One minute we're curled up in each other's arms, enjoying the sated aftermath of one of the best, albeit shortest, climaxes of my life, and then he's running away from me.
Where did all that passion go? It was real, of that I'm sure. Daniel couldn't fake that, any more than I could. It's not in him to pretend to something he doesn't feel, not when it's that intense. So what's the problem?
Besides the fact that we're stuck here, alone and without hope of rescue? And that we've just made love on a very uncomfortable rock? And that this is Daniel and me, rather than me and a woman? And...
OK. I admit that there are some difficulties here. Some potentially big ones. But still, I refuse to run away from this. I've spent too much of my life running from my feelings, Sarah made that very clear - it cost me my marriage. And these feelings I have for Daniel are as real as they get. Somehow I know his are as well. Which, unfortunately, means we're going to have to talk about this.
Now that scares me.
I could make love to Daniel all day and all night, happily. Spend the rest of my life wandering around on this desolate planet, OK. But 'talk' about our feelings for each other? Major EEEWWW factor there. But he's running away from me, and if I don't do something fast I'm going to lose him, perhaps for good. And that idea is unbearable. Time to gather up all that courage I'm supposed to have and brave the worst.
"Daniel?!" I call out as I begin to run after him, but he's scurrying away, almost out of sight now.
"Daniel, get your ass back here NOW!" I shout at the top of my lungs.
That actually makes him pause and turn his head in my direction. When I get a few feet closer, I stop, put my hands on my hips and give him my absolute most glaring, intense, pissed-off military commander look. Even at a distance, I can see it take effect. He literally shivers. But he doesn't move closer.
I suppose that I should stand my ground. Make him come to me. But we should be past such posturing by now. So gathering up what shreds of dignity and strength I have left, I continue to walk towards him. He backs off one step, so I call out to him again, this time imitating my first training Sergeant's tone of voice.
"Jackson, don't move."
He stops again, and stares, wide-eyed at me, still clutching his T-shirt and jacket against his bare chest. The moonlight gilts his hair with gold streaks, and the desire surges again, mixed with a fierce sense of protectiveness. I want to pull him into my arms and kiss him senseless. That's not such a bad idea. But he looks as skittish as a startled Mama Deer, and I can't afford to drive him any further away.
When I get up close to him, I find him staring at me with sheer terror in his eyes. I can't help myself, I reach out to cup the side of his face. He tries to pull away, but I lift my other hand to the other side of his jaw and hold him still. Gazing firmly into his eyes, I search for the words.
"Daniel, what the hell is going on with you?" I ask.
His mouth parts, his lips trembling, and I barely restrain myself from kissing him again. I have to bite down on my bottom lip and use the pain to slow down the inexorable rise of desire.
"Come on, Daniel, talk to me," I urge.
"I can't..." he whispers. "Jack, please..." he pleads.
But the answer to that incoherent plea is a solid no. No, I won't let him out of this, anymore than I'll let myself. There's too much at risk and I love the man too much. I won't lose another loved one. Not again, absolutely not through my own fear.
So there's nothing more for it but to put myself on the line and hope he can catch me before I fall. Oh, please let him be willing to catch me, or I'm afraid I'll take us both down in one fell swoop.
I take a deep breath, hanging onto the feel of his cheeks and jaw under my hands, memorizing the rough, whiskery feel of the skin and the heat he generates. I open my mouth to say it, and my courage falters. I have to take a second deep breath and form the words in my mind, slowly framing them, pushing them out of my mouth one syllable at a time.
"I love you, Daniel Jackson, and I'm not letting you go. You got that?"
His mouth opens, his jaw settles downward in my grasp, his eyes manage to widen even further. His body shakes and the clothes drop out of his hands.
"Whhaaa?" he asks.
"I love you," I repeat, and this time it's not even difficult.
I find myself grinning like an idiot. Laughing softly. Then leaning forward to kiss him, less passionately this time, more tenderly. Coaxing him.
"Bbuut," he stammers against my lips.
"But what?" I ask back.
"But you can't! You don't!"
I push myself into a forbidding frown.
"What do you mean I can't? You can't tell me how to feel, ya know."
"I... uhhh... I'm not. I mean... I don't understand?" He's actually shouting now.
I shrug, running my thumb along the curve of his cheekbone.
"What's there to understand? I'm not quite sure when or how it happened, but it did. No use crying over spilt milk. I'm stuck on you, and we're stuck with each other, so you'll just have to learn to live with it." An idea occurs to me, belatedly, and I pull back and stuff my hands into my pants pockets. "I promise I'll do my best to not make you uncomfortable."
"Make me uncomfortable?" he echoes. I hang my head sadly, silently encouraging him.
"I won't make any more advances if that's what the way you want it. I promise."
I let my voice drop into sadness, settle my eyes on the ground at his feet. He makes an inarticulate sound, then suddenly, he's grabbing me, forcing my head up to meet his eyes.
"Do you really mean that?" he demands. "Do you really love me or are you just playing with me? If this is just because I'm the only human being within a few hundred light years..."
"For God's sake, Daniel, what on earth would make you think something like that?" I shout right back at him.
After all we've been through, how can he ever think something like that of me? How can he know so little of me as to think I'd do that to him? The anger rises in me, sharp and fierce, but before I can give it further voice, he kisses me.
His mouth is unbelievably hungry, his grip painfully tight, as he holds me into that kiss. He pulls away just long enough to say, "I love you," then he's kissing me again. He alternates between the kisses and the words, and both are just as sweet until my own needs take over and I'm pushing him back to the ground.
"Damn you, Daniel, what you do to me," I moan into his ear before I bury my mouth into the rich hollow between his neck and shoulder.
He clutches at me, growling again, and that does me in. I cover his body with mine and press him down into the moss-coated ground, losing myself in him. He answers me, digging his fingers into my back, sliding a thigh between my own, and together we tumble back into ecstasy, our joined cries rising out into the alien night.
Of all the stupid things to do, what I was doing now would probably be well up there in the league table.
It's night-time. I'm tired and liberally covered with bruises. I'm hungry and starting to get a little cold. There's only me and Jack here on this planet and now I'm running away from him!
Not that I've got anywhere to run to, that is....
The moons are starting to set now, and the light level is dropping, as I pick my way through the rocks on the river shore. I've had to rescue my glasses from my fatigues pocket, figuring that I'll need all the help I can get to make a successful getaway.
The first burst of adrenaline that took me away from where I left Jack is starting to wear off, and I'm starting to stumble more, kicking the smaller rocks as I try to walk on them. I have to slow down, before I break an ankle or something - knowing my luck so far, that's not a chance to gamble with!
I haven't looked back, I don't dare - I can't bear the thought that Jack might still be standing there, watching my retreating back as I scuttle off to who knows where.
Where am I going anyway?
I realise then I have nowhere to run to, only someone I want to run from, and the irony of my situation forces me to chuckle mirthlessly to myself.
'Well,' a little voice says in my mind, 'this was certainly an unexpected turn of events! So much for boring missions...'
I decide then that I just want to make it round the next bend, out of sight of where Jack is, and then I'll rest. Rest, and decide what to do next. I've been wondering what that might be for quite a while now and drawing a complete blank, but maybe after I get some rest....?
The sound of rocks clattering against each other startles me out of my half-assed planning. I've got a pretty good idea what that sound has to mean, and I have no intention of waiting around here to find out if I'm right or not. I fix my gaze on the next outcrop of rocks, and head resolutely in that direction, scrambling over the larger boulders.
The voice comes from quite a distance behind me, and I don't even bother to turn back.
'Nearly there,' I think.
"Daniel, get your ass back here NOW!"
The volume of the shout, let alone the emotion in his voice, makes me pause. I turn slightly, looking back, and, just as I expected somehow, Jack is there.
Mentally I'm figuring my chances of escape now, but I know they're slight and getting slighter all the time as Jack approaches. He's coming closer and I decide to hold my ground, to let him come to me - why make it any easier for him to kick my ass?
He stops a couple of yards away, eyeing me like he thinks I'm going to turn and run if he comes much closer - he could be right, even I'm not sure about that. He's glaring at me like he's really mad with me, and that's okay. I can handle mad. It's other emotions I'm struggling with at the moment....
He's still looking at me like I'm going to bolt - then he seems to make a decision, and takes a couple of steps towards me. I start to back away, thinking maybe his assessment of how likely I was to turn tail and run was correct, when he shouts at me again.
"Jackson, don't move."
Is it habit that makes me stop then? Jack's always moaned that I never pay any attention to the orders he gives, but he's wrong. I listen, I take them in, I just don't always follow them, that's the crucial difference. This time, he's barked my name at me, not even my first name, and for some reason I freeze.
I freeze enough for him to get close, within striking distance, and then closer. I must look a sight, clutching my t-shirt and jacket, which he'd earlier almost torn from me in the heat of passion, like a shield in front of myself. I can feel my fingers nervously gripping the material like it can somehow protect me from the fury I know is headed in my direction.
There's nowhere for me to run now. Jack is right here, stood just in front of me, his eyes locked with mine. I'm squirming inside, silently pleading for him to say what he has to say, to shout at me, to hit me, just to get it over with!
He raises his hand then, and I start to flinch, startled when it comes to rest gently against my face.
No! I can't...
Then, before I can get away, before I can escape the emotions I'm trying hard to forget I ever had, he's holding my face with both his hands, gently forcing me to look into his eyes. I feel like I'm drowning.
"Daniel, what the hell is going on with you?" he says quietly, his eyes still locked with mine.
'Where do I start, Jack?' I think, saying nothing.
I can feel myself trembling, and I know Jack knows. I can't decide what's causing this, try as I might - is it fear? Adrenaline? Desire? My mind is whirling, as if trying to catch hold of a single emotion and make me experience that alone, rather than the roller coaster I seem to have been living on recently.
"Come on, Daniel, talk to me," Jack says, still holding me in place.
He wants me to talk to him? That's a joke. Normally he can't get me to shut up quickly enough - how many times has he walked away from me in mid-explanation? I manage to stifle the laughter that's welling up inside me when Jack says this, knowing I'm too close to the edge now. I could start laughing and finish crying, and it wouldn't be a very long journey between the two.
"I can't..." I whisper, hardly trusting myself to speak.
If I start to speak, will I ever stop? There are things I've been longing to say to Jack, but the thought of actually speaking the words to him terrifies me now. Over and over, in the fantasies I'd treasured, I'd had those conversations, but to speak them in reality? The very thought sends a chill up my spine.
"Jack, please..." I continue, aware that a pleading tone is coming into my voice now, but I can't even finish that thought.
Please what? Let me go? Don't hurt me? Tell me this is all a dream?
We're still stood as we have been for the past couple of minutes, eyes locked, Jack's hands on my face, holding me there.
'Why doesn't he say...' I think, 'he must say something?'
I'm not the only one trembling now, I can feel the tremors coming from Jack, travelling down his arms to his hands. He takes one deep breath, as if he's about to speak, and so do I, holding it for a moment while he still says nothing.
Finally, as if he's trying to speak another language, chewing out the words, the syllables, one by one, Jack speaks.
"I love you, Daniel Jackson, and I'm not letting you go. You got that?"
Not the words I was expecting, that's for sure. I feel my jaw drop slightly - I'd always thought that was a writer's cliche, something that never happened in real life, but maybe I'd just never been surprised enough before?
But now I was - with that handful of words, spoken slowly and nervously, as if Jack too was scared, for a moment I was convinced that I was dreaming this. Only the warmth of Jack's hands on my face kept reassuring me that this was reality, that he's really just said something earth-shattering like that. To me!
"Whhaaa?" I find myself stammering, still instinctively trying to draw back, but the gentle hold he has on my face won't let me.
"I love you," he says, more casual sounding this time, and with that grin I've come to know and lust over coming across his face as punctuation to his words.
He's laughing softly, and I feel myself redden slightly, glad of the dim light, but knowing he must feel my embarassment, feel the way my face is heating up under his hands.
He's kissing me again - not with the reckless passion of before, but infinitely gently, as if he thinks I'll break, shatter into a million pieces.
Too late, Jack, way too late.
Still, my mind is running round, like a rat in a wheel, analysing, planning, comparing, and it seems to still have control of my mouth.
"B..buut..." I stammer, even as Jack's kissing me.
"But what?" he asks, pulling back slightly and eyeing me with that puzzled expression again.
My brain made him stop, sabotaging what he was doing so effectively that I wanted to scream, to throw myself at him and kiss him, devour him with all the months of desire and frustration that had built up within me. But I know that I need to know. So my brain, dictating the way things are going here still, ploughs on regardless of what's going on with the rest of me.
"But you can't! You don't!"
So eloquent, Jackson, I tell myself - that's where you're at now, words of two syllables or less....
Jack's frowning at this - for some reason that expression always drives me on, makes me take stupid risks, more than any other he could come up with.
"What do you mean I can't? You can't tell me how to feel, ya know," Jack replies and I feel myself getting agitated, though that wasn't the plan my brain had in mind.
"I... uhhh... I'm not. I mean... I don't understand?"
The minute rational part of me knows I'm shouting by the end of that, my voice croaking and cracking - I must sound ridiculous, but Jack isn't laughing any more. He isn't backing off either, and the non-rational part of me, which is vastly in the majority, is more comforted by that than I'd like to admit.
Jack shrugs, an eloquent gesture in itself, and continues to stroke the ball of his thumb along my cheekbone. I steel myself, somehow, not to give myself over to that gesture, to lean into it like I so desperately want, and wrench myself back to reality when Jack speaks again.
"What's there to understand? I'm not quite sure when or how it happened, but it did. No use crying over spilt milk. I'm stuck on you, and we're stuck with each other, so you'll just have to learn to live with it."
Wow. That was a long speech, for Jack - I've discovered that getting information out of Jack is a bit like cracking walnuts. The effort is worth it, but sometimes it's really hard work when you're going along.
He's stuck on me...
I'm just going to have to learn to live with it...
I file away that speech for further analysis, chewing over the implications of what Jack has just said.
He startles me slightly then by letting go of my face, and suddenly it feels as though the temperature has dropped 10 degrees - it's not just the warmth that had been coming through his hands, it was the sensations I was feeling as his thumb was stroking my face with the kind of gentleness I'd always dreamed of from him.
My skin was tingling from its loss and I realise I have no idea what's going on in his head. He's stuffing his hands into his pockets, shifting a little uncomfortably where he's standing.
"I promise I'll do my best to not make you uncomfortable," he mutters.
Oh. I think I know this one....
"Make me uncomfortable?" I echo, watching as Jack suddenly finds his boots fascinating.
"I won't make any more advances if that's what the way you want it. I promise," he mutters, not even looking up at me as he's speaking.
I have to see his face to know the truth behind this statement - I have to ask him the questions I've been afraid to, the questions that I need to know the answers to. I have to know whether I was right about him after all....
This time it's me stepping towards him, lifting Jack's face up so I can look him in the eye, knowing I've really only got one shot at this.
"Do you really mean that?" I demand. "Do you really love me or are you just playing with me? If this is just because I'm the only human being within a few hundred light years..."
The frustration and fear I've been experiencing turn into anger in my voice, so that I'm shouting again. Croaking out the last few words as my voice threatens to shut down completely, but I have to know.
"For God's sake, Daniel, what on earth would make you think something like that?"
If he'd wavered even slightly, tried to explain his way out of the situation, done anything but react exactly as I expected Jack to react to a question like that, I would have known. In a heartbeat, I would have known he was settling for what was available, making do, and that would have been the end of it for me.
My long experience of Jack and his moods lets me know he's building up steam now, his anger rising, and I act on impulse. I'm not really all that impulsive, but I usually know when it's the right thing to do....
So I kiss him.
That's not an accurate description.
I throw myself at him, wrapping myself round him so that he stumbles slightly, his eyes wide as I attempt to let him know how I feel about him. Somehow I think he's getting the idea, but just in case, I pull back long enough to speak as well.
"I love you," I say then return to what I was doing.
What had started out this time one-sided, is now most definitely a joint effort - Jack is responding, his tongue exploring my mouth like he wants to chart its depths.
When I pull back from him to speak again, to repeat the words I had spoken before, he latches onto my neck instead, kissing his way up to my ear, planting tiny, burning kisses as he travels.
"Damn you, Daniel, what you do to me," he moans, before returning to his exploration of my shoulder.
Those words ignite a fire in me, and I laugh, or growl, I'm not sure which. Somehow we've moved from vertical to horizontal along the way, and I don't know, or much care, when that happened.
All I know is that the man I've desired for so long is wrapping himself around me, moaning his desire for me, and I never want this to end.
Jack's asleep now, and this time I'm watching over him.
He wanted us to go back to the river, but I'd refused, shaking my head. I didn't trust myself to speak, even after what we'd just shared, and Jack knows me well enough by now, I suppose, to know when he's not going to get me to change my mind.
So we stayed where we were.
I'd reluctantly untangled myself from Jack as he dozed, wincing slightly at the stickiness in my pants and the bruises I seem to be adding to as the night goes on. Even as I gathered up the t-shirt and jacket I'd lost again somewhere along the way, I was aware of Jack's eyes on me, a question clearly written there.
Was I going to run again?
Minutely, I shook my head, as I shrugged into my jacket - that seemed enough of an answer for Jack and he dropped off to sleep with the same small smile on his face, his head turned slightly in my direction still.
So, I'm keeping watch.
I can't help thinking about the morning, how things will be between us, what we'll say, and I'm starting to drive myself crazy with all the thoughts that are charging round my brain.
Jack's moaning slightly in his sleep, his head moving from side to side like he's searching for something. The noises he's making are getting louder and I move closer, not willing to touch him, in case I startle him from his dream, but hoping he'll somehow sense that I'm here and take comfort from that.
As if he can feel me sidle closer to him, Jack's hand snakes out and catches hold of my sleeve and I crouch there beside where he's lying. He's calm now, sleeping peacefully again with his fingers twined into the jacket's material, so I make myself as comfortable as I can and settle down to wait for the morning to come.
'Time for more talk in the morning,' I think a little nervously.
I wake slowly, my body protesting every inch of the way. Yesterday's bruises hurt even worse than they had before, and I think I've got some new ones from sleeping on the ground. Correction, sleeping on top of rocks and tree roots and twigs and pebbles. OK, that does it. Add to the task list for today the creation of a decent place to sleep. Hell, I'll settle for a nice pile of leaves and moss, preferably picked clean of bugs.
Sitting up, I rub at my eyes with the cleanest spot on my sleeve. Sunlight is filtering down through the trees, speckling the ground with shimmering spots of gold. The forest rustles around us, the animal life back at full force. Bird calls chime through the air and I can hear the monkeys chattering nearby.
Daniel is curled up next to me, sound asleep, face buried into the crook of his arm. I move to wake him, then think better of it. Let the man sleep. He needs it. We've been through a lot, and today isn't likely to be a picnic.
On the other hand, a picnic isn't a bad idea. We've got fresh water, alcoholic berries for desert; all we need is a main course. If I can find that, it would be really nice to curl up with Daniel for a couple of hours. We could eat and then...
My pulse quickens as I consider those possibilities. Just the memory of what we'd shared the night before was enough to send every ounce of blood in my body surging downward.
'Easy there, old man,' I tell myself.
Daniel needs his sleep and we've got other priorities to deal with.
I squirm, trying to concentrate, to make a list. I need water and, for that matter, to lose some fluid. Squinting down at my clothes, I realize that I also need a bath. I'd done a job on my pants last night, hell, on all my clothes. Then I need to find food. I have both my knife and my gun - they should work for the moment. We can fashion spears and bows and arrows later. Then shelter of some sort, and that softer bed I'd already wished for. A busy day, but hopefully an improvement over the one before it.
On the other hand, the previous day hadn't been all bad. I can still taste Daniel...
OK, where's that river?
It is close by, of course, and even colder than it had been the previous day, if such was possible. But a cold bath is exactly what I need at the moment, if I am going to have any chance at concentrating on anything except what I want to do with Daniel. So, taking a deep breath, I dive in, scrub myself off, then clamber back out onto another big rock.
While my clothes dry a bit, I take a good look around. I wonder what the best tack to take is towards finding a food source. I squint upwards, trying to locate some birds. I catch glimpses, but nothing I can aim at easily. I make my way back to Daniel who is still sound asleep.
Squatting down beside him, I stroke his hair. Tangled and dirty as it is, it still feels soft and silken and when I close my eyes, I can smell and taste him.
I lean down to press a kiss to the top of his head and he stirs slightly, murmuring something unintelligible in his sleep. I wait, silent, until he has settled down again, then I move away. He ought to be all right for a little while. If I'm lucky, I'll be back with food before he wakes up. I'm not planning to go far anyway, certainly not out of hearing range.
The forest is thick, tangled, and it seems to swallow me up before I've taken more than six steps away. There's enough light to see, but shadows twist and turn and soon have me turning my gun on illusions created of leaves and branches. Then I hear something, a low bellowing, just ahead and to the right. Tightening my hand on my gun, I move swiftly in its direction.
There! I see it now. The animal is some kind of cross between a pig and a deer. It has a barrel-shaped body and a thick snout, but long legs and antlers. It snorts in my direction, then turns and runs off through the underbrush. Hunger sparks in my belly and I take off after it, jumping and tumbling over the forest floor. I get closer and manage to get off a couple of shots. It bellows louder, shrieking. I've hit it! But definitely not knocked it down. It turns and comes straight at me, its head lowered. Shouting, I fire off three more shots, then leap aside. It staggers past me, drops to its knees, then falls over.
YES! Sweet! Food. I start to push myself up from the ground, only to find it sinking under my hands and feet. What the hell? My gun slips out of my hand, and as I reach for it, I see it being sucked under the ground. The same sickly sinking sensation catches at my legs, and I begin to slide into mud.
No - not mud. Quicksand!
"Shit!" I shout. "Daniel!"
Why, oh why hadn't I woken him up. He might have had sense enough to avoid this. At least I wasn't out of earshot, was I?
"DANIEL!" I scream at the top of my lungs.
I feel myself slipping downward and I turn on my stomach, trying spread myself out, trying to swim towards something solid. The only answer to my shouts are a bright chirping that I soon recognize as the monkeys. I look up and there they are, filling the nearby trees, just out of reach.
"HELP!" I shout at them, useless though it is.
They can't help me, even if they were smart enough to know that I needed help. They weren't big enough or strong enough to pull me out. I needed...
The monkey's voices rocket high in alarm, obviously reacting to me. If only there was some way to send them to get Daniel. If only they could understand. But that was a silly waste of hope. All I can do is try my best to stay afloat, to propel myself closer to the edge of the pit and hope to get a good grip on a rock or tree root. But the quicksand is strong, pulling on me, drawing me downward.
My legs go under, and I can't get them up. My hips follow, and I'm now up to my belly. I kick out, then stop myself. That'll only make it worse. I scream until I'm hoarse, then draw in a deep breath. I'm down to my armpits, and sinking even faster.
Oh hell, what a way to go. And why now? Right after Daniel and I have found each other. It's not fair! Life is never fair. I know that. But I'm still furious about it. And terrified. In the end, I'm just plain scared. I reach out both arms full length across the surface of the quicksand, in one last desperate attempt to catch hold of something, anything, and then...
A hand closes on my wrist. I push my other hand in the same direction and it, too, is seized in a fierce grip.
"Jack?!" Daniel's voice yells, and I answer in kind, "Daniel!"
Thank God. The monkeys are raising a holy din now, screeching wildly. Daniel manages to pull me up just enough for me to see him, and he is, definitely, a sight for sore eyes. Nothing could ever look more beautiful to me than this man, leaf-festooned long brown hair framing his glass-covered eyes, his skin coated with dirt and sweat, his face caught in a tight snarl as he fights to pull me free.
Now I kick out, trying to help him free me, slowly feeling myself come upward through the sticky muck. Monkeys jump down and land on Daniel's back. Several take hold of his arms and legs, imitating his actions, as though trying to pull him back.
As I begin to surface, little hands reache out to grab my sleeves as well as his. It is beginning to work; I might just survive this after all, though God only knows how he's managing this, even with what little help the critters can give. I'm a pretty big man. Well, I'm not Arnold Schwartzenegger, but I'm over 6' tall and I've built up good muscles over years of military service.
But Daniel is stronger than he looks, and he is the most determined person I've ever met. In fact, he's downright obstinate. Hey, he can be as stubborn as he likes when he's using it to save my life.
Which he does.
It seems to take forever, but finally I'm scrambling free, grabbing for dry, solid ground, tumbling down beside Daniel, gasping for breath. He wraps his arms around me and hugs me tightly. I hug him back, crushing him against me, unable to speak, just incredibly grateful that he is there and I'm alive to be with him.
Morning came quicker than I expected.
I woke with a guilty start, from another dream - not a terrifying one like last time, filled with guilt and accusation, but a peaceful one, the details of which began to fade even as I surfaced into reality.
Struggling up from my uncomfortable bed, shoving my hair awkwardly out of my eyes, I turn to rebuke Jack for letting me sleep. I was supposed to be watching over him, after all, and I'd clearly failed in that duty.
The words die on my lips, unspoken, as I realise that, once again, I am alone.
I get to my feet, pulling my glasses, somehow still intact, from my jacket pocket, and put them on. Even as I scan the horizon for signs of movement, I know that I will see nothing.
'Maybe he's gone down to the river,' I think.
Trying to be optimistic, I head in that direction, attempting to ignore the way my stomach is rumbling. All I know that is edible is those damn berries, and I'm not looking forward to a steady diet of those.
'There must be other things that are edible here,' I think, trying not to look too hard at the small handful of monkeys that are jumping around in a nearby tree. 'If Ernest could survive here all these years, surely we...'
My thoughts grind to a shuddering halt then, as I reach the river. As far as the eye can see, there is no-one.
"JACK!" I yell, more out of habit than expecting an answer.
Nothing. Only the sound of the water rushing by, the birds chirping and squawking overhead, the chittering of the monkeys. Damn. How can he keep doing this to me? Every time I start to think I have a handle on the situation, Jack pulls this disappearing act and I don't know where I am again.
In my heart, I know that's unfair, but I don't care.
So, what do I do now?
In the absence of anything better, I find myself sitting on a rock, watching the river flow past. Ironically, it's the very same rock where Jack and I first made love, though that seems like a distant memory now. I was alarmed at first, then angry, now I'm heading for despondent.
'I can't do this,' I think, 'not alone... together, we might have had a chance to survive, but I know I can't make it on my own.'
For a moment there, I nearly gave up hope completely. Where the hell is Jack anyway?
A new emotion takes control then, sweeping my despondency away - if Jack really cares for me the way he says he does, then where is he? If he loves me, then why did I wake up on my own?
I've got to look for him, but where?
The chittering of the monkeys has been growing steadily louder, I realise. In the branches of the tree nearest to where I've been sitting, are two monkeys, one small and one large, and for a moment I think I recognise the smaller one. It looks like the one that was tormenting me yesterday. Both are shrieking, their voices piercing and agitated. The smaller of the two is jumping up and down on the branch where it's perched, shrieking all the while, its eyes locked in my direction.
Suddenly it springs down and comes bouncing towards me, stopping when it sees that it has my attention. It's leaping on the spot now, looking at me, then into the trees, then back at me. If Jack were here, he'd say I was crazy, but it looks a hell of a lot like that monkey is trying to tell me something. But Jack isn't here, that's the whole point. I need to go look for him, and if I happen to go in the direction the monkey seems to want me to, where's the harm in that?
Scrambling up from where I had been sitting, contemplating my fate, I head back up the slope and into the trees.
This is crazy.
I'm following a monkey.
Well, okay, I'm heading in the same direction as a monkey.
There's nothing about this which is straightforward - the monkey is leaping ahead of me, as I head deeper into the trees. It's not even bothering to look back and see if I'm following or not - either it can hear me, or it's not really leading me after all.
The chittering of the monkeys is increasing in volume still, and their voices seem to have risen to such a pitch and frenzy that there are no other sounds to be heard in the forest. Even the birds seem to have realised they can't compete with the monkey chorus.
The trees are older here, closer together - despite the brightness of the day, here in the forest it's almost forboding. The eerieness of the setting and the screaming of the monkeys make me feel like I've wandered into the set of a horror movie by mistake.
As I move deeper in, I call Jack's name, but without much hope of a response. The noise the monkeys are making is deafening, so much so that I can hardly know I've shouted at all. I have no expectations of Jack hearing me above this racket.
Then, just as I'm about to turn back, thinking that this was a crazy idea after all, the monkey leads me into a clearing. All around, in the trees, are screeching monkeys, their eyes focussed on something in the clearing itself. I follow their gaze downwards without a thought, and almost choke when I see what it is they are looking at.
Well, his arms anyway.
Thrashing about desperately, coming out of a patch of greyish-green mud, which must be quicksand.
Even as I cross to him, he's sinking, his hands still frantically clawing the air like he can pull himself out, and I launch myself across the intervening distance, wrapping my hand round one wrist. The other is still flailing about, but it comes towards me then, so he knows I'm here.
"Jack?!" I yell, leaning back desperately to try and pull Jack far enough out of the sucking mud to be able to breathe again.
His head comes back above the surface then, with a nasty slithering sound, and he gasps, his lungs dragging in air.
"Daniel!" he gasps, almost with his first breath.
If I'd been a few minutes later, if I hadn't thought to follow the monkey....
'No time for this,' I tell myself, 'you can think about that later....'
Planting my feet as firmly as I can, I begin to lean back, trying to pull Jack free of the quicksand. I can tell he's trying to help as much as he can, wheezing with the effort of breathing again, and we seem to be making progress, but slowly. With a horrible sucking sound, I'm somehow able to drag Jack out, inch by inch.
I'm concentrating so hard, that I almost let go of my grip when the first monkey lands on me. I swear, if it had started to pull my hair, I would have declared war on all monkeys from that moment on. But all it did was jump up and down, chittering in my ear as though urging me on, and I tried to ignore it. More arrive on the ground beside me, and I can feel them wrapping themselves round my legs, as if to try and keep me safe, or help me pull Jack free. Some of the little monsters even reach out and grab hold of Jack's sleeve, as if they want to help rescue him.
Then it's over.
With one deep sucking sound, Jack is free, lying on dry ground beside me.
We're both panting for breath, and I wrap my arms around him, to reassure myself that he's really still there with me, that we're both alive and still together.
After a couple of minutes, I have my breath back - I struggle out of Jack's arms, and get to my feet. I'm reliving some of the emotions of earlier, which had been driven away by the fear I'd been feeling and the need to save Jack's life.
I'm angry again.
I stand there in the clearing, looking down at where Jack is still lying, then I watch him as he gets up, covered in grey-green mud from head to foot. As he's standing, I turn away from him, not knowing what to say, afraid that if I say what I'm feeling at the moment, something terrible might happen.
As I turn, I feel a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back round, and I erupt with anger. Reacting purely on instinct, I lash out as I turn, catching Jack with a good right hook to the jaw. To his credit, even though it was unexpected, he only takes a couple of steps back.
"What the hell were you thinking?" I shout, stepping towards him.
Jack holds his ground, aware of the quicksand at his back - as I advance, he's trying to placate me, his hands raised in a conciliatory gesture that I've rarely seen him use before.
"Take it easy, Daniel," he says, his voice steady.
"Take it easy?" I echo, astonished. "Jack... you... I..." The anger is ebbing as quickly as it had come, leaving me stumbling over the words that had been so clearly laid out before in my mind. "You nearly died," I say, stopping in my tracks.
"Ya think?" Jack jokes feebly, eyeing my reaction as he tries to crack a small smile.
"Don't leave me alone again, Jack," I mutter, knowing that he can still hear me, "I can't be alone."
"I won't," he says, stepping closer to me again, now that the storm has abated.
Can you stake the rest of your life, your whole future, on s uch simple words? Well, it looks like I'm going to find out, doesn't it?
Just as soon as I'm getting my breath back, my head finally clearing, Daniel pushes me away. He gets to his feet and turns his back to me. His shoulders are stiff, hunched, his stance tight. His hands clench into fists at his side.
He's upset. Yeah, go figure. I'm not exactly happy at the moment myself. And I'm the one who just nearly died. So what's his problem? OK, OK, time to chill out here. We're both under a lot of stress. My pulse still hasn't settled, and the panic has left my stomach in an uproar. The fact that I'm absolutely starving doesn't help. I'm beginning to feel faint, and I don't need this right now, but there's nothing for it but to find out what's got Daniel in a snit.
I reach out and gently place a hand on his shoulder. As I open my mouth to ask him what's wrong, he turns around and punches me in the jaw.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he shouts.
Oh Shit! That hurts!
I stagger back, the world spinning uneasily around me, my hand holding my jaw. The man is definitely stronger than he looks. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now. But he'd never hit me before. Part of me is pissed enough to want to hit him back, the other half is crowing with delight. Damn, Daniel, way to go. Glad to see some of that spirit back in his eyes. We're going to need it if we're going to survive here. Of course, we're also going to need to avoid fighting with each other.
Of course, I also can't help thinking that he's gorgeous when he's mad. But even I know enough not to say that to him right now. Maybe later, once we've calmed down. The best part of fighting is making up, and that's what I'd most like to be doing right now.
I raise my hands before me in silent entreaty and try to remember what he had shouted at me. Frankly, I can't bring it to mind, I was too busy feeling his fist hit my jaw. So I settle for the obvious reply.
"Take it easy, Daniel," I tell him.
"Take it easy?" he echoes, his eyes widening, his voice still harsh. "Jack... you... I... You nearly died!"
"Ya think?" I shoot back, the irritation rising in me again. As much as I love this man, there are moments when he can drive me to distraction. This is fast becoming one of those times. Believe me, I'm not likely to forget that I just nearly drowned in mud. It was definitely not on my list of things to do today, and I'm still shaky from it. Even so, I try to force a smile to accompany the wisecrack.
'Come on Danny, meet me halfway here,' I silently beg.
"Don't leave me alone again, Jack," he mutters, lowering his eyes to the ground. "I can't be alone."
Oh God, so that's it! My already upset stomach decides to sink down into my pelvis, sending a wave of nausea rising up my throat. I barely fight it down, even as I take a step closer to him.
'Oh, Daniel, love, I'm so sorry,' I think, but can't verbalize. I hadn't meant to leave him, not for so long, and certainly not like this. I'd just... frankly, I'd just been stupid.
"I won't," I promise, settling unhappily for the simple vow.
I mean it with all my heart and soul, and I try to communicate that to him with my eyes. He doesn't look convinced, and I suppose I can't blame him. So I bite down hard on my pride and try again.
"Daniel, I promise. I won't leave you alone again."
I emphasize the words with the caress of my hand on his cheek. He swallows hard, but his eyes never leave mine. He's gazing at me as though he can bore into my mind with his sight. I leave my own eyes open, meeting him all the way. He finally blinks, sighs, and leans his face into my hand.
"I was..." he tries to say, but he doesn't need to finish it. He was scared. So was I.
"I know," I reply. I do. If I had been the one to wake up and find him gone I'd have been frantic, panic-struck, terrified.
"I'm sorry, Daniel. You needed your sleep and I didn't plan on going out of earshot. I was just trying to find us some food." Food. Good heavens, I'd forgotten. I grab his arm and pull him after me.
"Jack?" he questions, resisting me.
"Come on, Daniel. Food!" I yell, pointing in what I think is the direction of the dead beasty. He doesn't need much more explanation than that, and we locate the corpse of the pig-deer quickly. He frowns at it, but I'm salivating already.
"Do you think it's safe to eat it?" he asks.
"Yeah. Why not?" I ask, refusing to believe we can't eat the animal after all I went through to bring it down. I notice that we're still surrounded by the troop of monkeys, and I wave back at them. "Tell you what - let's cook it and see if they'll eat it. If they will, then we know it's ok." He considers that, then grins at me.
"OK. I am starving."
Our stomachs rumble in unison, and suddenly we're both laughing with relief. The monkeys join in as a supporting chorus as we release our tension in belly-shaking mirth.
The rest of that day goes surprisingly well. The pig-deer turns out to be quite edible, if not reasonably tasty. It's a bit gamey, but the monkeys love it, and both Daniel and I are not in any position to be finicky. Once we eat our fill of roasted meat, we dump the rest of the carcass into the cold water of the river, anchoring it with long vines.
Our next task is to make weapons and simple tools. The monkeys are fascinated with our activities, and they very much enjoy dragging around downed branches and tossing rocks. One, in particular, is very attached to Daniel. It might well be the same one that had jumped on him yesterday, I'm not sure, but now I'm beginning to be able to distinguish a few of them.
Daniel's little buddy, whom I soon name "Sneezy" to Daniel's disgust, sticks quite close to him. It loves to imitate Daniel, including his sneezes, which is how it won its name.
Despite the monkeys' constant interruptions and their haphazard attempts at helping, we make progress. We've got working spears and bows and arrows, a few sharpened rocks, and I've located a reasonable spot for building a shelter.
We're working in easy synchronicity now, and it feels incredibly good. This is Daniel and I at our best, the team that we had more than once proven we could be, given the chance. I smile at him over an armful of broken branches and he grins back.
We may yet survive this after all.
Even as I hit him, my anger washes away, almost as swiftly as it had come, leaving behind a gaping hole. It's been a real day for not knowing what the hell I feel about anything, and it looks like that's not going to change for a while yet.
"Jack... you... I... You nearly died!"
'So eloquent, Jackson,' the little voice inside my head says mockingly, and for a moment I think I see that mockery reflected in Jack's face.
"Ya think?" he replies, and all I see is scorn in his eyes. Then it's gone, and I realise that it was my imagination, as Jack tries to grin at me, and I'm lost again.
'He nearly died and you're the one in a snit,' I think, 'what does that say about you?'
Jack stands there, his eyes on me, a silent entreaty written clearly there, his concern for me over-riding the fact that he very nearly died. Again. I can't walk away from this, I have to tell him what's going on in my head, and hope he understands.
"Don't leave me alone again, Jack," I mutter, "I can't be alone."
"I won't," he says, coming closer to me then.
I look up, and find myself looking straight into his eyes. He's holding my gaze effortlessly, trying to tell me without having to say anything, and why am I not surprised by this? After all, I'm the one who does all the talking, aren't I? But, deep inside, I need to hear him say it, I suppose, and that uncertainty must be closer to the surface than I thought.
"Daniel, I promise. I won't leave you alone again."
As he speaks the words, Jack brings his hand up to stroke my face, but I can't concentrate on the touch - all I can see is his eyes, and the promise so clearly laid out there.
Jack's not into eye-contact in a big way, and it suddenly hits me that I've spent more time looking into his eyes in these last couple of days than I have for months. That might have something to do, of course, with the fact that I've been lusting after him, and was afraid that he'd catch on, afraid of his reaction if he knew.
But now I don't have to be afraid, do I?
I sigh then, and lean into the caress like I want to - the warmth of it anchors me in a way that the words can't seem to and I feel a sense of relief taking over.
"I was..." I begin, but choke on the rest of the words.
I don't want to even think how close I came to losing Jack this time, but I can tell by the expression on Jack's face, the tiny frown that I always want to kiss away, that he knows exactly what I was.
"I know," Jack says. "I'm sorry, Daniel. You needed your sleep and I didn't plan on going out of earshot. I was just trying to find us some food."
He freezes then, as if remembering something, then grabs my sleeve and starts to half-drag me across the clearing. What the hell...?
"Jack?" I ask, digging my heels in and refusing to let him pull me along.
"Come on, Daniel. Food!" he yells, tugging at me to follow him, and I give in then.
After a few moments search, we locate the carcase of the animal Jack said he had been chasing - well, it's a good thing I'm hungry, I suppose.
"Do you think it's safe to eat it?" I ask.
"Yeah. Why not?" Jack replies, with a casual air.
'You can gut it, then,' I think, my mind going back to Abydos for a moment. I'd been roped into helping prepare the local delicacy for a feast, and that part of the process nearly put me off meat for good. Buying meat ready prepared is one thing, the grisly parts of preparing it are quite another.
"Tell you what - let's cook it and see if they'll eat it. If they will, then we know it's ok."
Glancing round, I see we've got an audience, and it's the monkeys that Jack is referring to. The unearthly screeching noise they had been making while Jack was in the quicksand has gone, replaced by their usual chittering - there's a questioning tone to some of it, and they seem fascinated by both of us.
"OK," I reply, my mind returning to the fate of the beast, "I am starving."
My stomach picks that moment to rumble in agreement, and for the first time since, well, since I can't recall, we start to laugh.
The pig-deer, as Jack insists on calling it, well, it was edible. I've had worse, but I can't quite rememeber when or where. At least Jack was happy to do all the grisly parts, leaving me the job of collecting wood for the cooking fire. For which I am extremely grateful.
We seem to have an audience all the time - the monkeys can't seem to stay away from us, one in particular insists on following me around and imitating whatever I do.
Jack seems to think this is highly amusing, and has taken to calling this monkey 'Sneezy', after it started aping, (or should that be monkeying?) my behaviour when I sneezed.
I seem to have started sneezing occasionally, closely followed by my monkey echo, and I wonder if that's a sign that my allergy medications are wearing off? Of course, with the number of times I've been in the water, it could just be that I'm getting a cold, and that's definitely the explanation I'd prefer. All I need is to go into anaphylactic shock here on Planet X!
Anyway, as we work away together, making spears and the like, I watch Jack making a bow and arrows. I can't help thinking back to the last time I saw him do this, when we visited the Nox world, and my heart sinks slightly. For the first time, I wonder about Sam and Teal'c - I guess I haven't had the time or the emotional stability to consider whether they made it back okay before now.
Jack glances up at me, and instantly seems to know what I'm thinking.
"I wanted to ask you, Daniel," he begins, and it's clear that he's trying to distract me, "how did you find me anyway? Not that I'm complaining 'bout your timing..."
Ack. I knew he'd want to know this, and now I've got to think of a way to put this without it sounding quite as crazy as it actually is.
"Er... well..." I begin.
'Quit stalling, Jackson,' I tell myself, 'if he's going to make fun, it'll happen whether you tell him now or later.'
"Itwasthemonkeys..." I garble, and look back down at the spear I'm currently constructing.
Suddenly anything seems a lot more fascinating than seeing Jack's face when he realises how flaky that must make me, and how close he really came to not being here any more.
After a moment, when Jack hasn't said anything, I venture a glance in his direction - he's hunched over the bow he's making, but he speaks then, without looking up at me.
"The monkeys." Not a question, a statement.
I can't bear it. Even if he laughs in my face, I need to say it.
"I know it sounds..."
"Crazy?" he supplies, when I hesitate.
"...crazy," I continue, "but I'd swear that one of them led me to where you were."
"Daniel. Of all the wacked-out theories I've ever heard you come out with," Jack says, looking up at me and grinning slightly, "this has to be one of the best."
"If you say so, Jack."
I hesitate before playing my trump card.
"So how did I happen to find you just in time, then?"
'Aha!' I think, triumphantly, as I watch Jack's grin waver slightly. 'Gotcha!'
No answer. Jack is concentrating on the bow again, saying nothing. The elation I feel for having out-thought him is being taken over by a thin sliver of concern that is widening in my heart now.
"Jack?" Nothing. "Jack?"
No response again, so I dump the spear I've been working on and go over to where he's sitting. My heart is pounding as I reach his side, a cold hand seems to be gripping my stomach.
As I reach Jack, he puts aside the bow with one hand, and the other reaches out towards me. Wrapping his fingers in the material of my jacket, Jack pulls me over towards him, so that I land half on top of him. He kisses me passionately then, his free hand wrapping itself into my hair, our tongues duelling.
After a few moments of this, when he lets me up for air again, still with a firm grip on my jacket, he's smiling again, and I find myself smiling back, my former concern evaporated.
"However it happened, Daniel," he says, "I'm just glad you did."
We seem to settle then into an easy routine. We have everything we need for the moment - food, water, shelter, and even the monkeys for company, whether we like it or not. In some ways, I'm happier than I can recall being for a long time.
Jack gives me frequent demonstrations of how much he loves me, and if he doesn't say it all that often, well, who am I to complain? I'm better at saying how I feel about things, I guess, but even I struggle with getting the words out.
It's not like I've had lots of practice myself - Shar'e was a matter of fact kind of woman, the product of the harsh environment she was raised in, and a true child of her culture. I was her husband, and for her that was enough - if I told her I loved her, often her only response would be to blush, especially if we were in company, so gradually those words became less important for me, I guess.
But that was different. I was comfortable on Abydos, I felt accepted there, a real part of things, but never truly loved. Maybe I need the words more than I like to admit to myself?
I'm trying not to think too much about the future. It all seems uncertain - how easily one of us could fall ill, or be badly injured and the other be left alone is something I really don't want to contemplate. Some times I wake in the middle of the night, and only seeing Jack silhouetted by the campfire reassures me enough to sleep again. I'm worried for him, and worried for myself.
I haven't told him any of this. I want him to think I'm okay, that I'm not so scared any more, but that fear lurks still, in the corner of my mind, just waiting for the opportunity to jump out and ambush me when I least expect it. So, I try to keep cheerful. Jack seems happy. Isn't that enough to be going on with? I'm getting restless though.
There must be more to this planet than the castle, and the river. We've seen no trace of whoever built the castle in the first place. Apart from the monkeys, there don't seem to be any sentient life-forms here (and I know Jack would argue about the monkeys, so I haven't broached any of my theories about them with him yet). Outside of our own small domain, we have no idea what there is on this planet.
Maybe it's time we found out?
Daniel is getting restless already.
What was that I was thinking about being glad to see his spirit returning? The man can, and will, drive me up a wall - and back down again. Hell, he even thinks he's hiding it. He keeps glancing at me out of the corner of his eyes. Does he really think I don't notice?
Unfortunately for my peace of mind, this is also part of why I fell in love with him. His endlessly questing, always questioning mind, that amazing, brilliant intellect, that extraordinary sense of wonder and excitement that he manages to hold onto no matter what happens. Dear God, may he never lose that. Sometimes, he even manages to make me feel younger, more alive. Sometimes, seeing the universe through his eyes is the most precious gift I've ever received.
Ahh, Danny. What you do to me.
But not tonight. Tomorrow we can talk about further exploration of this planet of ours. Believe it or not, I, too, want to know more about what's out there. Maybe not for the same reasons as you. I'm thinking more about reconn - knowing what's out there before it sneaks up on you and bites you on the butt. I'm getting tired of feeling like the universe's personal punching bag. Time to take some control of the situation. We can use this location as a home base; it's as good as any other. Better, perhaps, because we've got water, food, and friendly wildlife.
One of the little critters leaps up my back and perches on my shoulder, chattering loudly. Make that *very friendly* wildlife. I recognize this one, he's been staring at me all day. Looks like Daniel's not the only one who's been adopted. I turn and stare into his black-ringed eyes, and he (or so I'm assuming) grins cheekily at me. He's got a tuft of black hair sticking up over his left ear, which is how I recognized him, and I do have to admit that he's rather cute. I hear chuckling behind me, and I turn to glare at Daniel.
"Looks like you've made a friend," he says.
"Yeah, guess so," I respond dryly before turning to finish patting down our makeshift sleeping quarters.
I have plans for those tonight. But Daniel has other things on his mind, though not for much longer, I hope.
"So, are you going to name him?" he demands, still chuckling softly.
I sigh, standing upright and looking as put-upon as I can. Turning my head, again, I look at the little critter again. He's wrapped his tail around my neck, and appears to be quite comfortably settled on my shoulder.
"Yeah - his name is Nosey," I reply.
He blinks at me, then suddenly, I swear, he grins approvingly at me. I blink back, then shake my head. Daniel's bizarre theory about the monkeys helping him save me aside, they are just monkeys. They might be as smart as dogs, though, and I've heard stories about dogs saving people before, so I suppose...
Well, I'm certainly not going to admit that to Daniel. It'd only encourage him further, and one weird theory per day is plenty. Daniel is still amused, which is fine. It's great to see a smile on his face for a change. I hope I can manage to keep it there.
We eat a bit more of the pig-deer, and hand quite a bit of it over to the monkeys. Even in the cold water, it's not going to stay fresh for long. The last thing we need is the local equivalent of food poisoning. So add to tomorrow's duty roster another hunting expedition. Together this time, though.
Night falls, the twin moons rising. I can tell now, that one is waxing while the other wanes. Daniel is sitting on the edge of the water, on our rock, gazing upwards. I climb up to sit down besides him.
"Berry for your thoughts," I offer.
He turns, startled, and stares at me. I put my hand out between us, a few semi-crushed berries staining my palm.
"Uh, no thanks," he replies.
"You sure?" I ask, popping one into my mouth. Damn if these don't make a great after dinner cocktail. Dessert and wine all in one.
"Don't you think that you might want to avoid them?" he asks. "They got you pretty drunk yesterday."
"Hey - I'm over the drinking age, last I looked," I retort. Then I grin at him. "It's just a question of moderating your intake." He looks at me suspiciously, then returns my smile.
"I suppose." He takes one out of my hand and pops it into his mouth. Nosey reaches around me and grabs one also.
"Hey," I shout. "Get your own!"
Daniel bursts out laughing as I try to shoo the critter away. The monkey chirps at me loudly, imitates my hand motions, then finally turns and races back into the forest. Good. He was not part of my plans for tonight. Turning back to Daniel, I pick up one of the berries and press it up to Daniel's lips. He accepts it, darting his tongue out to lick at my fingers and my pulse instantly speeds up.
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" he asks, slyly, lowering his lashes over his eyes, then peering up at me through them. What was left of the blood in my head rushes straight to my groin.
I didn't know he had that in him. Where'd my shy, geeky archaeologist go? Where'd this sexy, seductive stranger come from? He's still got my Daniel's looks, the sweep of red-highlighted brown hair over the forehead, accentuating the curve of his cheekbones, the full mouth, the amazing blue eyes. He's abandoned his glasses already, leaving no barriers between our eyes. I could drown in his right now, happily.
Moving gracefully, he picks up one of the berries from my hand and lifts it towards my mouth. I accept it, wrapping my lips around his fingers, the sweet tang of the berry exploding on my tongue, mixed with the flavor of Daniel himself. I stroke the tips of his fingers with my tongue, then pull my lips off his fingers, slowly. His body tenses, his mouth parting. His tongue darts out to lick at his lips, and I'm lost.
Leaning forward, I claim those lips, growling deep in my throat as he meets me, his mouth an open furnace on mine. We kiss long and deep, not touching in any other way, savoring it. The fury of the previous night is gone, burned away, leaving a smoldering bed of coals. We can take our time now, explore each other to the fullest, and my entire body pulses with desire at the thought.
We separate to breathe, and I take the moment to get to my feet. Offering Daniel my hand, I tilt my head towards our makeshift shelter. His lips curve in another smile, though this one is not the familiar Daniel openness, this one is knowing and seductive and promising. That promise hits me hard and I shiver. He takes my hand and I pull him upward. We meet for another kiss, swift and certain, and then I'm leading him down off the rock and into our leafy bed.
Am I getting paranoid?
I'm sure Jack is watching me, when he doesn't think I'm looking at him. Things feel a little awkward between us, as we've fallen into a pattern together which gives us a measure of security, I guess. I wonder if he's feeling the same way? We are stuck here, together, so maybe it's time I took the lead for once?
After all, when I think back, till now our sexual experiences here together have all been related to trauma - first the aftermath of my nightmare, then Jack nearly dying. It's time for a positive one, but I know I need to choose my moment.
As I sit here, wool-gathering by the camp-fire, I can see Jack putting the final touches to our new sleeping arrangements, as the light starts to dwindle. That's a relief, we might get a decent night's sleep for once....
One of the ever-present monkeys leaps onto his back and scampers up to his shoulder, then sits chittering in his ear. Unexpectedly, Jack doesn't brush it off, just turns and looks at it - grinning in an almost-human way, the monkey stares back at him.
Wandering over to where Jack is sitting with his new friend, I can't help laughing at the picture presented there. Hearing me laugh, Jack turns his head in my direction and glares at me, but I can tell there's no real force behind the glare.
"Looks like you've made a friend," I say.
'I'm glad I'm not the only one the monkeys like,' I think, grinning to myself, 'or Jack would be coming out with cracks about us being kindred spirits...'
"Yeah, guess so."
"So, are you going to name him?" I push, trying unsuccessfully to stifle my laughter at Jack's deadpan response.
Sighing, Jack gets up, trying not to make it obvious that he's doing so carefully, so as not to dislodge his new friend from where he's perching.
"Yeah - his name is Nosey," Jack replies, looking at the creature in question, which really seems quite taken with him!
As night falls, I sit and watch the moons rising, seated on one of the rocks at the edge of the water. Well, that's my excuse, anyway. I'm making plans to seduce Jack, each more fantastic than the next and, I realise with a sinking heart, each more likely to get me laughed at than elicit the response I'm looking for.
Why does it have to be so difficult? Should it be?
As I'm deep in thought, plotting out exactly what I'll say to sweep Jack off his feet in a tidal wave of passion, a voice comes from beside me, and I'm startled back to reality.
"Berry for your thoughts."
I turn and find that Jack's sitting beside me - as I stare at him, he puts his hand out, offering me a few of those damn berries.
"Uh, no thanks," I reply, glad of the lack of light. My face feels like it's burning up. There I was plotting a seduction scene or three, and the object of those is sneaking up on me.
'Good thing I don't talk to myself,' I think.
"You sure?" Jack says, and for a moment I wonder if he's reading my mind. Then I realise he's still talking about the berries.
"Don't you think that you might want to avoid them?" I ask him, dragging my mind back to the matter in hand. "They got you pretty drunk yesterday."
'Not to mention amorous,' I think, 'not that that's a bad thing...'
"Hey - I'm over the drinking age, last I looked," Jack replies, grinning at me. That grin. Every time I see it, it does something strange to me. More than any other expression he has, that grin of Jack's sends the blood rushing from my brain to, well, other places. "It's just a question of moderating your intake," Jack says, still on about the berries.
I'm not convinced, as they made me a little queasy last time, but maybe that was what you get for eating them on an empty stomach? I consider my options, think about what I'd like to happen tonight and realise that I may well need a little Dutch courage.
"I suppose," I say, reaching out and taking one of the slightly-squashed berries from Jack's hand. As my fingertips brush his palm, I'm sure I feel a tingle running up my arm, and I put the berry in my mouth quickly, hoping Jack didn't notice the way I jerked my hand away. Fortunately, it's then that our new court jester decides that he too wants some of the berries.
"Hey, get your own!" Jack shouts, trying to shoo the monkey away.
Glad of the distraction, I start to laugh, louder and louder, as I watch Jack's movements being imitated by the monkey, before it skitters away into the forest. Jack turns back to me, all thoughts of the monkey's antics forgotten. Lifting his hand, Jack presses one of the berries against my mouth, and I know that the time has come to make my move.
'Oh God,' I think, 'I hope you know what you're doing....'
Taking a deep breath to quell the way I surely must be trembling, I open my mouth, then, as Jack places the berry between my lips, I let my tongue curl out, taking the berry and lingering over the juice on Jack's fingertips. I can almost see Jack's pupils dilate as my tongue touches his fingers, despite the fact that we're in the moonlight.
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" I whisper, trying to look at him seductively.
I smile to myself when Jack swallows nervously. I reach out and take one of the last few berries from Jack's hand, never breaking eye-contact for a moment. Jack's eyes are so dark, the pupils dilated fully now, that they appear to be pools of inky blackness, rather than the warm chocolate brown they are at other times.
Lifting the berry towards Jack's lips, he comes to meet me, wrapping his lips round my fingers, sucking the berry from them. His tongue is caressing my fingertips, suckling gently on them until, reluctantly, he lets me go.
As my hand drops to my lap again, I lick my lips, a nervous gesture I've always had, and that seems to spur Jack into action. Even as my tongue is returning from its journey, Jack's mouth is pressing on mine, his tongue following mine.
This is nothing like the frenzy of our earlier experiences. This kissing has a gentleness to it, as only our mouths are touching - there is a certain chasteness to it that reassures me. I won't be swept away this time, so there is room for building something real between us. Not something solely based on passion and desire, but something based on love and a deeper kind of friendship than I'd ever dared to dream I could have with this man.
Jack pulls away, we both need to breathe, and for an instant I feel somehow bereft. Jack stands then, offering me his hand to pull me up from where I'm still seated, to lead me to our new bed.
Even in the moonlight, I can see the mischief lurking in Jack's eyes. He's pulling me down with him onto the bed he was making earlier - it's deceptively soft and I sink into it with a sigh that I can't quite suppress. Not that I'm tired. Oh no.
Any trace of tiredness I might have had was sucked right out of me when Jack's mouth touched my fingers. The only part of me that seems not to be working at full capacity is my brain, but that's not a problem - somehow I think tonight I'll be working on instinct.
Jack's leaning over me now, that mischievous smile playing across his lips, and I reach up to him, lacing my fingers round the back of his neck and pulling him down to join me. I'm rewarded by a low moan, the kind of sound you'd find it difficult to imagine such an apparently straight-laced military type ever making, but I know that Jack is full of surprises.
He'd surprised me, after all, by declaring that he loved me, and now I intend to surprise him. If I can.
For a long moment, we just lie there, my hand still resting on the back of Jack's neck, while the other traces his strong jaw. He always looks so determined, even when he's asleep, but there's a gentleness to him too, that the strength in his face belies. Soon I can't wait any longer, and inching closer, my lips follow the path my hand had taken, planting the lightest of kisses along Jack's jaw-line, and up to his ear. He moans again, as I suck his ear-lobe and I file that response away for further study.
I'm suddenly aware of movement, as Jack's hand begins to inch its way under my t-shirt and across the skin on my back. It feels as though he's drawing a flaming brand across my skin as his fingertips trace their way up my spine - I shiver then, I can't help it, and the moan is replaced by a low chuckle.
Looks like I'm not the only one exploring.
Working my way back down Jack's jaw, and on to his neck, I start to suck and bite gently on the sensitive skin there, feeling his stubble scratch gently against the skin on my cheek.
Suddenly I feel the cool air strike my groin, and, without looking down, I can feel Jack freeing me from the confines of my fatigues - he shoves my trousers and my pants gently down my legs, his hand instantly returning to stroke the hardness that's developing there. His touch nearly makes me come, as I almost leap to attention when his fingers brush across me.
Another chuckle, this one more a growl.
Concentrating on working my way down Jack's neck and onto his shoulder with my mouth, sucking and licking as I go, I slide one of my hands down Jack's stomach, in search of the waist-band of his fatigues.
Jack arches up as I strike a sensitive spot on his collar-bone and I latch onto the button of his fatigues at the same moment. My fingers work at the button, but it frustrates me for a moment, then suddenly it's open and I slide my hand further down into the warmth that's hiding there. No pants.
'No surprise there,' I think.
My fingers wrap round the shaft, and Jack bucks again under me, muttering something unintelligible. As I run my hand up and down his length, Jack moans into my ear, and I feel the warmth and stiffness within my grip increasing. Running my thumb along the underside, I reach the tip, and stroke my thumb across the wetness there.
"Daniel!" Jack yells, the first coherent sound for quite a while, his body spasming at my touch.
'Not yet,' I think, and reluctantly remove my mouth from Jack's shoulder, kissing my way down across his t-shirt clad torso till I reach his groin. He's almost whimpering now, his hand still wrapped around me, his fingers stroking me, but I need to do this before anything else happens.
I nestle my face into Jack's groin, nipping gently at the base of the shaft, before running my mouth down its length. I remove my hand, which has been stroking the underside, taking the length into my mouth.
After a few moments, it's all over - Jack arches again, screaming out my name as he comes and then flops back onto the bed. Letting his now flaccid length go, I lay my head on Jack's stomach, wiping my lips with one hand, the other still stroking him. I rest there, waiting for him to recover.
After a long silence, Jack speaks at last.
"Daniel..." he croaks, his voice hoarse again from screaming.
I smile, knowing Jack can feel the movement against his stomach, and settle down again to wait my turn.
He is sweet silken strength in my arms. I fall into the kiss, savoring him, then drift aside, tasting the sweat-salted surface of his skin. His mouth moves over me in turn, suckling on my neck, biting at the pulse in my neck, then drawing my earlobe inside. He plays it with his tongue and an astonished moan rumbles out of my chest. I roll onto my side, pulling him with me, pressing our bodies together, entangling our legs.
Now, at last, I can get my hands under his T-shirt. He sighs under my touch, his skin heating my palms. Muscles bunch and move under fine smooth skin. I stroke him, learning each inch of his back and shoulders, tracing the length of his spine.
As my fingers spread across the small of his back, his mouth moves down to the edge of my collarbone and fastens onto me. That pressured heat sends a line of fire racing from that contact point down to my groin; my cock hardens against the confines of my pants, my hips thrust against his, involuntary and demanding.
Soon his hands are there, stripping me free of the cloth, leaving me open to the night air and to him. I think I sob out his name. I'm not sure I could make a coherent sound if my life depends on it. This Daniel, my Daniel, is so utterly certain, so very seductive, and I can only abandon myself to him. There is no one else I could ever trust like this; no one else I could ever dream of wanting this much.
And suddenly I need to touch him too, as he is touching me. His hands feel like they are everywhere, and I want the same. I want all of him. I reach for his pants, and briefly, I think he's going to refuse me, but then he's moving with me. We free ourselves of our remaining clothes and finally we're pressing bare skin together. Every point of contact between our bodies is a separate fire, burning away at my sense of self, melding us together.
Then he's kissing his way down my body, and I know what it is in his mind. The concept nearly blows my mind. The reality is more than I can handle. All I can do is lay there, a helpless mass of flesh, my hands still caressing him, my hips arching up and falling down, his mouth burning its way into my very soul. He demands it of me, and all I can do is give it to him. Crying out his name, I give myself to him.
When I can breath again, I call out his name.
He smiles against my stomach. I take hold of his arms and lever him up towards me until we can kiss again. I can taste myself on his tongue, which sends an erotic shiver back through my exhausted body.
'Oh Daniel, what you do to me!' I think, and then I know. And it isn't even hard to say.
"Take me," I whisper against his lips. He stills, then lifts up to look down at me. His eyes are wide, dilated with desire and surprise. "I want you inside of me," I urge him.
Excitement, desire, even a sliver of fear lancing through me. I've never even considered offering this to anyone. Now - it is the only thing I can think of.
"Are you sure?" he whispers, his voice rough, bared raw with need.
I answer him with another kiss, sucking his tongue into my mouth. His body sinks back down on mine, covering me with his weight. I spread my legs wide, settling him in between them, wrapping my limbs around his back. We stay like that for a while, kissing, his hot, hard cock imprisoned between our bellies. My own, spent as it is, begins to quiver again.
'Oh Daniel, what you do to me.'
Then, finally, he's ready. He shifts against me, pulling free, and I let him go. He rummages through our piles of clothes, managing to find something I didn't know he still had. Sunscreen? Oh Daniel - ever considerate.
I hadn't thought that far ahead. Damn good thing he did. I think my brain has turned into a pile of mush. He looks back at me, and I can feel the pressure of his gaze even through the darkness. I don't need to see him to feel him. Reaching out one hand to him, I spread myself out, silently encouraging him.
And he's there. Hands and mouth everywhere. By the time he begins to touch me there I'm a soundless, mindless mass of flesh. But this gets through. A tender, but determined, slick finger probes at my body and I give way to it with a gasp. He strokes me, his voice rising into the night, a steady blanket of loving sound. I don't catch the meaning, just the sensation of it. I fall into it, into him, as he stretches me, caresses me, touches me deeper and deeper.
He stops for a moment and I sob out a protest. He shushes me with a kiss, and then he's there. Oh God, he's big and hard and hot and I feel as though he's going to push his way up through my heart itself. Piercing me like Cupid's Arrow itself. I can't breathe... And then his slippery fingers squeeze on my re-hardened cock, he shifts ever so slightly, and twin bolts of ecstasy shoot through my body.
I must have screamed. I clutch at him, clinging to him, begging him for more, and he gives it to me. I can feel every pulse of his body as he fills me again and again. I meet his thrusts desperately, urging him onward, digging my fingers into his back. He pushes me even faster and I shout for more. I need him. I want him.
"I love you!"
My body convulses in a white explosion and his voice echoes mine in the midst of it all.
"I love you!"
I come to awareness abruptly, tossed up like a piece of flotsam on a wave. Jack stirs against me, his arms tightening around my waist. I close my eyes and settle back down into his embrace, even as my mind chases after the fragments of the dream that had disturbed me. All I can catch are bits and pieces, images and emotions. Fear, mostly, colored by grief. I am familiar with those emotions - too familiar.
But the present is too strong a reality. My body, though tensed by the nightmare, still luxuriates in the aftermath of the night. Jack's presence is so strong. He holds me emotionally even as he cradles me physically. I run my hand over the softly-furred arms that enclose me, loving the feel of them. His breath warms the nape of my neck, sending tiny shivers down my spine. I sigh, and the last tendrils of the dream shatter and disintegrate. All that is left is Jack and I, together, and that is all I need.
He gave me an extraordinary gift last night. Put himself in my hands and trusted me to take care of us both. I think I met that responsibility. No, I know I did, but not alone. In truth, we did it together.
And Jack would probably tell me, if he could hear my thoughts now, that I'm being horribly maudlin. He'd probably use the word 'mushy' or something similar, and he'd get that look of distaste on his face he gets sometimes, especially when we're faced with a weird native custom on some alien world. But that's OK.
My Jack is a man of action, not words. Oh, he can use them, quite efficiently when he wants to. That sense of humor of his is a lot sharper than most people would believe. In fact, he's a lot sharper than most people would think. Still, I can keep that little secret to myself if it makes him happy to play the dumb soldier. All that matters is that he can't fool me.
It's tempting to wake him up for an encore of last night. Or even better yet, to see if I can get him to return the favor. The idea of having all that tender strength thrust deep inside of me makes my entire body tingle, heat pooling in my groin. But the sun is dawning, streaming streaks of light through the jumble of branches that make our roof, and I can already hear the monkeys chattering nearby. My body, as deeply as it desires Jack, also has other needs. I have to relieve myself and find water and food. My stomach growls, and suddenly I realize that Jack is now awake.
"Hungry?" he asks, rubbing his bristled chin against my shoulder. It feels a bit like a scrub brush, rough and tickling at once. I roll over in his arms and greet him with a kiss.
"Good morning, Jack," I say into his mouth.
"Mornin' Daniel," he replies. We kiss again, then he slowly pulls away. "Sorry," he says, "but I've really gotta take a leak."
"Yeah, me too," I concur.
So we make it a race for the river, a contest to see who can piss farther, and a very cold, very quick, but playful bath. Too bad the water isn't warmer. I could think of things to do in it. Once we recover to some semblance of cleanliness, we eat what's left of the pig-deer, sharing again with our little friends, then follow up with a few of the berries. They appear to have less of an effect on a full stomach, and we are eating less of them, so neither of us gets tipsy.
Jack insists on cleaning up our lop-sided little shelter, refreshing the leafbed that we had slept upon. Then he sits down on the rock that I now think of as 'our rock' and stares downriver.
I move to sit down beside him, and he glances in my direction.
"So, any ideas on what to do now?" he asks.
I'm full of ideas, as usual, but he has caught me by surprise. Things have changed here. Before, while he would consult me, and on rare occasions even follow my advice, he was still very much the leader. Jack is always in command. But now he was treating me as an equal, seemingly willing to defer to me. So it takes me a moment to gather my thoughts. I want to get this right, to be worthy of the trust he is placing in me.
"I'd like to do some more exploring," I tell him, gesturing around me. "We've only seen a very small part of this planet so far."
He nods, taking me more seriously than I had expected.
"Yeah. I'd like to get to higher ground, see if we can get a better view of the area," he answers. I must look surprised or confused, because he grins unabashedly at me. "Come on, Daniel, it's SOP. We need to know the lay of the land. I'd rather know about any potential problems before they hit us, if that's at all possible."
He's right, of course, even though that wasn't my motivation in the least. I squint at him through my glasses, and I suddenly get the sense that he knows full well that I wasn't thinking about doing reconnoitering in the military sense, I simply wanted to go exploring. I can't really explain why that excites me so, why I feel this pull to investigate and learn and explore everything and anything around me. I'm just built that way, always have been.
I guess Jack's probably figured that out by now. I shouldn't be surprised by that he has. And, thank goodness, he's willing to play along with me for now. He isn't always so amenable. So I smile at him, trying to express my gratitude that he's not going to argue with me. He grins back, gets to his feet, and taps me on the shoulder.
"Come on, Danny Boy, let's go take a better look at this planet of ours."
Even as do our morning chores, bathing, eating, refreshing our bed, I can feel Daniel's restlessness. His eyes keep pulling away, searching around us. Part of me wants to grab him and hold him still, the rest is picking up on his itchiness. Frankly, I'm beginning to get a bit curious myself. Somehow, over the past glorious night, we've made a strange sort of home of this spot on the river. Now it is time to see what else this world has to offer.
We're stuck here for the rest of our lives. We might as well take what we can get out of it.
Daniel settles down on our rock, pensively gazing out over the rushing water, though even in rest, he seems at motion. His hands run through his hair, smooth out his rumpled jacket, pick at the surface of the rock. I move up and sit down beside him, staying quiet for a moment until he's ready to look at me, and then I ask.
"So, any ideas on what to do now?" I don't think he yet understands that we're in this together completely. We're no longer part of a military team with me as leader and him as scientific advisor. We're just 'us' - Daniel and Jack - alone in a strange world that somehow we must make our own. I need every ounce of that blazing intellect of his, that intense inner strength, right here with me.
Obviously, I did startle him a bit. His eyes widen and I can just about see the wheels turning behind them. He's kicked into full gear now. His mouth is pursed in concentration, his gaze both intently here and very far away, all at once. Amazing how he does that...
"I'd like to do some more exploring," he finally says, slicing one elegant hand through the air. "We've only seen a very small part of this planet so far." Then he looks at me, suddenly hesitant again, waiting for my response.
It's all I can do not to laugh aloud. Oh, Danny, don't you realize that I know you by now. That I knew what you wanted already and was just waiting for you to say it. How can someone so extraordinary have so little confidence in himself? In us as a team? I guess there are still a few things that I can teach you. Hey - I must admit that it's nice to know that my 'advanced' age still retains a few minor privileges.
"Yeah. I'd like to get to higher ground, see if we can get a better view of the area," I reply. He seems stunned by my easy agreement. The smile I've been trying to hide bursts out of me as I continue to point out the obvious. "Daniel, it's SOP. We need to know the lay of the land. I'd rather know about any potential problems before they hit us, if that's at all possible."
He squints at me, and suddenly I'm getting that full Danny-investigates-something-really-fascinating look. Hell, I'm not that old, I can't help thinking. Usually, he reserves that look for things aged at least one thousand years. But before I can voice that thought, or any other, he's abruptly smiling at me. OK - that's good enough. We've got a plan, such as it is.
Getting to my feet, I tap him on the shoulder.
"Come on, Danny boy," I urge lightly, "let's go take a better look at this planet of ours."
He's on his feet an instant later, and all of that excitement and energy is bursting out of him openly. The monkeys seem to react to it, they cluster around him as he gathers up his half of our meager supplies and weapons. I shoulder my bow, grab a sharpened staff, tuck a handful of berries into a jacket pocket. One or two for the road. Nosey leaps up on my shoulder and I hand him one too. He chirps at me, accepts it, and pops it into his mouth. I grin at him, then move to put him back on the ground. We're about ready to go.
Nosey doesn't like that. He leaps up, lands on the top of my head, and digs little claws into my scalp.
"OW! Hell! Get offa me!" I shout. The little bastard just chirps wildly, clinging on tenaciously as I swat at him. His tail comes down and wraps snuggly around my neck. 'Sonuvabitch!'
And of course, Daniel is laughing so hard he can barely breathe, Sneezy clinging to his right shoulder and making nearly the same sound.
"This is not funny!" I grate out. "Get him off me!"
Daniel simply shakes his head, his face turning red with amusement as he continues to laugh.
"Sorry, Jack, but I think we're going to have to let them come with us," he says. Nosey and Sneezy both chatter wildly in response. I come to a halt, drop my hands, and try very, very hard not to do something I'll regret. In particular, I try to avoid imagining how ridiculous I look with furball here on the top of my head.
Daniel's staring firmly at me. His mind is obviously made up. I sigh unhappily.
"All right, the little monsters can come along. But they'd better not get in the way and I am not responsible for their safety." Daniel smiles at me, then turns his head to look directly at Sneezy.
"That's his way of saying it's OK for you to come with us," he says.
For crying out loud, Daniel, they can't understand you. They're just monkeys, I think. Daniel frowns at me, somehow reading my expression and I sigh and spread my hands wide, shrugging my shoulders. Nosey takes that as a sign to drop down from the crown of my head to my shoulder, and I give him a fierce glare. In response, he outright smirks at me. I know that look, even on a monkey's face.
All right, I give. I refuse to discuss it any further.
"Let's go," I order gruffly, pointing upstream. "If we can get up high, we should be able to get a decent view of the surrounding land."
Daniel is smart enough not to argue with me, given my present mood, and anyway, I think he's just delighted to be on the move, exploring. So off we go, the four of us, trekking along the edge of the river as it winds its way up the mountainside.
By mid-day, we've covered significant ground. It is getting steeper and rockier as we go, and we'd been reduced to crawling across rocks, clinging to tree branches, on more than one occasion. The best luck we have had so far is the discovery of another edible fruit. This one looks rather like a pear, but it tastes rather like a tart fruit punch. Good enough for me, and Daniel seems to appreciate it better than my berries.
We stop to make a meal of it just below a sharp incline. The water cascades over it steeply, forming a small waterfall. Sunlight gleames through the curtain of water, glittering brightly. A slight breeze whistles through the canopy of leaves, sending shadows chasing each other across the rocks and water surface. Nosey and Sneezy race up into the tree above our heads while Daniel and I sit and munch, shoulder-to-shoulder.
"Hey look!" Daniel shouts.
I follow his pointing hand, and sure enough, right across the wide river from us, are three animals of a type new to me. They are certainly a lot prettier than the pig-deer, and definitely smaller. In fact, they look like nothing more than extremely large rabbits. They gaze at us for a moment, then scatter back into the trees, even as I reach for my bow and arrow. Too late. Oh well, it would have been difficult to get across the river anyway.
Daniel looks like he's about to protest, but he stops himself. He knows just as I do that we're not in a position to be picky about sources of food.
"We'll do some hunting later," I warn him. He bites at his lower lip, but nods, accepting the inevitable. I reach over and squeeze him on the shoulder and he leans his head over to press a juicy kiss onto the back of my hand. Suddenly, there's nothing in the world but the two of us, joined by that thin contact of hand and shoulder and lips.
'Roooaaaarrr,' something sounds off in the forest nearby, toppling us both out of our spell. I land on my butt; Daniel spins around, searching the trees with anxious eyes.
"Uhn, what was that?" he asks.
"I don't know," I reply honestly, as I ready my bow, positioning an arrow. Daniel is echoing my motions now, lifting his spear/staff and settling into a ready crouch. Above us, the two monkeys are screaming now. One of them jumps down between us, bounces twice, then scurries back up the giant tree. Daniel and I stay where we are, gazing urgently around us as the whatever-it-is sounds off again. Closer.
Again, one of the monkeys jumps down between us. This time, he grabs at both of our arms, one then the other, then scurries back up into the tree. Daniel's eyes follow it, then he turns to me, and somehow I just know what he's going to say before he says it.
We're finally off exploring and I'm actually enjoying myself. This feels almost like things are back to normal, well as normal as they ever get around Jack and me. For a brief while I can simply concentrate on the pleasure of being out in the universe with Jack, just the two of us, on a private expedition. We are able to move at our own speed, stop whenever I want to look more closely at something, take a deep breath of the clean air, or grab a kiss. OK - that's not 'normal' yet, but I'm hopeful that we're heading in that direction.
My happiness carries me through even the most difficult of spots. I almost fall into the river once, but Jack catches me. He holds me close and kisses me deeply, then rubs my nose with his. I laugh and place a kiss on its tip, then take his hand and pull him after me across the slippery rocks. We make it the rest of the way together, regaining more solid footing.
We're getting up pretty high now, or so it seems. The trees are still too thick for us to get much of a view. Some of the trees, in fact, are nearly a yard-wide, with branches so large that I think Jack and I could walk across them side-by-side. I don't mention it as a possibility yet. Jack seems to be sharing my good mood, but I'm not sure how he'd take to the idea of tree climbing. Well, maybe I'll suggest it later.
The monkeys locate another edible fruit, and this one I like much better than Jack's berries. It reminds me of a pear, though its taste is much more tart. We pick a few and settle down on a big rock close to a small waterfall. Jack sprawls out, sunbathing, while I continue to study our surroundings.
Movement catches my eyes, and I sit upright. A flash of white peeks out through the trees on the opposite side of the river, and I call out to Jack.
"Hey, look!" He jerks upward and looks where I'm pointing. There they are, three large animals that look like white rabbits, only much, much bigger than any I've seen before. They have large ears that stand up on top of their heads, bright red noses, and whiskers, and short tails. One raises up on its hind legs, it front paws aimed in our directions.
I feel Jack moving beside me, and I glance quickly in his direction. He is lifting his bow, yanking an arrow out of the makeshift quiver on his back. I turn back to look at the rabbits, but they're already gone. I can't help but feel relieved. Eating the pig-deer was one thing, eating rabbits, even really big rabbits, is another.
I glare at Jack, about to protest, but I stop myself. I know what he'd say, and in the end he's right. While I don't think I could bring myself to eat one of the rabbits now, my stomach is reasonably full. If I was as hungry as I was the first night on this planet - well, let's just say that my queasiness lessens in proportion to my need for food.
I see the same knowledge in Jack's expression as he puts down the bow and arrow.
"We'll do some hunting later," he says. I nod my acceptance.
Jack reaches out to squeeze my shoulder, silently thanking me for not arguing and providing support. The touch of his hand in such a loving way is still novel, exciting, erotic. I drop my head and rub my cheek against the back of his hand, then press a kiss against it. I turn my eyes in his direction and he's staring at me intensely, his eyes deepened to a fiery ebony. I take a deep breath, my entire body caught up in the spell of desire we've created between us...
A brutal animal roar echoes through the air, throwing us both off balance.
"Uhh, what was that?" I ask, looking around me with suddenly suspicious eyes.
"I don't know," Jack replies, even as he re-arms himself. I follow suit, dropping to a crouch, ready to spring in any direction.
Jack's head is high, his nose held to the wind, even as it sounds again. Closer.
One of the monkeys drops down between us, obviously upset, then it jumps back up in the tree. Good, that's the best place for them now, until we've determined just how dangerous this whatever-it-is is. But the monkeys have other ideas. Again, one jumps down between us and this time it tugs on our sleeves before returning to its perch over our heads. I suddenly realize that it's trying to tell us something.
"Jack, maybe the monkeys have the right idea. Maybe we should get up in the tree," I suggest.
And there it is, as I had expected, Jack's look of total, blank disbelief. My stomach flip-flops in my belly as I gaze into his eyes, hoping to communicate my certainty. We need to get up there, now. I know this, but I don't have time to argue about it with him.
The roar sounds again, very close by, and the ground actually rumbles under our feet. Jack's eyes widen and he turns to point his loaded bow in that direction. The stupid, foolhardy, brave, idiot! Does he really think a couple of wooden arrows are going to stop something that big? Yelling out his name, I grab his arm and yank him towards the nearest low-laying branch.
"Come on!" I scream. "Get off the ground!"
Now he's not arguing with me. The branches of a nearby tree start to shake, the air is full of that horrible noise, and I can almost smell the monster. Together, we scramble up onto the wide branch, then shimmy up higher, and yet higher still. The tree is gigantic with multiple trunks reaching up into the sky. We aim for the top of the canopy and climb as far and as fast as we can.
The tree shakes and I grab onto the nearest branch for dear life. Jack shouts, and I look over my shoulder to find him doing the same thing. He swings his legs up to hold on with them as well as his arms, and I mimic his action. The beast below batters the tree again, and we find ourselves swinging in mid-air, clinging to the long, thick branches in the purest imitation of the primates we evolved from. The battle between the beast and the tree continues on, and there are moment when I'm terrified that the tree is going to lose. But finally, with an earth-shaking bellow, the monster gives up.
At least for the moment. It's still down there. I can smell it. But at least the tree is no longer shaking and we can make our way to a nice secure split in the trunk that we can sit on.
"What the hell is that thing?" Jack asks, hoarsely. All I can do is shrug my shoulders. I haven't the faintest idea and I'm not sure I want to find out. But Jack seems determined to do so. His jaw tightens as he looks up, around and down, then begins to move out one of the long branches of the tree.
"Be careful!" I call out after him. He waves back at me before disappearing among the leaves. My heart skips a beat, suddenly terrified for him, wishing he would just stay right here. Surely the thing will give up sooner or later. If anything happens to him...the minutes trickle by, each one slower than one before it.
Then, just as suddenly as he disappeared, he's back. He crawls over to me and sits down in our v-shaped perch.
"Looks like some cross between a mountain lion and a... a... well, I'm not really sure. It's big, though, and appears to be very hungry. We must smell good to it, because it's pacing down there, staring up into this tree, drooling. But the good news is that these trees form an amazing system of interlocked branches. I think we might be able to travel for quite a distance without having to touch ground." He grins, then looks up over our heads at Sneezy and Nosey who are quietly sitting on a smaller branch. "Looks like the little critters had the right idea after all."
"I told you so," I tell him, unable to resist it. He grimaces at me, then shakes his head. He reaches out to ruffle my hair affectionately, obviously unable to take offense at my words.
"And you'd think I'd learn to listen to you by now," he says. He chuckles wryly, then gazes around us. "Anyway - pick a direction, as long as it takes us away from the beasty, I don't really care."
We had been heading, generally, in an uphill direction, though I'm not sure how well that applies up here in the canopy. But we can still use the river as a guidepost. I point in the direction I believe is upstream and Jack nods, accepting my choice.
Sneezy and Nosey drop down beside us as though they understood our intentions and off we go again, this time more than twice our heights above the ground.
"Maybe we should get up into the tree," he suggests. Why did I know that was coming? Damn it Daniel, I am not climbing up a tree like a ... a monkey! We can handle this, we're armed and trained, and...
Holy shit! It sounds like a tank, only a living one. Suddenly the bow and arrow doesn't look quite so handy. I've got my knife, but I sure miss my gun. If only I hadn't lost it in that quicksand. But there's nothing I can do about that.
Damn! It's coming straight for us and Daniel is pulling on me, shouting. OK, OK, climb the tree. I'm with you. Go Daniel. GO! I'm right behind you. Climb!
The tree shakes, nearly knocking us both loose from our frantic grips on the branches. I barely manage to hold on. Gasping, clutching at a wavering tree limb, I look to Daniel. He's in much the same position as I am, but he's hanging in there. Literally. He meets my eyes, a connection flares between us, then we're both climbing again. Finally we locate a V-shaped split in a major trunk-line of the tree, big enough to hold us both. We settle in, reaching out to touch each other in silent reassurance. The shaking has finally stopped and the world quiets down.
Yet that thing is still down there. I can feel it. We may be safe up here, IF it can't climb, but I still don't know what it is, and that bugs me. I caught a glimpse of something huge and black, but that's all. We need more intel. I can't fight something I've never seen. Daniel and the monkeys are safe up here for the time being, so it's time to do a quick bit of recon.
Daniel doesn't like this idea. I catch the flare of alarm in his eyes as I begin to move away, across one of the main branches on this level. I wish I could reassure him, but there isn't time. The sooner I do this, the better. And believe me, I've learned my lesson. I'm not about to take any stupid risks. I'm just going to get a look at this beast from a safe distance and then get back to Daniel as fast as I can.
As I move through the trees, I find myself amazed at the size, strength and number of these massive trees. It's almost like an organic version of a city road system. I'm able to slide up and down levels, walk at length, turn corners. Amazing. But right now, I've got other concerns.
I get myself down just far enough to get a good look at the beasty below. From the front it looks somewhat like a massive, out-of-proportion mountain lion. Wide yellow eyes sit above a broad, whiskered nose and a large mouth out of which hang long curved fangs. Small ears stick out of the top of its head, which sits on huge shoulders. The front legs are a bit shorter than the back ones, and it seems to put most of its weight on its huge, muscular back haunches. Both sets of legs end, incongruously, in silvery-scaled claws. Out of its back end stretches a long tail coated with the same bright scales. That tail lashes around like a metallic whip, clanking against the rocks, burning at the tree trunks.
I'm downwind of it, deliberately, and it doesn't seem to notice me. It is still intent on the tree trunk that we had climbed up as well as our campsite. It sniffs the ground, then stares upward, the licks at the rock on which we had sat. Saliva pools in the corners of its mouth and drips down a rusty fang. It bellows again in obvious frustration and I rapidly decide that retreat is the better part of valor for the moment. Clambering back up the interlaced tree limbs, I rejoin Daniel in his high perch.
"Looks like some cross between a mountain lion and a... a... well, I'm not really sure," I try to explain. I'm not sure how to describe the beast, and in the end, it doesn't really matter. "It's big, though," I continue, "and appears to be very hungry. We must smell good to it, because it's pacing down there, staring up into this tree, drooling." I grimace at that thought. Ugh! Ending up as that thing's dinner is not on my plans for the near future and from Daniel's expression it isn't in his plans either. At least we've got an option.
"The good news is that these trees form an amazing system of interlocked branches. I think we might be able to travel for quite a distance without having to touch ground." I wave around us, then find myself smiling. Daniel's going to just love hearing this next admission from me. I look over our heads at our two simian companions and wryly admit that it "looks like the little critters had the right idea after all."
"I told you so," Daniel shoots right back at me. I knew he was going to say that. I make a face at him, but can't really maintain any annoyance. So instead, I simply shake my head and reach out to run my hand through his hair. After all, you'd think that I'd learn to listen to him by now. From the warmth of the smile he's now beaming at me, I must have verbalized that thought. Ah well... he deserves to know how important he is. I don't mind feeding his self-confidence on occasion. And this time, he had definitely been right. Still, there's no need to dwell on it.
"Anyway," I say, "pick a direction, as long as it takes us away from the beasty, I don't really care."
Daniel nods solemnly, gazes around him, then points in the same direction we had been traveling. Typical singlemindedness, but it's as good a choice as any other. At least it will take us out of range of the beast below.
The monkeys join us as we take off through the trees. It's a bit odd at first, literally walking on tree branches, but they are strong enough to support our weight handily. I find that I can hold onto nearby limbs as I walk, rather like holding onto a handrail on a stairway. Daniel moves along nimbly and I'm not doing so badly myself. I could get used to this form of covering ground. It's a lot easier than stumbling over those rocks.
However, after a while, the trees begin to thin out. It's mid-afternoon by now, and I'm beginning to consider the question of whether we should try to return to our base spot or spend the night up here somewhere. We've continued to use the river as a landmark, so we're not lost. Exactly. The biggest question is the location of the beast and whether it could locate us again.
"Hey, Jack, look!" Daniel shouts. I rush up towards him.
He's clinging precariously to the tip of an extended branch and I can barely squeeze up near him. He lays himself down across the limb, thus allowing me to stretch out on top of him. Under any other circumstances, I'd really enjoy exploring this position in more detail, however...
I see what he sees and I echo his gasp of amazement. We've come to the top of a jagged cliff overlooking the sea. I can only guess that we must be somewhere parallel to where Ernest's castle used to stand. The sheer wall of rock dips down underneath us at almost a straight line down. The water beats against the bottom of it, the waves crashing and foaming against the rocks. To our right, we can see a white strip of beach, to the left, the rock wall rises even higher, finally merging into the side of a snow-capped mountain.
The river curves to run upward towards the high ice, running nearly parallel to the ocean for a stretch. In a strange way, I feel as though I'm standing at the end of the world. Or laying, as the case may be.
We stay there for a while, absorbing the wild, beautiful scenery, until my arms begin to cramp. I shimmy down off of Daniel, then reach out to take his hand as he follows me.
We turn back into the trees, still silent, still swallowing that vision of our new world, its beauty and its desolation. There is no sign of civilization, not that I had really expected any, but hope tends to die hard. It was dead now, and I couldn't bring myself to speak that loss aloud. I think Daniel knew it anyway.
We paused in another V-split, to gather our bearings, and Daniel reached out to take me in his arms. I buried my face in his neck, drinking in the feel of him, so warm, so vital. We kissed again, long and deep, then reluctantly pulled apart. The sun was beginning to sink and we had a decision to make. We could try to make our way back through theweb of trees, or we could stop and try to settle down for the night. In truth, that seemed the better option.
"As much as I miss our bed," I tell Daniel, "I'm not sure that we'd be able to get that far before dark, and it's going to be difficult to find our way without light. I don't want to take the chance of falling."
He nods agreement.
"Yeah, and I don't feel like taking our chances on the ground at night either."
I grimace and gaze around us.
"As much as I hate the idea of sleeping in a tree, it may be our best option for the moment."
"Yeah," Daniel agrees, though I can see he's just as concerned as I am. "We can't stay up in these trees all the time," he points out.
"I know. When we get back to camp tomorrow, we can set out traps and perimeter alarms. That should give us enough warning to be able to get out of reach if one of the beasts finds us. Hopefully, there aren't too many of them wandering around."
"Given its size and therefore the amount of food it would need to support itself, my guess is that the area needed for one of the beasts is large. They're probably territorial, so we're unlikely to run into more than one at a time. Well, except perhaps for when they're mating and raising offspring..." Daniel hypothesizes.
He doesn't sound too certain of any of it, but I'm hardly in a position to argue. Still, now that we knew they exist, we can prepare to deal with them. At least most of the beast looks like it is covered with nothing harder than fur. It is just possible that a well-aimed assault from above can take one out. I'd really prefer not to have to find that out for real.
I shrug, settling down into the large pocket in the tree. Daniel squirms around until he's nestled against me, his back against my chest, my arms wrapped around him. He rests his head back against my shoulder and I nuzzle the side of his head. He sighs and closes his arms over mine, holding them to his body. This is not the best position for any active lovemaking, but I can wait for that. Right now, it simply feels good to hold him as dusk falls around us, draping the world in a still dimness.
Sneezy and Nosey curl up between our feet and an odd contentment wraps itself around me. I have Daniel, what more could a man ask for?
|Continued in Part 3...|