Jack wondered if being damned near naked was the real problem here, or if he would have been just as angry in the relative comfort of his BDUs.
"So, Daniel," he said, hearing the snarl in his tone and deciding he was more than justified in snarling a bit, "learning a whole lot about the development of Bosavi language and culture in isolation, are we?"
Daniel awkwardly tried to shoulder aside the yellow dog who was licking his face, and then gave Jack a tight, irritated smile. "Yes, Jack, as a matter of fact we are. For one thing, the fact that they haven't killed us yet suggests that they don't share certain aggressive tendencies that were observed during the first European intrusion into Onabasulu country in the early 1930s. The goa'uld who transported these people to this planet may not have brought enough of them here for them to engage in gis without endangering their very survival. Plus, of course, whether the goa'uld wanted this colony to provide slave labor or hosts, the people were no good to him dead. The goa'uld may have forbidden warfare -- or any kind of killing -- so forcefully that it became a cultural taboo. "
"Now see, there you go! That's what gets me out of bed in the morning. As I put on my loincloth one leg at a time I can't help but think, 'Say, I wonder what goa'uld-enforced cultural taboos we'll come across today?'"
By now the yellow dog had made its way over to Jack and started to lick his face as well. "Hey, come on, stop it." He turned his head as far as he could, but with his hands tied he couldn't push her away. Most of the other dogs under the longhouse were sleeping in a heap, giving a wide berth to the big sow who lay sprawled under the ladder up to the front veranda.
The bug spray Jack had slathered on himself before stepping through the stargate six or seven hours ago seemed to be wearing off, or maybe the fleas and black flies were so thick down here that no amount of Deet would have held them off for very long. It was hot and airless, humid as a greenhouse, and his bare thighs and back were gritty with dirt. Furthermore, he had the unpleasant suspicion that most of the ground down here was simply dried dung.
Well, it could have been worse, he supposed. The Bosavi could have staked them out in the midday sun instead of trussing them to the support posts under the longhouse with the pigs and the dogs.
Wait a minute.
"Daniel," he said calmly.
Daniel looked at him warily all the same. "Jack?"
"Aggressive tendencies? These folks' relatives back on earth are known for their 'aggressive tendencies'? I don't recall you mentioning that during the briefing when you oh-so-earnestly assured General Hammond that the only reason they ran away was because SG11 were all wearing too many clothes and didn't speak the language."
Daniel blinked at him, all wounded innocence. "Well they aren't a warrior culture, if that's what you mean. Before the arrival of the Australian government in the 1950s, there were instances of indiscriminate killing of members of enemy groups -- that's what gis is, a series of raids back and forth with no possibility of settlement since there are no ties of relationship through which to mediate compensation for the deaths --"
"Stop. Just stop right there. You told Hammond that if you showed up all by your lonesome dressed -- or undressed, as it turns out -- in the colorful native garb, and politely explained you'd come through the big stone circle and meant them no harm, that we'd be establishing diplomatic relations in no time."
"Yes," Daniel replied, completely unrepentant. "And I still think that if you'd let me come by myself --"
"As if," Jack interrupted, completely exasperated. "As if. Daniel, at no point did you mention anything about 'aggressive tendencies' or 'indiscriminate killing of enemy groups.'"
Daniel just looked at him. "They're human beings, Jack," he said. "I sort of thought you'd take that for granted."
Well, yeah. Maybe that was the reason Jack was so aggravated right now. Tempting as it was to pretend their current straits were all Daniel's fault, the truth was, Jack was one whose loincloth flapped against the straps of his holster every time he moved.
His M9 was still in the holster. That's how utterly he'd failed to do his job on this one.
The yellow dog gave up trying to lick his face and flopped down beside him in the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust that stuck to his legs and back. At least he'd made one friend on this trip. The dog's furry back was hot against his leg, and the mutt stank to high heaven, but Jack didn't try to push her away.
He looked up and found Daniel watching him. "It's wasn't your fault," he told Jack suddenly. "I thought we'd won them over, too. Besides, what were you going to do? Start shooting? There were kids everywhere."
Dammit. Jack hated it when Daniel did that.
The children probably were the reason Jack had let his guard down so disastrously.
The trek in from the stargate had been just as tense as Jack had expected it to be based on SG11's account, the Bosavi surrounding them on the path but keeping their distance, calling nervously back and forth to one another and to unseen others deeper in the jungle, while Daniel repeated a soothing litany in the four Bosavi languages he knew, assuring them they were distant kinsmen from a longhouse on the other side of the stone circle. Cousins. Brothers. Friends.
Jack had forgotten most of it, though Daniel had carefully translated his little speech for his approval the night before the mission. It all sounded pleasant and non-threatening enough, and frankly, it had seemed to be working. The women and children who, Jack figured, would have been hidden away from an expected threat, were instead gathered on the veranda to see the strangers. Not that he and Daniel could have been construed as threatening even without Daniel's polite speech. They both looked ridiculous. Carter'd had a field day seeing them off in the gateroom, and Teal'c had been so carefully noncommittal Jack had wanted to smack him. Bosavi-wear consisted of a wide belt around the abdomen with a cloth of woven vegetable fiber hanging down almost as far as the knees in front and behind. O'Neill had drawn the line at the shell necklaces, and both of them were wearing boots. Daniel hadn't liked it, but there was clearly no way they could have made the journey from the stargate barefoot through mountainous jungle terrain.
When O'Neill had pointed out the leeches leaning up towards them from the marshy places along the path, Daniel, child of the desert, had started and muttered nervously that he hadn't known the damn things could get around out of water. Then he told Jack he was glad he'd insisted on the boots.
Jack thought bitterly that he had also insisted on the M9, but that hadn't helped when push came to shove, had it?
Their arrival at the longhouse had resulted in a momentary standoff, the men of the community eyeing them warily while Daniel insisted they were friends for the umpteenth time and Jack kept his hand on his gun and wished for the security of a P90. The Bosavi hadn't seemed particularly aggressive, but they were nervous and there were a lot of them; most of the men had hatchets and quite a few were carrying bows and arrows as well.
Then Daniel had sat down by the fire pit, proceeded to undo the laces of his boots and pulled them off, wiggling his bare toes in the air with every appearance of great satisfaction. "They've never seen shoes before, Jack," he said in a quiet aside, and then called out something in one of the Bosavi languages that made a ripple of laughter run through their observers.
"What'd you say to them?" Jack whispered back.
Daniel smiled . "That the men of our longhouse all have tender white feet."
"Oh, great. Make us look like a bunch of sissies before the negotiations even get started."
It seemed to have broken the ice though. Before long one of the men brought something down from the longhouse and gravely presented it to Daniel. It was about the size of Daniel's fist, solid and blackened with a gray, rubbery skin. Daniel thanked his host gravely, examined the object and then broke off a small chunk. The men all watched closely as Daniel placed it on his tongue and carefully began to chew. He made an awful grimace as he swallowed, but then forced himself to smile. "Nafa," he said weakly and coughed . He swallowed again and nodded. "Nafa," he insisted more strongly. "Good. It's good."
He broke off another chunk and handed it to Jack. "You need to eat too. We can't possibly claim to be kinsmen if we won't share food with them."
Jack looked down skeptically at the unappetizing lump. "What the hell is it?"
"Preserved sago palm pulp, or whatever this world's equivalent is, I suspect."
"Does it taste like chicken?"
Daniel grinned for real. "More like blackboard chalk."
Daniel was right. Jack swallowed with difficulty, and then looked around at the expectant faces. "Oh yeah. There's nafa and then there's nafa."
Another titter of laugher ran through their audience. "And this is definitely nafa," Jack said, encouraged, and forced himself to take another bite. It tasted appalling, but the men nodded approvingly and smiled, and the first of the women carefully descended from the veranda of the longhouse to get a closer look at the strangers.
After that, everything had seemed to be going fine. Daniel was getting the hang of the language, talking more confidently, waving one arm back in the direction they had come. Jack assumed he was telling the Bosavi people all about life at the big, happy longhouse on the other side of the stargate. Meanwhile, men and women alike were bringing out more food. Smoked meat, fresh fish to cook over the fire, bananas, other fruits that Jack couldn't begin to identify, a bowl of something that looked suspiciously like grubs, another that was definitely grasshoppers. Daniel tried everything, hardly seeming to notice what he was eating. Jack managed to choke down a roasted grasshopper, but was still hesitating over the grubs when a very young child came toddling up to him and stared earnestly into his face. "Hello," Jack had said, glad for the opportunity to pass along the bowl of grubs untasted.
She continued to stare, unblinking, and then reached out and carefully touched his knee with her finger.
"They've never seen a person with light skin before," Daniel murmured.
"Yeah, I figured," Jack said. With a shriek of nervous laughter the little girl turned and fled back to her mother, and soon it was a game for all the children, creeping up to touch Jack's strange pale skin. Adolescent boys soon joined in, dashing up to slap Jack on the shoulder or punch him in the arm, shouting encouragement to their fellows, until finally Jack grabbed the skinny wrist of one assailant and said sternly, "You break it, you buy it, understand me?"
The boy stared at him, goggle-eyed and panting, and when Jack released him he tore off running as fast as he could while the adults laughed. It seemed to discourage the older boys from their roughhousing, but before long the younger children were crawling all over him. Jack made sure his M9 was carefully buckled into his holster. That's where it had remained for the next two hours while everyone ate and Daniel negotiated with the oldest men and women, who sat around him listening to his every word with expressions that Jack thought looked frankly skeptical. No telling what sort of stories Daniel was trying to get them to swallow. He'd tried explaining to Daniel more than once that there was a time and a place for sharing all the truth you knew, but from the expressions on their faces, it wasn't a lesson Daniel had taken to heart.
A boy of four or five came up to Jack then, lugging a half-grown puppy in his arms. He stood there beaming as Jack pulled his arm free from a little girl who seemed intent on counting every mole and freckle on his shoulder, and patted the dog's head.
"Jack," Daniel said suddenly. It was the first time he'd heard English coming out of his mouth in more than an hour. "I think I've convinced them to let more of us come visit them from through the stargate."
"That's great," Jack agreed, still petting the dog's head while the animal scrunched up its brown eyes in pleasure. "Is everyone else going to have to wear loincloths? Because I can tell you right now SG3 is not gonna go for this look."
"Oh, stop complaining," Daniel said with a smile. "At least the Bosavi don't wear penis sheaths."
Jack had closed his eyes for an instant in long suffering exasperation. "Just telling you right now that I do not want to hear what the hell a penis sheath --"
Jack didn't know how many people suddenly barreled into him from behind, but before he could even finish his sentence he was face down in the dirt. His legs were pinned, and two or three sets of hands held both of his arms in a bruising grip as his wrists were tightly bound with leather. He heard Daniel give a yelp of protest and then a muffled grunt and knew he was being treated the same way. It had all happened so fast he didn't get the chance to fight back. But Daniel was right: even if he had been able to get to his gun, what could he have done? Shot a child or two to show them he meant business?
That's why you didn't allow yourself to end up in this kind of situation in the first place. You came in with a full compliment, armed and ready, and if that turned out to be an irreconcilable barrier to diplomatic relations, well, then, you just didn't open diplomatic relations.
And you never, ever threw caution and procedure to the wind on the word of your civilian linguist.
"Of course it was my fault," Jack said. "My mission, my decision, my responsibility." The yellow dog rolled onto her back beside him in the dirt, all four feet in the air, and grinned at him upside down, clearly unable to understand why he wasn't rubbing her tummy. "You figured out yet what we did that pissed them off so bad?"
Daniel shook his head mournfully. "I don't get it. They think that we're probably ane kalu from the invisible world, but it didn't seem like it was a problem for them."
"Annie-whatsits? From the invisible world?"
"The Bosavi believe that the spirit world is an invisible reflection of this world. Or that our world is just the visible reflection of the spirit world, I guess, depending on your point of view. Men from the invisible world, ane kalu, are just like ordinary men, except they have pale skin and don't wear shell necklaces."
"Oh." Jack glanced up at the floor of the longhouse above him. He could hear footsteps moving back and forth, and the constant murmur of voices. They had been in serious discussion ever since they'd pounced on Jack and Daniel and rolled the two of them under here. "OK, so I can see how we might seem to fit the bill, but you set them straight, right?"
Daniel's smile looked nervous.
"Oh for cryin' out loud!"
"I tried!" he insisted guiltily. "But if you think about it, we kind of are people from an invisible world to them. And it's not like the Bosavi think of the ane kalu people as mystical or supernatural in any way. They're just -- different. From a different place. And we certainly are that, Jack."
"Oh, my God." Jack pulled his legs up and dropped his head onto his knees.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said quietly. "I never actually told them that's who we were, I swear. You know I'd never do that. I just ... sort of let the issue drop while we talked about other things."
He sounded so miserable that Jack lifted his head at once. "Hey, I know you were using your best judgment. Just turned out that us being anno dominis was a lot bigger deal to them that you could have realized. Hell, I thought we were getting along great, too."
Daniel searched his face earnestly, so nakedly wanting to believe what Jack was telling him that Jack felt his gut clench . He sometimes thought it was easier when he and Daniel were going at it like hammer and tongs than it was to try and be that man Daniel trusted so absolutely. "We just have to deal with the situation as it stands now. So they think we come from the invisible world. So what? Does that mean we're a threat of some kind? Is that why we're tied up down here with the livestock?"
Daniel chewed on his lower lip, considering. "It shouldn't have frightened them. I mean, if they really thought we were a threat, why didn't they brain us as soon as they got the chance? Why did they let you play with the kids? Why did they serve us that feast?"
"Sago pulp," Jack interrupted. "Yum."
He was rewarded by a quick, exasperated smile. "Right."
Overhead, voices were suddenly raised in brief, heated disagreement. Feet stomped in anger. The big sow under the veranda raised her head briefly, ears twitching away the flies.
"Can you tell what they're arguing about?"
"Well, about us, I'm pretty sure."
"That's what I was afraid of. Any specifics?"
Daniel closed his eyes, his face going blank (and, Jack thought affectionately, more than a little stupid-looking) with concentration. "No ... no. It's hard enough to follow when I can hear more than every other word or so. They conjugate past and future verbs the same way, so I can't tell if they're talking about something we've already done or something they plan to do to us in the future."
"Don't think I like the sound of that," Jack muttered.
Daniel opened his eyes. "I'm not sure, but they mostly seem to be talking about you."
"Me? What did I do?"
"I don't know. I don't -- whatever it was, it's something so obvious to everyone that they don't need to say it." Daniel grimaced in frustration. "I just don't know, goddammit." He yanked at his bonds irritably, and immediately one of the young men who had been assigned the job of keeping an eye on them walked under the longhouse and knelt behind Daniel to check that his wrists were still secured. Daniel spoke to the young man as he got up again, but he simply lowered his eyes and glanced away.
"What are you saying?" Jack demanded, and the young man looked at him sharply before scooting away.
Daniel shrugged unhappily. "I just asked him what was going on."
"Guess it would be too easy if for once people simply explained what the hell was happening."
"Actually, they usually will if you ask," Daniel disagreed. Then he managed a little smile of his own. "The trick seems to be figuring out how to ask the right question. I'm still working on that."
A few hours before sunset a violent thunderstorm blew through the jungle. Jack and Daniel's watchers retreated to the shelter of the longhouse for the duration of the storm, and four more dogs showed up and piled happily against them, panting and slobbering and sharing fleas. Jack and Daniel spent the storm trying with negligible success to loosen the pig leather ties binding their wrists to the longhouse posts. After the storm had passed on the heat was more stifling than ever. A couple of the younger men came down to check on them, but having ascertained that their captives were still secure, no one else seemed to pay much attention. The angry disagreements that had been going on beforehand seemed to have blown away with the storm. Jack wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.
"Something you need to think about," he said eventually.
Daniel looked at him with unhappy suspicion. "What?"
"When Teal'c and Carter and SG3 show up around this time tomorrow wondering why we didn't make the rendezvous, you know they're not gonna be wearing these cute little skirts and they're not gonna be speaking any Bosavi languages at all, much less four of them."
Daniel screwed up his face and seemed to be focusing very intently on a spot somewhere over Jack's left shoulder.
"So do you have any sense how our friends upstairs are going to react to that?"
It wasn't a question Daniel wanted to answer. Jack turned his head eventually to see what Daniel was looking at. The light in the clearing before the longhouse was honey-dense before sunset, the lengthening shadows themselves seeming humid and thick. People were moving back and forth, little more than their legs visible in the frame made by the floor of the longhouse. They seemed intent and purposeful, but Jack didn't know if they were going about their usual late afternoon chores, or if there were special preparations being made. He found he didn't like thinking about what those special preparations might be.
Daniel shook himself . "I don't know." He dropped his head. "Well, yes I do, I guess. They'll be frightened and angry. This is their home, Jack. Their gardens are here. Their children are here."
"I know, Daniel," he agreed quietly. "I'm sorry."
He saw that stubborn jut of Daniel's jaw. "No," Daniel said decisively. "There's got to be another way. This is just some sort of misunderstanding, I'm certain of it. I'll get everything straightened out and we'll intercept Teal'c and Sam before they can show up with SG3 and panic everybody."
" I'd like it to go down that way, too. In case it doesn't, though, I need to be sure that you'll stick close to me until we're out of here and not go off on any half-baked heroics."
Daniel waited a beat too long before saying. "I think the half-baked heroics are more your field than mine," but Jack let it go for now.
The air was so humid that sunset brought no relief from the heat. Unseen jungle birds clattered noisily to each other, and insects swarmed around the pigs and the dogs and the two of them. Fires twinkled in the clearing, and it seemed to Jack that activity overhead in the longhouse was picking up again.
"Sound to you like something's going on up there?" he asked Daniel, who was just a pale blur in the twilight by now.
"I think so." Daniel didn't sound any happier about it than Jack was. "Everyone seems to be gathering together, settling in. Maybe they're just getting ready for bed."
"Not really," he admitted. "No."
It was fully dark when they finally came for Jack and Daniel. Torches flickered and smoked, throwing lurid shadows across the ground under the longhouse. More than a dozen men helped haul them out, half-dragging, half-carrying them, the grip on Jack's arms so firm he never had a chance to go for his gun. Daniel's face looked very white in the firelight, and he was talking nonstop, cajoling, arguing, insisting, demanding. It killed Jack not knowing what was going on, but now clearly wasn't the time to interrupt and demand a translation.
More men lined the veranda, sparks from their torches drifting up into the night sky. As Daniel was pushed and pulled up the ladder, Jack permitted himself to feel some relief. Whatever was going to happen next, it probably wasn't going to be a ritual axe murder, say, or burning at the stake. Not if they were going to do it inside the longhouse -- just imagine the mess they'd have to clean up afterwards. Not to mention the possibility of burning the whole place to the ground.
Then, as Daniel reached the top of the ladder, someone must have finally answered one of his importuning questions. Up until now Daniel had been cooperating as best he could with his hands tied behind his back, but all at once he froze, refusing to be moved until his captors physically lifted him from the ladder and on to the veranda. He turned his head to look down at Jack, but with the torches behind him, Jack couldn't see the expression on his face. Then Daniel said something very loudly and very clearly. He said it over and over again, and as they pulled him over the threshold and into the darkness of the longhouse he began to shout it.
Aw, dammit to hell. "Daniel!" Jack yelled as his captors pushed him up the ladder in turn. "What's going on? Daniel, talk to me!"
The darkness inside the longhouse was as thick and pungent as smoke. Coals glowed in a firebox near the front entrance, and torches sputtered and dripped ashes and tar, flickering out and then flaring up weakly again, illuminating little beyond a small, immediate circle of yellowish light. Jack could feel the presence of all the people he couldn't actually see. Over the sound of Daniel's frantically imploring voice he could hear bare feet on wood, the quick breaths of the men restraining Daniel, excited whispers beyond the light, the sudden, petulant wail of a baby, hastily soothed into silence. Though Daniel was only a few feet away, Jack could only make him out as an occasional pale flash between the bodies of his captors. He was struggling uselessly, his voice rising in agitation.
"Daniel, stop it." Jack held himself very still, although he doubted Daniel could see anything more of him than he could of Daniel. "This isn't helping. Tell me what's going on."
"Jack." It came out as a cry of utter frustration and despair. "Dammit, Jack, they think you're sei."
"And I'm guessing that's a bad thing?"
A choked snort from Daniel. "A sei is like a sorcerer or a witch, but worse. In this culture, whenever anyone dies it's because a sei killed them. In a very real sense a sei is death."
Witchcraft. Oh, great. "What do they do with witches in these parts? We're not going to have to go through that whole drowning business again, are we?"
"Bash their heads in --" Daniel panted, "Display their hearts on a stake."
OK, so this definitely went down in the 'not good' category. Jack tried reflexively to pull away from the men holding him, but it was as futile as Daniel's struggles. "You already tried telling them I'm not a witch? I haven't turned anybody into a newt since I got here, I swear "
Daniel was talking rapidly to the people around him, but he broke off long enough to say, "Yeah, that's sort of been my plan." He gave a gasp that could have been a sob or laughter. "So far I haven't been having a whole lotta luck."
"Why me and not you? You got any idea why I'm the only one registering on their sei-o-meter?"
"I've got no idea. God, I just don't know and I don't even know how to ask them. Maybe because you got along so well with the kids or didn't have any of the grubs or because you don't speak the language or your hair is gray --"
"Hey. Distinguished shade of silver, if you don't mind."
Suddenly a torch was held up near Daniel, and Jack saw that his wrists had been secured to a crossbeam so far above his head that he had to balance on tiptoe to support himself. Jack wondered if their hosts just gotten tired of fighting with Daniel, but then he smelled a sharp fragrance that reminded him of unlit hashish, and a man stepped in front of Daniel holding a palm-leaf bowl. He dipped his hand into the bowl's contents, and then, just as the torch was moved away, enveloping Daniel once more in darkness, Jack saw he was rubbing the sticky-looking substance across Daniel's chest and shoulders. The fragrance was overwhelming, mingling with the smell of sweat and smoked meat, wet dogs and overripe fruit. Daniel started to sneeze.
Jack wondered when they were going to get around to stringing him up, the purported witch himself, but all their preparations seemed to be focused on Daniel. It sounded to Jack as though they were asking him questions, which Daniel answered in between sneezes. One of the sputtering torches passed near him again, and by its uncertain light Jack saw Daniel's chest was smeared with goo, and that the stuff was now being applied to his back as well. "Danny," he said, keeping his nervousness out of his voice. "You've gotta keep me in the loop here. What's going on?"
Daniel sneezed again. "They're asking if you go hunting with me. If we planted our gardens together. If you share your meals with me." Another sneeze. "I don't know what's going on, Jack." Two more sneezes. "They want to know if you're my kinsman." Daniel said something in Bosavi. "If you're my brother." He spoke again in Bosavi, then sneezed. "They want to know if we share the same heart."
Jack went cold with fear. "What are you telling them?"
Daniel answered in Bosavi before he said to Jack, "I said 'yes,' Jack. Of course I'm telling them yes."
"Daniel, take it back. Deny everything. You can't stand me, we fight like cats and dogs, you keep turning down opportunities to go fishing in Minnesota and we never eat together in the commissary. I'm a domineering bastard and you were planning to ditch me the first chance you got. "
"For chrissakes, Daniel." Furious and frightened as he was, Jack kept his voice calm. He wasn't going to give these guys any more ammunition. "Can you understand what a really bad idea it is to tell our friends here that you love a witch?"
A torch was suddenly thrust into Jack's face, so close that the firelight blinded him. Sparks from the torch landed on his chest and burned like a son of a bitch. Jack couldn't help a violent flinch, and he heard Daniel cry out.
Dammit, Jack thought, this whole situation really had Daniel messed up. He knew better than to reveal that kind of weakness to the enemy. "I'm all right," he said. "Daniel, I'm all right. They didn't hurt me."
The torch in his face was pulled away as suddenly as it had come, and while Jack blinked, trying to clear his vision, the men holding him raised their voices in angry expostulation. Jack was dragged forward a few feet, the grip on his upper arms giving him bruises. He squeezed his eyes shut, still seeing sparks across his closed eyelids from the torch. When he opened them again, Daniel was right in front of him, close enough for Jack to make out the five-o'clock shadow on his upper lip. Sweat darkened his hair and ran down the side of his face, and he was swaying as if he didn't have the strength to support himself. He was alternately panting and clenching his teeth in pain.
Jack didn't let the faintest tremor in his voice betray him. "Daniel." He couldn't see any blood, but then he might not see it anyway, as poor as the light was. "What did they do?"
Daniel managed at last to find his feet and stop swaying. Only then did he raise his head. His expression was stoic with misery and he didn't answer, though he flinched at the movement of the nearest torch.
"Daniel," Jack said again.
Daniel closed his eyes in resignation, and before Jack realized what was happening, the man holding the torch closest to Daniel lowered it and deliberately ground the flame out against Daniel's chest.
Daniel jerked back violently, grunting in pain. The men on either side of him pushed him forward again. Everyone started talking at once, their voices loud and angry-sounding to Jack. More torches danced in front of Jack's eyes. He couldn't help flinching himself, but though he expected to be burned next, the flames came no closer. A large hand closed around Jack's jaw, holding him motionless, and one of the men peered into Jack's face from a distance of inches. "Bastards," Jack gritted out.
The man examining Jack drew his brows together as if puzzled. His eyes were red and tearing from the smoke. Finally letting Jack go, he barked a few terse phrases. Voices answered back from all over the longhouse.
"Daniel." Jack kept his own voice a low monotone. "I really need for you to talk to me. What's going on? If I'm the witch, why the hell are they hurting you?"
He couldn't see Daniel until the man in front of him finally stepped aside. Daniel was breathing hard through his nose, his jaws locked like he was afraid of what might escape if he opened his mouth. When he at last caught Jack's eye, though, a miserable almost-smile transformed the grimace on his face.
"Least I got one thing right," he whispered hoarsely. His face twisted. "Aw, shit, that smarts. "
"Danny--" Jack said in useless warning, just before one of the men behind Daniel thrust his torch against Daniel's back. Daniel made a choked sound as the flame sputtered out and his body jerked forward. He was silent for a long moment and then, whether he was opening his mouth to breathe or was still trying to answer, Jack didn't know, but a long moan escaped him, and it rose in the stifling darkness of the longhouse like smoke. Others picked it up and groaned along with Daniel, their own ululations continuing even after Daniel hung panting but otherwise silent from his lashed wrists.
"C'mon, Daniel," Jack insisted, and it wasn't difficult to be this heartless at all, not when Daniel's life was at stake. "What is it? What's the one thing you got right?"
Daniel nodded a little to let Jack know he'd heard the question. Excited shouts rang out on either side of them, and the colicky baby who'd been hushed earlier was crying lustily now. At length Daniel was able to manage a harsh whisper. "It's their -- strong cultural antithesis to killing. Even though they're practically convinced you're sei, they want to give you every chance to prove you're really not." Jack saw the flash of Daniel's white teeth as he smiled for an instant. "Sounds like they're really looking for an excuse not to bash your head in after all."
"Great," Jack said quickly. "Excellent news. So what are they looking for? What do I do?"
Before Daniel could answer, another man wielding a torch stepped up behind him. Jack recognized him as one of the old men Daniel had talked with all afternoon. His deeply lined face was set and unhappy, but he thrust the end of a sputtering torch against Daniel's back all the same.
Daniel was still moaning from that burn, his head back and his teeth bared, when another man drove his torch into Daniel's shoulder.
Jack hissed in sympathy. Daniel couldn't swallow his cries anymore, or maybe saw no reason to try. He shouted aloud, raw, ragged cries that would leave him hoarse by morning. Assuming he survived that long. Jack was already doing the brutal calculus. It would be another twelve hours before the earliest possible rescue attempt. He had no way of knowing how serious Daniel's burns were, but he hoped, judging from the difficulty the Bosavi seemed to have keeping their torches alight at all, that they were no worse than second degree at this point.
That would change quickly enough if they kept this up much longer.
He thought Daniel could probably survive the night if he didn't go into shock, but the way they had him hanging worried Jack as well. Before long Daniel could be having difficulty breathing.
Daniel's cries trailed off into harsh, panting sobs, but the men and women around him continued to yell, shouting more loudly, in fact, as though to make up for Daniel's relative silence. Jack couldn't tell if they were actually saying anything. They seemed to be wailing wordlessly, noisily expressing an emotion Jack couldn't decipher. People thronged up to him, most of them red-eyed. Some shook their fists at him, and others gestured back to Daniel as though Jack might somehow be unaware of what was happening.
He heard Daniel give a startled gasp, and when the crowd parted, he saw one of the men upending a skin of water over Daniel's shoulders and back. When it was emptied another was produced, and then a third. Daniel hung his head as water sluiced over him and ran through the floor.
One old woman stood in front of Jack and slapped his face smartly, letting loose what Jack couldn't doubt was a string of invective. When she moved away Jack saw someone had begun smearing more of that smelly black goop on Daniel's chest and back. Daniel flinched in response to every touch, his entire body shaking. One of the younger men came from the front of the longhouse with a bundle of torches clutched in his hands. Pressed together, the flames shot up yellow and clear for a moment, illuminating Daniel's face. His head was still bowed, his eyes closed so that he couldn't see the new torches being distributed.
"It looks like they're getting ready for another round," Jack said levelly. "If you can think of anything that would stop this, now would be a really good time to let me know."
Someone shouted, and suddenly Jack found himself forced to his knees as one torch and then a second were put out against Daniel's back in rapid succession. The double attack seemed to rob Daniel of the power to vocalize at all. His mouth opened, and he gasped soundlessly. A torch was thrust so near his face that Daniel had to turn his head away from its heat. Jack held his breath, fearing the worst, but ultimately the torch was laid against Daniel's upper chest, the flame dying as Daniel's body swung helplessly. Jack heard him grunt a little, and then another of those hoarse shouts broke from his throat as the pain of his burns overwhelmed him.
Once again Daniel's tormentors took up his cry. Jack was violently shaken where he knelt by the men holding him down, and one of the younger men, in a paroxysm of frustrated rage, suddenly swung his torch over his head. He was screaming at Jack as though he intended to go ahead and bash in his brains right now and to hell with all this sei-testing business, but he turned at the last second and instead smashed his torch down to crack it like a baseball bat above Daniel's knee.
Daniel jerked in surprise and pain, shouting, as the flaming half of the torch rolled away across the floor and sputtered out. Half a dozen men and women pounced on the angry man and dragged him off, and Jack didn't have to speak Bosavi to know he was being scolded for getting carried away.
Daniel's head lolled, his breathing fast and uneven.
"Daniel," Jack whispered urgently. "Danny."
"Right here," Daniel mumbled at last. Jack could barely hear him over the excited shouts all around them. "Just..." Daniel clenched his fists and his biceps bulged with strain, his body twisting in the torchlight. "I hate getting burned," he finally groaned. "Dropped -- one of Sha'uri's cooking pots one time and splashed hot lard down my leg and, God, it hurt all night. Every time I woke Sha'uri up with my tossing and turning she read me the riot act all over again for having been so clumsy."
"Goddammit, Daniel, please. Tell me how to stop this."
The crowd shifted again, and Jack had a clear view of Daniel's face for a moment. His eyes were open now. "Sorry," Daniel was saying. "Sorry, Jack. I just don't know."
The people with the water skins had returned. Two of the skins were upended over Daniel's shoulders and Jack could hear him gasp.
"At least I know where I stand," Jack said, trying to make a stupid joke, just something to distract Daniel from a here-and-now that Jack couldn't change. "The truth is you cost poor Sha'uri just as many sleepless nights as you have me." It didn't come out quite like he'd intended, though, and Jack was horrified to hear himself choke up a little. He swallowed hard, but the damage had already been done.
The sudden silence in the longhouse was so profound he could hear the hiss and crackle of the remaining torches. Even the baby had stopped crying.
"What's going on?" he demanded, unnerved by the quiet, but as suddenly as the Bosavi voices had been silenced they were all speaking again, and if Daniel answered him, he couldn't hear it. A noisy argument broke out behind him, and the hands that had been restraining Jack suddenly let go. He immediately struggled to his feet, and when no one stopped him, he made his way to Daniel. "What's happening? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"
Daniel blinked. From this close Jack could see the blisters beginning to rise on his back. Despite the stifling atmosphere Daniel was trembling hard, his bare chest and back streaked with soot and that pungent black goop. He was dripping wet from the water that had been dumped over him. Hands supported him on both sides, relieving some of the weight of his hanging body, and the faces around him watched their conversation avidly, even when they interrupted to shout something into the chaos of the ongoing argument.
"Some of them think you're human," Daniel said quietly, in between the shouts. "The rest of them still aren't sure."
"They gonna object if I get you down from here?"
Daniel made a huffing sound that would have been laughter in other circumstances. "God, I hope not."
As soon as Jack strained up to begin tugging at the pigskin knots, other hands reached up to help him. Thank heavens. He really hadn't wanted to use the gun yet, not in these crowded conditions with Daniel still strung up like a side of beef.
"This is what's going to happen next," he said, whispering in Daniel's ear as though the intimacy would convince Daniel when reason and common sense might not be sufficient. "As soon as we've got you down, you and I are going to walk out of here. How badly is that leg hurt? You think you can walk?"
"Yes," Daniel whispered, and Jack knew it meant only, I'll try. It would have to be good enough.
"You'll go down the ladder first and I'll cover your back. I'll fire the first shot into the air if anyone tries to stop us, and hopefully that'll convince them to back off. In case it doesn't though, I need to know you'll keep going."
Daniel's head jerked up, but the expression he turned on Jack was carefully neutral. "All right," he said.
Jack stared back into those lying blue eyes, dilated almost black in the dim light of the longhouse, and thought he could have cheerfully strangled him. Dammit. One way or another they were getting out, and from this point on, Dr. Daniel Jackson just didn't have a whole lot of say in the matter.
"Just remember," Jack said as the ties cutting into Daniel's wrists finally parted and Daniel slumped into his arms. "One good wack in the noggin and I'll be out of my misery. You're the one they'll spend all night barbequing."
Daniel's knees buckled. Jack tried to support him, but even with the help of the same men who'd helped free Daniel, the best Jack could do was to keep him from hitting too hard.
"Sorry," Daniel panted as they ended up crouched together on the floor. He dropped his forehead onto Jack's shoulder. "Sorry. Give me --just a minute here."
"We're good," Jack said, and if it wasn't exactly the truth, at least they were better off than they'd been five minutes ago. He was supporting Daniel as gently as he could with his arm around Daniel's waist, trying to avoid the burns, but Daniel's skin twitched and flinched at every touch all the same. "Catch your breath. Let me know when you think you can stand up."
"Yeah. I'm OK. I'm just --" Daniel gulped and his body tensed, rigid with pain.
"C'mon. Easy." Jack's free hand had been on his M9, but he slid the gun back into the holster and cradled the back of Daniel's head with his palm. "I know it's gonna feel a lot worse before it starts getting better, so you need to keep breathing. Concentrate on something else. How do we convince the rest of the doubting thomases in this bunch that I'm really not a witch?"
Daniel nodded against Jack's shoulder. His first breath stuttered in his throat, then he managed to whisper, "It's got to be the language. Sei can't speak a human language, and as far as they can tell, you don't either."
"That's all it is? Jesus, Daniel. You could have saved yourself a world of hurt by just teaching me to say 'I am not a sei,' hours ago."
Daniel shuddered in his arms. "Right," he said. "Jack, the Bosavi know perfectly well you can teach a parrot to talk."
"Hey," Jack whispered in his ear. "I've been trying my damnedest not to get insulted through this whole deal, but this is verging on being the final straw."
He started as a warm hand suddenly closed around one wrist, and looked up to see one of the men proffering a small bowl to him. No mystery what was in it. The smell made his own nostrils twitch, and Daniel turned his head aside and sneezed, then groaned.
"Oh, that's OK," Jack said. "We've already had plenty, thanks."
The man urged the bowl on him with redoubled intent and Daniel said wearily, "You should take it. It's some kind of vegetable resin. They think it helps heal burns."
"I'm not putting anything on your back until Fraiser gets a look at you."
Daniel lifted his head, sneezed again and swallowed a moan. "Jack, as far as they're concerned, treating my burns would only be the ... human thing to do."
"Ah. Gotcha." Jack took the bowl. The fewer people who thought he was witch when he walked Daniel out of here, the fewer he'd have to shoot. "You're explaining this to Fraiser, though."
"Can you sit up a little?"
Daniel complied, wincing.
"You even think about going into anaphylactic shock, by the way, and you are such dead meat."
Jack tipped the bowl over Daniel's shoulders, hearing what he hoped was an approving murmur rising from around them. Daniel flinched as the goop dripped down his back, then sneezed twice in quick succession. He braced himself with a hand on Jack's thigh, screwing up his face.
"Sorry," Jack muttered.
"Me too," Daniel said, and smoothly removed Jack's M9 from its holster.
"Daniel," Jack groaned, not allowing himself to grab for the gun. Daniel rolled away from him as though he expected him to go for it anyway, sprawling on his side as he fumbled with the weapon. "Dammit, Daniel, don't you fucking dare."
Daniel raised his arm and clumsily flung something out the front door of the longhouse. He was panting hard when he turned back, his expression both defiant and sorrowful, and held the M9 out to Jack who took it back from him without a word. It was a lot lighter without the magazine. He pulled the slide before holstering the gun again. Sure enough, Daniel had emptied the chamber as well.
"Thanks," Jack said tightly. "Thank you so very much for doing that, because God knows, I sure as hell was hoping I'd get to watch you burned alive before I ended up with my heart on a stick. It'll be a little redundant by then, but hey, it's the thought that counts."
"You were ready to kill them just to get me out of here."
"Damn right I was!" Jack snapped. "That's the backup plan every time we step through the gate, and if you haven't figured that out by now, then you don't have any business with the SGC at all. Dammit, I knew I should have dumped your ass off the team after the business with the Enkarans."
"The Bosavi just don't understand who we are. They don't deserve to die for that."
"And nether do you!" Jack yelled back at him, too enraged to care what their hosts might think about this.
"All these years and you still think that killing people is the first, best option." Daniel's voice cracked. "Christ, Jack! The first time I met you, you were ready to destroy an entire civilization just to secure someone else's military objectives. Haven't you learned anything since then?"
"Those 'military objectives' you're so contemptuous of could mean life or death for our entire species."
"You sound like a goa'uld," Daniel spat back, "not giving a damn about anybody who doesn't happen to be playing on the home team. Is that just military training, or is some of it Charlie's death, too? You've lost your baby, so now it doesn't matter what happens to anybody else's?"
Nobody but Daniel would have dared to say that to him, and it still felt like he'd been sucker-punched. Jack had to look away, literally having trouble drawing his breath. Daniel's voice followed him, hoarse and relentless. "You want to know what's really ironic? These people were afraid you might be death incarnate. Turns out they're absolutely fucking right, aren't they?"
"So what happens now?" Jack said, his own voice suddenly as hoarse as Daniel's. So that's what Daniel thought of him. That's what he must have thought all along. "If they're going to bring out the torches again, I'd rather they just go ahead and bash my brains in now, rather than making me watch you burned to death first."
Silence. Under the longhouse one of the dogs barked twice. There were hushed conversations going on in the darkness, but all the people nearest to Jack and Daniel were quiet and still. "I don't know what they're going to do now," Daniel finally said. "Jack --"
Jack wouldn't look at him. He couldn't. "You bastard," he rasped in blank despair. "You bastard."
"I know." A hand that could only be Daniel's fell on his shoulder, and Jack turned his face away. "Listen, the Bosavi don't want to hurt me anymore than they really want to kill you," Daniel insisted. "We're on the same side. I'm sure we can work this out."
"Get the hell away from me."
"No." Daniel tried to raise Jack's head and Jack pushed his hand away. Daniel reached for him again and this time Jack didn't bother to resist, even when Daniel used the side of his hand to smooth away the moisture on Jack's face.
The hushed conversations grew more urgent, and then two of the men suddenly lifted Daniel to his feet. He wasn't strong enough to fight them, and Jack saw that Daniel's wounded leg couldn't support his weight after all. He lunged after them anyway, and several of the men caught him. Jack wrenched himself furiously forward, but he couldn't get to Daniel.
"Daniel, teach me how to tell them I am a sei," he shouted. "Maybe they won't kill me if the cultural taboo is as strong as you think. Dammit, it's worth a shot."
Of course Daniel refused to answer him. He was pulled across the floor of the longhouse to one of the platforms that ran along the inner walls. A moment later Jack was shoved down beside him. An old man patted the top of Jack's head as though he were one of the mutts outside, and someone else put another bowl of the smelly burn treatment in his hands.
Jack looked down at it, panting and shaking, amazed that neither one of them were dead yet.
"Daniel. What the hell's going on?"
"Congratulations," Daniel said. He sneezed again. "You're not sei." His hoarse voice softened. "Apparently, only human beings can cry."
Jack looked at him. The nearest torches were ten or fifteen feet away, and the coals in the firebox gave out only a reddish glow. He couldn't make out the expression on Daniel's face, but he could see the silhouette of his heavily slumped shoulders. "That's it? It's over?"
"I think so."
"We could just walk out of here?"
"If I could walk? Yeah, I think so."
"God." At that moment, Jack wasn't sure whether he was wanted to kiss Daniel or break his jaw. He settled for asking, "How bad is your leg? That hothead didn't kneecap you, did he?"
"I don't think so."
Jack ran his hand carefully down Daniel's thigh, finding a lump larger than his fist just above his knee. "That's it."
Daniel groaned. "Does it feel like --"
"I don't think anything's broken."
Daniel nodded. "No. I didn't -- Good. I'm fine. I'm fine."
"Glad to hear it." For himself, Jack felt as though he'd ended up with his heart spitted on a stake after all. "How about this smelly goop? You think it helps any?"
"It doesn't make it worse. I think it probably does help." He trailed off and then started up again as though Jack had asked for a treatise on folk medicine. "Cutting off oxygen to the burn, if nothing else. It might have analgesic properties too. I wonder if we could figure out a way to take a sample back to Sam."
"I'm going to put some on your shoulder. That'll have to do as your sample." He could feel the heat of Daniel's burns with his fingertips. "It'll be while before you'll be able to manage a backpack again," Jack said, cautiously mapping the blisters coming up over Daniel's left shoulder blade. Daniel hissed through his teeth and trembled. It was getting darker in the longhouse as torches winked out one by one.
"I'm fine," Daniel mumbled out of the blue. Jack wondered if he were going into shock, and cursed the lack of medical supplies. They were never, ever coming through the gate without their kits again, no matter how safe and reasonable Daniel made it sound.
That is, if Daniel were ever allowed to set foot in the gateroom again.
"So this whole deal -- they were willing to hurt you like this just ..." Dammit. Jack had thought this would be a safe enough conversation, but he couldn't get the words out. He spread more of the resin on Daniel's back.
Daniel caught his wrist. "That's enough, Jack."
"Right." Jack set the palm-leaf bowl aside and wiped his fingers off on his own thigh. "Probably a good six hours until sunrise. You going to be all right until then?"
"I have a choice?"
Jack snorted. The same people who had hung Daniel from the rafters and tortured him just to see if they could make Jack fucking cry or not were curling up on the sleeping platform on either side of Jack and Daniel. The women had all disappeared around one of the low inner walls and many of the younger men seemed to be leaving the longhouse altogether, probably retreating to the shelter beyond the banana and sago gardens Daniel had pointed out on their hike in. Jack felt marginally safer in their absence, but really, it was obvious no one was particularly interested in them anymore. Jack wasn't a sei. The show was over.
"Think you can sleep?" he asked Daniel.
Daniel bowed his head as though he were seriously considering the question.
"They were improvising," Daniel explained in a very quiet, very reasonable voice. The effect was spoiled by how hoarse he was, and the fact that he was leaning hard against Jack to keep from keeling over. "They've never seen anyone with light-colored skin before, never met anyone who couldn't speak their language. They didn't want to hurt us, but they had a duty to protect themselves, their family."
"Good for them. You think you can curl up on your side here without hurting your back too much? It's gonna be a long walk out of here in the morning."
"Did you see how many of them were crying even during -- you know. That whole deal with the torches. I'll have to double-check when we get home," Daniel mumbled, "but it might have been a variation of their gisaro dance. Men of a neighboring longhouse voluntarily allowing themselves to be burned in a cathartic emotional --"
"I don't care," Jack interrupted him, and then was sorry to have cut him off. Anything that distracted Daniel from the pain of his injuries was a good thing, even this ridiculous fretting about Jack's opinion of Bosavi witch-hunting techniques. Besides, if that was really the only thing Daniel was worrying about now, then Jack had nothing to say to the man and might as well let him prattle on about folk dances all night long. "You need to rest. Can you shift here?"
Daniel let Jack ease him down onto his side, the effort silencing him until he finally lay curled beside Jack with his head resting on Jack's thigh. Jack petted his hair, stiff with dried sweat. Daniel was still trembling, but he complained softly, "Feels like I'm burning alive."
"I know. Rest."
"I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out."
"Good work under pressure," Jack said bitterly. "Don't beat yourself up over it."
"Next to kinship relations, other languages' perceptions of time are always the toughest thing for me," Daniel insisted in a weary voice, too damned stubborn to give up and just go to sleep. "I kept thinking they were talking about mourning past deaths from seis."
"Isn't that pretty confusing? A language where the future and the past sound exactly the same?"
"Confusing to us," Daniel conceded. His fist was resting over Jack's knee, and Jack could tell when the pain got bad by the tension in Daniel's forearm when he clenched his fist harder. "To me, anyway. Not to them."
"It's like past and future are the same thing," Jack said, angry at the whole thought of it. "I don't understand how the hell anyone could live like that."
"Sure you do." Daniel exhaled sharply. "Not like it's so different from the way you live your life."
How did he dare, Jack wondered. For chrissakes, how did he fucking dare? "Go to sleep," he said.
Daniel lay rigidly still for a moment or two. "Are you-- I mean, you were ready to fire on them, and they were doing the best they could. Being more humane than we've been under similar circumstances, if you get right down to it. I couldn't. How could you even ask me to? I couldn't."
"You ever pull a stunt like that again and you're off the team."
Infuriatingly, Daniel seemed to relax at that. "Right, Jack."
"You think it's a joke?"
"No. Believe me. Not a joke." Jack could have been discussing the weather for all the concern in Daniel's voice.
A man on the other side suddenly barked something sharp and exasperated at them.
"Let me guess,' Jack whispered. "That was 'shut up and go to sleep,' wasn't it?",
"Got it," Daniel breathed, and that was the last thing either one of them said for hours. Jack leaned against the inner wall at the back of the platform and didn't bother trying to stay awake. The dogs sleeping under the longhouse would alert them to outside threats long before Jack would know anything about them, and as for threats from within --well, there wasn't a whole lot Jack could do about it if they changed their mind about the sei question. Daniel had made sure of that.
What sleep Jack did finally manage was fretful and brief. He awoke again and again from catnaps so short that half the time he wasn't sure whether he'd even been sleeping at all, especially since he dreamed he was in a Bosavi longhouse with Daniel curled up shivering beside him. In some of his dreams Daniel was burning alive, a slow, smoldering fire that turned him to ashes on Jack's thigh. He crumbled to nothing when Jack put his hand on his head.
Most of the time Jack's awakenings roused Daniel as well -- or perhaps Daniel wasn't sleeping at all -- and Daniel would reach for Jack's hand in the darkness and hold on hard for a moment before letting his fingers slip away.
It began to rain sometime during the night, and the first crack of thunder awoke everyone. Children began to cry, and the adults whispered together in agitated voices. Flashes of lightening came at shorter and shorter intervals, and in the strobing light Jack could see people sitting up on the sleeping platforms or walking back and forth to talk to their neighbors. He tried to see how bad Daniel's back looked, but all he could make out were broad outlines, the curve of one shoulder, the shadow of his forearm. The thunder made Daniel flinch every time. "Dammit," Daniel finally whispered, sounding utterly exhausted and miserable. He'd gone completely hoarse, as Jack as had predicted. Screaming in pain would do that to a man. "Isn't it morning yet?"
"Doesn't much matter whether it is or not. We couldn't walk to the gate in this storm anyway."
"Right. Right." Daniel rasped impatiently. He was shivering, his fist clenched hard over Jack's knee.
Jack turned to look towards the door. The jungle turned blue-white when the lightening flashed. He could see the huge fronds of banana plants lashed by rain, could feel the hot, wet wind as it blew through the longhouse. The wind would be worse near the door, but that was where he could also see the embers of the fire glowing steady and red.
"I want to get you closer to the fire. Come on, sit up."
"Oh, God," he complained, but he did what Jack asked him to. He stumbled hard when he tried to stand, and Jack had to catch him, supporting him by grasping his upper arm.
"You can make it. Muscles in that leg have stiffened up, that's all. Let me know when you're ready to move."
"I'm fine." Daniel swayed, trying not to lean on Jack. He was making no attempt to walk yet.
"You can do this. It's just one foot in front of the other."
"I know. I'm fine." He lurched forward and immediately would have fallen without Jack's support.
"Keep going. Good idea for you to walk that out anyway. "
Daniel huffed out a painful, explosive breath. By the white glare of lightening Jack saw men sitting up on the sleeping platform, watching their progress with wide-eyed surprise. Yeah, take a good look at what you did to him, Jack thought viciously.
"They didn't want to hurt me," Daniel panted with his next breath, somehow knowing what Jack was thinking. That was Daniel all over. So insightful and so fucking clueless all at the same time. "And they didn't, not really," he insisted as he managed another step. "I'm all right, but just--give a minute here." Between the pain and exhaustion, he sounded close to tears.
"Yeah. You're all right."
Jack didn't mean that the way it must have sounded, because Daniel abruptly stopped and said too loudly, straining his voice, "What? What is it?"
"Stop trying to talk." They had reached the fire box, and were close enough to the entrance to feel the rain blowing in. This was no better than where they'd been, even though the warmth from the coals felt good. "Sorry, Daniel. You'll end up with hypothermia if we spend the rest of the night here. Let's go back."
Thunder crashed, but it didn't stop Daniel from trying to talk over it anyway. "It's not the gun. Jack. It isn't even the gun you're so mad about."
"Come on. I'm getting you out of this wind."
"You know I -- even if you -- it doesn't mean that I don't, you know, because I do."
Jack closed his eyes. The man could speak two dozen languages and couldn't manage to say the words out loud. He wondered for a single, unworthy instant if Daniel had ever been able to tell Sha'uri either, and then felt a little sick with shame.
"Jack. Please." He clutched at Jack's shoulders and stared earnestly into his eyes from a distance of inches, even though they could only see each other when the lightening flashed.
"I know," Jack said miserably. He cupped his free hand at the back of Daniel's neck for an instant. "Um. You know."
"I know," Daniel whispered, and some of the tension went out of him. At any rate, he allowed Jack to guide him back to their empty place on the sleeping platform. It seemed to Jack that Daniel was able to put a little more weight on his leg, and he wished they could have taken a few more turns up and down the longhouse. Everyone else seemed to be settling down again, though, and there was no reason to draw any more attention to themselves than they had to.
Besides, there'd be plenty of time to walk out that bruise in Daniel's leg on the hike to the gate. He hoped the rain stopped soon.
He got Daniel settled the same way as before, curled on his side with his head on Jack's leg. It couldn't be very comfortable, but Daniel didn't complain. Jack leaned his own head against the soot-covered interior wall behind him, but before he closed his eyes, lightening revealed one of the old men standing before them, holding something out to Jack. Jack extended his hand somewhat gingerly, and felt a rubbery-skinned lump being dropped into his palm. After the thunder rolled away the man said something in a rapid string of Bosavi.
"Oh yes," Jack agreed with whatever he was saying. "It's just lovely. Thank you. Thank you so much."
"What did he give you?" Daniel demanded, his broken voice cracking with strain.
Jack found his hand in the darkness and transferred their present into Daniel's keeping. "More sago palm pulp."
"Oh." A long silence. "Well, that's thoughtful of him."
"Shut up and go to sleep," Jack ordered gently, and Daniel didn't argue with him.
The dogs had gotten to Daniel's boots during the night. One of the children brought a chewed scrap of leather with one metal eyelet still remaining and handed it to Jack with a grin. Jack passed it down to Daniel, who sat huddled on the wet ground near the morning fire. "Ah," Daniel said, fingering the soggy scrap. "This is all that's left?" His voice was hoarser than ever, but he sounded stronger to Jack.
"'Fraid so," Jack said with a sympathetic grimace.
Daniel nodded without comment, but Jack knew he was thinking about leeches. "You can wear mine on the way out."
Daniel smiled humorlessly without meeting Jack's eyes. "My feet are at least a size bigger than yours. Thanks anyway, Jack."
They'd had more luck retrieving their other possessions -- the magazine Daniel had flung out of the longhouse the night before, and even the cartridge he'd emptied out of the chamber. So Jack wouldn't have to explain what had happened to that round if he didn't want to. Not, of course, that he would hide something so egregious from General Hammond.
Not like he'd ever withheld information before now, for Daniel's sake.
They left laden with gifts and half a dozen eager guides. Jack wished they could have dispensed with the guides, but he wasn't entirely sanguine about his abilities to get the two of them back to the gate alone. He would have dumped the gifts as well but Daniel thought it would be taken badly by their hosts, and Jack could see that it wasn't a great idea to invite any more misunderstandings. So they took the shell necklaces, the beaded and feathered arm and leg bands, the beads made from a shiny substance like mother-of-pearl, and, of course, more lumps of sago palm pulp.
"You ask me," Jack said, awkwardly juggling their bounty from one arm to the other before ultimately giving in and wearing as many of the gifts as he could, "They're just lookin' for an excuse to give sago away. Like zucchinis at the end of summer -- you can't pay people to take that stuff off your hands."
Daniel was concentrating on walking. After a kilometer or so his limp grew less pronounced as he worked out the sore muscles, but he still placed each bare foot very carefully, to the evident amusement of their guides. Jack presumed they were joking about his tender white feet, but Daniel only smiled tightly and didn't offer to translate.
His back and shoulders looked pretty thoroughly charbroiled. Jack hoped the black marks like charred skin were really mostly stains from the vegetable resin they'd kept pouring on Daniel's back last night. The bruise above his knee was blooming in spectacular colors, and save for a few words exchanged with their guides, he wasn't talking at all. That was fine with Jack.
Daniel and their guides stopped half a dozen times pick leeches off their bare feet and ankles. Their guides did it with an off-handedness born of long familiarity, Daniel with a grim stoicism that Jack knew meant he was freaked half out of his mind. When Jack noticed Daniel's limp worsening he called for another stop, then knelt beside Daniel and lifted his feet one after the other like he was shoeing a horse. It worried him that Daniel didn't protest this treatment, only balanced himself with one hand on Jack's shoulder.
Blisters were coming up on the balls of his feet, and besides the pinpricks on his ankles where he'd pulled off leeches, his soles were criss-crossed with a dozen little scratches and cuts from thorns. Daniel was grinding more dirt into them with every step. Dammit.
He looked up at Daniel wondering what he should do now. Try to force Daniel's poor blistered feet into boots a size too small? Hard to see how that would help matters. Daniel whispered, "It's all right. I'm all right," which was so manifestly a lie that Jack rocked to his feet and snarled in frustration, "Just want you to know that it'll be a cold day in hell before I trust your first contact recommendations again." That was a lie, too, and Jack knew it, but by then he'd already said the words out loud. He hoped Daniel would argue back, but for once in his life Daniel acted as though he had nothing to say.
After another hour of travel their guides left them to make the rest of the way to the stargate alone. "It's nothing personal," Daniel translated for Jack, "But they say they've had enough of ane kalu who come through the stone circle, and they'd rather not take a chance on meeting any more of them."
Jack waved after their retreating backs. "Nice meeting you too," he called. None of them turned around before disappearing into the lush undergrowth. Jack thought he recognized their surroundings, and to the best of his recollection it was only another couple of klicks to the 'gate.
"So we didn't make a very good first impression, did we?"
Daniel shrugged then winced at the movement. His shoulders were probably killing him, Jack thought. "Not... the greatest, maybe." He looked up and finally met Jack's eyes. "Actually, they think we're completely crazy."
"Oh." A disturbing thought struck Jack. "We are invited back, though. Right?"
Daniel pressed his lips together hard and looked at the ground before answering. He looked so absurd and pathetic standing there in a loincloth that brushed his knees, charred and bruised and defeated, arms full of lumps of sago palm pulp. "No. No, in fact they asked us very politely to never come near them again."
"Oh." Jack let this sink in for a minute. "In other words, not only are the kids with fancier toys telling us to stay away, but now the pig farmers are, too."
Daniel's tight expression became a humorless smile. "More or less. Right."
"Everything they put us --they put you -- through, all of that, and they aren't even willing to talk to us anymore?"
Daniel turned and started trudging along the path towards the stargate, walking like a very old man. Most of the blisters on his back had already burst, and tiny insects swarmed around the open wounds.
"You're right, Jack." He didn't turn around. "Not one of my finer moments."
Jack waved his hand over Daniel's back to disburse the flying insects. God, he hated jungles. "Don't beat yourself up. I can see how having, uh, death incarnate along for the ride would tend to complicate anybody's diplomatic efforts."
Daniel stopped in his tracks so suddenly that Jack nearly ran into him. He turned around and dropped his armload of preserved sago palm pulp. "Jack," he said, looking at him, befuddled and earnest. "I already told you. It's not -- It doesn't mean I --" He stumbled over the words just like he had last night in the longhouse, and then abruptly lunged forward and kissed Jack so hard their teeth knocked together.
"Ow. Danny --"
Daniel put his hands on Jack's shoulders to steady himself and kissed him again just as determinedly, but with better aim this time. Jack let him do it, even though they'd never kissed offworld before. For all intents and purposes they weren't even lovers when they were offworld, and Jack believed that, he did, but he kissed Daniel back anyway. Daniel's chapped lips were rough and hot, and so were his hands, clutching at Jack's shoulders and then reaching up to hold his head. He tore his mouth away long enough to mumble Jack's name and then kissed Jack once more, clumsy and hungry, fumbling as though this were the first time and he hadn't yet figured out how the parts fit together. Jack didn't ease them apart until he felt Daniel begin to sway on his feet.
"Easy," he whispered to Daniel, cupping his face but not meeting his eyes. His lips felt bruised. "We've still got a ways to go."
It was a little past four in the afternoon on hot, dusty-dry day, and the air tasted like smoke from the forest fires burning near Denver. When the wind gusted, ashes drifted down like snow, and Jack was grateful for the artificial cool of the air conditioning in the lobby of Daniel's apartment building. He'd had enough smoke and fire lately to last a lifetime.
He let himself in without knocking and yelled, "Daniel, you decent?"
"Back here," called a hoarse voice from the direction of the bedroom.
"Want a beer?" Jack detoured to the kitchen and put the six-pack he'd brought with him on the empty bottom shelf of Daniel's fridge. "It's that Flying Dog stuff you like."
"Maybe later. Thanks."
Jack got a bottle out for himself, rummaged around noisily for an opener and took a good sized swallow before venturing to the bedroom. He found Daniel propped on his side with pillows under his head and shoulder. The covers were kicked down to the foot of the bed and books were scattered around within easy reach. Wearing only white briefs and socks Daniel looked clean and scrubbed, save for the burns like dirty smudges on his upper chest and a bruise on his thigh like he'd dumped a tray of watercolors in his lap.
"How you doing?" Jack leaned against the bedroom door and took another big swallow. It didn't help. He could still taste ashes at the back of his throat.
"OK," Daniel said. He made a notation in the margin of the closest book and then shut it with a faintly resigned air. "I think I was right about the gisaro ritual. I was reviewing Schieffenlin on Bosavi ritual dances, and Bosavi peoples go to great lengths to create socially acceptable contexts for adult men to shed tears, which they regard as critical to --"
"I mean, are you all right? Need anything? Sleeping OK?"
"I'm not an invalid. It just hurts to wear shirts. All right, and to walk, but otherwise I'm fine. Pissed off, mostly. How long is it going to be before General Hammond approves another cultural mission?"
"Forget Hammond." Jack walked the rest of the way into the bedroom, toed off his shoes and sat down on the bed behind Daniel, his back against the headboard. "How many lifetimes is it gonna be before I sign off on another mission like that?"
Daniel snorted. Jack didn't need to see his face to imagine his longsuffering expression. "Jack, the mission was a success. Nobody died, and we have valuable new data on the scope and timetable of --"
"How do these burns feel?" Jack interrupted. He hadn't come over this afternoon to argue. "Janet's pain pills doing the trick?"
"I can't get any work done when I'm taking those things. They make my head feel like it's stuffed with cotton balls."
"So you're not taking the pills." From this close the burns on Daniel's upper back looked like dark-centered coronas. Jack touched the reddened skin below one shoulder blade very, very gently with the side of his forefinger. As careful as he was, Daniel still flinched and trembled at his touch. "And you're hurting. Tell me, Daniel, just as a matter of curiosity, are you getting any sleep at all?"
"I can fall asleep just fine," Daniel asserted irritably. "It's only when I roll over in my sleep that the sheets --"
Jack ran the flat of his hand over smooth cotton percale and imagined what it would feel like scraping against the angry burns on Daniel's back. "You should take the pills. They'd knock you out so you could sleep through the night no matter what, and besides, you shouldn't be doing any work right now anyway."
"I'd be bored out of my skull." Daniel was starting to sound a little whiny. "What am I supposed to do if I can't work?"
"I'll move the TV in here. Rent some videos for you."
"I can't concentrate enough to watch a movie."
Definitely getting whiny. Jack set the beer bottle down then rolled back, scooting down a little, trying not to jostle Daniel. "There's other things to do," he said innocently, and very, very carefully pressed his lips to the same spot under Daniel's shoulder blade that he'd touched before. Daniel gasped and trembled. Jack kissed the nape of his neck just as carefully, imagining he could feel the heat of the burns with his lips. Daniel sighed shakily, and Jack flicked his tongue across Daniel's spine, finding a spot just between two smudged-looking burns. The healing skin was sensitive. Jack raised his head enough to look over Daniel's shoulder, and saw the fingers of his right hand splayed wide across the sheets.
"This OK?" Jack asked.
"Um," Daniel muttered and clenched his fist in the sheets. He was shivering, breathing in short, uneven huffs. Jack touched his lips to the point of Daniel's shoulder and saw goosebumps suddenly rise all the way down his arm. He leaned up to kiss his ear and Daniel groaned out loud, but it was awkward for Jack, having to arch his body away so that his arm or his t-shirt didn't accidentally brush Daniel's back. He scooted down and steadied himself with his hand on Daniel's hip, and went back to tracing a path of kisses between the burns he hadn't been able to prevent.
So many wrong decisions on this mission, beginning with agreeing to it in the first place. No reason at all Jack could see that they had been spared once more. Yet instead of having his heart spitted on a stake under alien skies he got to lie here beside Daniel with the shuttered white light of a late summer afternoon spilling across the bed. Outside forests were burning, and the sun beat with brutal strength on freeways and city streets, but in here everything was tempered and cool, and with just a little care he could touch Daniel as often as he liked and render his linguist wordless.
Amazing. So unlikely Jack half believed he was dreaming and would wake up again in a Bosavi longhouse listening to Daniel scream. He kissed him again and the taste on his lips was bitter and medicinal, but Daniel whimpered and God help them both, all but giggled when Jack breathed against the back of his neck.
"So tell me," Jack whispered in his ear, on the verge of laughing himself. "What the hell is a penis sheath anyway?"
He raised his head to look down on Daniel who was smiling a bit with his eyes closed. "You couldn't wear one," he said, lazy and hoarse, sounding too pleased with himself by half. "Little strip of decorated palm leaf, woven straw or something like that. You keep it on by pulling the tip of your foreskin through a fold in the leaf."
"Aw, geez!" Jack protested with an instinctive urge to clamp a protective hand over himself.
Daniel sniggered. "Shame, really. Bet you'd look great in one, too."
"Never been so glad for that one little snip," Jack declared, and slid his hand over Daniel's hip to find him already hard in his clean white briefs. All it took were a few kisses and the joy of laughing together in bed. It occurred to Jack that these were the only times he ever saw Daniel in this mood. So uncomplicated. So happy. He worked his fingers under the waistband and Daniel obligingly raised his hips so Jack could pull his underwear down his thighs. "You, on the other hand," Jack said, "you got a couple of those things stashed in a dresser drawer? Just been waiting for the right opportunity to model?"
Daniel slowly curled his body around Jack's stroking hand, breathing in quick gasps, sounding like he was trying to swallow his laughter. Jack shifted forward to kiss Daniel's shoulder, and it was strange having to keep a few inches distance between them, not to be able cling tightly, to feel his heart beating against Daniel's back. Deprived of all touches save for the careful pressure of his lips and his hand on Daniel, he propped his head on his fist and watched.
Daniel's toes were curling and he was biting his lip, one hand knotted in the sheets. Jack leaned forward to kiss the bitter flesh on Daniel's back again. He supposed those were Fraiser's potions he was tasting, not the invisible remains of that black goop the Bosavi had used, but even the memory made him uneasy. He stretched his neck up and blew a hot breath into Daniel's ear, tightening his grasp. Daniel wasn't laughing anymore. He stuttered Jack's name, his eyes opening wide and then closing tight again. His hand was clenched so fiercely in the bedclothes that he'd yanked the fitted sheet off the corner of the mattress.
"If you won't swallow your pills," Jack growled, "you'll just have to take your medicine some other way." Daniel made a strangled sound deep in his throat and froze.
So easy. So goddammed easy. All this time and Daniel was still so defenseless in his arms. "Love you," Jack whispered because he couldn't help himself when he held Daniel hot and needing in the palm of his hand. One more stroke, a twitch of his fingers and a long, slow pull and Daniel grunted like someone had just socked him in the gut, and came all over Jack's hand.
"See if you can get some sleep now," Jack told him softly. Daniel moaned something that could have been Jack's name, still flinching and twitching, then settled down with a long sigh, slack-jawed and dopey-looking. The sight made Jack feel as though his heart were breaking and he suddenly blurted out the burden he'd been carrying ever since their botched mission. "I wouldn't have cried."
Daniel was abruptly wide awake. He grasped Jack's wet hand with both of his own and held on hard. "I know," Daniel rasped.
"I would have watched them torture you to death and I wouldn't have shed one single tear for you. Not in front of them."
"But you did. Jack, it's all right. It's all over."
"Not because of them!" Jack insisted. It seemed important that Daniel understand what could have happened.
"But you did cry for me." Daniel said the words slowly. Jack was glad he couldn't roll over to face him. "Jack, you cried because you love me and because I said--" for the first time Daniel's hoarse voice wavered. "I said unforgivable things."
To his shame, Jack felt the hot prickle of tears again, but he blinked hard and didn't let them fall, even though Daniel couldn't have seen. "You saved our lives," he managed gruffly. "That's not exactly unforgivable. Besides, did you -- Daniel, had you already figured it out?"
The silence stretched out between them, and when Jack couldn't stand the waiting any longer he told Daniel, "You should get some sleep. I'll fix dinner later."
"The bed's a mess," Daniel said.
"Yeah. Well, so are you. Hang on, I'll get a washcloth."
"It doesn't matter. Isn't it bad enough that I could say it out loud at all?"
"Daniel." Jack sat up and leaned over Daniel and swept all the books on that side of the bed onto the floor.
Jack paid no attention to his outrage, clambering over Daniel while being careful of the burns and stretching out in front of him until they were practically nose to nose. Daniel's wide eyes were stained with anger and grief. Jack didn't know what he needed to hear, any more than he knew what he wanted Daniel to say, so he cupped Daniel's face in his hands and kissed him soundly. When he finally let him go Daniel blinked at him resentfully.
"Daniel, listen to me. It doesn't matter."
"That's what I said."
"Then maybe it does matter, I don't know. We're alive. We're home."
"You started it."
"Yeah, I know." He leaned forward to kiss Daniel again, and this time Daniel yielded a little. The third time Daniel reached out to hold Jack's head, and when Jack finally eased himself away, it was to find Daniel watching him with melting warmth in his eyes.
"Want some dinner?"
Daniel shook his head.
"Want me to change the sheets?"
A smile touched Daniel's lips. "Maybe later," he murmured, slurring his words. "Just stay. For now would you just stay?"
"Guess I don't have anywhere to be right now," Jack agreed. "Especially, say, if you share one of those pillows."
Daniel looked inclined to be mulish on the subject, but with a faint smile he finally tugged a pillow out from under his head. Jack kissed his forehead and Daniel's eyes fluttered shut. "It would have worked out anyway," he sighed, not making a whole lot of sense by now. "You're human, Jack."
"'Preciate the vote of confidence there," Jack said.
"You are," Daniel insisted sleepily, as if there were still some question, and though outside Jack had no doubt that the wind still tasted of ashes and smoke, here in Daniel's bedroom the air was cool and dry and smelled of mostly of old books and lovemaking. The afternoon sun was shining full in Jack's face over Daniel's shoulder, but instead of turning away, Jack followed Daniel into sleep, watching scarlet landscapes burn behind his closed eyes.
~~~"As darkness fell Damowa's brothers began weeping in their hammocks. I lay there and listened, not bothering to tape record it or photograph it or write notes. One of the others asked me why I was not making a nuisance of myself as usual, and I told him that my innermost being was cold -- that is, I was sad. This was whispered around the village, and as each person heard it, he looked over at me. The children who inevitably accumulated around my hammock were told by their elders to go home and not bother me anymore. I ... had finally begun to act like a human being as far as they were concerned."
Napoleon Chagnon, Yanomamo, The Fierce People (2d Ed, 1977)
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