SG-1 D/V S/J
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Warnings: Rated T™© for language and sexual situations. Violence on par with the content of the canon.
Categories: Ship, Het, Drama, Romance, Humor
Pairings: Daniel/Vala (primary), Sam/Jack (secondary), Teal'c/Ishta (brief)
Characters: Daniel Jackson (primary), Vala Mal Doran (primary), Teal'c, Cameron, Sam, Jack
Spoilers: Mild spoilers into season ten. Specific spoilers for the fanfic Xanadu.
A/N: Dedicated to Anne Rose, who has begged for D/V fic for months. While this is a sequel to Xanadu, set in season seven, this fic set in season ten assumes that all canon events portrayed have occurred without change. Set after Bounty. If you have not read Xanadu, and have no wish to do so, catch up with a quick summary, or just plunge ahead with the knowledge that SG-1 has visited this planet before.
Credits: Beta by Lizzoid, Q, Jade East, and of course the great Anne Rose. Research credits repeat those used for Xanadu, and include Biochemistry by Geoffrey Zubay, www.sg1.cz, www.scifi.com, Stepping Through The Stargate: Science, Archaeology, and the Military in Stargate SG-1 edited by P.N. Elrod and Roxanne Conrad, American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Volumes 16, 52, and 54 edited by Oscar C. Sattinger, and Air Force Instruction 36-2909 signed by Maj General William A. Moorman, USAF/JAG.
Disclaimer: MGM owns lots of cool stuff, but I only borrow the very best.
Dr. Daniel Jackson braced himself for an icy blast of winter and stepped through the stargate. He froze. Balmy weather, green grass, smiling natives -- this was definitely not P4X-322. And a greeting party had already reached them.
He grabbed Vala, pulling her close and lacing his fingers through hers. "Elder Shen, so nice to see you again."
"Likewise, Dr. Jackson." The older man smiled broadly. "You have shown our people great honor by joining us today."
"The honor is ours." He smiled, hopefully somewhat convincingly, and squeezed Vala's hand in a manner which he hoped conveyed his message to play along. "You of course remember Teal'c. This is Colonel Mitchell, and I'm delighted to have this opportunity to introduce you to Vala." He swallowed. "My wife."
"How wonderful!" Shen exclaimed. "And you're just in time for the Bonding Ceremony."
"Of course we are." Daniel patted Vala's hand as she leaned into him, and tried to look cheerful. The effort proved just about as successful as he'd predicted, although their host read his unease as having a slightly different cause.
Shen chuckled. "Just remember the advice I once gave your friend." He winked and helpfully made things worse. "If you wish to avoid challengers, let them see just how much you enjoy each other's company. Don't be shy!"
"Oh, I don't think there's any danger of that." Daniel hoped his smile still appeared genuine as Vala wrapped her arm around his waist.
"No danger at all," Vala said, beaming up at him. "I've never been hampered by shyness, have I, darling?"
"If there's one thing you've never been called, it's shy," Daniel agreed. "Dear," he added as an afterthought, slipping an arm around her shoulders.
Vala beamed some more.
"The festivities shall begin in a few hours," Shen said. "Your friends will join us when they return from fishing."
"Oh?" Several pieces fell into place in Daniel's mind. So this was what had kept Sam from searching the frozen wastelands of P4X-322 for the clava thessara infinitas. Fishing. He wondered if they had bothered to bring poles this time, but doubted it. Jack never seemed to find the fish themselves particularly relevant to the process.
"I must go see to the preparation of the neglegs," Shen said. "Please, make yourselves at home. I hope you will join my once-and-future wife and I for a drink before the sounding of the wehast?"
"Of course," Daniel said. "Wouldn't miss it."
As soon as Shen and his entourage headed back towards the village, Daniel set off in the direction of the stream, Vala firmly in tow.
He glanced at Cam. "I think we'd better talk to Jack."
Vala rather enjoyed Daniel's sudden possessiveness. Pity it was merely a ruse. "So tell me, Daniel. How do you benefit from claiming to have a wife?"
"Trust me, it's not for my benefit." He sounded annoyed.
Two could play at that game. She gave him an annoyed look of her own. "Well that tells me exactly nothing."
He sighed. "Suffice it to say that certain cultural misunderstandings could arise if the men here perceive you to be available."
"Maybe I am available," she said. "Did you stop to think of that before claiming me as your property?"
"I didn't -- "
"No, you just went right ahead and staked out your territory, without even asking my opinion on the matter."
"We didn't exactly have time for a conference," Daniel argued. "Shen was standing right there, and I did what I had to do to protect you."
"Protect me? In case you haven't noticed, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you very much, and I don't appreciate -- "
"Hey!" Cam interrupted. "Man, you two even sound married, which leads me to my question. Why are you two married all of the sudden? What's General O'Neill doing here, and where the heck is here, anyway?"
"P3X-427," Daniel said.
"The report with all the black lines through it," Cam said.
"With the big thick folder full of legalese, also frequently blacked out?"
"And the big secret is?"
"Sam and Jack got married here."
"Oh!" Vala said, cheerful again. "The sex pollen."
"Not . . . sex pollen." Daniel, clearly appalled, made a face that she found absolutely adorable, if somewhat vexing. "It was more like what happened to you and I, with the bracelets."
"No it wasn't," Vala said. "Sam told me all about it. She said . . . " They'd come to a stop, and all three of her male teammates were now staring at her. She remembered exactly what Sam had said, and decided it might be in everyone's best interest if she kept it to herself. For the most part. "Well, what she said sounded like a whole lot more fun than anything that happened with those silly bracelets."
They found Jack sprawled across the grass beside the stream. Well, mostly on the grass. A fair bit of Jack was more accurately described as sprawled across Sam. He had one hand drifting across the exposed skin of her belly where her tee shirt had ridden up, and the other one curled into her hair as he kissed her. They looked deliriously happy and fairly confident that they were alone.
"Maybe we should give them some privacy," Vala whispered.
Daniel poked Jack in the ribs with the toe of his boot.
Jack rolled over, one hand reaching for his weapon while the other grabbed Sam's hand. He stared up at them. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"That's what I'd like to ask you."
"What does it look like we're doing?"
"It looks like you're not in Minnesota pretending to fish," Daniel said. "But your being here isn't really that much of a surprise. What I'd like to know is what we're doing here."
"And you're asking me?"
"We're supposed to be on P4X-322 following a lead on the clava thessara infinitas."
"So go, follow, find. I'll want to hear all about it."
"Too late," Daniel said. "Shen has already told us what a great honor it is that we've chosen to attend." He ignored the smirk on Sam's face, and carefully avoided looking at Vala. "We have enough problems these days without systematically offending our allies."
Cam stepped closer, hands on his hips. "So what're you saying, Jackson? We're stuck here?"
"Yes." Daniel glared at Jack.
Jack let Sam pull him to his feet. "And this is my fault how?"
"I'm not sure yet," Daniel admitted.
"Don't worry, darling." Vala slipped her arm back around his waist. "I'm sure we can make the best of it."
Daniel tried to ignore that. Specifically he ignored how Vala's arm failed to stay far enough north to technically qualify as being around his waist, in the strictest sense, and he really worked to ignore just how inappropriate he found that, under the circumstances.
"Is it possible that some kind of gate malfunction sent us to the last address dialed?" Cam asked.
"No," Sam answered. "We didn't come straight here."
"Who knew that you planned to come here?" Teal'c asked.
"Just Walter," Jack said. "We really didn't want to be disturbed."
"Yeah." Daniel didn't even try to muster up any sincerity. "Sorry about that."
"O'Neill," Teal'c said. "We are about to have company."
Vala followed Teal'c's gaze to the three young men approaching, and smiled to herself as Daniel pulled her closer. Maybe she could enjoy this new, possessive Daniel. At least the situation might give her a chance to get his attention. Nothing else seemed to work.
Sometimes she wondered if Daniel even liked girls.
These young men certainly did. Particularly the one on the left. A bit young, perhaps, but a girl liked to be appreciated, and given Daniel's penchant for ignoring her, maybe she should consider her options. She flashed him a smile as he approached.
"I am called Qiao, and am delighted to lay eyes upon one of such beauty." He returned a smile that would have been charming, had he aimed it just a few inches higher, and extended his hand.
Daniel pulled her back against his chest, effectively pinning her arms so that she couldn't shake Qiao's hand, and tightened his grip on the hand he still held. "She's with me."
Vala wondered if she was supposed to swoon now, and considered saying something very rude, but she trusted Daniel, and besides, the way Sam had wrapped herself around General O'Neill was fairly telling.
"Vala Jackson," she said. "Daniel's wife."
Anger flashed in the young man's eyes. "You are here to participate in our customs, are you not?"
"Certainly -- "
"Then you cannot claim to be anyone's wife until the wehast has rung."
"And until it's rung, the choice is hers. Not yours." Daniel used his quiet, dangerous voice. "You will show her the respect she deserves, or I will demonstrate a few customs of my own."
"Or I will share some of mine." Teal'c shifted his weight in that terrifyingly casual way of his.
"It is her choice," Qiao snapped. "So let her speak."
"Vala," Daniel said. "Do you wish to consider this man as your mate for the coming year?"
"I'm very flattered," she said to Qiao. "Really. But I'm here with Daniel."
Qiao stomped off, muttering something about Earth women under his breath. The other two, having apparently failed to woo Sam, followed him.
"Well that was certainly pleasant," Vala said, twisting around in Daniel's arms. "Now would you kindly explain these people's customs to me before I end up as someone's property?"
"You wouldn't be property," Daniel said. "This is a matriarchal society. The trouble is, the men outnumber the women here, and without a wife, the younger men have very little political power."
"Did I ask for a sociology lesson? Just tell me what I have to do to prove that I'm your wife."
"It's simple," he said. "Hold my hand. Don't let go for any reason. At some point tonight, the wehast will ring, and we'll be bound together. After that, unless we somehow avoid inhaling any of the smoke from the bonfire, we can't touch anyone else, or separate, until we get back to the SGC in the morning and have Dr. Lam administer the antidote."
"It can't be that easy." She glanced from Daniel to Sam, who was still wrapped up in General O'Neill's arms.
"It is, for the most part," Sam said. "But some of the younger men will try to lure you away, if they think you might be unhappy with Daniel, and as you just saw that can get a little uncomfortable."
"Hear that, darling?" She grinned at him. "We have to look happy. However will we manage that."
"Oh, somehow I think you'll find a way."
At Jack's suggestion, they headed back towards the village. Daniel kept a firm hold on Vala's hand. All of the ways this could go terribly wrong ran through his head, like the possible diplomatic fallout if she went and got herself accidentally bonded to someone like Qiao. But Earth's naquada supply was really the least of his worries at this point.
The relationship he shared with Vala was complicated enough. This could make it worse. Much worse. He glanced at the others. Sam and Jack were completely absorbed with each other, while Cam seemed to find the situation amusing. Only Teal'c looked at all sympathetic.
He should have pawned Vala off on Cam. If their working relationship could survive the whole high school reunion thing, it could survive this. He couldn't have done it, though, he knew that. Vala was his responsibility. He'd just have to get through this ordeal with as little awkwardness as possible. Maybe if they stayed on the outskirts of the crowd, they could avoid the smoke from the bonfire and escape the effects of the ceremony.
They could hear the drums and wooden flutes as they drew closer to the village, and Vala quickened her step. "You didn't tell me this was a party!"
"It's not a party," Daniel said. "This ceremony forms the cornerstone for the social structure among -- "
"There's dancing." Vala grinned and tugged at his hand, trying to hurry him along.
"There's also punch," Jack added helpfully. "Really good punch."
"See, Daniel? It is a party. We should have some fun."
Jack smiled cheerfully. "I like this girl, Daniel. Excellent priorities."
"Thank you, General." Vala grinned at Jack and gave Daniel a reproachful look. "You should listen to him, darling, he's clearly a very wise man."
"We promised to have a drink with Shen." Daniel scanned the crowd, and started towards a collection of tables where the older couples had gathered.
"You kids have fun with that," Jack said. "Carter and I are dancing."
Sam looked sympathetic for about three seconds, and then laughed as Jack spun her around into his arms for a dance maneuver that didn't even pretend to follow the music.
Vala pouted theatrically and played with the zipper on Daniel's jacket. "Just one dance? What would be the harm?"
"That." Daniel nodded towards one group of young dancers, where two young men were currently engaged in the traditional Xanute challenge, a ritual that combined dancing with a sort of tug-of-war. The prize, in this case, was a rather nervous-looking young woman. "I think we're safer at a table."
"Oh." Vala watched the spectacle, suddenly serious. "I thought you said the women here had a choice."
"Technically they do," Daniel said. "But social pressure is a powerful thing. Given the male-female ratio here, once a woman is old enough to marry, I doubt that staying single is a viable option."
Vala followed Daniel over to the tables and kept a firm grip on his hand. She watched the young woman's ordeal uneasily. Not only did she have no desire to end up in a similar situation, but she also felt compelled to find out exactly how the girl in question felt about the whole thing, and to help her if it proved necessary.
Forced marriage was not a tradition she had any intention of quietly respecting, no matter what Daniel or any of the others had to say about it. It was bad enough when circumstances forced one into a loveless marriage. Young women seized on the dance floor like so much property -- that bordered on barbaric.
"Dr. Jackson!" Elder Shen rose from one of the seats. "Come, let your beloved meet my once-and-future wife, Le."
Vala nodded and smiled her way through the introductions. Well, mostly. "That young woman -- is anyone going to help her?"
Shen looked puzzled, although he looked right at the girl, who was now dancing stiffly in the arms of the successful contestant.
"Oh, you mean Jie." Le laughed softly. "She's just shy. Don't worry, she'll come around."
"So that's it? She's expected to just 'come around' and that's the end of it?"
"I'm sorry, Daniel, but a young woman deserves a little bit of freedom when it comes to choosing her husband. I realize these people have different customs, but I'm not going to sit here and ignore -- What?"
She followed his gaze back to the young woman, who was now laughing as an entirely different young man twirled her around.
"Now see." Le elbowed her husband. "What did I tell you about Jie and Bo?" She leaned towards Vala and lowered her voice. "Nothing motivates a young man to speak up quite like the sight of his beloved in the arms of another, does it?"
"The stakes are a little high, though, aren't they?"
Daniel squeezed her hand under the table. Rather hard, she thought.
She ignored him. "What if she ended up married -- "
"The Xanute don't bond for life," Daniel said. "In another year she'd be free to make a new choice."
"But in the meantime she'd be bound to a husband selected by circumstance rather than love? Seems rather awkward, to say the least."
"Oh, the ringing of the wehast is a ways off yet," Le said lightly. "Everyone will sort themselves out in time, they always do."
"So with all of these people here, in all this confusion, nobody ever ends up married to the wrong person?" Vala noticed that Daniel had quite the firm grip.
"The year passes quickly," Le answered. "Each new joining adds texture to your life."
Well that was a yes. "But what if a woman doesn't want to bond with anyone right now?"
"That rarely happens," Le said. "But if a woman wished it, the elders would grant her permission to accompany those who are too young to marry on their trip into the hills."
"What do your people consider too young . . . " She glanced at Daniel, who had let go of her hand in favor of giving her knee a squeeze, and she took pity on his silent plea for tact. "That is, if you don't mind my asking?"
In defense of Vala's manners, Le seemed unoffended at the question. "Our young people rarely bond with anyone before their eighteenth year, although exceptions are sometimes made."
"That's closer to twenty, by our calendar," Daniel interrupted before she could question the wisdom of marriage at such a young age. He was good at sensing when she was about to step over the boundaries of good manners, she had to give him that. "I figured it out last time we were here. You see, this planet's orbit -- "
"Yes darling," Vala said. "I do understand how that works."
"Sweetheart, I -- "
"Sweetheart?" She mouthed silently, amused at his choice of endearment. "Really?"
He sighed and gave her that smile, the one he used when he wanted to pretend that he was angry with her, but that he was exercising great patience by hiding it. She really saw that one a whole lot less now. Funny how it managed to be both very trying and somewhat adorable.
"Vala," he said. "Let's dance."
Daniel led Vala towards the dance floor, eager to get her away from their hosts. Not that he could blame her entirely. At first glance, the Xanute traditions did appear to infringe upon personal freedom. Of course, if she'd let him explain the basics earlier, she'd have no need to grill Shen's wife.
She turned gracefully in his arms and slid her free hand up around his shoulder. "I'm glad you changed your mind."
"I didn't see where I had a choice," he said. "It was this, or let you start an interplanetary incident by implying -- and I use that term loosely here -- that our moral code is in some way superior to theirs."
"I didn't -- "
"Did it occur to you, for just one second, that I might have had those same questions three years ago, before overseeing the treaty with these people? Or did you just assume that we stood idly by while unwilling child brides were dragged off by the hair? Does that sound like something Sam would consider a happy memory?"
Vala seemed to waver between contrition and ire. "Of course not, Daniel, but was I supposed to stand idly by when that girl appeared to be in genuine distress?"
He softened. "No, no of course not. Just . . . please understand that these women are very much in control of their fate."
"Then why this charade, if there's no danger?"
"The Xanute women understand the subtleties of their own traditions," he explained. "They are very unlikely to get tricked into an unwanted bond, although for various reasons some might allow themselves to be tricked."
She smiled. "Accidentally on purpose."
"Exactly. But as for us -- we're outsiders, and we could very easily make a mistake."
"And what about Teal'c and Mitchell?"
"Given the male-female ratio here, I doubt they'll be approached -- what?" He followed Vala's gaze over to where Cam was telling stories to several of the Xanute women, not all of whom appeared to have male escorts at the moment. "He wouldn't."
"He is," Vala said. "Looks like he's doing pretty well for himself, too."
"This isn't funny."
"I could tell them he's terrible in bed," Vala said. "Discreetly of course."
"Yeah," Daniel said slowly. "Let's not." He scanned the crowd. Sam and Jack were only paying attention to each other, while Teal'c observed some of the more zealous young men. He'd have to get Cam's attention himself.
"We could knock him unconscious and handcuff him to a bed somewhere."
He looked at her, primarily to verify that she was joking.
"What? It's an idea."
"How about I just have a word with him." He took Vala's hand and headed towards Cam's new fan club. "Try not to say anything too -- try not to say anything."
Maybe Vala should have taken offense, but that seemed like an awful lot of trouble, and besides, Daniel was adorable when he was grumpy. Plus, for once, the bulk of his annoyance was aimed away from her. That upped the adorable quotient a bit.
Daniel tapped Cameron on the shoulder.
"Geez, Jackson, you want to be a little more careful? I don't fancy ending up married to you."
"Yeah." Daniel lowered his voice. "On that subject, you might want to avoid ending up bonded to anyone here at all."
"I'm not bonding with anybody." Cameron kept his voice down and edged away from the gathering. "I was just talking."
"Well cut it out before someone finds it charming and we're forced to leave you here."
"I could tell them I'm married to Teal'c, but I don't see them buying it."
"Why not?" Vala waved Teal'c over. "You and Muscles would make an adorable couple."
Cameron glared at her. She grinned and wrapped her arm around Daniel, who sighed.
"Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c said. "I would suggest that we make some effort to keep a low profile. Although they may refrain from commenting, the men here would likely resent our participation in this ritual, however inadvertent that participation may be."
"I have no intention of participating, inadvertently or otherwise, but how exactly do we avoid simple conversation without bordering on rude?"
"That is easily accomplished, Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c led Cameron off to socialize with the village elders, which meant that Vala and Daniel could get back to the very important business of dancing.
Quite honestly, she liked having the excuse to dance with Daniel. Everything was always work, work, work with him, and while she agreed that the galaxy was in a fair bit of trouble and that he really was the best person to do something about that, she also thought that they could stand a little bit of fun every once in a while.
She liked how he threaded his fingers through hers and folded their joined hands against his chest, and she smiled, momentarily warmed by the gesture before she noticed him watching someone in the crowd.
"Qiao's watching you," he said. "If he saw us arguing earlier he probably thinks he has a chance."
"Arguing? Don't be silly, darling, that was nothing."
"Well in any case, he's coming this way." Daniel pulled her closer, his fingers sliding up and down her spine until the little hairs on the back of her neck stood up and paid attention.
She molded her body against his and let her fingers curl into his shoulder. He felt tense. She'd have to do something about that.
Daniel's hot breath tickled her ear, and his lips brushed her neck as he spoke. "Don't look, and don't let go."
Like she had the slightest intention of doing any such thing. For once, she had Daniel right where she wanted him, and with a little luck he might realize that he liked it. She almost let herself believe that his liking it had led his lips to trail along her jaw, and that the soft kiss just shy of her lips was more than just a show to discourage the rude native boy.
She wanted to pull back and look into his eyes. She really wanted to kiss him stupid. She did neither, but she did arch her neck and slip her fingers into his hair, and without giving proper thought to the consequences, she guided his lips to that spot that made her quiver.
Thinking lost out to just feeling, and she might have even gasped Daniel's name just a little. Then Qiao grabbed her arm.
Vala spun around and punched him in the nose. Hard.
Bad idea. Not because they were guests here, and Qiao might compensate for his embarrassment by taking offense, although he did. But because she let go of Daniel's hand to throw the punch.
"Vala!" Daniel lost his grip on her hand, or rather she wrenched it away from him.
The next moment, Vala and Qiao stood glaring at each other. And Qiao had her hand.
Daniel stared at the purloined hand.
"How dare you strike me!"
"How dare you grab my arm."
If anyone but Qiao had found themselves on the receiving end of Vala's right hook, Daniel might have felt some sympathy, but Qiao deserved it, and Daniel had bigger issues on his mind. Like the impending ringing of the wehast, and Vala's hand in Qiao's grasp.
This could end so very badly.
"Vala," he warned, stepping forward. This had to end before Vala hurt Qiao seriously enough that they discovered how the Xanute justice system worked. Or worse. His stomach turned at the thought of Vala bonded to this arrogant jerk.
A crowd was gathering around them, and Qiao's friends began to chant.
"Daniel," Vala hissed. "Do something."
"Just trust me," he said softly, and hoped he lived up to her trust.
Zatting Qiao and dragging Vala back through the stargate had its appeal, but realistically Daniel had only one option. He needed to win her from Qiao by way of the Xanute ritual dance. A shame he'd never learned the steps, but he'd just have to improvise.
His heart pounded as he tried to remember the words that he'd heard only in passing more than three years ago. He took Vala's free hand, and locked eyes with his rival. "She's mine, and shall remain so."
"This woman shall bond with me," Qiao answered. "Your name will soon mean nothing to her."
"I beg to differ." Daniel tugged Vala away from Qiao, effectively beginning the dance, and the chanting grew louder.
Daniel and Qiao matched their movements to the beat as they circled each other, Vala between them. The trick, Daniel found, was to align himself so that he could pull her in his direction on the downbeat. He caught the pattern, and seemed to regain the upper hand.
Then Qiao overstepped the beat and yanked Vala backwards in a move that was definitely cheating.
Vala clutched Daniel's hand so tightly that he could feel her fingernails digging into his flesh. Her eyes locked with his.
Daniel held firm against the momentum of the now-flawed dance, and caught the beat again. He could see Vala trying not to wince in pain as Qiao cheated again, twisting her arm on the upbeat. They exchanged a look. This ended. Now.
Daniel stepped back on the downbeat and spun her into his arms as she yanked free of Qiao. She clung to his neck, hard, and he found himself rubbing her back as they danced away from their adversary.
"Well that was certainly a close one." The levity in her voice sounded forced. "Let's not try that again."
"Are you hurt?" He felt her shake her head, and he glared at Qiao. "Touch her again, and I'll shoot you. Or better yet, I'll let her beat on you until you wish I'd shot you."
Vala laughed softly against his neck. "My hero."
Daniel held her close, his hand rubbing gentle circles over her back. The ordeal hardly warranted this much comforting -- unpleasant though it was, the dance rather paled in comparison to getting burned alive -- but she'd take it. The kiss he pressed to her temple felt genuine, and it brought a lump to her throat.
She held on a little tighter.
"Hey." Daniel stroked her hair. "Are you -- "
"I'm fine." She pulled back a little to meet his gaze, and offered a smile as proof.
He slid his hand around to cup her cheek. His eyes roamed her face and she could see the question in his eyes as he tried to verify that her smile was real.
The fact that Daniel cared if it was real made it real, and she once again considered kissing him stupid.
"We should -- "
"Vala, Daniel." Sam's voice. So much for kissing. "What happened?"
Vala tore her eyes away from Daniel to find the others arriving, well short of just in the nick of time.
"Vala clocked Qiao in the nose," Daniel answered.
"Well good for you," General O'Neill said to her. "I've been wanting to do that for years."
"Weren't you the one concerned about maintaining our relationship with these folks?" Cameron asked Daniel. "Punching people might not be the best way to do that."
General O'Neill shrugged. "It's just Qiao. Half this village would probably like to take a swing at him."
"I concur," Teal'c said. "The fact that he has remained single is telling."
"He cheats," Daniel said, more than a trace of anger in his voice. "During the challenge dance, he moved against the beat and twisted Vala's arm."
"But Daniel saved me." Vala smiled up at him and slid her free hand back up his chest to circle his neck. "He's really quite the dancer. Speaking of which . . . "
Daniel not only failed to roll his eyes, but he actually returned her smile and wrapped an arm around her waist, splaying his fingers across her lower back. Now if the others would kindly go away . . .
General O'Neill had the right idea. He pulled Sam back into his arms and they melted into the crowd.
Cameron and Teal'c, on the other hand, continued to hover. Ignoring them seemed less trouble than bothering to shoo them away, and she had started to implement that plan by way of resting her head against Daniel's chest when Teal'c nodded to her, smiling slightly, and made his exit with Cameron in tow.
She owed him for that.
Daniel's hand slid up and down her back. Oh yes, Muscles had earned a reward. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There really was something about the way Daniel smelled. All warm and masculine and just so Daniel. His heart beat a steady rhythm under her cheek, and she pushed aside any concern outside of this moment. She even let Daniel lead as they moved to the quaint music.
She'd been around the galaxy, and knew from experience just how profoundly lucky she was to have found Daniel. Smart, brave, extremely attractive. He was all of those things, but more than that, he really cared. About people, about doing good, about his friends, even about her. She'd never had that before -- someone who truly cared, who supported her, and even believed in her.
Her mind returned to the little matter of that kissing they hadn't done yet.
Daniel stroked her hair, and for a moment she thought that he'd read her mind as his lips brushed across her ear. "Don't look now," he whispered. "But we're about to have company again."
Daniel held Vala tighter, sliding his cheek along hers so that he could watch his potential rival through the only cover available -- that provided by Vala's hair. He didn't particularly trust any of the young men right now, not after the close call they'd had with Qiao.
What the hell was Jack thinking, anyway, coming back here on purpose?
The young man -- and Daniel was now positive he'd seen him with Qiao earlier -- grew closer, his interest in Vala unmistakable.
"Look happy," he whispered against Vala's ear. Then he trailed his lips down her throat.
"Absolutely not a problem, darling. Just keep doing that."
Oh, no problem here. What could possibly be a problem? Not the way her voice moved through him like a jolt of electricity. Not the way her pulse fluttered against his lips. Certainly not the warm taste of her skin, because he wasn't trailing open-mouthed kisses along her neck. Nope, not at all.
He kissed below her ear, and fought the natural instinct to slide his lips along her cheek. Her cheek was too close to her lips. No lips. He was very firm on that point, because lips were definitely trouble. So was her earlobe, apparently, because the little nip he gave it produced a sound that sent his imagination off to places it very much did not belong.
Her earlobe, and that sound again . . .
Breathing -- both his need to do it and the sudden difficulty now involved in accomplishing it -- occupied his attention for a moment, and then he remembered to force an eye open and look for Qiao's friend. Still there. Damn.
Still there and openly running his eyes down Vala's backside.
Daniel felt a surge of anger. No wonder these guys were single. They needed someone to teach them some manners.
"He's staring at you."
"Well then, darling, let's give him something to stare at, shall we?" She nipped at his jaw.
"Vala -- " Whatever he thought he was capable of saying at that point went unsaid, because any remaining ability to form actual words died when he felt her teeth against his neck.
He found himself of two minds regarding that. His sensible half needed her to stop it immediately, while another rather significant part very much wanted her to continue. That part really had the upper hand, seeing as stopping her would contradict their ruse, and he really wanted to avoid another challenge dance. He tried instead to ignore her, but the best he managed was pretending to ignore her. Or at least pretending within his own mind, since he also had to pretend to enjoy the whole thing for the benefit of their audience.
An audience that looked prepared to speak up at the slightest opening.
Daniel slid his hand up and down her back, encouraging the troublingly delightful things Vala could accomplish with her mouth. Things which he vowed to ignore, or at least forget as soon as the scrutiny lightened up. They'd both end up hurt if he let himself take her flirting seriously, and he cared too much for Vala to let their relationship become strained and awkward.
His rival circled them, leaving his line of sight, and Daniel tensed.
Vala paused in her assault on his neck -- not to mention his sanity -- and she stiffened in his arms. Then she grabbed his posterior, making him jump as he realized that she'd shoved her hand down the back of his pants to accomplish it.
"Oh relax darling," she whispered against his ear. "Don't be such a prude, at least he can't grab my hand while it's there."
He pulled his head back enough to glare at her, but his anger dissipated somewhat at the genuine worry in her eyes. Unless she was messing with him. Either way, they still had an audience, so he let it slide. "Just watch it."
"Ordinarily that would be my pleasure, Daniel, but it's a little hard to do while dancing."
He sighed, and refused to find that sparkle in her eye alluring in any way. He avoided her gaze by pulling her closer. "Let's just -- "
Her tongue found his ear, and that occupied his full attention for longer than he cared to admit.
They really needed to start edging away from the fire. The wehast could ring any moment now, at which point the central bonfire would belch smoke. If they inhaled it, they'd be physiologically bound together by the chemical the Xanute added to the fire for that purpose, and his current discomfort would likely pale in comparison.
Daniel remembered what Jack had said about the experience. He'd claimed that the bond had not made him want Sam any more than he usually did, it had just made him less able to resist the temptation. Daniel wasn't entirely sure what to make of that, but in any case he didn't find it particularly comforting.
Vala had a special talent for providing temptation.
"This is nice," Vala said. "You should take me dancing more often."
He usually let it pass when she did that -- implied that they were romantically linked -- because as strange as it seemed, their lives were linked, in a way. He let it pass now, too, and tried to ignore his thoughts on the matter. Now was not the time to sort out the complex feelings he had for Vala. "Let's just make our way out of the fire's range."
"Why would we do that?"
"Because if we don't, we're going to end up bonded when the wehast -- "
"Isn't that the plan?"
"I just don't see why we should let it happen if we can avoid it."
She lifted her head from his shoulder. "Is it really that terrible, Daniel? Does the thought of being stuck with me for a matter of hours repulse you so much that -- "
"You have to understand how awkward -- "
"It's hardly such a big deal, after all we do have the antidote."
"Not actually with us."
Her arm slid from around his waist and she took a step back. "How about I save you the trouble, Daniel."
"Vala -- "
She tried to tug her hand loose from his grasp. "I'll just go marry Cameron."
"No." He pulled her back into his arms.
"And why not? Why should you care?"
Daniel had absolutely no idea how to answer that question, but before he had a chance to contemplate why the image of Vala with Mitchell made his heart seize in his chest, let alone what in the galaxy he could possibly say to Vala regarding it, the wehast rang.
Vala stood frozen in Daniel's arms as laughing children bound them together with long, festive ribbons. The crowd began to cheer as fireworks produced clouds of multicolored smoke. She tried to ignore the chaos as she looked into Daniel's eyes. "You didn't answer my question."
Another cloud of smoke belched from the fire, and that she couldn't ignore. It stung her eyes, and she let go of Daniel as they both struggled to breathe.
"Take shallow breaths," Daniel advised, rubbing her back as she continued to cough. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, somewhat prematurely, and choked a bit more. Others in the crowd fought off their own coughing spells and disappeared into cottages. She glanced up at Daniel, who rubbed her back as he waited for her to recover. She straightened up, and wiped moisture from her eyes. "If this is what you were trying to avoid, I might be forced to forgive you."
"I'd appreciate that," Daniel said. "Seeing as we're stuck with each other until we get back to the SGC."
"You got jealous." Maybe she gloated just a bit, but she loved that he'd gotten jealous over her.
"I was not jealous."
"You were so jealous," she said, perhaps a bit smugly. "But don't worry darling, I think you're a lot more fun than Cameron."
Daniel opened his mouth to answer, but Shen arrived to interrupt. "My wife and I will show you to your lodgings," he said. "Your friend Teal'c should have the negleg prepared by now."
Vala slipped her arm around Daniel, pleased when he reciprocated, and they followed Shen through the village. She spotted Sam kissing her husband in the doorway of one of the quaint little cottages. They stopped at the very next one.
"This will be your home for as long as you remain with our people," Shen said. "May you fill it with many laughing children."
For a moment, Vala imagined raising children with Daniel. Ordinary children, with no thoughts of galactic domination whatsoever. The concept had its appeal.
Le pushed the door open. "Elder Shen will tie your negleg first, since you are honored guests of our village."
Teal'c handed Shen a colorful length of rope, which he tied first around Vala's wrist, then Daniel's. He twisted the whole thing into elaborate coils, binding them together. Vala figured that she could free herself from it in about twenty seconds, but for once she doubted that she'd find herself terribly motivated to do so.
Shen winked at Daniel. "Don't worry, it won't get in the way of your fun."
Daniel looked adorably uncomfortable.
"You are now one," Le said. "May this union bring such joy that you seek each other every time the wehast is rung."
Vala smiled at Daniel. "I hope we will."
He met her gaze as the others hurried out to the next cottage, and her heart started to pound. He had the most perplexing look on his face, and for once she couldn't guess his thoughts. Would he let them have this one night, or would he just go and be a terrible prude about the whole thing?
"The bedroom's through here." He led her into the next room, where dozens of candles sent their light dancing across a large bed.
"It's beautiful." She turned to him and slid her free hand up his chest. "Now, darling, where were we?"
Daniel turned away from her kiss and grabbed her hands, holding them away from himself. "What are you doing?"
"Well I thought that was rather obvious, Daniel, but if you need a lesson -- "
"Just stop it." He dropped her hands, found that not entirely possible, and yanked on the negleg. The coils dropped away, leaving them connected, but the six feet of rope might as well have stretched a mile. "Stop trying to make everything about sex. It's not."
Vala swallowed and avoided his gaze. "Not everything, Daniel." She made every effort to sound annoyed, and gestured at the bed. "But in this particular case, I'd have to say it's on topic."
"Freshen up through there." He pointed at a door near the bed. "You can have the bed, and I'll take the floor."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. You're not really planning to sleep on the floor?"
"I suppose you have a better idea?"
"There is the obvious."
He rolled his eyes. "I'm tired of it, Vala. I'm tired of the flirting, and the innuendo, and the constant implication that I somehow belong to you. We're not a couple. We're never going to be a couple -- "
"You find me that repulsive?" This time she was pretty sure she'd failed to sound angry, or at least primarily angry, and that made her really angry.
"Of course not -- "
She wanted to ask him if his plumbing worked, or if he even liked girls, and she wanted to be nasty about it. "Then why?"
"I'm not going to sleep with you just to scratch an itch. We work together, Vala. What we do is important, and we work well together. I'm not prepared to sacrifice our working relationship, not to mention the friendship we've built, just for one night of -- "
Friendship, at least he recognized that they shared that much. She tried for light again, because she would not allow his mulish devotion to celibacy get to her. "Oh, don't be such a spoil-sport, Daniel, it would be fun."
"Sex isn't fun."
"Well then darling, there's the problem. Clearly you've been doing it wrong."
He sighed. "Sex isn't just about fun. It means something, at least to some of us -- "
"And I suppose I wouldn't know anything about that, would I?" Damn it, she was sure her voice had cracked that time. She started towards the bathroom, but was stopped by the stupid rope on her wrist.
"Hey," Daniel said. "Look at me."
"You've made your point," she said. "Now just -- "
He turned her around by the shoulders, wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb, and stared at her for a long moment. "I think we need to talk."
She hunted rather desperately for that anger of just moments ago, but it evaporated as her eyes met Daniel's.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "I should never have implied that you're any more screwed up than I am."
Daniel watched Vala laugh softly at his rather pathetic apology, and it crossed his mind that he wanted -- quite intensely, in fact -- to kiss her, but no, that was the smoke talking, and he needed to practice a little restraint.
Whatever he and Vala shared, or might share in the future, getting carried away by lust would lead to trouble. He'd already let his temper get the better of him, and he'd used harsher words than he'd intended. He saw the hurt in her eyes, even as she tried to mask it with a smile, and he hated that he'd caused that pain.
"I'm sorry," he repeated.
"It's okay, Daniel. You don't find me attractive. It's not a big deal."
It would make things easier if she thought that, but he rejected the lie. "No, Vala, it's not that. You're -- well you're incredible, actually. But the thing is, we're not right for each other, you have to know that. And there's so much more to you than this whole flirty act you put on all the time, I just wish you'd give it a rest."
She didn't argue. She just turned away and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
"You're my friend, and I care about you -- "
"I get it, Daniel, just please stop." Her voice broke and she tugged on the negleg. "If it weren't for this damn rope . . . "
His instinct to wrap his arms around her almost got the better of him. He'd told himself a thousand times that her flirting meant nothing, that she just used it as a defense mechanism, but now he wondered, and wondered with a hope that made his heart pound. Which was damned inconvenient, because at the moment he dared not trust his own judgment.
"Vala . . . " He reined in his increasing urge to touch her, and focused instead on choosing the right words. "Given the circumstances, I really don't think tonight is the right time to have this conversation, but I do find you attractive. Very attractive, in fact, and despite my best efforts, I do have feelings for you."
That did it. Her small voice. The complete lack of a witty retort or the downright angry reply he deserved. Just that tiny questioning hope. He stepped closer and turned her around to pull her into his arms.
She buried her face against his neck. "Daniel."
He rubbed her back and held her, sure that any words he said would get them in some kind of trouble, but very glad to have her in his arms.
Vala clung to Daniel, the pain easing in the face of renewed hope. It crossed her mind to cringe at the way she'd dropped her guard, but she really couldn't be bothered, because the truth of the matter was that she wanted Daniel more than she wanted her dignity. His rejection made anything else downright irrelevant, and while maybe as a self-respecting woman she was expected to get angry after what he'd said, she was just too relieved that he really hadn't meant it quite the way it sounded to care about holding any grudges.
Now he held her like he loved her, and that really made everything else matter a whole lot less. "What we're feeling right now," he said. "Maybe it's the smoke, and maybe it's not. But we should wait until it can't possibly be the smoke before we take any steps."
"It's not the smoke." She willed herself not to push. At all. But she had to speak honestly. "I don't feel any differently than I've felt for a very long time."
"How about dinner, once Dr. Lam gives us a clean bill of health?"
She lifted her head. "Could there be dancing?"
He grinned outright. "That's a definite maybe."
She'd never seen him smile like that before. Well once, when he'd had Merlin in his head, but of course that didn't count. She really wanted to kiss him right now, but at the same time she wanted him to keep smiling like that, possibly forever, because that smile was just about the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen in her life.
His fingers trailed across her cheek, and she felt it all the way to her toes. She gasped his name.
"Yeah," Daniel said. "But maybe we'd better not touch each other right now." He stepped back.
The loss of contact almost hurt, and a wave of dizziness almost knocked her off her feet.
"Vala?" His arms returned, to her vast relief.
"Maybe we'd better not stop touching each other right now," she said. "How much did Jack tell you about this whole experience?"
"Not terribly much. Do I dare ask what Sam told you?"
"Girl talk." She cringed a little. She really didn't want to keep any secrets from Daniel, but she seriously doubted that he wanted Sam's secrets anyway. "It's rather private."
"Say no more." He trailed a finger across her cheek again, which made her bite her lip to hold back her reaction. "Or maybe you should talk about it incessantly, because I could really use a cold shower about now, and I can't think of a topic any less appealing than the embarrassing details of Sam's love life."
"Did you and Sam ever -- "
"She's married to one of my closest friends."
"She hasn't always been."
"I was married when I met Sam, and we've been close for years. She's like a sister to me." He looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Okay, that worked. I couldn't possibly be tempted to have sex right now."
"And what about me?" Vala asked. "Am I supposed to picture Cameron naked or something?"
"I'd rather you didn't."
She grinned. "You're jealous again."
"You caught me," he said softly.
All thoughts of naked Cameron, had she bothered to actually have any, fled as Daniel smiled sheepishly and looked at her with genuine affection. She wanted to freeze the moment, before one of them said the wrong thing and everything went sideways. Or before a bit too much silence accomplished the same thing.
His hand rubbed her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"I was just thinking that we should probably get some rest," she said. "And I -- do you still plan to sleep on the floor?"
"We could flip for it."
Vala never thought she'd beg a man to share her bed, but looking at Daniel as he tried to soften the awkwardness with a joke, she considered it. "I promise to keep my hands to myself. For the most part, anyway; this smoke thing might make that something of a challenge."
"Yeah, there is that." His hand found its way into her hair. "Well we'll just have to do our best, then, won't we?"
Vala flashed a smile, radiating a palpable joy that warmed Daniel's heart. Trademark Vala. She was beautiful, and he couldn't blame the smoke for that. He'd noticed that way back on the Prometheus when she'd pulled off that super soldier helmet. It just meant he had eyes. No altered brain chemistry required.
They both freshened up and settled down on the bed. Side by side, fully dressed, they watched the candlelight send shadows dancing across the ceiling. He noticed for the first time that BDUs really weren't meant for sleeping.
Vala shifted around, clearly just as uncomfortable, and out of the corner of his eye he caught the movement as she started to reach for him before snatching her hand away.
He slid his own hand across the unbearable gap between them and laced his fingers through hers. "Better?"
"Yes." She nodded and squeezed his fingers. "Yes, definitely better. Thank you, darl -- Daniel. Thank you Daniel."
He propped himself up, shifting so that he didn't have to release her hand to manage it. "I owe you an apology."
"Don't be silly."
"I was out of line," he said. "I've been -- "
"Daniel, it's nothing."
"It's not." He squeezed her hand to silence her when she again opened her mouth to brush off his guilt, as if the pain he'd caused her somehow mattered less than his petty issues, or as if his behavior was in some way justified by something she'd done. "No, just let me say this. I've been projecting all of my issues onto you, and that's not fair. I've been so afraid of a serious relationship that I told myself all sorts of things to block out any possibility of having one, and now is really not the time to be sorting this out, but I won't have you taking blame that's not yours, or walking on eggshells with me. Just be yourself. Be the Vala I . . . "
Her eyes snapped to his face as he almost said the one thing he absolutely could not say. Not now, with the outside influence, when it would always be tainted with doubt.
" . . . know," he finished, but he couldn't leave it there. "The Vala I've really come to admire."
She rolled onto her side to smile at him through a sheen of tears.
He had to touch her face. He had very little choice in the matter, actually. And when she closed her eyes and made that little sound, it took every bit of willpower he had to resist kissing her. He even caught himself questioning the harm in it.
All of this time, he'd been wrong about the sincerity of her feelings -- purposely wrong, apparently. Now that the truth was staring him in the face . . . but no, this was too important to risk messing it up.
But his self-control lacked the strength to pull his hand back from her face, and his thumb traced her lips as if with a mind of its own. He memorized the texture of her lips, and imagined the taste of them. That brief kiss two years ago rose in his mind, tormenting him as much now as it had in the weeks following it.
He imagined kissing her, with tenderness this time, and the thousand fantasies he'd entertained after the Prometheus came flooding back in vivid technicolor. His thumb continued to trace her lips, the slow movement essential to his basic survival as that one burning point of contact became his lifeline.
He wanted her. He ached for the heat of her body against him, the taste of her skin, the slow slide of her flesh surrounding his. His imagination raced off in directions it had no business exploring, and he struggled to think about anything except the woman sharing his bed.
That worked for nearly three seconds, and then she gasped his name again.
"Daniel." She squeezed his hand, probably to the point of pain, as she tried to retain some sense of self control. "If you don't kiss me soon, darling, I think it might possibly kill me."
"Yeah." His thumb kept up its gentle stroking, driving her mad. "It's a bit of a problem, isn't it?"
"A bit." She imagined straddling him, sliding her hands up under his tee shirt, and kissing him until she blacked out from lack of oxygen. Or until he did.
"We can't rush things." His thumb moved away from her lips, and his fingers trailed down her throat.
She opened her eyes to find him staring at her, his eyes darker than she'd seen them before. She reached up to take off his glasses, and also to run her fingers through his hair. Okay, mostly to run her fingers through his hair. Then she rolled away to put his glasses safely aside, and a fresh wave of dizziness overwhelmed her.
The urge to reach for him consumed her, and she didn't bother to resist. He was right there, hovering above her as she lay on her back, and she snaked a hand around to clutch his shoulder, encouraging him to finally give in and kiss her. She could just as easily kiss him, of course, but she held back with the last shred of self-control that remained to her, because she wanted the next move to be his.
His hot breath feathered against her cheek. "We can't lose control. We have to stay strong."
"Well that's certainly easier said than done." Her voice sounded strained to her own ears, and while she'd meant her statement sarcastically, she was far too busy picturing Daniel naked to put any real effort into it.
"True." His hot lips slid along her throat, and he mumbled something about regrets and future doubts against her skin.
Like she could possibly regret anything that happened in this bed with Daniel.
"We have to stay strong," he repeated. The press of his open mouth against her throat and collarbone entirely failed to add weight to his words.
"Why is that, again?" She arched her back and dug her fingers into his shoulder.
"I have absolutely no idea." He kissed her throat and worked his way up to her ear, his body pressing her to the bed as the hand he'd used to prop himself up abandoned its post to instead meander down her ribs and grasp her hip.
His name escaped her lips as he found that spot behind her ear. Daniel's lips against that spot behind her ear -- that was just about as close to perfect as it got, but he lifted his head and swallowed. They stared at each other for a long moment, breathing heavily, her heart pounding in her chest.
"Sorry," he said. "This is harder than I'd imagined."
She rejected the half-dozen snappy comebacks that occurred to her. "Don't apologize, Daniel, I certainly wasn't complaining." She wanted to just let things happen, but maybe he had a point, and the last thing she wanted was for him to feel manipulated. "Maybe if we talked about something unappealing . . . ever see General Landry naked?"
He smiled, and it was that bright wonderful smile that made her feel warm all over. Eventually his hand left her hip, and he rolled onto his own side of the bed. "Well that didn't quite work."
She closed her eyes and swallowed. The gap between them felt a mile wide, and she reached for his hand.
"Come over here," he said, after several long and silent minutes that drove her to the very brink of sanity. "We might as well be comfortable."
She curled into his side as he wrapped an arm around her, and she let her fingers wander across his chest. "Tell me a story."
"What kind of story?"
She shrugged. "Something that'll take our minds off sex."
She laughed softly. "Then tell me all about that rock with the squiggly lines on it."
"Does it matter?"
Daniel told her about his latest research on the clava thessara infinitas, which as it turned out she found almost unbearably sexy. Or maybe it was the way his fingers made slow circles against her shoulder as his chest rose and fell beneath her cheek.
From there they moved on to talking about the past, hoping perhaps that heartbreak and tragedy might curb their libido, but the lingering pain in Daniel's voice when he talked about his wife just made Vala ache to comfort him, and when she shared the fate of the young man she'd almost married, before Qetesh had shattered her world, the innocent kiss Daniel pressed to the top of her head left them both gasping.
"Are you sure that waiting is the right thing to do?" She let the hand resting on his chest wander a little lower.
He caught the adventuresome hand. "I wish I wasn't."
She sighed. "It's going to be a long night."
"Yep." He played with her fingers and pulled her just a little closer. "Long night."
Daniel awoke to find Vala sprawled over him. Her hair tickled his nose, and he smiled as he caught his hand roaming over her back. He liked waking up with his arms full of Vala, and that it might happen again soon, and even on a regular basis, made him grin. He'd been foolish to write off her flirting as a game, when, despite significant efforts at prevention, he had to admit that he'd fallen for her.
He loved the way the smallest things could make her face light up with joy, and he admired the courage she'd shown, both in facing literal dangers beside the rest of SG-1 and the quieter, but much more difficult to muster, courage she'd displayed in adapting to life at the SGC. He even liked that she could kick his ass.
She stirred, her thigh shifting against him in a way that swiftly reminded him of all the other things he rather liked about Vala. "Morning, darling."
That soft smile did more things to his insides than any mere shifting thigh could manage. He reached up to trail a finger gently across her lips, and started to think that one little kiss couldn't possibly hurt.
"Jackson. Vala." Cam's voice from the outer room broke the moment. "Wakey, wakey. Soup's on."
He might have kissed her anyway, but he could hear the wehast ringing, and offending the Xanute by missing the second half of the ceremony was probably a bad idea. If he kissed her, they'd never get out of bed.
Cam stared at them when they emerged from the bedroom. "Nice hickey, Jackson."
"I don't have . . . " His argument trailed off at Vala's sheepish smile.
"But that's from when we were dancing," Vala told Cam. "Not from fooling around in bed. I mean, we didn't fool around in bed. Daniel was a perfect gentleman. He's a bit of a prude, really, but -- what?"
"Don't help." He really tried to get annoyed with her, but mostly he just wanted to kiss her.
They joined the others to find Sam straddling Jack's lap as they fed each other bites of fruit. Daniel had seen this spectacle before, and ignored it.
"Strawberries," Vala said happily, squeezing his arm and flashing that infectious grin.
Teal'c rose to let them have one of the little Xanute dining benches, which were quite purposefully not at all large enough for two people. Sitting in one, with Vala, under these circumstances, was a tremendously bad idea; Daniel went ahead and did it anyway.
She plopped herself down in his lap as if by long habit, which in fact was accurate enough, and he wrapped an arm around her waist. A young Xanute girl offered them a platter of fruit.
Daniel found himself almost reluctant to let go of Vala long enough to deal with the fruit, but the prospect of letting her lick berry juice from his fingers provided ample motivation. He held up a strawberry.
She grinned wickedly and leaned in for a bite.
Daniel knew, absolutely knew for a fact, that getting through breakfast without kissing her was well beyond his capabilities. He barely heard Shen's speech about the First Meal. His entire world consisted of Vala, her lips closing around the berry in his fingers, her eyes sparkling as she tasted it, her tongue chasing stray drops of juice down between his knuckles.
Then she offered him a strawberry, her fingertips lightly grazing his lips as the sweet berry taste exploded in his mouth. The plate of fruit disappeared slowly, each bite assaulting Daniel's senses until he finally broke, and leaned in with the intent to steal a kiss.
But just as his lips brushed against hers, the wehast rang, and they both groaned in frustration.
"It is now time for the release of the negleg," Shen said. "Hearts have been bound, and the reminder has ceased to be necessary."
Daniel met Vala's gaze. If he was honest with himself, he had to admit that their paths had converged long ago, and it was more than the smoke at work when he smiled at the thought of their future.
She grinned back.
"We'd better -- " He nodded towards the line of couples headed to the fire.
Her eyes never left his as she slipped off his lap and pulled him up after her. How had he ever doubted her sincerity?
They followed the other couples to the fire, and held their bound hands towards the heat. The rope dropped away, and Daniel lifted Vala's hand to press his lips to her wrist. She gasped his name, and then repeated the gesture. His wrist burned where her lips touched his skin.
"And now," Shen said. "You may celebrate your new bond with a kiss."
Daniel needed no further invitation.
None of Vala's lingering doubts survived Daniel's kiss. She'd experienced enough meaningless and insincere kisses in her chaotic life to recognize the difference. She'd given plenty herself. But Daniel's kiss was warm, and soft, and oh so deep. His thumb stroked her cheek as his other arm held her close, and she thought her heart might explode at the joy of it.
And the way he smiled at her as they drew apart -- she just had to stretch up and kiss him again, winding her arms around his neck and melting against him as they explored each other. As she finally broke away for some much-needed oxygen, she heard Cameron clearing his throat.
Daniel grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her away from their teammate. "Don't touch her."
"Easy there, Jackson, I'm not trying to steal your girl." He took a step back, hands in the air.
"Couldn't if you tried." Daniel wrapped both arms around her waist. "But it's not that. The bond has serious side-effects. On our last visit, I almost killed Sam."
"Okay," Cameron said. "That would be bad. Anyway, Shen asked to speak with the two of you."
"I got the impression that someone's bent out of shape regarding Qiao's nose."
Daniel visibly cringed, and Vala bit her lip. Getting arrested would definitely put a damper on things.
Daniel listened as Shen explained the Xanute legal process, and the penalty for assault. Vala sat beside him, tense under the arm he'd draped around her shoulder, and said nothing in her own defense.
"Qiao claims that this injury prevented him from finding a wife last night," Shen continued. "That's why he's pushing for a full trial. To be honest, we'd give the matter far less thought if not for his grandmother. She carries rather a lot of clout, I'm afraid, and if we don't grant her this trial . . . "
"Vala's reaction was justified," Daniel said. "A trial would serve our best interests as well."
Shen seemed to relax. "Splendid. We'll hold court the day after the hunt. In the meantime, please enjoy our hospitality."
Vala turned to him after Shen hustled off to take care of some other business. "Daniel, I'm so sorry -- "
"Don't be," he said. "You did nothing wrong."
"I'm the one who hit him, and you heard what Shen said. We'll be stuck here, working to pay off my debt to that arrogant brat, and it'll be my fault that you're stuck here too."
"Shen also said that you won't be convicted. This whole village knows that Qiao is trouble, and last night probably wasn't the first time he cheated during a challenge dance."
"Things happen, Daniel." She looked a lot more worried than the situation warranted, and turned from him to stare at a random point in the distance.
"Hey." He turned her to face him again, and he could see that she was fighting tears. This was about more than Qiao's broken nose. "Vala, talk to me."
She shook her head.
He rubbed her back and waited.
"I should have known better," she said eventually, her voice strained.
"You reacted -- "
"Not that." She met his gaze. "I should have known I'd screw it all up."
"You haven't." He leaned in and kissed her. "Whatever happens, you're not in this alone."
Vala studied Daniel's face. He looked like he meant it, and she'd never known him to lie. Still, she was less than enthusiastic about letting him pay for her mistake. "Maybe we can tell them that we're not really married, and then you'll be free -- "
"We are married, under Xanute law, and we're in this together," he said. "This trial's just a formality, but even if it was more than that, I'd be here with you. And let me be very clear about this -- that's not the smoke talking. Now let's go fishing."
"Trust me." He pulled her to her feet. "You'll love it."
She did love how he wrapped his arm around her waist as they walked down to the stream. That Daniel seemed to be having trouble keeping his hands off of her made the day almost perfect. Of course the impending life of servitude made it less perfect.
They settled down on the bank of the stream, and Daniel laced his fingers through hers. "Jack's got one thing right."
There was that smile again. "The part with the fish -- definitely unnecessary."
She melted as he kissed her again. It was really difficult to properly fret about anything with Daniel kissing her like that. It pretty much occupied her full attention, in fact, and she surrendered happily enough. A girl could get used to this.
One of his hands slid from her hair to trail down her side, and she let herself fall backwards into the grass, taking him with her as he kissed her deeply. She tugged at his shirt, eager to get her hand up under it and explore the heat of his skin.
"How do you like fishing?" He kissed her jaw.
"I love fishing, darling." She arched her neck and ran one hand up under his sleeve. The muscle bunched under her touch and she gasped as his mouth found that spot behind her ear. Daniel, and that spot behind her ear -- perfection.
"She's crazy, you know. Dangerous." Qiao stood there glaring down at them.
In the space of a heartbeat, Daniel rolled onto his back and leveled a gun at Qiao. "I'm the one you'd better worry about," he said. "Because if you so much as lay a finger on her, I'll kill you."
Qiao snorted. "Threats won't save her when the village elders have their say. When next the wehast rings, she'll learn what's mine. Servants don't claim wives."
Vala grabbed Daniel's arm, worried for a moment that he might actually shoot the man. She'd seen him this angry before, but not often.
"And bullies don't win them," Daniel said. "Vala is my wife, she will remain my wife, and you will be alone until someone finally teaches you some manners."
"I'll teach her some manners," Qiao snapped. He swung a foot at her, kicking empty air as she rolled to her feet.
Daniel jumped up and propelled his fist into Qiao's jaw, knocking the young man backwards onto the grass. He kept the gun trained on his face. "Can I shoot him now?"
"As much as I'd personally enjoy that, darling, I understand that his grandmother thinks he's not a complete waste of oxygen. Perhaps we should wait."
Daniel glanced at her, then glared down at Qiao. "Perhaps. If you think that's best."
They exchanged another glance, nodding at each other.
Qiao, in the meantime, lay panting in the grass, and turned a quite satisfying shade of purple.
Daniel almost sighed in relief when Qiao stalked off. Unfortunately, he knew they hadn't seen the last of the obnoxious young man. He pulled Vala close. "Let's not let our guard down again."
"No arguments here."
"Maybe I should have shot him."
Vala caught his eye. "And end up a prisoner here for the rest of your life? I for one would rather you didn't."
He realized that she was studying him with concern, and also that he still had a weapon in his hand. He holstered it, and rubbed her shoulder. "I won't shoot him. Probably. Unless he tries to touch you again."
"Daniel -- "
"Sam told you about our first visit here," Daniel said. "Did she happen to mention that she touched my hand, and it almost killed her? I'm not anxious to see you go into anaphylactic shock just because Qiao lacks manners."
"In case it's escaped your notice, I'm pretty good at taking care of myself. I won't let him touch me." She smiled. "Not that I don't appreciate your protective side, of course."
Her smile really did lower his level of anxiety, and while he recognized that the smoke played a pretty significant role in that, he also thought that the smoke had it right. He pulled her into his arms to kiss her thoroughly, made a brief and feeble attempt to justify his complete inability to keep his lips to himself, and then lost all capacity for complex thought as her tongue slid over his.
Eventually they paused for breath, and his half-hearted effort to restart his brain failed in the radiance of her intoxicating grin. Vala had a beautiful smile.
Cam, on the other hand, did not have a beautiful smile. Or a smile at all, at the moment. He had a glare, possibly even a glower, and he was aiming it at them both. "You hit him again?"
"I hit him this time," Daniel said. "He tried to attack Vala."
"You mean like I did earlier?" Cam asked sarcastically. "Geez, Jackson, you need to relax."
"He meant harm," Daniel said. "He's lucky I didn't shoot him."
"If you're gonna start shooting anyone who takes a swing at Vala, we're not going to be welcome on a whole lot of planets."
Vala stuck her tongue out at Cam.
Daniel sighed. "So Qiao's already complaining?"
"You're just lucky that this Shen character likes you," Cam said. "And also that the Xanute haven't gotten around to building a jail."
Vala fully expected a full-blown lecture from the village elder this time, but Shen had little to say about Daniel's offense. At least, once he learned that Daniel had thrown the offending punch. Apparently Qiao had claimed that she'd hit him, a lie which made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
"But why would he say that?" Vala asked, looking from Shen to his wife, Le.
"No Xanute woman would touch a man at this time, even to strike him, as the bonding makes it too dangerous," Le said. "Your husband, on the other hand, is within his rights in defending you."
Shen looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suspect he's hoping that the others will think you crazy."
"We'll prove otherwise." Daniel's hand made slow circles on her back. He probably meant them as soothing, but his gentle touch was slowly driving her mad, and she wondered just how much longer they'd have to talk to Shen. From the look on Le's face, she had reason to hope that the meeting would end soon.
"That he tried to touch you . . . " Shen shook his head in disbelief. "That's very serious. Very serious indeed. Of course Dr. Jackson did the right thing by defending you. There's no question of that. I should never have let him stay behind, I should have known it would cause trouble."
"The other single men have gone hunting. Qiao claimed his injuries too severe, and remained behind."
"I wondered about that," Daniel said. "I hate to ask, but if he's likely to bother us again -- "
"Say no more," Shen said. "I will keep an eye on the lad myself. Or," he added, after a reproachful look from Le, "I will make some arrangement to see that he causes no further trouble."
"Could you two give it a rest?" Cameron was not enjoying his stint as chaperone, as every bit of his body language broadcast quite clearly.
Not that Vala could blame him. Then again, Vala was far too distracted at the moment to waste energy blaming anyone for anything.
Daniel had his hand on her thigh. And if Cameron's whining caused Daniel's hand to leave her thigh? Well then she'd have all kinds of energy for blame. But for now, the hand stayed put, and that occupied Vala's full attention.
The hand floated up and down her leg, his fingers grazing the inside of her thigh through the fabric of her BDUs, and she trembled at the almost unbearable wonderfulness of the sensation. For his part, Daniel was clearly aware of the effect he was having. He smiled at her, and trailed soft, teasing kisses along her throat until she finally grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him properly.
Cameron could fidget and clear his throat all he wanted, but nothing short of a naquada bomb would distract Vala from doing a quite thorough job of kissing Daniel, now that she finally had the chance.
Storytelling around the fire followed that night's dinner. Brief storytelling, as the participants very much wanted to get back to their cottages post haste. Daniel tried not to share that sentiment, because while he rather looked forward to some real alone time with Vala, without Cam loitering around looking bored, he also recognized the trouble with that plan.
They had already crossed all the lines they could afford to cross.
He wanted a future with Vala, he never wanted her to doubt his sincerity, and considering the timing of his change of heart, she could hardly help but consider blaming the smoke, if not now, then eventually. Any statement of commitment had to wait until after Dr. Lam administered the antidote, and he had absolutely no desire -- okay, he had desire. He had desire in spades. But he had no intention of sleeping with Vala before he made his feelings clear.
She leaned back, her head resting against his chest, and ran her fingers lightly along his arm where it rested on her stomach. Sam and Jack were similarly arranged in the next seat, while Cam looked on crossly, possibly regretting the fact that none of the native women had orchestrated his accidental involvement in the proceedings.
Teal'c was currently telling the story, the novelty of which held the Xanute enthralled, but Daniel's attempt to pay attention failed pretty quickly, because Vala shifted in his lap in the exact way necessary to shut off all higher brain functions.
He mentally flailed about for both the willpower and cognitive function necessary to suggest that she shift in the other direction, but discovered himself already kissing her throat, and stroking her hair back to manage it.
Her hair was so soft, and he could feel the thundering of her pulse beneath his lips. And if she arched her neck just so, and he kissed right there, she gasped his name in the most amazing way . . .
Cam's throat-clearing had taken on epic proportions.
Daniel lifted his head to find the entire team staring at them. Even Jack, although his reproachful look completely failed thanks to the fact that he had his hand in Sam's shirt.
"I think," Sam said, grinning, "that it might be time for bed."
Vala hurried back to the cottage, eager to finally have Daniel all to herself. Or she tried to hurry, anyway, but for some inexplicable reason Daniel took his sweet time on the walk back. She might have dragged him along by the hand, but -- oh what the heck, she decided, and dragged him along by the hand.
"Slow down," he said. "Enjoy the walk. The moonlight's beautiful, isn't it?"
"I've seen moonlight before," she said impatiently. "What I haven't seen is you naked."
"And you won't be seeing that tonight, either."
She stopped dead to stare at him. "Oh you can't be serious. Not the old prude routine again."
"Vala, we can't -- "
"Can't? Daniel, after how we've spent the last twelve hours or so, I rather suspect that if we don't it just might prove fatal."
"Sam and Jack -- "
"Are definitely not wasting time standing around arguing," she finished for him. "Or gawking at the moonlight, for that matter."
"Dammit, Vala, I don't want to just jump into bed. It has to mean something -- "
"You know what, Daniel? Forget it." She spun away from him, firmly ignored the tears welling in her eyes, and stalked off in the direction of the stream. All day, she'd felt more loved than she'd ever felt in her life, and to face rejection after that --
She needed to be alone.
She broke into a run, dodging between cottages to avoid pursuit. Running through strange villages at night, fleeing pursuit, had once been her specialty. She easily escaped Daniel and found her way into the woods to collapse against a tree.
Her heart hurt. She'd seen love in Daniel's eyes; she'd felt it in his kiss and in his touch. The idea that everything she'd felt came from the Xanute smoke, and not his heart -- it crushed her, the pain of it rising in waves. Then she felt a hand touching hers, the pain increased tenfold, and it all went dark.
Daniel lost her in the dark. "Vala!"
His heart pounded, and he tried to decide if he felt dizzy from the bond, or from worrying about the bond. He blamed that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach on the fact that his effort to prevent hurting Vala had in fact managed to do exactly the opposite. And on top of that, he'd put her in danger. If they both passed out while separated, alone and in the dark . . .
He considered backtracking, and rousing the others to join the search, but he had no idea where Cam and Teal'c were sleeping, Jack and Sam were probably -- yeah, and the last thing he wanted to do was get farther away from Vala. For all he knew, they were safely six feet apart in the darkness. Her hiding skills were formidable.
Since they'd spent most of the day lounging about, Daniel had left most of his gear in the cottage. Fortunately he did still have a flashlight, although not the one he might have chosen for searching the woods. "Vala!"
He thought he heard a twig snap over the harsh sound of his own breathing. He recognized that as wishful thinking. If Vala was intent on avoiding him, she'd never let a twig snap. Still, he lacked a better lead, and he had to do something, so he followed the sound. Or alleged sound.
A faint rustle of leaves.
Daniel froze, and trained his pathetic excuse for a flashlight at the offending foliage. The very edge of the trembling light seemed to catch some form of movement, and he headed for it.
A moment later, the flashlight caught the glow of black hair in its beam, and then the bottom fell out of Daniel's world. "Vala!"
He dropped to his knees beside her unconscious body, his trembling fingers feeling for a pulse. Why couldn't he feel a pulse? She had to have a pulse, they'd only been separated for a half-hour at the most, probably not even that long. Sam and Jack had spent more time apart before -- unless someone touched her, like he'd touched Sam in the lab years ago.
His stomach twisted.
She didn't seem to be breathing, and when he found her pulse it felt so weak that he worried it was only his own wishful thinking. Someone must have touched her. He moved her onto her back. She needed epinephrine. That had worked on Sam. But Cam had the medkit. He reached for his radio. Damn. It was back in the cottage.
"Please, Vala, just hold on. Please." He fought off panic. He needed to breathe deeply, because he had to breathe for her. He sealed his mouth over hers and forced the air into her lungs. Even with his limited experience, he could tell that her airway was constricted, and he knew what that meant. He tried to will the others into physical existence beside him, with a medkit, because nothing he could do would open her airway.
He fought down his grief, struggling against his own closing throat to keep breathing for her, to keep hoping against hope. He'd breathe for her all night if necessary, until the rest of the team found them. He would not give up on Vala. She'd survived the Ori galaxy, she'd survived the Trust, she'd survive this.
He paused to again check her pulse, and he thought he saw her move. "Vala! Vala?"
When she coughed and started breathing in great gulping breaths, he swept her up into his arms and sobbed with relief.
"Vala." He hugged her tightly. "Never do that again. Never."
For a few minutes, just breathing provided enough of a challenge to occupy Vala's full attention, but gradually she noticed Daniel's desperate embrace, and a dampness that felt like tears where his face pressed against her neck. "What happened?"
His hand slid up and down her back, but he didn't answer right away. When he did, his voice sounded strained. "You passed out. You could have -- "
She thought she felt him tremble, and she tried to comfort him by stroking his hair. Earlier events rose in her mind, and she rather bitterly wondered why he cared at all. Just the smoke again, heightening his reactions? She tried to push away from him.
"Are you okay?" He loosened his hold on her. "Does anything hurt?"
She avoided his gaze in the darkness. "No Daniel, I'm fine."
He touched her face, and she flinched.
She moved away. "Let's just get through this ordeal as best we can, and then I'll go my own way. I know of a planet where I can pick up work as a trader. I might even be able to get information back to the SGC every now and again."
"Vala -- "
"Don't worry about it, Daniel." She fought to keep her voice steady, and for the most part she thought she managed it. "I'll be fine, and you won't have to endure any more of my flirting and innuendo."
"Vala." He caught her hand, and she fought to ignore how his touch practically set her blood on fire. Damn smoke.
She tried to tug her hand away from him.
"Hey." He tightened his grip on her hand. "Earlier . . . well I'm sorry. You should know, I -- I care about you." He leaned close and caught her lips with his.
Even hurt and angry, it took a fair bit of willpower to pull away from that. "Stop. When you do that, it feels like you mean it, and -- "
"I do mean it," Daniel said. "I guess I haven't been clear about that, because I wanted to wait until the smoke wore off before I said it, but I was wrong, and you should know -- "
"Don't say it." She wanted to hear it more than she wanted her next breath, but not like this, not when they had any room for doubt. "You were right."
He kissed her again, and this time she let him. It felt like he meant it. "We'd better head back to the cottage. Are you feeling -- "
"I want the antidote," she said. "Do you think maybe they'd let us go back to the SGC, just long enough to get it?"
Daniel's thumb stroked her cheek. "Or it can come to us. I'll talk to Cam in the morning. We'll work something out."
She nodded, and he helped her climb to her feet. "I can walk, Daniel."
"Ten minutes ago you were in anaphylactic shock, I'm not convinced you should be standing at all." He wrapped an arm firmly around her waist. "Tell me if you feel sick or lightheaded."
He cared, and she knew that was genuine. But could he possibly love her? She had feared the answer to that for a lot longer than they'd been on this planet. She'd never felt about anyone the way she felt about Daniel, and while she'd had every confidence that she could make him want her, love was another thing entirely.
She'd scarcely dared hope for it, before. Now, she wanted it to the point of need, and Vala did not like to need anything. Already she dreaded the arrival of the antidote, and almost regretted asking for it, but she had to know.
"I could kill him for this."
The quiet anger in Daniel's voice drew her from her thoughts, and she studied his face in the dark. "Who?"
"Qiao. Nobody else would touch you and then run off. If I hadn't found you in time -- " He swallowed, and his arm tightened around her.
He cared, and she wished it was enough.
Daniel tried to limit his murderous thoughts of Qiao, a task which became infinitely easier once they reached the cottage and Vala perched on the edge of the bed to brush her hair. He couldn't possibly focus on violence while watching that.
She finished, and moved around the bedroom fiddling with her gear. Her easy smile had disappeared, and she seemed to avoid his gaze.
"I'm fine, Daniel."
"But you're not," he said. "And that's my fault. Vala, look at me."
She kept rummaging through her pack.
He crossed the room and physically turned her to face him. "I need you to understand something. My feelings for you are real, and they won't go away when Dr. Lam sticks me with a needle. The fact that I'm currently having a hard time concentrating on anything but your lips, now that's in part the smoke. But wanting you in my life? That's not alien chemistry. That's all about this incredible woman that I'm looking at right now, and her courage, and her strength, and her good heart."
"Please mean that."
His fingers found their way to her cheek to brush away a tear, but he fought the urge to kiss her. "You can remember how you felt before we came here, right?"
"Then trust me when I say that I do too." The need to feel her lips beneath his own kept nagging at him, and he found himself running his thumb across her bottom lip. Not good. Or, more accurately, very good, but he needed to exercise at least some self-control.
"You were right last night, too." Her voice shook. "We should have found a way to escape the smoke. It's too hard, wanting you like this, and feeling so . . . " She shrugged.
"I know." He pulled her close. "We'll get the antidote, and then tomorrow night . . . "
"If you still -- "
He put a finger to her lips. "I wanted you way back on the Prometheus, even though I was wrong to want you then, because I didn't know about any of the things that make you special. And no matter how hard I tried -- and believe me I tried -- I couldn't stop wanting you, not in all the time I've known you. I promise you, Vala, there's not an antidote for the way I feel about you."
She smiled a little, tears in her eyes. "Really?"
"It's just, sex has a way of messing everything up, and I've been afraid of getting hurt, and of hurting you. It's no excuse, but that's why I got so impatient with your flirting, because I was trying to talk myself out of . . . wanting you."
She toyed with his shirt. "So what do we do now?"
"Now," he said. "We get some sleep."
Vala knew that Daniel had meant every word he said. Of that, she had only the tiniest niggling doubt. Of course every single insecurity she possessed latched onto that one niggling doubt as she lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling.
She loved Daniel. And it was every bit as painful as she'd been told to expect. Of course the other women in the village where she'd grown up hadn't really figured alien aphrodisiacs into the mix. Just possibly, they had exaggerated. They must have, in fact, because none of their husbands could hold a candle to Daniel.
The bed creaked as he sank down beside her.
She tried to summon the willpower she needed to resist crawling into his arms, but she had to at least reach for his hand, and squeeze his fingers.
When he moved closer, she rolled onto her side, facing away from him. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I don't trust myself."
"I don't trust us either," he said. "But we need to sleep."
She felt his hot breath on her neck, and then his arm slipped around her waist as he spooned up behind her. She shivered.
"Tomorrow night," he whispered, and kissed her shoulder.
She nodded, and hoped with all her heart.
Daniel thought that a traditional Xanute breakfast might drive him entirely out of his mind, so he woke Vala up a little early and they went to talk to Cam about retrieving the antidote.
"Trouble in paradise?"
"Bite me," Vala answered pleasantly.
Daniel caught her around the waist before she inadvertently touched Cam rather hard in the face. "When General Landry checks in -- "
Cam shook his head. "Sorry Jackson, but General O'Neill ordered me not to contact the SGC."
"Oh, he did, did he?" He caught Vala's hand. "I think we'll go wake up Jack."
Unfortunately they missed out on the pleasure of dragging Jack out of bed, because he and Sam were already mauling each other over a platter of fruit.
"What's up, Daniel?" Jack glanced at him, but Daniel somehow doubted that he had Jack's full attention, mostly because Sam hadn't even glanced up from kissing Jack's neck, one hand disappearing under his shirt, the other clutching a forgotten strawberry.
Daniel sighed. "I can't talk to you while she's doing that."
"Exactly." Daniel sighed, and smiled stiffly at Vala. "Um, Jack?"
"Daniel! What's up?"
"Yeah, Vala and I need to talk with someone at the SGC."
Daniel tried to give Jack a look, failed when Jack reacted instead to Sam's tongue sliding behind his ear, and sighed. "Sam. Could you maybe . . . "
Sam glanced at him. "What?"
"I need to talk to Jack."
"So talk." She remembered the strawberry in her hand and held it up to Jack's lips.
"Yeah, that's helpful, thanks. Listen, Jack, we really need that antidote."
"No you don't."
"Yes, we do."
"No, you don't. No direct contact between this planet and the SGC, that's the policy."
"Well that's a stupid policy," Vala said impatiently. "Which idiot in Washington came up with that one?"
"That would be me," Jack answered.
"Sorry," Vala said.
"Don't be," Daniel told her. "It is a stupid policy. Jack, the followers of Origin aren't tracking gate travel, and even if they were, your vacation home probably isn't their first strategic priority."
"Our naquada mine is here, Daniel. That's kind of important. You and your girlfriend will just have to learn to get along." He smirked at them. "Of course the fact that you're sporting a hickey the size of Minnesota tells me that you've been getting along pretty well."
"Jack, don't be an ass."
"The antidote won't work anyway," Sam said. "It's coded to Jack and I specifically. It'll probably take Dr. Lam a few days to adjust the formula, and by then the effects will have worn off on their own."
"Well that's just bloody terrific," Vala said. "What are we expected to do in the meantime?"
Daniel squeezed her shoulder and wished for something useful to say. "Let's go for a walk."
Vala tried to ignore her reaction as Daniel slipped an arm around her waist. Enjoying this was just too dangerous, especially now that a whole week of awkwardness stretched before them. "Where are we going?"
"Back to the cottage," Daniel said.
"To get the GDO."
She stopped. "Daniel, we can't. You heard General O'Neill."
"Vala." His hands ran up and down her shoulders. "I made a promise last night, and I intend to keep it. We won't know how long it will take Dr. Lam to create an antidote until she's actually aware of the situation, and I have absolutely no intention of letting you suffer all week just because Jack's being an ass."
She smiled. She couldn't keep from smiling. "You'd do that for me?"
"Of course I would." He grinned back and cupped her cheek in his hand. "Vala, I -- "
She stretched up to swallow his words in a kiss, her heart lightening as he pulled her close, and her niggling doubt fleeing at the warmth of Daniel's kiss.
"Let's get the GDO," he said against her lips. "Maybe, with a little luck, we can still salvage tonight."
"Forget the GDO, darling," she said. "And forget waiting until tonight, let's just -- "
"Daniel!" General O'Neill approached, waving and grinning. "We're going to go check out the mine. Carter and I love the mine."
Sam gave Vala an apologetic shrug, which puzzled her for a moment.
"You'll love it too," General O'Neill told Daniel. "It's a great day for a hike."
"We were just about to have breakfast," Daniel said. "But have fun, we appreciate the thought."
"Oh don't worry about breakfast, we've packed a feast. Haven't we, Carter?" He smiled cheerfully. "There's a beautiful spot for breakfast, just half a klick thataway -- "
"Yeah," Daniel said. "We'll pass, but thanks."
The two men stared at each other.
"Daniel, you aren't by any chance toying with the idea of heading back to the SGC against my specific orders?"
"If you must know," Vala said. "We're on our way to have sex."
General O'Neill scrunched his eyebrows at her, and then looked at Daniel, who, to Vala's very pleasant surprise, was grinning.
Daniel grinned and pulled Vala closer. Or tried to, anyway. They were already standing just about as close as the laws of physics allowed. He rather enjoyed Jack's somewhat baffled reaction to Vala's blunt honesty, and he really enjoyed the way her hand had wandered up inside the back of his shirt.
That felt nice.
"If you're gonna lie to me," Jack said. "I'd think you could at least come up with a plausible story."
"Hey!" Daniel glared at Jack. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't call my wife a liar."
"Oh, give it a rest Daniel, we all know you weren't heading back to the cottage for a little morning nookie."
Daniel jumped forward to take a swing at Jack, but Vala had his arm, and Sam stepped swiftly between them.
"Have you all gone completely insane?" Cam demanded. He dropped some packs on the ground. "Jackson, what's gotten into you?"
"Jack accused Vala of lying."
Cam stared at him. "And I repeat the question."
Daniel considered taking a swing at Cam instead, but Vala still had his arm, and besides, their chances of escaping this forced march to the naquada mine would not be improved by violence.
"For the record," Vala told Cam. "I wasn't lying."
"Speaking of that," Daniel said. "I think it's time we got back to it. Have fun with the hiking thing."
Vala smiled, and they started for the cottage again.
"Forgetting something?" Jack blocked their path.
Daniel sighed. "You're not really suggesting that we hike out there now, are you?"
Daniel turned to Sam for help, but all she offered was a sympathetic smile, and they couldn't even escape under the guise of retrieving their gear, because Cam and Teal'c had helpfully brought it. So they set off to inspect the naquada mine.
The packs provided the first challenge, as Vala's got in the way when he tried to wrap his arm around her, and his kept her from sliding her hand back up inside his shirt. At least they weren't carrying weapons. Daniel laced his fingers through Vala's and waited for an opportunity.
That Jack clearly found Sam's pack equally frustrating made Daniel feel marginally better, at least for the ninety seconds he managed to pay attention to something other than his rather desperate desire to be alone with Vala.
They'd walked about half a klick when Jack claimed to hear something in the trees, which of course he needed Sam's help to investigate. That was fine by Daniel, who collapsed in the grass and pulled Vala down after him. "I've gotta hand it to Jack, the man has willpower."
Vala shrugged out of her pack and straddled him. "It's downright sadistic," she said, working to free his pack as well. "Poor Sam."
"Oh you have got to be kidding me!"
Daniel ignored Cam's whining and pulled Vala even closer to kiss her. His anxiety lowered somewhat, now that he had his lips exactly where they belonged, but the clothing really had to go, and that wasn't an option with Cam and Teal'c around.
She pushed him onto his back, tugged his shirt loose, and managed to get her hands up under it, all without breaking their kiss. Amazing woman. The sensation of Vala's fingers dancing across his bare skin made him groan out loud.
"Jackson, is that really necessary?" Cam asked.
"Yes," both Daniel and Vala snapped at once, their lips barely separating to answer. And then Vala slipped her tongue back into his mouth, and Daniel lost all track of anything Cam had to say.
Kissing Daniel certainly qualified as a pleasant way to spend the morning, although Vala would have preferred a little less company. She also could have done without these constant interruptions in order to hike ever closer to this naquada mine. She'd seen naquada mines before, after all, and she wasn't particularly fond of them.
She was terribly fond, on the other hand, of Daniel's chest, and particularly of the sound he made when she dragged her fingers across just the right spot. She also loved that smile; that wonderful, warm smile that made her insides melt.
Cameron's whining was a bit of a distraction. Too bad he couldn't be patient, like Muscles. Teal'c hadn't complained even once.
"Are we there yet?" she asked, eager to stop walking and return to her preferred activity.
Cameron sighed rather dramatically. "Vala, would you stop asking -- "
"We are indeed," Teal'c said. And he earned Vala's undying gratitude by leading Cameron off to look at the mine.
Daniel immediately pulled her into his arms for one of those wonderful deep kisses, and she stopped paying attention to her teammates entirely. "We're finally alone," he whispered, sliding his lips along her jaw. "We should talk."
While she agreed with that in theory, she decided that in actual practice, a little more kissing was necessary first, and Daniel went along with that willingly enough. They shed their packs and sank down into the grass.
He smiled at her, and caught her hand before she could tangle it up in his shirt again. "I need you to know how much you mean to me. This isn't just the smoke, or a casual office romance, and I want it to last."
"There's nothing I want more," she said. "I just don't want you to feel obligated -- "
"Vala -- "
"You're a good man, Daniel. Better than I deserve, and -- "
"Hey." He caught her chin in his hand. "Don't say that, don't even think that. It's not true. I've been luckier than you, but there's no way I'm better, and you know that, because you know me better than anyone does."
"I was a thief, Daniel." There. She'd said it.
"You survived, and you didn't hurt anyone. Much." He smiled. "And since then? Vala, you're an incredible woman. Look at the things you've done for this galaxy."
"Well, when you put it like that, it sounds . . . incredibly corny, actually."
"An unfortunate side-effect of being an intergalactic hero." He slid closer and pressed a kiss to her forehead as she laughed. "But you'd better get used to it, because I know your heart, and you are a hero."
She grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him down for a kiss, because if he kept looking at her like that she'd burst into tears, and she wanted to tell him she loved him, but some selfish part of her really wanted him to go first. So she waited, and kissed him, and ran her fingers over that spot on his chest that made him groan, and life was good for a while.
Daniel thought about it all the way back from the mine. Or at least he thought about it during those little gaps of time when he actually was walking, instead of stopped along the path kissing Vala. Or at least when they were walking -- not kissing -- and he could tear his thoughts away from Vala's smile, or where she happened to have her hand at the moment.
Anyway, if not for Jack's interruption, he and Vala would have gone back to the cottage that morning and landed in bed, despite all his good intentions, and Daniel managed to squeeze in several minutes of worrying about the possible implications of that, in between the more immediate Vala-related distractions.
He knew that three years ago, Sam and Jack had stuck it out a whole week, but they had bolstered their willpower with Sam's firm belief that consummating her relationship with Jack would directly result in the destruction of Earth. He and Vala lacked any such power.
Between the Xanute smoke and Vala's smile -- a monk couldn't hold out a whole week. So he needed to tell her that he loved her, and he needed her to know that he meant it. He loved Vala. Just thinking it made him grin.
And that made her smile in return, and they were right back to kissing again. Which was pretty much the problem, but then again, it was an absolutely fantastic problem to have.
"Come on, you two, let's go."
Of course, Cam's relentless impatience made it slightly less fantastic.
"Get lost, Cameron." Vala managed to say this without completely removing her tongue from Daniel's mouth. Amazing woman.
Wonderful, amazing -- oh yeah. A whole week . . . that was just absurd.
Gradually, Daniel realized that Cam was not making that sound, because Cam was saying something else at the moment.
"My apologies, ma'am," Cam was saying. "The bonding ceremony seems to have affected their hearing."
An older woman gave Daniel an appraising look as he straightened his glasses. And his shirt.
He tried to ignore the fact that Vala had trapped her hand beneath his pack. "May I help you?"
"I am Chyou," she said. "I believe you know my grandson. I felt that I should give you a chance to settle your debt honorably before we bothered the village council with this whole trial business."
"That sounds generous," Daniel said. "Except that I believe we disagree on whether there is in fact a debt to be paid."
"Well there's certainly no reason for this to be your debt," the woman said. "It's hers. And my very generous grandson has offered to forgive it, on one small condition."
"That she agrees to a special bonding ceremony, to be conducted the day after the hunt, and takes her place on the village council as my daughter-in-law."
Vala tried to find her voice, but she found herself torn between the instinct to tell this horrible woman where to stick her kind offer, and thinking she should take the deal, buying Daniel his freedom. But even as she managed to overcome the tightness in her throat and open her mouth to speak, it was too late. And she wasn't sorry.
"What?" Daniel pulled her closer. "No. Definitely not."
"It's a small price."
"No. It is not." Daniel used his appalled-voice, the one he usually saved for responding to unexpected innuendo. Or, as she'd learned earlier today, for calling General O'Neill an ass. "She's my wife, not a bargaining chip. We'll take our chances with the trial, and if the council disagrees with our point of view, then I'll stay right here, with my wife, until they consider our debt paid."
Chyou sneered at them both, harrumphed, and stalked off back down the path.
"Charming woman," Daniel said.
"I'm not looking forward to this trial." Vala sighed. "What if -- "
"Hey." Daniel turned her to face him. "You did nothing wrong. It'll be fine."
Sam -- an extremely disheveled Sam -- emerged from the bushes, General O'Neill in tow. Teal'c followed at a distance, by all appearances intent on watching the sky for incoming death gliders. "What was that all about?"
"Qiao's grandmother," Daniel answered.
"Fun," Jack said. "Did you hit her?"
"I considered it."
"Good." Jack traced the collar of Sam's tee shirt with the tip of his finger. "We're heading back. See you at dinner."
"We appreciate your concern," Daniel said at Jack's retreating back. "It's touching, really."
Before Vala had a chance to suggest that they also return to the village, and more specifically the cottage, she spotted Shen and Le approaching.
"I hope Chyou didn't upset you," Le said, as she and Shen arrived. "She's been telling everyone that her generous grandson will spare us all a trial. I assume that doesn't mean she'll be dropping the matter?"
"Oh she will," Daniel said. "But at a price. She wants Vala to marry Qiao."
"I feared she was up to something like that. She needs a daughter-in-law, and she's getting desperate. Her own daughter was killed on a moutend hunt when Qiao was only an infant."
Vala suddenly felt a lot more sympathy for her adversary. "Is Qiao her only grandchild?"
Le nodded. "She dotes on him, and it just breaks her heart that things never seem to go his way at the Bonding Ceremony."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "There's a reason for that."
"She'll never see it," Shen said. "Chyou is blind to the boy's faults, and maybe that's just as well, since she's the cause of them."
"Shen!" Le scolded.
He shrugged. "She spoiled him."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "I picked up on that. Hopefully the village council doesn't plan to convict us, just to spare her feelings?"
Le gasped. "Of course not!"
"I didn't think so," Daniel said quickly. "But we've been on some planets were I could see that happening. Listen, there's another issue that I should make you aware of -- someone touched Vala last night."
Shen frowned. "Are you certain?"
"In the woods," Vala said. "Someone snuck up behind me, and I thought it was Daniel. Then -- " She shrugged.
"She passed out," Daniel said. "She even stopped breathing until -- "
"Have you told anyone this?" Shen asked.
"Your people form very deep bonds," Le said quietly. "It's very rare for a woman to recover from such a thing."
Vala felt Daniel's arm tighten around her waist as he reacted to this statement.
"Keep this incident to yourselves," Shen said. "People might doubt the truth of it, and with the trial -- "
The ringing of the wehast interrupted their discussion to signal the second night of feasting, much to Vala's relief. Thinking about the trial made her tense. She wanted to enjoy this time with Daniel, before the universe conspired to take it away.
Daniel took Vala's hand as they walked back to the cottage. Everything he wanted so desperately to share with her remained unsaid. They had spent all of dinner facing the constant threat of interruption, and Daniel wanted to say it right. He needed her to believe it. More than that, he needed her to really feel it.
A stroll in the moonlight might provide the right ambiance, but the bored Air Force colonel currently tailing them sort of put a damper on that. They slowed as they approached the cottage, and paused just outside the door.
Vala wrapped her arms around his neck, and pressed her body against his as she stretched up for a kiss. That pretty much erased from his memory every single one of the eloquent speeches he was positive he'd composed during those fleeting yet interminable minutes at dinner when he'd kept his lips entirely to himself.
"So, darling," she said. "I know you'd love to stroll around gawking at the moon, but how about we skip right to the good part?"
Daniel found himself in absolutely no condition to form words, so he kissed her again. And kept kissing her as she backed him up against the door frame and unbuttoned his pants.
"Whoa there," Cam said. "Could you two not be doing that?"
"Take a hike," Vala told him. "We're busy."
Cam dropped his pack on the bench beside the door. "No can do. General O'Neill ordered me to keep an eye on you."
Daniel stopped nibbling on Vala's ear long enough to glare at Cam. "You're not planning to stay there all night, are you?"
"I'm planning to stay in there."
"Well then he's going to learn a few things, isn't he darling?" Vala grinned at him and winked. "Because we are having sex tonight."
That naughty gleam in her eyes was just about the hottest thing Daniel had ever seen in his life, and it rendered him completely incapable of speech, so he kissed her again.
"Oh come on! Do I need to get a hose?"
Daniel wrapped his hands around Vala's waist and spun her around into the cottage. Something fell and rolled across the floor, but Daniel ignored it, because he had enough things on his mind already, what with trying to remove his lips from Vala for long enough to block the front door.
She seemed to read his mind, and together they lifted the table into position just as Cam tried to shove the door open.
"We're obviously not going anywhere," Daniel said. He took the GDO that Vala handed him and shoved it through the crack in the door. "Go be somewhere else. And if Jack complains, well, suggest something very rude, and tell him I said it."
Alone at last. Vala paused in the bedroom door. "Daniel -- "
"Vala -- " He spoke at the same moment, and they both stopped, smiling softly at one another.
"You first." She swallowed, suddenly aware of the butterflies in her stomach.
He reached out and cupped her cheek in his hand, his thumb gliding softly over her lips. "Here we are again."
She nodded, her eyes locked with his.
"I want you," he said. "I want to forget all about the smoke, and the ceremony, and whether there's an antidote that'll make everything clear, because I do know what I feel, and I want to share it with you. But I can wait -- I think I can wait, anyway -- if necessary, because I don't want doubts, or regrets." His thumb kept up that relentless gliding rhythm. "What do you want?"
She wanted to tell him she loved him. She wanted to drag him to bed and claim every last inch of his skin as her territory. She wanted to tell him that he'd been right before, that they should wait, because to share this and then lose him would destroy her. She wanted this one night even if it did destroy her. "I need a shower."
He smiled. "I probably do too. You go ahead and go first."
So she fled to the solitude of the tiny restroom and distracted herself with the fiddly workings of the Xanute plumbing system. She wanted a life with Daniel, and Xanute smoke aside, either he wanted the same thing, or he didn't. Sex wouldn't change that. So it just came down to what would hurt more -- losing him without seizing this opportunity to spend the night in his arms, or losing him after this one stolen night of passion.
If he loved her, as she hoped and thought that he did, as he'd all but said that he did, it would all work out either way. If her niggling doubt knew what it was talking about, and he didn't, because it was all just the smoke --
She stared at the shapeless green pants in her hand. Air Force BDUs were just about the least seductive piece of clothing she'd ever seen, much less worn. She could put them on, or she could go out there in just a shirt. By claiming the bathroom first, she'd effectively claimed the next move as well.
She held the pants until her knuckles turned white, and she made her decision.
Daniel wanted to pace the room, but with the effects of the bond, he dared not leave the bench along the bathroom wall for longer than it took to light the candles. Every moment he spent not touching Vala just intensified his need for her. When the bathroom door finally creaked, he leapt to his feet, and held his breath as it slowly opened.
Vala bit her lip and tugged at the bottom of her tee shirt, which hung loose over her BDUs. She was barefoot, and her hair shone in the candlelight. She looked like a vision. A somewhat nervous and uncharacteristically self-conscious vision.
He stepped forward and caught her hand in his, and the contact made them both gasp. He smiled and squeezed her fingers. "I missed you."
She grinned. Her hand slid up around his shoulder as she moved closer and pressed her lips to his.
The anxious feeling that had grown during their minutes of separation began to fade, and he remembered his own plans for a shower. A day-long hike under an alien sun made that something of a necessity. But first he needed to stop trailing his lips down Vala's throat, and take his hands out from underneath the back of her shirt.
"I need to shower," he said against her skin. "I won't be long." He slid his lips back to that spot behind her ear. He loved that spot behind her ear, and he really loved that sound she made when he brushed his tongue just there. Right there. Perfect.
Vala clutched a fistful of his shirt, her other hand in his hair, and her body pressed against his as she arched her neck.
"Shower," he managed to say. Barely. He lifted his head.
"One more." She grabbed his head in both hands and kissed him again, sliding her tongue along his and -- dear god, he'd go mad if she kept that up.
He let her keep it up anyway. Of course he did. If he stopped her, that would just prove he'd gone mad.
She drew away slowly, and grinned wickedly. "Shower, darling. I'll be waiting."
Vala sank down on the edge of the bed and tried to think about something other than sex. Of course, Daniel being naked on the other side of the wall added to the difficulty of that task. The more she tried not to think about it, the more she pictured Daniel, droplets of water running down his bare chest as he --
Treasure. She very firmly thought about treasure. Of course, there didn't seem to be any around here. Well except for the greatest treasure of all. Her eyes returned to the bathroom door. Daniel. Her Daniel. Her currently very naked and wet Daniel . . .
So much for that idea.
She thought about trying to dwell on the upcoming trial, and it might have worked, especially considering the dread with which she viewed it, but then Daniel opened the door. Sure enough, he had little droplets of water on his bare chest, and all of her grand plans to suggest waiting for the antidote fled once again, because the only coherent thought she could manage involved her intense desire to chase some of those droplets with her tongue.
A shame about the BDUs, really. She had often wondered why the Air Force insisted on such shapeless pants. The water droplets, though -- those made up for the pants.
"I just need to . . . " Daniel gestured vaguely with his towel, which explained nothing, but did give her a delicious view of his abs, and then of his back as he turned.
That left her little choice, really. She rose from the bed and stepped up behind him to press her lips to his shoulder. And then she just had to do that again, because he groaned as her hands slid down his back and around his waist, and she could never get enough of the taste of his skin.
She let her tongue chase one of those tempting water droplets along his spine, laughing softly when he dropped the towel.
He spun around, grabbed her waist, and treated her to one of those wonderful deep kisses she found so addicting. They slowly backed across the room until she felt the bed against the back of her legs. Then Daniel stepped back, his hands leaving her body and his blessed mouth leaving hers.
When she opened her eyes, he was pulling a tee shirt over his head. "Daniel? I don't mean to be critical, darling, but this is the stage where the clothes come off."
"Hey." He stepped close, kissed her softly, and took her hand. "Let's go."
She followed him into the other room, confused. Sure, she had decided that they shouldn't have sex tonight. She'd decided that twice, in fact. But she hardly considered the matter closed.
They dragged a couple of chairs over to the table and sat down at the corner of it, facing each other.
Daniel lit a candle, then took her hand. "We need the table, because without it, I'm just going to drag you into my lap, and as much as I'd enjoy that, it's not terribly conducive to having a serious conversation."
"You and I have had some pretty big misunderstandings in the past," he said. "I'm largely responsible for that -- "
"Daniel -- "
"No, let me finish. I've been unfair to you, Vala, and for that I owe you an apology. Even more importantly, I don't want to owe you another one. We can't give in to lust, and just assume that we can sort it all out later. You mean too much to me for that."
"You're saying we should wait."
"Maybe I am." He sighed. "Maybe we should."
"That's what I had decided," she said. "Or I think I decided that, anyway. I'm having a little trouble sticking to it."
"Me too," Daniel said. "But I have faith in us."
"Liar." She grinned and indicated the table between them.
"Yeah, okay." He smiled back at her. "Faith might be overstating it a bit."
They managed to get all the way back to the bed before he kissed her. A new personal best. The trick, Daniel found, was carrying a lit candle. Handling fire required slightly more care than would be strictly possible with one's tongue in someone else's mouth. But as soon as he'd safely placed the candle with the others, he had his hands on her waist and his lips on hers.
She pushed him down on the bed and straddled him, her hands sliding up under his shirt.
"We decided to wait," he said. "We should at least try to stick to that."
"I am trying, darling, but I haven't touched you in minutes." She leaned forward and kissed him until he thought he might black out. "See?" She grinned as he lay gasping. "Isn't that better?"
It was, actually, and had he been capable of drawing a full breath at that moment, he probably would have told her he loved her. Then he noticed the way her tee shirt had ridden up on one hip, exposing part of her belly, and he slid his hands up to her waist.
"Daniel." She gasped, shifting above him, and they both groaned.
He let his hands wander higher, watching her bite her lip as his thumbs tickled her ribs, and sliding his hands up her bare back as she leaned forward to kiss him. Together they rolled across the bed, and Daniel claimed the top position, nipping at her ear before flicking his tongue over that delightful spot behind it.
She made that amazing sound again.
He lived for that sound.
His hands were still up under her shirt, the material bunching up around his wrists, and when he tried to free them -- he swore to himself that was his intention -- she twisted beneath him, sitting up just enough to yank it up over her head and toss it aside, and in doing so managed to irrevocably short circuit his brain.
"Vala." He completely failed to say anything more, and instead pressed open-mouthed kisses to her throat and collarbone. He would not, absolutely would not, pay the slightest attention to that tiny scrap of lace she still wore. It barely qualified as a garment, but it remained as the last hope that he could keep both his good intentions and at least some of his mental faculties intact.
"Play fair, darling." His own shirt joined hers on the floor, briefly interfering with his urgent need to keep his lips on her skin at all times. She flipped him over onto his back and pinned him to the bed, her warm mouth leaving a trial of wet kisses across his chest as she slid lower.
She tugged at the waist of his BDUs. "These need to go."
The protest he should have made never quite made it to his lips. Then he had his arms full of Vala, her hot skin pressing against his, and he surrendered to the inevitable.
Vala lay against Daniel, blissfully exhausted. She let her fingers dance across his chest.
"We weren't supposed to do that," he said.
She chuckled. "I'm certainly not complaining, darling."
"Me either." He pulled her closer.
She rested her cheek against his chest and enjoyed the way he kept running his fingertips across her shoulder. None of her many and varied fantasies had done him justice. Daniel made love like he meant it, which Vala found novel enough, but he also had a playful side.
She also rather liked that sound he made, right before his eyes rolled back and -- "We should do that again."
"Mmm." He kissed her forehead. "We will. We definitely will." His hand crawled up and down her back. "And often, too. Just not now."
"Now would mean moving." She laughed softly. "And I'm against moving."
"Oh good. Me too. Well, except . . . " He shifted just enough to kiss her properly. "Now let's get some sleep before Jack wakes us up to see if we're still here."
Daniel liked waking up with his arms full of Vala. Naked Vala. Warm, soft, naked Vala. Definitely a good way to wake up. But he could have done without the noise. He probably could have slept a few more minutes without that noise.
Vala yawned against his chest. "What is that thumping?"
"I'm just guessing, of course, but I think that's Jack trying to shove our kitchen table across the room from the wrong side of the door."
"Do we have to put on clothes for that?"
Daniel sighed. "We probably should."
"Then I'm against it." She shifted her thigh, and he groaned.
He propped himself up. "Jack?"
"Move this table."
"No. Go away."
Daniel sighed again. "Sam?"
She didn't answer him, but at least the thumping had stopped.
"We probably should get up." Vala trailed her fingers along his chest, but otherwise didn't move a muscle.
Eventually the thumping started again. Louder this time.
Vala propped herself up on one elbow and smiled down at him. "Join me in the shower?"
"Tempting." He let his eyes wander appreciatively. "But I think I'll go shoot Jack first."
By the time Daniel managed to get dressed, freshen up, and wander into the main room, Jack had shoved the table far enough to get the door open.
"Was that really necessary?"
Jack shrugged. "You're the one who put it there."
"Only because you ordered Mitchell to follow us around." Daniel wrapped his arm around Vala as she appeared beside him.
"I had to," Jack said. "You were going to hightail it for the SGC at the first opportunity."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "We really weren't. And if you call my wife a liar again . . . "
"Daniel?" Vala bent down and picked something up off the floor. "What's this?"
He took the pottery shard she handed him, and scanned the ground for the rest. A broken pot rested under the table, its former contents staining the floorboards. "I heard something fall last night, before we moved the table."
Vala looked up. "I think it came from up there."
They dragged the table back out of the way, and concluded that the pot had to have fallen from above the door, which meant that it had been placed there deliberately.
"Qiao again, no doubt." Daniel sighed. "I'm really tired of him."
"At least he's incompetent," Sam said. "It missed."
"Only because we were . . . " Daniel let his words trail off. "We'd better show this to Shen."
Shen only gave the potential murder weapon a cursory glance, but Le on the other hand gasped, and Vala thought she turned a little pale.
"Was there anything in it?" she asked.
"A liquid," Daniel answered. "Whatever it was, it stained the floor."
"But you didn't touch it, or get any of it on your skin?"
"No," Vala said. "We didn't even notice it until this morning."
"Good," Le said. "Very good. I'll need to take this, and if you could just not mention it to anyone else -- "
"Wait," Daniel said. "What was in it?"
"I can't tell you," Le answered.
"If it's dangerous -- "
"I can tell your wife." She turned back to Vala. "Is your bond still too strong to risk separating for a few minutes?"
Vala followed the other woman for about two dozen steps before she felt so dizzy that she had to stop. "So what is it?"
Le glanced back towards the men. "It was stolen from our healer's cottage the morning before the Bonding Ceremony," Le whispered. "She told me that it's used for -- "
But Vala missed the rest, and when she woke up, Daniel was kneeling beside her, her hand clutched to his chest and his face tense with worry.
"I told you never to do that again." Daniel struggled to keep his voice from shaking, but he didn't do a terribly good job of it.
"I'm really not all that good at doing what I'm told," Vala answered. "What happened?"
"I think we just demonstrated the strength of our bond for half the village," Daniel said. "And I'm thinking that might not have been such a good idea, although under the circumstances I'm finding it hard to care."
He helped her to her feet and kept a firm grip on her arm. "Breakfast seems like a good idea. Then maybe fishing?"
She grinned. "I love fishing."
Daniel's worry over Qiao's obsession pretty much overrode all other concerns, and fortunately Jack agreed. The team spent the day together down by the stream, and aside from Cam's relentless impatience with what he now referred to as the 'hormone patrol' the day turned out just about perfect.
He liked lounging around with Vala in his arms, and his constant need to taste her skin kept most thoughts of Qiao and the upcoming trial at a distance. There was the little matter of the broken pottery, and he managed to squeeze in a question about it in one of those brief moments when his lips were available for speaking.
"It came from the healer's cottage." Vala lifted her head from his chest to meet his gaze. "Maybe Qiao wanted to poison us?"
"Probably just me," Daniel said. "He wants to marry you."
Vala shuddered. "I'd rather have the poison."
"Fortunately those aren't the choices," Daniel said.
"What if we're stuck here?" Vala propped herself up again, her worried eyes locking with his. "What if you're stuck here, because of my mistake?"
He wanted to assure her that the trial would go their way, because he had little doubt in that regard, but he realized she'd dwell on the worst case scenario until he answered her real question. "Then we'll make the best of things," he said. "Together."
She smiled, her fingers stroking his cheek, and he realized that even after all they'd shared the night before, he still hadn't told her that he loved her.
"Vala, I -- "
She cut off his words with a kiss, hard and fast and deep, and when she finally pulled away, he saw tears in her eyes.
She smiled, and it was a bright, beautiful, trademark-Vala smile that looked genuine despite the tears. "Don't make it any more perfect, Daniel. I'm not sure I could stand it."
Maybe she was crazy, not to let him say it. After all, she wanted to hear it. She even wanted to say it back. But her niggling doubt had a theory, and Vala's experience told her that it might yet prove true.
In the meantime, though, they had four more blissful days on Xanadu, as General O'Neill called it, before the trial. She had every intention of enjoying them. Days spent in the grass beside the stream, or wandering slowly in the direction of the mine. Nights spent in Daniel's arms, pursuing sweaty oblivion.
She was happy.
"Tomorrow's the moutend hunt," Daniel said. "We're lucky in that Qiao missed the capture hunt, so we don't have to worry about him naming me as the herapt."
"Oh?" She asked sleepily. "And what's that?"
"According to Jack, it's the member of the hunt who receives the great honor of being trampled by cattle."
"Mmm." She trailed her fingers along his chest. "I definitely prefer you without hoof prints."
He laughed softly and played with her hair.
She tried not to fret about Qiao, or the trial that would be held on the day after the hunt. It was a stupid thing to worry about anyway. The Ori armies rampaging around the galaxy -- those were worth worrying about. The schemes of a spoiled boy and his doting grandmother were just an inconvenience.
But the fact that she was on trial at all was just so damn typical. The galaxy needed Daniel to save it, but here she was getting into petty local trouble, and dragging him right into it with her.
Daniel squeezed her shoulder. "Bring your zat."
"To the trial?" She propped herself up to look at him. "Darling, as much as I'd love to have a plan B, I think that General O'Neill might frown on shooting our way out of this one."
"I was talking about the hunt, actually, but I wish I could convince you to stop worrying about the trial."
"I know one thing that might take my mind off of it." She leaned down to kiss him, but he held a finger against her lips.
"Vala, you did the right thing when you hit Qiao. This trial is a chance for this village to face the problem they have with him before it escalates into something more. This whole thing is about him, not you. Three years ago, he harassed Sam, and something tells me he hasn't been a model citizen in between visits from Earth."
She smiled. It sounded a heck of a lot better when he said it like that.
"Feel better?" His fingers traced her lips.
"Good." He stretched up and kissed her so thoroughly that it made thought of any kind an impossibility.
Moutend hunting bore a striking resemblance to hard labor, as the first step involved building a fence. That in itself wasn't an insurmountable task, but it did involve keeping his hands off of Vala for excruciatingly long periods of time.
At least Daniel bothered to make the effort. From what he could tell, Jack wasn't trying at all. Every time Daniel glanced their direction, Sam and Jack were leaning against the fence enjoying each other's company.
Cam had also noticed this, and his patience with the situation had not increased over the past few days. "This has got to be the sorriest excuse for a work crew I've ever seen. Aren't you people tired of each other yet?"
Daniel tried to think of a sarcastic reply, but Vala chose that moment to bend over and retrieve a hammer. He admired the view, and made a half-hearted effort to keep working. That lasted almost as long as it took her to straighten up. Then he dropped the board he was holding, crossed the agonizing six feet that separated them, and spun her around into his arms.
She slipped her hand up under his shirt, and he found that spot behind her ear. Perfect.
"I liked it a whole lot better when you two spent all your time bickering," Cam said. "Are Teal'c and I expected to build this whole damn fence ourselves?"
"As I have previously mentioned, Colonel Mitchell, you will find the situation far less frustrating if you simply ignore them." Teal'c sighed. "All of them."
Daniel opened one eye for long enough to notice that Sam and Jack still hadn't done any work, and that the nearest Xanute couple was equally preoccupied. He wondered why the Xanute arranged their calendar as they did, when so much of the population would find the work of a hunt rather challenging, but he lost interest when Vala started kissing his throat.
When one of the young men climbed into a tree in the center of the large enclosure, the whole mood of the hunting party seemed to change. The laughter and stolen kisses stopped. People cleared their tools from the inside of the fence, and started preparing their weapons.
The Xanute hunting weapons were deceptively sophisticated. Vala possessed a reasonable level of proficiency with a bow and arrow, and she could get a crossbow bolt through a keyhole at a hundred paces, but she'd never seen anything quite like the device the Xanute used to throw their short spears.
"It's an atlatl," Daniel said. "It adds power to the throw, and an atlatl dart can be more effective against big game than an arrow. In a situation like this, it's preferable to firearms because it's silent."
"You can use one of those?"
"I very much doubt that," Daniel answered. "They take quite a bit of practice."
"Too bad," Vala said. "I was planning to be impressed."
"Jackson! Vala!" Cameron was cross again. "Pay attention before we have to scrape you up off the ground."
A distant thunder drew Vala's attention away from Daniel's smile, and it grew louder as the distance waned and a large herd stampeded into the enclosure. The experienced Xanute hunters ran forward, and some even climbed onto the fence to fire spears into the throng of animals.
SG-1, on the other hand, hung back to watch, zats in hand lest the fence not hold. Vala had her doubts that it would. The moutend were large enough to turn the fence into kindling. The possibility of being trampled by cattle did keep Vala's mind off of sex. Well, at least until she noticed that she wasn't thinking about sex, which reminded her to think about sex, and was entirely inappropriate under the circumstances.
Her eyes darted involuntarily back to Daniel, and she caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. She spun, shouting, grabbed General O'Neill, and yanked him down on top of her.
The spear quivered, embedded in the ground in precisely the spot where General O'Neill had stood only moments before. Vala stared at it. So did General O'Neill.
"Thanks," he said. "That was a little too close -- "
Everything went black.
One minute, Daniel had been standing behind Vala listening to Jack question the sturdiness of the fence, and then the next moment, both Vala and Jack were on the ground, while he and Sam stared at a large metal spear embedded in the hard ground.
Teal'c and Cam sprinted for the treeline -- the source of the still-quivering projectile -- while Daniel and Sam dropped to their knees beside their teammates.
"He's unconscious," Sam said, rolling Jack onto his back and checking his pulse. "Damn."
"Vala?" Daniel skipped searching for her pulse with shaking fingers, and went straight to sealing his mouth to hers. She sputtered after the third breath, but it still felt like an eternity. He clutched her hand to his chest, and turned at least part of his attention to his friends for just long enough to verify that Jack wasn't dead.
Jack provided proof of this by cursing loudly.
Daniel's attention returned immediately to Vala. "Are you okay?"
She nodded and sat up. "Is everyone -- "
"Everyone's fine. What happened?"
"Qiao," she said bitterly. "I think he was aiming for you, but he's a terrible shot."
"Oh, I think it's a pretty reasonable shot, considering." Jack looked from the long atlatl dart to the treeline and back. Then he looked at Vala. "You, however -- good eye. Thanks."
Teal'c and Cam returned empty-handed.
"I thought I told you to bring back that idiot's severed head," Jack said.
"We endeavored to do so, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "However, you made no such request, as you were unconscious at the time."
"Right," Jack said. "But it was implied."
Daniel looked around, but none of the other hunters had noticed their brush with disaster. He spotted Qiao rather quickly, though, perched triumphantly on a large dead moutend. "Are we sure it was Qiao?"
The others followed his gaze.
"If it wasn't," Cam said. "Then we have bigger problems then we knew."
Vala considered hiding the fact that she felt sick, until she noticed the way General O'Neill was leaning on Sam. Or more specifically, until she noticed Daniel noticing that, and studying her with worried eyes.
"Maybe I need five more minutes," she admitted.
"Kiss Daniel," Sam said.
"Gladly," she said. "Any particular reason?"
"The Xanute call it the near-death. A kiss from your bond mate is supposedly the only cure. There must be something transmitted in the saliva that -- "
"Well don't say it like that." General O'Neill rolled his eyes at Sam. "You're ruining it."
"Am I?" Sam grinned at him and trailed her fingers up his chest.
"Yes," Daniel said.
General O'Neill shrugged, and gave Sam a long, slow kiss. "Nope. Not ruined."
Vala grinned up at Daniel. "Well, darling?"
"Well it's a tough job, but I think I can manage." He kissed her.
"Ah, geez," Cameron said. "Now they have a new excuse."
"Indeed," said Teal'c.
The walk back went slowly, because each group had a share of moutend meat to haul back to the village. Vala tallied up another favor that she owed Teal'c when he graciously offered to carry her share.
They stayed behind Qiao, because keeping an eye on him seemed prudent. Unfortunately, that meant they were close enough to overhear his boastful recounting of his moutend kills, which in addition to grating on everyone's nerves, also worried Vala in that while she found it feasible that he could have covered the distance from the treeline to the enclosure in the time provided, he could not have arrived there soon enough to kill anything.
That meant Qiao had an accomplice, and that meant trouble.
Daniel seemed to agree with her assessment. He didn't say anything, but he did keep squeezing her shoulder, and he looked concerned. The trial loomed closer with every step, and Vala wondered if they could skip out on the feast, because at the moment, the thought of eating a steak turned her stomach.
"You look pale," Daniel said softly. "Do you need to rest?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I just want to get back to the cottage."
"Vala, if you feel sick -- "
They slowed so that the whole team could study her with concern.
"I really don't," she said. "It's just nerves."
"What's there to worry about?" General O'Neill smiled at her. "Daniel makes a great lawyer."
"That's probably what she's worried about," Cameron said. "We aren't seriously planning on trying that strategy again, are we?"
Vala glanced at Daniel. She trusted him with her life, but Cameron had a point. "You know, darling, since we are technically codefendants this time, maybe someone else should do the actual defending?" She tried for upbeat. "I bet Muscles can deliver one heck of a rousing speech."
"Oh, he can," General O'Neill said. "He's got this one on undomesticated equines -- it'll bring tears to your eyes."
Vala caught Teal'c smiling, while Daniel shot General O'Neill an unnecessarily dirty look.
General O'Neill noticed, and looked puzzled. "What?"
"Anyway," Daniel said. "We don't need rousing speeches, we just need to tell the truth. You've done nothing wrong."
She nodded, and tried desperately to believe him.
Daniel held Vala close and tried to reassure her without sounding patronizing. He had fewer concerns about the trial itself, and a few more worries about Qiao's next move. The kid was clearly unstable and more than a little desperate. The rest of the team had their backs, but he really wished that the Xanute would do a more reasonable job of policing their own.
At least after the trial they could go home.
Home. He frowned as he tried to remember the last time he'd actually been to his apartment. By now, he'd probably need a zat to deal with the dust bunnies.
"I'm sorry, Daniel, I know I'm dwelling."
"No, it's not that. It's just that something occurred to me. Vala, I -- "
She cut him off with a kiss, a habit which he found far from objectionable, but which made coherent thought all but impossible. Then again, who needed coherent thought anyway.
Much later, as she lay curled into his side with her fingers dancing over his chest, he remembered the dust, and wondered idly if he could bribe someone at the base to go deal with it before they went home.
"We should get dressed," Vala said.
"Why would we want to do a thing like that?"
"Ordinarily we wouldn't, but it might make things less awkward when General O'Neill wakes us up for watch duty."
"There is that," Daniel said. "If he bothers to wake us up, that is."
"You think he won't?"
"I think that's a distinct possibility."
"In that case . . . " She grinned and rolled on top of him. "One more time?"
As Daniel had suspected, Jack let them sleep through their watch, and covered it himself. Whether this was intended as a favor, in light of Vala's unease about the trial, or whether Jack simply wanted to avoid discovering them in any awkward states of undress, Daniel didn't know, but he did appreciate it.
They found the others already at breakfast.
"You missed quite the party last night," Jack said quietly.
"Right after you two turned in, Qiao got into a scuffle with a couple of other young men. From what we could gather, Qiao laid claim to a couple of dead moutend that aren't so much his."
"That explains a few things," Daniel said. "Did you talk to the other men?"
"Your buddy Shen advised against that," Jack said. "I'm getting a little tired of all the secrets. There are a few things that had better come up at this trial, or I'm bringing them up."
"Jack -- "
"Look," Jack said. "I like these people, and we need their mine. But that doesn't mean I'm willing to let Vala take one for the team. She's worth a lot more than a little unrefined naquada."
Daniel nodded and pulled her closer. "You've got that right."
"Thank you." Vala smiled at Jack. "I could hug you. Well, except that it would probably kill us both."
"There is that," Jack said. "Do we have any idea when -- "
"It looks like right now." Sam nodded towards the main campfire, where several of the Xanute were arranging benches and tables.
"Should I turn myself in, or -- "
"Vala, we're being sued, not arrested." He kissed her lightly. "Try to relax."
Shen came over and showed them to a table. "You still wish to stand with your wife in this matter?"
"Yes!" Daniel stared at Shen, caught off guard. "Yes, of course I do."
"Of course you do," Shen said quickly. "It's something that is always asked, I meant no offense."
"I'd say none taken," Daniel said. "But you'll have to settle for my forgiveness instead. While I have a great respect for the ways of your people, I consider my bond with Vala to be permanent, and will stand beside her in anything that life brings us."
Tears sprang to Vala's eyes at Daniel's words, but the Xanute village elders were already gathering for the trial, and she needed to focus on not blurting out the wrong thing.
Qiao's grandmother, Chyou, climbed up to her seat and fixed Vala with a withering glare. Not good.
"Shouldn't I be judged by someone impartial?" Vala whispered to Daniel.
"Yeah," Daniel said slowly. "If she has a say in the decision then we might have a problem."
He squeezed her hand.
The rest of the team gathered behind them as most of the village found their seats.
Le stood at the center of the council table. "We are here to decide whether compensation is due to Qiao, the single son of Tai, daughter of Chyou, esteemed member of the Xanute village council."
Vala's heart pounded and her mouth went dry. She squeezed Daniel's hand so hard that he winced. Some very nasty bits of her past included moments just like this one, and they all rose in her mind now.
"Qiao," Le said. "You may now state your case."
The young man stood from his seat and swaggered across the open space to stand in front of Vala. "Twice, this woman has struck me. Her first attack prevented me from acquiring a bond mate this season. For this reason, I demand labor in compensation. The law allows for no less."
"Your claim will not be considered unless you state it in the proper form," Le said. "Please name the woman you accuse."
Vala held her breath, and dared hope, because Le's order caused panic to rise in Qiao's face. The little twit had stalked her all week, but apparently hadn't bothered to learn her name.
"This woman," Qiao sneered. "Failed to properly announce her name, and is of unknown lineage."
The crowd gasped.
Daniel sprang to his feet and glowered at Qiao. "This woman is Vala Mal Doran Jackson, my wife, and is herself an esteemed member of SG-1, and of Stargate Command, of Earth. That you never bothered to learn this reflects poorly on you, not her, and I will not sit by while you pretend that your ignorance devalues her. Is that clear?"
The crowd murmured a bit more while Qiao stalked over to the council table. "I charge Vala Mal Doran Jackson, of Earth, as owing compensation for twice striking me, and for interfering with my participation in the Bonding Ceremony."
Vala leaned into Daniel. "Beautiful speech, darling, but I think you just cost us the chance to get off on a technicality."
"I don't care," Daniel said. "He tried to insult you."
"Vala Mal Doran Jackson, is this man's claim accurate? Did you strike him, causing him injury, on the night of the Bonding Ceremony?"
Vala bit her lip. "Well, technically, yes I did, but -- "
The oh so helpful crowd gasped again.
"Are you stating that his claim is accurate?" Le stared at her. Clearly she had missed some vital clue as to how she should respond to the question. "Through your actions, Qiao was prevented from acquiring a bond mate this season?"
"Absolutely not," Vala said. "He was prevented from acquiring a bond mate by his own rather appalling lack of manners."
"Careful," Daniel said under his breath.
"Since the parties do not agree, each shall now recount their memories of the events in question. Qiao may begin."
It took every ounce of self control that Vala possessed to remain silent as Qiao wove his fanciful tale of woe. She probably would have failed if not for Daniel's hand covering hers. The twit claimed first that he had not met Vala prior to her throwing the first punch, insisted that he'd fully intended to marry an allegedly willing native girl that night, and further claimed that his injury had sent him to the healer for the rest of the dance.
He added that Vala had attacked him the following day, as he walked to the stream to fish. "No honorable woman would behave in such a way," he said. "Perhaps a year of service will teach her of our ways."
"Finished?" Daniel stood up. "Because I have a few questions."
Vala hid a smile as Daniel circled the table to face Qiao. Now was not the time to be noticing, of course, but Daniel was quietly furious, and that was just hot.
"You claim," Daniel said. "That you had not met my wife, prior to the incident in which she struck you?" He waited for Qiao to nod. "Yet I recall introducing her to you myself, near the stream, shortly before the dancing began. In addition to Vala and I, and of course yourself, six other people were present. I assume they are all here now?"
The other members of SG-1 stood up. Daniel nodded, and scanned the crowd until he spotted Qiao's two associates, who stood as well. "Some of you may recall Qiao's first words, when he approached us. He said, 'I am called Qiao, and am delighted to lay eyes upon one of such beauty.'" Daniel smiled as several young women in the crowd laughed. "I see that some of you recognize that as something Qiao might say."
Daniel scanned the crowd again. "And Qiao's intended bond mate, on the night of the ceremony. Is she here?"
The crowd went very still, and Daniel turned to Qiao, a look of expectation on his face.
"She's not here," Qiao said.
Daniel nodded slowly, as if that made perfect sense, then shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Of course, the whole village is here."
Qiao reddened at the laughter, and his grandmother shot out of her seat. "Are you calling my grandson a liar?"
Daniel turned to face her. "He called my wife a lunatic. But these little details aren't really all that important. It seems to me that the bigger issue is the incident itself."
Vala swallowed. He'd just proven Qiao a liar, only to abandon the point.
"My wife hit Qiao," Daniel said. "We were dancing, and he grabbed her arm. She reacted as any sensible person would react to an unexpected attack, and she struck him. Once." He focused on Qiao. "Now, if you don't mind me asking, what did you do at that point?"
"You admit that she hit me," Qiao said.
"I do, but that wasn't my question. You told us, only minutes ago, that you spent the rest of the night in the healer's cottage. Since your injury kept you from finding a bond mate, that must mean that you were injured too badly to dance?" Daniel smiled. "And yet you not only engaged my wife in a challenge dance, in front of at least a dozen witnesses, but you also cheated, isn't that so?"
This time Vala rather enjoyed the gasps from the audience. As Daniel described the dance in greater detail, she hazarded a glance at Chyou, and felt a moment's pity for the woman.
"So," Daniel said. "If you were well enough to dance once, why not for the rest of the night?"
Qiao stammered something that Vala failed to make out, but where almost anyone else would have pressed Qiao, Daniel smiled agreeably and backed off.
Apparently not content with this bit of mercy, Qiao tried complaining about the capture hunt he'd been forced to miss.
"That's interesting," Daniel said. "And there are a few other things I'm a little curious about, while we're on the topic of your activities of the past few days. First of all, there's the little matter of the atlatl dart that just missed Jack during the hunt yesterday, and then before that, a pot of something nearly fell on my head when I opened my cottage door a few nights ago. Finally, I'd very much like to know who snuck up on my wife and touched her hand the night after the bonding ceremony."
Chyou stood up. "My grandson is not the one on trial, as he is the injured party. These allegations, which I'm sure having nothing to do with him, are not relevant."
Vala started to object, but Le cut her off.
"Chyou is correct," Le said. "These other issues would require a separate trial. The question before us is whether Qiao is entitled to compensation as a result of being struck."
"Twice!" Qiao sounded slightly hysterical. "She attacked me at the stream the following day."
"Actually," Daniel said. "I'm the one who hit you the second time."
"Is that true?" Chyou looked from Daniel to her grandson, clearly angry, and clearly wishing to direct that anger at Daniel.
"No," Qiao said. "She hit me both times."
Chyou nodded, apparently satisfied with this, and leaned back in her seat.
"He's lying." Vala stood up. "If I'd been the one to hit him, I would have hit him in the nose again, and his face would be so swollen he still wouldn't be able to see straight."
Daniel stared at her like she'd lost her mind, and she swallowed. She'd just gone too far and sealed her own fate.
"I told you she's crazy!" Qiao gestured to the crowd. "She needs someone to teach her some manners!"
At this, Chyou climbed out from behind the table and stormed up to her grandson. Her hands were shaking so hard that it took her two tries, but she grabbed Qiao by the ear. "Manners? You're about to have a lesson in manners yourself," she told him. "Is this how you've been speaking to the women of this village? No wonder your luck always fails on the night of the bonding. And I've been blind to it. Your poor mother must be twisting in her grave . . . "
The entire village worked very hard to completely ignore this exchange, while also secretly relishing every moment of it.
Vala looked to Le, who nodded. "It's over," she said softly.
Daniel smiled, and Vala nearly collapsed into his arms in relief. "I told you it would work out," he said. "Now let's go home."
"Our people cannot thank you enough for the wrongs you have set right," Shen said. "None of us found the courage to show Chyou the truth, but now Qiao will learn the error of his ways."
"I'd love to say it was our pleasure," Vala said. "But to be honest, I found it just the teensiest bit nerve-wracking."
"A little something for your trouble." Le pressed a container of strawberries into Vala's hand.
Vala beamed. "Thank you. Listen, I never did find out. What was in that pot?"
Le glanced at Daniel, and then whispered something in Vala's ear. From the look on her face, it was pretty interesting information, but Daniel knew he'd have to wait until the next planet to ask.
Their goodbyes finished, Daniel held Vala close as Jack stepped up to the DHD.
"That's not the Alpha Site," Cam said.
"Nope," Jack said.
Daniel stepped closer and looked at the gate address Jack had dialed. He grinned and shook his head.
"What's the joke?" Vala asked. "Where are we going?"
"Hak'tyl," Daniel whispered to her. "Trust me, you'll enjoy this."
They stepped through the gate and found themselves surrounded by Jaffa women, some of them on horseback, and all of them aiming staff weapons at the gate.
"Interesting choice for a little vacation," Vala whispered to Daniel. "Is General O'Neill always this funny?"
Teal'c stepped through the gate, and the women lowered their weapons. A blonde woman smiled brightly and stepped into his arms.
"Ishta, it is good to see you well." He kissed her.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me." Cameron stared, aghast at the sight. "Teal'c, buddy, after all we've been through this week, how can you betray me like this?"
"Very easily, Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c kissed the blonde Jaffa woman again.
"Don't worry, Cameron, I'm sure that General O'Neill plans to make Kansas our very next stop." Vala smiled at him. "Maybe next year, you can take your little blonde friend to Xanadu."
"How about we just dial the gate again, and head on back to Dr. Lam?" Cameron said.
Vala grinned even more. "Oh, would you rather bring her along next year? You and Carolyn would make an adorable couple. Of course, then General Landry would be your father-in-law."
"Would you just stop talking." Cameron glared at her.
"Gladly." She smiled up at Daniel, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him.
"So let me get this straight." Cam glared at Walter. "The SGC has known precisely where we were, all of this time, and yet not one peep from you people all week?"
"He's a little grouchy today," Vala said to Walter.
Cam glared at her, and Daniel tried not to laugh.
"With the no contact policy -- "
"You didn't have any trouble breaking that to send us there."
"That was a mistake." Walter fidgeted. "Dialing again -- "
"A mistake? Hell of a mistake, stranding us on the wrong planet for a week. Care to tell me how that happened?"
"I had orders to contact General O'Neill with an urgent message," Walter said. "But before I actually dialed, they were rescinded. Unfortunately, I was called away, and Lieutenant Harren thought the gate address was SG-1's destination."
"I see." Cam did not look like he saw at all.
Walter turned to Jack for help, and got it.
"Great fishing on Xanadu," Jack said. "I can't imagine why anyone would complain. You made exactly the right decision, Walter."
Teal'c joined them. "Dr. Lam wishes to see you both," he said. "She says she has had the antidote prepared for days."
Daniel took Vala's hand. "Shall we?"
She smiled stiffly, and nodded.
"You still haven't said," Daniel asked as they walked. "What was in that pot?"
"Oh, just the top secret formula for breaking an unwanted bond," Vala answered lightly. "Of course, Qiao was using it wrong. You're supposed to drink it in a tea, not bash people over the head with it."
"Yeah, speaking of antidotes . . . " He stopped her outside the infirmary door. "You ready?"
She suddenly looked very serious. "No."
He took her face in both hands and kissed her. Then he led the way into the infirmary.
"I knew it would be you two," Dr. Lam said. "Never a doubt in my mind." She smiled. "All better. Now send Colonel Carter and General O'Neill down here. Just because they're legally married, that doesn't mean they can be wandering around the planet full of mutated alien histamines."
Vala followed Daniel to the deserted commissary. She was absolutely terrified to say a word to him, because her niggling doubt had woken up and found that this was its moment to shine.
"Sit down." He left the lights off, pulled out a chair for her, and took the one across from it. "I wanted to take you someplace nice," he said. "But this will have to do."
She bit her lip and studied his face in the soft glow of the commissary dessert case.
"Vala." He took her hand, and smiled that bright wonderful smile that made her ache. "I've been telling you all week that my feelings for you are real, but we never got to the part where I actually named them." His fingers tightened around hers, his thumb running across the back of her hand. "Vala." He smiled again. "I love you."
She grinned, and everything just felt absolutely perfect. "Say it again."
His glorious smile doubled. "I love you."
"I love you too." And then she was in his lap, and this kiss -- this wonderful deep kiss that she'd remember forever -- had nothing at all to do with Xanute smoke.
Daniel promised Vala that they'd go out for a real dinner, and they separated to shower, among other things. He still needed to find someone to exterminate the dust bunnies in his apartment, and he was having a little trouble thinking of anyone with a security clearance high enough to do it, at least who might actually be willing.
Asking Cam seemed awfully cruel.
He opened the door to his quarters to find Vala surrounded by cardboard boxes. "What are you doing?"
"I think that's rather obvious," she said. "I'm moving in, silly."
He picked up an object at random, intending to return it to its box. "No, you're not." The object was a little lace number. "Let's put everything back in the boxes so we can . . . " The lace thing was very small, very transparent, and did troubling things to his imagination.
She dropped onto the bed and turned away from him. "I knew it was too good to -- "
"No, Vala." He sat down beside her, caught her chin in his fingers, and kissed her. "I meant, you're not moving in here." He smiled. "You think I'd let my wife live in my base quarters? We'll take this stuff back to my apartment. Our apartment."
"We got married, didn't we?"
She smiled the brightest smile he'd ever seen, and tackled him. Fancy restaurants and dust bunnies could wait. They'd have their perfect evening right here, even if it was the middle of the afternoon.
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Stargate™©, Stargate SG-1™©, and related properties are Registered Trademarks of MGM Studios. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, May 2007.