J/D, PG13, Season 7
Summary: Jack and Daniel are caught in a cave during a firefight, waiting for reinforcements. Some issues come up that need assessment and honesty.
Notes: 1) Unbetaed. 2) Title comes from Dune.
“Dammit,” Daniel said, rolling a shoulder as he entered the gateroom.
“Daniel?” Carter asked.
“Something’s pinching my shoulder,” he said, running his left hand over his right shoulder, feeling under the field vest for the culprit. Damn pack made it awkward.
“Let me,” Jack said, walking in behind him.
Daniel was tempted to tell him he’d deal with it just fine by himself but held his tongue. The two of them had been snapping at each other for weeks and while that was sometimes entertaining, it had gone on long enough. They had reluctantly agreed to settle it over pizza when they returned home, but Daniel had a feeling that pizza wasn’t going to help.
“Ow!” he complained, scowling as Jack turned the shoulder of the vest outward, but before he could snap something better than that, Jack was holding up a thumb tack. Daniel’s scowl deepened. “Where the hell did that come from?”
“Under your vest?” Jack suggested with a slight smirk. Daniel narrowed his eyes at him and his smirk lessened slightly. “We’ll have a word with Supply. Obviously, someone’s not paying attention.”
“Yeah, me,” Daniel grumbled. “I usually check a new vest for problems but …” I had something, or rather *someone* on my mind and other stuff stupidly slipped by. I should freakin’ know better by now.
“But?” Jack asked, and it was clear he’d said twice.
“Nothing,” Daniel said, trying to smooth his scowl into a non-committal expression. “Call it Due Diligence and leave it at that.”
Jack sighed. “Okeydokey.”
Daniel started to grind his teeth in annoyance but again, forced himself to dismiss the comment. Everything Jack said or did frayed his nerves and vice-versa. It was a wonder that Jack had even helped with his vest and …
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said. “You are troubled.”
“Yes,” Daniel said, with emphasis. “But it’s something that has to be put aside since we’re about to put ourselves in danger and absent-minded woolgathering is not helpful.”
“Your tendency toward understatement is astonishing,” Jack said, and when Carter raised her brows at him, he shook his head and held up his hands. “Sorry, sorry. Daniel’s not the only one … on edge.”
“Son of a bitch!” Jack swore as he and Daniel were cut off from the Stargate. At least Carter and Teal’c had made it through to gather reinforcements. Was there a Tok’ra ship in this region of space? Asgardian?
“This way!” Daniel called back to him.
He’d been running several yards ahead through the woodland that had surrounded the ‘gate, but it had grown thicker by the foot.
Jack’s ankle nearly turned on a root and he cursed again. “Where?”
“That embankment of caves!” Daniel yelled without looking back. “We can get to one of them, we’ll have the advantage!”
“Yeah, for a minute!” Jack yelled back. He was growing tired and cursed his age and the accrued injuries over a lifetime of combat.
“Here!” Daniel called, pointing to a cave covered by thick tropical plants and trees. He paused, waiting for Jack to catch up. It would piss the man off but he didn’t care. He’d have words with Jack about his contradictory rules of combat. You never left a man behind … but at the same time … Get your ass to safety to regroup.
“Where?” Jack asked as he came abreast of his archaeologist.
“Behind these,” Daniel pointed, and he withdrew the machete he’d packed after the UAV had shown the type of terrain they’d ‘gate to. He stretched out his arm and used the tool to push back some heavy broadleaves. The cave entrance was tall and narrow. “Hopefully, it’s bigger inside.”
“Let’s find out,” Jack said. They’d lost the platoon of Jaffa that had ambushed them but it wouldn’t last long, not with their luck. He followed Daniel into the dark.
Jack detected the scent of mineralized water and something acrid as they wove their way through a narrow passage that eventually widened into a massive cave.
Or more accurately, a hollowed section of the mountain they’d been surveying when the goddamn Goa’uld had shown up. The cave was interspersed with monolithic sections, as if a giant had reached down to drag its fingers through the rock. From just one look, Jack wondered if the other caves were the same.
The weird thing was that the cave was green-lit. Low bushes near the entrance had been unusually bright green but as the two men stopped at the entrance to the cathedral cave, they saw pools of green liquid at the bases of the walls. It dripped as it filtered down from above, pouring as rivulets through dozens of tiny cracks.
“What the hell?” Jack said absently.
“I have no idea,” Daniel said. “If I had the proper sensor device, I could tell you what that liquid is. But I can tell you what the rock is.”
“And that would be?” Jack asked as he leaned against a wall clean of the green liquid.
Daniel rested against an equally clean wall across the widened corridor, just at the cave’s massive opening. “Naquadah. Or maybe naquadria. Or a hybrid. Something hot has somehow melted the ore or leached this green stuff out of it. I think. I’m not a geologist. I just study what’s buried in the rock.”
“Don’t you study the layers of rock, know the ages, et cetera?”
“Some, yes. But where naquadah is concerned, I don’t know much.”
“Hmm,” Jack said, putting annoyance in the sound. He knew he was being a jerk and needed to put a cork in it or this clusterfuck of a mission would get needlessly worse. “Okay, but how do you know it’s naquadah?”
Daniel sniffed. “You can’t smell that? It smells just like a naquadah mine, only there’s something sharper about it. Like the difference between mild cheese and sharp.”
Jack let out short bark of laughter and shook his head. “Your metaphors are getting weirder, Daniel.”
Daniel frowned. “How so?”
Jack sighed and tried to find a way to put it nicely but gave up after three seconds. “Naquadah. Cheese. So far removed from each other that the comparison blows my mind.”
Daniel shrugged. “Simple metaphors are best when it comes to scent.” He waved at the general everything of the cave. “The air has a metallic tang to it. Compared to regular naquadah which has a faint metallic smell? Mild versus sharp. A cheese metaphor seemed appropriate.”
Jack bobbed his head to the side in acceptance of the point. “Yeah. Okay. But why do you think it’s naquadah? Couldn’t it just smell like the stuff?”
Daniel rapped a knuckle on the stone he leaned against. “Look at the color. Naquadah has a greenish tint to it. There’re other greenish minerals, of course, but their compositions aren’t the same as naquadah, which sort of resembles iron and—”
Jack’s inner jerk showed in his expression. “Pyrus ring any bells? AKA, Terella? AKA P3R-636? AKA sarcophagus addiction? AKA—”
“Yes! Yes! Alright!” Daniel shouted back as he squeezed his eyes shut and waved his hands in front of his face.
“Point is,” Jack said, his voice dripping with as much sarcasm as the walls dripped into green pools on the ground. “I mined that shit nearly to death. I think I know what it looks like in raw form.” He rapped his own knuckle against the wall he leaned against. “This stuff? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. What was your point in telling me about it?”
Daniel clenched his teeth. “You asked?”
Jack frowned. “Okay. I’m … sorry. I’m mad.”
“Yeah, I get that. Me, too.” He looked at the glowing pools. “Think this stuff’s dangerous?”
“Yep.” He watched Daniel bend down to examine the nearest pool. “And I think not touching glowing shit is a given, Daniel.”
Daniel opened his mouth to argue, but he paused. He silently ran through several arguments Jack would pose, including all the sarcasm. All of which would result in their shouting at each other … again … and there simply no reason for it.
“Okay.” He turned and headed for the mouth of the cave. Jack followed.
He pushed aside the hanging ivy that covered one side of the entrance to get a look at the green bushes that held a similar glow to the pools in the cave. But he kept silent on his observations. He turned his attention to their predicament instead and waited on Jack.
They carefully scanned outside and no Jaffa were apparent. Beyond the cave’s entrance were scattered thickets of brown-green growth, like bushes but too wide and feathered. They resembled blackberry bushes that were, in reality, vines. Both he and Jack stood still, listening. Their pistols were automatically drawn, with the P90s left to dangle across their field vests. After two minutes of silence, the men regarded each other.
“No sound,” Daniel mouthed, frowning at Jack, who nodded. “Not even an echo,” he said only marginally louder. “Shouldn’t we be hearing an echo of Jaffa armor?”
“We ran about two klicks, Daniel. We’re out of range.”
Daniel’s frown deepened. He hadn’t thought they’d run that far. But then, his knees weren’t as banged up as Jack’s were. If the man were anyone else, those injuries would’ve benched him, but as a person with some measure of clout, they hadn’t. It was Jack’s mind that was needed and it wasn’t of any real use sitting behind a desk.
Jack grimaced absently as he rubbed at a spot under the vest by his left kidney. It was bruised. How badly, he couldn’t tell. That firefight had been close quarter to begin with and they were damn lucky they’d gotten away. But as he thought it over, it was as if the Jaffa were staying away. Either by an order or by something else.
“Okay,” he said quietly, making sure his voice didn’t carry. “Time for some suppositions about our situation.”
Daniel nodded. “We weren’t followed.”
Jack held up his fingers one at a time. “One. They clearly know this planet, going by the old, unmanned outpost we found. Two. They’re either waiting for backup to come after us or they know something about this crap …” He waved behind him. “So they’re not risking coming into this cave. They’ll wait us out.”
Daniel held up a finger. “Three. The SGC doesn’t know how many are here so they may not send reinforcements without another UAV recon. They’ll have to send for more at Area 51. Budget might not allow it. Will Hammond risk it? For just two people?”
Jack waggled a hand as he squinted at Daniel. “Maybe. Carter did pick up a significant naquadah trace. Might be enough. Might not.”
Suddenly their radios squawked with static, making them twitch, and intermittent words came through.
“Mountain might be interfering,” Daniel said, waving a hand about him.
Jack grimaced again. They gave each other a look, then both started forward at the same time. They stopped.
“You stay,” Jack said.
At the same time, Daniel said, “You stay.”
“Command prerogative,” Jack said, and squatted down to duck walk away from the entrance. Daniel sighed.
“…Golf One, do … read … er.”
“Sierra Golf Charlie,” Jack said into his mic. He duck-walked a few more steps. “Sierra Golf Charlie. Confirm, over.”
“Confirmed. Two Tango Control. Confirm, over.”
“Confirmed. Sit Rep Echo Victor Guerilla. Confirm, over.”
“Confirmed. Papa Alpha Yankee Echo Nine. Confirm, over.”
Jack grimaced again. “Confirmed. Two Kilo Delta Echo. Nickel Quebec Mike Charlie. Uniform Sierra. Confirm, over.”
“Confirmed. Wilco. Twelve Hotel. Sierra Golf Charlie, out.”
Jack turned and hurried back to the cave entrance, keeping low.
“New code protocol? What was all that about?” Daniel asked.
Jack winced. “Yeah, sorry about that. We instituted new ones after they figured out the code. Remember those fake SGC soldiers?” Daniel nodded. “So we use the new reference when we’re caught in the field with the enemy possibly listening in. Thought you caught up on the upgrades.”
Daniel shook his head. “’til now, I didn’t know it existed. I already know the phonetic language. Just not the new reference code.”
“They’re the initials used in the phonetic language, but with changes for whatever terrain and mission specs we’d operate within. Two Tango Control is confirmation that Carter and Teal’c made it back unharmed. Echo Victor is evaded, and Guerilla following that is the Goa’uld. We evaded. He asked where we were. Two Kilo Delta Echo is two klicks directly east in the naquadah-sourced mountain caves. Carter will know what that means. Uniform Sierra is unknown situation. We don’t know where the Jaffa forces are. Meaning that we weren’t followed, for whatever reason. Yet. That may change.”
“And twelve hotel?” Daniel asked.
“Stand by twelve hours. Either we’ll hear from them again via radio transmission or we’ll have company.”
“Twelve hours?” Daniel asked. “Why twelve?”
“Time to get the UAVs from Nevada, I suspect,” Jack said. “But it’s the new standard for reassessing field actions.” He unclipped his pack. “Time to count up supplies.”
Daniel unclipped his own. They each knew what they had in their packs but it was best to have it undeniably stated. And it kept their minds busy. Not just from the stress from waiting and fear of discovery, but neither wanted to restart their sniping.
Right now, time to survey the cave. He grabbed his larger flashlight from inside the pack. “I’m gonna check out our hiding spot. Make sure we’re alone. There might be another entrance, too.”
“No,” Jack said flatly.
“I beg your pardon?” Daniel asked. “We need to clear our rear.”
Jack sighed. “Can’t you smell that?”
Daniel nodded. “Yeah. The liquid whatever?”
“It’s concentrated in there. It might have an effect on your head if you’re in there too long. I couldn’t smell it while talking to Hammond, but I can now.”
“You mean, that liquid might be giving off gas fumes?” Daniel asked.
“Then …” Daniel withdrew the small gas mask they carried. “Shouldn’t this help then?”
“Maybe, but in that cave, it’ll kill peripheral vision. If there is something, you won’t see it coming if it comes from above.”
“Right,” Daniel sighed. “So we sit here and wait for attack from outside and from within?”
“There might not be anything from within,” Jack argued.
“So … you’ve just cleared the way for me to have a walk around.”
Jack sighed. Since Daniel had returned from the dead, a sentence he still had issues with, the man had lost his normally inexhaustible patience. Jack didn’t mind indulging him, but sometimes it got on his nerves. “Fine. Be careful. Don’t touch anything. Especially not that liquid. If you get attacked, scream or something. If you get dizzy, put your mask on and click your mike three times. I’ll come get you. Which way are you going to go?”
Daniel frowned as he clipped his mask to his vest. “To the right. I’ll walk carefully, make mental notes since I can’t scan anything for recording data.”
Just then, they heard the tromp of booted feet. They grabbed their packs and hastily entered the cave. “So much for all that safety advice,” Jack growled.
“Shouldn’t we stay put but just out of sight?” Daniel asked. “We have the advantage, I think.”
“Only until they decide to use one of those cannons in a baby-bathwater scenario,” Jack said, and pointed at the rock wall, at an upcoming pool of neon green liquid, and a small boulder that lay within it. It also had a green glow to it. The rock and pool lay where the wall met the floor and spread along the edge for five feet. Even with the small boulder, it was a narrow spillover, perhaps a yard wide in some places, and in others, less than five inches. “The rock might not be explosive, but combined with that glowing crap? I don’t wanna chance it and end up blown into molecules.”
Daniel only nodded and followed Jack further into the cave. Larger pools of liquid lay in deep alcoves along the walls and massive pillars. “Can’t really call them stalagmites,” Daniel said absently. “More monolithic than pillar.”
Jack looked over his shoulder, eyebrow cocked as if to say, “Is now really the time?”
“Sorry. Speculating out loud. Wasn’t paying attention.”
“Yeah,” Jack hissed. “About that …” He motioned zipping his own mouth shut and pointing at his ear.
Daniel refrained from giving him an eyeroll because the man had a point. They needed to be listening for pursuers, not covering it up with talk. He nodded, though Jack didn’t see him do it. He was too busy leading them through an obscenely gargantuan cave.
At one point, they’d walked in a circle and realized the monoliths numbered at five. Some were smaller than others. After a complete survey, they decided to set up shop in the center of the cave. The monolith in front gave them perfect ambush angles.
With their P90s at the ready, they waited as they heard movement at the entrance and a Jaffa giving orders. Either their version of a platoon leader or the First Prime himself. His voice, however, sounded distant, despite the cavernous echo.
After ten seconds, the Jaffa spoke again, only their bootsteps were fading. Jack eyed Daniel and they were in accord. Retreating from the cave? The men waited five more minutes. No more noise or voices. After a careful examination, they discovered the Jaffa had left, but there was movement outside the cave. The bastards might be setting up shop to kill them should they exit the cave.
Jack checked his watch and winced. They had eleven hours to go.
One of the monoliths held a foot outcropping suitable for sitting. Daniel fished out a cravat from his pocket and wiped it over the stone, then held it up while he pointed his pocket flashlight at it.
“What’re you doing?” Jack asked.
“Checking to see if there’s residual liquid. Cloth is clean. I think we can chance sitting down.”
Jack made a face as he slowly sat. “We’re between two pools of that liquid. I can’t smell that scent anymore, likely because I’ve gotten used to it.”
Daniel lifted his chin and sniffed. “There’s a separate metallic smell. Reminds me of water-wet rock. Like along streams, rivers, inlets, et cetera.”
Jack sniffed the air. “I don’t smell it.”
Daniel shrugged. “Maybe it’s my antihistamine. Some can make you think you’re scenting something metallic in the air.”
“Too bad you still have to take the stuff. Least thing Oma could’ve done is clear that for you.”
Daniel tapped the right lens of his glasses. “I’d’ve been happy not needing these anymore. I wouldn’t have sweated the allergies.”
“I don’t think she would’ve been able to do it anyway. But I’m making a supposition without data to back it up.”
“Shocker,” Jack quipped, earning a grin.
“Yeah, not really like me, is it?” Daniel said with an edge to his voice. He cleared his throat as a sort of apology.
Jack didn’t answer. There really wasn’t a need to since he figured the question was rhetorical. On the other hand, Daniel had changed. Most wouldn’t have noticed, but he had. Carter and Teal’c would have too, but not as quickly. He and Daniel had been closer friends. Their friendship had lasted longer. They’d had their problems, of course, but things had been getting smoother, hadn’t they?
Of course, there was The Moment that Daniel didn’t seem to remember. Or he chose to act as if he didn’t. It had happened after returning from the Sentinel planet. What had it been called?
Latona . . .
Those goddamn restraints used on him had caused a pinch nerve between his shoulder blades and Daniel had been the only to notice Jack’s frequent flinching.
After a day’s observation in the infirmary, Jack had headed to the locker room to change and go home. Daniel had been there. No one else. In tee shirt and boxers, Jack had reached for his khakis and his wallet had fallen from a pocket. Bending over to grab it off the floor, the pinched nerve had caused a nasty muscle spasm zing and he’d cursed under his breath.
Normally, Daniel would have suggested seeing a chiropractor or physical therapist to set it right, but instead, he’d come over and told Jack to sit on the bench in front of the lockers.
Jack had argued. “It’s just a pinched nerve. It’ll go away.”
“Just sit down. Let me fix it.”
Daniel sighed behind him and pushed Jack’s head down. “Chin on your chest,” he’d ordered.
“You like giving me orders,” Jack had groused, but he’d complied.
Then Daniel had begun to massage the muscle group between his shoulders, thumbs pressing in, not hurting, but not a mild touch either. It had elicited appreciative groans from Jack, but he’d still held himself rather tensely.
“You need to relax enough for me to get the disc to cooperate and pop.”
Jack had growled something unintelligible but over the next few minutes, he’d eventually relaxed enough to let Daniel nudge the complainant nerve to stop pressing against the disc. It had taken another twenty minutes for Jack to realize that his back no longer hurt. That Daniel had moved on to massage his shoulders and neck. Jack had thought about stopping him, but when you haven’t had a massage in a hundred years, it was tough to put a stop to it once it began.
“Next time,” Daniel had said while his fingers massaged Jack’s neck at the edge of his scalp. “Get a rolled up towel, a tennis ball, or just use the moulding of a doorway. Just press against it, rolling it over your spine.” He’d then given Jack a light pat on the shoulder and returned to his locker. “Or, you know, you could call me. I used to be pretty good at this in college. Took a semester’s worth of sports medicine just to see if I’d like it.”
Jack had grinned. “Dating a girl in the class, huh?”
Daniel hadn’t answered right away. He’d looked a little flustered, as if wrestling with a decision as he held a shaving kit in his hands, turning it over and over before putting it back in his locker.
“Uh, no. I mean, yes, but it, uh, wasn’t a girl.” He’d given Jack a sidelong glance and cleared his throat several times. “Just so you know, the massage wasn’t me making a pass. I’m just … opening up. I guess.”
When Daniel had finally turned to look at him, he found Jack staring at him, brows raised. Jack just knew that Daniel could visibly see the myriad thoughts passing over his face. It wouldn’t have been hard. His face clearly said he’d been itemizing.
One. Why hadn’t he ever told me?
Two. There’s plenty of reason why not, homophobia being rampant. And I’m from an Irish Catholic family.
Three. I’m not homophobic. I’m just … careful. I don’t like hatred. I don’t like hatred-based violence. It pisses me off so badly that I just want to go off on them. So I had to learn to just avoid anyone gay. Pretend their being gay didn’t exist. Because I was in leadership. And there are regs … homophobic in the extreme.
Four. I’m … sort of … a little … bi. Okay, bisexual. Just say it, Jack. It won’t kill you.
Five. He’s … Daniel is … Not to be approached by any means. Ever. Don’t risk the friendship. Don’t risk the command structure. He’s below me. Sort of. In the team framework, he is. Rank-wise, he isn’t. We can’t … I can’t … it’s too goddamn dangerous. And I would kill myself if I ever hurt him …
Like I did last month. And the month before that. And basically this entire year.
“It’s okay,” Daniel had said, interrupting his internal monologue, and Jack felt as if he’d said the words a few times. “Just forget I said anything.”
“No,” Jack had said. “I can’t. And yes, it is okay. But we need keep this secret, given where we work. I’m sorry, but it’s …”
“Regs,” Daniel had said. He’d sounded matter-of-fact, but Jack had seen the sadness in his eyes.
“Not just regs,” Jack had said.
“I’m not planning to come out to the base,” Daniel had said. “Too many people—and I’m not talking military here—don’t understand bisexuality. They’re all about ‘pick a side,’ which is a stupid backhanded form of homophobia. My point is that I thought it was time you knew. I dunno. It’s really none of your business, but you’re my friend. And while Sam and Teal’c are too, I’m not telling them because their upbringings and belief structures are … closed off.” He’d given Jack a rather soulful look. “Maybe it’s just time I said something. Maybe it’s time for me to move on, too.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Could be though.”
Daniel’s smile had had that edge to it.
They hadn’t said another word about it. Then he’d died.
Jack wondered if he shouldn’t bring it up again. Given where they were, the danger they were in, wouldn’t it be the right time to talk about it?
To confess to him in return?
But it was so goddamn hard to simply say it. He was fifty-two. He’d had decades to build his wall. It was easy to hide behind.
Jack felt Daniel’s body heat and it became distracting. He suddenly blurted out, “I haven’t said … wanted to say … thank you.” Daniel gave him raised eyebrows. “For saving my life. Back when you were all ghosty. You’ve had four months back. You don’t remember?”
Daniel waggled a hand. “I get images that won’t give me a clear picture of the time I spent ascended. Bra’tac and Rya’c were a special case because they were … maybe the best phrase that applies is unfinished business.”
Jack cursed himself. They too were unfinished business, dammit. Daniel was so close, but so damn far. He decided to give him a hint. Although the hint was more on the order of “you’re pussyfooting around, dumbass.”
“We all have unfinished business we’d like to fix or clean up, so I guess that tracks.”
“But you mentioned this before, about saving you,” Daniel said, and hated that his cheeks heated up. He didn’t like to acknowledge virtuous deeds because it smacked of self-serving horseshit. “But you never did explain what happened to you and I didn’t want to push. Kanan. Ba’al. Torture. Not exactly table talk.” Jack raised a brow. Daniel shrugged. “Sam mentioned it.”
Jack made a face and waved a hand. “You sort of babysat.” Daniel raised a brow and Jack acquiesced. “Okay, kept me company. Then I think you nearly crossed a line with the rest of the ascended by acting in a way to help me. Later I found out that you’d visited Jonas in a dream. They acted, informed the Tok’ra, and it gave me the chance to escape.” He looked down at his hands. They were laced, and clenched. He forced himself to relaxed them. “Anyway, thanks.”
Daniel nodded absently, but it was a rapid nodding that spoke too loudly of “I’m embarrassed now. Talk about something else please.”
“And?” Jack pushed. Sometimes this humble shit went too far.
“You’re welcome. Anytime. Glad to. You earned it. Whatever the hell I’m supposed to say.”
Jack frowned thoughtfully at him. “I think ‘you’re welcome’ covered it. I get the feeling something’s bothering you about all that. Am I wrong?”
Daniel offered up a small smile. “Who are you and what have you done with Jack O’Neill?” Jack made a rude snort.
They were quiet for a few minutes. Which then stretched into an hour. Then two.
Daniel wanted to talk but what was bothering him was difficult to nail down, like a word or phrase on the tip of his tongue that refused to come.
Jack suddenly said, “You know how I use wise cracks and off-color humor to cover unpleasant emotions?”
Jack swallowed. “When I saw you on Vis Uban, that first time. Having you walk by me … hurt. Not to be recognized.”
“Sorry,” Daniel said quietly.
Jack waved a hand. “No, I mean, I get it. I just didn’t know what the scowl was about. I couldn’t tell if you were angry or if that was the ‘I’m confused and hate it’ scowl.”
“The latter,” Daniel said after a silent minute, realizing that this might be part of what bothered him. “I’d been on that planet for three months until you showed up.”
Jack’s eyes widened as he stared at the man. “What?”
Daniel nodded. “I dropped … from somewhere. The air maybe. Just wham! On the ground. Cold. Naked. Shamda and others found me like that. Said they saw a flash of light.”
“Naked?” Jack asked, amused brow lifted.
“Focus please,” Daniel said, trying not to roll his eyes.
Jack tried and failed not to smile, too, but it slowly faded as he listened.
“I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who they were. He was kind. They were kind. But I was … angry. I hated that I knew how to talk but couldn’t remember how I learned. There was no history of me in my head. I was running on a good mad the day you guys showed up. I’d gone on one of my long walks, forcing myself to just go blank, thinking that maybe if I did that, the pressure I was putting on myself would disappear and things would just come to me. Never worked, but I kept trying. I walked out of the woods and saw Colonel Reynolds. He just stood there, gawking at me.” Daniel gave Jack a sidelong look. “I wanted to punch him.”
“Because it was clear he knew me. And I didn’t. The look on his face was recognition. And I hated him. I hated all of you.” He gave Jack an apologetic look. “You knew me. My history. I didn’t.” He smirked then. “You were no immense help. Sam was better.”
“Yeah, well. You know me and uncomfortable, tongue-tying conversations. They’re as much fun as a root canal.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“But when you left me alone, after Sam left, I heard how frustrated you were. And I thought that if I didn’t go back with you, I might never recover my memory. Something, maybe a memory, I don’t know, told me that new surroundings, ones I had apparently been around, might kick the memories loose. And …” He looked down at his own hands.
“And?” Jack prompted.
Daniel shook his head.
“Daniel,” Jack said, exasperated.
“You scared me. You … intrigued me. I had to come back to figure it out. Not just find out who I was. Find out who you were.”
“I don’t follow.”
Daniel was quiet for a bit. He forced himself to continue. The words sounded like he was pulling them out by their roots. “I felt a love for you that I didn’t understand. I didn’t know you. But I was drawn … to you … anyway.” He swallowed, hard. “I remember a lot now, but not quite everything.”
Daniel got to his feet and began to pace while Jack stared at him in fear and astonishment and ordered himself to man up. “Daniel?”
“There are these goddamn gaps!” He turned to Jack. “Were we …” He gestured between them.
“No,” Jack said gently.
Daniel blinked at him. “But I get this sense that we could’ve been. Why? Or maybe, why not?”
Jack closed his eyes, wishing Daniel would just forget it all again. And hated himself for it. “We never went there. Three weeks before Kelowna, you told me you were bisexual.” His cheeks turned very warm. “I never told you … that I was too. Although I hadn’t been with anyone but Sara for the last twenty-six years or so, I still consider myself Bi because I find some guys attractive.” Jack remained sitting, staring at his hands. “I just don’t act on it. I never actively sought out that sort of companionship. Not even one-offs.”
“Then how do you really know if you’re bisexual?” Daniel asked, puzzled.
Jack gave him a knowing look. “Fantasy life. You know.”
Daniel blushed. “Oh. That. Yeah, um … yeah.”
Daniel suddenly felt a pulling sensation in his gut. Or maybe it was a black hole that Jack was now filling. He took a step and dropped to a knee in front of the man. Jack looked up, frowning slightly, looking confused and embarrassed. It was a rare moment and though Daniel didn’t remember everything, he remembered Jack’s personality with almost perfect clarity. The pulling sensation was a yearning for the man in front of him. Someone he shouldn’t want. Couldn’t have. Not now. Maybe not ever. But even if they tried … would it even work? They were oil and water.
“Typical,” he said with a sigh.
“Huh?” Jack asked, then his eyes widened when Daniel reached up to do something but withdrew his hand. “What?”
“Is it too late?” Daniel asked. “Or is that the wrong question? Would we even work, as opposite as we are?” Jack opened his mouth, a sardonic lift at the corner. “Don’t say it,” Daniel warned, rolling his eyes. “You hate clichés remember?”
Jack nodded. “Maybe we’d work. Maybe not. It’s something I have to think on. But consider this, Daniel. If we …” He gestured between them. “If. We can’t be open with it. Even with the regs changing, gay guys are still anathema in the military. The dysfunction is too deep-rooted. Could you continue that secrecy until I retired?”
Daniel stared into his eyes, though Jack’s face was mostly in shadow with green light highlighting the shape of his face. For some reason, it complimented him.
“We’re not getting any younger,” Daniel said with a tiny smile. Jack gave him a look. “Yeah, sorry, I know. Cliché. But it fits the situation, too. We can … I can … manage. Tolerate it. We’re not gonna be in this program for the rest of our lives.”
Jack nodded. “Let’s … let me think on it a while.” He offered Daniel a grin. “We’re not exactly in the right place to make life-altering decisions.”
Danie grinned back. “Just life-saving ones.”
They sat in companionable silence for a while before Daniel asked, “Why do you think we’ve been sniping at each other for the last few weeks?”
Jack did something that surprised the hell out of Daniel. He took his hand. Briefly. And squeezed. “Maybe because our subconsciouses have been screaming at us.”
Daniel was silent for a minute. With a heavy sigh, he finally said, “Man, we’re so screwed up.”
Jack sighed with him. They were. And they also stubborn, foolhardy, tough-minded, and pains in each other’s asses. Jack rubbed at a spot between his brows where an ache was forming. It was likely caused by that damn gas or whatever permeated the cave. And they hadn’t put on their masks. Well, to hell with it. If he was going be sick, he might as well get one thing done first.
“If my mouth didn’t feel like old socks and my breath didn’t smell like wastewater, I’d kiss you right now.”
Caught completely blind-sided, Daniel coughed and flinched and stood up so fast he lost his balance and fell to the floor. Jack reached for him to keep him away from one of the pools of liquid and Daniel took his hand. He gave him a lop-sided grin and pulled him back to the outcropping. “Just sit right down. Nothing’s gonna happen. I just figured I’d hint where my mind is going.”
“If I didn’t feel the same, I’d deck you.”
Jack smiled. Despite the situation and its dangers, things were looking up. Finally. But, first things first. “Yeah, um. We gotta put our masks on.”
“Yeah,” Daniel drawled, rubbing at his own forehead. “Was just about to mention that.”
“So basically,” Jack was saying to Hammond during the debriefing … in the infirmary. Both he and Daniel were in oxygen tents but breathing in a cocktail intended for lethal exposure to naquadah gas. “It was about two hours before we put our masks on.”
“Headaches,” Daniel added.
“So, Carter, care to explain? Now that you’ve checked out that cave?” Jack asked.
She nodded. “Those pools of liquid were naquadah-laced ground water. The hot springs within the mountainside had been cooking the water table for hundreds of thousands of years. It’ll take us a while to experiment with it to see if it’s usable.”
“But haven’t there been conditions like that on other planets?” Daniel asked. “Why hasn’t it happened before? What made this planet different?”
“The construction of the caves,” she said. “All of them. It wasn’t purely naquadah. It had intermixed with obsidian. How or why, I don’t know. Those large boulders that emitted a green glow were made of naquadah-laced obsidian. That’s a guess,” she added with clear embarrassment. “Obsidian isn’t a porous rock. For simplicity sake, it’s black glass, now used for scalpel blades. I’m guessing the volcanic mountain and the naquadah changed its composition so technically, it can no longer be considered obsidian.”
“Huh,” Jack said. “Any of it combustible? In the cave, I mean.”
She gave Jack a strained smile. “All of it.”
Doctor Fraiser came in. “Sir,” she said to General Hammond. “They need their rest.”
“How long are we gonna be in these things, Doc?” Jack asked.
“Not long. After another six hours, I’ll retest to make sure the gas has cleared from your lungs and another round of MRIs will hopefully be clean.”
After some brief and worried conversation with Carter and Teal’c, the ward emptied and they were finally alone.
“Peace,” Jack sighed.
“Peace,” Daniel echoed.
And silence. After a while, Jack said, “You regretting our conversation in the cave?” When Daniel didn’t answer, he pushed up a bit to look, though both their beds were in a 30-degree incline. The man was staring at the ceiling. “Daniel?”
Daniel finally looked over. “Not a bit. But … have you decided? Or do you think you’ll need more time?”
“First, you haven’t commented on what I said. When you fell on your ass.”
“Technically, I did. I said that if I didn’t feel the same, I’d deck you.”
“Kind of a backhanded compliment,” Jack said. “Care to elaborate?”
Daniel rubbed his lips together, waited a few seconds, then said with a smile Jack had never seen aimed at him, “When we’re alone. And completely gas free.”
Jack smiled and closed his eyes. “Worth waiting for.”