Daniel's acting funny around me now. It's been two weeks since Sam's move, since the day I slipped, and Daniel saw it all.
I've tried to play it cool, but it isn't working. I've caught him staring at me more times than I can count lately, and when I do, he always turns his gaze away, as fast as he can.
I heft my P-90 a little higher against my chest as I walk down the tree-lined path leading away from the Gate. I'm on edge, and for the first time in two weeks, it isn't because of Daniel.
There's going to be trouble today. I can feel it in my gut.
A quiet rustle is our only warning. I spin around, gun held high, but I don't see anything until I look up. Then, before I can bring my weapon up, they're raining down on us from the treetops.
It's over before it really gets started. I feel a sting on my neck then another on my shoulder. My vision blurs and the last thing I see before I fall to the ground is Daniel stumbling into Sam.
My mouth is dry when I awaken. It doesn't take me long to realize I'm alone, in a cage made of wood, in the middle of what looks like some thick brush.
Shit. I've been stripped to nothing but my underwear, and it's getting chill now that the sun is almost gone. Without my watch, I don't know how long I've been out, but I figure it's been a good while since we started out this morning just before noon.
"Hey!" I yell, but there doesn't seem to be anyone nearby to hear me. I rattle the cage, just to check how sturdy it is, and that's when I realize it's suspended from a tree. My movements send it swinging and I grab for the bars and hold on tight.
Dammit to hell. My stomach flip-flops, and for a moment, I feel like I'm gonna throw up.
I have to get down from here, because I can't stand the thought of what might be happening to the rest of my team.
Suddenly, I feel something poke me in the back. I jerk around to see a kid sitting on a branch beside my prison, holding a big stick. He grins at me, and I get an up close look at his missing front teeth. A small stick pierces his nose and I want to cringe at the pain that must have caused.
I've never been too fond of pain, so when he jabs that stick back between the bars, aiming for my thigh, I grab it. "Watch it, buddy!"
Oh, I can tell that pissed him off. He starts jabbering at me, but I'm not Daniel, and I don't have the first idea what he's trying to say.
My cage shakes as the leaves rustle and then an adult is there, staring at me with hard, glittering eyes.
I decide to take a page out of Daniel's book and open my palms in what I hope is a friendly gesture. "Hey, I'm just a peaceful explorer..." I say, but I'm interrupted when the man pulls a knife out of the scabbard tied to his bare thigh.
Shit. That's one big knife.
I don't know why they separated Jack from us, but we're here, and he's not. Sam's looking to me for an explanation, but I'm a linguist, not a mind reader.
I'm worried, but so far we don't have any reason to believe they've harmed him.
They haven't hurt any of us, and that gives me hope.
But then the door of our hut opens and someone tosses Jack's clothes at our feet.
I scramble up and rush for the door. "Hey, hey! I need to talk to somebody. What have you done with Jack?" The rickety door slams shut, and when I keep going, intending to break through it if I have to, a dart flies through the small window to my right. It sticks in the ground, inches from my foot. It's a warning, and if I don't want to end up unconscious again, I know my only choice is to return to the corner where Sam sits. Teal'c is still out, but then again, I think he took more of the drugged darts than either Sam or I.
I sit down and pull Jack's BDUs over beside me. I take a deep breath and try to remind myself that he's a tough son of a bitch. I can't help that my hand has fisted in his t-shirt, holding tight to the only tangible piece of him I have.
Sam reaches over me and pulls Jack's pants across my lap. For a moment, I have no idea what she's doing, but then it hits me. I join her in her search through Jack's clothes, but we don't find anything. The natives were thorough when they cleaned us out of weapons, and they were just as thorough cleaning out Jack's.
I bite my lip and reach up and swipe my hand across my face.
"He's fine, Daniel." Sam's voice is tired sounding, like she hasn't quite gotten over being drugged.
I don't answer as the last of my resistance fades, and I admit, for the first time, that I'm not *almost* in love with Jack. I *am* in love with him.
I haven't made it any easier on myself by not telling him. If I lose him now, I'll have only memories of our friendship to keep me company, because I was too much of a coward to make both of us happy, even if only for a short while.
That's the lesson I should have learned from Sha're's death. It's never mattered how much pain I suffered when she died, because it never took away the happiness we shared while we were together.
And I don't doubt for a moment that Jack and I could be happy together.
I'm stunned when he cuts the rope holding the cage in the air. Thank God it wasn't that high off the ground, because I don't have any time to prepare myself for the fall. It's a freefall and it scares the shit out of me. When the cage hits the ground (too damn hard), I feel like my lungs have collapsed in on themselves, and I struggle to breathe.
I bang my fist on the floor of the cage, but it doesn't help much.
By the time I'm able to sit up, the man and kid are standing nearby. The kid is wearing a stupid-ass grin and the brown-eyed adult is still giving me that look from earlier.
Whatever the hell their game is, I don't like it.
I stand up and grab the bars. "Where's my team?" I demand.
Brown-eyes' expression doesn't change.
"Hello," I drawl. "What have you done with the rest of my team?"
His eyes narrow. "Teeeem."
"Yeah! Now we're talking. Where's my team? You know, the big black guy, and the shorter brown-haired fellow, and the woman." I'm trying my best to use my hands to describe Teal'c, Daniel, and Sam, but I don't think I'm doing a very good job. Brown-eyes hasn't lost the blank look yet, and the kid is just staring at me.
"Come on. My team. The others who came through the Stargate with me." In my frustration, I grab the bars and try to shake them again.
Brown-eyes' mouth tightens and he reaches out with his knife. I jump back just as the sharp edge bites into the wood where my fingers were seconds before.
I'm starting to think these aren't friendly people.
The bonfire is giving me the willies. It reminds me of a funeral pyre, and my heart is in my throat as I wait for the drumbeat to end. We're on our knees, our hands tied behind our backs, facing away from the fire. A man who looks to be the oldest man in the village, still probably no older than me, walks up to us and circles us.
His face is covered in paint, orange and gold, and black on his lips and around his eyes. He speaks to us, but I don't understand his language. It's nothing I've ever heard before.
He pokes me in the chest and gets right in my face.
"We're not here to hurt anybody," I say, for about the thousandth time today. It's as if I'm talking to myself, but I don't give up.
"Coi-cuk," he says.
"We're explorers. Peaceful explorers. If we've done something to offend you, we're sorry."
And then he pushes me back, and I topple over, unable to keep my balance after the hard shove.
It's as I'm climbing back up on my knees that I see Jack. He's in a wooden cage, and the natives are carrying him on their shoulders.
Teal'c doesn't take his gaze from the cage. "O'Neill is alive."
"Thank God," Sam says.
I don't say anything, because what's there to say? I've got this feeling washing over me that I can't describe, but I know it's not good. I look over my shoulder, to remind myself of what I'd seen earlier. And suddenly it becomes apparent that Jack is in serious trouble here.
There's a frame around the bonfire, built to hold something. Staring at it, I realize it's the perfect size to hold the cage Jack's in.
I squeeze my eyes shut in horror at the thought that assails me.
They're going to roast him.
My father is teaching me the old ways. The ancient rituals insure that we continue to gain knowledge and strength, but sometimes, the rituals do not work.
My father says it is because outsiders are different, but that we must always try, because knowledge is important.
Tonight I will participate in the Rite of Relleg for the first time, and I am excited, but I wish my first time were not going to be with an outsider. Father says the knowledge they give us is sometimes corrupt, but that we must fight its influence. Our ways are our own, and we should not let the knowledge of the outsiders change us.
Jeneth is watching me as I stand behind my father and wait for the other one to be brought to the fire. Once we have traded, the others will be free to go, but I do not believe they realize that yet.
But that is because they are outsiders and their ways are different. These days, we wait many years between each Rite of Relleg, because an illness stole our wise-men and left only the young behind.
Father believes the silver-haired man must possess much knowledge.
Since we have no wise-man to offer, Rataia has consented, for the good of our people. Father says we must be proud of Rataia and remember her always for her sacrifice.
The knowledge she will offer will be little, but father says we cannot take without giving back.
My father is wise, and he will one day be a wise-man.
I am proud that I am his son.
I know something bad is about to happen, and it doesn't take seeing Daniel and Teal'c and even Carter being forcibly restrained for me to know that.
I've just been let out of the cage, and Brown-eyes is marching me over to my teammates, to my friends. Teal'c has fire in his eyes, his anger burns so bright, and Sam, she just looks at me with that look she has, and I know she's worried. But it's Daniel's gaze that keeps my attention. He looks sick at heart, and even though I still haven't figured out what's going on, I think he has a pretty good idea, and it's bad.
He starts yelling at the guys around us, turning to look over his shoulder at one of the men holding him by the arm to keep him on his knees. "We're not here to hurt anybody! Just let us go back through the Gate, please!"
Daniel starts struggling against the hold the natives have on him, and I'm tempted to do the same, but I know we'd be dead before I took more than a few steps, so I bide my time.
Brown-eyes pushes me between my shoulders. I stumble forward, and then grunt as I land on my hands and knees in front of Teal'c.
Brown-eyes jabbers behind me, and I get the feeling he's giving me the chance to say my final good-byes, which really sucks.
I don't think I'm ready for that just yet, but it doesn't look like I have a choice.
I rise up on my knees and dust my hands on my underwear. Then I stare at Teal'c for a moment in silence. His gaze never wavers from mine.
"So, you guys think of a way to get us out of here yet?"
"We have thought of nothing, O'Neill, but we will not die without honor. We will fight until our last breath."
Brown-eyes tugs on my arm, pulling me towards Carter. I scoot sideways on my knees until I'm in front of her.
Her eyes are shining, even in the dim light. I know she's thinking of Janet but that she isn't going to say anything about her own possible death, when it's me with the knife to my back.
But I don't want her to think about me right now. So I break the silence. "Janet knows you love her, Carter." And that's it. The tears overflow and trail down her cheeks, and I wish to God I'd kept my mouth shut because now my throat's tight and my chest aches.
And I still have to say good-bye to Daniel.
Brown-eyes is gentler this time, when he takes my arm and pulls me in front of Daniel. I think he believes Carter is crying for me, and in a way, I guess she is.
Then I'm in front of Daniel, who clearly has tears in his own eyes. "Jack..." he says, his voice thick with emotion, pain and anger.
"I always wait until it's too late, you know?"
He leans forward, his face inches from mine. "It's not too late, Jack."
But it is, and I know it. So I just look at him, taking in his beautiful face and praying that no matter what happens to me, he'll make it out of this.
"This is my fault," he says. "I shouldn't have waited." Daniel crowds against me, his knees scrabbling in the dirt, and covers my mouth in a fierce kiss. Against my lips, he mumbles, "I love you, Jack. God, I love you so much." And then he's kissing me harder than I've ever been kissed before.
I squeeze my eyes shut before I grab him in a crushing hug.
And I don't even notice the sudden silence around us.
When Brown-eyes pulls at my arm, trying to break us apart, I resist, but the tugs get stronger, and finally we're separated. "Daniel. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." As if I can apologize for letting myself get killed today.
We're all surprised when the men holding Daniel, Teal'c, and Carter let go and quickly step back. They don't release me though, but since I'm not tied up like the others, I can see why.
They're talking amongst themselves, arguing, and their voices are getting louder by the second.
Finally, Brown-eyes steps forward, throws out his arms and bellows, "Coi-cuk!"
I see Daniel's lips move, silently, as he makes a connection. *Shut up.*
Brown-eyes speaks, then everyone backs away, opening the circle. Someone pokes me in the back. It's another damned stick.
But I don't mind so much this time. It seems that they want us to leave.
Which is fine by me.
I help Daniel to his feet as Teal'c and Carter stumble to theirs. It occurs to me that we don't have our GDO armbands, but I decide it's something we'll have to worry about later.
Right now it's time to get the hell out of there before the natives change their mind.
We will not be sharing knowledge tonight. My father says it is too dangerous to share with outsiders who are so obviously different than us. They have proved themselves corrupt and I feel a strange relief knowing that I will not be expected to eat of the silver-haired man. If the ritual had worked with these outsiders, I would have absorbed his knowledge and I might have also become corrupt.
Jeneth puts her arms around my waist and hugs me, while my father watches from the shadows.
He was wise to stop the ceremony. There will be others before I am too old to participate in the Rite of Relleg. I will share knowledge with them, and our people will become strong once again.
My hands are shaking as I reach for my pack. It seems that the natives of this planet left our stuff by the Gate, and we're not going to have to hide out until a rescue team comes through after all.
Jack's clothes aren't here, but his P-90 and his other stuff is. Apparently, they stripped us of our weapons and supplies before they carried us to their village.
"Looks like you're going to be returning home in your boxers, Sir."
I can't help my smile at Sam's words.
We're free--Jack's alive, and I'm still not sure why, but at the moment, I don't care.
"Yeah, yeah, Carter, at least we're going home."
Teal'c nods in agreement, while I punch in the GDO code.
Then we're home.
Jack gets a few looks at his lack of attire, and I'm finally able to breathe easy.
We're home. Jack's alive.
And I'm almost as scared now as I was then, but for a very different reason.
"So, doesn't anybody know what the hell was going on back there?" Jack asks, after we've had our showers and made our way up to the debriefing room.
I lean forward on my elbows and rest my head in my hands. "I think you were about to become the evening meal, Jack."
I hear the shock in his voice, and almost manage a grin. I think I caught him off guard with that one. "They were cannibals. Did you notice how young everyone was? I don't know if they've eaten all their elders or if they've died of disease, but I'm pretty sure that's why they picked you. No offense, but you've got a head full of gray hair and even if Teal'c is older, he looks as young as I am."
"So they pick on the old guys?"
"That's what it looked like."
Sam's just staring wide-eyed at us. "But why?"
I turn my attention to her as she continues. "I mean, I can't believe I'm saying this, but wouldn't the younger ones be... *better*."
"Some cultures believe that when you eat something, you can steal its strength and intelligence for yourself. So maybe they picked on the older ones because they wanted their intelligence, or maybe they picked Jack because it was clear he was the leader of our group and they wanted his strength and leadership abilities."
"What about us?" she asks. "Were they going to eat us too?"
I shrug. "I don't know."
At that moment, General Hammond comes in, and the debriefing gets underway.
After we've told him everything we can, and the conversation starts to repeat itself, I find my mind wandering back to that moment when I kissed Jack. My only thought at the time had been that I didn't want to die before I told him how I felt.
I can't bring myself to regret it.
I don't know what to do now. Daniel's in his office, presumably making some notes about what went on today, and I've just been wandering the halls as I try to work up the nerve to face him while he's alone.
It should be easier than this. He told me he loved me, after all. What more do I need from him before I believe it?
A lot, I think. What if he just said it because he thought I was going to die, and he felt sorry for me? Ever since he caught me staring at him in the truck, he's known how I felt. But in the two weeks since, he's said nothing that gave me hope.
And I'm an asshole for even second guessing my chance at having what I've wanted for so long.
I smack my hand against the concrete wall and turn around. It's time to go after Daniel.
The corridor outside his office is quiet. His door is open and I slow as I approach it. Before I reach the opening, Daniel steps out. He smiles tentatively at me when he sees me. "I was just about to come looking for you."
"Really?" I ask, trying to make eye contact but finding myself staring at his temple instead.
"Yeah. I'm finished. I thought you might want to get something to eat. It's been a long day, and I'm hungry."
I finally get up the courage to meet his eyes. "Me too. We can get something to go. Take it back to my place. If that's okay with you?"
He flips off the light in his office and pulls the door closed. "Sure. That'd be great."
We walk down the hall together, and I think about all the things I want to say to him.
I'm thankful that tonight I'll finally have my chance.
|Summary:||Sequel to Trepidation. Probably the last in the series. It's two weeks later, and there's trouble on a mission when the team is captured by the natives.|