Jmas Fan Fiction

Title: Storms of Life
Date: May 16, 2000
Status: Complete
Author: Jmas
Category: Drama, angst, h/c, smarm is inevitable…
Ratting: PG-13 for language, situations
Email: jmasg1@bellsouth.net
Archive: Stargate Fan, Heliopolis, Belle, Place of Our Legacy
Disclaimer: Characters are property of MGM, etc.
Spoilers: Focused after Crystal Skull but before Nemesis, contains spoilers for most of Season 3, among others… Some spoilers for my own fic ‘The Fire Inside’…it isn’t necessary to read it before this one, but some references may not be as clear without it.
Summary: Life creates its own storms. We can only hope, like everything in nature, to weather them and become stronger.
Author's note: My take on a resolution of the Pretty Deep Stuff our guys went through in S3. We…or at least *I*…know it wasn't all resolved in the eps.
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Chapter One: The Calm

The mountains stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond, disappearing into a haze of blue no longer discernable as either earth or sky…

Jack O'Neill let the rented Explorer aim itself toward the distant blueness. Though it had been years since he had traveled here, Jack knew he could find the cabin by heart. He'd spent a lot of time there following his return from the distant planet Abydos…and his subsequent, though not unexpected, divorce. As soon as he'd settled the legal tangle inevitably resulting from shattered dreams, Jack had packed up his meager belongings, thrown them into storage and run at full speed to his uncle's cabin in Alberta.

After months of solitude, Jack had achieved what he'd have believed nearly impossible…peace. He had gone halfway across the galaxy through the newly deciphered Stargate…an ancient device of then unknown origins…expecting, even hoping, to die. His son had died not long before, a casualty of Jack's own carelessness with his handgun, and a large portion of Jack had died the same day. The part that remembered how to open his heart, to comfort his wife, to forgive himself…

Jack had found instead on those desert sands a reason to live…largely thanks to the man sleeping awkwardly beside him, Dr. Daniel Jackson.

Jack glanced from the mountain road to his exhausted companion with a sigh. His academic friend was huddled within a coat and a sweater, arms across his chest in subconscious defense mode, head resting against the glass. Sitting less than two feet away, Daniel seemed as distantly removed from Jack's presence as he had once been on Abydos.

'Back to square one?' Jack quashed the thought brutally as he wished for a cigarette, a habit he'd given up after Abydos, but something he still craved in times of extreme stress.

'And this sure as hell qualifies…'

Jack wasn't really sure how he had managed to convince Daniel to come along on this trip in the first place. Events of the past few months…hell, the past year…had put a strain on their friendship. Jack's own actions had nearly buried all hope of them recovering solid footing. Looking again at the too pale face and too sharp cheekbones, Jack realized Daniel had needed to get away more than any of them had fully realized.

Jack felt the queasiness in his own stomach resurface at the memory of the days-long fever resulting from his exposure to neutrino radiation on P7X377. Daniel had disappeared in the same wave of energy from the enigmatic crystal skull, disappeared for days until only a fluke and Daniel's flaky grandfather, Nicolas Ballard, had revealed the unbelievable truth… A truth Jack had nearly dismissed until he heard his friend's words coming out of the aforementioned flake's mouth…

'Jack, don't be an ass…'

Jack laughed silently at the many times he'd heard those words, in just that tone, from Daniel. Privately, Jack had no problem admitting on most occasions he deserved Daniel's half-moaning assessment. Thankfully, in this case, Jack's desire to believe Daniel was still alive and could be returned to them had overruled his generally overactive skepticism…and they'd gotten Daniel back.

Jack's mirth turned into a heavy sigh at the memory of just how close it had been, how once again…thankfully…Daniel had found his own way home. If it hadn't been for 'Nick,' as the old man preferred to be called, stubbornly refusing to reveal anything about the skull until they brought him to see it, Daniel might have been lost in that limbo state forever, roaming the halls of the SGC like some perpetually frustrated ghost. It was Daniel who found the words to convince Jack, General Hammond and the rest of them ‘crazy Nick’ was doing more than just communing with his hallucinations.

‘Jack, don’t be an ass…’

Jack knew he *had* fit that description all too often in the past months, had let himself fall back on old habits to cope with the increasingly fantastical and sometimes downright frightening things close association with the Stargate had brought with it.

The whole business with Maybourne had driven home to Jack the knowledge that…however overblown his dutiful performance was…at the heart of it all were some basic truths. He had let himself become complacent…to stop working at his friendships, to stop trying to see below the surface. Part of it he knew was his own anger at his inability to provide the simple belief and comfort Daniel had so desperately needed after Sha’re’s death. Jack knew all too well his words had fallen far short of the mark, knew his doubt had added hurt to Daniel’s already far too full plate. Twice in the past year Jack had failed his friend. The first nearly resulting in Daniel being locked away forever, the second driving a wedge between them that Jack’s hurtful…however unwilling…words had nearly cleaved in two. The friendship hadn’t shattered like the metaphorical block of wood, but it had splintered on levels they were only now discovering, only now realized still bled.

The business with the Harseisis child had helped. Jack knew, all too well, he’d given in to Daniel’s wishes on that mission…hadn’t been ready or willing to deny Daniel anything within reason. Daniel had recognized the departure from Jack’s normal operating status, cut the bull with all available speed, recognized Jack had offered the only white flag he had left, the one thing Daniel had always craved most and rarely gotten from Jack in any overt way…trust…and Daniel had thanked him for it. And it had been the right decision. The child was safe, his team was alive and a nice healthy chunk of Apophis’ Jaffa were dead…

Jack did respect Daniel…he’d never known a more brilliant, more compassionate, more stubbornly loyal person. Daniel had worked hard to gain respect or, more properly, the way Daniel worked so hard had *earned* him the respect of nearly everyone he worked with. His caring nature had won him the loyalty of people from the lowest grade tech to General Hammond and the Secretary of Defense himself. Even the President had been known to send a kudo or two in the direction of SGC’s resident civilian scientist/SG team member.

After the, hopefully, final battle with Hathor, Jack had let a lot of things go…everything they’d gone through together afterward…Daniel’s near breakdown at Hammond’s lake retreat, Hathor’s time bomb…Jack had backed off emotionally. He’d seen it, recognized it and…with every new crisis…allowed it. Now he was paying for it. And so was Daniel…

Looking again toward the distant mountains, now crowned by grey sweeps of northern clouds, Jack sighed in deep frustration. The fact that Daniel was here with him was a step in the right direction, but he feared the journey ahead of them was a whole lot longer than the distance from Colorado to Alberta.

Chapter Two: Gathering Clouds

Daniel awoke slowly, uncertain at first of where he was…only that he was moving. Canada. Alberta. Jack’s mystery cabin…a place Jack plainly believed was going to magically put them back on the right track…

* You of all people should know there’s no such thing as magic… *

‘I’ve really got to do something about this Pavlovian response thing I’ve got going with armed Goa’uld’s who happen to have me prisoner at the time…But it feels so damn good when I do it…’

Daniel was less than surprised by the automatic reply to himself…

‘Face it, Danny…you need a safer hobby…’ Daniel frowned at the voice of his conscience, a voice sounding remarkably like Jack O’Neill.

‘Great now I get his attitude from the inside too…’

Daniel shook his head a little, discarding the thought before it could feed the undercurrent of anger and hurt lurking below the surface. He was too damn tired to waste energy on negatives. Tired down to his bones…down to his soul…

His stint as a ghost had come with a price; he’d returned to the SGC with Jack and Sam, promptly landing in the infirmary…dehydrated with dangerously low blood sugar. Dr. Fraiser had compared it to extreme exhaustion and Daniel could certainly attest to the fact. Evidently the phase-shift had depleted all his reserves while he was ‘incorporeal.’ Mentally, he was every bit as worn out. He felt…used up…and was almost too tired to care…

They’d all pushed him into this trip with Jack, and deep down Daniel hoped something positive might result, but a core of doubt he’d thought long gone had reawakened somewhere inside him and Daniel no longer had the strength to put it back in its hiding place.

The Explorer hit another pothole and Daniel jerked upright with a start.
“Jack? What?”

Jack favored Daniel with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Daniel. Don’t remember the roads being so bad last time. Guess a lot can change in four years.”

Daniel nodded sharply, letting the comment go without remark, and sat up a little straighter, rubbing his face with both hands in an effort to clear the perpetual fog in his brain.

“S’okay…Where are we?”

"Ten miles out of Rock Lake, it’s another eight from there to Uncle Gil's cabin. We should get there well before dark.”

Daniel focused blearily on the landscape spread before them. It *was* beautiful, snow-capped mountains, clouds lazily skirting the tops like fanciful ghosts.

‘Ghost imagery again…Nice…’ Daniel shivered at the memory, the feeling of being walked through…’Like I don’t have enough nightmares…’

Daniel shivered again, running a hand through his short-cropped hair, becoming suddenly aware of concerned brown eyes catching the movement.

Knowing anything they said could too easily denigrate into a conflict, Daniel just sighed. He didn’t feel up to trading verbal barbs with Jack. Neither of them was in a condition to do it right and keep it out of areas too tender to be poked at. Hearing a low sigh from beside him, Daniel knew Jack had reached the same conclusion. Maybe…after they’d both gotten enough rest…they could start finding their way again.

‘If the way is still there to find…’ Daniel’s inner voice, sounding all too critically similar to Nick of a few years ago, was full of doubt and suspicion. Daniel experienced a distant worry it might not be normal to have a multi-voiced conscience, but decided not to probe too deeply into that particular quirk of his psyche.

'Way too deep, Daniel. Save the deep shit for when you have enough energy to fight back properly…Oh, great, now I'm worried about giving coherent replies to the voices in my head…'

Daniel shook his head to dispel the weird train his thoughts had taken an unscheduled ride on and reached for the thermos in the console between the seats. Pouring the cup half-full, he offered it to Jack.

"Ah…thanks…" The surprise in Jack's voice was painfully evident…causing Daniel to look up in confusion.

'Has it really been so long since I did something nice for him?'

Daniel felt an all too familiar ache grip his chest at the realization his question evoked…

Jack's three month absence on Edora…fate uncertain…and his words during the Maybourne episode *had* shaken the foundation of everything Daniel had come to rely on after Sha're's death had cracked the bedrock beneath it all. Jack had left Earth…presumably forever…and Daniel had been too lost in his own hurt and confusion to even say goodbye. The days following had found Daniel defensive and isolated, retreating behind a mask of sullen defiance as he fought to redefine his life…a life without the man he had come to believe…with nearly unshakable certainty…to be his best friend.

'I would have almost said *total* certainty…'

Daniel stole a look at Jack's drawn profile. The older man had lost weight over the past few months; lines had appeared where none had existed before…lines of stress.

'It's not like he hasn't got reason…nearly becoming a Goa'uld, a battle in Hell, three months on a distant planet uncertain of ever returning to the life he knew, radiation sickness…The past three years have been so full of stress it's a wonder any of us are still functioning. If you call this level of exhaustion functioning…'

Daniel could count on one hand, with fingers to spare, the number of times in those years any of them had taken what could actually be defined a vacation…not recovery time. He was not entirely sure *this* could be termed anything but recuperation…but he'd take it. They *needed* it. Whatever else might happen, Daniel was sure…on a level even his barely cogitating brain could understand…he and Jack could make or break the future of their 'friendship' in those distant mountains.

Chapter 3: Chill Wind

The expressions flitting across Daniel's face, the tired sigh, the stillness of his hands expressive in their utter lack of the motion so intrinsic to Daniel's mood…all of it told Jack so much more than words ever could about Daniel's state of mind. Jack shivered as much from the silent revelation as from the increasing cold. What had begun as light snow half an hour before was coming down now in thick, furious clumps requiring Jack to keep all of his attention on the rapidly disappearing road.

Daniel had gone quiet…'quieter,' Jack thought. The younger man's hands were buried now in his pockets, collar turned up and almost concealing his face, but his eyes were alert…worried…

'Join the SGC…learn to live on adrenaline….'

"How much further, Jack?"

Jack checked the trip counter. "A little less than four miles…" Feeling the rear wheels slip a little, Jack reduced his speed yet again. "Twenty - thirty minutes at this rate…"

Daniel nodded and settled deeper into his coat. Even after three years of living in Colorado, Jack knew Daniel still had trouble acclimating to cold weather. Jack smiled a little as he remembered the first snowfall after Daniel's return…

………………

Finding Daniel on the mountaintop after a concerned guard had called to let him know his 'pet civilian' had been outside long enough to worry the checkpoint sentries. Jack had grumbled, but gone up and discovered Daniel wrapped in a parka several sizes to large for him, fine flakes of white coating his long hair like a demented halo and a sad smile on his face. It was far from the first time Daniel had caused Jack to feel a disconcerting lump in his throat…or confusion at the mysterious ways the scientist's mind seemed to work… but he recognized pain when he saw it…

Daniel had rather apologetically told his baffled team leader, "I never expected to see snow again…"

Jack had responded, not for the first time and definitely not for the last, to the raw edge of despair leaking out of Daniel in waves all too frighteningly familiar…

He threw a snowball.

The opening salvo…symbolic of Jack's head-on approach to life in general…was met with a slightly shocked quirk of Daniel's eyebrow, followed closely by a sizable return volley and a laugh…a release…a step forward in an unlikely friendship…

…………………

Jack sighed at the memory. They'd both been younger then…neither of them able to claim innocence, but it had felt 'good'…lightening the burden of life for a fragile, crystalline moment in time…

From the little Jack knew about Daniel's past, he gathered that most of the kid's life had been spent in warm places…Egypt, California, Abydos…it bothered him that he really didn't know anything about the years in between the landmarks of Daniel's birth, college, marriage, and loss. There was so much about Daniel, even after all the years they had worked together, that Jack didn't know…a fact which bothered him. He should know these things, they should have shared all the little details of their lives by now…not that they hadn't shared a lot of the big ones, it just seemed to Jack that Daniel knew a hell a of a lot more about his life than he could ever claim to know about Daniel's.

It bothered Jack that he didn't know where Daniel grew up after his parents died…who he lived with, whether he was able to be happy again…who his first crush was…had any girl ever looked at him with the pure adoration of Sha're?

'Why haven't we talked about that stuff?'

Time. Too much time spent in fighting the Goa'uld. Not enough time spent fostering those fleeting moments of joy and companionship…

'Not to mention the fact that getting a piece of personal information out of Daniel is like jerking out teeth…against a three gee pull…'

Jack was pulled out of his reflections by a hard gust of wind, thundering into the side of the Explorer, nearly pulling the big Ford out of his control.

'Great…even the weather can't cooperate…'

Jack heard a small snort from the man beside him. "What?"

Daniel shook his head, laughing. "Nothing…I was just thinking we should have expected this…"

Jack grinned broadly. "Maybe it's a Goa'uld plot to keep us from ever getting any downtime..."

Jack could almost feel the spark of tension flare through Daniel at the name.

'Damn…'

"God, I hope not…" The tone was deliberately light, but Jack knew it was forced.

'When the hell am I gonna learn…'

Jack's self-castigation was interrupted by still another rough jerking on the Explorer…a combination of wind and loss of traction…and quickly replaced by adrenaline as he fought to regain control of the vehicle. Steering into the skid, Jack straightened the big Ford momentarily…only to lose control again…

"Jack!"

Daniel's warning came a moment too late as Jack felt the tires leave the road…plunging them over the mountainside…

Chapter Four: Storm Front

Cold…aching, trembling, painful cold….

Daniel recalled hearing the phrase 'numbing cold'…there was nothing numb in what he was feeling. The parts of him that didn't outright hurt, prickled as if under attack by thousands of fine needles…

He was aware of quiet…

'Jack?'

Daniel distantly recalled the feeling of falling…an almost weightlessness as they had left the road. Rough scraping, groaning noises as the Explorer struck small trees and other things unidentifiable as they flew past. The jar of pain as they came up against 'something' and Daniel's head struck the dashboard…no airbag on his side…then nothing….

Until now…

Daniel dragged his eyelids open…seeing only darkness...

'Blind?'

Rough blinking altered the levels of blackness, making him realize night had fallen while he had been unconscious…steady focusing brought images of black trees against white snow, a 'lot' of white snow. Daniel struggled to find his glasses in his jacket pocket and slipped them on. At least a foot of snow…and more falling. A small moan beside him, brought his attention back inside the vehicle…Jack!

Jack was stirring, nearly lost in the remains of the airbag that had probably saved his life even as its force battered his head and neck.

"Jack…?" Daniel had to clear his raw, dry throat several times to force his voice into any semblance of volume.

Jack moaned again, pushing himself unsteadily upright. "Shit…what the…Oh."

Daniel almost laughed as the words reflected his own clumsy return to consciousness and the memory of the accident.

"Daniel? Y'okay?"

Daniel nodded then remembered Jack probably couldn't see the gesture. "Head hurts…cold…otherwise I think so…You?"

Jack leaned back carefully, seeming to take an awfully log time to decide. "Yeah, seems like…Where the hell are we?"

Daniel shifted a bit, opening the car door to peer out…

'Uh oh…'

"Um, Jack? Maybe you should try to get *out* of the car?"

Apparently Daniel's mild tone wasn't enough to keep Jack from sensing the fear beneath it.

"What, Daniel?"

Daniel swallowed hard, pulling the door closed with infinite care… "We're, uh, up against a tree…it's the, um, only thing keeping us from sliding over a cliff…"

"Oh." Daniel could hear Jack's breath hitch then slowly release. "Guess we better…get out…then…"

"I think that would be a pretty good idea about now…."

Jack opened his door carefully, the car shifted slightly…

"You, uh, you're gonna be right behind me, right?"

Daniel smiled nervously. "Like always, Jack…"

The comment got a welcome laugh from Jack. "Like always, he says…Just when was that, Danny…? Can't remember…"

Jack was slowly eased the door open…releasing a gasp as the car slid again…

"Maybe you should, uh, climb over here a bit before I get out…"

Daniel took a deep breath and slid over, hooking one leg slowly over the center console. Jack's hand found a grip on Daniel's forearm, clutching tightly as he started to slide one leg out of the vehicle. Daniel hooked himself upward, bringing his other leg up onto his seat…

The Explorer groaned, a snapping sounded preceded another shift and both men froze in place.

"Jack, um, maybe we should just jump and hope for the best…?"

Jack cleared his throat. "Y'think?"

The words held none of their usual biting sarcasm. Jack clearly wanted the choice to be Daniel's…it was Daniel who was in the literal hot seat. If the car shifted too violently, Jack had a fairly good chance…Daniel might not be so lucky….

Daniel swallowed hard and his muscles tensed as he made his decision. Shifting a hand to grasp Jack's snugly around the wrist, he allowed the smile to reach his voice. "My life's in your hands…again."

Jack choked off a bitter laugh. Another groan of metal nearly kept Daniel from hearing the muttered, "Not done such a hot job with it lately…"

Daniel bit down on a reply…this wasn't the time to get into a philosophical argument on the checks and balances of friendship…or their mutual guilt over the state theirs was in. The Explorer shifted again, rocking slightly as one tire slid over the cliff.

Jack carefully reached one leg out of the car, sinking it into the snow and digging in until he felt like he had some leverage. He blew out a breath as he tightened his grip on Daniel and eased the other leg out….

The car slid further, faster…

Daniel felt Jack's hard pull and launched himself outward…

He was aware of white snow, the cracking finality as whatever had been holding the vehicle in place gave way, tearing heat as his leg caught…for just a moment…on the steering wheel, the warmth as he landed hard against Jack's body then blackness descended again …

Chapter Five: Snowfall

'Damn…ouch…shit….'

Jack didn't know which was worse…the considerable armload of Daniel sprawled across his chest or the cold bite of wet snow as it melted into his clothes…

'The armload…definitely the armload…Geez, Daniel, you're heavier than you look…'

Jack tried to move around, realizing he was effectively pinned down. Their combined weight had pushed them into the deep snow and at the rate it was still falling they would be buried in it if they didn't get moving…

Jack tried to reach around to Daniel's face, laying heavily against his shoulder…found it an impossible move…

"Shit, big guy…we have *got* to go…"

Amazingly the words brought an answering moan…and a hitch of breath as Daniel moved slightly…

Hands slipped around Jack's shoulders, ruffling through his hair…

"Jack?"

Jack couldn't help but laugh. "You were expecting someone else?"

Daniel shook his head, groaning at the movement, but laughing gently. "Guess not…Help me up?"

Daniel moved his legs off Jack, hands sinking into the snow as he tried to push up, nearly throwing him down again. With the alleviation of the weight on his chest, Jack pushed himself up, catching and holding Daniel while the younger man fought to clear his head.

"What the hell happened, Jack?"

Jack looked back toward the cliff, a vast black hole against the snow-covered ground around them. The big Explorer was gone…only a splintered tree trunk remained…even the tracks of its descent from the road had disappeared beneath fresh snow.

"I think the rental company's going to think twice before letting me have another car."

Jack could see Daniel nodding, a shadow against shadows, snow flaking off his bare head in big globs. "You up to getting out of here? If we can get to the road we can hoof it to the cabin in a couple hours." Jack stood up, head swimming a bit but quickly settling down.

Daniel groaned a little, raising a hand to Jack's outstretched one. Jack pulled gently, catching and holding Daniel while the younger man swayed. Daniel had been knocked unconscious twice in the past few hours and Jack knew concussion was more than a possibility, but there was no choice. The nearest town was six miles back…barely more than a post office stop for the sparsely scattered ranchers, loggers and vacationers. The cabin was closer, had the food Jack's uncle had laid in for him, *and* a telephone. It was their best chance and, in Jack's opinion, they had no choice but to take it.

Daniel was standing on his own now, breathing shallowly but steady enough.

"You up for this?"

Daniel laughed derisively. "Aren't I always?"

Jack was a little shaken by the tone, flat… nearly emotionless in its statement of simple fact. He felt a new twist in his gut, a return of his earlier resolve to get things between him and Daniel back to the 'good' they'd always known.

"Yeah, Daniel…you always are…" Jack put as much conviction as he possessed into the words.

Even the darkness couldn't hide the quick ducking of Daniel's head, the attempt to hide an expression Jack could only guess at…could only hope to decipher if he did see it. After three years Jack still had trouble with 'reading' Daniel, only by seeing Daniel's eyes did he stand a chance…a fact Daniel was well aware of.

Jack led the way upward, he knew if they could make their way back to the road he could find the cabin easily…even in the snow and darkness. Jack tried to pace Daniel, noting the limping gait and soft breathy moan as Daniel tried to place his feet carefully in the deep snow. It was slow going…would have been even if both of them had been one hundred percent…and Jack knew all too well neither of them was anywhere near that estimate. The rough incline was torturous, slipping back for nearly every step forward. Jack soon fell into the pattern of using the dense brush as an anchor, pulling forward and bracing, reaching back to bring Daniel up to him…then bracing to do it again.

By the time they reached the road they were covered in sweat beneath their clothes, panting from the exertion and more than ready for a break, but Daniel said "Which way?" in a tone that told Jack stopping was not an option…

Jack understood that about Daniel…the younger man could go on indefinitely, as long as he didn't stop to think about what it took out of him to keep going. Daniel could keep himself going for days at a time if the situation was dire enough…or intriguing enough…as long as he didn't stop. Little things like food, sleep, his health went out the window and too often left Daniel running on empty.

'But right now he's so far below empty he's sucking fumes…'

Jack knew better than to fight the tone or the man behind it…and started walking.

Chapter Six: Accumulation

"How much further? Can't ask…can't let him think I can't keep up…God, I thought I'd gotten over that…'


Daniel kicked himself mentally, enjoying the image in his mind…even as he recognized the exhaustion fostering it. He prided himself, when he allowed himself to indulge in such things, on his ability to drive himself past his own limits…but the critical voice in his head…the one with Nick's oh, so superior intellectual accent…told him he was just about to hit the proverbial wall…with a bang. Only the silvery shine of Jack's hair in the cloud-filtered moonlight kept him focused…his vision having blurred and narrowed to the point it was all he *could* see. Snow caked on his head unheeded, melting and soaking into his skin and down his collar…chilling him to his core. He knew, on some distant level, he should be concerned about it…really should tell Jack…

'I can make it…Don't want to worry him…He has to be just as cold…'

Daniel had ceased to feel the pull and burn in his ankle with every step, he wasn't even sure when that had happened…maybe jumping out of the car? He just concentrated on placing one unsteady foot in front of the other and watching Jack's hair…

'Good thing I worried him so much it went grey…I'd never be able to see him…' Daniel almost giggled at his private joke, the feeling of disconnection allowing one part of his brain to objectively note his mental faculties deteriorating even as the other part raced ahead at full speed. He knew he could keep going, knew he wouldn't stop until his body finally decided it had enough and stopped cooperating.

'Still got a while…' As his vision tunneled even further, Daniel giggled softly. 'Maybe not…'

A jarring tingle of pain as he hit his knees gave Daniel a spectacular view of stars against a red background.

"Daniel? Damn it…"

"Jack…'Pissed-off Jack', at that. Haven't heard him in…oh…at least a week…"

A light slap on his cheek, pulled Daniel out of his fog a bit. "Jack?"

"C'mon, Daniel…I need you to hang on a little longer…Can you do that for me? "

Jack's voice was immersed in the rare tone of caring and concern that alternately pleased Daniel and frightened him…anything capable of scaring Jack had to be pretty bad…

'Oh…guess this means things are bad…'

Another slap helped, banishing the stars in favor of a pair of dark eyes shimmering with moisture in the dimness…eyes topped by an inordinate amount of snow…

'Snowman Jack…'

Daniel shook his head, grabbing onto Jack's shoulder to anchor himself, pulling up the dregs of his reserves to concentrate on reality…cold and snowy as it was.

"Almost…little more…hang on…" Jack's voiced faded in and out of Daniel's hearing, but he caught enough to understand they were almost to the cabin. He felt himself hoisted up, his arm pulled across Jack's shoulders, movement forward as Jack started walking again…leaving Daniel little choice but to move with him.

Daniel could feel the trembling of Jack's muscles underneath his arm…realized he wasn't the only one about to meet up with the 'wall.' He made an effort to pull himself upright, take some of his weight off Jack.

"Just stay put, Danny…" Jack's tone left no room for argument.

Daniel nodded.

"A few more yards. You with me?"

Daniel nodded again.

"Good, I hate one-sided relationships…"

Daniel nodded again, laughing softly as Jack's meaning penetrated his brain.

Jack returned the laugh. "Good boy…just keep it together a little longer…then we can get a hot shower, warm bed…coffee…." Jack drawled the last word out enticingly, like a lure before a trout…

'Fly Fishing for Archaeologists…next time on Lifestyles of SGC Colonels…'

Daniel laughed outright then…knowing his mind and body had hit the wall at last and just hadn't realized it was time to fall down now…

Jack laughed again, nervously. "What…?"

Daniel shook his head, trying to control the laughter that threatened to overwhelm him…or deteriorate into something a lot less pleasant.

"We're here, Daniel. You hear me? We made it…"

'Made it? …That's good…'

Daniel felt himself being hoisted up a short staircase, tried to coordinate his feet to help…

Jack fumbled around the doorframe, awkwardly hanging onto Daniel at the same time…Daniel heard the rattle of a key and a creaking sound then it was warm…Not a wave of heat, just the recognition that the air was no longer laced with the wet chill that had become the norm through this nightmarish night…

He wanted to sit down, let go, sleep…

Jack was pulling him…pulling his soggy coat and sweater, a dragging weight he hadn't even been aware of, from his body…

Daniel shivered hard with the sudden bareness…feeling vulnerable in a way he hadn't in years…

Something soft found its way around him, hands beneath it rubbing gently but vigorously…leeching away the icy chill. Daniel was vaguely aware of the rest of his clothes disappearing then and encompassing warmth, something soft and solid beneath him…

'Bed? Couch?' Daniel decided it didn't matter…and let himself fall into it with a sigh of thanks to Jack…

Just as exhaustion overtook him, Daniel heard a rough grumble.

"Any time, Danny…any time…"

Chapter Seven: Snow Drift

*Falling, falling….

Burning pain, cold, blood….

Daniel of the little duck-and-fade gesture, effectively denying Jack a glimpse into the hell undoubtedly residing in his eyes…

Daniel of the fatalistic acceptance…sitting in the center of a white room surrounded by his friends…but never so alone in his life…

Daniel's voice, calling his name…Daniel of the distant, not-quite-there stare…so far gone Jack feared never to bring him back….

Daniel….drifting further and further away…..*

Jack woke up in a rush, hand outstretched as if to capture the fleeting, fading image of his friend…

But Daniel was there, nearly lost amid the quilts on the other leg of the sectional sofa from where Jack lay…one hand visible and twitching in response to his own dreams…

'Better dreams than mine, I hope….'

Jack looked around the room, the high, vaulted ceilings casting shadows in the dim firelight guttering from the ancient stone hearth, glowing reflections from the tall windows wrapping the room in peaceful comfort.

Jack remembered the marrow-deep cold, could still feel it tugging at him, trying to pull him back into memories of other acquaintances, other times he'd been too intimately familiar with its power to seep away life…

'We made it, we're fine…'

Daniel's quilts shifted, a slight moaning breath emanating from somewhere within the depths. Jack sat up quickly…too quickly…and his vision greyed out as a wave of dizziness hit. The long exposure to the cold, the bump to his head, the fact that neither of them had eaten in over sixteen hours were all catching up…

Jack sat still a few more seconds, head in hands, letting his head clear before rising to his feet…and nearly falling again as his feet became tangled in his own blankets. Jack started to fling them away then realized he was completely naked underneath….

A further glance around the room from his upright perspective showed him their clothes draped over chairs around the big room, most of them still dripping…

'Oooo-kay. *think* I remember doing that. Don't remember starting the fire…exactly…but I guess I did….Damn, I'm good on auto-pilot….'

Jack grinned at his own joke, thankful to have something…anything…to be grinning about. He shuddered again with a chill having nothing to do with the air temperature….remembering cold miles and bleak hopes and falling…..

Blowing air out slowly and drawing the blanket even tighter around himself, Jack moved to Daniel's side. The younger man slept on, brow creased by something known only to him, too-pale face tinged with the pink of windburn, glaring bruises from temple to cheek, a line of dried blood tracing a path from within his hair downward to his neck looking like some bizarre tribal marking…

'Yeah, Danny, another initiation into life around Jack O'Neill…'

Jack shook his head, refusing the dark thoughts any further license. Sighing deeply, he placed a gentle hand on Daniel's forehead….noting its coolness even after hours under the heavy quilts. It had been close. Too damn close. Again.

"Way of life for us lately, huh, Daniel?" Jack whispered before moving on to the bathroom.

The sink tap groaned slightly before sputtering warm water. Jack stared at his reflection in the mirror while his hands soaked in the warmth, easing the aching chill that seemed to have settled there. He also looked pale, grazing bruises drifting from left eyebrow to hairline…A fleeting joke Ferretti always made about Jack's left eyebrow being his designated target area crossed his mind. Jack laughed dully, realizing he didn't feel like laughing at all…he felt cheated and angry and alone…and he didn't like it at all. The conciliatory vacation he'd envisioned certainly hadn't started out well…and Jack couldn't help but wonder what cosmic power he had managed to piss off so badly. All he wanted was a little peace…a little time to put things right in his world…and in Daniel's…and in all the places where those two worlds converged….

Jack sighed again and splashed his face, scrubbing roughly at his cheeks and suppressing the desire to moan at his own self-indulgence.

'Get over it, O'Neill. Things got off to a rocky start…Deal. Tomorrow will be better, the next day better than that. Has to be. Sure as hell can't get much worse…'

Chapter 8: Chill Factor

Daniel's first thought was he needed to move. Upon attempting the action, Daniel's second thought was that…perhaps…it might be wiser *not* to…

He was impossibly stiff…muscles, bones, even his hair, *hurt.* Distantly, his intellect informed him it was a perfectly reasonable and expected consequence of the events of the past twenty-four hours. Daniel decided his distant intellect didn't have a clue and moaned as he shifted despite the pain…the ache in his back forcing the decision his body and intellect seemed incapable of.

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice…soft, almost hesitant. Daniel opened his eyes slowly.

'Yep, Jack all right….Looks pretty worried….'

Daniel opened his mouth to say something, found his voice less than cooperative and settled for nodding, eyes closing again.

A warm hand touched his forehead, it felt good…he hoped it would stay…

"Daniel!" Jack again, sharper.

Daniel opened his eyes again, blinking fuzzily at Jack.

"I think maybe you should wake up for awhile, okay? Clean up, get dressed, maybe eat…"

Daniel nodded…it sounded like a great plan, unfortunately his body didn't seem to think so…

"Daniel?" Jack yet again, sounding a little amused.

"Hmmm?"

"Need a hand?"

"Um hm… "

"Maybe you should give me *your* hand?"

"Oh…"

Daniel thought about it a moment, hand twitching to prove it was thinking about it as well…finally moving to take Jack's extended one.

"Good move, big guy. Ready to try it with the rest of you?"

Daniel almost laughed at the tone Jack was using….gentle, amused, quiet…very strange…

"Having fun, Jack?"

"Laugh a minute, Daniel…" Jack's arm moved around to support Daniel's back and together they got him into a sitting position. Daniel had to close his eyes as the room slid off on its own.

"Not good…" He mumbled.

"What's not good, Daniel?"

"Moving…"

"What hurts, Daniel?" Jack sounded really worried now.

"Everything…" Daniel almost-laughed. "But the room's…moving…"

Jack's gentle laugh washed over Daniel like a balm, welcome after such a long absence. "Just stay put for a minute and keep your eyes closed, it'll stop."

"Sure?"

Another laugh. "Pretty sure…"

" 'kay…"

Daniel could hear Jack moving around, metallic sounds and a hiss…wood on the fire…Liquid in a glass…water….

The glass found its way to Daniel's lips and he drank without question…he was dehydrated and he knew it. After the first sip, he had to restrain himself from gulping down the entire thing…

"Better?"

Daniel squinted out of one eye…and found Jack's face staring at him from just outside his clear field of vision.

"Look like shit, Jack…"

Jack smiled broadly. "Thanks, you too…"

Daniel risked opening his other eye and found the room behaving in accordance with the acceptable limits of the laws of motion. Jack held out his hand again and Daniel nodded. Getting off the sofa proved trickier than Daniel would have ever imagined…it hurt actually, his knees and back protesting the loudest, his ankle totally refusing to support his weight, his head throbbing in rough counterpoint to his heartbeat…

"Oh shit…."

Jack looked over in sympathy. "Bad?"

"Worse. Is this going to be worth it?"

Jack laughed and moved them off slowly, letting Daniel hold the blanket around himself while Jack kept his friend steady.

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"What day is it?"

Hobble, step…

"Monday"

"Oh."

Hobble, step…

"Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"How far to the bathroom?"

"Just a few more feet."

Hobble, step…

"Jack?"

"Yes, Daniel?"

"Where are my clothes?"

Laugh, hobble, step….

"Wet."

"Oh…"

Chapter Nine: Wind Shift

Jack shook his head at Daniel, trying very hard not to laugh at the younger man swaddled in Uncle Gil's much too large sweats. Uncle Gil towered over Jack's own head with shoulders twice as broad. The fit was loose on Jack but manageable…Daniel was far and away too skinny and too short. Jack struggled to tighten the drawstring while Daniel stared, perplexed, at his sleeve-covered hands.

Washing up had proven difficult, Jack providing Daniel as much dignity as his condition would allow. The ankle was pretty badly sprained, blue-black from toes to mid -calf. The knees were similarly bruised, the right one swollen and hot. Somehow…Jack thought perhaps during the last, desperate pull from the sliding car…something had left behind a tattoo of bruises along Daniel's back. A well-supplied first aid kit from the bathroom closet had yielded bandages and wrappings enough to make Daniel look like a refugee from 'The Mummy.' Jack had used the opportunity to draw Daniel out a bit…sparking tired synapses and assuring himself Daniel's dazedness was a result of utter exhaustion and not the effect of serious head injury. Little by little, Daniel's conversation improved from disjointed monosyllables to entire sentences…questions actually; Daniel's memories of the night before were even hazier than Jack's, but together they managed to fill in most of their mutual blanks.

Jack finished up with a sigh. "Ready to head back to the couch?"

Daniel's expression made his lack of enthusiasm quite clear, but he nodded acceptance. Jack pushed the too long sleeves up on Daniel's forearms and hoisted him to his feet. Jack heard the hitch of breath as Daniel stood, but said nothing as Daniel signaled his readiness. By the time they reached the sofa, Daniel was trembling, face gone even whiter from the effort. Daniel lay there breathing raggedly as Jack bundled the quilts back around him.

"Think you can stay awake while I fix something to eat?"

Daniel nodded. "Coffee, too?"

The slightly pleading tone made Jack laugh. "Sure, big guy."

Jack was almost to the kitchen when Daniel's voice stopped him. "Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

Blue eyes blinked up at Jack…sincere, exhausted…

"You saved my life last night….Thanks…"

Jack swallowed hard and nodded before continuing on to the kitchen. "The least I could do…"

The kitchen had been stocked to his specifications. Three pounds of Daniel's favorite coffee waited beside the coffee machine. Setting a pot on to brew, Jack scrounged out eggs and bread. Within a few minutes he had a tray loaded with scrambled eggs, toast, juice and coffee. He was surprised to see Daniel still awake, staring out the windows as the grey-blue light of dawn began to tinge the landscape. Jack nearly dropped the tray as he realized it had snowed a *lot.* Three feet, at least, and still coming down.

"We have two choices, call for help now and haul ass back to civilization…or dig in for the duration…" Jack sighed, placing the tray carefully on the coffee table.

Daniel smiled slightly, reluctance plain on his features. "Right now all I want to do is sleep anyway…might as well do that here."

"Eat first, sleep after…we need to get you fattened up so those clothes fit right."

Daniel laughed softly at that, pulling the front of the sweatshirt out in front of him almost as far as his arm could reach. "Never happen…" Jack passed over the coffee and watched as Daniel sighed in deep contentment at the first sip. One eyebrow lifted in question as he recognized the brand.

"Yes, oh great coffee connoisseur, it's your brand."

Daniel's smile grew even wider and Jack couldn't help but laugh. There was no doubt of it…the way to Daniel's heart was definitely through his caffeine intake.

Jack went back to the bathroom and retrieve the large bottle of Tylenol, shaking out two pills for each of them. The food disappeared quickly enough, but Jack could see the effort draining Daniel's flagging energy.

'Shit, O'Neill, what do you expect. He was in piss poor shape to start with, he doesn't have anything left for this.'

Daniel was without doubt one of the strongest-willed, most tenacious people Jack knew; it disturbed him to see the man he'd come to expect miracles of endurance from so… beaten down. Even with all the ups and downs of the past year, they still clicked, still worked…last night proved that…but it seemed to Jack there was a very tangible specter of defeat hanging over them. Jack shuddered at the thought and looked up to see if Daniel felt it too…

Daniel…was asleep. Plate still balanced on his knees, coffee cup sliding ever so slowly from his fingers. Jack smiled, shaking his head, and rescued the glassware, tucking the blankets snugly around his friend. Jack stood there a moment, noting a bit more color in Daniel's cheeks, thinking perhaps it was merely a trick of the approaching daylight.

Friends. They were still friends. Jack was sure of it. Daniel had said so and Daniel never lied to Jack. Daniel never lied.

'No, I'm the expert on that….'

Jack looked back down at Daniel…noticing for the first time the fine worry lines, the deep shadows of maturity's mark in Daniel's youthful features…

Three years of near-constant stress had changed the younger man; he was leaner, harder, quieter…except when defending a cause…withdrawn on levels Jack hadn't taken the time to notice until the lie had come between them. Daniel had forgiven him, Jack was sure of that, yet there was a distance…a holding back…now. Daniel challenged Jack, be it chess or philosophical debates, something Jack would never have imagined he'd enjoy, Daniel wouldn't let Jack get away with *not* thinking. And to Jack's surprise he'd discovered he *liked* it. Daniel still didn't like beer, was vaguely encouraging for Jack's sake when it came to sports…but Jack liked to think he'd taught the younger man a thing or two about having fun, lightening up against the heavy load of self-imposed responsibility and guilt.

Jack missed that give and take, the easy comfort of two like-not like friends, who regardless of the odds, had become the closest of friends. The 'friendship thing' was important to Jack…far more important than he'd imagined possible…

Jack sighed and picked up the tray, heading for the kitchen. The Tylenol and food had combined to make him pleasantly lethargic. Placing the tray on the counter for later disposition, he realized they had nearly two weeks…twelve and a half days to rest up…where better to do that than snow-bound in a mountain cabin?

'Sleep now…worry later…'

Jack took a moment to bank the fire before wrapping himself up on the other sofa again.

'Worry later…'

Chapter 10: Deluge

Daniel opened his eyes to darkness and a distinct-pop-crackle-grumble sound…

Sonorous vibrations from beneath the other set of quilts identified the source of one of the noises…

Jack. Snoring. Really *loud* snoring.*

Not for the first time, Daniel wondered how a man reportedly quite successful in the area of stealth had survived a single night without being detected.

' *Seismographs* could detect Jack's snoring…'

Daniel raised himself slowly, pleased to find his head much clearer than it had been earlier. His body still ached, but he found movement less of a torture…and he *really* needed to go to the bathroom…

Looking over toward the mountain of quilts that did little to muffle Jack's noise, Daniel made up his mind not to wake the other man.

'It's not like you've never gotten around on a bum leg before…'

Daniel hauled himself upright, suppressing sounds of his own in the effort not to wake Jack. Judicious use of the furniture and walls aided his journey, and he was pleased to find his ankle far more cooperative than it had been earlier…nonetheless by the time he reached the bathroom he was shaking again, feeling a cold sweat break out over his body. Another loud pop from the vicinity of the living room caused Daniel to rush his business and start back…

Something wasn't quite right…

Crack!

Daniel hobbled faster…the distinct groaning of timber under too much stress reverberated throughout the house, shuddering through the walls and floor…

"Jack!" Daniel was nearly to the end of the hall, could see Jack sitting up…looking back toward Daniel as if to ask what was wrong. "Jack, get out of there!"

Crack, rumble, bang…

The first timber fell…mere feet away from the sofa…snow, planks and roofing debris rushing downward…

Jack dived off the sofa, heading for Daniel at a run…

Another crash of timber rocked the floor, throwing Daniel to his knees. As he struggled upward he could see Jack again, nearly invisible within a shower of snow and wood…

'C'mon, Jack…'

Almost there…

Crack, groan…

The living room disappeared in a cloud of dust, Daniel could see Jack launch himself toward him…had a vague flash of memory, another place and time they almost didn't escape from…had time to pray this time they'd be just as lucky…then something heavy and cold drove him to the ground…

Chapter 11: White Out

'Oh, shit….'

Jack couldn't move…

It was cold again…but parts of him were warm…

Looking back over his shoulder, he could see most of his legs trapped under debris. Little snowflakes drifted in through the…damn big…hole in the roof, barely visible in the dim light provided by what was left of the fire.

There was another warmth below him.

'Below? Daniel?'

Jack moved his aching arms toward the warmth. Hair, cold skin, something wet…

"Daniel? "Daniel, c'mon, buddy. Wake up and yell at me here…"

Only silence answered him, silence and the howl of wind in the trees…no longer muffled by the solid house…

'Son of a bitch…Uncle Gil's gonna kill me…Or maybe I'll kill him, it's his roof…'

Jack tried to shift around, pull his legs free of the debris and found only painful resistance.

'Damn, damn, damn….'

As nearly as he could see he was effectively pinned in position by one of the large beams settled on top of what looked like an inordinately large amount of debris…cedar shingles, broken planks, leaves, snow…. Daniel was lying perpendicular to Jack, top to tail as it were. Jack swallowed hard.

'Two more feet. Two more feet and it would have been Daniel's head buried under all that stuff…'

"Daniel!"

Jack tried to shift his weight and found he could only move enough to keep himself off Daniel's head, still needing to rest his head on Daniel's back.

Strange…he could hear Daniel's heartbeat, steady, strong, reassuring….and a raspy sound with each exhalation…lungs becoming congested.

'Oh, hell, Danny…Why didn't we just stay home…?'

Jack shook off that line of thinking and shifted his wrist around, touching the light-up dial of his watch…3:55. Nearly three hours until daylight and he had no way of knowing how badly hurt either of them was. He felt…pretty okay…uncomfortable, but not too bad. He'd been in similar situations often enough to know that feeling 'pretty okay' wasn't always a sign everything *was* okay, but at this point he didn't feel he was in a position to question small favors. For the moment he was…pretty okay. It was enough.

"Daniel!" Jack patted a little harder at the cold skin beneath his hands, thankful to whatever power had placed Daniel anywhere other than the couch he'd been sleeping so deeply on earlier. If Daniel hadn't been awake…if he hadn't called out the warning to Jack…they would both be as totally buried as the sectional sofa, no longer visible at all.

Jack shuddered with delayed reaction, one hand subconsciously tightening on Daniel's shoulder…

'Close. Once again and as usual. We have got to be running a deficit on those nine lives by now…'

Jack huddled closer to the body sprawled awkwardly beneath him, listening again for the heartbeat…letting the rhythm and warmth convince him that somehow…together…they would be all right…

Chapter 12: Cloud Burst

*Hot, cold, pressure….every breath bringing with it needles of icy fire…*

Daniel needed to cough, couldn't because of the weight pressing down on his back…

A snoring weight…

Daniel opened his eyes to daylight…

'Way too much daylight…'

Pinned down as he was by Jack, Daniel could only see grey clouds above the remains of the living room. The chimney was centered in his direct line of sight, tall and skeletal, almost comforting in its sturdiness above the chaos below.

Daniel tested his muscles a bit…bracing for new aches. His back hurt more than before…whether from new strain or simply from the weight of the sizeable colonel currently using him as a pillow he wasn't sure.

His head *really* hurt…

'Knocked unconscious three times in less than two days…if it didn't hurt I'd be worried…'

Moving was painful, but Daniel felt like he felt like he should get up, start dealing with…whatever…

Unfortunately, there was a little problem with the idea.

"Ja-Jack?" Daniel was surprised by the unnatural raspy loudness of his own voice.

The snoring jumped, skittered then resumed.

'Geez, Jack, keep this up and I'm requisitioning earplugs…'

Daniel gathered his strength, thinking to forcefully shift Jack off, then looked over his shoulder toward Jack's legs…or rather, where Jack's legs should have been…It was clear Jack wouldn't be moving any time soon….

'Oh God…'

Even from his awkward perspective, Daniel could see that a good portion of the roof rested on Jack's lower half…one of the massive support beams looming atop the entire mess with immutable finality.

"Jack!" Daniel pushed up with one shoulder, causing the snoring to finally…thankfully…stop.

"Hm...what?"

Jack's weight shifted, pushing down as he did. Daniel moaned involuntarily at the pressure on his already tender back.

"Shit! Sorry, Daniel…you okay?"

Daniel nodded, breathing hard for a moment against the pain, finally giving in to the urge…the need…to cough.

It *hurt.*

Jack’s hands moved as far as they could, helping Daniel roll and sit up…rubbing along his back as the spasm took his breath away. Daniel became aware of Jack’s voice…promising things would be alright, things weren’t as bad as they seemed…

Something in Daniel…something surprisingly dark and just a little petty and largely ignored in the near constant crisis their lives had become…broke free…

“God, Jack…get a grip…” Daniel drew a shaky breath, one hand to his aching head.

“Daniel? What the hell…” Jack was looking up from his cramped position, half over on one side, elbow supporting his upper body a foot or so from the ground. Jack’s eyes were creased in an expression of concerned confusion…an expression Daniel suddenly hated…

“Look around, Jack, look at *us*…” Daniel gestured vaguely at the sky, at Jack, at the mountain of debris around them. “We’re miles from nowhere. What was the roof over our heads is now planted firmly on your ass. My head has got to be swollen twice its normal size to hurt this much and now I’m trying to donate a lung the hard way. Call me negative, Jack…but how bad do things look to you?”

Daniel looked down at Jack, looking up rather patiently all things considered…and felt a pang of guilt for not even asking how Jack was feeling…

Incredibly, Jack smiled, quirking his head to one side. “Well, when you put it that way I guess they look pretty damn bad.”

Daniel felt his anger dissipate like the warmth from both their bodies now they were apart…

‘Uh oh…that has to be some kind of significant analogy…’

The thought, the situation, the expression on Jack’s face…Daniel felt a laugh coming on, knew it was going to make him cough, knew it was going to hurt… didn’t care … couldn’t stop it …

He laughed.

Chapter 13: Eye of the Storm

Jack watched Daniel wind his way through his tirade, watched the frustration and pain bubble up and spill over…remembered another time when pain had spoken and pain had responded…idly wondered how the little naked guys were doing…and smiled. Saw the reaction to his flip answer…saw the little half-shocked grin, the little headshake as some errant thought struck…felt the rumblings of the laugh before it erupted…and degenerated into another paroxysm of coughing…

Daniel wrapped his arms around his chest, trying to hold it against the obvious pain while Jack rubbed his hand forcefully against Daniel’s back, hoping to ease the spasms. The coughing slowly wound down… raspy breathing taking its place.

“Better?” Jack asked carefully…

Daniel nodded a little, looking sheepish now. “You?”

Jack grinned again. “Pretty good for a guy with half a roof on his ass. Nothing hurts, I can feel my toes. I’m just … stuck.”

Daniel took a few shallow breaths, rubbing his temples. "Guess I should see if I can, uh, do something about that…"

Jack shook his head in disbelief. Daniel was sitting there on the debris, filthy in his over-large borrowed clothing. The younger man looked ready to collapse, face literally paler than the snow around them…shaking and bruised with an ankle swelled tight around its wrappings, and Jack could hear the rattle accompanying every breath.

"Daniel?" Daniel was moving the wood and planks in his immediate vicinity with his usual focused intensity. "Daniel!"

Blue eyes did a quick double take from Jack to the pile and back again, still shifting pieces off the pile. "Yeah, Jack?"

"This is going to take a while."

"Ye-ah…"

Jack smiled at the drawling tone. 'Guess that was one of those 'duh' moments…'

"Daniel?" A slightly sharper tone, a tone perfected over time to penetrate most of Daniel's states of mind…

Daniel stopped, finally looking at Jack.

"Daniel, you need to do a few things first here…if you can walk on that?"

Daniel's eyes followed Jack's gesture, looking at his foot as if only now remembering the earlier injury.

'Not hitting on all cylinders yet there, buddy…'

Daniel sighed deeply. "I'll make it. What do you need?"

Jack shook his head at the words. "*We* need, Daniel. *You* need some shoes…or at least some socks…two or three pairs before your toes freeze off. And another couple of shirts wouldn't hurt…look in the big chest in the bedroom."

Daniel started to protest, Jack stopped him with a raised hand. "Ah ah…it's cold, Daniel and it's going to get colder now that we're…ventilated. I wouldn't mind a blanket or two myself."

That statement generated a guilty look and a nod. Jack watched as Daniel shifted to his knees, holding tightly to the wall beside them…the lucky wall that had kept them from being crushed in the collapse. A quick, shallow breath and Daniel was upright, listing a bit to one side but standing. Jack watched in almost-fascination as Daniel centered himself, squaring his shoulders then moving forward step by awkward step until he disappeared into the bedroom.

Jack strained his hearing, noting the sound of drawers opening, a gasping curse…'the socks,' he guessed…then the crack of wood splintering…

"Daniel?"

Daniel's voice came back, breathless. " S'okay…sorry…"

"What's going on?"

"Just an idea…" Daniel's voice trailed off, a familiar tone Jack recognized as 'Daniel lost in thought.' Jack laid his head down on his arms in frustration, he *hated* being stuck and helpless this way.

A thump echoed down the hallway and Jack looked up to see Daniel hobbling toward him using a crutch…rather what was left of Uncle Gil's antique coat rack padded with a towel…under his arm. Jack watched as Daniel disappeared again into the bathroom, heard the medicine cabinet open and close then Daniel was on his way back down the hall, blankets hugged tightly under his free arm.

Jack gratefully accepted the warm blankets…two around his body, one under his head…sighing in pure relief at the luxury of warmth. Daniel produced the first aid kit and offered Jack some Tylenol, dry-swallowing two himself. Sterile wipes were put to use as Daniel cleaned Jack's cuts with single-minded purpose. Jack had little choice to allow it…but he was angry at the necessity. He knew Fraiser considered him her "worst patient ever"…a distinction he was rather proud of and knew he'd earned…but he despised being ill and further hated any situation that put his well being in hands other than his own.

Like he was in Daniel's hands now…

Daniel's fine, expressive hands…gently but firmly cleaning blood and grime away…competently applying bandages and tape… trembling from the cold and the effort of pushing himself when he should really be crashed out in a warm hospital bed. Jack looked up into Daniel's intent eyes, quiet and expressive in ways all their own. Long practice had taught Jack how to read those eyes…at least to some extent…and right now he could see raw determination, a promise that somehow Daniel was going to get them out of this mess.

Chapter 14: Distant Rumbles

Daniel was very much aware of Jack's eyes on him, could read the edginess there. Jack was by nature and training a leader…a leader in the very best sense of the word…and did not take well to any situation in which he was deprived of that ability. Daniel knew it, understood and accepted it…but sometimes it was really difficult to breach the barriers of self-sufficient…sometimes even belligerent… isolation and 'help' Jack…whether he wanted it or not.

'Right now I'm just too tired to fight with you, Jack…so just shut up and deal with it…'

Oddly enough it seemed Jack *was* dealing with it…lying there in calm acceptance, watching Daniel's hands with a look of deep concentration. Taping up the last bandage, Daniel sat back for a moment, gathering energy for the task at hand. A virtual mountain of oddly shaped wood and snow.

Daniel sighed heavily, rising to his feet, settling his makeshift crutch, and taking the first piece of wood off the pile. He could see the process was going to be lengthy and tedious…one wrong move and everything could collapse. Daniel closed his eyes briefly, feeling his heart lurch at the possibility…almost seeing in his mind's eye the huge pile sliding down…burying Jack alive…

'Not going there…It's not going to happen…'

Bit by bit, Daniel cleared a small area around Jack's backside…waited for the inevitable comment as the last piece was thrown aside…

"That's what I call taking a load off…"

Daniel squinted down at Jack's grinning face and shook his head. "Bet you spent all day lying there thinking that one up…but there's taking a load off then there's…" Daniel gestured toward the dauntingly huge pile of debris. "This could take a while…" he added, repeating his earlier sentiments with a sigh.

Jack nodded acceptance with more grace than Daniel would have expected. "That being the case, how about a break? To tell you the truth, I'm starving…"

Daniel looked down at his watch…2:35. "God, I'm sorry, Jack. Why didn't you say anything?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders stiffly. "You were busy…and I thought maybe it wouldn't take so long after all…"

Daniel frowned in apology. "I have to go carefully. One wrong move and…" Daniel's hands moved in an expressively downward motion.

Jack nodded, completing the aborted sentence, "Jack. Pancake. Got it."

Daniel smiled grimly. "Yeah, something like that…." Straightening his back and setting his crutch firmly, Daniel moved carefully toward the edge of the debris pile. "I think I can reach the kitchen…"

Jack nodded again. "Just…be careful…"

Daniel smiled as if to say "Who me?" and moved away, stifling a cough as he went.

Picking his way carefully, Daniel found that by staying close to the walls it was relatively easy. The kitchen was remarkably unscathed…a layer of dust and fine particles lay over everything, but the room was still solid. There was plenty of bottled water in the refrigerator…still fairly cold even with the power off. A search of the cupboards yielded a basket Daniel filled with water, bread, cheese and lunchmeat…plus a few chocolate bars.

A shake of the coffeepot revealed it was nearly half full and Daniel couldn't resist finding a clean mug and pouring some. Slumping into a chair, he drank half of it in one gulp…feeling the bitter liquid sting it's way down his hot, raw throat…

Sparking a fresh round of coughing….

The mug tipped and crashed to the floor, shattering in a splash of brown and white…a distant part of Daniel's brain noted the pattern, became focused on it even as his vision clouded…

Distantly he could hear Jack shouting his name from the other room, knew he should call back…should *go* back…

'I don't have time for this, Jack needs me…'

A rush of heat flooded through him and he felt his body falling from the chair…knew it was going to hurt…

Chapter 15: The Scent of Rain

Jack heard the crashing noise from the vicinity of the kitchen and panicked…

"Daniel! God…" He pushed himself up on his arms, as if somehow he could push away everything that had been holding him down and go help…

He *hated* feeling this helpless.

"Daniel! What's going on? Daniel?"

Only the windblown silence answered him. He felt a sudden chill, unsure whether it came from the cold or the pervasive feeling of alone-ness creeping up on him…

'Daniel's okay…he has to be…'

Jack thumped a hand against one of the large planks lying across the back of his legs.

'Damn it!'

"Daniel!"

Jack hit the floor again in frustration, pulling forward against the heaviness holding him back. Several smaller pieces of debris shifted off the pile, striking him in the back and Jack ducked his head.

"Damn it to hell…What the hell else can go wrong…?" Jack shook his head and sighed in frustration.

"At this point, I wouldn't ask…"

Jack started at Daniel's voice, shaking his head and grinning as Daniel came into view.

"What the hell happened?"

Daniel limped over and sat down beside him, placing a basket of food within Jack's reach. Rubbing at his head, Daniel shrugged. "Just had a little trouble catching my breath. I'm okay…"

'Uh huh…'

Jack reached for a bottle of water and studied the younger man carefully. Daniel was whiter than ever, beads of perspiration on his forehead, fine tremors affecting his grip on his own water bottle…

"You sure you're okay?"

Daniel nodded but avoided looking toward Jack, reaching instead for the bottle of Tylenol in the first aid kit. Jack noted the action, accepting Daniel didn't want to talk about it…and reached for one of the chocolate bars.

"Got all the food groups there, did you?"

Daniel smiled at the comment, shrugging a bit. "Just the important ones…"

Jack pulled off a bit of cheese, offering it to Daniel who shook his head…

"Daniel." Jack pulled out strongest 'for your own good' tone and Daniel favored him with the petulant 'I'm fine, don't bug me about it' look. Jack had a look of his own …the 'I care what happens to you, you damn stubborn archaeologist' look that generally…and usually successfully…countered it.

Daniel sighed hugely and took the cheese…nibbling at it with a clear lack of enthusiasm.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Jack caught the sidelong look from Daniel…so happily familiar…and grinned in return.

'Maybe things are going better than I thought…'

Daniel took another long drink from his water bottle and prepared to stand again. "I should get back to work…It'll be dark soon."

Jack nodded noting the flick of Daniel's wrist tossing the remainder of his cheese into the stack of wood already removed. He shook his head, there was no sense in making a further issue of it…and it wasn't long until dark. Looking back again at the mess on his legs, he realized it was going to be another very long night.

Chapter 16: Storm Warning

Daniel knew time was running out, knew the darkness would soon catch up to them and bring with it the penetrating cold…

Tossing aside another piece of shingle, Daniel sighed and looked up through the hole in the roof. The sky was clearing, the persistent snow clouds finally giving way to pale blue. Daniel sighed again and stood back to look at his progress…there hadn't been much. He had been forced to work from the top of the stack down to avoid allowing the entire mess to collapse on Jack.

Jack had gone to sleep at some point…and Daniel was glad for it. The steady monotonous work had allowed him a lot of time to think.

He realized he had been closed off to nearly everyone and everything since Sha're's death. It had been easier…so very much easier…to slip back into old patterns of behavior established in childhood. The work, the research, the missions…all had worked together to keep him from coming to this very moment…a moment of 'truth'…

'Look, Jack, a cliché…'

The entire past year had been so full of things to be gotten through…too full because they hadn't had time to 'get over' them…some of them he wasn't sure could be gotten over…or should be. The thing with Hathor had rattled him as little else had…there was so much darkness attached to those memories. He'd come so close to losing it all then, so close to dying…or simply losing his mind. He still remembered everything…so clearly…remembered his body's unwilling betrayal, the fog he'd barely survived in until Sam had removed Hathor's little gift at Hammond's mountain cabin, the spiraling madness inspired by Machello's gift…how nearly he'd come to believe he truly was losing his hold on reality, then losing Sha're, Jack's lack of enthusiasm for an admittedly far-fetched notion…

And then Jack was gone…less than two months after losing Sha're…before Daniel had even gotten close to regaining his footing…his greatest source of support was gone. He'd been virtually alone, alone where it counted…where Jack usually was…with his ready wit, blunt words and bottomless capacity for caring. So many long nights alone…driving by Jack's dark house, sometimes stopping in the drive and getting as far as the door before realizing Jack wasn't at home…might never be home again….

A few weeks later Jack was back on Earth, but gone in a way Daniel would never have believed possible…So far gone from the man Daniel had thought he'd known it had caused him to doubt his sanity for the third time in a year. It was all just so *wrong*….and that belief was the only thing holding him to the reality he'd come to know…come to rely on…

Jack had lied to him… something he'd never done… without a blink, without a single outward sign to hold hope against…

'And that's really the problem, isn't it? Not the perceived betrayal, not even the words he spoke…it was the fact that he lied to me and I couldn't even tell it was a lie…'

Strangely, the realization made Daniel feel better…he'd given a name to the persistent demon….now if only he could exorcise it…

Daniel smiled down at his sleeping friend, bending over to carefully tuck the blankets closer around him. It was growing colder already as the sun disappeared over the mountaintop.

Daniel straightened and looked down the hallway. He needed to do a little reconnaissance before it got too dark to see his way around the debris; they needed more supplies to get them through the long, cold night ahead…

Chapter 17: Stillness

Jack woke up to the distinct feeling of warmth.

Opening his eyes, he found the area bathed in greenish light…a lantern…and the light was giving off heat…

So was the warm body tucked in close in front of him, not quite touching but near enough to feel the heat of fever warming them both under the…sleeping bag? Jack looked around more carefully…a canvas tarp was extended overhead, tied onto the light fixture, a fallen beam, the pile on top of him and a wall…a pretty effective tent holding in the blessed heat. More food rested in the basket near his head, and Jack smiled and propped himself on his elbow to snag a napkin-wrapped sandwich…Daniel had cooked dinner.

*Your talents never cease to amaze me…*

The long ago statement was as true now as it had been on the day Daniel…Daniel of all people…delivered the baby back on Argos. More true. The younger man was a consistent source of pleasantly surprising knowledge and talents.

Jack's legs ached to *move,* to release himself from the restraint and stretch themselves…He sighed, letting go of what he couldn't change. The sandwich was good. He realized this was his second almost-meal in two days and wondered if Daniel had managed to eat anything.

Looking down at the huddled figure beside him, Jack could see the dark hollowness under the eyes, the gauntness in the cheeks having little to do with lack of food. Daniel was sick…and from the sound of his breathing…getting sicker.

'But he won't give up…Daniel never gives up.'

Jack realized the truth in his words, knew it with a certainty rarely granted to many things in his life. Daniel would get him out or…

'Nope, not going there… '

Spotting the bottle of Tylenol near the basket, Jack shook Daniel's shoulder.

Daniel's eyes jumped open quickly. "Hm? Jack, what is it?"

"It's okay…you need to take some of this…"

Daniel focused blearily on the bottle in Jack's hand. "What…uh…why?" The blue eyes drifted closed again.

Jack tapped a hand on the too warm cheeks. "You have a fever, you need to get it down…"

Daniel reached blindly for the pills and water Jack gave him. Jack helped Daniel a sitting position, bracing his back until he'd swallowed them. Daniel handed back the bottle and lay back down with a sigh.

"Thanks, Jack…" The reassuring words ended in a squeak.

"Sure thing, Daniel. Feeling just peachy, aren't you?"

Daniel nodded. "I'm okay…"

Doubt evident in his voice, Jack replied, "Sure you are."

Daniel snuggled deeply into the coverings, "Night, Jack…"

Jack shook his head, laying his own head down. "Night, John-Boy…"

"Cute, Jack…" Daniel's voce was muffled but distinct.

"Thanks, I work on it…"

A snort rumbled from the depths of cloth. "I can tell…"

Jack did a little double take at the implied dig. "No respect, I get no respect…"

There was no answer to that and Jack assumed Daniel had drifted back off. It felt good to banter together…a familiar ritual born of many long nights on distant worlds, many shared nightmares sitting on his deck drinking beer in the dark because neither of them wanted to risk sleep. This was real, this was normal...this was *them.*

And it felt pretty good…

Jack let himself drift away on that note…feeling a warmth settle into him that didn't come from any external source.

It felt damn good…


Chapter 18: Tempest

*Hot, too hot…Fire…Netu…Apophis…*

Images burned in Daniel's brain…the fires of Sokar's hell, the fire in his head as the beautiful face of Sha're watched impassively while her possessor killed him…

*Hot, too hot…*

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice…penetrating the twilight level between wakefulness and nightmare…

Jack telling him everything was okay…but Jack had lied…

How many more of the fundamental truths on which their friendship was based were lies?

Scenes flashed through Daniel's head at breakneck speed…images of Jack…promising, supporting, caring…all conveyed with little more than a look or a lopsided, awkward smile…

Other scenes…Jack nonchalantly dismissing three years…apparently more intimately connected to his beer bottle than the man who considered him his one true friend on the planet…

Which was the truth?

*It was just so damn hot….*

"Daniel?"

Something cold and wet was bathing his face, pulling him up from the fire and turmoil of his dreams….

"Daniel…damn it…"

The one voice Daniel couldn't ignore…the tone of the friend who had been forced to walk away and let him die alone. He remembered that guy…knew him, liked him…and had been convinced of the rock-solid invincibility of their friendship…

Cold penetrated the fog and Daniel forced his eyes open to see Jack holding himself as far up as possible on one hand while the other swiped a cold napkin across his forehead.

"C'mon, Daniel…don't do this…." Jack's voice trembled with an edge of panic Daniel had *never* heard there before. Brown eyes burned with stubborn will…dragging him up and out….

"Jack…?"

The napkin settled and rested on his forehead, a comforting anchor…holding him in place…

"Jack, what's going on?" It seemed to Daniel his voice came from somewhere outside himself…somewhere far…

Jack settled on his elbows, with a look of pained regret filtered by Daniel's own hazy vision.

"Back with me now, big guy?"

"Back…?" Daniel found it impossible to make sense of Jack's words or expression, his mind refusing to connect the dots of what it saw and heard.

A bottle of water touched his lips and he drank automatically. It felt good going down, cooling the harshness in his throat.

"Enough?"

Jack again, a gentle soothing tone. A thought emerged from the recesses of his mind that 'gentle and soothing' were not a part of Jack's general modus operandi. Daniel pushed the thought away…he knew better…He'd heard this voice before, too many times to count. Jack might not wear his heart on his sleeve, but Daniel had no doubts of its existence…or its capacity.

Daniel looked once again into the brown eyes so close to his…he knew this man, remembered him so well…was glad to see him again…

"Welcome back, Jack…"

Jack's eyes squinted in confusion, clearly not understanding.

"Thanks, Daniel…you too…"

Chapter 19: Changing Winds

Jack sighed at Daniel's words…

'Welcome back? Where have I been?'

It dawned upon Jack that he had been a lot of places…mostly absent from Daniel's life through some of the toughest times the younger man had ever faced. He hadn't been there for Daniel…and even when he had been there…he hadn't. He remembered his musings on the drive here…he *had* become so used to those old patterns of repression, the self-isolation that by necessity had isolated those around him, that he had forgotten to let his friends in, had almost forgotten how...and he had been too far inside himself to recognize it.

And had almost waited too long to grab the clue waving in front of his face like the proverbial red flag.

'Well, bull is definitely the word here…bull shit. As in me. Full of.'

He and Daniel had faced too many demons…out ‘there,’ as well as the more earth-bound varieties…in and out of their nightmares…to let it all fall apart without a fight…

Jack could see Daniel was unaware he’d been talking in his fever dreams…words that cut into Jack’s soul with a surgical precision worthy of Janet Fraiser at her best. Words of loneliness, pleas to understand…Jack had lied and now Daniel questioned every word they'd ever shared …seeking an elemental truth…something to ground his flailing soul to now that Sha’re was gone. A part of Jack had recognized the failure…had tried to make things up to Daniel. The business with the Harseisis had helped, when Jack had seen Daniel quietlyfloundering under yet another loss…he had tried to lend support, but it had been as if the capacity was somehow damaged…or perhaps it had been the connection between them that always allowed them to help one another which was faulty.

“Damn. It’s a wonder you’re still speaking to me, Daniel. ‘The foundation is solid,’ my ass. If it was a boat we’d have hit the bottom weeks ago…’

And yet…Daniel’s words told a different story. ‘Welcome back…’ Maybe it wasn’t so hard to understand, after all.

They *were* back…a little fuzzy around the edges…like an unfinished line drawing…near enough to tell what the picture was supposed to be, but clearly lacking in the finer details….

“Guess we need to do a little detail work…”

Jack had thought Daniel was asleep again so he was surprised to hear the whispered, “Details…work on it…”

Jack laughed a little, knowing Daniel couldn’t possibly know what he’d been thinking…but not truly surprised. Reading one another’s thoughts was hardly a new concept for them.

Jack tucked the blankets up around Daniel’s chin, readjusting the wet napkin on the still-hot forehead. Daniel was in serious need of a doctor…

‘Hell, I’m in serious need of a bulldozer…’

They were in trouble.

‘Here on Earth, less than five miles from civilization and we might as well be on another planet. Uncle Gil knows we’re here, but last I heard he was heading for Oregon. He won’t check up on us…probably wouldn’t worry too much about the phones being out if he did…it happens a lot around here. Nobody from the base is going to call us…they were pushing us to take all this alone time. Doc…maybe…might try, but we can’t count on it.'

It was a pretty sure bet Daniel wouldn't be up for moving more stuff off the pile any time soon…

'Even flat on my back…er…front, I'll be damned if I'll let him.'

Jack sighed and patted Daniel's shoulder, laying his head back down. "We'll figure something out…if Hathor and Apophis couldn't kill us…damned if this is going to."

Chapter 20: A Break in the Clouds

There was something on his head…icy…and something else on his back. No, not on his back, against it…

Jack.

Daniel had to work to remember anything about the previous night…but the words came back to him, the dreams…the feeling of restoration. He had faced the demon, and if there hadn't been any great epiphany of change…there had at least come a measure of peace…

Peace in letting go.

Peace in accepting his best friend was human…things had happened...would continue to happen…to test and strain their connection. They just had to work a lot harder to keep it from happening again.

Daniel lay there a moment, assessing his condition. He felt pretty well actually…tired and achy. Thirsty, hungry. His back and ankle were stiff; he really wasn't enthusiastic about moving any time soon. All in all though, he felt … better.

'Probably that last dose of Tylenol…' Daniel smiled at the memory of Jack waking him a couple of hours before, offering more of the pills…both of them at their stubborn best. Not surprisingly, Jack had won. 'That bottle must be getting pretty low by now…'

Daniel shifted carefully, trying not to disturb Jack, and retrieved the water bottle. Lying back on his pillow, Daniel studied what was visible of the debris pile under the tarp…the haphazard patterns somehow deliberately intricate in their juxtaposition. Daniel had likened it earlier to a house of cards, but now he could see it wasn't…it was more like the old kid's game with the colored sticks…the pile seeming so fragile yet strategic pieces could be removed without affecting the overall integrity. Daniel rose up quickly, noting how the large crossbeam held everything pressed firmly *down*…if it weren't for the weight of the beam….

That was it!

Daniel recalled working on a dig site in South America during his junior year of college. The site crew had elected to erect a tent over the dig due to the early onset of the rainy season. Daniel had watched in utter fascination as the workmen had raised logs with pulleys, bringing the heavy supports upright with surprising speed and very little effort…

'We could do it…just the two of us. I don't suppose Uncle Gil keeps a supply of pulleys on hand but surely we can improvise something…'

Daniel pulled the coverings off himself, tucking them carefully back around Jack. Daniel was fairly sure the older man had spent most of the night tending his semi-delirious bedmate. Daniel couldn't recall a single moment of clarity throughout the long night that did not hold some image or sound of Jack…words of comfort, of shared pain, of promise, of apology….

Daniel sighed and pulled his crutch close to help him stand. It was harder getting up than it had been the day before…the weakness dragged him down. He wanted nothing more than to lie back under the covers and wait for help that might never come…

They *had* to do it now…Daniel knew he couldn't continue to push himself this way, sooner or later his body would simply call 'time' and refuse to obey. If they were very lucky, the pressure on Jack's legs hadn't caused some sort of permanent damage…who knew how the blood flow was being affected…? Jack hadn't complained of any undue pain…which might or might not be a good thing….

It took several long minutes for Daniel's vision to clear once he was on his feet. Placing the crutch careful he hobbled back down the hallway toward his first destination…the bathroom.

Chapter 21: The Sun Breaks Through

Jack felt something missing…

His hand slinked over to his left…definitely something missing…

Daniel…

Jack pushed himself up on his elbows and looked around…

"Daniel!"

The sound of rough coughing echoed from the direction of the bathroom, the sound going on and on until Jack could almost feel it physically…sympathetically sharing his friend's pain…

"Daniel?"

" Coming…hang on…"

Jack could hear a metallic clank, a thump, then Daniel moving…the crutch clicking as it sank into the hardwood floor. Finally Daniel was on his way back, Jack could see the younger man had changed clothes…now dressed in dark blue sweats, still far too large for him. There was something wrapped in a towel under his free arm, plus a triangular bottle of green liquid in his hand, Nyquil.

Jack laughed to himself and shook his head, then put his stern face on.

"Daniel, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Daniel shrugged his shoulders. "I think I may have figured out a way to get you out of there…"

Jack's protests died at the words, he was way beyond ready to get out. If Daniel had an idea important enough to drag him up as sick as he was, Jack was more than ready to listen.

Daniel outlined his plan quickly, unwrapping the object in the towel to show Jack a wheel from what looked like a lawn mower or cart. Daniel had cut away the rubber to reveal a rimmed wheel that looked remarkably like a pulley.

"Now all I need is some rope and we're in business."

Jack shook his head, amazed at the simplicity of the plan.

"Rope? I saw some in the pantry."

Daniel nodded and headed off. Jack tracked the sounds of the crutch hitting the ground rhythmically, the occasional stifled cough, the creak of the pantry door and a muffled 'yes'…

Though this wasn't the first time Jack had been in such a situation, it was the first time it wasn't occurring under some sort of urgently perilous circumstance. It was strange how the forced inaction had made him appreciate the simple freedom to *do* things…not to mention the patience it took to be still.

'It takes a whole damn lot of work to be still…'

And yet in the stillness, Jack had found truth…and that he did understand. Their misbegotten vacation had progressed pretty much as their lives had lately…one crisis after another…but somehow events had conspired to allow things to begin to work out between them. Jack definitely did not want to repeat the experience, but he couldn't say he was sorry it had happened either…

'My knees might be sorry once I'm out of here…'

The falling tarp interrupted Jack's thoughts. Daniel had untied the canvas and was rigging the pulley…wheel…with a length of rope strung through the hole and tossed over one of the remaining overhead support beams. Daniel looped more around through the wheel's rim and the whole thing was then hoisted up and anchored to one of the upright posts.

It *looked* like it should work…

Jack held his breath as Daniel used his crutch to lasso the beam on top of the debris pile, a few misses…so close… then it was looped and Daniel was coaxing it snugly into place before tossing the end of the rope over to Jack.

Daniel reappeared around the debris, his breathing a bit rough. "Think you can push it off with one of those boards when I get it up?"

'*When* not *if*….that's my boy…'

Jack nodded. "Sure, no problem. I am way past ready to get out of here."

Daniel smiled as he pulled on some old work gloves he'd found. "Me, too. You…You know…"

The 'stumbling over his own thoughts' tone conveyed many things and Jack wondered once again how Daniel managed it. This particular tone said 'this may not work,' 'the whole thing might come down,' are you sure you want to do this?'

Jack responded to the unspoken things, knowing with an absolute certainty there was really only one thing to say…something he should have said a long, long time ago, when he had first recognized the truth of it.

"I trust you, Daniel. Let's do it."

Daniel looked down at Jack…almost visibly gauging the truth behind the words. Finally, he nodded and moved to select a board long enough for the purpose. Jack shifted around on his side, seeking the optimum position for as much leverage as possible. Daniel passed over a sturdy two-by-four, taking up the rope then looking down one last time, head tilted a bit in question…last chance to back out…

Jack grinned and nodded his head, trying to impart trust and faith in the space of a single glance…

"Ready when you are."

Chapter 22: The Clouds Depart

Daniel's hands were shaking…and he knew it had nothing at all to do with the pervasive weakness of his body or the cold seeping into his bones. This was Jack's life…literally at the mercy of the strength of two hands…

'My hands…'

Daniel sighed and positioned himself, looking down one last time. Jack's expression transported Daniel back to Klorel's ship…after the last bomb was placed and they were about to commit mutual suicide for the greater good of mankind. They had looked at one another with determination edged with a sense of fatalistic humor…an 'all or nothing, at least we're in this together' sort of comfort against the reality they were about to face…for the few nanoseconds it would take until they disintegrated.

They hadn't needed words then…they didn't need them now.

Daniel pulled, gently at first, bringing the rope taut to be sure everything was going to hold. Daniel could feel his muscles trembling as the strain began…knew there would only be one shot at this…

Slipping the end of the rope around his waist, Daniel pulled again and was rewarded by a slight shifting of the beam. Backing up a step pulled the beam even further off its resting place…but they needed more…

Daniel could feel the ache working its way up his chest…the urge to cough was building again…

'Not now!'

Another step back, another two inches…just a little more…

In his peripheral vision Daniel was aware of Jack bracing himself…the board being eased into place…

Another step…the beam was clear…

His lungs were on fire…

'Now, Jack…it has to be now…'

Jack shoved the board…hard. Daniel could feel the force of it against the beam, prayed it would be enough…and let go of the rope…

The fire would no longer be denied. Even as he hit his knees, Daniel could hear the crash of the beam over his own coughing, through rapidly clouding vision he looked up to meet Jack's grinning face…

"Way to go, Tool Man."

Daniel understood the reference…that dumb sitcom Jack watched over and over again. As the coughing subsided, Daniel wiped his face tiredly, unable to resist a reply, "Tool Man's a dork…I was thinking maybe…MacGyver…"

Jack looked a bit stunned then laughed outright as Daniel crawled over to collapse on the blankets, breathing in small shallow pants to keep the coughing at bay. A bottle of water touched his lips and he drank automatically. Daniel closed his eyes knowing the job wasn't over…there was still a lot of stuff to be cleared. He opened his eyes quickly; he had to get up…

A hand on his shoulder stopped him. "A few more minutes won't matter. Take a break."

Daniel nodded, letting his eyes close again. "Five minutes, don't let me sleep…"

The hand patted Daniel's shoulder.

"You bet…"

Chapter 23: Sunrise

Jack watched Daniel sleep, feeling incredibly relieved they had succeeded. It already seemed to Jack that a huge weight had been lifted…

'Well, maybe because it has…'

Yet it was more than the physical weight. They had done this together, working as one toward a common goal as they had done so many times in the past…reading one another in a way they hadn't for a very long time.

Jack sighed and put his own head down a moment, checking his watch…a little over three hours until dark. Jack knew he should wake Daniel, it would be a lot better for both of them if Jack were free and able to help take care of things…but at the same time, he knew Daniel needed all the rest he could manage. Jack had seen Daniel's eyes as he began pulling on the rope…understood all too well the look of fatalistic realization as Daniel comprehended that he'd the limits of what his body was willing to give and edged into the territory of sheer will…a place they had both visited before.

Jack shifted around, looking at the pile on top of him…maybe…just maybe…

Once more making use of the two-by-four, Jack pushed at the upper levels of the debris…hearing a satisfying thump as a large portion of it slid off on the other side. Encouraged, Jack pushed some more.

'Good, good…'

So engrossed in the simple pleasure of being able to *do* something to help himself, Jack didn't notice when Daniel woke up and joined him…pulling off the nearer planks and shingles and throwing them into the stack. They worked together for a long time that way…stopping only when Daniel needed to catch his breath, cough or take medicine, once to eat and replenish fluids…even in the cold they were both sweating with exertion.

It was less than an hour before dark when Jack felt something shift against his thigh.

"Whoa, Daniel, hold it…"

Daniel stopped, looking over expectantly.

"Something moved here…."

Daniel leaned over to peer into the bottom of the stack.

"Give me the board, Jack…"

Jack watched as Daniel extended the two-by-four into the depths of the pile, just beside and above his legs. After a bit of shifting, Daniel pushed down on the board and Jack felt…free…

"Pull yourself out, Jack…"

Jack did not need to be told twice, pulling with his hands and dragging his legs…a little…a little more…out…

Jack looked back to see Daniel, still stubbornly holding his weight on the board…eyes screwed shut, sweat breaking out on his forehead…

"Daniel! I'm out, let go!"

Blues opened slowly, looking down to be sure before letting go of the board…

Jack wiggled his very cold toes…watching carefully to be sure the thought was resulting in very real action.

"Yes! We did it, Daniel…"

Daniel just sat there grinning as Jack sat up and massaged his legs against the pins and needles just beginning to creep up from his toes.

"God, I never thought I'd be so glad just to sit on my butt…"

Jack was pleased to hear the light chuckle from his friend…

"Daniel?"

"Yeah, Jack?"

"You know I appreciate all this right?"

"Yeah…I know…"

"So I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining or anything, okay?"

"Sure, Jack…what is it?"

"I really, *really* need to go to the bathroom."

Chapter 24: Warm Breezes

Daniel was amazed at the amount of pleasure he was getting from seeing Jack, upright…walking, albeit stiffly, beside him. Jack was making all sorts of odd noises at the pain of returning circulation…rather large and exaggerated noises Daniel was sure were as much to relieve the tension as anything else. Daniel laughed obligingly, doing his part to assure Jack things were as they should be…on a lot of fronts.

Leaving Jack at the bathroom door, Daniel entered Uncle Gil's bedroom…intending to find clean clothes for Jack, but the large four-poster bed proved too great a temptation and he fell into it with a sigh.

'Just for a minute….'

They’d done it…as impossible as it was to believe…they had actually done it. Daniel rolled over onto his side on the soft bed, feeling the chill of the blanket beneath him…too long in a room without heat…begin to leech its way through the multiple shirts he was wearing. It didn’t really matter, felt pretty good actually…the fever was rising again. The simple relief he felt at knowing at least a portion of the crisis had passed threatened to rob him of all the adrenaline charged energy he’d been operating under for hours.

“Man that felt good!” Jack nearly shouted as he came out of the bathroom. Daniel rolled over a bit and smiled…finding it difficult to keep his eyes open. Jack was still limping a bit, it would likely take time to walk off the effects of two night’s inactivity…but the older man had a huge smile on his face, relishing his freedom with all the boundless enthusiasm of the teenager he sometimes resembled. The smile faded a bit as he saw Daniel lying there on the bed.

“You okay?”

Daniel nodded. “It’s all just catching up to me I think.”

Jack nodded, reaching into a drawer for fresh clothes. “Just take it easy then…I’ll change then get everything carried in here. It’ll be easier to keep warm in this one room than it was in that hallway.” Daniel nodded acquiescence, indulging himself for the moment in the elemental pleasure of being cared for. It was nice once in a while to take the lead, be the one in charge…but for now…it was really great to simply let Jack do what he did best.

Daniel closed his eyes, feeling a chill shudder through him. Sudden warmth enveloped him and he forced himself to look. Jack was looking down at him with eyes full of quiet peace.

“Go to sleep, big guy…let me worry about things for awhile…’

Daniel sighed and snuggled into the blanket. “Thanks, Jack.”

A light hand brushed over his forehead and Daniel sighed again. “No, Daniel…thank you.”

Chapter 25: Sunshine

Jack could feel the heat radiating off Daniel, amazed once again at the sheer tenacity of the younger man…the stubborn refusal to give in. They had made it this far. They were alive, reasonably ambulatory, had plenty of food on hand…the only thing they really lacked was a heat source, but Jack had an idea about that.

Stripping off the grimy clothes he’d worn for two days, Jack dressed quickly in another set of the seemingly endless supply of sweats, slipping a flannel work shirt on over it all for good measure. Digging around in the bottom of the closet produced a pair of hiking boots…just one size too large. Jack put them on and stood, feeling closest thing to clean he’d felt in days. A bath would have been the only thing better but with the electricity off, the well pump was essentially useless.

Heading down the hallway on legs a lot less achy than he had a right to expect, Jack retrieved the lantern and medicines next to their former bed and carried them to the bedroom. The next order of business was to cut the hallway off from as much of the weather as possible. Commandeering Daniel’s tarp, Jack tacked it onto the walls at the end of the hallway…after he made his final trip out, he’d tack the bottom of the tarp down as well, effectively cutting off most of the drafts.

Jack traveled on toward the kitchen; amazed that Daniel had managed to maneuver the debris with his bad ankle. The missing roof was a renewed shock from his upright angle, seeing the edge of one of the couches…barely visible now, Jack sent up a heartfelt word of thanks to the patron saint of errant colonels and their archaeological sidekicks. The fireplace was intact…hardly covered, everything had fallen away from the stone structure…and Jack had an idea…

A search of the pantry and kitchen cupboards yielded everything he needed…camp supplies, soup, coffee, juice and bread only just starting to freeze. Moving back to the fireplace, Jack piled the grate full of the plentiful supply of kindling formerly known as the roof. The seasoned cedar and pine caught quickly, burning with a delicious heat. Jack filled the old metal coffee pot with grounds and bottled water, setting it close to the flames. A cast iron Dutch oven served as a soup pot, Jack poured three cans in and put it next to the coffee. Heading back to the kitchen, Jack ducked into the pantry again, digging amongst the disorganized mess for something he knew Uncle Gil always kept…

There, half hidden by fishing gear…kerosene lamps…three of them and all full. Jack had every reason to know that it didn’t take much of a heat source in a well-insulated room to keep things comfortable. And this cabin…what was left of it…was damn well insulated. Jack transported the lamps to the bedroom then went back for the food, dishes and more water. One last trip to put the fire out and Jack was ready to seal off the hallway.

Moving back to the bedroom, Jack lit one of the lanterns…placing it on the bedside table. Jack poured two mugs of coffee and a dose of the Nyquil. Taking one of the mugs over to the bed Jack waved the mug under Daniel's nose…laughing as Daniel's expression registered the coveted smell. The blue eyes opened fractionally, tracking the mug as it moved.

Daniel reached out a hand only to find it holding the small dosage cup of Nyquil. Jack smiled at the successful maneuver and nodded encouragingly, holding the coffee back as an obvious bribe.

"Funny, Jack…" Daniel swallowed the dose with a grimace, then grabbed the mug as it passed and sat up to sip at it, sighing in utter satisfaction at the taste. His expression grew confused. "How did you…?"

Jack drank deeply from his own cup and smiled. "A little boy scout ingenuity."

Daniel's eyebrows quirked in confusion, but he shrugged it off in favor of more coffee. "Didn't know they had a coffee badge…"

"Yep, right after the '15 ways to cook breakfast on a stick' badge..."

Jack went to dish up the soup, bringing back a bowl for each of them.

"Eat up…it'll be dark soon. We'll get a good night's sleep then figure out where to go next."

Daniel nodded, sighing as the warm soup soothed his throat. They ate in a silence once again comfortable. Jack smiling at the slightly drunk expression on Daniel's face as the Nyquil worked its green magic, Daniel smiling with the dopiness encouraged by it. All too quickly the green magic defeated the lure of food or coffee and Daniel's eyes slid closed. Laughing gently, Jack pulled the covers over Daniel…reflecting once again on Daniel's inability to hold his alcohol…even in medicinal form.

Jack refilled his coffee cup, placing the Tylenol and Nyquil close to hand on the nightstand, and settled back on the bed, drawing the blankets over his legs. Daniel muttered something in his sleep, shifting over a little to draw on Jack's warmth. With a careful hand, Jack gauged Daniel's temperature as moderately high…not nearly as hot as it had been the previous night. One way or another, though, they still needed to get back to civilization.

'I've had enough of this *Oh, Pioneers* living to last me a lifetime…'

Chapter 26: Sunset

The house was shaking…

'Not again…'

Daniel opened his eyes quickly, almost expecting to see falling timbers…

Nothing.

Only the marked vibration shaking the walls…a subdued sound like choppy wind coming from somewhere outside.

"What the…"

Slipping out from beneath the blankets, Daniel felt a twinge of nausea, a sinking stab of sickness in his gut. He had vague thoughts of food poisoning, but in the end chalked it up to the cumulative effects of everything his body had been through over the past few days. Looking around he saw his crutch was on the other side of the room, Jack was notably absent, and there were…voices…coming from the front of the house.

'Voices. Plural. More than one.'

Daniel congratulated himself on his deductive skills and pushed himself to his feet. A triple hop brought him to the door where he snagged the crutch and settled it under his arm. As he made his way slowly down the hall, Daniel realized there were several voices…one of them definitely a very happy-sounding Jack.

"…stuck under there almost two days, believe it or not until Daniel figured out how to get the beam off."

A quieter voice said something Daniel couldn’t quite decipher over the noise of his own breathing.

"Things are good…damn good. He's pretty sick, but a lot better than he was… "

Daniel pushed through the tarp-door at the end of the hall to see Jack and two heavily bundled figures standing by the remains of the debris pile.

"Jack…?"

Jack looked up with a smile. "There's our boy now."

The other two turned quickly…brightly familiar smiles breaking out as they regarded Daniel.

"Sam? Dr. Fraiser?"

Daniel couldn't help recognizing the déjà vu familiarity of their expressions. They had believed he and Jack were dead…

Sam moved quickly to hug him gently, one hand slipping up to feel his forehead. Daniel returned the hug but frowned at the maternal gesture.

"I'm alright, Sam…"

Bright blue eyes regarded him with more than a little skepticism as Dr. Fraiser moved forward to take charge in her usual no-nonsense fashion.

"I'll be the judge of that if you don't mind, Dr. Jackson."

It was not a question, but Daniel nodded as if it had been. "Right."

Jack had moved up behind them, grinning foolishly at the familiar Fraiser-Jackson interplay. Daniel caught Jack's expression and favored the other man with a look promising future retribution.

"How'd you find us?"

Sam laughed, relief clear on her face. "The RCMP found the rental car two days ago. Once they tracked down who it was rented to they called General Hammond to see if maybe you'd come home without reporting the accident. It took us a little longer to find your uncle and get the location on the cabin…the general plans to talk to you about that later, sir…we all flew up to Edmonton and commandeered some choppers. Ferretti and Teal'c headed back when the colonel signaled the okay. You guys ready to get out of here?"

Daniel nodded, trading a look with Jack. "Yeah, I think we're ready, don't you, Jack?"

Jack gave a crooked smile. "Can't see what else we can get into here…"

"I wouldn't say that if I were you…the way this trip has gone."

A shrug and a smile answered as they started walking toward the door. "I don't know, Daniel…this rates right up there as one of my best vacations…ever."

Chapter 27: Thunder Rolls

The coffee was hot, the food…so-so…but Jack reveled in the sensation of warmth and comfort. Janet Fraiser had checked them both out at Edmonton…pronounced Jack bruised, but not broken…Daniel sick, but on the mend, and hustled them all onto a transport back to the SGC.

Two days later and Daniel had been pronounced semi-ambulatory, actually spending several hours on the third day in his lab while they were confined to base because, as General Hammond put it, they "couldn't be trusted to stay out of trouble." Jack hadn't missed the undercurrent of rough affection under the general's bluster.

Jack was taking it easy as well, catching up on paper work then going down to drag Daniel off for dinner and a chess game before he could accidentally forget his curfew and work himself into a relapse. It was nice to share a quiet evening together this way, as they had in the infirmary, sometimes with Sam or Teal'c as audience…sometimes just the two of them. Jack hadn't realized how much he missed the simple pleasure of quiet companionship, the comfort of another's presence whether they were doing anything or not.

It seemed to Jack that Daniel had achieved a similar peace…the tension lines fading more every day…the younger man looked *happy*. Not a grin-big-enough-to-break-his-face happy…that wasn't Daniel's way…it was more of a Cheshire cat, all's-pretty-darn-okay-in-my-world smile that never seemed to stray far from the surface.

Watching Daniel sip at his bootleg coffee…snuck in to him by Carter…Jack was amazed at the difference in both their lives a few days, a lot of snow, and a pile of debris had made. As Daniel leaned forward to place his knight in a surprisingly aggressive position, Jack noticed a little wince.

"What's wrong?"

Daniel shook his head. "Just a pulled muscle from using those crutches so long…I think."

"You *think*?"

"Well, I've been off them for a couple of days now. I figured it would have gone away by now…"

"What did Fraiser say?" The head duck executed on schedule and Jack followed the eyes down. "You didn't tell her?"

"C'mon, Jack…I spend enough time down there without giving her any more reasons to poke at me." Daniel sat back with a huffing exhalation, wincing again at the movement.

Jack sighed and stood up. "Let's go…"

"Jack…"

Jack schooled his own expression, knowing he couldn't hold out against the pleading eyes for very long if he didn't…one smile and he'd lose control of the situation. Holding out a hand, Jack saw the sulky acceptance…knew he'd won…this round at least.

Daniel sighed, hugely…taking Jack's hand and allowing himself to be helped up. Jack passed over the cane Daniel had been using once the crutches were no longer necessary and waited for Daniel to fall into step beside him.

Making their way down the corridor, Jack said, "You know I was thinking we might try that fishing trip again…somewhere closer to home…?"

"Sure, Jack…sounds like a plan…"

"You okay?"

"I'm good…"

"Good. You sure?"

"Um hm…" The assurance ended on a high note that did little to convince Jack. Looking over at Daniel, Jack noted the once again pale face, the stooped posture and the sudden appearance of perspiration on the other man's pain-lined forehead.

'Oh, shit…here we go again…"

Jack sighed, making a pretty good guess at the nature of this new storm life seemed determined to throw at them. They would weather it together…again.

*fin*


**********************************
Author's note: This takes events up to Nemesis…and we all know now what the little twinge was.

 

 

 

 

 

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