, one eyebrow quirking upwards. His eyes glowed momentarily, the familiar golden light replacing the darkness there briefly.
"Indeed," he said, his voice resonating round the small chamber. "I am Teal'c, host to Selmac. And I am Tok'Ra."
Through the wall, they could hear the booted feet of the guards as they passed down the corridor outside and their conversation dwindled for a moment till silence fell once again.
In the flickering light of the torch, O'Neill watched their new- found 'friend' carefully, trying to judge how much of what he said was true. He'd heard of the Tok'ra, of course, but always thought them more myth than reality. He had certainly not expected to run into one in the very corridors of Ra's palace.
"How can we know if what you say is true?"
The stranger looked at him, dark eyes unreadable in the gloom.
"Have I not saved your life? Both your lives?" he asked, glancing across to where Daniel crouched.
O'Neill felt himself tense as the self-styled Tok'ra looked at Daniel. There was something about him, something that O'Neill didn't trust, regardless of who he claimed to be.
"So what happens now?" Daniel asked, breaking the tension between them. "And who are you?"
Even though he couldn't quite make out the expression on Daniel's face, O'Neill could hear the curiosity in his voice. That was a constant where Daniel was concerned, it seemed, no matter how close they came to disaster.
"I was once a Jaffa," Teal'c began. "First Prime to Apophis, trained from my childhood to serve him loyally. But it was not enough..."
Daniel found himself fascinated, even though he could tell that O'Neill was uncomfortable and didn't trust the Tok'ra at all.
"...and I had begun to question his orders. Finally Apophis ordered me to kill the innocent inhabitants of a village that had sheltered members of the Tok'ra. When I refused, he had me punished - my symbiote was torn out."
Despite himself, Daniel discovered he was coming to trust this Teal'c more and more as he spoke. There was something about his voice, something about his manner, that made Daniel believe that he was who he claimed to be.
"The villagers were slaughtered by those I had once commanded and I was left there to die. Time passed and I was found by members of the Tok'ra, those who I had hunted. They offered me the chance to live, if I became Host to Selmac."
Daniel tried not to imagine that. It was bad enough that the Jaffa were forced to carry the infant Goa'uld, exchanging health for that slavery, but to become a Host? And willingly? Daniel couldn't imagine it, didn't want to imagine it.
"And you agreed?"
"What choice did I have?" Teal'c asked. "I wished to live, I wished revenge on the false god I had once served."
His face was unreadable but something dark lingered in Teal'c's eyes.
"Why are you here?" O'Neill asked. Daniel had almost forgotten he was there, he had been so quiet while Teal'c had spoken.
"The Tok'ra sent me. At last we shall live up to our name - I am here to kill the false god known as Ra."
There was something not quite right about this, something that O'Neill couldn't put his finger on. Was it also something about how Daniel seemed to believe every word this stranger spoke? It had taken so long for him to come to trust O'Neill, so why was it this stranger had earned Daniel's trust so quickly?
"We have been planning this for months," Teal'c said. "Ra must die. And you have already aided our plan by killing Ra's queen - now I can complete my mission."
O'Neill considered this for a moment.
"I saw no indications of anything changing in the palace," he said. "Who else supports you?"
Teal'c shook his head.
"The less you know, the less you can reveal."
"We'll help you," Daniel said, suddenly. He turned to where O'Neill was, the expression on his face worth all that they had experienced together - trust and belief in O'Neill written clearly in Daniel's face. "Won't we?"
O'Neill found himself nodding, reluctantly.
"But we need to rest first," Daniel continued. "Food would be good too."
Teal'c provided them with food, then O'Neill watched over Daniel as he fell asleep, his face relaxed and innocent in the flickering light from the torch. He himself then entered the state of kel no reem, wondering all along if he had made the right decision.
He kept waking up. Daniel tried to make himself relax enough to sleep again and found that he couldn't do it. A couple of feet away, O'Neill was in kel no reem and Daniel rolled onto his side, so he could study the Jaffa as he meditated.
Even now, with all that they'd been through together, it was easy for Daniel to remember how he'd felt the first time they'd met. Before he'd realized that O'Neill would change his life forever and that he would do the same for the Jaffa - would either of them have done something different if they had known that then?
Daniel couldn't believe that he wouldn't, couldn't convince himself. Being with O'Neill had changed something forever, given him someone to rely on when he'd become so used to having to rely on himself. Now Daniel didn't feel so alone and that was a feeling that he cherished.
"You do not sleep."
Teal'c's voice broke into his thoughts, deliberately pitched low so as not to disturb O'Neill. He turned towards it, even though he was still thinking of O'Neill, wondering just how different these two men were and how alike.
He had seen the way Teal'c looked at him; Daniel would have to have been blind not to notice it, but he didn't feel the same way about anyone other than O'Neill. He couldn't imagine how he could, because what would that be based upon?
"Too much to think about," Daniel said. Teal'c was watching him and Daniel squirmed a little under that look. "You said you've been here for months?"
"Then why didn't we know?" Daniel pressed. "My friends in the resistance would have welcomed your aid, given you shelter and worked with you. After all, we have the same goal."
Teal'c was silent for a moment and Daniel wondered if he would ever answer.
"I did not wish to put your friends at risk," Teal'c replied, finally. "Indeed, it was only by chance that I came across yourself and O'Neill before the guards captured you both, though I heard them speak of what you had done."
"They were surprised. Some had never before considered that a god could be killed."
"They're not gods," Daniel blurted out, before thinking who it was he was talking to. "You should know that better than anyone," he continued.
"It has suited over the Goa'uld over many centuries to portray themselves as such," Teal'c said, nodding. "Such deceit has maintained their power over those who served them, through fear."
Daniel felt Teal'c's eyes travel across his body once more and suddenly he was glad of the all-encompassing robe he wore, smelly and disgusting as it was. The Tok'ra made him feel under-dressed despite it all.
"And the Tok'ra are different?"
He felt himself start with surprise as Teal'c looked down, then up again, this time with a golden light in his eyes. His voice, when he spoke, was different too, echoing in the small room.
The quiet conversation was enough to bring O'Neill back from the depths of kel no reem and he listened in silence as Daniel and the Tok'ra spoke. Daniel sounded interested, almost enthralled with what Teal'c was saying, and O'Neill felt an unfamiliar emotion grow inside him. A cold knot of fear and jealousy combined lay low in his stomach.
He had no claim on Daniel after all, none at all. There was nothing to stop him walking away, even though O'Neill found that he hated even to think of such a possibility.
And now Daniel was talking with Teal'c the way they rarely had the chance to talk themselves, listening to him as he told of how different the Tok'ra were from the Goa'uld. As Teal'c told Daniel all the things that Daniel would want to hear, things that made Teal'c different from O'Neill himself, the unwilling slave of a false god he had served for most of his life.
It was only natural that Daniel would admire the singlemindedness of the Tok'ra, their willingness to risk everything in order to defeat the Goa'uld. O'Neill felt that cold knot inside himself grow, weighing more heavy with every moment.
When Daniel heard O'Neill stir from his meditation, he didn't look round. Teal'c was outlining his plan by now, detailing his intention to penetrate into the heart of the palace and confront Ra himself. A bold and audacious plan that just might work.
"And where do we fit in?" Daniel asked.
"I have need of an attendant," Teal'c said.
"And I guess that would be me?"
"It can hardly be O'Neill," Teal'c said. "His face is far too familiar to all who inhabit this palace."
He didn't need to look at O'Neill to imagine his frown.
"I don't like it," O'Neill said. "It's too dangerous."
The more he thought about this, the less he liked the idea of it. Daniel going alone into the palace again, with this relative stranger, while he was stuck in hiding to wait for their return. How was O'Neill supposed to agree to this?
"It could work," Daniel said, as he turned back to where O'Neill was. He had that expression on his face, thinking only of what might happen in the future and ignoring how they might get from here to there.
O'Neill nodded, uncertain how to put into words the uncertainty he felt. Was this just the jealousy he was feeling, or was it something more than that? O'Neill felt strangely protective towards Daniel, wished that he could take his place, even though he knew it was impractical.
"He can't go like that," O'Neill said, turning to Teal'c. The Tok'ra nodded.
"It should be safe to leave here now," he said. Teal'c crossed to the wall through which they had entered their sanctuary. He listened intently for a moment before his hands moved across the surface of the wall and it swung open once more. "We should go."
They followed Teal'c through the now-quiet corridors, back into a part of the palace that Daniel guessed had been deserted for a while. He gave up trying to follow the turns that they made after a few minutes had passed and concentrated instead on trying to figure out just what it was he was feeling.
And to try and determine just what O'Neill was up to as well.
"We are here," Teal'c said, as he stepped aside to allow the two of them to enter a shadowed room.
There was the sound of trickling water and the thought of being clean again made Daniel smile. He'd give almost anything to get out of his robe and wear something that didn't smell of half-dead mastadge.
"Here." Teal'c handed something to Daniel and even in the dimly-lit room, O'Neill could see the way that Daniel blushed as he realized what it was.
"You must," Teal'c replied. "If this plan is to succeed."
He didn't like this, didn't like it at all. It wasn't just the idea of being left behind while Daniel and Teal'c travelled through the palace, it was the implications of it all. The moment Daniel put on the outfit that Teal'c had somehow procured for him, he was sending out a particular signal and O'Neill wouldn't be there to protect him from the consequences of that.
"O'Neill?" Daniel was stood beside him now, the skimpy outfit clutched in one hand and a worried expression on his face.
"We can think of something else," Daniel said.
O'Neill didn't miss the way his hand tightened on the material he held - he reached out and insinutated his fingers into Daniel's fist, making him ease up.
"No, Teal'c is correct. I am too recognisable to pass through the palace unnoticed."
"Well, I don't like it either," Daniel continued.
He could tell O'Neill wasn't happy. It didn't take much of an imagination to figure out why that was - he didn't trust the Tok'ra any more than O'Neill did, it was just that he couldn't see another way forward. If they didn't strike at Ra now, what chance would they have in the future?
Such an opportunity would never present itself again.
If his people were ever to be free, they had to strike now. So he had no choice at the moment but to trust Teal'c, to go along with his plans and see what happened.
He turned to Teal'c, wanting a little privacy.
"Could you wait for me in the corridor?" Daniel asked.
He turned back to O'Neill, not waiting for a response - from the way O'Neill relaxed momentarily Daniel knew they had been left alone, that Teal'c had done as asked.
Daniel began to strip, dropping the outfit Teal'c had given him at his feet, as he attempted to shed the itchy robe he'd seemed as though he'd been wearing for a lifetime. When it became stuck round his head, and he struggled a little, Daniel felt warm hands come to assist him and smiled to himself when they lingered on his skin a little longer than was completely necessary.
Naked, at last, Daniel found himself face to face with O'Neill, concern clear in his dark eyes.
"I don't like this," Daniel found himself saying before he could think about it. O'Neill nodded, his hands sliding up to rest on Daniel's shoulders - he found himself leaning into O'Neill's grasp, gathering strength from it, the warmth of O'Neill's hands.
"Be careful," O'Neill said. "This Teal'c, I don't trust him." Daniel nodded.
Reluctantly, Daniel moved out of O'Neill's grasp, crossing over to the water and quickly washing himself. He tried not to think about O'Neill watching him, making himself concentrate on what he was doing. He quickly rubbed himself dry, or as dry as he could, with a rough towel that he found nearby before he picked up the outfit that the Tok'ra had obtained and slipped it on. It was even flimsier than Daniel had imagined, barely coming down to mid-thigh.
O'Neill was silent throughout this process and Daniel turned back to where he stood. There was desire written clearly in the Jaffa's eyes and Daniel found he was smiling. But, alas, they didn't have time for this, not now.
"I have to go," Daniel said, as he headed for the door. "Keep that thought for when I return."
He hated this. Pacing the small room, O'Neill was sure he would have hated the plan even if he had come up with it, even if he had been there to try and keep Daniel safe himself, rather than relying on someone he didn't like and trusted even less.
He'd seen the way Teal'c looked at Daniel, heard that note of admiration in Daniel's voice when the two of them had spoken. All of that made him uneasy, made him wonder if Daniel wasn't falling under the Tok'ra's spell, believing in him a little too much.
After all, they only had his word. No other way of proving that anything he said was true.
He tried not to think of Daniel, Daniel washing the dust and smell of their travels from himself, of how Daniel had been dressed as the deep red of his robe contrasted the burnished gold of his skin.
Damn. That wasn't the way to calm himself either.
This time, unlike the previous time Daniel had travelled through the corridors of the palace openly, he found he was not ignored. On the previous occasion, following at O'Neill's heels, he'd probably been too engrossed in making sure he didn't get left behind. This time there was no distraction to prevent Daniel noticing the lascivious looks in his direction.
He didn't understand it, really he didn't. On the few occasions he'd been able to sneak a look at his own reflection, Daniel hadn't seen much to become enthused about. He'd been a small child, then a gangling teenager, his body growing much faster than he'd ever expected, until one day he was fully grown. Even the hard labour expected from the slaves of Ra had taken a while to affect his development, before, it seemed, suddenly giving him muscle in the right places after a time.
But clearly, even if he didn't see the attraction, others did. Daniel had seen the desire in O'Neill's eyes and welcomed it - the attention he was receiving from others, Teal'c included, was not so welcome.
He wished it was someone else he was accompanying deep into the heart of the palace. O'Neill had made it clear he didn't trust this self-styled Tok'ra - should they have trusted his instincts after all?
Too late for that, though.
The only person he really trusted, Daniel realised, was back where they had left him, hidden in the secret chamber. He couldn't help wishing he was there, even though he knew that he was doing the right thing, or wishing that O'Neill was here with them, even though it was too dangerous for him to be so.
How far had they travelled now? Being stared at, muttered about, was growing old.
The time seemed to crawl as O'Neill waited. He would have been the first to admit that he wasn't the most patient of people, but this waiting was interminable. Every second hung in the air, until it seemed as though Daniel and Teal'c had been gone for days, his imagination conjuring up the worst of scenarios. That they had been caught, or killed, and he was left alone.
The thought of it was enough to chill him to the bone.
He couldn't sit still any longer. Getting up from where he had been meditating, O'Neill began to pace, wondering as he did so at the changes his acquaintance with a certain runaway slave had wrought in him. He'd not felt so alive for what felt like forever, since he and his wife had parted ways, with vindictive words on both sides. Sara had wanted more than he'd been able to give, that desire warring with her desire for social prominence, a desire O'Neill *had* been able to fulfill.
But their relationship had withered over time; the position being the wife of the First Prime gave to her was not enough. And when his child had died all that tied the two of them together had died with him. O'Neill himself was certainly not what she wanted - sometimes he wasn't sure Sara knew herself what that elusive something was.
He'd never understood her, not really, all his thoughts focussed on how best to serve his god. Everything else had been secondary, ephemeral, and when that belief had been show for the lie it was, O'Neill had been left with nothing.
No wonder he had clutched at the idea of a relationship with Daniel. What else did he have? And if this crazy plan of the Tok'ra succeeded, what would he have left?
He'd seen the way Teal'c looked at Daniel, heard the words the Tok'ra had spoken and seen the effect they had. He was a remnant of the old, something that would not fit comfortably, if at all, into whatever new world Daniel would be involved in creating. O'Neill knew that Daniel wouldn't consciously turn him away, there was no chance of that, but what right did he have to expect that things would stay the same between them?
He had to believe that what he'd seen in Daniel's face, the pleasure that his experienced hands had evoked for both of them, could prove the foundation for something more. If that hope was lost, then what was left for him?
"We are here," Teal'c said, finally, after what seemed an endless journey into the heart of the palace.
This was unfamiliar ground, heavily-guarded and elaborately- decorated, even more so than Hathor's chambers. If Daniel had thought those ornate, he now knew himself to be mistaken - Ra's chambers glowed with gold and gems, a thousand eyes on him from the paintings which covered the walls, a light breeze rippling the hangings that draped in a dozen places from ceiling to floor.
Of Ra himself there was no sign, the massive throne which dominated the room was empty, only a cat sprawled at its foot, one lazy eye opening to inspect the newcomers.
A flurry of activity, boots ringing on the marble floor, was the only warning they had of Ra's appearance. Daniel felt Teal'c's hand heavy on his shoulder, pushing him down into a low obeisance, the grip both warning and reassuring.
"My lord," Teal'c said.
Daniel risked a glimpse out of the corner of his eye at his companion and saw that the Tok'ra had only bowed his knee momentarily, inclining his head a little as if greeting an almost- equal.
He didn't dare look at Ra, not wishing to draw attention to himself. Daniel could feel Ra's eyes heavy on him, and wished for more clothing - he felt unclean, naked, an unpleasant crawling feeling on his skin.
"You bring word?" Ra asked.
"I do, my lord," Teal'c replied, then made much of opening the bag he carried. "Apophis accepts your terms, and would enter into treaty with you."
"And what would he have from me?"
"Your good will, my lord. And he asks that you accept this token of his esteem."
Daniel froze in place, not even daring to breathe. This wasn't part of the plan, not as Teal'c had explained it before they left their impromptu sanctuary.
"Exquisite," Ra said.
Daniel risked another glance. Teal'c had moved, closer to the dais on which Ra's throne stood, a small item in his outstretched hand. Ra's eyes were fixed on his gift now, a look of avarice on his face, and Daniel studied him for a moment. So this was their false god, the one whose whims led to the death and suffering of thousands?
He heard the gasp as Ra's hand met the item Teal'c was holding out, and knew it for what it was. The Goa'uld's body stiffened suddenly, eyes widening as he took a step back.
"My lord?" That was one of the slaves attending Ra, cradling a cat in his arms as he stood by the throne.
Ra gasped once more, the hand which bore a Goa'uld device flying to his throat, as if the very act of speaking choked him. He took another step backwards, the back of his knees hitting the edge of the throne, before slumping into its embrace. His hand was frantic now, the other hand gripping the armrest spasmodically.
It was as Daniel thought - the 'gift' Teal'c had brought, ostensibly from Apophis, contained some powerful poison, doubtless with a needle to deliver a fatal dose to whoever touched it wrongly. He couldn't tear his eyes from the sight of Ra's death throes, wanting to be able to describe every moment to his friends in the resistance, burning those images of the death of a false god into his brain.
Ra's eyes blazed gold once, then dimmed again.
In his sanctuary, O'Neill heard the bellowing horns, the familiar alarm sound that in the palace could mean only one thing - an attack upon Ra himself. An assassination attempt, whether successful or otherwise, there was no telling which.
He couldn't stay here any longer. If Daniel had failed, if the Tok'ra's plans had failed, then they were both probably dead by now. If they were lucky. In that case the best O'Neill could hope was that Ra would not order them revived by sarcophagus use in order to torture them to death over and over again. But the chance of the vengeful Goa'uld demonstrating that kind of mercy was slim, to say the least.
If they had succeeded, against all odds, O'Neill wanted to be there. He had been as much a slave to Ra as Daniel, despite the differences in their treatment, he had just not realised it until there was nothing he could do to change that. He would continue to be Ra's slave as long as his body relied on the symbiote he carried, as surely as if he were shackled.
His hands flew across the surface of the wall, fingers questing for the hidden catch that would make the entrance swing open and allow him to leave.
Within moments O'Neill was in the corridor, then had to flatten himself into the nearest alcove as a dozen guards thundered past, too intent on getting to the heart of the palace as soon as they could to take any notice of anyone who they might pass.
With a sinking heart, O'Neill followed them.
Each step he took brought him closer to the guard at the back of the group, before a much-practiced blow took his victim down silently. O'Neill wrested the zatnikatel from the guard's hand, glancing up the corridor and discovering it empty before using it - once, twice. Bending down, he pulled the helmet from the guard's body, before using the zatnikatel a third time.
As the realisation of Ra's death spread within the throne room, there was an eruption of sound - one of the slaves screamed, a high piercing sound, echoed almost immediately by the bellowing of a horn to sound the alarm. All too late for the Goa'uld, other than to summon guards to wreak a bloody revenge on his assassins.
Daniel got to his feet hastily, crossing to where Teal'c still stood. The Tok'ra hadn't moved, his eyes fixed on where Ra slumped on his throne, the device that had killed him still cradled in his outstretched palm.
"Teal'c?" Daniel said, hesitantly reaching out to snag a handful of the Tok'ra's sleeve. "We need to get out of here." Teal'c moved as if coming up from deep underwater, slowly turning to Daniel as if he'd forgotten anyone else was there. "We need to go!" Daniel urged.
"Go?" Teal'c echoed. His eyes blazed gold, making Daniel take an involuntary step back. "Why should I go, Daniel?"
There was something wrong in this scenario, Daniel realised suddenly. The guards who should have been keeping Ra safe had kept their distance, the slaves attending him were eyeing the two of them with a mixture of fear and respect. Daniel was the only one who had broken the tableau, the only one who had moved out of their accustomed role.
"He's dead. Your mission..." Daniel began, only for his words to grind to a halt as Teal'c began to laugh. The laughter was cold, mocking, sending a responsive shiver through Daniel as he let go of Teal'c's sleeve and backed away. "There was no mission, was there?"
The laughter died, Teal'c's dark and now expressionless eyes watching him with calculation.
"No." The voice was the same, almost - it had a coldness to it now, a thread of steel through the rumbling tones. "No mission. No Tok'ra. Only myself."
Teal'c turned to the guards, gesturing towards the throne with one hand even as he secreted the device he had used to kill its occupant.
"Get rid of that," he said, then watched silently as they obeyed swiftly, two of the guards removing Ra's body as if he was of no consequence. "And cease the alarm. Your god is in no danger."
"So," Daniel said, as he watched Teal'c take Ra's place on the elaborate throne. "O'Neill was right not to trust you."
"He was." The slaves who had attended Ra clustered close once more, moving tentatively at first until Teal'c reached out and caressed the head of one of them. "And Ra was right to replace him."
There was a flurry of movement at the door, the blaring of horns outside ceasing as swiftly as they had begun.
"My lord," said the newcomer, hurrying forward to kneel briefly before Teal'c. "May I be the first to greet you in your rightful place?"
Teal'c smiled, leaning forward in his seat as their visitor arose.
"Maybourne," he said. "My faithful servant."
The stolen disguise allowed O'Neill to make progress through the halls without hindrance, as well as taking advantage of the fact that the guards were single-mindedly heading into the centre of the palace. They didn't bother to check anyone's identity, all their energies fixed on obeying the summons.
By the time he reached the throne room itself, O'Neill was on edge, every nerve singing with tension and concern. The alarm had stopped, and he wasn't sure whether that boded well or ill.
He could hear voices from inside, hidden as he was by the massed ranks of guards already present, voices he recognised, as well as one he had come to hate.
It was his worst nightmare come to life, the last person he wanted to see.
"You are so trusting, Daniel," Maybourne said, turning to him with a predatory smile. "You think O'Neill didn't know my lord's true identity?"
"I don't believe you." It couldn't be true, could it? Could O'Neill have lied to him, misled him that way? He'd known that Teal'c was a host, that was true enough, but was it possible to tell Tok'ra from Goa'uld? "You're lying."
It was impossible. O'Neill had no reason to lie to him, not now, if he ever had. What would he gain from such an act? It was just another attempt by Maybourne to disconcert him, that was all.
Maybourne shrugged. "Believe what you want," he said. "It doesn't matter any more." His expression grew even more threatening - it took an act of will on Daniel's part to stand his ground as Maybourne approached, his only solace the fact that the Jaffa seemed disappointed at his lack of reaction. "This time there's no-one to come to your rescue."
"O'Neill didn't tell me your true name," Daniel said, pitching his voice towards where Teal'c sat, watching over the proceedings like a spider at the heart of its web. He ignored the implications of Maybourne's statement, the possibility that he had sent guards to deal with O'Neill and he was truly alone after all. "I assume you're not really a member of the Tok'ra?"
Teal'c's eyes flashed gold at this. "Those weaklings? I would not lower myself to associate with them." He stood, shoving off the attentive hands of his slaves and came down the steps from his usurped throne, crossing to where Maybourne and Daniel stood in a couple of strides. "You wish to know the truth?"
"Always," Daniel replied.
"My lord," Maybourne began, "you promised..."
"Enough!" Teal'c turned to Maybourne. "Your guards may leave our presence," he continued. "We are safe enough."
Somehow Daniel managed to rein back a smile at the way Maybourne cowered, the dangerous situation he found himself in sobering enough. The dismissal of the guards was an unexpected one, the menace in Maybourne's expression as he watched the two of them still real enough to chill the blood in Daniel's veins.
"What does it matter?" Teal'c continued, as the guards left. "The resistance will soon be stamped out utterly, and the body of your friend O'Neill will rot at the gates of my palace as an example to all who would defy the gods."
He seemed so certain about this, certain enough that Daniel felt the cold fingers of doubt at the base of his spine. If O'Neill was already dead... he couldn't think about that. He'd be the one who was dead if he didn't play this right, play to the weaknesses Teal'c had already exhibited and use him against Maybourne. It was time to choose the lesser of two evils and hope he had done the right thing.
"I would know who is behind this clever plan," he said, even as the words almost choked him. Flattering one of the Goa'uld was the last thing he wanted to do, but that was a certain way to gain his favour, like it or not. "Surely you are one of the System Lords in disguise?"
Had he laid it on too heavily? Teal'c looked at him a moment, as if judging his honesty, and Daniel tried to look as though he believed what he'd said, even as he knew it to be an utter lie. He could never again believe that the Goa'uld were gods, and only Ra's arrogance had ensured that Teal'c's plan succeeded. If his guards had been more vigilant, less certain that no-one would dare attack their god, the assassination attempt could have been thwarted with relative ease.
Teal'c looked pleased, taken with the flattery it seemed. Daniel stood his ground, since the alternative was to back away towards Maybourne and that was the last thing he wanted to do.
"I spoke the truth when I said that the name of my host was Teal'c," he said. "But the symbiote it carries is not Selmac. It is Horus."
So, they had both been used, taken advantage of by this unscrupulous Goa'uld to usurp the position that Ra held. O'Neill stood silently by the door as the guards passed by him, his hand clenching on the stolen zatnikatel. He would have only once chance of this, if either he or Daniel were to survive.
Once again, Daniel played a dangerous game, but he could understand exactly why he did so. To be turned over to Maybourne once more must be Daniel's worst nightmare and so he was attempting to use Teal'c's... Horus' own ego in order to curtail that. And by the very fact that he had obtained the Goa'uld's true name so easily, O'Neill had to think that Daniel's plan was working.
It had to have been unsettling for him, the sudden appearance of his nemesis, but O'Neill had to admire the calmness of Daniel's voice. Even though he was probably shaking like a leaf inside, his voice betrayed nothing of this.
"And all this," Daniel said. "All the things you told me, they were merely a ploy to gain access to Ra?"
He was backing away all the while as he spoke, keeping distance between himself and Horus, not liking the predatory expression that seemed to have been transmitted from Maybourne to the Goa'uld. They were, indeed, fit for one another.
"I needed to know what O'Neill knew," Horus said, as he crossed back to take his throne once more. His expression didn't change. "To gain his trust so I could destroy him." He turned to Maybourne then. "Where are your guards with his body?"
"Coming, my lord," Maybourne said, turning all his attention from Daniel to Horus.
He watched the two of them carefully, looking for the chance of escape, slim though it might be. Where would he go? Even if O'Neill was alive, Maybourne had suborned Skaara in order to gain information about the resistance, so there was little chance of sanctuary there.
Suddenly he saw movement from the corner of his eye, the dull grey of a guard's uniform identifying the newcomer as someone not welcome.
"Well?" That was Maybourne once more. "Where is O'Neill?"
The guard moved into the throne room, three or four steps, before coming to a halt. There was a hiss as his helmet swung back, exposing the guard's face as he raised the zatnikatel in his hand to cover both Maybourne and Horus.
"Right here," he said.
It was probably the most foolish thing he'd ever done, if O'Neill had allowed himself a moment's contemplation of what he intended. Except that there wasn't time, not if both he and Daniel were to survive this.
The slaves had scattered from beside what had once been Ra's throne, their sense of self-preservation as strong as ever. They had survived Ra's rages, for the most part, by knowing when to retreat from him, and they would survive this change of ownership. O'Neill could only hope that he and Daniel would do the same.
"You dare?" Horus said, eyes blazing gold.
"I dare plenty," O'Neill replied. His eyes flicked to Daniel, who gave him an encouraging half-smile as he edged slowly away from Maybourne and Horus. "You thought I'd been taken in by your little act?" Time to build on what Daniel had started, chip away at Horus' arrogance and use that against him. "With him as your accomplice?" O'Neill nodded towards Maybourne, whose face darkened with anger.
They were both unarmed, as far as he could see. Both reliant on the success of their cunning, rather than on weapons. Horus' hand began to move towards the bag he carried, as quick as a snake striking, and O'Neill focussed on him, firing the purloined zatnikatel. As he did so, he saw Maybourne move, headed straight towards Daniel, hoping doubtless that the fear he'd instilled in the former slave would serve as a weapon.
Horus hit the ground heavily, his hand half-in the bag. He couldn't take any chances, couldn't turn to deal with Maybourne even though every instinct screamed at him to go to Daniel's aid until he knew this particular threat was eliminated. O'Neill bent slowly, his eyes on Horus for any sign of movement, pulling the bag away from him, then fired the zat twice more.
By the time he turned to deal with Maybourne, he could see that it was an even match between them. Maybourne had relied on a fear that Daniel had somewhat overcome, discounting the former slave's determination and stubbornness. As he zatted Maybourne to unconsciousness, O'Neill swore he'd not make the same mistake himself.
"O'Neill!" Daniel said, struggling for a moment beneath the weight of the unconscious Jaffa. "This isn't funny." His face was full of emotion, the adrenaline still racing through his system.
"Here," O'Neill said, as he holstered the zatnikatel. He took hold of Maybourne by an arm, pulling him to one side so Daniel could slide out from under.
As Daniel came to stand by him, looking down at the Jaffa, O'Neill's fingers itched to do what he had done to Horus. He felt a touch on his wrist, the sensation of Daniel's fingers curling round, skin on skin. Suddenly all the doubts he'd had, all the concerns O'Neill had harboured about the reality Daniel's feelings towards him melted away at that one simple touch.
"It's over," Daniel said. "Let the people decide what should be done with him. The Jaffa have been judge and executioner for long enough."
If he'd been the jealous type, O'Neill decided, he'd be dragging Daniel out of the library right about now.
He'd returned from the hunt, pleased to have found something where his skills could be put to use now that the last of the Jaffa had left the planet, only to discover their rooms were dark and empty. And seriously lacking in the presence of Daniel, who had promised him faithfully he would be there for the evening meal.
He lifted the lid on the covered pot by the fire, sniffing appreciatively at the smell of cooking. Kasuf had insisted that the tribe feed them, and when Daniel hadn't argued there was no way O'Neill could feel like refusing. It was hardly likely Daniel would ever become that domesticated, even if O'Neill wanted him to.
Once he'd discovered that Ra had been hoarding records, written testament to the history of their people that nobody knew existed, it had been all O'Neill could do to persuade him to eat and sleep on a regular basis. Little else happened between them, O'Neill reminded himself with a sigh, as he located a bowl.
He was trying his hardest not to take it personally, seeing no evidence that Daniel's affections had cooled towards him, at least not in comparison to the looks he received from Kasuf's people on a regular basis. He was an oddity now, a thing out of place as he'd feared would be the case once Ra was overthrown, and he couldn't help wondering if he'd made the right decision.
Should he have left with the other Jaffa? Took his chances that he wouldn't be slaughtered out of hand by the system lords when they caught up with him? There was always the possibility that he had chosen wrongly, allowed his feelings for Daniel to blind him to the realities of what his life would be like once the Goa'uld no longer ruled here.
Kasuf was the same as ever towards him, and he had made efforts to aid in the reconciliation of Skaara to his people, taking the lad under his wing and going hunting with him when everyone else would have nothing to do with him. This ensured his acceptance by Kasuf, if his relationship with Daniel had not already done so. Skaara had been resentful at first, still bridling against the way Daniel was treated, the exceptions that were made for him to strain his eyes studying the words of the past.
At least his experience of hunting meat for the inhabitants of Ra's palace had come in useful, giving O'Neill something to do in order to pass the time.
Not that time was something he had a great deal of, he reminded himself, as he spooned stew into his mouth. Soon his symbiote would mature, taking him over for the lack of any other host, and he would become the thing he had come to hate the most. The thing Daniel hated, even though their occasional love-making showed no evidence that he had anything but fascination with the things that made O'Neill a Jaffa.
He could feel the touch of Daniel's fingers on his pouch even now, the feather touches that helped send him over the edge faster than he'd like to admit.
Damn it, where was he?
A sound by the doorway. O'Neill's head snapped round, all the old instincts kicking in. It was Daniel, of course, looking almost uncertain as he pushed the curtain away to allow himself access.
"I'm late," he said. No apologies, no excuses, and O'Neill expected none. "That smells good."
O'Neill smiled to himself, taking in with a glance the lines of fatigue on Daniel's face, the darkness beneath his eyes.
"Here," he said, a rush of protectiveness coming over him. "Sit down." He pushed the bowl of food into Daniel's hand, feeling the chill in his skin. "Your skin is like ice."
"It was later than I thought," Daniel said, between mouthfuls of stew. "Those records..." He paused. "I never knew so much had been written of our past, I'd thought it was all destroyed."
O'Neill found another bowl, helped himself to some more stew, then sat beside Daniel.
"The goa'uld don't destroy things they might be able to use," he said. He saw Daniel nod at this, his mind still working furiously even as he ate. "Eat now," he chided. "Plenty of time for talk afterwards."
They ate in silence, Daniel getting up from his seat and helping himself to more, before both of them admitted defeat. O'Neill took the bowl from Daniel, placing everything by the doorway. By the time he turned from his task, Daniel was already sitting on their pallet, one hand tiredly running through his hair.
"You need to get some fresh air tomorrow, Daniel," he said, shrugging off his outer tunic and dropping it on a nearby chair. Daniel nodded, without answering him, a sure sign he was past tired and on his way to exhausted.
He hated this. Hated seeing Daniel push himself this way, for something he could barely see the value of. The goa'uld were hoarders, scavengers, looking to use whatever they came across, but what of use could be buried in age-old records?
"Lie down," he said, his worries for Daniel's wellbeing coming out in a gruff tone. Daniel looked at him, a puzzled frown on his face.
"This is important," he said, even as he did as he was bid, swinging his feet up onto the pallet. His eyes were already closed before his head hit the pillow.
O'Neill sighed, then laid down alongside, one arm coming over to rest across Daniel, pulling the former slave close to his body.
"Important enough to kill yourself for?" he asked, his breath whispering into the hair at the nape of Daniel's neck. O'Neill felt a responsive shudder run through Daniel, even as he tightened his embrace a little. "Sleep now."
He felt Daniel's quiet laugh even as he heard it, the vibrations coming through their closeness.
"You want me to sleep now?" he muttered.
Daniel took hold of O'Neill's hand and moved it downwards, allowing him to feel the arousal that breath had helped cause. Even as he did so, Daniel moved a little, brushing against O'Neill's groin, against the evidence that this was not a one-sided matter.
"Maybe not yet," O'Neill conceded, even as Daniel turned within his embrace and stifled any further words.
He knew O'Neill didn't understand and he had no intention of explaining it. Not yet, at least, not until he was certain. At least the Jaffa didn't question him, didn't try to get an explanation of what exactly was so fascinating about the records Ra had hoarded - he wasn't sure how coherent he would be on the subject.
At first it had seemed like a myth, a tale told by Jaffa around the campfire on long campaigns, but as time had passed Daniel had gathered more information. More evidence that this myth had substance to it, a reality to it that the other myths he'd come across lacked. Still it wasn't enough to get O'Neill's hopes up - he couldn't bear the thought of his disappointment if it came to nothing.
Though the Jaffa didn't speak of it, Daniel knew he was restless. At least his aptitude for hunting game meant he had some outlet, some way he could contribute to the people of this planet. He hadn't missed the looks some gave him, the looks Daniel too was subject to because of his association with O'Neill, but after dealing with Maybourne and the goa'uld he was hardly likely to let a few glares get to him.
Tonight, he told himself, as he left the pallet he shared with O'Neill. Tonight I'll tell him everything and hope that he believes me.
When he woke, he was alone, which was hardly unexpected. O'Neill remembered half-waking when Daniel rose, then had rolled over and returned to sleep. He was washing when Daniel returned unexpectedly, excited, his words almost falling over themselves.
"I've found it," he said, brandishing a parchment in O'Neill's direction.
"What?" O'Neill busied himself with drying his face; he used the towel to hide his smile at Daniel's fervour.
"How long till your symbiote matures?" Daniel asked, sitting down suddenly and fixing him with an implacable stare. "I know it's soon."
The room suddenly felt cold, despite the fire that blazed in the hearth.
"Three months," O'Neill said. "Four at most." He'd tried not to think about it, the concept lurking at the back of his mind like a malevolent shadow. Daniel nodded. "I'll leave before then."
That was the only answer. There was no way he could survive without the symbiote - O'Neill had witnessed the deaths of Jaffa whose symbiotes had been removed and had no desire to share their lengthy and painful fate. The alternatives were few and unwelcome. Allow the mature symbiote to take him as a host, thus becoming the thing he hated, or suicide. He wasn't sure which option he liked least, and all of them involved leaving Daniel and the happiness they'd found together in such unlikely circumstances.
"That was your plan, was it?" Daniel asked. "And what did you think would happen to me?"
"You have a home here. People who care for you."
"If I wanted all of that I'd have married Sha're when she asked," he said. "Or any one of the others." He looked down at the parchment he still held. "I hope this works," Daniel continued. "For both our sakes."
"So," O'Neill said, as he sat on the pallet once more, facing Daniel. "Tell me what you've found."
He tried to concentrate, using that as a way of driving back the emotions that otherwise threatened to overwhelm him.
"A way out," Daniel said. "I hope."
"A way to remove the symbiote?" O'Neill laughed. "I wish that were true." The expression on Daniel's face tore at him, making him regret the levity with which he'd treated this 'discovery'. "But go on," he said. "Tell me what you've found."
"Have you ever heard of a place called Kheb?"
He'd known O'Neill was worried about the prospect of his symbiote maturing, and rightly so, but the bitter laughter that followed his question had been unexpected.
"Kheb is a legend among the Jaffa," O'Neill said. "A tale told to frighten the young, nothing more."
"You'd better hope there's more to it than that," Daniel replied.
O'Neill was silent for a moment, his face as closed as when they had first met, as difficult to read.
"I don't dare hope," he said. "Kheb is a place of death for the Jaffa."
"What have you got to lose?" He couldn't believe this. This resignation, blind acceptance by O'Neill of the fate that lay in store for him. "You're dead either way, aren't you?" It was a low blow, but Daniel had to do something.
He saw the anger blaze in O'Neill's face for a moment, reminding him of who this man had once been, what he had seen and done.
"You think this place holds some kind of answer for me?" he asked, quietly.
"What other choice do we have?"
That was the question, wasn't it? There were few options left for O'Neill, and Daniel considered their fates tied together regardless of anything the Jaffa might say. O'Neill wanted to try and dissuade Daniel from this path, that much was clear from his expression, but he didn't have the words. Somehow Daniel doubted anyone did.
"We'll leave tomorrow," O'Neill said.
He managed to hide the trepidation he felt, despite the way he'd dismissed stories of Kheb as the tales of frightened children. O'Neill didn't think he'd done a very good job, if the way Daniel had wrapped himself around him was anything to go by - the former slave was perceptive, picking up clues about O'Neill's moods that he wasn't aware he was giving out. Not that he was complaining about the closeness or the level of care for his wellbeing that it indicated.
They'd taken their leave of Kasuf, explaining that they needed to take a journey but not telling him where. How could they explain it anyway? That they were travelling in search of a myth, in search of a cure for O'Neill's slavery to the symbiote - it would make no sense to anyone.
So why was he doing this? O'Neill found himself at the chappa'ai, watching Daniel as his hands traced the symbols from the parchment he held and located them on the device that stood before it.
"Ready?" Daniel said. O'Neill nodded, then watched as Daniel activated the device, each touch making the chappa'ai respond until all of the lights glowed and the gateway formed.
It had been many months since he'd last stepped through into the unknown, but at least he had that experience to fall back on. Daniel did not, and now he looked uncertain, wary of the power his actions had unleashed.
"There is nothing to be afraid of, Daniel," O'Neill said, taking hold of Daniel's sleeve and drawing him with him to the steps of the chappa'ai. "See?"
O'Neill took hold of Daniel's wrist, manipulating his hand till the palm was at right angles to the ground, then pushed him slowly until it touched the surface of the gateway. This was how he'd been introduced to the power of the chappa'ai, when he himself had been a young Jaffa, ready to take his first journey wherever he was bid to go.
He watched Daniel's face as his hand sank into the energy of the gateway, pleased to see that expression of awe and wonder return - the hours of study and research had drained him of that, but the chance of exploration was swiftly encouraging its return.
"I'm ready." Daniel's voice was resolute, his face determined. O'Neill smiled, tightened his grip on Daniel's wrist and stepped forward.
The world spun a little when he found himself on the other side of the gateway, their boots crunching on the gravel in which the chappa'ai was emebedded. The cool mountain air of their destination a distinct change from the desert they had just left. Kheb was just as it had been described to him, long ago, an untouched wilderness with great mountains. The chappa'ai was located in a valley, with no other signs of civilisation than it and the device which activated it - a path led off through the long grass into the woods beyond.
"We're truly on another world?" Daniel blurted out, laughing. "This is Kheb?"
"It is." O'Neill scanned their surroundings but could see no sign that anyone had been there in recent times. "There must be more here than the chappa'ai."
"There is," Daniel said, pulling the parchment from his robes and consulting it for a moment. "There's a temple, in a valley northwards from here."
They set a steady pace, more to give Daniel a chance to accustom himself to the unfamiliar boots he was wearing than anything else. As they passed along a small stream, O'Neill scanned the mud alongside but could see no footprints other than those of animals using it as their watering hole. Perhaps the rumours of Kheb and its deadliness for Jaffa was indeed working in their favour.
"Is that it?" Daniel asked, as they passed through a small stand of trees and found themselves on an escarpment. In the distance, at the foot of even higher mountains and surrounded by forest, they could see a temple, grey buildings glinting in the late morning sun.
It was early afternoon by the time they reached the temple, having paused briefly for food before heading out along a well-marked path which could have only one destination. Still there was no sign of any other inhabitants, the only sounds in the forest the cawing of distant birds, or the occasional rustle of undergrowth as some small creature passed by.
"Does that remind you of anything?" Daniel asked, as they reached the gateway into the temple complex. The entrance was rounded, made of the same grey stone as the buildings themselves and the pathway through it - if anything, it resembled the chappa'ai they had used to come to this very planet.
Inside, the roofs of the temple sloped downwards to the courtyard, shining red beams between dull black tiles, the lush greenness of the plants much brighter than those of the forest they'd just left. There was a peacefulness to the place, O'Neill decided.
"What now?" he asked, as Daniel began to take off his boots.
"There's something about this place," Daniel said. "Can't you feel it?" He dropped the other boot alongside his companion, flexing his toes on the cool grey stone. "Let's see if anyone's here."
O'Neill found himself following Daniel to one of the doorways leading out of the courtyard, lacquered red like the beams on the roof, with plain brass handles. Inside, it was little darker, cream walls emblazoned with arcane markings reflecting the light of myriad candles. The room was a strange shape, that shape echoed by the many- sided bed of black sand that lay at its centre, more candles burning on its surface.
He was about to speak to Daniel, make some comment about this place being empty, when he sensed a movement beside him. Turning, O'Neill found they were no longer alone.
He hadn't seen the newcomer arrive, though his garb marked him out as some kind of monk, his old-young face calm and composed.
"Do you seek oneness with Desala?"
O'Neill glanced across at Daniel, who frowned. Clearly this was a puzzle to him as well.
"Desala is everything, everywhere," the monk continued.
"We hoped you could help us," Daniel said, suddenly. The monk didn't seem to have heard him, crossing to the centre of the sand bed and taking up a pose which was intimately familiar to O'Neill from his years of kel no reem. Daniel followed him, as did O'Neill, watching the monk's placid face intently.
"Your journey is only begun." The monk spoke without opening his eyes.
There was silence then. O'Neill saw that Daniel was thinking - he recognised that expression, it always meant he was giving something deep consideration. When he looked back at the monk, he was surprised to see he was being watched.
"Within you is a being whose heart knows only darkness," the monk said. "You must renounce such evil to achieve oneness with Oma Desala. One cannot carry darkness on the great path."
It was what he wanted, why he had come here, but suddenly O'Neill was more afraid than he could ever remember feeling. It was one thing to think of the possibility of the symbiote maturing and taking him over, or of taking his own life to prevent that from happening, but to actually remove the symbiote of his own free will...
"If I remove the symbiote within me, I'll die." He didn't need to look at Daniel to know what expression he'd see on his face. The monk held all his attention, the mirrored compassion in his dark eyes almost mesmerising.
"You cannot start the journey with it inside you." The tone was of one explaining something simple to a child.
"We came here looking for help," Daniel said. "Can you help us?"
"You do not have the same evil within you." The monk had turned his attention to Daniel now, and O'Neill's only feeling was relief. Those eyes had held knowledge of him, knowledge of everything he'd done in the service of Ra - he had the feeling he'd been judged and found wanting.
"No, no I don't." Daniel looked at O'Neill then. He knew he could see the resignation on his face, the momentary lack of hope. "But where he goes, I go."
"It's no good," O'Neill said, getting up from where he had been sitting. "We tried, but it's hopeless."
Without looking back, he left the room, leaving Daniel and the monk alone.
"Is it hopeless?" Daniel asked. "I have to know."
The monk said nothing, closing his eyes with an enigmatic expression on his face.
He wanted to follow O'Neill, offer him what comfort he could, but how could he find the words? He'd allowed himself to hope, allowed O'Neill the unexpected luxury of a future free of the symbiote he carried, and it had all crumbled into dust in his hands.
Would it have been kinder to allow him to leave? The thought of it chilled him, a cold weight in the pit of his stomach - if the Jaffa had left he would have taken Daniel's soul with him as well, that went without saying.
Daniel closed his eyes, mimicking the monk, desperately in search of the peace he clearly had found. O'Neill's hasty exit had left the door ajar, and as Daniel tried to slow his breathing he could hear the wind picking up, though he didn't recall seeing any sign of storm clouds approaching.
"Daniel?" O'Neill's voice came from outside. "Daniel?" Closer, this time, at the doorway. Daniel opened his eyes and found himself alone, O'Neill standing almost hesitantly by the entrance.
"Here," he said, getting up from where he had been sitting. As he brushed the sand from his robes, Daniel looked towards where his silent companion had been - the sand was undisturbed, in comparison to the clear indentations his own body had left.
"We should go," O'Neill said. "There's nothing for us here."
He couldn't find words to disagree with him - the mysterious appearances and disappearances of the monk were nothing compared to the disappointment they'd found.
He didn't want to go back inside, didn't want to see the expression on the monk's face, but when Daniel didn't respond immediately O'Neill had no choice. There were storm clouds now, on the horizon and heading in their direction, which argued that they should head back towards the chappa'ai - for all he knew this was the start of their rainy season and if they didn't leave now they could find themselves trapped.
He had to admit he was disappointed Daniel's theory had come to nothing, but he couldn't allow that disappointment to put their lives at risk.
The sky was perceptibly darker by the time they emerged into the courtyard once more. He waited, impatiently, as Daniel put his boots back on, wanting nothing more than to leave this place and all it represented. Daniel was silent, for once, and for that O'Neill was glad - he didn't want comfort, or assurances that everything would be fine. He knew those for the lies they were.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move and whirled towards it, only to see the reflection of something in a pool of water.
"Let's go," he said, reaching out and pulling Daniel to his feet.
"O'Neill," Daniel said, his gaze directed towards the gateway. O'Neill followed his eyes, his grip on Daniel's hand tightening a little as he took in the sight of the monk standing there.
"We're leaving," O'Neill said, taking a step towards the entrance and pulling Daniel along behind him. The monk smiled. "You're not going to stop us." They were almost there, only a few short feet separating them from where the monk stood. He was hardly an obstacle, but there was something about him.
"O'Neill," Daniel said. "I think we should..."
Whatever it was that Daniel was about to suggest went unheard - the monk raised his hand, a stream of white light emanating from it. It was different from the goa'uld weapons O'Neill had seen, they sent out a blaze of power like a staff weapon, directly from one place to another. This seemed almost alive, winding its way sinuously between them, swirling around his body even as he dropped Daniel's hand and half-turned to tell him to run.
Then it was inside him, turning him inside out, before he pitched headfirst into blackness.
It all happened in the space of a heartbeat. By the time he had realised what was happening, O'Neill had let go of his hand and crumpled to the ground, the tendrils of light still snaking around and over and through his body.
The monk just stood there, watching it all with the same calm expression on his face.
"What did you do?" Daniel asked, torn between wanting to help O'Neill and fear that whatever it was would kill them both. It was no good, he had to do something.
"One cannot carry darkness on the great path," the monk repeated, even as Daniel tried to drag O'Neill away from whatever it was that was attacking him. He felt the light pass through him, stiffening a little as it did so, but it seemed not to cause him any harm.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the light gathered itself and was gone, shooting away across the courtyard and through one of the walls. The monk too was gone, Daniel discovered when he looked up.
Beneath his hands, O'Neill took a shuddering breath, then another, before rolling onto his back and dragging in a few more gasping breaths. Daniel's breath caught in his throat. The mark on O'Neill's forehead, the symbol of his servitude to Ra, was gone. Could that possibly mean...
He scrabbled at O'Neill's robes, hands shaking a little as he exposed the Jaffa's stomach, only to see it unmarred. No sign of a pouch, no indication that one had ever been there.
"Am I dead?" O'Neill asked, his eyes still closed.
"No," Daniel said, straightening the Jaffa's robes once more. "I think you're very much alive."
He hadn't believed it. How could he have been expected to believe such a story? He wasn't even sure Daniel had believed it either, though he said he had known it all along.
In the end, they had stayed in the courtyard overnight, giving him a chance to gather his strength before heading back to the chappa'ai. Neither he or Daniel had wanted to face the monk again, almost afraid of what he might do next, and he had yet to become accustomed to his new-found freedom. O'Neill found his hand straying to his forehead often, feeling the smoothness there that was unfamiliar since he was almost a boy.
"What do we do now?" Daniel asked, as they headed back through the forest.
"You don't want to go back?"
He'd never considered the possibility that Daniel wouldn't want to return to his home - if anything he'd been humouring the former slave, going along with this flaky idea of his because it was what he wanted and because O'Neill had hardly had anything better to do with his time.
"I don't know," Daniel said, as they paused by the river to drink. "I hadn't thought this far ahead." He paused, as if uncertain about his next words. "I was more worried about what was happening with you than anything."
O'Neill found himself smiling, not bothering to hide his pleasure at the concern Daniel had shown.
"So you do want to go back?"
Daniel took another mouthful of water, as if giving the matter some thought.
"There are a lot of things still to be done," he said. "Kasuf will need help to stabilise things, but there are other places we could go when the time is right. Other worlds out there where it won't matter that you were once a Jaffa."
"Daniel," O'Neill said. "Let's go home."