When he looks at Samantha Carter, he can feel the warmth of her skin.
It wasn't always so, and now he longs to go back -- back to ignorance, back to innocence, back to seeing her as a teammate and friend, before he knew the taste of her lips and the way her breast feels cupped in his palm. But he cannot. When she asks him in the gateroom if it is difficult for him, there is an instant when all he can feel is her soft hair sliding through his hands, her mouth warm and yielding under his own, and he wants to hold her so badly that the yearning is like a physical pain. Torment is the word she uses, and he can only agree. The icy tingle of the gate is welcome; it erases the warmth of her remembered hands from his body.
She was the first of his teammates to come to him. He had never desired her before, never even thought of it. Among the Jaffa, sex between members of the same division is considered a sin -- like all behavior the Goa'uld disapprove of. It is thought to make a warrior weak, to promote individual loyalty over submission to the group. Teal'c has been free for ten years now, but a few years of freedom are not enough to erase the habits of many decades' servitude. This is what it means to be a freed slave: the mental blocks are still there, deeply buried, waiting to rise up in the right circumstances and make one stumble.
But, trapped on the Odyssey, a closeness grew between all of them that began to strip away the old barriers. He had never known the walls were even there, until they began to crumble. It was easier with the others, at first. He and Mitchell had a comfortably physical friendship, and whatever they needed to express could be done in the gym, battering each other with training staffs until they were both aching and exhausted. With General Landry, the divisions of rank were too strong to permit much closeness, for either of them, and Daniel and Vala were thoroughly lost in each other in those days.
But with Carter, he found himself talking, something that he had never done before. He spoke to her of his years on Chulak, of the guilt and shame that he could not quite leave behind. And she spoke to him of her frustration and guilt, how hard she was trying to free them from their prison, how ashamed she was of her failure. He would come to her in the engine room, bringing tea and sitting on a stool while she worked, watching her nimble fingers moving across the crystal technology of the ship. And she would come to his quarters late at night, when her eyes were crossing and her back aching from sixteen and twenty-hour stints in front of the computers, trying desperately to find a way to save them all. She would stretch out on his bed while he rubbed her shoulders and the fine muscles along her spine, just as Drey'auc used to do for him when he came back from missions.
He is not sure when they crossed the line from the intimacy of friendship to something more. He remembers leaning over her, during one of the backrub sessions, to press a kiss to the soft skin at the base of her neck, knowing she would not pull away. He remembers how close she would sit to him while they talked, and how she would sometimes lay a hand on his thigh, her fingers warm and small against his hard muscles. But he does not remember the sequence of events; he does not remember which of their kisses was the first. That was how gradual the transition, how naturally they slid deeper and deeper into a sharing of minds and bodies, until sex was the only possible outcome.
He was afraid at first that he would hurt her, but he forgot that she was a warrior too, and he found her more than capable of taking everything he could give. Their lovemaking sessions were slow and sweet, and climax was not the only outcome; they would often end up holding each other chastely under the scratchy military-issue blankets, her body curled up soft against his, kissing occasionally but needing no more than that.
As slowly as they'd transitioned from friends to lovers, so they slowly went back as the years rolled by. The lovemaking grew less and less, as they found that the holding and touching was, in the end, all they really needed after all. Teal'c wasn't sure if what they became when it was all over could truly be considered platonic, because sleeping naked in bed with a friend curled up against you, or sitting on your bed with her head in your lap, was hardly the stuff of which military comrade-ships were built. And every once in a while, they would still have sex for old times' sake, slow and gentle.
But when he looks at her now, it isn't sex he desires; he only wants to hold her under the blankets as he used to, and be held in return, planting soft and chaste kisses along the fine curve of her shoulder. He wants her warm skin to anchor and ground him, to reassure him that he is no longer Apophis's slave, but a being capable of loving and being loved. But this is a Samantha Carter with her barriers intact, and he does not think that she would understand or accept the semi-platonic touching that he wants to initiate.
Torment. Yes. But not the kind she thinks.
The torment when he looks at Cameron Mitchell is a different sort. There was nothing sweet and tender between them; there never had been. They met as warriors and understood one another as such. They tested each others' limits continually, a combative relationship very different from the one he'd had with O'Neill.
He looks at Mitchell and remembers the feeling of that hard, muscular body pressing him against the wall of the gym, and a wave of desire rolls through him.
Colonel Mitchell is the first male that Teal'c ever slept with. Among the Jaffa, sex is meant to be for procreative purposes only. The energy that would otherwise be bled off in sexual release is, instead, channeled into making them better warriors. This is not to say that sex for pleasure is unknown to the Jaffa; Teal'c was by no means a virgin before he married Drey'auc, and his relationship with her was physically pleasing for both of them. But the Goa'uld had been so successful at linking sex with procreation in the minds of the Jaffa that the idea of having sex with another man had truly never occurred to Teal'c before coming to live on Earth and seeing that such relationships were not unknown there.
He perceived, even then, that the relationship was as surprising to Mitchell as it was to Teal'c himself. He does not remember his first kiss with Carter, only an endless series of kisses that were equally gentle and sweet. But he will never forget his first kiss with Mitchell, the sparring session that ended with him up against the wall of the gym, with Mitchell's training staff pressing into his throat.
"Yield," Mitchell growled, his body leaning into Teal'c's with the effort of keeping him pinned.
"Never." Black spots danced in his vision as Mitchell bore down harder. Their bodies were pressed together now, chest to chest, their faces mere inches apart. He could feel the hard lines of Mitchell's body, the thighs pinning his own, their hips grinding together as they struggled. And it could not have been more synchronized if they'd planned it: Mitchell leaned forward, tilting his head to the left, while Teal'c's twisted right, and their lips met with the same aggression with which they fought. Cameron's lips were slightly parted and Teal'c forced his tongue inside, blood pounding in his ears as the staff cut into his windpipe, salty sweat stinging the cuts on his lips. And then the staff clattered to the floor and Cameron's hands were on each side of his face, fine white teeth clicking against his own, his whole body hot and hard and shaking with desire.
They broke apart, staring at each other. Teal'c could smell the hot musky scent of Cameron's skin, and taste the other man on his lips. He felt dazed.
"That was ... unexpected," the Colonel said in a low, rasping voice. "You know, it's been a hell of a long time for me since ... well, anything. Just say the word and we can forget this ever --"
Teal'c silenced him by trapping Cameron's mouth under his own, his powerful arms coming up to wrap around Cam's shoulders. Fingers tore at his own shirt, shredding it as they collapsed to the floor in a tangle of limbs and aching need.
It wasn't possible to keep secrets between six people trapped on a spaceship, but there was still something furtive about their relationship. The sense of danger, the lure of the forbidden, only heightened the attraction between them. They cast burning glances at each other during the team dinners; they brushed together in the hallways, skin against skin. They had sex in the gym, in closets, up against walls. They left bruises and bite marks on each others' bodies, and Teal'c would see the half-healed crescent moon of his own love-bites on Cameron's arm or shoulder, and find himself suddenly flushed and rock-hard.
That initial flush of desire, though, didn't last very long, not compared to the entire period of their confinement on the ship. Maybe six months or a year. They didn't break up, exactly; it was more like they fell out of lust, and suddenly were back to beating each other up in the gym as before. Over the next couple of decades, until Cam's advancing age began to interfere with his libido, it went in cycles. Everything would be going along normally, and then their eyes would meet over the training staffs, and suddenly Cameron's mouth would capture Teal'c's and blunt fingernails would blaze a fiery trail of pain and pleasure down his arms.
As he settles back into the familiar routine of the SGC, Teal'c tries not to spend any more time around Cameron Mitchell than he has to, at least not until he can be sure that he will be able to control himself if the lust resurfaces. On the ship, it was mutual and they both wanted it; here, things are different. He knows that he would never attempt to sexually assault Mitchell; he has far too much control for that. But he is afraid it might show in his eyes, and he fears that Mitchell might never forgive him for it.
If Mitchell wonders about Teal'c's reluctance to train with him, he does not ask awkward questions. All Teal'c's teammates, in fact, allow him more than the usual amount of privacy when they first return to the mountain. They seem to understand that he, more than any of them, will need some time to adjust to the fact that he has lived a lifetime while mere seconds passed for them.
Vala seeks him out in the cafeteria, late one night, sliding into the chair across from him as he sits with his hands curled around a mug of tea. She leans forward, peering into his face with childlike intensity. "Hi there."
"Hello, Vala Mal Doran."
Vala crosses her arms on the table and rests her chin on them, looking up at him from under her bangs. "You okay?"
"Should I not be?"
"Ever since we got back, you've been acting strange. I mean, stranger than usual. And you still won't tell me what happened to us all in the other timeline."
"No." Teal'c sets his cup on the table. "I will not."
She rolls her head to the side; her hair is loose tonight, not bound in her usual ponytails, and it spills across her arm in a dark cascade. Teal'c is hit with a sudden, intense memory of that inky waterfall, streaked with silver, spreading across Daniel Jackson's naked chest and his own, uniting the three of them.
He had never expected to be invited to join in their union, any more than he'd expected Cameron's passion or Samantha's tenderness. It happened after Landry died; the remaining five of them drew closer together, needing to keep at bay the fear that in Landry's death they had all seen their own future. Teal'c, in particular, didn't want to think about it, knowing that he would outlive the others by far. He'd already decided what he would do if that day ever came, though. After so many nights of watching Carter work, he knew how to lower the time dilation field. Better to perish in a blaze of light than to fade away, alone.
Carter and Mitchell struck up a relationship during this dark time. It would end, eventually, but for a while it seemed that they were seriously trying to make a go of it, as Daniel and Vala had. Teal'c was not jealous and he didn't begrudge them their affection, but he was left feeling like a bit of a -- what did they call it? A fourth wheel?
They held a twentieth-anniversary party for Daniel and Vala, though they were really just guessing at the date. Carter had finally gotten the matter-converter to produce decent alcohol, and they were all pretty thoroughly sloshed by the time that Carter and Mitchell vanished off to their quarters. Without the symbiote, Teal'c tended to forget about alcohol's intoxicating properties; it had never been a problem before, and even though his size gave him a high tolerance, he could no longer down a bottle or two of wine without feeling it. The corridor was swaying gently around him as he found himself caught up in Daniel and Vala's exuberance, swept off to their quarters with a couple more bottles of wine, where the party continued and Vala told absolutely filthy stories until they were all helpless with laughter.
Teal'c somehow ended up sprawled across the bed, woozy and dazed from alcohol and companionship. He could feel Daniel Jackson's warm shoulder resting against his thigh, and somehow Vala had ended up with her leg over Daniel and her head on Teal'c's chest. "Ooh, naughty," she said, giggling, and Teal'c raised his head enough to see that Daniel had worked his hand up the inside of her very short black skirt.
He felt that he ought to leave, but that would involve moving, and he was far too comfortable. Vala's head shifted against his chest, her hair spilling around her like a pool of ink. She turned to look up at him, and he found himself dizzily falling into her eyes.
Of all his teammates, Vala was the only one he'd been attracted to before they were stranded on the Odyssey. Of course, she hadn't started out as his teammate, and maybe that was why the Jaffa stricture against fraternizing in the ranks didn't seem to apply to her. He would never have acted on it, especially now that she and Daniel had made their preferences clear -- but here, tonight, with the smell of her all around him and her head warm and heavy on his chest, he felt himself growing hard and he thought, It is really time to go.
Her head slid up his chest, and one of her long arms snaked around the back of his skull, and he had time to think I should not do this before her lips, tasting of wine, closed over his. She was not as gentle as Samantha, nor as brutally passionate as Mitchell, but she was very skilled -- her tongue teased around the edge of his lips, slipping in and out of his mouth, and he felt a flush of heat spread through his groin.
Along with a sense of wrongness. She was Daniel's. He pulled his head back, breaking the contact. "Vala Mal Doran. This is not --"
"Shhh." She planted a finger firmly on his lips, and waited until he stopped trying to speak before she ran it down his chin and across his neck. "Daniel and I have talked about this."
"You have done what?" He could feel Daniel moving against his leg, shifting positions. Twisting his head, he looked down to see that Daniel had rolled over so that his chin was resting on Teal'c's thigh. Daniel was blushing; Teal'c could actually feel the heat of it through the leg of his pants.
"It's not how she makes it sound," Daniel protested. "I mean, it's not like we sit around discussing -- uh -- Look, we just, we actually -- with Mitchell, a couple of times, it wasn't really planned --"
"Cameron is a very nice boy," Vala said from somewhere out of sight below Teal'c's chin, "but the dynamic is utterly wrong."
Daniel shot her a look. "I'm just saying -- and damn, this would be so much easier if I wasn't drunk -- that we -- well, there's a fundamental gender imbalance on this ship, and it hasn't escaped our notice that at some point, someone is going to have to double up, you know what I mean?"
Vala's hand popped into view above Teal'c's face, waving in the air. "I volunteered."
Daniel sighed. "Yes, she did. Look, I'm not saying that we sat around trying out resumes for a threesome or anything. I guess we just decided ..." The blush had reached the roots of his hair, flaming against the gray-streaked brown. "On a ship this small, we can't afford jealousy and resentment, you know? If it's a choice between the group breaking up, or having to share -- you know, I'm not saying this very well."
Teal'c gazed up at the slowly spinning ceiling, wishing that his thought processes were not so jumbled, wondering if this was worth getting angry about. "I do not want or need your pity," he said finally.
Vala's fingers had been lazily tracing spirals on his chest; they froze, and she lifted her head to look at him. "That's not what this is about," she said, and placed her hand over his heart, the fingers flat and spread. "Teal'c, I've never in my life slept with a man if I didn't want to -- and I've never cheated on a lover, either. Not someone I was serious about." There was something in her eyes he'd seen only rarely -- an open, vulnerable look. "But Daniel is right: it's a very small ship. We've already done a little ... er, experimenting with Cam."
"Didn't work out," Daniel muttered.
Vala shook her head. "No. Cam's too ..." She twirled her hand in the air, searching for the word. "Too intense. Too ..."
"Too traditional, maybe," Daniel said. He awkwardly wriggled up Teal'c's side, until their heads were more or less level. Teal'c turned his head to the side and watched Daniel remove his glasses and lay them carefully on the bedside table. The blue eyes were wide and soft without them. "Look, I don't know if this is a good idea. I can't make any promises that things will be better this way than it would be otherwise. I just know that I've spent my whole life studying human societies -- the way they function under stress, the things they do to maintain social stability. Polyandry is not a terribly stable system, but it's more stable than having unattached males--"
Vala flicked him in the ear with her fingertip. "We're not a social experiment, Daniel."
"Ow! No, I'm just saying ... I know how self-controlled you are, but the most fundamental human drive is the urge to mate, to reproduce." Cautiously, anxiously, Daniel placed a hand on the side of Teal'c's face; he was close enough that Teal'c was aware of a soft dusty scent, like old books. "I'm truly afraid that things will go bad here, now that General Landry isn't around to keep things in check, and we don't want that to happen if we can help it. We want to offer this, but only if you're okay with it."
Teal'c thought about that for a moment, finally answered, "I am not sure."
Daniel laughed a soft, shy laugh, for an instant looking like the young archaeologist that Teal'c had met all those years ago. "Yeah. Me neither." Leaning forward, he brushed his lips lightly across Teal'c's. It was nervous, hesitant, his uncertainty palpable.
Vala sighed, rolled her eyes, and leaning forward across Teal'c, she nuzzled Daniel's face gently. "You can be such a ... what's that word? Dork?" Bending, she kissed Teal'c deeply, giving his lip a light bite before she released it. Watching Daniel out of the corner of his eye, Teal'c saw the younger man's forehead furrow slightly, then relax.
"You don't have to decide right now," Daniel said hastily. "I mean, think about it, take as much time as you need. Maybe it's a stupid idea. You know, I think this made more sense when I was sober and didn't have one of my best friends in my bed..."
Teal'c brought up a hand, cupping it around the back of Daniel's head. Sinking his fingers into the unexpectedly soft hair, he drew Daniel's face down with the same gentleness he would have used for Carter, and found the yielding mouth with his own.
When their lips separated, he slid his hand down the back of Daniel's neck, lightly drawing him down until their foreheads rested together, skin to skin.
Daniel's breath whispered against Teal'c's cheek. "I think I do want this."
"As do I, DanielJackson."
Out of sight, Vala had slid down to rest on his chest, her arms curling around his broad torso.
Unspoken, as with so much else on the ship, Daniel and Vala's little circle opened up to encompass him. Nights were hot and wild, with Daniel turning out to be a gentle and considerate lover, while Vala was agile and inventive. But as enjoyable as the sex was, Teal'c found himself more fulfilled by their casual acceptance of him in their lives. Waking in the morning with Daniel's arm slung across him and Vala's head pillowed on his shoulder; having picnics on the bridge of the ship, while the energy beam hung static above them; exchanging private gifts on holidays, after the five teammates had had their more public celebration in the ship's cafeteria.
Samantha Carter had given him love and affection; Cameron Mitchell was danger and allure and satisfaction. But Daniel and Vala had something different yet to offer, something he hadn't truly had since the early days of his marriage on Chulak.
"Teal'c! Earth to Teal'c. Get it? Earth ..." Vala pokes his arm, nudging him until he raises his head to see her peering up at him, her cheek squashed against the cafeteria table. So often he'd seen her wake that way, face distorted on the pillow, sleepy and beautiful. He shakes away the memory, along with the feeling of Daniel's soft kisses trailing down his spine.
"I am sorry, Vala Mal Doran. I was ... day dreaming."
"Hmm." She continues to look at him sideways, then raises her head. "Well, I just came down to let you know that we're all heading into town to find the most expensive restaurant in Colorado Springs and celebrate not being dead."
Teal'c lifts an eyebrow; it has been weeks since the Odyssey returned to Earth. "We have been not dead for some time now."
"Yes, but we've also been going through untold rounds of frightfully boring meetings and such." She waves her hand in the air, dismissing the extensive political fallout from the death of the Asgard race and the assimilation of their technology into the Earth fleet. "Cameron thought that it was time for a team-bonding sort of thing. I should run and put on something nice." She hops up, then pauses and looks at him with those deep eyes he came to know so well, in another time and another place. "Are you coming?"
Teal'c looks up at her, and quietly, he takes all his many memories of her on the Odyssey -- laughing, playing, gasping in the throes of orgasm -- and he puts them away, along with Daniel Jackson's scent, and Samantha Carter's softness and Colonel Mitchell's hard, driving need.
Home. Family. Love. Acceptance. Contentment. He has been a true fool these past weeks, pining for what he thought he lost, when all that he has wanted is right here at Cheyenne Mountain.
"Yes," he tells her. "I am coming."