The Water Moon


THE WATER MOON


My heart ripens like fruit and falls and breaks. Sweet meat for the lips of the gods. (The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Normandi Ellis, trans.)


"Do you know what I have endured?"


+++


  "What do you read, DanielJackson?" Teal'c asked as he settled next to him on the log in front of the fire.

Daniel tilted the palm-sized book so that Teal'c could see. "It's a collection of Shakespeare's sonnets." Daniel smiled a little self-consciously as Jack's grunt carried to them from wherever he was in the darkness. "It's small enough to fit in my vest."

"I see." Teal'c's gaze became distant as he raised his head. "Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage / Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit," he recited flawlessly.

"Wow." Daniel adjusted his glasses. "You've memorized Shakespeare's sonnets?"

"I have."

"Which ones?"

"All of them."

"Of course you have," Daniel said, grinning.

Turning his attention to Sam, Teal'c explained. "In my culture all of our history is recorded in songs and verses. Every Jaffa has a facility with poetry. It is his duty to his people."

Stepping into the firelight, Jack tossed another log into the pit. His face was lined, tired, and he didn't stay in the light very long. When the log had stopped popping and spitting sparks, he said from the shadows, "Okay, so give us some Jaffa poetry, T."

"Love poetry," Sam specified, sliding off of her own log onto the grass and holding her hands close to the fire. "I want to know what Jaffa love poetry sounds like."

Rising solemnly, Teal'c bowed his acquiescence. "I will attempt to translate some lines from the 'Hoarfrost' songs, first recited after the battle of Anecta'um in the first days of the Water Moon." Tilting his head to look up at the stars, he recited:

"My weapon forgotten at your door,
Silenced by winter's breath
I am warmed by yours, within
War still sharp as frost on my skin...."

Falling silent, he sat down heavily beside Daniel again.

"That's beautiful," Sam said softly.

"This was Drey'auc's favourite passage. I used to sing it to her in the days before our son was born, when her back was aching." His eyes glittered in the firelight.

Sam smiled. "I bet Rya'c was a beautiful baby."

Teal'c took a long time to answer. "He was nearly a year old when I first saw him. I was with the army of Apophis." He didn't need to add that he was busy killing fathers and sons when his own son was born.


+++


Teal'c brought the autumn in with him, the cold air lurking within the folds of his cloak. His fingers were icy where they brushed across Drey'auc's cheek and she imagined that they drew white lines of frost on her skin.

"Drey'auc," he sighed and his breath was warm.

"Teal'c." Running her hands along his arms, across his back, his chest, she proved to herself that he had returned from the battle unharmed. His muscles were rigid, but he was whole. Working silently, then, she unclasped his cloak and then undid the buckles of his jerkin, pushing it back from his chest, over his shoulders, pulled up his shirt so that her eyes could confirm what her hands had told her. Pressing her lips to the smooth skin of his chest, she closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar scent of him, scrubbed with the harsh soap of the barracks, but with the faintly metallic taste of armor and chain mail, and the acrid ghost of fire and sweat and blood. As she kissed his skin again and again, she wondered what fear tasted like, if she were tasting it now, and whose it was.



+++


Drey'auc opened her eyes. She half-expected it to be night, hoped it would be. She craved darkness. But the First sun was only now dipping behind the hills, slanting its weak rays obliquely through the window. She stared into its orange light, daring it to blind her.

"The temple bells are tolling," Drem'ta said, his wiry body blocking out the suns as he leaned down to pull his robe from the back of a chair. Drey'auc looked at the way his grizzled hair glowed around his thin arms and the backs of his gaunt legs and imagined that he was something small and weak, like a tricta, with its beady rodent's eyes and naked tail. Something she could catch in a simple trap and-- "That means you have to go." He threw her blouse at her. The thought of putting it on, now, made her skin itch.

Turning her back on him, she sat up in the bed and pulled her blouse and leggings on. When she was no longer naked, she rose and faced him. "You said there would be blankets."

Drem'ta looked at her in the mirror as he adjusted his hood over his bald head. The serpent on his brow stood out against his pale skin like a bruise. "I don't think so," he answered with a dismissive wave.

"The agreement--"

"Your right to enter into agreements abandoned you when your husband did." Drem'ta said mildly. He smoothed his cassock carefully over his chest. Outside, the First fell behind the hills and then Drem'ta had only one shadow. At the very top of the window the Second was a round, hot eye. Drey'auc returned its stare and said nothing. "But I'm not a hard-hearted man." He looked at her again in the mirror. "Come to me again in three days. Maybe there will be blankets then. If your heart is in it."


+++


Rilleh looked up when Drey'auc came into the tent, but, noting that she came empty-handed, she just nodded and returned to her work. She was carefully unraveling the heavy yarn of a soldier's jerkin. In the middle of the shirt was a charred, black hole. Winding the stiff, wiry yarn carefully around a stick, she cut the burned ends off with her knife and tied the shorter pieces together in the skein, wasting nothing. Beside her, a small pile of scavenged clothing--scraps of blanket, a moldy cloak--lay waiting to be taken apart and remade. Rilleh's own clothing was motley; she was a walking history of lost husbands and changing fashion, discarded scraps of lives gathered from the waste yards on the very edge of city.

Drey'auc dipped her hand into the pot hanging over the small fire and, hissing at the sting of hot grease, put a chunk of boiled nut-root on her tongue.

"It's not sweetened yet," Rilleh warned her without looking up.

Drey'auc didn't care. She let the bitterness scald her. Bending first to kiss Rya'c, who turned away in his fitful sleep, she left the tent, striding--she wasn't running--through the camp, through the greasy smoke of cooking fires and the smell of skins drying into leather on the stretching racks, through the gaggle of boys who scattered from her path like birds, past the men--outcasts and pariahs--who turned their backs on her and who would not say "sholv'a" to her face.

She wasn't running.

She didn't stop at the river's edge. When she was in the middle, the water pulling insistently at her legs, swirling cold around her waist, she put two fingers into her mouth and vomited the nut-root and the wine and the sweet bread and the taste of him. Peeling off her blouse and her leggings, she plunged them again and again into the water. She would have liked to let them go, to let the river carry them away with the bile, but she had no other clothing. With a snort of disgust, she threw them onto the bank and, holding her breath, ducked down so she could fill her hands with the coarse sand of the river bed and use it to scour her skin.

By the time she crawled out and fell to the pebbled bank, the Second had followed his little brother into the earth and the sky was indigo above, the pale, delicate blue-grey of river stones along the ridge.

Shivering, she pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them and thought about nothing.

Rilleh's humming grew louder as she drew nearer, the crunch of pebbles under her bare feet providing an uneven percussion. Drey'auc heard her suck in a breath as she lowered her ungainly bulk to the bank behind her, felt her taut belly press against her back as Rilleh settled down with her legs on either side of Drey'auc hunched body. The humming continued, now in time with the gentle pressure of Rilleh's hands as she rhythmically smoothed Drey'auc's hair, squeezing the water out of it and combing her fingers through the tangles. "...silenced by winter's breath," Rilleh sang. "I am warmed by yours within, war still... war still...."

"War still sharp as frost on my skin," Drey'auc finished for her. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about the rivulets of water winding their way down her bare back like the touch of gentle fingers still cold from the winter air. "I'm sorry about the blankets."

"The nights are not yet cold," Rilleh answered, giving Drey'auc's hair a final squeeze and moving awkwardly to sit beside her on the bank. She raked her hands through the pebbles, gathering them. Once, she might have added, "God will provide," but now she was silent as she poured the pebbles from one cupped palm to the other. In the pale light, the scar that ran the length of her arm gleamed like a white worm winding its way into her sleeve. It continued, Drey'auc knew, to her shoulder and down across her breasts. Drey'auc could feel it like an icy wire, as if it were her own.

They sat together listening to the river mumble over the large flat stones of the ford and the wind hiss through the tops of the trees. Where the darker blackness of the mountain ridge leaned against the night, the Water Moon was just rising, wan and round, casting its pale, blue glow into the valley and turning the river to a ribbon of silver. Sighing, Rilleh scattered her pebbles and lay back on the bank, her round belly straining the ties of her vest. Her hand made small, soothing circles there.

Drey'auc laid her hand beside Rilleh's. She could feel the baby kicking, the symbiote a sinuous line between the child and their stroking hands. "How do you feel?" she asked.

"Crowded." Rilleh's laugh was half joyful, half afraid.


+++


  "Major Carter."

"Yeah," Sam confirmed, even though it hadn't been a question. She wondered how he always knew, considered that maybe he recognized her step, her scent, maybe even the way she displaced the air. She'd believe that. Over the years she'd learned how to feel her team mates as they moved through space around her.

Stepping over a fallen log, she sat down on it and watched Teal'c watch the sky. His head and shoulders made an unmoving silhouette against the star field. Behind them, the logs in the fire popped twice, flaring light like a spray of water against Teal'c's back and then settling down to a brooding red.

"Why 'Water Moon?'" Sam laced her cold fingers together and tucked them between her thighs, shivering. There was no wind and the cold was the insinuating kind, seeping through clothing and skin and into bone so that you were chilled straight through before you knew what was happening. That stillness of cold was what space was, in her mind, and she felt closer to the sky now than to the gravelly soil at her feet.

Turning slightly, Teal'c glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and then looked away. "It is the dark moon. Because of its eccentric orbit, it rises over the temple at Chu'lak only once in a year, at the month of frost."

"But why 'water?'"

"It is said that the moon is a great, deep sea. And that the sea is made of tears."

"But you've seen it? From space?" Sam wanted to retract the question as soon as she asked it.

"I have." He bowed his head and then raised his chin again, his back straightening. "But there are many kinds of truth."


+++


Teal'c stood still, watching her closely as she pulled his jerkin's sleeves over his clenched fists, his shirt over his head, and folded the clothing carefully onto the bench under the window. Warmly lit by lamplight on one side, his face was blue-black in the wash of moonlight from the window, the hollows under his cheekbones more pronounced than the last time he stood here, three months ago, before some war--new or old and endless--had taken him. The muscles of his jaw were rippling.

"Drey'auc," he said jaggedly, his teeth clamped down on his words even as they struggled from his mouth, "what I have seen...."

"Hush," she said, her fingers light on his lips.

His eyes followed her movements as she undid the ties of her vest, as she stepped out of her robe, the heavy swelling of her belly round and full as she guided his hand to her. She gave him this, her body burnished orange by flame and shaded with blue moonlight, let him fill his eyes with her.



+++


Banking the coals carefully, Drey'auc stared at the dull red glow. The fire wouldn't last until morning, and the pile of sticks and dried dung at the tent door was almost gone. Outside, the camp lay still with exhausted sleep, silvered with the first frost of the year. The Water Moon was waning, only an overturned cup now, spilling cold, blue light against the walls of the temple on the hill, the limp canvas of the tents along the river. She pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders.

Across the fire pit, Rilleh stood, stooping, her head brushing the low ceiling as she struggled out of her robe, the paleness of her skin a glow that drew Drey'auc's attention from the dying fire and its feeble light. She watched Rilleh askance, admiring her dark, straight hair, her heavy stomach and the litheness of her arms. But her eyes stuttering across the scar, Drey'auc looked away.

"It's alright to look," Rilleh whispered as she turned to face her. "It's only a scar. It doesn't hurt anymore." Stepping around the fire pit, she came and knelt in front of her. Taking Drey'auc's hand, she guided her fingertips along the scar from wrist to shoulder and across her chest and one misshapen breast. In some places the scar was barely a hair's breadth, a delicate ripple of whiteness; in others, it was as wide as Drey'auc's thumb, shiny and smooth. "It doesn't feel anything now." She didn't let Drey'auc pull away. "Do you know what this says?" she asked, watching Drey'auc's fingers trace their way back down her arm.

"No," Drey'auc whispered, but no sound came out, so she shook her head instead.

"It says: 'I am sholv'a, Rilleh of the Camps.'" Rilleh's teeth were white in her shadowed face as she smiled. She said the words boldly in a way that Drey'auc never could; for Drey'auc "sholv'a" felt like a serpent turning back on itself in her throat, seeking darkness.

"He wanted me," Rilleh continued, and Drey'auc realized that, like the father of Rilleh's child, this "he" did not have a name. "He gave me this when I said no." Rilleh led Drey'auc's touch again along the scar, as though she could make her see the moment--the razored edge of his rage--through her fingertips. With her free hand, she picked up the thong around her neck and dangled what looked like a small amulet in front of Drey'auc's eyes. It was a small, round ornamental sequin from a Serpent Guard helmet. "He gave me this when I killed him."


+++


It didn't matter that her hands were shaking as she pulled the blouse off over her head. It didn't matter. On his palette, Rya'c wheezed out an unsteady breath, his chest barely rising, his skin splotchy and red. The cool cloth on his forehead made no difference. Rilleh had helped her carry him to the river, to bathe him in the cold water, but the fever wouldn't leave him. So it didn't matter that she was shaking now.

Tracing her fingers across the raised edges of the pouch on her abdomen, Drey'auc held her breath, bit her tongue because she wanted to pray, to ask forgiveness. Instead, she leaned her face close to Rya'c's and whispered, "I love you, my son." She wanted to tell him to grow up to be a great warrior, but she pulled away before the words could escape and plunged her hand into her pouch.

It was a dark place that opened into the mystery she'd carried inside her since she was a girl, her breasts small and new, first blood barely dried on her thighs. It was another universe in her flesh, forbidden, divine. She was an invader, an infidel plundering the temple, and her body was warm and wet and alien. Snatching the god in her fumbling fingers, she dragged it, squealing, into the light.

Rilleh's slap against the side of her face knocked her over, almost made her lose her grip on the symbiote. Then, Rilleh was straddling her, heavy on her thighs, squeezing the tendons of her wrist, tighter and tighter until Drey'auc's fingers went numb and her fist opened, and the symbiote writhed away. Leaning sideways, Rilleh scooped it up from the mat and, slapping Drey'auc again as she struggled, bent down with her forearm across Drey'auc's throat, pinning her while she guided the symbiote back into Drey'auc's pouch. With a shriek of protest, Drey'auc bucked her off and scrambled backward away from her.

Panting, they sat on opposite sides of the tent and stared at each other, unmoving. Finally, Rilleh crept up close to her and, saying "hush, hush" when she flinched, cupped her face in her hands. Her eyes were furious and compassionate. "You live, Drey'auc of the Camps. You live." She smoothed Drey'auc's tangled, sweaty hair from her forehead and kissed the bruise blooming on her cheek. "Your boy needs you."


+++


Rilleh dropped the vial into Drey'auc's lap. Drey'auc picked it up and examined it in the wavering light of the fire. In the shadows behind her, Rya'c moaned in his sleep, sweating under his new blanket.

"What is it?" She held the tiny vial between thumb and finger. The blue glass had once held perfume and was capped with a cork of silver, a delicate chain binding vial and stopper together.

Rilleh's hand, warm, callused, closed around Drey'auc's and the vial, squeezing tightly. Her voice was a low, passionate whisper that made the hairs on Drey'auc's arms stand on end. "Three drops in his wine will sap the priest, make him dream golden dreams, and when he awakens, he'll think he fucked a god's harem. You will be the drug and he will beg it. Make the purchase dear." Her eyes were dark pools of shadow. "Six drops and he never wakes again." Flashing her teeth in a wide smile, she let Drey'auc go. "But a dead priest can't grant your boy Prim'ta. So three drops only. Just three."


+++


  Daniel wasn't surprised to find Teal'c standing still as the trees at the edge of the clearing, facing the sliver of moon, his breath pluming out in a slow, even rhythm as though he were sleeping on his feet. Daniel himself had laid awake in the last hour before his watch, listening to Sam walking the perimeter of the camp, to the sound of her feet crackling in the dry leaves behind his tent, and, once, an indistinct whispering as she talked to herself. Beside him, Jack had mumbled in his sleep, answering her. They were all restless, four sharp stones making ripples in the still surface of the night.

Now, he hunched in his folded arms beside Teal'c and let the cold make him uncomfortable, which was almost like being properly alert.

"Sometimes I can't see her face anymore," Daniel said suddenly, judging that the barely perceptible tilting of Teal'c's head was an invitation to go on. "But I remember how she tasted." Closing his eyes, he conjured Sha're's face. What he got wasn't a memory, but a photograph, the one on his desk, the one recovered from Feretti's battered camera, the picture that Jack had saved when Daniel died. Feretti took that picture in the pyramid when Daniel was off giving a tour of the map room, and the smile she smiled there, although Daniel claimed it, hadn't been for him. "She made this lotion with pic berries--you know them?"

"I do."

"They taste like anise seed. She said it was to deter sand fleas." He smiled. "I said it was because she wanted to taste like candy." His smiled widened. "She thought I was crazy. What kind of nut thinks that bug repellant tastes like candy?" They were silent while the moon drifted lower and lower until it caught in the branches of the trees. "I miss the taste of her." Clearing his throat, Daniel asked, "How does it end? The poem I mean."

"Your body is the forge that tempers me. / Your breath feeds this fire."


+++


Teal'c's fingers were frigid as he trailed them across her stomach and then around her waist and up along her spine to her neck where he twined them loosely in her hair. Drey'auc could see the round circle of the Water Moon reflected in his eyes, and for an instant he looked blind, but then he bowed his head, sighing against her throat, then her breasts, sinking slowly to his knees until his forehead was pressed against her belly where their son lay curled next to his god. Wrapped tightly around her, Teal'c's arm was heavy on her hips as he leaned into her, the tension in his muscles weeping away as he breathed in the smell of her, tasted her with his cool tongue, slipped his cold fingers inside her and stroked her until he was warm again and she threw back her head, shuddering while he braced her and letting him catch her when she fell.


+++


Drem'ta's hands were in her hair. He wound her locks tighter and tighter around his fingers as he thrust against her, a desperate, flaccid thing in her mouth. She thought of unsweetened nut-root. She thought of six drops as he swelled inside her, as she sucked and stroked him into some pale semblance of manhood. Six drops. Six drops. Six drops. She thought of the river, of the sting of Rilleh's slap against her face, of her husband's cold fingers tracing along her spine.

Within him, just where Drem'ta pressed her forehead to him, the symbiote writhed. Within her, a serpent lay coiled. In the tent in the camp, Rya'c lay under his new blanket and was empty except for the fever. Beside him, Rilleh sat by the fire listening to the child nestled in her womb, the snake curled round them both, and ran her fingers absently along the worm-white scar on her skin.

Then Drey'auc thought of nothing, nothing, nothing until Drem'ta shuddered and, sighing a sour, ragged breath, spilled bitterness onto her tongue. The waning Water Moon looked in the window and cast their dim, uncertain shadows on the wall.


+++


"You are a beautiful woman, Drey'auc," Drem'ta said as he slumped into a chair behind her next to the window. She lay on her side and didn't think about the darkness of the black sky at her back, or the sickly, moonwashed paleness of Drem'ta's flesh. Drem'ta's voice was still groggy, satiated. "Beauty can excuse much." The chair creaked and his voice sharpened. "But not everything."

Drey'auc rolled over to face him and sat up stiffly. Drem'ta was slouched low in the chair, one leg thrown over the arm, her clothing draped across his naked lap. A small, blue vial dangled from his hand by a silver chain.

"I knew another beautiful woman once," he said conversationally as he watched the vial swing back and forth in front of his eyes. "At least, she was beautiful until an unfortunate incident with a Serpent Guard." His small, washed-out eyes shifted to her. "You know her. That witch, Rilleh."

"I don't--"

"She liked perfume." Pulling the silver cap off with his teeth, he upended the vial, watched while the oily liquid spilled, drop by drop, to the floor. "She should have been executed for what she did to that guard, but that she had an exceptionally dexterous tongue." One of his hands slipped under Drey'auc's clothing into his lap, caressing the memory. With the other, he threw the vial at her. "She's been schooling you, I see."

Drey'auc didn't touch the vial. She didn't speak. She could feel the cold night pressing against her, leaching the colour from her.

"Or maybe your husband has taught you these things." His thin smile widened and his mouth opened to let out a harsh bark of a laugh. "You hate him." She said nothing, but her face betrayed her. "Tell me, Drey'auc, sholv'a," he leaned forward and, bracing his foot now on the side of the bed, grasped her arm and yanked her onto the floor. "Do you hate him because he abandoned his god, or because he abandoned you?"

She didn't turn her face away from his foul breath. "One encompasses the other," she answered, her eyes on his, and didn't flinch as his bony fingers dug into her arm.

"And your boy? Who does he hate?"

"He is not his father."

"Will he prove it?"

"If he lives."

The hole of his mouth gaped open again and he rasped another laugh into her face before kissing her, his tongue forcing its way between her lips, her teeth. She didn't bite it off. Withdrawing, he smiled again and, grabbing a fistful of her hair, turned her roughly toward the door.

"Come!" he shouted.

The door opened to reveal two Serpent Guards, and hanging from their grasp was Rilleh, her hair stringy and blood-soaked over her battered face. Struggling to her feet, she raised her head and spat on Drem'ta's chamber floor. With a jerk of his head, Drem'ta dismissed them, the door was closed, and Rilleh was gone.

Bending his mouth close to Drey'auc's ear, Drem'ta said, "I think I can procure you a symbiote for the boy. I will come to the camp tomorrow at dawn. And you--" As she started to slump, he pulled her upright again by her hair and hissed, "You will be eternally grateful."

Nodding as he released her, she took her clothes from him and dressed quickly, her hands stiff and clumsy. At the door, she hesitated. "Rilleh...?"

"Greed is unbecoming in a beautiful woman, Drey'auc. Remember that."


+++


"Rya'c," Drey'auc whispered, her hand on his burning head. "It will be soon, soon."

It was difficult to get him into the ceremonial robe Drem'ta gave her; his arms were limp, but uncooperative, his body a dead weight and so hot that she half-expected to feel blisters on her own skin where she touched him. For an instant, she wished that Rilleh were there to help her. But then she stopped thinking about Rilleh.

When Rya'c was finally dressed, she opened a basket and pulled out a mostly undamaged leather vest and a skirt. These were the clothes Rilleh had found for her, offered to her because it was certain, Rilleh said, that Rya'c would have his Prim'ta and Drey'auc should look presentable. Her own worn blouse would have to do, though, even though it still smelled of cold and darkness and moonsick skin. And she wasn't thinking about Rilleh.

Throughout the camp, the outcasts spoke in low voices as they watched the priests erect the tent with its golden staves and its fine cream and yellow linen. Drey'auc felt angry, jealous eyes on her as she followed the priests, Rya'c in her arms, her skin crawling.

"Where is Rilleh?" an old woman asked her, plucking at Drey'auc's cloak. Jerking it out of the woman's withered grasp, Drey'auc walked on.

Inside, Drem'ta was waiting in his cassock and hood, and on the table at his elbow, the Goa'uld lay curled in its flask. Drey'auc laid Rya'c on the tablet while Drem'ta dismissed his aides with an absent sweep of his hand.

"Hurry, priest," she said. "He can't wait any longer."

If he was offended by her tone, Drem'ta didn't show it. But he waved her away from the tablet and leaned down to peer at Rya'c's face, to touch the hectic rash on his cheek with a finger. "Go, woman," he ordered as he continued to inspect him. "Your son is safe now, with the god." When she didn't move, he turned to her. "Go. You have someone else to tend to."

Drey'auc ran. Outside of Rilleh's tent, the old woman sat in the pool of her robes and looked up at her with an accusing face.

"What bargain did you make?" she demanded in a voice pitched high with grief.

Pushing past her, Drey'auc crawled into the tent.

Rilleh was curled tight on her pallet, her hair over her face. Even before she touched her, Drey'auc could feel the emptiness in her.

"Rilleh." She smoothed her hair back from her bloody brow.

"The boy?" Rilleh asked without opening her eyes.

"He lives."

Her smile was short-lived. "You?"

"I live, too." Running her hands over Rilleh's body, she could feel no sinuous winding of the symbiote, no kicking in her womb. "Rilleh, please."

But Rilleh lay curled around two kinds of stillness and didn't answer.


+++


Stumbling outside, Drey'auc bowed low and tried to catch her breath. When she stood, the old woman was pointing at the ceremonial tent, a Serpent Guard tearing through the gauzy cloth. She was laughing silently, showing a mouth of fine teeth.

Drey'auc didn't know it was her husband when she leapt on his back, but if she had, she would have tried harder to kill him. Now, Drem'ta was dead, and though she would cry no tears for him, Teal'c would get no thanks from her. She watched the man in green lift the severed symbiote on the end of his knife, his face twisted with disgust, and she wanted to scream and scream until she had no voice.

Instead, she led Teal'c back to the tent. The old woman was gone, as was Rilleh. On the blanket was a small amulet. Scooping it into her palm, she let Teal'c lay her son down on Rilleh's pallet. She watched as understanding brought tears to his eyes.

She watched as this man, O'Neill, fed her son medicine. She watched Teal'c lift Rya'c again and carry him through the woods to the Chappa'ai. She watched as Teal'c gave her son his own symbiote and she watched as he wept at the act.

She watched him leave them again.


+++


  Jack liked last watch best. There was more to do with his hands, then. More practical things to do with his head. Pacing the perimeter, he ran down the list of objectives for the day. They would make the far ridge by noon at the latest, and then, by mid-afternoon, the valley beyond it where the ruins were. Assuming Daniel could find them. He'd pressed his finger to the aerial shot snapped by the UAV and insisted, "There, Jack. It's right there." Seeing only a slight variation in the blanket of tree cover, Jack had decided to take his word for it.

Daniel had done a pretty good job of banking the fire before crawling into the tent and waking Jack by shaking his foot. There was a good bed of coals, perfect for cooking. They'd be able to save the sterno, after all. Watching Teal'c out of the corner of his eye, Jack spent some time snapping kindling into smaller kindling and building a log cabin of small logs around the coals. Teal'c acknowledged his presence with a slight nod and went back to being a monument. Jack assumed he'd been there all night. An idle passerby might assume he'd been there for a century.

Soon, Carter would creep out of her tent and head for the nearest water. When she came back, her face would be pink and scrubbed and, when she leaned past him to tip hot water over her tea bag in her mug, her breath would smell of peppermint. Daniel would stumble over and hunker down around his own mug, nonverbal and grumpy until the caffeine worked its magic and made him human again.

But that was an hour away, at least. Balancing a pot of water on top of the cabin over the coals, Jack sat back on the log, sorting his thoughts like pebbles in his hands, warming some and letting others drop, to sink again into dark water. He could feel Teal'c thinking, even from way over there on the edge of the clearing, but Jack listened to the water hiss in the pot and left him to it while the light around his stillness greyed and brightened, turning him from shadow to substance.

Sipping his too-hot coffee carefully, Jack listened to the forest waking up, small stirrings and flutterings, and watched Teal'c make the transition to active duty. Jack could feel Teal'c's attention sharpen, and he knew that he was scanning the forest in the valley below them, separating the scurrying and wandering of animals from anything that might be more purposeful or threatening, and picking out the easiest route to the far ridge. He didn't look any different, but the cool strangeness of a wakeful night was lifting and he was becoming Teal'c again.

Leaning into his line of vision, Carter caught Jack's eye and thumbed over her shoulder at the woods. When he nodded, she flashed a small smile and headed off toward the low rush of the waterfall beyond the screen of trees, four canteens dangling by their straps from her hand and her towel over her shoulder. Behind him, in their tent, Daniel cursed himself awake. Grinning, Jack stood and shook the cold out of his joints before stepping over and clapping Teal'c on the shoulder, feeling Teal'c's taut muscles relax a little under his hand.

"Okay?" he asked.

"Indeed."

"Good."


+++


The fire was only red embers, its light stealing gently across Teal'c's flank, turning his skin to copper. His lips traced wordless messages of warm attentiveness across her breasts, her stomach, and then his breath was hot against her neck, his body a steady flame against her side.

"Our child will be a great warrior," she whispered as his hand made soothing circles there where the baby lay cradled in her, restlessly turning in his sleep. "He is a gift from the--"

Teal'c stopped her mouth with his, swallowing her words. She could feel them inside him, a tight, painful coiling.



+++


The old woman and two of her sons blocked their way. Bowing her head, Drey'auc sighed and could find no words to argue. She looked up again, though, when Rya'c took the torch from her hand, and defiantly returning the disapproving stares of the outcasts, wound his way through the crowd on the riverbank, the torch held high over his head. Then, he knelt and added his mother's light to Rilleh's pyre.

Returning, he sat beside her on the pebbled bank until they were alone, until the sickle of the Water Moon had reaped the sky of its stars and the First was opening its bleary, orange eye above the trees. Until there was nothing left of Rilleh but drifting ash, and the ornamental sequin from a Serpent Guard's helmet dangling between Drey'auc's breasts.


THE END


Notes: A version of the first section of this story also appears in "Elvis Has Left the Building," but I thought it needed a second home, proving, I guess, that context is everything.

As always, much thanks to Aces, and to Otter and Destina for their thoughtful commentary. And to Martha, who provided the seed from which this story grew.


Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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