Category: First Time, Drama/Romance
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Author's notes: This story is dedicated to one of the sweetest souls I have had the pleasure of befriending in my life, Gisele Baret. Je t'adore, ma soeur.
Summary: A new teammate, a dangerous offworld mission, and some bad guys make life difficult for SG-1.
The cure for all ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word: love. It is the divine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life.
Excerpt from the private journal of Dr. Daniel Jackson
Reese is... gone. I know, I just know that the Replicators stopped not because Jack shot her, but because Reese told them to. I know. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, that knowledge doesn’t matter in the slightest. I promised to protect her, to be her friend, and in the end I failed her.
Sometimes I feel as if my entire life has been a failure. I have accomplished exactly... nothing. Maybe I have done some good every now and again, but nothing I have achieved seems to have made a significant difference. Yes, I was the one to figure out how the Stargate worked. But then again, and given time, anyone might have done the same. And ultimately, what happened to Sha’re and Skaara was my fault. I was the one who unburied the gate on Abydos, the one who couldn’t leave things alone.
And now Sarah is out there as well, bent to the will of Osiris. It’s like an endless, vicious cycle; for every Goa’uld we eliminate, another just takes its place. I’m starting to wonder if this war will ever come to an end.
I’m weary of all the constant fighting, tired to the deepest depths of my soul. At the beginning, we got to make contact with new civilizations, perform some research into their ways, their cultures. I got plenty of chances to use my linguistic skills, and even to dig around in the dirt - as Jack called it - once in a while. Now... now it’s all about new weapons, new technology, and to hell with how we go about acquiring them.
And if battling the Goa’uld wasn’t bad enough, there’s this increasing strain between Jack and I that just keeps getting worse. I have no idea what caused it, no idea how to turn the tide and go back to the way things were before. Oh, I know we didn’t exactly hit it off during that first mission on Abydos; he thought I was a dweeb, and I thought he was an arrogant asshole.
But that changed with time, and while Jack could be more than blunt with his sardonic comments, there used to be amusement lurking within his eyes whenever he got to have fun at the expense of one of his kids. I don’t see it now. I will never forget the look on his face when he told me that he didn’t like most of what I said, but that he tried to resist the urge to shove me through a wall. I saw no humor, just sarcasm, and maybe a whole lot of truth. Of course, I did call him a stupid son of a bitch, so perhaps we’re even this time.
When I first joined the Stargate program, I thought soldiers and civilians would eventually find a way to come together, to reach some even ground from which to work towards our common goal. I was wrong, and Jack and I are the perfect example; I will never be able to think like him, and he will never be able to meet me halfway. Oil and water don’t mix.
I need something new. To keep me going, keep me fighting. Sha’re is dead, Skaara is back on Abydos, and I know Shifu is safe somewhere with Oma Desala’s race. And while there was a time when I loved Sarah dearly, I’m not sure attempting to rescue her will be enough to give me strength. I learned the hard way the chances of that ever happening.
I need hope in the future, when I see only darkness. And I don’t know where to find it.
CHAPTER I - The Fifth Man
Jack looked down at his watch with a frown, wondering what General Hammond could possibly have to discuss with him on such short notice. SG-1 was due off world in less than an hour and they still had to gear up. He rapped softly on the opened door, saluting as he was given permission to enter.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” he asked, unable to keep the curiosity from his voice.
“Close the door and sit down, Colonel.” When Jack obeyed, the general continued, “Jack, I know you won’t be particularly happy with what I’m about to tell you, but there’s nothing I can do about it. At least for the moment.”
Jack resisted the urge to groan at those words. Comments like that from his superior usually meant really bad news, the sort that came attached with names like Maybourne, Simmons, or Kinsey.
“What is it, sir?”
“As you know, the Russians have been pushing for more direct involvement in the Stargate program for months, demanding to have a team on the base, wanting to share whatever technology we discover on other planets.... Well, they’ve finally got their wish. The President himself has given the order.” He looked down at the file before him, skimming through the first sheet of paper. “A... Major Alexander Griskan is to become part of the SGC, effective immediately, a sort of liaison officer, if you will.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Jack was out of his chair in seconds. “Sir, you know as well as I do that they can’t be trusted. We nearly died in that damned tomb because they were too arrogant to follow the chain of command, they hid information regarding the location and use of the second Stargate, and they kept a Jaffa prisoner for months.... And let’s not forget they always have a hidden agenda!”
“I am aware of all that, Jack,” Hammond told him calmly. “But this situation was causing a rift between our two countries, something the President could not allow. I’m not saying it will be a permanent arrangement, but for now we will have to abide by it. And as such, you will take him with you on the mission to PX3-904.”
“What?” Jack couldn’t believe his ears. “General, for all we know this guy might be another military psycho hiding behind all this diplomatic bullsh -”
“Colonel!” Hammond interjected forcefully and Jack shut up, knowing now wouldn’t be a good time to antagonize the older man. “If it’s of any consolation, Major Griskan spent over fifteen years studying in Europe, Paris, and London in particular; and like our Dr. Jackson, he’s an archaeologist. I doubt he will be the same brand of Russian military we have met in the past.”
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a deep sigh. Another scientist, just what he needed in his life. Things between him and Sam were still somewhat awkward, and his friendship with Daniel was slowly crumbling to pieces. These days it seemed only Teal’c remained the same, his silent presence a source of comfort to Jack’s frayed nerves.
Before he got the chance to say a word, there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Hammond called out, smiling slightly at the new arrival. “Ah, there you are, Major. I was about to send for you.”
Jack couldn’t help but take in everything about the stranger that walked in, and who had to be Griskan. He was younger than Jack, but not by much, about six foot two, and well built. Honey blond hair, and hazel eyes complimented a face that Jack supposed some women might find attractive.
Griskan stood at attention. “I apologize, General,” he replied in a smooth voice, only the slightest accent noticeable. “Sergeant Siler was showing me the base.”
General Hammond nodded. “It’s all right, son. Colonel O’Neill, this is Major Griskan. Major, Colonel Jack O’Neill. He’s going to be your CO.”
Griskan saluted Jack. “Colonel. I have heard much about you. It will be a pleasure to serve under you.”
The pleasure will be all yours, bucko, Jack thought, the Major’s easygoing manner immediately getting on his nerves and setting off all his internal alarms. There was no such thing as a nice Russian, as far as he was concerned. He would have to keep a very close eye on Griskan during the mission, and on the base as well, for that matter.
He turned to Hammond. “Permission to leave, sir? I need to introduce the Major to the rest of the team and we still have to gear up for the mission.”
The general gestured towards the door. “Go, you’re dismissed. And good luck, gentlemen.”
Sam and Teal’c were in the briefing room and Jack didn’t waste any time with pleasantries. “Campers, this is our newest team member, Major Griskan. Griskan, Major Carter and Teal’c. Major Griskan’ll be joining us on the mission to PX3-904,” he said, watching a startled Carter trading salutes with Griskan, while Teal’c merely bowed curtly, a raised eyebrow the only indication of his surprise. Jack looked around. “Where’s Daniel?”
Footsteps approaching answered that question, and Daniel walked in, nose deep in some file.
“Sorry I’m late, guys, I got caught up in the translation of the tablets we found on -” He looked up then and as usual Jack had to hold his breath as those amazing eyes bore into him, before acknowledging the newcomer. “Oh,” Daniel said slowly. “I... uh, I didn’t know we had visitors.”
Jack turned to the Russian to once again make the introductions, only to find Griskan staring wide-eyed at Daniel, his intense expression and the light in his gaze making Jack clench his teeth angrily. He could almost see the electricity crackling in the stuffy atmosphere in the room. No way was this Rusky messing with Daniel, not while Jack drew breath. He could see it clearly now; Griskan was probably hoping to get something out of Daniel, thinking him the weak link in the team. Oh, he was keeping an eye on Griskan all right, both eyes, in fact.
“This is Major Alexander Griskan, from Russia,” he managed to get out. “He’s to be our liaison officer with his government. He’s also going with us on this mission.”
To his annoyance, Daniel gave the Major a broad smile, shaking his hand warmly. “Zdravstvuyte. Menya zovut Daniel Jackson. (Hello. My name is Daniel Jackson.)”
Griskan smiled back. “Ochen priyatno. (Nice to meet you.) And please, call me Sasha.”
“Sir, perhaps we should gear up,” Sam spoke up for the first time and Jack looked at her, only to see her staring back at him with a bemused expression.
Jack wondered what was going through Carter’s mind at that moment, then decided to leave it alone for now. Whatever was bothering her, he was sure to find out soon enough, whether he wanted to or not.
They all headed to the gear-up room, Jack getting more annoyed by the minute as he heard Daniel and Sasha prattling away happily in Russian. This was going to be a very long mission.
According to both the MALP and UAV readings, PX3-904 was supposed to be a tropical planet, and from what Daniel could see so far, it was right on the money; the Stargate was surrounded by a dense forest that reached beyond their vision. A few softly rolling mountains were barely visible above the trees. He could hear a multitude of birds singing, as well as the calls of other animals he didn’t recognize.
He took a long, deep breath and closed his eyes. His senses immediately recognized the tangy fragrance of the tropics - coconuts, sweetly scented flowers, and salt. There had to be an ocean or river close by. Opening his eyes, Daniel looked up at the sky; the planet’s bright sun making his heart skip a beat. For one short, fierce moment he remembered Abydos and the time spent there with Sha’re. Everything had been so simple back then: no life or death situations, no Goa’ulds, no constant battling to save the universe.
Something must have shown on his face, for a hand touched his shoulder gently. He turned his head to see Sasha regarding him with concern.
“Are you okay?” the Russian asked hesitantly.
Daniel smiled at the other man. He genuinely liked Sasha. He was completely different from all the other Russian military they had encountered so far. His time spent in Europe had obviously opened his eyes to other ways of thinking, making him a very unique individual. Daniel hoped he would get to accompany SG-1 on at least a few more missions. It would be a pleasant change from the same old, same old.
“I’m fine, Sasha,” he assured quietly.
“Ladies, you’re supposed to be watching out for potential threats, not chatting your time away,” Jack’s caustic voice reached them loud and clear. “You might recall the UAV recorded some activity, the two legged variety. Might be Goa’uld. You know, as in the scourge of all the known universe?”
Daniel sighed. Five minutes into the mission and Jack was already being a jerk. It didn’t bode well for the immediate future. Walking over to the others, and sensing Sasha trailing right behind him, he watched the perimeter.
“The images the UAV recorded suggested a small caravan, four, five life forms at the most, right?”
“Hard to be sure exactly how many they were, the vegetation was too dense to get a clear picture. Heat sensors confirmed five, definitely humanoid,” Sam confirmed. “They were moving away from the ‘Gate.”
“Possibly not natives,” Sasha ventured. “Perhaps we should follow, attempt to make contact, discover if they are friend or foe. They might not be Goa’uld.”
Teal’c crouched down, hand touching the ground briefly. He rose with a slight shake of his head. “There are no visible tracks to pursue, O’Neill. The undergrowth covers too much of the terrain.”
“Meaning they could be anywhere,” Jack muttered. “Sweet. All right. Teal’c, Daniel, you're -”
“I’m going with Sasha,” Daniel said, staring directly at Jack and daring him to say otherwise. The last thing he needed was to spend the next three or four hours being the target of Jack’s temper and sarcasm.
“Fine. Take Teal’c with you,” Jack nearly spat and Daniel could see he was royally pissed off. “Carter, you’re with me. Stay within radio range, I want hourly updates. Four hours to make contact. After that, it’s cease and desist, and we head back to the ‘Gate. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Sasha replied dutifully.
“Move out,” Jack ordered and the two groups separated, Daniel, Teal’c and Sasha going east, and the others west.
Jack was basically stomping through the jungle, knowing he wasn’t being fair to Sam, but he needed to let off some steam before he took it out on his second-in-command. And that wasn’t an option. It wasn’t Carter’s fault that he now had a Russian as part of his team, or that Daniel had preferred to go traipsing into the wildness with said Russian instead of with him. Them.
He should have said no, should have ordered Daniel to stay with him, but he had seen the challenge in the archaeologist’s eyes, and realized he would have to either give in or have one hell of a fight on his hands. And for once he wasn’t up to it. In his present mood, he would just lash out at Daniel and say something truly hurtful. He had done enough of that lately, he didn’t want to make it worse.
Christ, when had things become so wrong between them? When he had first met Daniel, he hadn’t exactly been impressed. But then he got to actually know the man behind the glasses, see the soul shining within those wondrous eyes.... One minute he had been ready to eat his gun, unable to deal with Charlie’s death, the next he was arguing with Daniel, fiercely debating, teasing and tussling with the other man. Daniel never backed down, and Jack loved that. It made him fight back, kicking and screaming sometimes, but the truth was he owed Daniel too much to put into words.
And he wasn’t blind. Being bisexual, he could see how Daniel might turn more than a few heads. He had caught himself looking more than once. But at the time he had been a mess, and still in love with Sara. A roll in the hay with a man under his command - even a civilian - wasn't part of his agenda.
Then Sha’re had happened, and Apophis had happened... and Sam had happened. He’d gotten too close, not only to Sam, but to Teal’c and Daniel as well. He hadn’t lied; he cared far more than he should, for all of them. He wasn’t sure if he could make it should one of them get killed, especially while under his command.
Sam had proved to be a huge mistake. The whole thing had never taken off, mainly because it couldn’t. She was a beautiful woman, smart too, but sometimes he couldn’t tell which of them was a bigger mess. From Jolinar’s memories to her strange relationship with Martouf/Lantash, to Narim, then Orlin... Sam seemed to share his bad judgment when it came to choosing romantic partners.
As for Daniel, Jack knew he had been the one to screw things up. Because even during all the mix-up with Sam, underneath it all there had still been some feelings that he hadn’t wanted to put a name to and hadn’t wanted to face whenever he got to thinking about Daniel. It had been easier to focus all of his attention on Carter, to put some distance between himself and Daniel. Because the truth was those feelings scared him, made him lose sight of what was real, and threatened his hard-won control.
Now that the dust had settled and his relationship with Sam was back to the way it should be, Jack could see the damage he had caused. Because these days Daniel hardly bothered to fight back, or to argue a point passionately as he once did, or to challenge Jack’s command and ideas every step of the way.
And now Daniel was out there with Griskan, an unknown quantity, and even though he knew that Teal’c would never allow any harm to come to his friend, Jack couldn’t help but worry. Worry because he had seen the interest in Griskan’s eyes, recognized it for what it was. And he didn’t want to lose Daniel.
It was at that moment that he heard Sam frantically calling his name. He looked back just as the ground gave way under his feet. Even as he shouted a warning for Carter to back away, he knew it was too late. They were already falling into oblivion.
CHAPTER II - Beneath The Surface
Daniel bit his lower lip as yet another sharp, low-hanging branch brushed against his body. Nearly three hours into the search and he was covered in cuts and bruises, beyond exhausted, and the remorseless sun beating down on him made it seem like he was inside a sweltering oven. In front of him, Sasha wasn’t faring much better, while behind him Teal’c was his usual cool self.
Sasha came to a halt suddenly, nearly causing Daniel to run into him.
“We should rest, drink some water,” the Russian suggested.
Daniel accepted the respite gladly, sitting back against a palm tree and gulping down a generous amount of water from his canteen while he watched Teal’c wander off, no doubt to make sure the surrounding area was safe.
“Can I ask you something?” Sasha asked abruptly, sitting by his side, their shoulders touching.
“Of course.” Daniel regarded him curiously. “What is it?”
“Is the colonel always like this? He...” Sasha hesitated. “He has a very sharp tongue.”
Daniel laughed humorlessly. “He does have his moments.” He gave a half-hearted shrug, recalling better days, better times. “It wasn’t always like this. We always argued a lot, I guess it’s just the way we are. He has a big problem dealing with scientists and an even bigger problem accepting ideas he believes are out there. And I, well, I have a problem with authority and the military in general. I think most visitors, or those that didn’t know us that well, thought we didn’t like each other.”
“And did you?” Sasha inquired. “Like each other?”
“Yeah. We were family. Not just Jack and I, but Teal’c and Sam as well. We worked perfectly together, a well-oiled machine. What one lacked, the others more than made up for it. Jack and Teal’c had the protect and defend thing down, and while Sam is Air Force, her scientific know-how has saved us and the SGC more times than I can count.” He smiled slightly. “She sort of became a big sister to me. It was great having another scientist on board, someone to talk shop with, someone that might not understand exactly what you were saying, but that was willing to meet you halfway. And if you messed with one member of SG-1, you messed with all of us.”
Sasha tilted his head quizzically. “Is it not so now?”
“Things have changed. We still work well together. And if one of us is in danger, we still do whatever is necessary to get that person back. Only in my case....” He exhaled in a shuddering breath. “Sometimes I wonder about it. If Jack does it because he wants to, or because it’s the right thing to do.”
“He doesn’t like me,” Sasha said ruefully.
Daniel chuckled. “Don’t let it bother you, it’s not really personal. We had some interaction with other Russian military and it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Once he sees you for who you really are, he’ll stop acting like such an ass.”
“I’m not so sure. I think it is personal.”
Daniel startled. “How can that be? He’s hardly exchanged five words with you!”
Sasha grinned. “Da. But he’s very observant.”
Daniel frowned. “I don’t understand. Have you done something you shouldn’t have?”
“Not yet, but I want to. And I think he knows that.”
Daniel felt more confused than ever. “You’ve lost me. What is it you want to do?”
“This.” Sasha leaned forward, his mouth touching Daniel’s lips, and kissed him gently.
They broke apart, staring at each other for a breathless instant in time. Daniel felt surprised and more than a little awed at the burning desire he could see in Sasha’s eyes.
“You... uh, feel that way about me?”
“Yes. From the first moment I saw you.”
Daniel cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I, uh....” Nothing like this had ever happened to him before, he didn’t have the slightest idea how to handle it, what to say.
Sasha must have seen it, for he asked, “You have never been with a man before, have you?” Daniel shook his head slowly. “Have you thought about it before?”
Thought about it! Hell, yes! Only... just with Jack. It had come as quite the revelation when he began dreaming about the other man. He had no idea when or why his feelings had changed, but as he grew aware of what they meant, he had put them away in a secret compartment deep within his heart and mind. He wasn’t blind; he could see where Jack’s interests lay. And he couldn’t really blame Jack or Sam for what they felt for one another.
His lack of response was an answer in itself, for Sasha nodded sagely. “I see. Colonel O’Neill. He truly is a fortunate man.”
Daniel grimaced. “I’m sorry, Sasha, I never meant to hurt you. And I’m not so sure you’re right about Jack. The way things have been lately, I’m beginning to think he hates me.”
Sasha smiled faintly. “There is a thin line between love and hate, Daniel. I should know. Yerik and I were much the same as you and the colonel.”
“Yerik?” Daniel queried softly.
Sasha’s smile vanished. “We met in the Air Force, and like you and Jack, we fought incessantly. Until we finally realized the real reason why we argued so much and found better things to do together. There’s a lot to be said for sexual tension.”
“That’s not what’s going on between Jack and I, Sasha,” Daniel avowed sadly. “He likes Sam.”
“Perhaps. But I saw his face when you and I met, and every time I got too close to you. He noticed my interest in you almost immediately, and he wasn’t happy about it.”
“What happened to Yerik?” Daniel had seen Sasha’s sorrowful expression and realized it had to be something bad.
“He died two years ago in a stupid training accident.”
“Like Sha’re,” Daniel whispered his understanding. “I’m sorry, Sasha.”
“So am I. I read the reports from all your missions, I can only imagine what it must have been like for you to keep searching for years, only to lose her forever.” He studied Daniel for a moment. “I won’t lie to you, Daniel. I like you, and I am attracted to you. You and I could’ve had something special, but not at the expense of your feelings.”
“So, this isn’t... going to be a problem for you, then?” Daniel mumbled softly, wanting to be certain of the other man’s intentions. They would be working side by side for who knew how long, and he didn’t want whatever Sasha was feeling to create a chasm between them.
Sasha gave him a gentle smile, his fingers brushing Daniel’s face lightly. “Nyet. I admit it would be very easy to fall for you, but after Yerik’s death, I think I have lost the ability to ever love again.” He paused, and then stared at Daniel, his expression intense. “Tell Colonel O’Neill how you feel.”
“What!” Daniel scowled. “You don’t know what you’re asking. There’s little left of our friendship as it is, I don’t want to be the one to ruin it completely.”
“I believe you will be surprised. I think he feels the same, probably for quite some time. He just wasn’t ready to face it. Maybe now he will be.”
Daniel glanced down at his hands, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the whole conversation. “And if he isn’t?”
“He is, trust me. We are in a dangerous line of business, Daniel. Don’t waste time; don’t add to your burdens. Tell him. Or one day it might be too late.”
Daniel’s next words were cut off as Teal’c approached them. “It is time to contact O’Neill again.”
Daniel nodded, already touching his radio. “Three hours into the search. No contact made.” Receiving no reply, he tried anew, “Jack? Sam? Did you copy that?”
“I believe O’Neill and Major Carter have run into trouble,” Teal’c said in his usual, even voice.
Daniel wasn’t fooled, he knew the other man well enough to catch the worry and fear in the dark eyes. “You’re probably right. Let’s go back to the ‘Gate. We can try to follow their path from there.”
He jumped to his feet, walking decisively back to the Stargate, his strength renewed. No matter what problems he might currently have with Jack, he cared deeply for him and Sam both. And he would do anything in his power to get them back safely.
Jack groaned as he slowly came to. Every single muscle in his body ached, and his head felt like it was about to explode. He opened his eyes carefully, only to squeeze them shut again, unable to face the light coming from above.
“Carter,” he croaked. “What the hell happened?”
“We fell, sir.”
“No, really?” he muttered sarcastically. He loved his kids to death, but they could definitely be trying at times. “Fell where? How?”
“The ground literally opened up under us, sir. We seem to be about eight meters below the surface level; it’s amazing we didn’t suffer any serious injuries. Well, you probably have a concussion, but other than that.... I explored our immediate surroundings and it’s like a maze down here, corridors leading to cave after cave after cave. I’m not completely certain if these caves are natural or if they were somehow excavated by some kind of advanced race. They seem too perfect, the walls too smooth. Some corridors end in forks, leading into different caves. But get this; there are faint scratches on the rock wall that seem to point in the right direction. Like a map you can follow. We’re obviously not the first ones to end up down here.”
“Obviously. Help me sit up, will ya?” He firmly ordered his stomach to behave as he slowly sat up, nausea and dizziness assailing him the instant he lifted his head. Sitting up and propping himself against a wall took some doing, and he was sweating by the time he was settled. “The others?”
“Been trying to contact them for hours, there’s no reply. Another reason I believe these caves to be... err, handmade is the mineral covering the walls. Nothing like we have encountered before. And it could be jamming our radios. I checked and they are in working order.”
“Okay. Sit down, Major. All we can do now is wait for the others to find us. If we wander off into these caves, chances are we’ll get lost, map or no map.”
He kept his eyes closed, head leaning back against the rock, aware of Carter by his side. Finally tired of her annoying, constant fidgeting he growled, “Something on your mind, Major?”
A short silence, then, “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Jack sighed; infamous last words. “Yeah, sure, knock yourself out.”
“Major Griskan,” Sam began slowly.
“What about him?”
“You don’t like him, do you?”
“More like I don’t trust him. Considering our recent problems with his military buddies, can you blame me?”
“No, sir. But that’s not why, is it? It’s because of Daniel.”
“Daniel?” This time he did open his eyes and looked at her. “What’s he gotta do with anything?”
“I know you saw the way Major Griskan stared at Daniel when they met, I saw it too. I also saw how you reacted. I think...” She cleared her throat uneasily. “I think you are jealous, sir.”
Jack always knew there was a reason he trusted this woman unconditionally to watch his six. There was a lot more than met the eye.
“Are you sure I’m the one with the concussion?” he quipped, trying to steer the conversation away from dangerous waters.
Sam exhaled slowly, the exasperation clear in her tone as she spoke. “Look, sir, we both know whatever happened between us - or didn’t happen, whatever the case may be - is over, gone, done with. I was also always aware of an undercurrent between you and Daniel, something intense, toned down, but that never really went away.”
“What are you trying to say, Carter?”
“That you both deserve some happiness. That I think it’s time we all went back to being a family, and that the only way to go about doing it is for you to be honest with yourself, and with Daniel. He took an instant liking to Griskan, sir, and they have a lot in common. Daniel is also an extremely open-minded person. If you don’t do something, we might lose him.”
“Oh, come on! What could they possibly have in common besides a PhD? Okay, so they’re both scientists, and they obviously speak several languages, and they look good together. But there’s only so many hours in the day when two men can discuss rocks, for crying out loud! Daniel would get bored in a week, tops.”
“Are you sure? More importantly, are you willing to stake everything on that? From the looks of things Major Griskan is here to stay, at least for a while. And deep down, we both know Daniel is not happy, hasn’t been for a long time. He might take what’s on offer, because he isn’t aware of what he stands to gain with you.”
Time to come clean.
“Ya think I don’t know that? But he never hinted he might be interested in a relationship with another man. In fact, this can all be a lot of speculating on your part, in which case, I might just shoot you when we get back. You’re right; I do have feelings for Daniel. And the idea that I may lose him before I can ever have him in the first place.... But what if I go to him and he says no?”
“I don’t think he will, sir.”
“But can you be sure? Yeah, we have a lot in common, too. We’ve both lost family, we’ve explored and seen stuff together that only a chosen few will ever do or see. And okay, I even went a little nuts when we all thought he had burned to death on that Nem creep’s planet. But the bottom line is, we’re two stubborn men who want to have it their own way, and who butt heads more often than General Hammond changes underwear.”
“And yet, these two men have been there for each other in times of extremity, of need, have physically comforted each other,” Sam whispered, knowingly. “And will willingly give their lives for each other. Sounds like love to me, sir.”
“God, I hate you, Carter,” he breathed, the words echoing around them.
She chuckled, her head resting on his shoulder. “Me too, sir.”
Daniel, Teal’c and Sasha reached the Stargate in record time, having barely taken the time to rest on the way. Daniel dialed home, asking to speak with General Hammond as soon as the wormhole engaged.
“SG-1, what’s your situation?”
“We are unable to contact Jack or Sam, sir,” Daniel informed him anxiously. “We get static whenever we try to radio them.”
“How did you get separated?”
“Upon reaching the planet it was decided the best course of action was to track the caravan the UAV had singled out,” Teal’c replied. “Major Griskan, DanielJackson and myself headed in one direction, O’Neill and Major Carter in another. We were to report every hour.”
“Everything was fine for the first two hours. We haven’t heard from them since,” Sasha added.
“I will send SG-3 as backup.”
“All right, sir. But we still have two hours worth of daylight, we’ll keep looking,” Sasha advised. “SG-3 can remain by the Stargate, guarding our six. We might need them yet, as we don’t know what we will be facing. Also it might be some time before we might be able to radio back again, but we’ll keep in touch with SG-3.”
“Very well. Good luck, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
They didn’t waste any time after that. Making sure their weapons were loaded, and that they had everything they needed, they took off in the general direction their missing friends had headed. Only the darkness of night forced them to stop and by that time they were beyond concerned. Jack and Sam were still not answering their calls.
CHAPTER III - Prisoners
Gazing up at the dark sky, as more and more stars became visible, Daniel wished he wasn’t nearly out of his mind with worry, so he would be able to fully enjoy the magnificence above him. They had set up camp for the night in a small clearing, with a cool, limpid pool of blue water nearby, and surrounded by a thick cluster of palm trees.
From where they stood, the full moon seemed very close to the planet, its rings reminding him of Saturn. Its surreal light shone down for miles around, the world taking on a silver tint, making it possible for them to see clearly, so much so they had dispensed with a fire, not wishing to attract any undue attention to themselves.
Teal’c was now out of sight, taking first watch, standing guard at the outer ring of the clearing. There had been no sign of the caravan or any hostiles, but they could never be too careful.
He must have dozed off, for he was awakened suddenly by a slight scuffle to his right, where Sasha was supposed to be resting. Startled, he started to sit up, only to be abruptly slammed back into his bedroll by the heavy weight of two men. Before he could do more than give a shout of alarm, his mouth was covered roughly with a strip of cloth, and then he was smothered in the folds of what felt like a heavy, smelly blanket.
Kicking and struggling as best as he could, Daniel proved to be quite a handful for his two attackers, but their superior weight and strength gave them the upper hand. After some cursing on both parts, he was finally reduced to a squirming heap, wrapped firmly in the cloth and bound round with strong rope.
Half choked with the gag and the heavy material over his upper body, he paused in his struggles while he listened to his captors muttering amongst themselves. Dread washed over him as he recognized the Goa’uld language. What the hell was going on? And where the hell was Teal’c?
He was lifted from the ground and thrown over a muscular shoulder. He started to struggle again as he realized he was being carried away from the camp, but to no avail. The ropes were tied too tightly and his head was swimming from lack of air. His captor picked up the pace, and Daniel could do little more than try to remain conscious and bounce painfully from his precarious perch.
The last thing he remembered was stopping, after what felt like forever, and being flung roughly to the ground. His skull connected with something hard and he knew no more.
Consciousness returned blissfully slowly, but brought with it a headache to rival any he had experienced before. Daniel lay still for a long time, dazed and hurting. The only good thing at the moment seemed to be the absence of the gag and the blanket. Only his hands remained bound, this time behind his back.
Knowing he would eventually have to face the situation, he sighed tiredly as he opened his eyes. He appeared to be inside a big, white tent, spartan at best. A few backpacks were tucked away in a corner, along with canteens and provisions, including his and Sasha’s.
A curtain was pulled aside and Daniel glanced outside. It was already morning, the sun high up in the sky, letting him know it was probably close to noon. They had already lost half a day that could have been spent searching for Jack and Sam.
Hearing a groan from behind him, he turned his head carefully to see Sasha stirring. “Oj! Bozhe moi! (Ouch! My God!) It feels like there’s a group of Cossacks dancing inside my head!” the Russian groaned weakly.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Daniel quipped. “What happened last night, do you remember?”
“Da. I was sleeping when two men jumped me. I tried to fight, but they were stronger. You?”
Sasha finally opened his eyes and inspected their present accommodations. “Teal’c?”
“Haven’t seen him. With any luck, they didn’t even spot him back at the camp.”
“I’m going to assume this tent and the men that attacked us are part of the caravan we were searching for yesterday.” Sasha glanced around. “Doesn’t look like much.”
“We travel light,” a man replied, walking in at that moment. He wore some kind of armor, similar to the one Aris Boch, the bounty hunter SG-1 had encountered on PJ6-877, wore. “Due to our profession we’re forced to move often.”
“Profession?” Daniel echoed with a small frown.
“Yes. We’re traders. We supply certain people with whatever they need, and in exchange, they supply us with what we need.” He looked at them shrewdly. “Who are you? You’re human, obviously, but like no human I’ve ever seen before. Those weapons you carry with you are extraordinary. You have no marks on you, and I doubt you’re slaves, but you can never tell these days. To whom do you belong? There might be a reward for your return.”
“I don’t belong to anyone,” Daniel gritted out dangerously.
The man regarded him curiously. “Passionate, aren’t you? No matter. I’m sure there will be more than enough Goa’uld willing to take you both as hosts.”
“I wouldn’t think the System Lords are lacking hosts,” Daniel spat. It was easy to see this man was nothing but a cutthroat, willing to resort to anything - even slavery - to see his needs tended to.
“Not them, no. But there are a lot of Goa’uld out there that have little to do with the System Lords. And for those, finding a suitable host is much harder. I’m sure they would be pleased with you both.”
“How did you find us?” Sasha asked for the first time.
“Chance. There’s a legend about this planet, about a city possessing amazing technology, even by Goa’uld standards. Unfortunately, no one has been able to find it for many of your centuries. I travel here occasionally, in the hopes of stumbling across it or one of its inhabitants. My team and I were returning to the Chaapa’ai when we saw you heading west. We followed, waited until it was dark before we struck. Things are always easier in the dark. The Jaffa got away, but my men are searching for him.”
“How do you know we aren’t from the city you spoke of?” Sasha insisted, obviously intrigued.
Their captor shook his head. “I don’t think so. These people are supposed to have battled the Goa’uld for a long, long time before disappearing. I don’t think they would keep a Jaffa among them.”
Daniel stared at the trader with feigned sympathy. “You say your men are out looking for Teal’c? Then they’re probably dead by now. How long have they been missing?” The startled expression on the man’s face let him know he was right. “You should let us go while you can.”
“Teal’c?” the man croaked. “The Shol’va? But then you’re the -”
“Tau’ri,” Teal’c finished for him, appearing as if out of nowhere and shooting the man with a zat gun.
“Way to go, Teal’c!” Sasha whooped. “The others?”
“Dead,” Teal’c replied, cutting through Daniel’s binds, before doing the same with Sasha.
“What will we do with this one?” Sasha questioned, standing up and looking at the senseless man at their feet.
“We can’t take him with us,” Daniel said, thoughtfully. “There’s no time and no doubt he’d keep trying to escape.”
“We could leave him here, bound as well,” Sasha suggested. “Or course he might get loose and come -” The sound of a zat gun firing a second time silenced him.
“It had to be done,” Teal’c simply said, moving the weapon away from the man’s now dead form.
Daniel watched him silently for a moment, seeing something akin to shame in the dark eyes.
“What is it, Teal’c? What’s wrong?”
Teal’c bowed curtly, his closed fist touching his heart. “I have failed you, my friend.”
Daniel frowned, shaking his head in confusion. “How?”
“I did not sense the threat until it was already too late. And instead of acting immediately, I chose to lie in wait, eliminating the enemy as they showed themselves to me.”
Daniel placed his hand over Teal’c’s.
“You did the right thing. Thanks to you, we don’t have to worry about the caravan any longer; and we can focus all of our energies on getting Jack and Sam back. Teal’c, you saved us all. If you had tried to rescue us last night, chances are you’d be dead right now, or a prisoner here with us. You made the right call. Trust me on this.”
Those solemn eyes bore into his, an-almost smile tugging at the corners of Teal’c’s lips. “I do.”
Daniel smiled, understanding everything was as it should be between them. “Good. Now, let’s gear up and resume the search. Sasha, you should radio SG-3, let them know we are okay, and what happened.”
“Why me?” Sasha teased. “You seemed to be the one in command here.”
Daniel grinned. “Well, you’re the one with the rank, Major.”
“Govnyuk! (Bastard!),” Sasha muttered playfully as he exited the tent.
“I heard that!” Daniel shouted back, already checking which way was west.
Jack and Sam were still out there waiting to be rescued and enough time had been wasted.
General Hammond watched the gate room, the silence around him more than a little foreboding. He shook his head ruefully as he recalled SG-3’s latest communication. Only SG-1 could find trouble on an apparently idyllic - and deserted - planet. At least now the caravan had been dealt with and Teal’c, Major Griskan and Dr. Jackson had escaped relatively unscathed.
He glanced at his watch. Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter, on the other hand, were still missing. And it was now approaching twenty-four hours since they had last been heard from. Not good odds, not good odds at all. Good thing he wasn’t a gambling man.
Jack sipped some water from his canteen in a vain attempt to wash the terrible taste of the ration bar from his mouth. He was beginning to feel like his old self again. Well, the knees still bothered him, but then again that wasn’t exactly a news bulletin. However, the headache was gone, as was the dizziness and the nausea. Now, if only this damn, nagging anxiety would leave him as well....
“You’re worried,” Sam’s voice cut through his thoughts.
“Yeah. We should’ve heard from them by now. It’s been a day, Carter. I can only think of two reasons why they haven’t found us yet; either they made contact with that caravan and they were hostiles, or Major Griskan was really here to cause trouble. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think it’s the Major.”
“They’ll find us, sir. You know -” She fell silent then, head cocked to the side, obviously hearing something.
“What?” he asked.
She gave him a wide smile. “Listen.”
Jack froze, poised to strike if necessary, although judging by Carter’s expression they weren’t dealing with a threat. At first he couldn’t hear a thing. But little by little, the sound became louder, closer. Really, there wasn’t anything, anything in the whole, wide world - hell, in the universe even - like a pissed off archaeologist telling someone off. General Hammond was probably hearing Daniel ripping Griskan a new one at this very moment.
“I don’t care if it was an accident! Next time watch where you’re aiming those branches!” Daniel was saying, and it was the most beautiful thing Jack had ever heard. “I fell! I fell, Sasha!”
“Bozhe moi, but you’re a pain in the ass! I already said I was sorry, Daniel! How Colonel O’Neill keeps from shooting you, I’ll never guess!”
“I fell, you zhopa! (Asshole),” Daniel griped.
“That’s it! Teal’c, could you please lend me your staff weapon?”
“I am afraid I can not comply with that request, Major Griskan. I am, however, sympathetic to your plight. Will a zat’nik’atel suffice?”
A hesitant silence, then Daniel’s voice was heard again. “You’re joking, right, Teal’c? Teal’c?”
Deciding to intervene before things got out of hand up there, Jack stood up.
“Hey! Daniel! Teal’c! We’re down here!” he shouted.
Sam followed his example. “Hey, guys! Help us out! Daniel! Major Griskan!”
They both stared up at the small skylight created by their fall and soon enough they were greeted by the sight of a rumpled looking Daniel gazing down at them, a brilliant smile on his face. “You’re alive!”
“Yeahsureyoubetcha!” Jack exclaimed happily. “Now, get us out of here, Daniel.”
They were going home.
CHAPTER IV - 48 Hours
Daniel managed to ignore the first branches that hit him, on the face, on the arms, on the chest. After all, Sasha was doing his best taking point, and it wasn’t his fault the jungle was so dense, the air so thick it was nearly impossible to breathe, or even that mosquitoes apparently were an universal plague.
When a particularly heavy branch hit him on the chest, propelling him backwards to fall on his ass, however, he had had enough.
“Sasha!” he growled, annoyed.
The Russian turned around; his expression turning immediately contrite as he saw Daniel sprawled on the ground.
“Daniel! I’m so sorry! Are you all right?”
“I was hit by a branch! Several, in fact!” Daniel snapped as he stood up, brushing the dirt briskly from his clothes. “I fell! Of course I am not all right!”
He turned his back on the other man, already moving forward through the vegetation. Somewhere deep down Daniel knew he was being irrational, not really himself, but he was far too exhausted to think clearly, aching too much and too busy worrying to care. They had been keeping a ruthless pace, sparing only a minute or two here and there to rest, urgency guiding their actions. The longer it took to find Jack and Sam, the least likely.... No! He would not go there. They were alive and safe, merely unable to communicate for some reason.
“It was an accident!” Sasha protested, following close behind. “I wouldn’t do it on purpose!”
“I don’t care if it was an accident! Next time watch where you’re aiming those branches!” Daniel retorted, nearly breathless from the effort to keep going. “I fell! I fell, Sasha!”
“Bozhe moi, but you’re a pain in the ass! I already said I was sorry, Daniel! How Colonel O’Neill keeps from shooting you, I’ll never guess!”
“I fell, you zhopa!” Daniel griped, finding that the over the top anger gave him the edge needed to forge ahead.
“That’s it! Teal’c, could you please lend me your staff weapon?”
“I am afraid I can not comply with that request, Major Griskan. I am, however, sympathetic to your plight. Will a zat’nik’atel suffice?”
At those words Daniel froze in his tracks, his gaze flying from one man’s stern countenance to the other, before settling on Teal’c.
“You’re joking, right, Teal’c?” he asked, hesitantly. “Teal’c?”
The Jaffa opened his mouth to speak, but his words were forestalled by another voice, “Hey! Daniel! Teal’c! We’re down here!” The words were muffled, but Daniel would recognize that sound anywhere.
“You hear that?” he whispered, glancing around frantically. “It’s Jack!”
“Hey, guys! Help us out! Daniel! Major Griskan!” Another voice this time.
“And Major Carter,” Teal’c added, the relief clear on his face. “It appears to come from beneath the surface. Perhaps from that cavity?”
Daniel felt his knees give out as full realization hit him; they had found Jack and Sam. A hand gripped his shoulder firmly in support and he looked sideways to see Sasha kneeling to his left, Teal’c to his right.
He closed his eyes with a soft sigh. “Thank you,” he breathed in heartfelt gratitude to whatever deities might have helped them in their quest.
“Indeed,” Teal’c murmured.
Their eyes met, both much too bright.
“They’re alive, Teal’c. They’re alive.” He took a moment to get his emotions under control, and then stuck his head in the large gap in the earth right in front of them. His sight confirmed what his heart already knew, but he still said the words aloud, “You’re alive!”
“Yeahsureyoubetcha!” Jack exclaimed happily back at him. “Now, get us out of here, Daniel.”
“In a minute, Jack. Sasha, give me your flashlight.” He shone the beam around, his curiosity returning now that he knew his friends were fine. “Fell down a rabbit hole there, Jack?”
“Very funny. Get us out of here, Daniel,” Jack reiterated again, evidently beginning to lose his patience.
“Sasha is already getting some rope out of his pack. What is this place?” he inquired, looking at the smooth walls.
“A cave of some sort,” Sam answered. “I don’t think it’s natural, though. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and there are marking on some walls that were definitely made by sentient beings. And whatever mineral is covering the rock surface blocked our radio signal.”
“Markings?” Sasha echoed, as he threw down one end of the rope. “And are you saying this cave was made by someone or something?”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Teal’c said out of the blue, and Daniel gaped at him.
“Teal’c, did you just quote Alice in Wonderland?” he asked incredulously.
“Tau’ri literature is most fascinating, DanielJackson. Cassandra has been most helpful in providing me with appropriate reading material. She suggested this tale. I found this particular quotation to fit the current situation.”
Sasha snickered. “He’s been around Colonel O’Neill too long. That was a joke.”
“I heard that, Major,” Jack admonished, although Daniel could tell by his tone that he wasn’t angry at the remark.
Both Jack and Sam climbed up the rope and minutes later SG-1 was back together as a unit. Daniel smiled brightly at his friends, still feeling somewhat giddy.
“I’m so glad you’re both okay,” he said in a rush. And wasn’t that the understatement of the year?
“Thank you, Daniel. Now, I think it’s about time we headed back home, don’tcha think?” Jack observed, gesturing towards the path ahead.
Daniel glanced at the breach in the ground longingly. “Couldn’t we just radio SG-3 and let them know you’re okay? They’re by the ‘Gate. We could go down, try to find some clues as to who built the cave -”
“Caves,” Sam corrected. “As in plural. I didn’t scout far, but there are several of them, as well as corridors. We do need a sample of that mineral from the walls, sir,” she added as an afterthought to Jack.
“Please, Jack?” Daniel begged.
Jack shook his head. “Nope, no, non, nyet. Look, I’m tired, starved for something other than a ration bar, dying for a cold beer, and right now the only thing not aching are my eyelashes. So forget it! I am not - repeat - not spending the next several hours following you around, listening to you arguing about how one rock is different from another rock!”
Daniel nodded, trying to mask his disappointment. He had been half-expecting that exact answer, but it still hurt to hear it. He understood how Jack felt, he really did, and he didn’t begrudge the other man’s much deserved rest. But couldn’t he and Sasha stay behind and do a brief study of the cave network? Although, with the way Jack seemed to feel about Sasha, Daniel wasn’t going to bother asking. He knew the answer to that one as well.
He turned to go, then startled as a hand grasped his wrist. He looked up to see that Jack was the one holding him captive.
“Jack?” he gushed out softly, a thousand questions in a single word.
“I’m sorry,” Jack said in a hushed tone, so very unlike him.
“What for?” Daniel asked, his heart speeding at the intensity in the other man’s gaze.
Jack’s lips curled up slightly, in what appeared to be a self-depreciative smile. “Ah. Ya know, for... being me.”
Daniel swallowed thickly, returning the smile weakly. “It’s okay.”
Jack shrugged. “Still.... How about a compromise? We go back today, allow Frasier to prod every nook and cranny, get some R and R, eat some of that fabulous food in the commissary, then badger old General Hammond into allowing us to come back tomorrow?”
“You mean it?” Daniel could hardly believe his ears.
“Yeah, Danny, I mean it.”
God, how long had it been since Jack had called him Danny with that much warmth in his voice, in his eyes?
“Jack?” he called out as the other man began to walk back to the Stargate.
“Thank you. For... being you.”
And the smile he received in return for those few simple words was more than worth it, even if he never got to set foot on this planet ever again.
When they finally reached the Stargate, everyone but Teal’c looked about ready to keel over. SG-3 welcomed them heartily, then Daniel dialed them home and both teams stepped through the wormhole and into the welcoming arms of General Hammond and Janet Frasier.
Jack never thought he would feel that happy just to see his superior’s bald head or the petite, but feisty doctor. It hadn’t even been a particularly tough mission, but so very much had changed in so little time. He and Sam had finally set things straight, and there was an air of easiness between them again that he cherished. As for him and Daniel... after once again opening mouth and inserting foot, and nearly ruining everything back on that damned planet, he had finally taken the first step to bridge the distance between them.
No matter what Sam thought, he wasn’t just about to go up to Daniel and confess his undying devotion. For starters, Daniel would probably collapse from shock, and it just wasn’t Jack’s way. He was a man of action, not words. So while he would eventually say the words, he would have to show how he felt first. And if that meant rebuilding their friendship stone by stone, so be it.
There were moments in life that felt like waking up, like a light had been switched on, and everything was suddenly clear. Daniel’s expression back on PX3-whatever had been one of those moments for Jack. He had watched Daniel watching him back, had catalogued every smile, and caught every emotion lurking within those blue, blue eyes.
Damn, but he’d been a fool!
Because even if Daniel wasn’t aware of the endearing mixed signals he was giving off, it was painfully obvious now. Everything Jack wanted was right there for the taking. And all the while he had been holding back, trying to deny the obvious, even to himself, insisting on calling this by some other name. Choosing to put a barrier between them, instead of going for the big prize, because they didn’t come much bigger than Dr. Daniel Jackson.
And when they finally got together, he just knew it would be like two sticks of dynamite fusing into one, giving off enough heat to warm everyone around. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted more.
“Dr. Fraiser?” General Hammond asked the next morning during debriefing.
“Well, sir, with the exception of Teal’c, all the members of SG-1 have countless scrapes and bruises. Amazingly, and considering the height of the fall and depth of the cave in question, Colonel O’Neill only suffered a mild concussion. I would advise some rest, but considering whom it is we are talking about, I won’t waste my breath. He gives a whole new definition to thick skull.”
“Hey! Colonel O’Neill in the room here,” Jack retorted, peeved. “Play nice, doctor, or getting me to take off my pants will be a lot harder next time.”
General Hammond swallowed a chuckle, allowing his eyes to slowly wander over the men and women sitting around the table. Undoubtedly the best and most trustworthy under his command, people he was proud to call friends. Not that he would ever say it aloud; Jack O’Neill’s ego didn’t exactly need a boost, he was problematic enough already.
“You mind telling me again why you want to return to PX3-904?” he asked mildly. “I would have thought you all eager to leave it behind.”
“Sir, the mineral in the cave walls bears a closer examination,” Major Carter said eagerly. “If it can block radio waves, it might have other uses. We won’t know unless we do some research.”
Dr. Jackson took it from there.
“Uh, yes. And Sasha and I were talking last night.... The leader of the caravan mentioned a city possessing advanced technology. According to him, whatever race built it or populated this city fought the Goa’uld before disappearing. Now, he said he had traveled to PX3-904 several times and never found anything or anyone. But what if the reason he never found anything is because he was looking in all the wrong places? What if those corridors and caves Sam saw lead somewhere?”
“As in leading to an underground city?” the colonel interjected incredulously. “Doesn’t this sound a little too Jules Verne to you? Center of the Earth and all that?”
General Hammond watched with amusement as Dr. Jackson’s eyebrows rose up to his hairline. “You read the book?” The disbelief in his voice was clear.
“Movie version, actually; the 1959 one, with James Mason and Pat Boone. He didn’t look half-bad in a skirt.”
Dr. Jackson nodded, as if that explained a lot. “Uh, it was a kilt.”
The colonel shrugged, although he was smiling widely. “Whatever. You say tomato....”
Hammond wasn’t certain what had changed between the two men, but he was thankful for it. The banter seemed to be back and everyone around them seemed more relaxed. Perhaps another visit to PX3-904 was in order.
“Very well, people, you have a go. I will give you forty-eight hours to either find this city or some clue as to its whereabouts. You leave in one hour. Dismissed.”
CHAPTER V - Fire And Water
It was another scorcher of a day on planet PX3-904, and they didn’t waste any time in reaching the cave. The first to climb down, Jack took deep, but slow breaths, enjoying the refreshing air, and feeling more than a little relieved to be out of the suffocating heat. When every member of the team had joined him, he looked at Daniel.
“Your show, Daniel. Now what?”
“Sam can take us to the place where she first noticed the markings. If, like she believes, it’s a go this way kind of thing, all we have to do is follow the signs.”
Jack nodded, waiting patiently while Carter collected a sample of the mineral from the wall to take back. That done, she led them to a small opening in the rock, which in turn opened into a long, wide corridor. They walked along the path for a while, finally reaching a fork, each tunnel going in a different direction.
“Where did you see the markings?” Sasha asked, both he and Daniel already touching the walls.
“On the right tunnel,” Sam replied, pointing to something on the smooth surface. “There.”
Daniel brushed his fingers against the rock, clearing away the dust. Even from the distance, Jack could tell it was more than a mere scratching; it eerily resembled a human head.
“Blin! (Shit!),” Sasha exclaimed, surprised. “I thought Major Carter was referring to an arrow or something to that effect. This is strange.”
“I agree. We should definitely follow this through, Jack,” Daniel said, turning pleading eyes full force on Jack.
“In that case... after you,” Jack drawled sarcastically, gesturing for them to get moving. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz,” he sang teasingly, smirking as he heard several groans from the others.
He couldn’t remember having had this much fun in ages.
They had been walking for a few hours now, stopping briefly only to eat and drink something. They were still moving downwards, going further and further into the planet’s core. At nearly every turn, they had found a fork, and had to look for the same human faces on the rock that pointed in the right direction. They were in a true maze, and without the faint markings, they would have been lost, maybe forever.
The journey so far hadn’t been without its dangers. They had been treated to a visual spectacle of enormous domed chambers, whose walls were covered in some kind of mineral that shone in a spectrum of colors that amazed even Jack. But some of the smaller tunnels and cavities had been so cramped, and the ceilings so low, they had been forced to crawl their way out.
There had also been a stone bridge; a very narrow stone bridge, with a river of lava flowing below. Jack hadn’t been too thrilled with that one. Then, of course, they had found what he dubbed the Moaning Cavern.
Sam had speculated that while some of the chambers were excavated, many of them were obviously natural. The Moaning Cavern was one of them, its walls breached with fissures from ceiling to floor. They were deep enough underground to not be able to feel or hear any wind. It just wasn’t possible. And yet, it had to be the wind escaping through those niches, making it sound like someone moaning in anguish. Jack ruefully acknowledged they were all a lot more eager to leave that particular cave than any of the previous ones.
“Creepy place,” Daniel breathed, sharing an amused grin with Jack.
“Indeed,” Teal’c’s voice sounded almost too loud within the confines of the new trail they found themselves on.
“I can see light up ahead,” Sam commented softly.
They followed the light into yet another grotto. It was probably the biggest chamber Jack had ever seen in his life. Water droplets were catching light as they fell hundreds of feet from the ceiling, making it look like it was raining stars. The walls were covered with luminous rock formations and the impressive stalactites and stalagmites spread out through the ground and ceiling looked like polished chandeliers and candlesticks.
“Forests of gigantic stalactites and stalagmites of every color of the rainbow; draperies so cannily made by the hand of nature that one would have expected to see them move in the breeze, bits of beautiful lace done in onyx with the edges frilled. Pyramids, faces in stone, half-completed bodies, grotesque images that resembled idols, totem poles, stalactite harps that one might play with drumsticks, delicate grillwork, old castles, and most parts of the human body from toenails to brains,” Sasha recited in a low-key voice, rich with wonderment. When all eyes turned to him, he flushed slightly. “Just... something I read once.”
“Very apt, Major Griskan,” Teal’c approved.
Jack looked down at his watch. Two more hours max, then they would stop for the night. It was still early, but they were all looking slightly frayed at the seams, and after the previous day, he didn’t want them to overdo it.
“Okay, kids, this tour will end in exactly -” A low rumbling sound cut off his words, and he scanned their surroundings with the flashlight on his P-90. “Anybody else hear that?”
“Yeah,” Daniel confirmed, moving closer, Beretta already in his hand. “Didn’t sound good.”
“Bozhe moi,” Sasha’s voice, a mix of terror and awe had them all swirling around, weapons held high.
“Holy... jaws,” Jack whispered, eyes widening.
Before them stood two giant wolf-like creatures, all sharp teeth and heavy brown fur. From the hungry glow in their dark eyes, they were definitely carnivorous and ready to have their evening meal.
“Fire!” Jack shouted, just as the first of the two creatures charged against them.
As one they opened fire on the beasts, each picking a target, the noise of the automatic weapons bouncing on the rock walls, the effect deafening. Jack cursed as he kept shooting. It was like trying to kill an Unas; the damned monsters took round after round, blast after blast, and still they kept coming, growing closer.
He was running out of bullets when the first one finally fell with a high-pitched whine. He changed his magazine rapidly, his focus now on the second animal, his team doing the same. It was some time before all sound stilled, before his ears stopped ringing. Approaching the two creatures, he kicked them lightly, wanting to be certain they were indeed dead.
“Jack?” Daniel’s voice had a strange quiver to it, and Jack turned around to see the younger man some feet away, a stiffness to his whole posture that was unusual. “I’m out of bullets.”
Jack frowned at the apparent non sequitur. He stared at Daniel for a moment, trying to judge what was going on. Because something was going on, he knew that much. Daniel was just on the fringes of the luminescence created by both their flashlights and the chamber’s mineral-covered walls, his body framed by shadow.
“And?” he asked softly, taking a step closer.
“There’s another one.” Daniel didn’t have to say another what. It was painfully obvious. “Behind me.”
“All right. Campers, you with me?” Jack asked the others, immediately hearing soft words of assent. “Okay. Daniel, ya ready?” The wide blue eyes blinked in response and Jack nodded. “Good. Now, hit the deck!” he yelled, his finger squeezing the trigger the moment Daniel dropped to the floor.
This one was smaller, probably a cub, if it could be called such a thing. It growled and roared as it was hit over and over again, but like the others, it finally surrendered to its wounds.
When the echo finally died down, Daniel sighed, and then stood up slowly.
“It’s dead,” he announced unnecessarily, before walking over to them. “Thanks, guys.”
“You’re welcome, Daniel,” Jack said with a grin. “But you owe me big-time for this one.”
Daniel tilted his head, regarding him with a slight smile. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. We’re talking fancy dinner here, big steak, huge steak. Now, let’s get out of here before more of their relatives show up.”
They emerged into another passageway, which kept getting progressively wider until they were standing once again in a large chamber.
“Wow!” Sam breathed as they looked around.
There was a waterfall running from the cave ceiling, beautifully sculpted stalagmites and stalactites all around. The water was crystalline and filled a relatively small but deep pool created by the falls.
“Well, that settles it,” Jack said, glancing at the others. “Don’t know about you kids, but I’m spending the night here. After that little episode back there, I’m more than ready for some food, some water and plenty of sleep.”
“You’re getting old, Jack,” Daniel teased him.
“One of these days I’ll show you just how old I really am, Danny,” Jack whispered huskily for Daniel’s ears only, resisting the impulse to grin at the faint flush on the other man’s cheeks. To the others, he ordered, “Set up camp, folks. We’ve had our joyride for the day.”
Daniel smiled as Sasha sat by his side with a contented sigh.
“Hell of a day,” the Russian remarked tiredly. After a brief pause, he continued, “Things seem different between you and Colonel O’Neill.”
It wasn’t a question, but Daniel answered it anyway. “Yes, they are. I’m not sure why, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. It feels good.”
Sasha nodded. “I think I was right, Daniel. I’m not sure if it was my initial interest in you, my mere presence, or something altogether different, but I believe he has finally seen the light. Things will be fine between you two in time. More than fine, I bet.”
Daniel glanced at him. “And we? Are we okay?”
Sasha chuckled. “Da. My feelings aren’t hurt, Daniel. I told you this wasn’t about love. In fact, I’m quite happy for you. Colonel O’Neill is a very lucky man, I hope he realizes that.”
Daniel exhaled in a deep breath. “We’ll see. But I won’t take the first step, Sasha, I can’t. I wasn’t the one to pull away. Jack will have to be the one to make the effort.” Another comfortable silence followed before he asked, “Think your government will allow you to stay for long?”
Sasha’s expression was ruefully. “I think the right question to ask is whether your government will allow me to stay. I don’t think they were too happy with this arrangement. I will just enjoy it while I can, there isn’t much more I can do otherwise.”
“Sasha, those markings on the walls we’ve been following....”
“What about them?” Sasha prompted.
“Don’t they remind you of anything?”
Sasha remained quiet for a moment, and then nodded. “Now that you mention it, yes. Can’t quite figure it out, though. Why?”
“I-I know it sounds crazy, but the figure reminds me of a Moai.”
“The giant statues on Rapa Nui, the Easter Island?” Sasha queried, incredulously.
“Yes. They’re almost identical in design. The strange heads, the way they are shaped....”
“You’re right, they are similar,” Sasha said after some consideration. They exchanged a look. “But what’s the connection to this place?”
Daniel rubbed his forehead. “I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but have you ever heard of a man called Erich Von Daniken?”
“Yes, I think I have. Why?”
“Daniken was made a laughing stock a while back - much like me, by the way - for sustaining the idea that Earth might have been visited by extraterrestrials in the remote past. Of course,” Daniel continued bitterly. “While I lost my job, my home and everyone I knew turned their backs on me, Daniken has written over twenty books on the topic and has sold over sixty million copies worldwide.” He took a calming breath. “Anyway, I met with him once during a lecture and he suggested that a small group of intelligent beings got stranded on Rapa Nui and taught the natives to make robot-like statues.”
“And you believe that?”
“Not about the robot-like statues, no. But we know next to nothing about that civilization, including why the island was found virtually deserted in the Eighteenth Century. Who’s to say that a Goa’uld didn’t bring them here the way they did with dozens of other civilizations on Earth?”
“That trader said the race from the city battled the Goa’uld,” Sasha reminded.
“Maybe they rebelled like the ancient Egyptians and their society advanced enough to stand up to them. Or maybe the race stranded on Rapa Nui was not Goa’uld. We’ve met other races, and we know there are many more we have yet to meet.” He yawned suddenly. “Or maybe I’m too tired and I’m not making any sense at all.”
Sasha laughed gently. “Tomorrow will be another day, Daniel. Go to sleep. If we ever find this lost city, then we’ll know what we’re facing. Spokoynoy nochi. (Goodnight.)”
Daniel waited until the Russian had settled down to sleep before reaching for his journal, penning down his thoughts on the last two days, and his questions regarding what was to follow. Sasha was right, there was no point in making any guesses until they actually found the city. There was also a good chance they would discover only ruins. It had been centuries since anyone had been in contact with this supposedly advanced race. More than enough time for it to become extinct.
CHAPTER VI - Enigma
The next morning they rose at the crack of dawn, knowing they had little time to keep searching before they were forced to give up and turn back. A quick breakfast and they were on the move, passing through several more caverns and tunnels before they saw what resembled daylight ahead.
They picked up the pace, suddenly finding themselves at the edge of a cliff, with one of the most beautiful views Daniel had ever seen in his life. This was obviously the final chamber in the network they had traveled through during the past day and a half, although calling it a mere chamber was a huge understatement, as it stretched for miles.
The sunlight shone from a window in the rock ceiling, obviously the result of a roof collapse, which had created a wide skylight. This in turn had bred a vast variety of flora and fauna, the rock giving way to dense vegetation, the various shades of green flirting with the pink, white or blue from the flowers growing to a great height and covered with a perfect mass of blossoms.
And in the valley below.... In the valley below lay a magnificent city. From where he was standing, Daniel could see wide curving boulevards with smaller avenues branching out like spokes in a wheel. Shining domes and rectangular buildings fronted by large columns could be seen throughout the city. Then there were the gigantic statues, majestic temples and the pyramids.
To the far south there was a large opening in the cave wall, and to his surprise, Daniel realized it led to a lake or an ocean. A small harbor had been built there, with colorful boats moored at the docks. Streams, cascades and meadows dotted the landscape here and there, finishing the heavenly scenery.
“Ya ne ponimayu, (I don’t understand,),” Sasha exclaimed, his tone bewildered. “It doesn’t make any sense!”
“What’s he talking about, Daniel? What doesn’t make sense?”
Daniel turned to Jack.
“This city. I told Sasha last night that those markings we’ve been following reminded me of the Moai, the giant statues at Easter Island. I ventured that perhaps the Goa’uld or another race unknown to us had brought some of the inhabitants to this planet. But this...” He gestured below, “doesn’t add up.”
“So, what you’re saying is that they are not descendents from the Easter Island tribes?” Sam surmised.
“What I’m saying is that at this moment it’s impossible to say where these people come from. The design on those buildings, it’s definitely not Rapa Nui. The ruins found on the island led archaeologists to believe that the foundations of the inhabitants’ houses were meant to represent boats turned upside down. They had a similar shape and it made sense, as they were basically a sea people. The Hare Paenga, as they were called, were made of stone. There is no way they could have evolved into what we’re seeing here.”
“Why not?” Teal’c asked.
It was Sasha who replied. “Because these structures represent different cultures from Earth, separated by thousands of years. You have Egyptian, Incan, Babylonian, Greek, Arabic.... I highly doubt we’ll be dealing with an alien race. But I also don’t understand how this melting pot of cultures is possible in one single city; unless they were brought here little by little and shared their ways, and I can’t see how that is possible. Not to this extent.”
“We won’t know until we ask,” Jack offered. “Let’s go down and meet the natives, shall we?”
They found a stairway carved in stone that seemed to lead down into the valley and descended it slowly, taking their time, watching as the fabulous city grew closer to them.
“What do you think that big building in the center of the city is?” Sasha asked, eyes trying to take in everything at once.
“Probably a temple,” Daniel answered. “Look at the giant gold statue at the entrance, a figure riding a chariot pulled by winged horses. Might be where the rulers come to discuss laws, pass judgments, make any important decisions concerning the city.”
They were walking along the beautiful streets now, and almost immediately they were greeted with friendly smiles and waves by most of the people that happened to cross their path. Their way of dressing was very uniform; nearly everyone was wearing the same style, only differing in the color. The women wore long, nearly see-through dresses, crossed at the front and tied at the waist with gold leaf belts. Most of them had long hair, interwoven with gold braiding, much like in Greek times. The men were dressed all in white, with simple tight pants and long-sleeved, buttonless shirts. The fabric of their clothes was light and airy, giving them a wonderful fluidity as they moved. All in all, both the men and women looked wonderful and contributed to the unearthly atmosphere of the whole place.
“Iorana!” they greeted, bowing as they walked past.
Jack touched Daniel’s shoulder. “What does that mean? Iorana?”
“Don’t know yet, although it does sound familiar. It’s obviously a greeting.”
Jack rolled his eyes at him. “Obviously.”
A man finally came up to them, bowing slightly. “Iorana, atua Hiva.”
Daniel cocked his head, waving a hand in the air as he frantically searched his mind for the translation.
“I know this, I know this... uh.... Iorana is welcome, hello. Atua Hiva... strange land? No, foreigners!” He grinned at Jack. “See, I told you they were welcoming us. And it is the Rapanui language.” He turned to the man before him. “Ko ai tou ingoa? (What’s your name?). Daniel,” he added, patting his own chest.
“I am Hori,” the man replied in English, “Hopu to our Ariki.”
“You speak our language?” Sasha asked, surprised.
Hori smiled. “Yes. I am one of the fortunate ones. When time is close, our Ariki always chooses three of the brightest Ariki Paka and teaches them the ways of the universe. One shall succeed as Ariki.”
“I’m Daniel Jackson, this is Teal’c, Colonel Jack O’Neill, and Majors Samantha Carter and Sasha Griskan,” Daniel introduced. “Ariki is ruler, right? Hopu means helper, aide.”
“That is correct. That is what the chosen ones are called. While we learn, we must also take up duties and help the Ariki deal with our people. I was Ariki Paka before.”
“Performed religious tasks,” Daniel nodded, his relative knowledge of the Easter Island slowly coming back to him.
“You come from the ring of stars?” Hori asked curiously.
“From the Stargate, yes,” Jack replied. “What did you mean that your Ariki chooses three of you when time is close?”
“It is our tradition. The Ariki must rule alone. They never mate with another, so there are never any offspring to rule in their stead.”
“Never mate with another?” Jack interrupted with a grimace. “Talk about a bad case of blue balls!”
Daniel elbowed him none too gently. “Forgive my friend’s rudeness, Hori. Please, continue.”
“As they begin to age, the Ariki must pass on the knowledge so that another can take their place. Ariki Kaimi is unwell, even as we speak. It should not be long before she has to choose her successor. But I am being a most unfit host. Please, welcome to Henua.”
“Henua?” Sam echoed.
“Our name for this city, a homage to our ancestors, who came from Te Pito O Te Henua.”
“The navel of the world,” Daniel recalled. “Supposedly Rapa Nui’s original name. Literally Henua means land.”
“Come with me, I will take you to the palace,” Hori invited. “We will be able to talk more freely there.”
“Wait. Major Griskan, I need you to go back and inform General Hammond we have made contact,” Jack ordered to a very disgruntled Sasha.
“I’m afraid that is not possible at the moment,” Hori interrupted, looking somewhat shamefaced.
“And why not?” Jack asked, his annoyance clear.
“Please, you must understand. We have been hiding from others for many, many generations. Until we are certain that you can be trusted, you cannot leave.”
“We mean you no harm, Hori,” Sam assured softly. “And the rest of us would remain behind.”
“We have nothing but your word on that. Would you feel different, should our positions be reversed? Let us know each other better. Perhaps tomorrow you can go?”
Jack looked at Daniel, who shrugged. “He does have a point, Jack. He doesn’t know us, you can’t fault him for not trusting us.”
Jack sighed. “Fine. But I’ll let you explain this to General Hammond when we return.”
Hori cleared his throat. “There is something else.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, now what?” Jack growled.
“Your weapons. We don’t have many rules, but this one is very important to us. You cannot enter the city with them; it is against our laws to carry any kind of weapon. We don’t need them. We are a peaceful people.”
Daniel could tell Jack was reaching his breaking point, but they could see the residents weren’t armed, and if they were to discover more about this strange people, they had to abide by their ways.
“Fine,” Jack muttered, handing his gear over to a man summoned by Hori, nodding his assent for the others to do the same. “Just make sure they stay under lock and key.”
“It shall be done. Now, please, join me.”
As they walked through the city streets, Daniel noticed that Jack was moving to stand by Hori’s side. He almost felt sorry for the poor man, as he knew Jack had to be in interrogation mode. He wasn’t wrong.
“So, Hori, you believe in a god?”
The Henuan blinked. “God? As in a powerful entity?”
“Kinda, yeah. After all, until your Ariki chose you, you were sort of a priest, right? You have to believe in a god of some sort.”
Hori smiled. “Ah, I see what you mean. Well, over the centuries, even as we grew as a people, we worshipped many gods. Our ancestors brought with them the beliefs of Te Pito O Te Henua, Rapa Nui, as you called it, and we respected those deities. But we came to believe there is only one god, The Nameless One, responsible for all that is, for every living creature, and that watches over us. Is that what you meant?”
“I guess. So you have no gods... walking around among you?”
Hori gave him a strange look. “I do not think that is possible. Divine entities and mortals should not meet. Not until the time comes and ones soul joins with the maker of all things. We have arrived at the palace. Only the Ariki and the chosen ones live here, as well as any guests.” He gave them a wide smile. “Of course, we haven’t had any visitors in many generations, this will truly be a joyous occasion. Come, I will show you to your quarters. You can leave your things there and then we can partake the noon meal and talk. I’m certain you have many more questions.”
The palace was a huge Hindu type structure made of purest white marble, with a staircase that led to enormous silver doors. Gigantic pillars, arches and graceful screens decorated the palace from within, the walls covered with beautiful paintings, sculptured marble panels, glass and mirror work. There didn’t seem to be any doors as they walked through corridor after corridor until finally Hori stopped and gestured towards a division.
“These will be your accommodations. I trust they will suit your needs?”
They entered into a spacious, airy suite, almost completely empty with the exception of six single, but comfortable-looking beds. Free floating curtains in what appeared to be silk hung from tall windows, overlooking a courtyard, and from where they could see the whole city. Like everything they had seen so far, the decor seemed to have been designed to give their inhabitants a sense of peace and well-being.
Daniel followed Jack through a door to the right, realizing it was a bathing room. He noticed a medium-sized pool, similar to the thermae the Romans used to bathe in, and a table with a vase and washbasin.
“Oh, Daniel?” Jack’s voice sing-songed back to him and he joined the other man.
Jack was gesturing towards a hole in the floor, a look of absolute dread on his face, and Daniel felt his lips twisting of their own volition.
“Uh, that would be what the Rapanui call a kitoga.”
Jack gave him a pointed look. “In English, Daniel.”
“A toilet, Jack. It’s a toilet.”
“You’re kidding?” Jack asked incredulously.
Daniel blinked innocently. “I’m afraid not.”
“You mean to tell me these people can build palaces like this one, pyramids and all the... stuff out there, but they can’t come up with the concept of a... a... bowl?”
Daniel nodded eagerly, enjoying Jack’s discomfiture immensely. “Looks that way.”
“Oy,” Jack mumbled, running a hand over his face. “I’m so waiting until we get home.”
This time laughter did escape him and Daniel trailed after a very pissed off colonel back to the main room, shaking his head as he wiped tears from his eyes. Leave it to Jack to get that annoyed because the facilities didn’t meet with his needs.
Jack aimed a particularly fierce glare at Hori. “All right, let’s do lunch and the gossip thing. I wanna get out of here. Fast!”
Hori bowed. “Of course. Please, follow me.”
A few more corridors and the next thing Daniel knew, they were in a colossal room decorated with marble and gold, and with billowing white curtains suspended from ceiling-high windows. Extravagant plants filled nearly every corner, and in one platformed area, dozens of large, overstuffed pillows surrounded a low table upon which sat golden platters, overflowing with food of all types.
Hori sat back against a mound of pillows, gesturing for them to do the same. “What is it that you wish to know about Henua and our people?”
CHAPTER VII - The First Ones
“You say you are descendents of the people of Te Pito O Te Henua?” Teal’c was the first to start the questions.
Hori nodded. “Yes. Ever since Ariki Keimi chose me three years ago as a possible successor, I have been studying our past, learning what I could about our forefathers and the First Ones.”
“The First Ones?” Jack repeated carefully. The last thing they needed was to come across more Unas, no matter how Daniel might feel about them.
“This planet’s original inhabitants. They called themselves Moai and were very much like us, except that they seemed to be able to communicate without words, and what one knew all knew. They were at war with another alien race, called the Goa’uld. I found some ancient writings in the palace about this race, but I confess I do not understand most of it. It seems that the Goa’uld were the ones that began the war with the Moai, as they feared them.” Hori frowned. “There was some mention of the Goa’uld not being able to blend with the host?”
Daniel leaned forward, clearly excited. “Yes! We’ve dealt with the Goa’uld on many occasions, Hori. They’re a parasitic race that has been using several other races, but especially humanoids, for thousands of years as hosts for their true forms. Apparently that didn’t work with the Moai, reason enough for the Goa’uld to want them destroyed.”
“What do they really look like?” Hori asked. “These Goa’uld?”
Jack shook his head curtly in a negative as Teal’c made to show his symbiote. They were trying to gain the Henuans trust. Letting them know about ‘Junior’ might not be the best way to go about doing it.
“I guess you can say they look a little like a snake in their true form,” he replied smoothly. “Once they take over the host, the human gets this distorted voice and glowing eyes. Believe me, you’d know if you’d met one.”
Sasha took a sip from his wine, glancing around. “What happened to the Moai?”
Hori tilted his head sadly. “They died, all of them. It was a tragedy. They had spaceships and often engaged in battle with the Goa’uld. One of those times, while fighting near our ancestors’ home planet, the Goa’uld outnumbered them and their ship exploded. A few managed to leave in escape pods, and somehow ended up in Te Pito O Te Henua. From what I could find out, they were welcomed as gods, and agreed to remain on the island until such time as rescue came.”
“Which obviously happened,” Sam observed as she ate some grapes.
“Yes. And as a reward for the way they were received, the Moai gave the choice to all the people, whether to travel with them to live on this planet or stay on the island. Many chose to come, and as you have guessed, we are their descendents. But many remained behind as well. Before our forefathers left with the Moai, those that stayed began building gigantic statues representing the Moai, a way for them to be remembered. The Moai also agreed to leave behind a device that would allow for the islanders to send for them, should they ever need help. This is all I could find on Te Pito O Te Henua.”
“But how did the Moai die?” Daniel insisted.
“I cannot give you the exact reason. But there was an epidemic, probably brought with them from the island, I’m sorry to say. Whatever it was, it didn’t affect humans, but the Moai had no resistance to it. They died by the thousands. For some, it was a matter of days, for others it took months. It didn’t leave much time for them to teach our ancestors of their culture and in time their legacy vanished. Unfortunately, even information on their technology has been lost to us.”
“The city,” Sasha began. “Was it built by them?”
“No. I found some sketches of their city and it was entirely built in stone, nothing like it is now. The changes began after the first Ariki came through the ring of stars.”
Teal’c raised an eyebrow. “The first Ariki?”
“Yes. Soon after the Moai died there was only chaos in Henua. No one knew how to use their technology or how to read their language, there was no leader, no one to guide the people through those dark times. They were on the verge of dying themselves. Then a woman came, much like you, when they least expected. She had been a slave on another world, had seen much, and knew much. She saved our world with her knowledge. It was a sad day when she died. It was during her reign that changes to the city were made. The first pyramids and temples were built, even as the Moai city disappeared. The following Ariki have been improving on what already exists, using her vision as knowledge is passed from generation from generation.”
“Hori, you ever been to the cave network that leads here?” Jack asked, taking a deep, satisfying bite of a succulent peach.
“Yes, once. I was curious. There was no mention of it in the writings, no explanation for its use.” He shrugged. “I think we will never know the purpose of some of those caves. They didn’t look natural to me. I’m sure the Moai had some use for them, but I can’t venture what.”
“And the creatures there?” Jack continued. “Big size, big teeth, big... everything?”
Hori shuddered. “Wargs. They used to be a plague on the planet, but the Moai managed to slay most of them before they died. Now they stay in the caves. I was very fortunate not to run into one of them.” He hesitated, and then forged ahead, “Can I ask you some questions as well?”
“It is only fair,” Teal’c replied.
“What can you tell me of Te Pito O Te Henua? What has happened to the ones that stayed on the island?”
“No one knows for certain, Hori,” Daniel said. “When Rapa Nui was visited a few centuries ago it was nearly deserted. Scientists have been speculating for years about an ecological disaster of some sort. There were vestiges of deforestation, soil depletion, and erosion. This may have caused food shortages, which in turn would have affected the population. There is also something else.... The giant statues that you say were built as a remembrance of the Moai, they were all torn down; apparently by the islanders themselves. If I were to venture a guess here, I would say they attempted to contact the Moai when they realized they were in trouble. And when the Moai didn’t return....”
“They turned their wrath on the gods,” Hori finished for him. “Oh, but there was nothing the Moai could have done! Soon after our forefathers arrived here, they lost their last ship to the Goa’uld.” He sighed, sorrowfully. “Nothing to be sorry for now, it is much too late. What of you? What is it that you do?”
“We are explorers from the planet of your ancestors, Earth,” Daniel replied. “And we are at war with the Goa’uld, much like the Moai were. Only we’re not as far advanced as the Moai seemed to have been.”
Hori looked at Teal’c curiously. “You are... different.”
Teal’c inclined his head in agreement. “You are correct. I am Teal’c of Chulak. I battle the Goa’uld side by side with the Tau’ri.”
“That would be us,” Jack replied.
“That is indeed good news!” Hori exclaimed. “That fact should help convince Ariki Keimi to let you depart tomorrow. I shall speak with her tonight.”
“Couldn’t we speak with her?” Jack inquired. “Might help if she saw us.”
Hori shook his head. “I’m sorry. As I have mentioned before, she is ill. And as per our tradition, only the Ariki Paka and the Hopu can meet with the Ariki. All others are forbidden to go to her, unless summoned.”
“What are we supposed to do in the meantime?” Jack gritted out, his annoyance reaching new heights. He really didn’t like to be told what to do.
Hori gave him a sympathetic look. “I am truly sorry for all this, Colonel O’Neill. The only request I make is that you do not leave. But please, go out and visit our city, meet with our people. You are free to roam at will. And I promise to speak with Ariki Keimi. I do not believe you are a threat to us, on the contrary. And after you leave, we can always block the caves’ entrance somehow. We have no need for them.”
“So we can go anywhere we want as long as we don’t get out of Dodge?” At Hori’s confused frown, Jack explained, “It’s an expression. We can’t leave the city limits, is that it?”
“Yes,” Hori replied, standing slowly. “Oh, before I forget, there will be a celebration tonight in your honor. As I have said, it’s been a long time since we have had any visitors, and we wish you to feel welcome. As soon as it gets dark, go to the main square. There will be many people there, music and laughter. You can’t miss it.” He bowed, “Until tonight, my friends.”
After he had left, Jack looked at his team.
“Well, you heard the man. Let’s do the tourist thing and then it’s off to party. Never a dull moment for us travelers of the Tau’ri.” A clearing of the throat had him adding, “And their trusted Jaffa brother-in-arms, of course.”
“Better,” Teal’c drawled from behind him as they left the room.
Jack glared at both ends of the corridor, which lead in two different directions. “Anyone remember how to get out of here?”
“No, sir,” Sam replied. “This place is like a maze.”
Jack sighed. “Fine. Let’s try the scientific method, eenie, meenie, meinie, moe. That way.”
He turned right, ignoring the stifled snickering from the others. Unfortunately, moe was wrong. It took them thirty minutes to find the silver doors, exchanging the palace for a wonderful mid-afternoon walk into Henua.
Jack couldn’t deny that Hori was right. Not only was Henua a magnificent place to visit, but also the population had to be among the friendliest they had ever encountered. Everyone they met insisted on greeting them - if only with a smile or a pat on the back - as if to make certain they were real. They were constantly followed around by a large group of children, who kept laughing as they imitated the foreigners’ strange gestures and speech, but who rapidly scattered to the four winds the moment they tried to talk to them.
Only to return seconds later.
And so their procession passed through busy streets, monuments and buildings, stores and gardens, until it was finally dark and obediently they headed out for the main square.
A gigantesque bonfire made in the shape of a triangular pyramid burned brightly right at the center of the square. Dozens of people had gathered around the bonfire, singing and dancing happily. A little further behind sat those who preferred to eat and drink, and the ground was literally covered with trays filled with fruit and exotic-looking dishes, and all kinds of drinks.
Wanting to observe the contagious delight for a while, they all sat by the food, picking from this and that plate and washing it down with a honey colored beverage that soon had them all singing along with the natives without even knowing the lyrics.
A woman appeared before them suddenly, offering a large platter to Daniel. It sort of looked like a piglet to Jack, but it had six legs and no muzzle.
“We wouldn’t want to offend the nice lady by saying no, would we, Daniel?” he taunted.
Daniel narrowed his eyes at him, but there was pure mischief lurking within the blue irises and Jack was instantly on alert. He watched as Daniel tore a small piece of the meat, smelled it briefly, and then stuffed it in his mouth, chewing carefully.
“Hmmm....” he hummed. “It’s good! Tastes like -”
“So help me, Daniel, if you say it tastes like chicken, I might just have to cause you some bodily harm!” Jack warned.
Daniel gave him a wide smile. “Gotcha!” he crowed, waving his arms like a chicken and making a clucking noise.
Jack chuckled. “Danny, you’re drunk.”
“Probably. Still gotcha good, though.” Another woman approached, this time holding up a hand for him. “What?” When the woman said something in her native language, Daniel laughed. “I’d be honored,” he said, already rising to his feet.
“Honored to do what?” Jack asked, half-worried.
“Dance with her.” He saluted slightly. “See ya, Colonel!”
Jack watched rapaciously as the other man joined the crowd around the bonfire, mesmerized by the way Daniel gave himself over to the music, enjoying the view of pants stretched tight across firm buttocks and groin, as the archaeologist’s hips gyrated to the hypnotic beat of the drums surrounding them.
He closed his eyes on temptation for a moment. When he reopened them, Daniel’s black t-shirt was gone, his muscled, bare chest displayed for all to see.
Jack’s head swiveled to the side so fast it nearly gave him whiplash. He glared at Griskan.
“Tell him how you feel,” the Russian said as softly as possible, considering the noise level.
“Look, Griskan -”
The Russian raised a hand. “Please, I mean no offense. He’s waiting for you to make the first move, Colonel O’Neill. You two care for each other, that is more than obvious. You shouldn’t waste time, not when you could be together.”
“I thought you were interested,” Jack challenged, his eyes drawn once again to the dancing man, gasping at the sight of the sweat glistening body lit by firelight.
Griskan chuckled. “I won’t deny I’m attracted to him. He’s very handsome, and the soul more than fits the package. But he’s desperately in love with you; and until four days ago, certain that his feelings were not returned. Worse, he half-believed you hated him for some reason he couldn’t phantom. My being here has made him aware that maybe he was wrong, about a lot of things. I have helped when possible. But it is from you that he needs to hear the words.”
Jack stared at the other man for a long time. “You know, Griskan, I may have been wrong about you. You might - and I repeat - might not be a bad guy.”
“Well, thank you ever so much,” Griskan quipped sarcastically.
“And...” Jack continued as if the other hadn’t spoke. “I’ll tell him as soon as we get back home. You have my promise.”
Griskan nodded. “You’d better. Or I may just change my mind and stake a claim. He’s quite the prize.”
Jack looked wistfully back at Daniel. “Yes, he is,” he agreed. “And he’d shoot us both if he knew we were talking about him like that,” he said ruefully.
Daniel opened his eyes slowly against the early morning light, knowing he should have the hangover to end all hangovers, but feeling absolutely marvelous. Whatever that stuff was he had drunk last night, it was definitely alcoholic, but apparently without any of the nasty side effects. As Jack would say: sweet.
Speaking of Jack.... Daniel turned on his side, a stab of tenderness surging through him as he watched the other man sleeping in the next bed. He remembered very little from the party after joining the dancing crowd around the bonfire. But there were a few hazy memories that not even alcohol had completely suppressed. Like the way he had danced, knowing Jack was watching his every move, or the way he had torn his t-shirt off in a pitiful attempt to show off... or even the way he had virtually passed out even as he was about to make a pass at Jack.
He sighed. Pathetic, truly pathetic. Of course, if he had passed out, that begged the question of how he had ended up in their room in the first place, and particularly in his bed. Lifting the covers, he flushed. And who had finished undressing him. Not that he had much left as way of clothing by the time the party was winding down.
He sniffed delicately, the scent of his sweat offensive even to himself. Noticing the others were still sleeping, and glancing towards the bathing room, Daniel grinned mischievously, an idea springing into his mind. If he was careful, none of the others would ever be the wiser.
He rose silently, reaching for clean underwear and his clothes, and tiptoed to the bath. He placed the clothes at a safe distance from the edge, snatching a bottle of what seemed like a liquid soap and the vase from the table, and walked into the pool with a contented sigh. The water felt divine against his body, and he stood waist deep within the soothing warmth, leaning against the marble, the silence and heat finally helping him to relax.
The last days had been a veritable roller coaster ride, physically and emotionally, and it felt wonderful to sit back and simply let go. And he could even wash the sweat and grime off of his skin, much like they did in ancient times.
It was better than nothing.
Jack came to suddenly, his senses immediately on full alert. He glanced up at the marble ceiling above him, and wondered for a moment where he was. Rolling onto his side carefully, he spotted his team sleeping peacefully in the several beds loitering the division and remembered; they were still on PX3-904, more precisely on Henua. A quick head count revealed one of his kids was missing. He rolled his eyes as he realized it was Daniel, even as he sat up and looked around for his wayward archaeologist.
His breath caught in his throat as he spotted Daniel in the bathing room, water up to his waist, pale body glistening in the ethereal light coming from the tall windows. He watched rapturously as the appealing form vanished for a moment, ducking under the surface, only to reappear seconds later, dark hair clinging carelessly to his forehead.
Jack shifted restlessly in his bed, filled with something akin to dread as he realized that his body was responding to the vision before him. He would never be able to get rid of his erection without Daniel noticing. And now that he was getting close to the other man again, he didn’t want to ruin everything by treading blindly where angels feared to tread. He didn’t think Daniel was particularly experienced with men - if at all - and the last thing the archaeologist needed was to be greeted by the sight of Jack in full turned on mode.
Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, Jack watched as Daniel filled a vase with water, lifting it over his head and allowing the spraying cascade to bathe him gently. Head thrown back, body arching, tossing droplets from his face and his eyes, Daniel was a wet dream come to life and Jack stifled a hungry moan.
Apparently satisfied at last, Daniel swam lazily to the edge before he got out, water running in rivulets from his hair and down his naked chest. And it was at that moment that his gaze shifted, blue eyes lifting to meet brown, and widening in horrified surprise.
Jack watched as if in slow motion as Daniel’s feet slipped on damp marble, teetering dangerously, arms flung out to try and regain his balance, before he lost it completely and toppled sideways. Jack was up and running before he was even aware of moving, leaping forward to reach Daniel in a few quick steps, and managing to catch him before the other man hit the floor and injured himself.
“Um... J-jack....” Daniel stuttered, his wet body plastered against Jack’s.
Wanting to put the other man at ease in what was undoubtedly an awkward situation for both of them, Jack grinned, “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” he drawled.
Daniel blinked up at him, looking somewhat dazed. “Uh, I-I believe that’s my line.”
Damn! He’d forgotten about his erection, which at the moment was very happily getting acquainted with Daniel’s smooth, naked thigh. “Ah. Don’t let it bother you. It’s got a mind of its own. Come on.”
Supporting his friend with an arm round his waist, even though he knew it wasn’t necessary, Jack dragged the pale faced man away from the pool, sitting him on his bed before running back and retrieving Daniel’s clothes and a towel. He returned to Daniel, placing the towel around him, rubbing his arms and back vigorously. When he was certain that Daniel’s temperature was up again, and the shock of having been discovered was past, Jack knelt in front of him.
“You okay?” he asked quietly.
Daniel swallowed thickly, his expression half shy, half mortified. “Yeah. Sorry about that. I-I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be awake yet.”
Jack grinned. “Obviously.” At Daniel’s still shamefaced look, he said, “Hey, it’s okay.”
Daniel found a smile for him. “Yeah?”
Jack reached for his hand, entwining their fingers together. “Yeah.”
Daniel looked down at their joined hands for a long instant. “Jack?”
“What’s going on?” Daniel asked, his tone tentative. “You’ve been, well, acting differently these past couple of days.”
Jack nodded. “I’ve been a fool, Daniel. I’ve been trying to make it up to you, trying to go back to the way things were before I pushed you away. And maybe I’m finally ready to admit there’s more between us than friendship. You?” he asked, wanting confirmation in spite of Sam and Griskan’s words and his own suspicions.
His free hand settled on Daniel’s knee, his fingers traveling higher of their own volition, loving the feel of the lean, muscular thigh under his touch. Daniel’s breath hitched and Jack’s eyes were drawn to the younger man’s parted lips. Even as he leaned forward to taste them, Daniel raised his hand, pushing weakly against Jack’s chest.
Jack backed off immediately, relieved when he saw that Daniel didn’t look or sound particularly upset. “What’s wrong?”
Daniel shrugged slightly. “Nothing. Just.... This is going too fast for me, Jack. Yes, I care for you. What I feel is a lot more than mere physical attraction.”
“Same here,” Jack was quick to assure.
Daniel shook his head. “I need to think about this. I mean, two days ago I’d swear that you and Sam were.... And now, suddenly, it’s me! That’s a lot to take in, Jack.”
Jack chuckled. “Threw you for a loop, did I?”
“Ya think?” Daniel quipped, sharing the mirth. His expression gentled. “I’m not saying no, Jack. But this is completely new ground for me. Just... give me some time to figure this out in my head?”
“All the time you need. In fact, we shouldn’t even be discussing this on a mission, but I guess nothing ever comes easy when it’s you and me.” He stood, tugging Daniel up with him and molding their bodies together. “There’ll be plenty of time when we get back home,” he whispered, brushing his lips over Daniel’s soft ones, just enough to keep him going. “Get dressed, Daniel. I might just be forced to shoot anyone that got to see you like this, and I have a feeling Major Griskan would be at the top of my list. Wouldn’t want to cause an international incident.”
Some fidgeting from one of the sleeping forms in one of the closest beds told him his message had been received loud and clear. Not to mention that they had quite an audience. Good thing he trusted his team with more than just his life, even Griskan, who Jack was learning was the right man to have around in a crisis. When he looked back at Daniel, his face was flushed with embarrassment, but there was amusement in his eyes.
“You’re bad, Jack O’Neill.”
“And that’s precisely why you love me, Daniel Jackson.” He brushed his thumb over Daniel’s lush mouth in a tender caress.
Daniel cleared his throat. “So, how did I get back to the room last night?”
Jack leered at him, enjoying the way Daniel’s flushed face reddened further. “I carried you; literally. And before you ask, yep, I was the one that undressed you as well.” He touched a hand to his chest. “But I swear on my honor as a boy scout that not only did I behave like a gentleman, even my thoughts were as pure as the driven snow.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You were never a boy scout, Jack.”
Jack’s smile widened knowingly even as he exhaled contentedly. “I know.”
“Jack, what did you do?”
Jack brought his lips to Daniel’s ear and whispered, “I looked. And looked. And... looked. Very nice, Daniel, very, very nice indeed.” Then, turning back into his colonel persona or as close as possible considering the naked man in front of him, he grinned, “Ready for another day in paradise?”
“Yeah,” Daniel breathed, eyes dark with arousal.
Jack strolled over to the bathing room, stopping only to add over his shoulder, “By the way, Daniel, great show last night at the party. Didn’t know you had it in you. But it’s good to know.” He grinned at the groan his words produced.
It was going to be a long day and an even longer mission, for them both.
Daniel was sipping some sweet-scented tea at breakfast when he noticed Sasha staring at him with a grin.
“What?” he asked. “Do I have something on my face?”
Sasha chuckled. “Close. You’re glowing.”
Daniel frowned in confusion. “Glowing?”
“Yeah, with happiness. Told you the Colonel was interested.”
“No need to sound so smug about it,” Daniel protested, but couldn’t help smiling. If not for Sasha, all those wonderful moments with Jack of late might never have happened at all. He owed the man more than he could ever express. “Thank you, Sasha.”
The Russian shrugged. “It was no big deal, Daniel. What you both feel was so painfully obvious I had to do something. I know the road ahead won’t be easy, especially considering he’s military, but I think you’ll be fine.”
“What about you?”
Sasha’s brows rose in puzzlement. “Me? What about me?”
“You should find someone as well. Yerik wouldn’t want you to be alone for the rest of your life, it’s not right.”
“Maybe in time. Right now the wound is still too fresh. Maybe one day I’ll come across someone like you, handsome and sweet. Makes for a deadly combination,” he quipped. “We’ll see.”
Daniel wanted to say more, but Sam came and sat beside him then, and he decided to pursue the subject with Sasha later. He gave Sam a somewhat shy glance, not certain where he stood with her.
“I think we need to talk, Daniel,” she began gently, hand touching his knee lightly.
“I know. Sam, if you still have feelings for Jack, I -”
“No, wait,” she interjected softly. “Jack and I were a mistake, Daniel, something that was never meant to happen. At this point, I’m not even certain if there were actually any true feelings between us. We love each other, yeah, but we’re family, and I care for him as much as I care for you or Teal’c. The truth is, Daniel, that if I had been in love with him, Jolinar’s memories wouldn’t have left me so confused, and I wouldn’t get so mixed up every time I see Narim. I think it’s you; it has always been you that Jack loved. And I’m happy that you’re both finally ready to admit it and move forward.”
“So, we’re okay?” Daniel asked her hesitantly.
She kissed him on the cheek. “Yes. I missed you, Daniel. It hasn’t been the same with us, either. I miss our long talks in the lab, our days out together. Most importantly, I miss my friend.”
He hugged her tightly. “I’m right here, Sam. And I missed you too. How about we go out somewhere as soon as we have some leave?”
“It’s a date,” Sam agreed with a smile.
“Trying to steal my man, Major?” Jack voice intruded suddenly between them, hushed enough so that they were the only ones to hear him.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Colonel, sir,” she grinned cheekily.
Jack looked at the hand she still held over Daniel’s knee. “Hands off, Major.”
“Possessive, isn’t he?” Daniel observed to Sam.
“You betcha,” Jack replied. “And you ain’t seen nothing yet, plant boy.” He cleared his throat. “Carter, about this... thing between Daniel and I -”
She lifted a hand, interrupting him. “I didn’t ask, you didn’t tell, sir. If you’re willing to be court-martialed, then so am I,” she quipped, and then grew serious. “Sometimes you just have to follow your heart and go with what actually matters, with what is most important in your life. Family has always been one of those things for me. Everything else...” She shrugged faintly. “pales by comparison.”
Jack nodded gratefully, giving her a slight grin, and just like that he was gone again, leaving Sam and Daniel smiling brightly at each other.
CHAPTER IX - The Enemy Within
They had just finished breakfast when Hori walked in, all smiles and excitement. “Good morning, my friends,” he greeted with a bow. “I am the bearer of great news.”
“We can leave?” Jack drawled sarcastically.
Hori’s expression fell slightly. “Uh, not exactly. But I spoke to Ariki Keimi last night, explained your situation, and she has agreed to meet with one of you. Since Daniel seems to be the scholar among you, the honor will fall upon him.”
Daniel stood up from the comfortable mound of pillows with some regret, but curious to finally meet the Henuans’ mysterious ruler. “All right. When will I meet with your Ariki?”
“This instant. She has breakfasted as well, and is waiting. Come with me, please, I will take you to her quarters.”
“What about us?” Jack asked, and Daniel could tell he wasn’t happy to be left behind.
“I’m afraid she has agreed to see one of you only. You will have to wait here.”
“Don’t worry, Jack,” Daniel tried to ease the worry he knew Jack had to be feeling. “I will just explain we mean no harm, that we just want to go home. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
Jack nodded. “Okay, but be careful.”
Daniel gave him a faint smile. “I will, I promise.”
Daniel followed Hori through a series of corridors to a part of the palace they had never been before. Once they had reached an entrance, as once again there was no door, Hori gestured for him to proceed.
“Ariki Keimi is inside. I will leave you two alone, and remain here waiting, so that you can speak freely. I hope you will be able to convince the Ariki. I understand your wish to go home, I wouldn’t want to have to stay on a planet that is not my own.”
“Thank you, Hori, for everything,” Daniel placed a warm hand on the man’s shoulder, meaning every word. “You have been a good friend indeed.”
Leaving the Hopu behind, Daniel walked into a suite furnished much like the one they had stayed in the night before, only to find it deserted. Seeing another entrance to the right, he headed that way, emerging into another room with the now familiar pillow seats, the low table and the wide variety of plants as the only decoration. Reclining against the pillows, completely wrapped in flowing robes of a light purple color, was a woman, probably in her eighties, her long hair snow-white, while her sharp gray eyes remained alert and all-seeing. She gave Daniel an uneasy feeling.
“Ariki Keimi.” He bowed respectfully.
“So, you are Daniel Jackson of the Tau’ri, Hori tells me,” she said softly.
“Yes, Ariki,” he confirmed, eyes on the floor. “I am grateful you have conceded to this audience.”
Her lips curled up slightly. “Hori was most insistent about it. Tell me, what is it that you wish to ask of me?”
“We meant no harm when we came to your city, and as I’m sure you have been told, we have caused no problems. We are explorers, peaceful explorers. We use the ring of stars to search for allies in other races.”
“Allies?” she asked, standing slowly, her age obviously weighing heavily on her. Hori was right; she didn’t look well. “For what purpose?”
“To fight the Goa’uld, Ariki. They have become a scourge in our universe, bending whole planets to their will, pretending to be gods, and using humans as hosts.”
“I see.” She paused, looking out the windows to the busy streets below. “And have you encountered many of these Goa’uld?”
“Yes, quite a few. We’ve managed to kill some of the most powerful, what we call the System Lords, and also some of the minor Goa’uld.”
“Indeed? Tell me their names.”
Daniel frowned at the question, but answered nonetheless. “Well, the first we killed was Ra. There have been others since, Hathor, Seth, Tanith, Amaunet, Heru’ur, Sokar, Cronus, Apophis and most recently, Imhotep. More, but I fail to recall their names now. They were little more than servants to the System Lords.”
She regarded him slowly, her expression blank. “Quite a large number. You must be great warriors.”
“We don’t particularly enjoy the killing, Ariki,” Daniel said, at least talking about himself, “but we will fight for our freedom, for our planet.”
“Yet you travel with a Jaffa among you,” Keimi retorted.
“Yes. Teal’c is -” His blood froze in his veins then, as slow realization came to him. “How did you know he was a Jaffa?”
She walked carefully over to him, calm and regal. “Hori told me so.”
But Daniel shook his head. “No… no, we never told him. And the only way for you to know what he is -” He took a slow breath. “You’re Goa’uld.”
She smiled. “You have just sealed your fate, Daniel Jackson of the Tau’ri. If you had pretended to misunderstand my meaning, I might have let you go. Now, it is impossible.”
“Why are you here? Why not affect to be a god like the other Goa’uld?” He chose to ignore the veiled threat in favor of learning more about their new opponent.
“I am not like other Goa’uld.”
Daniel couldn’t help but snort at those words. “Next thing you’ll be telling you’re Tok’ra.”
This time her eyes did glow and the distorted voice he could never really get used to was heard. “Tok’ra!” she spat. “They still resist us?”
“Stronger than ever,” he lied. “In fact, they are our allies.”
She gave him an almost respectful look. “You have come far indeed, Tau’ri. And no, I am not nor would I ever be Tok’ra. I have simply never felt the need to belong to the System Lords and waste my time battling for further domains. I still crave power, it is true, but ruling over these simpletons is enough for now and I have little choice at the moment. My time will come, sooner than expected if your words are true and so many of my enemies are dead.”
“You do have a perfect existence here, don’t you? You avoid most of the population, diminishing the risk of being discovered; and since you don’t seem to have a sarcophagus, when your host begins to age you pick three innocents, one of which will become your unwilling host. But why three, and why teach them anything? You take over the host, you retain the knowledge.”
“Ah. But if I were to merely choose someone to become the next ruler and that Ariki suddenly knew everything the previous one knew as well, sooner or later the people would get suspicious, would question why. After all, the Henuan know each other well, they are a small society. If I chose, say Hori, as a host, how would I explain the fact that he could speak other languages overnight, or order strange new buildings to be built? This way, they see some of the results of my teachings, even if only to a small measure. It is enough to fool them, as they are not privy to what I teach. And even the ‘chosen ones’ are taught individually, and forbidden to share their knowledge among themselves.”
“Smart,” Daniel conceded.
“Yes. As for why three, I believe it would make sense for a true ruler to choose among the smartest of the people to teach before finally electing the best one, the best scholar, as a successor. I have seen it on your own planet, and in many civilizations.”
“I guess that would explain the structures in the city belonging to so many different cultures on Earth,” Daniel remarked ruefully.
She gave a small sigh. “I have always loved architecture. Some of those buildings are among my favorites from the Tau’ri civilizations.”
“What did you mean when you said you had little choice but to rule Henua?”
“Have you heard of Astarte?”
“Yes. A Goddess of Canaan and Syria, very often associated with horses and chariots.” He remembered the statue by the temple, a figure riding a chariot pulled by winged horses, and the irony wasn’t lost on him. “In Egyptian mythology, Astarte is the daughter of Ra, wife to Seth.”
“Beloved Seth.... It grieves me to hear of his death. But he was a fool, and paid for his foolishness. When our attempt to overthrow Ra failed, he should have escaped with me through the Chaapa’ai. Instead, he chose to remain behind and hide among the Tau’ri.”
“A mistake he paid for with his life,” Daniel said.
She inclined her head in agreement. “Perhaps. But I will not make the same mistake.” One of her hands suddenly became visible, the ribbon device there, causing Daniel to shudder. “You will become my next host instead of Hori, Daniel Jackson. And as for your friends... I’m certain I can find a suitable end for them as well.”
She turned the device on him abruptly, activating it, and fierce pain filled his every thought. He sunk to his knees slowly, trying to fight, but knowing it was pointless. He wondered for a second if he would ever wake up, then the world went black.
Jack paced the room impatiently, glancing at his watch for the hundredth time. Where the hell was Daniel? How long could it possibly take to explain that all they wanted was to get out of Henua, anyway? There was something wrong, there had to be. He just knew it.
He glanced at the others, seeing the same concern, the same worried faces. They all knew, they were all aware the stakes had changed somehow.
“Maybe we should go look for him, sir,” Carter suggested carefully. “If we divide into two teams, it would take less time to search the palace.”
Jack nodded. “I didn’t want to do anything these people might perceive as hostile, but it looks like we have no choice. They’re forcing our hands here. Teal’c, you’re with me, Griskan, you’re with Carter. Since we have no means of communication, we’ll meet back here in two hours, with or without Daniel. Let’s go.”
Footsteps sounded on the corridor then, making him pull back. Heart hammering in his chest, he waited for Daniel to walk in, eyes sparkling brightly as he would tell them all in a rushed breath about his meeting with the Ariki. But it wasn’t Daniel. Instead it was Hori that entered, pale and grim, with two other men right behind him. Carrying P-90s.
“What the hell is going on, Hori?” Jack snarled, fear gnawing at his gut. “Where’s Daniel? And what the devil are these men doing with our guns? I thought weapons weren’t allowed.”
“I’m afraid we were forced to make an exception in this case. I-I’m not certain what to do, we haven’t had any problems like this in centuries.” Hori exhaled softly, standing up straight, as if ready to face them if he had to. “While we decide what to do with you, you shall remain here, under guard. If you attempt to leave or escape, the men will shoot, Colonel. We may be peaceful, but we do know how to defend ourselves.”
“Hori, why are you doing this?” Sam asked, bewilderment clear in her tone. “We have done nothing to you, nothing to deserve this treatment.”
“Has Ariki Keimi refused to let us go?” Sasha ventured. “Please, you must know we are friendly, that we mean you no harm!”
“I have no choice in the matter,” Hori declared. “It has been decided.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Jack’s gaze bore into Hori’s, seeing sorrow and shame shining back at him. “Hori, where’s Daniel? What happened?” he whispered.
“He...” Hori cleared his throat. “He is in another room, also guarded.”
“Why?” Jack insisted.
“He tried to kill Ariki Keimi,” Hori replied, voice wavering slightly.
“What?” Jack shouted, enraged. “That’s not true, that can’t be true!” Taking a deep breath to calm the surge of emotions washing over him, he focused on the man before him. “Hori,” he began softly, “that is just not possible. Daniel is the least violent man I have ever known. He can fight, he can defend himself, but he’s also the one always looking for another way out, for a reason not to fight. He would never try to kill your Ariki, not without a good reason. I don’t believe it.”
“Nor do I,” Teal’c agreed immediately, followed by Sam and Sasha.
“It was Ariki Keimi herself that told me so. Do you wish me to doubt my ruler’s word?”
“Hori, have you spoken with Daniel? Have you heard his side?” Sam petitioned.
“Ariki Keimi has forbidden anyone from speaking to him.”
“Please, you have to try!” Jack knew he was pleading, but he didn’t care. “Or at least put us under guard with him. Please, Hori!”
Hori shook his head sadly. “I am sorry, that is impossible.”
“What will happen to him, to us?” Sasha asked.
“I do not know, that is for the Ariki to say. In the time of our ancestors, the punishment for something like this was death. I’m sorry,” he whispered, departing and leaving the two armed men to watch over them.
Jack sat dejectedly on the pillows. He knew there was no way Daniel had tried to kill Keimi, not without provocation. There had to be something more at work here. At the moment all he really wanted was to be with Daniel, making sure he was all right, learning what had happened. It didn’t feel right for them to be parted now that they were trying to come together.
CHAPTER X - Small Victories
Daniel returned to consciousness with a groan, his whole body aching fiercely. No matter how many times he got ribboned, shot with a zat gun, or virtually electrocuted with the torture stick, he could never get used to the residual pain those instruments always left behind.
Glancing around, he realized he was in a small room, lying on some pillows; and for the moment, alive and snakeless. Not what he had expected. As he wouldn’t have anticipated the two armed men by the entrance, one carrying a zat gun, the other a P-90. So much for weapons not being allowed on Henua.
He sat up carefully, adjusting his glasses, and sighed heavily. Another fine mess they were in. His heart skipped a beat as he thought of Jack and the others. Were they even alive? How long had he been unconscious? What had Astarte decided to do with them? And if he were to become her host, he certainly hoped nothing of the host remained. He didn’t want to think of life without Jack, or Sam, or Teal’c. Or even Sasha, who was rapidly becoming a good friend.
Hori walked in at that moment, his steps faltering as he saw Daniel. “I see you are awake.”
“Yes. My friends?”
“Under guard in the division where you had breakfast this morning. They are alive,” Hori informed, seemingly understanding the root of Daniel’s question. Daniel nodded, relaxing slightly at that news. There was still hope after all. “Colonel O’Neill was very concerned about you,” Hori commented out of the blue. “Are you.... Is he your mate?”
Daniel gave him a sad look. “We have just acknowledged our feelings for each other. Is it permitted on Henua for two people of the same gender to be together?”
“Yes.” Hori flushed. “In fact, your Major Griskan is quite appealing to me. Very handsome.”
“Yes, he is,” Daniel agreed, seeing Hori with new eyes. He wasn’t that bad looking himself, in his early forties, with raven-black hair and wide green eyes. “Maybe if things turn out for the better, you two can go on a date?”
Hori’s brows lifted in incomprehension. “Date?”
“Spending time together.” Daniel rolled his shoulders, preparing himself for what was coming. “Now, want to tell me what’s going on? Why am I here?”
Hori cocked his head, regarding him curiously. “Don’t you know what happened?”
Daniel gave him a humorless smile. “Oh, I know what happened, all right. I want to hear the official reason.”
“Ariki Keimi claims you attempted to kill her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Daniel said with a frown. If he were to become Astarte’s new host, in other words the next Ariki, how was she going to justify her reasoning? “I don’t get it. She can’t say I’m her would-be killer and then appoint me her successor,” he muttered to himself.
“Ah. That will not happen,” Hori said, Daniel almost having forgotten about him. The Henuan’s face was a picture of embarrassment. “I heard your conversation with her. It wasn’t intentional -” He paused. “Well, to be honest, it was. I was curious to know if she would let you go.” He shook his head, clearly distraught. “I would never have imagined.... All this time, a Goa’uld in our midst. When I realized she meant to take you as host, I barged in, pretending to have heard the sound of fighting. I assume she was forced to change tactics. She told me you had attacked her, but that she was able to knock you unconscious.”
“So now she won’t be able to make me her host, not without your people becoming curious to know why she would put a murderer on the throne. Hori, you took quite a risk.”
“I know, but I couldn’t let her do this. It is bad enough she has managed to deceive us all for so long.”
“Hori, you have to help us. We can kill Astarte for you. One of the weapons we brought with us, a zat gun, can kill without leaving a mark. You could tell the people she died and take her place as ruler. You could say she was getting senile, that all this was a misunderstanding. You would be Ariki, the people wouldn’t question you, not if we left.”
“I cannot do that, Daniel. Saving your life was one thing, but to kill her, no matter how deserving.... I don’t have it in me.”
“We’ll do it. All you have to do is tell these men to disappear, or if you want the people to know the truth, take them with us, show them.” He stared at Hori frantically. “Hori, if you do nothing, she will take you as host. My wife, Sha’re, she became host to a Goa’uld. In the end Teal’c had to kill her, we couldn’t save her. If Astarte succeeds with her plan, all those things that make you who you are will vanish. And she will still win, because she will have us killed somehow.”
Hori rubbed his face wearily, his panic nearly a tangible thing. “I need to think about this. By The Nameless One, why is this happening to us now?”
“Hori, can I see my friends? Please?”
“Ariki Keimi has forbidden -” A stubborn look took over his face. “No, enough is enough. Come with me.”
He gestured for the two men to follow, then guided Daniel through the maze of corridors to the room where his friends were staying. Jack was sitting on a bed, but he looked up as he heard them walk in, a huge grin lighting his face as he spotted Daniel.
“Danny!” He rushed to the other man and hugged him tightly. “Are you okay?” he whispered in Daniel’s ear. “I was worried sick!”
“I’m fine, and so was I.” Daniel leaned back so he could see the others as well. “Hey, guys.”
“Daniel.” Sam was wearing a grin as wide as Jack’s. “Want to let us know what is going on here?”
Daniel told them everything that had happened since they had separated, including his talk with Hori, who stood silent by the entrance with the four armed men.
“Hori, you’ve got to let us do something,” Jack argued, once Daniel was done. “Daniel’s not lying. She will take you as host and then find a way to get rid of us. All you have to do is give us our weapons back and lead us to her chambers. We can take these men with us, let them see the truth, so they can tell the people. You have lived in the dark long enough.”
Hori fidgeted anxiously. “But I’m not ready to be Ariki! There’s still so much I don’t know!”
“Hori, no one is ever really prepared to rule,” Sasha told him gently. “It’s a learning process. But from what I’ve seen so far, you are the right person for the job.”
“Will you not help us, Hori of the Henuan?” Teal’c insisted.
“You’d be helping yourself and your people, Hori,” Jack cajoled smoothly. “You don’t really want to become her host, do you?”
Hori sighed, evidently defeated by their arguments.
“No.” He glanced at the men. “Give them their weapons back. You are to come with us and see the true face of our Ariki.”
The men bowed, and obeying, handed the weapons over to their rightful owners. The small group left the room, ready to face their common enemy.
Daniel smiled as he noticed Jack caressing his P-90 lovingly. “Should I feel jealous?”
Jack chuckled. “Nah. By the way, have you seen the irony in all this?” Daniel shook his head and Jack continued, “There’s a serpent in paradise.”
Daniel gave him a startled look. “You know, Jack, sometimes I worry about you.”
“Sometimes I worry myself. Come on, folks, let’s get this show on the road, so we can get out of here.”
“In there,” Hori motioned towards the suite assigned to the Ariki. “She’s in there.”
They all marched in as one, Daniel once again finding Astarte lying on the pillows.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” she cried out as she saw them. She rose from her nest, strolling surprisingly fast towards them. “You heard,” she said in her Goa’uld voice, glaring at Hori. “You know.”
“Yes. That’s why I stepped in. I couldn’t allow you to harm a guest of Henua. You have tricked us for long enough.”
“Fools!” she spat. “I can crush you all like bugs!” The ribboned hand rose and Hori was thrown against a wall, followed by two of the Henuan men and Teal’c.
Before Astarte could turn on the others, Daniel saw Sam aim the zat gun at the Goa’uld and shoot twice. Her body crumbled to the floor, the glow in her eyes slowly dimming.
Daniel and Sasha helped the staggering men to their feet.
“You guys all right?” Sasha asked, receiving very shaky nods.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it,” one of them muttered. “What will we do now, Hori?”
Daniel felt sorry for Hori as the man swallowed thickly. “Now I will take my place as Ariki as it was meant to be, and hope I do our ancestors justice.”
Remembering his previous talk with Hori, Daniel ventured, “Perhaps Sasha could remain behind for some time? He could help you and at the same time study your city and culture. Sasha?”
To Daniel’s amusement, Sasha was almost bouncing on his feet with excitement. “Oh, I would really, really like that!” His face fell. “But my government and General Hammond -”
“I’ll deal with General Hammond,” Jack interrupted. “And let him deal with your government. In the meantime, you are to stay here and that’s an order.”
Sasha saluted smartly. “Yes, sir!”
Daniel moved closer to Hori. “You have any hobbies? Anything you like to do in your free time? Something pleasant like walking in the gardens, or by the waterfront?”
“Yes.” Hori gave him a puzzled glance. “Why?”
“Just make sure you spend a lot of time showing Sasha those hobbies. In fact, make sure you spend a lot of time with Sasha, period. Understand?”
Hori’s smile was almost blinding. “I believe I do. Thank you, Daniel.”
“Thank you. I’d be suffering a fate worse than death right now if not for you. I wish you luck.”
Jack bowed slightly, a happy smile on his lips. “Ariki Hori, are we allowed to go?”
“Yes, and with my blessing. Also, the entrance to the caves will remain as it is now, and you will be welcomed as friends whenever you choose to visit us. Let it be known that from this day on the Tau’ri and the Henuan will be friends, brothers-in-arms and allies.”
Daniel gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. “I think you will do fine as Ariki, Hori, just fine.”
“Sir, can we spend some time with the Henuans before we leave?” Sam asked. “I would like to say goodbye to them, thank them for the way they received us.”
Jack shrugged. “Sure, why not? We’re only about a day late in checking in. General Hammond is already bald, it’s not like he’ll lose any hair worrying about us. Besides, I’d like to say farewell myself.”
They ended up spending most of the day in the city. News of the Goa’uld had already traveled through the population and they were greeted as heroes, with enough baskets of food and beverages to keep them all well fed for a month.
“Well, at least we won’t have to eat the ration bars on the way back,” Daniel commented with a rueful glance at Jack.
“Sweet,” Jack agreed, before turning to Sasha. “Major, it has been a pleasure. And it amazes even myself that I can say this with a straight face and actually mean it. I’ll be seeing you soon at the SGC. If my recommendations have any weight at all, you’ll be staying with us for the long haul.”
Sasha saluted. “Thank you, sir.”
Daniel waited until Teal’c and Sam had said their goodbyes to the Russian before taking his turn. He gave Sasha a heartfelt hug, whispering in his ear, “Thank you for everything, my friend. I expect a full report on Henua and its wonders when you finally get back. If you get back.”
“What do you mean?” Sasha whispered back at him, voice rich with confusion.
“Hori has his eye set on you. Give him a chance, ok? Life’s too short to spend living it in the past.”
Sasha nodded, before finally releasing him. “No promises. But I’ll try.”
“It’s all I’m asking.” A parting wave and he joined the others, already climbing up the stone stairway by the cliff’s side.
“You okay?” Jack asked him, once Daniel had caught up with him.
“Another mission successfully finished, we are finally heading back home....” Daniel waved a hand in the air to emphasize what he was saying. “I couldn’t be better. You?”
“The same. Wanna go on a date?”
Talk about a non sequitur, Daniel thought, but asked instead, “When and where?”
Jack chuckled. “When is when General Hammond gives us the few days rest we so richly deserve after this mission. As for the where.... My place, your place?”
“You’re on. My place, though. Bring the takeout, I’ll provide the beer and wine.”
“You got it, soldier. Now, all we need is to crawl and blunder through these caves for another day and a half, avoid those nasty Warg thingies, face Frasier in full doctor mode, and have a nice, lengthy debriefing on this mission.”
“I, for one, cannot wait,” Teal’c said from behind them.
Daniel and Jack looked at each other, nodded at the same time, and agreed in unison, “Joke.”
Continue to Part 2