Trilogy 14: Terzetto
Summary: Jack, Daniel, and Jason are stranded offworld, cut off from the gate by an active volcano. While they await rescue, they hone survival skills and explore.
Note: ship is named Athena. “Terzetto” is another word for trio.
(A bit of aftermath from The Alternative universe.)
Daniel liked to think he had a pretty good sense of humor, if a little dry and sometimes dark. But April Fool’s Day wasn’t in his repertoire, specifically being on the receiving end. It was a stupid, bizarre tradition that mixed inane, puerile jokes with tasteless and sometimes nasty pranks. And much to his dismay, Jack and Jason seemed to revel in them, though they kept the puerile stuff themselves and left the nastiness to others. At any other time of the year, their jokes tended to make him smile–if somewhat reluctantly. But on this day, he planned to avoid them when at all possible.
Which is why he was in the Mess Hall at 0500. Due to the odd hours of the SG teams, Mess Hall hours had changed to a twenty-four hour operation and more food service personnel had been assigned. But even at 0500, there weren’t many people. This morning, the hall was empty but for the prep duty back in the kitchen.
Daniel sat down at a table against the left wall and hooked his laptop up to the outlet provided. The internet upgrades were a godsend. He didn’t have to worry about lugging around magazines and could simply log on for the latest archaeology articles and news. Sipping at his coffee, he studied the latest progress made in the excavation of a 5,000-year old temple dedicated to the storm god, Adda, in Northern Syria. There was also an article on the Anasazi, so he saved the article, knowing Jason would be interested.
He was on his sixth article when the someone else entered the Mess Hall. He registered the noise but continued reading, automatically expecting the midnight and first shifts to gradually file in for breakfast.
“Morning, Doctor Jackson.”
Daniel looked up, and was startled to find Major Zak McBride staring down at him. It had been almost six months since his return from the alternate universe, though not long enough for the memory of what had happened there to fade. He still had dreams about it every once a while, and just when he was sure the dreams were gone, he’d sight Zak in a briefing, or the Mess Hall and the dreams would return. Even now, flashes of the sex he’d had with Zak’s counterpart caused a giddy warmth to lie low in his belly. He didn’t appreciate the reaction his body had upon sighting Zak.
He couldn’t deny that he was attracted to the handsome man, but he couldn’t allow himself to go there. Even if Zak reciprocated his feelings, and Jack and Jason gave him permission, Daniel wasn’t sure it was a good idea. After all, this attraction was based on someone else with the same face.
“Morning,” he said.
McBride looked hesitant, perhaps because he didn’t want to interrupt. “Mind if I join you?”
“Be my guest,” Daniel said, almost crestfallen. Hot flurries erupted close to his groin and he silently cursed his body to shut the hell up. “How’s the cold?” he asked, steering conversation to business.
McBride jogged his brows as he placed his dishes on the table and sat down. “Cold. Whatcha reading?”
Daniel pressed his lips together, annoyed at Zak for not taking the hint. “You really want an answer to that?”
“Why not?” McBride shrugged. “I like to learn about new things.”
Daniel sensed the man’s interest was genuine, but for once, he wasn’t in the mood to teach. Still, it could stay on topic, business-wise, so Daniel explaining about Adda and the mythological history in Syria. He fully expected Zak to interrupt and stop him–as Jack would have done–and ask for the cliff notes. Instead, the man listened. And asked questions. Daniel found it refreshing and irrationally glowered at himself for not keeping his answers clipped.
Duck-walking his brain back to order, he waved at Zak’s five o’clock shadow. “Are you just coming back from Antarctica?”
Zak frowned at him, puzzled. “No, my team just got back from a mission. Remember the briefing Hammond gave to the teams? About the SG teams not being used as manual labor, especially when we have some mysterious Goa’uld kicking up dust and turning over the anthills?”
Daniel put on a self-deprecating expression. “Forgot. It’s my archaeologist’s mindset. Manual labor is part of the job description.”
“I’d like to see it when it’s unearthed and functioning. If it’s still functioning, that is.”
Daniel made a face but didn’t comment.
Zak gave him another puzzled look. He looked like he wanted to ask something personal, but to his credit, he seemed to be getting something from Daniel’s body language and asked instead, “What’s on SG-1’s plate today?”
Before Daniel could check in with his brain, he said, “You looked like you were you going to say something else.”
“It’s nothing,” Zak said, shaking his head. “Wrong place, wrong time.”
Daniel suddenly felt a strong mixture of panic and desire and ordered his mind. “Okay,” he said. “We’re waiting for Jacob Carter to arrive. The Tok’ra Council doesn’t want us arriving at their new base without escort.”
“Don’t blame them. We had the same conditions when we opened the Gamma and Delta sites. What’s the op?”
“We’re visiting the new Tok’ra base to discuss intel about the Goa’uld who defeated Anubis. There appears to be a lot of infighting among the System Lords over who did it.”
“Just SG-1?” Zak asked, a faint worry line appearing between his brows.
Daniel grinned faintly, recalling the recent order that no single SG team would go out alone for a while, not even to visit the Tok’ra. “No. SG-2 is joining us.”
“Could you use another team?” Zak asked, his face serious.
Daniel wasn’t hot on the idea personally, but from a security stand-point, it made sense. “Dunno. Talk to Jack.”
Zak nodded. “How bad’s the infighting among the snakeheads?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out.”
Zak’s frown deepened suddenly. “I think we should just use the bioweapon and be done with it.”
Daniel blinked with alarm. “We can’t take the chance that we’d end up killing Tok’ra operatives and fifth-column Jaffa.”
“It may come down to having no choice. It’s them or us.”
Daniel sighed and shook his head. “There’s no such thing as black and white. There is always an alternative.” When Zak gave him a dubious look, he pointedly emphasized, “Always.”
“I disagree.” Zak pushed his empty bowls aside and picked up his coffee cup. Elbows on the table, he tipped the mug, bringing the coffee to the edge. “Here I have two choices. Spill my coffee or straighten the cup. There are no other alternatives.”
Daniel lifted a brow. “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure,” Zak said, taking a sip.
Daniel smirked and gestured at him. “You could drink the coffee. Maybe take a sip, maybe a little more, or you could completely drain it. You could drop and break the mug. You could set it down and ignore it.” He paused and grinned at Zak’s irritated expression. “There are always options.”
Zak stared at him, then chuckled and sat back. He set the mug on the table, keeping his fingers in the handle. “You certainly earn your rep, Daniel.”
Daniel grinned and shook his head. “Sam could actually come up with a lot more options.”
“How?” Zak grinned back.
“By giving a lecture on theoretical physics.”
Daniel looked down at his laptop screen, tapping the touchpad, and hoped Zak would take the hint and leave.
“Daniel?” Zak asked.
Daniel blinked up. “What?”
“I’d like your opinion on something.”
“Okay,” Daniel replied.
“What do you think about the repeal of DADT?”
Daniel was surprised and took a sip from his coffee while he wondered why Zak was asking him about it. “It’s about time. Discrimination is discrimination.”
“That’s black and white,” Zak grinned mischievously.
Daniel gave him a hard look. “When it comes to our constitutional rights of freedom and equality, there is very little room for grey areas. It’s unethical and immoral to force your own beliefs on others, and it’s incompetency at its worst to force someone to lie and hide about who they are, especially while they risk their lives to protect yours.”
Zak nodded. “Never mind that condoning homophobia only breeds fear and ignorance.”
Daniel grinned slightly. “Is there a reason you asked or are you just curious about my political views?”
Zak cleared his throat.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
Daniel blinked at him. Part of him knew this was coming, but he was still caught by surprise. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Zak looked a little pensive. “Yes.”
Daniel hesitated. “I’m in a relationship, but it’s kinda open. I’ll have to discuss it with them.”
Zak frowned. “I don’t get what you mean.”
“I’m in a permanent relationship,” Daniel said, “But we sometimes see other people. When we do, it’s best to ask first.” He could sense the man was still confused. Possibly because he couldn’t conceive of that type of committed relationship.
“When’s SG-1 leaving?” Zak asked abruptly.
Meaning what? Daniel asked himself. “Why?”
“I’d like to see you before you go. If you get the go-ahead, how about dinner tonight?”
Daniel was perversely irritated. “I haven’t even said yes.”
“That’s a bit evasive,” Zak said.
Strangely, that didn’t bother Daniel. “I know,” he said suddenly.
Zak stared back, carefully considering the answer, then pulled a pen and small memo pad from his pocket and wrote out his phone number. Tearing off the page, he slid it across the table. “Let me know.”
Daniel gave him a small grin as it occurred to him that there was one thing Zak and his counterpart had in common: neither of them liked wasting time.
Sitting in a plastic chair, laptop resting a stack of boxes before him, Jason grabbed the next personnel file from a pile beside him. Jack sat an old desk, doing the same. His grumbles and mutters kept Jason from distracting him. They were hidden away in a Level 16 storage bay, writing up the yearly personnel evaluations. It was never fun, but it was made worse by teammates and support crews giving them emotive looks and puppy dog faces.
Jason picked up his mug to take a drink and found it empty. Getting up to get a refill, he glanced over at Jack when he let out a cluck of disgust and sat back in his chair.
“Want some coffee?” Jason asked.
Jack smirked without looking over. “No, I want donuts. And a three-pound cheeseburger, onion rings, Sprite, and ten tacos.”
“You want a cholesterol check with that?” Jason grinned when Jack threw him a dirty look. “What’s the problem?”
Jack gestured at his stack of folders. “I’m on Daniel.”
Jason somehow resisted laughing at the double entendre. “And?”
“I have no idea what to pick apart that I haven’t already picked on him for. He hasn’t done anything wrong in the last year, but I have to put something.”
“Why?” Jason asked as he ventured over and took Jack’s mug for a refill.
“Because if I write up a glowing report, it’ll look suspect.”
“Bullshit. You do that for Sam, and no one questions it.”
Jack grew even more disgusted. “You try writing up a report with someone you’re in love with and see how easy it is.”
“Still bullshit,” Jason said, returning with the coffee. “Did you nitpick anything for Teal’c or Stuart?” he asked, knowing the answer was no.
“Well there you are then,” Jason answered.
Jack sighed and rubbed at his face. “I’m recommending Carter for promotion.”
Jack threw him another dirty look over the rim of his coffee mug. After a drink, he suddenly grinned. “Wanna guess why Daniel hightailed out of the house at o’dark thirty?”
“Is that rhetorical?” Jason grinned back. “We haven’t done anything to him in two years, but he still avoids us anyway.”
“You were the one who created that fake magazine cover about a gate discovery in Asia.”
Jason sniggered as he returned to his seat. “He still hasn’t forgiven me for that. Or you, for locking out all the channels on his TV except Fox News.”
Jack gave an evil chuckle. “I’d do something like that today, but I value having sex with him a lot more.”
“True, though there’s something to be said for Angry Daniel sex.”
They both sighed and looked at each other. After a few more seconds, Jason said, “Maybe next time.”
Jack checked his watch. It was 1123. Not quite lunchtime. Getting up and closing the distance, he stopped by Jason’s chair and quickly ran a hand through his lover’s hair–pushing playfully at his head at the same time. “Break room snack. Want something?”
Jason started to answer but across the room, the door opened, and Daniel walked in. “Was wondering where you two disappeared to.”
“We weren’t hiding from you,” Jack said with mock-defensiveness.
Daniel just grinned and gestured at their work. “Good plan.”
“We thought so,” Jason said as he turned his chair slightly and remained sitting. “What’s up? Here to give us parole?”
“You could say that,” Daniel said, checking his own watch before giving Jack a significant glance. “You’re the 2IC. Let’s take an early lunch.”
The request sent an alert to his lovers. “Need to talk to us about something?” Jason asked as he closed his laptop and stood up.
Daniel nodded mutely.
Jack tilted his head assessingly, then grabbed his jacket off a nearby box and threw Jason his. “Let’s go.”
After hitting a drive-thru deli for sandwiches and coffee, Jack parked his truck in the middle of a mostly-empty parking lot. They cracked the windows; it was a bit damp from the rain but not hot enough for the A/C. Jack kept the heater on to dry out the cab.
“Okay, what’s up?” Jason asked as he began to eat.
After swallowing his own bite of sandwich, Daniel said what he’d rehearsed a few times before coming to them–though he waited till they weren’t drinking anything. “Zak McBride asked me out on a date.” That got him the expected surprised looks. Looking at neither of them, he said, “I didn’t answer. I told him I was in an open relationship and had to ask first.”
Neither Jack nor Jason said anything. Daniel’s empathy was open to them all the time now, though he ‘dialed’ it down when they were around others. Right now, he felt the expected caution and resentment.
Jason shook his head and met Jack’s eyes, hoping he read him right. “I thought you didn’t want anything from him?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested, but … I don’t know.”
“When did he ask for this date?” Jack asked.
Daniel cleared his throat again. “Tonight.” Both Jack and Jason turned almost completely around to stare at him, and Daniel winced.
“It’s our night,” Jason said, scowling.
“I know,” Daniel said around a mouthful, holding up a finger. “I’m not interested in anything but a drink anyway. I just want to … get to see a little more of him. Like a pre-date, if you will. He doesn’t know that, but …” He shrugged, and to his relief, their resentment hadn’t turned to anger. But. They didn’t look happy either. “That a no?”
Jack shook his head. “Scope him out if you wish, Daniel, but if he wants more than …”
“Friendship and sex,” Jason finished. “What if you go out with him a few times and he wants an actual commitment?”
“He won’t get it,” Daniel said, feeling a little defensive and it was directed at himself. “I’d tell him that to begin with, should we have a real date. Look, I’m just curious about him. I admit it, okay? I just–“
“Want to fuck him,” Jack said just as bluntly as Jason had.
Leave it to Jack to nail it on the head, Daniel thought. He sat back and looked at the trails of rain water on the window. “I guess, I mean, uh, yeah.”
“Sex with you is addictive,” Jason said with a snarky smile.
Daniel coughed, then started laughing. “Very funny.”
Jack and Jason jogged their eyebrows at each other. “There’s more to it than that,” Jack explained, “but Jason gave you the gist of it. And no, Daniel, we’re not joking.”
“It’s just a pre-date,” Daniel said, knowing that was lame.
“For now,” Jack said, and after a drink from his Coke, he added, “But tell him right off, Daniel. Best to lay the ground rules.”
Daniel snorted. “So to speak.”
The cab was silent for a few long minutes. During that time, Jack had to push away his jealousy and the only way he could do that was by putting the shoe on the other foot. What if someone had asked him out on a date–for sex, mostly? He knew damn well that he’d want the permission to do what he wanted. “And tonight?”
Daniel shook his head. “Just a drink, Jack. An hour, no more.”
Given his past with Alex, Jason could hardly object. The only thing that he didn’t like about the date was having his time with Daniel postponed for the sake of his sexual curiosity. Still, if the situation was reversed … Looking at Jack, he waited for the nod. When he got it, he nodded back, then reached over the seat back and held out his hand. Daniel pulled his gaze away from the window and immediately clasped it.
“By eight,” he said.
“Agreed,” Daniel said with a nod, then grew perversely irritated because now that he had their permission, he was thinking of backing out of the drink.
“What?” Jack asked, looking at him in the rearview mirror.
Daniel shook his head as he took another bite of his sandwich. “Nothing,” he mumbled.
Jack looked at Jason. “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that he wants to forget the whole thing now.”
“Loser’s bet,” Jason said around a bite of his lunch.
“Shut up,” Daniel said, unable to keep from grinning. By making jokes, he was reassured that Jack and Jason were fine with it–but his empathy told him that that applied only as long as his indulgence didn’t interfere with their own plans. Dalliances were fine, but their relationship always came first.
. . .
“Think McBride is serious about him?” Jason asked as he walked into Jack’s living room, toweling his hair.
Jack looked over from his seat on the couch. His gaze slid over Jason’s bare torso and the way he had rolled down the waistband of his sweatpants. One more quarter of an inch and his pubes would be visible. “Are you trying to drive me crazy?” he gestured.
“Absolutely,” Jason smirked and pointed at Jack’s tank top and ragged denim cut-offs. “Sexy shithead, you’re one to talk.”
Jack frowned and looked down at himself. “I ain’t the one who’s over-exposed.”
“Ain’t?” Jason laughed as he came over to him. “Did you just say ain’t?”
“Not my fault. You’re shirtless,” Jack said as his excuse, grabbing Jason’s empty hand to pull him closer. As Jason straddled his lap, he drew his index finger over the skin just above his lover’s sweatpants. “And exposed.”
Jason shivered at the touch and smiled teasingly, half-heartedly pushing Jack’s hand away. “Not yet. Now answer the question.”
Jack looked up, brown eyes beginning to smolder. “With you like that, I am not responsible for the loss of proper grammar use.”
“Not that one, idiot.”
Jack placed his hands on Jason’s hips and applied pressure as he pushed his crotch up against him. “How could McBride be serious. He doesn’t know him.”
“Doesn’t mean shit,” Jason answered distractedly.
“You worried?” Jack asked as he licked at the stray drops of water under the tattoo on Jason’s left pec.
The touch of his tongue sent pleasant spikes down Jason’s belly. “No,” he said, shivering and getting hard. “I just took a shower, dammit.”
“So the hell what,” Jack said as he swiveled them both, dumping Jason on his back and capturing his mouth.
Daniel felt relieved that Zak didn’t seem to mind the pre-date. Over drinks and fried baby clams, the man had been attentive to whatever Daniel talked about. Zak had even steered into a discussion about Pluto. To Daniel’s delight, Zak had pretty decent knowledge about astronomy. He and Jack had something in common. They talked a little more shop, a bit of politics, and Daniel expertly directed the conversation into trading likes and dislikes.
It had stopped raining when they stepped out onto the parking lot. Daniel walked Zak over to his black ’67 Camaro, his own Jeep parked next to it. Daniel hated to admit it, but he was turned on and thoughts of having car sex entered his mind. He glanced at his watch. It was 7:20. Ten minutes to his house, so he had only a few minutes to make up his mind. If he did something with Zak, he’d end up being late. Unless he just did the old college grope.
Zak looked nervous as he offered him a brief smile, his eyes almost smoldering with intensity. If Daniel hadn’t had his empathy, he’d have sworn the man was angry or dissatisfied with their date.
“Something wrong?” Daniel asked, and was about to say something about awkward first dates when his brain was short-circuited by the suddenly ginormous amount of lust coming off Zak.
“Are you sure you have until eight” Zak asked in a low, husky voice.
Zak’s eyes were normally large and penetrating, but they seemed much more so now. Maybe a little predatory. It made Daniel think of the Alternate Zak. “Yeah,” he answered, swallowing as he looked at his watch again.
“Could you call him and get an extension?”
Daniel was taken a bit by surprise. “Why do you assume it’s a him?”
“Because in my experience, most women aren’t this accommodating.”
Daniel rolled a shoulder in a shrugs. “Maybe.”
In that moment, Zak moved in close. They were the same height, Daniel noticed. Why hadn’t he noticed that before?
“I don’t want to settle only for what we have time for,” Zak whispered. He slid his left hand around Daniel’s neck, causing goosebumps to rise. His hand was so warm there and Daniel couldn’t help but like his touch. “What I want to do is explore every inch of you with my tongue …” He took a deep breath and brought his lips close to Daniel’s. “So we should just say goodnight,” he finished.
A strange thing happened then. Zak’s emotions and thoughts were suddenly so strong, Daniel could have sworn he felt what Zak desired to do to him. He swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah. I think waiting makes it sweeter anyway.”
With a growl, Zak kissed him with deep, dick-hardening tongue.
On the couch, on Jack’s lap, Jason’s knees were spread wide to accommodate his lover’s cock inside him. They were wrapped in each other’s arms, moving slowly, sensuously. Jason pushed Jack’s head back and kissed him again as he undulated his hips to get that zing over his gland. Jack’s face was flushed, his hair damp with sweat, and Jason could only imagine what he himself looked like.
“Fuck me,” he whispered before claiming Jack’s mouth again.
Daniel was pent up, body charged with sexual when he entered Jack’s house. He expected to find his lovers in the living room, but the room was empty. He hung up his coat and heard a chuckle from Jason coming from the bedroom. With a grin more filled with need than humor, he headed toward the sound. In the bedroom, Jack was spooned against Jason. They were naked, hard, and they gave Daniel expectant, knowing looks while they caressed each other invitingly. They were tease personified and Daniel groaned at the sight of them.
“What took you so long?” Jack asked with a smug, sarcastic grin.
Daniel stared at them while he eagerly undressed. His movements were sharp, almost angry, lust driving him. Climbing onto the bed, he scooted against Jason’s body, facing him. “So what were the two of you doing while I was out?”
Jason reached over him and slapped his ass. “How was it?”
Daniel took Jason’s hand and pressed his fingers over his ass. “We’ll see.”
Jason moved his hand to Daniel’s balls, rolling them gently as he tilted his head back and grinned at Jack. “I think he wants us to fuck him. What do you think?”
Jack gave Daniel a look that went straight down his spine and into his toes. “I think he’s going to be walking funny in the morning.” He got to his knees and pulled Daniel into a hungry kiss. Jason knelt behind him and Daniel heard the tell-tale sound of a plastic cap snapping shut. Jason touched him with cool slickness and spread lube between his ass cheeks. He thought it was a little too soon, but his body told his mind to shut the fuck up. With no foreplay, Jack took his cock in hand and Jason slid into him. Daniel moaned into Jack’s mouth, thrusting his hips against the double onslaught of pleasure.
Suddenly Jack broke away, scooting backward and pulling Daniel onto his hands and knees. Daniel started to lean on his forearms, but Jack moved aside and grabbed his hands, pulling them behind Daniel’s back as if to handcuff him. Daniel didn’t know what to make of this at first, until Jason grabbed his hips and began a rough, hard fuck.
Daniel let out a loud groan, partly muffled by the bedsheet, and gave himself over to their wishes. His arousal rose when he heard them kiss, and just as he spread his knees, Jason startled him by pulling out.
“Hands and knees,” Jack ordered, letting go of Daniel’s wrists.
Payback was all Daniel could think of. And he didn’t mind one damn bit. It was erasing his pointless guilt. As he pushed back up on his forearms, he felt one of Jack’s hands on his hip and the plastic cap snapped again. Jason moved around to face him, cradling his face in his hands. The smell of musk and sex from Jason’s cock assailed Daniel’s nose and he eagerly opened his mouth, but there was hesitation. Daniel looked up and saw that Jason’s gaze was on Jack, then he knew why.
Their cockheads touched him at the same time, pressing against ass and mouth, rubbing in a circle until they pushed forward. Daniel closed his eyes, moaning around Jason’s cock as Jack’s breached his opening. Further, and a little further still. Then they began an aggravatingly sluggish fuck, double-teaming him so slowly that Daniel began to growl in frustration.
Just when he was thinking of reaching for his own cock, they stopped, pulled away, and switched positions. Daniel didn’t protest; he really liked it. But at the same time, they were driving him mad.
They’d switched twice more, and with Jason in his ass and Jack in his mouth, they suddenly altered their tactics. Jack pulled out, but Jason didn’t. He increased his rhythm, faster and harder, while Jack rubbed pre-come over his mouth. Daniel licked his lips, panting with intense desire, then Jack suddenly plugged his mouth with his cockhead. His lovers were panting loudly now, and the sound filled the room.
Yes, he thought. God yes. He sucked Jack hungrily, waiting for the swell and release of come. It came from Jason first as he slammed into him once, ground against his ass, then came with a deep growl. Jack hissed and pulled his cock from Daniel’s mouth, panting because he tried to hold back his orgasm.
“Jack,” Daniel murmured, eyes closed. He wanted him to come, but Jack had something else in mind. He opened his eyes when Jack moved away. Jason jerked a few times, rocking Daniel’s body, then he withdrew and came around, lying on his back and wiggling underneath Daniel’s body.
“Ready?” Jack asked, hands on Daniel’s hips.
“Yes,” Jason said.
Eyes wide with lust, Daniel clutched fistfuls of bedclothes as his muscles strained with want. Then Jack breached his ass and Jason sucked his cock into his mouth. There was no slow-going this time. Daniel closed his eyes and dropped his mouth open, choking off gasps until that blessed heat grabbed his balls.
“Fuck yes!” he whispered in a high voice, toes curling, fists white-knuckling. He edged toward the cliff, holding his breath, and waiting for it. Milliseconds passed, and just when he was afraid his orgasm would back off, Jack ground against his ass and circled his hips rapidly. He found his gland, brushing over it quickly again and again and again and again …
Then Jason pinched his right nipple, hard, as he took his cock down his throat. That was all she wrote, and Daniel buried his face into the bed as he exploded into Jason’s mouth. His body clutched around Jack’s cock while his lover pistoned faster and faster, then came his familiar grunting groan as he spilled warmth inside him.
“Jesus,” Daniel gasped, dropping his forehead to the mattress. His body shook with the rapture of afterglow and the next thing he knew, he was sandwiched between their warm bodies and drifting off to sleep.
. . .
At the kitchen table, newspaper set before him, Jack looked up to watch Daniel as he made breakfast. There was a relaxed air in his body language and Jack wondered if it was due to their sex last night or being with McBride. Or both. Daniel had yet to talk about the pre-date. And if anything had happened. He glanced at Jason, then did a double-take because his lover was smirking at him.
Jason drank the rest of his orange juice and sighed. Jerking his head at Daniel, he said, “He’s not walking funny.”
Jack took another sip, then set his mug down. “He would be if I didn’t have two people to take care of.”
“Poor baby,” Jason laughed. He noticed Daniel was smiling, too.
“Me or him?” Jack asked with a smirk.
Jason didn’t answer as he got out of his chair and walked past Daniel, slapping him on the ass before disappearing down the hall.
Jack cleared his throat, and in lieu of bringing up McBride, he got up to refill his coffee mug. Next to him at the stove, Daniel ever so briefly looked askance at him. He wanted to talk, Jack could tell. Trouble was, should they discuss it now or wait till after the mission? Granted, the mission was a cake walk, but he still preferred to have an emotionally clear docket. He hated having that “things left undone” itch hanging about his neck when he needed his full attention on the job. If they found themselves in trouble, it was better not to have any unsettled issues. Just in case.
Eggs finished, Daniel went over to the table and slid them onto the plates with the spatula. “Get the bacon,” he said before Jack could retake his seat. Jam and toast were already set out, so Daniel set down the pan and spatula and turned off the stove. He took his seat just when Jason returned.
“Awesome,” Jason said as he snatched some bacon from the plate Jack had just set in the middle of the table.
Hungry, the three of them dove into the food and nothing was said for a few minutes. But once the edge of hunger was taken off and they relaxed, Daniel broke the silence. After washing his mouthful down with coffee, he cleared his throat. He felt odd. Last night was amazing. So much so that Daniel wanted to do it again. His guilt and confusion about McBride had been wiped away by his lovers but it had returned again with the morning.
“Should I give this interest up?” he asked, not needing to clarify, though in his mind he was thinking of Alternate Zak and wondering if this world’s Zak liked sex the same kinky way. It was, he admitted, what drew him to the man. The possibilities of indulging in areas that Jack and Jason weren’t into. Like Adriann.
Jason shook his head. “Up to you.”
“If you want him,” Jack said around a bite of bacon. “Get the itch scratched.”
Having it laid out so plainly made Daniel inwardly cringe.
Jason reached over took Daniel’s hand, squeezing it firmly. “Would you feel better if we had something like what you had over there?”
Daniel looked at Jason in shock. How the hell had he known what was on his mind? “Uh,” he started, clearing his throat. “How the hell …?” He shook his head. “I don’t know. We don’t do that kind of thing.” The rape fantasy thing, that is. It would spoil their relationship, he thought. He didn’t like the idea of introducing a new form of sex play into their repertoire as a result of something he’d done with someone else–something that he wasn’t comfortable with. It was one thing to indulge his vampire kink. They’d all been together when they’d met Adriann, shared in his sexual appetite–no pun intended–and agreed on some level about their desires. It was quite another to bring something this new and drastic as an experiment. Daniel was very open-minded, but he wanted his relationship with Jack and Jason to be … what was the word? Purer? Simpler? Love and passion was for his lovers. All out lust with nothing else was for everyone else.
He came to an instant decision. “I don’t think I want to see him much. That kind of kink is an infrequent thing for me. Being with you guys is different. We can indulge in a lot of stuff, but there’s love there.” He paused. “Permanence.” He opened his empathic ability to feel their reactions and was relieved to find understanding; an acceptance of his desires and a bit of protectiveness that they would never relinquish. Feeling it released an emotional pressure valve, lifting his guilt and replacing it with desire. He felt such love for Jack and Jason at that moment that he wished they had time for a quickie.
Most of the time, Daniel loved Jack’s sense of humor. The cracky one-liners, the nicknames, the quotes. But there were moments where his renaming of things got to be a bit annoying. The new Tok’ra base was called Raguth. Despite Selmak’s explanation that the base was named after a Tok’ra-Goa’uld battle where the Tok’ra had proved victorious, Jack had taken to calling it Ragu. The only Tok’ra who had understood the Earth reference was Selmak.
On their long walk back to the gate, Jacob asked, “Jack, are you hungry? Maybe for ziti, rigatoni, penne?”
That broke a few smiles amongst the two teams. “As a matter of fact …” Jack said, then he and Jacob started to argue over the best way to make marinara.
Taking position at the groups’ six, Jason followed, a grin of amusement on his face. When they were perhaps fifty yards from the gate, an overwhelming sense of danger prickled his skin and scalp, making the hairs on his arms rise and the smile vanish from his face. Just ahead of him, Daniel picked up on the alarm and stopped in his tracks, whirling around to stare at his lover. Stuart, Sam, and Teal’c were the first ones to notice.
“Daniel?” Sam asked, walking over. Her tone alerted Jack and Jacob and as they stopped and turned, Alex, Connor, and Al followed their lead.
A frown replaced Jack’s grin and he headed back. “What’s going on?”
Daniel frowned, perplexed that Jack’s awareness hadn’t picked up anything. “Your Spidey sense should be going off.”
While Jack looked around, opening his senses, Jason was scanning the sky. “Something’s up,” he said. “No pun intended.”
“Goa’uld?” Jacob asked, looking from Jason to Teal’c.
Teal’c shook his head. “There is nothing that indicates their presence.”
Jason furrowed his brows and raised a hand for silence as he tried to focus his elevated senses on the warning bells that continued to go off. After a minute, he shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know what the fuck’s going on, but something is definitely off-kilter. I’m picking up on a sense of danger, but I have no fucking idea why. Daniel, do you know?”
Daniel shook his head slowly. “It’s just a warning, that’s all.”
Jack flicked the safety off his P-90 and nodded in the direction of the gate. “Just in case, folks, we’re on alert.”
Other weapons were readied, and the casual conversation was ended as they continued toward the gate.
After a few minutes, during which Jack grew annoyed that he couldn’t sense anything, he slowed his pace until he was even with Jason. “You sure your Spidey sense is working right?”
“I’m sure,” Jason said as they stopped at the DHD. Sam began to activate the glyphs but on the third, Jason’s troubled sense magnified, and he shot out his hand and grabbed her wrist.
“What?” she asked, alarmed.
The alarm confused him, and Jason let her go with a shake of his head. “Sorry.”
“Okay, Jason, you’re scaring the horses,” Jack snapped.
Jason glared at him. “Fuck you, Jack,” he shot back in exasperation, “but I have no goddamn idea what the hell is going on. I just know that something is. It seems to be related to the gate.”
“Carter, Teal’c,” Jack motioned and the two of them went to work examining both the DHD and gate mechanisms, looking for sabotage or malfunction.
“Nothing, sir,” Sam reported.
Jason swallowed and shook his head, confused. “I don’t get it. It’s kinda like that feeling people describe when they’re somehow warned not to get on an airplane.”
“You’re picking that up from the stargate?” Jacob asked, brows knotted.
Jason hesitated. “I’m not sure if it really is the gate, but it is the same feeling.”
Jack sighed and gestured at Stuart, who began to dial the DHD. As the wormhole bloomed and settled, he sent the IDC code to the SGC. With a deep breath, Jack gestured at the gate as he hung back with Jason and Daniel. “Go,” he said to the others. They disappeared through the event horizon without any alarms going off in Jason’s head, but as the three of them stepped through together, Jason felt painfully acute needles prick the back of his neck.
Teal’c and Jacob brought up the rear of the group as they started down the ramp. Behind them, all of them expected to hear that mild sloshing noise the event horizon made whenever something came through. They expected to hear bootheels on metal. When they didn’t, they turned around to wait. But instead of the trio, the event horizon suddenly blew backward, as something on the other side were sucking it in. Electrical current spider-webbed over its surface, then a puff of smoke shot out from the center and the gate shut down.
“What the fuck was that?” Connor asked, staring at Sam. She turned to look up into the control room just as Hammond asked something similar to Sergeant Davis and Lieutenant Simmons. She took off at a dead run, heading for them and came into the control room on the tail-end of a puzzled answer.
“–don’t know, sir,” Davis said.
Sam waved Simmons out of his seat and hit the gate diagnostic code. The cursory result told her nothing was wrong.
“Major?” Hammond asked as everyone else filed into the Control Room.
“Nothing here, sir,” she answered, already typing more commands. “I’m running a systems diagnostic.”
“Just redial the planet,” Alex said.
Sam shook her head. “Can’t, just in case they’re caught in the buffer.”
Alex started to argue but Stuart touched his elbow, then gave Sam a look that commanded calmness, not panic. “The memory crystals?”
She nodded without looking up.
Hammond nodded as well. “Quick as you can, Major.”
“On it, sir.”
The rest of the group moved to the back of the room, out of the way. When Hammond passed Alex, heading for his office, Jason’s 2IC walked quickly after him. “Sir?” he called quietly.
Hammond turned and paused. “What is it, Major?”
Alex glanced around him, getting the others’ attention. “Sir, right before we came through the gate, Colonel Coburn was hit with that … special sense of his. That … whatever it is he got from the Diné. Then Daniel started to feel something.”
“What set it off?” Hammond frowned.
Alex shrugged and looked at the others. “We don’t know. They just had a bad feeling that something was wrong, and Colonel Coburn didn’t want to go through the gate.”
Teal’c nodded. “He likened it to the same kind of warning one gets before boarding a plane, General. He was very emphatic about it.”
Hammond sighed. “Let’s consider them fine until we learn otherwise, understood?”
There was a collective “Yes, sir.”
. . .
Electrical current spewed from the gate as Daniel, Jack, and Jason stumbled from the event horizon onto an ancient stone platform cracked with overgrown with grass and weeds. The acknowledgement of that fact was minimized by the volcanic heat and smell that hit their senses like a punch in the face. It was oppressive and loud, the ground rumbling.
“What the hell?” Jack yelled as he automatically threw his arms out, keeping Jason and Daniel from going down the steps. To their left as well as in front of them were flowing rivulets of pahoehoe: lava. The right side of the platform and ground was still free from the flow, but the slow-moving magma was two feet from the DHD.
“Come on!” Jack said as he darted to the right, down the steps, running around the leading edge of the flow. Dashing around him and grabbing the edge of the DHD, Daniel settled fast, examining the panels for the home glyph. Jack stood impatiently, making an assessment of their surroundings. Either the lava flow was coming a little faster or the intensity of the situation made it look that way. They didn’t have the GDO, but they had their radios; the SGC would be expecting them. Providing Carter and the others made it back.
“What do you think happened?” Jason asked.
“Carter will have some long explana-” Jack began, but two things happened at the same time: Daniel cursed just as something in the distance exploded and shook the ground.
“Volcano!” Daniel shouted as he dialed.
“No shit, Sherlock!” Jack scowled. The gate didn’t activate. “What happened?”
“We have a problem, Jack,” Daniel said as he examined the DHD.
“Gee, ya think?”
Daniel looked at him and Jason as the gate connected. “Eight glyphs, guys. Eight. It’ll take me at least five minutes to figure out the new glyphs.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Jason spat angrily, looking at the lava’s progress.
“Think quickly, dammit!” Jack yelled.
Daniel looked down at the DHD, scanning it like a puzzle, and in under two minutes, he dialed. The wormhole vortex blasted through a wider stream of lava as it headed in their direction.
“Gate!” Jack bellowed fearfully and the three of them ran to the left, sprinting around the advancing flow, now coming faster due to the explosion. It began to cover the lower steps in front of the platform and the trio aimed for the near side, hoping to get around the edge and onto the main platform. But as they rounded a copse of bushes and dwarf trees alight with fire, they came to a skidding halt. The back of the gate was flooded with lava and more was oozing over the side steps. The back platform was already covered by blackened lava carved out from the wormhole’s backdraft and a newer, redder layer was spreading over it. It wasn’t to the gate’s top platform and it seemed to be veering away, but their access their was quickly being overrun. They were cut off, and the only option was to move away from the gate altogether.
“Fuck me on Sunday,” Jack growled as they bolted to the left of the gate and headed uphill toward a growth of forest. Stopping at the edge, Jack bent over, hands on his knees. The lava flow was already taking over the DHD. “Will the gate stay connected if the DHD is shorted out?”
Daniel shrugged. “Sam and Teal’c are the experts, but I’d say only if the gate is activated from offworld, say from the SGC.”
Jason nodded. “He’s right. We’re screwed on this end. They’ll have to dial back.”
“Shit,” Jack growled, keying his mic, and ignoring the scolding look from Jason. “Stargate Command, this is SG-1 leader, over.”
The radio came back with silence. Jack twisted two buttons, hoping it was just a matter of adjusting the signal-to-noise ratio and not because the strange lightning static had fried their radios.
Sam was examining an unknown spike in the signature from Raguth when the gate lit up and began to spin its address wheel. “Off-world activation!” Davis called out before she could make the announcement herself. She forgave him with a distracted shake of her head, her attention fixed on the incoming data.
Teal’c, Stuart, and the others hurried in, Hammond following quickly. “Is it them?” the General asked.
Sam frowned as soon as the computer determined the gate address. “It’s from the Ancients’ database but it has eight glyphs. Whoever’s dialing in is from another galaxy.”
“What?” Hammond and others asked together.
“Are we still fitted with those booster generators for just such contact?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“If it is them,” Teal’c interjected, “but I do not see how that is possible.”
The wormhole suddenly connected behind the iris and the blue glow lit up the back of the gateroom. Sam could have sworn that everyone was holding their breath, just as she was. One minute passed, then Sam took the initiative and sent the standard contact signal. “SG-1 leader, this is Stargate Command, come in, over.”
Jack, Daniel, and Jason headed up the hillside into thicker forest but remained within sight distance of the gate. Technically, the range of their radios was one mile, but they didn’t want to risk interference from any radioactive ground source–like naquada. Almost all planets with gates had naquada deposits, whether naturally occurring or stashed.
Stopping, they looked down at the gate and the lava field that now surrounded it. Even if they were to somehow make their way over cooling lava, it would take weeks, and the DHD was useless now anyway. It sagged to one side, the base–naturally containing the crystals–buried by magma. The only way off the planet was by ship.
Jack sighed with anger and aggravation, comforted only by the fact that Daniel and Jason were with him. While they had others who cared and worried for them, this was different. Better to suffer together than apart. He reached for his radio again, thumb on the mic, but before he could press Transmit, their radios crackled with static and the sound of Sam’s voice.
“SG-1 leader, this is Stargate Command. Over.”
“Thank god,” Daniel sighed.
Jack and Jason were just as relieved. With a look at his lovers, Jack replied. “Reading you, Stargate Command. Over.”
“What’s your situation? Over.”
“Not great,” Jack replied. “We’re cut off from the gate. We have a little volcano problem. Over.”
Hammond’s voice now. “Repeat that, Colonel. Did you say ‘volcano’? Over.”
“Roger that, Command. We landed in the middle of a volcanic eruption. We were trying to dial out when a river of lava overran our position. We’re cut off from the gate and the DHD is now useless. Over.”
“Understood. Are you alright? Over.”
“No injuries, sir. Do you read our position? Over.”
“Yes, sir,” Sam answered. “Over.”
“When can we expect rescue? Over.”
“Calculating that now,” Sam replied. “Will reestablish connection shortly. Out.”
“SG-1 out.” Jack sighed and glanced over at Daniel to say something sarcastic but the grimace on Daniel’s face but a stop to that. “What?”
Daniel edgily combed his fingers through his hair. “We’re outside the Milky Way, Jack. It will take them weeks or months to get here.”
“Swell,” Jack sighed, rolling his eyes. Didn’t it just figure.
Sam looked up at the General, panicky desperation transmitting across her face. “Sir, they’re in a different galaxy.”
Hammond nodded. “I know that, Major. First things first.” He walked over to the new star chart and tapped the plexiglass board with a knuckle. “How far away are they?”
With a long inhale, she turned back to the computer and flew her fingers over the keys. Next to her, Davis kept up, inputting his own numbers and commands into the stargate database. The new star chart mapping vector responded. No longer using a mechanical arm to locate positions, it was now a holographic screen. Earth’s position within the Milky Way was captured in a windowed box and set in the upper left hand corner while the main ‘screen’ recalculated the position of the gate where their friends were stranded.
Alex watched with worried impatience. The new chart system reminded him of a picture-within-picture TV. The only difference being his ignorance about what he was looking at. He was never very good at astronomical data, except while piloting.
Finally the star chart finished. Superimposed over the new chart was the relevant information. They were in the Galaxy of Ida, the home of the Asgard.
“Oh crap,” Sam murmured. “I hope they’re not on a world infested with replicators.”
Teal’c and Jacob echoed her sentiment but the General looked hopeful. “Seems to me they’d steer clear of a volcano. In any case, contact the Asgard, Major. Request assistance.” While she proceeded to dial the preestablished gate coordinates through which they would transmit their binary coded message, Hammond turned to Teal’c and Jacob. “Opinions?”
Teal’c bowed his head at Jacob, giving him the floor. “Good news and bad news, George. The good news is that Selmak is familiar with the solar system they’re located in. The Asgard call it Valhalla. Twelve planets orbit a sun similar to our own. The planet in question is called Valhalla Four.”
Jacob shook his head. “If the Asgard are unable to help, then you’ll have to send a ship, and unfortunately, it will take approximately seventy-two days at maximum power to reach them and no ship we have can operate at that power usage for that long.”
“What’s the best estimate then?” Hammond asked.
Sam made a face as her father looked to her. “A little over three months.”
The room went quiet, all eyes wide at the news. Hammond’s hopeful expression sagged slightly, but he lifted his chin and nodded resolutely.
“Very well. If we cannot obtain help from the Asgard, we’ll need another plan. And in the meantime,” he added, speaking to everyone. “I want plans to make sure our people stay alive for that long.”
The Asgard returned the message within ten minutes. Hammond relayed the bad news to Jack.
“I echo your sentiments, Colonel. We’re coming up on the thirty-eight minute window. Will redial the planet in one hour after I hold a briefing to discuss ways to help your situation. In the interim, take an inventory of your current supplies. Will coordinate with our efforts here. Hammond out.”
“Shit,” Jason said as he unhooked his field pack and set it on the ground. Daniel was already going through his.
Jack unclipped his pack and squatted down. “Fine time for Thor to be busy with those goddamn bugs.”
“Here’s hoping they’re not on this planet,” Daniel said, emptying his pack. He carried more than Jack and Jason, having packed additional items suited for his job on the team. Each of them carried six MREs including accessory packets that included coffee, creamer, salt, sugar, gum, matches, toilet paper, and towelettes. They also carried a Ziplock bag of instant coffee and a travel-sized bottle of caffeine tablets. They’d go without sugar and milk, but not the caffeine. While Daniel was more experienced at packing for the field than his partners, they had an edge with military preparedness. But like them, Daniel knew how to create a campsite out of available natural materials. Lastly, there was the military equipment they were required to carry at all times. That included a spare set of socks and underwear.
Kneeling before his spread-out inventory, Daniel unfolded one of his cravats and tied it around his head, then grabbed his eyeglass case and put away his glasses. He didn’t need them now and it was better to keep them safe. He looked over at Jack and Jason’s inventories and grinned. They had more than he did, which he expected; Jason never went off-world without three Tanto knives and Jack always brought more than enough ammo. He also never went anywhere without his travel chess case.
“So,” Jack said, sitting back on his heels and chewing a corner of his lip. They had enough for a week, but after that … “What do we need?” At the sarcastic grin on Jason’s face, he added, “Besides a ship, wiseass.”
“Ten times as much as we have,” Jason answered. He looked uphill, scanning through the trees. At a spot fifty yards up and to the left, a ridge of ground separated from the rest of the hill. “Whaddya think?” he pointed. “Could be flatter land, suitable for a campsite.”
Jack seemed to agree but Daniel was dubious. Picking up his compass, he looked over his shoulder and down the long hill they had climbed. They could now see a fair-sized layout of their area. The stargate sat at the north edge of a large valley that emptied out to a sea or large lake. Five miles to the southeast of the gate sat the volcano, and some six miles beyond that lay the blue of ocean. Daniel discerned the volcano type as Hawaiian, emitting a fire fountain as well as oozing streams of molten lava, probably from fissure vents.
The fountain itself fluctuated in height, thankfully angled away from their position, and he guessed the highest burst at three hundred feet. The explosion they’d felt had likely come from the coast; when water and lava mixed, they generated hydrovolcanic eruptions; watery steam had been on the wind. That eruption had probably burst open a few fissure vents and could likely be the source of the lava which had overrun the gate. Spreading north, it touched the edge of a thick forest; trees were already burning. Fortunately, the fire wouldn’t spread up the hill because the forest broke in several places, but the smoke generated would be a breathing hazard. They would be safe enough, however, providing that the wind didn’t pick up in their direction.
Gesturing at the volcano and at Jason’s campsite suggestion, he shook his head. “I think we should examine what’s on the top of this hill, or on the other side. I’d like to put more distance between us and the smoke from the burning trees. The lava seems to be contained in the valley as long as the volcano keeps to its Hawaiian type. Chances are highly unlikely that it would turn Plinian since volcanoes don’t merge into multiple types, apart from Hawaiian and hydrovolcanic eruptions. Still, I’d hate to find out this planet’s geological history to be the exception and get French-fried in the middle of the night by a pyroclastic flow.”
He’d been speaking fast, and Jason exchanged an amused look with Jack before chuckling. He couldn’t help it, especially when Daniel rolled his eyes.
“Sorry,” Jason apologized, still laughing. “But you crack me up. I’m gonna have to ask you to repeat that, only more slowly.”
Daniel winced at himself. “Sorry. I think I’m nervous. So, anyway, in a nutshell, part of archaeology is knowing the ground you’re examining. I’m not a volcanologist but I know enough to keep us out of trouble.” He thumbed at the top of the hill. “We should really check out what’s on the other side in order to protect ourselves.”
Jack snorted at him. “You should’ve just said that,” he teased. He started to grin at him when a dose of salt air hit his nose; at that moment, the wind was from the north. Waving pointedly at the body of water they could see to their southeast, he then gestured to the top of the hill. “Smell that? I think we’re on a peninsula.”
Daniel frowned in thought, sniffing the air, then with a rise of his brows, he nodded. “I think you’re right. It would explain the two-fold directionality of the wi …”
He cut himself off as the tell-tale whine of the stargate was amplified by the valley and echoed up the hill. Out of habit, he got up and walked over to Jack, who was also on his feet, hand ready on the mic.
“Hope they have better news,” Jason said as he stuffed one of his tanto sheaths into his right boot and stood up, testing its comfort.
The wormhole exploded outward, and at that moment, the three men simultaneously hoped the vortex would somehow be longer than normal and vaporize a path to the gate. It was irrational, but they still felt the disappointment when nothing happened.
“Stargate Command to SG-1 leader. Over.” Hammond’s voice.
“Reading you, General,” Jack greeted. “Over.”
“First. The newest finished ship, the Athena, will be enroute in twelve hours. ETA, unfortunately, will be about eighty-six to ninety-three days, providing the upgraded hyperspace engines perform as expected. I’m sending Major Carter in case there are problems. Teal’c and Blackwell have expressed their desire to join in the mission, as well as the remaining members of SG-2, so they will be accompanying her. Over.”
“Roger that, Command,” Jack said. “What’s the second thing? Over.”
“We’re going to attempt sending modified UAVs to your location. Major Carter believes they could support the additional weight and still lock onto their target for landing. Have you been able to ascertain your position relative to the gate? Over.”
Jason clicked his mic. “Not yet, General. We will need a more secure location as well as a best-hoped for landing strip. Over.”
“Roger. Any questions before we proceed with inventory? Over.”
“Yes, sir,” Jack said, grinning. “Clarify ‘modified’ UAV? Over.”
Sam answered. “We’re sending a cousin of the male bee. Over.”
“Stand by. Over.” Jack gave Jason a puzzled scowl. “What?”
Daniel snickered. “Drone, Jack. She means we’re getting altered drone aircraft.”
“Ahh,” Jack said, jogging his brows. “Too bad we can’t get a Predator.”
Daniel frowned. “A what?”
Jack gave him a knowing look. “The drones we’re using in the Middle East.”
“Oh.” Daniel highly disapproved of their use and had gotten into a few arguments with Jack and Jason. In an effort not to rehash old ground, especially since it’s not useful to the situation, he simply nodded.
Jack appreciated the gesture as he keyed his mic. “What’s the wingspan of the modified craft? The gate is approximately twenty feet across the center. Over.”
“Twenty point two one five, sir. The modified craft are fifteen. Over.
“Not much clearance. Over.”
“No, sir. But that size will accommodate more weight. General Hammond would like the laundry list, sir. Over.”
Jack nodded needlessly and looked around. “Stand by. Over.”
Jack snapped his fingers at Daniel, but Daniel was ahead of him, already having his memo pad and pen out of his front pocket. With a grin, he gestured for Jack and Jason to begin. They exchanged looks and then began rattle off items they would need: A five-man tent, two axes, any spare MREs, razors, soap, water skeins, vitamins.
“Vitamins?” Daniel asked, for a moment, puzzled.
Jason waved around them. “Different planet, different plants and animals. We have no idea what’s edible and what isn’t. Until we can ascertain what we can add to our diet, we’ll need vitamins.”
“Gotcha,” Daniel said, his tone putting an end to the explanation. “What next?” He too was thinking as he wrote down a few more of their suggestions, including med kits. “How about a few iPods?” At the amused look on their faces, he was about to say he was serious, then remembered they had no way to recharge the batteries. “Never mind.”
“Good idea though,” Jason said.
Jack cleared his throat. “There’s another thing we could ask for, but we can’t without giving ourselves away.”
Daniel and Jason knew exactly what he was referring to. “I think we’re covered for a while anyway, Jack,” Daniel said with a grin.
“Tell you what we can ask for,” Jason said ruefully. “Bows.”
“Bows?” Daniel asked.
“Compound and recurve would be best,” Jason nodded and gestured for Daniel to write it down. “I’m completely serious. I don’t want to waste bullets on food.”
Jack agreed and was about to add something else when Hammond’s voice came over the radio.
“Coming up on thirty minutes, Jack. Over.”
“Yes, sir. Daniel’s written a list.” Daniel clicked the radio button and read off the list, then Jack took over. “The five-man tent is optional, so in lieu of that, and how much the damn things weigh, several tarps and a supply of nylon rope would be a suitable substitute. The bows would be appreciated. We don’t want to use up our ammo unless there’s no other choice. Water shouldn’t be a problem. The MREs are the only thing we’ll need to resupply as soon as possible. Over.”
“Agreed, Colonel.” There came a few beats of silence, then Sam’s voice cut in.
“Colonel, we’re going to have the UAV home in on the IDF signal from the radios. After you’ve given us new coordinates and we’ve programmed the UAV for launch, you’ll need to have all the radios turned on and emitting the same channel frequency in your landing location. Over.”
“Copy that. Over.” Jack replied.
Hammond was back. “We’ll get things packed, but the UAV launch will take time. Will contact you in eighteen hours, 0930 Cheyenne time. Over.”
“0930, General. Over.”
“Good luck and keep yourselves safe. Hammond out.”
Looking down over the valley floor, they watched the wormhole blink out and the gate shut down. With a sigh, Daniel looked up at the sky, gauging the sun’s path. It appeared to be at zenith. “I’m gonna have to make a sundial so we can get a good handle on the hours here. But from what I’ve noticed so far, this planet spins a little more slowly than Earth. My guess is that the sun travels one degree every six minutes or so.”
Jason frowned. “How many on Earth?”
Jack and Jason stared at him. “You realize that makes it a thirty-six hour day,” Jack stated.
Bemused, Daniel nodded. “We’d get confused without our watches.”
“Yeah no shit,” Jason said, turning to face up the hill. He bent down and picked up his P-90. “Let’s pack back up and head out.”
They hiked up through the forested hill and kept their eyes open as they moved through the widely-spaced coniferous trees that resembled the tall Douglas Firs of home. It must’ve just rained because there was a lot of small puddles beside dead branches and logs. After twenty minutes of silent climbing, they reached a dugout, suitable for water collecting. The mound was made mostly of large, twisted knots of dead tree roots and a hole in the center revealed a cache of water. When the level reached the top roots, it drained, but mulch and dirt below that line kept the makeshift well sealed.
While Daniel inspected the water for insect larvae, Jack tested it for drinkability. The results of both said the water was pure, but they had no idea if the bacteria that was found in all water sources would harm them.
“We can’t wait till tomorrow,” Daniel said. “We need some of the water in our canteens to heat our food and the rest we need to stave off dehydration. And there’s simply no way to test for bacteria without a microscope.”
Jason snorted. “Could add that to the list, unless Janet knows about some testing strip method, like the kind we used to test the alkaline.”
Daniel shrugged. “We can ask tomorrow. Right now, we’ll have to take the risk.”
“Wherever we set up camp,” Jack said as they started up the hill again. “I’m not making several runs back down here. We’re gonna have to fashion a water carrier.”
“Unless we find plenty of drinkable water on the other side,” Jason added.
Half an hour later, they reached the top: a flattened expanse of ground, trees much more spread, and approximately fifty yards wide before the land sloped back down the other side. Jack had been right. They were indeed on a peninsula, and the ground they stood on was a ridge: valley on one side, ocean on the other. The opposite slope grew more barren and by the time it reached water, it was made up of large boulders. The shoreline contained pointed outcroppings of black stone, between which were tide pools and small sections greyish sand. To the left, the ridge seemed to continue for several klicks; to the right, there was a sizeable spate of blue ocean that curved southward until trees from the ridge blocked the view. Looking back down at the shoreline, Jack gestured at the tide pools.
“Might be fish down there.”
Jason nodded. “If abundant, we could fashion spears instead of lines and hooks.”
Daniel agreed absently, then looked back over his shoulder. The fountain of fire was still visible. “That will actually look pretty by nightfall.”
Jack snorted and turned away, eyes scanning the terrain around them. The trees were so widely spread that they gave them a decent clearing for a campsite as well as a decent sight clearance for any animal that might show up. The wind had been due south since they’d arrived, but instead of being more intense at the top of the ridge, it grew calmer. That told Jack that it was likely due to wind change than anything else. On the other hand, the valley could very well be a wind funnel, and if so, the fires may jump no matter how spread apart the forests. He walked to the valley side and checked. Thankfully, the wind was indeed calming in the valley. Good news, if not much.
Turning around, he nodded with satisfaction at their position. He liked the idea of the summit as their temporary home. It afforded them an excellent vantage point. Until they had reason to leave, this would be the best place to make camp. “This spot seems to be best. And you’re right, Daniel. It’s a good view. Though I like it for its strategic use.”
Jason grinned at Daniel’s amused expression, then scratched at his cheek as he looked at the slender trees. “We should ask for a few saws and axes.”
“What are you thinking?” Jack asked.
Jason waved at the trees. “One, we should make room to make landings easier. The first one is gonna be a crash landing. There isn’t a long enough fifteen-foot landing spread. Two, we can use the trees for a dwelling. I don’t relish the idea of living in a tarp tent for three months, do you?”
Jack stared back, his lips spreading into an appreciative smile. “We’d need chisels, planes, mallets. Think they’ll give them to us?”
Jason waved at the closest trees. “If they don’t want us grumpy bitches in two weeks, they should. If they don’t, it’s no problem. While I don’t fancy the blisters we’ll get, axes will get the job done. We could fell these, lash them together with the rope, stuff them with earth.” He gestured at the ocean side. “There might be clay deposits, and we could make something good enough to last for two months.”
Behind them, Daniel chuckled as he set his field pack down and unclipped his vest. Jason and Jack looked over their shoulders, brows knotted. What the hell could Daniel be laughing about?
“What?” Jack asked.
“You. You two want to build a cabin, don’t you?” he asked as he began to pick up debris, tossing it into a pile at the base of a tree.
“What’s wrong with that?” Jason asked.
“Nothing,” Daniel answered. “It just strikes me as ironic.”
“How’s that?” Jack asked.
Daniel gave Jack a knowing look. “You’ve been wanting to expand your cabin. Guess we’ll get some practice in.”
Jack smirked at him. “What’d you build during all those digs?”
Daniel snorted. “You’d be surprised.” He sobered a little and shivered as he pointed northward. “The thought of washing in that cold water …”
Jason chuckled. “Won’t be that bad. Perky nipples.”
Jack let out a deprecating laugh. “And shrunken dicks, Jason.”
Daniel chuckled and patted his own left ass cheek. He didn’t look at them as he then said as casually as possible, “By the way, regarding those items we can’t ask for? I already have extra in my pack.”
Jack looked at Jason, then both of them looked at Daniel. “You’d think the little bastard was planning this all along,” Jack grumbled.
“Nah,” Jason disagreed. “He’d have brought more coffee if that were the case.”
Daniel turned away, his cheeks growing hot. It had nothing to do with embarrassment. “You two wanna stop staring at my ass and help me set up our hearth?”
Jason picked up a broken branch with the leaves still on one end and used it as a broom as he watched Daniel bend over to pick up more twigs and stones. “Maybe you shouldn’t have patted that perky ass.”
Daniel threw a twig at him. A second later, out of his right peripheral vision, he caught sight of Jack striding toward him. “What?” he grinned, taking half a step back.
During their discussion, Jack had been doing some quick calculations and among them, first and foremost, was that they weren’t just on their own. They were alone. No regs, no snoops, no need to be circumspect. A sudden longing came over him, deep and hot as any basic need and he indulged it with the same appetite he took to a really good steak. He walked with purpose toward Daniel, and when he reached him, he grabbed him around the waist, settled one hand at the back of his neck, and kissed him with such passion that he felt his body responding instantly.
Daniel’s heart suddenly thundered in his chest and he held Jack to him with fierce love, raking his hands through Jack’s hair and shirt collar. Jason smiled and went over, nuzzling the side of Jack’s face as he encircled them both in his arms. “You’re such a romantic.”
Daniel hadn’t used the word hearth idly. He’d meant it. After Jack and Jason marked out a square for the shelter they’d soon build, he did the same for an eight-inch shallow pit while Jack and Jason made a trip for sand. Their rucksack’s half filled, they returned a little sweaty from the exertion, ready to berate Daniel for not helping. But the scold died on their lips when they found the six by three foot pit already dug and filled with a layer of stones. Emptying their packs, the damp sand was laid. Tinder and kindling caught fire and coals were established, quickly drying the sand. An hour later, they had a decent fire pit.
Jack and Jason had collected enough dry leaves to make bedding for the three of them and after hauling a dead log from the valley side of the ridge, they set it down so their backs would face west and the setting sun and they’d also have a decent place to sit without getting a chill from the damp ground. Grabbing three MREs, they were just setting them up when Daniel returned from a visit to the shore. He emerged slightly out of breath and strode over, stopping at the edge of the encampment.
“Did you guys taste that water at all?”
“What water?” Jack asked.
“The pool down the hill?” Jason asked, thumbing southward.
“No,” Daniel said, thumbing behind him. “The ocean water.”
“Not really in the mood for salty brine,” Jack joked.
“That’s exactly my point,” Daniel said, pointing again behind him. “Guys, that’s not an ocean. It’s Lake Superior.”
“What?” Jack and Jason asked in stereo as they got to their feet. They followed Daniel back to the edge of the flat top and stared at the water.
“Fresh?” Jack asked, surprised. “I’ll be damned.”
Daniel nodded. “I scooped up a handful to taste to see if the salt level was low enough for frequent bathing.”
“Shit,” Jack said, slapping his forehead. “I forgot to ask for chlorine tablets or bleach, and a few empty gallon jugs.”
“Sam will probably take care of it,” Daniel assured him.
They returned to the camp and Daniel tapped the old log with the toe of his boot. It made a dry, hollow sound. “Nice. Where’d you find this?”
“Down the hill,” Jack said, waving as he sat back down.
“So is the water safe for bathing?” Jason asked, joining him.
Daniel squatted next to the fire instead of sitting on the log. “Yes, but I’d love to send the SGC a sample for testing. On the other hand, if we were able to do that …”
“Then we wouldn’t be here,” Jack finished.
Jason sighed and tested the heat in his MRE. “Well, we finally got some time off.”
Jack snorted. “I’d have preferred to have had some say in the matter.”
Daniel jogged his brows. “Not exactly the same, is it?”
. . .
Alex entered the Mess Hall and walked over to join his teammates. Al and Connor nodded at him as he sat down across from the two. They’d gotten their dinner, but it was apparent that neither had an appetite.
“What did the General want?” Al asked.
“Making a decision whether or not we’re going on the mission.”
“Why the hell wouldn’t we be?” Connor asked with sharp anger.
“We’ll find out at the meeting. Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
As he took half a step toward the buffet line, he paused. Major McBride was sitting alone, staring in his direction. Alex lifted his chin in acknowledgement and McBride grinned back and did the same. Alex was suddenly curious. Normally McBride never spoke to him unless they were passing in the hall or close enough to each other in the parking garage. He must be wondering about Jack, Daniel, and Jason.
“Back in a sec,” he said to his teammates and sauntered over. “What’s up, man?”
“Nothin’ much,” McBride answered. “Have you heard from them?”
“Earlier, but I didn’t actually speak to them. I’ll get that chance during our next scheduled contact.”
“The rest of the teams going?” McBride asked.
“SG-1 definitely, don’t know about us. Mission will be six whole months in space with the shakedown crew.”
“Oh right. That’ll be fun,” McBride grinned.
“I’m already packing junk food for the flight, just in case.” McBride grinned sympathetically, but said nothing, and yet Alex got the feeling that the man wanted to ask him something. “Any message you want me to send along?”
McBride shrugged. “Just tell Doctor Jackson I said hello.”
Alex raised his brows. “Done. Didn’t realize you knew Daniel.”
“We just met one day, got to talking. I like him. Pretty decent guy.”
Alex nodded, and though he sensed there was more behind McBride’s words, he didn’t mention it. “He’s that. Drives O’Neill crazy though.”
McBride laughed. “I bet.”
Alex pointed at the buffet. “Gonna grab dinner. Take it easy.”
“You too. Thanks, man.”
Alex grabbed his dinner, then went to sit with his teammates.
“What was that about?” Connor asked.
“McBride asked me to say hello to Daniel.”
Al lifted a brow. “I didn’t know they were friends.”
“Neither did I,” Alex said.
Connor smirked as his eyes filled with mischief. “Maybe McBride’s got a crush.”
Alex snorted. “That’s the last damn thing Daniel needs.”
Before he could say anything else, Alex spotted Sergeant Davis as he made his way over. “Now what?” Alex said under his breath. “What’s up, Sergeant?”
“General Hammond has pushed up the meeting time. 1300.”
“Something up?” Alex asked, glancing at his teammates.
“Yes and no,” Davis replied cryptically. “But nothing bad.” He turned on his heel and headed for the buffet.
“Hope it’s good news,” Connor asked.
Alex glanced at his watch. “We’ll find out in forty-five minutes. Eat up, boys.”
“As you were,” Hammond said, exiting his office with some folded papers. “Take your seats.”
Sam, Teal’c, and Stuart took the seats on Hammond’s left while Alex, Al, and Connor took the opposite. All six looked expectantly at their boss and Hammond took a deep breath and looked at Sam. He had a slight smile on his face, and he opened the papers, flattening them on the table. Stapled to the top left corner was a small card holding a pair of silver oak leaves.
Sam’s eyes widened and she sucked in a breath of surprise.
Hammond grinned at her. “I like to have waited for the formal ceremony, but I’d like you in command of the mission. The ceremony will have to wait.”
Getting to his feet, the others joined him as Hammond walked over to Sam. “Samantha Carter, by order of the Secretary of the Air Force, I am proud to promote you to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, in recognition of your exemplary duty as a member of SG-1 and this facility.”
She blinked with modest pride as he pinned the silver oak leaves over her embroidered gold ones. “Thank you, sir,” she said as she saluted and shook his hand.
“You’re welcome, Colonel. It’s long past due.” He gestured for everyone to retake their seats. “As I said, I’m putting you in command of the mission, but that also means you’re in joint command aboard the Athena. Colonel Sheppard has been notified.”
“Yes, sir. I will be in command of the rescue operation while Colonel Sheppard is in command of ship business?”
Hammond nodded at Stuart. “Yes, and Group Captain, you’ll be her second. I realize that you outrank Colonel Carter, but this will be your first 303 tour. It will be easier to learn the protocols and associated ship’s business without being in command.”
Sam gave Stuart a smile. “It’s how we learned the ropes, including the Colonel.”
Stuart smiled back, then nodded at the General. “Understood, sir.”
Hammond turned his attention to Alex and his teammates. “I know you want to go on the mission, gentlemen, but I need you here because I’m putting you in charge of the supply drones, including their launches. You’ll assemble and pack all of the items required for drop. Coordinate with whoever you need to, you’ll have the authority. I’ve sent out the memo. Sergeant Davis will give you the key card for Storage Room B on Level 26, which has been set aside for the housing area prior to each drone drop.” He paused and added with a bit of a smile. “Bear in mind that any additional items you add will have to keep to the weight limit.”
“Yes, sir,” Alex said as Alex and Al nodded.
Hammond checked his watch as he stood up, and as expected, everyone got up with him. “Colonel, check with Major Dunlevy at Peterson. Delivery of the first two drones are late as well as the zero point coordinate buoys. Light a fire under Groom Lake. You all have six hours before the Athena leaves. Let’s get to it. Dismissed.”
After Hammond returned to his office, Sam received a hug from Teal’c and congratulatory handshakes from the others. She looked at her epaulets and twisted her mouth. “I’m gonna go up and see Sergeant McCall in S4, cash in that favor she owes me.”
As they filed out of the Briefing Room, Stuart asked, “Zero point what?”
“The gate has to be used as the targeting center. In order for that to work, we have to use robot sentries, send them through, park them at the gate, then the onboard navigation can be initiated. They’re small enough to stay out of the way when the drone flies through. We’ll also have to use one per launch because the drones haven’t had cameras installed and it’ll take too long to get that done–at least for the first few drones. We’ve already sent a small recon robot through the gate and confirmed Jason’s measurements, making sure the zeroes won’t topple down a flight of stairs and into the lava flow.”
“Zeroes,” Stuart nodded, a little wrinkle between his brows. “Where’d you get them?”
“They’re a hybrid of Earth and Tok’ra technology. Been working on them for over a year now and they’re finally gonna get a field test.”
“Wait. You mean those daft-looking metal bugs you were tinkering with? I thought you scrapped them.”
Sam smiled like a kid. “Nope, just recycled.”
The weather was warm, so they didn’t need their jackets when they made frond pallets near the fire. But there was another problem. According to their watches, it was 1 a.m.; the sun was still in the sky. Daniel guessed the position to be somewhere around 4 p.m. during an Earth summer. When it was time for the drone’s first flight, it was very likely going to be planet twilight. He turned on his side on the hard ground, wishing they had cover.
“Not sleeping either?” Jack asked.
“No,” Daniel drawled with annoyance. “I really hate this planet’s hours.”
On his other side, Jason sighed and turned toward him. “It’s gonna be worse by the time we leave. The time lag will be a killer.”
Daniel groaned and rolled on his back. “Maybe we can ask for time off to re-acclimate.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Jack said, staring up at the tree-laced sky overhead. “I’m worried about this first drone drop. Drone drop. Whatever. If this first flight doesn’t work out, we’ll have problems. We can’t land it anywhere else and the drone would sink in water.”
“No choice, Jack,” Jason told him. “I have the coordinates figured. The first drop will probably crash into a few trees, but we can take care of that problem after we get some tools.”
Jack sighed. “Agreed. But we’re gonna catch hell by the higher-ups for trashing a drone.”
Daniel made a rude sound. “Armchair quarterbacks.”
Jason looked down at him, then grinned at Jack. Daniel couldn’t stand football and very rarely made football analogies. “He just made a football reference.”
Jack grinned back. “Yes he did.”
“Backseat drivers?” Daniel offered.
“Too late,” Jason chuckled. “Can’t take it back.”
“Shut up,” Daniel said, pulling at his lover’s arm. “Lay back down.”
Jason did, then made a sound of disgust and raised his left hip. “I can’t wait till they send something for us to lay on,” said as he reached under and pulled out a knotted twig and tossed it to his left.
Jack checked his watch and sighed as he set the alarm. “Eight more hours. Try to get some sleep. We’re gonna need it.”
Easy to say, hard to do, but the three of them managed a little shut-eye before the launch was due.
In the gateroom, Alex double-checked the supply list on his clipboard. He blew out a raspberry as Al and Connor shut the hatch of the drone’s fuselage. They had just finished packing the first shipment. “It’s like stuffing all your survival gear into a child’s backpack.”
Al nodded. “We were smart about it though. They’ll get the most important stuff first.”
Alex sighed heavily and twisted his mouth as he looked at the packed drone. “Looks like a really big toy airplane.”
Stuart walked in, followed by Sam and four technicians. “A really big toy airplane sitting on a balmy-looking launch pad,” he said.
Alex grinned back and nodded with agreement, then gestured at his teammates to get out of the way while the technicians prepared for flight. Heading up into the Control Room, they watched from there. A few minutes later, Sam and Stuart joined them in the Control Room, and from the rear stairs, the General entered.
“Everything ready, Colonel?” Hammond asked.
“Yes, sir. The techs are placing it in position now.”
“Very good,” the General replied and looked down at Sergeant Davis and nodded. “Dial out, Sergeant.”
Jack wished he could see Carter’s face as Jason sent the coordinates and a description of the inadequate landing zone. The sun had set, too, though it was not full dark yet.
“Can’t be helped, Sam,” Jason said with a sigh. He left off ‘over’ at the end of his transmission; General Hammond had decided that since the communication would be ongoing, ‘out’ would be sufficient.
There was silence on the other end, then Hammond came through.
“Will re-coordinate our launches with your planet’s daylight hours. For now, prepare to receive transport.”
“Copy that,” Jack replied. He and Jason stood within the boundary of the clearing while Daniel waited on the slope and within view of the gate.
Several long seconds later, Daniel saw the robot emerge from the gate and stop in the middle of the platform. “Robot safely through, Sam,” he radioed.
“Copy that … Now receiving telemetry and transferring it to the drone.”
“Standing by,” Jack said, holding up a hand to ask Daniel to be quiet. Only one person during this transmission his look clearly said, and Daniel nodded with understanding.
The clearing Jason scouted was some thirty yards east from the campsite, toward the point of the ridged peninsula. The wide spread of trees at the top of the ridge parted into a haphazard strip of grasses and moss. Roughly twenty yards wide, there was room for the drone to land but not for long. Tense anticipation filled Jack, Daniel, and Jason. They each stood waiting, spread out over the landing area as marked spotters.
The moment the light grey miniature airplane cleared the event horizon, Jack nodded. “The drone is clear, Command.” He wouldn’t be satisfied, however, until the craft was down and their supplies safe.
“Roger that,” Sam replied.
Jason stood with his hands clenched, nervously expecting the drone to follow the calculations. He didn’t dare think that the plane wouldn’t land where it was supposed to–he didn’t want to jinx it. A small part of him wondered if he hadn’t jinxed things with that strange warning back on Raguth. Which reminded him to ask Sam if she’d figured out yet what had gone wrong with the gate.
The slight buzzing from the drone’s engine became audible over the constant noise of the ocean waves. Daniel watched as the craft soared upward, then turned in his direction. As it started to fly overhead, it turned right once more. With a cautious feeling of relief, Daniel called out, “Heading your way,” and started jogging toward the landing site just as the drone flew over him.
“Copy that,” Jack answered him.
“SG-1, status,” came Hammond’s voice.
“Drone on approach,” Jack answered. “Stand by.”
“Shit,” Jason said through clenched teeth as he started to second-guess the height of the trees. “It might get caught in the trees!” he shouted to Jack.
“Your calculations are fine, Jason,” Jack replied with a touch of irritation. “Stop worrying.”
At that moment, they caught sight of the drone through the tree tops, its bearing beginning descent. From their partially occluded view, it didn’t look like the proper angle and for a moment, Jack wondered if Jason’s fears weren’t justified. When the drone closed in on the clearing, the belly brushed the top of the trees as its descent increased and the plane wobbled. Jack and Jason cursed, and Daniel arrived just as the craft’s engine cut off.
The three men stared with dread, thinking the nose would pitch into a dive, but instead, it became a glider. Elevation quickly plummeted, however, and as it flew ahead of them into the clearing, they ran to meet it. A few dozen feet above ground, the tip of its left wing grazed a tree trunk, forcing it into a sharp right turn, but instead of flying directly into denser tree growth, it continued its turn. The tail hit an opposite tree and the drone abruptly dropped, landing with a metallic, crunching whump.
Jack, Daniel, and Jason cringed as they reached the craft.
“Touchdown,” Jack radioed.
“As expected, the clearing wasn’t long enough for a proper runway. Left wing clipped a tree trunk, then spun into another one. But it’s in one piece. All things considered, the supply drop was successful.”
“Excellent news, Colonel,” Hammond said. “Will contact you again in eight hours for an updated status report.”
“Copy, Command. One more thing. Has Carter been able to determine what happened with the stargate?”
“Not yet, Colonel. Anything else?”
As Jack was talking to home base, Daniel and Jason were inspecting the drone. The fuselage was more or less intact, though the belly was crumpled from the impact with the ground. Jason twisted his mouth, trying to think of a way to transport the entire contents back to camp. When he looked up, he wondered if Jack was thinking the same thing.
“You know,” Daniel said as he scratched his chin. “Maybe we could rig a litter. I think the fuselage will be too damn heavy for the haul back to camp, but the contents won’t be.” When he looked up at Jason and Jack, he caught them grinning at each other as if he’d said something funny. “What?”
Jack clapped him on the shoulder. “Great minds, Daniel.”
“Oh,” Daniel said, a grin forming.
“First things first, let’s get this thing unpacked and figure out what kind of improvised litter to make.”
After constructing an improvised litter with two tree branches and the tarps and nylon rappelling ropes from the supplies, they made two trips to avoid any unnecessary strain. Three hours later, their payload was in camp and the remains of the drone deposited to one side of the landing site. The tent Jack had requested was not among the supplies and he’d figured as much. Instead, there had been a note from Alex attached to the bundle of tarps. Jason read it aloud after they settled beside their fire; most of the sorting would be done after daylight.
“The only tents we had on hand were canvas. We decided on tarps so we could send more requested items, plus some things I thought you could use. If you still want a tent, let the boss know so I can grab one from the store and have it packed for the next transport. ~ Alex
Jason rolled his eyes as he passed the note to Jack. “Wise ass. He knows we’ll need a tent. It’s not our luck to have sunshine and daisies for three months.”
“Probably,” Jack replied, waving at the stand of trees around them. “But let’s put your idea to use, shall we?” He picked up a dark OD green canvas bag and pulled out a small axe and a pair of gloves. “Let’s find something to make tent stakes.”
It was midday and sunny. The air was a lot cleaner at the top of the ridge and thankfully, the mild wind blew in the direction of the valley. Squatting near the edge of a rock outcropping on the waterside of the ridge, Daniel dug out a chip from a crack in the stone, examining the texture and composition. Behind him, small twigs cracked, and leaves crunched, and he took a quick glance over his shoulder. Jack walked up and squatted down next to him, his eyes saying hello.
“Any particular reason you’re not helping us?”
“I am helping,” Daniel replied, rubbing the black stone chip with his thumb.
Jack read Daniel’s tone easily. His lover wasn’t just doing something out of professional interest. “Okay, tell me how?”
Daniel handed Jack the chip and stood up, wiping his hands on his trousers. “I wanted to make sure we were camping on solid rock, not a hill made of pressed ash that would cause landslides or ground splits the next time that goddamn volcano has a spit take.”
“This isn’t basalt, it’s granite,” Jack said, rising.
“Yes, so I think we’re good,” Daniel answered with a jog of his brows.
“You think?” Jack asked, partly teasing.
“It’s as qualified an answer as I can give.” He gave Jack a wink. “Since I’m an archaeologist, not a geologist.”
Jack grumbled. “I’ll take it and hope you’re right ’cause we did a hell of a lot of work just getting those trees cut and notched and I’d hate to move and cut new ones. Speaking of, we found a patch of trees to the west with a lot of moss growth.”
Surprised and pleased, Daniel said, “Great. We could make insulation bricks by mixing it with volcanic mud.”
Jack grinned back. “Exactly what Jason and I were thinking.”
Focusing on the finding of tree moss, Daniel waved eastward, behind Jack. “You know, that kind of moss usually grows where there’s a lot of moisture nearby. Maybe we have a ground spring or waterfall close by.”
“That’s what Jason’s checking out now. He’s gone along the ridge past the landing zone.”
“Let’s go join him. It’s not like we’re pressed for time to get the shelter done.”
“Point,” Jack said, and as they turned and headed eastward through the sparse forest, he casually took Daniel’s hand.
Surprised, Daniel looked down, then up into Jack’s eyes. He gently squeezed his hand and Jack returned it. They walked in silence, hand in hand, for a few minutes before the terrain forced them to let go. The moment filled them with a strange but welcome sense of peace. Not so much that they could hold hands out in the open but that they were together.
Jack grabbed Daniel’s hand again, squeezed firmly and didn’t let go. “Backatcha, Daniel.”
They spotted Jason through the trees thirty yards ahead, hunkered down between two widely spaced trees.
Jason heard them and looked over his shoulder, and spotting the brief handhold, shouted, “Quit playing tiddlywinks and check this out.”
“Jealous?” Daniel asked as they reached him.
“I’ll live,” Jason retorted, making Jack grin broadly.
Bending over behind him, Jack put his arms around Jason’s waist and pulled him to his feet, hugging him tightly. “I’ve just the thing to make sure,” he whispered right behind Jason’s ear in the spot he knew drove his lover crazy.
Jason growled and pushed Jack’s away. “Save it for later, handsome,” he said, and smiled at Jack over his shoulder. “Definitely later.”
Daniel smiled to himself, mumbling, “My kingdom for a video camera.”
Jason directed their attention to the ground: a single animal track, four-toed with deep indentations for claws. “Could be anything from mammal to reptile. Maybe a bird but there’s no dew claw. That’s assuming the birds here have them.”
“Haven’t seen or heard any animals yet,” Jack mused.
“That’s the fire,” Daniel said, waving in that direction.
“How old’s that track?” Jack asked, squatting next to him.
“Weeks. We have time to get settled. After this disaster settles, they’ll come back.”
“Let’s hope our friend here doesn’t,” Jack sighed and stood up. Hopefully it was a mammal or bird. He didn’t want to run into the off-world equivalent of a Komodo dragon.
Jason stood up and sighed. “I’m gonna have to go far afield for hunting,” and he pointed behind them. “Back that way along the ridge. There isn’t much in this direction.” He gestured. “The ground itself is drier here. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the moss is a by-product from water on the wind.”
Jack sat on one of the log seats around the fire pit and patiently honed the axe blade. The blisters on his hands were nearly healed and the tiger balm he kept in his pack had softened the threat of calluses. It was one thing to have a few; they normal. But to make his hands too rough to be lover’s hands was something he would not tolerate.
He looked up, finding Daniel out of sight behind the mostly-finished cabin, and grinned to himself. His lover was nice and grubby, having spent most of the day spreading an ash-and-clay mixture between the logs of the cabin and was now filling in holes. Jack looked forward to cleaning him later, cold water or no.
The water was at least running. They’d found a small waterfall lodged between large granite crack down the lakeside part of the ridge, just as Jason had surmised. They’d spent half a day creating a trail that led to the top of the waterfall. The way down the side of the ridge had short outcroppings, rough enough not to worry about slippage. It was only the smoothed stone down at the fall itself that required careful going. Still, it was like a little paradise down there.
Jack grinned to himself as he looked over the cabin. Not bad, he thought. It sat at an angle, facing their fire pit, and was made of three sides with a flat roof made up of smaller tree boughs lashed together and laced around the corner logs and then covered with three of the six tarps. The open side, the one facing the fire pit wasn’t really open. Vertically placed logs took up half the space, the other left as a doorway. Another tarp had been tied around the logs and another covered the door at night. While not a work meant for Architectural Digest, it was protection from the elements. The floor had been cleaned, leveled, and cleared, and covered with wool blankets and bedrolls. Pillows would come with the next supply plane.
They’d made a fair home within the clearing. Shaving spot, cooking utensils, any garbage was dropped in a type of latrine hole they would empty before leaving. Speaking of latrines, they had one of those too. Or rather, they had four of them in each direction, several yards away. They were narrow, open ‘fox holes’. They couldn’t smell them from camp, but any returning animals would find their former homes had new residents.
Jack stomach grumbled, reminding him that Jason was off hunting. He’d taken the recurve bow Alex had sent and had been as happy as a fox in a henhouse ever since. Except for coming up empty on hunts. That hadn’t seemed to dull his spirits, however. Like Jason’s ancestors, he seemed at one with his bow and Jack had started teasing Jason that he’d fallen in love.
As if on cue, he heard a loud whoop from Jason’s throat–a sound reminding him again of his native ancestry–and stood up and stepped over the log, axe in hand. “What? You finally catch something.” Jack asked when Jason came into view through the woods, off to the right of the cabin.
“Smart ass,” Jason called back. “I sure as shit did.”
Jack detected something over Jason’s shoulders. Something big. It had color, not camouflage. “What is it?”
Daniel came into view, wiping off his hands. His eyes were glued to Jason. “Holy shit, you’ve got a bird!”
Jason grinned proudly as he walked into camp. “Damn fucking straight, I do.” He laid the bird carefully down, then gave his lovers a cocked brow expectantly as he dropped to one knee. “Come on, let’s thank our alien brother for the excellent feast before we dress him down.”
Jack admittedly found this ritual of Jason’s a bit strange, but he also understood it and didn’t have any qualms. He’d just thank the bird while he dressed it.
The bird was huge, easily the size of a juvenile deer, and very beautiful. The head resembled a peacock’s, rounded with an eye at the center, but the coloring, including its feathers, was more like the brightly colored parrots in tropical rain forests, including the long tail feathers. Other than those two things, it was definitely alien. Its feet were obviously the four-toed track-maker; the dew claw was high up the back so it wouldn’t have left a print. The legs were a third of its size and body was shaped like an eagle’s, including the wingspan.
“Guess we’re gonna have chicken tonight,” Jack quipped. “Anyone got dibs on the feathers?”
Daniel came to the edges of consciousness, his mind filled with scenes from a dream he hadn’t had for a while: erotic scenes of Jason–with a trimmed mustache and beard. Jalen and the alternate universe counterpart were there, but they were on the periphery like foggy ghosts echoing the man Daniel wanted most. His need was stronger than usual, and it was due to Jason’s facial hair. Daniel needed to feel it on his face, his throat, his body. Feel it everywhere.
“Come on, sleepyhead, time to get up.”
Jack’s voice. Daniel wondered where Jason was, and he open his eyes. He caught the back of Jack as he left their shelter and looked to his right. He felt a surge of disappointment to find himself alone. One of these days, he’d wake up before Jason and Jack.
Getting up, he winced; he was hard as nails. That goddamn dream. The effects of it still flooded his brain and body, making him even hornier at wake-up than he’d been in a long time. When he’d had this dream in the past, or another like it, he’d simply focus his mind on work, or rolled over in bed and took advantage of it with whoever was there. Once at the mountain or on a mission, his attention on the job usually took care of the problem and it never took long.
This time was different. There was nothing to redirect his feelings and as he lay there, he wondered why he was feeling this now? He’d been getting used to Jason’s facial growth for the last ten days. What was so different about this morning, even with the dream?
With a deep, slow breath, he got up and pulled on a pair of trousers tucked in the corner in his rucksack. Walking about nude wasn’t a problem; they’d all been doing it. But Daniel wasn’t in the mood to advertise a dream shake-off and shuffled barefoot out of the cabin, scratching his scalp and yawning. Jason was at the fire pit, cooking breakfast. Daniel smiled at him, exchanging good mornings. He turned away, swallowing, and ordering himself to push away the arousal. Going to the tree where they’d hung up the things, they used every morning, he started brushing his teeth.
When Jason paused as he went by, setting his coffee down by his feet, Daniel caught a whiff of his lover’s body odor. That masculine musk particular to him. Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed again–and was distracted for a moment by the toothpaste. Just not enough. When he was finished, he took out a fresh razor. Through the mirror tacked to the tree, he could see Jason squatting by the fire. His light beard and mustache had grown in more overnight and it appeared that he’d groomed it more, cleanly shaving the rest of his face, accentuating the jaw.
Daniel’s mood intensified, and an almost animal need to feel that hair against his skin filled his mind and made his body tingle. If he didn’t distract himself, take a walk or something, he knew this would become maddening. He could simply ask Jason back into the cabin, but he found he liked the idea of waiting. Perhaps after he tried to take a piss and his erection went down, he be better able to make love. Right now, he wouldn’t last five minutes.
As Daniel battled with his desire, Jack watched him from his seat by the fire; it was a favorite past time. Sometimes, it was just for the pleasure of watching, but half the time, it was to read his body language. And right now, it telegraphed something Jack recognized: Daniel had awoken in one of those moods and the object of his lust was Jason. If he allowed himself to act on his feelings, Jason would be in for one hell of a morning, but Jack also recognized Daniel’s stiffness–pardon the pun. He’d deny himself. Jack felt a little twinge of annoyance, that Daniel would hold himself off like that. The only upside was being able to watch his indecision and frustration.
There was certainly no reason for any hold-back. They were alone. The usual rules didn’t apply. Besides, Jack had been the object of this mood once. The focus had been his dog tags, and good god, that had been something. He couldn’t let Jason miss this opportunity. Or Daniel.
He got up and walked to the other side of their fire pit and squatted down next to Jason, who was fussing with breakfast.
“Potatoes may be a while,” Jason sighed. “I should have cut them smaller.” Jack nodded, then gave Jason a look which made him pause and stare back. “What?”
Jack lowered his voice so that only Jason could hear him. “I think breakfast can wait.”
Jason was intrigued by Jack’s soft tone. “Care to elaborate?” he asked in the same tone as he set the pan on the hot rock bed beside the fire.
“You know those morning moods Daniel sometimes gets in?”
Jason grinned crookedly. “Yeah.” When Jack smiled secretively, Jason pointedly refrained from looking over his shoulder. “And?”
“He’s got one and it has something to do with you. He’s been watching you ever since he got up.”
“That so,” Jason said as his body began to stir.
“Go,” Jack said. “Seduce him.”
“And what about you?” Jason asked archly.
Jack reached over and turned Jason’s chin toward him. He kissed him softly, loving the way Jason’s lips fit his so naturally. Every day, especially while stranded out here, he couldn’t help but feel lucky to have him. Jack kissed him again, then rubbed his lips together as he felt the thrill of newness on his skin. “I’m jealous.” When Jason frowned with alarm, Jack realized that he thought he was answering the question. “Sorry, no, not that.” He stroked the hair on Jason’s chin, admiring its softness. “Daniel and I grow thistle bushes. You grow silk. It’s not fair.”
“It’s the Navajo blood,” Jason grinned with relief.
“Whatever it is, we both like it,” Jack answered, this caressing his chin. He was delighted to see his lover respond with something like a purr. “As for the answer to your question, I’m in the mood to watch. For a bit.” He knew he would eventually join them.
Daniel was finished shaving and was rinsing his face. “Go,” Jack mouthed, then turned his attention away, stirring the potatoes.
Jason rose and as he walked over, he caught Daniel watching him through the mirror. He put on his sexiest smile and spooned up behind, wrapping his arms around him and nuzzling the side of his neck.
Daniel swallowed and closed his eyes. “Morning.” He reached up and stroked his lover’s face, then opened his eyes and looked again through the mirror.
Jason stared back as he kissed the side of his face and when Daniel leaned into him, eyes on mouth, he knew exactly what was on Daniel’s mind. “I take it you don’t mind the hair.”
“No, not at all.”
Jason gently brushed his lips over Daniel’s ear and the high point of his cheekbone, then decided to tease. “Maybe I’ll shave it off.”
“No!” Daniel said with quiet emphasis, eyes widening.
“No?” Jason asked, a mischievous smile on his lips. He slid his hands down Daniel’s belly and cupped them over Daniel’s erection. “Why not?”
Daniel twitched, groaned, and started to take Jason’s hands away, but Jason moved them to his shoulders and began walking them both backward toward the cabin. Daniel started to resist, his steps grudging, then he asked himself what the hell he thought he was doing, resisting? “I like it,” he answered asked as they crossed the cabin threshold.
Jason turned Daniel around, then stepped back and pulled off his t-shirt. The hairlessness of his muscular chest only accentuated the new facial hair. Daniel didn’t reply. He simply cleared his throat. Jason then kicked off his unlaced boots, then dropped his trousers and briefs. He snuggled up against his lover, hands at the back of his neck and waist. He nuzzled his throat. “What else?”
Daniel blinked slowly and whispered, “I need to feel it on my skin.”
Jason lifted Daniel’s wrist to his lips, kissing the sensitive skin. “Like this?”
“More,” Daniel said, and though his voice was quiet, his breathing was not.
Jason dropped to his knees and caressed his belly with his mouth. With a quickness that made him smile, Daniel dropped his pants. Jason had no trouble assisting in their removal and he looked up and smiled, mouth still caressing his lover’s skin.
Daniel loved that smile. Playful and filled with promises, and all the more erotic with the hair there.
“Now what?” Jason asked him, hands caressing his hips.
Daniel swallowed, hard, then abruptly dropped to his knees, wrapped his arms around Jason’s neck, and kissed him fiercely. The feel of his hair pressed against his face made him moan and the taste of Jason’s tongue was rich with the flavor of coffee. His cock was tight with tension and sensation, rubbing against Jason’s, and his heart beat with the need inside him. He fell backward, pulling Jason with him. He rolled on top, kissing him more deeply, then half-laughed with lust when Jason rolled them back over and took hold of his wrists. Pinning him to the bed, Jason attacked his neck and throat.
Daniel arched into him, gasping with pleasure. “I want to feel it,” he murmured into Jason’s ear. “Everywhere.”
“You’re feeling it now, aren’t you?” Jason teased, moving much more slowly over his throat.
“Please Jason,” Daniel said, no longer paying attention to words.
Jason moved to Daniel’s ear, tickling, and caressing as he breathed warmly into it. “Will I make you come?”
Daniel threw his head back invitingly. “Yes, damn you.”
Jack came to the door, his own lust rising as he saw Daniel moan and writhe under Jason’s caresses. Daniel was already panting, and when Jason’s lips reached his nipples, those cute ragged whines were beginning. Half moan, half gasp. When Daniel’s hips thrust in time with them, Jason began to kiss his way down his abdomen. Daniel kept head thrown back, his eyes closed, confirming for Jack that his arousal was based solely on the feel of Jason’s face. He watched with fascination as his lover’s breathing quickened even more, and Jason responded to him wholeheartedly, turned on by their lover’s reaction to him. The best part was the way Daniel reacted when Jason finally wrapped his lips around his cock and began sucking its length. He thrashed his head back and forth, muttering, “Oh fuck yes,” repeatedly.
Jack drew his gaze fondly over the ripples of Jason’s muscular back, the rise and fall of his ass as he thrust at nothing but the sleeping bag under him. He didn’t seem to mind the lack of attention there since he was much too busy immersing himself in Daniel’s responses, intent on making him come just by the blow job. Jack had a feeling that Jason wouldn’t be coming with him. It would be much too soon, much too quick. Jack smiled to himself, planning to take care of that. He shed his clothes and took hold of his cock, thinking over the best way get Jason off. Tightening his fist, he jerked off slowly and waited for the right moment.
Below him, Jason dropped Daniel’s cock from his mouth and took it in hand, stroking him while he nuzzled his groin and inner thighs, firmly flicking his stiffened tongue over the sensitive skin and the zones that resided there. Underneath him, Daniel squirmed, his cock swelling and twitching within Jason’s pumping fist. He jerked when the dip between cock and thigh was slicked with tongue and Jason held him down by his hips. “That’s it, baby,” he encouraged with a whisper, moving up to suck the head of his cock and tongue the hole there. He grazed the shaft, caressing it with his hair, and when Daniel undulated against him, Jason slid himself up and down Daniel’s body, rubbing his face over his nipples, down his abdomen, to his groin, then back up again. “Come for me.”
When he settled back over his cock and tightened his mouth around him, Daniel felt the pleasure ram into his balls and cock and shouted “Yes!” Raising his hips, he thrust rapidly through his lover’s mouth and exploded. Jason chuckled smugly as he hovered over him, squeezing, and pulling the orgasm out of him. “Jesus, Jason,” Daniel whispered, biting his lip. He opened his eyes to look at his lover and his smile widened because Jack was just then kneeling behind Jason, taking him in his arms. The surprised look on Jason’s face was priceless, even more so when Jack reached around to scrape up some of his come to use it as lube.
Delighted, Daniel pushed to his knees and embraced Jason, claiming his mouth in a hungry, grateful kiss. His hips jerked with keen, sensitive pleasure, come still leaking from his cock, and when Jack passed his hands over his ass, he blindly reached for him, fingers of one hand finding his face. Jack sucked a finger into his mouth and Daniel kissed Jason harder, but it was broken off by Jason’s gasp as Jack slid slowly inside him.
Daniel watched as Jason threw his head back on Jack’s shoulder, receiving bites and kisses at the ridge of his back jaw. They had never looked more beautiful to him. He laid back and took Jason’s cock in hand. “Give it to him, Jack.”
Jason half-opened his eyes, breaths coming fast. He gazed down into Daniel’s darkened eyes and reached down, taking Daniel’s cock back in hand. With his free hand, he reached behind for Jack. Thrusting his hips, he couldn’t decide which pleasure was better, the front or the back. It didn’t matter. He gave himself over to them and closed his eyes.
“Fuck me,” he whispered over his shoulder, then hissed when Jack’s cock rubbed over his gland at the same time Daniel thumbed the head of his cock.
Jack inhaled deeply through his nose, reveling in the heat of Jason’s body, inside and out. There was both trembling power and basic need, a wanton demand for flesh that Jack shared. Jack slid his hands down the insides of Jason’s thighs and held him fast while he increased his pace and strength. Minutes passed and Jason’s panting grew louder and more ragged. Then Jack took a wide-mouth bite of the muscle between neck and shoulder and sucked hard.
“Fuck!” Jason hissed, sucking in breaths.
“Come on me!” Daniel demanded, pressing a firm hand over Jason’s belly while he pumped rapidly with the other. He met Jack’s eyes just as Jason jerked and began shooting warmly over his hand and stomach.
Jack looked down, in love with the sight of Jason’s come spread over Daniel’s skin. Faster and faster he moved his hips. The friction was unbelievably good. He was rushing toward the cliff when Daniel suddenly moved up, eyes still on his, and wrapped his lips seductively around Jason’s cockhead. Jack growled and came hard.
Minutes passed while bodies jerked and cooled, easing down. Jack and Jason knelt there, plastered together, hearts beating fast before the eventual thrum of afterglow. Below them, Daniel was hard again. Jason had let go, but he didn’t mind. He was too busy stroking himself while watching the end of his own porn flick. It didn’t take long. He suddenly gasped and his lovers looked down to find him coming for a second time.
“Fucking Christ, you’re beautiful,” Jason murmured.
A little while later, they reluctantly separated, cleaned up, and went out to finish preparing breakfast. Jason smoothed a hand over his mustache and goatee. He had a new kink for Daniel, one that unfortunately couldn’t be given any time he wanted. It made this time special.
After breakfast, a traitorous thought invaded Jason’s mind as he suddenly wondered if Daniel wasn’t just thinking of him. Testing, he walked over to Daniel, crouching by the campfire, and nudged him in back.
“Do I remind you of anyone?” He asked obliquely.
Daniel looked up, having been lost in thought himself. “What?”
“Jason,” Jack scolded, picking up on the point as he slid his combat knife over the sharpening stone.
“What?” Daniel asked again.
“Do I remind you of anyone? With this hair?”
Daniel stared up at him. “Seriously?”
“Be honest,” Jason said, squatting next to him. “This isn’t jealousy. I’m just curious.” He really was. He didn’t feel jealous. He couldn’t. He knew his lover’s feelings for him would never change.
Daniel sighed. “Sometimes, but not today.” He moved his hand from Jason’s knee to his chin, thumb caressing his mustache. “Not when we made love.” Looking at the hair he continued to caress, he added, “I rarely get to see you like this. Any attraction I have for Jalen or a counterpart is because of you. It was you I thought of when I was with your counterpart and it’s you, I think of whenever I’ve imagined being with Jalen. The desires I have are because I imagine they are you. Only you.”
Jason had gotten his answer and he blushed with a mixture of desire and guilt. “I’m sorry, I was just …”
“Curious, I know.” Daniel pulled Jason’s chin toward him and kissed him softly, lingering over the soft hair. “Any more questions?”
Jason smiled through the kiss. “Just let me know when you want to go again.”
Jack started chuckling and Daniel looked over, eyeing the combat knife in his lover’s hands. Jack sure was taking his time sharpening that thing. He looked into Jason’s eyes, then back at the knife. After Jason followed his gaze, he said, “Hasn’t it been a while since you’ve had something sharp and cold?”
Jack’s brows rose as he looked up, stopping his knife over the stone. A slow smile was spreading over Jason’s face as he stared at it. Quickly catching on, Jack gave them both a sly grin as he slid the steel edge back over stone. “Feel free to be creative.”
Note: Without giving anything away, I’ve taken some liberties with facts, though I tried to be as authentic as I could.
Jason had gone much further east on this hunt, intent on following the ridge. He’d decided to make this hunt part recon and exploration while he stalked for another colorful bird. They’d nicknamed the animal, ‘peacock’, thanks primarily to Jack, for no other reason than they couldn’t come up with anything else. Jason grinned to himself. King of the easy pseudonyms, that was Jack.
They’d only had two more since the first one and the damn things mouth-wateringly awesome. Chicken was bland compared to this bird. Whatever it fed on, Jason wanted some. He had a feeling the bird consisted on small insects and amphibians. It definitely didn’t feed on fish unless they were found other than the Lake. Those fish were good, but you could only have ‘trout’ for so long. They needed to find other species to break the monotony.
No matter what, Jason told himself, he was not returning to camp empty-handed. They’d discovered other birds since the peacock, ones that mottle-grey and brown and resembled mountain grouse in both appearance and size. Jack naturally nicknamed them chickens. Daniel, Jason grinned fondly, had nicknamed them lava birds. It was his name that had stuck.
Quiet and sure-footed, Jason held his bow in front of him, arrow notched and pointing downward at an angle. He’d become accustomed to the sounds of the forest and after twenty-eight days, some of the other birds, songbirds, had returned. They’d rarely seen them, but they were interesting and welcome when one of them was spotted. Some resembled sparrows, others chickadees and parakeets. The latter were nearly as colorful as the peacock, though with stubby tails.
A small rustle of leaves came from his right, about two o’clock, and Jason froze. A moment later, he spotted the creature’s body skulking through the forest floor, looking for food. It was the other resident of the ridge: a mammal that looked like a squirrel but had the plumed tail of a skunk or cat. It was black and had greenish eyes and came out only during the day. One of them was more adventurous and had taken up ‘guardianship’ of the camp. It had a kinked tail and a few battle scars. Jack had started feeding it nuts from his stash and he’d named it Kinky.
Jason made a silent grunt of amusement as he watched the squirrel ignore him. Resuming his hunt, and every forty feet or so, he tied a length of blue-dyed twine to a tree branch so he wouldn’t lose his way on the way back. While he could easily find camp again, he didn’t like hurrying back through untested trails. They hadn’t run into anything threatening yet, but it was only a matter of time and stomping unmindful through ground that hadn’t yet been surveyed was foolish.
Half an hour later, Jason picked up the deep warbling sound of the peacock. Rather like a dove or pigeon, the bird made the sound while hunting bugs and plant roots. Or maybe it was just cocks advertising to hens, which were either the same color or hadn’t been seen yet. He froze, intent on sound and sight, and when he caught the familiar colors at an oblique angle to his position, turned swiftly and shot. The bird fell without a sound. He carefully walked over, aware of anything unusual on the ground; he didn’t fancy stepping on unwary animals of any kind.
After his silent ritual of thanking the bird for its life, he gently put the body into a sack he’d kept through a loop on his belt. Jason was just about to turn back the way he’d come when something different caught his eye. So intent he’d been on hunting that he hadn’t noticed the change in forest ahead of him. Fifty yards ahead, through trees and bush, was open air. It wasn’t a clearing. He couldn’t make out the fainter shapes of the forest beyond. Sky.
Jason headed off, thinking that perhaps he’d found the end of the ridge, but as he grew closer, it became obvious that the ridge was curving sharply to the left. Through the trees, past them and into open air, he could see the grey-green smudges of far-away mountains. Drawing closer, the tops of large, rolling hills, thick with trees, became more distinct. A layer of fog was rising, too.
Jason looked down, stepping over deadwood and detritus wet with moisture, possible from the fog. The trees were opening up and there was a subtle slope to the ground. The debris of the forest floor was slippery, and he cautiously crossed it. The ground became rockier and, in a few minutes, there was more exposed granite than earth. His boots found easy purchase however, and finally he arrived at the forest edge. The ridge did indeed curve leftward and below him, the land dropped. It wasn’t quite a cliffside; he could just barely discern rough trails, but Jason wouldn’t risk it without rappelling gear.
Looking over the open expanse, he could only make out what was above the shroud of fog. It looked like another valley but until the fog lifted, there was really no way to be certain. Jason eased to sit on the stone, crossing his legs, and inhaled deeply, peacefully. There was only a faint reminder of the volcano behind him. Of all the places to get stranded, this wasn’t half bad. Off in the distance, he made out a few specks of color; peacocks. The trees were taller, broader, like oak and redwood, and others had extremely wide canopies and bare trunks.
New sounds came to his ears now. They were faint but discernible nonetheless. Birds, water, other animals. The air was moister here and below the fog may well be a tropical forest. He sat there for a while, but soon flies began to arrive; the smell of dead animal drew them. With a sigh, Jason stood and brushed himself off, already deciding where he’d dress the bird on the way back to camp. He took another long look over the valley and realized the fog was thinning into a mist. A little to his right, he spotted the neat line of ocean (or lake), and as the mist cleared a little more in that direction, he froze. Something was taking shape, a rectangular shape. It was no larger than his pinky nail from this distance, but it was definitely rectangular.
At first, Jason took it to be a watch tower or something, but as the mist moved, the building revealed that it was resting on a bigger one. And that rested on another. And another. As the mist moved off to the left, Jason recognized the shape: a ziggurat. He touched his radio, then changed his mind. His voice would carry here. If that ziggurat wasn’t a relic and there were people here … well, they’d already given themselves away with the drones and the fire.
Jason turned and headed back to camp, senses on alert. Even with his training and experience, he heard and saw nothing until a man appeared from his left, emerging ten feet beyond him from behind a tree. Jason froze, his sense on high alert now, telling him he was surrounded. Making sure he wasn’t overreacting, he glanced over his left shoulder; two more men in the woods there, but further away. He looked over his right shoulder; three more, same distance, but two were women. Jason looked back to the man in front of him, guessing he was the leader of this scout group. There was no question they were scouts. A war party would have had more than six, at least to his thinking.
All had deeply tanned skin, dark eyes, and long black hair, parted down the middle, with a thin wreath of peacock feathers tied into their hair at brow height. They wore soft tawny leather vests and pants, both of which were etched with colorful animal designs that were either Aztec or Mayan. Their feet were clothed with calf-high moccasins, and there were sheaths sewn into the outer sides, each holding a bone-handled knife. With the knives, they carried bows, which along with the heavily laden quivers, were etched with unpainted designs. Short leather gauntlets covered their forearms, and around their biceps were open-ended bracelets made of twisted silver and gold.
They wore thong necklaces threaded with either bones or claws of differing sizes, interspersed with stone beads and gems. However, the man in front of Jason wore two necklaces; one was smaller, and the bones or claws were black. A mark of leadership or prestige? On the men’s arms and necks were black, scrolling tattoos that disappeared under the clothing. The women had no visible tattoos, but one of them showed an ear that was pierced along the shell curve with blue stones and gems, the colors turquoise and sapphire respectively. Around her forehead, disappearing beneath her hair, was a thin golden circlet, the center pointing down into a V over her brows. The other woman had no circlet, but Jason thought he caught the sparkle of gem beneath her hair. Were the women’s decorations special or a typical part of the culture? Damn, but he was guessing. Daniel would know.
Jason suddenly felt a knot of alarm in his stomach. Were there other groups coming into camp? If so, maybe it was a war party.
“I don’t suppose you speak English?” Jason asked in as friendly a tone as he could manage without sounding suppliant. He gave a faint smile and bowed slightly, never taking his gaze from the leader. The leader lifted his chin and spoke in a language Jason didn’t understand, but he understood the grave tone. Jason cleared his throat and took a chance. He stepped slowly forward, hands down and away from his body. He jerked his chin in the direction of the camp. “Come with me,” he said, using the same tone the leader had used. Instinct told him that appearing submissive would be a bad idea.
The rustle of movement behind him made him slow his pace in order to show them he meant no harm, but he kept his eyes on the leader and walked past. He inclined his head in invitation, then took his eyes away and hoped like hell he hadn’t just made a bad move. If they attacked, he’d defend himself, but he didn’t like the idea of hurting them.
Jack stood up from the fire pit, critically eyeing the new rings of stone. The rocks were double-layered and would keep more heat, but now there long, flat stones atop the rings. He’d spent days gathering them from the coastline and he grinned to himself at a job well done. Arms slid around his waist from behind and Daniel rested his chin on Jack’s left shoulder. Jack leaned into him, welcoming his touch.
“Looks good,” Daniel said, his tone low.
Jack gave him a crooked smile and kissed Daniel’s temple. “You referring to the stones or my ass?”
“The stones. Your ass goes without saying.”
Jack chuckled and covered Daniel’s arms with his own. “Whatcha been doin’?”
“Besides admiring the view?” Daniel asked, nuzzling Jack’s jawline.
“Besides that,” Jack replied. His body began reacting with interest.
“Walking along the coast. I’m bored stupid.”
Jack turned his head, then his body followed. “Bored, huh?” His lips met Daniel’s as he took him in his arms. After a deep, arousing kiss, he brushed his lips over Daniel’s chastely, then followed the line of his throat. “How about some sex by the fire?”
Daniel smiled and placed a hand on Jack’s chest, pushing gently. He fixed his blue-eyed gaze on Jack’s darkening eyes. “I think I’m in the mood to pitch.”
Jack felt his dick stir and took Daniel’s hand. “The cabin it is.”
Before they moved, they heard footsteps approaching from the forest. For a few seconds, Daniel and Jack had the same thought: Jason was just in time. But their expressions changed as soon as they realized there was more than one pair of footsteps. Stepping apart and facing the sound, they saw Jason heading toward them, and he wasn’t alone.
Jason entered their campsite clearing, his eyes meeting Jack and Daniel’s. “Look what I found. Or rather, look what found me.” He met his lovers and stood beside Daniel, then the three of them faced the newcomers, who edged the clearing, three in front, three behind; they didn’t enter. “They don’t speak English. Damned inconvenient. Wanna give it a go, Daniel?”
Daniel felt a mixture of emotions; first and foremost was fascination. They were Maya, no question, and he longed to find out more about them. Behind the fascination was caution and apprehension. If they kept to the same rituals as the Maya of Earth, Daniel and his lovers might have a problem. There was really only one way to find out. “Where?” he asked Jason.
“About an hour’s walk. The ridge curves to the left. At the curve, you can see another valley and rolling hills.” He gave Daniel a significant look. “And atop one of those hills, maybe fifty miles as the peacock flies, there’s a ziggurat. I was on my way back to tell you when I ran into these talkative fellows. The one with two necklaces seems to be their leader. Of the group, anyway.”
Daniel focused on the man, noting for no good reason that he was handsome, even with the kohl eyeliner. It reminded him of Egyptian make-up, only without the flourish at the outside corners. His eyes were shaped like his own, and he had a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and a generous–almost sensuous–mouth. He was his own height, well-muscled, and held himself with confidence. Daniel stepped forward, meeting his eyes. Stopping half the distance between them, he touched his chest with the flat of his hand. “Daniel,” he said, then held out his hand for response.
The leader hesitated, eyes narrowing as swept his gaze over Jack, then Jason, then Daniel. He seemed to be sizing Daniel up, determining if he was either leader or worthy to talk to. With a decision apparently made, he took a step forward, and the two men on either side of him grasped his arms, whispering. He paused, looked to his side, and shook his head sharply. They let go.
Approaching Daniel until he stood four or five feet away, he said nothing as he studied Daniel’s blue eyes. Then his eyes moved over Daniel’s black fatigue pants, olive t-shirt, boots, and finally rested on the sidearm strapped to Daniel’s thigh. He lifted his chin, then slowly met Daniel’s gaze. The man still said nothing. He seemed to be waiting or perhaps he was deciding whether Daniel was leader, shaman, warrior, or all three.
During this evaluation and sizing up, Daniel had opened his empathic ability. These Maya were afraid of them, but there was also a generous leaven of defensiveness. Curiosity and wonder came mostly from the leader. After the leader’s appraisal, Daniel felt the man’s fear dwindle and interest rose in its place.
“Daniel–” Jack began but Daniel waved a hand at him without raising his arm.
“Hang on, Jack,” he said quietly.
When Jack subsided, the leader’s right eyebrow rose slightly, and the corner of his mouth twitched. He was amused. He touched his chest and said, “Teochuatin.” He pronounced it tay-wha-tin.
Daniel hoped that was the man’s personal name and not the name of their people. In order to find out, he gestured behind him, first at Jack, then Jason. “Jack. Jason.”
Teochuatin nodded, but didn’t return the introductions, so Daniel sort of did it for him. He looked to the other members of the group, meeting their eyes in turn as he said his name and that of his companions. Teochuatin frown, looking a little put off or perhaps he was a bit miffed that Daniel was taking charge, doing what he should have. There was no way to tell, Daniel thought, except with time and understanding. He held out his hand to the other Maya and gestured at the logs and fire, inviting them. He then fixed his gaze on the woman with the circlet, bowing his head slightly. He had a feeling she was the one with the power here, not Teochuatin, but he wasn’t about to step on their protocol. Teochuatin may very well be their version of a diplomat, warrior, and sacrifice all rolled into one.
Daniel stepped back and moved to the nearest log seat, inviting Teochuatin to sit with him. He grabbed a canteen cup and partially filled it with coffee, then turned and held it, waiting. Jack and Jason didn’t wait for Daniel to tell them what to do; they moved to the log across the fire and sat down. Their P90s rested there. Daniel shot them a warning look, though he understood their caution; he let them know with a short nod. Looking back to Teochuatin, he held out his free hand, and looked from the leader to his people, indicating they were all welcome.
Teochuatin came forward, but his people remained where they were. Daniel accepted that and waited for Teochuatin to sit before he sat down a few feet down the log. They weren’t friends yet; no need to push things. He offered the cup again, handle first, and Teochuatin took it, frowning at the smell of the coffee. He sniffed, then took a sip. He offered a cautious smile and drank more before he set the cup down on the ground.
Daniel began trading words, using body or sign language, and at his request, Jason pulled the peacock from its sack. Teochuatin called it an oo-bell-ack, which Daniel spelled in his head as Ubelak. It was the name of the bird. The word for bird was chakutzal. Their words were similar to Mayan in sound, but they weren’t familiar to him. This wasn’t like Abydos, where the ancient Egyptian language had taken on subtle shifts, just as it had on Earth. This was going to take a bit longer. With any luck, Daniel would begin to converse with the man and find out just how much Earth Mayan these people retained.
Taking the lead, Teochuatin gestured with a finger, making a circle over his head, then pointed at Daniel, then at the ground. Was he was asking how they got there or where they came from? Either one was applicable. Daniel pointed in the direction of the volcano and Teochuatin frowned disbelievingly and shook his head. Daniel got up and went to his pack, sitting at the end of the log, and pulled out a notepad and pen. As he’d expected, Teochuatin’s eyes widened and he stood up. So did Jack and Jason, but Daniel waved them at ease. “He’s curious, not frightened,” he told them. Taking his seat again, he drew a picture of the stargate and then tapped his pen on the image. “Stargate,” he said.
At first, Teochuatin paid no attention to what Daniel drew. He was more interested in the tools. With a knowing grin, Daniel handed him the pad and paper to make it clear that he wasn’t some kind of wizard. Teochuatin drew a few scrolling lines, then peered at the pen. As if satisfied, he returned the pad and pen, but he pointed at the stargate drawing and shook his head with skepticism. “Nos,” he said, his word for no.
With a sigh, Daniel nodded once. “Qi,” he said, their word for yes. He tapped the pad again. “Stargate,” he enunciated.
Timing, bad or not, proved his point when a churning sound echoed from the valley and the stargate activated. It was check-in time at the SGC. When the watery whoosh followed, Teochuatin stood and hurriedly backed up to his people. Daniel cringed, wanting desperately to save the ground they’d made. He tapped the paper and repeated himself. “It’s okay,” he said reassuringly, following it with an open palm over his heart. He’d have made a different gesture, but he had no idea what their sign language was. Yet, he hoped. A hand over the heart should be taken as a promise or earnestness. Then their radios crackled, and Sam’s voice came over the comms, and the Maya immediately dropped to one knee and bowed their heads.
“Shit,” Daniel muttered and while he went forward to get them to stand back up, Jack radioed back.
“SG-1 reading you, command,” Jack answered back.
“Good to hear your voice, sir,” Sam came back. “We have some updates for you.”
“What a coincidence,” Jack replied. “So do we.”
“Can you explain?” asked Hammond.
“It appears we’re not alone on this planet, General. We’ve just been doing some home entertaining, trying to make nice with the Mayan natives here when your called kinda freaked them the hell out. Now they’re doing the bowing thing and Daniel’s doing his ‘don’t do that’ thing.”
“Are you in any danger?” Hammond asked.
“Not yet, sir. Stand by,” Jack replied.
“Standing by, SG-1.”
Daniel didn’t want to touch Teochuatin in case touching strangers was considered a no-no, so he bent slightly and held out his right hand. “Nos,” he said gently, and waited. Teochuatin looked up, eyes narrowing in apparent confusion. His gaze went from Daniel’s eyes to his hand and back again. Daniel didn’t want to make a ‘Stand Up’ gesture; it might be taken as a command. So, he waited.
Seconds passed, then Teochuatin stood up without taking Daniel’s hand. Undeterred, Daniel turned his hand, thumb up, offering a handshake. Teochuatin hesitated, then held out his right hand in exactly the same way as Daniel’s, only he didn’t clasp. It was a mimic only, but behind the leader’s eyes was understanding. He was testing, not copying. Daniel moved his hand toward his but stopped, still offering the clasp. Teochuatin suddenly smiled and clasped Daniel’s forearm. His teeth were white and normal-looking and he had a beautiful smile. Daniel noted that for no good reason too, other than that it was obvious.
Teochuatin let go and his smile slackened somewhat as he looked at the radio clipped on Daniel’s belt. He asked a question, managing to look both apprehensive and in awe. He gestured at the air around them, then pointed at the radio. “Quetzatoa?” he asked.
Daniel looked quizzically at him and Teochuatin pressed his lips thinly in frustration. Raising his brows, he made a circle with both hands over his heart, then gestured outward like an explosion, and waggled his fingers as if to mimic rain or mist.
Ghost? Daniel gave him a questioning look as he placed his hands over his throat and heart, spread them outward slowly, then tapped his temple. “Spirit?” Teochuatin nodded with another smile. Daniel chewed at his lip, then spoke back to Jack and Jason. “They think we’re talking to spirits,” he told them.
“Oh for crying out loud,” Jack said, rolling his eyes and losing patience. He keyed his mic. “Command, there doesn’t seem to be a problem yet. Apparently, we’re talking to spirits. While Daniel has his little pow-wow, give me the run-down on your news.”
“Copy, SG-1,” Hammond said.
Daniel reached down and shut off his radio so he could show that he could turn off the ‘spirits’. Teochuatin’s eyes widened and he started to kneel again, but Daniel took his hand and shook his head, trying with gestures to get the man to understand that they were just men, not priests or gods or some damn thing.
Sam’s voice radioed in, meanwhile. “Colonel, we’ve just met with an Asgard ship and they’ve assisted in upgrading on the fly. We should be there in about two weeks instead of eight. Meantime, we’re getting ready to send another drone, this one filled primarily with food.”
“Thank Christ,” Jack muttered, trading looks with Jason. “Tell me you’re sending steak and pie,” he demanded of Sam.
Jason snorted laughter and that earned him curious looks from the Maya, who were all standing now. Some of them smiled and to Jason’s chagrin, one of the two women was giving him a much more interested look. “Shit,” he muttered, looking at Jack. “You can have her.”
Jack hadn’t been paying attention, having been talking to Sam instead, and he looked from Jason to the women and back again. Shaking his head, indicating he had no intention of discussing whatever Jason was complaining about, he returned to sparring. “Look Carter, if it doesn’t have steak, I’m giving it to the natives.”
He meant it as a joke, but Daniel turned to him. “You know, Jack, that’s not a bad idea. It’s one way to keep things on friendly terms.” He’d already been thinking of sharing their food, but he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of having to split the peacock with six additional people. They didn’t have enough; they hunted on a daily basis.
“Fine,” Jack waved distractedly, “but they’re not getting my pie.”
“Selfish bitch,” Jason smirked.
“Damn straight,” Jack replied, then ignored him as he continued his communication with Sam. When she finally made it clear to him that the drone was already packed and ready to fly–as in now–Jack jerked his head at Jason, then Daniel.
Without offering an explanation to the Maya–how could he anyway?–Daniel turned his radio back on and turned to a pre-specified frequency, as did Jason. Jack signed off with the SGC before doing the same, then he grabbed the rope they had coiled over a broken tree branch while Jason grabbed the axes. They headed out to take a triangular position around the landing site. The Maya followed, and Daniel signaled to their leader that they stay behind him. When he looked to the sky, waiting, Teochuatin did the same, puzzled by Daniel’s behavior. That confusion was replaced with fear and wonder when the drone’s engine became audible just before it was sighted through the trees. The Maya crouched down and began shouting to each other in fear and panic, but Daniel held out a hand, palm down, and talked to them in a soothing voice. They may not have understood the words, but he was relieved to find that they understood the tone.
Teochuatin stood back up and walked over to stand next to Daniel. “Uxti?” he asked in a tone that plainly said, ‘What is that’?
Daniel held out his hands, fingers spread, thumbs touching, and made a gliding gesture. He wished he’d had the canteen cup to get the word for metal, but he instead pulled out his combat knife, slowly, and touched the blade’s blunt edge with thumb and forefinger. “Metal,” he said, then resheathed his knife and made the gliding gesture again. When the drone came into view, Daniel crouched down and gestured that the Maya do the same. Teochuatin copied him and they squatted down. The drone came down to Daniel’s right and soared overhead, trajectory on descent. Daniel took off at a run and the Maya followed again.
Ahead, the drone dropped a bit, then hit the ground, skidding on its belly until it came to a halt in a bit of a tail spin: its usual drop behavior. When it began to slow, Jack and Jason rushed over and grabbed hold, bringing the spin to a stop, and Jack turned his radio back to the comm signal.
“Drop successful and secured,” he radioed.
“Very good, SG-1,” Hammond said. “Status with the natives.”
“Nothing we can’t handle,” Jack replied, getting a nod from Daniel. “We should be fine, and Daniel won’t be bored anymore.” He winked at his lover and Daniel threw him a dirty look.
“Roger that, SG-1,” Hammond said, and to Daniel, he sounded amused. Daniel threw Jack another look.
“Will update you on the next communication,” Jack continued.
“Very good, Colonel,” Hammond replied. “Next transmission in eighteen hours. Command out.”
Jack and Jason were already opening the drone’s fuselage with the axes and Daniel came over to take the rope from Jack. There were two lengths, which they’d tie onto each corner of a fuselage plate, using the rivet holes, then they’d haul the supplies back to camp in stages. It was old hat by now and the three of them ignored the Mayan’s reactions to the drone while they pried open the hatch.
Instead of the bagged food they expected, they found three large olive-green metal cases the size of old-fashioned sea chests; standard-issue ammunition chests. They sat end-to-end, and Jack pulled at one, then grunted. It was heavier than he’d expected. “May not need that rope, Daniel,” he said as Jason helped him haul it out of the drone.
Grabbing the handles of the first one, Jack and Jason picked it up. “Stay here,” Jack said to Daniel. “We’ll be back.”
Daniel snorted with a nod. To his surprise, Teochuatin came over and helped him remove the second case, then the third. “Thanks,” Daniel nodded as he recoiled the rope he’d brought and stuffed it halfway under his belt. Teochuatin looked at him and nodded his head at the second case, then spoke as he pointed to two of his men and the third case. Surprised, Daniel shrugged, “Okay,” and he bent to grab one of the handles.
They met Jack and Jason halfway and Daniel grinned at their possessive looks. This was their job, their food, and they didn’t like entrusting strangers with either. As he expected, they went over to the men carrying the third case and took over, thanking them. They may be possessive, but they were polite. Usually.
Back at camp, the cases were set down by the first one, which sat along the outer edge of one of the logs, and Jack took a swig of water from one of the bottles sent on an earlier drop.
“You know,” he said to Daniel and Jason, “these cases are much better. We don’t have to lock up half our food in the cabin at night. No animal’s gonna get through that aluminum.” Jack looked down at the cases, then at their visitors. “Guys, I’m not particularly interested in sharing, right now. We have to unpack, indulge, cook, get things in order, and not necessarily all in that order.”
Daniel chuckled and nodded as he went to their bottled water stash and began grabbing some. “Even so, let’s give them something as a goodbye present. Help me out.” He grabbed four bottles and Jason grabbed three, one for himself.
While Daniel handed out his four, Jason was left with two of the men. He handed them over, and when one of them, a young man perhaps in his early or mid-twenties and a few inches shorter than he was, took the bottle, Jason noticed a large yellowing bruise on the inside of the man’s right arm. The bracelet there covered some of it, but not all, and it was obviously a handprint. He frowned, not liking the idea of someone doing that to him and wondered what had happened. Without checking in with his brain first, he twisted the cap off his own bottle and drank, eyes meeting the Mayan’s. He gestured at his arm. “Hurt?”
The Mayan went a little pale and looked away, anger in his eyes. Jason cleared his throat, kicking himself. “Daniel? Have you learned to say, ‘I’m sorry’ yet?”
Daniel looked up from his demonstration on how to open the bottle. “Why?”
Jason walked over. “Because I think I offended our young friend here. He has a bruise inside his arm, and I asked about it. He isn’t happy with me and I’d like to apologize for intruding.”
Daniel used the Earth Mayan words to ask how to apologize, hoping Teochuatin understood part of it. To his surprise, and Teochuatin’s, the man lifted his brows.
“You come from the ancestors’ home?” he asked in the same dialect.
Daniel smiled back. “Finally, a breakthrough,” he said to both Jack and Jason. “They know the Earth dialect it seems.”
“Great,” Jack said. “Tell them we need some privacy.”
Daniel rolled his eyes, then repeated his question to Teochuatin. The leader replied, brows furrowing with worry, and asked why there needs to be an apology made.
Daniel waved a hand at Jason and explained as best he could. It’d been a while since he’d used Mayan and remembering the pronouns, the vowel and consonant usage, and the glottal stops might take a few tries before it snapped back into place. Teochuatin got the gist anyway and he called his man over as he told Daniel the phrase. Daniel repeated it quietly to Jason.
To Jason, the Mayan language was weird. But then, so was English with all its bastardizations. He looked at the Mayan with sincerity and said, “I have given offense and I ask forgiveness.”
The young man gave a shy smile, shook his head, and said something, his body language and tone saying, “There is nothing to forgive.” Teochuatin didn’t translate. Instead he took a few steps and slapped the man hard on the back of the head.
“Teochuatin!” barked the woman with the circlet.
Teochuatin froze and then looked over his shoulder, scowling. He barked back, jerking his head at the young man he’d slapped. And suddenly, with a swiftness that surprised Daniel, Jack, and Jason, the woman strode to Teochuatin and put her knife at his throat as she grabbed the back of his hair. The other Maya immediately dropped to one knee and bowed their heads. She jerked Teochuatin’s head back and pressed the knife in, drawing a little blood.
“What did you say?” she seemed to say between clenched teeth.
“What’s she saying?” Jack asked Daniel.
“Um, I’m not sure, but it’s probably what we can guess. She’s not using the Earth dialect.”
The woman pushed Teochuatin to his knees and then raised her hand as if to cut his throat, but Jason reached out and grabbed her by the wrist.
He said “Nos,” then repeated the forgiveness phrase. She stared at him for a long moment, then nodded sharply. Jason let go, and she shoved Teochuatin forward on his hands and knees, barking at him again. Then it was he who was asking forgiveness. She didn’t seem to like the tone and she bent over, whispering with sharp words. He apologized again, this time with a lot more submissiveness.
She seemed mollified and turned away, but neither he nor the other Maya got to their feet. She approached Daniel and placed a hand on her heart. “I apologize,” she said in Earth dialect. “From now on, this is what we shall speak, and I will speak more clearly.” Daniel could’ve sworn she’d hesitated, intending to say “speak slower so you can understand” but she’d diplomatically reworded herself. “My name is Ko’lani,” she introduced herself and held out her hand. Daniel grasped her forearm and bowed his head to her.
“Are you their leader?” he asked, gesturing to the group.
“In many ways. I am Priestess of the Clan.” She waved her hands at her people and they stood up. Teochuatin had fury in his eyes, but he said nothing and moved several steps away from her. “I have taken over as emissary since our lead hunter here does not have manners.”
“Why did he hit the young man?” Daniel asked.
She made a face. “That should not have happened. It is a private matter between them. Teochuatin thinks he owns X’mai,” pronouncing it sha-my, “and I had to remind him that he does not.” She paused, then asked Daniel a question. “Why did Jay’sun ask X’mai a personal question?”
Daniel blinked, and began translating everything Ko’lani said. “Was that wrong?” he then asked.
She tilted her head and smiled faintly. “He did not know his name, so yes, it was wrong.”
Daniel sighed. “He meant no offense. He was concerned by the bruise.”
She gave Daniel, then Jason, a look of surprise. “Concerned? But why should he care about someone he does not know?”
Daniel continued to translate for his lovers and Jason rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Because,” Daniel translated, trying not to grin, “that is our nature, to care when others are hurt.”
“Even if you do not know the reason for the pain?” she asked.
“Yes,” Jack said, nodding as he sat down on the log facing them, one foot planted on a case. He knew she understood at least that much of English. He also knew a few more things about her as he’d been thinking during Daniel and Jason’s discussions with her. As priestess of the clan, she was indeed in charge, at least of this group, and all the time in their company, she’d been happy to let Teochuatin take charge while she observed from her anonymity. There were a few reasons she had done that, Jack had mused. One, Teochuatin may have been tested for leadership skills. Two, she perhaps didn’t think him, Daniel, and Jason were worthy of directness until it became necessary. Three, her position may be observational until such time as she was needed to intervene or whatever her duties as priestess required of her.
Ko’lani stared at him, clearly not understanding. Then her attention switched, taking in his affected pose of relaxation. She glanced at Daniel, Jason, then back to Jack. “You are leader?” she asked skeptically, shooting Daniel an almost accusatory look.
Jason snorted quietly and Jack threw him a warning look. He sat forward and gestured at Daniel. “Yes, but Daniel is our cultural liaison and knows many languages. It’s his job to make nice with the natives.”
Daniel translated, though he reworded the last part since it wouldn’t have translated well anyway. To Jack he said, “I edited that last part, you shithead.”
Jason burst out laughing and Jack tried not to smile. “Point taken,” he said, then added, “Tell the priestess here that we’d like to share, but we need some privacy first.” He tapped his watch. They had about seven hours of daylight left and nine more until check-in time with the SGC. Their watches were useless now, but Jack continued to wear his anyway. “Maybe we can meet again at another time.”
Daniel turned to Ko’lani and explained what Jack had said. She was nodding agreement halfway through, then she beckoned X’mai and when he grew near, she put an arm through his and asked him something in their own dialect. His cheeks went pinkish as he whispered back, looking obliquely at Jason. She sighed and nodded, letting him go. He retreated to his companions. When Ko’lani spoke, she made no explanation.
“We need to return to inform our Clan Mother of your arrival,” she said, using the Earth dialect again. “She may permit you to visit us.” She gave Jack, Daniel, and Jason an apologetic look. “In the meantime, I am asking you not to follow. It would not be safe until your presence is made known.”
Daniel nodded, then repeated her words to Jack and Jason.
Jack frowned. “What was that discussion she had with X’mai?”
“She didn’t say,” Daniel replied, “and I don’t think it would be polite to ask.”
Jack grunted, then nodded and stood up, holding out his hand to Ko’lani. “Have a good night,” he said.
Daniel relayed the wishes to her, repeating them himself. Jason simply bowed his head at her. Ko’lani turned and lead her group back the way they’d come and as soon as they were out of sight, Daniel turned to Jason and grinned widely. “I think X’mai’s in love.”
“Fuck you, Daniel,” Jason growled. “Let’s open up the goodies.”
Chuckling to himself, Daniel joined his lovers as they each opened a case, and for the next few minutes, the only sounds were pleased noises.
They’d been sent a treasure trove. One case contained protected dry ice blocks that surrounded things that needed to be refrigerated: steak, hamburger, hot dogs, chicken, bacon, sausage, coffee creamers, milk products, frozen veggies, and a glass baking dish containing Janet’s chicken enchiladas with Mexican rice. They’d been sent a ten-pound sack of potatoes, several pounds of coffee, sugar, eggs, and four pies from Jack’s favorite bakery. There was also bread, snack food, condiments, butter, olive oil, plastic plates, silverware, and a couple of 12-inch cast iron skillets to add to their limited cookware. The food would last them perhaps a week, the coffee a little longer, and the perishables would have to be eaten first.
That was not a problem.
The trio had eaten half their steak dinners before Jack broke the silence. He’d been thinking about what had happened with the Maya, specifically Ko’lani’s apparent willingness to slaughter her lead hunter for challenging her authority. He knew many cultures that were just that strict, but her actions just didn’t ring true to him. It had felt staged. She’d been testing them as well as Teochuatin.
He voiced his thoughts to Daniel and Jason. “I wonder what the verdict was.”
Daniel frowned to himself, remembering the scene. “I didn’t sense any deception from her. You really think that was a performance?”
“Actually,” Jason said slowly, brows knotted, “I felt no danger. I just reacted automatically when I stopped her. And frankly, if she hadn’t interfered with Teochuatin, I’d have knocked him down for hitting X’mai.”
“We have to be careful, Jason,” Daniel said seriously. “Doing something like that might be considered a challenge, a claim on X’mai for yourself. These Maya are different, but they may just take challenges like that as a contest of mortal combat.”
“Damn,” Jason with a slight grimace. Then making light of it, he stroked his chin with thumb and forefinger. “Maybe it’s the hair.”
“Don’t you dare,” Daniel said, pointing his knife at him. “You shave that off before you have to, and I’ll shave my head.”
As Jason’s brows rose, Jack shot back, “The hell you will!”
“What, you like my hair?” Daniel asked, primping like a girl.
“Don’t do that,” Jack said, making a face. “You make me puke and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
Jason sniggered while Daniel reacted with mock-fear, all wide eyes and shirt clutching.
“So that’s settled,” Jack sniffed. He then added more seriously, “Now, what did you mean by ‘different’?”
“The women were in on the hunt, Ko’lani has status, and she mentioned a Clan Mother instead of a Chieftain or King. That means that they’re lead by a woman. They’re either matriarchal or equal in their gender roles. That was not the case on Earth. Ko’lani was apparently willing to kill though. Even if that had been staged, I think it was a go-to tactic, indicating they have no problems killing over things we’d just reprimand people for, so they may not be that far removed from other cultural values.” He finished the last bite of his steak. “I’m not saying that I think there’s a chance we’ll be attacked, but if we’re invited to visit their home, we’d better go armed.”
Jack nodded thoughtfully but Jason snorted disagreeably. “I don’t need guns to protect us.”
Daniel gave him a tight grin. “Guns and condoms, Jason. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
Jason pursed his lips in mock-annoyance. “Stop making good points. You’re confusing me.”
. . .
“What you did was inexcusable, Teo,” Ko’lani said as they approached home.
“I have already apologized, Lani,” Teo said, walking beside her.
She stopped and looked at him hard, then spoke slowly as though she were a parent or teacher trying to drive a point home. “You have abused your personal relationship with X’mai, and made your actions worse when you did it in front of strangers.” He started to interrupt but she held the first two fingers of her right hand together and pointed them in his face. “Your jealousy and fear brought shame upon us, little brother. Do not make things worse by justifying it or lying to me.”
She turned on her heel and continued on. Teochuatin remained silent beside her the rest of the way home. She hadn’t said it, but he recognized the tone. If he didn’t change, he would be forced to end his sexual relationship with X’mai. He couldn’t have that, even though X’mai had eyes for the bearded one now. One way or another, he would challenge that inferior Jay’sun and get rid of the problem so that X’mai would have no choice but to return to him.
Several steps back, bringing up the end of a two-person column was X’mai, and beside him, his cousin Mixa, the other female hunter. Between them and Ko’lani at the front were their male friends, Takal and Zachen. Mixa put a hand on his shoulder, giving him silent support, and then her hand slid down and paused over the bracelet before she dropped her hand back to her side.
Making sure only X’mai would hear, she said, “You deserve better. Why do you let him do that to you?”
X’mai didn’t answer, but only because he didn’t know how to explain it to her. He didn’t quite know why he let Teo bully him; he only knew that being handled roughly turned him on, made him think what he received was passion. He had learned a few things from Teo; he that violence during sex was how men behaved with each other. Then came Cho’patz from the other village, who had shown him that that wasn’t so. They hadn’t done much, and no intercourse had occurred, but X’mai was left confused and angry. He hadn’t wanted Teo the last time he’d come to him a few weeks ago; that had been the cause of the bruise, along with others he kept hidden from everyone. Teo had taken what he’d wanted anyway; threats and promises were made and if he hadn’t been so beautiful, X’mai would have called his bluff.
Mixa brushed his hand. “You like him, yes?” she whispered.
X’mai smiled shyly, looking in front of him carefully. He glanced obliquely at Mixa, softly slapping her hand away. But she was right. Yes, he liked the one called Jay’sun. He was big and strong and the hair on his face looked soft; X’mai longed to touch it. He wondered if the stranger made love the same way as the Maya. He wondered if Jay’sun liked men.
In front of him, Zachen looked over his shoulder and gave X’mai a wink, which made the young man blush with embarrassment and horror. They were going to be teasing him for a while.
. . .
“So what do you think will happen if they invite us down?” Jack asked Daniel after dinner. They were finishing up with bottles of nirvana, a micro beer Alex had sent. They were still sitting around the fire, Jack next to Jason and Daniel across from them. Jack followed his question with a satisfied belch.
“You want to be prepared for anything,” Daniel said, his words almost a question. “We would most likely be treated like guests and attend a banquet. We should bring gifts in any case, since that would insure that our status remains as guests and not captives. The Mayans were big on taking captives.”
“Any likely protocols?” Jack asked.
Daniel sighed. “It’s a guess, but Teochuatin’s actions might be addressed. If they are, I’m not sure in what way.”
“Extrapolate,” Jack ordered.
Daniel was used to his tone and didn’t object. It was business. “Ko’lani may have taken care of the matter, in which case, there’ll be nothing else said. If what she did was just a temporary measure and punishment is decided by their leader, the Clan Mother, then there may well be an offer to let us administer it, since we are considered the offended party. Depending on how serious they take the whole thing, we may be able to decline and let the Clan Mother do it.” Daniel gave his lovers a sick look. “If we can’t decline, then one of us, probably you Jack, will have to punish him.”
Taking in Daniel’s expression, Jason asked, “If this matter goes in that direction, what kind of punishment?”
Daniel grimaced. “Either something that will cause pain or show dominance. Or both.” He cleared his throat. “A beating, or …”
“Or?” Jack asked.
Daniel closed his eyes as his grimace worsened. “Rape.”
“What?” his lovers exclaimed together.
“There’s no fucking way in hell,” Jack said with defiant assuredness.
Daniel took in a deep breath. “I know. I think you’ll be able to choose, if we are to accept administering punishment. And if any of that happens at all, you could just get away with knocking him on his ass and giving him a headache for two days. Anyway, we very well could, as I said, just be served a meal. And asked questions. We’ll have to be very careful about the latter.”
Jack recovered from the momentary shock of rape as punishment. “Okay then. What do they think of us already, given the radios and the drone?”
Daniel shrugged a shoulder. “We’re spirit-callers, so we may be considered shaman. I don’t know why they refuse to believe that we came from the stargate, so that may have significance. Perhaps it’s a holy shrine to them.”
“If it is, they’re cut off from it,” Jack noted. “We came from it before that happened. They can deal.”
Daniel nodded, then his expression changed. “Unless they blame us for that. If that happens, we don’t dare apologize. It was the gods–whoever they are–who did it, not us. As long as we don’t show weakness, which is problematic because I have no idea what their idea of weakness is, we should be fine.”
Jack nodded back. “Anything else?”
“We could just be avoided and ignored.”
“That’d be nice. I hate complicated,” Jack said.
They were silent for several minutes, mulling over Daniel’s educated guesswork.
Then Jason said softly, “What do you think happens to X’mai?”
“Is that any of our concern?” Jack asked, giving Jason a frown.
While Jason made a face, Daniel thought that over. “We’ve already made it clear that we don’t like other people getting hurt. We may just have made it our concern, Jack.”
To alter the mood he’d wrought, Daniel added with a nasty smirk, “Don’t worry. Jason may be gifted with him.”
Jason snorted with half-disgust. “Just what I need. A nubile slave.”
Jack looked at him, a leer forming. “A nubile slave who wants you to fuck him.”
Jason started to argue, but could feel a headache coming on and decided on a growl instead.
Daniel and Jack woke to the smell of bacon. “Holy shit,” Daniel muttered, and looked to his right. Jason was gone. As Daniel registered that, thought about it, he frowned. Jason had gotten up before Jack, which was unusual; Jack was the early riser.
“I don’t think he got much sleep,” Jack mumbled, turning on his back.
“My fault, for teasing him,” Daniel said with a sign.
“No, it’s his guilt, Daniel.”
“Guilt?” Daniel asked, rising on his elbows to look at him. “About what?”
“Starting it all with X’mai and Teo.” When Daniel rolled his eyes, he added, “Jesus, Daniel, you can be dim sometimes.” Jack propped himself on his elbows, too, and gestured outside the cabin, in Jason’s direction. “He wants that kid.”
“X’mai’s not a kid,” Daniel argued irrationally.
“Daniel,” Jack chided. “He’s feeling guilty for wanting him. I can see it, but I don’t think he does. Not purposely. Jason’s avoiding his feelings, which accounts for the lack of sleep and the early rise.” He sniffed and grinned. “And maybe the breakfast.”
“Dammit,” Daniel growled, dropping onto his back. “I am slow, but only because I’m not caffeinated yet.”
Jack grinned and nuzzled him as he pulled Daniel against him for a morning body hug. “Let’s get up and give Jason a good morning kiss before we clean up.”
Daniel groaned objection and held Jack to him. He was not interested in cleaning up, nor was he hungry at the moment. Jack smelled good to him. All warm musk and old sweat. “We never did get anywhere yesterday,” he said, referring to his interrupted seduction.
Jack smiled and kissed him chastely. “True, but sadly, I think we stink, and I’d rather wait till after a shower.”
Daniel disagreed and snuggled closer. “Brrr. A cold shower.”
“It’s gonna be a warm day,” Jack offered in a sing-song. “Shower sex.”
Daniel purred against Jack’s throat, following it with tongue. “Later,” he said, and corralled Jack’s thigh with his own.
“Daniel,” Jack murmured, feeling Daniel’s interest hardening against him and growing aroused because of it. When Daniel was like this, it was hard, no pun intended, to refuse. It became a hell of a lot harder when Daniel wrapped a strong hand around his dick. “Jesus,” he muttered as he was stroked.
“I want you to fuck me,” Daniel growled, pulling Jack halfway on top. When Jack kissed him sensuously, he growled more roughly. “Fuck me,” he said around the kiss, and punctuated his need with a carnal pull of his hand and a slow, writhing buck.
Jack didn’t need any more convincing. Passion fired a round of lust up the backs of his thighs and through his cock and he moved fully on top of Daniel, knees spreading his thighs. Without lube or further foreplay, he entered him with slow, aching thrusts. Heat exploded through him as Daniel threw his head back and wrapped his legs around his waist. His eyes were closed, his hands roaming everywhere before settling on his ass, and he whispered in a strained voice, “Fuck me!” Jack kissed him silent and complied with his deep, rolling hips.
Daniel met him move for move, arching at times, until minutes later, he raised his knees and groaned. “Now,” he panted. Jack quickened, slapping skin to skin. Sweat trickled off them both, beading their upper lips and foreheads, and when Daniel grabbed his own cock and his body filled with tight tension, Jack looked down and sped up, watching as Daniel came. When the milky liquid shot from him, Jack came too, then buried his face in Daniel’s neck.
The moment they began to part, Jack easing out of him, Jason appeared in the doorway. “Breakf– oh.” He paused and grinned. “Busy, I’m guessing.”
Jack growled, pushed off Daniel, lunged at the door, and grabbed Jason by his trousers, yanking him over. Jason lost his balance and sprawled on his back, then found Daniel’s mouth on his while Jack swiftly pulled down his pants and swallowed his cock. “Jesus, Jesus, okay,” he sputtered, and for some reason, tried pushing them away. He didn’t try all that much and after a few seconds, he stopped fighting altogether and began reacting with the proper mood. Daniel left his mouth and moved in behind him, fingers sliding inside him while Jack continued his expert attention. Ten more seconds and he was achingly hard, panting, and just letting his lovers do whatever the hell they wanted.
They teased him, coaxed him, and drew all his tension and worry away with lips and throats and fingers. They kept trading off, as if they couldn’t decide which they liked better. When Daniel shoved up his shirt and latched onto a nipple, Jack took his balls in hand, tightening a fist around the sack. Jason sucked in a breath, bucked, whined, and came.
They lay there in a heap of exhaustion and dwindling tension and Jason finally panted, “Breakfast is getting cold, dammit.”
Jack kissed him, hard and deep, and when he let go, he said gruffly, “Don’t mention it.”
Next to him, Daniel traced a finger over Jack’s chest. “So who’s up for shower sex?”
Jason made a caveman grunt. “Food first. Sex after.”
“I’m getting clean first,” Daniel chuckled and rose, grabbing a towel.
Jack’s sense memory came to him then, mouthwatering at the idea of licking clean cold water off Daniel’s skin. He rose and snatched Daniel’s towel. “Bastard. I’m gonna fuck you till your teeth fall out.”
Daniel smiled and backed out of the cabin. “I’d love to see you try.”
After his lovers left the cabin, Jason started to buckle up, then growled, “Fuck it,” and took off his clothes. Breakfast could goddamn wait.
. . .
After a wonderful shower and a hearty, if not exactly healthy, breakfast, Jack, Daniel, and Jason began to arrange their supplies so that they’d be easily packed in two weeks’ time. It was almost lunch time when Daniel spied the roll of papers that had come with the last shipment. They’d been newspaper articles and combat reports and this far out from the world, it hadn’t seemed that important to get to; food had taken precedence. Jack had simply scanned the first page and put the roll aside. It now lay tucked against the bottom of a log, facing away from the fire, and he grabbed it as he sat down with a fresh cup of coffee.
After straightening the paper, Daniel began reading. Typical shit about the wars and the politicians, and the latter were fighting about something Daniel didn’t bother reading about. However, when he turned to the second page, the headline and picture made him swallow wrong and he choked and coughed out a mouthful of coffee.
“What?” Jack and Jason asked in stereo. They came over from different sides of the camp and Daniel held out the paper. “They got Bin Laden,” he croaked.
“What?” Jack asked, snatching the article. Jason stood close, reading over his shoulder. “‘Bout fucking time they used the right method,” he growled.
“President was probably waiting for concrete intel,” Jason mumbled, nodding through the article. When Jack turned the page and they found another article, they both froze, and Jason closed his eyes and walked away.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered with disgust.
“What?” Daniel asked, growing alarmed.
Jack gave Daniel a sour look. “The press blew the name of the team. That’s a huge fucking SNAFU, Daniel.”
“The name? They were SEALs. Who the hell else could get the job done?”
Jason snorted and looked at him. “Yes, but saying they were SEALs is anonymous. Telling the public they were SEAL Team Six is a huge, huge betrayal.” He shook his head and walked a few feet away, arms folded. “Bastards,” he whispered venomously.
Daniel looked at Jason’s back, then met Jack’s eyes. “That wasn’t Jason’s old team, was it?” he asked quietly.
Jack shrugged and sat down, facing the fire. “Doubt it, but that’s for Jason to tell us and he can’t.”
Daniel thought that through and though he didn’t like it, he understood. Except Jason wasn’t a SEAL anymore. Couldn’t he talk about some of it? Unless, he was still a SEAL. Was he? “Even if he’s not a SEAL anymore?” Daniel asked Jack, though his eyes were on Jason. Jason turned a bit, showing profile, but not looking exactly at him. “Jason? How can you still be a SEAL? You’re Air Force … aren’t you? Lieutenant Colonel and all that?”
Jason made a face, but Jack answered for him. “He transferred over,” he said, as if that explained everything.
Jason took a breath and walked back over to them, sitting down beside Jack. Daniel remained standing, looking down at the two of them. He felt a mixture of anger and pride, and anger was winning at the moment. “What’s that mean?” he asked, folding his arms.
“It means that the SGC wanted SEALs,” Jack said. “The only way the Navy would release any of them was to have them transfer service so that they could maintain secrecy as well as be recalled if necessary.” Jack arched a brow meaningfully. “It’s not for common knowledge, Daniel.”
“Obviously,” Daniel replied sarcastically, reminding Jack that he was not some green civilian–like those reporters.
“Sorry,” Jack replied expressively.
With a sigh of acceptance, Daniel looked at Jason. “You always say former SEAL, Jason.”
“Technically true since I’m no longer on a team,” Jason said, meeting his gaze. “My rank is Lieutenant Colonel. If I’m recalled, it becomes Commander. The same thing applies to our Marines, by the way.”
Daniel couldn’t help but feel a bit of panic. “Is that a possibility? Being recalled.”
Jack shook his head. “Not unless the planet itself is under attack, but then he’d still be stuck here with us.”
Jason grinned back. “I wouldn’t say ‘stuck’.”
Daniel sensed that Jason wasn’t willing to talk about the SEAL business any further than they already had, so he pointed to the articles in Jack’s hand. “So what do you think this means?”
Jack shrugged. “Nothing for us, not until they end the combat ops over there. When they do, we get our fancy toys back.”
Jason jogged his brows. “That’d be nice. We could go out on surgical missions and take out every leader of the Goa’uld.”
“Intel provided,” Jack added knowingly.
“Intel provided,” Jason agreed.
As they fixed lunch and talked about other things going on back home, Daniel thought about his life with Jason. He’d always been a super alpha, excelling in everything he did. He spoke a few languages, like Jack. In fact, Jack was just like Jason, just a little bit older. They both loved exercise, loved camping, loved sports, loved excitement. They even loved the extreme, though they generally engaged in that without Daniel. Daniel wasn’t much into rock climbing, cliff scaling, hand gliding, scuba diving.
Jack was part of Special Operations, and Daniel had always equated that with the Army’s Green Berets. Were they actually more like SEALs? Daniel wondered if he’d get a straight answer if he asked and resented the fact that he might not. Still, this was the way it was. He was proud of them, no matter what. He loved them, wouldn’t change them, and had no intention of ever leaving them. Thinking that made him feel a bit better, until he started thinking about Jason’s fighting skills, which inevitably led to the Maya. Was a fighting challenge in the wind? Teochuatin had to be feeling embarrassed and with a culture like that, violence always settled insecurity.
Later that afternoon, as the trio walked down to the small black-sanded beach, Daniel voiced his concern.
“We can take anyone they send,” Jason said with careless confidence.
“But Mayan fights and contests were to the death, Jason,” Daniel warned.
Jason shrugged. “Survival doesn’t take morality into concern, Daniel.”
Jack cut in, gesturing at Daniel. “If this happens at all, what if they pick you to fight?” He cleared his throat. “No offense intended, Daniel, but you’re the … less skilled … of us where combat is concerned.”
Daniel made a face, hating that Jack was right and that he couldn’t argue the point. “It’s not likely,” he sidestepped. “They’d want the strongest. And no offense, Jack, but that’s Jason.”
Jack pursed his lips. “Touché.”
Daniel gave Jack an apologetic look. “Sorry, Jack. It could be any of us, if it came to that. We’ve no idea what their honor system is like, other than they don’t show reprimand or unnecessary violence in front of strangers. For all we know, they could choose the weakest among us.” He showed a self-deprecating grin. “That’d be me.”
“You’re not weak,” Jack scowled.
“No,” Daniel drew out, “but as you said, I’m the least skilled in combat fighting. They might want to hedge their bets, as it were.”
“I can just hear Teal’c,” Jason grinned, and took on Teal’c’s inflections. “If they chose to battle the lesser skilled, they would have no honor.”
Jack snorted and Daniel smiled. Then the two of them traded glances, their humor faltering a bit as they silently acknowledged how much they missed their teammate.
Jack woke up to birdsong. The sun was just lightening the sky and he automatically grabbed his watch, lying next to him on his side of their makeshift bed. 1300 hours, Cheyenne time, which meant it was about … He made a soft, almost silent, growling noise. It was morning, dammit. It was too damn early to make his brain work the time difference.
He didn’t want to get up. They had a little over one week to go, if Carter’s calculations were correct. One more week of lying about, doing any goddamn thing he wanted. It would have been heaven here if they weren’t so far from home. Truth be told, he loved camping. He could stay here another three months and not have a problem. He looked to his left, at Daniel and Jason. He felt this way only because they were here with him. The freedom they’d had had been spoiling him, making him want more.
Yes, he missed his job, missed the excitement of the missions. But it had been a long damn time since he’d been able to be with Daniel and Jason without having to worry about protocols and prying eyes. DADT may be gone, but frat regs were tighter. The SGC had a little leeway in that respect, however, since team members were extraordinarily devoted to each other, but propriety was paramount. Jack understood it, agreed with it, and had lived it all his life. But. There were times when just being able to lay down the job and act like a normal, everyday civilian was like a narcotic. Every year, he seemed to want it more and more.
It was age, he knew. Thirty-plus years on the job tended to make Type A personalities like himself want change, new things, want … more.
He softly brushed the back of his left hand over Daniel’s hip, making him move in his sleep. This was what he wanted. The freedom to be with his lovers, his husbands. He looked at the ring on his pinky and wished like hell he could move it to the ring finger. But this would do for now. The law of the land might be discriminatory, but certain states weren’t. He wondered how Daniel and Jason would feel about moving to California or New England once they’d finished their work here. Whenever that would be.
And would they even be around to have that choice? Would he himself? Like the time left on this planet, Jack felt like their luck couldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, the odds would catch up with them because he knew damn well that none of them would give up their jobs unless they were forced to by death or injury. Or politics, if–rather, when–the Stargate Program became public knowledge. Civilians, Jack groaned, closing his eyes, then grinned at himself for the hypocrisy.
Jason stirred in his sleep, legs bending as he lay on his stomach, arms encircling his pillow. The covers had come off all of them during the night and Jack gazed at him appreciatively. He had such a sexy body; all muscle and hot ass. It was all the more enticing these days with Jason’s time in the sun. He was bronzed dark, looking more Navajo than usual, except for the beard. His hair grew fast, too, and was getting longer by the day. It was starting to cover his eyes as he slept.
Jack felt his dick stir, arousal giving him ideas. Back at home, he’d have had to hurry his desire, except on days off. But not here. There was no meeting to go to, no mission to prep for, no paperwork to sign off on.
He moved his eyes to Daniel, who slept in the same position. The sun had darkened him, too, making him sexier if that was possible. His muscles had sharpened while they’d been here. Daniel had always worked out at the gym, but his workouts were for toning and plain ol’ exercise, not for muscle definement. They were certainly defined now. His ass seemed a little less round these days, but only on the sides. He was still plenty round where it mattered, where his hands would grab and caress.
Jack pictured the way it moved when Daniel thrust, with his dick slick and hard and his balls tight in the sac. He wanted to feel that against his ass, feel that warm, stiff cock inside him. In front of him, he wanted Jason, to feel all that muscle pressed against his chest and belly, to have Jason’s sphincter tighten around his cock, to indulge in the heat of his body enveloping his cock.
Then there was the taste of them both, to have their sweetness, saltiness, muskiness between his lips, over his tongue, caught between his teeth.
Enough thinking. Jack rose to his feet and purposely stepped over Daniel, wanting his lover to initiate, starting with a brain-numbing kiss. He straddled Jason instead and dropped to his hands and knees over him. Slowly lowering his body, he exhaled with pleasure as their skin touched, as his erection lay over Jason’s ass. Jack smoothed his hands over Jason’s arms, then twined their fingers together as he brought his lips to Jason’s left cheek. “Good morning,” he murmured huskily.
Jason responded with a groan, writhing, and stretching under him. “Morning yourself,” he mumbled sleepily. He wasn’t even fully awake yet, but his body was already reacting to Jack’s lust with practiced ease.
“I want you,” Jack said as he ran his tongue down the side of Jason’s neck.
“You have me,” Jason responded.
He moved his ass against Jack’s cock and the sensation sent ripples of pleasure throughout Jack’s body. He nipped playfully at his lover’s ear and was rewarded with a moan. Jason began to turn over and Jack let him. As soon as he was on his back, Jack encased him in a full body hug and consumed him with a deep kiss. Jason tasted of oranges, last night’s dessert, courtesy of the SGC, and beneath that was the savory flavor of his mouth. Jack’s dick twitched and he writhed against his lover’s body, pressing in, further aroused by Jason’s return embrace. He wasn’t hard, but he was getting there. It wouldn’t take long, Jack would make sure of that.
Next to them, their emotions of love, desire, and lust reached Daniel’s subconscious and roused him from his sleep. Their moans and body sounds reached him first, then he opened his eyes and turned on his side. Beautiful, he thought. Their skin, their passion, their love. Muscles rippled along Jack’s body, his tanned skin pale compared to Jason’s. It was a wonderful contrast.
Their emotions were nearly overwhelming, but Daniel didn’t close his mind to them. He’d stopped doing that a long time ago, preferring the connection even during times of stress. It made them closer to him, part of him. Right now, one part of him was reacting with recognition and demand. He pillowed his left arm under his head and took hold of his dick with his right. He stroked slowly, content for now to just enjoy the show. He loved watching them. They always showed him something different, even though their lovemaking was aesthetically the same.
The only physical differences this time were Jason’s beard and their tans. But emotionally, there was a freedom to their movements, especially Jack’s. An ease of tension which Daniel recognized. He’d been feeling it too while they’d been stranded on this planet. It might have been one long camping trip if it weren’t for the circumstances that brought them here.
Daniel’s musing was brought short by Jack’s cessation of kisses. Or rather, he’d moved from Jason’s mouth to his throat, his chest. Now down his belly, heading unerringly for his cock. Daniel’s own dick twitched and pulsed when Jack sucked Jason’s cockhead into his mouth and eased down the shaft. Jason moaned and panted and slid his fingers encouragingly through Jack’s hair.
“God yes,” Jason whispered, eyes closed.
He hadn’t noticed yet that Daniel was watching, or jerking off. He leaned forward, hand still on his cock, as he brought his lips to Jason’s. He’d startled him and it made Daniel smile around the kiss. Then Jason met his tongue, moaned into his mouth, and brought one hand up to tighten in his hair. There was a whimper from Jason, then a sucking of air through his nose, and Daniel knew from experience that Jack had just penetrated him with his fingers.
Daniel pulled away, a small smile on his face, and resumed his coveted observation. Jason watched him, eyes half-lidded, hips moving in time with Jack’s mouth and fingers. “Jack,” he gasped softly.
Daniel reached under his pillow and met Jack’s eyes as he passed him the lube. “Turn over,” Jack told Jason as he dropped the lube to caress Jason’s hips and thighs. Jason eagerly complied, but he kept his gaze on Daniel, alternately meeting his eyes and watching his slow, enticing hand.
Jack brought his lips to Jason’s cheeks, kissing over them before he spread them apart and swept his tongue over the entrance. Jason gasped and tightened under his touch, the tension of want and release straining under his hands. Jack grinned around the spicy musk as he grabbed the lube, slicked the index and middle fingers of his right hand, then slowly pushed them inside Jason.
“Oh god,” Jason moaned above him. “Stop teasing, dammit, and fuck me.”
“Cope,” Jack replied torturously, easing his fingers in and out. He moved his gaze to Daniel, from his hand to his eyes and back again. Leaning over, he kept his focus on Daniel as he took Jason’s cockhead between his lips, lapped the seminal pearl gathering there, then licked the mushroomed head like an ice cream cone. Daniel moaned at the same time as Jason and the sounds made Jack smile.
He kept up the teasing for another minute before his dick decided it wanted in on the party. He removed his fingers and slicked his cock, then moved his hands to Jason’s muscles, massaging his back, his waist, his ass. Up and down, continuing the tease, until Jason raised his ass invitingly. Jack looked down and sympathized, then reached over to cover Daniel’s hand on his cock.
“Don’t get off,” he said, swallowing. “I want you.”
“Oh Jesus,” Jason murmured into his pillow. Just the idea of watching Daniel fuck Jack nearly made him come. “Fuck me now,” he demanded.
Daniel swallowed hard and took the lube. Jack and Jason watched him lube himself, the slick sounds hot as fucking hell.
As Daniel stroked upward, Jack slid himself into Jason and Jason sucked in a breath. His balls tightened up and in surprise, Jason grabbed his cock and stroked. “Holy shit!” he gasped.
“Already?” Jack asked, not even deep enough in.
“Shit!” Jason nodded, eyes blurrily focused on Daniel. “Do it!”
Jack grabbed Jason’s hips and plunged in. His body was so hot, so … convulsing? “Jesus Christ,” he breathed and thrust fast. Jason’s reaction could make him come. “If you’re gonna come, dammit, do it no—” Jason tightened and did.
Gasping as if in pain, Jason jerked as his orgasm spasmed through him, releasing in shots over his hand and the bed. “Yes, Jack!” he whimpered tightly and dropping his head to the bed, closing his eyes to wade through Jack’s continual thrusts.
Jack suddenly pulled out, inhaling sharply, and dropped on all fours over Jason. Daniel growled and launched at him, taking his mouth in a kiss so fierce and hot that Jack had to hold his breath and will his orgasm to wait. Then Daniel’s hands were on him, everywhere, enticing him into madness as he held on.
“Fuck me,” Jack panted, covering Jason’s arms with his own after Jason flipped over beneath him onto his back.
Daniel’s slick cock teased between his cheeks and Jack let out a gasp of relief. “Yes.” Behind him, Daniel did something he didn’t expect. He chuckled.
“Say please,” he said, hands sliding down and between Jack’s thighs.
“Goddammit,” Jack hissed. “Please.”
“Please, Daniel,” Daniel said.
The fucker was torturing him, Jack thought. “Please, Daniel.”
Daniel barely lay over him, hands roaming his chest while his hard cock sandwiched between his cheeks. “How?” he growled into Jack’s ear.
“However you want,” Jack breathed heavily. His eyes were half-lidded with anticipation and he barely saw Jason beneath him.
“Done,” Daniel replied huskily, then grabbed Jack’s hips and thrust his cock in with one go.
Jack closed his eyes tightly; he couldn’t help it. It had been a while and Daniel felt huge. The burn was exquisite and blinding, then Daniel was thrusting, and Jason was kissing him. A minute later the burn was gone and all that was left was the pleasure riding over his gland, massaging his hole, and slapping against his balls.
Jason’s kisses were hot and sweet. Jack looked down, surprised to find him hard again. Jason had taken himself in hand, jerking off to Jack’s pleasure. “You look so good getting fucked,” his lover said, and just the sound of it made Jack’s dick ache. He leaned down and kissed him again, then jerked when Jason wrapped a hand around his dick.
Behind him, Daniel’s moans of pleasure were sweet and sharp, making his nipples hard. He felt a swell inside and Daniel gasped.
“Daniel?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Daniel panted, then he was lying over him, hips thrusting with deep, undulating need. “You feel so good.”
“Yes,” Jack agreed. Jason slid out from underneath him and Jack absently saw him grab the lube, but he was too preoccupied by the tingling down his belly, over his arms, between his thighs. Then …
“Fuck!” Daniel shouted, and his thrusts abruptly became faster.
Jack looked over his shoulder and saw that Jason was behind Daniel. Fucking him. Jack groaned and pressed his forehead into the pillow, his cock swelling at the sight of them. “Do it!” he growled, then panted with a plastered smile of pleasure as Daniel ground into him with circling thrusts. Faster, harder, then the circling stopped and turned into short hard slaps.
“Yes!” Jack murmured harshly and grabbed his cock, stroking fast. A moment later, everything tightened, went white, and pleasure slammed through him like a locomotive, stealing his breath away, his ability to move. He just shook blindly, almost fearful of its intensity. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” he said in a gasp a few long moments later.
Behind him, he could feel Jason’s thrusts, the movements sending shocks through his afterglow. Daniel’s cock was pulsing; he was close, but not close enough. Jack eased from him and turned over, then Jason wrapped his arms around Daniel, trapping his arms, and pulled him back to his knees. Jack looked at them, still consumed in their lust. Daniel’s eyes were closed, Jason’s barely open, their bodies shiny with sweat and muscles tight with tension. Small moans escaped Daniel’s throat, interrupted repeatedly by Jason’s thrusts. Jason was panting, his lips at Daniel’s ear, his neck, his shoulder.
They were gorgeous. Jack looked down Daniel’s body, skin taut and glistening, and caught a tiny runnel of sweat between belly button and pubis. The hair was wet, and Jack longed to push him under the waterfall, wash him clean, then lick him until he looked like this again. His eyes inevitably stopped at the hard cock that bobbed invitingly. Jason wasn’t letting Daniel touch himself, and that was just fine with Jack.
He reached up, sliding the backs of his fingers between Daniel’s thighs, getting his attention. Then with their gaze locked, he wrapped his hand around his lover’s wet cock and caressed him, thumb teasing the head and wiping the pre-come from the tip. Daniel’s breathing grew faster, his little moans louder, and Jack began to stroke him now, moving in time with Jason’s hips.
“Come for me,” he said, catching Jason’s gaze and sending him the message as well. “Come on. Give it me.” Jason moved faster, and Jack matched him with his hand.
“Yes,” Daniel strained, moving his head back, exposing his neck.
Jason smiled at Jack, then ran his lips over the skin and as soon as he grazed Daniel with his teeth, Daniel’s eyes flew open wide and he sucked in a breath. Jason fucked him faster as he opened his mouth and bit down hard, sucking at the skin.
“Jason,” Daniel whimpered, eyes fluttering, body trembling, then he was coming, hot and blindingly, coating Jack’s hand and chest. His tension was enough for Jason and he hissed, pulling out to shoot over his balls and thighs, his own body shaking with the acute pleasure.
The feel of Jason’s come on his skin extended Daniel’s orgasm, making his hips jerk, his balls spasm, all of it helped along by the gentle but maddening touch of Jack’s hand.
Daniel dropped down beside Jack and Jason beside him. The cabin was filled with panting, the occasional jerky moan, and the smell of sweat and come. Hands sought out each other and hips pressed close. As the afterglow began to wear off, Jack smiled contentedly and said, “Good morning.” Jason and Daniel laughed and returned the greeting.
. . .
The trio didn’t get out of bed until late morning. After a post-coital nap, urges returned. Tasting cocks and come and skin had predominated and by the time they’d left the cabin, they felt lazy and happy … and in the mood for showers and bed cleaning. While the sleeping bags and rolls dried on tree branches, they ate a late breakfast, then worked on the small projects that kept them busy, if a little bored. Jack worked on some wooden bowls he’d been carving, and Jason finished the fletching on extra arrows he’d made. Daniel had taken his notebook and left to look at the temple.
Hammond called for an update just as Daniel returned and detected a tone in Jack’s voice he hadn’t heard before. “Is there a problem, Colonel?” he asked.
Jack sighed. “Negative, sir. We’re rather restless. There’s only so much makeshift work to do and between the warm weather and the heat from the volcano, scouting too far afield is not a good idea.”
“Understood,” said Hammond. “Any further word from our Mayan friends?”
“No, sir,” Jack replied.
“Very well. The Athena should be close enough for radio contact in the next few days. We will contact you again in thirty-six hours. SGC Out.”
Same time tomorrow, Jack thought. And contact from the ship soon. He sighed and decided they should start sleeping in until it was time to go home. When he voiced his sentiments, Daniel and Jason agreed. Funny how sex hadn’t been all that ramped up until this morning. Sure they’d had their desires every day, but it hadn’t felt as needful as this morning. It was almost as if they wouldn’t be having sex again for a while. Thinking about the flight home, Jack realized that that was actually true. Once aboard, the time home would suck.
Daniel finished shaving and wiped off his face and with a grin, handed the towel to Jason. “You’re gonna be pale when you have to shave that off.”
Jason stepped around him, taking a look in the mirror. “Yeah, but I can always use some of that tanning cream till I get enough sun.”
From his seat on the log, Jack made a face. “With your skin, you’ll look like an orange.”
Jason also made a face. “Maybe you’re right. A tanning bed then.”
Daniel snorted. “Cover up the rest of you or your face will never match.”
Jason sighed and set to work shaving around his beard and mustache.
Jack looked over, watching Daniel admiringly as the man tucked his morning gear into the leather bag they always carried. All of them were wearing nothing but gym shorts and shower flip-flops, had been since the last supply drop, and though Daniel looked good in anything, the military gym shorts looked amazing on him. They were shorter than the civilian styles these days and the hem came down only a few inches past the top of the thigh. Daniel had always been trim, always muscular, but his legs were usually pale. With their time here, his skin was tanning nicely, and those damn shorts accented his ass beyond tolerance.
Jack rose and stalked up behind him, wrapping his arms around his torso as he spooned against him. He snuffled his neck and made Daniel smile and turn his face toward him.
“I swear this place is like an aphrodisiac for you,” he murmured, finding Jack’s mouth for a quick kiss.
Jack reached up with one hand and cradled Daniel’s face. “Maybe,” he said, then held him as he kissed him more deeply.
“I don’t know where you get the stamina,” Jason remarked.
“I haven’t heard any complaints,” Jack said, breaking the kiss to nuzzle Daniel’s ear and neck.
“You won’t,” Jason replied, looking through the mirror and grinning with understanding at Daniel’s reactions to the sudden seductive attention. Jason was finishing his trimming when they heard a twig snap some distance off. It came from the direction of the rough trail they’d made to and from the ridge curve. In seconds, minds were on alert and all three men had grabbed their P90s. After that, Daniel pointed his weapon at the ground. “It’s the Maya,” he said, though his tone was laced with uncertainty.
“Hopefully,” Jack said, not lowering his weapon.
Jason held his weapon up at sniper level, scanning the woods around them. He saw nothing but kept his guard up nonetheless. “And hopefully they’re in a friendly mood.” An idea occurred to him. “If it’s them, do you think that twig snap was deliberate, signaling their presence? Doesn’t seem like a mistake they’d make.”
“Was just having the same thought,” Jack nodded.
Daniel frowned. “Seems odd though. Why not just call out to warn us they’re coming?”
“Testing us maybe?” Jack said.
A few seconds later, Maya appeared in the distance, but Jack and Jason didn’t lower their weapons. Daniel knew they were just being cautious, but he still fought the urge to tell them to lower their weapons. He understood their caution, and though he hadn’t raised his again, he held it ready as four Maya approached. Ko’lani was in the lead and three new men were with her. They were of average height, like the others, and well-muscled, too. Their clothing was slightly different, accented with a ring of colorful feathers around their shoulders. Ko’lani was in all-white doeskin, from moccasin boots to fringed dress with elbow-length sleeves. She still wore the circlet, but blue and red feathers were laced through her hair and along the fringes of the dress and at the v-shaped neckline.
She and her retinue bore spears instead of bows, though they still had the boot knives. Ko’lani, however, had an extra knife sheathed at her waist. It was white, like her dress, and decorated somewhat the same, though Daniel couldn’t make out the design. She stopped a few yards from the camp and waited. For invitation, Daniel assumed. He waved at Jack and Jason, silently asking them to stand down, and when they complied, he beckoned to her. She came forward to the edge of the camp and stopped. Her fellow Maya remained in the woods.
Daniel walked over to her, holding out his hand. “Good morning,” he said with a smile.
She smiled back and greeted him with a forearm clasp. “Good morning.”
Jack and Jason walked over to greet her the same way, but when she began to clasp Jason’s arm, she dropped her arm, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on the raven tattoo over his left pectoral and heart.
“You are marked by the gods,” she said, looking to Daniel to translate. “How?”
Daniel gave Jack and Jason a nod at Jason’s tattoo. “She thinks you’re marked by the gods.” To Ko’lani he said, “It is a mark of favor by his clan, not the gods.”
She narrowed her eyes, thinking, and tilted her head. “Very interesting.” With a slow blink, she collected herself and changed the subject. “I have been honored to escort you and your men to our home. Our clan mother invites you to join us for the Hanal Pixan.”
“And that is?” Jack asked Daniel.
“It’s sort of like Halloween and Day of the Dead, and translates as Supper of the Souls.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Halloween?”
Daniel grinned as he looked at both his lovers. “Like the Celtic Samhain, Jack. Their celebration of their dead, recent and ancient.”
Jack wasn’t enthusiastic. “As long as they don’t ask for blood, I’m game.”
Daniel turned to ask Ko’lani and her eyes sparkled with amusement as she answered. Daniel turned back to Jack. “No, no bloodletting.” He paused, then added, “As long as we behave ourselves.”
Jason snorted. “You’re our guide, Daniel. Make sure we don’t do anything stupid.”
. . .
For ten minutes, Daniel, Jack, and Jason made their way among their Mayan hosts down a narrow path that descended from the outcropping and cliff face. The broad-leafed foliage wasn’t too much of a problem. Jason was a little annoyed that he hadn’t spotted the path down the mountain; he was a tracker, after all. He looked over his shoulder at Jack, who grinned at him. Jason grinned back, but just as he started to face front, the sky caught his attention and he widened his eyes in surprise.
“What?” Jack asked, even as he looked up.
The clouds were forming, and not for a gentle rain, either. Jack inhaled slowly, wondering if the darkening colors meant a thunderstorm was coming. On other planets, their t-storms ranged from minor flashing and low rumbles to all-out havoc. He turned back to Jason.
“Guess we’re in for a storm.”
Daniel heard and looked back. “Huh,” he said, brows furrowing, but not because of the weather. He wondered what significance the Maya would place on the storm … and whether or not it would be an ominous sign for them. He couldn’t risk finding out too far away from camp. While he was jumping at the idea of meeting the Maya’s Clan Mother and learning more about them, he wasn’t willing to risk the lives of his loved ones to find out.
“Ko’lani?” he asked, not daring to touch her shoulder to get her attention.
She looked back. “Yes?”
Daniel jerked his chin toward the sky. “Will this be a problem for your people? I don’t want to anger any gods who might be …” He trailed off when Ko’lani’s expression turned from calm to alarm. “Yeah,” Daniel said slowly as their column slowed to a stop.
Ko’lani made a hand gesture that could have been interpreted as a version of ‘crossing’ herself. She gave Daniel a strained smile. “You have Maya instincts, Daniel Jackson.”
“So …” he began. When her smile softened to regret, he nodded. “Back to our camp then.”
“We shall escort you.”
As their column rearranged itself for a return to the camp, Daniel explained in a low tone. “There might be a problem if we go during a storm. Superstitious omens and all that. Safer to wait out the storm in our camp than risk something … unfortunate.”
“Good call,” Jack nodded.
By the time they made it back to the camp, the clouds had reached them. Ko’lani made curt apologies and she and her retinue departed in a hurry.
Jack sighed and grabbed a spare tarp from the side of the cabin and covered the food they had set out. “One of these days, we’re going to meet people who don’t place omens on every goddamn thing that happens.”
“Indeed,” Jason remarked, and as Jack threw him an eyebrow, he smiled. “Someone’s gotta step up when Teal’c’s not here.” Daniel threw him a grin and Jason saw the disappointment in it. “Maybe it won’t last long.”
“I doubt they’ll change their minds,” Daniel sighed. “We don’t have that long before we get picked up,” he went on, then looked at Jack. “I also doubt we’ll be hanging around after the ship gets here.”
Jack gave him a reassuring look. “We can make introductions to our new friends. Maybe a few hours, I think. Depends on the latest sit rep from Hammond, if we’re needed back home.”
Daniel walked to his pack and pulled out his journal, then sat down by the fire to write.
“Might have to move that in the cabin,” Jack said as the first rumble of thunder invaded their peaceful camp.
Daniel nodded, but began to write anyway. Jason grabbed himself a cup of coffee and stared upward at their cover. “Maybe. Depends on how severe–“
An extremely loud and sharp crack ran like stereo speakers across the sky, the light bright and blue-toned.
“Jesus!” Jason cringed, ears stinging.
“No shit,” Jack agreed.
Daniel shut his journal and got up, walking over to the cabin, and tossing it in with his pen. “Yeah, with it like that, it won’t matter where I am.”
The patter of rain began, and in moments, the sound turned to the hiss of a light downpour. It didn’t stay that way; five minutes into the storm, the rain turned heavy. While they had plenty of cover, their camp was still getting wet from the water dropped from the trees. The weather-hardened trio had no intention of going inside the cabin and riding it out. Besides, there was no telling what this storm would bring and a strike on the cabin or on a tree over it wouldn’t exactly make it safe.
It didn’t take long for the guys to get damp shoulders and hair, but thankfully, that was all. Thunder matched the intensity of lightning strikes and it took several minutes to get used to the noise. Over the next few hours, the rain came and went, restarted each time by a heavy rumble and a wickedly bright flash. As the camp caught more water, the cabin started to look more enticing, but the men agreed it was still too dangerous to take cover there; the trees provided adequate coverage anyway. Getting wet wasn’t a problem, but it did bring to Daniel’s mind all those times Jack complained about arriving on wet, tropical planets.
As he stood near the edge of the camp, looking through a sparse patch of trees, Jack caught him grinning to himself.
He walked over. “What’s the grin for?”
Daniel snorted softly and glanced at him before looking over at Jason, who was rearranging items in the camp to keep them water-free. “We finally get to a planet that isn’t a tropical forest and suddenly, we have this.”
Jack sniffed, pretending to be mildly offended. “I haven’t bitched about it yet. Don’t jinx it.” His lovers laughed.
Come morning, the expected contact from the ship didn’t arrive, and the guys got a bad feeling. The brushes and ground squelched from the rain as they walked through the forest to look out over the valley where the gate sat. They were greeted with stomach-dropping news: The stargate’s platform had been hit and a burned and broken surface was all that remained. Edges of the stargate were still in view from the cooling lava, but there was now no way to open a wormhole while the lava flow continued.
“Guess we know why there’s been no contact,” Jack grumbled. “We’ll have to wait till they’re approaching orbit.”
“Should be later today or tomorrow, going by their last update,” Jason said. Daniel and Jack nodded in reply, both silent as they watched the lava’s hypnotic waves. “It’s beautiful,” Jason continued. “Dangerous, but beautiful.”
Daniel smiled a bit. “Thank god Pele doesn’t live here.”
Jack snorted and hit him in the shoulder. “Don’t jinx it.”
Jason started laughing. “And we’re not superstitious ones?”
When they made it back to camp, they found Ko’lani waiting for them, alone. Daniel, like his lovers, scanned the forest around them.
“Where’re the others?” Daniel asked.
Ko’lani pointed toward the path to her home. “They are waiting. I have returned to tell you that the Clan Mother will not be meeting with you.”
“Of course not,” Jack replied quickly. “Not after that omen in the sky.”
To interpret for Ko’lani, Daniel merely shrugged and held his arms out. Ko’lani nodded, looking sad.
“I regret you will not attend our festival.”
Daniel nodded back, but looked confused. “We regret that too, but we know this. What is the purpose of your visit?”
Ko’lani showed a moment’s hesitation, looking less like the strong woman they’d met.
“Something wrong?” Daniel asked just as Jack opened his to do the same thing.
“Our people … our Clan Mother …” She paused to think, looking at Daniel’s boots, then gathered herself and looked him in the eye. “She is hoping you will be leaving soon.”
Daniel frowned, relaying her words to Jack and Jason.
Jack’s expression matched Daniel’s. “Ask her why she’s asking that.”
Daniel said, “Tomorrow, if our plans go correctly. Why are you asking? Are we in danger?”
Ko’lani shook her head. “No, it is not like that. It is simply–“
One of Ko’lani’s warriors burst from the woods, running up to her and kneeling. “Princess, our Clan Mother is arriving!”
Ko’lani’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Princess?” Daniel asked her.
Ko’lani looked at him askance, her eyes primarily fixed on the woods. She barked orders to her retinue, and they lined up at the edge of the camp, by the pathway, creating a receiving line. They knelt on one knee, heads bowed. She then turned to Daniel, Jack, and Jason. “It is a title, and I do not have time to explain. Our mother is coming to see you.”
Daniel nodded, having already discerned that and told his lovers.
“Any idea why?” Jack asked.
Daniel was asking Ko’lani just that and he nodded, putting up a hand for Jack to wait.
“I do not know, Daniel,” Ko’lani replied, and her startled expression was gone, replaced with calm self-assuredness. When the stirring in the woods grew louder, drums began to sound.
“A warning introduction,” Daniel said to Jack and Jason. “Ko’lani doesn’t know why the Clan Mother is coming.”
“Care to guess?” Jason asked.
Daniel jogged his brows and shrugged slightly. “Doesn’t need much of a guess. Why would you show up unannounced?”
“As a preferable solution to having aliens in my house,” Jack said, nodding. “This is their land, I’m guessing, not just the temple we saw over the cliff edge.”
“Yeah, that’s a safe bet,” Daniel agreed.
Other instruments joined the steady, medium beat of the drums. Some clacked like wood slapping with wood, others sounded like bells and castanets. Within moments, tall banners made of bright, colorful cloth and feathers were seen breaking through the denser forest, carried by a double column of men heavily decorated with the same ornaments as Ko’lani’s entourage, but with an additional array of feathers attached to Native American-style bonnets. The feathers stuck out above the head and trailed down the back like hair tresses.
To Daniel, they could almost be interpreted as war bonnets. The double column numbered twelve, and as they approached the camp clearing, they split and fanned out along the periphery. A tall woman was revealed, wearing a long teal and turquoise tunic embroidered with color. A golden crown sat over her brow, covering white-streaked steel hair. She carried a sword in jeweled hands, centered in front of her like a shield. The sword itself was a very long broadsword, bright silver with scrollwork moving down the blade edges on either side of the fuller. The grip was wrapped with red-stained leather and the cross guard seemed to shaped like two serpent heads facing each other.
“Nice,” Jason whispered appreciatively, and Jack grunted agreement.
“I’ve never seen a Mayan sword like that,” Daniel said with an archaeologist’s expression of curiosity.
“What do Mayan swords look like?” Jack asked.
“The sword was itself was called a macuahuitl. It was a broad, flat club like a big cricket bat, studded along the edges with sharpened obsidian. It was their version of the typical European double-edged blade.”
Jason smirked at Jack. “You asked.”
Jack returned the smirk and turned it on Daniel. “My very own talking encyclopedia.”
“Shut up,” Daniel said pleasantly, his eyes never leaving the Clan Mother. “It must be Spanish influence, before they were transported here. It’s the only thing I can think of to explain this cultural design change.”
“I thought their gods transported some of them before the Spanish invaded?” Jack asked.
Daniel shrugged again. “I’m only guessing, Jack. Their gods are different. I don’t know which main god they worship. Q’uq’umatz or Kukulkan. Either would be like the Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl, who we’ve met.”
Ko’lani whirled to face him, alarmed. “Ssst!” she whispered angrily. “We do not say those names!”
“Which one?” Daniel asked. “The first name I mentioned? The second? Or the third?”
“I do not recognize the third. I speak of the first two names. They are evil. We worship the great good mother, Ixchel.”
“Ixchel,” Daniel said to Jack and Jason. “That’s their main goddess. Her name means Lady Rainbow. On Earth, she was represented by a jaguar. She ruled the moon and water, the mind, creativity, weaving, and childbirth. If she’s the main deity here, then she’s taken on the image of the sun as well.”
Jack cleared his throat. “No offense, Daniel, but none of that means anything at the moment.”
“Right,” Daniel said, used to Jack’s desire for simple answers. For Jack, longer explanations would only be useful later, when there was a need to learn them.
The Clan Mother had stopped at the end of Ko’lani’s receiving line and stared at Daniel, Jack, and Jason. When Daniel’s conversation with Jack ended and she was sure she had their attention, she lowered the sword until it rested on the ground. Ko’lani walked to her mother and knelt on one knee, her head bowed like the others.
“Welcome, Clan Mother,” she said.
Again, Daniel translated her words, but he kept them to a whisper this time.
“I am glad to receive you, mother, but may I ask why you have come?”
The Clan Mother impatiently gestured for her daughter to stand. “Get up, Ko’lani. I am here to see these strangers for myself. We cannot risk Ixchel’s displeasure at having them to temple, so I have journeyed here. We shall not stay long.”
“Introduce me,” the Clan Mother ordered.
Ko’lani stood to her mother’s side and pointed to Daniel, then Jack and Jason. “This is their leader of history, Daniel Jackson. This is Jack, their war leader. This is Jason, a shaman.”
Daniel’s brows rose. Shaman? Then Daniel remembered Jason’s tattoo. So apparently their shaman are the only ones to have tattoos? Perhaps. If he had the chance, Daniel would ask.
“Daniel, Jack, and Jason,” Ko’lani said with a heavy accent. “This is Itzel, our Clan Mother.”
“Great leader, Itzel,” Daniel said, and bowed. “I am honored to meet you,” he continued in Maya. Daniel said to Jack and Jason: “Guys, this is Itzel. Her name is a variation of the name of their goddess.”
Jack and Jason bowed to Itzel.
“And apparently, Jason, you’re our shaman and Jack’s our war leader.”
Both Jack and Jason kept straight faces. “What about you?” Jack asked.
Daniel gave him a crooked smile. “History teacher.”
Jason started to chuckle and abruptly stopped and quietly cleared his throat, just in case a laugh would be misinterpreted by their guests. Or were they the guests? he wondered.
Daniel gestured at their campfire and logs. “I regret that I cannot offer you a more appropriate seating.”
Itzel walked forward and stopped barely a foot away. She gazed into his eyes, studying them, and it suddenly occurred to Daniel that she may not have seen blue eyes before.
“Thank you for your humility,” she answered, then moved to study Jack, then Jason. She took a step back from Jason and gestured at his now-covered chest.
“Let me see,” she said.
“She wants to see your tattoo,” Daniel told him.
Jason damn near blushed, not exactly used to this sort of scrutiny, regardless of his experience as the leader of SG-2. He nodded and removed his t-shirt. He felt awkward and exposed, a state of mind he wasn’t used to. Itzel closed the gap between them and touched his Anasazi raven with her fingertips.
“Who gave you this honor?” she asked him.
He looked at Daniel for the translation, then answered her. “My grandfather’s ancient people, great lady.”
“What are they called?” Itzel asked.
“Anasazi, great lady.”
Itzel nodded. “Our ancestors may have known them,” she said with a frown of concentration. “What is your magic, young k’ul ahaw?”
Jason looked at Daniel, who now moved next to Itzel. “He has the power of nak,” Daniel said, touching his own stomach with the palm of his hand. “With k’Ã¬’ik and uay,” he continued, indicating his heart.
Itzel nodded slowly and studied Jason’s eyes as she had Daniel’s. “How strong is his magic?” she finally said, taking a casual step back and looking at Daniel.
Daniel wasn’t quite sure what she meant and how he should answer, but he could read her emotion clearly. Speaking carefully, he said, “Not strong enough to harm you and your people, great mother. His power warns us of danger.” He wasn’t about to tell her that both he and Jack had similar “magic”.
She seemed to accept that answer and moved to one of the logs and sat down. “Please join me,” she said. Ko’lani sat beside her, but Jack, Daniel, and Jason started for the log across the fire. “No,” Itzel said, snapping her fingers. She pointed at the ground in front of her. “Sit.” Her voice held the tone of long-practiced authority and there was no contradicting it.
Daniel, Jack, and Jason rested in a kneeling position, sitting back on their legs, rather than sitting completely and crossing them.
“Why are you here?” Itzel asked, but her eyes were focused solely on Jack’s. Daniel continued to translate.
He could see that she was displaying a performance; she’d looked at Daniel and Jason, then looked at him only after they were in a position that indicated supplication. “We arrived here by accident,” he said, leaving any names of respect up to Daniel.
“How?” Itzel asked. “Where is your transport?”
Jack exchanged a look with Daniel. Either Ko’lani hadn’t told her mother how they’d gotten there, or Itzel was testing them. Daniel answered when Jack gestured to him to do so. As with Ko’lani, Daniel explained that they had arrived through the stargate during the volcanic eruption. They were now awaiting a ship.
“When will that be?” Itzel asked, as if the subject of the conversation was an everyday occurrence.
“We expect it to be tomorrow,” Daniel answered.
“You have been here for a while,” Itzel stated, still looking at Jack. “Why have you not made your presence known to us?”
Jack waited a few moments before answering, studying Itzel’s gaze in return. “You have already been aware of our presence,” he answered. “We are strangers. You have no idea if we are friendly or not. I believed you may not have taken kindly to a visit.”
It was a good enough lie. The simple truth was that Jack had had no interest in roaming around an unknown planet with no means of escape.
“Why?” Itzel asked.
Jack told her exactly what he’d been thinking. Daniel swallowed hard after translating, but a moment later, he need not have worried. Jack knew what he was doing; Itzel smiled at him.
“Wise,” she said approvingly. She rose and gestured for them to stand. When they did, she pointed overhead. “Another storm approaches. It is time for us to leave.” With that, Itzel turned and gestured at her own entourage as she headed for the path. She looked over her shoulder and said without slowing, “May your journey home bring you happiness.”
Daniel, Jack, and Jason watched the Maya leave and once they were out of sight, lost to the woods, Jason blew out a breath. “Jesus H. Christ, Daniel. What the fuck was all that about?”
“Seeing for herself is my guess,” Jack answered.
“That’s about it,” Daniel agreed. “I sensed no deception.”
“I didn’t either,” Jason said, but the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck were suddenly rising. “But there’s something not right here.”
A loud thunderclap resonated over the valley, echoing over them. Rain began again, but sparsely. Then Jason caught a reflection near the pathway, and he froze. “Guys,” he whispered. Daniel and Jack froze as well, their gaze following Jason’s.
In the midst of the green of wide-leaved bushes was a set of golden eyes, showing reflectivity. Lightning flashed to their right, toward the sea, and it illuminated their visitor for a second. It was tawny yellow with black rosettes and had the familiar head of a jaguar.
Jack’s hand started slowly for his sidearm, but Jason whispered sharply at him. “Don’t.”
“It’s observing, not hunting.” His alarm bells heightened, and he sighed slowly. “And it’s not alone.” He and his lovers scanned the woods from where they stood, looking slowly around.
“You sure?” Jack asked.
“I’m sure,” Jason replied.
“What do we do?” Daniel asked.
“Nothing. This is their turf, not ours. We wait.”
“For what?” Jack asked.
“For them to leave.”
It was a few minutes that felt like thirty. The cat they could see simply melted into the black of the background. The thunderhead was now at zenith, blocking out the sun and creating a false evening.
“Okay then,” Jack said, taking his hand off his sidearm. “What the hell was that about?”
“Guardians,” Daniel said.
Jason nodded agreement. “Making sure we didn’t follow the Maya. At least, that was my impression.”
“Pretty damn cool backup,” Jack said and headed to the coffee pot sitting in a corner of the fire. As he poured into a cup, he sniffed and made a face. “I can’t wait to have a beer.”
“Bourbon,” Jason said.
“Jack,” Daniel put in.
“What?” Jack asked, sipping the hot liquid.
“No, I meant Jack Daniels.”
Jack smiled evilly. “You can have a sip of me, if you like.”
Daniel smiled back. “Maybe later.”
Jason came up behind him and snuffled Daniel’s neck with his facial hair. “You sure?”
“Are you guys kidding?” Daniel said, surprised at the sudden teasing.
“You’re surprised?” Jason asked, putting his arms around Daniel, holding him in place. “That possible threats to our lives prompt a sexual response?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, well, when you put it like that,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “Self-preservation is one thing. You two are in a completely different zip code.”
Jack sniggered. “You are so full of it.”
“What?” Daniel laughed, incredulous.
Jack set down his coffee and walked up to him, surrounding both Daniel and Jason in his arms. He dipped his head slightly, seeking out Daniel’s avoiding lips. When he caught them in a soft kiss, he whispered, “Welcome to the dark side.”
Daniel’s laugh was swallowed by his lovers.
It was still dark. The noises of the night soft and lulling. The men were snoring comfortably in their makeshift bed, Jack and Jason bracketing Daniel, their limbs over one another. A soft chirp from Jack’s watch indicated the top of the hour.
The muted sound of crackling from one of the radios interrupted the silence of the night.
“SG… are … orbit … read …” The incoming transmission was broken, made worse by the fact that the radio left on was under Daniel’s pack. “…1 … read …”
The soft transmission continued intermittently over the next five minutes, gradually increasing its sound and range.
Jack groaned in his sleep, mumbling, “Not getting it.”
“The voice mail will take it,” Jason mumbled.
Ten minutes passed and the snoring resumed. Then, “SG-1, this is Athena, do you read? Over.”
Jack sat up straight, disoriented as he reached under his pillow and grabbed the radio he stashed there. Sleepily, he turned it on. “Athena,” he said thickly. “This is O’Neill. It’s the middle of the night so we were asleep. What’s your twenty? Over.”
“Twelve hours, Colonel. Over.” came Sam’s voice.
“Roger, base,” Jack said. “Call back in six hours. Over.”
“Ten-four. Athena out.”
Jack dropped the radio and growled as he pulled the covers over his shoulders and sunk deep against Daniel. He thought about saying something to him, fairly sure that Daniel was half-listening, but as he mulled it over, he returned to sleep.
. . .
They got an early start three hours after Sam’s call from the Athena. In another three hours, the camp was fully packed up and ready to beam out. The only thing left was to simply put away canteen cups and the coffee pot over the fire, which Daniel would stow in his pack.
He sat by the fire, staring into it, and absently drinking his coffee. Jack and Jason didn’t need telepathy to tell them what was on Daniel’s pensive mind. It was on theirs, too.
Jack dropped his pack next to Daniel’s and Jason’s, then sat down next to his thoughtful archaeologist. Jason did the same, though he filled canteens for himself and Jack. The trio drank it black; the sugar was packed.
“I’m ready to leave,” Daniel said, not looking away from the flames. “But I don’t want to leave. What does that say? That I’m ready to pack up the SGC and move on?”
“Are you?” Jason asked, but mostly for psychological effect. He knew Daniel’s answer. It was pretty much the same as his. “I’m ready to explore beyond our planet. Staying at the SGC would simply be the means.”
Daniel gave a slight nod, then focused his periphery on Jack. “I’d like to, but I don’t know about giving up home quite yet.”
Jack sighed. “I’m still a bit hidebound, pardon the ironic expression. I want to get a house together. Someplace new. A home of our own. We don’t need to maintain separate residences anymore. And after that, perhaps go offworld for a bit.” He looked at Daniel, then Jason. “Whaddya say? Ready to go house hunting?”
Jack had actually hit the nail on the head, Daniel thought as he looked at Jason and nodded. “He’s right. The only reason I’d like to stay here is because we’ve had a single bed and no reason to sleep elsewhere.”
Jason sighed deeply and agreed. “It sounds like a plan. But I have to warn you guys. I’ve got travelling feet.”
“We’re not quitting our jobs, Jason,” Jack said with an eyeroll. “SG-2 is your baby. Are you willing to leave your boys?”
Jason wanted to smack Jack at that moment. “Don’t be stupid. Alex, Al, and Connor are part of my family.”
Daniel put his arm around Jason’s shoulders. “What’s the travelling part about then?”
Jason briefly leaned into him, then resettled his weight. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’m sensing this … change. Something is gonna change. I don’t know what.”
“Since when have you become prescient?” Jack teased, though only partly.
Jason shook his head. “I’m not. It’s just a feeling, Jack. Part of me wants to stay here, where it’s … safe.” He grinned at the raised eyebrows. “I know, that’s funny. But I’m serious. This is known,” he said with a small sweep of an arm. “Being at home … yes, it’s known, but with too many variables. And just the thought of packing up my apartment makes me cringe because it’s always a headache. I always manage to lose a box somewhere, only to discover it years later in the stupidest place I find.”
“You’re stalling,” Daniel said, looking over Jason’s face. “Moving isn’t that big a deal, Jace. Maybe it’s what Jack just said? Changing your home?”
Jason thought about it, trying to narrow down the feeling of … panic? No. Alarm. “I don’t think so, but I’ll keep an open mind, okay?”
“When did you start having this feeling?” Jack asked him.
Jason grinned weakly at him. “Before you mentioned house hunting, which is why I don’t think it’s that. I was thinking about going home while we were packing up, and this eerie feeling came over me. It’s … it’s like trying to remember a warning someone gave you when you weren’t paying attention.”
Daniel felt a chill and shook himself. “Okay, we’ll all bear that in mind. So let’s change the subject, Jason, before I grow paranoid. Your feelings are just a bit too overwhelming.”
Jason was about to tell him to put a wall up, but he then remembered the promise Daniel had made to never block them out again. “Okay. What do you want to talk about then?”
Jack grinned. “House hunting.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “God.”
“I’m serious,” Jack said, his eyes glittering with excitement. “We should talk about what kind of amenities we’d like to have. Our names will all be on the title, especially since we can get a great house by pooling our resources. So come on. Let’s talk about getting a big, glorious house.”
“I knew I was saving my money for something,” Daniel said with false sarcasm.
They were pleasantly arguing about landscaping when the air thickened slightly just before the blue-white light of an Asgard transport beam interrupted them. Sam and Teal’c appeared about ten yards behind them, toward the sea. Jack, Daniel, and Jason jumped up and went to them and embraced.
“Finally!” Sam said, smiling broadly. She looked around, just as Teal’c was doing, and gave the men a puzzled look. “You’re ready to go, I see.”
“Damn straight,” Jack told her, emptying his canteen.
Pleasantries were briefly exchanged as they asked how things were back at the base. “So?” Sam began, a puzzled wrinkle on her brow. “This Mayan city?”
“You want to see it,” Daniel stated, turning to head toward the path.
“Absolutely,” Sam agreed, “but … we can’t find it on our sensors.”
That was disturbing. Asgard sensors could pick up the heartbeat of a squirrel and most minute traces of naquada dust. “What?” Jack asked, not expecting an answer.
With increasing concern, Daniel hurriedly led them through the forest to the opening at the top of the lookout cliff, from which they could see into the valley below.
Daniel, Jack, and Jason froze in alarm. The only thing they could see was an empty, green valley, thick with wildlife sounds and water in the far distance. But nothing else stood there. The ziggurat was gone.
“Where was it?” Teal’c asked.
“About two o’clock, some five or six miles distant,” Jack answered.
But there was nothing. Not even a sign of disturbance in case the city was somehow cloaked.
Daniel’s thoughts turned rapidly. “We didn’t mass hallucinate. So …” He turned to his friends. “Let’s do a head count. Who has the ability to cloak something as large as a city?”
“The Goa’uld,” Teal’c said.
“We can see through that,” Sam said, “thanks to the Athena’ sensors.”
“Right,” Jack nodded. “That would include the Tok’ra.”
“Agreed,” Teal’c said.
“The Tollan,” Jason said.
Sam nodded. “But we should have picked up on their advanced technology anyway. The Asgard, naturally, but we can rule them out.”
“Who is left?” Teal’c asked.
“The Nox,” Daniel said, looking up into the sky as if to find a floating city there.
“But why hide another race?” Sam asked. “They’ve only ever hidden themselves.”
“Mostly,” Daniel said. “They hid Tollan technology, remember?”
“Oh right,” she said, frowning.
The group was silent for several long moments until Daniel finally aired what he’d been theorizing to himself. “Someone brought the Maya here. Perhaps it was the Asgard, or maybe even the Ancients. But they never moved the gate away from danger so I’m guessing that they’ve forgotten about this planet. Perhaps the Nox found the Maya. And nurtured them.”
Jack and Jason turned to him. “That would explain their reluctance to interact,” Jack said, thinking.
“It would also explain why they left their blood-thirsty ways behind,” Daniel finished. “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. The Nox are protecting them.”
There was a collective sigh, barely audible, as they looked back over the valley. “I wonder if the gate is still there,” Daniel said suddenly, and led them back through the woods and over the volcanic-side slope.
“Holy shit,” Sam exclaimed. “Looks much scarier from down here.”
“Gives off really cool sunsets though,” Jack smirked.
None of them said anything else. The gate, too, was gone.
“Are you certain this is the work of the Nox?” Teal’c asked Daniel.
“No, of course not, but it’s a sound theory.”
Jack shook his head and turned around. “Let’s go, folks. I’m ready for some decent food.”
. . . .
“That’s affirmative, General,” Jack said.
He sat in the Athena’ briefing room with Daniel and Jason, holding a video conference debrief with General Hammond. Sam and Teal’c were present, along with the Athena’ commander, Colonel Lionel Pendergast. “Daniel thinks it was the Nox. We don’t have any proof, but Daniel thinks it’s the likeliest of options.”
“Very well, SG-1. I look forward to an engaging post-mission report.”
“From all of us, sir?” Daniel asked.
“I beg your pardon. Yes, Doctor Jackson, from all of you.”
“Understood, sir,” Jason nodded.
“Will check in with you at 1400 hours, next Tuesday, ship time, for standard briefing. Glad to have you back. Hammond out.”
The screen went dark and Lionel Pendergast, who’d been leaning against the door frame during the entire debrief, straightened when it was over. “Here,” he said, handing out key cards for their bunk rooms. “Keep ’em with you. There aren’t any more blanks to make new ones.”
“Thanks, Leo,” Jack said, taking his.
They filed out of the briefing room and before Jack, Daniel, and Jason had a moment to talk, their teammates were already upon them.
“I’d love to hear about everything,” Sam asked with an excited gleam in her eyes.
Teal’c matched her. “I would as well.”
Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. He wasn’t really in the mood. Their unexpected journey ended with a sort of anti-climax–and a micro-smile came and went at the use of “climax”. “Carter,” he said with a sigh.
“Oh come on!” she persisted. Then with an evil smile, she added, “There’s pie.”
Jack exchanged amused looks with Daniel and Jason. Daniel shrugged and Jason did the same. Cowards. “Fine, fine,” he said, surrendering.
“Great!” Sam replied, and started babbling like a geeky school girl, shooting them rapid questions until Jack told her he wasn’t about to talk about it until they were sitting down. With pie.
Behind them, Daniel and Jason lagged a bit. “I’m kind of a little hungry anyway,” Jason admitted to Daniel.
“Yeah,” Daniel half-heartedly agreed. Then in a whispered tone, he confided, “But I’m suddenly exhausted and I just want to go lie down. How weird is that?”
Jason gave him a companionable smile. “Ditto.”
. . .
The time with Sam and Teal’c was good, but Daniel’s exhaustion grew until he ended the reunion with a groaning complaint. Jack and Jason certainly hadn’t minded. They were feeling the same. He eased onto his small bed with a relieved sigh, though puzzled by the sudden lethargy. Heaven was a mattress and pillow, even military issue, and that was a strange feeling. He clasped his hands over his stomach and closed his eyes, thinking about all they’d done the past seven weeks. Most of it made him smile, though he hadn’t made up his mind on whether or not he regretted leaving. Still, Jack’s idea about finding a house for the three of them was starting to grow into an anticipated thrill.
As he lay there making mental lists of the house requirements, his face itched. Daniel reach up to scratch and realized that he needed a shave. With a groan, he got up and went to his field pack, as yet unpacked. Grabbing the shaving kit and a hand towel, he left his quarters and made his way to the community shower and latrine. A few men were inside. Daniel set his kit on the side of the sink and proceeded to soap his face.
A few sinks down, an Airman grinned at him and held out a can of shaving gel. “This’d work better.”
Daniel stared, then quickly washed his face off, took the shaving gel and squirted a dollop into his hand. “Thanks.”
It seemed to break the ice, not just with this Airman but a few other crewmen as well and Daniel found himself answering questions while he shaved: What was it like, did they really build a cabin, what kind of food was on the planet, were there any dangerous animals, what was the weather like? Jesus, hadn’t he just gone through this with Sam and Teal’c?
By the time Daniel returned to his quarters, he’d had enough with the Q and A and wanted nothing more than a nap. He wondered if Jack and Jason were getting the same grilling routine. Pulling off his boots, he lay back down, but he barely had time to close his eyes when someone buzzed his room. With another groan, he sat back up.
“This better be good. Come in!”
It was Jason. He locked the door behind him, then stroked his beard and mustache. “I’ve been ordered to clean this up,” he said ruefully.
“Hammond?” Daniel asked.
“And Pendergast. Jack and I just finished filling him in on everything that had happened; the stuff we hadn’t told Hammond yet.”
“Right,” Daniel replied, then was surprised when Jason closed the distance and put his arms around him.
“Figured I’d come see you before the hair goes.”
Daniel smiled. “So that’s why you locked the door?”
Jason smiled back as he leaned in, one hand reaching up to cradle the back of Daniel’s head as he kissed him. Daniel closed is arms around him and when their kiss ended, he nuzzled his lover’s face. “I’m gonna miss this.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Jason teased. “I hope you won’t mind the clean-shaven look again.” Daniel reached down between them and rubbed his palm over Jason’s crotch, making him flinch and grab his hand. “Okay, okay, point taken.”
“Come back when you’ve finished shaving and find out.”
Jason sighed. “I wish.”
“What, we can’t?” Daniel asked, only half-teasing.
“Well,” Jason teased back. “We can, but … they’d be those forbidden quickies. This time no DADT, but frat regs still apply.”
“Figures,” Daniel replied, but rebellion filled his eyes. “Fuck ’em. We’re practically married. Besides, we’ll be rather … hungry … on this ship.”
Jason smiled at him. “We’ll have to wait during sack time. That particular smell is very distinct, especially noticeable in a closed environment like this ship.”
Daniel nodded. “Cameras, though,” he whispered and pulled Jason in for a kiss, this one long and deep as he relished the feel of his beard for the last time.
Jason moaned softly and just before he planned to cup Daniel’s ass and push him onto the bed, he pulled away, breathing hard. “Damn you.” He glanced at his watch, now reset to ship time. “It’s not sack time.”
There was almost a begging in his eyes, but Daniel knew it wasn’t because Jason wanted to quit; he wanted Daniel to take charge. “Fuck it,” Daniel whispered and pulled Jason to him. He backed up and dropped onto his bed, bringing Jason with him.
“Damn,” Jason whispered, rubbing his body against Daniel’s while he nuzzled skin with his face. “You’re a bastard,” he growled into Daniel’s ear, and licked under the lobe. “Pants down, shirt off,” he said between clenched teeth.
Quickly, they did just that, and with each other’s hands on their lover’s cock, Jason bit and licked Daniel’s neck and shoulders until their orgasms warned of a mess. Daniel yanked the pillowcase off his pillow and Jason rose and hovered over him, straight-armed, staring into his eyes as he came. Daniel caught the warm fluid in the linen, but instead of getting jerked off quickly, Jason moved down and swallowed him.
“Fuck, you bastard!” Daniel hissed in a whisper, and arched his back, thrusting quickly into Jason’s mouth. It was seconds, and he came with a stifled scream of pleasure. “Bastard!” he gasped, his hips caught and held by Jason’s hands as his lover’s mouth swallowed and sucked until he was twitching with acute sensitivity.
Jason didn’t need to be asked to ease back. Automatic syncing of their feelings, attuned after years of a long relationship, took care of it. He released him and captured Daniel’s mouth in a long kiss of afterglow. Minutes passed, and despite their bodies still thrumming from sex, they got to their feet and re-dressed.
“Think you can come again in half an hour?” Daniel asked.
Jason looked at him, incredulous. “Are you insane? Do you want the smell to seep into the hall?”
Daniel kissed him softly. “Not for me, stupid.”
Jason groaned. “Ask yourself the same question, you fucking tease.”
Jason was in his bunk changing his shirt, when the door buzzed. “Daniel,” he chided, opening the door. “You’re really a fucking…”
But it was Jack, who smiled with a brow raised in amusement. “A fucking what?” he asked, stepping inside, and closing the door. The lock clicked. It didn’t take Jack long to figure out why Jason was putting on a new shirt, and it didn’t matter either. He took it off of him again. “In the middle of something?” he asked, reaching out to run a finger over Jason’s freshly shaved upper lip.
“I was,” Jason replied. Jack gave him that and the back of his knees went weak. “Who’s firs–?” he asked softly as Jack captured his mouth with his in a hard, lustful embrace. Jack grabbed his hair in fistfuls and shoved him against the wall, deepening their kiss. Jason reached between them, quickly unbuckling their trousers. No sooner had that been done when Jack dropped slowly down to his knees, covering Jason’s exposed skin with biting kisses before taking his dick in his mouth.
Jason tightly shut his eyes, the pleasure keen and aching. “Yes,” he whispered, and his breath caught when Jack slipped a finger inside him. “Damn you,” he whispered.
Bucking soon followed, and a few minutes later, his orgasm. Exhausted and panting, he switched places with Jack and consumed him like a starving man. Jack’s fingers were in his hair again, and a minute into it, he’d taken over, thrusting wildly. Jason dug his fingers into Jack’s ass cheeks, and when he slipped both index fingers into his hole, Jack bucked once and froze, his orgasm spilling down Jason’s throat.
Again, they didn’t wait for the thrum of afterglow to settle. Dressing quickly, Jack gave Jason a long, satisfied kiss before leaving him with an “I love you.”
Jack had no intention of repeating the same thing with Daniel. He entered Daniel’s bunk with a fierce glow in his eyes, and as soon as the door was locked, he embraced him with a deep, soul-consuming kiss. He fumbled quickly with Daniel’s trousers while Daniel fumbled quickly with his. It was surprise then that Jack found that Daniel had anticipated him.
He turned onto his stomach, spreading his legs as best he could, and Jack felt the slickness of lube as he guided his cock inside him. “You are always full of fucking surprises,” he whispered huskily.
Daniel barked out a breathy laugh. “Fucking is right,” he said, then gathered Jack’s hands under him and raised his ass. “Fuck me.”
Jack groaned and began to thrust, and it didn’t take long before his cock, achingly hard, startled to signal his climax. “Fucker,” he growled to himself, and let go of Daniel’s hands. He reached down, taking his lover’s cock in both hands, and held him tightly while he rammed his hips rapidly into his body. Harsh breaths escaped both of them amidst the gentle thudding of the mattress. The bed started to hit the wall and Jack rapidly scooted off the bed, grabbed Daniel’s hips, slid back into him, and re-started his thrusts. Fast, hard, and so good, and with a dip of his hips, he shortened his strokes but kept the hard slaps going.
“Fuck!” Daniel gasped softly, and came, his fists clutching the blanket.
The sight of that sent Jack over the edge and just as he pulled out, Daniel swiftly turned about and swallowed his cock. “Shit!” he panted, taking his head in his hands. “Fuck yeah,” he said softly, dropped his head back and with closed eyes, emptied himself into Daniel’s mouth.
This time, they waited out the afterglow. Jack dropped to his knees and took Daniel into his arms. They knelt together, embracing for several minutes and shared soft kisses. Soon, it was time to return to normality, difficult as it was. They dressed slowly, and Daniel kissed Jack one more time. “Three weeks of this,” he said, only partly disgusted.
Jack smiled at him as he made for the door. “Yeah. But the homecoming should be a killer.”
Daniel gave him a wicked smile. “I think I’m ready for some role play.”
Jack returned the look. “I say we tease Jason with that for as long as possible.”
The door closed behind him, and as Daniel cleaned himself up, he thought about how Jason would react to Jack’s teasing.
A dark grin spread across his face.