Daniel knew the significance. Well, of course, he did. Any anthropologist worth his faux-sheepskin would. A blood bond. A blood oath. Blood brothers meant something, or had at one time. And here, apparently, it still did. Blood used as a primitive means of binding the conspirators together. Primitive, but perhaps as effective as any other method. Blood is thicker than water...well, Jack would probably know all the clichés. The core idea was that sharing blood bound them as a de facto family.
But for all the distracting babble Daniel's mind offered, it couldn't eliminate the root of the problem. Rituals were cool. Normally, Daniel lived for rituals, and all the other bits of cultural assemblage he could find. But Daniel lived in the age of and on a world with A.I.D.S. and the thought of taking anyone's blood, let alone a stranger's, into his own body went against everything he knew.
"Drink," Lukas commanded. He held his wrist up before Daniel. Blood welled from a small cut. Daniel stared, then turned his gaze away. He studied the small, dark room. The walls and furniture were built of wood and darkened by years of smoke and grime. The only light, from a massive fireplace in the far wall, flickered over the somber, watchful faces of the conspirators.
The mission required that Daniel succeed in winning a place among this small group of people. People who, according to Tok'ra rumors, had the means to wipe the Goa'uld from existence. Daniel didn't know yet if the rumors were true. Before the conspirators would take him into their confidence he had to prove himself. He had to become one of them. He had to taste Lukas' blood. Alone, Daniel had to make the decision to proceed or abort the mission by himself, but he couldn't make the decision purely for himself. Other lives were dependent on his choice, which meant he didn't really have a choice.
Snacks before businessJack's idea of a meeting. Daniel almost laughed at the thought. Then he lowered his head and hesitantly licked the blood from Lukas' wrist.
When he'd cleaned the fluid away, grimacing at the taste, another arm was thrust in front of his face. Blood oozed from another small puncture. Daniel looked up, eyes widened in alarm. All of them? He had to drink from all of them?
"Semma, Jorgen, Ilyian," Lukas said, pointing to each person in turn. Okay, only four of them. Four alien humans. Four times the potential exposure to who knew what. Daniel prayed the SGC epidemiology department was at full staff and reached for Jorgen.
"I've done just about everything to get out of meetings but...." Jack's words were teasing; the tone of his voice was anything but.
"I was frustrated but not to the point of suicide." Daniel knew the small cuts crossing his forearm and wrist looked like the first hesitant attempts at self harm. The others had done the cutting before drinking Daniel's blood. And of all the weird, fucked up things he'd done since joining the SGC, that had been one of the weirdest.
"Then what?" Janet asked, Daniel's chart firmly in her grasp.
"They have this...blood brother ritual," Daniel said vaguely. He was finding it difficult to admit that not only had these people cut him and drunk his blood, but he'd done it first.
"You were exposed to their blood?" Janet asked sharply. Daniel nodded. Janet made a note in his chart, gritting her teeth. "We'll have to monitor you. And I'm going to start you on antibiotics and antivirals prophylactically."
Daniel nodded again, relieved that she wasn't going to demand the particulars of his exposure. Monitoring and preventative medication were the least he'd expected.
"These guys better have the goods," Jack said. There was a subtle warning tone in his voice, but Daniel didn't know if it was directed at him or the conspirators. Jack never liked being out of the loop. He knew covert ops and infiltration and he knew as well or better than Daniel that sometimes a mission depended on one man's ability to ingratiate himself with the target group. But he never, ever liked it.
"I don't know yet," Daniel admitted.
"Let me get this straight," Jack said as Janet appropriated Daniel's arm for more blood samples. "You exposed yourself, and thereby the rest of us, to potential alien contamination and you got squat to show for it?"
"They told me a little of who they are and how they came to be together," Daniel said, knowing that wasn't what Jack wanted to hear. Daniel shrugged. The movement jostled his arm and provoked an exasperated look from Janet. She gave his arm a hard tug and reconnected the vial meant to capture his blood. "They weren't going to tell me everything at the first meeting. You wouldn't."
"What do you think?" Jack asked.
"They believe they have something," Daniel said. There'd been a mixture of excitement and smug secrecy among the conspirators. They were certain they had the answer to the Goa'uld. Daniel hoped they were right.
"First, we share," Lukas said.
Puzzled, Daniel looked around to see various cutting implements being brought out, glittering in the firelight. Okay, so the blood ritual must be an integral part of all their meetings. Daniel grimaced. He hadn't suffered any ill effects from his initial exposure, but he wasn't keen to keep challenging the odds.
Daniel turned back to question Lukas and blinked when he found Semma standing in front of him, her blouse open. She punctured the flesh of one heavy breast with the tip of a knife, then cupped the breast in her other hand, lifting it in an unmistakable offering.
Daniel swallowed hard. Under other circumstances he supposed it could be erotic, but it just wasn't ringing his bell in any way. On the previous occasion the ritual hadn't had any overt sexual overtones that he'd noticed. It still didn't, not for him. But then, Semma didn't appear interested either. She looked bored.
Daniel did his duty, drinking blood and winning the trust of the other conspirators. He wiped his mouth, and then began to roll up his sleeve in preparation for his own contribution. Jorgen stopped him, wrapping one hand around Daniel's wrist and raising a knife in the other. Puzzled, Daniel nevertheless remained passive, determined that nothing short of outright mutilation would stop him from learning their secret.
Jorgen pulled the neck of Daniel's shirt aside and cut, just above his collarbone. When Jorgen fastened his mouth on Daniel's shoulder, his beard bristling against the skin of Daniel's neck, it was all he could do to keep from pulling away in disgust. He'd felt only squeamish the first time as strange mouths sucked at his skin. This was worse. It was a mockery of sex, too damned intimate an act to allow a stranger.
Daniel silently listed the names of the Goa'uld System Lords, the ones he would be able to destroy when this was all done, and tried to ignore the feeling of Jorgen's lips against his skin. Fortunately, the next conspirator was content to choose a less intimate spot. Still, it was hours before Daniel's skin stopped trying to crawl away from the memory of the contact.
"Daniel? What's wrong?"
"Flu?" Daniel didn't know. Didn't really care either, the cause was immaterial. He felt awful; his stomach was cramping and twisting. The rest of his digestive tract was getting revved up for another round of the peristalsis cha-cha, too.
"There are better ways to get out of helping me re-shingle my roof." Jack gave Daniel a long, hard look. "Not many that are more convincing, though."
Jack pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "Look, I'll just call Fraiser and...."
"No," Daniel groaned. The absolute last thing he wanted was anyone watching while his body purged itself. Jack surely had better things to do with his time. Daniel certainly did. Unfortunately he wasn't being given a choice. "Go. Please just go."
"Go, Jack." Daniel tried to burrow deeper under his bedding, hoping to lapse into a coma until his body decided to stop messing around.
"All right, I'll leave you be. Do you need me to get you anything before I go?" Jack asked.
"Just turn out the lights."
"Take it easy, big guy," Jack said. He gave Daniel's shoulder a light pat and left.
"Tell that to my gut," Daniel mumbled from under the blanket.
The next time Daniel was awake and semi-coherent, he stared at his bedside table with bleary eyes. Somehow, through the utter misery of his body, he smiled. Lined up on the table were a carafe of water, a bottle of Tylenol, a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and his cell phone. Jack had left his unique calling cards in a neat and easily reachable row.
"Hey, Daniel, you awake?"
And obviously Jack was still there, or had returned. Daniel wasn't sure how much time had passed. He grunt-mumbled something he hoped Jack would take as an acknowledgment of his presence and permission to leave. Or as whatever. At this point Daniel couldn't bring himself to care.
"Think maybe you could attempt a few actual words?" Jack's hand brushed against his forehead, his fingers wonderfully cool.
"You left water," Daniel said, his voice rough from a throat that felt like it had been washed in acid.
"Yeah, seven hours ago. And you haven't touched it," Jack said, his hand resting briefly on Daniel's forehead. Daniel frowned, trying to focus his eyes on Jack. "Jesus, Daniel, you're burning up. We've got to get some Tylenol into you."
Daniel gagged at the mere thought of trying to put something in his stomach. And damn that hurt.
"Shhh sshhh." Jack hand rubbed lightly across Daniel's back. "It's okay. Just settle down. I'm not going to make you do anything that'll make you feel worse."
"Not possible," Daniel mumbled. A ruptured appendix hadn't felt this bad. Hell, he'd died feeling less misery. He sincerely doubted that Jack could do anything to worsen the situation. Daniel began to drift off into a heated fog when there was no immediate response from Jack. Then something cold shocked him back to awareness.
"Wha...?" Daniel asked as Jack smoothed the damp cloth against his forehead.
"Shh, go to sleep," Jack said. Another cool cloth was laid against the back of his neck. "Just trying to knock the fever back a little."
"Feels good," Daniel mumbled, even though the contrast between the cold cloth and the heat of his skin made him shiver. "Thanks."
"Just so you knowif I catch this from you, I'll expect you to wait on me hand and foot," Jack said, his voice quiet.
"Man, you must be sick," Jack said, shaking his head.
"Sick," Daniel agreed, because he was. Although at that point he probably would've agreed with anything Jack said. Daniel felt completely wrung out. Passive. Downright inert. It was entirely possible he would've agreed with anything anyone said.
"Sleep," Jack said again. So Daniel did.
Daniel tried to get comfortable but something was biting at the back of his hand every time he moved. Frustrated, he tried to brush away whatever was pinching and biting and god that was annoying.
Janet's sharp command made him freeze in place, a conditioned, self-protective response. Daniel opened his eyes and looked down along his body. His vision was blurry, but he could see that the thing that had been biting his hand was an I.V. He'd managed to pull one end of the tape loose, but the needle was still in place. Janet retaped the line and turned to look at him.
"Sick?" Daniel asked. Well, it was a fifty-fifty shot. If he was in the infirmary then he had to be either sick or injured. On really bad days he'd been both.
"You don't remember?"
Daniel closed his eyes again and thought. He nodded his head. "Sick."
"Yes, very," Janet agreed.
"How did I...?" Daniel definitely remembered being at home when the crud had hit him in the middle of the night. Then he grimaced. "Jack."
"You remember that?" Janet asked, sounding surprised.
"No, don't remember it, but who else?"
"He brought you in when your fever spiked and he couldn't wake you." Janet shared a knowing smile with Daniel. "One of his smarter decisions."
"Some flu going around?" Daniel asked. No flu had ever hit him this hard before, but he didn't know what else it could be.
"My gut feeling is that it was food poisoning."
"It fits better with the timeline," Janet said.
"Wow. So I probably shouldn't have drunk the milk after the expiration date," Daniel said.
"I was too tired to go grocery shopping, and it was only a day past expiration," Daniel protested.
"Never eat or drink anything past its expiration date," Janet lectured.
"Now you tell me." Daniel winced at Janet's angry glare. "It smelled fine. Tasted fine, too."
"Bacteria can be growing even before it affects the taste or smell. Those dates are on there for a reason, Daniel."
"But I'm going to live, right?"
"Yes," Janet said with an exasperated sigh. "You'll live."
"All I've managed to learn is that it's a biological agent," Daniel said as he gave his latest, though not particularly more informative report on the conspiracy.
"Viral? Bacterial?" Sam asked. She sat across the briefing room table from Daniel.
"I don't even know that much."
"You know, it's about time these guys started talking," Jack said, his tone loud and rapidly approaching annoyed. Daniel agreed in principle, but some things couldn't be forced.
"Whatever it is, it's not contagious. At least, it's not something that can be transmitted through the air or water," Daniel said. "It has to be delivered directly to each Goa'uld. Apparently what they're waiting for is to have enough conspirators to be able to take action against multiple System Lords at the same time."
"Do the other conspirators know what this biological agent is?" Hammond asked.
"I think so." Daniel shook off the offer of more coffee when Jack slid the carafe toward him. "But you have to realize, these people all knew each other before they became conspirators. Or at least knew of each other. I'm an outsider in this group."
"Oh, for...." Jack scowled. "You've been a good little boy scout: attended all the meetings, learned the secret handshake. It's about time they started sharing."
"Dr. Jackson, do you believe it's worth pursuing this any further?" Hammond asked.
"I've invested this much time already, and passed their little initiation ritual. Seems silly to stop now," Daniel said. The worst was over. All he needed now was patience. "Sooner or later they'll have to confide in me."
"You sure they don't have something more immediately helpful?" Jack asked. "Like some kind of blaster or disintegrator ray gun?"
"Other than one small anomaly outside the main city, there's no indication of advanced technology." Sam's hand rested on her report, but she didn't need it. She had all the pertinent data in her head. "No energy readings, no electrical or radioactive emissions. There's not even any real pollution to speak of."
"You've seen them," Daniel told Jack. True, the other members of SG-1 had only seen from a distance. Since the conspirators were part of secret group within a larger yet still closed society, the Tok'ra had strongly recommended that only one person attempt to infiltrate the group. Having been voted "Most likely to assimilate," Daniel had gotten the nod. Still, even from a distance, it had been immediately apparent that the people of that world were strictly low tech.
"Yeah, yeah, they're just a simple people," Jack said sarcastically. "Which begs the question of how such an undeveloped society could have anything to use against the Goa'uld."
"We have seen stranger things," Teal'c said.
Jack nodded. "That's what worries me."
"If you want to diet, that's your choice. I don't think you need to but...."
Daniel frowned as Janet's words trailed off. He wasn't dieting. He knew he'd lost weight recently but it wasn't intentional. He simply couldn't stand the taste of food. The lack of taste, really. Ever since his bout of flu, food tasted like...like nothing. All he sensed now was the texture, and without taste he often found the texture disgusting.
"You need to make sure your diet is balanced," Janet continued as Daniel hopped off the gurney and pulled his shirt on. "At least take supplements. Otherwise you could end up with significant nutritional deficiencies."
"Janet, can food poisoning affect your sense of taste?" Daniel asked.
"What do you mean?" Janet asked, looking up from his chart.
"Ever since I was sick a few weeks ago, nothing tastes good. Nothing tastes like much of anything at all," Daniel admitted.
"What about smell?" Janet asked.
"Smell?" Daniel sniffed thoughtfully. The distinctive chemical odor of the infirmary was readily apparent. "No, my sense of smell seems fine. Well, as good as it ever is given my allergies."
"Odd." Janet bit at her lower lip as she stared at Daniel, lost in thought.
"Janet?" Daniel prompted.
"Food poisoning shouldn't cause a loss of taste."
"What if it really was the flu?" Daniel asked. "Could that do it?"
"We'll do some tests," Janet said briskly, returning from wherever her thoughts had taken her. "Viruses can attack the nerves. It's more commonly the olfactory nerve, which interferes with the sense of smell. And lack of smell can affect the ability to taste, but it's possible you've had only taste affected."
"Will it come back?"
"Hard to say without knowing the cause. You haven't had any head injuries I don't know about?"
"Trust meyou know every time my head has been messed with in any way," Daniel said.
"Well, if it's due to a virus, there's a good chance it'll return, at least partially." Janet paused. "Maybe you should use one of the liquid supplements."
"No," Daniel said instantly. Those things tasted awful. In fact, his inability to taste them might actually be an improvement, but he still didn't want to use them. "I'll just have to pay more attention, make sure I eat even though I don't feel like it."
"You're not hungry either?" Janet asked.
"No, I'm hungry." Starving most days. "It's just that when the actual food is in front of me, it's kind of...nauseating."
"I see. Well, it should be temporary." Janet patted him on the shoulder. "You let me know if you need help."
Daniel stumbled blindly through the dark streets, moving in the direction of the gate in the city wall. He wanted to erase this night from his mind. He wanted to erase all his dealings with the conspiracy from his mind.
He'd been excited at first. The standard ritual sharing of blood had given him his first taste in weeks. He'd thought that taken-for-granted-until-it-was-gone sense was finally returning. Truly a banner occasion: he'd gotten his sense of taste back and the conspirators were finally ready to share their knowledge with him.
It had dawned on him a short time later that evening, as they ate more ordinary fare, that food was still an unappetizing, tasteless mush. Only blood set his taste buds alive.
Lukas had simply smiled when Daniel confronted him with his suspicions, smiled and confirmed Daniel's fears. Daniel was bound to them now, irrevocably and forever. He would need blood for the rest of his life and where else would he find it? Only among the brotherhood of conspirators. There he would receive what he needed, as much as he needed.
Andworst of allthis change was part of what would allow the conspirators to defeat the Goa'uld. They would take on a symbiote, and all its advantages, without surrendering to its control. It seemed that the Goa'uld could neither eliminate nor adapt to these changes in the host's body. The Goa'uld's mind was damaged, leaving only its physical abilities behind, which meant the conspirators weren't an answer to the Goa'uld problem. They were simply a new spin on the old problem.
"Jack?" Daniel spun around to see Jack emerging from the shadows. He was hooded and cloaked, superficially passing as one of the city's inhabitants. But this wasn't their rendezvous point. Jack was supposed to be waiting near the city gate. "What...what are you...?"
"What's wrong?" Jack asked, studying Daniel closely. Daniel glanced over his shoulder, but he didn't detect any signs of the other conspirators. "Daniel?"
"We have to go."
"Did you get the information?"
Daniel gritted his teeth against the despair that was waiting for him. Waiting for a quiet, solitary moment in which to make him face his new reality.
"Daniel?" Jack said more sharply.
"I'll explain when we get home."
"So these people can't defeat the Goa'uld?" Hammond asked, standing next to Daniel's gurney in the infirmary.
"Not...not really," Daniel said, twisting his fingers together. Janet was busy getting his vitals, and Jack just behind Hammond's right shoulder, waiting more or less patiently. "They take on the symbiote without surrendering to its control. In fact, the symbiote is left essentially brain damaged."
"Ding, dong the witch is dead," Jack sang under his breath.
"Not exactly," Daniel said. "The mind is gone, but the symbiote body is intact. Therein lies my biggest concern. The members of the conspiracy claim they won't use their enhanced abilities. That they only intend to make enough of them to assimilate as many System Lords as possible before turning their new abilities against the remaining Goa'uld."
"I suppose it could work," Jack said. Daniel shook his head.
"You don't agree?" Hammond asked.
"Even if they could wipe out all the independent Goa'uld, they'll never put aside their enhanced abilities. They'll simply become the new Goa'uld. Not as evil, I suppose, but power is seductive. They'll use it. They'll believe they have the right to use it." Daniel ran his hands through his hair, grabbing it. "Look what they've given up."
"What have they given up?" Hammond asked.
"Their humanity." Daniel stared at his shoes and noted that one lace had come untied.
"They're not.... In order to survive they have to feed on each other. Blood. They need blood. The ritual isn't just an initiation, it's essential for their survival."
"Daniel." Jack's hand gripped one of his shoulders. Daniel tried to pull back, keeping his head down, but Jack's grip was relentless. "Daniel, did they...? Are you...?"
"I'm...like them," Daniel admitted. Jack's grip tightened painfully for a second, then he relaxed and started kneading Daniel's tense shoulders.
What Daniel didn't tell Jackor Hammond or Fraiserwas that taking on a symbiote was only the first step. Maybe not even the most important step. After that, after becoming one of the 'new' Goa'uld, the conspirators were to spread the infection through the rest of the Goa'uld through sex. The Goa'uld liked their sex rough. There was biting and scratching. There was blood, and where there was blood there was infection. This infection was an alien S.T.D., a sort of Goa'uld A.I.D.S. And right now Daniel was feeling like Patient Zero.
"It's called a prion," Janet said as she took her seat at the briefing table. Jack, seated to Hammond's right, frowned.
"You mean the same kind of biological agent that causes ?" Sam's voice trailed off as she glanced across the table at Daniel.
"Kuru," Daniel said. Next to him, he felt Jack staring.
"What is this kuru?" Teal'c asked.
"A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that's transmitted by eating the brains of infected people," Daniel said, mentally reviewing what he knew of the disorder and its transmission.
"Also Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy," Sam said.
"Excuse me? Mad cow disease? Daniel has...." Jack looked horrified. He turned on Janet. "Why didn't someone catch this earlier?"
"Prion based diseases are relatively uncommon on Earth, sir." Janet's back had stiffened in response to Jack's implied accusation. "After Daniel's initial exposure to the blood of these people, we ran tests for bacterial and viral organisms as well as chemical toxins, but none of those tests would reveal the presence of prions."
"So how do you know Daniel actually has these things?" Jack asked.
"We began running more intensive tests after we knew something had been transmitted." Janet lowered her eyes, her fingers picking at the corner of one of her reports.
"And?" Daniel prompted.
"The levels in your blood are relatively low, although sufficient for transmission of the disease." Janet paused. "But the concentration in your cerebrospinal fluid is high."
"Meaning it's in my brain," Daniel said.
"We don't know that for certain," Sam said. Then, less confident, she turned to Janet. "Do we?"
"No, we don't," Janet said. She raised her chin and met Daniel's gaze. "All we know is that it is present in Daniel's body and is presumably the cause of these...changes."
"If it's in my cerebrospinal fluid, then isn't it logical to assume that it's in my brain? Especially given that these kinds of diseases tend to attack the nervous system?" Daniel said.
"Logical, but by no means certain," Janet said.
"Isn't there a test we can do so that we'll know for sure?" Jack asked.
"There's really only one type of examination that will conclusively prove the prions are attacking Daniel's brain."
"Well? What are you waiting for?" Jack demanded.
"It requires an autopsy, sir."
Daniel stared at his hands in the silence that followed Fraiser's answer. On the periphery of his senses he was aware of Jack gaping at Janet, Sam staring at her own hands, Teal'c watching Daniel, and Hammond being...Hammond. Daniel thought that showed great strength on the general's part, because Daniel was having a hard time just being Daniel at the moment.
"Okay, so since I'm not planning to do that anytime soon what now?" Daniel asked.
"We're bringing in the best scientists in the field," Janet said.
"Just for me?" Daniel said skeptically.
"We requested assistance on your behalf," Hammond said. "Approval was given because of the unique opportunity your condition has given them."
"Right." Daniel slumped back in his chair. He caught sight of Hammond's rather grim expression. "Look, I didn't mean that you would.... I know that you didn't have any ulterior motives, General."
"It's all right, Dr. Jackson. I fully understand your suspicions regarding the motives of some factions of our government." Hammond turned to Janet, Daniel's rudeness forgiven. "In the meantime, Doctor, what about Dr. Jackson's unusual nutritional requirements?"
Daniel winced. He appreciated Hammond's delicacy, but it was still embarrassing. Like having a public discussion of his masturbatory history or toilet habits.
"It seems that one of the changes the prions have made to Daniel's body is to alter his digestive system. This change, along with the need for blood from an external source, must serve some purpose, but we haven't determined yet what that purpose is," Janet said.
"So what's Daniel supposed to do in the meantime?" Jack asked.
"We have a couple of options we're exploring," Janet said vaguely. Daniel grimaced to himself. There was really only one option, and the notion of drinking from the bags of donated blood in the infirmary was distasteful to say the least.
"Very well," Hammond said. "Dr. Jackson, I assume you realize that under the circumstances you will be placed on restricted duty."
"I figured as much."
"As long as you feel up to it, and Dr. Fraiser agrees, you can go about your normal duties on the base," Hammond continued. "But I can't allow you to travel off world."
"Daniel, we have to do something."
Daniel looked up from where he was sprawled on his couch. He knew he should've locked his front door when he dragged himself back from the mountain at the end of his shift, but at the time it had seemed like an unnecessarily large expenditure of energy.
"Daniel, are you listening to me?" Jack stared down at Daniel.
"Like what, Jack?" Daniel closed his eyes and rolled toward the back of the couch. "Maybe if you had some concrete suggestions...."
"You're starving," Jack said. He grabbed Daniel by the shoulder and rolled him onto his back.
"I eat," Daniel said. He did. He choked down a liquid meal three times a day. Sometimes it even stayed down. In some ways he felt better now than he had in the beginning. Then his stomach had burned, churning and gnawing on itself with its need for sustenance, but now his stomach had shriveled to a hard ball just below his breastbone. It didn't really bother him much, as long as he didn't bother it.
"Doc thinks your body can't absorb the nutrients anymore, not unless you give it what it needs first."
"Yeah, well, that isn't going to happen."
"Damn it, Jack." Daniel swung his legs down and sat up on the edge of the couch. The sudden change in altitude made his head spin for a moment, but he grabbed onto the edge of the cushions to steady himself. "What my body needs is blood."
"So give it blood." Jack sat down on the coffee table, facing Daniel. "The infirmary has a blood bank."
"That's for people who need it. People who've been injured in the line of duty."
"Which is exactly what happened to you," Jack said.
"I can't." The idea nauseated Daniel. The very idea of his condition nauseated him, and as much as he didn't want to die, he was having a hard time facing life as a...as whatever the hell he was.
"Damn it," Jack muttered. He pulled a pocket knife from his jeans and flipped open one of the blades.
"Jack?" Daniel watched in horrified fascination as Jack made a quick slicing motion across his forearm. He noted, with equal horror, his own reaction to the sight and scent of Jack's blood as it welled up and began to slowly trickle away from the cut. His stomach roared to life, his mouth grew damp as his salivary glands reacted to the promise of food.
"No," Daniel said, more to himself than to Jack. He got to his feet and tried to back away. Jack followed, grabbed Daniel by the shirt collar with one hand and put his forearm against Daniel's mouth.
"Let's not waste this. I don't exactly have an unlimited supply," Jack said. He held his arm firmly against Daniel's lips, but force wasn't necessary. With the first warm taste, all Daniel's resistance faded. He licked at the free flowing liquid, then sucked to bring more. Every cell in his body woke up, crying out and demanding more until his head was spinning with the mother of all head rushes.
"Snap out of it, Daniel."
Daniel blinked a few times and wondered why the hell his left side was cold. Then he realized he was lying on the floor and that damn draft from his front door, the one he was always meaning to fix, was blowing straight at him.
"Daniel, come on. You need to eat."
"I, um...." Daniel stared at the ceiling. He'd already eaten. From Jack. Of Jack.
"We got the system primed," Jack said, his tone matter of fact. "Now you need to get some real food into you while it can do some good."
"Why am I on the floor?" Daniel asked, because he wasn't quite ready to deal with anything else yet.
"You fainted. Or something," Jack said. He was sitting on the floor at Daniel's side, his legs spread out in front of him. He appeared to be completely unfazed by the fact that he'd just fed his best friend an appetizer of his own bodily fluids.
"I didn't." Daniel thought he probably had. He'd been intoxicated by the blood. It had made his body burn and his mind reel. Even now he felt a core of warmth deep inside, pulsing, ebbing and flowing into his extremities. All his extremities, which was more than a little disconcerting. He thought he might have some small idea of how Dracula would've felt, going from cold, indifferent death to a heated, pulsing semblance of life.
"Swooned even," Jack said. Daniel groaned at the image. "And I have to say I don't think I've ever had a hickey in that exact location."
"What?" Daniel rolled toward Jack and grabbed his arm. Sure enough, around the clean and now bloodless cut was one hell of a red mark. "Oh, god."
"Daniel." Jack laid his free hand against Daniel's cheek. "We will do whatever it takes. And I don't want to hear any crap. You'd do it for me."
"Of course." Daniel wouldn't think twice about doing it for Jack. But that was different.
"You shouldn't have let it go so long," Jack said, angry. Daniel sighed and allowed Jack to usher him through the front door to Jack's house, too tired to argue the point. He'd felt good well, pretty good for several days. And then reasonably good for a few more days. And then and then he'd been called in to handle a translation for a delicate negotiation and he'd felt the energy seeping from his body with every sentence he crafted.
"Why didn't you tell someone?" Jack continued. His tone was still sharp, but his hand was gentle, guiding Daniel to the couch.
"Jack, I can't...can't ask someone to do...that."
"Not even me?"
"You were on a mission," Daniel said. Which was sort of beside the point. A convenient excuse because even if Jack had been available, Daniel wouldn't have been able to bring himself to ask.
"I'm here now." Jack stood in front of Daniel as if daring him. Daniel hunched his shoulders and stared at his knees. "Is it really so horrible?"
"What do you think?" Daniel shot back, using up what seemed to be the last of his energy to glare at Jack.
"Thisthe vampire thingit's bad. I understand that." Jack sat down next to Daniel. "But this is me. You have to know by now that you can ask me for anything."
Daniel sagged against Jack, resting his head on his shoulder, because he did know he could ask Jack for anything. And Jack would most likely give it to him. That didn't make right, let alone easy.
"Okay." Jack patted Daniel's knee. "I won't make you ask."
Daniel woke up after having apparently 'swooned' again. He was lying on the couch, his head resting in Jack's lap. He was curled on his side, trying to snuggle up to Jack. Interestingly, Jack's lap was trying to snuggle back.
"Hey, bet you're hungry," Jack said as soon as he saw Daniel's eyes open. He lifted Daniel's head from his lap and let him drop, dazed, to the sofa cushion. Jack removed himself to behind the couch, looking everywhere but at Daniel.
"Um...hungry isn't a word I use much any more," Daniel reminded him.
"You have to eat."
"I know." Daniel rubbed his eyes and sat up on the side of the couch. "There are some of those liquid meals in the fridge."
"Those things taste disgusting," Jack said.
"Everything tastes disgusting. Well, except blood."
"Bet that's something you never thought you'd be saying."
"Somehow, the stargate is responsible for me saying and doing a lot of things I never thought I'd be saying or doing," Daniel said. He followed Jack into the kitchen.
"Most of the time it's kind of cool though." Jack pulled a package of roast beef, a brick of cheddar, and mustard from the fridge. He looked at the sandwich ingredients blankly, then snapped his fingers. "Pickles. You like pickles?"
"Pickles are fine." Daniel rubbed at his eyes. His body had been re-energized, but his brain was taking a while longer to get with the program. "Most of the stuff we've seen on the other side of the stargate is pretty cool. It'd be nice if we could avoid the ones that are going to come back and bite us on the ass, though."
Jack tapped a knife against the counter. "I should've canned the mission after the first time."
"It's not your fault."
"We don't know how much exposure is needed to make this change." Jack continued as if Daniel hadn't spoken. "If I'd pulled the plug that one exposure might not have been enough."
"Jack." Daniel handed him the bread. "This isn't your fault. Shit happens. And it happens a lot to SG-1."
"Yeah, well, I'd like for it to stop happening." Jack stopped slapping the sandwiches together long enough to turn a stubborn look on Daniel. "In fact, I'm thinking of getting an anti-shit insurance policy."
Daniel smiled. "You let me know how that works out, okay?"
"It's engineered," Janet announced.
Daniel looked up from his desk, squinting through the glare from his desk lamp. "What is?"
"The bug, Daniel."
Daniel glanced over, just now aware that Jack, Sam, and Teal'c had followed Janet into his office.
"The prions?" Daniel asked. Sam nodded. "Is that possible?"
"I wouldn't have thought so, but I can't argue with the evidence," Janet said. Daniel thought about asking what the evidence was, but he was fairly certain the explanation wouldn't be all that enlightening.
"What is the significance of this finding?" Teal'c asked.
"If it was engineered to do what it's doing, then we can engineer it to stop doing what it's doing," Sam said.
"We can?" Daniel asked. It always so sounded so simple when Sam said it like that. It just never turned out that way.
"Well, maybe not us," Sam admitted. "But somewhere there's a person who is capable of doing it, the person who engineered the prions in the first place."
"It's a big universe, Carter," Jack said, expressing Daniel's own skepticism.
"Could your conspirators have done this?" Janet asked.
"No. No, they aren't that advanced, technologically speaking," Daniel said. "They would've had to get the organism from someone else."
"Then should we not ask them what the source of this infection is?" Teal'c said.
"That would mean going back to that planet, talking to those people," Jack said.
"I'll do it," Daniel said.
"No," Jack said immediately.
"It's not like they can hurt me," Daniel argued. "They've already done their worst."
"As far as you know," Jack shot back.
"So I should just sit here and wait for this stuff to eat my brain?" Daniel asked. Jack opened his mouth as if to speak, then his shoulders slumped. "You know I'm right."
"You're not going alone this time."
The conspirators' planet had no moon, but even the darkness of a moonless night wasn't enough to hide the evidence. Daniel stared at the charred remains of the meeting house. What had been a narrow, two story building squeezed in between its neighbors was now nothing more than a pile of rubble pierced by a few blackened timbers.
"Daniel, are you sure...?" Sam asked.
"This is it. Was it."
"Looks like maybe the locals did the angry mob thing," Jack observed. Daniel had to agree. The surrounding buildings bore scorch marks on their sides, but they were intact. This destruction had been aimed at the conspirators' meeting place, and nowhere else.
"We purified the evil ones."
SG-1 swung around at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, Jack and Sam with their weapons up and ready. A burly man, his rough clothing covered by a greasy apron, stepped forward out of the shadows. He stared at them with dark eyes sunk deep in a pale face. His long, dark hair, which looked as greasy as his apron, was tied at the back of his neck.
"You don't.... There were people in there?" Daniel asked, pointing back at the rubble.
"They weren't people. Not any more," the man said. Jack put a hand against Daniel's chest to restrain him. The gesture wasn't entirely necessary; Daniel was momentarily speechless. Yes, he was pissed at what the conspirators had done to him, but he didn't want to kill them. Even if he had...not like that.
"That's why we were looking for them," Jack said. The man eyed the team suspiciously, clearly judging their strength and weapons.
"Because of your actions we can not now question them," Teal'c said.
"About what would you question them?" the man asked.
"They...hurt someone we know. Changed him," Jack said.
"I'm sorry for him, then." The man waved at the ruins of the building. "We did this to prevent them from changing any more."
"Yeah, but without them we can't find out how to undo the change," Jack argued.
"It can't be undone."
"How do you know that?" Daniel asked, finding his voice again.
"The reverend tried. The healer tried." The man shrugged, and Daniel shivered. There was such certainty in the man's voice, such finality. "Death is the only cure for them."
"We do not accept that solution," Teal'c said.
"Then you will all fall prey to the evil."
"Our friend wouldn't hurt us," Jack said. "And we won't kill him."
"Are you sure there's no one, nothing left?" Sam asked.
"We have purified the evil." The man took one last, lingering look at the team before walking away, leaving SG-1 alone in the street.
"Carter, where were those energy readings?" Jack asked as he looked into the shadows of the darkened street.
"Sir?" Sam turned to Jack with a puzzled look.
"The first time we came to this god forsaken planet you got energy readings from outside the settlement."
"There was a small anomaly in a forested area north of the town," Sam agreed.
"Let's check it out."
"Why?" Sam asked, still puzzled.
"Got a better idea?"
A sharp crack interrupted Sam's words, and Daniel dived for the ground with an instinct he'd honed during his time with SG-1. Close by, Sam, Jack and Teal'c all did the same. Daniel raised his head cautiously to peer into the deep shadows between the trees, looking for the source of the gunshot.
"Betrayer, come no closer."
"Lukas?" Daniel called out. He started to get to his knees but Jack slapped at him. Frowning, Daniel lowered himself back down until his chest was resting on the dirt. "Lukas, it's Daniel."
"This I know."
"I didn't betray you."
"You must think I'm a fool." Another shot was fired. If they'd still been standing one of them might've been hit. Instead the bullet sank deep into an innocent tree. "Ah, but I was a fool so I suppose I shouldn't blame you for that."
"You're not a fool, Lukas. And I didn't betray you to anyone."
"Then why did they come? Why did they slaughter us like animals?"
"There were too many of you to stay hidden forever," Jack said. He used hand signals to tell Daniel to hold his position. Then he began to crawl carefully away.
"I heard their screams," Lukas said, as if he hadn't heard Jack.
"Jack's right," Daniel said, speaking to keep Lukas' attention focused on himself. Jack had merged with the darkness. Teal'c had disappeared from view as well. Sam was a short distance away, sprawled on her stomach, her eye fixed along the sight of her weapon. "There were too many of you and you were meeting right in the middle of the town. Other people were bound to notice."
"Idiots," Lukas said. Daniel wasn't sure to whom he was referring, but in a moment it didn't matter. There was an explosion of activity near Lukas' position.
"Friend of yours?" Jack asked when he stepped into the light from Sam's flashlight, pushing Lukas ahead of him. Daniel pulled out his own flashlight and trained it on Jack and Lukas.
"He was the leader," Daniel said. He noted Lukas' ragged appearance, his clothes dirty and torn and his long hair hanging limp around his face.
"Traitor." Lukas spat at Daniel's feet.
"Oh, hey." Jack gave Lukas a look of disgust. "Didn't your mother teach you better than that?"
"Sir, there's some kind of entrance over here, concealed in the ground," Sam called from the darkness behind them.
"See if you can get it open," Jack called back. "Teal'c, help her."
"I didn't betray you," Daniel told Lukas. "I haven't even been on the planet since our last meeting."
"Why have you returned now?"
"Because we need to know about the thing that changed me," Daniel said.
"A gift," Lukas said, a fervent look in his eyes. "An amazing gift."
"From whom?" Jack asked.
"That's not important."
"It is to us."
"We're in," Sam called.
Jack gave Lukas a long look, then gestured toward the sound of Sam's voice. "After you."
Daniel wandered around the circular chamber. The rough, gray stone walls were at odds with the sleek, smooth surfaces of the alien equipment contained within the room. A large, circular table occupied the center of the room. Only a few items sat on top of the table, but underneath were rows of drawers. Daniel paused occasionally to peer more closely at one of the devices. Sam was doing the same directly opposite him.
"Nice lab," Jack said. He lingered near the door, holding his weapon with both hands as his eyes scanned the room. Then he looked at Lukas. "Whose is it?"
"Anyone else get the feeling this is familiar?" Daniel asked.
"I agree," Teal'c said. "Yet I cannot say why it is so."
"It's definitely much more advanced technology than we've encountered elsewhere on this planet," Sam said.
"Whose lab is this?" Jack asked Lukas again.
"Right. I'm willing to bet you don't know what half this stuff is," Jack said.
"It was a gift," Lukas conceded.
"Who gave you the gift? And why?" Daniel asked.
"Why? Need you really ask why?"
"To kill the Goa'uld, I know. But why did he or she or it give it to you?"
"He recognized that we hated the Goa'uld as much as he did," Lukas said. "He knew we would be committed to our mutual goal. He knew we would not fail."
"He who?" Jack asked, quickly losing patience.
"He was a genius, an avenger, come to protect us from the evil ones."
"What was his name?" Jack asked. "Was he human? Alien?"
"He was as human as you and I," Lukas said. "He was an old man, scarred and sick, but his hatred of the Goa'uld made him strong."
"Ma'chello," Daniel said as the pieces all fell into place.
"You can't know that," Sam said, looking up from her inspection of a number of sealed vials.
"Yes, I can. It's him," Daniel said. He began to pace around the room again. "We should've thought of Ma'chello right from the beginning. Goa'uld killing inventions are his specialty."
"If you're right, that could be a point in our favor," Jack said. "We do have some experience with his doodads."
"But I've never been able to decipher his code," Daniel said. He waved his hand around the room. "The time it would take me to break the code, assuming that I even can break it, and then to analyze all of this.... I doubt I have that long, Jack."
"Carter, you've worked with Ma'chello's little surprises. Can you figure any of this out?"
"Only by trial and error," Sam said with an apologetic shrug.
"Do you know anything about this stuff?" Jack demanded of Lukas. "Do you know where he kept the stuff he used to change you?"
"Maybe." Lukas turned his gaunt face to Daniel. Daniel recognized that look. He'd seen it in the mirror just a little too often recently. Lukas was hungry. "Maybe for a price."
"Jack." Daniel said quietly.
"What?" "Give us minute," Daniel said.
Jack stared at him, a puzzled expression skewing his mouth. Then the light dawned and Jack stiffened. "No fucking way, Daniel."
"He has no other options. I'd be condemning him to death."
"And I should care because...?"
"Because it would be wrong. And because I can't do that," Daniel said. He couldn't kill Lukas outright, nor could he leave the man to either starve to death or be forced to seek out innocent, untainted victims. And he wouldn't harmed by allowing Lukas to feed on him. "Just give me a few minutes."
"Carter, Teal'c, see what you can find in those back rooms," Jack said after a moment of silent contemplation. Sam frowned, first at Jack, then at Daniel, but she left without questioning the order. Teal'c gave Jack a long and slightly disapproving look before following Sam.
"Thank you," Daniel told Jack.
"Three minutes," Jack said, holding up three fingers in case anyone had misunderstood his words. He shifted his gaze to stare at Lukas. "And I'll be right outside this door."
"Five minutes," Daniel countered. Jack stared hard at Daniel, but left without further comment. Daniel took a deep breath, then pulled his knife from his belt. He pulled one arm from his jacket sleeve and made a small cut across his forearm.
Daniel looked away as Lukas fed. He kept his eyes averted from the door, too. He didn't want to know if Jack was watching.
"We can still do it."
"What?" Daniel turned his head. Lukas still clutched his arm tightly, but he'd raised his head, leaning into Daniel.
"As long as one of us is still alive, we can succeed." Lukas nodded toward the door. "They can join us. We can change them."
"No, this has to stop," Daniel said, shaking his head.
"And allow the pretender gods to win?"
"This isn't the answer, Lukas."
"It's the only answer." Lukas caught Daniel by surprise, shoving him away with a hand to his chest, but at the same time twisting his arm. Startled, Daniel's grip on his knife lessened and Lukas was able to wrest it from his hand. Daniel struggled to regain control of the knife, right up until he felt the tip of it against his own throat. Daniel leaned his head back, but Lukas had him pulled firmly against his own chest with his free arm.
"Help me destroy the monsters," Lukas breathed against the side of his neck.
"You can't win by surrendering your own humanity," Daniel said.
Daniel's gaze slid sideways and he saw Jack standing in the doorway, his gun aimed at Lukas.
"I said step away," Jack repeated more loudly.
"I'll slit his throat," Lukas warned as he looked over at Jack. "I'll feast on his body."
"You might be fast enough to slit his throat before I put a bullet through your brain," Jack agreed in a deceptively casual tone. "But trust methere won't be any damn feasting."
"He's not kidding," Daniel told Lukas. "As far as Jack's concerned, we're both dead already."
"He wouldn't have come here if he didn't think he could save you," Lukas said. He tightened his arm around Daniel's chest. "And he wouldn't bother saving you if he didn't care."
"True," Jack said. Then he shrugged as if it didn't matter. "Doesn't mean I won't shoot you like a rabid dog."
"Lukas, just let me go and we'll figure out a way to handle this."
"Not until he drinks from you."
"What?" Jack and Daniel both exclaimed.
"Once you possess the gift, perhaps you won't be so quick to kill us," Lukas said to Jack.
"Absolutely not," Daniel said. He didn't think one small exposure was enough to cause the full change, but there was no way he would risk infecting Jack.
"Then I have no reason to continue living," Lukas said as he pushed the blade against Daniel's neck.
"Wait," Jack yelled. He put his hands up, away from his gun. "Maybe we can do this."
"Jack," Daniel protested.
"Shut up, Daniel." Jack began walking toward them, his steps slow and careful. He kept his eyes focused on Lukas. "I 'drink' from Daniel, and you'll let him go, right?"
"Then we may talk as equals," Lukas agreed.
"Okay then." Jack gave a little nod of his head, and Daniel realized it was intended for him. Jack had no intention of drinking Daniel's blood. He only wanted an opportunity to get close to Lukas.
"I shall prepare him for you."
Daniel didn't have enough time to wonder at the meaning of Lukas' words before he felt the sting of the knife. A gun went off and suddenly there was no resistance to Daniel's attempts to push Lukas away. Lukas fell away, crumpling to the ground with a small, black hole in the middle of his forehead.
"God damn it," Jack cursed. He kept his gun pointed at Lukas. "Daniel?"
"I'm okay." Daniel pulled his hand away from his neck. There was blood, but not much. The injury was superficial. He'd be fine. He couldn't say the same about Lukas.