Jack had managed to leave the briefing room with the rest of the team, somehow without more than one backward glance.
The expression he had seen on Daniel's face reminded him of nothing more than his years at school, waiting outside the principal's office after his latest escapade - there was that same look of worry mingled with a desperate hope that the entire details of whatever misdeed he was there for had not been passed on.
Carter's voice cut into Jack's trip back in time.
"With all due respect, sir," she said, not noticing the way Jack's eyes narrowed at those words, "do you know what the general wanted with Daniel?"
Jack bit down on the immediate sarcastic response that almost flew from his mouth, seeing the concern in Carter's eyes.
"No idea," he replied instead.
"You don't think..." she began, before glancing around where they were standing in the corridor to see if they were observed.
"Think what?" Jack asked, trying to stifle a smile at Carter's attempts to be subtle, which were anything but.
"That he knows," Carter concluded. "You know, about..." Her voice trailed off, her eyes communicating the rest of the unspoken message.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't ask me that, Carter," Jack replied. "Let's not hang about - we need to get kitted up and ready to go asap."
With that, he turned sharply towards the locker rooms again, managing somehow not to glance back towards the briefing room.
Daniel met up with the rest of the team in the 'Gate room, coming in just as the others were assembling at the base of the ramp. As usual, he was struggling a little to do up his helmet as well as carry his equipment, and Jack stepped forward to snag the backpack from him.
"Oh. Thanks, Jack," Daniel said, smiling what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
"No problem. Can we go now?" Jack asked, seeing Daniel's eyes widen slightly at the words, the twin to those he had said in the storage room only hours before.
"After you," Daniel replied, taking back his pack now that his helmet was secure.
Shaking his head slightly at the way some things never changed, Jack headed up the ramp, hearing the footsteps of the rest of his team echo through the room, before the quiet of the wormhole enveloped him.
"The MALP indicated that the main settlement is to the west, sir," Carter replied, glancing at the colonel as he spoke.
From the corner of his eye, Jack could see Daniel by the DHD, his hands swiftly over the glyphs as if touching them was a part of remembering. He could also see the way that Daniel kept glancing over towards him when he thought he was not being observed. Jack sighed to himself.
This is more complicated than I thought...
"Lead the way, Carter," Jack said, turning to where Daniel was standing. "We ready to go, Daniel?"
"Sure, Jack," Daniel replied, crossing the short distance between them hastily. "I.. uh... I need to speak with you," he continued, in a more hushed tone, glancing a little nervously at where the other team members were.
"Fire away," Jack said, starting to follow where Carter was leading.
Daniel was forced to come along too, or risk being left behind, with Teal'c taking up the rear.
"This have anything to do with your private chat with the general?" Jack asked, as casually as he could manage.
"Uh huh. I think he knows," Daniel said. "Or he suspects."
"It has to be one or the other, Daniel."
"I guess," Daniel conceded. "I'm just not sure which one."
"So what did he say?" Jack prompted, when Daniel did not say any more.
"He implied that I needed to speak with the rest of the team, that they could help me through what happened on our last mission."
When he had spoken, Daniel looked at Jack as if he expected a particular response.
"Jack? Don't you see what he's getting at?"
"Uh... no?" Jack replied.
He could see that Daniel was worried, that much was clear, but he could not see why. Everything that the other man had told him about his conversation with Hammond was merely consistent with an officer taking care of those individuals in his charge.
"No?" Daniel echoed, his voice a little too loud.
Ahead, he could see Carter look back over her shoulder at the pitch of that particular word, before shaking her head as if dismissing it and heading onwards.
"You think I'm over-reacting, don't you, Jack?" Daniel asked, in a more moderately pitched voice.
"If he knows, he would have said something to both of us," Jack said. "If he suspects, hell, we just have to make sure we don't give him any evidence, don't we?"
"You make it sound so simple," Daniel said.
"Life doesn't have to be complicated all the time, Daniel," Jack replied.
"In my experience," Daniel retorted, "it usually is, Jack..."
Jack's seemingly casual words had not managed to allay Daniel's fears.
As much as he wanted to believe that things were that simple, Daniel knew that this was rarely the case - if Hammond even suspected there was something going on between the two of them, then that in itself could be enough for him to split the two men up.
Whatever else happened, Daniel could not imagine what it would be like to still be a part of the SGC and not be working so closely with Jack. He thought about that for a moment and then decided that he did not want to imagine what that would be like.
There would be something so frustrating and terrifying about the two of them being separated like that, that even thinking about the implications made Daniel want to shudder.
How could he stand in the control room and watch the man he loved walk through the event horizon, into the kind of certain danger that seemed to dog SGC missions, without at least being there to share that danger with him?
The idea that one day Jack might go through the 'Gate and not return shook him more than he had expected, driving a needle of ice into his heart with a pain he had not considered possible.
It was a familiar pain, one Daniel had known on a number of occasions in his life, one that he had not experienced so acutely since the day he had knelt by Sha're's graveside and known that his quest to free her from the clutches of the Goa'uld was truly over.
But he could only think that Jack was being a little too casual at the moment. He was sure that the colonel was only trying to mollify him, to allay his fears, but it felt more like those fears were being brushed aside.
Can we do this? Daniel wondered. Can we manage to be in a relationship with the kind of constraints that we are going to need to work within?
The moment that thought went through his brain, Daniel knew he could never share that concern with Jack. The other man would see it as an indication that he was not really prepared for the consequences of such a relationship, even though he had never thought of it that way.
He knew instinctively that Jack would think he was over-reacting, that Jack would tell him that plenty of other people lived and worked in the same way, but that was a false hope for him. Neither he or Jack were 'other people' - the strength of their relationship lay in the depth of the friendship that had nearly been torn apart between them.
It was almost in Daniel's mind for a moment to regret that he had ever said anything about his feelings for Jack. If he had kept his own counsel, not made that seemingly rash decision to lay his emotions bare for Jack to see, what would things be like between them now?
Daniel pondered this as he walked, his eyes intent on Carter's back as she led the way towards the settlement that they could see in the distance.
Daniel could feel Jack's reassuring presence beside him, hear the faint crunching sounds as Jack's boots crushed the heather-like plants that carpeted the ground on the planet - if he really concentrated, he even could hear each breath that Jack took.
Could I have been that strong? Daniel wondered. Never told him how I felt? Just stayed as friends?
The answer was there before he had even finished the thought.
Daniel knew what it had cost him to keep quiet all that time, the frustration he had felt watching Jack flirt with other people and wanting to see that charming smile headed in his direction for once.
Every time he had seen Jack with a woman, like the time that he had watched Jack be led by the hand to share Kinthia's bed on Argos, that same familiar pain had returned, making Daniel feel both guilty and alarmed.
At the time, he had tried to argue that if he loved Jack as much as he thought, then he would want Jack to be happy, even if that happiness could not be found with the two of them being together. But even that thought had burned at him, as the fingers of jealousy pulled at his heart.
No matter how hard he tried, Daniel knew that he was not someone who could share - he had to have Jack to himself, or not at all. And if that meant that they had to play by someone else's rules for that to happen, then that was precisely what Daniel would have to do.
He's got that look on his face again, Jack thought, glancing covertly at Daniel for the fourth time in the past five minutes.
Over the time that Jack had known Daniel he had been given ample opportunity to study the younger man's face and it was now so familiar to him that every look displayed there was like an open book. That look, Jack decided, was Daniel deep in thought about something, something that worried him.
It was always a little disconcerting when Daniel was so quiet too. Even though the way Daniel seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of stories and explanations about everything might be expected to grate on Jack, over their time together the colonel had grown used to it.
So Daniel's running commentary on life should have been the last thing that Jack could tolerate. In that respect, the colonel had surprised himself.
There was something about Daniel's voice that comforted him, something that he could pull to himself for security, knowing that the flow of words meant that everything was probably okay with the other man. Jack had learned from painful observation that Daniel was someone who closed in on himself when he was hurting, rather than using words as a defense.
Never a man who wanted someone else to have the last word, Jack had schooled himself in sarcastic comments, throwaway remarks to cover up confusion or worry, to give himself a chance to think.
Guess it's like living next to the railway track, Jack thought, grinning to himself. You only end up noticing the sound of the trains when they stop...
Jack glanced at Daniel again, noting that the younger man did not seem to realise that he was being watched.
And what's eating at you this time, Daniel? he wondered.
The two men walked together in silence a little further, both following Carter's lead as she headed towards the settlement, watching the way that the major checked out their surroundings as she led the way.
Jack smiled to himself in recollection of his last conversation with Carter. It was obvious that the major had thought herself subtle, that she had picked up on the same concerns that he had about what Hammond wished to discuss with Daniel.
Had he been too flippant? Jack had tried to reassure Daniel, to let him know that he understood the other man's concerns, even if he did not share them at the moment. After all, if Hammond truly suspected anything, then Jack was certain that he would have been the one having the private conversation with the general.
He had been wrong to try to lead Daniel on in the elevator. Then the two of them had danced around how they were going to work together and keep their hands off each other in the long term.
Jack smiled at the images those words conjured up. It had been a while since he had really thought about more than the immediate future. It had seemed to stretch before him so grey and empty that he had always preferred to focus on the present and leave the future to work itself out as it arrived.
But Daniel, with a few nervous words, had changed all that.
There was nothing about either men's personalities that boded well for anything but a permanent commitment to one another - both were too stubborn, too possessive, to ever contemplate some kind of casual liaison.
And that was despite a pretty lousy track record on both their parts where relationships were concerned.
Surely the strength of Jack and Daniel's friendship, and the fact that it had somehow managed to survive the uncovering of the true nature of their feelings for one another, had to be a good omen for their chances together?
Daniel's voice was quiet, but it cut into Jack's considerations like a knife. The colonel turned his head sharply to look in Daniel's direction.
"We are going to make this work, aren't we?"
As much as Jack might have wanted to be glib and casual, the emotion that he saw in Daniel's face brought any such words to a shuddering halt before they were even spoken.
He nodded, his mouth suddenly dry as he considered the look of trust and belief in him that he saw so clearly there.
"I'm sorry if I was over-reacting earlier," Daniel continued. "I was just... the general caught me a little off guard, I wasn't expecting that conversation, I guess..."
"That's okay," Jack replied. "And I'm sorry if you thought that I was just dismissing what you were saying earlier..."
The look of surprise that erupted across Daniel's face as Jack spoke those words made Jack smile to himself. He had clearly surprised the other man, by choosing not to go with the throwaway line, even though it had been something of an effort not to do so.
"You don't think I was over-reacting?" Daniel asked, after a moment's silence fell between them.
"You, over-reacting?" Jack joked weakly, pleased to see the small smile appear on Daniel's face at the words.
"Seriously, Daniel," Jack echoed, "I shouldn't have tried to get things going between us in the elevator like that..."
"But you weren't the one who dragged someone into the nearest storage room..." Daniel began.
"Did you hear me complaining?" Jack interrupted, suddenly a little concerned at the guilt he thought he could detect in Daniel's voice.
"But it shouldn't have happened..."
"It's okay to be spontaneous, it's just something that might not be such a good idea at work..."
"I know," Daniel said, "it's just difficult..."
"I understand," Jack replied. "And it'll get easier, I promise."
A sense of warmth swept through Daniel as he considered Jack's words, unexpected as they were. It was times like this that he remembered so easily what it had been that had caused him to fall for Jack in the first place - though the colonel hid his true nature behind a carapace of sarcasm, inside he was all heart, unchangeable.
That had always been clear, even when Jack had been so stricken by guilt and grief over the death of his son that he had hardly been able to think straight. He had accepted the suicide mission that was the trip to Abydos, always meaning to be the person who stayed behind, the one who made that last grand gesture and ensured their world was safe from the Goa'uld.
But during that mission, Jack had changed.
His commitment to those he was sworn to protect had not altered, but in a shared moment Daniel would recall and treasure forever, he had seen the very life return to Jack's eyes.
That had been the beginning of it all for Daniel, the start of the rollercoaster that would become their relationship.
Of course, Daniel hadn't realised it at the time - it was only the long nights of Abydos that gave him a chance to consider what he had given up by choosing to stay behind there and bury the 'Gate. But it had been something Daniel felt obliged to do, if only as a gesture to free Jack from the things he had brought with him to the planet, burying them in the endless sands of Abydos.
As time had passed, Daniel had begun to regret his decision, even though he doubted that there could have been any chance of even friendship with Jack O'Neill had they both somehow returned to Earth.
So, when that kleenex box had come flying through the 'Gate, heralding the fact that his life was about to change forever again, Daniel had felt absurdly guilty at the concept of seeing Jack again.
He had never made any secret to Sha're of how he felt, that there were things about their relationship he regretted. She, in turn, had accepted this as merely a part of who he was, not even trying to change him, for which Daniel would be eternally grateful.
It was bad enough that he blamed himself for opening the 'Gate - if he had thought that he had been deceiving Sha're somehow, that would have been intolerable. And, at the end of it all, after he had taken part in her funeral, watching the sand tumble over her body as it lay beneath the Abydos suns, Daniel had sworn to himself that he would tell Jack everything.
It had taken a while for that oath to be kept, with results that he regretted now, but when Daniel saw the look that was on Jack's face as he spoke words of honesty and concern for them both, there was nothing that he would have changed.
"The village looks deserted, sir," Carter said, returning to Jack's side after a quick survey of the ramshackle buildings.
From where he stood, Jack could see Daniel out of the corner of his eye - the other man was videoing the settlement, panning slowly over the few buildings that were still standing, stepping backwards to get a better angle on one of them and stumbling slightly on a piece of uneven ground.
Jack smiled to himself at that, thinking then how little Daniel had changed, even despite the terrible things he had experienced over their short acquaintance.
"Let's see what Teal'c has to say, major," Jack replied. "I don't like the look of those clouds on the horizon."
Carter obediently turned to look in the direction Jack was indicating, frowning as she saw the darkness that was approaching them.
"I'm sure our projections can't be that wrong, colonel," she said. "The computer simulation I ran said we had a few more days before the rains would hit..."
"Computers..." Jack began.
It was Teal'c's voice, echoing strangely around the deserted village. As he turned in the direction of the sound, Jack saw Daniel's head snap up, the hand that had been holding the video camera lowering and Daniel's other hand falling to his side-arm.
Good thinking, Daniel, Jack thought, smiling at Daniel's instinctive reaction, despite the uncertainty of the situation. We'll make a soldier out of you yet...
Teal'c emerged then from the shelter of one of the half-collapsed buildings, pulling along with him what was clearly a reluctant local. The man was somewhat emaciated, yet was obviously struggling with what little strength he had remaining against the grip that the Jaffa was maintaining effortlessly on his arm.
Daniel took a step forward at the sight, the hand which had been resting on his side-arm coming up so that he could push his glasses back onto his nose.
"Uh... Teal'c..." Daniel began.
"No, Daniel," Jack interrupted, suddenly aware of what Daniel's next words were likely to be.
The interruption earned Jack a glare, Daniel's head whipping round in his direction - the effect was spoiled slightly by the fact that Daniel's eyes contradicted the annoyance in his face.
"I discovered this man in the ruins, O'Neill," Teal'c said, answering the unspoken question.
"D'you think you could let him go?" Daniel asked, glancing at Jack once more.
Teal'c studied Daniel's face as if trying to decide what language he was speaking, before his head turned slowly back to where Jack was standing. When Jack nodded in reluctant agreement to Daniel's suggestion, Teal'c let go, watching with one eyebrow arched as the man he had been holding onto scuttled backwards as far as he could.
"We're not going to hurt you," Daniel said, crouching down and making eye contact with the obviously terrified local.
As Daniel spoke the words, the man's eyes flicked over to where Teal'c was still standing.
"That one," the man muttered, making Daniel lean forward slightly to catch the words. "He is Jaffa..."
"He is," Daniel agreed, "but you're safe here."
The man's eyes returned to Teal'c once more, then crossed to where Jack was standing, one hand resting in a seemingly casual manner on his weapon.
"I promise you that nothing will happen to you..." Daniel continued. "Why are you here alone?"
The man's eyes snapped back to Daniel then - it was clear that he was hesitating, choosing his words carefully before he spoke again.
"I am an outcast," he said. "The rains are coming so I knew that the village would once again be deserted and I came to see what I could steal, what the others had left behind..."
Even as he spoke, the man's eyes were intent on Daniel, taking in every detail of him as he crouched there in the dirt, his video camera forgotten in his hand.
"Can you take us to the rest of your people?" Daniel asked.
"It is forbidden."
"Can you tell us where they are, then?"
"Forbidden," Daniel concluded. "Yeah, I get the idea."
Getting up from his slightly awkward crouch, Daniel reached round to snag his pack and stow away the video camera. The man remained crouching, his eyes following Daniel's every move in a way that unnnerved Jack slightly. The colonel could feel his fingers tightening instinctively on his weapon, even though his conscious mind knew that the weakened man was no danger to Daniel.
Daniel came over to where Jack was standing, not looking back at where the man was still watching him.
"He can't help us," Daniel said, one hand absently brushing dust from his fatigues.
"Can't or won't?" Jack asked, without taking his eyes off the local.
"It's the same thing for him, Jack," Daniel replied. There was a pause. "He's still watching me, isn't he?" Daniel continued, his voice barely audible.
I can understand the fascination, Jack thought. Heaven knows I feel that way often enough...
"Right. We'd better start looking for the other locals," Daniel said, pausing as if to consider their next move.
"I'm not sure we're going to have enough time for that, Daniel," Jack replied. "The rains seem to be moving in faster than expected."
"Well, if I was looking for shelter from rising waters," Daniel said, sounding as though he was talking to himself more than the others, "I'd head for those hills over there..."
"Did you hear what I said, Daniel?" Jack asked, a little impatiently.
"We need to make contact with the indigenous peoples, Jack," Daniel replied, his tone eminently reasonable. "You heard what Sam said - if we don't meet with them before the rains start, it'll be months before we get this chance again..."
Jack glanced towards the horizon - there were definitely clouds gathering there, dark ones that hung heavy with rain. When he looked back at Daniel, the younger man's eyes were focussed on him in a way that made him squirm a little, the mute entreaty and curiosity there for anyone to see.
Jack sighed, knowing he had already lost the argument from the time that the two men had made eye contact.
"Okay." Daniel smiled as Jack spoke the word. "But we can't stay long, Daniel," Jack warned. "If we don't find them within a few hours..."
"Let's go then," Jack said, turning to look around at where Teal'c and Carter were watching their discussion. "Looks like it's time to head for the hills, kids..."
Both Jack and Daniel's heads snapped round to where the man was still crouching, Jack eyeing him warily as he got up from the ground and approached them. He was glad to see Daniel take a step back, positioning himself so that Jack was between him and the approaching local, even though the man did not look capable of hurting anyone.
"What?" Jack snapped.
"If the Jaffa goes with you," the man continued, addressing Daniel as if Jack had not spoken, "you will not see anyone."
"You saw how he reacted to Teal'c," Daniel said. "And that wasn't just because he caught him skulking around. There was real fear there..."
Jack sighed. This was one of the things he hated about being in command - it was time for him to make a decision, knowing that if everything went horribly wrong, it was moments like this that they would point to as being pivotal. If, of course, anyone survived long enough to tell Hammond what decisions had been made.
"Okay," he said, after a moment's consideration. "Carter, Teal'c, you head back to the 'Gate. If we're not back in 12 hours, send in the cavalry, okay?"
Carter nodded, her face showing clearly that she disagreed with this decision, but not strongly enough to object to it. Teal'c merely inclined his head in agreement, the indication obvious enough to anyone who knew him as well as they had come to do over the years.
"12 hours, sir," Carter echoed, before turning and heading back in the direction of the 'Gate, Teal'c following close behind.
"See if you can get any more information out of him now Teal'c is gone, Daniel," Jack said, turning back to where Daniel was standing, watching the other two members of SG1 head off into the distance.
"Who, Jack?" Daniel asked, looking at him with a small smile on his face.
Jack glanced around. The two of them were alone, the local having vanished some time during their earlier conversation.
"I hate it when that happens," Jack said, mostly to himself.
"Can we go now?" Daniel asked, gesturing with his head towards the nearby range of hills.
"Very funny, Daniel..."
As the two of them travelled, the ground began to rise, subtly at first and then more pronounced. Jack could hardly tear his eyes from the horizon long enough to see where they were going, almost mesmerised by the darkness that was inching its way towards them with the threat of rain.
Daniel was leading the way, reduced now almost to clambering on his hands and knees over the steepest parts of the rock-strewn hillside, his head lifting occasionally to orientate himself with the crest that he had set his heart on reaching. He had seen it earlier, finding himself somehow drawn to it in a way he could not explain.
At one stage, Daniel stopped, certain that he had seen movement on the rocks above.
So intent was he on the horizon, Jack had walked straight into the back of him, before taking an involuntary step backwards, flailing slightly to maintain his balance.
"I thought I saw something move up there," Daniel explained.
"Can't see anything," Jack replied. After a moment's pause, he spoke again. "If we don't make contact soon, Daniel, we're going to have to turn around. I have no intention of getting stranded here."
"Just a little further," Daniel muttered. "I'm sure of it..."
By the time they realised that they were surrounded, it was too late to do anything about it.
Jack's hand had fallen to his weapon, but he had seen the spears that the local inhabitants carried with such ease and assurance, knowing from painful experience of the deadliness of aim with which they could be wielded. He had no intention of repeating *that* particular experience if he could possibly avoid it.
"Daniel?" he prompted.
"We... uh... mean you no harm..." Daniel said, stumbling slightly over the cliched words.
"Very smooth," Jack muttered, earning a glance from Daniel.
"Why do you hunt us?" one of the locals asked, stepping forward slightly as she did so.
She was a short woman, stocky and clearly well-used to hard labour. Her eyes were the most striking feature about her face, which was almost square in shape - they were a deep and luminous green, made even more striking by her dark skin.
"Hunt you?" Daniel replied. "No, we weren't hunting you..."
"You came with a Jaffa, seeking to enslave us once more." The woman's voice was determined, the solemn assurance of command clear within it.
"Teal'c? No, he is a Jaffa, that's true, but he no longer serves the Goa'uld." The woman's face was blank at the unknown word, so Daniel tried another tack, shaking his head at his inability to explain. "The evil gods... the demons?"
"You do not serve the demons?" she asked, her eyes glinting in the lessening light.
"No, we don't," Jack interrupted. "Never have, never will..."
The woman turned to look at him then, her eyes raking over him in an assessing glance. There was something about the expression in her eyes that made Jack shudder slightly, a coldness that he had not experienced since he had last been face to face with one of the Goa'uld.
"We should go, Daniel," he said quietly. "We've bothered these folks enough..."
"Now, Daniel," Jack said, starting to back away from where the woman was standing.
Somehow, his tone had managed to convince Daniel in a way that the words had failed to do. Muttering his apologies, Daniel had also begun to inch back towards where the colonel was standing, neither man wanting to turn their back on the inhabitants of this planet.
From above, in the ever darkening sky, suddenly there was a loud boom of thunder, rolling across the plain. A flash of lightning slammed down onto the nearby hillside, lighting up the tableau of locals, the eyes of all of them fixed on the two men who were backing away from them.
His scalp prickling at the thought of how close the lightning strike had been, Jack continued to back away, his feet feeling for the rocks at the edge of the small plateau on which they stood.
At least this time, he thought, for once, Daniel is following my lead...
He could see Daniel, who had almost reached his side now. It was clear from the other man's posture that he was backing away reluctantly, but maybe he too had sensed the unspoken danger there?
Somehow, for no reason that he could have ever explained, all that happened was that the loose circle of locals stood and watched as their visitors clambered back over the edge of the hill and began to descend, even more carefully than they had climbed.
Any moment now, Jack kept thinking, as the two of them picked their way carefully down the hill-side. Any moment now, we're going to see those spears...
They had reached the base of the hill now, Daniel glancing up at the incline that they had scaled, a look of regret in his eyes.
Jack sighed to himself. He knew that look, having seen it just about every time that he dragged Daniel away from some artefact or other when he still believed that there were things to discover.
"No, Daniel," Jack said, smiling to himself as Daniel's head snapped around at the instant rebuttal of his as-yet unspoken question.
"You don't know what I was going to ask!"
"You were going to say that you wished you had the chance to try and speak with them further," Jack said, "and then you were going to complain about me dragging you away."
"No. I wasn't." Daniel's voice was definite, unshakeable. "I was going to say I'd never seen anyone with eyes like that who wasn't a Goa'uld host."
"You were?" Jack asked. He shook his head at the idea. "You may live longer than I ever expected, then, Daniel - you seem to be learning!"
Another crack of lightning slammed into the hillside, sending small boulders racing downwards from the strike, gathering momentum as they plummeted down the slope.
"That's our cue to get the hell out of Dodge, Daniel," Jack said, "let's go."
The two men began to cross the empty plain, heading for the deserted settlement that was their first landmark on the way back to the 'Gate. Even as they crossed the desolate ground, they could feel the wind picking up, whipping swiftly across the open spaces and tugging at their clothing as they walked.
"Are we being followed?" Daniel asked, not even daring to look around as he spoke.
"Not as far as I can tell," Jack replied. "I think it's the weather we need to be more concerned about..."
He left the sentence unfinished, knowing that Daniel understood the implications of his words as well as he did. If they were to be trapped here by the weather, with the rainy season leading to the flooding of the area in which the 'Gate stood, it would be a long and difficult time for both of them.
The SGC might be able to give them supplies, forming an incoming wormhole and providing them with suitably packaged materials, but they would be unable to 'Gate out. Unless they were sent scuba equipment, there would be no way that they could both dial and make it to the 'Gate in time. Even then, forming an outgoing wormhole would send thousands of tons of water crashing into the embarkation room, with no way of escape.
Both men quickened their pace slightly, as if in unspoken agreement with one another, the same worries crossing both minds.
The storm was worsening, the wind increasing to such an extent that, as it whirled around the two of them, Daniel was temporarily disorientated for a moment, losing sight of Jack as he stumbled. The damp heather-like plants cushioned his fall, saving him from any broken bones, but it was a long few moments before he felt Jack's hand catch his arm, pulling him back to his feet.
"You okay?" Jack shouted, straining his voice to make himself heard over the whistling wind.
Daniel nodded, then looked around, uncertain which way they should be going. A further flash of lightning illuminated everything, turning the two of them into the centrepieces of a well-lit tableau as well as clearly marking the way to the settlement.
He headed in that direction then, tugging Jack along with him by the colonel's still-present grip on his arm.
The two men collapsed into the shelter of the nearest building, sighing with relief as they escaped from the buffeting winds.
"We're going to have to wait this out, Jack," Daniel said. "We can't make it to the 'Gate in this wind."
"We may not have that choice," Jack replied. "You know we don't have that much time to play with."
"Well, at least we can catch our breath..."
"Sure," Jack agreed, following Daniel into the shelter of one of the smaller buildings.
As the two men crouched there together, in the semi-darkness that the storm had created, they could hear the wind rising, whipping stones from the tops of the walls and slamming them into the ground. A roll of thunder sounded as though it was directly on top of them, deafening them for a moment. In the flash of light that followed soon after, Jack could see how wide Daniel's eyes were, even though he was silent.
Taking a deep breath, Jack inched closer to where Daniel was crouched. It had taken him a while to remember that they were alone here together, with no-one to report their behaviour, not to mention that he now had permission to reach out and comfort Daniel.
When his hand reached Daniel's shoulder, the other man jumped slightly, his head turning towards Jack - even in the little light that penetrated the room they were in, Jack could see the embarrassed smile that crossed Daniel's face.
"It's going to be okay," Jack said, wondering for a moment which of them he was trying to reassure. "We're going to get out of here."
"I know," Daniel said, with an assurance that surprised the colonel. "Sorry. You startled me."
Putting down the pack within which he had been rummaging, Daniel moved closer to Jack, so close that the colonel could feel Daniel's warm breath on his face.
He slipped his hand from Daniel's shoulder, pushing it round behind the other man's back as he felt Daniel's arm hand under his jacket. The load-bearing harnesses they wore meant that there was little room for manoeuvre, but Jack was just glad for the contact.
"This should feel strange, shouldn't it?" Daniel asked, somehow knowing that this was on the colonel's mind.
"We've been in dangerous situations before, Daniel," Jack reminded him. "Maybe not quite this close to one another, but even so..."
"I know this is neither the time or the place," Daniel began, "but I really want to go home. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"It'll work out, Jack," Daniel said, far more confidently than he felt. "This is new, I know."
Jack could feel the pool of warmth that was creeping into his side where Daniel's hand was positioned - there was something comfortable about it being there, something so reassuring and normal that surprised him.
Silence fell between the two men for a moment, as each man listened to the wind and the destruction that it was wreaking on the buildings that surrounded them. Then they realised, faces turning to one another at almost the same moment, that there was another sound there, one that they had not noticed before.
"Is that..." Daniel began. Jack nodded, hardly knowing how to say what he was thinking when he recognised that sound for what it was. Daniel swallowed. "It's raining, isn't it?"
"We should go. Now."
The two men separated themselves reluctantly, Daniel picking up his pack in preparation for the trek back to the 'Gate.
"Leave the pack, Daniel."
"You're kidding. You are kidding, aren't you?" Daniel stared at Jack for a moment. "What about the video camera, my notes, the MRE's..."
"Stash it all some place safe. We need to travel light." Jack was systematically emptying his pockets as he spoke, shoving the contents of his fatigues into the pack that Daniel was holding. "If we get stuck here, we're going to need it all, but if we don't, it'll just slow us down..."
"Okay," Daniel said, his tone clearly indicating his reluctance even as he followed Jack's lead.
There was an empty space below the rafters in the building they currently occupied. Jack removed the magazine from his MP5, before reaching up as far as he could stretch and shoving the weapon into the gap. Stepping back, he watched as Daniel shoved the pack in there too.
"Let's go," Jack said, leading the way out of the building without even looking to see whether Daniel would follow his lead.
Daniel would remember this journey for a long time to come. There had been times when he was on Abydos, his skin burning under the heat of two suns, half-blinded by the glare from the sand dunes, that he would long for water. It was times like that he tended to think about cold drinks, long leisurely swims, snow falling.
After this mission, he vowed, as he plugged along beside Jack in the rain, he would never think so fondly of water.
The wind was still whipping around them, tearing at their clothes even as the rain stung and slammed into their bodies. The occasional flash of lightning would reveal that the rain was falling almost horizontally, blinding them in their headlong dash for the 'Gate.
Each minute that passed, the level of water that lay on the ground they were crossing was rising. Their feet squelched and splashed through the sodden vegetation, sending more water flying as they half-ran towards their destination. Their footing was becoming more treacherous, forcing them to slow their pace as they skidded their way across the plain.
When they finally reached the area where the 'Gate was situated, it took a moment for them to recognise it. Though the DHD was situated on slightly higher ground, there was water already lapping at the base of the 'Gate, with the plinth on which it stood already covered.
"Dial it up, Daniel," Jack said, wading down into the water that surrounded the 'Gate itself.
He had been mentally rehearsing the series of glyphs over the last mile or so, which meant that Daniel's hands practically flew over the surface of the DHD, even though it was slippery with rain. One hand slapped onto the crystal in the middle, before he headed down from the DHD into the water, fumbling slightly with the GDO as he did so.
He could see Jack wading closer and closer to the plinth on which the 'Gate was standing and he realised that Jack was close. Too close.
"JACK!" he shouted as the wormhole blossomed out, sending strange shadows across the surface of the water that was now a few feet about the surface of the plinth.
Even as Jack turned to look at him, in response to his cry, he seemed to realise the danger he was in, throwing himself to one side with an almighty splash. Daniel had screwed his eyes shut even as he saw the wormhole form, remembering the time they had spent on the prison planet Hadante, when he had seen someone incinerated in just such a situation.
When he opened his eyes, the surface of the water was still, the light of the event horizon casting eerie shadows, as it sucked in the water that was lapping against it.
"JACK!" he yelled again, an edge of panic starting to emerge.
Just as he was about to lose it completely, Daniel saw movement by the 'Gate, watching incredulously as Jack emerged from the water. He was obviously pulling himself up by the stone that comprised the 'Gate's plinth, gasping for breath even as he did so.
Daniel threw himself in the direction of the 'Gate again, half-swimming and half-wading through the chest-high water. It was cold, icy cold, and he could feel the circulation starting to ebb from his legs.
"That... that was too close," Jack said, with a grin, as he reached down and helped haul Daniel up to join him by the base of the 'Gate. "Let's get out of here, Daniel," he said, pulling him by the arm into the event horizon.
They arrived through the other side of the wormhole as they had entered it - headfirst and accompanied by a great gush of water. As a result, neither of them really slowed down much before they hit the wall at the base of the control room, shoved along as they were by the force of water that had both followed and surrounded them.
"Shut it down!" yelled a voice over the loudspeaker system, a voice both Jack and Daniel recognised as belonging to Hammond.
With those words, the wormhole disengaged, so that the gout of water that had been rushing down the ramp with great force was reduced to a trickle suddenly. There was a couple of feet of water covering the 'Gate room floor, which lapped around Jack and Daniel as they just sat there, slightly surprised to have arrived in one piece.
After a moment, Jack glanced at Daniel. He considered his bedraggled appearance for a moment, seemingly considering whether to throw him back. Then, when he could no longer manage to hold it back, Jack began to grin.
"What are you smiling at?" Daniel growled. As he spoke he was pushing back his wet hair from his face with one hand, as the other removed his glasses. He looked around, wondering what he could get to dry them off and blinking slightly at their surroundings, which seemed so light after the darkness of the planet they had left behind.
"You, I guess."
"You're no oil painting either, Jack," Daniel commented, his eyes resting for a moment on Jack's hair, which seemed to be trying to spike in every direction possible.
"So, should we go get a shower?" Jack asked as he got up, trying to sound nonchalant, as if this kind of thing happened to them everyday.
"Good idea," Daniel replied, struggling up from his sitting position by pushing one hand against the now-wet concrete wall and following the colonel out of the 'Gate room.
Daniel's steps grew slower and slower as he followed Jack down the corridor towards the locker room. What had seemed like an innocent suggestion when they were in the 'Gate room was beginning to assume monumental proportions in his mind the closer they came to the showers.
The two of them had met General Hammond in the corridor, the first person they had laid eyes on since returning to the SGC in such a spectacular fashion who was not at least damp.
Somehow, without a word being exchanged on the subject, they both knew that he must have scurried from the 'Gate room when the first gout of water had appeared through the event horizon. There was no other way that Hammond could have managed to stay so dry, considering that he normally waited at the bottom of the ramp to greet the returning SG teams.
Jack had turned and was watching Daniel's slow progress along the corridor, his head cocked slightly to one side in unspoken enquiry.
"Coming, Jack," Daniel said, feeling his face flame up at the unintentional double entendre.
He was relieved to see that Jack either had not noticed what he had said, or had chosen to ignore it, merely turning back in the direction of the locker room as he reached his side.
"This is awkward," Jack said, as he held open the locker room door for Daniel to follow him in.
"Uh huh," Daniel agreed, his eyes quickly scanning the locker room for other occupants before he spoke again. He even crossed to the shower area and glanced inside. "I mean, it's not the first time we've showered together, but..."
"It's the first time since we know what's going on between us," Jack supplied. "Right?"
Daniel nodded, glad that the job of explaining the strangeness he was feeling had been equally shouldered by the two of them.
"And I haven't made things any easier, have I?" Jack continued.
"I'm not blaming you," Daniel said. "We've both done our share of upping the ante between us."
"Then let's just get this over as quickly as possible," Jack said. "We shower, we get changed, we do the debriefing session and then we go home..."
There was silence for a moment, both men just looking at each other.
"What do you mean 'so'?" Daniel asked, frowning.
"I mean, are you going to get undresssed?" Jack replied, starting to undo his vest.
"Uh.. yeah... I guess," Daniel said, turning to his locker and taking off his glasses to stow them safely away.
When he turned back to where Jack was standing, the other man was almost naked, just wearing a wet pair of boxer shorts, which he was in the process of removing. They clung to him, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. His thumbs under the waistband of his shorts, Jack glanced across at Daniel with a grin, seeing instantly where the other man's eyes were fixed.
"That's one of the things about the military," he said, with a grin. "You learn how to dress and undress really quickly..."
"I can see that," Daniel replied, mentally kicking himself even as the words emerged from his mouth.
Shaking his head, Jack turned to his locker and extracted a towel from it. He then headed as casually as he could manage for the shower area, still wearing the wet boxer shorts. Daniel could feel his mouth growing drier by the moment as he contemplated the view of Jack's butt with which the clinging material provided him.
As he passed into the shower area, Jack hung the towel on a nearby hook, before removing the boxer shorts and throwing them back into the main area of the locker room, where they landed with a resounding splat.
"Maybe..." Daniel cleared his throat and tried again, dismayed at the way that his voice had changed partway through the word. "Maybe I'll wait till you've finished, Jack."
"What?" Jack's voice echoed from the shower area, loud in order to carry over the pounding noise of water hitting tile.
"I said, I'll wait till you're done."
"Daniel, don't be an idiot. You'll catch pneumonia or something. Get in here."
"I'm fine," he said.
As he started to remove his clothing, far more slowly than Jack had done, Daniel threw the various items so that they joined the soggy heap of clothes that Jack had created. Some hitherto unknown instinct for tidiness made him cross to where Jack's discarded boxer shorts lay.
As he stooped to pick them up, his eyes seemed to travel of their own accord into the shower area, straight to the man who had been wearing those shorts just a few short moments before. The instant they did so, Daniel knew that there was no way he was going to be able to strip off and go into the showers while Jack was there.
Although, like he had said earlier, the two men had showered together innumerable times before, this time things were different between them. All Daniel could think about as he watched Jack's hands scrub their way through his hair, his eyes closed to the water as it cascaded down onto his face from the shower outlet, was wanting to wrap himself around this man and never let go.
Daniel could feel the unmistakeable stirring in his groin that told him that it was not just his mind that was appreciating this sight. Even the cold clamminess of his own clothes was not enough to bank down the fire he could feel starting to rise within him. Daniel swallowed a little nervously, his hands tightening on Jack's boxer shorts, wringing the fabric.
Jack had turned now, obliviously presenting his profile to Daniel as he crouched there - Daniel's eyes followed the water as it streamed its way down Jack's body.
Daniel felt his face redden, fearing any moment that Jack would open his eyes, turn towards him, see that he was being observed. Even though he knew that it was unlikely that the older man would be embarrassed, Daniel was feeling embarrassed and guilty on his behalf. Though he knew that Jack would probably not object, had in fact practically ordered him to join him in the shower, he felt like nothing more than a voyeur.
He began to back away, the boxer shorts almost forgotten in his hands until he backed into the pile of wet clothing. th a nervous start, Daniel half-turned and added the garment to the pile, crossing shakily to sit on a nearby bench. When Jack emerged from the shower a couple of minutes later, the towel wrapped round his waist, he was a little dismayed to see Daniel just sitting there, still wearing his trousers and t-shirt.
"You meant it, didn't you?" Daniel looked up at Jack as he spoke. "About waiting till I was done?"
Jack shook his head at the idea, crossing over to his locker again to retrieve another towel. As he began rubbing his head, his voice emerged muffled from the towel's depths.
"You know you've got nothing I haven't seen before."
Daniel stripped hastily, making the most of the few moments when Jack was otherwise occupied to grab a towel and rush off to the shower.
He had to admit, after wearing that cold and wet clothing for so long, the heat of the showers felt really good. He could almost feel the warmth creeping through him, tendrils of heat inching their way through tense muscles.
Daniel stood for a moment, allowing the water to hammer onto his shoulders, his eyes closed almost in meditation as he felt the warm streams trickle down his back and legs.
Then he opened his eyes, feeling that he was the subject of scrutiny, that strange sensation of being watched. His eyes met Jack's. Somehow, Daniel forced himself not to cringe, not to try and cover up what Jack had already seen, if not now then countless times before. He could not, however, control the flush of embarrassment that crossed his face.
"Hey," Jack said, with a grin. "It's only fair I get to look too..."
"Get lost, Jack," Daniel replied, turning his back on the other man.
After a few moments, when he was confident that he was no longer being observed, Daniel chanced a glance over his shoulder - he was correct, the place where Jack had been standing was now empty.
Daniel's taste for showers had deserted him, so he crossed over to where he had hung up his towel. Emerging from the shower area, he was surprised to find the locker room deserted - Jack's locker door was closed, the pile of wet clothes had been kicked into a corner for collection by the cleaning crew, and the colonel was nowhere to be seen.
|Continued & concluded in Part 6...|
Disclaimer : Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is written for entertainment purposes only - no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story-line are the property of the author - not to be archived elsewhere without permission.