The greatest of these...

by Vanessa Mullen


      Set during 'Chain Reaction'


      The sun was warm on his back. Children chased one another on the grass, ducking and weaving between less energetic passers-by, yelling in delight whenever they tagged one another. Maybourne took a bite of his second hot dog and relaxed in the sheer pleasure of being out in the open and eating something other than prison food.

      The extras added piquancy to the dog, lashings of lovely yellow mustard and bright red catsup with an additional generous dollop of barbecue sauce. It was worth it for the flavour alone, but the look of disgust on O'Neill's face was an added bonus.

      "You can eat that?"

      "Sure." He held out the dog. "Try a bite."

      "Maybourne, the only thing that has less appeal than watching you eating is the thought of eating that stuff myself."

      "Aw, Jack, where's your sense of adventure?"

      "It's on hold waiting for you to finish."

      He took another bite. Perfection. This was what life was about. Sunshine, food, and tolerable company. The plus side of being with O'Neill was that he never toadied. Even when he was going to stab you in the back, he never pretended anything he didn't feel.

      Maybourne weighed possibilities in his mind. If he ran, how far would he get before Jack shot him? Jack would shoot. There was no doubt on that score. The question was merely whether he could get enough innocent bystanders between them in time. Or could O'Neill be trusted to keep the bargain they'd made? And even if he gave it his best shot with the President, would he be able to get a death sentence lifted?

      A young couple strolled by, hand-in-hand, oblivious to the entire world. She laughed at something her beau said and kissed him lightly on the cheek. A cloud passed over Maybourne's sun. He'd thought he had something with Moira, but she'd been as quick to ditch him as all the rest. Friendship and political expediency never went hand in hand. Toady while someone's on the way up. Deny you ever knew them if their star falls.

      The mustard was sour in his mouth. Screw the world. Preferably literally. He needed something to fill the emptiness, to maintain the illusion of freedom just a little longer.

      "Finished, Maybourne?"

      "There's something else I want."

      "If it's money, forget it."

      "Sex," he said bluntly.

      "No chance. I am not going trawling red-light districts with you."

      "That wasn't what I had in mind."


      Maybourne allowed a smile to play around his lips. "I want you."

      "Fuck you."

      "If you insist."

      "That's not what I meant, and you know it."

      There was laughter lurking in Maybourne's voice. "What did you mean, Jack?"

      "Go screw yourself."

      "Anatomically impossible." He rested his hands on the rough wood of the table. "I don't know if you'll keep your end of the deal. I want something now. Call it payment in advance if you prefer."

      "No way."

      "Just how badly do you want Hammond reinstated?"

      O'Neill grimaced. "Why me?" he said finally.

      Because I'd rather have disdain from you than feigned affection from a whore -- at least it will be honest. "I thought you were in a hurry?"


      He put on his best expression of injured innocence, because he knew it would annoy. "Yes, Jack?"

      "You're an unmitigated bastard."

      "If you say so."



O'Neill slammed the motel-room door shut behind him.

      "Fax?" he demanded incredulously. "Why did you ask her if there was a fax machine?"

      "Because you were about to lose it completely. You don't lie well -- at least, not when you're embarrassed. If you want to make the receptionist think you're on a business trip, then act like a businessman."

      "And you can lie without turning a hair?"

      "Of course."

      The twin beds sat silently waiting -- O'Neill had been damned if he was going to ask for a double. There was no way whatsoever he was going to make the first move in this charade. If Maybourne wanted revenge, he was damn well going to have to work for it. Slowly circling, Maybourne assessed him, looking him up and down. He held himself rigid, not responding to the unspoken taunt in any way.

      "You know, Jack, you shouldn't be ashamed. Take away the military exterior and you're really not a bad-looking specimen at all."

      "And you're what the cat spat out?"

      "That's not nice, Jack." Maybourne's voice was even, but carried a hint of warning. "We can't all have the ladies lining up. Some of us have to take it where we can get it."

      "So get on with it. Do whatever you came for and then let's get out of here."

      Maybourne looked pointedly at him. "I don't know about you, but I haven't yet found it possible to have sex with my pants on. I thought you were bright enough to work that part out for yourself?"

      If he strangled him now, would they call it justifiable homicide?

      "You're the one who wants this."

      Maybourne shrugged and slipped off the loose-fitting jacket he was wearing, followed by the rest of his clothes. He showed no trace of embarrassment, as he stood there wearing nothing other than a lop-sided grin.


      Okay, he could manage that much. There was no way he was going to let Maybourne freak him out and at least he looked better naked than the other man did. Harry could charitably be described as 'stocky'. O'Neill had a good six inches on him in height and, somehow, that gave him the confidence to go through with shedding his clothes.

      Maybourne watched him with obvious interest, eyes flicking over bare skin as each item of clothing was removed. He came forward, trespassing way too far into O'Neill's personal space, traced a couple of fingers over the scar where a shot had gone through his shoulder a few years back.

      "You should take more care of yourself. That looks like it was a nasty one."

      "What did you expect? Little Bo Peep? If it's not good enough for you, we can call this off right now. I promise I won't even demand a refund."

      "Oh, it's fine." Harry's hand curved possessively over his chest.

      "Stop that!"

      "Stop what, Jack?"

      "You know what I mean!"

      Maybourne took a half-step back. "Your lack of enthusiasm is getting to be a problem." He gave a couple of leisurely strokes to his own growing erection, giving O'Neill an odd queasy sensation at the idea that he was the cause of it.

      "I'm not interested in men. Period. Just get on with it and let's get this over and done with."

      Maybourne sighed. "This is supposed to be fun."

      "Fun? Getting fucked by you and probably suffering internal injuries in the process -- that's supposed to be fun?"

      "That's why I need a bit more enthusiasm from you. You haven't done this before. I have."

      He knelt down carefully, and took O'Neill's cock into his mouth.

      The hot wetness of Harry's mouth sent a sudden shock through his system. He closed his eyes as knowing hands caressed his balls, causing them to rise and tighten. As long as he didn't look, he could imagine it was anyone, any woman of his choice, that it was--

      He caught his breath sharply. That was good. The tight hand holding the base of his cock, the mouth moving now as Harry sucked him, teeth carefully barricaded behind protective lips. He was hard now, hard and suddenly aching. It had been so long, so very long. External sound filtered out of his consciousness, the murmur of the traffic no longer audible. There was nothing but the sound of their combined breathing, his own coming in short shallow gasps, Harry's in occasional deep inhalations as he paused to take a breath.

      When Harry abandoned him, he was close to the edge.


      Maybourne looked up, eyebrow raised. "I said I needed a bit of interest from you. We're here for my entertainment, not yours." He gave O'Neill's genitals a last lingering caress that did funny things to Jack's breathing, then went away to ferret in his jacket pocket.

      "Here." He tossed over a small bottle of massage oil.

      O'Neill caught it adroitly with his left hand. He'd watched Harry choose it in the drugstore, had a nasty idea what it was for, and had paid for it in the hope that it would at least lessen his chances of injury.

      Maybourne laid himself face-down on the bed, knees slightly under him and raised his bottom in the air. To O'Neill's eye, he looked completely ridiculous.

      "You know what to do?" Maybourne asked.

      "I think so." He was still getting used to the idea that it was Maybourne lying on the bed and not him. "Harry, I..." think I owe you an apology.

      Harry rolled over to look him in the face. "Jack, we have to be able to work together after this. Being on the bottom can hurt at first, especially if you're not used to it. If you hurt me, I can put it down to inexperience. If I hurt you..." He cocked his head slightly. "Let's just say that I figure my life expectancy is better this way."

      O'Neill poured some of the oil onto his hand, worked it over the surface of his cock, giving himself a partial hand-job as he rubbed it in. He could cope with that part of the proceedings. The oil made the skin flow smoothly under his hand, helping him maintain his erection.

      "Now me," Harry said. "You'll need to apply it internally, especially around the entrance. The muscle there is tight; you've got to stretch it enough to fit you." He caught O'Neill's eye. "Squeamish, Jack? After all the things you've done over the years?"

      "Even the Iraqis never made me stuff my fingers up another man's ass."

      "I'm sure they'd have tried, if they'd realized it would get to you this easily."

      They'd tried virtually everything except rape, though his training had covered coping with that along with everything else. You had to retain your sense of self-identity -- as long as you could cling to that inner sense of who and what you were, and mentally say 'fuck you' to the enemy, then you stood a chance of coming out sane no matter what they did to your body.

      If he could survive what the Iraqis had done to him, then screwing Maybourne ought to be child's play. He told the part of his mind that had objections to shut up, and calmly and methodically applied oil to the proffered backside. He oiled the inside, ignoring the occasional movement from below, and used a couple of fingers to stretch the sphincter muscle. Finally, he knelt in what he hoped was the right position, lined his cock up with Maybourne's ass and pushed.

      And slipped sideways.

      He tried again. You couldn't see the damn hole when you were up against it. He pressed hard, slid out of position again. Maybourne reached a hand back, guided him into position.

      "Push now."

      He pushed, felt the muscle slowly yield, then give suddenly as he popped inside.

      "Ow!" Maybourne's yelp was loud and unexpected. "Don't move!"

      He froze, caught between his own uncertainty and the catch in Maybourne's voice.

      "Pull out slowly."

      It was odd to feel the ring of muscle moving along his penis as he withdrew. As soon as he was out, Maybourne collapsed on the bed.


      Maybourne inhaled deeply. "Give me a minute or two. It's too long since I last did this -- I'm tighter than I thought. Stretch the muscle a bit more next time and I'll be fine."

      "No." O'Neill injected a note of finality into his voice.


      "What part of 'no' didn't you understand? I'm out of here. Masochism may appeal to you, but it does nothing for me. Much though I'd like to make an exception in your case, I don't get a kick out of hurting people."

      "I see." The voice carried no obvious emotion. "In that case, I guess we have a job to get back to."

      And that was it? No threats, no recriminations, just business as usual? He didn't trust Maybourne in this uncertain mood, but then he didn't trust him much anyway.

      He pulled on his pants. Harry still hadn't moved from his prone position. "You sure you're okay?"

      "No blood?"


      "Then quit the bleeding-heart routine. You didn't do anything that I didn't ask you to."

      He'd bled enough when the Iraqis had had him. He preferred not to dwell on that, memory deliberately glossed over the worst parts of their questioning. The part that time couldn't erase was the shock of being abandoned by his own people. Cromwell had left him. He had finally managed to forgive, but he'd never, ever, forget. The scar was still there: he was constitutionally incapable of leaving anyone behind, no matter how great the risk.

      "Your people don't care. Nobody has asked about you. Perhaps they think you are dead. Here, sign your name on this piece of paper. We will give it to the Red Cross and then your people will know that you are well."

      He hadn't fallen for that one. A signature could be used for anything: a confession, a denouncement of American actions. He'd been a prisoner for four months, alone and unknown, until he'd been repatriated in a deal for medical supplies.

      The scar was still there, and right now it was itching.

      The NID had ditched Maybourne faster than you could say 'treason'. Yet it stood to reason that he'd had support from higher up. Someone had to have been funding his operation. Did Harry know who? He'd kept quiet at his trial and hadn't said anything in the half year since, even under sentence of death. Loyalty? To what or to whom? To an individual or to a warped kind of patriotism that believed in what he'd been doing?

      Harry wasn't one of *his* people. He was NID. But the NID were still Air Force.

      Teal'c was one of his people. Maybourne had put Teal'c in chains and damn near killed him.

      He knew how Teal'c had felt. Being a prisoner did that to you. It stripped you of dignity: the whole idea was to make you feel worthless, to ram home the point that nobody gave a damn. And in Maybourne's case, that might even have been true. He hadn't had any visitors in prison.

      They'd abandoned him.

      Oh, crap.

      Harry started to pull himself up to a sitting position.

      "Stay there."


      "Do as you're damn well told." He grabbed the massage oil, clambered clumsily onto the bed and knelt astride the stiff, cautious body.


      "I'm not stripping again, so don't start getting any ideas."

      As the oil hit Harry's back, O'Neill could see the tension ease off a notch. He spread oil over Maybourne's shoulders, nudged his arms to move them into a more suitable position. Maybourne obeyed his wordless command, silently for a miracle. The massage oil was clear and almost without scent -- he'd made sure of that before buying it. Smooth, but not sticky, it felt natural to his fingers. This was right, as right as what had gone before had been wrong. Long and slow, he began measured strokes, feeling initially for the places of tension, where the muscles were knotted and where they provoked a reaction when he touched them. Harry settled beneath him into a more comfortable position, relaxing now, placing himself into Jack's hands.

      You could learn a lot about a person this way, just from the manner in which they responded: pain could result from many things, not just physical injury. After Sha're had been taken by the Goa'uld, Daniel had been half out of his mind with grief. Add to that the unaccustomed strain of carrying a heavy pack and he'd been a mess of aches and pains. Massaging away the back pain had allowed O'Neill to work on the muscle tension resulting from the grief and stress which had remained there for a year or more, long after Daniel had claimed he was fine. Harry had that kind of tension running all through the neck and shoulders -- hardly surprising, given he was facing the electric chair. He grunted awkwardly as Jack found a tight spot and worked at it, pressing his thumbs into the knotted muscle to encourage the blood flow.

      Carter had never had Daniel's problems. By the time he'd felt enough at ease with her to offer a back rub after a long hard day, she'd already gotten used to field conditions and was past the worst of it. There'd still been times when she needed it and he'd enjoyed doing it, but these last few months he'd stopped offering and she no longer asked. It was an intimacy that had become too dangerous.

      He shifted position. It didn't do to dwell on Carter. So concentrate on what you're doing. Forget the feel of Carter's skin under your hands. Forget the way she smells, because you should never have noticed it in the first place. This is Harry, and you can't afford to let your mind wander.

      Around the shoulder blades; focus on the muscles at the top.

      Teal'c didn't need it, not really. His symbiote took care of backache but he liked O'Neill to give him a massage every now and then. It was a shared experience, something that simply said 'you're one of us, you're a human being'. Teal'c had needed that a lot in the early days when people like Kennedy and Maybourne -- he dug a thumb sharply under a shoulder blade and got an 'ouch' in response -- had regarded him as little more than a scientific specimen. With slight repentance, he rubbed away the ouch. This wasn't about revenge. If he was any judge of what six months in prison could do, then Harry needed what Teal'c had needed, a silent recognition of shared humanity, an acknowledgement that human dignity had some meaning. Always assuming that Maybourne knew what humanity was.

      Harry flexed under him, shifting a arm to a slightly different position and O'Neill shifted automatically, adapting to the new position. You couldn't do this for someone without feeling some sense of connection. It struck him oddly that Harry had tried to save his life once, and he had no idea why. Could a connection go back in time as well as forwards? Or maybe it was just that they were ultimately bound by an odd web of shared secrets, partial respect and a common enemy that was stronger than the antagonism between them.



Harry relaxed into the magic of Jack's fingers. You could starve from lack of touch and never even realize what you were lacking. You could look at people and talk to them for a lifetime; you could smell their sweaty socks and pheromones, but touch was closer than any of those. It was communion that went back before language, to when one ape sat grooming the fur of another. It was comfort offered to children before they could talk and to the dying as they entered their final sleep. Touch implicitly offered support and protection; it was a gift to the soul as well as to the body.

      And if Jack meant none or all of those things? It didn't matter. It was still a gift, something he hadn't asked for, something that made him feel for the moment that he belonged, that he was something other than a nameless cog in an uncaring machine.

      To be touched by hands that neither hated him, nor feared him. It was enough.

      He reached up and touched the hand massaging his shoulder.

      "Jack. Thanks."

      Jack said nothing, but that was fine. An insult would have broken his fragile sense of peace and Jack insulted his friends as freely as his enemies.

      So, which are you, Harry? And which do you want to be? Maybe it's time to decide..."


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