With a loud grunt, Daniel heaved the heavy basket of nips onto the counter. He received a stern look from the inspector behind the table, one of those looks that reminded Daniel of a grade school bully waiting impatiently by the cafeteria doors to knock him out and steal his lunch money. Only this time, Daniel knew that pretending to hex the bully with some random Maori chant wouldn't scare him witless. No, this time would be like every other time he lugged his day's work to the inspector.
The shame. The guilt. The anger.
Daniel held out his hand.
The inspector, or Bucktooth as he was unfavorably called, pushed aside the long cylindrical talisman that hung around his neck and reached into his vest. He withdrew a long wand before he grabbed Daniel by the wrist and jerked him forward. Daniel bit back the urge to tell him he was overcompensating when the tip of the wand seared his flesh. His eyebrows twitched from the momentary pain, but Daniel set his jaw and kept his hard gaze focused on Bucktooth.
And what looked suspiciously like one of SG-1's radios.
Before Daniel could get another look, Bucktooth sneered and knocked Daniel away, his mocking face filled with glee. Daniel wondered if he moonlighted as a sadist.
"Out with you," Bucktooth mumbled, shooing Daniel away with a flick of his wrist, like Daniel was some stray dog.
The sad part, he mused, was that he knew he really was no better than a stray dog.
Daniel walked away from the weight station and started back toward the farm. As he forced his tired legs across the thorny fields, he caught sight of the fading sunset. The sun had gone down an hour or so ago, but the last vestiges of light still crept over the horizon. Ordinarily, Daniel would have marveled at such a sight. In fact, he once had, not so long ago, when they'd first arrived on the planet. That was back when the Stargate glistened like a new ring under the sunny sky. That was back when the Stargate glistened at all.
He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, trying to chase away the weariness he felt. At the end of the fields lay the farmhouse. Daniel could already see Aver waiting for him.
"Daniel," he said with an uneasy smile.
Daniel held out his hand, but Aver slapped it away.
"I don't need to see your count. I know you don't steal."
Without a word, Daniel stared at him and rubbed at the inventory mark that had been left on his hand. Aver stood in front of him, waiting for Daniel to speak or make some kind of move. Daniel wondered if Aver waited each day, hoping that he'd had finally accepted his fate or if he really thought his crops would be stolen if he didn't keep vigilant.
Though, Daniel considered a different reason entirely.
He continued to stay silent.
Aver sighed. "You can go," he said with a quiet voice.
Daniel brushed past him as he moved beyond the farmhouse. Just a few feet away, hiding behind the barn, rested a little shack. It was a tiny thing, no bigger than an average sized bathroom, but just large enough to hold a bed, a basin, and the few odds and ends that Daniel had managed to keep. It might not be much, but for now, it was home.
Daniel opened the door to the crumbling shack and exhaled as he slid to the floor. He kicked off his sandals and dug his feet into the cool dirt, thankful that the shack remained in the shade of the barn for most of the day. He closed his eyes, absently rubbing at his chest. Right now, life was all about the little things.
His moment of rest didn't last long. Reluctantly, Daniel pushed himself to his feet, remembering where he was and what he needed to do. He snuck a worried glance over to the bed before he crossed the room to lean over the side. Jack was still out like a light, but thankfully his chest was rising and falling steadily beneath his brown robes. Daniel was positive he'd moved in his sleep; Jack continued to sleep on his back, but his head now faced the door while his left leg dangled off the side and scraped across the dirt. His right leg remained elevated.
Satisfied, Daniel left the side of the small bed and went for his bag, rummaging through whatever he had left. He checked the state of his rations and not liking what he saw, he decided today would be a great day for some nips and jassa juice.
Daniel nearly gagged at the thought.
He grabbed a couple of glasses he'd bartered for and filled one with some of the juice that Aver had given him for his hard work and service. He put them aside, hoping he'd only have to use the juice as a last resort, before he took a quick survey of the room.
Daniel thought maybe he had enough wood to boil some more water. Deciding that he would give it a try anyway, Daniel grabbed the left over twigs he'd found from the tree by the pig farm and went to work at lighting the fire. He shed most of his robes in the process, reasoning that setting himself on fire probably wasn't the best way to go. Besides, the cool air was welcome on his hot skin.
Using a small pot he'd found tossed in the barn, Daniel heated the water he'd saved from his trip to the stream earlier that morning. He sat there in silence, watching the inventory mark fade away while listening to the fire crackle and the water boil, his thoughts turning to Sam and Teal'c. He couldn't help but wonder how they were, where they were, and if he'd ever see them again.
He could really use them right now.
Once the water was done, Daniel set the pot aside to cool and crouched down to stare at the pit he'd made. The fire was beginning to fade, leaving just crackling embers and soft heat. Daniel knew he'd either have to throw some more twigs in the pit to keep the fire going, both for light and for heat, or spend another night in the cold dark. Wood wasn't the easiest thing to come by, not with the others scrambling for their share as well.
He heard moaning from the bed behind him.
Daniel leaped to his feet, grabbing the spare glass and the pot. He poured the warm water into the glass, set the pot aside, and moved to the side of the bed. He stopped long enough to study Jack's stubble covered face. He almost looked like a stranger, years older than he should be, wasting away in the corner. Daniel held onto that horrible thought as he continued to gaze down at him, only brought back to reality when he heard a soft moaning. Jack groaned again, his lips parting just enough where Daniel knew he could exploit them. Quickly, he brought the glass to Jack's lips and forced some of the water into his mouth, lifting his head so he could swallow properly. Jack sputtered a bit, but what else was new.
"You could give me a little help, Jack," Daniel muttered.
But Jack was gone. He never really gained conscious, not ever since the attack. Daniel just kept giving him what he could, trying to ignore the persistent nagging doubts that buzzed like gnats around his head, threatening to distract him with their insistent thoughts of despair and reality.
He knew what would happen if Jack didn't come around soon. He knew that Jack couldn't just live off water and whatever gruel Daniel managed to force down this throat. But he chose not to think about it.
He just kept tending to Jack. He just kept toiling in the fields. He just kept doing what he needed to do, he thought sadly, grabbing the jassa juice and lifting it to his lips.
And that is what he did every night. That is, until the fourteenth night.
Daniel knelt by Jack's bed, lifting his head so he could drink the water that he'd prepared just thirty minutes ago. Jack sputtered, licked his lips, and started to fade. With a sigh, Daniel lowered him, his mind already working towards the next morning's preparations. As he placed the pot aside, he heard another soft moan.
When Daniel glanced up, it was too late. Jack's hand clamped around his throat, squeezing with a strength Daniel didn't think was possible. Shaking off his amazement, Daniel brought his hands to his throat, struggling to get Jack to let go.
"Jack," he managed to say, gasping.
Jack's foggy eyes wavered and, for a second, Daniel thought he was snapping out of whatever delusion was haunting him. But that moment of clarity vanished, leaving Daniel to battle to pry Jack's military vise off his neck. Thankfully, Jack's strength faded with his hesitation. His energy spent, Jack collapsed onto the wooden bed.
Daniel paused, swallowing as much oxygen as his battered throat would allow. His lungs stung, his head throbbed, but that wasn't what concerned him. He found enough strength to stand and remained by the bed, silently watching Jack.
Jack watched him back.
"What's this place?" Jack asked, his voice just above a whisper.
Daniel stared at him. Part of him felt a bubble of excitement catch in his throat. He had been waiting for Jack to finally become lucid or at least semi-lucid since the explosion. But there was that other part, that part that kept growing more and more each day, that warned him he was dreaming or starting to lose his grip, just like the others.
"You mute?" Jack asked, frowning, before spazzing into a series of hacking coughs. Daniel went back for the pot but Jack shook his head, waving him away. He motioned with a shaking hand to the floor, the pit, and the basin. "What's all this?"
Daniel glanced back at the odds and ends he'd accumulated over the past few days. It wasn't much, but he did his best. After spending morning after morning picking through the wealthy landowners' trash, he'd grown to have a greater appreciation for garbage.
He turned back to Jack and shrugged. He waited, trying to gage Jack's reaction. When he didn't really react either way, Daniel felt that doubt starting to knot in his stomach, and he forgot about the burning in his throat entirely.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked.
Jack glared at him, a hard piercing glare, or as hard as a glare from a man that hadn't eaten a full meal in over a week could get. "That's the dumbest question I've ever heard," he mumbled.
"You didn't answer me."
"Because it's a stupid question."
Daniel crossed his arms.
Jack sighed and closed his eyes. "Dammit, Daniel."
Daniel breathed out and dipped his head as he sunk to the floor. He couldn't even voice his relief.
Daniel glanced up, noting how Jack was watching him. There was a heaviness in his gaze, one of anger and confusion, burdened with something more, something that Daniel couldn't read. Daniel turned away and looked for the heeba berries he'd ground into a thick pulp.
"You look like crap," he heard Jack say.
Daniel didn't want to admit that he felt like crap, too. He touched the bearded growth on his face before reaching for the pulp.
"We're not in the village anymore," Jack said.
"No." Daniel scooped some of the pulp onto a broken dish and scooted a little closer to Jack. "Nanti's village is gone."
"Gone? The whole place?"
Daniel nodded and held up the plate. Jack scowled and swatted Daniel away.
"We're low on rations. Just eat it," Daniel said.
"What happened?" Jack searched the dimly light room, ignoring the plate, until he finally sighed and caught Daniel's gaze. "Where are Carter and Teal'c?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
Daniel sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He'd been hoping for two weeks that Jack would wake up and now part of him wished nothing more than for him to go back to sleep. Before, Daniel had silence and time on his hands. Now, he knew their situation would become much more difficult.
Jack must have had picked up on the same vibe. "It's bad," he said.
Jack grunted and winced, reaching out his shaky hands toward his elevated leg. "How long have I been unconscious?" he finally asked.
"About two weeks, give or take," Daniel replied.
"And this place?"
He paused, not exactly sure how to answer. He never gave it much thought. He didn't give much of anything thought, lately. He just struggled to make it through each day.
"Home," he finally said.
Jack blinked at him. "I've let the place go."
Daniel snorted. "It's good to know you haven't lost your unique sense of humor."
"Who said anything about humor?" Jack sniffed. "Damn, what's that smell?"
"That would be you."
"Sweet," he said with a groan.
"Not for me."
Jack shot him a hurtful glare, but Daniel only smiled. He offered the plate again.
After a brief pause, Jack sighed and finally relented, scooping the sticky pulp with his fingers. It didn't take him long to finish the entire plate. When he started to wipe the dish and look for more, Daniel considered breaking back into the rations. Instead, he reached over for the water he'd set aside for Jack. Daniel figured they'd be better off taking things slow. He stayed silent as he watched Jack greedily inhale the water.
When Jack was done, Daniel withdrew the glass and started back toward the cooling fire. He could feel Jack's eyes on him, knowing he was watching his every move. He also knew the obvious question was on the tip of his lips.
"Why aren't you wearing clothes?"
Daniel glanced at his robes, which were crumbled in the corner of the shack. He glanced over his shoulder. "Because they're on the floor."
"For me, yes."
Jack shifted uncomfortably. "Let's cut to the chase," he said quickly. "What's our situation?"
Daniel paused to think, reaching over to slip on his robes to make things more comfortable. He didn't need their situation to become even more complicated.
"Nanti's village was destroyed by the neighboring village rival, Obartu," Daniel said as he finished dressing. "We were caught in the battle."
Jack seemed to relax a little, but his anger over their predicament didn't seem to wane. "They were blasting each other," he managed to mumble.
Daniel nodded. The explosions still snapped vividly in his mind. He'd shouted for peace and calm, even as he'd abandoned their honorary feast and prepared for defensive battle along with Sam. Teal'c had already fired warning shots from his staff into the night air, trying to distract and confuse the attackers while Jack picked them off with his P-90. But it hadn't made a difference in the end.
"You were hurt in the battle," Daniel said softly. "I was the closest. I tried to get you out, but –" He sighed. "Obartu's forces were too strong. We were separated somehow. I don't know what happened to Sam and Teal'c. Nanti tried to protect us as long as he was alive, but that didn't last long."
Jack eyed him suspiciously. "Protect us from what?"
"We've been transported, Jack. I don't know where, but we're part of some classist labor hierarchy."
"So basically we're slaves," Jack said, his face pale.
Jack winced and turned on the cot. He muttered something Daniel couldn't make out before letting out a heavy sigh. "Where the hell did they get explosives?"
"I have no idea."
Again, Jack muttered something indecipherable as he wiped his face with his hand. Daniel took a moment to rest and rubbed his tired eyes.
Nanti had failed to tell them about the feud between his village and the next. Nanti had failed to tell them about the tensions that had led to the battle, the labor shortages, or the hidden goods and weapons the people of this planet had been stockpiling. He'd failed to tell them a lot of things.
But now that Jack was awake, Daniel knew they had to act fast. And at least now, he could act on the one bit of knowledge he'd managed to acquire.
"I think I know how they transported us," Daniel said, glancing back at the door. "They seem to have incorporated some alien mode of transportation, similar to Asgard beam technology. I just have to find out where it is." He paused, turning around when Jack failed to make a comment. "Jack?"
Again, Jack didn't reply. He remained motionless, his hand still resting on his forehead. Quietly, Daniel stood, came to his side, and brought his arm down, stopping to check his pulse for reassurance. With a sigh of relief, he stepped away from the wooden bed and crossed the small space to where he normally slept. Daniel eased himself onto the ground, curling the fabric of his robes closer to his body, while eyeing the pit to make sure the fire had burnt itself out.
Finally satisfied, Daniel reached over and grabbed his glass and took a sip of the bitter juice. He knew tonight he'd sleep better than before, yet he also knew he had so much work left to do. Jack needed time to regain his strength. Hopefully, he could do that quietly.
Obviously, Jack had a different definition of quiet than Daniel did. As he walked back to the shack, Daniel heard the banging, a ruckus that he knew could be heard well beyond the isolated field where their little wooden home rested. He quickened his pace, his robes dragging across the dusty ground. Four days. It had only taken four days.
Daniel swung the door open. He wasn't surprised, but nonetheless angry, to find Jack tearing up the place. The basin, the bed, the little makeshift cabinet Daniel had tied together with some old animal hide: they were tossed aside and broken, littering the cramped space inside the shack. In the midst of the chaos, stood Jack, his face pasty and hollow, but set in determination. He leaned on a broken slab of wood for support.
Daniel glared at him. "Jack! Any more noise and you'll get us killed!"
Jack didn't look back at him, his gaze scouring the ransacked room. "Where are our guns?" he asked.
Daniel stared at him.
When Daniel didn't respond, Jack turned to him, his searching face slipping into a steady glare. "Weapons, Daniel. We need to get off this rock."
Daniel continued to stare and wondered just how sharp Jack's mind was these days.
"Just don't stand there," Jack muttered. "Do something."
Daniel scowled. "Sure, I'll just go outside and tell Obartu to kindly give us our weapons back since we'll be leaving."
The bite in Daniel's voice seemed to make an impact on Jack, shaking him from his thoughts. He shook his head and sighed, leaning harder on his wooden crutch. Daniel moved to meet him, tossing aside the crutch as he swung Jack's arm around his shoulders. Instead of protesting, Jack leaned into him and clutched his shoulder. Briefly, he entertained the thought of keeping Jack in his arms to comfort them both, but then he shook his head, chasing the thought away, and focused on their dilemma. Daniel knew Jack's injuries had to be bad if he wasn't fighting; he chided himself for thinking Jack could make such a miraculous recovery.
Together they hobbled to what was left of the bed. Daniel managed to slip Jack onto the wooden frame, adjusting him so that the few cushions Daniel had bartered for supported Jack's head, back, and his injured leg. After a moment of shifting, Jack exhaled loudly and turned his head to gaze at Daniel.
"We've got squat," Jack said.
"Yes, that's typical of slavery."
"Don't be a smartass." His gaze fell to Daniel's SGC issued pack.
"They made a few concessions," Daniel said quietly.
Jack fell silent. But it wasn't a comfortable silence or a tired silence. This was a knowing silence, a silence that bore into Daniel and twisted him up inside, not unlike that first step through the Stargate. Concessions weren't made for slaves. Sacrifices were made. Based on that angry spark Daniel saw in Jack's eyes, he knew just what kind of sacrifice was on Jack's mind.
"It's not what you think," Daniel said, fighting to keep from rolling his eyes. "I made an agreement with Aver. In exchange, we have this shack and a few more supplies than the rest of the workers."
Jack arched an eyebrow. "And yet, you've failed to elaborate on the nature of this exchange."
"It's not important."
"Look, Jack, I'm tired." Daniel kicked away some of the debris with his foot, clearing a spot on the ground where he could unwind. Tonight, he wasn't even going to bother with grinding the berries or mashing the nips into something edible. He left Jack the rations while the jassa juice would be enough for Daniel to get by. "Just get some rest," he mumbled before downing a glass in one gulp. Daniel continued to ignore his protests, letting himself go as Jack's voice became more and more distant.
He would deal with the fall out tomorrow.
Daniel hadn't even finished walking through the door when the fallout smacked him upside the head.
Jack sat in the center of the room, his injured leg lifted and stretched out lengthwise. Just the confidence in his posture told Daniel he'd been waiting for him, though thankfully more quietly than the day before. Nonetheless, he still appeared weary, his face drawn and his eyes dull, leaving Daniel to believe Jack had a long way toward recovery.
Daniel didn't know if they had that long.
Thoughts of their situation started to fade when Daniel noticed Jack held two objects in either hand: the jug of jassa juice and a knife. Daniel frowned. "Where did you get that?"
"I see you haven't traded everything away."
Daniel crossed his arms. "Give me a little bit of credit."
Jack nodded, holding up the knife and rotating it as he inspected it. "I figured you had something planned." He turned to Daniel. "How long do we have?"
With a sigh, Daniel rubbed his face. "I don't know. The harvest season is ending, and I've heard rumors that there'll be another migration."
"So, we switch hands." Jack winced as he shifted his leg. "We'll get some other guy and you can talk some sense into him."
"They get rid of anyone not fit to work," Daniel said quietly.
Jack shook his head. "Perfect."
"That's why you need to rest, Jack. You need to be physically able to work."
"Daniel, I'm not going to be some guy's slave. We need to get out of here." He paused and then scowled. "You should have been working on getting us out of here."
Daniel frowned. "Who's to say that I haven't?"
Jack held up the jassa juice.
Daniel sighed. The last thing he needed was to get grilled by Jack right now.
Jack gave the jug a swish. "You do realize this is laced with some kind of drug."
"You know?" Jack slammed the jug to the dirt floor. "Dammit, Daniel. What the hell?"
"It takes the edge off."
"So, you've just been drugging yourself. Nice."
"It doesn't affect me like the others," Daniel said with a shrug.
"Just how do you know?"
"They've become more compliant."
"You've become compliant."
"No. Well, yes. Maybe a little."
"Jack, if I knew it was going to make me completely submissive, I wouldn't drink it," Daniel said. "But it's just enough to buy us some time."
Jack arched his eyebrows. "Just who did you piss off?"
For a brief second, Daniel thought he saw the hints of a grin as Jack said those words. Daniel had a hard time not grinning himself. "Just about everyone," he said.
"Well, it's good to know some things don't change."
Daniel nodded and reached for the juice. Jack jerked the jug away from him, much to Daniel's surprise. Then, he dipped the jug, pouring the juice into a muddy pool on the ground.
"You've bought enough time," he said, shaking out the last drops. "If we're going to bust out of here, we both need to be sharp."
"If we don't blend in, they will suspect something," Daniel muttered.
"I think we've done enough blending in."
You have no idea, Daniel thought.
"When's the harvest?" Jack asked.
"A little less than a week."
"Damn. Then we need to get to work." He cringed as he pushed himself to his feet. "We need a plan on how to get away from here."
Daniel nodded. He knew that time was short. When the harvest hit, they would get shuffled somewhere else. By then, the inspectors would know that Jack not only was hiding out in his shack, but also had regained consciousness. He'd either be deemed fit to join the migration or he'd be discarded. Either way, Daniel had no doubt that they would be separated.
Not that it mattered. They'd already been marked.
"There's something you're not telling me," Jack said, his cool eyes trained on Daniel.
"Maybe if you were more honest with me, then I would be with you."
Jack frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Daniel sighed. He had no desire to get into any of this right now. He just wanted to rest, something he could no longer do now that Jack had dumped the jassa juice.
"I pull mutant turnips out of the ground all day," he said, slumping to the ground. "You expect me to come back happy?"
To his surprise, Jack didn't come back with a witty comment. Instead, he slid next to Daniel and clamped a supportive hand on his shoulder. Then, Jack started to knead at the tight muscles in his shoulder, urging Daniel to relax.
Daniel knew he should be thankful, but he couldn't help but cringe with disgust. He didn't need Jack hovering over him. He didn't need Jack's hand on his shoulder. He didn't need Jack anywhere near him.
Angry, Daniel swatted him away. He heard Jack mutter something, but Daniel wasn't in the mood. Without another word, he moved to sit alone, leaving the two of them in an uncomfortable silence for the rest of the night.
The next few days proved to be difficult for Daniel. As Jack continued to recover, he became increasingly more militant. Jack wasn't a colonel in the Air Force for nothing. Jack was always plotting and planning and searching for opportunities. So, while Daniel toiled in the fields as the last day of harvest drew near, Jack worked on formulating a plan to escape.
Normally, that wouldn't bother Daniel. But this time, it did. He wasn't sure if it was because they had been forced to share such close quarters for the past three weeks or if it was because he was suffering some form of withdrawal from the juice. At this point, Daniel didn't care. He was tired, angry, and ready to snap.
Daniel marched down the fields on his way to the farm. As usual, Aver was waiting for him. Daniel rolled up the sleeves on his arm and thrust out his hand.
Aver just shook his head. "I've told you that I don't need to see your count."
Without a word, Daniel withdrew and rolled the fabric back down over his arms. He stood silently, waiting for Aver to dismiss him. Only this time, he didn't.
Daniel froze as Aver grabbed his forearm. "I've noticed you have become more tense." When Daniel didn't respond, he saw a smile curve at the corners of Aver's mouth. "But I see the words are on the tip of your tongue."
Daniel set his jaw, pleading with himself to keep his mouth shut. This wasn't the time to antagonize anyone. He just had to follow through with it.
"I know that your friend is awake," Aver said in a low voice. "It won't take long for someone to tell the inspectors."
"Are you threatening me?" Daniel asked.
Aver chuckled. "I take care of you, Daniel." He released Daniel's arm, patted his dusty sleeve before reaching down to pick up a ceramic jug from the ground. "I've done my best to assist you. Without me, you would have become like the others. I would hate to see that happen."
Daniel seriously doubted that was the case. He knew why Aver needed him.
"It would wise for you to take my advice." He handed Daniel the jug of jassa juice. "Tame your friend. Keep him quiet."
Daniel accepted the jug without protest and started back toward the shack behind the barn. He fought the urge to sneak a taste of the juice, having long ago become accustomed to its bitterness. Though, Daniel knew that even a sip would doom them. Daniel was so tired, he knew that part of him wanted to let go. He couldn't allow that. Not now.
Not when he knew that their time was up.
After taking a deep breath, Daniel opened the door to the shack. Jack was on him immediately.
Daniel watched with mild disappointment as Jack dumped the contents of the jug into the ground. He gave it a few good shakes before he tossed the jug.
"Thanks, Jack. That was helpful."
"I wouldn't have touched it."
"How do I know that?"
"Because I think that one had a lethal dose in it."
That caught Jack's attention. He glanced down at the pool of mud and juice that had formed at his feet. "I take it that your friend doesn't like me."
"He doesn't like either of us," Daniel said, plopping down in front of the pit to try to get a fire going. "None of them do," he mumbled under his breath.
"Then I know you're up to something. I saw you talking out there with that Aver guy," Jack said, hovering over him. "What's the deal?"
"The deal is you need to keep quiet."
"You know that's not what I mean." Jack motioned to the door. "Just what kind of arrangement did you make with him?"
Daniel let out a frustrated sigh. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep the truth from Jack forever. He had just hoped that they would have found an easier way to escape.
"Aver's farm is built on top of Goa'uld weapons cache."
Jack's eyes sparked. "Nice. Do you know how to get inside?"
He nodded. "The arsenal is stashed behind an encrypted lock."
Jack eyed him closely. "If it's behind a lock, how do you know there are weapons back there?"
"It's a three-tier system. I've stalled by opening the first two tiers. Those had staff weapons and a couple of tacs, along with some manuals. The third chamber is the biggest."
"The big toys."
"That would be my guess."
"How do you know all this?" Jack asked.
"Aver takes me out of the field every morning and brings me down to the farm to translate."
Jack blinked. "You've been stalling."
"Somewhat. Claiming it was Goa'uld graffiti didn't get me very far." Daniel scratched at his facial hair. "Somehow, 'call me for a good time' didn't amuse Aver as much as it did me."
Daniel glanced up at Jack, narrowing his eyes. But Jack just ignored his silent rebuke and rubbed his chin. "We could use some of that firepower."
"I've earned Aver's trust, more or less," Daniel said, watching the fire come to life. "He knows I don't steal any of the crop during the day. He keeps track of what we find in the bunk over his farmhouse."
"And he doesn't know I haven't been as honest with him as he thought."
Jack arched his eyebrows. "Do tell."
"After I showed him how to use the staff weapons and read some of the Goa'uld manuals, I asked if I could keep this." Quietly, Daniel reached into his robes and withdrew a flash grenade. "I told him it was a short-term heat source."
He carefully handed it to Jack to examine. Jack snatched it like a kid who had just raided a candy store. After a quick inspection, he pocketed the grenade, a full grin now displayed across his face.
"Now, that we have a distraction, all we need is a way off this rock."
Daniel nodded. "I'm working on it."
And he knew he had work harder. If he could find the transporter module, then they at least had a way to escape.
"It'll be okay," Jack said, placing his hand on Daniel's shoulder.
Daniel scowled and shrugged it off. "I have it under control," Daniel muttered, though they both knew he did not.
What little control Daniel had left was gone. Daniel shoved his arm at Aver and stormed by, not even concerned with the consequences any more. He headed for the shack, his black eye throbbing, and threw open the door.
Inside, Jack was redressing his wounded leg and waiting for him. The minute he caught sight of the black eye, he frowned. "That's a new look for you."
"I'm not in the mood," Daniel muttered before he collapsed onto the floor. "I just need some rest."
"Yeah, I don't think so."
Daniel raised his head. Jack had to choose today to pick a fight. "What?"
"Don't you think it's about time you told me the truth?" Jack asked.
"I did tell you."
Jack shook his head. He winced when he started to walk towards Daniel, but the limp had become less severe. "Give me some credit, Daniel. I'm not blind. The people here loved us when we first arrived. Now they can't stand us. What happened?"
"I told you. Obartu –"
"This has nothing to do with Obartu," Jack said. "I knew I recognized that Aver guy. He was one of Nanti's people. What the hell is happening?"
Daniel set his jaw, feeling the heat of his anger rising to his cheeks. He wasn't going to get into this with Jack. Couldn't he leave well enough alone? They had bigger problems to worry about. But Jack was nothing but relentless.
"Daniel, enough. Just give it to me straight."
"Fine," Daniel said, rising to his feet. He pulled back the collar of his robes, exposing the symbol on his upper left chest. "We've been marked."
"This culture is homophobic, Jack."
Jack's frown deepened as he scrambled to check out the mark of his own. "What the hell has that got to do with us?"
"You tell me."
"No, you tell me. I have no clue."
"Right." Daniel crossed his arms. "It's your fault we're in this situation to begin with."
"My fault, is it?" Jack's eyes darkened. "What are you implying?"
"Nothing. Just maybe you shouldn't talk in your sleep."
Jack paled and fell silent. Bingo, Daniel thought. The look on his face told Daniel all he needed to know. It was true. He'd kept telling himself maybe he'd heard Jack wrong or perhaps Nanti and the elders had misinterpreted things. But as time passed, it became obvious that there was no room for interpretation.
Daniel's smug sense of satisfaction quickly morphed into anger as the full realization of their dilemma hit him.
"Why-why didn't you tell me?!"
"It wasn't important."
"Oh, and that's supposed to make me feel better? What were you thinking?" When Jack went to open his mouth, Daniel shook his head. "No. You listen to me. I've been trying to pick up the pieces and get my life together. I've been trying hard to be the person that you all want me to be. But I'm not that person. Not anymore.
"I've been mourning the loss of my wife – again – and the loss of my parents – again – and then I find out about this – you – and I'm supposed to take it all in stride? Just think that everything's all right?" He yanked at his robes and exposed the mark on his chest. "And I have to find out like this?"
Jack didn't reply. He remained standing by his side, his intense gaze piercing Daniel.
Daniel glared back at him. "Are you going to say anything?"
"What do you want me to say, Daniel? That I'm sorry? That I wanted to sit by and just wait for you to recover all of your memories?" Jack's face tightened. "Just what do you want?"
"I want the truth!"
Once again, the shack fell into a tense silence. Daniel waited and waited for Jack to snigger, knowing that he was struggling not to make some Jack Nicholson joke. Yet, the joke never came. And something about Jack wanting to joke and didn't and Daniel knowing he wanted to but didn't, made it all okay.
"Are you done?" Jack finally asked.
"No. Yes." Daniel plopped down onto the broken bed. "I guess."
Jack came to sit beside him, keeping a comfortable distance between them as he stretched out his healing leg from under his robes. They sat there – together – for a few minutes before Daniel finally broke the silence.
"How long?" Daniel asked, staring straight ahead into the creeping darkness.
"About a year before you left. Maybe a little over."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Jack shrugged. "Like you said, you're a different person now. It's one of those things you have to figure out for yourself. Or something like that."
With a sigh, Daniel bowed his head. Since he'd come back, his memories had assaulted him in bits and pieces, sometimes in the right context and other times not. With them, he encountered a variety of feelings, his feelings and emotions for Jack the most confusing of all, and he'd never been able to make sense of them. At least now, he could. Whether he was satisfied with them or not was an entirely different story.
"This is going to take me some time to sort through," Daniel said quietly.
"Yeah, I know."
Daniel lifted his head, turning to gaze at Jack. He could see the pain and the regret in his eyes, but also the hints of desire buried for so long. Curious, Daniel reached out to touch his face, but Jack turned his head.
"Not off-world," he said.
Daniel nodded. He remembered that. "Never off-world."
"Come on," Jack said, quickly changing the subject and offering Daniel a hand as he stood. "Tell me some good news. Tell me that shiner isn't just for show."
Daniel smiled, already feeling lighter. "I know where the teleporter is."
"I figured you did." He grunted, leaning into Daniel for some support. "And?"
"It's not a place, it's a device."
Jack winced. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"
Daniel snorted. "Of course not. Bucktooth wears it around his neck. It's about the length of a pen. I saw him testing it this morning after I punched him in the nose."
"Trying to get away from you?" Jack sounded surprised.
Daniel gave a sly grin. "He might have believed I was hexing him."
That garnered a smile from Jack in return. "Excellent." He held up the flash grenade. "Now, all we do is wait."
That night the planet held itself in silence as they waited. Daniel turned on his side, listening to the hum of nothingness that enveloped them. Behind him, he could feel Jack breathing, felt his heartbeat, as they lie pressed together on the floor of the shack. Jack was awake – both of them would not be sleeping tonight.
While Daniel was curious about their relationship, he didn't ask Jack any more questions. He knew he would have plenty of time to annoy Jack once they got home and work out whatever would happen next. For now, he just wanted a peaceful night, a night without arguments or questions or suspicion. He knew Jack wanted the same.
Tomorrow, they would go to the field together. They would go to the jassa festival at the end of the night where all the others like them would gather to be placated. They would confront Bucktooth and Aver. And then, it would be over.
"Hey there," Jack said with smile.
Daniel watched Bucktooth's expression change from surprise to annoyance as Jack approached him. "What do you want?" he asked, his booming voice rising above the din of the festival.
"Nice party," Jack said. He pointed to the filled mugs on the table in front of him. "Got any more of that juice?"
Bucktooth snickered. "Drink up," he said, shoving a tall mug into Jack's hands.
"Thanks." Jack raised his mug and mimed drinking it, pausing to stare at Bucktooth a little longer. Daniel knew why; he was wearing Jack's fully equipped vest, though rather snuggly. Jack forced a smile and held up the mug again, before he and Daniel slipped away from the table and the rest of the drunken crowd. All ready appearing bored, Jack dumped the liquid and then twirled the mug in his hands.
"Did you see it?" Daniel asked.
"Oh yeah. Wrapped around his fat body like a sausage casing."
"I meant the device," Daniel said.
"He's got that, too."
Daniel sighed. "I bet he's planning on using it to transport all of us to the next location." He scanned the crowd, feeling a pang of regret as he stared at the drugged and drunken faces of those he'd worked with for the last few weeks. "I wish we could save them."
"There's no helping them. They're gone," Jack said, glancing down at his empty mug. "And so would you be if you'd kept drinking that stuff."
"Aver gave me a watered down version to keep me alert enough to help him with his translations," Daniel said as he scoured the crowd. "I would have been fine."
"And that bit about the lethal dose?" Jack asked.
Daniel shrugged. "I just made that up to get a rise out of you."
Daniel smiled despite himself as the two of them walked through the crowd. Several different groups of workers had been gathered today, his worker's body and others. He wondered if they looked hard enough they would find the group that Sam and Teal'c belonged to, if they had survived the fight. But after searching and searching, Daniel felt a wave of disappointment when he didn't see them. He hoped that meant they'd made it home.
Daniel turned to find Aver standing behind him, a thin smile pressed between his lips. "I see your friend is better."
"Fit as a fiddle," Jack said with a proud grin, holding up his empty mug.
Aver shifted uncomfortably. He ignored Jack and stepped closer to Daniel, guiding him away from the crowd with a gentle but firm nudge. "I have made some concessions for you," he whispered. "Tonight, when the reassignments begin, come back with me to the farm. We need to finish the translations."
"We're getting reassigned," Daniel said.
"I can take care of you. You can stay with me."
Daniel frowned, deciding he didn't like the tone in Aver's voice. At all. He glanced behind him, catching Jack's eye. "What about Jack?" he asked.
"I can see he's not well," Aver whispered. "He tries to hide it, but I can see. It won't take long before he is taken away. And he is high on the jassa juice. You know I've protected you from the damage."
Daniel managed a small smile, hoping Aver would read it as thanks. Aver nodded to him, squeezing his shoulder. "When the trumpet sounds, come to the lit tree. We'll take our leave." He glanced at Jack. "Prepare your good-byes."
Aver slipped away, disappearing into the crowd. Jack was quick to take his place.
"Oh, I know that look," Jack muttered.
"It gets worse."
"Worse in that I don't think I'm good for just translating anymore."
Jack cringed. "What is it with you and crazies?"
Daniel shook his head. "I have no idea."
"That settles it," Jack said. "We need to do this now."
Daniel jerked. "Now?"
Jack and Daniel worked their way through the crowd, heading back to the table where Bucktooth played bartender. The crowd began to become more uniform, their bland stares lost into themselves, their minds formed and molded to do what was demanded of them. They reminded Daniel of sheep.
He wondered how many were marked. He wondered how many had been sent here for the same reasons he and Jack had been. He wondered how many were here because they were poor, or deemed ugly, or just because the labor was needed. He wondered how many might have been labeled accidentally or how many had just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wondered if they'd ever recover any sense of self ever again.
Daniel stiffened, suddenly realizing just how odd they looked in this crowd. The more uniform and united the group became, the more he and Jack stuck out like sore thumbs. They quickened their pace.
"Hey, Bucky," Jack called. "Have another drink?"
Bucktooth turned and frowned. It didn't take a genius to figure out the two of them were not blending in very well. As he went to draw his sword, Jack and Daniel ducked and then pushed on the table, spilling jassa juice all over him.
Bucktooth lost his balance and fell, his hand slapping the radio on Jack's vest.
"Carter!" Jack called.
The commotion was enough to alert the other organizers. In the distance, Daniel could see a bunch of inspectors and other lackeys running towards them. Bucktooth was already getting to his feet. Daniel knew it was now or never.
Jack tossed the flash grenade.
Both huddled, covering their eyes and ears as the grenade made a high-pitched whine. When it was over, they opened their eyes, finding nearly the entire crowd out for the count. Bucktooth and the charging inspectors were down. Freedom looked as if it were in their grasp.
There was something that could be said about sheep, but Daniel thought this was neither the time nor the place.
Using Daniel knife, Jack cut the rope around Bucktooth's neck and grabbed the device. Daniel grabbed the radio. Not bothering to waste any more time, Jack and Daniel jumped over the limp bodies, and darted for the fields, trying to get as much distance between the farm and themselves as possible. Within minutes, they knew more officers would arrive and they would lose their chance.
"Sam?" Daniel called into the radio as he ran. "Sam?"
"Daniel? Thank God." Her voice crackled before evening out. "Are you okay?"
"We're fine," Daniel said, glancing over to Jack. He was hobbling as he ran, but otherwise seemed to be taking the pain in stride. "Where are you?"
"We're approaching the Gate. Where are you?"
He blinked and searching the vast fields of grass in front of them. "I have no idea."
"We're about to have a change of scenery," Jack said, grabbing Daniel's arm.
Daniel stared at him. "Do you even know how to work that?"
He shrugged. "We're going to find out."
Daniel held his breath as he watched Jack play with the knob on the cylindrical device. Three, two, one…
A humming, a flash, and the world tilted.
"You've got to be kidding me," Jack said, staring into the vast open fields.
The fields were similar to the ones that Daniel had toiled over for weeks, but different enough for him to know they were somewhere else. In the expanse before them, he could see the fields curved into rolling hills, hills that vanished into the distant fog. Daniel hadn't seen a fog like that since he'd visited the coastal shores of Maine.
The air felt wet and tasted like impending rain. Daniel tilted his head upwards, studying the gray skies. The last thing they needed was to get stuck in a downpour.
"This is probably where they were going to send us next," Daniel said. He grabbed the cylinder from Jack and studied it. "It's not Goa'uld."
Jack let out an aggravated sigh. "What are we talking here? Short range? Long range?"
Daniel sighed. He didn't know. He didn't have the answers.
He motioned for Daniel to toss him the radio. "Carter?"
"Teal'c with you?"
"What's your position?"
There was a pause.
Her tinny voice crackled through the radio. "We're about five nautical miles from the Gate."
Daniel blinked and frowned, turning to Jack for some kind of explanation, knowing full well he wouldn't be able to give one. Jack could only stare at the radio. "Did you say nautical miles?"
"Yes, sir. We're approaching the Gate by boat."
Jack nodded, the frown still firmly planted on his face. "There was no water near the Gate when we first came through, was there?"
Daniel shook his head. "No. We must have come right before a monsoon or something."
"Or something," Jack muttered. "I take it we weren't being transplanted to work somewhere else."
Daniel suddenly felt cold. "They were going to drown us. Use us and then leave us to die."
"Nice people." He brought the two-way radio back to his face. "Carter, Teal'c. Stay sharp. We're coming to meet you." He patted Daniel on the back. "Let's go."
The two began down the fields toward the hills. They started slow, the weariness of their former run dragging down like extra weight on their bodies, but as the rain started to rush down, battering their skin with stinging pellets, Jack and Daniel began to run again, jogging up and down the hills as they crept further and farther into the fog. Each hill became a new goal, a new accomplishment, a new trail as they pushed their way through the thickness. In the end, they hoped their trek was not in vain.
Daniel threw Jack's arm around his shoulder, helping to support his failing friend. The journey up and down and right and left proved too much for his injured leg. He thanked Daniel for the support, in his own sarcastic way, as the two of them continued up the highest hill.
"We're almost there," Daniel said with a grunt.
"There better be a Gate on the other side, that's all I'm saying," Jack mumbled between gasps.
Daniel dragged Jack along, holding him tight as the two tripped and stumbled over the rocks that jotted out of the grassy hills. Grunting, Daniel grabbed hold of a patch of grass and pulled upward, struggling to keep his footing as he reached the top of the hill. Both of them breathed out, collapsing, the heat from their bodies cooled by the pounding rain. They remained there for what seemed like forever until the rain tapered off into a drizzle and the clouds started to disperse.
Once the storm had lifted, Daniel slowly lifted his head, and squinted, his vision already compromised by weeks of eyestrain and the water that soaked his face. But what he saw made him laugh out loud.
"I hope that's a good laugh," Jack muttered.
"Look," Daniel said.
He helped Jack into a sitting position and the two of them rested at the top of the hill, looking down the long expanse. He saw Jack smile.
Below the setting sun, the water shimmered with reds, violets, and blues. It stretched out as far as they could see, like an unending ocean, as if it had always been there since the beginning of time. Yet, by the newly made shoreline, the Stargate glistened, shiny and new, under the open canopy of emerging stars with ripples of water lapped at the pedestal's edge.
Beside the Stargate, Daniel spotted a docked boat residing. He saw two figures waving their hands at them by the DHD.
Daniel smiled. For a moment, the beauty of the sunset almost made up for all the hardship they'd been through for the past few weeks.
"Now, that's a sight for sore eyes," Jack said. "Let's go."
Daniel didn't move. "Just one more moment."
Jack nodded and picked up the radio. "Carter, prepare the Gate."
He placed the radio down and looked over at Daniel. "You going to be okay?"
Daniel kept his gaze forward, watching the sky darken as the sun was swallowed by the horizon. His thoughts turned to Sam and Teal'c and wondered what they had gone through over the past few weeks, how long they'd been searching, if they were okay, if they had been spared the humiliation and the hardship that he and Jack had suffered. He thought back to all the people they'd left behind, those people who would eventually be rounded up here and killed. He thought of the villagers that had welcomed them and then scorned them. He thought of his struggles to fit in again, and the understanding that there was much, much more out there for him to rediscovery and reclaim.
No, he wasn't okay. And he didn't think he would be for a long time.
But he put all of those thoughts aside and stared out into the vast open. After taking a deep breath, he exhaled and wrapped his arm around Jack's shoulders. "No, but we're going to be okay."