The house was dark--for her eyes could not stand the light--and the air was moist with her sweat, thick with the smell of it. She had not cried out once, all through her pain. She could endure as much as her husband without shaming herself. This is how it was when the knock came at the door. It was short and officious, one single knock. Before he opened the door Teal'c knew it would be a messenger standing there. And so it was, a youngish boy-man, his back straight and rigid as the trunk of a tree. Teal'c stood in the doorway, hearing Drey'auc's harsh sandy breathing behind him. He noticed something peculiar about the messenger: He seemed almost to be smiling.
"What news from my lord Apophis?" Teal'c asked, nodding his head slightly by way of greeting. The messenger bowed in return.
"Your wife is summoned," he said.
For several moments all was silent. Then Teal'c heard the rustling of bedclothes and a second later, Drey'auc's pained voice. "I will serve my lord," she said, and coughed.
Teal'c did not bother to look back at her. He situated himself more solidly in the doorway. "My wife is too ill to leave her bed."
The messenger was clearly smiling now. "Apophis knows of your wife's sickness."
"Does he wish to heal her?" Teal'c kept his appearance dispassionate but inside entertained a swell of hope. Healings were rare, of course, and far rarer for a woman, but...it had been done. And one was surely needed here. Drey'auc had been coughing in her sleep, and her pillows were spotted with brown flecks of blood.
"I have said the message sent with me." The boy stood before the door, smiling without shame, and waited for Teal'c to stand aside and let his wife stumble out. Behind him she shuffled across the room, trying to dress herself. For the first time in many years--since long before he became first prime--Teal'c felt trapped. Perhaps Apophis would heal Drey'auc, but he was no fool god to lavish gifts for no return. He would require for it a price-a sacrifice. In the very small chamber of Teal'c's heart where his doubts dwelled, he thought the sacrifice might far exceed the thing restored.
"Lie down, woman," he commanded. Her clumsy shuffling continued without a pause. Teal'c turned around. "Lay you back down," he said again, louder. Drey'auc stopped and turned her face to him. Her features were pale and sharp with pain, but set as firm as ever.
"You cannot command me to disobey my god."
Fierce pride for her strength and rage at her petulance rushed him simultaneously. "Lie down," he growled, "or I will put you there. You are nearer death than life, would you walk out to court it?"
She only glared at him with her lips pressed tightly together. The messenger coughed loudly.
In the end her sickness overtook her and she stumbled and fell. Teal'c lifted her back into bed. As he held her close he smelled her sticky poisoned sweat; she had been for the past three days too ill to wash or even to tolerate a wet cloth to be rubbed over her skin. And yet she tried to leave, to serve her god.
Teal'c turned to face the messenger, whose smiling face had grown pinched. "My lord Apophis demands her presence," he said, sounding like a child whose favorite toy had been stolen.
"I will go in her place."
"That is not--"
Teal'c stepped forward and pulled his shoulders square. Now he stood barely a hand's length from the boy, who hastily stepped backwards. "Yes, yes," he said. As always, the stuttered and fearful acquiescence pleased Teal'c. He followed the messenger out into the cool, clean air and closed the door on his wife.
There was a particular place, when Apophis was visiting Chulak--rarely these days--where he preferred to anchor his transport rings. Teal'c, who had flown on many ships in many battles, and had many times hurried his god to safety through the last-minute swift descent of the rings, knew that they were not bound to a fixed location in the way of the chappa'ai. But he understood why Apophis wished to act as if that were so.
The path to the place of the rings was pounded smooth by thousands of feet, and kept clean and straight by devotees from the temple. Further along the path, Teal'c knew, he would walk past cuts of meat and scattered coins, loaves of bread. Once he had found an infant girl with her throat slit from one small grey ear to the other. Another time he had stepped over a long braid of hair, tied at each end with leather cords.
The circle of the rings--the place itself--was kept bare of all growth. Teal'c did not know who did this, but he had never seen a single blade of grass to sprout there. This day, when he arrived with the messenger, the boy still brewing his sullen disappointment, long ropes of flowers lay strewn in a rough circle around the place of the transport rings.
They stepped inside the flower circle, onto the bare ground. The messenger fingered his wristband with a movement that was slower and wider than necessary. The rings fell down.
The first faces Teal'c saw when the ring-light faded were all stretched with surprise. The serpent guards had been expecting a woman, and a sick one at that. Instead they had Teal'c. He permitted himself a short moment to feel satisfaction at their discomfiture.
"Ru'lac," one of the guards started, addressing the messenger. Ru'lac held up one hand, and the guard's questioning ceased. He turned to Teal'c instead. "Your god awaits you."
Teal'c bowed his head briefly. He waited for the guards to part and let him through. No one accompanied him down the golden hallway. He, of course, knew the way.
The doors to Apophis's chamber opened at his touch. He stepped inside and immediately knelt and lowered his head. He said nothing, awaiting the god's notice. In the tight box of his chest Teal'c's heart slammed itself against his ribs, sounding a stream of frantic thuds in his skull. For a second--the moment before Apophis finally spoke--he thought he should have let Drey'auc go instead, for surely Apophis would just send for her again and kill them both for Teal'c's insolence. In his mind he saw her blood-flecked pillows.
"I did not send for you."
"No, my lord." Teal'c kept his head bowed. When Apophis spoke his voice hummed through Teal'c as though his body were a plucked string.
"My wife is very ill," Teal'c said. "I forbade her to leave her bed."
"And you have come in her place."
"I have, my lord."
Teal'c waited, looking at the complicated pattern of the tiles beneath his knees. It had been a long time since he had knelt in Apophis's presence. Such obeisance was the province of lesser men. Nevertheless the posture felt familiar. So did the waiting, meditative in its helplessness.
"You defy my commands."
"I will accept my punishment."
"What you will accept," Apophis said sharply, "is not for you to choose." There was a pause, then: "Stand up."
Teal'c stood, and felt himself appraised. Apophis wore a look of calculation rather than the rage Teal'c had expected. He sat loosely in his throne with his arms splayed wide.
"Shall I tell you why I summoned your wife, Teal'c?" His voice was light and almost playful.
"If you wish." The air in the chamber was beginning to smell like the sickness in the house. Surely that could not be, but Teal'c could smell the sweat and the bitter tang of the medicines. The metallic blue-fired scent of the ship was poor disguise.
Apophis's smile looked like the one the messenger--Ru'lac--had worn. "I wanted your wife so that I could lie with her. I am told she is beautiful."
Teal'c's hands throbbed with the effort not to clench into fists. His ears roared, his bones shook with fury as hot as steaming water. For a moment Apophis was not his god but just a man before him, smirking at Teal'c, spread across his golden chair. Teal'c thought, What if she had been well? What if she had gone?
Apophis said, "This angers you?"
Then she would have gone and served her god as he desired it. Be still.
His voice even, Teal'c replied, "It does not, my lord."
"Then you would not deny me the enjoyment of your wife."
"I would not." He saw Apophis about to speak again and quickly added, "Only wait till she is well, my lord."
Apophis's eyes flashed. His lips curled and bared his teeth. "I want her now. Her health is of no concern to me."
"No," Teal'c agreed. "It is not, my lord." Once more that long-forgotten cloak of helplessness settled stiflingly across his shoulders. He could do nothing now, not even look away.
"You come in her place, then." Teal'c met his god's eyes, momentarily unable to hide his shock, and understood that this adaptation served Apophis's purpose with exaction. He had wanted to humiliate Teal'c by sleeping with his wife, forcing Teal'c to abandon her in her illness, but to defile the man himself would serve equally well. He thought of the smile on the messenger's face.
"I do," Teal'c said.
Apophis's eyes glowed again. With a long languorous motion he stood and stepped down from the dais where his throne rested. "Kneel."
Teal'c crossed the floor and knelt. In his belly he felt start the same low stirrings, as Apophis parted his garments, as when Drey'auc would recline in their bed and cup her hands below her breasts. The feeling sickened him but he was helpless against it. This was his god before him, his god's cock before him. His mouth watered for it.
Apophis pulled his head forward, sliding inside Teal'c's mouth. He fucked him there with fast hard strokes. Teal'c studied his throat to slackness. Behind his back his hands gripped each other and his fingernails dug bloody furrows into his flesh. His own hardness throbbed against his stomach. He thought, If Drey'auc had come she would grow wet for him. She would welcome him.
Apophis muttered and grunted like an animal at its trough. The memory of the flower-chains rose like a bubble to Teal'c's mind, and the thick wet perfume of them. Apophis snarled as he came to his climax. His seed filled Teal'c's mouth and choked him, drooled from his lips. With a gagged cry Teal'c came, spilling himself as he swallowed his god, sorrowing that he had not sent Drey'auc to get with child by their lord.
Before Apophis sent him back, he told Teal'c, "If your wife still lives tomorrow, send her here. She will be healed." Teal'c nodded, his eyes fixed on the wall over Apophis's shoulder. He could not speak. The rings fixed on him where he stood.
When they lifted again he was far from the flowering circle. The sudden sensation of grass bloomed against his feet. He cleaned himself with torn fistfuls of it before starting back towards his house. Drey'auc was asleep when he arrived and asked no questions.
He sent her down the path the next morning, with her brother's children to help her walk, and she went willingly. When she returned, straight-backed and flush-cheeked, he ran his tongue across his teeth and asked her nothing. They made love to celebrate her cure, and Drey'auc rode atop him, growling her pleasure like a wild cat.
Teal'c watched her belly for five months, but nothing grew.