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A Storm of Shadows
If Jessie was surprised Jack brought her back to his house, she didn’t show it. Opening the back door, he went and built a small fire in the fire pit, leaving that as the only source of light. Pulled the garden bench within the perimeter of the glow, as well as one of the lawn chairs. Jessie took off her boots, leaving them by the front door, opting to go barefoot instead. She wandered out back, a wry smile on her face as she stared at the flames, evidence of Jack’s caveman coming out—if there’s a problem, start with the basics and build a fire. He soon joined her, an ice cold Heineken in one hand, and an obviously stout Jameson and Coke in the other, judging by the color of the concoction in the glass. Taking it from him, she held it up to the fire’s reflection, a medium amber highlighted within.
"Is this the result of asking, ‘would you like a little Coke with your whiskey’?"
Jack shrugged. "Figured you’d want something with a kick," he said as he sat down in the lawn chair, feet stretched out in front of him. "So, whatcha been up to?"
Jessie sat on the bench before taking a sip from the glass, grimacing slightly at the intensity of the alcohol. "Re-assimilating back into society. Yourself?"
He grinned slightly at her heavy sarcasm…one of those self-protective reflexes he knew so well. "Holding down the fort. Killing some Goa’uld. Trying to keep some of my kids sane."
"I guess you can mark me off that list. My vacation at the local loony bin pretty much nullifies me as being sane."
Jack watched as she took another, more substantial drink. Calculated with the three she already had at Quinn’s, he could start venturing into unsafe territory. "Well, it’s not just you…Cam, also. You talk to him lately?" Yep, he could almost hear the slamming of that door as the wall came up around her.
"No, I haven’t."
"You know, this has pretty much torn him apart. He wants to be there for you, but he also respects you wanting to keep everything at arm’s length until things settle down some."
Jessie stared at the contents of the glass. "Jack…nothing is the same anymore. There is no ‘normal’ for me. What Cam and I had…" she shook her head. "I don’t even feel like I’m the same person. He deserves a hell of a lot more…a lot better than anything I can offer."
"He doesn’t feel that way. Cam loves you just as much, if not more so. He’s just waiting for you to open the door a little."
Jessie didn’t reply, and the silence stretched out between them, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts as they stared at the flames dancing in the fire pit. Jack finished his beer and waited until Jessie’s glass was empty before he got up for a refill. Didn’t make hers quite as strong as before, since he didn’t want her passing out just yet.
With the next drink, he broached the next phase of his questioning. "How was your stay at Forest Ridge?"
Jessie literally bit her tongue. Normally she wasn’t one to use obscenities, but ever since her captivity, her language could put a sailor to shame. "It was…enlightening."
"Did it help?"
She let out an exasperated sigh. "It did, to a certain extent. When I first got back, I was a mess…jumping at any sound, not sleeping. Doc Bailey helped with that. There were just certain things I didn’t feel comfortable discussing." Jessie chuckled to herself. "And then there was Calandra."
Jack was lost for a moment, before the light bulb came on. "The twit who tried to kill you?" he asked incredulously.
Jessie nodded. "Yeah. Fate has a twisted sense of humor, let me tell you. Oddly enough, though, she seemed to want to help me. Kept bringing me food when I wasn’t eating, sitting with me during the day."
Jack looked at her in disbelief. "Calandra. Callie Jones. Black magic mumbo jumbo hooker psych case."
"That’s the one. I talked with Casey a little bit about it, after I got out. She thinks it might have something to do with a spell that backfired on Calandra. Something about her getting hair out of Cam’s shower drain, and doing a binding spell between him and her using it. Since I had used that shower, Casey thinks my hair was in there, too. Which theoretically, if you believe that sort of thing, Callie would have inadvertently bound herself not only to Cam, but myself, too."
"Do you believe it?"
Jessie stared at the fire for a moment. "I can’t really say whether I do or don’t, Jack. I was raised traditional Catholic, though I steered off into a more generic Christian category as I got older. I can definitely say that there are things out there I can’t explain, nor can they be explained by science. I don’t feel I’m in a position to judge any other person’s beliefs. To each his own, ya know? If Casey believes it’s possible, I respect her enough to keep an open mind about it."
Jack thought that was a fair assessment. "Did Callie ever offer a reason why she did what she did?"
"Not directly. She did admit that she was jealous over what Cam and I had, and wanted it for herself. She’d gone through a lot from an early age…incest by her father before she was a teenager, abuse by her mother, drugs, unhealthy relationships, trying to maintain a façade of control using black magic. It all just culminated in a perfect storm for her. She did seem to be doing better, though…more in tune with reality. Hell, when I told her I was going to break it off with Cam, she damned near had a meltdown…did everything she could to talk me out of it."
Jack stared at Jessie. This was not a good revelation, as far as Cam went. It made it even more important for him to break through that damned wall she was building up around her. "Well, most shrinks do the best they can. Unless they’ve gone through what you’ve gone through, though, they can only offer so much. That’s the problem I ran into after I got back from Iraq. The docs were more than willing to help, but nine times out of ten didn’t have a clue as to what a person had gone through." He eyed the dying flames in the fire pit. "Why don’t we head on inside? This fire’s pretty much done."
Jack went into the kitchen for another beer, and another refill for Jessie. With more than a decent buzz going on, she went and sat on the sofa, her hand stroking the nubby texture of the fabric. Jack came and set the drinks on the coffee table, went and turned on a lamp in the far corner of the room before turning off the overhead lights, leaving the area where they were at in the shadows. Instead of taking the chair next to the sofa, Jack came and sat beside her. If she hadn’t been so inebriated, her warning bells would have been going off, but as it was, she had no idea Jack was planning on doing his own form of psychotherapy.
He took a long draw on the Heineken before he started. "So, what do you feel was the hardest part of your captivity?" The fact that she even stayed seated and contemplated the question gave him a good idea how much she was under the influence.
She sighed, taking a while before answering. "The helplessness I felt, I guess. It was bad enough when we left Neowe and I didn’t know where the hell I was, but having to pretend to be a slave, not letting on I was anything else, and what went with that…that was pretty bad."
Jack turned that over in his mind before he replied. "I’d say that was probably in the top three for me, not being able to escape for four months, being at the mercy of the captors." He turned the beer bottle around, staring at the label but not really seeing it. "The drugs Cutworm used…were they addictive?"
Jessie smiled slightly at Jack’s creative interpretation of Kutkh’s name. Took a sip from her glass before setting it on the table, resting her forearms on her legs. "I think it was more psychological than physical. He smoked daninha, which apparently is similar to pot, but from what I described to Dr. Bailey she said it sounded much more potent." Jessie gave a sardonic laugh. "I was always the ‘good girl’…never experimented with any drugs before, so I couldn’t say for sure one way or the other. The only way I can describe it, is I missed that initial rush, but that really isn’t the right word. It’s like…there’s a relaxation aspect, like all the stress and tension would just drain away after the first hit. Pretty much took away any resistance you had, too."
Jack shifted his position on the sofa, stretching his legs out more as he leaned his head back, looking at the ceiling. "In Iraq, the guards would shoot up the prisoners with drugs. Never did know exactly what they’d be using…heroin, morphine, cocaine. They’d get you hooked…one form of punishment would be withholding the drugs, inducing withdrawals. Had a hell of a time when I escaped, going through those withdrawals. They had to strap me down, it was so bad."
Jessie drew her legs up, placing her feet on the sofa while she rested her cheek against her knees. "I can definitely say the daninha was nothing like that. Kutkh used it as a tool to strip any defiance, knock down inhibitions. It amplified your senses, enhanced…pleasure."
That last word was barely audible, and Jack picked up on it immediately. Realized he was going to have to relive his own private hell in order to help her get through hers. Cleared his throat a couple of times, trying to figure out exactly how to word it. "The hardest…my top three…the helplessness came in third. Second on the list was being raped."
Jessie’s breath caught in her throat. Even with her senses clouded by the whiskey, she knew this wasn’t something Jack would talk about with anyone. Explained why they were sitting pretty much in the darkness, the illumination from the lone lamp coming nowhere near the sofa.
"In the prison, one of the first things they’d do was try to figure out your weaknesses, so they could prey on them. Everybody has a different Achilles heel, and the guards made it a sadistic art form figuring out what would create one’s own personal Dante’s Inferno. For some, the torture and beatings broke them…others it was the mental hell created by the drugs; just seeing the guards come in, holding that needle would be enough to trigger the screams. Then there were those, the soldiers used to being in control, able to handle anything…" It was here Jack’s voice broke, and it took him a few seconds to rein in his emotions. "There are few things worse than being wrestled down, cuffed, and totally immobilized before being gang raped by the guards. That is, until they turn their attention to manipulating your body, deliberately creating pleasurable sensations. The sheer disbelief that your body could betray you, that such a depraved scenario could result in your own orgasm…" He reached for his beer, but changed his mind before grabbing it. "Be right back."
He made his way into the kitchen, not bothering to turn on the light. It had been a long time since he had revisited the memories of his own captivity, and he wasn’t exactly surprised by the tremor in his hand as he reached for the bottle of whiskey. There were certain things best left buried, but then again, sometimes one didn’t have a choice. Grabbing the shot glass, he filled it to the top before knocking it back, the mellow burn from the liquor putting into perspective past and present. Standing there for a few seconds, he rolled his shoulders against the growing tension. Blew out a breath as the warmth from the whiskey spread, dulling the razor-sharp memories.
Jessie sat on the sofa, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs, thinking about what Jack had revealed. While what she had gone through had been bad, it came nowhere near what Jack had gone through. Retrieving her glass, she finished the last of the drink, knowing she was done for the night. She was fairly close to passing out, but the revelations being shared had her focused for the moment. She was just about ready to go looking for Jack when he came around the corner, sitting back down on the sofa. Surprised her when he took her hand in his, holding it gently.
"So, since we’re baring our souls here, you mind if I ask you a question?"
His expression was unreadable so she had no clue what he was going to ask, but given the circumstances she would answer him regardless. "Go ahead."
Jack brushed his thumb against the back of her hand in a soothing gesture. "I take it when you said the stuff you smoked enhanced pleasure, that there were times you, or at least your body, experienced pleasure. Do you feel guilty about that?"
"Is the pope Catholic?" She shook her head at her knee-jerk response, squeezing his hand apologetically in return. Tried again. "Yeah, I do," she said softly. "I mean, I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that, while being in situations that made me want to puke, how the hell could I get…turned on…by anything that was done to me, anything that I witnessed? How fucking twisted is that?"
Yep, he had hit on what was confusing her the most, threatening to turn into a slow-growing abscess that would poison her completely if she didn’t come to terms with it. "Did you talk with the doc about it?"
An unladylike snort was her first response. "Uh, no. And I probably wouldn’t be admitting it at all if I wasn’t so damned drunk." Even though they were in the shadows, she could see him clearly. "This doesn’t go beyond this room."
"No, it won’t," he agreed. "And since you haven’t talked to anyone about this particular subject, I’m gonna throw my two cents in, and hopefully help you in the process." He let out a sigh before continuing. "There are times when the mental and the physical are in sync together, but there are times when they aren’t. The human body is capable of response completely separate from your conscience. You apply a certain type of stimulus, and you’re going to get a certain type of response, whether your mind is in agreement or not. When you throw drugs in on top of that, it doesn’t matter which way your moral compass is pointing…your body is going to react. From what you’ve said, Kutkh was into pleasurable experiences, not pain or torture, right?"
It was Jessie’s turn to sigh. "For the most part he was focused on his pleasures, not like Ba’al’s sadistic tendencies. But he wasn’t above coming up with unique…lessons…if you didn’t follow his instructions to a ‘T’. If you screwed up big time, you were flogged by him with all his women being witness to it. Minor blips…his main standby for that was forbidding orgasm. Or using the unguent."
Jack frowned, not sure what she was referring to. "Unguent?"
"An unguent is kind of like an ointment, but more oily. Kutkh was a pissy little bastard. Wanted us to…prepare…ourselves before coming to him, to already be aroused. I made the mistake of disobeying that order before joining him. He had this unguent jar…Egyptian…almost tripped myself up because I had never seen one in such pristine condition." She shook her head slightly to clear her thoughts. "Anyway, it contained a thick gel substance. He said it was to help maintain a certain level of arousal." She cleared her throat, the whiskey making it a little easier to push her embarrassment aside. "He rubbed some…between my legs, and inside. At first it just felt warm, but then it started to tickle, then throb. And the more you moved, the worse it got. The effects would last a half hour or more. He’d tell me to get him things, and between walking and those damned crystals from the skirt hitting against me, it was enough to drive me insane. All you wanted to do was…well…you get the idea. He finally allowed me to…ride him. Pointed out that while the unguent was active it didn’t matter what you did, you wouldn’t be able to reach orgasm. He was more than happy to demonstrate that particular fact."
"Erotic denial," Jack stated, a hard edge to his voice. "It’s a power play…mostly used as a form of punishment, or a milder degree of sadistic torture, depending on how it’s carried out." Jack leaned his head to the side, audibly cracking his neck in the process. "There’s no reason for you to feel guilty because of how he made your body respond. Kutkh knew exactly what he was doing, and he had plenty of experience as well as the tools to guarantee a response. Jess, there’s no way you could have fought that. He manipulated your body to suit himself."
"Well," she replied softly, "not feeling guilty is easier said than done. What it boils down to is I whored myself out to a Goa’uld, performed the required services and earned the status of Cron’la-has’."
Jack reached around, grasping her upper arms and turning her until she was sitting sideways on the sofa, facing him. "You are not ‘raven’s bitch’. I was there when Pisano brought those four girls through the ‘gate. I saw the way they were dressed. You knew what Ba’al was going to do to them, and you did what you did to save them. And Cam told me about the little one you were protecting while you were stuck out there."
"Yeah, a lot of good that did me, her being Kutkh’s daughter!"
"YOU didn’t know that! He used her to get to you…you were protecting those children. You did what you had to do…the same way I did."
Jessie felt it then, the subtle shaking of his hands as he held her arms. She couldn’t think of anything that would cause Jack O’Neill to shake.
"You want to know what topped my list, what came in at number one as the worst thing that happened? The day before I escaped, they brought in a new group of prisoners, ones they hadn’t broken yet. Divided them up, taking bets on which methods would end up breaking them. There was a soldier, early 20s…they took him to the same room they always took me to…he was already cuffed by the time they brought me in. They told me to tie him down with the straps and spreader bars…and do to him what they had been doing to me. I refused…there was no way in hell that was ever going to happen. The next thing I knew, they brought in this boy…couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12. Told me I had a choice…either I do the soldier, or they’d do the kid."
Even though what he was telling her was horrifying, it was the anguish in his voice that was ripping her heart out. She brought her hands up to his arms, realized his whole body was shaking. "Jesus, Jack…"
"With that one ultimatum, they turned me into a monster. I did things to that soldier that no human being should ever have to experience. That night I knew I had to escape, or I’d cut my wrists. I couldn’t go through that again."
The shock of what he revealed, his obvious torment brought one urge to the forefront of Jessie’s mind—to comfort. Ignoring the dizziness that ensued, she knelt on the sofa, taking Jack into her arms as he relived his hell, trying to help her. His forehead rested against the crook of her neck as she cradled his head in her hand, the other stroking his back. "Shhhhh, it’s all right," she whispered. She was at a loss of words, could think of nothing to alleviate that kind of pain. All she could do was hold him, waiting for the shaking to subside. Once it did, though, he didn’t raise his head, and she thought maybe he was regretting having shared what he had.
In the end, it was timing that put them in a very unexpected position. Just as she went to press her lips to his temple in a soothing gesture, Jack turned towards her, and in an instant they found themselves a hair’s breadth apart. Both of them froze with the unexpectedness of it, and both waited for the other to turn away. As the seconds ticked by, Jack finally whispered, "Hell with it…I’ll blame the alcohol," as he closed the fraction of space, giving Jessie the softest of kisses, almost chaste in the simplicity of just touching his lips to hers.
Jessie knew that was a fact—this would not be happening if they weren’t drunk. But combining alcohol with intense emotional confessions skewed judgment, even if it were only for a few minutes. She didn’t pull away, instead kissed him just as softly in return.
Jack’s conscience was locked in a battle with the testosterone-fueled part of his brain, and primal instincts were a real bitch. One side was arguing that he was supposed to be helping her, not kissing her, while the other was mesmerized by the softness of her lips. An active bargaining began taking place between the two entities as soon as he felt her respond.
Jack continued with the feather-light touches, slowly turning until Jessie was half sitting, half lying against him, holding her in his arms. Not wanting to break the spell, yet not wanting to take liberties, he whispered against her lips, "Something got screwed up here…I’m supposed to be comforting you, not this." He brushed his mouth against hers. "Call me an ass, and I am, but I really want to kiss you."
That’s what’s bad about temptation—you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. Feel guilty, or forever wonder what it might have been like. "Just…a kiss?"
"Yeah. But only if you’re okay with it."
Wondering what kind of penance she’d have to do to absolve her of this, she whispered, "It’s okay."
With that, he lifted her slightly as he bent down, fitting his mouth to hers before parting her lips. He was very careful to not take, mimicking her actions instead—touching, retreating, tasting.
Jessie, for one, was surprised…surprised there weren’t flashbacks of Kutkh, no recoiling in fear or disgust. There wasn’t full-blown desire, but instead just pleasurable sensation. She had always thought Jack was attractive…that was a given. But he was her friend, and this tiny indiscretion was just that—there would be nothing more.
When the kiss ended, there was no awkwardness; instead, they hugged, before Jessie pulled away. "Thank you," she said softly.
His eyebrows went up a fraction. "For?"
"For trying to help me…for sharing with me what happened to you. I know that wasn’t easy."
"I just want you to realize that things will get back to normal. You shouldn’t deny yourself the good things in your life because of a mistaken sense of guilt. Tomorrow, after the whiskey’s worn off, you’ll still feel angry, confused…but the worst thing you could do would be to shut us out. The people you love, your friends, family, that’s the road back. Believe me…been there, done that. It took me a long time to find my way back, but that’s because I had to do it alone. If you’ll let us help you, it’ll happen sooner rather than later." He reached out and brushed his thumb over her cheek. "And, I should thank you."
Frowning, she asked, "What for?"
"For not punching an ass."
She shook her head. "Asses don’t ask permission. They take without giving a damn how the other person feels about it. Believe me, I know…you’re not an ass, Jack." Jessie leaned back against the sofa, yawning from fatigue and intoxication. "And Sam’s a very lucky woman."
Jack watched as her eyes closed. "Do me a favor?"
"Sure," she said sleepily.
"Don’t wear those boots again."
It took a minute before the meaning sunk in. When it did, she gave an evil chuckle. "So, you like those boots, do you?"
Jack got up in order to give her room to stretch out. "Let’s just say Cam’s a very lucky man," he said as he grasped her ankles, deftly raising her legs and turning her so she was supine on the sofa. Within thirty seconds her breathing had become deep and even, falling quickly into a deep slumber. Going into the kitchen to make sure everything was squared away, he was a little surprised to see how much whiskey had been consumed, and vaguely wondered how much Jessie would remember in the morning. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he punched a number on the speed dial.
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