a thousand petals, a thousand paths

Usual world. Pretty, if dry and sere is your thing. Desert. Lots and lots of desert. Dunes. More desert. If it was possible to feel blasé about stepping through an alien device to alien worlds millions of light years from home, then he was blasé. He was bored out of his skull. Daniel must be in hog heaven, little desert baby that he was.

“Do the usual, Daniel,” Jack said, waving towards the plinths that lined a long, paved roadway back towards the hot horizon. “Carter?”

But Sam was already shaking her head. “Nothing, sir. This is going to be Daniel’s barrel of monkeys.”

That got a glare from Daniel. Four years after the fact, and people still found ways to irritate him about monkeys and space. He was beginning to think that his revenge against Jack hadn’t been deep enough. Power-drilling a fake bass to Jack’s office door with a card that said “This is what a fish looks like” had been fairly satisfying at the time. Now, though, it seemed that it just hadn’t been sufficient. He’d have to think of something else, something more subtle. And the fact that it was years after the comment? Made it all the more sweet. Revenge, dishes served cold, that sort of thing.

While Daniel hauled out his archaeological kit and started cleaning out inscriptions and engravings, Jack tromped a slow circle around the Stargate while Sam and Teal’c ventured up towards the top of the dunes. Sam keyed her radio and reported, “Sir, the road goes off into the distance, and I think I see some buildings or monuments on the horizon.”

“Understood, Carter. You and Teal’c come back down here. I’m getting a funny feeling about this.” If there was anything Jack had learned, it was to always listen to his feelings, good or bad or funny. And usually, when on an alien planet, it was a funny feeling that quickly turned to bad. Granted, there was nothing here that really sat up and said funny or bad, but … it was too quiet. There wasn’t even a wind. Jack maneuvered back towards Daniel, who now had his notebook out and was obviously translating, his lips moving silently as he dragged a finger against rows and rows of hieroglyphs, right to left, up to down. “Daniel? Anything here, or can we get out of this big litter box?”

Daniel glanced briefly at him, his eyes startlingly blue against his light tan and the desert camo he wore. “Funny you should say that, Jack,” Daniel started, then there was the sound of a ring transporter, and four Jaffa appeared before the gate.

“Aw, crap,” Jack said, slinging his P-90 forward. But he was too late. Too quick, no time to think, it was almost embarrassing. Zat blasts took out Daniel and Jack, and before Sam and Teal’c could come within firing range, the Jaffa had grabbed their downed team members with unusual swiftness and efficiency, and ringed the six of them away. Sam and Teal’c stood, open-mouthed, before hurtling for the DHD.

~*~

It was a huge room. Huge. Bigger than the usual Goa’uld expression of hubris. There were lots and lots of pillars, tall, towering columns inscribed with more hieroglyphics. The place was actually well-kept, tidy, clean, filled with billowing draperies that wrapped and shimmied past all those imposing columns. The usual Jaffa lingered about, looking forbidding and alert and guarding a currently empty throne of white marble. The Goa’uld always did seem to go in for uncomfortable furniture, but Jack was glad – he hoped it gave them hemorrhoids. Petty, but true. Anything to make a snakehead’s life even just an iota more unpleasant. And it was Jack’s goal in life to up the unpleasant factor as high as he could.

“So,” he said to the nearest bastion of Jaffa imperturbability, “who’s the head honcho around here?”

The Jaffa didn’t even deign to answer.

Jack shrugged and turned to Daniel who was, like he, kneeling with his hands tied behind him. “Any clues?”

Daniel made a wry face. “Bast,” he said.

“Bast?” Jack asked. He remembered the name, just not the usual long explanation of myth, fable and place in the Egyptian pantheon.

“Cat goddess,” Daniel began. “She was the daughter of Ra and initially was a goddess of the sun. She became a goddess of the moon after the Greeks got their hands on Egypt. She was the protector of women, and her totem animal was the cat, an animal of secrets, great hunting skills, and stealth. To harm one of her animals was considered a great crime. Cats were kept in the temples to help with the rat populations and as a physical manifestation of the goddess herself.”

“Daughter of Ra?” Jack asked, alarmed, focusing on the one thing that really meant anything to him. “D’oh. The fact that we offed Daddy-o probably won’t go over so well.”

Daniel shrugged, a tight movement dictated by his bound arms. “Maybe she’ll be grateful, like Osiris.”

Jack gave him a sharp look. Daniel rarely spoke of Sarah Gardner, and certainly never in such light, unconcerned tones.

“Well, let’s hope,” Jack said finally. “Anything positive about this would be a help.”

“A help to whom?” asked a low voice from behind them, and Jack and Daniel started in surprise and turned their heads to view the Goa’uld du jour.

Bast was beautiful. Of course she was, Jack thought to himself, eyeing Her Evil Gorgeousness appreciatively while simultaneously hating her guts. She was small, with fine bones and straight black hair and yellow eyes. Not just the usual glowing gold of Goa’uld eyes, but actual amber eyes that seemed far too perceptive for Jack’s own good, staring at him unblinkingly like … well, like a cat’s. She did the usual smug Goa’uld parade around Jack and Daniel, dragging her finger lightly over Jack’s bisected eyebrow, trailing the back of her hand along Daniel’s cheek, tapping inquisitively on Daniel’s glasses. She removed the glasses gently, peered through them, shrugged, let them drop to the ground, and drove her heel into them. The crunch of glass and metal separating violently seemed to echo and bounce from pillar to pillar.

“Do not hide such beauty,” the woman said, her voice rich with symbiote reverberation, tilting Daniel’s face up to scrutinize more closely the fair skin, the blue eyes, the small beauty mark on the left cheek. She brushed a thumb over Daniel’s bottom lip, then quirked a smile at Jack, who was staring in impotent, silent fury. “I am handling your man,” Bast said to Jack, continuing to stroke Daniel’s lip. Even as the Goa’uld goddess found more and more amusement in the situation, Jack found his reservoir of humor drying up in a heat-flash of anger.

“He is my friend,” Jack said flatly and immediately. “I don’t understand – no, I don’t care to understand what you mean by ‘my man.’” Jack was pissed at himself for showing how much he cared about Daniel right off the bat, but the Goa’uld had surprised him. It would be so easy, now, for Bast to use Daniel against him. But she was going to do that anyway, so why regret now the semantics of the how and why? “If anything, he is his own man.” Jack looked away from Bast, his eyes drawn unerringly to the sight of Daniel’s glasses, shattered under her tiny, sandal-bound foot.

Bast merely waved her hand impatiently. “Semantics. You humans, so concerned with words,” she said, her tone clearly bespeaking her boredom. “It is action that defines a man. Or goddess, as the case may be.” A final pass around Daniel and Jack, and she went to sit on her marble throne. As if that was a cue, there was the soft sound of mewing, and a dozen cats drifted out from behind flowing gauzy drapes, slinking beside the throne and jumping into Bast’s lap, curling behind her on the back of the throne, draping themselves across her feet. Jack had to bite his lip from saying something incredibly crude about pussies.

“Look,” Daniel said, peering in the direction of Bast. “Shall we cut right to the chase? What do you want from us? Are you going to torture us? Use us against another Goa’uld? Let us go, perhaps?” Daniel’s voice was hopeful in that way that said he knew there was no way in Netu he and Jack would be getting out of this one unscathed, let alone alive.

Bast merely bent her amber gaze to Daniel’s face and considered him thoughtfully, stroking a short-haired midnight cat who sat, Sphinx-like, on her knees. “I do not know,” she admitted finally, scratching behind the cat’s ears. “I’m thinking I would like to bed you both, perhaps together, perhaps one at a time.”

Jack’s eyebrows rose. “Well, that’s refreshingly blunt,” he said casually, shifting painfully on his crappy knees. “Not unexpected, but your candor is much appreciated. Hathor had the same direct honesty.”

“Until we killed her,” Daniel added happily, staring at Bast, his blue eyes hard and cold. “You won’t get much of a good time out of us, I’m afraid,” he said bitingly. “We don’t care for your kind. In fact, most of your kind end up just like Hathor, very, very disappointed and very, very dead.”

Bast shrugged, a maneuver both elegant and chilling. Jack bit the inside of his lip. “Do you think I am stupid, Daniel Jackson? You are the man who opened the Tau’ri Gate. You were the husband to the host of Amonet. You are known as the heart and conscience of SG-1. Oh, yes, Daniel Jackson, I know who you are. I remember you from the gathering of System Lords. You were dancing attendance on Yu. So pretty. So fetching, with those bare arms, and those exotic blue eyes. I must say, your slave gear was attractive, if a bit heavy-handed. The clothing I choose for my slaves is far more flattering.”

“Trust a woman to think about fashion,” Jack muttered.

“And you, Colonel Jack O’Neill of SG-1,” Bast said, turning her feline gaze on Jack. “Scourge of the Goa’uld. The thorn in Apophis’s side. Conspirator with the godless Tok’ra, protected of the Asgard, confidante of Thor.” Jack preened and flashed Daniel a grin, who returned it with one that was part amusement and part obvious pride. “Between you, Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter, and the shol’va, Teal’c, you have killed Ra, Cronus, Hathor, Heru’ur, Sokar, Seth … ”

“A Who’s Who of the Parasitic and Badly Dressed,” Jack offered with a nasty smile, regretting the words the instant they left his mouth, and that’s when the claws came out. So to speak.

Not even standing from her throne, her bare right arm still petting the black cat, the Goa’uld queen raised her left hand with the ribbon device and blasted Jack with a sharp roiling of power. Jack was sent skidding across the marble floor into a pillar, his head making blunt contact with the base. He lay stunned for a moment, then was dragged by two Jaffa back to Daniel’s side and forced back to his knees. He could feel a trickle of blood from his temple where skull had met stone. The number of cats around Bast shifted sickeningly, multiplying and subtracting with concussed rapidity.

“This is boring, Colonel,” Bast said, now stroking the cat with both hands. It stretched and purred, its contented rumble clearly reaching to the kneeling men. “There are far more pleasant things we could be doing besides sparring pointlessly, like scribes over a favorite papyrus. I am going to play with you. Toy with you. Enjoy you. You will be willing. Both of you. Because if you are not, I shall harm the other.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “So kill us, already,” he said in his most bored tone. “Because neither of us will make it easy for you, you won’t like it, and it would be just faster to kill us now and save us all the hassle.” While Jack admired Daniel’s bravado, he wasn’t quite sure about his current method of snake-baiting. Openly inviting the Goa’uld to kill them seemed a bit extreme, even for Jack. These things should be done with some modicum of subtlety.

Bast, too, was not pleased with Daniel’s words. She finally stood, gently placing her black cat on the wide arm of the throne and descending the pristine white steps to stand in front of Daniel, his eyes level with her breasts and the gold-and-lapis necklace that lay wide against her chest. She cupped his face in her hands and bent down to brush his lips with hers. “I shall kill you,” she said softly, but not so softly that Jack could not hear. “And then I shall revive you in my sarcophagus and begin again. Over and over, Daniel Jackson. Over. And over. I shall savor your flesh and bathe in your blood. For as long as I wish to play with you, my pretty Tau’ri.” She licked a long, wet line from his chin to his hairline. “My cats have nine lives. I wonder if humans do as well.”

That shut Daniel up in a hurry.

~*~

They were taken through wide, airy corridors adorned with gold hieroglyphs, enormous vases filled with flowers and catnip, past tall, glass-less windows girded by shutters that could be closed against sandstorms. They were led to a bathing room with a huge, in-ground tub big enough to swim laps in, and were told to bathe and dress.

With a minimum of effort, they did, casting eyes at the Jaffa standing guard inside the bathing room, knowing they couldn’t say anything about Teal’c or Sam on the off-hand chance that Bast was unaware of their presence on the planet. Jack wouldn’t bet on it, though. Bast knew they came as a complete set of four, and he was pretty sure there were only three possible scenarios right now: that Sam and Teal’c were also prisoners, that they were dead, or that they were shut off from the gate. In any of those scenarios, he and Daniel were still trapped here, cat toys for the ultimate bitch in heat.

Much to Daniel’s irritation, Jack couldn’t stop yammering about the clothes Bast wanted them to wear, although Jack thought “clothes” was a generous word with which to describe the garments. Short, pleated linen skirts were all they had, and Jack was about ready to pop a blood vessel. Daniel, on the other hand, just stared at the skirts in distaste, then slid his on. Really, it was just an Egyptian thing, and he’d done the Egyptian thing enough times in his life to just shrug and try to bear the vague ignominy of flashing his legs to the world. He even allowed the gold armbands and the gleaming pectoral with the lapis scarab, but he dug in his heels at the earrings. Both men nearly came to blows with the obviously cowed woman who tried to paint their eyes with kohl.

“No way in hell,” Jack snarled, throwing the little clay pot across the room, where it shattered with a satisfying crack against the marble wall. “She wants her toys, they’re coming as-is, no more extras.” He began stripping his own armbands off but stopped when a Jaffa shifted his grip on his staff weapon.

“But, Tau’ri – ” she began in Egyptian, “you must, it is Your Goddess’s desire.”

Daniel precisely translated Jack’s words for her, adding, “Your mangy little mistress is just going to have to get used to the idea that we’re not going to come quietly. She wants us, she’ll have to fight for us.”

Trembling, the woman bowed out of the room and fled, leaving Jack and Daniel to avoid each other’s eyes and stare out the windows at the rolling dunes far below. Every now and then, a cat would stroll into the room, the door held open by a Jaffa as if the cat was royalty. Which, Jack supposed, they were, according to Daniel.

“I can’t believe this,” Jack muttered as he joined Daniel at a window, standing shoulder to bare shoulder with him. “Stuck with nuttiest Goa’uld of all.”

“Well, at least she hasn’t breathed on us or put us in a fiery hell-pit,” Daniel said, moving his right leg away from the attentions of a marmalade tabby. “That’s some comfort.”

“I dunno,” Jack said, rolling his eyes and bumping Daniel’s arm with his. “I think I’d rather be rotting in Netu than being pimped out to the Fancy Feast calendar girl.” It was hard coming out with the humor, though. There was something about Bast that was chilling, crushing any attempt at jocularity. Jack was getting the dim feeling that he wasn’t going to be able to smart-mouth his way through this one.

Daniel snorted in amusement. “Maybe … you know … ” He wiggled his eyebrows in a vain attempt to say “Sam and Teal’c” without actually speaking aloud.

Jack’s face sobered. “Don’t hold your breath, Daniel,” he said quietly. “We can only count on ourselves, you know that.”

Daniel nodded, equally serious now. “Jack,” he began, running the pleats of his skirt through his fingers. “If she uses the sarcophagus – ”

“One thing at a time,” Jack said brusquely, nervously twisting an armband. “Maybe she was bluffing.”

Daniel snorted in rampant disbelief and irritation, and channeled that irritation into the ability to stop his frantic skirt-twitching and stare out at the sun-struck desert.

~*~

They took Daniel first. A Jaffa on each arm, he was escorted out of their room by five cats, their tails held high. Jack didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. They were caught in a Cecil B. De Mille movie that was rife with crass, sneering villains and a bad wardrobe department. It was his worst nightmare. Add to that the very real fact that, crass villains or not, their captor was a Goa’uld, and Daniel had just been marched away to get raped. It was tearing Jack apart inside, and his own confusion over his inner turmoil did not mix well with the humiliation of being an unwilling lead actor in this bastardized version of Cleopatra. If they ever made it back to the SGC, and Ferretti got wind of this, he’d never live it down. He’d find Purina Cat Chow in his coffee maker, he was sure of it.

So there was nothing to do while he waited – either for Daniel or for Bast’s minions – but think on their time here on Krazy Kat World and try to figure out some way to escape. He thumbed through ideas in his mind like a tired deck of cards, but he wasn’t coming up with any winning hands. There were too many Jaffa, they had no weapons – hell, they didn’t even have clothes, now – and there was no knowing how far from the gate they might be. Jack could surmise that he and Daniel were being held in the buildings that Carter had spotted from the dune by the Gate, but there was no guarantee of this.

He was no closer to an escape solution three hours later when the Jaffa and the feline escort came for him. Kept in their firm grips, Jack was marched back down the wide hallways to a lush garden courtyard, open to the sky and full of soft divans, low tables, seemingly millions of exotic, tasseled pillows, and palm trees. In the center of the courtyard were two tall, smooth columns of white marble topped with carved cats, and it was to one of these that Daniel was shackled, his arms chained above him to a ring set into the marble. His head lolled back against the column, the tracks of blood tears running down his cheeks and throat, his smooth chest blotted with welts, his hips bruised. His skirt was at his feet, shredded and bloody, and his legs were black with deep claw marks. His eyes when they met Jack’s were glassy and dark.

“Jack,” Daniel sighed, pulling at his chains.

“Daniel,” Jack said, lunging for him, almost brushing Daniel’s chest with his fingertips before the Jaffa yanked him away. “Are you all right?”

Daniel laughed, brittle and tight. “Still breathing,” he said lightly, and groaned when his knees gave way and he was hanging by the chains. Jack was shackled to the second white pillar, facing Daniel.

“What has she done to you?” Jack asked, yanking futilely at his chains.

Daniel gestured with his chin towards a small table set to one side on which rested a long pipe and a bowl full of a brown herb. “Catnip for people,” he said muzzily, struggling back to his feet. “It’s got a hell of a kick.”

Jack didn’t like the sound of this. “What does it do?”

“It does many things,” that silky Goa’uld voice said from behind Jack, and he was instantly irritated at the way Bast kept slinking up on them unexpectedly. Like a goddamn cat.

Bast had changed clothes, too. Whereas before she had worn the expected Egyptian goddess kalasiris of long, pleated white linen and strappy sandals, she now wore a tight, cloth-of-gold number that was more an accessory than a dress. Her feet were bare, and she ran her hands over her breasts luxuriously, her fingernails long, tapered and painted with gold. Jack didn’t find it difficult in the least to not stare at her well-proportioned body. Something about the fact that that pretty woman had a snaky parasite in her head took all the sensual allure out of things. Go figure. Behind her came six Jaffa pushing a golden sarcophagus which they placed by Bast, the apex of a triangle formed with the two marble plinths. Then they retreated to guard the sun-drenched courtyard, their faces unmoving. Bast ran her hand lovingly over the hieroglyphs of the sarcophagus before approaching Daniel.

“Lovely Tau’ri,” Bast rumbled in her throat, so like a purr, rubbing along Daniel’s body, thrusting her hips sinuously against Daniel’s naked groin. He was hard, and Jack guessed the people-catnip had something to do with it. “You are so lovely, so flawless,” she murmured, running her hands over his chest, licking his armpits, nibbling at his collarbone.

“Leave him alone, you flea-bitten bitch,” Jack growled, straining at his chains. Yes, he cared about Daniel, he was protective of him, Bast knew that, would use it against him. The jig had been up right from the start, and he was going to give the bitch hell while he could.

Bast smiled at him, a lazy, creamy smile and she actually licked her lips, slow and sensuous, tongue leaving a wet saliva trail over her upper lip, then her lower. Jack shuddered. “Rude human,” she murmured at Jack while her hand ran over the welts on Daniel’s chest, digging her nails into the tender skin. Daniel bit back a cry and his eyes locked with Jack’s. Hang in there, Jack told him silently. Then that small hand slid further down Daniel’s skin, cupping his balls, squeezing his cock, before she slid to her knees, grasped Daniel’s hips in bruising fists, and took him in her mouth.

“N-no,” Daniel stuttered, and his hips jerked, first towards, then away, from her mouth, the desire and revulsion clear on his face. Bast flexed her hands, digging her long, golden nails into the skin of his thighs and Jack realized, horrified, that those weren’t just prettily decorated fingernails, but sharp wedges of cartilage that had been lacquered to a steely hardness. Sliding her mouth off Daniel, a long string of saliva trailing from her mouth, Bast turned to look at Jack over her shoulder, a smug smile on her lips. Then she punched two of those fingernails into Daniel’s left femoral artery.

Jack wanted to be sick. While he hollered and shouted imprecations, he wanted to turn his head and vomit all over the pretty tile courtyard, but he couldn’t leave Daniel’s gaze, couldn’t leave Daniel to feel his life draining out of him, alone. He kept his face turned to Daniel’s, even as those eyes, so blue, like the Aegean Sea, started to glaze over. The blood poured from his thigh, rich and red, and Bast touched her tongue delicately to the wound and began to lap at it.

Minutes passed, Jack fell silent, sickened and heart-sick, and still Bast tongued the wound, letting the blood run over her chin, down her neck, pooling between her perfect breasts, sliding down her belly, her hands clutching spasmodically on Daniel’s calves, and Daniel’s face lost all color, shading from tan to pink to a ghastly, paper-white. Jack never once broke the look he had with Daniel, their gazes locked, even as Daniel’s eyes lost focus, lost depth, lost life.

“Jack,” Daniel groaned, and his eyes slowly closed. Then his body sagged until he was nothing more than beautiful muscle and skin hanging from the silver chains.

After a few more minutes of licking, Bast rose and gestured to her Jaffa, who unchained Daniel’s bloody body and dragged it to the sarcophagus. Opening the casket with a grind, they pitched Daniel’s body inside like a sack of meal. But the sarcophagus did not close.

Jack tasted blood and realized he had bitten his lip. He barely acknowledged Bast when the Goa’uld queen stood before him, his eyes riveted on Daniel’s lifeless body in the sarcophagus. He didn’t even notice when her tongue, still red with Daniel’s blood, began to lick at the corners of his mouth, her hands stroking his nipples. Only when she ripped the linen kilt from his hips did his gaze drift back to her, shocky and unstable.

“O’Neill of the Tau’ri,” Bast whispered, cupping his balls in her fingernails, like ripe peaches balanced precariously on the tips of needles. He hadn’t been dosed with the people-nip, and those nails felt like railroad spikes. “How the System Lords will clamor to hear the tales of this.” Jack felt himself suddenly snap into focus, the fear thrumming through him as Bast fondled him almost delicately. Her teeth, sharp and edged like a cat’s, latched onto a nipple and Jack gritted his teeth to keep himself silent. Her pointed nails scored down his chest, down his ribs, from his hips to his thighs, and then he saw her go to her knees and closed his eyes. A few labored breaths later and he was in her mouth, limp and practically shriveling, and he felt sick again. Then there was the driving pain in his thigh, and the warm rush of blood down his leg, and he felt the world begin to swim. His last thought as his life ebbed out over Bast’s lips was that, at least, they would put him with Daniel in the sarcophagus and they could be dead together.

~*~

They awoke lying on a large, soft bed, the soothing shadows of the moon blowing in through the floor-length draperies that covered the windows. They lay there, hyper-aware of each other and of themselves, listening to the sound of their blood pumping once again through their veins. Daniel wanted to groan as he shifted, but he found, just like so many years ago, that he felt good. Better than good. He felt energized. And the knowledge of why he felt so good drained all the strength from his limbs. “Well, shit,” he said softly to the white canopy overhead.

“That about sums it up,” Jack replied, just as softly, then turned on his side and propped his head up on his hand to look at Daniel. “You all right?” he asked.

“For having been dead?” Daniel asked, not looking at Jack. “You bet. Can’t wait for it to happen again. Once more, with feeling.”

“What do you suppose she’s up to? I mean, why not sling us into a dungeon or whatever passes for a dungeon in this place, instead of giving us a nice, soft bed? What’s up with that?” Jack shimmied a little closer to Daniel, needing to feel the heat from Daniel’s skin. This mission had turned so ugly and so surreal in a matter of minutes. Daniel was normal, was comforting, was … Daniel.

Daniel shrugged, his eyes still on the canopy. “I don’t know. Well, I can guess.” And he was silent.

“So guess already,” Jack urged, poking him gently with his free hand.

Daniel batted the hand away in irritation. “I think it’s just mind games,” he said slowly, thoughtfully, finally turning his head to look at Jack, his face a tapestry of moonlight and dark shadows. “I think she’s giving us time together to make us feel normal, or something, and then she’ll start all over again tomorrow and it’ll be that much harder for us after having a respite.”

“Oh.” Jack thought on this a while, and didn’t like his conclusions. “This is going to suck.”

Daniel snorted. “Ya think? What gave it away?”

Jack grimaced. “Smart ass.” He thought for another long moment, then said, “I’m hungry. And there’s food and something to drink over there.” Pointing at a well-laden table across the room, he sat up and realized that he was naked under the light sheet that covered them. “Well, hell,” he commented, looking at his naked thighs.

Daniel made the same discovery and pondered for a moment before shrugging, pulled the sheet around him – which brought an annoyed “Hey!” from Jack – and made his stumbling way to the table. Jack rolled his eyes, ripped a drapery off the bed, wrapped it around himself, and joined Daniel, who had already started in on the fruit and icy water.

They ate in silence for a while, handing each other bread, cheeses, and spicy dried meats that neither wanted to guess what it might be. After they had sated themselves and drunk half the water in one gulp, they sank back in their chairs, looking soberly into the depths of their cups.

“Suppose there’s any point to seeing what’s out there?” Daniel asked, gesturing beyond the blowing draperies to what was obviously a veranda.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Jack said, just as a shadow passed before the window. “Yup. Jaffa. I’m betting lots of ‘em.”

“And even if we did try to escape,” Daniel added gloomily, “and even if she killed us, she’d just bring us back to life in the sarcophagus. Oh, the choices. Die at her whim or ours. I’m thinking, the fewer times in the sarcophagus, the better.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jack agreed, draining his cup. “So no escape right now. Why add on extra deaths?”

Daniel turned a little pale, visible even in the moonlight. “Why, indeed?” he said softly.

“Daniel?” Jack sat forward, a hand coming over the table to touch Daniel’s forearm.

Daniel took a deep breath, centering himself. “I’m fine,” he said, attempting a smile that came out small and beleaguered.

Jack’s hand settled warmly on Daniel’s arm, then clasped and tugged. “Let’s go be comfortable,” he said, and led Daniel over to the bed.

They arranged themselves beneath the sheet that Daniel unwound from his hips, and after a few moments of lying stiffly next to each other, again aware of their bodies, their nakedness, their pained vulnerability, Jack rolled over and took Daniel in his arms, feeling the younger man’s cool skin against his own like fresh cotton. “We’ll figure this out,” Jack whispered into Daniel’s hair, and Daniel nodded, holding Jack’s shoulders in an iron grip. They lay that way for a little while, their breaths slowing, evening, the thumping of their hearts calming. Then they settled into the mattress, their backs firmly pressed against each other so they could, futilely, keep an eye on the room beyond their bed.

~*~

The next time Bast chained them to the pillars, she chained them facing the stone so they couldn’t see each other, their arms wrapped around the pillars, cheeks pressed to the marble. To make it worse, she blindfolded them, so all they could do was talk to each other, hear each other. There really was nothing they could say but “Hang in there” and “I’m here for you” and “Breathe through it” like it was some sort of obscene Lamaze class. They knew they were mouthing platitudes. All that really helped was knowing that each man was so intently focused on the other, their thoughts so centered on the other, they could have sworn they were inside each other’s minds.

For her entertainment, the Cat Queen used a cat o’ nine tails, each strip of the whip tipped with a barb that caught cruelly at the flesh. Over and over she lashed them, wandering back and forth between Jack and Daniel, a bloody trail of her footprints marking over the pristine courtyard tiles between the two men. She talked at them, endlessly, describing how they looked in great detail, her words sharp and gloating as she pulled off shreds of their flesh and tossed them to her cats. Then she herself shimmied up behind each of them, running her tongue over the gouges in their backs, raspy and laving, from their shoulders down to their waists, then over the deeply carved runnels in their buttocks and thighs. Once, Daniel shuddered as she sucked the blood from the back of his knee and he choked out, “You really are a sick bitch, you know that?” and she merely dug one of her lethal fingernails in between his third and fourth ribs and pulled herself up his body like climbing a rock wall with pitons.

When it was Jack’s turn to serve as a bloody buffet, he tried to make some comment about Bast coughing up hairballs, but he couldn’t get the tone right, his voice flat and plodding with pain.

When they died this time, they had no skin left on their entire backsides, their blood running freely from tortured veins and muscles. Bast’s cats milled about their feet, lipping at the streams of blood that ran between them and joined in a pool at the foot of the sarcophagus.

~*~

They awoke just as the sun was setting, fresh energy racing through them, laid out side by side on the bed. They didn’t move for a while, merely lay there, feeling how fresh and new their skin felt, their backs rubbing against the cool sheets, the wind whispering over their healed skin. Sinew and tendon flexed properly again as they rolled and sat up, gingerly testing their shoulders, their backs, inspecting each other to reassure themselves that they were whole again. Finally, still without speaking, not bothering with the dubious coverage of sheet or drapery, they arose as one in their bare skins and went to the table where dinner waited for them. Still in silence, they ate, consumed by their own thoughts, dark and brooding. But they sat with their chairs flush against each other so their arms knocked as they reached for goblets, their knees brushed under the fine linen tablecloth. They shared the same plate and the same cup, eating quickly, drinking deeply. The water was icy, and in a small carafe they found a sweetened wine of lotus flowers.

“How many times has she killed us now?” Jack asked at one point, his voice husky.

Daniel shrugged listlessly. “I don’t know. I lost count.”

And they were silent again until they were finished with their meal.

When they did finally speak at length, it was to murmur words of comfort. No more trying to figure out what Bast’s plan was. It was obvious. They were toys, truly toys to her, bright, shiny Tau’ri toys, somethings, not someones, to be played with. Every time she took their blood and flesh from them, they felt the despair deeper in their hearts, like a sick, lurking feeling that could never be vomited up. So they tried to stem that sickness and spoke of Sam and Teal’c, wondering if they were alive, if they were back home, if they could ever come for them. And then they would speak of other friends, and told each other of their younger selves before the Stargate had burst its event horizon through their lives. And when the hope of friends faded with the moon, they would simply whisper of the colors of their planet, the feel of the seasons, something to hold against the endless vista of sand and desert and dunes that assaulted them whenever they rose from their bed to be taken to Bast’s courtyard of horror. Then, when the words ran out, dry and useless, they simply held each other, huddled on a divan that faced the moonlit veranda, trying to find an internal warmth that was daily being leeched from them.

~*~

Bast killed them with sand, the whitest, finest sand, trickling it down their skin, drying their pores, clogging their senses. Pumped full of the hallucinogenic smoke, they could only hang, hardened and wanting, while she scrubbed their dicks with the sand, removing layer after painful layer of skin, then licking the blood from the tips. Laughing joyously, she held fistfuls of the stuff and flung it at them, scouring their eyes with it. The sun was brutal, glaring off the sand, stabbing their eyes with white reflections. “My lovely humans,” Bast murmured, rubbing herself against their legs, the sand like talc between their flesh and hers, sliding, shifting, her wet heat leaving sticky trails down their hips through the soft sand. She forced it down their throats, poured it in drifts about their feet until it reached their knees, their chests, their necks, until they choked on the grains, until there was nothing to breathe but sand and more sand. She piled the sand until their eyes were dry and gritted, until their nostrils were cemented, their ears stopped, and death was a welcome haven from the scouring bits of tiny stones, even as she tore their orgasms from them with her hands and her fingernails. And again, even as she killed them, she spoke to them, promising more blood, more pain, more death. “Pretty Tau’ri,” she whispered, and kissed and jerked the last of their breath out of them.

~*~

Part II



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