Trilogy 15: Jacked
Summary: It’s the Winter Solstice, and Jack’s birthday. He wanted to spend it at home, with his lovers, but this was the SGC, not some civilian outfit. Missions came first, and today, it was to investigate a strange Goa’uld planet.
Author Note: The Trinity Universe goes on the “Brief Candle” canon knowledge that Jack was 40 in 1997, thus born in ’57—and not ’52 as was later decided in season 7’s “Fragile Balance”.
There was an excitement running through the SGC that wouldn’t happen elsewhere: They were receiving new weapons. The SGC’s resupply of their armory was normally a common procedure. Ammo was restocked, damaged weapons were replaced. Typically, common duty for a military installation. Today, however, was the day that all M16A2s were being replaced with M4s, and most Berettas, the 57s that were normally paired with the P90 machine guns, were getting upgrades.
The biggest news was the addition of new weapons, all of alien origin. The primaries were zat’nik’a’tels and Staff weapons, and the latter would be assigned to each team, one per team. SG-1 would no longer have an edge on the other teams. While there’d been no official complaints made by the other teams, Hammond had finally been able to grant Jack’s request that all normal teams carry the same firepower. There were teams of special status, like the SG-3 Marines and the extended-personnel teams, SG units 23 through 28, classified as Infantry, who brought the heavier weapons of combat.
The secondary weapons were Intar-enhanced MP5s and M4s. While the SGC already had these weapons, they’d been for training purposes only. The new Intars had their safety mechanisms removed and the kill switch reactivated. They now had three power settings instead of two: Stun, knockout, and kill. The purpose of the Intar enhancements was to eliminate running out of ammunition. While each person would still carry extra magazines, their weapons would last a lot longer since they were now energy-based and not carbon-based. However, there was still a need for bulleted sidearms, and so every armed member of the SGC went offworld with an extra sidearm strapped to their legs.
As Hammond’s Second-in-Command, or 2IC, Jack O’Neill was in overall command of the armory, and today, he was especially glad of the duty. It was his birthday, December 20th. He was 53, and he hated the thought. Thankfully, it was also the Winter Solstice and Christmas time, two distractions that tended to overshadow his birthday. When Jack was young, he resented sharing his day with Christmas. As he got older, especially after 40, he was glad that his birthday was forgotten.
Except by Daniel and Jason. They always managed to make him feel overwhelmed with presents and special attentions.
Jack stood by the armory doors, waiting for the arrival of the two pallets that held the Intars, and allowed himself a brief smile. He wondered if they had something planned when they were dismissed at the end of the day. Jack looked at the row of staff weapons lined up next to M4s and P90s and felt smug. At least this birthday was being spent doing something he liked. Last year, he’d been stuck doing paperwork all day.
While he gazed at the staff weapons, certain memories surfaced. The first time he’d seen one, the first time he’d seen one activated, the first time he’d seen Daniel use a weapon—and strangely, he’d rarely used one since. How long ago had that been?
Quick mental adding hit Jack with depressing numbers: The mission to Abydos had been … seventeen years ago. Couple that with turning 53 today and he felt older than he was. It was an irrational reaction, since he was in excellent shape, didn’t need Viagra, and had been on a mostly-healthy diet for the last few years. Being 53 wasn’t that big a deal, apart from the inner prostate clock. It was the seventeen years. Seventeen. Years.
What? Where in the hell did the time go?
It was rather alarming, in that it didn’t feel like seventeen years. The best metaphor was his checking account. In a matter of three or four days, he would spend two-thirds of his deposit without even thinking. Lots of little stuff added up fast, especially if he’d gone to the supermarket.
Shaking his head, Jack shook off the pointless alarm. He could talk about it later with Jason and Daniel. They’d understand the weirdness of time.
“Last one,” Jason called out as he rounded the corner some thirty yards down the hall. Behind him, Sergeant Siler drove the pallet by remote. When he reached Jack, he detected a bit of moroseness, and a quick knot of his brows alerted Jack to his unasked question.
“Just idiot stuff,” Jack said, waving it off, a gesture that meant “leave it till later.”
Jason nodded absently, and both he and Jack stepped aside as Siler maneuvered the pallet to just off the left side of the armory doors. Down the hall, the second pallet was on its way, driven by the new Armory Chief, Master Sergeant Anna Miles. Behind her were the other seven members of the armory attachment, who’d be filling up the empty stocks with weapons checked off the arrival inventory.
The main armory used to be housed on Level 16, but as the SGC’s arms increased, they needed to arrange a main armory. Most of the overstocked arms on Level 16 were moved to the wide-entranced storage room at the south end of C-wing on Level 17.
Jack and Jason got out of the way, moving to the back of the Armory’s large lobby, or main receiving area. What had been a quiet room was now filled with chatter and soft-voiced orders by Siler and Miles. While Siler wasn’t the head of the Armory, he had been its fallback officer until the SGC filled the position with Anna Miles, who’d been in charge of the special armory at Area 51.
Against the back wall of the lobby was a table and chairs, manned by security during the night. There was no one there for now, however, and Jack and Jason sat against the edge of the table, arms crossed.
As the two men watched the armory work, Jack’s memories of the staff weapon returned. Many other memories joined them, all of them about Daniel.
“Seventeen years,” he murmured aloud. And on purpose. What the hell. He wanted Jason to quietly freak about it too.
“What?” Jason asked.
“It’s been seventeen years here,” Jack clarified, and was appeased by the frown that clouded Jason’s brow.
“Holy shit,” Jason said, brows wrinkling deeper.
“Twelve, not including the absent year. Been almost eleven for me.”
Jack nodded, then pointed his chin at the pallet of staff weapons. “Did I tell you about the first time Daniel shot a staff weapon?”
Jason frowned, staring at the pallet, then back at Jack. He didn’t know much about Abydos, other than what was in a report. He rarely brought up Abydos, not wanting to churn up bad memories for Daniel, yet he didn’t like not knowing all there was about him. “Actually, no.”
Jack examined Jason’s face, and nodded for a different reason. “I know. When it comes to Daniel, it’s annoying when I don’t know something you do.”
Jason felt oddly soothed. “I sometimes feel the same. So what about it?” he asked. “The first time?”
Jack took a breath. “I’ve been remembering stuff about Daniel, all those years ago,” he began. “He was so green. And on Abydos, even more so. Yet he was quick to mentally catalog all the info he could about where he was. He wasn’t a military strategic thinker by any means, but he was strategic in a non-military way. He’d somehow worked out how to use a staff weapon without ever handling one.”
“When he was given the staff weapon to kill you and your team?”
“Yeah.” Jack made a guilty face. “I admit, I expected him to fumble about with the controls and shoot the damn thing in the wrong direction, thus earning a shot in the back for his stupidity.”
“Ouch,” Jason winced.
“Yeah,” Jack grimaced. He paused, and awe smoothed his features. “Then suddenly, he worked the controls without looking at them, spun around, and shot at Ra.” Jack shook his head. “I have no idea what he was thinking at that moment, but he had balls.”
Jason nodded. “Something he’s shown repeatedly since then.”
“Oh yeah.” This time, Jack pointed his chin at the armory itself. “Back in our first year, we had those A2s, you know?” Jason nodded. “And he was green, Jesus, so green.” Jack shook his head. “On Klor’el’s ship, when he and Apophis were heading here to kill us all?”
“He had no idea what to do, how to move, how to stay the hell out of the line of fire.”
Jason tried to think of it, but he’d met Daniel near the end of Daniel’s second year as a member of SG-1. It wasn’t really possible to imagine Daniel as an innocent. “Doesn’t seem likely. To me, anyway.”
Jack cracked a crooked smile. “It’s different when you hang out with him and start knowing him. I didn’t really give myself the chance to do that. Twelve, eleven years ago, we didn’t really hang out that much. Took a while.”
Jason nodded, feeling a twinge of agitation, not wanting Jack to bring up any kind of defense for treating Daniel like shit a year later. He’d have to redirect the conversation. “Didn’t know shit, yet had the wherewithal to get into the sarcophagus to save his life. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking, given the limited time he had left on the C4 timers.”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know, either, frankly, because I never asked. I was just so goddamn glad he was alive. And later, after that sarcophagus addiction, I didn’t want to bring up bad memories.” Jack lowered his tone. “But I always wondered if he thought he’d rather die quickly in a ball of fire than get thrown around and possibly risk suffocation in space. Those sarcs are made of naquada, so any explosion as massive as a ship’s engine would blow the hell out of those things.”
Jason nodded. “Makes sense. If he was healed in time, he’d gate to the alpha site. If he wasn’t in time, he wouldn’t even know it. Just … boom.”
They were both quiet, not liking the thought of Daniel’s death. Jason thought about changing the subject, but Jack perversely refused to give up on his ride down memory lane.
“I think,” he said, speaking just above a whisper, “that that day was the day I’d fallen in love with him.”
Jason’s brows rose. “I could’ve sworn it was much later.”
Jack’s brows joined Jason’s. “When did you think it was?”
Jason put up a hand. “That you actively recognized, I mean.”
“Oh,” Jack replied, frowning now, mostly out of concentration. He stared at the floor, thinking about what Jason said, then nodded his head. “Maybe so. But I think that subconsciously, it was then.” A sudden memory flashed at him, and it was like getting popped between the brows. “No, wait,” he said, brows knitting fiercely. “It was … It was when I thought he was, when we thought he was … dead, on that visit to that planet, Oannes, with that fish man. What was his … Nem, that’s it.” Jack paused, giving Jason a searching look. “I was … pissed off. Trying to repress the hell out of how bad and angry I felt. I took it out on Hammond’s car, smashing one of the windows.” Jason looked surprised. Jack grinned. “With my hockey stick.”
Jason couldn’t remember when that was. Even though he hadn’t been at the SGC at that time, he’d read every mission report and sit-rep the moment he’d arrived from Seattle. “When did that happen?”
Jack winced. “The day after we got back. We had a wake at my house.”
“Oh wow,” Jason said with awe, closing his eyes and bowing his head. Just the idea was horrifying, and he could imagine how Jack felt, except Jack had reacted like a friend, not a lover. Somewhere in his psyche, he must’ve known that he’d loved Daniel far more than a simple friendship. Yet there was nothing simple about their friendship. “Wow. He really was declared …”
Jason grinned then, pushed out of the conversation for a moment to laugh at Jack’s constant use of “Yeah.”
Jason shook his head. “Nothing.”
Jack didn’t push. He’d learned a long time ago that when Jason said, “Nothing,” it really was nothing worth talking about. But a question he’d wanted to ask and had forgotten, now returned. “I’m in no way meaning to start an argument here, but when did you think I’d admitted to myself about my feelings for Daniel?”
Jason tightened the crossing of his arms while looking in the direction of one of the pallets. He chewed at his lip, running through a timeline in his head. “After you saw him and me at the Chinese restaurant having dinner.”
Jack frowned. “Really?”
Jason nodded. “To admit your feelings to yourself, perhaps it was back when he was KIA. But I was thinking more along the lines of when you recognized and accepted those feelings.”
“Ah,” Jack responded, shaking his head at himself. “Took a really nasty kick in the balls, metaphorically-speaking, to get me to stop acting like a Class A homophobe.”
“The closet knows all,” Jason said, jogging his brows, and was rewarded with a smile and short laugh from Jack.
They went silent again, watching the inventory while their minds reminisced. Then Jack broke the silence just as Jason was about to.
“It’s easier to imagine how I felt with 20-20 hindsight.” Jason only nodded, his gaze on the activity. Jack looked at him for a few long seconds. “You never had that problem, did you?” he asked finally. “Recognizing your love for him.”
Jason shook his head. “I’m gay. Admitting to myself that I was attracted to Daniel wasn’t difficult.”
Jack shook his head, a sarcastic grin on his lips. “No, I don’t think so. It’s still a big deal to recognize that you’re in love with someone and not just their friend.”
Jason wanted to shoot back immediately, but he forced himself to think about his words, and to give Jack’s idea some thought. He stared at the floor again, frowning in concentration. He then shook his head. “No, it was sort of the reverse, Jack. I saw him around for months before I ever talked to him, and that was right after that mission to Kheb, when he met Oma Desala.”
Jack looked at Jason with curiosity. “What caused the two of you to talk?”
Jason grinned. “Daniel. He wanted to know what I saw when that multiple-armed ball of light came toward the gate on Kheb.”
“Seriously?” Jack asked, puzzled.
“Seriously. He was very interested in a creature like that. Already forming theories in his head.”
Jack snorted. “I caught that.”
“Well, before he talked to me, all I did was watch.” Jason grinned, and in that seductive way Jack recognized. “He was hot.” Jack started laughing quietly. “Shaddup.” He smiled and waited for Jack to gather himself. “Anyway, I was already attracted to him when we became friends, and as the days and weeks and months went by, I fell in love with him.” Jason paused, thinking while chewing at his lip again. “I guess the moment I realized I was in love with him was … after we sort of rescued him from that Unas, Chaka.”
Jack blinked, thinking of that rescue mission. “What was so special about that day?”
“Daniel’s behavior,” Jason replied with a sigh. “He was wired, Jack. Really wired. He told and retold every moment of his abduction, and it was like he had no clue how scary that situation was for him. I mean, he knew, but he just didn’t …”
“It didn’t matter,” Jack finished for him.
“Exactly,” Jason nodded. “Despite the fear and bruises, he let his curiosity take control. In a situation like that, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to think about anything other than escaping as soon as possible. But what did that crazy idiot do? He acted like he was on a mission to observe the native wildlife.”
Jack nodded, remembering. “Crazy idiot is right. We ran into that huge cave opening and he’s suddenly telling us not to shoot. I wanted to hit him.”
Jason smiled. “I would’ve too. Tracking his ass all over the goddamn planet and finally coming in as the rescuers and what’s the shithead doing? His archaeologist’s ‘When in Rome’ scenario. Idiot.”
Jack grinned knowingly. “Been more than a dozen missions just like that, so it wasn’t a surprise.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Still grates every time.” Jason paused, then added, “He was so …” He gave Jack a meaningful look. “Despite what he was doing, he was so proud of you, listening to him.”
Jack frowned, and started to grow angry. “Did he think I wouldn’t?”
Jason grimaced and held up a placating hand. “Sorry, Jack, but for the longest time, standing orders regarding threatening creatures was to shoot first, question later.”
Jack’s anger faded to irritation. “It takes a while to see things Daniel’s way, and to tell you the truth, it’s still annoying.”
Jason grinned at him. “Love sucks sometimes.”
Jack snorted with distaste. “He’s gonna make the wrong call one of these days.”
Jason put a hand over his heart. “And I hope we’re there to make sure it doesn’t end in a FUBAR.”
Jack nodded, then suddenly looked about him, as if an inner alarm bell went off. “We’ve sat here too long. Let’s get downstairs and check in with the mission sit-rep.”
The two men left and got into the elevator, heading down to the Control Room on Level 27. They found Sam and Daniel there, sitting at the console, going over live video of the mission prep.
“So what’ve we got?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked up, and when he saw Jason as well as Jack, he smiled. “Hey. You guys done supervising the armory?”
Jack and Jason exchanged looks. “How does he do that?” Jason asked Jack.
“Logic maybe,” Jack replied, pretending to ignore Daniel.
Jason did too as he shook his head. “He’s weird.”
Jack grinned, then they both looked at Daniel, who was returning the favor by looking at the video while he dropped his hand below his seat and pointed a middle finger at them. He earned big grins. Sam bit her lip, ordering herself not to laugh out loud.
Jack and Jason met Daniel’s eyes briefly, then Jack gently pushed Sam’s shoulder. “What’s it look like?”
Sam hit a button and the video was displayed on the four monitors that hung from the ceiling over the console. “Take a look,” she said, gesturing.
On the screens, the MALP showed white sand around the gate area and DHD. Beyond was an ocean inlet, the water reflecting cobalt blue. The inlet curved and disappeared off to the left, while the ocean opened up on the right. Across the inlet, the ground sloped to a modest hill, atop which were old, apparently-abandoned buildings. A few were capped with pointed towers, reminding Jack of old church bell towers.
Sam panned the MALP’s camera to the right, showing ocean. After 90 degrees, the land appeared, showing white cliffs and boulders far beyond the stargate. Closer, sand dunes and coastal grasses, then the ground rose several feet, showing that the gate sat on a squared platform that sloped downward. Instead of stairs, there were ramps on three sides, and perhaps down the back of the gate. Continuing right, the camera showed vegetation and the curved end of the inlet before the MALP returned to its original position.
“Zoom in yet?” Jack asked.
“Just about to, sir,” Sam replied, hitting a few more keys and zooming in fifty percent.
One of the towers was missing a side, erosion showing brick and mortar. The buildings were the color of Earth adobe, the pale beige blurring some features requiring Sam to zoom in further. There didn’t seem to be anything remarkable, but they’d gated to worlds with less man-made and natural features.
“Everything typical?” Jack asked Sam.
“Standard air and gravity,” Sam replied.
Jack nodded. “Guess we’re up then,” he said, and turned about to head for the stairs up to the briefing room and Hammond’s office. Jason, Daniel, and Sam followed. When they got there, they found Teal’c sitting at the table, reading something on a computer tablet. “We’re good to go,” Jack told him.
“I advise caution, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied.
“Why’s that, Teal’c?” Hammond asked as he walked out of his office.
“What’s up?” Jack asked.
Teal’c stood. “I recognized the stargate address of this planet, but not why, so I looked it up in our Goa’uld database.”
“And?” Jack asked.
“I believe this photo is a picture of the inside of one of the buildings seen by the MALP camera.” He handed the tablet to Daniel as Jason’s teammates walked into the room from the corridor entrance, arriving for the scheduled mission prep meeting. Jason held up his index finger to get their attention.
“We may have an issue,” Jason told them, then looked at Teal’c to continue.
“Okay, this is weird,” Daniel said, giving the tablet to Jack.
On the tablet was a photograph of the interior of a building. The golden walls were covered in cartouche glyphs, similar to the inside of a Goa’uld pyramid ship. A platform at the far end was perhaps six feet high, with stairs on either end. On the platform were two throne chairs, and behind the chairs, anchored to the wall, sat an enormous black bust. It was perhaps one-third the width of the platform and nearly spanned the total height of the building. Perhaps there was a foot clearance at the ceiling and floor. The bust was easily seen from the position of the camera at the doorway of the building.
“Where’d you get this image, Teal’c?” Daniel asked.
“This is one of the images taken by the Tok’ra during one of their missions. It came with the latest data collection delivered by the Tok’ra.”
“They took this picture from the planet we’re getting ready to go to?”
“I believe so.”
“What’s the problem, Doctor Jackson?” Hammond asked.
“This is a statue of an Egyptian pharaoh, not a god.”
“Who is it?” Jack asked.
“Amenhotep the Fourth. He was a pharaoh in the 16th Dynasty, and the only pharaoh to demand that the Egyptian people worship only one god, Aten. For that reason, he renamed himself Akhenaten, and was the father of Tutankhamun.”
“The Tutankhamun?” Jack asked. “King Tut?”
“How in the world did this pharaoh from Earth end up in a Goa’uld temple?” Hammond asked.
“That’s the question, General,” Daniel replied. “I have no idea. We’ve never come across a Goa’uld who’s used a mortal Pharaoh’s name and face.”
Hammond nodded, then looked at Jack and Jason. “We have nothing confirmed at this time since the stargate is too far from the buildings seen in the distance.”
“So worth a look then,” Jack said, already nodding as Hammond nodded back.
“By the way, Group Captain Blackwell has been called back by his superiors, so he won’t be joining you.”
“Is something wrong?” Daniel asked.
“That’s not something they shared with me, Doctor.”
I’ve got a few phone calls to make, so good luck, people, and Godspeed.”
“Thank you, General,” came in stereo.
“Let’s get suited up,” Jack said, and the briefing room emptied.
On the way to the locker room, Jack ordered his mind, telling himself that his birthday was just another day and that whatever Daniel and Jason had in mind could wait until they got home. It was time to put on his mission leader hat and get down to business. With practiced ease, he was more than ready even before changing into their black combat fatigues.
. . . . .
Daniel and Jason waited for everyone else to exit the locker room first so they could talk. Taking their time, but not lagging behind, they kept their voices low.
“Now what?” Jason asked.
“Guess it depends on what the mission’s like,” Daniel replied with the barest wink in his eye.
Jason stared at him, then made an effort to pay attention to where he was walking. “What are you talking about?” he asked, keeping his eyes front and center.
With a dry expression, Daniel said, “We’re obviously gonna have to cancel the stripper.”
Jason guffawed, and when he received ignorant grins from others they passed, he grabbed Daniel’s shoulder and pushed him in front of him. “Asshole, you’re real funny.”
“Well, I had to get that look off your face.”
“Panic. Honestly Jason, do you think I’d act carelessly on a mission?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Don’t whine, it gives you wrinkles.”
Daniel fought off a giggle and failed. “Don’t do that.”
Jason grinned back, clearing his throat. “Okay, so what’re you thinking?”
“If it happens that we’re there longer than we intend, and we end up staying the night, then let’s just watch for an opportunity to double-team him.”
“It’ll be difficult these days, with my team knowing, your team knowing.”
“Not really. They can make allowances for special circumstances,” Daniel explained, then nudged Jason in the ribs. “Sam’s stashed a few of his presents in her pack.”
Jason’s waved that off. “No she didn’t!”
“No, she didn’t,” Daniel grinned. “They wouldn’t fit. Have you seen them under the tree?”
“It’d be funny, trying to fit those in a pack,” Jason laughed.
“So anyway, if we are stuck there overnight, we can always give him a more personal gift after dinner.”
Jason snorted. “Sex and MREs. He’ll be in heaven.”
Daniel sighed. “I know. We can stuff him with steak when we get home.”
Jason snorted again, and started to say something, but Daniel raised his hand to shush him. They had to get into the elevator anyway, and the looks Jason gave Daniel on the way down to the 28th level made Daniel hit him in the back the moment they escaped the car.
“What are you two on about?” Jack asked as they entered the gateroom.
Daniel and Jason exchanged scolding looks, and Daniel kept silent while Jason put on his fatigue cap, giving Jack a smirk. “We’re just playing with really bad puns.”
Jack growled. “Shame on you for leaving me out. This is already turning into a bad day. I need something to laugh about.”
“They were dirty,” Daniel said as he used a Chapstick on his lips.
“Okay, then,” Jack said loudly, turning away. The wormhole whooshed, spreading blue-white light over their faces. He adjusted and put on his winged sunglasses. “Let’s go, campers!”
Sam and Teal’c exchanged grins. It had been a very long time since Jack had used that particular expression.
“Campers?” Connor asked no one.
“Chill out, Sergeant,” Jason grinned as he pushed the man forward. “Or I may start doing that.”
“No need, sir,” Connor said, faking an innocent look. “I have a commander that says, ‘chill out’.”
“And I have a Sergeant Smart Ass.”
Alex snickered as he brought up the rear.
. . . .
As the gate shut down, Daniel passed his camcorder to Connor. “Want the duty?”
“Sure!” Connor said, starting it up.
“Christ, now you’ve done it,” Jason told Daniel.
Jack looked over, cracking a lopsided grin. “Hey, Spielberg, keep the commentary to a minimum.”
“Understood, sir,” Connor said, already filming.
The planet was a lot brighter and colorful than the MALP had shown. The sun was overhead, the sky was clear, and it was a nice, warm day with a slow breeze.
“I might retire here,” Jack murmured.
“I get the new house,” Daniel called out.
“Shit,” Jason said, pretending a grump.
“This place reminds me of Greece,” Sam said as she and Teal’c found a dirt road leading away from the gate.
Daniel could see why she thought that. From the stargate, the buildings looked beige, but up close, they were nearly sun-bleached white. Smaller buildings, homes maybe, were set in the hillside, closer to the water, while bigger structures were probably for the community. The towered edifices seemed to draw them in, and if it hadn’t been for Teal’c’s bit of show and tell, they may have taken their time getting around the inlet.
“We should have brought a raft,” Jack grumbled. The road they were on didn’t follow the inlet, and bleached weeds and grasses were thickest along the surfside. Crossing over them to keep to the beaches was probably a bad idea. “Hold up,” he ordered everyone and pulled out his field binoculars. At least the road they were on was higher than the beaches, so he stared at them, looking for easy passages. “Looks clear. What do you think, T?”
Teal’c had already pulled out his telescope. “It seems so. There’s a collection of boulders in one area, but it should be easy enough to skirt them since the surf seems to be going out.”
“Really?” Daniel asked, not bothering with his binoculars. He looked up in the sky. “They must have a moon.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.
“Okay, folks, let’s change direction,” Jack said, turning back. “Hopefully, there’s a trail to the beach.”
. . . . .
The sun-bleached sand matched the buildings across the inlet and was hard-packed, making for an easy walk. Ten minutes later, they were scanning for pathways up the slope to the main road leading into town. There were none; there were, however, grass-covered stairs built into the earth. They were lined up exactly with the stargate. Viewed from the steps, the gate was dark vertical line.
At the top of the slope was a mosaic road made of gate-colored stone tiles. Grasses grew thickly between the cracks, and Daniel squatted and dug at them with his knife. The rocks were so tightly together that his knife could only slip in straight down. To the hilt, Daniel moved his knife back and forth, hearing it scrape on stone. He tried it again in another crack and received the same result.
“They’re not surface tiles, they’re thick rock, maybe seven eight inches. It could be naquada, too.”
“Naquada?” Jack asked. “You sure?”
“No, but it’s got the same slate grey color as the stargate with the same kind of finish. The only other material we’ve come across that looks similar is quarry granite.”
“So it could be quarry granite,” Jack amended. “We’ll take one back with us to make sure.”
Daniel made an unenthusiastic laugh. “That’s a lot of digging, Jack. These stones are tight. We’d need a drill.”
Jack frowned. “Right. Never mind. We’ll leave that to a return team.” He paused, then grinned sardonically. “We could always C-4 it out of there.”
“Ha, ha, Jack,” Daniel shot back. “I don’t think you want to waste the C-4.”
“You’re right. Well folks, let’s follow the stargate road.”
. . . . .
The distance had been a bit of an illusion. The road wound like a snake, with several switchbacks, forcing the walker to walk twice as long as the crow would fly. When they saw the last leg of the road, where it flared at the top to wide open space, Sam sighed in relief.
“Too much for ya?” Jack teased.
“No way, sir. And I’m not relieved about it. It’s just that since getting here, walking along the beach, up this winding road, I can’t keep away the strong feeling that I’m at the resort island of Santorini.”
“Yeah!” Alex chimed back. “That’s exactly what I was thinking! If the buildings weren’t of a different design, I’d think someone in 500 B.C. had transported the island here.”
Jason looked at Daniel with mock-disgust. “Hear all that? You’re infecting these people, so I’m gonna have to shoot you.”
Jack chuckled aloud and Daniel muttered, “I’m nailing both of you to a tree before we leave.”
Both Jack and Jason stared at him with evil grins. “Promise?” Jack asked.
Daniel slowly nodded with a sparkle in his eyes. “Definitely.”
“Oh-kay,” Connor sang out, “enough with the sex puns or I’m risking a 115 and going home.”
Jason gave him a pitying look. “You in trouble at home again?”
“Shut up. Sir.”
Jason grinned with sympathy and squeezed Connor’s shoulder. “Do we stay here a while or hurry up home?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Connor sighed.
Al made a face. “Enough, boss. He’s in a rough patch.”
Jason’s expression sobered, but only slightly. “Okay, then it’s up to me to make you forget about it for a while, how’s that?” That earned him a smile from Connor and Jason smugly stopped teasing him.
To redirect the subject away from Connor’s troubles, Daniel looked over at Sam. “Speaking of Santorini, do you know what its classical name was?”
Sam partly frowned, thinking. “Thebes? No, that’s not it.”
“Thera,” Daniel replied.
“Seriously?!” Sam half-asked, back-slapping Daniel across the shoulder. “I managed to forget about that stupid place, Daniel.”
Daniel shrugged innocence. “Hey, just sayin’!”
“Is it really?” Jason asked him.
“It is, really,” Daniel insisted. He put a hand on Sam’s elbow. “Sorry Sam, but I find it just a bit too weird, too coincidental. First the Akhenaten thing, then the Greek comment, now the name. It’s all a bit weird.”
“It had better stay that way,” Jack said gruffly. “I’m in no mood to discover another goddamn Goa’uld kidnapping.”
“Ditto,” Sam replied.
Connor was filming with just a bit more attention now, and Alex kept pointing out features of particular interest, such as the outline of the buildings as they got closer.
Reaching the top of the hill where the road fanned out, the bleached buildings were displayed in sharper relief. There were no sharp edges or corners. Anywhere. And no window glass. A large hotel-like building with a second level and open hallway spread out to their left. To their right, another one. Between them were narrow structures and on each side of them, like a narrow Y-shape, were two more “street” roads.
The buildings seemed to look like shops, except from where the teams walked, it appeared as if all the buildings were vacant. Or more precisely, never lived in at all. Before the Y-branched road, the teams stood in what could have been a large intersection or small center of town, but the widest road went to the right alongside the hotel there, which Jack dubbed Hotel East. The teams moved in that direction, heading toward the towered building they could see beyond the hotel.
The buildings on the left were, again, like small shops or apartment homes. Two-storied, and empty on the ground level.
“This is crazy,” Daniel said, the hairs on the back of his arms and neck standing up.
“You’re not getting any alarm bells though?” Jack asked him, then shot a queried eyebrow at Jason. “Anything?”
Both Daniel and Jason shook their heads. “It’s fucking creepy is what it is,” Jason added. “I’m not getting a danger signal, but I’m also not getting a peaceful feeling. Something is definitely off.”
“Yeah,” Jack nodded. “I’m getting what Captain Kirk called ‘a red alert, right here’,” and he touched the back of his neck. “Not going away, either. It’s getting a lot more intense.”
“The closer we get to that church or temple,” Daniel said, and he narrowed his eyes, unfocusing as he carefully opened the empathic sense, he’d been given by an alien ally.
“And?” Jack asked. He recognized Daniel’s expressive body language.
Daniel made a face and focused ahead of him. “That temple or whatever it is. Something is there, but I can’t tell what it is. I’m not getting an emotional feeling. I’m just getting a kind of ‘beware’.”
Jack sighed and flicked a button on his P90. “Weapons ready, people.” There came a soft echo of clicks, and all weapons were placed on auto. Jack looked at Jason as he came up alongside as they continued walking. “You getting anything?”
“Nope. Not getting any danger warnings at all, and I wish I was.”
“What are you getting?”
Jason closed his eyes as they walked, opening his mind to anything that called to him. He shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, frowning. “I should be getting something because Daniel’s getting something. But there’s just silence.”
Jack ground his teeth. “What good is that super sense if it doesn’t work from a distance?”
“Exactly what pisses me off about it,” Jason replied. He looked over his shoulder at his teammates, then specifically at Alex. “You bring your taser?” Alex grinned, and when Jack looked over his shoulder with raised brows, he shrugged.
“What? I think they’re necessary, but they’re not standard issue yet.”
Jack’s brows went higher, and he looked between Alex and Jason. “I haven’t been briefed on those. Are they really being considered?”
Jason nodded. “Alex is friends with the guy running S4. He told Alex that there’s a review on having tasers issued with weapons, but no one knows about it yet because they didn’t want people getting their hopes up.”
Jack snorted. “Probably a good reason not to issue them in the first goddamn. Last thing we need is people who think they’re fucking toys.”
Jason grinned. “Exactly what I said to Colonel Ryan, the S4.”
Jack growled. “Where the fuck was this news during the last department meeting?”
“It’s only just come up,” Alex said. “Day before yesterday.”
“Peachy,” Jack replied. He nodded at Alex’s gear. “It’s at the ready?”
“Good man.” He returned his attention to their destination, now about thirty yards away.
The front of the temple faced the road. Two steps spanned the width of the building, and led to a wide porch deck and double-doors standing wide open. A second level was smaller, with a narrowing roof ending at the base of the squared tower that capped it. Like the other buildings, the sectional roofs of the temple were made of dark grey tiles, with half-moon gutters attached for runoff.
As the teams closed in, they stopped at five yards distant. Jack absently double-checked his pack, feeling for the additional magazines. He looked at Teal’c, observing his expression, and found nothing new. “You’re not sensing anything? Goa’uld?” Jack’s eyes flicked to Sam and back to Teal’c. “Nothing?”
Both Sam and Teal’c shook their heads. “Nothing, sir,” she said.
“Agreed,” Teal’c added. “However, that would simply mean that if there were any Goa’uld here, they would not have the naquada-enhanced blood, like the symbiotes found on P3X-888, home of the Unas.”
“Right,” Jack said, returning his gaze to the building. Even with their sunglasses, the brightness of the sun didn’t allow them to see into the building. “Let’s go,” he said, pointing to either side of the doors.
SG-1 went right, SG-2 went left, each team flanking the doors. From Jack’s vantage point as the lead on the right, he adjusted his sunglasses and chose to enter the building first. Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel followed, and two seconds after, Jason led his team inside. They spread side by side, with Jack moving to the far wall. There was no furniture barring their movement, and once they were all inside, it appeared that SG-1 and 2 were the only people in the building.
In front of them, stationed left of the main doors, were rows of black marble-like benches with a wide aisle between them. A quick tally was made, and the benches numbered eight deep. At the far end, as the picture Teal’c had shown them revealed, there was a podium platform, and at the back, a black bust of an ancient Egyptian resembling Akhenaten.
Jack silently pointed Jason to their left, and Jason headed to the left side of the benches. Along the walls on either side of the benches were single shelves displaying smaller busts, created with the same black material as that of Akhenaten. Daniel followed Jack up the right side of the benches, and he scrutinized the features of each bust. He shook his head at Jack, signaling that he didn’t recognize them. Teal’c also shook his head, unable to identify the statues.
Jason gestured to Al and Connor and the two men walked between the benches to proceed up the aisle. Teal’c and Sam did the same, and keeping their attention on their teammates, everyone reached the platform together. Teal’c and Sam spread out in front of the first bench on the right, Al and Connor spread out on the left. Jason and Alex stepped carefully onto the platform at the same time as Jack and Daniel. No one moved, testing the platform for any signal of the weight placed upon it.
Still nothing. However, caution was still paramount as they spread out over the platform a few steps at a time. Daniel stood near the center, and after a quick look at Akhenaten, he looked up. The ceiling was a cathedral, open to reveal a bell tower. Steps spiraled around the walls, keeping the view of the bell clear. The bell looked odd, however, and Daniel frowned as he turned on his weapon’s flashlight to illuminate the object.
“What?” Jack whispered, and he walked over, his gaze now trained on the bell.
“It’s a copy,” Daniel whispered back. “It’s not real. The bell isn’t hollow and there’s no clapper.”
“Okay, what the fuck is going on here?” Jack scowled, no longer whispering.
At the sound of his voice, the speaker’s podium—a simple, empty lectern—drew their immediate attention. The surface of the lectern displayed a two-inch, round red light that began blinking. Everyone’s weapons were trained on it while attention was given to every millimeter of the interior.
“Okay, that’s something,” Jack said, waiting for next thing to happen. The red ‘button’ light stopped blinking, remained red for two seconds, then turned green. There was a soft high-pitched beep, then the floor beneath their feet began to illuminate. Jack and the others quickly jumped off, and watched while two rows of yellow dashed lines moved from the lectern, heading toward the Akhenaten bust, then curved around to the side walls and ended. The sequence repeated over and over for ten more seconds, then the lights turned green and stopped. After ten more seconds, the lights turned white, and the floor of the platform separated at the center, between the two rows of lights. From front edge to back edge, they opened side to side.
“Hello,” Jack said, weapon trained on the area revealed by the opening floor.
When the opening reached two feet on either side, it stopped moving. Revealed in the four foot-wide entrance was a set of stairs leading down into the dark.
“Heh,” Jack harrumphed. “Teal’c, get one of those video balls out.”
“A Goa’uld Visual Communica—“
“Yes, that,” Jack interrupted, with a grin for softening. “Sorry, Teal’c. Brevity is the soul of wit, as they say.”
“Brevity usually includes humor, O’Neill,” Teal’c retorted, with just the barest twitch of his mouth.
“I’m saving it for later,” Jack replied.
“Data recorder,” Daniel put in, preferring his own name for the sphere, and earned a silent smirk from both men.
Teal’c started to get one of the communication devices out of his pack but Sam stopped him and reached in for him. He smiled at her as she handed him the grey metallic sphere. He walked carefully onto the platform and walked to the edge. Crouching, he turned on the sphere, then set the ball rolling down the stairs.
Sam held out the small receiver, a seven-inch tablet, and the screen showed nothing but wobbling shadows for several “thumps” as the sphere made its way down the stairs. The group watched as shapes formed, first as blurry pixels, then clarifying into identifiable objects. Over the center of the screen, three bright green dots appeared as a moving line while the sphere’s information gathered. After five seconds, the analysis was complete and flashed onto the screen:
“Well … shit,” Jack sighed.
The screen highlighted each object and its placement in the room. The sarcophagus sat centered but to the right of the stairs. Most objects sat flush with the walls, but the 3 crates listed were stacked.
Jack walked around everyone to stand in front of the lectern, but remained on the main floor. “Comments? I’m inclined to leave this planet right now. I’m in no mood to open a sarcophagus.” Daniel started to say something, but Jack held up a finger. “It’s occupied, Daniel. If it weren’t, there’d be no discussion. We’d go home, and Hammond would send other teams in to confiscate the sarcophagus and anything else down there.”
“What if the data recorder is wrong?” Daniel asked Teal’c. “It doesn’t always know, does it?”
Teal’c thought about it, then nodded once. “The spheres have been known to inaccurately detect the contents of a sarcophagus.”
“Thanks, Teal’c,” Jack groused.
Teal’c took a page from his friends’ playbook. “I am just saying, O’Neill.”
Daniel coughed and Alex let out a chuckle, earning a soft shove from Jason.
“Alright, alright.” Jack eyed the tablet screen, then made a face. “Shit. Might as well go down. Jason, you, and your team stay up here. Carter, you too. Teal’c and I will go down.”
No one argued and Jack and Teal’c stepped onto the platform and walked around to the back where the entrance was positioned. “Check comm units,” Jack said, tapping his earpiece.
Everyone made sure theirs was on. “I want continual broadcasts, Jack,” Daniel demanded, though in a questioning tone.
“Calm down, Daniel.”
“In another life,” Daniel growled back.
Jack gave him a two-fingered salute and descended the stairs with Teal’c behind him.
Daniel looked at Sam. “Got any ideas why this stuff activated when Jack spoke? Was it his tone or speaking English or …?”
“I have no idea. I’d have to examine the device that controls it.”
“Right,” Daniel said, his eyes on the tablet screen. Jack and Teal’c were shown entering the underground room. “Jack, hello? Commentary please.”
“Are we on the reader?”
“Yeah, you’re coming in clearly, if in low light.”
“So far, recorded info is accurate.”
At the lower left of the tablet screen, the orb recorded Jack and Teal’c, displaying their measurements, body temps, and race. Jack’s temp read 98.8F.
“Yep,” Daniel said with a smirk. “You’re registering onscreen, too. Your temperature’s up, Jack. You got a fever or something I don’t know about?”
“I think you took that this morning, didn’t you?”
Connor snickered and Jason cuffed him playfully.
“Wise ass,” Daniel muttered.
“Your ass isn’t registering as wise, Jack,” Jason said. “The readings are off.”
“Take it on the road, Jason.”
Soft titters filled the room as levity lightened the mood.
Underground, Jack turned on his weapon’s flashlight and Teal’c withdrew his own from a vest pocket. They looked around the room, checking the position of the objects and looking for any the orb missed.
“So far so good,” Jack relayed.
Teal’c didn’t move as he looked around, scanning with his senses magnified, as Bra’tac taught him all those years ago. When he moved, he went for the sarcophagus, examining the glyphs and symbols.
“Daniel Jackson,” he said.
“What is it, Teal’c?”
“There are Egyptian hieroglyphs on this sarcophagus. I know many languages, but I admit that this is one I have not mastered.”
There was a silent moment, then Daniel said, “Jack?”
“In a minute or two, Daniel. Soon as we’re secured.”
Teal’c and Jack surveyed the room and found nothing out of the ordinary. The source of the ambient light was two recessed squares one foot square, with a lighting panel. It wasn’t possible to see behind the panel without destroying the squares. That wasn’t something Jack was willing to do. He wasn’t a man who destroyed ancient tech just to see how it worked.
“Okay, Daniel, come on down.”
Daniel made his way down, aiming his weapon’s light on the stairs so he wouldn’t trip. At the bottom, he walked over to Teal’c and Jack and squatted down where Teal’c pointed, on the right side of the sarcophagus, at the foot and halfway down. Daniel removed his flashlight and handed Jack his weapon, then he took out a notepad and quickly wrote down the glyphs. There were a few he didn’t recognize.
“What’s up?” Jack asked.
Daniel continued copying down the glyphs. “I can’t translate this completely. There are glyph sets I don’t recognize. I’m gonna need to get back to the SGC in order to go through my notes.”
“What can you read?”
Daniel nodded, and crab-walked around to the foot of the device. “Let me get the rest of this down, then I’ll give you the gist, okay?”
“Okay,” Jack answered, absently nodding as he looked around at the ceiling. “We’ll explore some more. Not much here.”
On the walls, which displayed the typical gold cartouche “wallpaper,” made of naquada, Teal’c noticed the snake symbol that normally activated a door on a Goa’uld ship or pyramid building.
“O’Neill,” he said, and pointed his flashlight.
“Whoa,” Jack said, stepping over.
“What?” Daniel said, standing up and walking around the sarcophagus to check for more writing.
“What?” Jason asked from upstairs.
“There’s a door switch on the back wall,” Jack answered.
There was silence, while everyone waited for Jack’s decision. Teal’c and Jack exchanged looks.
“What do you think?” Jack asked him.
“It is like your wall safes on Earth,” Teal’c said.
“Could it be anything else?”
“I do not know, O’Neill.”
“Have you ever known a Goa’uld to put a room extension in a storage room like this?”
“So how sure are you that this is only a safe?”
Teal’c hesitated. “Ninety-nine percent.”
Jack chewed at his lip as he looked at the wall. “Daniel, you done yet?” he asked without looking over at him.
“Just … one … more …” Daniel said, copying quickly. “Okay,” he said, standing up. “I have everything,” he finished, walking over. He frowned, staring at the snake ‘knob.’ “Wait,” he said, reaching forward to touch the wall beside the switch.
Jack grabbed his wrist. “Have you lost your mind?” he asked. “Explain the ‘wait’ first.”
“It’s, um,” Daniel began, pulling his hand back. “The wall,” he said, looking over the surface, shining his light as he did. He walked to the right, frown deepening. “This isn’t the typical wall designs we’ve seen with the Goa’uld, which usually translate as nonsense because they’re just decoration. But this … “ He looked at his notepad. “It’s the same story and message, repeated over and over.”
“Okay, upstairs,” Jack said, turning around and heading up the stairs. Daniel and Teal’c followed and once they were on the platform, Jack gestured at Daniel. “Give me the gist.”
Daniel sighed and stared at his notebook. “Okay, first, the vignettes, or illustration, on the sarcophagus depict Akhenaten’s journey into the Afterlife. Within this journey is a repeated message, like a mantra.” Daniel then slowly read what he’d copied. “’Akhenaten, the usurper, father of … something. Trial, or judgment, it’s a little iffy there, celebrates divine rebirth. Blessed are his children,’ and I’m assuming the children are named but I don’t know because the individual cartouches are unfamiliar.”
“You can’t guess?” Jack asked.
“Well, no. I need a reference and I don’t know if I have one back in my office. I could guess, but that’s all it would be. The reason I can’t read some of this is probably due to alien influences. Ancient Egyptian languages had foreign influences over the millennia, like Greek and Latin. The cartouches here seem to predate the New Kingdom, but—“
“Okay, okay,” Jack interrupted, and when Daniel frowned at him, he made a face that intimated apology. “What else have you got? I sense there’s more about what it says?”
“Yeah,” Daniel drawled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Vignettes depict Thoth, Osiris, and Nephthys.” He looked up from his notepad and gave Jack a serious look. “Nephthys is the sister of Isis and Osiris, and the mother of Anubis.”
“Wonderful guy,” Jack said dryly.
“She’s called the Lady of the Wing. In the vignettes, she prepares Akhenaten for judgment against the feather of Ma’at. Anubis should be front and center with the funerary cartouche, but he’s not. His mother is in his place, along with Thoth and Osiris. It’s like whoever drew the vignettes did it by making a bad Cliff Notes version of ancient Egyptian.”
“Think Anubis was left off because he was a rogue Goa’uld?” Alex asked.
His question caused silence and got everyone thinking. After a minute, Daniel shrugged. “That’s a good assumption, Alex,” and he gave him an appreciative smile. “The answer is, I have no idea. There are way too many discrepancies here, elements that don’t relate that are thrust together, so I have no idea what the cartouches mean as a whole.”
“It’s Egyptian as a whole, though, right?” Alex asked.
Daniel frowned, his gaze trained on the underground stairway. “As a whole?” he said, looking up as he gestured underground, then at the building they were in. “We’ve got a Greek-Egyptian-Goa’uld mix. It makes no sense. The Goa’uld stole ancient Egyptian people and used them as hosts more than 10,000 years ago.” He pointed at Akhenaten’s raised statue. “That guy is 3,300 years old, give or take a decade.”
“You sure?” Jack asked.
Daniel raised his brows. “Certain. His life and death are preserved in Amarna, his capitol, near the Valley of the Kings, and—“
Jack cut him off again. “Got it.”
“Anyway,” Daniel began, rolling his eyes before looking at Alex. “Akhenaten is the guy at the center of all this,” and Daniel waved his hand at the air. “What’s possible,” he went on, “is Akhenaten could’ve been an alien and introduced his DNA into the human gene pool of northern Africa. The sarcophagus mentions his children, which may have moved to this planet.”
“Anything else?” Jack asked.
“I believe so,” Teal’c said. “Daniel Jackson, did not the illustrations of the journey through the underworld exist after the Pyramid Texts?”
Daniel nodded in pleased surprise. “They did.”
“What’re the Pyramid Texts?” Sam asked.
“They’re the plain hieroglyphic writing form found on walls, like the one downstairs. They depict only the journey through the afterlife and were inscribed on sarcophagi long before the New Kingdom, which is when Akhenaten lived. He’s got the illustrations on his sarcophagus, but on the walls, it’s basic Pyramid Text.”
“You lost me,” Jason said.
“The Pyramid Texts were the precursor to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or in its literal translation, Book of Coming Forth By Day.”
“Seriously?” Jack asked.
Daniel grinned at him sarcastically. “Now you know how much editing I do when I’m translating.”
Jack smirked back. “Right.” He looked around, tapping a finger against his P90. “Give me a few seconds, people,” he said.
He twisted his lips as he thought, mulling over what he would decide. Either they leave now and report their findings, or they take the risk and open the sarcophagus and the hidden safe. He could easily assume what Hammond might say, and the General would ask for Jack’s opinion, then Daniel’s and Teal’c’s. Then he’d open the mission debrief to the rest of the team members.
Mulling over, Jack decided on a compromise. They’d go back to the gate and call up the SGC for orders. “Okay, folks. Let’s go call home and see what we’re supposed to do here.”
On the way back to the stargate, Daniel gave them the history of Akhenaten’s rule, in case someone else could see something he missed. He also made a point of listing important names and figures in Akhenaten’s family tree, should they come face to face with a living impersonation.
In the end, however, any chance of that was put on hold as the teams were called home.
. . . .
In the briefing room, Jack and the others reported on the strange incongruities of the familiar items they’d encountered after exiting the stargate.
“Were there any of the usual trappings found in an Egyptian tomb?” Hammond asked Daniel, referring to the finds underground.
“Not openly, sir. As Jack said, we didn’t open anything to take a look.”
“Sorry, General,” Jack began. “Every single time we’ve opened something like that in the past,” Jack explained, “a shit storm commenced.” Hammond gave him a reproving look. “Sorry, sir. I would have okayed the opening of those crates or the panel in the wall, but since we didn’t have a quick way back to the gate, I wasn’t going to risk it unnecessarily.”
“I’d like to know what’s in those crates,” Hammond said.
“Then may I request a couple of SEAL rafts, sir?” Jason asked. “If we end up regretting our curiosity, I’d like a way to get our butts out of there.”
Hammond nodded. “I was going to suggest it, Colonel. They’ll be here when the mission continues.” He looked around the table thoughtfully, then gave Jack a tiny smile. “Happy Birthday, Jack.”
Jack grinned back. “Thank you, sir.”
Hammond stood and briefly grasped Jack’s shoulder. “In any case, I’d have called you back from the mission.” He gestured at a wall calendar to his right. “I must confess that I’ve adopted a case of mental foggery. Christmas has snuck up on me.” He paused, grinning at sympathetic smiles. “As of today, I’ve put the base on stand-down until the day after New Year’s. We don’t have anything pressing, and thankfully, no trouble offworld. Report back here at 0800 on the 2nd, and have a good holiday. Dismissed.”
The general received a return well-wishing in stereo, as the teams left the briefing room, Daniel and Jason held back again, this time with Sam. Daniel looked at his watch. It was 3 p.m. “We don’t have much time.”
“I hate having to hurry things along,” Sam said.
“Don’t worry. We’ll go much slower later,” Jason teased as he winked at Sam.
“Oh no,” she replied, dramatically putting her hands over her eyes. “No! No! Don’t need that image in my head! Ackkk!! ” She walked off quickly, hurrying to join Jack and the others waiting for the elevator, and she called out behind her, “We’ll drop of the presents and split!”
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,“ Daniel said, smirking at Jason.
“Maybe she just needs to get laid,” Jason replied, amused at the face Daniel made. He then lowered his voice to a whisper to discuss the evening’s details.
At home off base, there’d been a big change in the months since they’d returned from the Mayan planet: They’d moved to a new home for the three of them. About ten minutes south of the mountain base, Jack, Jason, and Daniel had combined their savings for a large down payment on a timber-framed log cabin ranch house. The cost had been enormous, but the money was secondary to the risk they’d decided to take in moving in together.
It wasn’t a matter of regulations, though living together while Jack was Daniel’s commanding officer was frowned upon. Daniel was a civilian, however, and it minimized the risk to Jack, yet it was still technically against regulations to fraternize within the chain of command. If anyone decided to make trouble for them, they could. Still, Jack had too much clout for that to succeed. Their risks were more along the lines of gossip getting out of hand.
The biggest risk, however, taking the huge step in their eleven-year relationship. They didn’t entertain the possibility of splitting up; that wouldn’t ever happen. What could happen, however, was getting killed. It was a hazard accepted by all military personnel, but the teams going through the stargate tripled their chances of not coming home alive. While that had always been a risk, living together or not, they now had a bit more to lose, separately.
As a failsafe, Jack, Daniel, and Jason had rewritten their life insurance and wills to include the new home and its disposition to prevent their estates from hanging. It was a pretty grim assignment, filling out wills just before the silly season, but they’d long ago accepted reality. The paperwork was simply that: an act of preparedness and nothing more.
Daniel turned off the highway and toward home. He felt odd. It was Jack’s birthday, the Winter Solstice, and close to Christmas. While Daniel didn’t worship a god as others did, didn’t belong to any religion, he still felt a bit more of the “Christmas spirit” this time of year. Yet his only excitement was focused on Jack’s day. The gift-giving day would be a few days off yet and he’d get excited for that later.
Right now, he wanted to spoil Jack. To watch his face as he opened presents, as he received the sensual gifts, he and Jason planned to shower him with.
. . . . .
Jason drove around in the immensely wide turn-around driveway and parked far to the left of the front steps, leaving room for Daniel’s Jeep. Jack’s truck was parked on the far right, having made sure there was room for others—not for his lovers, but for the mail and package trucks. Jason hoped he was leaving enough room, but if not, it was no big deal to move the truck.
He grabbed the large plastic bags out of the twin cab and bed of the truck, and hands full, turned to head for the steps. He paused, taking a look at the enormous house. It was so … beautiful. Ginormous and colorful and … new. The house itself was a few years old, but for Jason, it was new and exciting and just a bit frightening—there was now a mostly-empty savings account. The house was worth every goddamn penny too. And it wasn’t just the house itself. It was the “yard.” Or yards. The property. Behind the house were a few acres of backyard, made of a down-rolling slope separated by a small creek, then large stream further past.
Colors of green and handsome cedar brown filled Jason’s vision. A wicked smile tugged at one corner of his mouth as he thought of the many places they’d have to “christen.” They’d need a lot more sheepskin rugs in order to cover every surface with sweaty hands and rear-ends. In any other house, the sheepskin might look too retro or tacky, but here in this western house, it fit in. Besides, area rugs would be the thing here; the house wasn’t carpeted. It’d be a sin to carpet such fine wood flooring.
Looking at the front steps that led to a wide wrap-around deck, he sighed contentedly, letting his gaze slide over the features of his new home like a new lover’s caress. The double front doors were framed by narrow windows, and overhead, an arched window with etched orchids in the glass. To the left and right, reaching almost to the ends of the house, were plates of glass, four feet wide sections that reached fifteen feet at the top and were edged with black resin. Overhead, the second floor wall was also made of plates of glass, set into cut timber. The timbers of the home were tightly fit together and handcrafted, sealed with a protectant that left no shine.
The doorknobs were push-down handles made of old, dulled nickel-on-copper, carved into an elongated S-shape with fleur-de-lis tails. The keyholes on the etched plates were decorative. The house’s security was computerized. Two feet above the door handles was a copper plate that slid to the right, revealing the keypad. The security code for the home could be entered manually or by remote.
Jason looked down at his keys, to a black plastic rectangle attached to the keychain. On one end, an inset readout declared a red-lit UNLOCKED status. He nodded to himself and used an elbow to open both doors and pushed them wide with a booted foot.
The front doors opened to a large living room, made immense by the cathedral ceiling. Looking up, the second floor hallway was open, overlooking the living room. Directly beyond was a loft that they weren’t sure what to use for yet. Two additional bedrooms disappeared into a walled hallway. To the right, also out of sight, was a long room whose windows overlooked a garden and stone firepit. Jack, Jason, and Daniel hadn’t decided what to use that room for, but it might be an office.
Back at the loft, there were wooden stairs with a carved hand rail that emptied like a fantail to the living room floor. At the far left sat the tall stone fireplace, and custom fit into the stone was a large big-screen television. Three suede plush sofas horseshoed the fireplace, opening to the TV. End tables bookended two of the sofas, with two coffee tables made of long, flattened redwood tree stumps, overlaid with glass etched with swirling flowers.
Beyond the living room, the open floor plan led to the dining room on the right, with the large kitchen beyond. Jason set his bags down on the old oak dining table, and walked into the kitchen. Overhead hung pots and pans. To the left, the kitchen ended with a slightly curved L-shaped breakfast bar. In the center, the granite topped island held a second sink and grills on the right, as Jason viewed it from the living room. On the left, the island’s top was clear for cut and prep work.
To the left of the breakfast bar, which the men mostly used in the mornings, were large glass doors that opened to the back patio that connected as part of the wrap-around deck. The patio held a built-in grill and wooden furniture and was large enough to fit all of their vehicles. Framed by a thick wooden rail, the patio opened down a short set of wide stairs that led to another patio area and a small wooden and granite bridge.
The bridge spanned a narrow creek that wound like a snake for several yards before opening into a wide stream that emptied into a long, lake-like pond. Reeds and cat tails rimmed the pond at the far end. The near end held a thirty-foot deck and small launch for a boat: the pond itself was home to small frogs, salamanders, the occasional gecko, and visiting herons, hawks, and eagles.
Back in the house, Jason stopped at a large bearing column between dining room and kitchen, and at eye level on the column’s surface, facing parallel to the kitchen, was a black, rectangular control panel that commanded the house’s automatic settings for power and appliances, as well as for an online music system. Jason turned on Pandora, then began to put away the groceries carried in some of the bags. As he hummed to a song, he also listened for sounds of Jack, who hadn’t been in the living room—where Jason had expected him: decorating in the living room.
Their tall Christmas tree sat between the right-most window panel and the fireplace, and was mostly decorated with leftover boxes of tissue paper-covered ornaments scattered on the floor and sofa end. The fireplace mantle was trimmed with fake holly and berries, and hanging from the trim were three red stockings, unnamed. Jason had made them, but hadn’t gotten to the names as yet. It was something he could get done tomorrow. Today, it was Jack’s day.
He finished putting away the groceries, though some were left out for Jack’s dinner. Jason set the beef tenderloin packages on the island, and took down a pan for boiling potatoes. He filled it with water and set it on one of the gas-heated elements that fringed the grill. Grabbing a peeler from one of the custom wooden drawers that made up the cabinetry along the back kitchen wall, he went to the wide sink and turned on the bronze faucet handle, and water sprayed like a shower into the sink from the tall, curved, pull-down spout.
As he went to work on the potatoes, he smiled to himself at the odd image an onlooker might see. Here he was, doing something so domestic and simple, yet hours before, he’d been returning home from another planet through an alien stone circle. He’d been doing this sort of thing for fourteen years now.
His life was weird.
Chuckling silently to himself, he thought of the things he and Daniel had decided on, and the only thing left unplanned, and always would be, was exactly where they’d have sex. The three men never planned that sort of thing. It was always a simple matter of where you were and what you wanted to do. Whether regular old sex or getting kinky. Jason pictured all the places in their new house where Jack might tie him up, and the back of his neck goose bumped with excitement.
Clearing his throat, he shook away the image so he wouldn’t accidentally scrape a knuckle while peeling a potato. The last goddamn thing he needed was a bandaged knuckle. He had better things planned with his hands.
Concentrating on his job, he softly sang to the music, moving his body to the rhythm. There came a gentle creak through the music, and he was alerted to the presence of someone coming up behind. He turned his head slightly, and instantly recognized Jack’s outline from his peripheral vision.
“Goddammit,” Jack complained as he wrapped his arms around Jason’s waist, digging his fingers into the waistband of Jason’s jeans and hugging him from behind. “That creak needs to be fixed ASAP.”
Jason chuckled aloud, making it almost a giggle, and wiggled his ass against Jack’s khaki-clad groin. “It’s a little thing,” he said, continuing his work. “There are so many other silent places in this house.”
Jack grinned, pressing his lips against Jason’s neck. “Even in our Olympic-sized bathroom.”
Jason snorted. “Which one? The main one for the house or our bedroom?”
“Either will do,” Jack said, squeezing his lover. He ran his right hand down Jason’s side. “What have you and Daniel planned for me?” he asked, raking his fingers over a denim-clad thigh.
“That torture won’t work, you know,” Jason grinned, biting at his bottom lip.
“Really?” Jack asked, being persistent.
“Really,” Jason said, growling afterward to push away the lightning Jack was generating inside him. “Stop it,” he breathed, then playfully pushed against Jack, separating them. He looked over his shoulder, catching Jack’s teasing gaze. “Don’t make me punish you.”
Jack smiled broadly at him, slapped his ass cheek hard, then walked away, leaving the kitchen.
“Bastard,” Jason grumbled.
“Heard that,” came Jack’s fading response.
“Don’t care,” Jason sing-songed loudly. The beginning notes of a very familiar song began, and Jason dried one hand with a paper towel as he headed to the controls to turn the music up.
“Where’s the Christmas music?” Jack called out from somewhere.
Jason ignored him as he began singing to the song, a special one he’d dedicated to first Daniel, then Jack years later. As he sang, he expected Jack to interrupt, but was glad when he didn’t. Jason let his vocals out, actually singing with the song instead of softly following. Peeling the potato became absent-minded as he concentrated only on the lyrics that held deep feeling.
“You in the moonlight, with your sleepy eyes, could you ever love a man like me …”
Jason remembered the day he’d sung this song in front of Daniel. To Daniel. It hadn’t been planned, certainly. He’d simply started singing along to the song and the words had simply been well-timed. He’d hugged Daniel from behind, singing against his neck, below his ear. It had been the day after their first time and Jason supposed he’d been trying to seduce Daniel into staying his lover. He’d been so unsure, yet determined. He’d loved Daniel for so long, and despite some pits and falls in his own insecurities, he’d won him. Thankfully, Daniel wasn’t someone who took relationships lightly, and despite his … sexual alliances … like Adriann … Daniel was only comfortable with them because Jason and Jack were comfortable with them.
Jason wondered why he hadn’t been, and still wasn’t, jealous. Most every other man in the world would have issues. But even Jack didn’t have a problem. Jason decided that the answer was simple security. He and Jack had Daniel’s heart, and it would stay that way forever. They never had to worry about losing his love.
As Jason sang, his thoughts of first times turned to Jack. While Jack was obviously a dominant male out of the bedroom, Jason had been thrilled to find out that he was that way in bed as well. There’d been a silent decision between the both of them, and Jason figured he’d been the factor there. He’d be exclusively, most of the time, the bottom, and with that decision came Jason’s decision to show Jack his bondage side: He loved having Jack dominate him in bed, to hold him down, to pretend to be his master—though Jason hated that word, he loved the action Jack put to it.
Arms wound around him, locking his arms in place, and Jason was startled. Just by the hold, the touch of the body, Jason knew it was Daniel. He smiled and turned his head, getting an awkwardly-placed kiss on his lips. “Hey,” he said between their lips.
“Hey,” Daniel replied, kissing him longer to make up for the greeting interruption. “Nice song,” he then said, pulling back.
“Yeah,” Jason said, wiggling against Daniel in the same way he’d done Jack, except that Daniel was wearing his black jeans.
Daniel looked at the potatoes in the sink, lying among the peels. “Want me to get those out of the way and cut up?”
Jason grinned and gestured at the counter to his right. “Sure, unless you want to prep Jack’s other favorite instead.”
Daniel looked over at the two bowls and some of the ingredients. He moved over, then smirked at Jason. “What, we’re not making it from scratch?”
Jason barked out a laugh. “Yeah right, Daniel! Then you march your ass down to the grocery store and pick up a few pumpkins.”
“Right,” Daniel drawled, picking up the canned pumpkin. “That’ll happen,” he said dryly.
Jason chuckled. “Then get to putting that stuff together. Crust is in the fridge, ready to go in the oven.”
Jack interrupted from the column. “Grabbing a beer,” he said loudly, and turned to the silver fridge directly on his right.
“Oh no!” Daniel said, quickly stepping over to get Jack a beer. “Out,” he said, and gave Jack a quick kiss. “Out.” He slapped him on the ass and pushed him away.
“Payback’s a bitch,” Jack warned as he left.
“Shut up, Jack,” Daniel retorted. “Go watch football or something,” he added with a fake grumble and turned to put together Jack’s “birthday cake” pumpkin pie.
. . .
The dinner table was an extravagant expense that Daniel had splurged on. He wasn’t that big on owning expensive things just for the hell of it. He was more into a blend of artistry, function, and beauty. And he tended to love the old handcrafted pedestal tables. He’d settled on a table that had myriad of design styles merged into one.
Long and oval, it was made of walnut. The rounded corners were doubled, with the edges carved in flattened beads that met with an inlaid design on the table surface. The support underneath was made of two connected pedestals, which were the center of attention despite being under the table. They were two winged griffins that faced each other, sitting back on their haunches, paws raised. Their open mouths spat out fire, and the swirls connected to form a knot-worked heart.
On the surface, natural wood lines were soft and without knots. In the center, three inlaid hearts spread outward, connecting to each other with swirled knotwork. The table was one of a kind. The chairs matched the table, with curved legs and rounded edges. No barked shins would bleed on these chairs. The seats were low and wide, with padded, dark mahogany leather; the backs were embroidered fabric with designs that matched the inlaid table. Both seat and back were trimmed with brass nail heads.
Daniel loved the design, the craftsmanship, and its beauty. He also loved the heaviness; included in his decision had been the desire to have a table that would … support the weight of three grown men. As he’d set the table for dinner, he’d smiled to himself, imagining the many times the table, or its chairs, would serve as excellent supports for lovemaking. Lovemaking was probably not the right word, since that traditionally implied a bed. His smile had deepened at the knowledge that his love life was far from traditional, even for the gay community.
While Jack had a pretty good idea about what kind of dinner he was getting, his curiosity peaked. After Daniel had shooed him from the kitchen, he’d stopped whatever he was doing to go outside. When he returned, he was carrying a beautiful standing screen, which he’d then placed to by the dining table in order to hide it from the living room.
Jack stared at it, temporarily setting aside the curiosity about dinner. The screen was made of oak and rice paper, and contained four panels instead of the typical three. The paper had been aged to a pale beige, and painted on each panel were three circular flowers of Celtic design. From his spot in front of the fireplace, Jack could tell the frame was handcrafted, and the surface was carved.
Chewing his bottom lip, he risked a closer look, hoping Daniel wouldn’t suddenly scold him for trying to peek a look at dinner. The carvings on the frame revealed themselves through the closer look and Jack’s lips broke into a smile. The design was also Celtic, made of tight Irish knotwork with Celtic animals. He loved the screen. It reminded him of his ancestors.
Between his fingers he twirled a small decoration, a trinity of holly leaves, berries in the middle, attached to a bendable stem. He returned to the tree, stuck the holly into a branch, and picked up another just like it. His attention was diverted to the TV screen as a cheer went up during a football game, he was only partially interested in.
The TV was nearly at eye level, and Jack was glad for the inset cut into the stones of the fireplace chimney to accommodate most large screen sizes. In this case, a gargantuan 80-inch widescreen with a sound bar attached at the bottom and long, narrow speakers set on the walls on either side of the chimney.
Their TV was new, in keeping with most everything else furnished inside the house. Jack, Daniel, and Jason were starting over, in a way, by purchasing this house together. The laws were no longer against them, and Jack felt a freedom he’d long ago thought he’d never have. As a result, he and his husbands had gone a bit crazy on the furnishings, buying a lot of new stuff; although some things were antiques, they were still new.
Jack stared at the TV, simply adoring the damn size, and started to sit down, feeling the urge to just sit and watch football on a screen large enough to make you feel as if you were at the game itself. Not quite, but it would definitely do.
A shadow passed in his left periphery, and Jack quickly turned and rushed to the door. He opened it before the UPS driver had a chance to knock, and they traded smiles. Jack signed for the packages, though some didn’t need it, and checked the return addresses as he brought them inside.
The packages he’d been waiting weeks for, gifts for Daniel and Jason. Jack knew that Jason typically disliked gifts, having come to hate the unwanted and unused expense by someone who didn’t have a clue what to give him. However, they were partners now, and Jason had had to modify his feelings for his lovers. Husbands, Jack silently corrected. Whatever he and Daniel gave Jason, he’d instantly love… even if it was a crappy sweater. Jason still held a moratorium on gag gifts, and Jack could definitely understand why.
Sitting down on the couch by the windows, Jack opened the boxes to inspect them, then grabbed the bag that held all the wrap.
. . .
Daniel was putting the leftovers in the fridge when Jack walked in with purposeful strides and got the bourbon out of the cupboard by the fridge. He poured two fingers into a crystal tumbler and downed half of it in one gulp, then the other two seconds after.
“What?” Daniel asked, alarmed.
Jack stayed silent, glass in hand, but at least he didn’t pour another two-finger shot. Jason came into view, crossing the dining room, then entered the kitchen; a smirk was on his face and what looked like pity in his eyes.
“What’d you do?” Daniel asked, brows furrowing.
“I called him ‘dude’,” Jason replied, giving Jack a bigger smirk as he took the bottle and glass from him. “Let me handle the drinking, you poor old man.”
Jack scowled at him. “Don’t make me deck you,” he said, letting Jason take the bottle and glass.
At the counter, Daniel snickered as he finished covering dishes with plastic wrap. “Oh Jack.”
“I’m doomed,” Jack growled, gesturing at Jason, then Daniel. “He says it, then you’ll be saying it, then you’ll both have me saying it.” He ignored the continued grins on his lovers’ faces. “That is not something you should hear from a guy in his fifties.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Times change, Jack. This isn’t your dad’s society anymore. Us older folk can get away with a lot more.”
Jack just grumbled. “Not used to it.”
“That’s one of the drawbacks about career military,” Jason said, grabbing a liter of soda and the ice bucket from the fridge. He headed back to the living room. “We’re always behind the times.”
Jack made a face and after Daniel put the dishes in the fridge, he stepped over and put his arms around Jack’s neck and kissed him softly. “Not anymore.”
Jack hugged him and kissed him back. “No, and our house is proof. Progress is no longer a dirty word.”
Daniel squeezed him, then stepped out of the embrace. “C’mon, poor baby, let’s go open presents.”
“You’ll get a smack, too,” Jack warned, but he let Daniel lead him to the sofa that sat facing the TV.
“So what were you two arguing about?” Daniel asked as he sat next to him.
Jason was at the tree, reaching underneath to get Jack’s birthday presents, and pointed at the TV the same time as Jack did.
“The game,” Jack said, looking up.
Daniel frowned, puzzled. “But it’s Saturday. Why are they playing on a Saturday? Season isn’t over yet.”
“Look at the teams, Daniel. It’s a college bowl game.” Jason said.
Daniel looked surprised. “This early?”
Jack snorted. “There are a lot of new bowl games. Mostly gives us fans a lot more football to watch.”
Daniel jogged his brows. “Yay,” he said, clearly not thrilled.
“What would you rather watch?” Jack asked.
Daniel held up both hands, fending off Jack’s question. “No, no, Jack, it’s your birthday, so you get to watch what you want. I don’t mind football. Just don’t get why it has to be mucked with.”
“I’m with you there,” Jason said as he put Jack’s presents on the coffee table. “Jack, some of your presents can’t be moved around.”
It was Jack’s turn to be puzzled. “Huh?”
“You have two that are in the dayroom,” Daniel explained.
Jack had been wondering about that. There were a few large brown-papered boxes with “Don’t Open” labelled on them with Jason’s script. “So we have to go downstairs huh?” he asked, looking at the five wrapped packages in front of him. One of them was long and narrow and he was growing insanely curious.
“Up to you,” Jason said. “One of the presents is for Christmas though.”
“Hmmm,” Jack murmured thoughtfully.
“Oh shit, hang on!” Daniel said, jumping up and rushing out of the room.
Jack grinned. “What’d you forget?” he called after him.
Jason got up and walked over to the small bar that was set up to the right of the fireplace. “How stiff you want this?” he asked.
“Light,” Jack answered, stretching his neck, and cracking it. “I got a head start already.”
Jason grinned at him as he mixed 7-Up with a finger of bourbon over ice. He walked back and handed it to Jack, then pushed the coffee table back a bit and sat down on the edge just as Daniel came back from the kitchen, holding a small individual-sized birthday cake with one candle in the center. As Daniel reached them, Jack sipped at his drink, then drew the glass away as Daniel leaned down and kissed him. “Happy birthday, gorgeous,” he said softly as he sat on Jack’s right.
“Ditto,” Jason grinned.
Jack sighed happily, looking at the little cake. It was off-white, probably butter cream, with blue and purple flowers and green leaves. The candle was white with a gold-leafed “Jack” molded to the base. “Nice,” he said, then waited, making a quick wish, then blew out the candle. Jason leaned forward off the coffee table to give him a kiss.
“Hope you like it,” he said, trading the cake for a present.
The gift was small, and Jack guessed that it was probably jewelry of some kind. Crowd noise grabbed his attention and he looked up at the TV to see what was happening while his hands moved automatically to remove the wrapping. Jason looked over his shoulder to see what was going on, too.
Daniel looked, but really paid no attention. He was far more interested in giving Jack his presents, the last of which would be in their new bedroom, which they actually hadn’t used yet. They’d been saving it for today, sleeping on the sofas or on the loft floor, currently covered with many sheepskin rugs. It had been necessary, since parts of the bed hadn’t been assembled yet and they’d finished it that morning. Daniel loved how Jason had decorated and couldn’t wait to get in that bed—largely to make love in it. Instead of looking at the TV, he looked over his shoulder, in the direction of that bedroom. An insanely huge bedroom. Off to the right of the front doors was a large foyer with a large linen closet. Two coat trees stood in front of windows that prefaced a wide, dark hallway, at the end of which sat the bedroom.
It was larger than the living room of Jack’s old house, which was saying something. Tall windows like the rest of the house lined the front wall. To the far left, double doors opened to the patio that held the round granite firepit. At the left of the door, several feet away, was a fireplace with a small couch and table in front of it. In front of it was the new bed, along the front wall.
The bed was the centerpiece. It was a Tudor, custom-sized for length and width. They’d decided on 86” wide by 92” long, and had had to hunt down a mattress maker. It had taken a while. The entire bed had finally arrived only two days before.
It was made of oak, heavy and strong. As an idle thought that made Daniel grin, he knew there’d be very little risk of breaking this new bed, and though there was little chance of their trying to do that, it was still nice to know. Plus, whenever they decided on bondage, they’d have no trouble finding places to anchor ties. The bed clothes Jason had chosen included swags that edged the canopy. Large feather pillows bolstered against the solid backboard, covered in purple-grey cotton. Matching sheets, roughened to be warm to the touch, covered the bed, over which lay a plush, silken quilt of deep silver, thick with faux feathers.
The four-poster frame overhead not only held a swag, but was fitted to hang old-fashioned bed curtains, a la 19th century London. Jason had left off the curtains, preferring the open feel for now. The entire setting was a stiff contrast to the American Western flair of the house itself, but the color of the oak bed had been stained to match the timbered walls and hardwood floors. With a matching seven-foot wide chest at the foot of the bed, they’d look forward to sleeping … not that they’d ever had a problem getting there.
At the far end of the bedroom was a short hallway that concealed two closets and opened into the large, luxury bathroom. Jack wanted changes made, to make the shower larger, and Daniel and Jason agreed. The bathtub was a sunken double Jacuzzi that sat in the floor by tall shuttered windows, with the shutters on the inside. Past the windows was a small inset stone garden waterfall that was three feet square and twelve feet high. This bathtub had yet to be used.
Off to the left of the tub was an ultra-modern, high-tech shower stall that Daniel and his lovers were simply enchanted with. The corner walls were granite, and the shower space was glass-enclosed. The glass reached eight feet high and sealed tightly into the ceiling. It measured six feet square—Jack wanted eight.
Overhead was a square rain shower fixture that replaced the standard shower nozzle normally placed in a wall. When turned on, the rain shower was LED-lit, illuminating the water an electric blue. Along the two walls were six power jets each that served as both cleansing and massage. Shelf insets in the wall held the shampoo, soap, and other bath items.
The shower itself was controlled by a tech panel on the left wall. A full-color digital touch screen allowed up to nine separate “scenarios” for programming, which regulates water temperature, lighting, and volume levels for the audio system that contained online radio stations. Changing the size of the shower would take considerable reconstruction time, and no one had that kind of time to waste. The holiday season certainly wasn’t going to be spoiled by construction noise and dust. For now, the shower comfortably held two men, but not three. Daniel certainly didn’t mind the thought that they’d have one more “christening” event in the future.
“Something?” Jack asked, pulling Daniel’s attention away from the bedroom images in his head.
Daniel grinned at him. “Bedroom.”
“Ah,” Jack said, now looking at the predictable velvet box. Inside wasn’t predictable at all. He pulled out the item, absently setting the box to the side. It was an earring in the shape of tiny platinum Air Force wings. Jack recalled the day he’d said that if he’d ever get an ear pierced, it would only be to wear something of special significance. As it was, it wouldn’t happen until he was retired.
If he chose, he could always wear an earring off-duty, but as second-in-command of the SGC as well as leader of SG-1, he had to set an example. He was already pushing the limit of regulation breaking whenever he argued with General Hammond. Why Hammond ever let him get away with it was a mystery.
Jack suddenly wondered why he was musing about this off-topic line of thinking. However, he quickly realized that it was likely a reaction to feeling a bit overwhelmed by the deep meaning in so simple a piece of jewelry. The Air Force was a big part of his life, and he wouldn’t leave until there was nothing more he could contribute. The earring represented both a promise of living to his retirement as well as his love of flying. The latter was something he rarely had a chance to do anymore, and Jason knew how much he missed it. He looked up at him and pulled him forward for a kiss.
“Thanks,” he said, touching foreheads after the kiss.
“Welcome,” Jason replied, mist in his eyes.
Jack cleared his throat. “Next,” he said roughly.
As Jason passed Jack the next largest present, Daniel leaned into Jack, kissing him on the side of the jaw. “You ol’ softie.”
“Guilty,” Jack said, trying not to grin but it was reflected in his eyes. Besides, he couldn’t fool Daniel anymore, nor Jason. The next gift, from Daniel, was a slightly larger box, but shallower. “Please tell me you didn’t get me a necklace,” he said.
“It’s not jewelry of any kind,” Daniel said, unable to keep the smile off his face.
Daniel couldn’t fool Jack either, and he knew that smile was for something else. Paper off, he opened a white box that usually contained a flat square of cotton with jewelry on top or under. Jack found red tissue paper instead. He opened it up and his eyes grew large. Inside was an envelope colored entirely with the XLVIII Super Bowl logo.
“Daniel,” he said, his tone half incredulous, half scolding. “You know regs explain that we can’t have time off—“
“This is just in case downtime coincides,” Daniel interrupted.
“But the expen—“
Daniel held up a hand, cutting Jack off. “Just give me a kiss and shut up.”
Jack wrapped an arm around Daniel’s shoulders and pulled him into the back of the couch, kissing him deeply. Surprised, Daniel kissed him back, loving the taste of bourbon on Jack’s tongue. Meanwhile, Jason took the box from Jack, looking at the envelope. He’d known about the tickets, of course.
Suddenly Daniel moaned loudly and pushed from Jack, ending the kiss. “Okay, okay, that’s enough, or you won’t get a chance to open anything else.”
Jason grinned at Daniel’s flushed cheeks, understanding completely. Jack’s kiss could make iron glow. He caught Daniel’s gaze as he picked up the long package and brought it over his head and on his lap. “Want me to dump cold water on you?”
Daniel smirked back as he kicked Jason’s calf. “You wanna sleep outside?”
“You wanna get handcuffed to your Jeep?” Jason countered, chuckling.
“Alright, alright,” Jack interrupted, taking the long package. “I’d love to join the threat contest here, but I have plans with both of you, so zip it.”
“You can have the handcuffs,” Jason quipped, and when Jack gave him a wicked grin, his groin signaled red alert. He cleared his throat. “Okay, shutting up now.”
Daniel bit his lip and giggled, and was promptly awarded with a return kick from Jason.
Jack tried to ignore them as he removed the wrapping. The box was plain, and Jack had a suspicion that it wasn’t the original box. He opened one end, then the other, and finally figured out that he’d have to open it along the long seam. “What’s with the extra box?” he asked as he felt another box under his fingertips. Box opened, he pulled out the original box, still pretty large, and stared at the image emblazoned across the length. It was a remote-controlled model speed boat.
“From me,” Jason said. “Since you can’t fish in that pond out back.”
“Wow,” Jack said, staring at the box. He wanted to open it, but figured he’d wait until tomorrow. It was supposed to be sunny, and the pond hadn’t frozen over yet. He leaned forward and kissed Jason softly. “I love this.” Jason grinned. “Okay, so…” he said, standing up and placing the package back on the coffee table. He turned to Daniel. “Let’s go downstairs.”
“No need,” Daniel replied, and handed Jack a package that felt like a magazine.
“What’s this?” Jack asked, sitting back down.
“Two manuals,” Daniel answered.
Jack’s brows shot up and he ripped the wrapping off. The manual on top was for a pottery wheel and the second was for a kiln. His mouth dropped open and he stared at Daniel. “Holy shit.”
“The entire beginner’s kit is downstairs, with the tools, clay, and everything.” Daniel gestured at the loft. “I was thinking the loft could be our craft room. The skylights would come in handy for extra ventilation.”
“Nice!” Jack nodded, looking at the manuals again. He set them down, staring back and forth at Daniel and Jason. “This is just …” He stopped, shook his head, emotions trapped at the back of his throat. “As awesome as the Harley,” he said gruffly.
Daniel and Jason hugged him, trading kisses on Jack’s face and head. Jack wiped at his eyes and growled, hating being this emotional. Daniel laughed against his neck, as did Jason, in his ear. Jack took a deep breath and reached for his drink, his throat going dry. “Okay you two,” he said after gulping down the beverage. He stood up, bringing them with him. “What do you say we go break in that goddamn royal bed.”
Following Jack around the couch, Daniel protested Jack’s tone. “Hey, you said you liked it!”
“I do,” Jack said, reaching the hallway in a hurry. “It’s just …” They were already to the bedroom and Jack gestured at the living artifact that was their bed. “… Ostentatious as hell.”
“And outrageously comfortable,” Jason said, removing his t-shirt and throwing it on the foot chest. Looking at Jack, he unbuttoned his jeans as he walked up to him. “We can indulge in this bed,” he finished, unbuttoning Jack’s pants.
Daniel grinned as he undid Jack’s shirt. “You’re getting double-teamed.”
Jack watched him remove his shirt, watched as Jason dropped to his knees as he pulled down his khakis. “Do I get to do anything?”
Jason looked up from his lover’s knees, then slowly stood and leaned in and cupped Jack’s stiffening cock through his briefs. “Any goddamn thing you want,” he whispered over Jack’s lips. “What do you want?”
“Everything,” Jack answered, aware of Daniel behind him, taking off his clothes. He reached behind him, and Daniel grasped his hand, linking their fingers. “C’mon,” he said, and pulled both Jason and Daniel to the bed.
Jason let go to shuck off his jeans and briefs, then climbed onto the bed, stretching out beside Jack. Daniel climbed on top of Jack and kissed him lightly on mouth, pulling back when Jack tried to kiss him harder. He smiled and kissed Jack’s chin while his hands slid inside Jack’s briefs. “I love you,” he said, murmuring the words over Jack’s left nipple, licking the nub before moving down Jack’s abdomen.
Jason moaned through his bitten bottom lip as he slipped his fingers under Jack’s briefs and took Jack’s cock in hand. “Nice,” he said, stroking the firming flesh, and leaned over Jack to capture his mouth.
Jack returned the caress down below, feeling fresh wetness smear over the back of his fingers. Jason jerked his hand a little, stuttered his kiss, and encouraged, Jack traced his thumb over the warm cockhead. He was rewarded with a gasp from Jason, the air puffing into his mouth. Right then, he too elicited a gasp when Daniel licked the tip of his cock.
Daniel looked up Jack’s body, smiling wickedly as he teased his lover’s cock again, licking only the tip. He adored this part of making love, getting Jack wound up and hard as hell. “Like that?” he said, breathing the words over Jack’s cock and Jason’s hand. With Jack’s mouth busy with Jason’s, Daniel only got a moan of agreement. Unsatisfied with Jack’s reaction, he pushed Jason’s hand away and sucked the head of Jack’s dick inside his mouth. Jack’s body tensed beneath him, his hips rising to push deeper into his mouth, so Daniel pulled back. With a swift motion of his hands, he pulled Jack’s briefs down his thighs, then off his body, and with a hungry relish, he settled between Jack’s legs.
Jack moaned louder into Jason’s mouth, trying to thrust into Daniel’s, and he broke the kiss. “Come here,” he said to Jason, pulling his lover’s hips toward his mouth. Jason climbed over, straddled his chest, and leaned in. Jack grabbed hold of his hips and sucked his lover’s cock through his lips.
Jason braced his hands on the backboard and wished he had something to grab there. Instead, he gave control over to Jack and closed his eyes.
Jack loved Jason’s smell, and he licked around the base, under his cock, taking in the sweaty musk. He sucked one ball into his mouth, getting another jerk as a reward. He did the same thing to the other ball, then slicked a finger and traced it over Jason’s warm hole. Jason jerked again, and Jack could tell how badly he was refraining from thrusting. With a touch of a smile as he mouthed the base of Jason’ s cock again, he made a mental note to reward his lover for his restraint.
Jack had never said what he wanted when Jason had told him he could have anything he wanted. He was too busy thinking ahead. If he’d answered, he would have said his favorite position: The middle of a sandwich, with Daniel inside him while he in turn fucked Jason. As it was, he was already in the middle, being double-teamed. He was more than happy to remain where he was, to let Daniel bring him to orgasm while he took Jason there, but Daniel was driving him crazy, purposely keeping from swallowing him.
Pushing Jason’s groin away from his face, he asked, “Where’d you put the lube, Jason?”
“Under the pillow, on your left,” Jason said, looking down. “You wanna move now?” he asked as his stiff cock bobbed with heavy arousal.
Jack reached up to stroke him while he reached for the lube with his other hand. With a thumb flick, he opened the tube. “Stay there for now.”
Between Jack’s legs, Daniel said, “I’ll have that when you’re done.” He whispered the words over Jack’s cockhead, licking small circles around the slit.
“Deal,” Jack said as he caught Jason’s gaze, watching his face while he inserted a slick finger into his body. Jason bit his lip again, and Jack loved that. He thrust in and out slowly, easing Jason’s body open. It never took long anymore, given the frequent sex the three of them had. Hell, sometimes they didn’t need lube. Jack especially liked that when he had Jason bound during role play.
Tossing Daniel the lube, Jack sucked Jason’s cock into his mouth while he moved two fingers into him. Jason’s eyes were still closed, and he was breathing harder. Jack knew he wasn’t close, but he didn’t want him that way, not yet. He was about to flip them over when Daniel slipped a finger inside him.
“Hold up,” Jack said, trying to turn around anyway.
“Dammit,” Daniel complained, but he withdrew his finger. He kept his hands on Jack anyway, caressing him, loving the feel of his skin. Once Jack was on his knees and Jason had lain down in front of him, Daniel moved up behind him, spooning his body to Jack’s. He was so hard, and so was Jack. He slipped a lubed finger back inside his lover, and felt Jack clutch warmly around him. Daniel moaned behind Jack’s ear. “I want you.”
“You have me,” Jack replied. Eyelids heavy with lust, he looked down at Jason, legs spread and knees up. Jason’s hands caressed his chest, overlapping Daniel’s free hand on occasion. Jack placed his own hands over Jason’s, and to his surprise, Daniel placed his free hand over his and Jason’s, and with the other, wrapped around his cock, slicking it heavily with lube.
Jason met Daniel’s gaze, then Jack’s. “Together,” he said huskily. Jack and Daniel lined up, and as one, they entered the body in front of them. Jason moaned, eyes fluttering with pleasure as Jack filled him to the root. Jack’s cheeks flushed as Daniel did the same, and Jason could tell how far Daniel had gone by that flushed look. He placed his hands on Jack’s belly as he raised his knees and planted his heels on Daniel’s hips.
The three of them moved as one, back and forth, in and out, the rhythm slow and steady. It wouldn’t stay that way for too long, but for now, the intensity was high as their bodies adjusted to sensations that hadn’t been there a minute before. Waves of goosebumps flared and abated, and flesh became slick and shiny through sweat and rising demand for climax. Jason took his cock in hand, stroking in time with the pace, but soon Jack took him in hand instead. It happened when Jack suddenly bent over, one hand planted by Jason’s head, bracing his weight.
“Daniel,” Jack breathed.
“I know,” Daniel whispered, the tone heavy in Jack’s ear as Daniel continued to spoon behind him. He increased the rhythm, forcing Jack to do the same.
“Yes,” Jack and Jason said in stereo.
Lightning sparks of lust swelled through them like storm waves. Daniel eventually leaned so far forward that he was able to press his hands against the headboard. He lightly nipped Jack’s neck and shoulders, increasing his thrusting weight. The motion pushed Jack further, making his hips slap against Jason’s ass. Jason threw his head back, arms gathered tightly around the pillow under his head.
“Fuck me,” he rasped tightly, and whispered “Oh god!” when Daniel and Jack obliged, synchronizing their hard, insistent thrusts to begin the rapid slaps of need. Jason cussed again, and released his pillow to grasp the back of his knees and pull them to his chest.
“Yes,” Daniel said, biting a spot under Jack’s ear before he clamped down and sucked. Hard.
“Jesus!” Jack hissed and nearly dropped his body on top of Jason. Instead, he dropped his hip weight, his thrusts no longer slapping but grinding.
“Fuck yeah,” Daniel growled, and he moved a hand to grip Jack’s right shoulder. “Take it, baby,” he ground out, rewarded instantly with a harsh groan from Jack.
“Fuck me,” Jack moaned, closing his eyes, and concentrating. He sped up, ramming into Jason as fast as Daniel was doing to him. His balls tightened and drew up in the keen, pleasurable warning that presaged his release. He wanted it badly, needed it, craved it. Yet at the same time, he wanted this feeling to last longer, to be able to freeze time the moment he came.
Concentrating, he swiveled his hips, grinding furiously against Jason’s ass, and he was met with the same by Daniel, who took hold of both his shoulders and viciously fucked him. “Shit fuck, that’s it!” Jack screamed, and the intense heat of pleasure exploded through his cock, eclipsing the pounding of his heart. Jason’s body tightened around his cock, yanking the orgasm from his body in repeated waves. Jack was cussing repeatedly, and the words were abruptly cut off as Jason captured his mouth, tightly wrapping an arm around his neck. Jack tried to slow down, but behind him, inside him, Daniel’s fucking became frenzied. Jack pictured it, and the result ripped a second orgasm from his balls.
He broke Jason’s kiss to breathe out a tight, hoarse yell, and Jason yelled back. He wrapped his hand over Jack’s to pump his cock harder, and just as he was about to come, Daniel beat him there. Watching him throw his head back, body fucking hard and fast, brought Jason off. His eyes squeezed shut and a loud moan escaped his lips before it was cut off by Jack’s mouth.
Jack continued to thrust, as it was now his body providing the friction for his lovers, who were overcome. He loved this part, driving them both crazy with his gyrating rhythm that only slowed down when the pleasure merged into afterglow. He dropped his weight to his forearms, resting his forehead on Jason’s shoulder. Against his back, Daniel melted over him, and Jack loved his weight. He remained still for endless seconds that turned to minutes. Eventually, cooling skin and fading afterglow forced him to slide to Jason’s right, bringing Daniel with him. Settling, Jack adjusted his lovers until they spooned him, back and front.
“Happy birthday,” Daniel whispered, lips moving against Jack’s shoulder.
“Ditto,” Jason mumbled.
“I love you,” Jack murmured to them and closed his eyes. He smiled to himself, admitting how comfortable this new bed was, made all the more so by his lovers. He ignored the background sound of the living room TV and let the warmth of his husbands lull him to sleep.
. . .
Jack woke up in increments. First came the warmth of the bed, then came the sound of the shower from the adjoining bathroom. Lastly, Jack’s bladder signaled for rescue, and as he pushed up to his elbows, he discovered that Jason and Daniel weren’t in bed. Showering, he told himself, and he groaned himself out of bed. Padding into the bathroom, he was only vaguely aware of his lovers while he relieved himself. He was still a little buzzed from the alcohol, but what was more surprising was the state of his cock. He was half-hard, and he wondered if Jason had put something in his drink.
Only half-registering that Viagra didn’t exactly work that way, he looked over at the shower. They didn’t seem to be aware of him, possibly because Jack hadn’t flushed yet. Perhaps that wouldn’t interrupt them anyway. They were fucking. Water jets hit their bodies as Jason thrust eagerly into Daniel’s body. Jack’s cock twitched with interest. When Daniel topped, he was often hard and wanting more an hour later. A few days ago, Jack had been the one to take advantage of that, having christened the kitchen floor with Daniel’s come. It was Jason’s turn this time, though the three of them never thought in terms of “turns;” they only cared about getting sex from whoever got there first.
That was one of the perks of this three-way relationship, Jack mused. Plus getting free porn, like he was now. He walked to the doorway, then leaned against the frame and stroked himself as he watched the show in the shower. Daniel rested his forearms on the shower wall, over his head, and Jason’s arms covered his. Their legs were spread, matching, and Jason’s ass clenched and unclenched as he moved rhythmically in and out of Daniel. Jack knew exactly how that felt. He’d also had the chance to fuck both of them, separately, in that shower. He knew how the jets of water felt, and the rain shower from overhead. It made this little porn scene even better.
Steam started to cover the upper half of the glass walls, which added to the sexual thrill of Jack’s voyeurism kink. Soon the only clear parts of the glass were below the waist. It was an exciting shock; Jack could suddenly pretend that he was watching two hot strangers. Part of him knew he wasn’t, but just the idea that he could watch and pretend was such a turn on. Fingers wrapped firmly around his cock, he watched the rounder, more muscular ass thrust into an ass that was narrower, more sculpted.
Daniel suddenly moaned, his fingers clutching at nothing, and Jason moaned back with a devilish color in his tone. Jack grinned, imagining for a moment that Jason was some guy who was popping another guy’s cherry. The way Jason was now thrusting added to that fantasy, and Jack pumped himself harder, squeezing the tip of his cock to add a zing of pain to his pleasure. He suddenly wanted to be sucked off, and he hoped there’d be time. Trouble was, should he interrupt, get Daniel in a sandwich? Should he wait till they notice him, then offer to finish him off?
Jack chose the former option and he walked over and opened the shower door. Jason and Daniel looked over, almost casually, and Jack crooked his finger. “Daniel?” he asked, standing in the doorway, loving the hot water splash. He stood with feet planted shoulder-width, his hand stroking his offering-cum-request.
“Damn,” Daniel breathed, and cast a knowing look at Jason.
Jason grinned crookedly, then adopted an obvious role-play, tough-guy expression and pulled Daniel back by his biceps. “Suck,” he said, and kept his cock inside Daniel while his lover slowly got to his hands and knees on the floor of the shower.
Jack slid his fingers through Daniel’s hair and said, “Make an ‘O’ and suck me.” His tone was also role-play, and Daniel loved playing along. He wrapped his lips around the head of Jack’s cock, forming an ‘O,’ and as he puckered his lips, let Jack fuck his mouth.
“That’s it,” Jack said roughly, and soon Daniel was moaning loudly, performing the virgin role, too excited to be quieter. But this ‘virgin’s’ vocal pleasure was music to his lovers’ ears, and soon, Daniel and Jason were jerking and keening through orgasms that almost brought Jack off. But he held off, preferring to get Daniel’s undivided attention. Or rather, his virgin’s undivided attention. Clutching his hair, he slid just the first three inches of his cock in and out of the hot, wet mouth he loved. “Suck harder,” he ordered, and when the suction increased, Jack abruptly sped up. “Yes, that’s it!” he said, growling out the words.
It was over in a flash. Jack tightened his fingers, knowing it was painful to Daniel, but his lover only moaned in pleasure. Jack thrust in and out very, very fast—and blazing through his body was that hot, fiery lightning, blinding and white! It lasted a second before it was swallowed by blackout from eyes squeezed shut.
Jack lost whatever else was happening, only the hot wet mouth around his cock was important, swallowing his come. He grabbed at the shower door frame and opened his eyes to meet Daniel’s, who yanked Jack to his knees and kissed him hungrily. Jason joined them, planting loving smooches over their faces, and Jack turned his head, meeting Jason’s kiss before Daniel stole him away. Their hands were just as busy, caressing wet skin. Eventually, Jack pulled away and looked at them with sleepy eyes. A sudden seriousness overtook him, and an ache filled his heart.
Jack cradled their heads in his hands, caressing their faces with his thumbs. “I love you,” he said.
Jason and Daniel were quickly caught up in Jack’s emotions, though Daniel felt it more with the aid of his empathy. They hugged Jack firmly, the sides of their faces bracketing Jack’s.
“I love you too,” Daniel said.
Jason muffled his face into Jack’s. “What he said.”
Jack kissed Daniel’s wet hair, then Jason’s drying cheek. “Thanks for the best birthday I’ve ever had.”
They were silent for a few minutes, kneeling together while the shower still ran. Then Jack’s stomach interrupted the moment, Jason, and Daniel laughed.
“Go get some pie,” Daniel grinned. “We’ll wash up first.”
“Deal,” Jack said, giving them both long kisses.
With a fatigued groan, he got to his feet and left the bathroom, grinning at the teasing chuckles he left behind. Water beads fell from his body, landing everywhere. Naked and not caring—and there had better not be anyone outside—he went straight for the fridge and grabbed a slice of pie with whipped cream. Leaning against the counter, his naked butt was a bit slippery against the round granite edge, but he liked it. It was one of many firsts to come in this house. Taking the first bite of pumpkin pie, he sighed happily. His birthday had never been this perfect.
To be continued in chapter 16