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lead us not

Lead Us Not
by Molly
March 2000

Skaara's eyes were closed, a fact for which Jack suffered immensely weary gratitude.

He sat awake, still, even after all the other restless and rebellious youths quelled their inner turmoil and found sleep. He sat, lingering around the fire even as it dwindled to mere embers that cast a rosy glow in the tiny haven around the firepit; he sat and he stared quietly at the young man curled sleeping against the wall of the small private cave chamber.

So young, and so exuberant in it. Jack found himself caught in the smooth perfection of Skaara's bronzed face, his eyes sweeping along jutting bone and curving muscle in an unflinching examination of how youth could glow.

The day had been long, and the next could only get longer, and so for now Jack intended to take what few moments he may have left and devote them to an honesty that, one way or another, he wasn't expecting to matter much tomorrow. It was easier said than done, but Jack O'Neill was slowly rediscovering how much he had once loved a good challenge.

Skaara's breath shifted, caught in his throat and the boy twisted on the hard ground. With a frown, Jack sharpened his gaze, rubbing an exhausted hand through his sand-gritty hair and sighing. He was tired, more tired than he'd been in a very long time, but fueled yet by the same uncertain energy that had allowed them all, sore and battered, to make it to these caves in the first place.

Unexpected revolution had a spirited fire to it, Jack was realizing; in all his years of combat he'd found that the surprise battles were often the most enthused. The shock, the adrenaline, the sheer desperate desire to get out alive; whatever it was, it worked for Jack, and he was almost amused to see the people of Abydos imbued with that same startling zeal.

Almost. Daniel's words had cut him to the core, a slow wound that was still sinking in and getting deeper as the night carried on. He'd let himself slip; he knew that now, and the question had become what to do about it. What to do about the fact that Daniel was right, that each and every one of these people was fighting for the most important thing they had, their life, and that Jack had no right to strip them of it in the course of living out his own agony.

And what to do about the way Skaara's eyes burned with so much bright, eager yearning that even now, when the boy had been asleep for over two hours, Jack still couldn't much tell up from down if he dared let his thoughts wander to the memory of those dark, gleaming orbs.

Which he found himself doing all too often - allowing his own gaze to sweep over slender limbs and toned flesh, memorizing every ripple of muscle and smudge of dirt, and remembering how Skaara had looked so certain as he asked with only a pleading expression if he was able to sleep in the small chamber with Jack.

He had slipped away after Daniel left, to return sometime later looking quite amused, and had silently offered Jack water one last time before retreating to the corner, the request for permission to stay clear as day on his face. And Jack had silently nodded, realizing with a start that in the past two days, something had changed in how he saw this kid.

He knew from the beginning that it was a thin line he would have to tread; the way Skaara had immediately reminded him of Charlie had been, in a sense, a relief, a kind of salvation from the all too noticeable reality that Skaara was older than his son had been, and was just far enough along towards being a man that it was far too easy to slip into the careless daydreams that resided just this side of the word statutory. He hid in the same parental emotions he'd been avoiding since Charlie's death; he'd seemed to have found the one thing for which he could allow himself to care like that again.

Fear. Because for as much as it terrified him to think of Skaara as a kid, a kid that needed him for protection like Charlie had, a kid he would inevitably fail, it had started off as a far worse offense against his ethics to see him as anything but.

And that had worked. Drowning Skaara and all his devoted mimicking, all his admiring stares, in a sweeping cloak of familial relation had tamed Jack's errant longings. Until that afternoon, when within seconds, he'd gone from blinking down the wrong end of the staff weapon in Daniel's hand to fleeing into the gathered masses, and had felt Skaara's arms snaking around his back as he was hidden under a hooded shroud.

It was the simple warmth that got to him; the passing of gentle fingers across the back of his neck and the realization that everything he'd been assuming was wrong. Skaara could protect him, *was* protecting him, was the one taking the responsibility and managing just fine. And the thin line had widened into a daunting gap, and Jack found himself troublingly situated as far as he could possibly be from viewing Skaara as a child.

Jack rubbed one hand through his hair again, slid his palm up the back of his scalp and then down again to press his fingers into the taut muscles, bowing his head as he tore his eyes yet again away from Skaara's sleeping form. The cave was perfectly heated now that the blazing fire had died out; the cold desert night had yet to intrude on the chamber of warm air, and his fatigue suddenly hit with more force than any ton of bricks was probably capable of.

Standing, he arched and stretched, and was forced to stifle the pained groan that wanted to boil up from his throat. The loose, gauzy tunic one of the kids had given him to wear rippled as it fell comfortably along his upper body, loosely clinging across his shoulders as he quietly stepped over and crouched to grasp an extra bundle of blankets from where Skaara had left it, right next to his own makeshift sleeping pallet.

It was on a slight wobble to catch his balance that Jack's vision was inexorably drawn to the relaxed, peaceful face; one palm pressed to the cold ground, he clenched the other into a fist on one bent knee, determined not to reach out and touch the boy.

If only he didn't seem to be begging for it, even in sleep. Skaara's creamy bronze skin caught the dull tones of the last large embers and glowed red, and his thick eyebrows seemed to still be highly arched into awe-stricken attention. But it was his lips, his full, perfectly-formed lips that Jack couldn't take his eyes from; they were barely moistened and parted just enough to allow a flashing peek of the white teeth within.

He didn't realize he was doing it until it was too late - Jack didn't even *see* his hand reaching out and spreading open until one fingertip had already brushed into the faint, shadowing indentation under Skaara's lower lip. The skin there was even smoother than Jack had imagined, and he lost himself in the simple act of curling his fingers in and resting his thumb gently against the knobbed chin.

There was no way to be sure how long he stayed there, sitting back on his heels, frozen in the feel of that one small patch of skin in contact with his own. All he knew was that his feet felt numb and his thighs ached from the strain by the time he was jarred from his silent reverie by Skaara's eyes drifting open, and he couldn't catch his footing fast enough to avoid falling backwards onto his ass.

Skaara merely blinked over at him, sitting up and lifting a hand to touch his own chin almost in wonderment, as if he truly had been graced with the blessing touch of a god. Jack sighed heavily at himself with an exasperated shake of his head, and he started to lift himself back to his feet at the same time as reaching for the blankets for which he'd approached in the first place.

A slender, oddly graceful hand extended to stop him, forcing Jack to pause and meet the pooling liquid of Skaara's eyes. They stared at him, holding his gaze even as he groaned at the sensation of his hand being taken up in a hesitant grip. Jack could suddenly see himself dying in those eyes; he could see endless possibilities for the next day and the day after, and far into the future should he make it that far, and he was abruptly overwhelmed by the nagging sense that he didn't want to have to go through any of it without having at least felt those pliant lips beneath his own.

But then there was something worse, because he was used to going without, and he was even more used to contemplating his own death with an eerie sense of doomed calm. Kneeling on the hard ground, caught up in the hypnotic and binding glance, Jack was overcome with a sickening wave of comprehension, with a terrifying sense of impending failure and misery. More than his own death, which was certainly thought of with a sense of welcome relief more often than not, Jack could see Skaara's; he could see exactly what they would have to put on the line tomorrow for the sake of an entire people. And he could see that Skaara was ready for this, that he understood this perhaps better even than Jack, and that he was alright with it. Not happy, not excited, and most definitely not longing for it, but willing to pay that price if need be. To him, that's what it was, a price, one to be paid only under the most dire of circumstances, and understanding this hit Jack harder than anything Daniel had previously said.

He was a selfish son-of-a-bitch, and it had taken a strange kid on an alien planet to finally drive that fact home to him.

It was hell bound into a stricken gaze in other ways, as well; the boy's face exhibited so much open, unflinching trust that Jack was nearly forced to literally backpedal; he didn't deserve it, and his guts clenched painfully at the thought of betraying that confidence.

He knew he would. It was simply a question of when. Because, for all his training and strength and authority, he couldn't let anyone count on *him*. They could count on his job, on his role and his duty and all his skill as an officer, but when it came right down to him, Jack O'Neill, he wasn't good enough.

And Skaara's blissful ignorance of this fact scared the hell out of him. Those huge, shining brown eyes, so filled with hope and expectation, had within them the power to silently force Jack to be things he'd never even considered before. Without a word, forced by an insurmountable language barrier, they had wormed their way through every one of Jack's walls, inched through his veneer and lain waste to the desperate pillars of support Jack had erected after his son's death. And now, without them, he was stunned to find he felt almost normal, almost able to just keep right on going all by himself.

But not quite.

Jack finally blinked, breaking the startling intensity of that one protracted gaze, and he mindlessly lifted a hand once more, let his finger trail over that lower lip again, felt dusty- slick skin move easily under his fingertips and gave in at last, slipping his entire palm up to cup Skaara's smooth, warm cheek.

The reaction did him in once and for all; Skaara let his eyes flicker shut for a moment and tilted his head slightly, grazing his face into Jack's hand with a vaguely hesitant motion. Jack let a groan slip, knowing he didn't have a chance; as he rubbed his thumb over Skaara's high cheek bone, he unconsciously leaned forward, drinking in every detail of the young face that was getting larger and larger as he got closer.

His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and Skaara smiled slowly, a smile full of hesitant hope and a fierce desire to please. One hand came up, slid up from Jack's elbow along his arm, then eased across the back of the hand upon his face and gently, carefully pulled it sideways. His lips moved in the barest whisper of a word Jack couldn't catch, muffled as it was in the meaty flesh of his palm, and Skaara's next motion was completely silent - a light but unmistakable kiss.

"Ah, Skaara..." Jack hissed, nearly wincing from the effort it took to hold back. "Skaara, I wish I could make you understand -"

"O-Neel," the boy interrupted, drawing back a bit. His eyes shone with grave earnestness, and he gave an nearly imperceptible bow of his head. "Sadeh," he added softly. "Sadeh...nahiboda."

Jack smiled, a little amused, a little saddened, and he shook his head. "Sorry, kid. No comprende," he muttered. "Christ, this is useless -"

Skaara cut him off yet again, going from cross-legged to his knees in one fluid motion and touching his lips to Jack's with as much surety as he could muster. And as soon as it had begun, the brief kiss was over, and Skaara had settled back down onto his blankets to await Jack's reaction.

Jack, for his part, was stunned into silence, a relatively unfamiliar feeling for him. He was accustomed to choosing silence, or submitting to the need for it, but he was not a man for whom shock often stole his capacity for speech so completely as it just had. Opening his mouth, he failed to find words, meaningless as they would be to Skaara, and he shut it again in frustration. If the situation had been any different, he would have actually gone to find Daniel, to beg the linguist to make things perfectly clear between he and this beautiful, tempting boy.

It was another thoughtless action that drove him forward, parting his lips once more just before they touched their target. He couldn't tell if it was a breathless gasp or mere response, but there was immediately a small gap allowing him into Skaara's mouth; he fought not to take advantage and instead let his tongue lazily drift across soft, supple lips; he tasted the biting saltiness of Skaara's skin and a natural sweetness all at once, and then Skaara was surging forward with a quiet whimper to cup his hands around the older man's face and press Jack further and further into aching oblivion.

Comprehension shrank to a pinpoint of perception; everything boiled down to the hot and yielding flesh, to undulating moisture and the gentlest of suckling kisses. Jack released himself to the finer luxuries of mindless expression, sinking without a care to the warm blankets and wrapping an all too willing Skaara in his arms. One set of fingers twisted into knotted hair and held the boy tight against his mouth as the other hand snaked across Skaara's back and eased under the edge of cloth that came to a halt midway down. Rubbing the malleable skin, squeezing muscle and flesh and heat into his fingers, was nothing but a distraction, something to lure part of himself away from the dangerously engulfing reality of their one long, endless kiss.

Skaara was writhing against him, wrapping sinewy limbs and suffocating sweetness around his body and stirring unacceptable longing in his groin; Jack heard an echoing vibration rumbling up and took a few detached moments to understand it came from him, tumbling from his throat into Skaara's as he rolled, pressing the smaller body beneath his and struggling to lessen the inexorable pull of Skaara's tongue scraping across his. In the midst of it all was a great confusion, a jumble of trying to ease back and rut down against a slender thigh all at once.

At last, at long last, with a harsh, grating gasp of breath, Jack ripped his mouth away, pressed it into the heavily disarming scent of Skaara's neck, and waited until his hips had caught up with the times to lift his head and stare down into a painful expression of stunned worry. Skaara's eyes were frightened, so full of concern that he'd done something wrong that Jack couldn't resist laying brief, tender kisses on his parted and blood-infused mouth.

But when the boy pressed up, tried to reinitiate the incendiary and desperate contact of before, Jack found the will to press him carefully down. Propping himself up on one elbow, he forced his expression to be unmistakably gentle; a soft and genuinely-felt smile tugged his own swollen lips, and he resorted to the only gesture that seemed at all appropriate, brushing his fingers lightly across Skaara's chin.

"Skaara..." he murmured, a breathy sigh of a word that escaped before he knew it. "You're so...beautiful."

It was crazy; he knew Skaara couldn't possibly understand, but the smile that suddenly lit up the boy's entire face damn near convinced him otherwise. Content, relieved, *happy* eyes glittered up at him, and Skaara nodded slightly. "Sadeh," he said once again, as if that answered everything. "Sadeh."

Jack couldn't be anything but amused, as he filed the word away for a small conversation with Daniel in the morning. Easing back down into the makeshift bed, he wrapped one arm around Skaara's bare torso, pulled the smaller body against his, and nestled his cheek into the soft mass of clumped hair. "Okay," he chuckled softly. "Okay...sadeh."

The answering sigh was more than ingratiating; Skaara's eyes slid closed and he snuggled back against Jack, a small grin lingering on his lips. And the last thing Jack thought of before drifting off into a hard, deep sleep himself, was that it felt very, very right to be holding Skaara in his arms, exactly as they were.

So he would just have to worry about being wrong tomorrow.