What the hell does he mean, 'he's staying.' No way... no fucking way.
"Dammit Daniel!" I don't know if I said that aloud.
If I said anything aloud. I wanted to scream. The roof is about to collapse on our heads and he thinks he's staying behind. No way, Daniel Jackson, not if I have to knock you out and carry you out of here unconscious.
I grab him, pull, and we're moving towards the door.
He protests. The man just never gives up. I turn to stare into his glass-coated eyes, to glare with the force of my emotions, to communicate with every fiber of being in that one instant that I will not leave him.
Those large, dilated irises manage enlarge even further, losing the pinpoint pupil in a blue sea. He understands. I know he does, and that is enough for me to be able to let him go. He won't risk me any more than I'd risk him.
These last few months have taught us that, if nothing else. We fell back into that rhythm hard-created on Abydos; that weird sense of connection that hit us like a lightening bolt in that temple standing way too close to a ticking nuclear bomb.
Life-threatening danger has a tendency to do that; to squeeze the years required to know another human being's heart and soul down through the eye of a needle. Sometimes it only takes an instant, a heartbeat, a single breath, and you know his measure even better than you know your own. Daniel and I have been living in the eye of that needle for for months now.
So I knew without a word being spoken that he would merely gather up Ernest's book and follow me back to the gate.
We ran. Our feet stumbled over a floor that creaked and swayed and lurched beneath our feet. The walls trembled. I could hear the water beating against them; the wind howling at them. The entire structure shook. A loud shattering noise sounded above, ahead, and I threw myself backward even as my feet tried to move forward.
I tumbled to the ground, my head snapping back and hitting something soft in mid-air. Daniel. He went down with me, under me. That was ok. At least I knew where he was. I turned around, pulled myself up and over his body, wrapped my arms around him and pinned him to the floor. That surface buckled, rocked, like the deck of a ship at sea. I closed my eyes, hugged Daniel to me, and prayed to whatever might listen.
'Please let us live. Please, please let us live...'
The world rocked and burst and spun. We were falling, falling, tumbling, cold water spraying our bodies, hard surfaces tearing at our clothes and skin. Daniel's hands closed around me and clung. He didn't say a word. His heart pounded against my own. We fell.
Water. Cold, powerful, wind-whipped torrents. We sank, then surfaced. We were tossed up and fell down. Currents, strong icy fingers, tried to pry us apart. I wouldn't let go. Daniel's fingers dug into my arm, my shoulder, painfully. I sputtered, trying desperately to gulp for air as we flew upwards on a wave. We hit the crest, then plummeted back down. Deep into the icy, fiery, salty embrace of the sea.
And then the world went black and empty.
What have I done?
What the hell have I done?
I never meant this to happen. No. Really I didn't. Getting myself, let alone someone else, stuck on another planet was not on my list of 'things I must do' that I wrote for today.
But, like Jack is always telling me, I don't think before I act, and now I'm going to have to pay the price for it.
Or rather we are.
When we get out of this, Jack is going to be so mad with me, and I deserve it.
I blew it this time.
They say curiosity killed the cat, so I must sure have a strong streak of feline in me, because curiosity is one of my strongest traits - in itself both a strength and a weakness. It helps me be single-minded, sticking to whatever I'm studying, but sometimes....
That chamber Ernest showed me - he must have seen something in my eyes, and he led me straight there, as if he knew I needed something to be fascinated by. Not that I don't find something on most missions we go on, some artifact that has me enthralled for days, but this was different.
This was like finding the Rosetta Stone, the kind of discovery you dream of when you're a student but deep down know is just that - a dream.
Seeing Jack's face, when he looked at the symbols the device was projecting, was worth it all - he tries to pretend boredom, making cracks about my fascination with rocks, but I've got to know him well enough now that I can see through it. He was impressed, though he'd die before admitting it!
But then it all went wrong. The storms that Ernest had told us about proved to be worse than we could imagine, tearing at the ancient castle like a predator ripping at its prey. Jack came back to the chamber alone, back to warn me that I was cutting it fine, that it was time to leave, and I hesitated.
That was enough. My hesitation cost us dearly, and now we will have to live with that.
Anyway, we ran.
Ran for the 'Gate, but we were too late, the storm was upon us now. The winds were buffeting the castle, raining huge stones in our direction, and I felt myself stumble.
The next thing I knew I was on the floor as it heaved and cracked, Jack's weight pinning me to the floor. He was wrapped around me, and for a brief moment I felt absurdly safe, confident that somehow things would be okay. Jack wouldn't let anything happen to me.
Then the floor opened and we fell, hurtling headlong towards the sea we knew was there. Hurtling through the darkness, we tried to keep hold of each other, and we were still wrapped together when we hit the water.
The water was icy - I felt as though I had swallowed most of it when I surfaced the second time. When we hit the water, the force of impact had torn us apart, and I thrashed around in the murk, finally latching on to Jack's shoulder when he surfaced again.
The storm was whipping up the waves, but we were lucky, I guess - the winds were pushing us towards the shore. I could hear the roaring as they pounded onto the rocks at the base of the cliff where the castle stood.
A flash of lightning illuminated everything, turning the scene into a picture that was burned onto my mind - the castle was almost gone, just a few slabs of rock teetering on the edge of a crumbling cliff. The sea was dark and angry-looking, as were the jagged rocks we were headed for at a much faster rate than I liked.
Jack's face was white, and there was a trickle of red beginning to creep down from his hair-line across his temple. On his face was a look of resignation.
And then another wave hit...
Oh, where am I? Oh... Oww! God, that hurts. I hurt. Every thing hurts. Whoever is pounding on my chest can stop now.
Water bubbles up out of mouth and coughs wrack my body. My lungs feel like someone took a blow-torch to them - from the inside out. I roll over, clutching at my chest, my face falling into gritty, damp sand.
Where the hell am I? Or is that where I am. Am I dead? No, oh no, I hurt too much to be dead. Surely you can only feel this awful when you're alive. Spitting out water and pushing sand grains out of my mouth with my tongue, I try to open my eyes.
Oooh, bad idea, Jack. That light is way too bright. I shutter my eyes again and groan.
Hands tighten on my shoulder and a raw voice calls out my name. I'm not alone. Those hands turn me over, and I try once more to open my eyes. A large looming shadow obscures the light, and I manage to blink up at it.
Sand stings at my eyes forcing tears loose. I continue to blink rapidly, trying to focus, trying to remember. Who and where and when and...
Oh hell. God damn shit fuck shit oh hell...
The vague shape above shimmers then comes into focus. Daniel's nose hovers an inch from mine and I can feel his breath across my skin. His eyes are blurry, dark caverns in the shadows between us. His skin is reddened. His hair is a mass of damp wayward strands congealed to his temples and cheeks. His hands hold tight to my shoulders, supporting me. His expression isn't clear, but I don't need to see to know. He's worried and scared and probably about to suffer a huge guilt fit.
"Damn it, Daniel," I mutter, the effort to speak scraping harshly across the raw skin of my throat. I lick at my lips, struggle to bring up saliva, find myself caught in another coughing fit.
Daniel gathers me up, pulls me in closer, so that I'm coughing against his chest. I go stiff, trying to regain some control, and then a little voice inside reminds me that I damn well deserve a moment of weakness. I nearly got drowned. Surely, I can let him hold me for a moment. Just for moment... just because I nearly swallowed the entire sea, sand and all. I can close my eyes and try to burrow through his soaked clothes and into the warmth of his skin, just for an instant...
His arms tighten around me, his hand cradling the back of my skull. That feels good. I'm so tired. I could stay in his arms like this forever...
Oh shit! What the hell am I thinking?
I jerk up and away. He seems reluctant to release me, but his grip finally loosens and I come up face to face with him. Now I can clearly see the worry and anguish in his expression.
He opens his mouth to speak, and I know what he's planning to say before he says it. I just know - and I shake my head.
Oh - that was a mistake. Ouch! I blink away tears of pain, ignore his exclamation of concern, and try to focus on what I need to say. As much as I'd love to give him a good dressing down, preferably starting with a nice pointed 'I told you so' and moving sharply into a fervent 'What the hell were you thinking!' this is definitely not the time or the place for it. We're here. What's done is done, and we'd better start thinking about how to deal with it.
I tell him that. Speaking is slightly easier this time, and the pain in my throat has lessened to a dull roar. And even better, he appears to be taking what I said seriously. He nods, biting at his lower lip. Still, he seems doubtful, and, of course, he's just going to have to say it.
"I'm sorry, Jack. This is all my fault. I never meant... I just..."
"I know." I press the flat of my hand into his shoulder, half as a signal that I do indeed know and half as a lever to propel myself to my feet. He follows, his voice trailing off as we both open our eyes and attention to our surroundings.
The wave that hit us swept us through the smallest of gaps, driving us between razor-sharp outcrops, somehow managing to do it without smashing us into a million tiny pieces.
Jack is still half-conscious, so I wrap myself around him again as we're swept in the direction of the shore.
We hit the beach in a tangle of limbs - the waves pound on us as we lay there, gasping for breath, at the very edge of the surf.
This is bad. Worse than bad.
Jack is a dead-weight.
'Stop it,' I tell myself, as I half-drag and half-carry him out of the reach of the waves. 'Stop it, Jackson, he's not going to die. He's had a crack on the head, swallowed some water like you did, but that's it....'
I'm still coughing from the water I swallowed, and I try to get my voice working enough to make Jack wake up. He's lying there on his back, sprawled on the sand, his chest heaving. Water is dribbling from his mouth, and suddenly I began to panic again.
'Don't leave me!' my mind screams, as I drag myself closer to where Jack is lying.
Suddenly Jack begins to cough - spitting sea water, he groans suddenly. If anyone had ever told me that the sweetest sound I would ever hear was an Air Force colonel groaning, I would have laughed in their face. At that moment, they would have been right on the button.
Still coughing, Jack rolls over, planting his face firmly in the sand.
He's still groaning, the sound muffled now, and I'm starting to worry again - has he been injured more than I know already? From where I'm slumped beside him I can see a lump beginning to form where the blood had come from - the trickle of red that I had seen when we were in the water seems to have stopped, but I'm still concerned.
Tentatively, I reach out, my hand shaking as I shake Jack's shoulder.
"Jack," I manage to grate out, "come on..."
Tightening my grip, I manage to start to turn him over, pulling his back towards me as I myself struggle up from the sand. After the initial resistance, Jack rolls over quite easily in the end, and his back hits the sand with a hollow thump.
Jack just lies there, his face covered in sand, blinking up at me.
Just blinking, his mouth moving slightly as he tries to spit out the sand he must have tried to swallow when he did that nose-dive into the beach earlier.
Leaning closer, I feel like I'm inspecting one of the artifacts Jack keeps moaning about - there's an abrasion on his cheek, his eyes seem a little glazed, and he's still not saying anything.
'He's really mad with me,' I realise, suddenly. 'I'm stuck with him on this planet and he hates me! He knows it's all my fault we're stuck here and any minute now he's going to start shouting at me...'
"Damn it, Daniel."
Jack's voice cuts through my panic, and I sigh, as it confirms all my fears.
For months I'd been fantasising about being stuck somewhere with Jack, but somehow my fantasy hadn't included him hating me - just the opposite, in fact! Hell, I knew it was futile, but a good fantasy never hurt anyone....
Jack starts to cough, and all my self-pitying thoughts go out of the window. We may be stuck here, but we're stuck here together - we need each other, or neither of us will survive this!
I reach out to him, expecting Jack to resist - after all, he's Mr Self-Reliant, trained to be that way from an early age. Instead he surprises me, relaxing into how I'm holding him, as he continues to cough.
For a few moments, anyway.
Then he seems to remember who he is, and he stiffens, jerking out of my grasp. Jack pulls away, pushing himself back, far enough to give me a good look at his face.
'Here it comes,' I think, 'I wonder what's first... I told you so? Daniel, why don't you ever think? Or maybe he'll just throw some of the wide range of swear-words the military seem to teach in my general direction?'
I blink, pushing my glasses, which I somehow managed not to lose in the water, back up my nose - this gives me time to think, to figure out how to react to this unexpected question.
I nod tentatively, wondering when the abuse will start.
Then Jack starts to talk, his voice grating and hesitant at first, interspersed with the occasional cough, and what he's saying is still a surprise.
What's done is done. No use crying over spilt milk. No amount of words will change the fact that we're here now - what we have to do is move on.
To say I'm stunned would be the understatement of the year, possibly the decade. Of all the reactions I was expecting, this definitely wasn't on my list.
Still, I have to speak, have to say it, before it gets a chance to fester between us anyway....
"I'm sorry, Jack. This is all my fault. I never meant... I just..."
I grind to a halt, not really sure what it is I'm including in this apology. I'm sorry I messed up? I'm sorry you didn't go back to the SGC and leave me behind?
That's all Jack says, not looking at me. He struggles to his feet, looking decidedly shaky, using my shoulder as leverage on the way up.
"Where the hell are we, Daniel?" he asks, still looking round. "We can't stay here, we need to find fresh water, or our stay here is going to be shorter than you might think."
Turning back to me then, Jack looks me in the eye for the first time since we found ourself on the beach. There's a ghost of a smile flitting round his eyes, though it hasn't quite made it to his mouth yet, but I'm reassured by it anyway.
Maybe he meant that stuff he said, about us dealing with things as they are and not blaming anyone for what's happened.
"Let's go, Daniel," Jack says, stretching out his hand to pull me up from the sand, "we've got a whole planet to explore!"
I remember someone saying to me once, 'be careful what you wish for, you might get it.'
At the time I hadn't understood - it seemed an odd thing to say. But I had wished for the chance to be alone with Jack, and I had got it. Okay, we were alone, cold, hungry, with no chance of rescue, but I'm certain we can survive this.
We can and we will. Together.
I let Jack pull me to my feet, wincing slightly as the bruises I have accummulated make their presence known. Is it my imagination that it takes a moment for Jack to let go of my hand once I'm standing? Must be.
"After you," I say, gesturing for Jack to lead the way.
He looks like he's about to say something, then Jack shakes his head and turns. Slowly, he starts to clamber up the slope leading away from the beach, and into the nearby forest.
After taking one last look around, including a glance up to the cliff where the castle and all its wonders had once stood, I follow Jack into the trees.
First and foremost, it's obvious that the castle and everything in it, Stargate, mysterious chemical lights, and all, is gone. All that is left is a jagged cliff's edge. My heart constricts tight in my chest as all remaining hope flees. Yup, we're stuck. I'd known it, but now I really knew it.
'Sweet,' I think, barely managing to keep the sarcastic comment to myself. Daniel is still gazing at me sadly, his heart in his eyes. God that look - it had broken harder hearts than mine, of that I was sure. Oh hell. As much as I would like to turn the man over my knees and…
No, uh uh, don't go there Jack. Concentrate. We're in trouble here. Stick to the basics, as in…
"Where the hell are we?" I mutter. Then louder, "We can't stay here, we need to find fresh water, or our stay here is going to be shorter than you might think."
The beach runs long in both directions, rocky and forbidding. I don't see any sign of a river nearby, and the old words of a famous poem echo in my mind. "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink." Well, something to that effect. I never was too good at poetry. But the idea held fast. At least there was forest nearby and the trees looked relatively ordinary. If they were there, then so was fresh water. Somewhere.
Daniel was still boring into the back of my head with his eyes, silent. I took a deep breath and made myself turn around to meet those anguished sapphire orbs. He blinks solemnly at me and I try to force a smile. He responds to that, a less unhappy expression settling over his sand and salt-encrusted features.
"Let's go, Daniel," I say, reaching out to pull him up from his crouch on the sand, "we've got a whole planet to explore!"
I try to put some enthusiasm into the words, in the hope that his unflagging curiosity will pick up on the idea. His hand is warm and strong in mind, and I'm suddenly, intensely grateful that he is here with me. I couldn't begin to imagine being alone like this for fifty years as Ernest had been.
My fingers linger over his in an attempt at reassurance, both for him and for myself, then I let him go. If there is someone, anyone, I'd want with me in this situation it is Daniel - not that I'd ever tell him that. I don't feel completely comfortable telling myself that.
Luckily, Daniel is always happiest when he's investigating something new. He's stopped staring at me, and is now brushing himself off and gazing around him for the first time. Good. We'll need his mind at its best if we're going to survive this.
He turns to me, smiling now, and waves in the general direction of the trees.
"After you," he says.
After me… yeah, I know it's my tendency to take point. And it is good to see him back to himself. But that forest looks decidedly thick, dark and dangerous. Despite the fact that I know this is the best choice we have, I still don't like the look of it.
I open my mouth to say that, to warn him to stay close and be careful, but I stop myself before making a sound. Daniel can be a bit flaky on the best of days and totally obsessive on the worst, but he's a damn smart man. He knows we're in a tough spot. I don't need to ruin his uplifted mood by stating the obvious. So biting down on the warning, I step forward and lead the way into the trees.
There are branches and tree-trunks down everywhere. The storm has done its fair share of damage here too. The underbrush is tangled and wild, making progress difficult. The land is hilly, sloping up and down in various directions, but generally moving upward as we get deeper into the forest.
I take that direction as a guide, it's as good as any other. I consider trying to find a way to mark our track - we could end up going in circles here - but I figure that following the slope upward into the mountains will keep us going in a relatively straight line. I hope.
I do my best not to let the branches fly back into Daniel's face as I push them aside, but there are too many and I can hear him mutter as one whips back at him.
"Sorry," I whisper, turning back towards him.
I'm not sure why I'm whispering, maybe it's just the intense stillness of the forest. It seems too silent, too empty, despite the heavy plant life. 'Vegetation,' I can hear Sam's voice say in my mind, and my stomach does a quick bellyflop as I think of her. Did they make it through? All I can do is hope that they did, but that doesn't make me feel too much better. I give Daniel a weak grin, then turn and…
The world disapears out from underneath me. I shout in alarm as I fall, wrapping my arms around my head as I tumble through thorny brambles and branches and bounce off a rock, and then hit… water. Oh fuck, not again.
I struggle for the surface, fighting for air, and come up gasping, sputtering, even as Daniel's voice splits the air, crying out my name.
"Jack, Jack, Jack!"
"Here!" I manage to shout through a mouthful of water. It flows down my throat and I abruptly realize that it is fresh water. Drinkable water. Possibly. But it tastes good. I stop struggling wildly and reach out with my arms, kicking my legs, in a more organized fashion. That keeps me afloat and I get a chance to take in my surroundings. It is definitely a river, and a deep one with a wicked current. I strike out for shore, pushing myself at an angle so that I can reach the edge near to where Daniel is scrambling down towards me.
He, at least, has sense enough to come down on his butt instead of head-first, as I did. We reach the edge at the same time, and my knees knock hard into the rocky bottom. I swear again - I think my vocabulary is devolving into words of one syllable fast. But his hand is there to greet me as I struggle out of the water up onto a big rock. Must have been the one I bounced off of.
This time he hears it, and gives me a twisted, worried grin in response. His glasses are crooked on his nose, hanging off of one ear and I can't help it, I reach out with a dripping hand and straighten them out, tucking the loose sidepiece behind his ear.
He freezes, his eyes widening, his lips pursing, as he stares at me in surprise. I find myself stuck in response, staring back into his eyes, my own mouth dropping open. I must look like a beached fish, but he's so… so Daniel, even with bits of dirt and sand and leaves and twigs entwined into the thick, long strands of his hair and grimey streaks across his cheeks.
Filthy as it is, his hair feels soft against my skin, and the heat of his body is, again, penetrating my own chilled bones. I don't want to move away, I want to move closer, but… I can't. This is nuts. And this is definitely the wrong time to be feeling - uhn - feeling - well, whatever the hell it is that I'm feeling. Not that there's likely to be a right time, but now is definitely not it.
So I yank my hand away and apply it to myself, attempting to squeeze moisture out of my clothes. He is silent for a moment, still watching me, then abruptly he seems to find his voice again.
"Are you all right?" he asks.
"Yeah, I'm ok," I answer, still not looking back into his face. "At least we found fresh water."
Finally I turn back to him, but he's staring past me to the river. Then he glances swiftly at me, down at himself, then suddenly moves past me. I reach out to grab him as he goes past, but he's too quick for me. One second later and he's jumped straight into the water.
I hate trees. Really hate them.
Over the past two years or so, I've seen so many, on a multitude of different planets, that there's no longer anything majestic about them for me at all.
Sure, they make a nice backdrop, but you try clambering through them, dragging your tired and bruised body over fallen trunks and through tangled undergrowth, and then tell me you like the forest!
I'm following Jack, and there's nothing new about that - it seems the right thing to be doing. The natural thing. Jack leads, I follow.
Our progress is slow, but steady - we're heading slightly uphill, pushing now through a thicket of younger trees, their branches intertwining. I'm concentrating so hard on following where Jack goes, I miss the branch that comes springing back towards me.
"Shit!" I mutter, biting my lip as the branch rakes me across the neck, the tip catching me just at the side of my jaw.
I know that wasn't deliberate - not even Jack would be that petty - but I can't help shooting a venomous glance in the direction of Jack's back. As if he feels my eyes upon him, Jack turns back to me.
"Sorry," he whispers.
Why is he whispering? Then I realise how quiet the forest is. No twittering of birds, no sound of animals, just the wind rushing through the branches. An unnatural quiet, like we're being watched by someone, or something.
'Get a grip,' I think, 'you're just being paranoid again.'
Jack is still looking at me, a weak grin on his face, and I try to smile back, to reassure him. By the time I get my face working properly, he's already turning away from me, and starting forward again.
Then there's a terrible rushing, clattering noise from in front of me, and I realise with a sinking feeling that it's Jack....
The last thing I see is the way his arms are flailing as he slips away out of sight, shouting something unintelligible.
"NO!" I scream, despite the hoarseness in my throat, throwing myself towards where Jack had been standing just moments before. I reach the place, skidding to a halt at what turns out to be the edge of a gulley.
I don't know how I stopped myself from following Jack over, as I scrambled desperately for purchase at the gulley's edge, stones and dirt being dislodged by my feet as I scrambled to stop myself hurtling forwards too.
All the time, I'm looking down, looking for Jack, but I can't see where he is. Almost automatically, I'm screaming Jack's name, calling out to him with a desperate tone in my voice.
I sink to the ground at the edge of the cliff, letting out a breath I barely realised I had been holding, despite the way my lungs were heaving now. About 40 feet below where I'm perched, Jack is thrashing about in the water, coughing and trying to speak at the same time.
Then, suddenly, he's swimming! Kicking out towards the shore with a steady stroke that, when I see it, makes a heavy weight lift from me. He's okay. I try to take a more leisurely way down, slipping and sliding as I go, I manage to make it down in one piece. By the time I reach the river's edge, Jack is there, and I reach out without even thinking, to pull him ashore.
We must look a strange pair, as we both slump on this rock. I'm covered in dirt and sand, scratched and covered in strange green smears from our passage through the trees, my glassses hanging half off my face. Jack is soaked through, new bruises starting to show on his face, panting like he's run a marathon.
He's staring at me. I stare back, somehow unable to tear myself away from looking into his eyes. Then, out of the corner of my eye, Jack raises his hand, and I freeze. Not from fear, but because I don't know what to expect, so I've no idea how to react.
Gently, Jack pushes my glasses back onto my face. His hand lingers again, like it did when he pulled me up from where I was sitting on the beach, and for a moment, I allow myself to sink back into my fantasies. The ones that made me want to drool, that all involved a certain Air Force colonel, who'd be horrified to know anyone was thinking about him that way....
Then it's over. Jack jerks his hand away so swiftly that if there weren't the corroborating evidence of where my glasses are, I could think I'd imagined it. I tell my brain to stop its imaginings and start working normally again.
"Are you all right?"
I know, maybe not the most intelligent question to ask someone who's nearly drowned twice, not to mention the way Jack's fallen off of two different cliffs, but it was the best my distracted mind could come up with at short notice.
"Yeah, I'm okay," he answers, not looking at me as he speaks. "At least we found fresh water."
'There must be less drastic methods,' I think, looking out over the river.
A realisation hits me then - I must be filthy, and I smell. The time we spent in the sea, combined with the baking effect of the time we spent on the beach, and the dirt picked up during our hike through the trees, all adding together to create the distinctive smell of Daniel. Ewww!
Time for a change, I guess, so I decide to take a quick dip in the river, to at least try and make myself slightly more acceptable company for Jack. As I scramble to my feet on the rock, Jack reaches for me, but I elude him and jump into the water.
I hadn't realised how cold it was!
This river must run down from the snow-capped mountains we had occasionally glimpsed in the distance, if its temperature is anything to go by.
I scrub at my fatigues as I half-float there, trying to dislodge some of the dirt that's encrusted there - taking my glasses off, I hold them in my hand, while I take a deep breath and duck myself under the water.
When I hit the surface again, my lungs start to act like I'd been down there forever, which probably has something to do with nearly drowning earlier. I take some deep breaths, forcing myself to calm down or I'll start to hyper-ventilate.
The current is stronger than I thought, and it turns me round as I kick back towards the shore, putting my glasses back on with one hand and directing myself with the other. Once I can see clearly again, I glance towards the rock where I had left Jack, only to find it bare.
Jack had gone!
I double my efforts and reach the shore as quickly as I can - scrambling onto the rock that Jack had been occupying only minutes before, I look carefully around, to try and spot him, but there's no sign of him.
It's been minutes since I found I was alone, but it already feels like hours - my throat is getting hoarse from calling his name, and there's been no answer.
I can't bring myself to believe Jack would leave me here, alone on this planet, but the alternative is even more unthinkable.
The only logical possibility is that someone, something, has taken him - but whatever it was, it moved quickly. I had only been in the river for a few moments, and Jack had disappeared in that time - search as I might, I could find no clues as to where he had been taken.
So why was I shouting Jack's name?
I didn't want to be alone. I'd rather be with him and be in danger, than be safe on my own.
And I guess I felt I owed him something - after all, if it wasn't for me and my stupid curiosity, he wouldn't even be here....
Not to mention my less noble motivations - it's hard to live with your fantasies about someone, what you might say to them, the things you might do with (not to mention to) them, if you feel responsible for their fate.
"Daniel! Damn it!"
I'm standing there, like an idiot, shouting after the man, as he decides that this is a good time to take a swim. Haven't we both been in the water enough for one day? We both were nearly drowned once today - well, twice for me. Isn't that enough jumping into water for anyone. Apparently not so.
OK, there he is. Relief floods through my system as I realize his intent was as simple as cleaning all the junk off his body. And truth be told, he had been rather filthy. Sighing, I rest back down on my rocky perch, keeping one corner of my eye on Daniel while I look around.
The ravine we fell down is quite steep, but not too wide. The land bends down around it and I think that we shouldn't have too much trouble getting out of here. On the other hand, it would probably be a good idea to stick close to the river. Following its path is as good a choice as any other, and then again, the other question is why follow any path at all? There's no place to go.
Oh, pleasant thought there, Jack. Good going. Just drop yourself head first into a pit of depression while you're at it.
Well, as I had told Daniel earlier, at least we've got water. One immediate necessity taken care of. Now we can work on the others. Food and shelter.
Food. Just the idea is enough to make my stomach rumble louder than the thunderclaps of that damn storm. I feel like my belly is full of acid. Unfortunately, I don't see anything immediately edible nearby, and even if I didn't, I'm not sure I'd recognize it as such. But there's got to be something. Ernest survived for fifty years on this Godforsaken rock, so we ought to be able to do the same.
Too bad there's no animal life around. I've got my knife and gun, though not as many bullets as I'd like. Still...
A bright, excited chirping sends me spinning around. What the hell was that? It continues, growing in variation and volume. I reach for my gun, the cool weight of it heavily satisfactory in my grip. I turn to warn Daniel, but he's just dunked himself completely under water.
Great. Well, at least the man can swim like a fish. He ought to be all right for a moment, and I need to know what is making all that noise. If we're really lucky, it'll be both edible and non-hostile. Keep wishing, Jack.
I scramble around the edge of the slops, moving barely six feet into the forest when they come into view. There must be a dozen of them. Tiny little monkeys, brown and white fur, long tails, black rings around their eyes and bright pink noses.
They are clustered around a big bushy plant sporting hundreds of little red berries. The monkeys are deftly downing the berries, grabbing them in handfuls and chucking them into their mouths, chattering all the while. A few are chasing each other around, almost like a bunch of children on a playground. I can't help laughing, and the sound attracts their attention.
Three of them turn and literally point in my direction. I raise my gun, just in case they decide to be more hostile than they look.
"Don't shoot!" Daniel yells out from behind me. I turn, and he is scrambling through the forest, skidding to a halt beside me. "For God's sake, Jack, they might be sentient!"
What the hell did he think I was going to do? Kill a couple and eat them?
Well, actually, now that I was thinking about it...
"Please, Jack, don't!" Daniel exclaims again, grabbing hold of my arm and pushing it downwards. I give him an annoyed look, but let it pass. I really didn't want to kill any of the little guys anyway. At least not yet. Give it another day or two without food and that might change. It would probably change for Daniel too, though then again, knowing him, maybe not.
The monkeys had already decided that we weren't a threat. Or at least, they'd decided that the berries are far more interesting than us. And frankly, I see their point. My stomach grumbles again, and I move forward to pick a couple myself.
They look like red blueberries, small and round and juicy. Well, if the monkeys think these things are edible, then who am I to argue? Daniel makes another unintelligible exclamation as I pop them into my mouth, chew and swallow.
Oh, yes. A bright burst of flavor hits my tongue, sweet and tangy and slightly acidic. They taste like fruity wine, the thick rich red stuff that is more fruit juice than anything else. While I would prefer a nice, big steak right about now, these aren't so bad. I grab for another handful, sending one of the little critters bouncing away, and stuff them into my mouth.
Only then do I turn to find Daniel staring at me. He looks visibly upset about something. Good heavens, they're just monkeys, and I wasn't really planning to shoot any of them. So, I try to cheer him up, grinning through a mouthful of berry juice and waving towards the brightly spotted bushes.
"Go on, eat some. They're good," I tell him.
His solemn, still upset expression finally settles into amusement and he follows my lead. We join the monkeys in grabbing and downing the sweet red berries, until our fingers and mouths are stained crimson with the juice. One of the monkeys jumps over and lands on Daniel's back, reaching out to grab hold of his hair.
He yelps, twisting around, and it is suddenly the funniest thing I've ever seen. The rest of the troop appear to agree, their volume increases into wild chirping as they bounce up and down. Myself, I just go down, landing at the foot of the bush, laughing so hard I can barely breath, the world spinning around me. If I didn't know better, I'd think that I was drunk.
Drunk? I burp abruptly, and I remember my first thought regarding the taste of the berries. They tasted like wine. Oh, sweet... we'd just discovered the first alcoholic fruit.
Of course, I was completely wrong.
Jack hadn't been kidnapped after all, hadn't been whisked away by someone or something for an unknown purpose...
He'd left me behind. Left me shouting his name, almost to the point where I was losing my voice, and wandered off.
Just doing exactly what he always tells me not to do!
So, when I heard the chittering noises which turned out to be coming from a load of funny-looking monkeys (kind of like a cross between a lemur and a raccoon), and walked into the clearing, I was filled with a mixture of emotions on seeing Jack standing there.
Lots of that, on discovering Jack safe and well, despite all my earlier fears for his safety.
How could he run off and leave me back at the river like that?
He's concentrating so hard on what the monkeys are doing that he doesn't hear me approach, even though I'm breathing like a broken-down carthorse.
He's so intent on them that I hear him chuckle, I guess at the monkeys, and some of them turn to look in his direction, in our direction, then.
Jack tenses, raising his gun - just the response you'd expect.
'Shoot first, ask questions later' is an abiding philosophy with some people.... Just when I'd started to think I was having some influence on Jack, that he was getting better at this whole 'talking to people' thing. Oh well...
"Don't shoot!" I yell, my mind working furiously, as I head towards where Jack is standing.
After all, who knows how developed these monkeys are - we seriously underestimated the Nox, so you'd think we'd have learnt our lesson by now, not to take anything for granted on the planets we travel to.
Hearing me shout, Jack turns slightly until he sees me, then turns back to scrutinise the monkeys, even as I skid to a halt next to him.
"For God's sake, Jack, they might be sentient!" I add, just in case I need to give a reason why Jack shouldn't just blow their brains out and have done with it. You never know, if his survival instincts are really kicking in, Jack might need a little more persuasion than usual.
Then I hear it, Jack's stomach is rumbling, and my own stomach gives a small skip and lurch movement in response to the sound.
No, he couldn't be thinking.... I steal a glance at Jack from where I'm standing next to him. He is thinking that! How could he?
"Please, Jack, don't!" I plead, still without any response.
Jack hasn't moved either, so I grab his arm, shoving it towards the ground. He glances at me then, shooting me a look that I decide to ignore, a look that says 'I'm right about this and you know I am'. Then he sighs, and holsters his gun.
Meanwhile, the monkeys are clearly bored with the floorshow and have returned to their dinner - a number of the smaller ones are capering around, chattering at each other as they scamper round and round the clearing. Watching them makes me suddenly feel very tired, and I envy them their energy.
'Well, you haven't had the day, I've had,' I think.
A noise. Jack's stomach again, then mine agreeing with it. But, if monkey isn't on the menu, and I can't really bring myself to consider it a possibility at the moment, then what are we going to eat?
I suppose I hadn't thought about it before, but we are really in trouble.
I've travelled a lot, lived rough in a lot of places on Earth, not to mention the somewhat primitive surroundings of Abydos, but never anywhere like this. This isn't about living, it's about survival - Ernest managed it, but we have no idea how, or what he ate while he was here. Things that look innocuous could be fatal.
What about disease or injury? We've no access to medical supplies once the first aid kits in our fatigues run out, and it's been only by luck that neither of us has sustained more than cuts and scrapes so far. I wonder if the stuff on the MALP might wash ashore some time?
We've found water and can probably find food, but we need shelter too. Ernest said those storms come round regularly, and having seen what they did to the castle and to the forest, I've no desire to be outside when the next one comes.
Hang on, what is Jack doing?
Well, it's too late now, he's eaten one of the berries the monkeys are eating - a handful of them in fact. I sigh, having tried to tell him not to, but too late. For someone who's Special Ops trained, he's a little too keen to try new experiences.
He's grinning at me now, as he stuffs another handful into his mouth. Jack's face is stained with the juice from the berries, his fingers are starting to turn red too, and for the first time since we were stuck here, he looks, well, happy!
"Go on, eat some. They're good," he says, waving to me to join him.
'Nothing ventured...' I think. At least if they are toxic, we can be ill together. Knowing my luck so far, I'll be allergic to them, but I realise now that I'm so hungry I'm willing to take the risk.
My stomach rumbles its appreciation of my efforts as I start to eat the berries - not in huge handfuls like Jack is putting them away, as I find the sweetness a little cloying. Still, I'm making progress, concentrating on choosing the riper berries, which are a little less sickly, when suddenly there is a weight on my back!
One of those damn monkeys has grabbed a handful of my hair and is tugging away at it, chittering with delight at this new entertainment. Shit, that hurts!
Cursing quietly but venomously to myself, using a few of the new swear-words I've learnt in my months at the SGC, I twist round to try and dislodge the little monster. From behind me, I can hear laughter, as well as the chittering of the monkeys, both sounds getting louder and louder.
I finally get rid of my passenger, and turn, breathless and red with outrage, to where Jack is standing. No, make that - where Jack was standing. He's lying on the ground at the base of the berry bush, monkeys dancing round him, laughing so hard that I seriously want to kick him. His eyes look a little glazed, and I bend over him to see if he's okay when suddenly he burps.
This sends Jack into hysterics, as it seems him burping is the funniest thing he's heard for ages, and he's lying on his side now, giggling stupidly.
I feel fine, a little queasy maybe, but the berries don't seem to have had the same effect on me that they have clearly had on Jack. Maybe it was the rate at which he was stuffing them down, or maybe, for once, my allergies have worked in my favour? Well, surely my luck had to change some time soon....
The monkeys seem to be following Jack's example - all except the very largest are starting to settle down in the grass, and some of the smaller ones are even snoring slightly. That's a strange sound, a kind of high-pitched snorting and whistling.
Anyway, seeing them settle down has got to be a good sign. If the monkeys are willing to just sleep where they hit the ground, that has to argue that they are at the top of the food chain. Does that mean no snakes? Jack will be pleased.
It's then that I realise Jack has stopped that irritating giggling. I look back at him to discover he's just lying there now, his back towards me. Lying very still, so still that I feel my heart skip slightly as my over-active imagination kicks in once again.
"Jack?" I say, walking towards him.
I reach his side and reach down to turn him over, pulling his shoulder towards me as I squat in the dirt next to him. He rolls easily towards me, and it's only as I feel him start to roll that I see, out of the corner of my eye, his hands coming up to grab me firmly by the arms.
Before I can say anything, the next thing I know Jack is kissing me! I'm so surprised, I just freeze, and it's over even before it has begun. Almost as Jack's back hits the dirt, he lets go of my arms, and he's asleep before his hands reach his sides.
'Well, he is drunk,' I tell myself.
I'm still squatting there, keeping watch over Jack I suppose, as he lies there snoring. I've rolled him over into the recovery position, but he didn't wake again. I was glad, as it meant we didn't have to talk about what had just happened. My brain seems to be spinning, not from the effect of the berries we've both eaten, but from what might or might not have just happened.
That wasn't the way I'd imagined our first kiss, all those times I'd fantasised about it, and I'd given it a lot of thought. Somehow I had always imagined a lot more passion involved from both sides, and I'd been a lot less stunned in the versions that I'd pictured. Still, the sensible part of my brain keeps reminding me that those were only fantasies....
The sun is setting now, but the temperature doesn't seem to be dropping too much, which is a relief. I don't want to have to worry about starting a fire, not yet anyway - all I want to do is think, to mull over the possibilities.
Top of my list has to be the fantasies I have always harboured for a certain Air Force colonel, but have always considered just pipe-dreams - he's never given me any indication that he has any feelings towards me that aren't purely platonic.
So that leaves Jack being drunk - well, we all do things we regret or just plain don't remember when we're sober. Surely that was much more likely?
Or he's making the best of what limited choices he has?
Somehow, this is the alternative I like the least, but I have to give it consideration. There's something cold about it, something which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but I know that it is a reality - after all, it isn't like there is anyone else here to choose from. And would it be so bad?
No. Try as I might, I can't convince myself that I like that option at all. What good could come of it? All that would happen would be that we'd both end up resenting each other for having no alternative.
Jack has stopped snoring while I'm contemplating our situation, and I edge closer, staying just out of reach. No repeat performances were on the cards, as far as I'm concerned.
With a groan, Jack wakes up, struggling to his hands and knees. Supporting his weight with one hand, he rubs the other over his face, moaning slightly as he turns to look in my direction.
"Daniel?" he croaks, his eyes still screwed shut, despite the relative lack of light.
"Here," I say edging round to where he could see me if he'd open his eyes.
"Whoo... boy, my head hurts," he mutters, squinting in my direction. Then he realises it's dark, and looks around the clearing more carefully. "What happened? Is it night-time already?"
"You..." I hesitate, not quite certain what to say, "...you went to sleep, Jack. The sun went down."
He's pushing himself back now so that he's squatting on his heels, scrutinising me with half-open eyes as I tell him what's been going on.
"Last thing I remember is..." he pauses, a small frown appearing on his forehead, as if wracking his brain to retrieve the memory, "...the monkey!"
Jack concludes the sentence in a semi-triumphant tone, as if pleased with himself for remembering.
"The one that was pulling your hair..." he elaborates, when I don't reply.
"I didn't find it as funny as you did, Jack," I say sternly, to mask my relief that this was the last thing he remembered. Maybe we won't have to talk about it after all?
"Where are they anyway?" Jack asks then, turning to look through the twilight across the clearing. "And what's that sound?"
"Sound?" I realise then what he's referring to. "Just the monkeys' version of the sound you were making not long ago, Jack!"
"Time to move on," Jack says, getting up from where he had been squatting. Brushing himself down slightly, seemingly unaware of the smears of red berry juice that cover his face, Jack looks down at his hands, trying to brush the stickiness of them off onto his trousers.
"I need a wash," he says, cocking his head towards where I am still sitting, "so let's head back to the river?"
After a moment, I realise that was a question, not an order - I've been so used to Jack telling me what to do over the past months that when he asks me to cooperate rather than just do as I'm told, I'm slightly stunned by it.
"The river," I agree, and follow him out of the clearing, back down the slope.
Oh boy - déjà vu time. I thought I'd lost that headache, but it was back with a vengeance. Rubbing at the offending part of my anatomy, I blearily open my eyes to find Daniel gazing somberly down at me. Well, at least he's not laughing at me. Which I probably deserve.
"Daniel?" I ask, if only to confirm that my eyes are still functioning properly.
It seems awfully dark. The trees crowd closer in on us, the failing light leaving behind massive, twisted shadows that weave and shift with the breeze.
"Here," he answers, inching closer to me.
"Whoo... boy, my head hurts," I mutter, wincing. Then the more important question, "What happened? Is it night-time already?"
"You... you went to sleep, Jack. The sun went down," he answers me, staring intently at me. He seems to be waiting for something from me, but for the life of me, I can't think what.
Then a faint glimmer comes to me, a poignant memory of him, of how he felt close up against me, his mouth on mine, the tang of the berries on his tongue. The remaining blood in my head rushes straight to my groin and I wriggle a bit, desperately covering the motion with an attempt to brush some of the dirt and twigs off my finally dry uniform.
What had I done? How drunk had I been, had he been? Did he remember?
If he did, why wasn't he saying anything? Had I screwed things up completely? I couldn't bear the idea of losing him, not here, not now, not ever. I needed him so badly, and with that recognition, all of the stuff I'd been hiding from myself came clear.
I'm falling hard for this man. This man. My best friend.
And I haven't the faintest idea how or when or why it had happened.
I'd cared about him, acted to protect him, learned from him, yes, oh yes indeed. But to want him this way, so intensely that it was all I could do to keep from grabbing him and throwing him down on the ground and having my way with him? It shakes me to the core. I'm not quite ready to deal with this, especially not now. Not in the middle of this disaster. Well, at least we have time. Chances are we'll have all the time in the universe.
He was waiting for a reply, for me to do or say something, and I've been silent a bit too long already. So I pretend to be thinking about it, and finally come out with the only safe thing I could think of.
"Last thing I remember is... the monkey! The one that was pulling your hair."
There, that worked. It certainly seemed to distract him. His mouth pursed and his eyes narrowed.
"I didn't find it as funny as you did, Jack," he answered pointedly.
I grin. It was all I can do not to laugh aloud, but I don't need him any more pissed off than he already is. Still, whether he likes it or not, the image of him spinning around with the monkey clinging to his hair is one I was not likely to forget. Too bad I didn't have a camera. Unfortunately, that had been lost along with just about everything else we owned.
So back to the necessities of the moment. I turn my head, trying not to cry out in pain as I do so, and peer into the darkness surrounding us.
"Where are they anyway? And what's that sound?" I ask, as I become aware of a low, throbbing sound. It sounded faintly familiar in an odd sort of way...
"Sound? Just the monkeys' version of the sound you were making not long ago, Jack!" Daniel tells me sharply.
Oh, yeah. Hey! I don't snore, though I wisely choose not to verbalize the retort.
Even shadowed as it was, I could tell by his expression that he wasn't particularly happy with me at the moment. Not that I could blame him. Getting drunk and passing out on those berries, not to mention... nope, definitely not to mention that kiss... wasn't exactly my smartest behavior.
But how the hell was I supposed to know that the damn things had the alcohol content of a good Irish whiskey?
Oh well, nothing for it but to straighten my shoulders and get on with it, though frankly, I haven't the faintest idea of what to do next. At least I'm not starving any more.
"Time to move on," I say, rather hoping that he might proffer an idea.
He doesn't. He is still looking at me for direction. Grimacing, I try to think of something, anything productive to suggest, but I really am not doing well. I'm all grimy again, covered with sticky residue and dirt and leaves and God only knows what else.
Well, I suppose...
"I need a wash so let's head back to the river?" I ask.
He's as much in this as I am, and since I haven't been all that successful a leader up to this point, let's see what he thinks. We're partners in this now, come hell or high water (and we'd already experienced both), so we might as well start acting like it.
He seems startled by my asking, then turns silent for a moment. I can envision the wheels turning in his head. That mind of his is always running faster than I - or anyone else for that matter - can keep up with. Then he comes to a decision, and nods shortly.
"The river," he agrees, and I sigh with relief.
Together we move back across the uneven ground, back towards the sound of the water. When we break through the edge of the trees, I can see moonlight glittering on the water, two bright half-circles rippling on the surface. Two moons - ah well, I already knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
The water is as cool and clean as I remember. I don't jump all the way in as Daniel did earlier. I've been soaked to my skin twice today and that is more than enough. Instead, I lift up handfuls of it, splashing my face and neck, running dripping hands through my hair. I take a few deep drinks of it, also, and that helps to settle my stomach. Daniel settles down beside me, and does the same.
When we're done, we both sit there in silence for a while. The forest isn't as quiet as it had been earlier. The animal life must have been scared by the storm. Now that the sky was clear, the forest denizens were coming out. Bird calls echoed in the air above us, while something bellowed in the distance.
Both of our heads whipped around in response, but it doesn't sound off again. And it had been distant, of that much, I was sure. Well, reasonably sure. So I remain seated on that rock, drained and exhausted despite my recent alcohol-induced slumber. Daniel yawns loudly, then apologizes softly.
"We should probably take turns getting some sleep," I tell him. "We can do more exploring in the morning."
"I suppose," he replies. His voice is a mere whisper on the breeze. He sounds upset.
"What's wrong?" I ask.
He chuckles roughly.
"What isn't?" he responds.
Yeah right. Well...
"Hey, we're still alive. We've got water. The berries, at least, are edible, if a bit intoxicating." He snorts at that. I pointedly ignore him. "Ernest survived, so we can too. I'll bet that those monkeys know what is and isn't edible around here, and if worst comes to worst..."
"Oh, Jack, we can't eat them!" Daniel protests.
I sigh aloud, rubbing at the sore spot on my forehead.
"Not unless we have to," I promise him. I didn't really want to harm the critters either. He is silent for a moment, then I can feel, more than see him nod.
"Now get some sleep," I advise. "I'll take the first watch. I know this isn't exactly a feather bed, but we've been in worse spots."
He doesn't reward that with an answer. Instead he yawns loudly then moves to spread his body out over the rock. Yanking my jacket off my shoulders, I drape it down over him. He begins to protest but I shush him softly.
"Good night," he whispers. "Wake me..."
"I will," I promise, though I have no intention of doing so for quite a while. He settles down, resting his face against his arms, and I sit up next to him, gazing out over the water, watching the reflections of two alien moons shimmer on the river. I have some serious thinking to do.
Well, this is strange.
I've been so used to Jack being in charge when I'm on another planet, even though I don't always do as he tells me, that the concept of him asking me stuff almost throws me for a loop.
Not that I'm ready to start taking the lead instead, even if he'd let me - I know what Jack thinks of my ability to look after myself and also what value he puts on being safe himself, so that's not going to happen!
Still, here we are, heading back to the river, stumbling slightly over the uneven ground as we head back down the slope. I can hear the noises the river is making now, a distant rumble from upriver that may well be a waterfall. Then we break through the last of the trees to the shore itself and I'm momentarily taken aback by what I see there.
If I weren't still a little hungry and a lot tired, I'm sure I'd have even more appreciation for the way the moonlight is glinting off the water, especially as there are two moons here instead of one.
As a result, with both moons half-full, there is quite a lot of light, sort of like a permanent twilight, casting long shadows from the rocks and even the trees further up that we have just passed through.
Absently, I find my mind wondering how much light there would be if the moons were both full, and it's then that I know that I've got it bad. I'm thinking about the moons to avoid thinking about the man I'm following down to the shore. I'd rather think about anything than have to give any attention to the way my emotions are churning away inside me at the moment.
Jack is crouched at the edge of the water - well, he knows, as I discovered earlier, how cold that water is, and it's sensible not to get soaked through again.
I can't help but stare as he takes handfuls of water and splashes them onto his face. Against my better judgement, my eyes seem locked to the individual drops of water that are trickling down his throat now, and I find myself envying them.
Tearing my gaze from what Jack is doing, I decide that I need to occupy myself, to distract myself from staring at him.
'Good idea, Jackson,' a little voice inside is saying, 'keep staring at him and he'll figure out what's really going on in that head of yours. How long d'you think he'll stick around when he figures that out?'
Squatting next to Jack, taking off my glasses and stuffing them in my fatigues pocket, I splash as much water as I can onto my face. This way, at least, I hope my face won't be as red, and if I keep my hands moving, maybe Jack won't see how much they're shaking....
When I've washed the stickiness from myself, and caught my breath again, I settle back on my heels, squatting as comfortably as I can manage on the nearest rock. I'm painfully aware of Jack sitting there next to me, and the way that he's not saying anything. I guess he's got a hangover still, so it probably hurts to talk.
I don't want to talk either, as I know I should be angry at Jack for leaving me earlier, but every time I start to think about it, my mind runs on to think about that.
He kissed me.
He kissed me.
He kissed me.
Three words that keep running through my brain. Driving away, almost, how pissed I am that he deserted me, made me so terrified that I was alone now, and then made fun of me.... Almost.
The part of my brain that isn't concentrating on all of that, analysing the experiences and their related emotions half to death, registers the fact that there seems to be more life in the forest now. Maybe most of the things that live here are nocturnal? Or maybe they fled when the storm came, seeking sanctuary from its fury?
Whatever the explanation, the forest at night is full of the calling of birds. Strange whistling sounds, others which are more like squawking from the distance. All strangely familiar but also slightly different from anything I've heard before.
Then a strange bellowing sound, low and far-off made my brain jump back to the matter in hand. Had I been too quick to think there was nothing dangerous living here? After all, we have no real evidence either way....
I start to yawn, trying to suppress it, but it turns into a real jaw-cracker depite my best efforts. Even my brain is starting to slow down, and I try to calculate how long it is since I last slept. Too long, that's as accurate as my mind can manage to come up with, and I'm tired enough not to push it.
"We should probably take turns getting some sleep," Jack says then, without looking in my direction. "We can do more exploring in the morning."
"I suppose," I reply.
I don't want to explore, all I want to do is sleep and try to forget we're stuck on this lousy planet.
"What's wrong?" he asks, looking at me now. Guess my answer wasn't quite as optimistic as he expected, or something.
'What's wrong?' I echo to myself.
For a moment, I really don't know what to say in response.
How about 'well, we're stuck on this planet, with no way to get home and it's all my fault, but apart from that everything's peachy!' or 'well, it's like this Jack, I've been dreaming about being alone with you for months now, and I've finally got what I wanted'?
Finally, aware that Jack's anxious eyes are still on my face as he waits for my reply, I decide to keep it as short as possible, and hope to get away with it.
"Hey, we're still alive." Jack replies. "We've got water. The berries, at least, are edible, if a bit intoxicating."
I snort at that description, having seen the effect they had on him, all the while still wondering why they hadn't affected me the same way.
Jack continues to extol the virtues of the planet, despite having heard my response earlier.
"Ernest survived, so we can too. I'll bet that those monkeys know what is and isn't edible around here, and if worst comes to worst..."
He can't mean that!
"Oh, Jack, we can't eat them!" I blurt out, aware of how it sounds.
I know, they're only monkeys, and as far as we can tell not sentient, but still....
"Not unless we have to," he says finally, with a small smile. "Now get some sleep. I'll take the first watch. I know this isn't exactly a feather bed, but we've been in worse spots."
I decide not to comment on that, though I know it's true - it's amazing where you can sleep if you're tired enough. I catch myself yawning again and am glad that Jack is taking the first watch, as I'm not sure I could stay awake much longer.
I stretch myself out on the rock, trying to get as comfortable as I can. At least it's not too cold here, so we won't miss the usual comforts of an overnight stay on a planet. Idly, my brain wonders if my sleeping bag is lying somewhere at the bottom of the sea? Just as I'm dozing off, despite how uncomfortable my makeshift bed is, I feel a weight settle across my shoulders - squinting up, I see that it's Jack's jacket, and I start to protest that he'll need it.
"Sleep, Daniel," he mutters quietly.
Before I can even get a complete sentence out, he's shushed me, and I feel reassured enough to settle down again. If I'm not comfortable, then at least I'm warm, and I feel more safe than I have for a while knowing Jack is keeping watch.
"Good night," I whisper. "Wake me..."
"I will," he promises, and the last thing I see before I fall asleep is Jack sitting there, his head pillowed against his arms, staring out across the river.
I am standing there, in the castle, with Ernest.
Above me whirls the light-show of protons and neutrons, the universal language that I'm trying to interpret, my mind whirling with the myriad of possibilities that it holds. It is the discovery of the millenium, the Rosetta Stone that I have been dreaming of, the key that would unlock all the secrets of the universe.
And it is mine.
"Come on, boys, we've got to go, now." Jack's voice breaks through my reverie, my intense concentration shattering with a few hastily-spoken words.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ernest scuttle up the stairs and out of the chamber in response to the colonel's words - he was glad to be leaving this place, that much was clear.
"I'm staying," I say carefully, my eyes still on what is moving above me.
"What?!" Jack exclaims.
"Look, I will be fine down here," I say, still not willing to turn from what I am contemplating.
I feel so close, as if I can reach out and touch the solution, and if I turn away now, it will slip from me.
"Daniel, we can come back," Jack says then, a firmer tone coming into his voice as he tries to persuade me.
"No," I say, turning unwillingly towards him. "What if the castle crumbles around the Gate? This... this could all be lost." I gesture upwards, my arm taking in all the splendour of what is there for all to see. "If I stay, I could unbury the Gate again."
"What if the Gate falls into the ocean?" Jack asks.
"I am willing to take that risk," I say, turning my eyes back to the light-show moving slowly above me.
Jack grabs me roughly by the arm then, as if he intends to drag me back to the Stargate.
"I'm not. Let's go," he says, and starts to back towards the stairs, pulling me along with him.
"Jack, please!" I say, breaking away from his grip somehow.
I take one look at his face, and I see the concern clearly there in his eyes. He really believes that it's not safe for me to stay there, but as yet he is still trying to persuade me, rather than force me. How can I refuse him anything, when it's so clear that he has my welfare so much at heart?
I hesitate for a moment, taking one last longing look upwards, before following Jack up the stairs and back towards the Stargate.
The storm is worsening, and the thunder is almost deafening as it rumbles overhead. Large lumps of stone are falling from the roof, crashing onto the floor around us, as we run for the room where the 'Gate is. A terrible cracking sound comes from overhead, and, almost as if it were falling in slow-motion, I see the huge slab of rock fall towards the place where Jack will be in a few moments.
I try to scream a warning, but no sound comes out of my throat, and all I can do is watch in horror as the slab plummets to the ground.
The dust settles, and I'm finally able to move.
It's too similar to another scene I witnessed long ago, and for a moment, I expect to see the walls of the Metropolitan Museum, rather than the cracked grey walls of Ernest's castle. Once again, I'm a witness to tragedy.
All I can think of is Jack.
I reach the place where the slab is lying in a matter of moments, and discover my friend. He's lying under the slab, just his shoulders and head not covered by its weight, and I can hardly believe he's still alive.
His face is a horrible grey colour, and blood is trickling from his mouth - it's clear that Jack is dying, and soon, too soon, I will be alone here.
"Daniel," he whispers, reaching out his hand feebly in my direction.
"I'm here," I say, grasping his hand, wanting to tell Jack all the things that I'd always wanted, but never dared to.
But should I?
After all, he's dying, what good would it do for him to hear that I think I've been in love with him for months, that I'm not sure when it started, but I know it's not a passing thing. It would only make him mad, and he deserves as much comfort now as I can give him, in his last few minutes of life.
"Daniel," Jack says again, wheezing slightly with the effort of speaking, "...this... this is... all your fault!"
"NO!" I scream, waking myself, with a start that half-rolls me from my resting place on the rock.
My mind is running in circles now, round and round on itself. I'm sitting still and yet I'm getting dizzy. Sighing, I try to stretch myself out on this damned-uncomfortable rock. Maybe we should have tried to find a better place to sleep, but Daniel is out cold and I'm still groggy from those berries. They certainly pack a punch! I'd bet we could make a fortune if we bottled and sold 'em...
Oh hell. Not a good line of thought there. Better than the previous one, perhaps, but still not someplace you wanna go. Definitely time to get yourself under some vestige of control. Stop thinking about home and definitely stop thinking about how wonderful it felt to taste Daniel, how good his lips felt under yours, hot and soft and...
Try to think about survival plans. Like finding food. If the monkeys are out of bounds, and truth be told, I really don't want to kill and eat them, then we've got to find something else. I wonder how big the bellowing animal was and whether bullets would take it down. Perhaps it would be better to aim for something smaller. There's gotta be fish in this river, and other animals in the forest. There's certainly plenty of noise now. I guess everything's coming out from cover after the storm. Maybe some of those birds are edible.
So first thing, we fashion a few tools and weapons and go hunting. I can handle that, and it will distract us both from other problems.
Speaking of which, Daniel is starting to stir in his sleep and it doesn't look like a happy dream. I'm certainly familiar with that. His voice rises, screaming out my name, and I leap over towards him - just in time - to grab him as he tries to dunk himself back into the river. I get a good handful of his jacket and one arm.
He cries out, struggles for a moment, then goes limp. Finally, I manage to pull him back to safety and we end up sprawled on each other, still on top of that damned hard rock. My bruises are going to have bruises before this night is done.
"Jack?" Daniel whispers. I do my best to straighten us out, laying us out side-by-side, facing each other, across the rock. At least he didn't lose my jacket. One quick swipe upward and I retrieve it, draping it back over his shoulders.
"I'm here. You OK?" We seem to be asking each other that a lot lately. Go figure.
"Yes," he replies, though he doesn't sound too certain of it. The moonlight glitters on his hair, turning the brown strands to burnished copper. Loose tendrils are framing his eyes, dark pools of midnight blue in the semi-darkness. His glasses have obviously been tucked away. I wonder again how much he sees without them, but it's obvious he sees me. He reaches out a trembling hand to touch the corner of my jaw.
'Oh, God, Danny, don't do that', I think, 'unless you're ready for the consequences.' I freeze, unable to move, every sense focused down on that one gentle fingertip as it runs the length of my jaw, across my chin, then tenderly rubs across my lower lip. His expression is so intense; he's looking at me like he usually gazes at his blasted artifacts, like I'm a puzzle he can somehow solve.
And I can't help myself, I love being the center of that focused attention. From him. He begins to draw his hand away and I immediately, desperately, miss that touch. I capture his hand in mine, threading my fingers through his, turning his hand so that I can press his palm against my cheek. Tilting my head, I kiss the fleshy part of his hand, then the sensitive center of it.
He groans, low and deep in his throat. I didn't know he could make a sound like that. If I had known, I would have done this sooner. I kiss his knuckles this time, seeking that sound, and when I hear it, I find myself echoing it. And that does it, before I even have a chance to take a breath, he's on top of me, pushing me down on my back, taking hold of the back of my skull, and pulling me into a searing kiss.
My world centers down into that one contact, his lips on mine, blood racing so loudly in my veins that it sounds louder than the water of the river rushing downstream. It boils through my arteries, then flees my brain, pooling thickly in my groin. This kiss makes the previous one look like child's play, a tease. This one drowns me in a sea of Daniel, his taste, his touch, the moist heat of his mouth, the clever, darting, thrusting pressure of his tongue against mine.
I reach up, wrapping my arms around his back and pulling him tighter against me, rocking my hips upward to meet his. He groans again, into my lungs, and I give it back to him. I duel my tongue against his, seeking the flavor of him, savoring it, needing it. Our hips seem to find a rhythm on their own, without needing my brain, which is good, because my brain is gone. All that matters is Daniel and me, and being able to touch as much of him as I can.
He is long, slender limbs and smooth skin and sleek muscle. His skin is satiny soft, sheathing muscles that ripple and play under my touch. Both of our jackets get tossed aside, and our T-shirts don't take long to follow. His hands are everywhere on me, stroking, caressing, finding and exploring every sensitive part of my body and locating a few spots I didn't know where there. He is an inveterate, relentless explorer, and I give myself over to his investigation, meeting his hungry mouth with all of my own desire, my own hands echoing his movements.
Then he slides down across me, licking his way across my neck, downward, until his tongue darts across my nipple. My entire body arches, writhes, as a stunning bolt of ecstasy washes over me. I'm lost, heaven above help me, and the world explodes around me. All I can hear is my voice, hoarse and raw, screaming his name, over and over again.
I come back to reality as a juddering wreck, screaming hard enough to make my throat feel sand-papered again, and find myself moving, as if stepping back from the accusation being thrown at me. I'm rolling towards the edge of the rock, still groggy from the nightmare I had been trapped in, when I'm yanked to a halt.
I'm still not quite awake as a hand latches onto my jacket, another wrapping round my arm, and my headlong movement towards the river is stopped.
Something of the terror of my dream is clinging around me still, and it feels a lot more real than the hands holding me, if it weren't for their warmth - something I can feel despite the thickness of material separating them from my skin.
I feel trapped, my mind flashing back to Jack pinned, dying under that slab of rock, his final words whispered from a mouth dribbling his life's blood. I struggle against the hold someone has on me, straining to escape, to run somewhere I won't have to hear those accusing words, but there's no way out...
Suddenly drained, I slump, boneless, and the hands relax their grip on me slightly.
My brain begins to work, slowly, trying to sort the images it has been processing into 'dream' and 'reality' - reality is taking over slowly but surely, as far as I can, and reality places me back on Ernest's planet, lying on the rock that had formerly been my bed, facing Jack.
His eyes are wide, focussed intently on me, anxiety shining clearly from them. Even in the moonlight, I am startled by the depth of emotion in them, the contradiction there between Jack's business-like exterior and the compassionate heart I know he has.
How many times have I seen those eyes, like chocolate pools, fixed on me this way? How many more times have I wanted him to look at me with quite another emotion displayed in their depths?
"Jack?" I whisper, not sure for a long moment whether I've just moved onto another dream, one that's a more subtle variation on the one I've just escaped from.
"I'm here. You OK?" Jack's voice whispers back.
"Yes," I reply, though I'm really not sure if I am or not.
I need to know. I have to know he's real - that it was just a dream, that he's alive and well and doesn't blame me for stranding us here. If I was more awake, or less disturbed by the nightmare I'd been experiencing only moments before, I wouldn't do it.
All the months I've been suppressing my thoughts, hiding my emotions, I've had lots of practice at both of those. This would just be another example to add to the long list I had been compiling - the list of 'times that I've wanted to touch Jack and haven't'.
But the need to know takes over and I reach out in his direction, reaching out a trembling hand in towards him.
He doesn't move, doesn't flinch away, but if this is my dream, then he wouldn't, would he?
Jack is there, just frozen, eyes still locked on mine as my finger traces its way down his jaw-line, then tentatively across to his lower lip. The warmth is electrifying, but I can't bear to stop touching him, as if I'm afraid he will disappear, or something terrible will happen, if we don't stay connected.
But this can't last forever, and my brain is starting to tell me that I'm trying to start something that Jack really doesn't want to finish - comforting someone who's been through a nightmare is one thing, but this is a completely different matter. This is reality, and I could really screw things up permanently between us - I love him, have for months, but I need him too, to survive this planet.
So, reluctantly, I stop touching him, my finger coming away slowly from its exploration of his lip. Sighing slightly, I try to catalogue all the feelings, all the sensations, so I can treasure them, think back on them some time and chastise myself for my cowardice.
As I'm drawing away, slowly and reluctantly, Jack surprises me - reaching out, he catches my hand before it can move very far, entwining his fingers with mine. My breath catches with a hitch in my throat, and my heart begins to pound, so loudly that I'm certain it's trying to burst out and escape.
Escape.... that suddenly seems like a really good idea.
Not content with trapping my hand, Jack presses it against the side of his face, wrapping my hand to the contours of his cheek. He holds my hand pressed there, as if he wants to rest his face on it, and the intimacy of the gesture, so at odds with our surroundings, cuts straight to my heart. Just as my heart is settling slightly, and I'm almost becoming accustomed to the idea of the two of us touching this way, he plants a kiss on the inside of my hand, then another. That shoots a current, not just to my heart, but also straight to my groin.
The small part of my mind that isn't being deluged by a torrent of hormones registers a noise then, and with some surprise I realise that it's coming from me - I don't think I've ever groaned like that before, but something instinctual is going on here, and who am I to argue with instinct?
The next thing I know, I'm pressed on top of Jack, wrapping myself around him like I never want to let him go - I'm pressing him back into the rock, one of my hands wrapped round his head to cushion it, the other exploring his back, trying to worm its way under Jack's t-shirt and reach some skin.
As we kiss, Jack is moaning too, the sound coming rumbling into me as I try to devour him. I never want this to end, never want to have to come up for air - all my guilt about being stuck here with Jack is being swept away by what I'm discovering about him, about myself.
I'm sure I can almost feel the nerve-endings on Jack's skin fire as my fingers trail over them, the silkiness of his hair between my fingers coming as a surprise when my hand tries to thread itself into the shortness of the hair at his nape.
My heart begins to pound again when Jack's hands come up to lock behind my back, pulling me towards him - till that moment, I could almost have persuaded myself that this was one-sided, that it had started out as his attempts to comfort me, but the stiffness I can feel forming against my stomach is an effective argument to that.
His tongue is exploring my mouth, each time it thrusts and jousts with mine, it sends a tingle straight to my groin. As well as feeling Jack pressing against me, I can feel an aching hardness developing, and all I can think about is how warm I am suddenly.
Jack's pushing off my jacket, unwrapping his arms reluctantly from around me until he's able to shove it from me, as I'm exploring the sensitive skin on his neck, licking and biting my way up and down, the way I'd always dreamed of doing. My hands are working still, as if trying to map Jack's body, caressing and stroking their way across every square millimetre of skin.
Reluctantly I tear my mouth away from its exploration of Jack's neck, still salty somehow from sweat and the sea, as he pulls and strains to remove his t-shirt without losing contact. The moment it's gone, my mouth latches on again, sucking at his shoulder and working its way down to the nipple that's now exposed.
As I reach it, Jack stiffens and arches up, crying out something that the few functioning brain-cells I still have left recognise as my name. He's screaming it over and over, his voice still raw and harsh from our time in the sea.
Then he's still, as I reach my own shuddering climax, discovering his hand resting firmly across my groin, grasping the hardness that has developed there through the fabric of my fatigues.
We lie there, sated, in silence.
What do you say when you've just experienced something you've been dreaming about, fantasising about, for months? When you've just found out your imagination isn't as good as you thought, and that the real thing is a million times better than your wildest dreams?
All I want to do is run away. I can't think how to start to express how I am feeling, if I even know for sure what it is.
We're still wrapped round each other, hands slowly exploring each other's bodies, but with nothing of the frantic passion of before. Jack's hand is stroking my stomach gently, and I feel something like a cold hand wrap itself round my heart.
All my previous excuses and theories come charging back into my brain, barging their way in to my consciousness as rationality begins to return.
Well, I can't excuse what we've just done because he's drunk, but the unexpectedness of what we'd just experienced together seems to grate on me somehow.
All the months I'd fantasised about Jack, about what it would be like to make love with the man, a small part of me had known that the Jack I was making love with was not the real Jack somehow. All the evidence pointed to Jack being unattainable - we were close friends, but there was a line beyond which we didn't go. That had been something of the attraction, I had rationalised, that whole thing about forbidden fruit.
And now, suddenly, he wanted me?
A sour note was sounding somewhere, and I knew what it was - I'd been wrong. All the time, I'd been hoping against hope, preferring to think that Jack was something unattainable, someone I could fantasise about but never have. Somehow it was easier for me if that was the truth, but it isn't, is it?
All it takes is for us to be stuck here, with no-one but each other to turn to, and things manage to change drastically, faster than you might think possible.
I'm not Mr Right, but I am Mr Right Now.
For a fraction of a second, I hesitate, not wanting to admit to myself how wretched that's making me feel. But I can't do it, I can't fool myself - this is what I wanted all along, that's true, but this isn't the way I wanted it to be!
Jack must have felt me tense up, as his hands stop their exploring, stilling where they are - one on my stomach, the other loosely wrapped round my shoulders.
"Daniel?" he whispers, trying to look into my eyes.
With a muffled sob, I manage to tear myself away from him then, backing off of the rock - with one hand I snag my discarded clothes, warding Jack off as he steps towards me with the other.
"Leave me alone!" I grate out, backing away still.
Jack's jaw drops slightly, and he takes a step towards me.
"Daniel?" he says again, a puzzled look on his face.
"NO!" I yell, straining my already sore throat. He stops then, worry taking over from confusion in his eyes. "Don't come anywhere near me, Jack!" I croak.
He still looks concerned, but he stops then, watching me as I back away from him.
As I turn and make my way upriver, picking my way through the stones and boulders as quickly as I can, the last thing I see is Jack standing there, watching me leave. His face is unreadable despite the brightness of the moonlight shining down on him.
I keep going, not daring to look back.
|Continued in Part 2...|