Jack pushed Daniel backward through his front door. They slammed into the far wall, and the impact jarred through Daniel, almost knocking his teeth together.
"Dammit, Jack, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"We're having a talk, and we're having it now." Jack's tone bordered on furious, and Daniel bit the inside of his bottom lip. Maybe he'd pushed Jack a little too far this time.
But then Jack's hold on the front of Daniel's jacket eased and even though Daniel couldn't see past the shadows in Jack's eyes in the dark foyer, Daniel knew he hadn't yet pushed Jack far enough.
"You think I've never noticed?" Daniel demanded. He shoved his hands against Jack's chest. Jack stumbled back, then caught himself and threw himself forward to smash the length of his body against Daniel.
Daniel narrowed his eyes. "I've seen the way she looks at you, the way you look at her."
"That's not the way it is between us. You know that."
"I know what I see."
Jack's forearm wedged under Daniel's chin, pushing him into the wall and forcing him to stand on his tiptoes.
"There's nothing between me and Carter," Jack said.
"Maybe not yet, but you want it. I know you do. I remember things about you and her and what you two did when we were trapped on P3R-118."
The corners of Jack's mouth turned down. "That was different."
"You fucked her, but I didn't see mention of that in the mission report."
Jack's arm pushed him even harder into the wall, but the pressure was focused across his collarbone instead of his throat.
"The memory stamp made us think we were in love. Besides, you fucked what's-her-name. That wasn't any different."
Daniel ground his teeth together, thought about shoving his knee up into Jack's groin, but couldn't bring himself to go that far. Instead, he reached up and grabbed the back of Jack's head, threading his fingers through the almost-too-short hair.
Jack winced. "Ow."
Daniel pulled Jack's face so close their noses were almost touching. "This shit between you and Sam started way before we were given those memory stamps."
"Shut up, Daniel. Just shut up. You don't know what you're talking about, and I shouldn't have to explain myself to you. It should be enough for me to say that you've got it wrong. There is nothing, absolutely nothing between Carter and me. I feel the same about you and Teal'c. I'm too damn close to all of you, and you know it."
In his agitation, Jack shifted his weight from one leg to another, causing his hips to jut forward and press hard against Daniel.
Daniel had to swallow over a sudden knot in his throat.
"I might have believed you—before last week."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means Sam went missing for four days and you walked around like you'd had your fucking heart torn out."
"No! I'm not going to listen to any more of this."
Using a move Teal'c had taught him not long after he'd been permitted to join SG-1, Daniel dislodged Jack's arm from across his neck and slammed Jack around and into the wall only a few feet from where Daniel had been wedged seconds ago.
"I've had enough," Daniel said through his teeth. "You're ruining my team."
Jack's eyes glittered in the dim light filtering through the half-open front door. He gripped Daniel's shoulders. "Your team?"
"Yes, my team," he said.
Jack shook his head. "What the hell set you off tonight?"
"The proverbial straw," he answered. "I just can't stand back and watch you and her fuck around any longer!" The urge to argue disappeared as suddenly as it had come upon him outside Jack's front door. "You're ruining everything," he said. "Everything."
They had managed to forge a friendship despite their disparate personalities and frequent disagreements, but friendship was all he would ever share with Jack. And maybe it was jealousy that made him believe Jack was lusting after Sam, but he didn't think so. And he wasn't so generous that he'd sit back and let Jack and Sam tear apart the closest thing he had to a family these days. SG-1.
Jack's gaze held his, and Daniel could almost see the pity in Jack's eyes.
"It's not right, Jack, what you're doing. Sam deserves better, and you just keep playing her. If you ever told her that it wouldn't matter, that even if you weren't in the Air Force you and her still wouldn't be together, she'd let it go. I know she would."
Jaw clenching, Jack didn't speak. His hands slid off Daniel's shoulders and his fingers clutched at Daniel's upper arms. "It's not Carter I want to fuck," he said, shaking Daniel. "You don't understand. You've never understood."
"Then stop with the games! Explain it to me!"
Jack jerked him forward. "This isn't a game," he said. And his face loomed near Daniel's for the briefest moment, before he lunged forward and pushed his mouth against Daniel's in a rough kiss.
Daniel's shock stopped him from putting forth any kind of resistance, and his reaction to Jack's kiss was no reaction at all. As quickly as he'd made his move toward Daniel, Jack pulled away.
"I don't want to fuck Carter, I want to fuck you, Daniel." Jack was breathing hard, and his eyes held the look of a man on the verge of violence. "I don't know what you see when you see Carter and me together, but whatever it is, it's not real. There's only one member of SG-1 who makes my dick hard and who won't stay out of my head, and it ain't her."
Daniel clenched his fist and swallowed hard. It was a trick. It had to be. The idea that Jack had been hiding some kind of sexual desire for him was ludicrous. Was Jack so desperate to get Daniel off the trail of his and Sam's relationship that he would pull such an underhanded stunt? Daniel could hardly believe it, but it was easier to believe that than to believe Jack actually wanted him.
Was Jack expecting him to panic at the thought that another man was lusting after him? Did Jack think he would run away as fast as he could, never looking back, too embarrassed to broach the subject in the light of day?
Did he think this was the best way to protect his and Sam's secret? Would Jack turn tail and run the moment Daniel forced the issue?
Daniel narrowed his eyes and said, "Prove it."
Daniel saw the fire in Jack's eyes just before Jack pushed away from the wall and against Daniel. Breath whistled through Daniel's teeth as heat flashed between them, and he crushed Jack into the wall, grinding their hips together.
It had been so long since Daniel had felt the hardness of another man against him. Since Robert, and before that, Steven. A friendly fuck, and a love affair that had almost ruined him. Neither relationship had given him what he needed.
He wasn't even sure what he really needed anymore, but he knew he didn't want to be alone.
Sha're had given him love and passion, but their relationship had changed him. His work, his research, had always held him hostage, and yet she had beaten through his single-minded focus and captured his heart. He knew what real love was now, and he knew he didn't want to live the rest of his life without feeling that kind of love again.
And now, he felt the stirrings of something deep inside, something trying to break free of the bonds he hadn't even realized were there.
Jack's hot mouth left his and began to trail kisses along his jawline and then down his throat. Daniel could only gasp and groan at the touch, his thoughts in total chaos as unfettered longings coursed through his body, making his cock ache. His eyelids felt heavy and he wanted to push himself against Jack's body, to feel the heat and hardness, strength and power of a man strong enough to be his equal.
Jack's hand slid over his hip and down between his thighs to cup and squeeze his cock. Daniel felt his knees weaken, and then Jack was pushing his shirt up, bunching it under his arms and lowering his head. Jack's tongue flicked out and brushed across Daniel's right nipple. The groan came unbidden from deep inside Daniel as he fought the undeniable proof that he wanted Jack.
Jack's head came up and his breath feathered across Daniel's hot skin. Daniel opened eyes he hadn't realized he'd let close to see Jack staring back at him.
A vehicle passed on the street and light glanced off the wall near Jack's head, spilling over his jaw, reflecting the burn in his eyes. It was a harsh reminder that Jack's front door still hung open. "We can't do this."
Daniel turned his head away, toward Jack's dark living room. "It backfired, didn't it?"
"No. Whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. But we can't do this. It wouldn't be any different than me and Carter fucking around."
Daniel stepped backward, and then spun around to face the door. Back stiff, he crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. When Jack reached out and put his hand on Daniel's shoulder, Daniel shrugged off the touch. "You're right," he said. "It's no different."
Jack didn't answer, and Daniel didn't look back.
He left, slamming the door behind him.
Jack shrugged into his jacket and then thrust his arms into the straps of his backpack. Fabric rustled nearby, and he turned his head to catch a glimpse of Daniel, who seemed to be making extra effort not to meet Jack's gaze. Beside them, Teal'c stood at the ready.
This mission was a welcome break from the rash of overly complicated missions of late. No goa'uld in sight on this particular planet. In fact, they weren't expecting to run into anyone. The MALP showed a deserted landscape, and the UAV had sent back intriguing images of some ruins near the coast, about three miles from the gate. And then there was the alien device less than a hundred feet from the gate itself--the energy readings had Carter salivating.
Today could have been a walk in the park for them all, a chance to take a breather and enjoy a bit of exploration. But because of what had happened last night, there was tension in the air, filling all the spaces between him and Daniel. Teal'c didn't seem to have noticed, but if Daniel kept sidestepping every effort Jack made to talk to him, it wouldn't be long before Teal'c knew something was wrong.
Dammit, he'd known better than to open up that can of worms with Daniel. He'd screwed up big time, but he shouldn't have been so surprised that it had finally happened. Three years was a long time to carry around a heaping mess of feelings for someone and not slip up.
Couldn't go on like that forever, though, no matter how much he might have preferred to keep hiding the truth.
Prove it, Daniel had said, and Jack had never heard a more promising challenge. But had Daniel really wanted what it had seemed he'd been asking for? Daniel hadn't appeared to mind the kiss, or having Jack grab his cock, but Jack knew he'd been out of line. He'd come on to Daniel, put his hands on him in a way that couldn't be misinterpreted. He'd actually told Daniel he wanted to fuck him, for God's sake.
He'd not only been out of line, he'd stepped so damn far over the line he couldn't even see it any more. He had no idea what would have happened last night if he hadn't put a stop to the kissing and touching, but Daniel was even more off-limits than Carter.
Daniel's locker slammed.
Jack watched from the corner of his eye as Daniel grabbed his pack from the floor and shrugged into it. Daniel's fingers worked methodically to adjust the straps before he walked from the room, never taking his eyes off what he was doing.
Jack knew Daniel's apparent concentration was just a ruse to keep from having to look at him.
Yep. He'd screwed up royally last night, and he didn't know if he had what it took to get Daniel to forgive him.
Because how do you hide your feelings for the man you consider your closest friend?
If you're Jack O'Neill, you make the man in question believe you're lusting after someone else. And for protection, you make sure that the someone else is someone you can never really have. Then, when the pressure of hiding gets to be too much, you confess your sins and tell him you want to fuck him, then proceed to prove to him just how resistible he is.
Jack curled his hand into a fist.
What a fucking mess he'd made.
He knocked his locker door closed, then stalked out of the room and into the corridor, heading for the gate room.
The event horizon shimmered within the confines of the stargate. Yesterday, Daniel had been excited by the prospect of spending a few hours, maybe days, on the planet on the other side of the wormhole. A world with 25 hour days, mild temperatures, 300 feet of sand covered coastline within walking distance of the gate, and the remains of a well-preserved civilization possibly thousands of years old.
But the thought of all those things did nothing to stop the sick churning in Daniel's gut today.
He'd made a decision last night, after he'd left Jack's house, and it was a decision he was already regretting, but determined not to go back on.
He would not leave SG-1.
Between 10 PM and 2 AM, he'd looked at every angle, considered every alternative, and at the end of it all, he had concluded that no matter how much he wanted to take himself out from under Jack's command in the hope that Jack would be willing to forge some kind of relationship with him, his efforts would be wasted.
Jack might not be lusting after Sam, or be in love with her, but neither was Jack in love with him. And if there wasn't a real possibility that he'd be giving up SG-1 for Jack, he wasn't willing to risk it.
Jack walked up the ramp ahead of him, and Sam followed. Daniel watched them disappear into the horizon together, and he steeled his heart. Jack was his friend. If that was all Jack wanted to be, then Daniel had no right to push for more, no matter how much he needed it.
Daniel started up the ramp, Teal'c following right behind him. Love wasn't always about passion and sex. Sometimes you had to take what you could get to keep from spending the rest of your life alone.
It was a shame they couldn't forecast the weather before taking a trip through the Stargate. A few hours ago, the weather on PX4-211 had been near perfect. Only a few light clouds had appeared to the west less than an hour ago. Between then and now, those few clouds had thickened, and turned gray, but Carter had been busy studying the unidentifiable technology the world's previous occupants had left behind and Jack had been contemplating ways to clean up the mess he'd made last night, and neither of them had noticed the ominous churn of clouds stretching across the horizon until now. And of course, now those clouds were looking really nasty, and Jack could almost feel the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.
He itched to get the hell out of here and take his team with him, but there was one small problem.
Daniel and Teal'c had gone off to look at the ruins of the costal city about three miles to the west, and they hadn't made it back yet. They'd probably be gone for several more hours. Check in time had been five minutes ago, but so far, he'd gotten nothing but static on the radio, and even Carter was starting to look a little worried.
Carter walked over to Jack, dusting her hands against her thighs. "I'm no meteorologist, but I don't like the way those clouds look, Sir."
Neither did Jack, but before he could say anything, his radio crackled to life, hissed a few times then went silent.
Jack tilted his head toward his radio and thumbed it on. "Daniel? Teal'c?"
Jack turned to look in the direction Daniel and Teal'c had taken. Black clouds roiled above the old city, growing outward with every second that passed. A flicker of lightning arched across the sky.
Carter caught his gaze with a look of trepidation, then tried her radio. "Daniel, can you hear me?"
Someone spoke but the static obliterated every word.
"C'mon, Carter, we're going after them."
"Yes, sir." She took a moment to cover her equipment with a tarp and tie it down, before she grabbed up her gear and followed Jack away from the gate and onto the tree-lined road. The roadbed was made of some type of metal composite that hadn't aged much since the world had, for whatever reason, been abandoned.
Leaves began to rustle as wind whirled around them.
"Let's pick up the pace," he said, pushing his legs to take longer, faster strides.
They'd gone less than half a mile when the wind really started to kick it up. The trees shook and weak branches snapped; leaves showered down around them, and the wind screamed in a sudden rage. The first gust nearly knocked Carter off her feet. Jack grabbed her elbow, bending into the blast of air.
"You okay?" he shouted, his words nearly drowned by the sound of quaking trees. Jack could smell rain in the air, and he had a hell of a bad feeling about the sudden change in weather. He tugged on her arm, pulling her forward and encouraging her to walk as fast as she could into the wind.
"This doesn't look good, Sir. These readings indicate that the temperature has dropped five degrees in the last ten minutes. This storm front is coming up entirely too fast. We have no idea what we're walking into."
"We're not leaving Daniel and Teal'c out in this storm alone, Carter."
"Oh, I wasn't suggesting..." The rest of her reply was lost in another breath-stealing gust of wind.
Just then the sky seemed to boil with dark clouds, and the road ahead disappeared in a haze of gray.
"We'd better get into our rain gear," Carter yelled above to roar of the coming rain.
Then the rain hit, driving hard into Jack's face and stinging every bit of flesh it touched.
"Teal'c!" Daniel scrambled across the top of the embankment to reach Teal'c before the stream that had become a river washed Teal'c into its depths.
Daniel threw himself to the ground and thrust his arm over the side. "Grab my hand!"
Teal'c reached, but his fingertips brushed only air.
The deluge had started only ten minutes ago, as they were heading out of the city ruins, but already, the storm had dropped enough water upstream to cause flash flooding.
As he stretched his arm toward Teal'c's grasping fingers, the drops hit so heavy on Daniel's shoulders and back that he felt as if the storm intended to beat him into the ground. Water pounded into the mire, splashing mud onto the lenses of his glasses.
Teal'c had been standing at the edge of the quickly rising river when the ground beneath his feet had begun to slide. Teal'c had called out to Daniel only seconds before he disappeared over the side of the riverbank.
Teal'c scraped at the tree roots sticking out of the banks of the new river, trying to climb the mere ten feet or so back to the top, but the rising water and the continued deluge sabotaged his every effort to save himself.
"Hang on!" Daniel yelled, pushing himself to his feet. He shrugged off his pack, then jerked it around.
"The river is powerful, Daniel Jackson! I cannot hold on much longer!"
Daniel shoved his hand inside the pack, hesitated when he felt the edge of one of the ancient alien texts he'd found in the city, then plucked it out and threw it to the ground. He thrust his hand back into the pack and finally wrapped his fingers around the rope stuffed inside. He blew water off his chin as he yanked the rope out. It took precious seconds to unfurl the length, and Daniel cursed under his breath as his cold, wet fingers fumbled. But then it was free, and he threw the end of the rope over the side of the riverbank, wrapped the cord around his forearm and gripped it tightly in his hand.
Teal'c grasped the trailing end, and Daniel had to brace himself to keep from stumbling forward at the sudden weight pulling at him.
His feet mired in the mud, and he walked backward from the edge, putting as much distance between himself and the slippery slope as possible. When he saw Teal'c's head rise above the edge of the bank, his sigh of relief was inaudible over the sound of the pouring rain.
Teal'c threw himself onto the ground at Daniel's feet, and when he rose to his hands and knees, Daniel reached down and grabbed Teal'c's arm. He didn't know if he actually helped Teal'c to his feet or not, but it was good to touch him and know that he was okay.
They exchanged glances, and although Teal'c didn't say anything, Daniel saw the gratitude in his expression. Daniel gave him a quick smile, then reached up and pulled off his glasses for a quick swipe with dirty fingers.
"Close call," he said.
Teal'c inclined his head. "We must go before the storm worsens."
"Yeah, that'd probably be a good idea." Daniel looked around at the nearby wooded areas, at the road that led back to the stargate or toward the city's ruins, depending which direction one took. Neither direction looked promising.
Lightning lit the sky, seeming to arc between the clouds overhead and reaching toward their location on the hillside.
Daniel estimated they were still two and a half miles from the stargate, and the road in that direction wound between massive trees, the closest of which appeared to be about ready to crash to the ground.
"We need to head back to the city and find shelter," he said.
Teal'c spared a glance for the road, then turned his gaze to Daniel. "I agree."
As he passed the spot he'd been lying on earlier, Daniel reached down and grabbed the mud-soaked book.
Jack's radio crackled to life. "...hear me? ...ck, Sam?"
"Daniel! It's about damn time!"
"J...k... place to ride out the storm... ould get back to...base."
"Too late for that," Jack yelled into the radio. "We're headed your way!"
He waited a moment for a reply, but none came. He looked over at Carter and shook his head. She brushed water off her nose and chin, and then started forward again.
Jack kept hold of her arm as the wind buffeted them. The roadway created a tunnel of air, but they had no choice but to walk into the force of the wind. The nearby trees were snapping, dropping limbs left and right, and Jack wasn't about to get in the way of the falling branches. And though the lightning was infrequent, the flashes were strong enough to cause concern.
Then a limb as big around as Jack's arm swooped toward them. He jumped to the side, fighting the gust of heavy wind and jostled into Carter. The limb smacked against his shoulder before bouncing to the ground.
Jack lost his footing under the impact and fell, catching himself on his left knee and knocking his teeth together. Pain stabbed through his thigh, then ricocheted back down toward his knee, and he rolled to the ground, cupping his hands around his injury.
Carter grabbed his arm and leaned close to his ear. "You okay, Sir?"
He glared up at Carter's earnest expression. "Do I look like I'm okay here? Help me up!"
Carter didn't even try to reply. He felt her hand squeeze around his arm, and then she locked her elbow up under his underarm and heaved backwards. Jack hobbled to his feet, felt the gusting wind grab at him, and he reached for Carter's shoulders before he could go tumbling back to the ground.
They plowed through the driving rain as the size of the spidering cracks in the road grew, from inches to foot wide gaps, downhill for the last mile or so, and each careful step made Jack's teeth ache. He kept his eyes down, careful of the cracks in the road trying to keep the biting rain out of his eyes, until finally, Jack looked up from his feet and saw the outside edge of the city.
"Colonel! Over there!"
Jack looked in the direction Carter was pointing, and saw a low temple tucked up against the shelter of a sloping hillside. Daniel stood in one of several open doorways, waving to him and Carter. Jack took in the site of a drenched and mud covered Daniel and felt the knot in his stomach ease.
Carter led the way through the trees to the stone structure. Daniel patted him on the back as he limped under the arch, his arm still around Carter's shoulders.
"Need some help?" Daniel asked.
He eased himself away from Carter and put weight on his leg. He had to grit his teeth, but he was able to walk unassisted into the insides of the temple. "I'm fine."
Jack noticed on closer inspection that the columns were made of the same metal composite that lined the road, treated in such a way that it resembled carefully placed marble blocks.
Once inside, Daniel gestured to the wall on his left. "It's amazing, isn't it?"
Covered in a richly colored mural, the wall glittered in the dim light. Vibrant color rippled out from the wall, filling the room with a muted glow.
"Wow," Carter said.
"It's warm, too," Daniel said, approaching the wall and placing both hands against the convex surface. "A source of light and heat, but so much more."
Jack heard the excitement and awe in Daniel's voice, even over the steady roar of the storm going on outside, and Carter's glass-eyed expression gave away her interest.
"I guess this is as good a place as any to wait out the storm," Jack said.
Only Teal'c responded. "Indeed."
Both Daniel and Carter stood before the wall, hands brushing the surface, fingers tracing every ridge. Their fevered discussion was impossible to hear over the sound of the wind and rain without getting closer, but Jack wasn't ready to stand beside Daniel and pretend that everything was just peachy between them. Carter would pick up on the tension, and so would Teal'c.
Couldn't have that. One fucked up friendship at a time was his new motto.
The open arches let water spill across the floor, and when he spun around a little too fast, Jack's left foot slid out from under him. Teal'c's lightning fast reflexes saved him from going down hard on his throbbing knee.
"Thanks," he muttered. He took himself over to the wall opposite Daniel and Carter and leaned back against the faux marble.
Teal'c joined him a moment later, choosing to stand stoically by his side, rather than recline against the wall.
The silence stretched out and Jack found himself watching the play of muscles in Daniel's back as he moved around the wall, looking for something to help him understand its purpose.
"What troubles you, O'Neill?"
Jack sighed. He had known Teal'c wouldn't stay oblivious to the tension long, but still he said, "Nothing, just thinking."
"You won our wager, but you have not tried to collect."
Jack felt the corner of his mouth tug upward involuntarily. Foiled by something as simple as a bet on the outcome of a football game. "Sorry, big fellow, I guess the idea of sun and sand got to me."
"I see no sun at the moment, O'Neill."
"And I see you've been practicing that sense of humor."
"Daniel Jackson says understatement is an effective form of humor."
"And so it is."
After that, they talked about football, baseball, and hockey, and by the time Carter and Daniel gave up on the wall, the pain in Jack's knee had settled to a slow throb.
"It definitely holds promise, Sir. Daniel thinks this city is thousands of years old, and if his assumption is correct, then whatever it is that's powering that wall could be an important discovery."
Jack glanced over Carter's shoulder at Daniel, who was taking the unusual route of letting someone else do the explaining. Daniel met his gaze head on and Jack wondered what secrets hid behind those clear blue eyes.
"And what if it turns out to be good old fashioned solar power?"
"I don't think so, Sir. But even if that's the case, that wall is putting off a significant amount of energy, and any solar power systems capable of sustaining themselves for this long are worth examining." She glanced toward the nearest doorway, where water sheeted over the opening, creating a curtain between them and the world outside, broken intermittently by gusting wind. "When this storm is over and we get back to the SGC, we'll want to send in a team to study the wall."
Jack pushed himself away from the wall with the bottom of his boot. "Guess we'd better make ourselves comfortable, then. It doesn't look like we're going anywhere for a while."
"Teal'c and I took a look around before you got here," Daniel said. "This looks like a temple, but I can't translate the language I found in the city's ruins." Daniel grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. "The language is totally alien and I don't have anything I can use as a reference."
"Doesn't matter," Jack said. "A temple works for me. At least we're not stuck out in the rain."
Daniel nodded, then looked over his shoulder to where his pack rested against one of the inner columns. "I think I'm going to go find some dinner."
Carter gave Jack a wide-eyed look, and then turned to Teal'c. "How's hot chocolate sound to you?"
Teal'c smiled and inclined his head.
Daniel smiled at Carter. "Got marshmallows?"
The three of them walked the few feet to their packs, and Jack wondered how long it would be before Daniel smiled at him again.
Jack sighed, then shivered as a gust of wind blew a cold mist onto the back of his neck.
It was going to be a long night.
Daniel turned on his side, putting his back to Jack, and pulled the material of his sleeping bag tight around his shoulders. He cursed the hard floor and shifted again to take the pressure off his hipbone. Unfortunately, the hard floor wasn't his only source of discomfort.
Every time Daniel closed his eyes, he saw Jack's face, felt the ghost of Jack's lips against his, and his body ached for something it was never going to get from Jack. His cock grew heavy as he thought of how it had felt last night to crush Jack against the wall.
I want to fuck you, Daniel. The remembered words made his throat close tight, and he wondered for the hundredth time if he had made the right decision.
Maybe Jack had been telling the truth. Maybe he wanted Daniel. Maybe he was only worried that Daniel wouldn't want a relationship with someone who had no choice but to keep his lover's identity secret. Maybe he had misunderstood when Jack had said it wouldn't be any different with him than it had been with Carter...
But maybe wasn't good enough. Maybe wasn't a word for which he was willing to abandon his only family, his life's work, or his one connection to the man he just might be willing to give it all up for.
Daniel opened his eyes and stared at the water cascading over the doorway nearest him. Mist swirled around him as a gust of wind broke through the heavy curtain, and the sound of Jack's even breathing disappeared as the roar of falling water filled his ears to the exclusion of all else.
As his eyes drifted closed, he saw the colored wall pulse in time to the rushing of the wind, and the ache of his body eased and he fell into sleep.
But sleep didn't bring solace.
Daybreak came at zero hundred hours, and Jack had trouble keeping his eyes open. He hadn't slept worth shit, and the planetary time difference played hell with his internal clock. He rolled his head to the side to see Daniel still sleeping.
Daniel's mouth parted on a sigh, and his eyes slowly opened. His peaceful expression disappeared between one breath and the next.
Daniel removed the hand from beneath his head and reached for his glasses, lying undisturbed on the floor beside him. "Is it morning?"
"It's still raining, isn't it?"
"Afraid so." Jack watched Daniel slip the glasses on, and then push himself up on his elbow.
Daniel twisted around to look over his shoulder. "Yeah. That's what I thought that noise was."
"Coming down as hard as it was yesterday."
"So... what are we going to do? Try to get back to the gate today, or wait it out?"
"First I want to take a good look around. That kind of rain all night..." Jack shook his head. "The road could be gone in places. We passed a river that looked like it was about to come out of its banks."
Daniel's wide eyes seemed to say he knew all about the river.
"Something happen that I should know about?"
Daniel shrugged and threw back the corner of his blanket. "Not really."
Jack reached out and put his hand on Daniel's forearm. "Daniel..."
Daniel looked down at Jack's hand, then up at his face.
Jack cleared his throat and told himself he wanted to do this. "I'm sorry," he said.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for." Daniel pulled his arm free of Jack's touch, and then pushed himself to his feet. "You can't help how you feel."
Jack couldn't take his eyes off Daniel's back as Daniel walked to the farthest doorway and stopped at the very edge. Daniel's hands lowered in front of his body, and his pants slipped a scant inch down his hips. Jack knew he should avert his gaze, but instead, he watched through narrowed eyes as Daniel took his morning piss out into the rain.
Daniel hitched his pants up on his hips, and then stretched his arms over his head. Skin showed beneath the hem of his black t-shirt, then disappeared, and Jack swallowed hard. Some days were harder than others, and he didn't often get the chance to watch Daniel doing normal, everyday tasks.
It made him want things. Things he knew better than to wish for.
Then Daniel cupped his left shoulder and rubbed, and the breadth of those shoulders caught Jack's attention. He found himself thinking of all the burdens Daniel had carried over the years, and he regretted that he'd given Daniel one more to haul around.
Daniel was a man who lived his beliefs, refusing to set them aside just to make his life a little easier. There was something about that kind of person that had always rubbed Jack wrong, but with Daniel, he'd come to accept it, to realize that Daniel wouldn't be half the man he was if he had ever given in as easily as most.
"Colonel?" Carter's sleepy voice interrupted his reverie, and Jack let the mood go.
"We should probably try to get back to the gate today, Sir. We have no idea how long this storm is going to continue, and I'd like to get some readings--"
"Already on it, Carter. As soon as we're up and ready, I want you and Teal'c to head down the road and check out that river. I'll have Daniel make some video of that..."--he waved his hand toward the glittering mural--"that wall, and we'll even get some video of the storm if you want."
Carter nodded and flashed a smile at Jack. "Yes, Sir."
"Oh, and Carter..."
"Go tickle Teal'c's toes or something and see if you can get him awake."
Carter's smile widened, and Jack was sure she was going to follow up on that order.
She rose to her feet, her movements as stiff as Daniel's had been earlier, just as Daniel walked up behind her.
Daniel nodded toward Teal'c. "He seems to like to sleep, now that he's adjusted to life without a symbiote."
"And I'm happy for him," Jack said, "but he's gonna have to cut it short today, folks. I'm sick of the rain and the wind, and I'm ready to get our asses home."
Daniel turned to look over his shoulder. "What about--"
"I've already told Carter we'll take some video while she and Teal'c get a look at that river. If we're going to run into trouble on the way back to the gate, I want to know about it ahead of time."
Thirty minutes later, he, Carter, and Teal'c stepped out into the sheeting rain, and Jack thought his breath was about to be torn out of his lungs. The building had offered better shelter than he'd realized.
He grasped Carter's shoulder to get her attention, and yelled, "Just how damn cold is it out here?"
Jack raised his eyebrows, and Carter said, "About forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, Sir."
"Forty-five?" Jack pulled his hat low over his eyes. "Crap. Wet and cold. Well, kiddies, radio in every ten minutes, and stay to the road. Shouldn't take you more than an hour to get to the river and back." Jack eyed both Teal'c and Carter. "Don't do anything foolish."
"Major Carter and I will endeavor to maintain radio contact at all times."
They walked away, and Jack looked to the far side of the road. Daniel was still inside the temple, making video. It was hard to see through the gray sheets of rain, but ahead, something stuck up out of the ground, and from where he stood, Jack couldn't tell what it was.
He walked forward slowly, trying not to mire up in the mud that was almost ankle deep.
"Jack!" Daniel's yell stopped his forward movement, and Jack twisted to look behind him. Daniel had donned his rain gear and was carrying the video equipment tucked in under the front flap of his jacket. "I don't know if this is going to work," he called out. "It's raining so hard I'm afraid it'll ruin the camera. I'd at least like to keep the video I have of the temple wall."
Daniel swiped his hand across the lenses of his glasses, because even with his hat on, the wind drove the rain into his face.
Jack shook his head. "Do what you can!" Then he used his P-90 to point toward the jutting object about twenty feet away. "I'm going over there. I want to look at something."
With his thumb, Daniel gestured over his shoulder and started walking backward. "Let me put this up, and I'll be right back."
Jack rested his gun on his hip and waited, and when he saw Daniel come back out of the temple, he turned and slogged his way toward his target.
As he got closer, he frowned and his brows drew together. Nah... couldn't be...
And then the ground started to quaver beneath his feet, and he knew he wasn't wrong. Shit.
"Daniel! Get back!"
Jack slung himself around, but it was too late.
The ground poured from beneath his feet.
He couldn't believe Jack was gone, just like that.
Daniel fell on his ass as the ground rumbled and roared. At first, he thought it was an earthquake, but he realized as soon as he slid into the mud that this was something much worse.
He scrambled backward, but he wasn't fast enough as the ground around him liquefied and he began sliding down the same steep slope that had stolen Jack.
A quick twist and he was on his stomach, digging his fingers into the mud, scratching and scrambling to reach solid ground and failing as badly as Teal'c had failed yesterday to rescue himself from the flooding river.
He raised his head and through his muddied glasses and the pouring rain he saw Sam and Teal'c running toward him. Their mouths moved, but Daniel heard nothing over the grumbling of earth. For a brief moment, he felt the exhilaration of knowing he was about to be rescued, but then Teal'c stopped short and thrust his arm out, blocking Sam's forward movement. She slammed into him, and caught herself by wrapping her hands around his forearm.
Daniel knew Teal'c had no choice, that both Teal'c and Sam would be pulled into the landslide along with him and Jack if they came any closer, but for the second it took the ground beneath him to fall away, he felt abandoned.
Then he slid below the edge of the newly formed embankment, and his only thought was survival.
When Jack woke, the first thing he remembered was the tree. Stripped almost bare by the force of the wind, it had looked like nothing more than a skeleton of branches, strewn on the ground. Nevertheless, when he'd gotten within a few feet of it, he had recognized it for what it was. One of those huge, honking maple-like trees, sunk so far into the ground that only the crown had been visible, and Jack had known right away that he would never make it back to the temple.
His stomach had dropped long before the ground beneath his feet had fallen away.
He didn't know if he was upright, sideways, or upside down--only that he was buried in mud and sludge, and that by the grace of God, he was able to breathe. His face was wedged against a rock or a boulder, or hell, *something*, but the air pocket wasn't large. He couldn't open his eyes, and he could feel the weight of earth pressing hard against his cheek and the back of his head.
An involuntary groan squeezed its way out of his chest. He could feel his fingers, and he could even wiggle his toes in his boots, but he couldn't move.
He was as good as dead, and he knew it.
Maybe he shouldn't have hesitated to make Daniel understand what had led him to put a stop to their first and last kiss. He should have explained everything that night, while he still had the chance. And he knew that when he was dead, it wouldn't matter anyway, but there was something about the idea of leaving the truth behind, instead of carrying it to his grave with him.
He wondered if it were too late to say a prayer, just in case hell really was waiting for him on the other side.
Cold spread inward, and Jack felt a tremor skate through his body. How long had he been out? Not so easy to figure that one out with no access to his watch or the sky. He had nothing with which to gauge the passage of time, but it hadn't been long enough for hypothermia to set in. Hell, no, of course not. He was going to have to suffer through the whole damned thing. Why the hell should Jack O'Neill be granted the peace of dying in his sleep?
But even then, what peace would there be knowing he'd left behind so much unfinished business?
This morning, while he'd watched Daniel down an energy bar, he'd come to the conclusion that he was taking the wrong tact with Daniel. If Daniel wanted to fuck around, if that was as much as he would ever get from him, wasn't that still better than what he had? He'd told Daniel it wouldn't be any different, and he was certain he'd been right.
Daniel didn't love him, just as he didn't love Carter, and fucking around had never seemed worth the risk. A relationship with Daniel would doom his career, and his career was the only thing he had these days. Daniel had gotten caught up in the heat of the moment, and Jack had known it wouldn't take long for regret to set in.
He might get to fuck Daniel a few times before the end came, but he had no doubts that the end would come. Unlike Carter, who wasn't in love with him, and who would get over her infatuation quick enough, Jack had realized he wouldn't be so lucky. He'd dreamed often of having the courage to ask Daniel to wait for him, but the dream he had been unable to let go had never seemed farther away than it had as he'd held Daniel in his arms and kissed him. To get such a taste of what he wanted, only to know that he would never have more than that taste....
Jack had been afraid. He could admit that now, as the cold seeped into his bones. He could admit that he'd been afraid of a broken heart and a broken dream. Afraid that he'd have that taste and that it would never be enough. Afraid that Daniel would leave him, and that he'd lose not only Daniel's body, but his friendship, his love. Afraid that his career would be stolen from him by a narrow-minded government.
He loved Daniel. How could he accept anything less from Daniel? How could he fuck Daniel, let Daniel fuck him, and know that it was just sex? That Daniel wanted him, that Daniel might even need him, but would Daniel ever love him?
After the devotion Daniel had shown Sha're, how was there anything left for someone like him?
But it didn't matter.
If he had it to do over, he would have told Daniel all of it. One word at a time. Slowly, carefully, so as not to scare him, but he would have told him everything.
And then he would have asked Daniel to wait for him. And Daniel might have turned him down, and he had no idea how he would have dealt with the death of the dream that had sustained him for so long, but he would have. It would have been worth the risk.
And then when his time had come, even as soon as it had, he would have died peacefully.
The shivers turned to shudders and Jack prayed again for a quick, easy death. He breathed the dank air, and drifted...
Then he heard Daniel's voice, and Daniel's panicked babbling had never sounded sweeter.
"Jack! Jack! I'm trying to get you out, I'm trying, just hang on, okay?" Daniel's breathless voice lost none of its tension as he stopped shouting. "Hang on, just hang on..."
The pressure around Jack's face disappeared as Daniel's hands fumbled against Jack's cheeks. Cold fingers rubbed his forehead and sifted through his hair, and then a bright light flickered across his face.
"Whoa," Jack muttered, squinting into the darkness and trying to regain his bearings.
"I had to check for injuries."
"Where are we? Why's it so dark? It should be daylight."
Daniel ignored the questions to ask his own. "Are you okay? Do you hurt anywhere?"
"I'm covered in mud, Daniel, and when I say covered, I'm talking about every nook and cranny. How do you think I feel?" Adrenaline had flooded his bloodstream at the first sound of Daniel's voice, leaving him feeling shaky and confused, and his voice came out sharper than he'd intended.
Daniel ignored him. "We have to get you out of here."
"Well then, think of something!"
"What the hell do you think I'm doing? Just give me a minute here. It's dark. I can't see anything without the flashlight, but I don't want to waste the batteries."
"Just in case," Jack said, softer, quieter. He didn't say more. He didn't have to.
"Yeah, something like that."
"So you have a plan yet?"
"Not really, Jack."
"Don't worry, you'll think of something."
Daniel's answer was silence, broken only by the soft huff of his breath as he scraped at the mud surrounding Jack.
He wished Daniel would touch him again. Having Daniel's fingers threading through his hair... He'd been comforted, but now the silence seemed to be closing in on him and even though he knew Daniel was near, he couldn't see him.
"So... have you figured out where we are yet?"
"We're in another temple. From what I could see before I got swept away by the landslide, it's three or four times as big as the one we spent the night in. It was at the base of the slope. The mudflow sealed us in."
"You weren't the only one who took a wild ride down a steep slope."
"So we're buried? In a tomb?"
"No," Daniel said, "it's not a tomb, it's a temple."
"Might as well be a tomb. Do you think you can get my left arm free? It's going to sleep on me."
"I'm trying, okay? You're next to one of the columns. The mud has you trapped up against it. You aren't completely buried, Jack, but there's so much of this stuff and there's nowhere for it to go."
"At least I'm upright. For a while there I wasn't sure."
"Just be patient. This might take awhile."
"What about you, Daniel? You okay?"
"I'm fine, Jack. I'm fine."
Daniel sounded weary, and Jack guessed that after Daniel had realized Jack wasn't in any immediate danger of suffocating or otherwise dying, the adrenaline flooding his body had slowed, leaving nothing but exhaustion in its wake.
Silence descended as Daniel raked away at the mud. Not that Jack could see him, but he heard the scrape of Daniel's hands digging into the muck, heard the hiss of breath through Daniel's teeth every time he heaved another mass of earth away from him.
"I want you to know something, Daniel, in case--"
"Don't say it, Jack." Daniel's voice was harsh, and Jack swallowed roughly.
"This is important, you need to know that I didn't mean to upset you the other night. I just--"
Again Daniel interrupted, this time his tone hostile and rough, "I'm not going to let you do this to me, Jack. We'll get out of here and you'll regret every word you've said."
"That's not true. I've had two days to think about this--"
"Shut up, Jack, just shut the fuck up, okay?"
And this time, Jack realized what the roughness coating Daniel's voice really meant. He couldn't lay another burden on Daniel's shoulders, not now. Maybe, if he made it out of here, he would have his chance, but right now, Daniel wasn't ready.
Jack felt the scrape of Daniel's fingernails across the back of his wrist, and then he felt air touch his skin.
With a growl, he tore his left arm free of the suction holding it in place. "Finally!"
"Yes," Daniel muttered, then started scraping away at the mud around Jack's chest.
The vibration started small, packing the mud around Jack's body like cement.
"Help me dig. Hurry." Daniel's voice had an edge to it, as if he could sense doom pressing in on them.
Then the mud shifted, riding up on Jack's chest and squeezing the air from his lungs. His harsh gasp was lost in the rumble echoing through the temple. Instinct pushed his head back, face aimed high toward the ceiling, and by the time the earth stopped moving, only his head and neck were still free. The column he was pressed up against seemed to be tilted at an odd angle, and Jack swallowed hard and sucked air into lungs that didn't want to expand.
"Daniel... Daniel? Where'd you go?" Jack tried to keep the panic out of his voice, but it was impossible.
"I'm here." Something brushed his forehead, then light flickered across his face again. "We have to get you out of here."
"Said--" Jack coughed and tried to drag in another breath. "Said that before."
"Yeah, well, I meant it both times."
This time Daniel didn't turn the flashlight off. He put it down next to him and light streaked across Jack's neck.
Jack could see that Daniel was kneeling in front of him, his knees mired in the thick mud. As Jack watched, Daniel shifted his weight and momentarily stopped his slow sink. But another moment passed and Jack realized that Daniel had already started to sink again.
A second vibration tickled at his skin.
Jack forced a shallow breath into his lungs. "Daniel, get out of here."
Daniel didn't stop digging at the mud around Jack's collar. "I'm not leaving." Daniel had never sounded more stubborn.
Jack clenched his teeth, feeling the crunch of sand and mud between them. He spit into the darkness, away from Daniel and the flashlight.
"Get out before you get caught in this mess along with me, Daniel. That's an order."
"What the fuck do you expect me to do? Where can I go?" Daniel's cold fingers caressed his jaw. "I won't leave you here to die."
"Daniel, please..." If he'd been able, Jack would have reached up and rubbed at his burning eyes. As it was, there was nothing he could do about the building pressure behind nose, other than to squeeze his eyes shut.
He felt the shake of the earth around him, deep into his bones this time, and he couldn't breath for the fear that squeezed his chest.
"Listen to me, Daniel, don't make me watch this shit bury you too! At least stand up. For God's sake, grab the column--do something!"
Daniel scrambled to his feet without further argument, because this time, there was no mistaking the unrelenting approach of doom. The rage of rushing water sounded too close and Jack stared into the blackness with clenched teeth as Daniel's hand tangled in his hair and held tight.
The roar deafened Jack, and then water slammed into him and if it hadn't been for the column supporting the back of his head, he was sure he would have been torn apart.
Panic swamped him, but he was trapped, and then Daniel's hand was gone, and the mud packed around him dissolved under the force of the oncoming flood. There was nothing to grab hold of as water pounded against him, and then he was free, but he was drowning. His mouth full of water, he struck out with his legs and arms, but there was no up and no down, and his chest seized as water forced its way into his lungs.
And then for the barest moment, his head was above water, and he could hear Daniel screaming. "Jack!"
He fought the pull of the waves, saw Daniel's flashlight throw a streak of white against the ceiling of the temple and had just enough time to see Daniel clinging to a column as the distance between them grew. Then he was underwater again, and something smacked into him and he blacked out.
Water tickled the side of Jack's face. Disoriented by the warmth and light, he blinked, then blinked a few more times, before finally concluding that he was alive. Not unhurt, but alive.
He closed his eyes and listened to the slow drip of water. Somehow, someway, he'd survived the landslide, then the flood, and here he was, stretched out on the floor on his belly, his right arm twisted beneath him, and his left--well, it was there, because it was blocking his vision of the wall opposite, but it might as well not be there, because he couldn't feel it.
Another blink brought back the memory of Daniel screaming his name as they were separated.
Daniel. Oh, God.
Jack groaned low in his throat and rolled hard to the right. When he flopped onto his back, pain shot through his left shoulder and he gasped.
Then silence returned, broken only by the rhythmic plop of water as it drained from the room through a series of grates in the floor and along the bottom edge of the nearest glowing wall.
He shook his head and tried to focus. Whoever had built this place had clearly been prepared for flooding. He twisted to the side and recognized the glimmer of something very much like a forceshield holding back the flow of water and he wondered how he'd been lucky enough to get through it.
He was alive, but hell if he knew how. Or why.
Or if Daniel shared his fate.
He felt for his radio but wasn't surprised when he found that it was long gone.
The square-ish room he was in left a lot to be desired in the area of creature comforts. An altar, three feet high or so, filled the space against the left wall, and on the right, a raised platform sat a few inches off the floor. Everything seemed composed of the grayish-brown metal composite Carter had been unable to identify, and the platform looked big enough to hold--he squinted, noticing the oval indentions that might be indications of where a person was supposed to stand. If the former inhabitants of this place had had two feet--and Jack didn't see why not--then the platform would hold eight people, crowded together.
Maybe it was some sort of transportation device. Carter would love it--if she ever discovered it was here.
Using only his right arm, he pushed himself to a sitting position, fighting the gray edge of unconsciousness. When he was upright, he curled his arm around his ribcage, holding tight as he fought to breathe without moving his chest.
Unfortunately, that wasn't how the human body worked. Each breath shuddered through him, and Jack squeezed his eyes closed and tried to ignore the stabbing pain near his heart.
He found no comfort in the thought that if he died here, Daniel was probably waiting for him on the other side.
He slid sideways, unwilling to face the ache of loneliness. His cheek touched the wet composite of the floor only seconds before the walls flashed bright, filling the room with the light of a bright sunny day.
"Why are you here?"
The voice was a smooth mix of male and female, and Jack wasn't entirely sure it hadn't been a figment of his imagination.
"Do you understand us? We believed we had deciphered your language. Are we mistaken?"
"Who are you? Can you get me outta here?" To his own ears, his voice sounded flat and tired.
"We are the inhabitants of this planet. We cannot help you."
Jack raised his head off the floor but didn't bother trying to move anything else. "Why the hell not?"
"Dammit to hell!" Jack pushed himself back to a sitting position. "Of course--Ow." He lowered his tone and tried not to move too much. "Of course I'm upset. For thirty seconds there I actually thought I might have found a way out of this Godforsaken hell hole."
"We understand the seriousness of your situation. But we cannot help you." A slight hesitation then the voice returned, "We are sorry. The temples are sacred. All who find their way inside do so because they have been chosen for a test of faith."
"Test, what kind of test? And hey, where the hell are you? The UAV didn't find anything to indicate anyone still lived here."
"We live beneath the city, for reasons you would not understand."
"Try me. You might be surprised."
No answer was forthcoming, so Jack muttered, "Or not."
"We cannot know what our God has planned for you, but we offer you... lucky wishes."
"Lucky wishes?" Jack asked, "You sure you don't mean good luck?"
"Then we offer you good luck wishes."
"That wasn't--forget it. This god you keep talking about, he wouldn't happen to have glowing eyes, would he?"
A snuffle, sounding vaguely like a laugh echoed in the room. "We do not know the form our God takes, but be assured, our God is worthy of our worship."
"Well. That's good news. Now, are you sure you can't help me out of here? Or how about letting my friends know I'm here? That wouldn't be too much to ask, would it?"
"We had intended to help you return to the stargate, but you chose to spend the night in the temple. It was clear to us then that your presence here was not a mistake and that we could not interfere. We do not enjoy your suffering, but it is not our place to ease your pain."
"So, what? You're just going to let me die here? And what about Daniel? Can't you at least tell me where he is, if he's even alive?"
"We have offered help to your Teal'c and your Carter, since they appear to have been excluded from the test you and your Daniel have been chosen for, but they will not be allowed to return until you have finished the trial."
Jack forgot about his injuries long enough to shout, "Son of a bitch!"
His body retaliated with a sharp pain in his side, and he had to cradle his chest as a cough tore through him.
"You must have faith."
"Well, fuck you too!" he responded. And he felt that was more than the unhelpful aliens deserved.
His flashlight was gone, and Daniel couldn't see anything in the dark of the flood filled temple. His only comfort was the flow of the water. As long as he could feel the direction of the current, he felt confident he would eventually find Jack.
He waded forward, the knot in his throat choking him. He took care to ensure he didn't lose his way, because he knew if he got turned around in the blackness, he would never find Jack.
When he had been pushed into the temple by the mudflow, he had been ecstatic to find Jack so quickly within the temple's lower level. Until now, he hadn't considered that he was lucky enough to be alive himself and that to have found Jack alive too...
As an ascended being, he had had a taste of the afterlife, or so he had thought at the time. But he'd begun to wonder about that. Ascension wasn't death, and Oma Desala had made that clear. And if ascension was possible, how could he discount the theories and beliefs of life after death?
With a sigh, he closed his eyes. Funny how the mind wandered to such morbid thoughts when faced with nothing but silence and darkness.
Nothing but hope held him together, because he couldn't believe that Jack wouldn't be waiting for him somewhere ahead, bitching and groaning and demanding that Daniel come up with a Plan B to get them the hell out of this mess.
And the silence crawled under his skin, and the blackness suffocated him.
And yet he refused to give in to the demons clawing at his back, telling him it was already too late, that he should go back and try to find the way out.
Because Jack was somewhere ahead, waiting for him.
A large object bumped his leg, making him stagger. Immediately, as he had every time, he reached for it, praying it wasn't Jack floating lifeless in the water. His hand brushed a rough, scaly surface and he breathed deep in relief. A tree limb, nothing more.
The water around him was rising, slowly. What had been below his knees now came to mid-thigh and a chill had settled deep in his muscles. He curled his arms around himself for warmth and trudged on.
Jack might not be in love with him, but that didn't mean Jack didn't love him. And Jack's love was something Daniel wouldn't give up for anything, not even the threat of his own death.
Silence had returned after Jack's outburst at the alien voice. Without any visible exit, other than the too small grates that were melded into the floor and walls, Jack had nothing to do but sit and think.
He stared at the altar across from him as he rested against the warm wall. The convex curve wasn't the most comfortable to lean against, but it beat lying on the cool floor.
He almost wished he hadn't yelled curses at them for nearly ten minutes after they'd gone, because what if he'd scared them off permanently? At least with the voice, he hadn't been alone with his thoughts, with his worry for Daniel. And Teal'c, and Carter.
And if his worry for Daniel pressed harder on him, he didn't think anyone would begrudge him that at this point. He was going to die here, alone, and he was going die not knowing what had happened to the man he'd been in love with for the last three years. The man who'd been trying to save his life, instead of considering his own welfare.
"This is amazing, Jack."
Jack looked around to see Daniel standing just on the inside of the shield. He looked like hell, but he was the best looking thing Jack had ever seen, hair plastered to his head, the sleeve of his jacket torn, his face covered in filth.
Then he grinned and Jack knew that nothing could compare to how he looked in this moment.
"I knew I would find you."
"You did." Jack smiled. "You found me."
Daniel took a step toward him, halted, then started forward again. "I knew I would find you, but I was afraid I wouldn't, Jack." Then the hesitation, the hint of insecurity, disappeared. Daniel took the last few steps quickly, and then dropped to his knees beside Jack. "How bad are you hurt?"
Jack savored the feel of Daniel's hands running over his arms and his shoulders, then those wonderful, strong hands moved up the column of his neck to cradle his head. Daniel leaned his forehead against Jack's.
"I don't remember ever being as scared as I was when the water washed you away."
Shaking his head, Jack said, "We have been, it just fades."
"I don't think this is going to fade for a long time."
"No, I don't think it will."
They sat quietly for a moment, and Jack let the silence sink in and sooth frayed nerves. When he couldn't stand it any longer, he turned his head, rubbing his stubbled cheek against Daniel's.
Daniel's hands tangled in Jack's hair before Daniel raised his head and let his hands fall away. The cessation of touch left him feeling melancholy.
"Carter and Teal'c will bring back help when they figure out what happened to us." As Daniel spoke, his breath brushed across Jack's chin.
Jack sighed, shook his head, then said, "They won't be coming back with help."
Daniel sat back on his heels. "What do you mean?"
"There be aliens here, Dannyboy, and they're not gonna make getting outta here easy on us." Jack tried to sound irreverent, but the pain in his side, his head, and his back didn't cooperate and he ended up sounding grim and depressed.
Which, really, was exactly how he felt about the entire situation.
"Aliens?" Daniel asked. "What kind of aliens? I thought this place was deserted."
"Yeah, well, it isn't. Seems they live underground or something, and they're completely unwilling to help us. Said something about their god testing me--us."
"So this is a test--of what?"
"A test of faith."
Daniel's eyes flickered, the blue turning deep and fathomless. He looked around the room, taking in everything in one sweep. When he turned his gaze back to Jack's face, he said, "We'll find a way out."
"The water will eventually recede, I think."
Daniel stared into Jack's eyes. "Do you think you'll be okay until then?"
"I don't know. I think I have a broken rib or four, I don't have any feeling in my left arm, and my shoulder hurts like a son of a bitch. But," Jack said, holding up the index finger of his right hand without moving his arm from its position around his chest, "I feel a hell of a lot better now that I know you're not dead."
Daniel's lips curved. "Same here."
"Daniel...? About what I wanted to tell you--"
Daniel pressed his finger to Jack's lips, cutting him off. "Shhh... It's okay. I've been thinking about what happened the other night, and I want to tell you something before you say anything."
"I think I understand now," Daniel said. "You've made it pretty clear over the last few years that you're attracted to Sam, and I was jealous. But how can I blame you for how you feel about her, when I wanted you to feel the same way about me? If it's not right for you to have feelings for a member of your team, it makes no difference if it's her or me."
Daniel rubbed his finger across the skin of Jack's upper lip, never breaking eye contact. "I know I can't stop the feelings I have for you, so how can I expect you to change how you feel about her, just so I don't have to see it anymore? It's not right, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything I said to you about it. And--and if you're attracted to me the way you said you are, I shouldn't have tried to force you into something you didn't want. Your feelings and how you deal with them are none of my business."
Jack stared up at Daniel as he moved his finger from Jack's mouth.
"I love you, Jack. I know I'm not supposed to, but since Sha're died, I haven't truly felt close to anyone but you. We've spent seven years of our lives together as friends, and if that's how it has to stay, then I'm okay with that. But I want you to know that you reminded me that I don't want to be alone, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make sure of that. I'll be your friend, if that's all you want. But if you want more, if you want to be my lover, even if it's just for a little while, then I want that too."
"I--That's not what I want, Daniel."
Daniel nodded his acceptance. "Then we'll be friends."
Jack shook his head and swallowed over the knot of pain in his throat. He'd thought he could do it, thought he'd be different if he had another chance with Daniel, and he had been right, but he'd been so wrong, too. He pressed his hand to his chest, fighting off the suffocating tightness.
"For years, I've had this fantasy of asking you to wait for me. I won't be with the SGC forever, and when I'm out, I would have loved to have someone like you to spend the rest of my days with, and I--I thought I could ask you to, thought I'd do it given a second chance even if I was sure you would say no. No, wait," Jack said, raising his hand against Daniel's attempt to interrupt. "But I can't. I want so much from you, but you shouldn't have to wait for someone like me. I can't ask you to spend years alone, years that you could spend with someone you love and who loves you and who doesn't have this damn job to interfere. I could never be happy knowing you were wasting those years on me."
The skin around Daniel's eyes was tight, and his lips were a firm, thin line, and his voice, when he spoke, was laced with anger. "You don't have to ask. All you have to do is tell me there's something worth waiting for, Jack. I'll wait. You don't get to make this decision for me, you know. It's mine and I'm the only one who has the right to choose the path I'm going to take."
"I won't let you--"
"You can't stop me." And then Daniel leaned forward and touched his lips to Jack's.
Jack didn't have the strength to resist. As Daniel's mouth covered his, and Daniel's tongue entered his mouth, Jack gave himself up to the moment and let it carry him away. His participation was limited by his injuries, but Daniel's attention didn't stray from the kiss. He seemed to be pouring all his affection, all his love for Jack into the one touch of mouth on mouth. Jack savored the heat and tenderness until it slowly came to an end.
Daniel eased backward to sit on his heels. "You said I didn't understand, but it's you who don't understand. I don't want anyone else, Jack. Only you."
"I won't ask," Jack said. "But as long as you choose to wait, you'll be the only one."
Daniel smiled, slow and sweet. "Good."
"What the hell's going on?"
"I'm dying, Jack." And it was said so calmly that cold swept down Jack's spine. "None of this is real. I'm not here." And Daniel pointed to the shield holding back a river of water. "I'm out there, Jack, and the water's rising." Daniel's eyes never flickered. "I'm drowning."
Jack jerked his eyes open, but the room wasn't empty like he'd half expected to find it. Daniel sat on the floor beside him, his head tilted to the side as he slept, the occasional soft snore breaking the silence.
Jack looked back toward the forceshield holding the water at bay.
His dream had disturbed him, and he couldn't discount the churning in his gut that told him something wasn't right.
A test of faith.
He hadn't known what it meant. Still wasn't sure. But hadn't it been convenient for Daniel to show up when he had, on this side of the shield?
And everything had been damn near perfect since then. Daniel said he loved him, that he would wait for him, that they would be together and that they would be happy.
It was everything he'd dreamed of, when he'd dreamed of confessing his feelings to Daniel.
So how could any of it be real?
Was this the great test? Would he sit here, with an imaginary Daniel by his side, while the real Daniel drowned in the waters of the flood that had saved Jack?
Jack pushed to his feet, and fought the dizziness in his head as he walked toward the shield. Up close, the shield's golden color seemed greener, shot through with streaks of brown. On the other side, debris floated, washing toward him. The light from the room broke through the darkness of the water for several feet, but beyond that, there was nothing but blackness.
Jack reached out his hand.
Daniel jerked Jack's arm down and spun him around. "What do you think you're doing?"
"How did you get in here, Daniel? How'd you get through the shield?"
Daniel stared at Jack, his jaw clenched. His eyes reflected the glow of the nearest wall, hiding his thoughts. "I stepped through it," he said, "but we can't go back that way."
"Why not? Why can't we get out of this goddamned place by walking back the way you came in?"
"You're not strong enough, Jack. You'd never make it, and I can't leave you here alone, not in your condition."
Jack gestured toward the wall of water. "So you're trying to tell me you've suddenly become able to walk under the water?"
"The light from this room was shining up onto the ceiling of the level above. I swam down a flight of stairs and found you here."
"But if it's the only way out--"
"Jack, I haven't even had time to look around in here. I was too tired earlier, but now that I've rested, I want to make sure we're not overlooking anything before we decide to take a trip you might not be able to make. Besides, I thought you were sure the water would recede?"
"If we're in an underground room, it could take weeks for this much water to disappear. I don't have that long, and you know it."
"Could you have a little faith in my intelligence? I'm not going to let you die down here. There has to be a way to get us both out of here."
You must have faith.
It was a cold voice, echoing in his mind. Jack felt panic beat at the edges of his thoughts, as he analyzed everything that had happened since Daniel had shown up, but he couldn't get passed the thought that he'd been given everything he'd wanted over the last few years.
Daniel loved him. Daniel would wait for him.
Jack jerked his arm free of Daniel's grip. "This isn't real."
Daniel's eyebrows furrowed. "What are you talking about?"
"You're not real. This is too perfect."
"No!" Jack lunged toward the shield. "I have to save you. You're drowning."
He wasn't surprised by the arms that wrapped around his waist as he crossed through the shield and into the depths of water. Of course they would try to stop him, because what was a test without obstacles? But when Daniel slipped through the shield right along with him, he had to admit to a great deal of surprise.
He twisted in the water, kicking out with his legs, but Daniel wasn't letting go. But stretching his body had been a mistake and his ribs felt like they were being torn from his chest. Pain seared his lungs as he gasped in a mouthful of water and curled over.
Daniel's hands grabbed his shoulders, and within moments, he was once again within the protection of the room.
"What the fuck did you think you were doing?" Daniel's voice was high-pitched and shaky sounding, but his hands were gentle as they helped Jack lie back on the floor.
"Jack, talk to me. What's going on?"
He felt Daniel's hand touch his forehead, and as his vision grayed, he felt Daniel grasp his wrist.
"You agreed to wait for me..." he muttered. "This is my test. You're not real."
"I'm real, Jack! You're so fucking sure I wouldn't want to wait for you that you've come up with something as crazy as that to explain away everything I said to you? If you want to talk about a test of faith, believe in me. Believe this. I love you, and you're right, dammit, I don't want to wait. I want us to be together now, not some unspecified number of years in the future, but I won't push you into something you're not ready for."
Jack felt a laugh bubbling in his throat.
This Daniel was real, all right. And he was offering something to Jack that he'd always been too scared to admit he wanted.
Something real. Something now.
Fuck it. Later was for the birds.
He opened his mouth to say just that, but the world went dark.
Daniel wasn't the kind of man who let fate lead him around by the balls. Sure, he'd had more than his fair share of shit on his shoes, but today, he had no intention of letting life get the better of him. Or death, as the case might be. He wasn't a quitter, and he wasn't about to give up on Jack.
Jack's heartbeat was weak, his pulse barely distinguishable. His chest rose intermittently, and there was blood at the corner of his mouth, and it wasn't coming from a split lip.
Jack probably had some serious internal injuries, and it was up to Daniel to get them the hell out of here--the sooner, the better. If only he hadn't let Jack talk him into sitting down to rest, he wouldn't have dozed off, and he might have already found a way out of here. But back on earth, it was just after six am, and sometimes, the time difference made for a hell of a jet lag--on a good day.
Today had not been a good day.
Up since the equivalent of midnight on earth, and the majority of that time spent underground, trapped in the bowels of a temple beneath tons of mud and debris. They were both lucky to be alive, but Daniel wasn't sure how much longer Jack's luck was going to hold out.
He needed to get back to the base, before whatever internal injuries he had killed him.
And Sam and Teal'c might not be allowed in the temple, as Jack had said, but Daniel was confident that neither of them would choose to abandon them. Help would be waiting, even if it was only outside this damned temple.
He held that thought as he searched around the altar, looking for anything that looked like a piece of technology capable of helping them out of this situation.
His frustration grew as he stared at the wall that was almost identical to the wall he and Sam had gone over so thoroughly in the other temple. He wasted precious minutes running his fingers over every crack and crevice, but he found nothing.
Then he noticed the platform, clearly some kind of transportation device, but to where? On the wall behind it, there was a panel of buttons, each with a single symbol, but none that made any sense. He hadn't even begun to translate any of the text from the city when the storm had hit, and without ample time to study the language and a frame of reference of some kind, he had little hope of figuring it out.
He frowned. That second symbol to the left... Something about it tickled at his mind, teasing him with its familiarity, and yet he knew he'd never seen anything exactly like it before. A circle with two parallel lines cutting across the bottom.
A stargate, with a road leading out.
It was a symbol for the stargate. Had to be, because it was Daniel's only real hope of getting Jack the help he needed before it was too late. Daniel looked over his shoulder at Jack lying on the floor, saw the hitch in his breathing and waited for the gasp that would follow.
Precious moments passed, with nothing.
Daniel scrambled across the water slicked floor, then slid to his knees beside Jack's still body. Feeling for a pulse, he muttered, "Come on, come on, come on."
Jack's heart stuttered along, the beat barely discernible.
Either he trusted his gut and assumed that the symbol he believed stood for the stargate would transport them out of here and to the gate, or he risked waiting too long and having to perform CPR on a man who probably had a punctured lung. Or worse.
Daniel didn't waste time thinking it through. He grabbed Jack's arm and pulled it around his neck, then grunted as he stood. "You can't die on me, Jack, you can't die, okay?" Wrapping his arm around Jack's waist, Daniel pulled Jack in tight to him, and then dragged Jack's dead weight toward the platform.
If they were transported to the vicinity of the stargate, and if his GDO still worked, and if he could get Jack through the stargate and to the infirmary fast enough...
He hoped those indentations didn't mean they both had to be standing upright and in place, because that wasn't going to be possible with Jack unconscious.
After a split-second hesitation, Daniel jabbed at the symbol.
Between one blink and the next, they were standing in front of the alien piece of technology beside the stargate--much to the surprise of SG-3.
When Jack opened his eyes, he was surprised to notice that instead of an alien ceiling, he was staring up at the darkened ceiling of the SGC infirmary. He ought to know. He'd seen it enough times.
He rolled his head to the side, but the chair next to his bed was empty. He blinked a few times, trying to fight off what felt like the aftereffects of a heavy dose of anesthesia. A fuzzy shape in the corner moved, and just as Jack was about to say Daniel's name, he recognized the narrow shoulders, pale white neck, and blond hair. "Carter..."
"How're you feeling, Sir?"
"Where's Daniel? S'he okay?"
"He's fine, Colonel. He's cleaning up. He'll be disappointed he missed you." Carter stepped closer to the bed and into the light. "We didn't want you to wake up alone after your surgery, so I said I'd stay with you."
Jack cleared his throat. "Surgery?"
Carter shrugged and made a face at him. He wasn't sure if it was supposed to mean that she didn't know what had been wrong, or if she didn't think it was her place to tell him. But then she said, "It was your spleen, Sir. You lost a lot of blood."
"Ah." If he hadn't felt like he was going to drift out again, he might have tried to say more. Then again, maybe not. His tongue felt like it was sticking to the roof of his mouth and his throat burned. He closed his eyes.
He felt Carter touch his arm and he forced eyes to open again. "Water," he said.
She nodded, then reached for something on the table near his head. He followed her movements with blurry eyes as she offered the drink to him.
He took a sip, then another, before turning his head away.
"We tried to go after you, once the slide stopped, but the slope was too unstable."
"S'okay, Carter. We made it, or I wouldn't be here."
"Go on, get out of here. Spend some quality time with your boyfriend."
"I have a feeling Hammond's going to give us an honest-to-God vacation this time around."
Carter turned toward the voice, and Jack smiled. He'd known Daniel wouldn't be gone long. Not after everything that had happened.
Daniel had his hand clasped around the spine of a book as he stepped into the light. Carter smiled at him, then looked back at Jack and shrugged. "Maybe I will, but I want a closer look at that device on PX4-211 first. It's an amazing piece of technology, and I have a feeling it's multifunctional."
Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and shifted his weight to lean slightly to the right. "I need to translate..."
Jack let their voices drift around him, the soft cadence of Daniel's words lulling him back into the gray of sleep.
When he woke next, the light above his head had been angled away from him, and Daniel was sitting beside his bed, holding the book open on his knee and scribbling on a pad of paper.
"Hey," Jack said.
Daniel looked up through his glasses and smiled. "Hi."
Jack knew then that things were never going to be the same. He'd found something worth holding onto and he intended to do just that.
"You know those things we talked about?"
"Yes?" Daniel's smile didn't waver, but his eyes reflected an anxiety Jack hated to see.
Daniel's lips parted on a breath of relief. "Me either."
"So how long d'you think they're going to keep me here?"
Daniel raised his eyebrows. "You were hurt pretty bad. I'd say you'll be here a while."
Jack sighed. "Damn."