Beautiful, oh Gods, it's so beautiful. But so empty. We've visited a lot of virgin worlds, but this one is so primeval that I find it simply awesome, with the 'aw' being the operative part of that word. I am clinging to the end of a sturdy tree branch, protruding off the edge of a cliff over the boiling, foaming sea. The water extends as far as the eye can see, its aqua glitter melding with the truer blue of the sky at the horizon. There is a bit of a beach to my right, but on my left the world swings upward, higher and higher, finally capped with snowy peaks. I gasp with sheer delight, then call out for Jack.
He scrambles up behind me and I lay myself down on the branch, letting him clamber up on top of me. His full weight spreads out across my body, the heat of his flesh warming me through our clothes. His arms close around me as he hugs me to the branch beneath us, his breath warms the back of my neck. This, in and of itself, is enough to make me happy. The sharp intake of his breath as he takes in the view before us, is sweet icing on the cake.
I don't know how long we stay there, silent, entwined, gazing off at this world of ours. 'Heliopolis' I name it, borrowing Ernest's name for the lost alien stronghold and all of its mysteries. I feel the pang of that loss, almost for the first time since we landed on the beach.
I'd been too busy trying to survive, but now I feel it. The utter horror of the loss of so much knowledge. But the raw, primal beauty of this place lingers, fills my eyes and soul, and I find it fitting that I should call such a place by the name of a place of learning. For all life teaches us something, and while we'd lost the alien's 'meaning of life stuff' we'd gained a certain knowledge of ourselves.
More than that, we'd gained love.
And if I had to choose between the two? I hope I'd be strong enough to chose this love. To choose Jack, yet again, as I did when I gave way, in the end, to his call to leave. If only I'd been faster in making that decision, but I can't change that now. And there is value here. We have each other as we've never had each other before. We can, and will make a life for ourselves, despite all that we've lost. I know that now.
In time, Jack stirs and we move back down into the trees, finding a V-shaped pocket that will easily hold us both in comfort. Jack stops, turns back to meet my eyes, and I can't resist any longer. Reaching out, I pull him into my arms, into a kiss, and he meets me eagerly. It feels so good to be able to do this, to be able to touch him, kiss him, love him whenever I wish without fear or shame. He kisses me back, then ruffles my hair, a gesture that is becoming very familiar.
"As much as I miss our bed," he says, "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."
I have to agree. "Yeah, and I don't feel like taking our chances on the ground at night either."
He makes a face, pursing his lips unhappily. "As much as I hate the idea of sleeping in a tree, it may be our best option for the moment."
Again, I have to agree. I have no desire to meet up with that giant cat again, especially when I'm trying to sleep. So staying up here is the right choice for the moment, and yet...
"We can't stay up in these trees all the time," I remind Jack.
"I know," he replies. "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."
I try hard to remember what little I knew of the habits of large felines. It had been a long time since I'd had basic biology, and I'd always been far more interested in humans and our primate relatives than in cats.
"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..." I hypothesize, my voice trailing of as I see the open skepticism in Jack's face. Yeah, well, it's just a guess, but it's the best I can do.
He shrugs, accepting my guess at face value, then settles himself down in the hollow between trunk lines. He looks up at me expectantly, and I move down into his arms. He wraps his arms around me, holding me against his chest.
I sigh softly, loving the way it feels to be spooned up in his embrace. He nuzzles the side of my head and my eyes close, drinking in the sense of him. I wrap my arms over his, trapping them against my chest, and I slowly begin to drift into sleep. All fear and uncertainty flees into the night, leaving me cradled safely, secure in Jack's arms.
The dawn awakens us with bright beams of light. It had drizzled during the night, leaving us damp and a bit chilled. We stretch ourselves out slowly and begin our way downwards towards the river. We take turns cleaning up and keeping watch, while our little friends play above our heads.
The next task is food, but we now have an idea of what to look for. I quickly locate one of the 'pear' trees, and Jack, typically, is drawn straight to another bush of those red berries he's so fond of. The fruit makes a reasonable breakfast, and we are soon on our way through the tree branches, now moving as quick and agile as the monkeys. The river provides an easy guide, and without discussing it, we head back towards our home downriver.
I find myself thinking about a lot of things as we go, most revolving around ways of making our life here more comfortable. It might be time to give up exploring - just for a couple of days - in favor of building a few amenities.
I'm a born adventurer, never happier than when I'm off in a strange place looking at new things, but even I have some need for basic comfort. My entire body is stiff and sore from sleeping in the tree, frozen in one position, needing not to move in case I might tumble us from our perch. Given a bit of effort, we should be able to crate a decent home here.
I learned a lot on Abydos about the fundamentals of life without modern Earth conveniences and stores. That will come in handy here.
In fact, now that I think about it, if we can locate either a grain plant, some edible roots or even some nuts, I ought to be able to make some facsimile of bread. My stomach gurgles just thinking about it.
"Jack," I call out. "I haven't seen a grain plant here, but if we can find a usable substitute, say a potato-like root or some nuts, I can make bread. Of a sort, anyway."
He turns back and grins at me. "That sounds like one of the better ideas you've had in a while." Then he frowns. "The problem is finding your root or nuts. I haven't seen anything, and even if we do find it, how're we gonna know if it is edible?"
Sneezy leaps down from a higher branch and lands on my shoulder, his claws digging into my jacket. Nosey chatters from over head, and Jack's eyes light up.
"Hey! I bet the critters'll know what's edible and what isn't. They've been good indicators so far."
Nosey follows Sneezy's lead, hopping down onto Jack's shoulder and he turns to look straight at the monkey. "So wha'd'ya say, Nosey? Any nuts around here we can eat?"
He laughs, obviously not expecting the monkey to respond, but Nosey seems to take the request seriously. His eyes dart around, he lifts his pink nose to the air, then he's pointing and jabbering. Sneezy reacts loudly, jumping from me to Jack's other shoulder, joining his comrade. They chatter, wave little forearms, then leap from Jack to the branch ahead of us. Running forward, they pause, look back at us, then run a bit further.
"Go on," I tell Jack, giving him a light shove. He seems a bit stunned, but gives in to my direction.
So we follow the monkeys, turning at an angle from our original path and sliding down a couple of levels closer to the ground. Nosey and Sneezy make one last big leap, settling down on a smaller, different tree type than we've been climbing on. Jack and I lower ourselves to it carefully, uncertain as to whether it will support our weight. It does, though it sways a bit.
And there are the nuts. Big, brown, hard-shelled, covering the ends of the tree branches. Sneezy grabs a couple, cracks them against the tree trunk, then gobbles down the flaky, white insides. Nosey does the same and I grin at the very bemused Jack.
"I knew they were smart!" I exclaim.
Jack shakes his head, running his hand through his hair.
"Yeah well, maybe they were just hungry," he replies.
"Hungry for nuts at the exact same moment we're talking about them?" I question, excitement running through my veins.
It is a good question, after all, for it is hard to explain how the monkeys managed to interpret our word "nut" to mean exactly what we meant. If we had shown them one and then asked them to find it, that'd be one thing. But this - my mind races, examining and re-examining everything we'd seen and heard the monkeys do. Could they understand our language? Maybe with time, but… How had they known? This was a puzzle and it fascinated me.
Jack is less interested in it, however. He shrugs, grudgingly admitting that the 'critters' as he calls them, may be smarter than he had thought. His attention turns to gather nuts, and I join him, though my mind is busily occupied with new ideas.
Until I get my first taste of the nuts, that is, and then I'm just as focused as my companions on the process of gathering, cracking and eating. They are like walnuts, only more grainy. They should make an excellent flour, and I soon turn my focus on making a pile of them inside the folds of my jacket. We need to figure out a way to make baskets of some kind - later. For now, this will do.
Once I've got a good supply of the nuts wrapped up and slung over my shoulder with my bow, I turn my head and catch Jack surreptitiously feeding Nosey. Oh dear Jack, so gruff and silent on the outside and pure marshmellow in the inside. He'd never admit out loud that he's become just as fond of our curious new pals as I have, but he'll go out of his way to be kind to them anyway.
He looks up to find me grinning at him, and he blushes a light pink under his tan.
"Yeah, well, he found the nuts," he attempts to explain. I chuckle softly, moving forward to kiss him.
"Whatever you say, Jack," I tell him. "Let's get going. I'd like to get back before nightfall. I'm not sure my body can take another night up in a tree."
He groans in sympathy.
And off we go.
OK, so Daniel was right, again. The little critters are smarter than they seem at first glance. Though there is no way they could have really understood what we were talking about, so it has to be a weird coincidence. Right? Ah well… It's 'go with the flow' time, for sure.
The nuts are quite tasty and Daniel's idea of making bread with them is pure genius. Thank goodness for that year he spent on Abydos. For all of the wilderness training I got in Special Ops, I've never spent more than a couple of weeks at a time out in the woods without supplies, tents and other modern conveniences. Even our SGC explorations simply don't measure up to the experience he gained living on Abydos in a primitive society for so long. Bread - amazing how something so mundane can seem such a luxury when you're isolated from civilization.
Once we've munched down a second breakfast and gathered up as many of the nuts we can safely carry along with our weapons, we continue on our way along the river. I have to admit that traveling this way is faster than moving along the riverbank itself, and definitely safer. We stop at the spot where the cat-thing found us, but it is gone. I guess it gave up on us and went in search of other food. Hopefully, it is now far away.
We drink our fill, relieve ourselves, eat a few more of the nuts and some berries, then climb back up into the trees. I'm getting pretty good at it, though I'm not quite sure if that's a good thing or not. However, we are making swift progress and with luck we'll make it back to our 'home' well before dark.
That prediction proves true. The sun is beginning to make its way downward, but is still up there, when we reach familiar territory. Daniel echoes my sigh of relief as we drop to the ground near our rock. We deposit the remaining nuts and fruits in a big pile, and Daniel heads towards our leafy, lop-sided shelter. Home - such as it is.
I'm removing the bow from my shoulder and pulling the vine-enclosed bundle of arrows from my belt when Daniel screams, his cry mixed with an ear-splitting roar. I get an arrow notched into the bow even as my feet race in his direction. He stumbles backward then falls on his butt on the ground just outside of our shelter. Stepping out of it, straight for Daniel, is that damn big cat-thing, its mouth open, the fangs glistening.
My heart skips a beat, panic wrenching my guts, as I aim and shoot. I'm screaming too, yelling at Daniel to get up, to move, to get out of the way. My arrow flies true, straight into one of the beast's yellow eyes. It roars again, bellowing in pain and rage, turning its attention towards me.
"Get out of there Daniel!" I scream again, threading another arrow into the bow. The cat-thing paws the air above him, just barely missing his head, but Daniel seems to be frozen. I'm not, and I let fly again. One arrow and then another and another, slicing into its chest. Bright pink blood gushes outward and it rears back, making horrible sounds.
I manage to get close enough to grab Daniel by his collar and yank him towards me. He comes to life with a startled gasp, as though he hadn't been breathing, and scurries back into the woods. I back away a bit more slowly, aiming my last arrow as I go.
The beast is somehow still on its feet and moving. Towards us. It screeches again, pawing at the air with massive silver claws even as it bleeds. I take aim and shoot, one last time, praying that this will be enough.
The arrow slices deep into its unwounded eyes, blinding it. The shrieks rise as it stumbles, claws at the air, then falls over onto its side. I drop to my knees and heft a rock, just in case.
Daniel comes up beside me and I motion him back, but he's handing me his bow and some more arrows. I seize those gratefully, then shove him behind me. Cautiously stepping forward, I aim at the beast again, but before I can let fly, it goes still.
I stay where I am, the primed bow in my hand, waiting. Behind me, I can hear Daniel gasp, heave, losing the contents of his stomach. Mine agrees with him, convulsing in my belly, as fight mode starts to give way to the aftermath shock. I barely stop myself from doubling over and throwing up then kicking myself in the butt.
I should have known the thing would be able to track the messy trail we'd made from our home base to the place where it had found us. How could I have been so stupid, stupid, stupid. Damn, damn, damn. Daniel had almost been killed and it would have been my fault.
I can't believe how happy I am to see this place again. A small, rocky bend in an alien river with a rickety shelter formed of broken tree branches, dirt and leaves, it is hardly my idea of home. And yet, as it is the place that Jack and I first made love, it holds a special meaning for me. Jack seems as pleased to get here as I am. He settles down on our rock with a soft groan of relief. I guess I'm not the only one who suffered from sleeping in that tree.
I dump the nuts and fruit I'm carrying, along with my bow and arrow, on the edge of the small clearing we made yesterday, and head straight into our shelter. I hope the monkeys haven't gone in and made too much of a mess...
Oh shit! My voice rises up out of throat in an involuntary scream. Curled up on our bed is the biggest cat I've ever seen. No, not quite a cat. Its got fangs and claws and scales on its tail. It roars at me and I'm stumbling backwards, desperately trying to get out of its reach. Faintly, I can hear Jack's voice yelling behind me, but I'm falling hard to the ground.
The cat-like beast leaps out towards me, its silvery claws reaching out to strike and every muscle in my body freezes. I can't move. I can't breathe. I can't make a sound. All I can do is die. I know that, feel the certainty of it hit me even before those claws and fangs begin to tear into my body. I lay there, my eyes unable to close, not even able to shut out the sight of the beast as it eats me alive. And all I can think of is Jack and how I wish I had just one more chance to tell him I love him before...
The beast shrieks and rears back. The fore-claw sweeps the air inches from my face. I can smell it. I can taste it. Its thick, noxious breath spills out on me, mixed with a splatter of pink fluid. I gaze upward, still unable to move, to even attempt to fight for my life, when there is a powerful tug on my collar, nearly strangling me. Suddenly, I can breathe again, and I gasp for air, even as I hear Jack's voice in my ear shouting at me to move. Now I can move, on muscles that jerk and twitch unsteadily, but are still strong enough to get me a few feet away.
Jack shoves me another foot backwards, putting himself between me and the beast, even as he fires an arrow at it. Another arrow, I realize abruptly, to match the ones already protruding from the eye and chest of the animal. Jack lets fly yet one more, then he tosses his bow aside and reaches for a rock.
A rock? Against that thing? Oh no, Jack, no, it'll kill you. A glimmer of a spark fires in my brain as I remember my own bow and arrow. I put them down... behind us. Nearly falling over my own feet, I grab them and return, thrusting them at Jack. It takes him a minute to realize what I'm doing, he just wants me out of the way - not surprisingly - but then he takes them from me.
My heart stills again, my nerves screaming at me, as he moves closer to the beast. It has fallen over on its side, and does not appear to be moving. Jack pauses, holding the bow ready to fire, but there is no further sound or motion from the beast.
Is it dead? Jack killed it? Am I really still alive? My mind can't seem to cope and my body is shivering, shaking. I fell, no I am sick to my stomach. Nausea rushes through me and drops me to my knees as I heave up the remnants of our distant lunch.
When I can cough up nothing more, I somehow manage to pull myself to my feet and rush over to the water's edge. I duck my head under the chilly current, letting it wash away the putrid taste of my own vomit. What it can not clean me of is my own fear, my own cowardice. I failed Jack again. I froze. I put him in danger. I could have cost him his life along with my own. I have to turn and see the derision and loss of respect in his eyes.
Jack is a soldier, born and bred. He'll never accept this. How could he? And how can I bear to lose him so soon? How can I possibly face him again? But I have to.
So I lift my head, shake the water from my hair, and slowly stand up. I feel like I'm dragging a thousand pound weight as I turn and rejoin Jack where he is standing over the beast's dead body. Just seeing it makes me shiver, but I force that reaction down.
"Jack," I call out, though my voice comes out in a low, raw whisper. He hears it, though, and turns to me, slinging the bow and arrows over his shoulder. His eyes are dark, shadowed, his expression grim, and I quiver inside. One of his hands reaches out as though to touch me, but it doesn't. It falls to his side instead. He can't even bring himself to touch me.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry. It came at me so fast, and then I just...just...froze. I failed you. I'm so sorry..."
Something twists in his expression, something raw and agonizing, and then suddenly he is touching me. His hands seize the sides of my face and he's bearing down on me, glaring straight into my eyes.
"What d'ya mean, you're sorry? For what? This was my fault! I was the idiot who didn't think that the cat-whatsis would backtrack our trail and be waiting for us. Elementary basic training stuff, and I didn't even think. God, Daniel, you could've been killed. I could've gotten you killed!"
He's shouting into my face, his breath coming in short, punctuated gasps, his eyes on fire, molten hematite, black and hot. It takes a moment for his meaning to penetrate and when it does... I'm stunned. He's blaming himself. Why? It was my fault.
I must have said that aloud. His hands settle on my shoulders and he shakes me, insisting it was his fault, and then I'm laughing. Or maybe crying. Or both. I don't know and I don't really care. I lean forward and kiss him, shutting off another round of self-blame. His mouth comes alive under mine, his lips fastening on mine, his tongue forcing them apart. Now all I can feel, all I can know, all I can think about is touching him, tasting him, feeling him.
His hands are everywhere on me now, running over the length of my body frantically, even as mine do the same to him. Our tongues tangle, thrust and retreat, even as our bodies clamp together. He's squeezing me in a bear-hug, tighter, tighter, and it'll never be tight enough. I need him inside of me, and I wrap my hands around his butt and pull, grinding our cloth-bound cocks together. I need him now.
He pushes me to the ground, my knees giving way easily. I'm fluid, flexible in his grip. He molds me, moves me, rips my clothes from my body and explores my flesh avidly. His mouth and hands cover the length of me, then his entire body is covering mine. I spread my legs and welcome him in, find my voice again and scream his name, dig my fingers into his back. His own fingers have found the entrance to my body and they seek entry, somehow damp, slick. With what I don't know or care. Their intrusion is a brand new sensation, it sends a lance of fire up my spine. More, Jack, I have to have more.
He gives it to me, moving over me, his other hand working my cock, sliding over my heated flesh, sending new bolts of ecstasy through me as he teases, then squeezes, then slides over it. Then there is a lance of penetration. I cry out. He's big, so huge, splitting me asunder then gathering up the pieces as I fall upon him.
He stops, kissing and caressing me, letting me breath for a moment before moving within me. A sweet, heavy explosion fires deep inside me, I arch against him. He holds me down and shifts, pulling away and returning, again forcing me to burst into flames deep within. I can't take that again; I have to have it. I clutch at him, cling to him, rock against him, and he begins to thrust rhythmically, in and out. I want in. More in. More, harder, faster...
His teeth find my nipple, his hand squeezes my cock, he thrusts, and I fly into sweet oblivion.
I wake to find him cradling me, pressing kisses into my hair, across my forehead, over my shuttered eyes. I stir and tilt my head upward seeking his mouth with mine. He rewards me with a deep kiss and then pulls back just enough to let us see each other.
"Are you OK?" he asks.
"Yes," I reply, floating on the aftermath of our lovemaking until other memories break through the haze. "I...think so," I hedge. "You?" I question, worry for him quickening my pulse.
"Yes," he says. "Now." He rolls onto his back beside me, though his hand lingers on my side. "I really screwed up this time."
"We both did," I remind him, a familiar weight of fear and guilt settling into me. "I completely froze up."
He pushes himself up to lean over me, reaching down to caress my cheek.
"Daniel..." he sighs. "That could've happen to anyone. Believe me, I've seen experienced soldiers freeze up under less scary circumstances than you were faced with. Hell, if that beast was suddenly coming straight at me, I might do the same."
"Maybe," I say, though I doubt it. He can read that doubt, he shakes his head at me.
"Enough. It's over. We're alive." He collapses down by my side. "Little thanks to me, but we are."
It is my turn to rear up over him.
"It's not your fault either," I tell him. "You saved us."
When he opens his mouth to protest, I cover it with my own. I kiss him thoroughly, then pin his eyes with mine. If he won't let me take any blame, then I won't let him. It happened, we survived, and for the moment -- for the moment, I can simply be grateful for that.
"No more blame, OK," I say firmly. "Let's just be happy to be alive. And that the, uh, whatever-it-is, is dead." For the first time since I had realized that Jack had succeeded in killing it, I look past Jack towards the beast.
We have an audience.
I can hear Daniel going over to the river, and I'd like to join him, but I'm not going anywhere until I'm absolutely certain that this thing is dead. I free the arrow from the bow and use it as a kind of spear to stab at the beast. It doesn't respond, and somehow the purest recognition of death sparks in me. It's gone. Kaput. Dead.
There are hesitant footsteps behind me. Daniel calls my name and it's all I can do not to cringe. His voice sounds terrible, hoarse and broken. I thought I had fired in time, that he hadn't been hurt. Oh please, let him be OK. It takes every remaining ounce of strength I have to make myself turn and face him.
He's in one piece. Relief rockets through me, followed by another upsurge of guilt. He could have been killed or maimed, and it would have been all my fault.
But before I can find words, any words at all, he's speaking, whispering, roughly. His eyes dart around, seemingly unable to focus on my face.
"I'm sorry," he says. "Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry. It came at me so fast, and then I just...just...froze. I failed you. I'm so sorry..."
He's sorry?! He is sorry? What the hell for? Daniel, oh Daniel, always taking the weight of the world on your shoulders even when you are the victim. How I love you and how can I ever forgive myself for nearly killing you?
Everything twists up inside me, fear and anger and guilt and love. I can't help but touch him, reassure myself that he is indeed there and well, even as I shout at him.
"What d'ya mean, you're sorry? For what? This was my fault! I was the idiot who didn't think that the cat-whatsis would backtrack our trail and be waiting for us. Elementary basic training stuff, and I didn't even think. God, Daniel, you could've been killed. I could've gotten you killed!"
Doesn't he understand that? I'm practically shaking him, I know I'm shaking myself.
"It was my fault," Daniel stubbornly insists.
Obstinate to the last, and suddenly it doesn't matter anymore. Daniel is Daniel and he is here, he is alive, and he is mine. I'm kissing him, desperately, molding my body to his. I'm touching him, running my hands up and down his body, but it's not enough.
I need to feel all of him, his flesh against mine. The horror of nearly losing him collides and melds with the sheer joy of having him safe and alive, firing my blood, creating a surge of desire so intense that it shatters the world, seems to strip the skin from my nerves.
Somehow we end up on the ground, clothes tossed aside, bodies thrusting against each other. His hands and mouth are as frantic as mine, his cries just as needy, his cock swollen and hard to match my own. We grind together, but its not enough, I have to bury myself in him. I clutch at him, squeeze his butt, slide down between his legs and he sobs out my name, his fingers digging into my flesh, urging me.
Some remnant of sense stirs, and I toss out one hand towards the abandoned pile of clothes. Where the hell is that damned bottle of sunscreen he carries everywhere with him? I can't…at last! I fumble, nearly dropping it, as he bites at my neck, thrusts his hips against my belly, wraps his legs around my waist. Then I've got it open and some of the slick lotion on my fingers.
I stroke him, enter him with those digits and he convulses, squeezing them tightly.
Oh God, Daniel. Did I scream that. I might have. Who cares? All that matters is that I can find my way inside of him, and he's moving to accept me. Then I'm there, pressing into tight, tight heat. And now I know I'm screaming, my heart and lungs pounding.
This is more than I can take, I'm going to die now. I don't mind in the least.
We're moving in counterpoint now, I'm thrusting deeper and deeper into the magnificent core of his body, my hand and mouth still trying to cover every inch of his skin, all of me seeking entrance into him and somehow finding it. He draws every piece of me into him, I implode, explode, lose myself in him.
I wake up to find us, typically it seems, curled around each other, naked, on the hard ground. A part of me decides fervently that we are going to learn how to make love in a comfortable place if it's the last thing I do. But the rest of me is too caught up in the lazy, joyous aftermath of our latest bout of wild sex.
No one has ever made me lose control so utterly before. Daniel's passionate nature seems to overtake my own more cautious one, though I can't really place it all on him. This takes two, and I'm just as far gone as he is when we get going.
'Oh Danny, what you do to me.'
He murmurs in his sleep and I cuddle him, kissing the corner of his mouth, his nose, the side of head, gently stroking him towards awareness. He finally surfaces, looking up at me with the deepest, widest sky-blue eyes. His mouth parts to take in air and my eyes seem spellbound by the sight. It's all I can do to form the most obvious of questions.
"Are you OK?"
"Yes," Daniel replies, sleepily, then his expression darkens. "I...think so," he adds, then his eyes focus intently on me.
"You?" he demands in return.
"Yes," I answer. "Now." I roll over onto my back, the guilt reawakening within me. My fingers linger on his side, unable to withdraw contact between us. "I really screwed up this time," I tell him sadly.
"We both did," Daniel replies, the same guilt deepening his voice. "I completely froze up."
It's hard for me to believe that he is still blaming himself for that, but then again, it's a very Daniel kind of thing to do. So I rise up and lean over him, trying to make him see that he shouldn't worry about it.
"Daniel...That could've happen to anyone. Believe me, I've seen experienced soldiers freeze up under less scary circumstances than you were faced with. Hell, if that beast was suddenly coming straight at me, I might do the same."
Might? More like would. That thing scared the shit out me, bursting out of our shelter the way it did.
"Maybe," he says, though his tone is still heavy with doubt.
I shake my head. Stubborn to the last.
"Enough. It's over. We're alive, " I insist, collapsing down beside him. "Little thanks to me," I add, "but we are."
Now he rears up over me.
"It's not your fault either," he says urgently. "You saved us." I try to find an answer to that, one that has some kind of sense to it, but before I can even form a thought, much less a sound, he's kissing me.
Then he glares at me. "No more blame, OK? Let's just be happy to be alive. And that the, uh, whatever-it-is, is dead." He lifts his head to look past me and gasps, his body stiffening.
'Oh shit!' What now? I push him off me, scrambling to my feet and turning, terrified that the beast was somehow coming alive again or…
I come face-to-face with an entire troop of the monkeys, every one staring at us. Daniel gets up and grabs my arm, and suddenly the monkeys burst into loud screeches and begin to jump up and down. Several leap towards us, while others leap backwards, and they start to weave around each other, circling us and the dead cat-beast. Round and round they go, shrieking all the while, dancing…
Dancing? I get the weird sense that I'm participating in some bizarre 'Return of the Jedi' remake featuring two naked male humans and a dozen little brown monkeys instead of Jedi Knights and Ewoks. A wild burst of hysteria threatens to overwhelm me, but something stops it.
I can't begin to say how I know it, but this 'dance' the monkeys are doing is somehow important. I know that this is what Daniel would, and likely will, call a ceremonial ritual. So instead of laughing, I stand there, naked and gaping, as the monkeys weave around us. Daniel, too, seems to pick up the mood and remains still at my side.
I consider reaching for our clothes, a tinge of embarrassment singeing my skin, but I can't bring myself to disturb the ritual. There's no one else to see us anyway. The critters are just as bare-skinned as we are, sorta, so I decide I can live with it just a little longer.
Hell, they all probably watched us make love, and that is much more embarrassing than standing here like nude statues. Well…maybe…
The shrieking rises to a crescendo, the monkey's movements become wilder, and then just as abruptly as they started, they stop. They all freeze in place, and I find myself holding my breath. Daniel doesn't move a muscle beside me. Then the moment shatters and they are just a bunch of little, chattering, wild monkeys again, scattering, chasing each other, racing up into the trees.
"That was amazing," I hiss, astonished by the monkey's complex display, even as they settle back into more normal behavior. My mind is racing, all other thoughts sublimating to the intensity of my curiosity.
"Did you see that, Jack?" I ask, even though I know he did. He's standing right there beside me, staring in the same direction I am. The monkeys had just exhibited organized, ritualistic behavior, such as I might expect of a human group. I didn't know what it all meant, but I knew it was important. It was a…
"That was some kind of ceremony," I say, nearly breathless with excitement. If only we had vocal communication with them. They are certainly far, far more advanced that we had previously suspected.
"A victory dance," Jack identifies without turning to look at me.
He sounds so certain. I glance at him in surprise, tightening my grip on his hand. Normally, Jack doesn't pay much attention to this kind of thing and he couldn't care less what distinguishes one ritual from another.
Yet he's right. I know he is, and I couldn't even say why, except that given the present circumstances it is a logical assumption. My confidence in the truth of his verdict is more than a logical guess, however. I can feel it, and so apparently can Jack.
Amazing. I wonder…
Jack suddenly moves away from me now, apparently no longer interested. He turns and picks up his pants, making me take a second look at him - and at me. To borrow one of Jack's expressions, 'For crying out loud!'
I'd gotten so caught up in the monkey's display that I'd forgotten what we had been doing. My skin tingles with more than just sunburn as I join Jack in gathering up clothes and washing ourselves off. I must be blushing over every inch of my body.
We dress, doing the best we can with what we've got. Our clothes have been taking a beating these past few days and I have a bad feeling that we're soon going to have to figure out a way to replace them sooner or later. Probably sooner.
Then again, since there's no one else around here to see us, it doesn't really matter. Still, I'm definitely not ready to go nudist quite yet. If at all. It's bad enough that the monkeys got an eyeful… come to think of it, they probably watched us make love also.
Now I'm really embarrassed.
I'm sure Jack is too, but he's doing his best to pretend that none of it happened. Well - hopefully not quite all of it. There were moments that - well - are worth reinvestigating later. Preferably with a bit more privacy and a lot more comfort. Still, that will have to wait. We've got a mess to deal with here, a very big one.
We both approach the corpse of the cat-beast with trepidation. A part of me can't help but feel a certain primal fear. What if it isn't really dead? Then I get a good look at it and I realize that it is, indeed, very dead.
Jack did a good job of it. There are enough arrows sticking out of its head and chest to mimic a pincushion. The pinkish blood is drying into a brown crust, streaking the black fur and coating the silvery scales with gore. Arrows protrude from both eyes, leaking whitish fluid. I shiver with disgust, wondering if I can talk Jack into simply rolling it into the river.
He has other plans, though, both for the corpse and for us. He's back in commander-mode, planning and directing. Although I'm totally grossed out by the process of carving up the beast, I'm also glad to see this side of him reassert itself.
This is my Jack at his core: determined, meticulous, methodical, authoritative, and in full control. Admittedly, I often like to tease the man when he's like this, disrupting his smooth processes with my own haphazard, intuitive style. Not today, however. Right now I'm happy to settle into the chores he sets for me, slicing the scales off the long tail of the beast, boring holes in them, and stringing them on the remarkably tensile vines we cut free of nearby trees.
Jack keeps the gory task of cutting up the beast for its meat for himself and I am, again, grateful that he is willing to do so. I can handle eating the meat, once it has been cooked, I think. Maybe. Depending on how hungry I am.
The truth of that is that I am very, very hungry. My civilized scruples about food choices are fading fast, though I still plan to attempt to make nut cakes soon.
It turns out that Jack has an excellent reason for making me spend all this time messing with the damned scales. They are both slippery and metallic and I have nearly sliced myself on their edges more than once. But that annoyance disappears the moment I watch Jack string them up between the trees surrounding our home.
"Perimeter alarms," he says in satisfaction, knocking one hanging cluster of them with his hand. A wind-chime like sound echoes in our ears and I find myself grinning at him. He grins back and for the first time since the monkey's ritualistic dance, he relaxes enough to grab me and kiss me.
I kiss him back, savoring it, then reluctantly let him go. There's still a lot to do if we hope to get a decent, safe night's sleep. It takes both of us plus some intermittent assistance from Sneezy and Nosey to roll the remnants of the carcase into the river.
I gladly watch it get swept downstream by the fierce current before turning to the task of gathering wood and setting a large fire. Jack has already set out a stone circle to enclose it, and I soon have it roaring. He spits a huge chunk of beast meat over it, and we turn towards the task of rescuing our shelter.
Tomorrow we'll have to start building something more solid, but for now, we simply want to erase any trace of the beast's invasion. That means replacing all of the leafy bedding, which is an easy, but slow process. The monkeys join in, obviously thinking this is a fun game, pelting us with leaves and moss and anything else they seem to think we need. Luckily, most of it is not too solid, though I have to say that those berries splatter when they hit you.
Jack admonishes them firmly, but gently, much as he might do a bunch of children. To my surprise, they immediately settle down, offering only the leaves and soft moss that we need.
I question him, but he simply shrugs it off. I, however, continue to mull it over in the back of my mind, weaving it into the rest of the facts and supposition I have gathered so far about our furry little friends. There's more going on here than even I had supposed. Sooner or later, I'll figure it out.…
Dinner is a messy affair, but surprisingly good. I give in. No more argument from me about food sources. The beast meat is excellent, tasting like a fine tenderloin steak. It mixes well with our remaining fruit and a few of the nuts. The monkeys love it just as much as we do and Jack hands over generous portions to them. I do the same, though we also manage to stuff ourselves as well.
Again, we use the river as cold storage for the rest of the raw meat, barely finishing the process of cleaning up by the time the twin moons rise fully above. Jack yawns loudly, and I echo him. The exhaustion that I'd been staving off all day, especially after the terrible fight, closes in upon me.
"Bedtime," Jack urges and I agree. We nearly stumble into our fresh-smelling bed. Just as I'm closing my eyes, a thought strikes me, and I grab Jack's arm.
"Shouldn't we keep watch?" I ask.
Yawning, he pulls me against him, spooning me, wrapping his arms around my chest and nuzzling my neck. His breath warms my ear as he whispers sleepily.
"The monkeys will keep watch," he says. The sweet comfort of being enclosed in his arms overwhelms me, and I settle into him, sliding inexorably towards sleep, only one tiny section of my mind picking up and curiously examining that answer. It should seem odd that Jack would trust the monkeys would keep watch over us, despite their obvious and proven friendliness. But I'm fading too fast to do more than file it for later examination.
I'll think about it further in the morning…
For what seems like the first time in an eternity, I feel safe and snug. I'm enclosed in a Daniel-blanket, his arms and legs twined around me, his breath warming the hollow of my neck, his heart beating against mine. I refuse to open my eyes. I shift my head only enough to burrow my nose into his hair. I don't mind in the least that he hasn't had access to shampoo in a few days, it just increases the 'Danielness' which is something I will never get enough of.
Waking up to this is great, but getting up is out of the question. Daniel needs his sleep, after all. And I am more than content to stay right where I am. I stroke his back and shoulders, again learning the long sleek lines of his body. He stirs, snuggling closer to me, sighing softly. I kiss his hair, continuing to run my hands in slow circles up and down his spine, sliding over to his bare arms, then back down to curve over the firm muscle of his ass.
I move slightly, tilting my head down until I can press my lips to his temples, my tongue flickering out to taste his salty skin. He sighs again, shifting against me, and I gently turn us over, settling him down on his back. That gives me better access, and I enjoy it, kissing the spot between his eyebrows, the tip of his nose, his closed eyelids, his cheekbones, working my way towards his mouth.
When I get there, I trace the generous bow of his lips with my tongue. He murmurs in his sleep, those lips parting just a bit, and I'm able to slip my tongue in deeper, covering his mouth with my own. He opens to me, and I tenderly explore him.
There's no hurry, no desperation now. Our makeshift alarms and the monkey troop will warn us of any approaching danger. We're safe for the moment and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest. Reluctantly leaving his mouth, I seek new territory, sliding downward to suckle on the pulsepoint in his neck.
He moans and twists, and I slide through thick, tangled strands of his hair to find the curve of his ear. I tease the lobe with my teeth, then move downward again. The wrinkled cotton T-shirt is not much of a barrier, and I don't mind the way it feels between my mouth and his skin. The cloth turns damp as I suck through it at his nipples.
Danny's making more noise now, unintelligible, gutteral moans that only encourage me. I pull that shirt up to allow access to his abdomen. His navel is a tangy well of Daniel-flavor. I burrow my tongue in it, then nibble at the slightly rounded stretch of skin above his pelvis. His hips instinctively rock up against me, seeking contact. I settle my weight across them, unfastening his pants and drawing out his already aroused cock. It fills my hand, velvet flesh engorged and hot. I stroke across the tip and he jerks upward, groaning. I wonder briefly if he's waking up yet, but it doesn't really matter. If he isn't awake yet, he soon will be.
Sliding my hands down his length, I cup his balls, rubbing at them, even as I lower my mouth to taste him. He's salty and sweet, bitter but delicious to me as only Daniel could be. I would never, ever even imagine doing this for another man. It's hard to believe that I want to with Daniel, but I do. I want to give him everything that I can, everything that I am. Just the sounds he makes as I slide my lips over the tip of his cock are enough to make me shiver, tingles of desire racing across my nerves and centering in my groin. I'm as hard and hungry as he is, just from the very act of pleasuring him.
I suckle harder, sweeping up and down on him, licking at the pulsing veins, squeezing his swollen balls, circling the base of him. He gasps, his hips thrusting upward, his hands suddenly weaving into my hair, urging me onward. I take him as deep as I can and he screams, exploding richly into my mouth. I do the best I can with it - this might take a bit of practice - but there's plenty of time for that. I lick up what I missed from his belly, my chin, his thighs, down in the crease between his balls, then move upward to see his face.
His eyes are still closed, but he's breathing fast, his lips parted, chest heaving. I kiss him and he suddenly curls around me, wrapping long arms and legs around my body. My own cock strains against my confining pants, seeking closer contact with him, as it is trapped between us. We kiss long and deep, then he pushing me over onto my back.
"Mornin' Jack," he whispers, those brilliant sapphire eyes sliding open. He swallows my reply in another kiss, then presses a finger against my lips when I try again to speak.
"Shhh," he says, his eyes gleaming. I nod, accepting his direction, for in this, above and beyond all else, we are equals and I will let him take the lead when he wants it. He wants it now, and within moments, I am pure clay in his hands, molded by him, fired by him. He sends me spinning, and all I can do is cling to him as the waves of ecstasy crash over me.
By the time we crawl out of our bed to face the world, the sun is already high. We bathe and breakfast on the now familiar fruit. I feel at peace, strangely happy in this odd place, even though our existence here is still precarious at best.
"If we cut down some larger branches, we can build a more solid structure," I suggest. "I'm no construction engineer, but it's worth a shot."
Daniel point to the two trees we had built our first shelter between. "Maybe we can build onto the trees, use them for stability. We'll need something to hold it all together though."
"The vines are pretty tough, and I can probably carve nails of sorts."
"Actually, that quicksand you fell into the other day might be useful," he muses over a mouthful of fruit.
"What for?" I ask, unable to stop myself from shivering at the memory. It had been way too close for comfort.
"Sealant. A lot of primitive cultures use mud as a building material. It can dry into a reasonably solid form. Stabilized with wood…"
I make a face at him, not sure I like the idea of living in a house made of mud. Wood is one thing, but mud?
"Let's see how it goes. Anyway, I want to try to make some flour from those nuts today. Once I get it mixed into dough, it'll have to sit for a while before we cook it."
"Sure," I agree. Sounds like a great idea to me. "I wonder if there are any of the nut trees closer by. The pear trees too. Nosey will know. I'll see if I can get him to show them to us."
Daniel gives me a sharp questioning look. I can see the spark of curiosity fire in his eyes. His mouth narrows, and I can sense the barrage of questions coming.
"I don't know, all right!" I try to forestall him.
"You don't know what?" he asks. All it did was briefly sidetrack him.
"How the monkeys…How I…Oh hell, I guess they're just pretty smart critters. Ya know?"
He shoots me an "I already knew that" look. I shrug. He sighs and tries again.
"What I don't understand is how they seem to understand us so easily. I'd swear that they understand every word we say. Even if they have a language of their own, they shouldn't be able to translate what we say, and yet they are picking up concepts that we have only expressed verbally, like finding the nuts or keeping watch last night..." Daniel's in full scientist mode now, his mind racing even more rapidly than his mouth can, and his mouth can move fast. Believe me.
He rambles on at length about language theory, conceptualization, primate behavior, and a few things I couldn't identify, then he stops in mid-sentence and stares at me.
"They're telepathic!" he pronounces. I stare back, stunned. What the hell?
"They're what?" I echo.
"Telepathic," he replies with a dramatic sweep of his hand. "That explains everything."
Yeah right. That explains nothing.
"Daniel," I sigh, shaking my head. "That's nuts."
"Come on Jack. How else would you explain how they knew we wanted nuts, how they knew what you did and didn't want for our bed yesterday, and how you knew they'd keep watch last night?" He narrowed his eyes at me. "For some reason, you must be more sensitive to them than I am. They do seem to respond to you more than to me."
"Daniel, that's nuts!" I say, then realize that I was repeating myself. "Look, they're just smart animals. Like dogs or something."
"They're a lot smarter than that," he insists.
"OK, yeah, they're very smart. But it's a long stretch from that to they're being telepathic."
He gives me his 'I'm right and you know it even though you won't admit it' look, then shakes his head and gets to his feet.
"Maybe so," he says, "but you're still going to ask them to find fruit and nut trees, right?"
"Yeah," I give in on that point. He gazes pointedly at me, and I spread my hands wide.
"OK. They're…uhhh…very, very smart."
He doesn't say anything, just waits for me to get up and go looking for Nosey who is, as usual, not too far away. He and Sneezy jump up to their favorite spots on our shoulders, chattering senselessly. I make it a point to ask aloud about the nuts and pears, pointing to the fruit and then out towards the forest. Both monkeys squeal, then jump to the ground, looking back at us, then scurrying into the forest.
Daniel 'looks' at me again, but I ignore it. We've got enough to deal with already, without arguing over whether the monkeys are psychic or not. Not that Daniel's going to let go of it, but…
Stubborn, narrow-minded, condescending, irritating…
Those were the nicest epithets I could come up with for Jack right now. As much as I love the man, and I love him more than anyone I've ever met, even Shau're, he can still make me furious. How can such an otherwise smart, experienced, educated man be so…so…close-minded? He's the one who's been communicating with the monkeys, so why can't he accept the obvious answer?
I knew the moment the answer popped into my mind that it was correct. My intuition was screaming at me; my curiosity was itching worse than the case of chickenpox I had when I was eight. We discover an amazing natural phenomenon, an extraordinary and unique type of communication, and all Jack wants to do is hunt for nuts and fruit.
OK. We need the food. Fair enough. And he's even willing to use the monkeys to find it. But simply saying that they are "smart," even "very smart, " just doesn't cut it. But Jack is being Jack. Unwilling to consider an unusual possibility might be true until it hits him in the face, and reluctant even then. Even after all we've been through and all we've seen.
But I have a feeling that like many of the other oddities we've run into on our explorations, he'll end up accepting this one too. Grudgingly, grumbling all the way, but sooner or later, he'll see the truth. I just wish it would be sooner this time. Or that he'd simply take my word for it. Figuring out this kind of thing is what I do. He should know that by now.
As we make our way through the forest, carefully avoiding disturbing our perimeter alarms, I find my anger giving way to my insatiable curiosity, Jack'll come around, and in the meantime, the possibilities this discovery raises are incredibly exciting.
If I can figure out how Jack manages to make himself understood, maybe I can do the same, and then maybe we can learn how to do more than make them understand us. Maybe we can learn to 'hear' them - and maybe each other as well. Depends on whether it is an inborn skill, something innate to them but not to us, or whether it can be learned. Or maybe it is created by something in the environment here, a chemical in the air, or…
I remember watching Jack and the monkeys gorge themselves on the berries and then mutually pass out. Jack is very fond of the berries and has eaten a lot more of them than I have. I have considered them a bit too sweet, not really to my tastes, so I hadn't indulged in them much. But if they contain something which stimulates telepathic activity, then it might be worth eating more of them. I open my mouth to tell Jack about my new hypothesis, but stop myself before speaking. He wasn't any more likely to believe this one than the previous one.
So - I'll keep it to myself for the moment, until I get the chance to test it out.
The rest of the day passes in a flurry of hard work. Nosey and Sneezy do locate nearby sources of nuts and the pear-shaped fruit, and we harvest just enough to last a couple of days. Later, we may need to figure out a way to store food to last - assuming that there is a winter season here - but for now, we've got easy access to the providing trees.
I settle down to the process of grinding the nuts into flour. This necessitates hollowing out a couple of bowls from a piece of wood and carving a grinding instrument, then cracking the nuts one at a time. Sneezy picks up on what I'm doing and turns out to be a swift and agile nut-cracker. So I let him do that while I begin grinding the nut meat up.
While we do that, Jack, accompanied by Nosey, starts on the construction project. For today, that means creating a plan of attack, making an axe and sharpening it, and starting to cut down the right-sized tree limbs. When I've got a good supply of flour and some dough setting, I join him. By nightfall, we've got a healthy pile of timber.
We eat more of the beast meat for dinner, plus some of the ubiquitous fruit and nuts. I make sure that I eat plenty of the berries right along with Jack, and for the first time I feel their intoxicating effect. I wonder if that is somehow related to the telepathy-causing effect. But I'm tired and tipsy, giggling at the monkey's antics, leaning into Jack's arms, snatching kisses.
He may be a narrow-minded pain in the ass sometimes, but he's my pain in the ass, and I love him dearly.
I tell him so, and he laughs, his chest rumbling. He ruffles my hair.
"You're drunk, Danny," he tells me.
"Yup," I tell him, giggling, then twining my fingers through his short hair and drawing his mouth back to mine. "Gonna take advantage of me?"
We kiss, then he murmurs against my mouth.
"Damn right." Then he pulls away, making me groan with frustration. He grab my arm, drags me to my feet, and takes me into our shelter. I fall down onto the bed, tumbling him down with me. He lands on top of me, and I trap him there.
Experimentation with telepathy can wait until tomorrow. Right now, I've got something else much more interesting to explore.
He's pissed at me. Trying to hide it, but I can tell. I suppose that I should have taken his theorizing more seriously, but telepathy? It's nuts. OK, I've seen a lot of weird things in my life, especially since the first Stargate mission. And I suppose that telepathy is possible. Hell, anything may be possible! But this is too weird. And the fact that Nosey has handed me a couple of things before I asked for them, well, I don't think I'm going to mention it. Not yet. Not until I've had a chance to think about it. Nah - it can't be.
Can it? I don't even want to think about it.
And we've got enough to deal with already, telepathic monkeys or not.
I let Daniel sulk for a while, trying hard not to notice how sexy he is when he pouts. His eyes follow me as I work, cutting down and piling up logs for use as building materials. We might be able to make a river-worthy raft out of these also. Thank goodness the trees are so huge and so numerous. Lots of material to work with.
Daniel finishes his project with the nuts and joins me in mine. He seems to be in a better mood now, thank goodness. I really don't like having him mad at me, and despite my skepticism I do respect his intelligence.
If only he didn't come up with such weird theories, regardless of the fact that most of them turn out to be right. I don't like weirdness. Which, of course, is a bizarre thing for me to say since my life is extraordinarily weird by anyone's standards. That, of course, is probably why I prefer normalcy whenever and wherever I can find it.
Wish Daniel would understand that. Ah well…
We make good progress piling up building materials and it is a treat to watch Daniel exert himself. He's a lot stronger and more muscular than you might think at first glance. He tends to hide his physique behind that geeky, scholarly manner of his. But out here, doing this kind of work, I can't miss the play of powerful muscles in his arms, legs, and torso.
I probably ought to be freaked out by finding that strength and masculinity sexually attractive, but I'm not. Maybe because it is Daniel. I doubt that any other man would have this effect on me. At least, no other man ever has in the past and I can't see that changing.
Dinner is quick and quiet. The meat is a bit more gamey the second time around. I hope it'll last one more day, at least, before going bad on us. Maybe a trip down to the sea to gather a source of salt is in order. I wonder if we can figure out ways to store food.
Does this planet have a winter season? If it does, we could be in for some rough times ahead. But I refuse to worry about that tonight. Daniel's shifted into a good mood and he's dug heavily into the wine berries.
I snag a few myself, then sit back and watch him get progressively tipsy. He's a happy drunk tonight and it's great to hear him laugh. He doesn't do it often enough. Usually he's too serious, too focused on some intellectual puzzle, to indulge in mirth. Not that I don't do my best to make him laugh, but it doesn't always work.
Tonight he's giggly, though, and I find him irresistible. Well, I always do, but he's particularly charming now. I reach out and pull him into my arms and he snuggles against me, all the while chuckling at the antics of a couple of the younger monkeys.
I nuzzle him, stroke him, kiss, softly, lightly, just enjoying the closeness. After another berry-flavored kiss, he tells me that I'm a pain in the ass, but I'm his pain in the ass, and that's ok. He loves me anyway.
I laugh. He's right. I make it a practice of being a pain in the ass as often as possible, preferably to my enemies, but also with my friends too. It keeps people on their toes.
"You're drunk," I tell him.
"Yup," he agrees. He grabs my head and pulls me into another kiss, then whispers seductively against my mouth. "Gonna take advantage of me?"
Damn right I am, and I tell him so in no uncertain term. I maneuver us into our bed as quickly as I can and proceed to do just that with his delighted participation.
We develop a routine over the next couple of weeks. Lovemaking in the morning is followed by a bath and breakfast. We gather supplies, mostly fruit and nuts, in the morning, then sometimes we go hunting for meat or fish. It turns out that the pig-deer and giant rabbits are common around here, and so are long silver fish in the river. That adds to the variety in our diet, which is a relief, because my stomach has not been too happy the present state of affairs. Daniel takes to it better than I do. All those months on Abydos had probably turned the lining of his stomach to steel.
Supply gathering is followed by chores, mostly focused around constructing a cabin, but branching out into other needs. We create a latrine a small distance away and add a small smokehouse to our construction plans. Daniel says that smoking salted meat is better than drying it in the sun, at least in health terms, and I'm not going to argue with him. He's the expert. I wouldn't even know where to begin. This necessitates a one-day trip back to the beach, which is actually fun. We end up playing a bit, running through the surf, pretending we're on vacation. In a way, I guess this is as much of a 'vacation' we're likely to get here. Survival involves an immense amount of work. More, even, than I had anticipated.
Daniel sets up the process of getting the salt from the seawater while I follow his instructions for treating the skins of the animals we've killed. That turns out to be a messy and rather unpleasant, smelly process, which is probably why he got me to do it. Ah hell, as long as he continues to make those nut cakes and those berry-filled pancake-like treats, I can handle it. He does help, sometimes, especially when I complain loud enough. Besides, once the skins have been boiled and stretched out to dry, I feel a powerful sense of accomplishment.
The same is true of our building progress. Using two of the massive trees as anchors, we succeed in erecting a one-room building composed of wood, vines, mud and rocks. It's lopsided, not quite as steady as I would like, but it's ours. Lock, stock and barrel.
Other utensils, tools and conveniences are slowly added to our life. Many of these are imaginative adaptations, often based on Daniel's experiences on Abydos. I begin the process of building furniture. A bed first, then chairs. When the first hides are fully prepared, we'll actually have something decent to sleep on. I've got my priorities, after all.
Our busy days are followed by a late dinner and a cuddle by the fire, ending in bed. Some nights we make love, others we simply curl up in each other's arms and sleep. I enjoy both, so does Daniel.
He hasn't pushed his telepathic monkey theory, for which I'm grateful. I think I would find it hard to explain that I know he's right, but I don't want to talk about it. It's just that it feels so... unexplainable. I'm going on instinct here and that's tough to talk about.
Sometimes I feel like I know what the monkeys, especially Nosey, are thinking, and they know what I'm thinking, and frankly, I don't want to examine that too closely. Frankly, I don't want to know how it happens. Daniel likes to take everything apart and investigate it to death. But I don't, especially not when I'm the subject. No thanks.
He is getting restless again, though. Just a teensy bit. I think it's just a natural part of Daniel's nature. He needs to be exploring something new. So I start splicing together a few of the leftover logs into a raft. When he's ready to tell me he wants to go, I'll be ready.
My experiment with the berries isn't working. They definitely can get me drunk, and I'm developing more of a taste for them than I had before, but there's no sign of increased telepathic ability. I still can't communicate past the simplest basics with the monkeys or Jack. But he, on the other hand, seems to be communicating with them like gangbusters.
Of course, Jack doesn't want to talk about it. He gets this panicked look on his face, his eyes narrowing, wrinkles forming on his brow, whenever I try to broach the subject. So I settle for observation, which does offer some information. There is no doubt that they understand him far better than they understand me.
And there is no doubt that he is far better than I am at understanding them. So it has to be something other than the berries, something unique to Jack. Maybe being exposed to them has opened up a latent ability in him. I can't help wishing he'd let me test it, but Jack hates that kind of thing. The idea of being a research subject, even for me, would make him cringe.
So I have to let it go. There's plenty of other stuff for me to concentrate on, at least in terms of physical labor. We cobble together a small cabin and begin making furniture. My experiment with the nut flour is a resounding success, and I take some time to figure out new ways of cooking it. Wooden utensils are reasonably easy to carve, but the necessary stone ones are harder. Jack has more of a knack for getting the rocks to break along useful lines than I am, so I tell him what I need and he works on it.
We take a trip to the seashore and bring back wooden buckets of seawater. Distilling out the salt isn't as easy as I had thought, but I manage to make enough to begin with. We have to start salting, smoking and storing dried meat. There seems to be plenty of food now, but that could change at any moment.
There's also a serious need for new clothes and some type of bedding, which means tanning hides. I've seen it done, though the process totally grossed me out. So I talk Jack into doing it, which he does, albeit with a great deal of grumbling. I think he's satisfied with the results, though, as I am. We're building a home and a life here. A far better one than I could have hoped for.
I'm bored. One of the least attractive features of my personality, I suppose. I need to be doing and learning new things on a regular basis. To some extent the process of grabbing every bit of primitive living lore out of my memory so that we can use it is challenging. But it's not enough. Even despite some of the dangers that I know are out there, I'm feeling the need to go exploring again. Perhaps we could go downriver this time.
Jack's putting a raft together, so maybe he's willing to take the trip. Some alternate food sources would be a good find, if nothing else. This is a big planet, I want to see more of it.
Maybe I'll broach the subject after dinner one night soon, preferably after we've had a few berries and Jack's in a good mood.
The fire's reflection glitters in Danny's glasses. Somehow those have managed to survive everything we've been through in the past three weeks. Such a short amount of time and yet it seems like an eternity. He smiles at me as he pops another berry into his mouth; his teeth and tongue are stained red with the juice. A small trickle of juice slides out of the corner of his mouth and I lift my finger to catch it. He leans into my touch, his firelit expression shifting, turning sly and seductive.
I pull my finger back to mouth and lick off the juice, even as his tongue flickers out to sweep over the spot where it had been. Then he moves, swift and sure, enclosing me in his arms. He doesn't kiss me yet and my body tenses with anticipation. I slide one hand up his back, bare now, as the weather has been hot and we've been working hard. His skin feels so good under my fingers, silky and smooth. I yearn to taste it again. I lean forward to take that kiss, but he stops me, pressing a finger to my lips.
I kiss those fingers, then sigh and wait. He's got something on that brilliant, wayward mind of his, and I won't get what I want until he's explained it in detail. I raise an eyebrow and wait, though the blood is already surging in my groin, just from having him so near.
"Jack," he says, speaking hesitantly at first, then picking up speed, "I've been thinking. We explored upstream, but we haven't gone downstream yet. The river doesn't appear to empty into the sea in this area, it looks like it must go inland. That might mean that there's a big lake or maybe it feeds into another part of the continent. I doubt that the forest covers all of the land. Well, it might, but it might not. Anyway, since we're here, we might as well see more of what else is here."
He stops to take a deep breath, then hurries onward.
"And maybe there are other structures. I got the sense from Ernest that he didn't go far from the Stargate, probably in the hope that he might gets rescued. But we know we won't be rescued and there's no more Stargate. So there's nothing really stopping us from traveling around. Is there?"
He looked anxiously at me. It was all I could do not to laugh, but I knew Daniel would take that badly. In truth, I only wanted to laugh because he makes me so happy. I love this man so much! Only Daniel could take the absolute and unmitigated disaster of us getting stranded here without a Stargate and hope of rescue and turn it into a positive advantage of any sort whatsoever.
I swallow my laughter and look seriously at him. I pretend to consider his idea with just a hint of annoyance.
"We've got a lot of work to do here. I've barely started on the furniture and we've got all that meat smoking. You wanted to try to make soap, remember, and..."
"That can wait," he interrupts. "The meat needs to stay there for a while and we can make furniture anytime. Soap we can manage without for a little while longer."
I can easily frown at that. What I wouldn't give to feel truly clean again. So I give him the old 'Jack doesn't like this' look and I get exactly the look I want in return. Those blue eyes widen behind his glasses, his lower lip protrudes slightly, he gazes at me like a hungry puppy begging for its dinner. This always turns me to mush. Except for a certain insistent part of my anatomy which becomes very hard. Delightfully so, since I know he will reward me for giving in.
Hey, I'm no dummy.
So I grimace and he leans in closer, that lower lip trembling. I hesitate for another heartbeat, then shake my head as though in disgust and 'crumble.'
"All right. I'm making progress with the raft and I'd figured we'd take a trip downstream later. Guess it won't hurt to do it sooner."
He grins. I kiss him. We both get exactly what we want. If only I didn't have this funny feeling in the back of my mind that I'd just been maneuvered by an expert right when I was supposed to be doing the maneuvering. He pushes me to the ground and rubs his body over mine, his tongue thrusting into my mouth and I decide it doesn't matter in the least.
We take a couple of days to get ready, packing up a bunch of supplies in these misshapen wooden gourds Daniel has carved, along with the one animal hide that appears to be ready for use. I finish the raft and then send it out on the river, using long vines to keep it from floating away.
Amazing, it actually floats. Or, at least, it floats without our weight on it.
I turn to Daniel and grin.
"So, wanna try it out?" I have absolutely no desire to be the one who might get dunked in the river if the thing can't hold weight. Taking this trip was his idea, let him take the risk. Besides, he's sexy when he's wet.
He looks at it, looks at me, then back at it.
"Why not?" he asks, jumping up to join me on the shore. We haul it back up against the rock and I lean over to hold it steady while he climbs on board. I let out the vine-rope and he floats out to mid-stream.
He lays himself out on top of it as though sunbathing and smiles at me.
"This is great, Jack!" he shouts, waving one hand in the air. "Looks like we're a go."
"Yeah," I have to agree, even as I strain to haul him back to shore. He deftly clambers back ashore and secures the raft while I finish gathering up our supplies and making sure the fires are out. The last thing we need is to start a wildfire.
Nosey and Sneezy make it quite clear they want to come with us, and though I'm hesitant about it, they have proved their worth more than once. So I give way again, and they leap on board.
Daniel and I load the supplies and then, carefully, follow. Miraculously, the raft does indeed hold us all. I cut the vine holding us to shore and off we go.
As we sit by the fire each night, I feel an overwhelming sense of peace, of contentment.
Strange, isn't it?
All my life, I've never really felt at home anywhere - not on Earth, being passed from one set of carers to another, or living a lonely academic existence, and not on Abydos, despite all the things and people that planet offered me. It's only here, on a planet I'm stuck on by mistake, that I feel at peace.
Jack is looking at me with one of those 'I can hear your mind working, Daniel' looks I've come to know so well, and I smile back at him. I've seen him look at me when he thinks I'm engrossed in something else, with a tiny worried frown on his face. Something stops me, I'm not sure what it is, from asking him what it is he's concerned about.
Some of it I know already. I worry about it too, after all.
What will one of us do if something happens to the other? What if we fall out over something trivial, as there's no one here to mediate between us? Can things go on like this, with this intensity, or will what is between us cool off as time goes on? After all, all we have is each other....
I don't want to think about these things, but they are never really far from my mind, or from Jack's I suspect.
As I smile at Jack, I pop another of the berries into my mouth - while they'll never be my favourite thing, I'm growing more used to them, I suppose. This one is particularly juicy and I can't help the dribble of juice that slips out of my mouth, seeing Jack's gaze on it as it travels down my chin.
Embarassed suddenly, which is stupid I know, I go to lift my hand and wipe it away but Jack is already moving. His touch, as his finger strokes my face, is so intimate, so loving that it steals my breath in a way I'd never anticipated such a simple thing could do.
All I ever want is this intimacy, and I lean into Jack's touch, my smile turning to something which I hope is enticing. Jack pulls his hand back and I shiver momentarily from the loss of contact, my tongue flicking out to trace the path that his finger had taken.
Moving towards Jack now, with a certainty in my heart, I want him to be able to feel how much I love him, and I wrap myself round him, hoping my emotions will transmit to him by bodily contact alone. Jack tenses slightly, and for a fraction of a second, my mind wonders if something is wrong, but when his hands begin to slide over my skin with a slow exploratory motion, I know he wants this as much as I do.
He leans forward to kiss me, but I have other ideas. There are things we need to talk about, then it will be time for that. So, I press a finger to his lips, which in it's turn elicits a sigh from Jack, who I know has not got far to go. I can feel his heat and hardness pressed against me, so I'll keep this conversation as brief as possible, for both our sanities!
"Jack, I've been thinking..." I begin, and then proceed to outline my thoughts on the planet, while all the time my body is screaming for us to carry on. As I speak, Jack is watching me, his eyes locked, it seems, on the movements of my mouth, and I wonder what he has in mind for later.
I outline my plan and wait anxiously - when did it become so important to have this man's approval? If he laughs at me, it will tear a piece out of my heart. How would I categorise the look he's giving me now? Well, he seems to be considering what I've been saying, as much as he can with the life that is existing below his waistband at the moment....
"We've got a lot of work to do here," Jack says, and my heart sinks slightly. I hardly listen to him, except to pick up on his objections, my mind racing ahead to answer each one in turn.
"That can wait," I say, interrupting him.
He frowns when I mention that we can wait for all these things --- we have time for everything, don't we? As I continue to speak, Jack's frown deepens, and I start to wonder whether I was wrong.
I'd thought he wanted us to be a partnership, to work together to survive here, but maybe I'd been mistaken?
Of its own accord, I know my face is showing how I feel, and Jack's eyes are almost devouring my face now. I can feel a stirring against me, which would argue that, whatever it is I'm currently doing, it's turning Jack on like crazy. Internally I smile, trying to keep my face unchanged - if only I knew what look it was....
Then Jack starts to speak again, quietly, and I lean closer to hear him.
"All right. I'm making progress with the raft and I'd figured we'd take a trip downstream later. Guess it won't hurt to do it sooner."
I smile at this, and Jack leans forward, closer still, and kisses me.
'Enough talk,' I think, and push him back, so that he lands in the leaf litter on his back with me lying across him. There are other things that mouths can do apart from talk, and I decide to give Jack a demonstration of what mine can accomplish.
Sooner than I had anticipated, we are ready to travel - the raft itself takes no time at all, and if I'm annoyed that Jack wants me to try it out, in case it falls apart, I manage to stifle it.
Still, it works, the thing floats, and, having gathered some supplies, we head off down the river.
A strange pang hits me when we turn the bend and our shelter drifts out of sight - we had been happy there, despite the trauma of the cat-thing's attack, and I'll carry that peace with me.
There's not much to see as we travel down the river - the walls of the gulley that the river snakes through are high and grey, dotted with the occasional plant, but give no clue to the surrounding country.
The raft itself is too small for us both to relax on, and the frequency of jagged rocks make it impossible for us to both rest. We try to take turns steering, using a long pole we cut for this very job, but it's an imprecise science.
Every so often we will judder into something, in our passage down-river, and for a heartbeat our raft will spin and buck, while we clutch onto the raft and each other, waiting for it to settle again. So far the raft has held together, a testament to the solidity of Jack's building, I suppose.
As the light begins to fade, we decide between us to pull over to the side of the river and wait for light - as we have headed downstream, the rocks have been more abundant, and the current seems stronger, so I'm reluctant to chance a nasty encounter with either.
We manage to find a sheltered spot, a small clump of trees perched precariously by the water's edge, and shelter there, pulling the raft partway out of the current and tethering it as securely as we can.
Where the trees stand, there is a natural dip in the ground, and we nestle into it, wrapping ourselves together in the skin we brought with us.
Above us, in the trees, Nosey and Sneezy look as though they are watching over us, perched high, their tails wrapped round the branches they are on, which sway lightly in the breeze. Jack follows my gaze as I look up at them there, then smiles at me when I look down, as if he knows what I'm thinking. By now, he probably does.
Then a different look comes into his eyes, a mischievous one I've come to know and love, and he pushes me back nuzzling at my neck. His stubble rubs gently against my skin as he nips his way across my collarbone - when I shiver in response to him reaching a particular sensitive spot, I can feel his chuckle vibrate through me, echoing deep inside me.
His mouth is so distracting, I almost miss what his hands are doing, with the surreptitious way one is unfastening my fly and the other snaking its way down my back. Almost.
Before I can say anything, if I were able to form any coherent sounds at the moment, his hand has snaked itself around me, his thumb stroking my balls, as I moan and writhe. His other hand is determined, pulling gently at my trousers, sliding them off my hips so slowly that I can barely feel them move.
Jack is still nipping and licking at my neck and collarbone, and I can feel my response elsewhere as he strokes me there. Then, suddenly, his mouth is gone, leaving me gasping like a fish on dry land, moaning desperately. How can he do this to me?
All I can feel is the action of Jack's hand, as though that hand, and the hardness it surrounds, were all that exists in the universe - my heart exists only to pump blood to that organ, my mind only to enable me to moan with desire.
"Jack!" I manage to force out, though the word is almost meaningless, just sounds designed to elicit a response I long for.
My legs are bare now, my trousers long removed, and I feel my legs being lifted, as Jack's hand strokes me, teasing me and keeping me, somehow, from imploding with desire.
Then, just as I feel myself about to burst, a slickness enters me, a lubricated finger probing gently, just as Jack's mouth descends upon me. I lose myself completely, despite the hand that has transferred itself to my hip, the only thing that can keep me from arching into the heat that surrounds me.
I come with a scream, my hands wrapped in Jacks' hair, his stubble rubbing gently across my thighs as I try not to thrust forward, the hardest thing I've ever kept myself from doing, as far as I can remember.
The next thing I see is Jack, his face looming over me in the moonlight, a smile on his lips as he kisses me - when we kiss, I taste myself upon his lips, and Jack's tongue explores my mouth in a leisurely way. Reaching for the skin we had discarded, Jack wraps us again, and we rest for a while.
In the morning, it's time for us to set off again.
The river is getting narrower as we travel onward, the cliffs that surround it are higher, and, after a couple of hours, I think we are moving faster. Somehow, I have a bad feeling about this.
"Jack..." I begin, looking back at him as he steers us.
He's frowning, his eyes intent on what's ahead of us, and I realise then that he's worried too - he has spotted that things have changed with the river, and come to the same conclusion.
"I know," he says, still looking ahead, "we're going faster."
I nod nervously, scanning ahead of us for somewhere we could pull ourselves out of the current, but there is nowhere in sight. As we turn a bend in the river, it's as though a switch has been thrown - from somewhere ahead we can hear the slight rumble of water hitting rock, and it's growing steadily louder and louder. That can only mean one thing.
We're in big trouble!
To my surprise, I find myself enjoying this trip down the river. We have to keep our eyes open for rocks, but the current is steady and the weather is gorgeous. So is the scenery and it keeps Daniel's eyes busy. He's absorbing everything around us like a dry sponge dropped into a bucket of water. He's excited and some of that communicates itself to me, and through me to Nosey and Sneezy.
Nosey keeps moving around and I end up rescuing him more than once as he nearly falls into the river. Sneezy, showing far more brains than his cousin, sticks to Daniel, clinging to his shoulder. Finally, I grab Nosey, place him on my shoulder and tell him straight out to 'stay put.'
That makes Daniel laugh out loud. I make a face at him, then shrug. As long as it work. I have absolutely no desire to go fishing after the little critter even if I am becoming fond of him. Just a bit, of course.
The day proceeds uneventfully, for which I am extremely grateful. Maybe this trip idea was one of Daniel's better ideas. We can both use a break from the hard work of building a home here.
And anything that makes Daniel happy makes me happy, which is - truth be told - quite a telling commentary on how necessary he's become to me. I couldn't bear the thought of being without him now, and even considering the possibility scares the shit out of me.
Don't go there, Jack. Don't borrow trouble.
Things are pretty good for the moment, so let's just enjoy it.
We stop for the night under the shelter of a small group of trees, tying the raft to one trunk and settling down at the base of another. Nosey and Sneezy head up into the branches after a quick dinner of more fruit and dried nut cakes, leaving Daniel and me with the semblance of being alone. Together.
I wrap our one skin around us, though it's not really that cold. It pulls Daniel close to me, which is what I like most. He tucks his glasses away and then snuggles against me. How can I resist this, resist him? Joy rises through me and I smile before leaning over to start kissing him, nuzzling his cheek, his neck, tasting him. He moans and presses closer, encouraging me, and I begin a more thorough exploration. No matter how often I do this, it feels like the first time all over again. The pure delight of being able to hold him, touch him, feel him, and taste him.
I soon free him of his pants and cover his fully aroused cock with my hand, stroking it the way I know he loves. Soon, I'm lost in that; caught up in the beauty of him as he loses himself to the pleasure I give him. Until my own needs threaten to explode and I seek a deeper fulfillment for us both.
We're running low on his supply of sunscreen, but there's enough for the moment, which is all that matters. I probe him gently, trying to take it slowly, but his reaction is intense. It sends licks of fire racing down into my groin, making my cock weep and beg. It's all I can do to avoid shoving into him in one quick thrust, but I love him too much to do that. So I hold myself back, make it an easy, measured glide, until I'm fully seated and he lets me know that he's ready. Then, finally, I can let myself go. I tumble helplessly into ecstasy only to be caught and held in Daniel's arms.
We set off again in the morning and it's soon apparent that the current is speeding up. There are high cliff walls on either side, trapping us onto this thin ribbon of rapidly flowing water. I'm getting nervous about this; it looks like Daniel shares my concerns. His darting gaze is less awestruck this morning, darker and more focused. Then he calls out my name, and I hear it too.
Water rushing hard against rocks. The current speeds up again and it is all I can do to grab for the vine-rope handles I'd built into the raft. Daniel does the same, just was we are hurtled around a sharp bend in the river. Only a swift thrust outward of my pole stops us from hitting the inner corner. Then we bounce free - straight down the center of the river. Right for a long, rushing, rocky set of rapids.
"Ooooh SHIT!" is about all I have time to shout before we hit the first stretch. Daniel's shouting something at me, but I can't hear it over the roar of the water and the blood pounding in my head. I hold on with one hand, desperately wielding the pole with the other. Nosey has dropped down from my shoulder to my chest. It feels like he's trying to dig his way into my skin.
The raft veers off one rock and goes spinning sideways between two more. I push out blindly with my pole, gasping as it hits something solid, the impact reverberating up my arm. We're going down backwards now, I can't see what's coming next. I try to twist around, turning just in time to see Daniel get soaked.
He's clinging onto a raft handle with one hand, the other closed around Sneezy, looking for all the world like a rodeo cowboy clinging to the back of a bucking steer. His entire body is arched against the motion of the raft as it rises and falls, water crashing against the rocks and against us in a brilliant white-diamond spray.
I manage to shift my position and slide closer to him, shoving out with the pole to stop us from smashing into another rock. That sends us twirling again, nearly a full 360, then careening forward as the river suddenly dips, leaving nothing but clear air ahead of us. Oh please, please, not a...
I scream and Daniel echoes me, our voices twining as we burst out into mid air, seem to hang there for a moment, then plummet downward. Down, down, down we go, through water-splashed air. I gulp for air, squeezing my eyes shut, too terrified to form a prayer even if I knew who to pray to, and then we hit.
I slam down across the raft as it strikes the water's surface, my head and shoulders hitting Daniel. It's worse than a thousand belly flops combines, the pain lancing through every bone in my body. Our momentum forces us under water for an instant, then we bounce back up onto the surface, skimming over it. I grab for Daniel, seizing his leg as we slide and tilt dangerously, nearly falling off the edge of the raft.
Then finally, we slow and stop. The raft floats easily on calm water, somehow still intact. I'm not sure I can say the same for me. I groan, unable to move, unwilling to unclench the muscles that are holding me to the raft, to Daniel. He spits water, coughing hard beneath me. Concern overrides my own agony and I draw myself upward to see him.
He looks like a drowned rat, his wet, long hair covering his forehead, eyes, glasses and cheekbones. His chest heaves with the effort of breathing, the muscles in his arms and legs stand out in corded relief under his skin. He's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
"Daniel," I manage to croak. "You OK?"
He coughs at me, then nods. "You?" His voice is a hoarse whisper.
"Yeah, I think so." Finally able to relax a bit as the danger-fed adrenaline high begins to fade, I push myself back into a sitting position close by his side. A quick check assures me that, goodness only knows how, Nosey had managed to survive. In fact, he was still clinging to my shirt, his head buried in my armpit. Daniel still has one hand on Sneezy, who is sputtering and shaking. We're all still alive.
Thanks the heavens above.
It takes us a little while to pull ourselves back together, make sure everyone is basically unharmed, if extremely shaken up, and that we've still got some of our supplies. I've gotta admit those ivy vines are tough. It takes a sharp knife to cut them in the first place and they hold tight. Damn good thing I'd thought to tie everything to the raft. It might not be a bad idea to tie ourselves to it.
Finally, we lift our heads from examining each other and look around us. The waterfall shimmers high into the sky at our backs, while the river widens here into a large pool before continuing into the mouth of a giant cave. The current is slow, but it still exists, relentlessly guiding us towards the dark, forbidding maw of the mountainside. I reach instinctively for my pole before I realize that it is gone. I'd dropped it in favor of grabbing Daniel as we hit bottom.
Oh hell...Here we go again.
Okay, so maybe this wasn't one of my better ideas, after all....
Jack's not saying anything, but the frown on his brow is enough to tell me he's worried - I guess he doesn't want to let on how much, as I'm sure he sees how nervous I'm becoming.
The sound of water rushing over rocks, churning around them, is becoming louder and louder, our raft is bucking and heaving beneath us, and I grab hold of one of the handles we'd attached to the raft, clinging desperately to it. Somehow Jack manages to prevent us being smashed into a million pieces against the jagged outcrops that pepper the river, and we hurtle down the next stretch.
All I can see ahead of us is white water and rocks, the biggest rapids I've ever seen, and I bite down on my lip to keep from screaming. Suddenly my mind goes into overdrive, my imagination supplying me with images of our bodies bloodied and broken, and my stomach lurches.
I hear Jack scream and try to turn towards him, certain that this may be the last time I ever lay eyes on him. I need to tell him that I don't regret anything, that, if I had to do it all again, I wouldn't change anything that has happened between us.
I try to shout something to this effect, but the water crashing against the rocks is thunderous now, and I realise that Jack can't hear me anyway. All I can do is hope he knows how much these past weeks have meant to me.
It's all I can do to keep my grip on the vines tied to the raft as we are thrown about, lurching from the impact with one rock after another, spinning and wheeling across the river. I try to look at Jack, to catch his eye, just for a moment, but he's concentrating fiercely, just trying to keep us alive. This isn't how I wanted it all to end.
We're moving backwards down the river now, still hammering into the rocks as we crash past them, the water pulsing over the sides of the raft like a living thing. One wave hits me, smashing me back against the raft, driving the breath out of me in a whoosh. All I can feel is my hand going numb from gripping one of the handles, and Sneezy's heart hammering against my side.
Then, before we are even aware of it, we are in the air. I'd seen the cartoons, of course, the ones where the coyote runs over the edge of the cliff, and just hangs there, legs still pumping away, but never thought I'd experience that same feeling. We seem to hang for the longest moment, weightless, before gravity takes hold and we plummet.
I can hear screaming, and realise that some of it is me. I'm beyond scared, passing through terrified and right on into whatever comes next. The air we fall through is full of spray, the water droplets sparkling as the sun hits them, and I try to take a deep breath, waiting for impact.
Somehow, when the raft hits the surface of the water with a deafening splash, we are still on it - as I slide across its surface, my hands desperately grasping for a hold on its slipperiness, I feel Jack's hand wrap itself round my ankle, pulling me back.
It's only when we hit calmer water, and my heart starts to slow, that I realise how much I'm hurting. Pain is lancing its way across my shoulder, a jagged pain, like the ends of bone are scraping together, shredding muscle between them.
I lay on the raft, panting with the exertion of holding on, my eyes screwed shut as I try to calm myself. I feel like I've swallowed half the river, and my cough seems to be back. If I never get anywhere near water ever again, it'll be a day too soon.
"Daniel," a voice croaks. "You OK?"
I cough, deciding how honest to be - I decide that Jack will only worry if I tell him I think I've broken my collarbone, so I decide to lie. I know my voice might give it away, as I've never been that good a liar, so I just nod, changing the subject as fast as I can.
"Yeah, I think so," he replies, and I'm swept with a sense of mingled guilt and relief.
Guilt, as I'd not worried about Jack once we hit the rapids, my only thought being survival, and relief that I had been lucky enough that he was still alive too.
Jack looks at me, an assessing glance, and I shift slightly, trying to hide the pain I'm in. It seems to work, for now at least, and he looks away, down the river again.
I hear Jack gasp and turn to follow his gaze, hissing slightly as a wave of pain hits.
All I can see ahead is darkness, the mouth of a huge cave, to which we are being inexorably drawn. Once again there is no escape, nowhere to go - all we can do is hang on tight again and pray to whoever might be listening.
As we enter the cave, the darkness overwhelms us - we turn a bend in the river and the light level drops, leaving just the glimmer of light reflected from the material of the cave.
There seems to be some kind of quartz-like material running in veins through the reddish rock, and the light sparks from it, leaving glittering trails.
The river swoops its way through, deeper and deeper into the caves, until daylight is just a memory. The current is strong, though not as strong as before and, as we've lost our steering pole we crash against the sides of the cave as we pass, hammering each turn with a horrible scraping sound.
Each impact sends vibrations through the raft, echoing up into my arm until I think I'm going to scream with the pain it evokes - I bite on my lip to suppress this, and the taste of blood fills my mouth. I don't need Jack to realise now that I'm hurt, there'll be time for that later. I hope.
I can only see a huddled shape nearby, clinging to the raft like I am, but that reassures me immensely. As long as Jack is here, a little voice in my mind seems to say, then everything will be alright.
Each time we rebound from the rocks now, the impact is followed by a creaking sound, each repetition getting louder.
After a few moments, I realise that it's coming from beneath us - the raft is coming to pieces!
Before I can scream to Jack, warn him of what's happening, we hit the wall again, scraping our way round a long turn in the cave wall, spinning as we go. A groan and a creak signal the end of things as the raft comes to pieces, and I hit the water.
"Jack!" I scream, going under the water.
When I surface, spitting out water, I feel one of the logs floating nearby and wrap my arms around it, kicking with my legs to stop the way its turning in the water.
No response - all that answers me is the sound of rushing water.
My voice cracks as I realise that, once again, I am alone.
I've lost all track of time as I float here, clinging onto the log - the river has lost its violence now, and I'm drifting steadily deeper and deeper in.
All I feel is numb, inside and out - I've lost the feeling in my legs from the coldness of the water, and my brain feels like it's wrapped up deep inside my head. If it weren't for the pain from my collarbone, I'd hardly know I was alive.
After a little while, I notice that I can see more of what is around me - there seems to be more light here than there was before, and I crane my neck to see its source.
The quartz-like material I had noticed earlier seems to be missing here, replaced by streaks of something that glows slightly. There is an odd greenish luminescence here, lighting up the cave with a dim but steady light.
As I look round, out of the corner of my eye, I see a glint of something. Turning back, as I float past, squinting that way, I realise that what I had seen was light hitting metal.
The log I am clinging to rounds a bend and I am greeted with a sight that nearly makes me lose my grip. All the time I had been travelling down a relatively narrow passageway, but now the passage swell, widening to form a natural cavern.
And suddenly I am not alone any more, as hundreds of eyes turn to me as one, fixing me with a baleful, unblinking gaze.
I hear a high-pitched clicking and hissing sound, which my tired brain takes a moment to categorize as a language. Before I can decide whether I want to make contact with these new acquaintances, ropes come swishing through the air, their ends tied to sharp prongs that embed themselves into the wood of the log, biting deeply. I am being pulled towards the side of the river, then find myself being dragged up onto the rock and deposited in a heap in front of one of their number. As I hit the ground, a wave of pain sweeps over me, and I am swept away with it, diving down into blackness.
|Continued in Part 4...|