The Three Graces


by Mistress Sarah

I looked at the older man next to me, who was stretching his limbs in our suite at the Hotel de Sacred Black Omega. He was graying about the temples, and I suddenly wondered why the hell he had REALLY agreed on the hostage exchange. He knew better than I did that the odds were pretty damn poor right now. We hadn’t really spoken to one another except for our mutual apologies. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that he was done with his cool down, and he was giving me a searching look, as though he was waiting for me to say something. Oh yes, I forgot that little piece of military protocol; I had to give him permission to speak. The only thing he had whispered to me was a comment that it wasn’t time to escape yet, but in a few hours, we’d make our move.

A few hours to kill. God, I hated that word, and I didn’t want to count the hours until we made our escape attempt. I decided to talk to him instead, and I was ashamed when my voice cracked. "W-why?"

Dear God! This sounded familiar. Didn’t I just have this conversation with Sheila? And with EILERSON? Why had this happened to me? Why did Eilerson quit? Why did this stern man who had only a few months left on his tour of duty before he retired, agree to be held hostage? Why, why, why! Damn it, you knew as well as I did, the odds weren’t very good that we’d make it out alive. Why the goddamn death wish? Being married to Makam couldn’t be that bad? Could it?

Giving me a rather puzzled look, Tom plainly didn’t understand what I was questioning him about. "Why, what, sir?"

"Why did you do it?" I asked him again.

"Do what?" Tom just looked at me in obvious confusion.

"For what reason did you decide to suggest a hostage exchange?" Damn it, he knew what I meant. He was far too crazy like a fox to fail to understand the question.

"Personal." His tone was curt, as though I was treading on a subject that was a deeply private matter to him.

"That’s not an answer." It wasn’t. Come on, Tom spill your guts. You’re retiring shortly. Didn’t you want to attempt all the positions of the Kama Sutra with your wife?

"As you say, Sir. I am but a…"

"Don’t pull the stupid NCO routine with me. I’ve seen your service record, and you are many things there, Tom, but stupid isn’t one of them." I growled that at him, and I realized that O’Neill didn’t particularly like my tone of voice. Tough.

"As you say, Sir." Then he shut down and I heard the iron doors swing shut on his soul.

I had paced the cell we were in for a few hours, and I realized that it was exactly two meters by two meters. O’Neill was sitting in the corner, in a position that suspiciously looked like yoga, and he appeared to be meditating on some deep thought.

"Sir. You’re going to walk a hole through the floor if you keep that up." His voice was amused.

I looked at him in surprise, as I had thought that he was far too busy floating through the celestial realm to have noticed that I was walking back and forth.

"Who are you?" It was an odd question, but I had a few questions that I wanted to settle before I died. Perhaps by talking to Tom, I could figure them out. "I mean… who are you… really?"

He seemed to ponder the question for a bit, not reacting like I would have a few short months ago. ‘I’m Matthew Gideon’ would have been my automatic response.

"I am a very fortunate man who has had the luck to find a career that I enjoyed and to marry a strong woman that I adore. And who are you, Matthew?" His use of my first name was deliberate, as though I had passed some sort of personal criteria for him.

"You’re more than that, O’Neill. Who are you?"

"Someone who has walked through hell and survived with the nightmares and scars to prove it. I have done great many things in my life that were necessary, but now I still find myself hating that I found it inevitable that I had to do them. Now. Who are you, Matthew?"

"I’m someone who doesn’t want to die just yet. There are a few things that I need to settle." Admitting that softly, I was glad when Tom nodded his head, plainly agreeing with me in that wish. Good, I wasn’t stuck with someone who had a death wish, but I still wanted to know what was going on in his mind.

"I don’t want to die either, but … you asked me why I did this?" Tom spoke slowly, as though internally debating if he should broach the subject with me.

"Yes." Either he would talk, or he wouldn’t.

"Have had a good life, and those kids deserved the chance to have the same thing. Now, it’s up to them to try and make sense of their second chance at life. Everyone deserves a second chance… even you, even though, I think you’re on your third chance right now."

"You might be right." I admitted that to him.

"Besides, if I didn’t do this, then Kritika would have tried to rescue you, and losing her would kill me. I was given a second chance years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve always known that I was living on borrowed time and that I needed to make the most of it, so I have."

Yes. You certainly have, as you have more medals, decorations and commendations than some generals. But on that highly polished service record of yours, lurks five times when you were written up. For almost forty years in the Marines, that’s not that bad, but… your WIFE wrote you up. How the hell did you survive that?

"I have a few more questions for you." I admitted that carefully. "If you don’t want to answer them, it’s alright."

"Go ahead. Shoot away." His dark green eyes appeared amused at his choice of words.

"How the hell did you ever land Kritika?" SHIT! That wasn’t the question I wanted to ask. Well it was, but I hadn’t wanted to say it QUITE like that.

"Why are you asking me that? Is that tumultuous relationship with a certain someone on your mind, right now?"

I grimaced at that question and O’Neill laughed softly.

"Don’t worry, I was the one that mentioned it first to Kritika, and I haven’t mentioned it to anyone since. Matheson came upon the Dya looking like he was trying to escape from something or…" Tom gave me a penetrating look. "Someone. Kritika and I couldn’t figure out why the hell he’d want to leave the Excalibur for some ship that was being cut up for scrap metal in six months. After he collapsed when you were captured, this stupid jarhead managed to put two and two together."

I didn’t answer him.

Tom laughed after he repeated my question. "I’m not sure what version I should give you. Needless to say, we’ve worked together for a while, and then we noticed that we were a very good match. Of course, EF regulations being what they were, meant that we could never acknowledge it while we were in the same chain of command. I got a transfer off the Hermes to become a drill instructor, and we ‘accidentally’ ran into each other on our next shore leave. I showed her how to mountain climb, and…"

Suddenly, he smiled. It was a fond remembrance of something that had occurred between him and Makam, I could tell. It disappeared quickly, as he began speaking in a dry voice devoid of emotion, almost in the same tone I did when I was required to talk about the ‘Incident.’ "Never mind about the rest. Anyway, something occurred a few months later on a training mission. I survived, the rest didn’t. The Hermes found me on the planet after six months. I wasn’t exactly… right in the head after all that time alone with nothing but the dead to keep me company. EF wanted to kick me out, as I wasn’t acceptable to them. They thought of me as a time bomb waiting to explode. They were… quite correct." There was a flash of something that looked like profound regret in his green eyes.

"Makam helped me a great deal after that and I realized that I had a second chance. To hell with EF and their regulations, I wanted that crazy, psychotic, dark-haired beauty as my partner and as my wife. Took quite a few years, but she… landed… me." He pointed his finger at his chest, and gave me a smirk.

Marines. You’ve got to admire the ego that’s for sure.

"You look like you have a few more questions. Go ahead, and ask."

"Was it worth it?"

"Yes. Absolutely. There’s been a few regrets over the years that we had to hide it from our friends, but… given the chance I would do it again."

"Would you change anything?"

"If I could, I would. But I can’t, so I won’t." That was the Marine attitude for you, practical to almost a fault.

"Did you two fight?"

Tom laughed again. "Like cats and dogs, sometimes, but making up is wonderful. In the Hindu marriage ceremony, there is this symbolic moment where the husband and wife enter their house together. The wife steps in first, and then the husband places his foot on top of her right foot, to symbolize that he’s the one running the household. We had a little problem with that part of the ceremony, so it finally ended up with both of us standing on each other’s right foot like a couple trying to learn how to dance the Irish Jig. Her family was horrified, St. John was laughing up a storm, and I knew that without a doubt, I had met my match."

"Oh. I’ve… got another question."

"Yes?" He answered.

"The dragon tattoos? Does every single one of her Senior officers have one? Is it a type of pinning ceremony?"

O’Neill laughed softly. "I’m not answering that one. Are you disappointed?"


"Good. Now I’m going to bed. It’s chilly in here, so if you want, sleep next to me."

O’Neill dropped off to sleep quickly, as most Marines learned to sleep whenever they could. By rights, I should have dropping off to sleep now also, as O’Neill’s quiet marching cadence had sped up to a running cadence. It had been amusing to watch as the former Earth Force members of the cult began to speed up to match O’Neill’s pace. It had taken O’Keefe almost fifteen minutes to realize that the pace of the Cult’s retreat had picked up significantly. She had been rather annoyed, but even she realized the necessity of getting the hell away from the warehouse as quickly as possible.

The cultists weren’t in the best of shape, so I was sure that most of them had already passed out. Was that why he did it? No doubt Tom had something already up his striped covered sleeve when he had entered the warehouse, and he had wanted most of the cultists unconscious in their beds during it. During the last twelve hours, I had found out who I was, and now it was time to focus again on the question of what did I want. I figured that I could think about that question for a bit before I went to sleep.

I crawled next to O’Neill, who fortunately didn’t snore. That surprised me, what with his crooked nose, I would have bet money on the fact that he would have snored. Probably Kritika didn’t allow him to snore.

What did I want? I wanted someone to be a partner with, someone that I could have a relationship with that resembled what Tom and the Dragon had. Each was an equal in their private partnership, while the universe never knew. John wanted that, and I had been warping our relationship with my frantic desire to keep John happy. The Makam-O’Neills fought frequently, argued intensely and no doubt made love passionately. They probably never worried about being too emotionally damaged or being too capable to hurt their spouse like I did.

Wait a second. O’Neill had mentioned something specifically, as though he thought I should hear it. ‘Wasn’t quite right in the head, after six months with nothing but the dead for company.’ ‘Walking time bomb.’ So, O’Neill had been traumatized for a bit, early on in their relationship, but he had mentioned… that Kritika had helped him to recover. No doubt it had taken time, and it was obvious to me that O’Neill was still deeply affected by what had happened to him. He had commented dryly on it, as though it had happened to someone else. But the two of them accepted it, worked on it, and tried to overcome it together. TOGETHER. As a partnership between two adults.

Ah… so was that my problem? This entire incident with the cult was becoming crystal clear with me. It was about having my life taken from me and having the strength to take it back.
When everything I ever knew about myself was stripped away from me, I needed to come to terms with who and what I truly am. To answer that question about who I really was, I needed to know what I was capable of overcoming and what I was capable of becoming.

Rapists hurt you because they want to destroy everything in you they don't have.... the ability to care about other people, to love unselfishly and wholeheartedly, to feel loved. That's what they want to destroy, your hope, your joy and your faith in humanity.

They destroy it, because they have no hope, no faith and no ability to love. They have given up on life, and instead of working to solve their problems, they were assigning their difficulties to part of ‘God’s’ will. God wanted everyone to die, so that made it ok with them. God wanted them to be abused like an animal and then humiliated. So since it was ok with God, it meant that it was ok for the cult… which meant that the victim should just accept it.

Well, it wasn’t ok with me.

Dear God, I had been in the distinct danger of losing that ability to love and to trust. It was something I was going to have to work on with John Matheson. TOGETHER. Second chance? I had blown my second chance after the Cerebus incident. Being rescued from the cave-in had been my third chance, and my first run in with the cult? That had been my fourth chance. Dear God, do you think that I could have a FIFTH chance? I swear this time I won’t screw it up.

It was very amusing to me, as somewhere in the last twelve hours, I think I found my faith in humanity again. Suddenly, Tom rolled over onto me, and I was distinctly amused at the lover like position we were in. Nothing personal, Tommy, you’re just not my type. He was breathing softly in my ear, and suddenly he began to whisper.

"If anything happens to me, take my necklace with the St. Brigid’s cross I’m wearing. It’s a gift from Kritika, as it has a transmitter in it. After what happened, she got it for me, as a promise that she’d always find me again, no matter what. Keep the faith, I know she’ll be here soon. I know she’s on her way."

He was silent for a moment, and then he continued. "If anything happens to me, tell her that I’ll see her in her next reincarnation. She’ll find someone staring at her with love and devotion in his green eyes, and she’ll wonder why she thinks she knows him. Tell her not to fight it so hard, next time. I love a challenge, but I was getting rather discouraged there for a bit."

"Tom. Think we can get out of here yet?" I asked him. That was the Captain’s prerogative, to decide upon something, and have the NCOs underneath him make the plan a reality.

"I’m thinking that the door lock I could pick, blindfolded."

"You don’t have to do it blindfolded to impress me. I’m not Makam after all." I threw that at him, and he flashed me a grin.

"Thank St. Columba for that, Sir. I’d hate to wake up to your ugly face every morning."

Galen had strengthened the transmitter into something that we could follow using an earpiece. Due to Kritika’s motivating speech to the Mage, we were also currently invisible, as long as we didn’t move that fast. It had something to do with fooling the retina of the eye, and Galen hadn’t given too many secrets up. It was often said that you can get more with a carrot than a stick, but Makam had bludgeoned Galen repeatedly just now, so the Mage was … sulking for the lack of a better term.

The affect of all this… magic was making me rather queasy, as the invisibility spell made it difficult to focus on the people standing next to you. It made them appear like holograms, while the steady heartbeat of the transmitter in my ear made me feel off center. Not to mention, I still couldn’t sense a damn thing from any of the team members. It was odd, not having to keep my shielding up. For so long, I had kept them up that I felt odd… when they were no longer necessary.

"Wish Zbig and Dags were here." St. John whispered that to me. "Might need another doctor if things get bad. Wish their ship hadn’t gotten delayed, but in a way it’s a good thing. They’re getting married next month, so I’d hate for anything to happen to either one of them."

"Are you ok?" I was getting a little worried about St. John, as he seemed off. No jests, no jokes, instead he just seemed odd. Maybe he wasn’t feeling better even after Sarah had pumped us both full of drugs. Warlock seemed distracted, and he was hovering protectively over Kali.

"Yeah." His brusque reply told me that was all he was going to say.

"If you’re not… drop out. Don’t want anything happening to you."

"Shhh… No talking. This shield doesn’t promise soundlessness." That was Makam, who was looking very dangerous. After we had finished making the rescue plan up, she had then painted her face dark, and used the paint in her white hair while we discussed our plan carefully. I had understood what she was doing, that she was going to transform herself into Kali, the Black to rescue the two hostages. She was acting odd also, as she was pushing me toward running this mission. Lee, Matrando and Kali all appeared to be deferring to my decisions in this and I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on in her crazed mind right now.

"Time to move out." That was Ivo, who had managed to bring along some of his cherished pepper spray. "Don’t forget to put your masks on immediately when you hear the sound of it being released."

We stood in a circle, and Kritika put her hand out. Gabe put his hand on top of it, and so it continued until I was the last person left. I placed my bare hand on top of Dureena’s hand, and I suddenly had a dark premonition. Not all of us were going to come out of this unscathed and unaffected.

We managed to get out of the cell rather easily. A few of the guards were sleeping, and O’Neill muttered something about a five mile run shouldn’t make anyone sleep that soundly. "Out of shape, they are." He sniffed in disgust.

Slipping quietly through the night, we had almost made it. Until a general alarm was sounded, with O’Keefe screaming obscenities about how she’d kill the fools that let us escape. O’Neill and I started running like hell, and we were suddenly stopped by the sound of a rifle being cocked.

"Gentlemen. You’re leaving? Without paying your bill?" That was our buddy Jenn.

We were escorted back to our cell, and O’Neill sighed. "She’s a bitch, that one. I ain’t never hit a woman, but she might be the first"

"I won’t look." I offered helpfully.

I slept rather well that last night, even in spite of our failed rescue attempt. It was a deep sleep, full of pleasant dreams of John Matheson where the two of us touched and caressed one another. Fortunately, O’Neill and I were sleeping back to back, so he didn’t notice that I had woken up, standing at attention. Tom got up a few minutes later, and he tried to make himself presentable for what he knew to be his last few hours. Then he proceeded to suggest… SUGGEST… in only the way a NCO can to his superior officer, that perhaps I do the same thing.

We both were looking pretty sharp, when we were brought to O’Keefe and the zealot’s command center. It was as though we were facing inspection, rather than a pack of deranged idiots. Actually, I suppose I should look at what was occurring as the Final Inspection.

"Earth Force says… they’re not ready to deal. They need more time." The zealot was looking disappointed. "I’m not surprised, as God had spoken to me. It is an easy choice, after all, but their hearts are stone, so therefore they would not listen, but I had hoped. Our God is rather upset, and we must appease him. Sacrifice one of them." Uncaringly, he motioned to O’Keefe to handle that minor detail. "We never promised them that the two hostages exchanged would be alive, after all. It was going to be a bonus for early payment. "

O’Keefe gave the two of us a rather chilling smile. "Eenie… meenie… mini… mo. Grab the Sergeant Major by the toe. Dispose of him first, then prep Gideon. I want to have some time alone with my former CO."

I could feel O’Neill silently trying to remind me to somehow get the medallion off his neck, but I had already decided that I wasn’t going to do it. Kritika had made him a promise that she’d always find him, no matter what, and I wasn’t going to step in between a man and his wife. Especially not when his wife was a fire-breathing, crazy, psychotic dragon. I hoped that the cult would leave the necklace on him, so Kritika could find him. She had promised that she always would, and I know that breaking that particular promise at the end would destroy her.

"Sergeant Major. It’s been a honor." It had been, and hopefully HQ would get that paperwork for those medals for which I had nominated him. Makam would receive them as his widow, and I hoped that they had one hell of a military funeral service for him. Missing man formation, twenty-one-rifle salute, too many damn dignitaries to count, and all the goddamn trimmings. He deserved it, and so did she.

"Sir." He nodded his head. "Somehow I’ve always known that I’d never make it to retirement."

"Can you cut the horseshit please? Just stick a knife in him quickly, so I don’t to have to listen to this stuff. It sounds like a second rate soap opera."

They led the two of us out of the room, and then they killed him. He was whispering in what I thought was Hindi, and I think it was directed toward his wife. It was a knife wound directly to the lower back, and I saw his eyes when the knife went in. He bit off a yell when the deathblow went home, and then the Sergeant Major looked confused for a moment, as though his commanding officer had given him a final order of which he just couldn’t make heads or tails. Then Sergeant Major Thomas C. K. O’Neill collapsed, his blood staining the floor, and I hoped that the gods of Makam’s people made sure it was a quick death.

Then they pulled me away from him, while I suddenly felt the need to give O’Neill some sort of benediction before he passed beyond the rim.

"Who didst brood, Upon the chaos dark and rude, and bid its angry tumult cease, And give, for wild confusion, peace." I whispered that softly while they led me away to my death.

It was once known as the Navy Hymn, but generations of the EF space teams had added several choruses to it that dealt specifically with space. I think Makam would have approved that both branches of the service had been represented during O’Neill’s final moments. Groundling and Spacehog, we were going to die together.

They were going in the wrong direction. Absolutely, positively, completely in the wrong FUCKING direction. The ship of fools had disembarked on a day trip, decided to do some site seeing and they were refusing to listen to the tour guide. I’ve had classic musical training, and the sound was distinctly louder this way, but they had ignored me. No, no. There is no way that Eilerson could be right about this, so they had completely disregarded what I was saying.

But I was RIGHT!

Dureena was wavering, but Galen had convinced her that I was wrong, and to go with the rest of them. Then she had, and now I’d like to know why the hell I’m going in the right direction. BY MYSELF. SOLO. Like I’m some sort of adventure hero. I’m a linguist, not superman. Sure I had a few toys that I had picked up from a few dead worlds, a few of the objects right from underneath Gideon’s damn nose, but I wasn’t the Goddamn MARINES. So why the hell was I going by myself to rescue Gideon?

I wasn’t doing this out of a sense of honor nor in the feeble hopes that I might atone myself in his eyes. No, Not Max Eilerson. I was simply planning on killing him. Slowly, and painfully, so he would know that Maximilian Eilerson wasn’t getting soft. It was a matter of getting the final payback on Matthew Gideon. Ruin my one chance at doing the right thing, would he? I’d make him regret it, as payback was something that the OLD Maximilian Eilerson would have done, back when he only cared about himself.

They stripped me, and the bastards dryly commented on the fact that I was still heavily scarred from my previous experience with them. I was trying my hardest not to shake, but I was. My charade of being unconcerned about my captivity had been more effective before they had knifed O’Neill. They had commented on how I was trembling, and I had endured their catty comments about how I was a real man. Internally, I was grieving for O’Neill. Damn it, three months to retirement, and he had felt obligated to try and rescue those marines and myself.

"Not very attractive, Captain. No doubt Elizabeth’s repulsed by them." Jenn was bitchily making comments on a relationship that was long over. Get with the program, Jenn; I haven’t been with Liz in years. "Or maybe, it’s a turn on, as you’re actually uglier than she is."

"Jenn. Is that the sound of jealousy I hear?" I smirked at her, and I wasn’t too surprised when she hit me in the belly. HARD. Stupid. STUPID MATTHEW! Didn’t you learn to keep your mouth shut last time, when they burned you repeatedly for your smart-ass comments? How about when they broke your fingers?

"Nope. It’s the voice of God." She laughed, and I was suddenly very much afraid. I looked at her and I suddenly knew that Jennie was completely off her rocker. O’Keefe was in a full-blown mania stage right now, and she was getting more and more irrational since the hostage situation blew up in her face. It had been her idea to swap me for the hostages, and things had gone wrong. The cultists were upset and suddenly, her position among them wasn’t that secure as they were blaming her. Let’s talk about who’s really shaky right now, Jenn. That’ll be you, with the knife at your neck. Dangerous position to be in, as she knew that she had nothing to lose, but her life to gain.

"Well, boys and girls. You know the drill, it’s been done before. This time, Mattie, no rescue. I’m almost disappointed, you know." Jennie suddenly stroked my face, and I felt a chill of revulsion run down my spine. "You do want to know why, don’t you?"

"Sure!" I was still pretending that inside I wasn’t screaming in terror.

"Because when you’re dead, I won’t ever get the chance to find out if Brigid and the girls were right about you. If actually you possess as much stamina as they say you did. I find it hard to believe that you were able to satisfy those lusty girls daily for so long. Repeatedly, I heard, in fact. Someone your age couldn’t keep it up for that long and that often. They said you were hung like a horse, and quite frankly, it looks more like a pony." She gave a gander at my manhood, and shook her head in mock disappointment. "No truth in advertising these days."

Hey! I’ll have you know that John Matheson is quite happy with my duration and frequency. He’s assured me of that constantly. Pony! No. Try a Clydesdale, baby!

"The bitches didn’t complain. Try me out, Jennie, I’ll make you walk funny for a week." I sneered that at her, in the hopes of getting her pissed off. I certainly didn’t want her to take me up on the offer.

"Hmmm…" Jenn leaned next to me, her eyes wild. "Maybe, they were right. But I prefer to hurt you, rather than fuck you. After all, you’ve serviced all the whores in the camp, Matt, rather admirably. I prefer my lovers to have some discretion and some standards. You’ll apparently fuck anything that spreads their legs."

"Anything that’s more lively than you are." I spit that at her, and I suddenly wished I had kept my mouth shut. Good move, Mattie! Piss her off!

She hit me hard for that comment, and I was expecting it. Galaxies upon galaxies of stars were around my head, when I suddenly realized that Jennie had a knife in her hand. Pressing it against me, she inflicted numerous small cuts on me, and then Jennie proceeded to carve something onto my belly. "Stud" was what it said, and she laughed.

"Don’t forget the crown of thorns. Then when he’s dead, we’ll leave the body somewhere where EF can find it. Maybe in Suki’s office. She’s dead, so she isn’t using it anymore. Don’t worry, Matt, we’ll have your pride and joy stuffed and mounted, so Brigid and the girls can use it."

Then I found myself in the same position that I had been… about a year ago. It hurt like hell, and I tried not to cry out in pain when they crucified me. O’Neill hadn’t, and I certainly could match that old jarhead any old day. Sorry, Tom. Won’t be able to give your wife the message as either this or the poison will kill me, but I think she’ll know anyway.

The cultists left, except for Jenn. I didn’t like being alone with her as I was in easy reach of her, and I couldn’t defend myself. She was licking her lips as she stared at me.

"Matthew… I could save you." She moved closer to me, and suddenly her body was rubbing against mine, her pelvis rubbing against my crotch while her hands began touching me everywhere. "Just need a little proof that you’re as good as the girls said you were. I’ll train you so you’ll lose that arrogance of yours, and you’ll serve me willingly, as I’ll be your savior. So what do you say?"

She repulsed me. Hell, I do the girl with the facial hair in the bar before I’d be desperate enough to do you. I couldn’t even put a bag over my head and do it for England. My dick remained limp, and my fate was sealed.

I’d rather die than fuck her.

We were walking faster and faster, when suddenly Michael St. John, Warlock and trickster, cracked.

I should have seen it coming. There was a tension in the air that made me realize that a few of us were on the breaking point. Instead, I was trying to focus on hearing Matthew, but I had no luck. The sleepers were still in my system, and they hadn’t been neutralized. But it wasn’t an excuse, as I should have seen the fact that we were all emotionally exhausted, and slightly crazed by grief. When the shattering point was reached, I would have bet that Makam would have gone crazy… But never would I have thought St. John would go off the deep end when he saw O’Neill lying there with a knife in his back.

Michael, stunned and horrified by the thought that Tom had been captured, had been acting oddly through out the entire adventure. Instead of being the jovial trickster he was, Mike had been rather subdued and quiet. I had thought it merely due to the fact that he wasn’t feeling well after being knocked unconscious by Gideon, but it was hiding something more. O’Neill, his mentor and his friend, was lying dead. God, there was so much blood around him, and one of the cultists was walking up to his body, about to kick it, to prove that he was dead when St. John snapped.

"O’NEIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!" That was screamed in the voice of Divine Retribution and Vengeance, and the cultists began scrambling. "I’m getting those bastards if it’s the last thing I do." Then he ran out in the room, screaming and firing like a madman. Eilerson was right, as the minute the choice came up, saving O’Neill was Mike’s and Gabe’s priority as Matrando was right after him, hobbling with his bad ankle. Makam suddenly wailed in frustration while Lee slammed her body to the floor to prevent her from going after them.


Galen roughly ordered us down on the floor, and to close our eyes. There was a bright shining light, and suddenly I heard something that sounded like lighting going off. There was the smell of brimstone in the air. I think I heard Matrando scream out and repent for every damn questionable thing he ever had done or even thought about doing in his life. He and St. John were finding out first hand, that being in the middle of a Mage-created lightning storm, was a hair-raising experience. I wasn’t sure that it was only Matrando screaming for salvation, you see, as I was screaming the exact same thing. Apparently Makam had really pissed off Galen, so he was a little over enthusiastic in his mass destruction.

Ah? Galen? Please don’t kill St. John and Matrando by mistake. They’re the good guys, OK?


Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, rescuing Gideon by myself. I was beginning to believe that perhaps Galen was right about going in the right direction when suddenly my invisible ears picked up. One of the doomsday boys were talking about…

Hostages. One of them was probably dead, and the other one was being crucified. That sounded like Gideon to me, as he had a remarkable tendency to be repetitive in things. Staff meetings, kidnappings, and near-death experiences. You know, the usual. Come on, Gideon. Walk on the wild side for once and try something different. Like a firing squad.

They wanted to see it, so I decided to follow them like an accidental tourist. Look, there’s the Sistine Chapel, and next up, Crucified Captain Courageous. Hopefully, since I had left my wallet at home, I wasn’t going to be charged admission. Damn it, not only have I developed a conscience since I fell in with this ship of the dammed, I was suddenly being heroic.

If Cynthia could only see me now, she’d be laughing in hysterical disbelief, and I’d probably be right there with her.

"Safe to get up. The fanatics have been neutralized." Galen spoke that calmly. "They’re blinded and stunned right now, but nobody died. Yet. Dureena? John? Ivo? Perhaps you’d like to secure them with this." He threw something at us. "I’ll make sure this room is secure. Sarah, you better get over there quickly. Thomas is alive, but barely. Matthew’s not here so we need to hurry."

Matthew? Come on, Matt. Where the hell were you?

Makam ran to where O’Neill was lying, while St. John and Matrando were lying next to him, trying vainly to stabilize him. I noticed that they kept looking at Galen and flinching, obvious in their strong desire to keep firmly away from Galen. Both of the men appeared to be shell shocked, and they were covered in blood. When Galen had started throwing electricity around like a madman, the two of them had tried to shield the dying O’Neill with their bodies.

Gabe was already trying to raise EF on his link to see if we could get some help down here with the prisoners and a med-team for Tom. Sarah was only a few seconds behind Makam, and I could hear Kali softly talking to O’Neill. She was speaking in a strangely gentle voice while she tenderly stroked O’Neill’s hair. "Told you I’d find you. No matter where and no matter how long it took."

Then she looked up, and suddenly her compassion vanished. She snapped. "Where the fuck is EILERSON? Do I have to fucking baby-sit ALL of YOU?"

I looked around, and suddenly we noticed that Eilerson wasn’t with us.

I was following them down to where Gideon was being held, when suddenly there was the sound of an explosion. That must be Galen or Matheson, as I’ve noticed that whenever EF or the Technomage is around, things have a tendency of getting blown up. No, don’t you start to worry about Eilerson. No matter what, I’m not going to start exploding things. Bad enough that I’ve suddenly become heroic, and noble, but I just didn’t any part of wanton destruction. Puts a crimp in the profit margin, you know.

The fanatics ran off to see what the problem was, and I continued on my way. Third door down.

I opened the door, and I stepped in, unsure of what exactly I would find. He better not be DEAD.

I wanted to kill him, after all.

It just wouldn’t be right to have a stranger do it.

The door opened, and no one was there. There had been a blast of some sort, as though an angry Technomage was running amuck, and my hopes were suddenly raised up to my knees. Perhaps John was out there, with a band of Avenging Angels. That would explain why the building was shaking around me. Ah? Galen. Could you not be so damn exuberant? When the building shook, my wrists and ankles really, really hurt as the nails started vibrating.

Hey! Maybe I was being RESCUED! It happened once before, it could happen again.

So when the door opened, and nobody was there, my hopes were crushed. Shit. Probably the explosion was an accident of some sort or another bright idea of Jenn dealt a deathblow by reality. It was an old building, which is why the door had swung open. The pain was getting overwhelming again, and I bit my lip hard, trying not to cry out.

"I should really fucking leave you there." There wasn’t anyone there. Dear God, I was hearing things, and it was EILERSON of all people. It sounded exactly like him complete with the slight tone of contempt that he had for me, as I was just a stupid Starship Captain, while he was a brilliant linguist. "After all you did to me. Your comments, your little insults, and that entire thing with IPX, I should leave you there. Would serve you right, but fortunately, I’m not one to hold a grudge as I’m not a Starship Captain."

God, I was cracking up. I could just imagine him saying that to me, with his trademark smirk that said that he was the only sane soul in the room. My little linguist with the wallet for a heart, I’d almost be happy to see you now. Which shows how bad things were as Max wouldn’t be rescuing me. No, he’d be hanging to the rear, trying to figure out which stocks to buy.

"Max?" This was unreal; someone who wasn’t even in the room was insulting me. I deserved it though, as I had repeatedly pushed his buttons, provoking him until I had nearly hit him. I was obviously in the afterlife, my soul not realizing that I had died. Probably the Supreme Commander of the Universe was testing me with a duplicate of Max and depending on how I treated the clone, the Supreme Commander would decide to send me to the pearly gates or to fry. This was going to hurt, and I just couldn’t see a way out of it.

O’NEILL! Couldn’t you put a kind word in for the man you had died for? I could see his disapproving face in front of me, challenging me to be a real man, a MARINE.

Come on, I was a Starship Captain, not a jar-headed leatherneck. My honor was ok being a little sullied and bruised, but Tom still gave me a reproachful look. STOP MAKING ME FEEL GUILTY, TOM!

"Max…. Sorry about what I did." I gasped that out, and I was disappointed to realize that I was still in significant pain. Tom grimaced at me, plainly not too impressed with my wimpy Starship Captain apology.

WHAT? Did you want to apologize some more?

"Mr." Captain Makam nodded.

Geez. Thanks O’Neill. I must have muttered that a bit too loudly, for a moment, I thought that O’Neill was going to start screaming at me like I was back in basic.

"After... what happened… to me… uncomfortable around you. Thought…. You enjoyed seeing me… hurt. Scared me." OK? Well? How much more should I say? "Tricked you… into staying…. because …. too stubborn… to admit ….. wrong. Sorry."

There. That was ALL you were going to EVER get from me, Eilerson. So I hope the Goddamn tape recorder was running. Mentally, I thought O’Neill was giving me a thumb up for my apology. I had apologized and managed to keep my dignity intact.

"Well… well… well… I never would have expected an apology from you, of all people."

If this was the afterlife, and I was stuck with an invisible Max Eilerson for an eternity, I’d like a refund please, and promptly. Please… I was in a great deal of pain, and this Max clone was starting to seem too real to me. No… don’t let it be him, while I’m nailed to the cross… naked… and defenseless.

"Thankfully, this time you’re not hanging nine feet off the ground as we don’t have a two meter tall doctor around. Let’s see if I can get you off this. Wait, better secure the room first."

His voice was rather gentle with me, and for a moment, I didn’t recognize it as Eilerson’s. There wasn’t the usual defensive tone to his voice. Instead, I thought for a moment, that he was trying to calm me down, like I was a stray… of some sort, by using a soothing tone of voice with me.

The door opened and I heard a hum of some sort.

"Excellent! It still works!"

"You weren’t SURE?" I asked him with some asperity. Come ON! Didn’t you check the equipment out BEFORE you decided to rescue me? Look, Tom, I apologized, but don’t look at me like that. He was saving me and he hadn’t checked the equipment out? Tom, you wouldn’t approve of that now would you? I think not. Make him run a few laps, Sergeant Major, ok? I’m a little too tired to scream at him right now, and besides, that’s what you NCOs do best.

"Lt. Commander Matheson, I’ve found our problem child. Looks like I was right after all. We’ll need a med-team here, please, but he looks stable."

"Where ARE you?" I heard John ask. "Oh, wait… Galen says he’s got a fix on your location. We’ll be down there as soon as we can get things stabilized here. We’ve got fifty odd prisoners to secure, and O’Neill needs to be shipped out immediately. We didn’t get all the cultists, so we’re going to have to go room by room to secure things. Plus Matrando and St. John are having some problems seeing at the moment."

"Tell Gideon that O’Keefe’s dead. Dureena got her, finally. Remind me NEVER to upset Dureena, ok?"

"O’NEILL?" I whispered. "He’s dead."

Hopefully, the Creator had dusted him off, and put him immediately back into the batting rotation, as I knew there was a soul who would be searching for his new incarnation. Ah? Could I put a request in that next time, you didn’t let him become a Marine?

How about something safer? Think about it, being a NCO is a lot like being a grade school teacher. You get these kids, try to whip them into shape, and then you never let them forget how you caught them smoking in the boys’ room, no matter how old they got.

"Lt. Commander, I think you better explain what’s going on with O’Neill, as the Captain thinks O’Neill’s dead."

"No. Deep stab wound to the back, missed the kidneys fortunately, but still it’s pretty messy. Nearly bled out, and he’s going to need some surgery. We’ve got EF coming in with the troops. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Matheson out."

"Why can’t I see you?" I asked that. Oh my God! He WAS here.

"Magic, my good Captain. MAGIC."

Eilerson was trying to be gentle, but he finally had to get aggressive with getting me down. Pain flooded my body when he took the nails out of my feet and hands. I couldn’t stand due to the fact that my ankles were probably shattered … again, so I found myself being supported by Eilerson, who I couldn’t see. I was leaning on his shoulder while he carefully lowered me to the floor. It was almost too much for me, to hang in mid-air. Intellectually, I knew Eilerson was there, and that I was leaning on him. Emotionally, I was waiting for me to go SPLAT on the floor.

"Easy now. Easy. I’ve just got to get that crown off your head. It’s going to hurt. Shhh…" Max was trying to soothe me again, and I tried my damnest not to start to cry. Everything hurt, O’Neill was alive, I was alive, and I was being given a rather forceful example of how I had underestimated Maximilian Eilerson. It hurt like hell, physically, emotionally and mentally, while he pulled the thorns from my head. That accomplished, I began shaking, and I felt Max’s arms supporting me. "Let it out." He whispered.

"I’m cold. So goddamn cold." I was being moved, and I felt something covering me. It smelled strongly of Eilerson’s cologne, and I suddenly closed my eyes. Life was a circle, and I was coming back to the beginning again. First time through, I had deeply wounded John, this time I had injured Eilerson due to my stubbornness and pride. This new chance, please, don’t let me screw it up so bad again. Next, Eilerson would get out the handkerchief and wipe my tears away even though I hadn’t started crying yet. Makam would be there, conducting the physical exam once again, while Eilerson took pictures… but there would be new people with them, standing in the places of those that couldn’t be there. John would replace O’Neill, with his softly spoken words of comfort, while Sarah would conduct the medical exam. Like Vladi, I’m sure she would be shaken by the experience, and I regretted her lost innocence.

"It’s my jacket. I think I’ve got a rescue blanket somewhere in my bag o’ tricks, so lie down, Matthew."

"When Sarah shows up, tell her I took Sanin about eighteen hours ago." I was drifting, as Max had given me a few pain medications that were finally kicking in. Thank the maker, I was finally getting warmer, as I had been cold for… so long.

"Here it is. Sanin? That’s the Centauri poison? Nasty stuff, and illegal as hell."

If I had the energy, I think I would have laughed, as Eilerson sounded surprised that a Starship Captain could get his hands on that stuff.

"Yes." That one word nearly took all of my energy, but I knew I had something else I had to say.

"Thankfully I’m familiar with it. Plus the antidote is a fairly common Terran drug, which I just happen to have in my pocket. Aspirin, my good Captain, as you Earth Force personnel give me an almost constant headache."


"Yes, Captain."

"Don’t leave the quest." There, I had said what I needed to say, and what I should have said in the beginning.

"Of course not. I have the chance to lord it over all of you that I, a mere Xeno-archeologist and linguists, managed to locate Captain Courageous. Think I’ll pass that opportunity up?"

I smiled slightly, as I heard what Max wouldn’t admit. He wasn’t planning on leaving, because we were probably the closest things he had to a family. It was a wildly dysfunctional family, but still… a family. Lying on the floor, I closed my eyes, while he worked on bandaging my head and my other wounds, grateful that Galen had turned him visible. That way the rescue blanket safely covered everything, as I was getting tired of prancing around nude whenever the rescue team showed up. And that’s how the rest of the group found me.

It was a happy, emotional reunion, except for the little fact that Michael St. John really wanted to punch me. Just to return the favor, he assured me. Why the hell did he keep looking at Galen when he said it? Why did both he and Gabe insist on wearing sunglasses?

"Not now, Mike! Later, I promise you. We’ll take him out and beat him up repeatedly."

That was Ivo, and I was startled, as there were a few people that began chorusing in, how that they really wanted a chance to hit me also. Just a small payback for what I had put them through.

"I’m next, after Lee!" That was Eilerson, who gave me a wolfish grin.

"Then me." Matrando spoke.

"I wouldn’t mind a shot." That was Sarah and Dureena!

"Don’t forget me. And I get two shots. One for me, and one for Tom." Kritika smiled.

"Oh! I need to get a swing in for my Head of Security." Gabe was clearly relishing the chance to hit me.

"Come now. Don’t I get a chance?" That was Galen, who everyone began to rapidly assure that he could go right after St. John if he wanted to. He could even go FIRST, if he wanted to as neither Gabe nor Mike would complain.

What the hell did Galen do? He appeared very amused with himself, which meant trouble.

"I want a chance for Tom, too." That was Mike who was looking forward to it way too much for my enjoyment.

"Well… how about you, John?" That was Sarah.

Yeah. John. How about you?

"I don’t need to hit him, as I’ll remind him about this every day."

John Matheson, you are a cruel man.

I was in the hospital for two weeks, and then I stayed at Eilerson’s abode for the next several weeks. When I woke up after the surgery, I was in the all too familiar position of having my limbs in pins, screws and traction, which I don’t enjoy. It’s simply not normal to look at your extremities and see pins and assorted screws holding everything together. The docs had also given me nerve blocks from the elbows and the knees down so I was moderately pain free. They also probably did it so I wouldn’t try to escape from the hospital bed, as my limbs wouldn’t work. The docs appeared to have read of my first stint with the cults, and realized that Matthew Gideon was a very bad patient.

They also decided not to fuse my bones together. The doctors had done that for the first incident with the cultists, and learning of the stress fractures I had inflicted on myself, the doctors refused to even consider fusing the bones. No, I was to be out of commission for a bit. Deal with it, they politely told me. You deserve a vacation.

John Matheson was there when I woke up, and he gave me a wicked smile. "The nurses wanted to feed you, but I told them that I would. Just to preserve your male dignity during all of this." He smiled at me, and he took something out of his pocket. It was my class ring on a gold chain, and John carefully put it around my neck. "Much better. It was unhappy being off your finger."

"What are they serving?" I looked anxiously, hoping that it wouldn’t be Jell-O. I hated Jell-O.

"Soup. Chicken and rice." He said with a smile. "The soup’s your favorite. Split Pea!"

"I HATE split pea." I reminded him.

"I know." John then undid the guardrail to bed, and sat down next to me. I heard a squeak as he moved the table close to where I was. I could smell the stuff, and I suddenly balked.

"I’m not eating it."

"Of course you are, Matthew. You want to grow up to be big and strong, so you can be a Starship Captain."

Shit. Suddenly, I wished that John had hit me. This was how he was going to get even with me.

John had an amused glint in his eyes, which meant trouble for his patient. I watched dubiously as John carefully stirred the green soup, and began waving a spoon in my direction. Lord, it looked like nuclear sludge.

"I’m not EATING it." I vowed.

"Open the bay doors, here comes the shuttle."

His voice was dripping in syrup, and I kept my mouth firmly shut. He nudged the spoon against my lips, and I refused to open my lips. There wasn’t going to be any unauthorized landings of a split pea shuttle, not if Captain Matthew Gideon of the Excalibur could help it.

"OK. You’re making me pay rough." Then he pinched my nose shut, so I couldn’t breath. I tried really hard to black out, but it didn’t work. Gasping, I opened my mouth, and in swooped the shuttle.

ARRRGH! I spit it out. REJECTED! The necessary paperwork hadn’t been completed.

"You’re making a mess." He growled. Disgustedly, he wiped my face off. "You got it all over your bed clothes. If you’re going to be this difficult, I’ll have to make sure that you don’t get your clothes too filthy."

John kissed my face. Then he began nuzzling my neck, and I grinned. "Desert?"

"For people that eat their soup." Then he grabbed my bedclothes with his teeth, and pulled. Unlike the usual hospital clothing, I was snapped up the middle. With my arms pointing out in various different directions, it was easier to clothe me with one of the snaps up.

I pretended horror when I heard the sound of the snaps separating and then I was really horrified when I realized that I was completely bare to the world.

"J-j-john? What if someone walks in." I sputtered.

"Door’s locked. Now…" His callused hands began gently stroking my face. "Let’s see if with a little motivation we can get you to eat." John suddenly leaned over and began sucking on one of my nipples. I gasped in delight, and then he nipped me hard.

Ok, I ended up eating the soup, and the rest of the meal, while John carefully ‘motivated’ me.

"I’ll have to remember that next time." He promised, and so he did.

It’s rather difficult to protect your virtue when you can’t move your arms and legs. Ok, to be bluntly honest, it’s impossible. He’d walk into the room, lock the door and then slowly uncover me from my cocoon of blankets, appearing to delight in the chance to slowly caress me. John enjoyed sitting next to me on the hospital bed, feeding me while he stroked and nuzzled me teasingly. We’d talk a bit, while he continued to play, using his lips, hands and tongue on various accessible parts of my body.

But I NEVER developed a liking for split pea soup.

I tried to keep my shattered dignity intact by ignoring what he was doing to me. It would have worked, except for the first few times, John would bring me almost to the pinnacle, and then he’d stop. "Well, I’ve got to go, need to go give another statement to HQ." He would say that in a voice that fairly dripped in fake disappointment. He’d get off my bed, lock the side rail back into position, and then he’d kiss me gently on the forehead. John would make sure that he was ship-shape and presentable, and then he’d walk toward the door.

Leaving me bobbing in the breeze.


"Yes." He didn’t need to be a Telepath to know what I was mentally screaming, but he pretended that he didn’t. "Dureena said she’d stop by later."

Then he’d almost be out the door, and I’d start to beg. "Can you at least cover me up please?"

John would sigh, mockingly, and then return to where his rather aroused lover was lying flat on his back in a hospital bed with all five limbs in the air. You’re a TEASE, John Matheson. A Goddamn tease. "I guess so." He’d sigh, after stopping to caress me for a bit longer. He’d cover me up gently with the blankets after making sure that my hospital gown was snapped back together properly. I had to make sure that he did it properly as one time he deliberately made a mess of it, and then tried to leave me looking askew. He’d kiss me again, and promise that he would be back in a few short hours. Then I would watch him leave, while I wished that he wouldn’t go. Needless to say, after a few times of this, I’d be up whenever he walked into the room. He didn’t even have to lock the door before my body was raring to go.

"What medication are you on?" He asked me in mock disbelief, when he uncovered me to find that I was already primed.

"Don’t know." I whispered as he began to tease me by sucking gently on my balls. "John?"

"Shhh… enjoy, Matt."

So, I forced myself to lie in bed while he did everything to me, and the truth be told, I enjoyed it. Sometimes, it’s good to be the Captain.

I had forgotten about my promised retribution at the hands of my rescuers. Instead, I was sitting in Max’s backyard when I heard the doorbell ring. I should have expected that they would be visiting today, as the Excalibur was about to ship out.

"AVON LADY!" That was a chorus of familiar voices, and I grinned. Grabbing my crutches I went in to see them. Madeleine gave me a look that promises divine retribution if anything happened to the clean sitting room, which I ignored. It was a regular welcoming committee. Everyone was there from my second rescue, old friends such as Dureena, Sarah, Galen, John, Max, and new friends such as Ivo, Mike, Kritika and Gabe. Even Sheila had shown up.

"It’s ok." I promised her. She left, after giving me a sniff of disdain. Apparently, she didn’t think much of my promise. "So what are you guys doing here? You didn’t need to stop by and see me."

"It’s something that’s slightly overdue. We weren’t able to get together before now what with the fact that Headquarters wanted us to fill out reports on what happened." Makam smiled, and I saw that she was wearing a rather substantial emerald on her one hand. "Ivo. Lock the door, please. Boys? Will you be so kind to move the valuables? John? You can leave now as you really shouldn’t be here for this."

John nodded his head, and he left. My smile faltered, as I suddenly realized that I was the only one smiling in the room, except for Makam and St. John, both of which were wearing the smiles of the Great White Shark.

"Ivo? Gabe? You can take his crutches. He won’t be needing them." Makam continued to smile and I suddenly felt uneasy. The two men were brawnier than I was, and they easily took my crutches from me, dropping them on the floor.

"I need… them t-t-to stand." I sputtered while Gabe and Ivo grabbed me underneath the armpits and kept me from falling on my face.

"Matthew Gideon."

"Yes?" I asked nervously, as I didn’t like the way Makam was smiling.

"You are surrounded by your peers and your team. Due to your unthinking actions, your peers and your team members were injured, some severely. How plead you?"

Shit. Midnight Justice. It was something frowned upon at the Academy, but when someone screwed up, they were visited by a night court, made up of their peers who then gave them midnight justice. This was going to really, really hurt, I could tell.

I didn’t say anything.

"Mike? We’ve taken a vote, and decided, you’re first." Kritika smiled, and St. John walked up to me, turning my head one way then the other.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Payback." St. John said quietly, just before he nailed me with a right hook. "That was for the shuttle."

I was dizzy, and the two men holding me up suddenly grabbed me to keep me standing. Mike continued to circle me, like the Great White Shark, looking for another shot.

"This… is for Tommy." Then he hit me hard in my back, right where O’Neill got stabbed. Buckling to my knees, Gabe and Ivo pulled me back to an upright position. "Madam? Can I have another shot? For all the fucking paperwork I’ve got to fill out?"

"Well… Normally I’d tell you not to be greedy, but go ahead. It’ll make you feel better." Judge Makam smiled approvingly at her protégé.

Made Mike feel a lot better, but I think he chipped my tooth.

"Max? You’re next." Makam smiled.

"This is the entire incident with my resignation. All SEVEN of them." He smiled, and then he nailed me right in the middle of my sternum right where my heart was. HARD. I began coughing hard, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Max obviously picked that spot as symbolic of the fact that I didn’t think he had a heart.

"Ivo? You’re next." Makam was still calling the shots. St. John then exchanged positions with Ivo, and Mike gave me a friendly smile, just to let me know, no hard feelings.

Yeah. Right.

"For not following the chain of command, and needlessly putting fellow EF personnel at risk. This one is especially for O’Neill, who nearly died trying to save your sorry ass." Boom. Ivo hit me squarely in the gut.

God save me from the GOOD guys! They were going to fucking kill me. I was trying to take this like a man, and not whimper, but oh GOD, Ivo, did you hit me with a fucking sledgehammer?

"Dureena?" Kritika continued the roll call.

"Gladly." Dureena was a professional, and her knife wound didn’t scar too badly, but I couldn’t use my shoulder for a while until the muscles healed. "You should have asked me for help. I would have assisted you."


"Physical violence is so… barbaric."

"Since you’re skipping your turn." Kritika smiled. "Sarah…"

"Never said that I was skipping my turn, Madam." Galen then proceeded to stand next to me, and he whispered something. "I give you the gift, of a guilty conscience. You won’t be able to sleep soundly for the next two months due to the fact you’d be plagued by memories of your reckless actions."

"Oh. Like that, Galen." There was approval in Makam’s voice and I could hear the murmur of a seal of endorsement from the rest of my payback party. A few of the bastards actually decided to applaud in appreciation.

"Thank you." Galen smiled at me, and then stepped back.

"Sarah? You’re next, dear." Queen Kritika was calmly sitting down on the couch, drinking tea while I was being hit. Two lumps or THREE? Hell, at this rate, I’d have twenty or thirty.

Sarah gave me a shake of her head. "I’m a healer, so I don’t feel comfortable doing this."

"Thank you." I whispered. Least someone was having pity on me.

"You’re not getting off easy, Matt. Hold him securely, boys." Bam! She had a left that I didn’t see coming, especially after my eye-swelled shut.

"Geez, wonder who that leaves? Ah! Young Gabriel Matrando? Ivo, would you mind holding Matt up? He’s seems to be feeling a bit under the weather right now."

Young Gabriel Matrando hit me hard, and I could see there was a look of vengeance still in his eyes. I was having some problem breathing, and I could taste blood in my mouth. The group was being very deliberate in how they hit me. No broken bones, but just enough power in their swings to cause me a great deal of pain. Ounce for ounce, they were giving me exactly what I had done to them.

Maybe, that’s why I was worried about Gabe, who was still noticeably limping.

"Madam?" He queried politely. I noticed that Gabe, as the youngest Captain present, was exceedingly respectful and courteous to everyone, except to me!

"Oh yes, Gabe! Of course, you get another shot. For O’Neill. Make it a good one for Tom who’s still lying in a hospital bed in Intensive Care, rather than our bed, recovering from Gideon’s fucking stupidity and stubbornness."

It was a good one, all right. It was EXACTLY what O’Neill had done to Matrando to prevent him from rescuing me. Gabe hit my good ankle and I felt it snap. Oh come on, I just got the cast off yesterday. I fell to the floor as Ivo and Mike decided to let me drop onto the floor, and I was on my knees, rocking.

"Keep him in that position. It’ll make it easier for me."

Ivo and Mike then put their hands on my shoulders, plainly not letting me going to escape from Sheila. SHEILA? SHEILA WAS GOING TO HIT ME? Come on, Sheila, I was a cripple. Didn’t you feel sorry for me?

"A gentle reminder, not to be such an ass." Sheila said sweetly, and then she hit me. Sweet, innocent Sheila, hit me on my ass with a riding crop, of all things. Where the hell did she get a riding crop? Ivo was grinning in approval, and I heard the two bastards made a date for later, probably so Sheila could use it on him for a bit. I couldn’t tell really, as I was trying not to weep from the pain. My fucking ankle. Matrando broke my FUCKING ankle.

I heard Makam put her teacup on the table, and I dizzily wondered when the maid had served the tea? She couldn’t be there, watching me bleed on the Persian rug?

"Hmm… That leaves me. Boys, hold him carefully. I’ve got two shots coming. This is for O’Neill."

Kali motioned the boys to move me into a better range for her and they roughly pulled me off the floor, while I moaned in pain over my ankle, my ass, my face, my ribs and my shattered pride. "I’m not that tall, so you need… Ah! Better! Gabe. Hold the ring for me? I’d hate to get blood on it, it’s such a lovely ring that Tom got for me. Might say he paid for it in blood."

Uh oh. I didn’t like the look in her eyes. Kali was a street brawler, and she broke my nose, in three spots. Blood was flowing freely from my nose, and she still looked slightly crazed. Makam? Didn’t you want MORE tea?

"Now? What should I do to you, just so you remember it for a very, very, very, long time?"

Oh FUCK! I was in for it now. Then Kritika Makam kicked me hard in the groin, and the boys let me fall on the floor. Oh Mother Mary, I don’t really believe in you, but that really fucking hurt. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word Fuck, as the odds of me ever being able to fuck again without surgical interventions were pretty damn poor. Makam! Did you have steel toes in your boots? God, it was throbbing, and suddenly I hoped that I didn’t have to pee for the next month or so.

"That’s for fucking ruining my retirement, and nearly killing O’Neill. That love tap was from me for loss of Tom’s services. Don’t worry, Matt." Her voice was full of compassion for me, and I suddenly tried to gulp back tears of pain. "Tom’s gonna stop by later, when he’s feeling better."

Oh GOD! Just kill me NOW!

Kritika gently smoothed my hair, and told me that all had been forgiven. Having paid for what I had done, the court was satisfied with my punishment. Even Max grudgingly admitted that, after the Judge gave him the Evil Eye. Each person present announced that they were happy with my sentence and that they believe that I could be release conditionally. With the understanding that at any sign of me returning to my old ways, would cause the court to be reconvened. Ivo cheerily promised me that next time, things would be a lot worse.

"Now, Sarah? I have to regretfully inform you that Matthew apparently fell down a flight of steps at Max’s house. HARD. Perhaps you should go to him, as he needs medical help. Now, Max, we didn’t get too much blood on the floor did we?"

"There’s some." The disapproval in Max’s voice came through loud and clear, even with me sniffling in pain on the floor. Oh God, these were my FRIENDS who just did this to me.

"Don’t worry, Matt will pay the bill. Won’t you?"

I nodded my head. Anything, just don’t hit me again, please.

"What a good boy. I’m sure after today’s lesson, he’ll remember proper procedure." Then the entire group left, except for Makam and Sarah. While Sarah quickly drugged me with pain pills. Makam was with me, smoothing my hair out of my eyes, and was holding a handkerchief with ice to my bleeding nose. "John?" She called out loudly. " Perhaps you better call an ambulance? Matt fell down a flight of steps. He tripped over a cat or something." Mother Makam was in full effect, helping Sarah tend to my wounds.

To this day, I swear on the Holy Bible, the Koran and any other holy book that you’re willing to wave in my direction, that I, Matthew Gideon tripped down a flight of steps at Maximilian Eilerson’s house. I admit to the universe that my resulting injuries were caused because I stupidly and stubbornly, tried to do something by myself that I really needed help with.

Kritika, you are a one rough teacher.

The one good thing about the entire incident was that the cultists all decided to skip a trial and plead guilty to the original charges. Apparently Malcolm went down, spoke pleasantly to them, and reminded them that the odds were that they weren’t ever going to see the light of day again, not after this last stunt by the cult.

So they had a collective meeting, put their one brain cell together, and decided that YES! It might be a good idea to plead guilty.

No trial. No Jury. No Matthew Gideon getting up there and being questioned about every damn little piece of minutiae. Most important, no pictures of my dick blown up for viewing. I have some modesty after all. Mal was so disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a trial that he volunteered to sue ISN and the other media that had broadcast pictures of my anatomy for a small percentage.

He was a shark, as ISN and the rest immediately settled out of court for a tasty little sum. Now I’m Max’s neighbor, but don’t tell him, will you? I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I paint the house next door a shocking fluorescent color.

There goes the neighborhood, Eilerson.

Tom visited me once before he left Mars. He had been declared medically unfit to return to duty, and so he was receiving his full pension plus a significant chunk of change.

"Couldn’t have done it better if I planned it!" O’Neill laughed. "Tax-free too!"

O’Neill had been annoyed with me for nominating him for another set of awards, but Kritika had told him bluntly to shut up. It was amusing watching the two of them together, as they finished each other’s sentences, and used a form of short hand when they talked to one another. Tom and the pain inflicting Kritika were sitting next to each other, and Tom was stroking her neck with his thumb.

"It’s nice being able to do that." He told Kritika, which earned him a dazzling smile from his wife. "Without worrying that someone might see and turn us both in."

It’s a good think Makam doesn’t smile like that more often, as O’Neill probably would be continually fighting off the competition. Her features were absolutely exquisite when she smiled.

We talked for a bit, and then they left, but not before Tom gave his wife a stern look.

"Apologize." His voice was authoritative, but his green eyes were amused.


"Tika." Tom’s voice was a perfect mimicry of Makam’s including intonation.

They looked at each other, and Tom made a quick motion with one of his hands. The gesture meant something to Kritika as she suddenly sighed.

"Very well. Tom feels I should apologize. I’m sorry, Matthew, for kicking you in the balls." Her voice sounded sincere, which immediately made me suspicious.

"That wasn’t so hard, now was it?" Tom remarked dryly.

"I should have cut them off and used them for a key chain," she continued, obviously not wanting her husband to think he won.

O’Neill laughed softly. "Better accept that Matt, it’s the first apology she’s ever done. So of course, it’s a little rough. She’ll get better with practice. I’ve noticed that over the years."

Makam gave him a love tap, which apparently amused O’Neill again. Retirement apparently agreed with him, as he was positively almost… chatty. "I like my women fiery, like my curry." he admitted sardonically. "Time to go, Star-bright. I promised you a home when we both retired, and we’ve got to finish a few small things. We finally got a living room set a few weeks ago, after all these years."

"Thank you, both of you." I tried to convey how much I appreciated them keeping me out of trouble, and keeping an eye on John.

"Stay safe, Matt. We’re not saving your sorry ass again. Twice is more than enough." Makam growled that at me.

"Find the cure, Matt. We’re counting on you." O’Neill spoke that softly, and that was the last time I saw the dangerous duo for some time.

Two months later after I tripped over the cat:

I was back on my ship, and Captain Ivo Lee, Retired, had given up the command chair to me. Earth Force had decided to put Ivo in the Captain’s chair as they apparently had finally gotten around to deciding who was going to take over the ship from the last time I was kidnapped. Since Thuy Nguyen was busy with her own ship, they decided to give a bone to Ivo Lee. Please, it was just an act of desperation to get him the hell out of the Earth Force staff meetings. On the surface, it looked kosher. There were no available Captains to take the chair and most of the higher ups didn’t want to get on a ship that had a heavy civilian population. Lee was the last Captain to retire so they had relied heavily on his sense of duty to have him come out of retirement for a month. No doubt someone was getting a medal for getting Lee off those committee meetings and I’m sure Lee was salivating at the chance of getting his hands on the Excalibur. The Lexington was a nice ship, but the Excalibur was the flagship.

I’m sure Sheila wasn’t happy that Ivo was out of retirement as the two of them were giggling like newlyweds whenever I saw them together. Apparently, Ivo really likes a girl who knows how to use a riding crop on bad boy Captains. Sheila was grinning like the Cheshire Cat whenever we talked for the next few months, so I’m sure Ivo was carrying her to more places from a car to her wheelchair, but I’m digressing off the subject of Lee running amuck on the Excalibur.

But I wonder if SHEILA would like it if I asked about HER sex life?

I think it had been a good experience for everyone, as Ivo ran a rather tight ship. He must have been a living terror, being on the flagship of Earth Force, as even the IPX crews appeared overjoyed that I was back. Everything was clean, everything sparkled, and I wondered if Lee had the crews scrubbing the ship. Probably. Security appeared to be extremely delighted I was back on the ship, and I wondered what old Ivo had done to them. No doubt he had taken one look at them, and decided to have them run a few timed scrimmages in full gear through out the ship to get them into proper shape.

Did I mention that O’Neill trained Lee, ALSO? For someone that’s supposedly so mild-mannered, I’ve noticed that Tom’s students appear to be a collectively bloodthirsty bunch. Makam, Masterson, Matrando, Lee, St. John… and God help me, Matheson, who was smirking at my perplexity over what a mess my life was right now.

"More surgeries." I swore. "More physical therapy, John. And I have a credit card bill that I can’t even begin to understand. Cigars? Knives? A living room set? There are even a few rather expensive pieces of jewelry, which I supposedly bought? And there’s even more stuff, that I’m getting billed for later on an installment plan. All of this stuff was charged while I was kidnapped."

John looked really amused then, and I suddenly remembered a conversation that I had with a certain Sergeant Major. "Don’t worry, lad, when you’re rescued. You’ll get the bills."

"O’Neill?" Last time I ever nominate him for this fifth Medal of Honor.

"NEVER!" John assured me.

"Then it must be… St. John. Right?" Just because you rescued me TWICE doesn’t mean that you people can beat me up AND ruin my credit rating.

John refused to answer me, and I felt him move closer to me in bed. He was grinning at me, while he warned me to stop talking about other men. "Let’s not talk about O’Neill, and St. John, please. We were discussing us, remember?"

"Were we?" I asked whimsically.

"Yes, you were. You were telling me how you had been rather obtuse about some things and you wanted to talk to me about them. You know quite well that really the only time we really talk is when you’re drugged up and can't move without bleeding or breaking something vital, and that you wanted me know that you’re going to work on that little problem of yours."

"Oh. Ok." I kissed John carefully, and I smiled. "Good thing you’re here to keep everything on track. I know that I really screwed things up with our relationship, so I’m hoping that you’ll give me another try. I shouldn’t have tried so hard to protect you, as you thought it meant that I didn’t think you could handle it. It’s wasn’t that, I just didn’t want to constantly share my pain with you. Sometimes, I’d like to share something else."

"Really?" Flashing me a wicked smile, John looked like a cat that had just finished a saucer of cream.

"Really." I assured him.

"Like this?"

I found myself being rolled onto my back, and John Matheson, not so innocent, and all around sexual wanton sent me a delightful image.

"Hmmm… I think that’s a step in the right direction."



"Shut up."

{Characters} {Introduction} {1 None So Blind} {2 Kshatriya} {3 Bingo, the Invisible Fish, and Starship Captain} {4 Because Warlocks Can't FLY} {5 Prayaschitta} {6 Let the Captain Have Some Dignity} {7 Epiphany} {8 Biases} {9 Moksha} {10 The Three Graces}

Witches Familiars

{Mistress Sarah}

{The Main Gate} {HomePage} {Wytches World} {We are Family} {A Little Artistic Licence} {No, we don't mean "A"riadne} {Our Home Is Our Castle} {The Witches' Diary} {Witches Familiars} {The Gateway} {Webrings}