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Talking in tongues

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Jonas was baffled at first by the Tauri ways, from the way they ate their bizarre food to the strange fastenings on their clothes and the discordance of their music. But these, he understood, were matters of culture, and he was a stranger. He read as much as he could in the first weeks he was there, and by practicing with the humans who would talk to him, he could carry on a conversation without the other person blinking or blushing.

And it’s not like he hadn’t done this before. There had been weeks even when he’d gone without sex. Designing the reactors, or cramming for exams, when there was just so much to *do* that everyone settled for kisses and hugs instead of real touch.

And there was something he didn’t understand about humans. He went through all of Jackson’s notes and then a linguistics database and he found about a hundred words for snow, but for sex? There was foreplay, kissing, fondling, hugging, snuggling, spooning. More than a hundred slang words for positions and movements, techniques and touches. But none of them were really about *sex*. The emotions of sex. There was no word about the sigh of a kiss when you’ve missed someone and you wanted the taste of them in your mouth again. There was no word for the shiver of a first touch from someone new, or the spark of anger and rage thrashing beneath hungry kisses compared to the way it felt afterwards when it had ebbed and eased. You might describe things in their languages, but they could not be named.

They even had people who didn’t have sex. And the adolescent rituals were - he knew it was pure cultural arrogance, but he found it abhorrent the way they stumbled through sex in a haze of misinformation and taboo.

Daniel had been enthusiastic about what he called the ‘social-sexual rituals’ of the Kelowna when he wasn’t breathless and laughing as he politely fended off the approaches of Kelownans. After all, Daniel was beautiful and exotically new. He kissed enthusiastically, but he kept his clothes on to everyone’s disappointment. Until, Jonas thought unhappily, the Accident. Then Daniel was refused everything, even the last touches of the dying, the comfort of skin against skin.

Jonas had been on his hands and knees afterwards, pushed away despite his willing mouth, his begging touches, but in the end, when even his own friends folded their arms and averted their gaze, he knew he could not stay.

But the Tauri world felt as unkind. Not intentionally, he knew, with the way the Colonel’s hand clapped heartily on shoulders, Sam’s bright smile, the words that they used in place of touches. They stood a little further apart than he was used to, but after a while, he learnt to stand apart.

It was lonelier. He went to a bar and found a woman, then a man, and drew them down against his body and spoke as much as he could, but it was like talking to an Unas. They responded, but it was clumsy, crude, and there was nothing behind their touches except desire. The burn of desire was loud enough to drown out the silence of their touches for a little while.

He went to see Teal’c. “The Tauri,” he said. “Do you ever feel how different we are from them?”

Teal’c took his time lighting candles before gesturing to a flat cushion on the floor. “There are many differences. Some I have found interesting.”

“Like sex?” Jonas says, sitting down and crossing his legs. “It’s not a Jaffa taboo, is it? I mean, Daniel Jackson’s journals were quite explicit, although you and he never -”

Teal’c shook his head slightly. “Our history placed us apart as brothers.”

“Well, on Kelowna, we’re closer. Sex is how we talk, it’s part of how we greet each other or say farewell. We don’t have these privacy taboos, or this sense of shame.” He paused, frustrated. “To touch was to talk. I feel like no-one’s talking, or they’re angry with me, even though I know they’re not. It’s just - my body doesn’t know that.”

Teal’c was silent for a long while and then he reached over and cupped Jonas’ cheek. “You may speak with me, JonasQuinn.”

Teal’c’s hands were broad and warm, his fingernails blunt. He spanned the back of Jonas’ head and there was an eloquent steadiness to the way he drew Jonas’ mouth to his. The taste of lipstick, dry and then the wetness of his mouth, the heat of it, and all this with Jonas held so that he could give his whole weight, his whole trust to Teal’c.

“This is the way we thank our friends,” he said when they had kissed until his mouth was swollen. He slid his hands over Teal’c’s shoulders and arms. To go on his knees, to bury his face against thighs, to smell and taste new and strange and learn it to familiar pleasure. He could feel Teal’c’s pulse under his tongue, and then his hands on his shoulders again, rubbing circles, a steady rhythm that Jonas remembered.

Afterwards, Teal’c picked him up and took him to his bed and taught him the way to touch his pouch, the taste of the oils he used, then the stretch of being pinned down, of moving underneath and falling free against Teal’c’s thrusts.

“You spoke in Kelownan,” Teal’c said later when Jonas was lying cradled against him, sated with touch at last. “Kelowna kannis korin.” He rolled his rr’s impeccably and Jonas grinned and ducked his head against Teal’c’s arm.

“It means ‘bless this ground’. We don’t, I mean, reproductive sex isn’t usual. We developed reliable contraceptives early on, but by then the rituals were already a tradition of our society. Semen and other fluids would be spread on the ground as a sign of community and - I’m talking too much, aren’t I?”

Teal’c stroked the shaved side of Jonas’ hair. “Your voice is pleasant,” he said. “Continue.”

He tried not to overtax Teal’c after that. It made him ache in a new and entirely unsettling way. A craving was the word for it, he decided, after talking carefully to Sam about it. The Colonel was very good at deflecting questions and Teal’c, well, Jonas didn’t want to waste any of the time he had with Teal’c on questions about humans.

“Like chocolate?” Sam said while she was fiddling with gears and Jonas was reading through a stack of reports. “I mean, Daniel had this coffee craving you wouldn’t believe, and then he got me hooked on this dark chocolate. I still take it with me on missions. Emergency rations.” She has an abstracted smile on her face, remembering something lost but loved, and Jonas looked at the reports until his eyes were clear and he didn’t want so much to kiss her.

He could make it through days now without feeling so hungry, so alone. He slept badly though, alone in his bed as if he were contagious or abandoned, with shifting dreams that were half memory, half hope.

On other planets, there were opportunities. “Off-world nookie”, the Colonel called it when they had lapfuls of nubile villagers by the flickering lights of a bonfire. “I don’t ask, Jonas, and you don’t tell. But let me warn you, Janet Frasier does a damn thorough examination.”

Teal’c quirked an eyebrow at him and tilted his head at Sam who was trying politely to push the armful of cleavage off. Jonas grinned and the Colonel followed his gaze.

“Oh,” said Jack. “Huh. That explains a lot, actually.”

Jonas tried out the few words he’d learnt in the local language and learnt that they also understood some of the basic kisses. And then there was another woman, and they had really fiddly knots in their bodices, but his belt was giving them just as much trouble until he helped.

“You want to take that maybe inside?” Jack said before Jonas could get his pants off over his ankles. Jonas opened his mouth to answer but then his pants were pulled off and someone with soft curly hair settled between his thighs, and he could only moan. “Okay,” Jack said and stood up. “I’ll be in my tent.”

But the next morning, when they were heading back to the Stargate with a case of herbs and what Sam swore were fascinating mineral samples and not a bunch of ugly rocks, he thought about the way the Colonel had walked, that stiff straightness in his gait.

He waited until Sam and Teal’c had gone through the gate. “Colonel,” he said. “I know you’re not familiar with Kelowna culture, or well, any culture that doesn’t involve hockey or beer.”

“Your point, Jonas?”

“You are my commanding officer in the field, and this would be a successful mission, yes?” Jack nodded and Jonas tried not to think about the times he’d seen Jack kill people. A lot of times. “So a Kelowna tradition would be this.” And then he took three quick steps and rested his hands lightly on Jack’s forearms and kissed him. One kiss, and then another, then to rest his forehead against Jack’s.

“Traditional, huh?” Jack said.

“An ancient custom.”

Jack’s mouth opened willingly, but his arms didn’t move nor his body untense. Just the intense twist and turn of his lips, the sweep of his tongue against Jonas’. It was strange to kiss without touching, without anything but Jack’s mouth against his.

When he stepped back, Jonas almost stumbled. “They’re expecting us,” the Colonel said and tugged his cap down before stepping back through the gate.

Jonas waited until they were finished with the debriefing to murmur “We have a rich and varied culture, Colonel.” He managed to wave to Teal’c before hurrying out of the room after Jack.

There were rules and regulations and even some secret hand signals that Jack made Jonas practice over and over, but he pitched his tent between Teal’c and Jack off-world, and his dreams were better most nights.

Sam was the last one, although he didn’t realise that until the snowstorm on PX-3789. He didn’t mean for anything to actually happen, given the way Sam was always careful to not let even her gaze linger on any of them. There were plenty of rumours around the base, but Jack and Teal’c dismissed most of them, and the ones they gave weight to were borne out in the swing of her hips.

“She believes her work would be compromised,” Teal’c said when Jonas asked him. “From what I have seen of the Tauri, I believe she is correct.”

Jonas understood what it was like to lose your work, your professional standing. He thought of courting her, but when he broached that idea with Jack, he ended up standing on the curb at three a.m. pulling on his boots and wondering whether it would be smarter to ask for his jacket or wait until Jack calmed down.

But then came PX-3789 with the snowstorm and Sam got a fever and the storm lifted one of the tent away and by the time Teal’c got back to the remaining tent with news that a rescue team would be four days at least, Jack had stripped her down and wrapped her up in blankets. “Slow steady heat,” he said. “You know mouth-to-mouth?”

“CPR? She’s still breathing.”

“Warm her airways. For chrissakes, Jonas, she’s going to want you to do it over me.”

It was like the Tauri fairy-tale, the one Daniel Jackson believed was sarcophagus-related. Her lips were cold and dry and the breaths he drew in were wintery. Summer, he thought, summer sunshine and blood warmth. He smoothed the hair back from her forehead and kissed her again, breathing out as deeply as he could.

Sam pushed him away after a while. “Stoppit,” she mumbled. “Wet.”

“Hey,” he said. “Didn’t know I was such a bad kisser.”

She smiled sleepily. “Not so bad. Colonel’s not complaining.”

“Right here, Carter,” Jack said leaning over her. “You and I need to have a little chat.”

“Mmm-hm,” she said and tugged at Jonas’ hand. He slid down next to her obediently and pressed his face against the cool curve of her neck. He wasn’t all that surprised when he felt a blanket tucked in around him and Sam. Or at the soft, quick kiss against his forehead.

Sam was better in two days and the tent was six feet round with enough space in the middle for Jonas to stand up if he was careful, which left them literally bumping elbows. “We’ve been in this a lot,” Sam said while they were passing a bowl of MRE mush around. “Daniel used to make us tell stories. The Colonel tried to get us to play strip poker but our fingers got too cold to even hold the cards, let alone take our clothes off. What do the Kelownans do?”

Jonas chewed on his lower lip. “We have some songs, and there’s a pretty good game we can play with string and a couple of pebbles. But uh, mostly we -”

“Explore their rich culture,” said the Colonel smoothly cutting in. “Carter, you got any string?”

“I don’t know, sir. Cultural exchanges are an important part of the Stargate program.”

If it hadn’t been for Teal’c, Jonas wouldn’t have started laughing, but when he lifted one eyebrow at the staring match between the Colonel and Sam, Jonas knew exactly what he meant and it didn’t help to have Sam’s chilled fingers sliding up his thigh under the shared blanket. But laughing helplessly worked well enough for Jack to mutter “for crying out loud” and stop talking and start kissing.

“On Kelowna,” he said to Sam, “we would have had sex when we met, or parted. When we argued, when we were sad or missed someone else. We would fuck,” he said, his voice hitching at the nip of Jack’s teeth against his hip at the word, “to celebrate or to soothe.”

“Your planet sounds interesting,” said Sam. She was propped up on one elbow, kissing Jonas every now and then, but mostly watching Jonas as Teal’c and Jack stripped his clothes off. “So this is normal for you? Sex without meaning?”

“It has meaning,” Jonas protested. “Mm, my toes,” he said when Teal’c began rubbing them, his hands sliding higher and higher. “There just isn’t one meaning alone. This is the same social significance as your poker games or the Colonel’s fishing, or sharing a meal.”

“It is preferable to fishing,” said Teal’c as his hands met Jack’s at the flanks of Jonas’ thighs. Jack relinquished his touch, moving back so Jonas could rest his head on the crook of Jack’s knee. They’d gone beyond really being able to smell each other after a couple of days, but now when Jonas turned his head, he was against Jack’s belly, the soft fabric of his t-shirt rucked up against his face and the scent of Jack. Animal instinct under all their human culture, but when he burrowed his head there and Jack stroked the back of his neck as Teal’c bent over him and Sam hesitantly lay down to press cool kisses against his face, he felt more human than ever.