WHET




Whet

The bowl held a circle of sky, pink around the edges where the sun—the suns—were rising, deep indigo in the middle and a moon floating there, also a perfect circle. Jack leaned over the bowl and then it held him, too, the glow of sunrise replaced by the pale circle of his face, blue with shadows in the hollows under the cheeks, the cleft above his upper lip, the crease between his eyebrows, his eyes dark and at the same time sheened with reflected light. He started to lift the bowl to his mouth but then thought better of it, turning instead to place it carefully beside the tent pole out of the way, first making a depression with his hand to keep the bowl from tipping and spilling the water into the sand. There were only a few mouthfuls there, and there was more in the canteen, but in the desert, water was money, water was gold, Daniel said. In the desert, to spit on a man is to show him your love.

Licking his thumb, Jack reached over and rubbed a bit of dirt and blood from the side of Daniel's face. This time, though, it wasn't Daniel's blood. And the sleep he was sleeping wasn't one of battered exhaustion, but of peace. His mouth opened and his tongue traced its way across his dry bottom lip. He didn't wake.

The awning of the tent was flapping listlessly now as the wind strolled over the dunes from the sea—it was there, just at the edge of the UAV's range, briny, white-rimmed and undrinkable, a black swath staining the bone white sand—and the breeze brought with it images from an alien world: sailboats with striped jibs taut with speed against the blue, the sense memory of prawns in garlic, Corona with a wedge of lime stuffed in the neck of the bottle. The suns crept upward, already glaring and too white even before they'd reached a hand's span above the horizon. Dust was creeping in, sifting into the bowl of water near the door, making the paling blue reflection dance and tremble. He put his hat over it.

Over to the right, huddled in the crescent shadow of a dune, Carter's tent was leaning precariously, one of the poles for the awning askew. Jack smiled and remembered the sound of her sputtering giggle as he helped her into the tent, not so many hours ago, when the dancers had stopped their leaping, the bangles around their ankles stilled by drunken sleep. He forced himself to suppress the smile. Not a good idea to get hammered offworld. Probably a stern talking-to was in order. But then again, who knew yak milk with honey could pack such a punch? And the hangover she was going to have when she crawled out, probably as askew as her tent, and made the trek back to the 'gate in the desert sun. . . well, that was probably punishment enough.

Beside him, Daniel mumbled and threw his arm over his eyes. The back of his hand was still painted with the two-pronged symbol, drawn carefully in yak's blood by a wide-eyed youngster—a boy or a girl, Jack couldn't tell—a symbol for the long-antlered yak whose blood sweetened Daniel's milk and honey. Jack had passed on the blood drink and he and Teal'c had stuck to water. Daniel, of course, had accepted it graciously as it was ceremoniously presented freshly collected from the pulsing jugular of the thin-boned yak that was still suspended, one sun in each dead eye, from a tripod in the middle of the compound.

The treaty was sealed with a toast. Daniel's lips were red. Later, they were sweet.

"Hmm," Daniel said again and dropped his arm to his chest, blinking upward. "Wow."

He didn't go on to explain what was wow-worthy, so Jack went back to watching the edge of the awning flutter and to finishing his imaginary prawns. He could feel the sweat of the beer bottle against his palm, the heat rising up from the planks of the boardwalk, but he couldn't remember where he'd been, then. Another world, in every sense of the word.

"How long have you been up?" Daniel wondered, tilting his head backward to look up at him. The blood circles on each of his temples were flaking away now and looked like bruises. Jack licked his thumb again and wiped one of them away. "Thanks mom," Daniel said, scrubbing at the other with the heel of his hand.

Jack put his thumb back in his mouth. Daniel's skin tasted of sweat and smoke and honeyed blood. And then the image of the boardwalk and the sailboats and the beer was gone, washed away by a sudden pouring of memory—slick skin and whispers swallowed by eager mouths and the moon reflected in open eyes—a smooth cascading that he caught in his cupped palms, drank deeply of, and then let go.

"Thirsty?" he asked. Daniel nodded, still looking upward at the awning, his brow furrowed like an important thought was hovering just beyond his myopic gaze. Lifting his hat, Jack hooked two fingers over the edge of the bowl and dragged it toward him, the water dark now, and empty. He started to hand it to Daniel, but, instead, after a quick glace at the still and silent compound, he leaned down and covered Daniel's mouth with his.

Licking Jack's spit from his lips, Daniel smiled wide and said, "Me too."



THE END


Notes:  This was written in 1 hour 15 minutes, give or take, for the Contrelamontre challenge: water. It all started for me in the wee hours of the night with the mental picture of the bowl holding the sky.

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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