A/N Many thanks to Princessofg for her very helpful and insightful beta that improved the fic immeasurably. The fic was written for Minxy and the Teal'c Fiacathon of '09.
He arrived with a backpack full of shrapnel and wire collected from the area around the Stargate just as the sun began to set, splashing the blue sky with violet and pink for a few gaudy minutes. Teal'c sighed inwardly as Colonel Mitchell tossed the backpack at his feet with a look that dared Teal'c to comment and then stomped over to his tent, his spine straight, his head held high. Another failure, then.
Failure was an enemy Teal'c feared, not least because so far, he'd always emerged victorious from his battles with it. One learned more from a foe when they won, but even knowing that, Teal'c had never quite been able to give in and discover the vulnerabilities of a state of mind as alien to him as disobedience had once been.
Of course, until Colonel Mitchell stopped trying, he had not actually failed and nothing about the man led Teal'c to believe that he ever would stop, so perhaps it would be better to regard this day as another step in the journey toward success.
Even if Teal'c was beginning to suspect that Mitchell was walking in circles -- not that the man would ever admit it -- and even if success in this case, for Teal'c at least, was defined differently. What Colonel Mitchell was trying so hard to accomplish should not have been his main goal, but Colonel Mitchell was, it seemed, as stubborn as a mule.
Teal'c had heard O'Neill say that, muttered under his breath half-admiring, half-exasperated, but it wasn't news to Teal'c. Had Mitchell not pursued him relentlessly, seeking his presence on SG-1, refusing to accept a 'no' that Teal'c had made as forceful as courtesy allowed?
Nothing would be accomplished until that Mitchell, focused, determined, had returned to replace the man toiling pointlessly, without hope.
Teal'c got awkwardly to his feet, leaning on the cane that he'd carved from a branch. Sturdy and not unpleasing to look at; the wood, even unpolished, was a dark red, rich and glossy, and the grain flowed in patterns intricate enough to entangle the gaze.
When he no longer needed it, he would not break it in two, as was customary, signifying his return to strength, but would leave it whole, as he would be.
He longed for that day with a ferocity that he hoped was reeling it in closer. Surely health could be fought for and won like any goal? Mitchell said that he was pushing himself too far, too fast, but he had been wounded, too, and he had not rested long. Teal'c had reminded him of that and received a crooked grin, the blue eyes above it dull with fatigue, and then Mitchell had gone back to work.
Teal'c made his way to Mitchell's tent, the backpack in his hand, each step bringing pain he ignored. Let his torn skin complain, let muscle and bone grind and scream; he would not call out like a baby crying in the night and bring Mitchell to his side. Not when the heat of the day had left Mitchell exhausted, his skin baked tight, the salt itch of sweat doubtless plaguing him.
Mitchell spoke with longing of wallowing in a bath or standing under a shower, but neither was within grasp. The pool they drank from, the reason for the camp's location, was small, a shallow hollow with brackish, barely drinkable water filtering in through a dozen trickles in the rocks around it, their source hidden deep in the mountains. Mitchell might have been able to track the water back, but he refused to leave Teal'c until he could stand and fight if needed. They had seen no wildlife bigger than the rabbit-like creatures that moved lazily in the evening sunlight, nipping at every shred of green, but sometimes, in the night, they'd woken from dreams that held the coughing growl of a large predator. Mitchell spoke of leopards and worked on a bow.
They bathed in the nearby ocean; salt water, blood-warm, the soft slap-lap of gently rolling waves sapping Teal'c's resolve; a crashing roar of chill surf would have invigorated him, but there was little that was cool on the planet; the twin suns made even the fleeting night sultry. Teal'c dreamed of snow, bitter, burning, blazing white, and woke thirsty, sweat prickling his skin.
Mitchell's tent was the double one because it held the supplies they wanted to keep as sand-free as possible; meat they'd dried, animal skins, firewood, weapons. They'd come through the 'gate with only what they had in their packs. When the wind whipped the sand into a scouring fury, even the tents couldn't hold it back, but they did what they could. The space left for Mitchell to sleep in was a narrow space, smaller than Teal'c's single tent afforded, but, as Mitchell pointed out, Teal'c was "Two inches taller, yep, just two, but you work it, man, and you've got that imposing thing down. And besides, you need room to move if your leg bothers you. And none of that matters, because I'm ordering you to take that tent and that's an end to it."
Teal'c had smiled and murmured a "Sir, yes, sir" that he would never have said seriously -- it was not the Jaffa way -- but it put an answering smile on Mitchell's face for a moment.
He wondered why the supplies could not have gone in the single tent with the two of them sharing the double tent, but Mitchell had not suggested it. Perhaps he thought that his sleep would be disturbed by Teal'c or felt it wiser, in the event of an attack, for them to be in separate locations. Teal'c did not ask; questioning a superior officer was sometimes one's duty, but this was a trivial matter.
Teal'c would have welcomed Mitchell's presence beside him in the darkness. Mitchell's sleep was as disturbed by nightmares as Teal'c's was with pain, but Teal'c could have reached over to him and woken him with a touch, even if it brought him out of one hell into another. It would not have been the first time he'd performed that service for a brother warrior caught in remembered battles, his thoughts blood-drenched, scream-haunted.
Inside the tent, the air was stuffy and stale, but the lessening of the light tricked Teal'c into feeling cooler. Soon, when the first sun disappeared, it would truly grow a little cooler. Mitchell was lying on his back, staring up at the roof of the tent, close enough to touch. Teal'c let the tent flap fall down, placed the backpack to one side, and worked himself awkwardly into a space not big enough for one, a stack of firewood, stunted, twisted branches, at his back, Mitchell's leg against his as he lay on his side, his injured leg uppermost. He had left his cane outside, and he missed the feel of the grained wood against his palm.
"Generally, I've bought a girl dinner and flowers before she cuddles up this close."
In this place of drowsy heat and stillness, Teal'c found that his thoughts were at times as insubstantial as the mirages that beckoned from the desert; wildly improbable fantasies conjured up by thirst and pain. The image of first himself and then Mitchell in a dress suitable for such an occasion, their hair bedecked with flowers, sparked amusement that he took care to keep hidden. Mitchell's mood was uncertain; laughter -- and Teal'c wanted to bellow with laughter, cry tears over the picture in his head -- might well push him into violence, or worse, the sullen, ill temper that left Teal'c feeling as if he'd been hit repeatedly with something soft and wet and heavy. Not painful, but not pleasant.
Mitchell narrowed his eyes. "What are you thinking about?"
Thoughts, even here, moved swiftly. At the time of asking, he'd been thinking of Vala, the original wearer of the dress he'd pictured, her long, lustrous hair lit with a flame-red orchid pinned high. "Of Vala."
"Val? Huh." Mitchell shrugged. "She made it, I think. No reason she wouldn't have; that girl's got more lives than a cat."
"I trust that you are correct," Teal'c said. "I hope that all of SG-1 made it."
Mitchell's mouth twisted. "We didn't."
"The rest of the team," Teal'c amended.
No, they had not returned to the SGC and Teal'c wondered if they ever would. The cannon used by the people on PT-9043 -- a weapon that had made Daniel's eyes widen with speculation before he began to babble about parallel lines of invention and inevitability -- had sent a cannonball through the open Stargate, dialed up by the planet's inhabitants moments earlier, to strike the DHD. Teal'c's injury had come an instant later as a piece of metal had sliced first though the crowded air and then his leg. Mitchell, who had taken a headlong dive through the 'gate a second or two later, had landed, rolled, and stayed down. Mitchell had been pierced in a dozen places by shards of metal, but the bleeding had soon stopped once they were extracted.
They should have been tracked and rescued by now. The rest of the team had been a few miles away, but they would have eventually reached the 'gate on PT-9043, found the last address dialed, and sent out a ship once they discovered that the address could not be reached.
"Unless that reject from a pirate ship took out their DHD with the next shot," Mitchell had speculated one day. "Just blew it sky high. They don't know where we are, and a galaxy is a mighty big haystack to search. Or maybe we're in a galaxy far, far away, and we'll be dust in the sand by the time they get here. Or maybe they never really liked us and there's a party going on back home right now, right the fuck now, with balloons and streamers and cake, chocolate cake -- shit, Teal'c, shut me up, will you?"
Teal'c had looked at him and tried to keep the kindness from his eyes as he murmured something soothing. Mitchell had given a choked-off noise of pure, helpless frustration, turned his head, and walked away, returning hours later, a bright smile in place. The days that had followed had been…difficult. It was better when Mitchell stopped smiling and began to work on the DHD.
The DHD was broken. Teal'c had looked at it and seen no possibility of repairing it, but attempting to fit Humpty back together again -- Mitchell's words -- filled Mitchell's day once the morning chores were done.
Teal'c's days were empty of all but the little he could do around the camp and the exercises he performed to strengthen his leg. He could not hunt with the swift stillness needed, but soon, soon…
His tretonin supply would last him for six months longer and he was fortunate to have that much; carrying more than was needed on a mission was a lesson learned the hard way. He planned to eke it out as far past that date as possible. Mitchell needed him. Without Teal'c, he had no one to command and stay strong for; no one to bring home safely.
Teal'c needed Mitchell, too, but he did not allow himself to think of that often.
"The rest of the team is most likely out saving the world again," Mitchell said. "While we rot here."
"I am sure that they are not," Teal'c said with no need to force certainty into his voice. O'Neill had been missing for longer and Teal'c had brought him home. "They will be searching for us. Do not give up hope, Colonel Mitchell."
"You know, I get the whole I'm from Earth, you're from outer space deal, but could you call me Cam? Just once in a while?"
Teal'c tasted the word as he said it aloud, a question mark attached. "Cam?"
"Say it like you mean it." Mitchell shook his head. "Ah, forget it. I'm a moody son of a bitch when I'm bored and this place is about as lacking in fun as it gets."
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "You would prefer us to be under attack daily, perhaps. Running for our lives, eating scraps and hiding in caves."
That got him a sidelong glance, half-apologetic, half-rueful. "You're telling me it could be worse, is that it? Yeah, peaceful isn't anything to cry over…but it's been weeks, Teal'c. If they'd had a clue where we were, they'd have been here by now. And we are eating scraps. Damn, but I'd kill for a steak and fries and a cold, cold beer."
So it was to be that conversation again. Teal'c braced himself for the questions that would turn querulous, the savagery with which Mitchell would blame himself for the events that had left them stranded here, on a dead world, beside a sleeping ocean.
Before Mitchell could speak, Teal'c said, "Why here?"
"They chose to dial this planet; we do not know why. Was it known to them, or a random address?"
Mitchell frowned. "They sure as hell weren't trading with anyone here," he said. "If that was the case, we'd have seen settlements close to the 'gate and there isn't anything."
"You have not looked far," Teal'c said. Bitterness choked him. Why would his leg not heal? "You should leave me and look."
"Not leaving you," Mitchell said promptly. "When you can walk, we'll go on a nice stroll in the park, but until then we stay together."
"There could be help to be had," Teal'c urged him. "A city with ships, communications…"
Mitchell shrugged his shoulders, a gesture of unease not indifference. "It doesn't feel like there are," he said. "This place feels…old. Jackson would love it; it's that kind of a planet."
Teal'c couldn't argue with that; he felt the same way about their prison. Ancient, tired; any population long since scoured away to nothingness by the sand and the wind and the heat.
"So what purpose could such a place have?"
"Maybe they need the sand?" Mitchell said, his forehead furrowed. "No; they've got desert areas and there's nothing special about this sand as far as I can tell."
"Not within easy reach," Teal'c pointed out, "but there are no signs of excavations near the Stargate."
"Somewhere to send people to die?"
"No bodies," Teal'c said. "We would have found their bones, at least."
"When did they dial it?" Mitchell asked suddenly, a brightness in his eyes instead of resentful lethargy. "I was so busy trying to keep my head from being blown off by that damned cannon…"
"When it was clear that they were winning," Teal'c said slowly. He began to sort through his memories of the fight; it didn't take long for an unpalatable truth to surface. "We were herded toward it."
Mitchell whistled through his teeth, the sound thin and sharp. "They knew there was nothing here and the planet didn't matter to them, so they pushed us through and took out the DHD on purpose?"
"Perhaps," Teal'c said.
"They brushed us under the rug. Flicked us out the way as if we were a spider crawling over their leg." Mitchell began to laugh. "Tidy people, aren't they?"
"I do not think that they intended to destroy the DHD," Teal'c said. "It is too drastic an act for what was gained."
"Leave it whole, and we'd pop right back."
"Then why not kill us where we stood? Why this method of disposal?"
"Maybe it's against their religion to kill strangers." Mitchell reached up and tapped the symbol on Teal'c's forehead. "Maybe this still means something to them and they didn't want you around, but they were scared to kill you."
"That could well be," Teal'c said after a moment. "If it is the case, then I am sorry, Colonel Mitchell."
"Not your fault," Mitchell said. "Mine. If I'd just aimed at the bozo standing at the side of the cannon giving the order to fire, instead of the man behind it…"
"Cam, my friend," Teal'c said, overcoming his scruples and doubts and addressing the man, not the officer. Mitchell turned to stare at him, his eyes wide with surprise. "Do not do this again. Please."
"Do what?" Mitchell edged closer, his breath ripe and yet not unpleasant.
"Attempt to rewrite the past in a manner that brings a better ending."
"Oh, that." Mitchell's mouth twisted in a smile. "Been doing that since I asked Candy Shaw on a date and called her 'Katy' by mistake. I sent myself to sleep for weeks making that play out the way it should have done."
"There was no 'should'," Teal'c told him. "There only is."
Mitchell pointed a finger at Teal'c. "Now, that needs a fortune cookie to wrap around it."
"We are here and we will be rescued," Teal'c said, tired of coddling Mitchell. "I believe in that and it gives me strength."
"Yeah, but correct me if I'm wrong, didn't you believe in Apophis and get your strength from him back in the day? That didn't turn out so well, now did it?"
Mitchell's words did not anger him; they were those of a thwarted child telling its mother that he no longer loved her; meaningless, forgiven as soon as spoken. What did rouse Teal'c's ire was seeing a man he admired act like a petulant brat.
"Your words and your actions dishonor you." Teal'c exhaled and let his annoyance and hurt flow from him. "I will not listen to more of this."
"Now wait just a fucking minute!" Mitchell grabbed Teal'c's wrist. "You don't walk away after saying something like that. You just don't."
Teal'c stared at Mitchell's fingers, curled so tightly that he could see white bone press up pale against thin, taut skin. His wrist ached, but it was not what pained him the most. Disillusionment, disappointment…desolation filled him.
"Release me," he said quietly and when Mitchell, his eyes wide with shock and anger, had obeyed, Teal'c inclined his head and said, "Good night, Colonel Mitchell," his voice pitched to convey the flick of insult beneath the courtesy, a trick learned early, indulged in rarely.
He had only begun to shift position, his leg responding sluggishly to his command, when Mitchell touched his arm fleetingly. "I'm sorry."
Teal'c allowed himself one final look at Mitchell and did not trouble to keep his emotions from his face. "But not for the correct offence."
Mitchell bit his lip, looking absurdly young to Teal'c's eyes. The Tau'ri were so…ephemeral a race. "I just --" He paused and tilted his head. "Did you hear that?"
Something had struck the tent; a small sound that Teal'c had assumed was an insect. This planet had nothing that bit -- nothing that bit him, that was -- but large bugs blundered around at dusk, confused and slow-moving.
"It is nothing."
More of the sounds, familiar and yet not, soft splats as if…as if…
"Rain," Mitchell said, awed and incredulous as the pattering began in earnest. "It's raining.Teal'c, stop trying to make me see the error of my ways and get your ass out there, because you're blocking the way to the door and I want to get wet."
Ephemeral and mercurial.
They emerged from the chrysalis of canvas and turned their faces up to the darkened sky. A vagrant breeze swept by, tugging at a rising wind, and overhead, clouds began a tumble-chase.
Clouds in a sky that had been empty for weeks. Rain falling, sweet and cool against Teal'c's face.
"Flash floods," Mitchell said, licking his lips avidly, drawing the water into his mouth.
"Water in the mountains, coming crashing down and wham! We’re swimming for our lives like itty-bitty tadpoles."
Teal'c almost believed him to be serious in his pessimism, but there was a gleam in Mitchell's eyes that told him otherwise.
"Indeed. Perhaps you should make for higher ground immediately and hope that you survive the tidal wave." It felt good to play, to tease. Teal'c added, his expression solemn, "I myself am an excellent swimmer, but perhaps you should consider removing your boots as they will weigh you down."
Mitchell slanted a glance his way and then grinned. "You want them off? They're gone."
The laces on Mitchell's boots had already been loosened; he toed them off and, with a soldier's instincts, tossed them inside the tent where they would stay dry.
"But I don't swim in my uniform, now do I?"
"No," Teal'c said, "you do not." He had sat often in the hot, dry sand of the dunes, feeling it shift beneath his feet, and watched Mitchell run naked into the purling waves, his body lean and tough, an arrow, a spear.
That nakedness had not stirred Teal'c; who swam clothed? No one with sense…but as Mitchell began to strip off clothing that the rain was plastering to his skin, Teal'c's mouth dried with a hunger the stronger for being ignored so long.
A step behind Mitchell, his injury slowing him, he followed suit. His feet were bare and he wore only his T-shirt and pants, but Mitchell was bare before him, his skin alive under a coat of rain, limber and lithe as a fish as he walked around their small camp, hands outstretched to cup and contain what fell so freely.
The rain came down harder, pounding earth and stone, and Teal'c gasped, breathless, as he drank from the sky, a smile splitting his face wide. It had been too long since he had felt this uncomplicated a joy.
Mitchell was not whooping and dancing, as Teal'c had expected; the time here had changed him too much for that, but he was filled with an exultation powerful enough to be tangible.
Rain. Life-giving rain. They would wake to a world that lived again, perhaps, fronds of green pushing up boldly through the sand, leaves unfurling on wind-bent dwarf trees and brushes.
And now they stood in a downpour, skin soaked, their hair dripping, and for the first time in weeks, Teal'c shivered.
Mitchell came over to him, and put his hand on Teal'c's face, an intimate touch. Warmth bled from his palm, a sharing that softened the last of Teal'c's resentment toward a man who had let guilt ride him too hard, for too long. Mitchell had not given up, after all. Mitchell cared too much, perhaps, but that was a fault Teal'c shared and could not condemn.
"I should not have said that you had lost your honor," Teal'c said against the roar of the wind. "You have not."
"I lost my way there, though." Mitchell said. His hand moved to Teal'c's shoulder, the clasp of a warrior. Teal'c wanted more. "I get…focused. Obsessive, some would say."
"Yes," Teal'c said, because it was the truth. "Of that, I am aware."
"You were just about ready to kick my ass, weren't you?" Mitchell didn't wait for an answer. Speculative, alert, he gazed at Teal'c. "Or did you have other plans for it?"
"It is not your way," Teal'c said. He refused to pretend not to understand; refused to make this a joke.
"And I'm not supposed to ask if it's yours, so I won't, and I'm not supposed to tell you it's mine now and then, so I won't."
"Tau'ri," Teal'c growled. "You make simple matters complicated."
"Got to keep the therapists in business," Mitchell said lightly, wiping his face clear of raindrops, successful only for a space of seconds. It was almost too dark to see each other, but the moons were rising, their light doused by the racing clouds, but continually rekindled. "So are we are the same page here?"
Teal'c reached out and pulled Mitchell to him, their mouths meeting, hot and greedy, desire rising in him swiftly. The slick dart of Mitchell's tongue against his was a promise of pleasure as real as the rain.
"Do you believe we shall be rescued?" he murmured against Mitchell's throat, and felt the thrum of blood leap under the skin. Mitchell's body fit his well and he arched and drove his hardness against the slippery skin of Mitchell's belly, groaning as he felt Mitchell's nails dig and score his back and hip.
"Tonight, I'll believe in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny if the rain keeps falling and you don't get cold feet about this." Mitchell shook his head, silver drops spinning away like bullets. "Rescue…I don't know, Teal'c. Make me believe."
Teal'c drew back to stare at him, puzzled. "How?"
"Fuck some hope into me," Mitchell said. The rain was easing as the wind died, settling into a solid persistence. "But not here. Too much wet sand. Your place or mine?"
"Mine," Teal'c said without hesitation and brought Mitchell closer to him again, closer to home.
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