They followed Bra’tac and Teal’c to a nearby room, leaving the remnants of their meal on the table as they did so. Daniel was still chewing on a last piece of bread as they left the room, his eyes bright with unspoken questions, things that Jack could tell he was close to desperation to discover. All he could hope was that he’d be sensible enough to watch his words—these people were not friends, not yet, and to consider them as anything but potential enemies made no sense.
Bra’tac had casually threatened Daniel within minutes of their first meeting, and though Jack had to admit he had a grudging respect for the older man, he wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking he meant anything less than he said.
"You will sleep here," Bra’tac said, holding another curtain aside so Jack and Daniel could precede him into the room beyond. "Teal’c will stand guard, to ensure you are not disturbed, and in the morning we will speak again."
Bra’tac stepped back and the curtain dropped closed between them, leaving Jack alone with Daniel for the first time since they’d been ambushed. Even in the flickering light of the torches which jutted from two of the walls, Jack could see Daniel’s face was pale, his expression worried.
Jack looked around the room, which was much like the one they’d just left. Anything to give him a chance to tamp down the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him, the reassuring words that he wanted to say to Daniel but was no longer sure he had the right. There was a limit to how much friendship allowed, after all.
There was only one pallet, in the corner of the room, large enough for both of them and piled with rough blankets.
"Looks like we have to share," Jack said, hoping he sounded more relaxed than he felt. The concept of sharing a bed with Daniel sent pleasant shockwaves through his system, and he hoped the low level of light hid how much his body liked the idea. Despite the circumstances they found themselves in, he was still able to enjoy the anticipation of closeness with Daniel.
He crossed to the bed, keeping his back to Daniel as he willed his erection to subside, even a little.
"I’m sorry," Daniel said, the words quiet and their tone flat.
"What for?" Jack asked, as he pulled the blankets back.
The room was fairly warm, but it was quite possible they’d be cold in the night. Jack concentrated on straightening the blankets, making his hands work so his brain didn’t have to think about the situation they were in and the likelihood they could both be executed tomorrow. That thought still managed to sneak into his mind, making his arousal disappear quicker than any thoughts of cold showers.
"For bringing us here," Daniel said.
"I don’t remember you forcing me through the Stargate at gunpoint, Daniel." Jack finished what he was doing and turned to see Daniel standing there, head down and fingers fiddling with the amulet, a picture of dejection. "It’s as much my fault as yours."
"We couldn’t stay there." Jack had crossed the small distance between them as he spoke, one hand coming out to snag Daniel’s sleeve and pull him round towards the pallet. "I made you leave—you didn’t want to."
"We didn’t have a choice," Daniel said. Jack smiled to himself as he saw his eyes widen at the sight of the pallet.
"Exactly." He couldn’t believe he’d managed to win an argument with the boy genius. Only the bizarre circumstances in which they’d found themselves could possibly excuse it. "Nobody’s fault. Blame the dumb O’Neill luck, if you have to."
"There’s only one bed," Daniel said, the words a sudden non sequitur.
"You’re very observant, Dr. Jackson."
Jack sat down, suddenly feeling the hours they’d spent walking from the Stargate into the city and the time they’d spent with Bra’tac overwhelm him. He began to unlace his boots, placing them carefully by the side of the pallet so he could step into them when they awoke—this didn’t look like the kind of place that had snake or spider trouble.
Jack patted the pallet beside him, his smile growing when Daniel’s eyes widened at the gesture.
"I promise I won’t hog the covers," he said.
Jack regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. Daniel’s eyes widened even more, though he knew the other man was no innocent—their brief rest room encounter had proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was more for the images the words conjured for himself. Jack cursed his imagination as a parade of images traveled past his mind’s eye—all involving himself and Daniel in various intimate acts.
Who was he kidding? He should be lucky Daniel wanted to even be friends with him after the way he’d behaved last time round, let alone anything more.
Daniel wasn’t sure whether this was his fondest dream or his worst nightmare. There was no way he’d have willingly been in such close proximity with Jack if there was anything he could do about it, but he was certain the silent presence of Teal’c outside the curtain that served for a door would not take kindly to him trying to change their sleeping arrangements.
"I’m sorry," Jack said. "I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable."
"That’s fine." He found himself looking around, but there didn’t really seem to be any alternative to them sharing the pallet. "We could take turns."
Daniel knew what Jack’s response would be to that suggestion. But he’d said it anyway. Perhaps he felt that he needed permission to do what he wanted to do all along? Anything was possible.
"Don’t be ridiculous. We both need to be rested for whatever tomorrow is going to bring."
Daniel nodded, dipping his head to hide the smile he was sure would be there. The last thing he wanted was for Jack to misunderstand his intentions. He sat down on the pallet as Jack shuffled across it towards the wall, leaving him lots of space. His boots, when his fumbling fingers managed to untie the knots his laces seemed to have developed, went beside Jack’s, even as he tried not to listen to the sound of Jack sliding under the pile of blankets.
His spectacles, folded carefully and wrapped in a handkerchief, went into his left boot.
Finally, when he couldn’t delay things any longer, Daniel lay down on the pallet, closing his eyes to try and ignore the presence of another person there. He wasn’t used to this closeness, even after they’d been forced to huddle together on the previous planet. And huddling together for warmth was quite another thing from being in a bed together, no matter that both he and Jack were all but fully clothed.
Daniel tried to relax, listening to himself breathing, hearing the counterpoint of Jack’s exhalations as his companion settled down. Jack’s breaths slowed, evening out, and Daniel wondered if he was falling asleep—was it that easy for him? Was he that unaffected by the proximity which had such startling effects on Daniel’s own metabolism? Somehow, he found that possibility hard to deal with.
"Daniel …" He turned his head towards Jack, an instinctive reaction to his name being whispered. "Stop thinking and get some sleep," Jack continued.
He’d try. That was the most he could promise.
He was surprised how normal it felt, how natural, to be lying here beside Daniel, sharing his body heat and the rough blankets, as if they’d never thought of doing anything else. As if they’d done this a thousand times before. In reality this was the first time they’d shared a proper bed together, so there should be some awkwardness, some tentativeness to the whole experience, shouldn’t there?
Jack tried not to think about how long it had been since he’d laid like this, listening to another person breathing and knowing he’d chosen to be there, chosen for them to be there, too. He’d lost touch with those sensations—the war seemed to have gone on forever, he knew it had changed him and in some ways he welcomed that change. He didn’t recognize the person he’d been any more, didn’t know if the people he’d grown up with would recognize the person he was now as having anything to do with the Jack O’Neill they’d known.
They certainly wouldn’t understand how he felt about Daniel. He didn’t understand it himself, so how could he expect anyone else to?
He’d tried to dismiss it, tried to push the feelings way back and tell himself that he was just desperate for some company, desperate for a little basic human kindness in the solitary world he’d created for himself. And for a time that had worked. Jack had even allowed Daniel back in, allowed the friendship both he and Daniel clearly wanted even though he knew it wasn’t a wise move to make. If he’d had any sense he’d have got the hell out of Dodge, he knew that, got as far away from one Dr. Daniel Jackson as the Army Air Force would allow.
Except he never did have much sense, did he? Jack smiled to himself, knowing his folks had always been right about him, in that much at least. He’d always been the one who needed to know, the one who needed to try things out for himself, and that habit had got him in a heap of trouble while he was growing up. It didn’t seem to be something he was likely to grow out of any time soon, either.
Daniel had been persistent in wanting some kind of friendship with him despite the way they’d got off to a bad start, and Jack had to admire that kind of determination. It had made an impression on him, that was for sure. He wasn’t certain he could have done the same thing, had the tables been turned.
Jack rolled onto his side away from Daniel to try and hide the reaction that thought had caused, the knee-jerk arousal he seemed to be quite capable of nowadays whenever thoughts of Daniel and his talented mouth came to mind. He wasn’t sure he could have done what Daniel did, but there was something about the thought of it, the concept of giving himself over to Daniel in that way, of controlling and being controlled in such an intimate manner that struck straight to the core of Jack O’Neill.
Daniel was sleeping on his back, one arm curled protectively over the bandage Jack had wrapped around the flesh wound on his side. He couldn’t help remembering how much that wound had bled despite how apparently slight it was and how scared he’d been that even though he’d never wished for Daniel to be there with him, his death would mean that Jack would be left alone once more. He was cursed, it seemed, to never quite know what it was he actually wanted.
Daniel shifted slightly in his sleep, turning towards where Jack lay. There was an innocence to his expression, a peace that belied the activity that usually went on in Daniel’s over-active brain when he was awake. That innocence remained, though diminished, reduced by the things Daniel had experienced, the things that helped to make him who he was. It wouldn’t have been necessary, though, for Daniel to tell him about Nick, though Jack valued the level of trust that indicated.
He’d taken advantage of the first inkling of that knowledge, yet Daniel had still chosen to tell him more.
"Jack?" Daniel was half-awake now, blinking fitfully as he tried to locate his companion.
"Go back to sleep," he said, quietly.
Obedient for once, Daniel did as he was bid, his eyes closing and the innocent expression returning to his face almost immediately. If only he could find that kind of peace—Jack knew there was little chance of that till he figured out just what he wanted and how that fit in with whatever their future would bring.
Jack was quieter than usual when Daniel woke and as he put on his boots, Daniel wondered how much sleep Jack had managed to get. All he was certain of was that Jack had been there, that they’d shared a bed—he just wished it had been under better circumstances.
Teal’c was a silent presence outside in the hallway, Daniel discovered as he pushed the curtain aside and hurriedly let it drop once more. The Jaffa half-turned, fixing him with a stolid gaze that spoke volumes about the other man’s desire to do whatever he’d been told to do. In this case, that meant keeping them both there until Bra’tac called for them, however long that was.
It seemed ridiculous that the gods, the Egyptian pantheon, were apparently represented within this alien race. That one of their names was being taken by whoever it was both Bra’tac and Teal’c served, that this Apophis apparently had the power of life and death over all of them.
Daniel thought back to the story of Ra, the various versions he’d heard and read of it, but none of them made any sense if Ra was a real individual. His main concern was that what little knowledge he had wouldn’t be enough, and that Bra’tac would turn them over to this Apophis he served if Daniel wasn’t able to provide the information he wanted.
"Do you know what he’s talking about?" Jack’s voice was quiet, the tone of the words thoughtful, and for a moment Daniel hated to disappoint him.
"I’m not sure," he said. "But I don’t think I can tell him what he wants to hear." Jack nodded, as if he expected as much. "I’m sorry," Daniel said again. "For getting you into this."
"Unless you’ve lost your memory," Jack said, "you might want to remember I was the one who volunteered to go through that Stargate of yours. That makes me at least partly responsible for both of us being here."
Their conversation was interrupted by a movement at the doorway, the curtain that covered it being pushed aside to allow the woman who they’d seen the previous night to enter. Once again she was bearing a tray, her demeanor anything but subservient.
"Hello," Daniel said. "I’m Daniel. Daniel Jackson." Her dark eyes flicked almost contemptuously over Daniel as he spoke. "Do you understand anything I’m saying?" She placed the tray carefully on the pallet, her bearing regal. "Anything at all?" Daniel continued, as she headed back towards the doorway.
The Jaffa known as Teal’c was there too, holding the curtain back to allow the woman to leave, his face holding an expression of what seemed like almost-concealed amusement at Daniel’s failure to communicate.
"Give it up, Daniel," Jack said. "If she understands you, she’s not going to admit it."
Daniel shrugged, though he couldn’t help feeling disappointed. He hadn’t quite been able to place the language the Jaffa spoke, though it seemed horribly familiar, and he’d been a little heartened to discover that Bra’tac at least spoke English. He wasn’t sure how that could be, considering that they were apparently on a planet a substantial distance from Earth, but he’d managed to speak it, albeit in a formal manner, all the same.
"Bra’tac understands us," Daniel pointed out.
Jack had turned his attention to what was apparently their breakfast and so it took a moment for him to reply, as he swallowed a mouthful of food.
"Bra’tac understands us a little too well," Jack said. He straightened up, a clay cup full of water in his hand, and then stopped, staring at the doorway. Daniel looked over his shoulder, back to where Teal’c was still standing, openly watching the two of them. "I guess we shouldn’t have said his name, it only makes this guy suspicious of us."
Daniel nodded and turned back to the tray full of food, trying to ignore the prickling sensation between his shoulder blades where Teal’c was watching him. It wasn’t easy.
"He’s gone," Jack said, after a long and tense moment had passed. Daniel turned back; the curtain over the doorway was still moving a little.
"We’re in big trouble here, aren’t we?" he asked.
Jack’s face was enough to give him an answer to his question.
He didn’t like this at all.
Jack wasn’t sure what worried him the most—the way Bra’tac had assumed they knew something about this "Ra" and what had happened to him, or the way the guy’s sidekick was openly admiring Daniel’s ass. Not that there wasn’t anything to admire, it was just that it had been a long time since he’d seen someone making that obvious an inspection of someone else’s equipment when both those someone else’s were men.
Fortunately, Daniel seemed oblivious to at least part of the current problem, even though he was obviously aware that Bra’tac probably wanted something from them that neither of them could provide. At this very moment, though, it wasn’t what Bra’tac wanted from Daniel that he was worried about.
"Oh yeah," Jack replied. More than you know, he said to himself, and that’s the way I want to keep it. "How’s your side?" he asked, changing the subject deliberately. The expression on Daniel’s face told him he hadn’t been at all subtle about doing so.
"Better." Daniel moved, twisting a little, experimentally. He winced. "A little, anyway."
Jack’s mouth was dry and he took another swig of water. For some reason, he wasn’t all that hungry now—even the thought of food made his stomach flip over, the way it had always done before leaving on a mission. At least that was a familiar fear, a sensation he was accustomed to, even though the circumstances couldn’t be any more different.
"The way I see it," he said, "we have two choices."
"Tell the truth, admit we don’t know anything, we get handed over to this Apophis they keep talking about."
"I’m not sure I like that idea," Daniel said. He didn’t seem to have managed to keep his appetite either, though he was currently mangling a piece of bread between his fingers.
"I’m not sure you’ll like the second one any better," Jack continued. "Which is you tell them whatever you know, hope it’s what they’re looking for and then they hand us over to Apophis."
Daniel frowned at him, which was a response at least.
"That’s not funny," he said.
Jack didn’t reply, just took another mouthful of water, draining the cup, before placing it carefully back onto the tray. He straightened up, aware that Daniel was watching him and equally aware that he didn’t have any better ideas. He’d wanted to lie, really he had, but Jack had also known Daniel would see through anything of the sort with ease, and that was the last thing he wanted to put between them.
"It wasn’t meant to be," Jack replied. Daniel’s face was set in stoic lines, an expression half stubborn and half resigned that Jack fancied he’d seen before. "I’m sorry."
Daniel nodded, dropping the piece of bread he’d destroyed even as Teal’c’s unspoken summons to follow him broke the moment between them.
At least Jack didn’t lie to him, didn’t try and pretend they weren’t in great danger whatever they did. For some reason, perverse as it might seem, Daniel found himself comforted by that honesty, by the equality that it denoted. He wasn’t a soldier, had never experienced the things that Jack probably had, and it would have been easy for Jack to try and cover up the unease he was clearly also feeling.
They traveled in silence, so closely side by side that their arms brushed against each other occasionally, back down the corridor to the room where they’d been with Bra’tac only hours before. Teal’c was a silent presence behind them, menacing despite that silence.
They could have tried to escape, but where was there to go? There was little chance they’d manage to make it back to the Stargate and even if they did, they had no idea of where was safe to travel. These System Lords seemed to be in control of vast armies, so it would be more than a little difficult to outrun their reach.
Bra’tac was waiting for them, as Daniel expected he would be, his dark eyes gauging them once more as they entered the room.
"Are you rested?" he asked, even as Teal’c shoved Jack towards the bench, making him stumble a little and scowl at their guard. Daniel reached out a hand to assist him, only for it to be evaded as Jack grabbed at the table and supported himself.
"We’re fine," Jack snapped, obviously favoring his knee a little as he sat. They made a fine pair—him with a blazing line down his side that he hoped he’d managed to disguise, Jack with his knee that would probably make him limp for days now. If they had days left, that is.
"Be seated, human," Bra’tac said, eyeing Daniel as he sat too. "Now we will speak."
"I don’t think so," Jack said, his tone still sharp. Daniel glanced across at where he sat, taking in the lines of pain that had appeared around Jack’s eyes. That stumble had done more damage than he’d thought. "What’s in it for us if we do?"
"Your lives," Bra’tac replied.
Jack snorted, the derision in that sound making Daniel wince.
"What my friend means, Master Bra’tac," Daniel said, interrupting the two of them and getting a glare from Jack for his trouble, "is that we’re not sure we can help you, though we would very much wish to do so."
"Indeed." Bra’tac looked at Jack, even as Daniel was speaking, and he could see the two men eyeing one another. They reminded him of a couple of tomcats, each one looking for a weakness as they bristled at one another on top of the fence.
"What would we gain by lying to you?" Daniel asked, trying to regain Bra’tac’s attention. It took a moment, a long moment where he expected Jack to make some glib comment and break the mood between the three of them around the table, but Jack didn’t speak.
"So you are useless to us." Bra’tac was looking at him now, his gaze still an evaluation but not as hostile as it had been when directed at Jack.
"Not useless," Daniel continued. "But if I may ask you a question, Master Bra’tac?" He paused, waiting for permission, even though he could see Jack wasn’t happy with his deferential manner. Bra’tac nodded. "How is it that you alone speak our language?"
"I have been in the service of my lord Apophis for almost a hundred years," Bra’tac said. "And in that service I have visited many worlds inhabited by the descendants of the Tauri, many once in service to a dozen System Lords now defeated."
"A hundred years?" Daniel asked. "That’s impossible!"
"For you, perhaps, human," Bra’tac continued. "But we are Jaffa."
"Jaffa?" That was Jack, curiosity getting the better of him as he repeated the question that had gone unanswered hours before. This time Bra’tac seemed in more of a mood to humor his captives.
"We carry the young of our gods, human." He stood, pushing aside part of the cloth that covered his abdomen to reveal a cross-shaped incision in his stomach. "It is both our blessing and our curse." As if to punctuate Bra’tac’s words, there was movement deep within the incision, something shifting deep in the Jaffa’s stomach. "We carry them and they give us life."
Daniel glanced across at Jack, who was staring horrified at what Bra’tac showed them. He could understand what Jack was feeling, but it made sense—these System Lords had found a way to ensure the loyalty of their followers by binding them to their cause as virtual slaves.
"So you’re their incubators," Daniel said. "And you have no choice?"
Bra’tac sat. For the briefest of moments the expression on his face wasn’t the calm one they’d come to know, even in the short space of time they’d sat across from him, it was a vulnerable expression Daniel had never expected to see.
"You don’t, do you?" Daniel continued. It was so obvious now. "That’s why you wanted to know about Ra, isn’t it?" He took Bra’tac’s silence as assent, pressing on even as Jack shifted uncomfortably on the bench at the tone of his voice. "Because you want our help to overthrow this ‘Apophis’ you serve …"
The expression on Bra’tac’s face was enough to tell Jack that Daniel had it right. Bra’tac had been looking for information, for himself and whatever he was planning rather than for the alien he apparently was in service to.
"You are of no use to us if you do not know anything," Bra’tac said, sitting back and crossing his arms. "Why should I not just do as Teal’c would have me do, and hand you over to my lord Apophis?"
"Because we’d tell him you’re plotting against him," Jack interjected. "That’s why."
"Pah. He would not believe you."
"I can be mighty convincing when I need to be," Jack continued, sure he could see the tiniest light of concern in Bra’tac’s eyes. He was definitely looking tenser—Teal’c had picked up on it and taken a step forward, though he didn’t understand the language, because he could see his superior wasn’t happy.
"We’ll tell you all we can," Daniel said, butting in. "We don’t have a choice, Jack," he continued. "Bra’tac has offered us hospitality, we are in his debt."
The words, simple as they were, appeared to be enough to satisfy the two Jaffa. Bra’tac visibly relaxed; his subordinate also took a step back.
"You’re slaves to this ‘Apophis,’ " Daniel said. "We should help you." He turned to Jack. "You know it’s the right thing to do."
Reluctantly, Jack was forced to agree with Daniel’s assessment of the situation. Though Bra’tac had threatened them, that was all he had done—neither he nor Daniel had been harmed in any way. They’d been fed and given somewhere to sleep, which seemed to imply the Jaffa were honorable people, the kind of people they would need on their side if they ever wanted to get off of this planet.
"Like Daniel said. We’ll help all we can."
"You sure this is wise?" Jack asked, as soon as they were alone once more.
They’d spent hours talking with Bra’tac, which had given him the chance to learn a little more about the culture of the people they’d recently joined, and Daniel had been in his element. By the time they parted company again, he was even starting to pick up some of the language, having listened eagerly to Teal’c when the Jaffa and Bra’tac had talked among themselves for a little while. He felt he had made real progress in understanding the people they found themselves among, but he was equally sure that Jack hated to spoil it for him in any way.
"I don’t see that we have a choice, Jack." Daniel’s knew his tone was a little stubborn, but he’d expected Jack to try and argue him around.
"They’re not our friends, Daniel."
He did, really he did. No matter what Jack might think of him, he wasn’t that trusting of everyone he met. It was just that Daniel considered himself to be a pretty good judge of people—he’d been right about Jack, after all, even if it had taken a while for everything to work itself out.
Jack was taking his boots off once more, concentrating on untying a particularly tough knot in the laces. Daniel just stood and looked at him, until he looked up. He couldn’t bring himself to think that leaving Earth had been a mistake, or making friends with Jack after their abortive encounter in the rest room. He was certain Jack felt the same way, even if he kept his hands to himself and didn’t always say what was on his mind.
Daniel shrugged, sitting down on the pallet beside Jack, who looked at him for a moment before going back to wrestling with the bootlace. He’d sat down a little too close, really, much closer than a friend would sit, even if they weren’t quite touching.
"Here," Jack said, leaning over and helping Daniel take off his boots. "You need to be careful of your side." He paused. "I ought to look at it again, check the bandages. Lie down."
He did as he was told, lying on his back and studying what he could see of the rough-hewn stone ceiling in the flickering light that the oil lamps provided. It was odd, this mix of new and old—they served aliens and carried sophisticated weaponry, but they lived in relatively primitive conditions.
Daniel felt Jack undo his jacket, and then felt the other man’s hands on his side, checking the bandage.
"Looks like you haven’t re-opened it," Jack said, doing the jacket up again after he was satisfied that it still held. The touch of his fingers on Daniel’s skin had been fleeting, but they seemed to leave a trail of fire in their wake, just like the bullet wound.
Daniel couldn’t speak the words, didn’t know how to say what Jack would need to hear for things to take a step back towards how they had been, that madness they’d shared in the rest room. All the words Daniel wanted to say were trapped inside him, held captive by their shared situation and the friendship they’d forged in the time that had passed.
He caught at Jack’s hand as the other man moved away, using it to pull Jack towards him, down to their shared bed.
|Continued in Part 7...|