Stay Awake

Author: Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, H/C, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  7 - August 12 - September 22, 2003
Spoilers:  One False Step, 1969, Holiday, Fair Game, Upgrades, Window of Opportunity, Divide and Conquer (all minor)
Size:  95kb
Written:  July 29-Aug 10 2003  Revised:  October 12, 2003  Revised Again:  January 25-26, 2005, February 22-23, March 4,20, December 21-22,27-28, 2007, January 7,17, 2008
Summary:  On a routine mission, an injured Jack and Daniel fight for survival.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Information about the Cliff Palace is taken and quoted, with slight changes to allow for better flow, from http://members.tripod.com/~k_two/mysteries/lostcity.htm
2) Jack and Daniel sometimes say things that have double meanings.  A simple “Jack” or “What are you doing?” could mean much more than the words spoken and could carry multiple connotations, including feelings, desires, fears, etc.  These double meanings are noted like this:  “Actual spoken words”  **(double meaning)**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Sam,  babs, Devra, Jo, DebA, Linda, Caro, Lissa, Claudia!

Stay Awake
By Orrymain

“Welcome to my world -- rocks, rocks and more rocks,” Colonel Jack O'Neill commented as he scanned the depressing terrain on P2Y-333.

SG-I was carrying out a basic recon and field trip, the kind of outing that usually left Jack bored stiff, while the science twins, better known as Major Samantha Carter and Doctor Daniel Jackson, 'played'.  On 333, Sam would be conducting a variety of soil and sample testing while Daniel wore his anthropological hat, checking out the terrain for any signs of a long-gone society.

Oftentimes, Jack and Teal'c were nothing more than onlookers on these trips through the Stargate.  Truth be told, Jack didn't mind this mission.  It was calming to have an occasional break from all the Goa'uld and 'who has the bigger honkin' gun' quests.

“Carter, you and Teal'c go play that way for a while, and Daniel and I are going to do a little exploring up ahead.  The UAV showed a T-formation of rocks about three clicks northwest of here.  We'll meet up there in six hours.  Radio check in two.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The team synchronized their watches and then went about their various tasks.

The planet was flat with very little vegetation or greenery and no signs of life, but it did have rocks everywhere they looked.

~Danny must be in rock heaven,~ Jack thought as the explorers traveled in a northerly direction, each quiet and lost in their own thoughts and observations. After a while, though, the quiet had become almost disturbing.  He was surprised his archaeologist had said virtually nothing as they surveyed the planet and had only stopped occasionally to examine various formations in their path.  Even then, Daniel hadn't sounded very excited.  “Hey, Danny, why so quiet?”

Daniel was disappointed by what he'd seen so far.  He'd hoped they'd find some signs of habitation, something to show some culture or history for this planet, but to his dismay, Jack's initial assessment was proving to be right.

“They're ... rocks, Jack,” the younger man stated despondently, having noted nothing unique or special in anything they had come across thus far.

“Artifacts,” Jack corrected, sensing his lover's mood from his tone and choice of words.

“No, just rocks, but let's keep looking.  There must be something here that will give us an insight about who might have lived here once.  There's a rise up ahead; maybe there'll be something there.”

====

At the two-hour mark, Sam and Teal'c radioed in as scheduled, reporting that they were making progress and were encouraged by the richness of an unexpected mineral find.

“I'd like to do a few more tests, Sir,” the major requested of her CO.

Having given his permission, Jack informed, “Daniel and I are going to keep going for a while.  We still have a lot of daylight left.  Radio check in two.”

====

About thirty minutes later, the lovers came across a large rock that loomed above them like a mountain.  There were numerous crevices and recesses of various sizes and depths, but none of them were big enough to allow the explorers to investigate inside them.

~Looks like a Thomas' English muffin,~ Jack observed.

“How does a mountain look like an English muffin?” Daniel asked verbally after hearing his lover's silent thought.

Jack stared at the younger man, still amazed at how in synch they were, to the point of being so tuned in and aware of the other that they often ended up hearing the other's internal meanderings.

“Jack?” Daniel asked, aware his lover had gotten lost in some inward contemplation.

Snapping out of his temporary paralysis, Jack explained, “Look at all the nooks and crannies.  It's a muffin.”

Amazed at his soulmate's odd sense of humor and observational analogies, Daniel chuckled lightly as he continued to investigate the area.  As he did, though, Jack's 'Danger Will Robinson' alarm was beeping mildly.  The formation seemed unlike anything he had seen before, and he was suddenly getting a funny feeling about the area.

The two men climbed the rocky terrain for a few minutes, Daniel hoping to actually find an artifact, and Jack making the most of a chance to survey the planet's expanse from a higher area using his field glasses.

“Jack, look!” Daniel exclaimed in excitement, pointing out a slender opening that led inside the rocks themselves.

This particular opening was taller and deeper than the others, inviting the inquisitive archaeologist inside.

“Danny, be careful.  Don't go in there.”

“Jack, this is great.  You have to see this,” Daniel called out as he disappeared through the narrow passageway.

“Daniel!”  Jack hurried to catch up with his sometimes aggravating partner in life.  “*Daniel!*”  He caught up to the younger man just as the end of the long tunnel-like structure was coming into sight.  “Daniel, how many times have I told you *not* to do what you just did?”

The younger man laughed, “Sorry, Jack, but I knew you'd be right behind me, and see, here you are!”

Jack shook his head as if to wake himself from a dream and spoke, “Sometimes, Daniel ...”

“Yes, Jack?”

Knowing he had no chance of winning the debate, Jack merely grunted and then said, “Let's see what's in there,” while nodding towards the opening.

====

Just one minute later, Jack and Daniel reached the other side.  Though they were still standing at the peak of a rocky slope, they were now overlooking a luscious valley of green, with proud, tall trees rising everywhere.  The sky was a bright blue, with puffy pure white clouds and warm sunshine all around.  The beauty of what they were seeing had both men in awe, especially since the other side of the planet had been nothing but gray rocks and overcast skies.  

“Wow, it looks like a paradise,” Daniel exclaimed with surprise as they began their descent to the valley floor.

“Careful on the way down.  It would be easy to lose your ... OUCH!”

“Jack, what happened?” Daniel asked as he stopped, turning back towards his lover, who was sliding down the dirt path a few feet behind him.

Jack came to a halt and finished his sentence -- “Footing.”

“Did you fall?”

“No, Daniel, I just thought I'd sit here and relax for a while,” Jack growled.  As he stood, he warned, “These rocks are sharp.  I jabbed my hand just now when I ...”

“Fell?”

“Like I said, be careful,” Jack instructed, refusing to answer the question.  He walked past the man who owned his heart and continued the trek to the bottom, ignoring the younger man's snicker.  ~Geeks!~

====

Fifteen minutes later, Jack and Daniel reached the base of the jagged rock mountain and stepped into the forest.  It was quite a contrast to the world they had just left, and from what they had been able to see during their trip down the ridge, the only connection to that other side was this one rocky incline.

“Welcome to my world -- trees, trees, and more trees,” Jack said, parodying his earlier comment about rocks.

“The UAV didn't pick up on any of this, Jack.  It's like we've walked from one world to another that is completely different.  I mean, it's so flat on the other side, but this ... the rolling hills, the trees, and, wow, there's life here.”

Jack smiled, reveling in Daniel's enthusiasm.  The young man's eyes were bright with wonder, and his voice full of passion.  As much as he complained about Daniel’s ‘prattling mode' lectures and presentations, he loved to see his partner marveling at the wonders of the universe, gushing forth with enthusiasm about whatever discoveries were unfolding before him.  Of course, he could never admit he felt that way to his lover or life would become one miserable lecture after another.

The colonel could hear it now:  “But, Jack, you said you wanted me to be happy and enthusiastic.”  He shuddered at the possibilities, deciding it was best to bring his archaeologist back down to earth.  “Careful, Danny, one of those birds may just gift that nose of yours with a little surprise if you keep looking up like that.”

The two laughed and noticed other animals running about including a squirrel-like creature that rushed by them and ran up one of the giant trees.

“It sure is different from the other side, where the Stargate is.  Lots of sunshine here.  Hey, hear that?  Must be a river or stream up ahead,” Jack said with a smile.  Rivers meant two things to Jack O'Neill -- fishing and skinny dippy with his sexy archaeologist -- and both thoughts brought a giant grin to the man's face.  Willing himself to think of the mission and not his lover, he attempted to redirect his mind.  “Why would this planet have two such distinct environments?”

“I have no idea,” Daniel answered.  “Sam will have to run some tests; maybe readjust the settings on the UAV.”

As Daniel began to click his radio to contact the major, Jack interrupted, saying, “Whoa, Dannyboy.  Priorities: Carter needs to finish that mineral survey first.  We'll let her know about this at the next scheduled check in.”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed easily, lowering his hand.  Still looking around, he commented, “I've never seen anything like this before.  I've never read about anything like this.  The differences between the two sides are astounding; I mean, they're so close together, but so ...”

“Different?”

“Yeah.”

====

When it was time for the next radio communication with Sam and Teal'c, Jack clicked his radio and called out, “Carter, Teal'c, come in.”

Getting no response, Jack tried again, but heard only static over the airwaves.

“The signal is probably being blocked somehow, maybe by the cliff ... or something.”

“Yeah, probably.  I should have thought of that before we came down here,” Jack responded.

“You made a mistake?” Daniel teased with bright eyes.

“Let's not go overboard.  It was just a tactical omission.”

“Alzheimer's?”

“More like geeks who move forward without permission,” Jack retaliated.  As Daniel chuckled, he continued, “Okay, well, since we can't have Carter meet us here, when we get back, we'll contact Hammond and see if we can get an okay to stay another day.  Carter will be nearly orgasmic testing this area.”

Daniel laughed, “Orgasmic, Jack?  I don't think ...”

“Ah, yes, Daniel.  You know how she gets about solving scientific puzzles, and you have to admit, the difference between where we were and where we are is a very big puzzle.  She'll be playing with her doohickeys for hours.”

The archaeologist laughed, “Doohickeys.”

“It's the ...” Jack began.

“... technical term,” both men said at the same time, repeating a joke that had begun years before.

Several minutes later, the two men reached the river and paused, taking in the Eden-like state of their surroundings.  Jack checked his watch, a bit leery that they hadn't been able to notify Carter and Teal'c of their location.  He also didn't know what to make of this paradise they were suddenly in.  It didn't make any sense to him.

“We're going to have to head  back soon, Daniel.  We have a long walk back to the rendezvous point.”

Daniel was caught up in the picturesque view and totally ignored Jack's comment about leaving.

“This is amazing, Jack.”

It was his lover's expression and total enthusiasm for the region that kept Jack from following his normal urge to get out of Eden before they accidentally bit into the apple that would spell disaster.  Thus, he pushed his usual doubt and skepticism to the far corner of his mind got lost in some casual conversation.

“I wonder if there's fish in that river,” the colonel said, looking over at the flowing water.

“Fishing!  Is that all you ever think about, O'Neill?”

“Hardly,” Jack laughed.  He walked towards his lover while pushing his weapon to hang at his side instead of snapped to his vest.  He snatched Daniel into his arms and asked, “Jealous, Danny?”

The younger man snarled, “No reason to be, Jack; you never catch anything.”

“Wrong, Love,” Jack growled seductively.  “I caught you.”

To prove his point, Jack kissed Daniel soundly, putting an end to their brief banter.

“It's nice here,” Daniel sighed into Jack's shoulder once they came up for air.

“It's nice anywhere that you are.”

“You're getting sappy, Jack.”

“Your point being?”

Daniel laughed, “Nothing.  Just making a statement, that's all.”

The younger man hadn't moved out of the embrace, nor had Jack released him.  They liked holding each other, and it was rare they got the chance to do so away from home.

“I could stand here all day, like this,” Jack admitted.

“Me, too,” Daniel agreed.  “Though with all the gear we're wearing, it's not as nice as it, uh, could be.”

“Yeah,” Jack had to agree.  He'd love to remedy that situation, but the CO in him was beginning to surface again.  It wasn't the time or place, unfortunately, for such intimate moments.  With a final tender rubbing of his lover's back, and a soft kiss to his hair, Colonel O'Neill returned to duty.  “Time to go, Jackson.”

Reluctantly, Jack and Daniel released their hold on each other and refocused on their duty.  They began their journey back towards the passageway and were nearly there when Daniel's attention was called to a noise that sounded like a cry of distress.

“Jack, do you hear that?” Daniel inquired as he sought out the sound.

“Yeah, it sounds like a whine of some kind; probably an animal.”

“There!” Daniel exclaimed, pointing upwards.  “Up in that tree.  Look Jack!”

With a sinking feeling, Jack looked up, high up, into a very old tree.  On one limb there was a small animal that appeared to be trapped and was crying pitifully.  The creature resembled a cat, only it had horizontal black and white stripes and three ears, the third one being at the center of its head.

The experienced outdoorsman also noticed that the sunshine was disappearing, and the skies were beginning to darken, the puffy white clouds now graying like Jack's hair.

“I wonder what that is.  Almost looks like a cat, but it must be stuck, Jack.  Look how he's pulling on his leg.”

“I'm sure he ... she ... it ... whatever will be all right.  Let's go.”

“No, Jack, we can't just leave it trapped up there like that.”

“Daniel ...” Jack started, knowing that he had lost the argument before it began, but needing to try anyway.  His lover was already beneath the tree and tracing a mental path to the animal.  “Daniel, I'm not sure this is a good idea.”

“We're not leaving him up there like that, Jack.  It'll only take a minute. Help me up.”

Daniel removed his backpack, placing it at the foot of the tree and was waiting for Jack to give him a boost.

Reluctantly and with his internal alarm having gone from steady beeping to full-blown blaring, Jack gave his life partner a lift into the tree.

Carefully, Daniel began to climb the tree, moving as swiftly as he could from limb to limb.

The older man couldn't resist saying, “Go on, Space Monkey, but be careful.  Some of those branches may not be very strong.  Looks like we're in for a storm, too.”

Daniel grinned, replying, “I knew you couldn't resist.  Sometimes you're so predictable, Jack.”  He continued to scale the tree until he reached a branch that had a thick brush protruding from it.  ~Strange: wonder what this is,~ he thought as he tried to just climb over it.  ~Ouch,~ he thought upon making contact with the sharp thistle.

“What are you doing?” Jack shouted, noticing the delay.

“This thistle is sharp; it's not ... like what we have.  I'm going to cut it away,” Daniel shouted as he carefully reached into his boot and extracted the knife that he kept there.

The knife Daniel was reaching for was one Jack had had made for his lover.  Jack had one like it, too.  They were non-military issue, and the lovers sometimes carried them for backup.

Jack frowned as he watched from below, not liking the delay.

“There, we ... *watch out below*,” Daniel yelled as the knife slid from his hands, a result of the prickly bush unexpectedly giving way and a sudden splatter of rain which had startled him.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  We'll get it later,” Jack said, the knife having landed quite a ways away from the tree.  ~I want to keep my eyes on him,~ he thought about his lover upon deciding not to retrieve the knife right away.

Finally, Daniel reached the branch where the cat-like animal was clinging on desperately.

“It's okay,” the kind-hearted rescuer spoke quietly and calmly, smiling as he very slowly inched his way across the narrow tree limb.

“Danny, it's raining!”

The younger man rolled his eyes.  He could feel drizzle, the rain splattering on his hands as he gripped the limb.  He was trying not to be nervous, but this particular branch wasn't as big as some of the others, and he could feel it give a little under his weight.  The limb was also narrowing even more as he got closer to the critter, but Daniel didn't want to think about that.

Finally, the tree climber reached his objective.  The little animal was frightened, cowering as much as it could in its caged-like state.  Daniel could feel the creature trembling, but was gradually able to soothe the 'cat' with his soft voice and tender stroking of its fur.

The animal's front left paw was trapped inside a recess in the tree branch, its claws clinging involuntarily to the bark.  It took several minutes, but the scientist was finally able to dislodge the paw and was happy to note there was no real injury to the 'cat'.

Suddenly, thunder boomed overhead.  Startled, the small animal darted away from Daniel, down the tree, and off into some nearby bushes.

“Daniel, get down from there ... *now*,” Jack barked, the worry in his voice obvious.

“Coming, Jack,” Daniel shouted down towards the ground.

The rain had begun in earnest.  In just a few minutes, this part of the planet had gone from a brilliant sunshine to a dark, rainy gloom.  The wind was picking up, too.  Both men were already drenched, and Daniel was still working his way down the old tree, hampered by slippery moss on the limbs.

~Geez, Danny, be careful.~

Full of concern, Jack watched his lover move gently back along the much-too-thin limb of the tree in front of him.  It was taking his Space Monkey too long to get down, causing the older man to fidget from anxiety.

Daniel was only halfway through his downward climb when the gusting winds strengthened, blowing debris across the valley; branches were flailing like whips, cracking as they blew back and forth.

~Sounds like a Rice Krispies commercial -- snap, crackle, and pop -- those guys are so funny.~  Jack chided himself for a momentary lapse.  ~Shut up, O'Neill; this isn't the time for humor.~

The darkened skies exploded with gigantic bolts of lightning.  Another loud roar, and then Jack's nightmare happened.

“*Daniel*,” Jack yelled to no avail.

The winds were now so strong that Daniel couldn't hear Jack's shout.  The ancient tree's limbs were beginning to crack, and with one mighty gust, the branch on which Daniel was currently perched was shaken from its parent.

Daniel frantically tried to latch on to another limb, but it broke as he reached for it.  To make matters worse, the grabbing motion sent him lunging into another branch, his head thrown against it like a hockey stick hitting a puck.  He came crashing down, his limp body twisting through the air as his abdomen was jostled and jarred by the jagged edges of breaking branches.

Jack watched in horror, fighting the increasingly gusty winds as he dodged falling bits of bark and limbs from the trees.  His heart had stopped when he saw Daniel's impact with the tree, his hands perspiring with fear, flexing his fingers as he witnessed his lover's tumble to the dampening earth.

Desperately, the silver-haired man tried to position himself to catch his tumbling lover, or to at least cushion his impact against the ground; but a sudden gust of wind resulted in the archaeologist hitting the ground a few feet away from Jack.

“Danny,” Jack cried, running to where his precious soulmate lay.  Kneeling down, he repeated, “Danny?”

Jack was still fighting the winds to prevent himself from falling over, and the rain was beating down hard on their bodies. Hail began plummeting from the skies.

Daniel had landed face down, his hands near his head.  Some of the thistle had fallen atop of him, and as Jack tried to get it away, he understood why his lover had used his knife.  The thistle was unusually sharp and sticky.

Retrieving his own knife from his boot, Jack carefully removed the biggest chunk of thistle away from his lover.  A big blast of wind then caused him to topple forward, so much so that for a moment, he was afraid he was about to stab his lover.  Quickly, he began to cut away a secondary chunk.  As he pushed the chunk to the side and off of his lover, he suddenly cried out in pain, the thistle and his knife falling to the hard ground.

~Crap!  What is that stuff?~

With the thistle now gone, Jack hesitated just briefly before turning Daniel over, fearful of a spinal injury, but aware that he had little choice.  There was no way they could stay here.  The younger man had a nasty-looking gash at the top of his forehead, about two inches long.  His blood was seeping down slowly like a draining bottle of Heinz Ketchup.  His right eye was swelling.

Jack saw several minor cuts on his lover's face and hands, and having seen Daniel hitting several tree limbs on the way down, he figured the archaeologist probably had broken a rib or two.  Briefly, he surveyed their surroundings more closely.  He needed to get his injured lover out of the area.  The old tree was shifting, its limbs breaking lose one by one with the increasing winds, looking a little like a skyscraper collapsing, floor after floor.

The colonel continued to examine his soulmate.  Reaching into his pack, he pulled out a bandage, wrapping it around Daniel's head wound.  He couldn't tell if there were internal injuries, nor did he have time to do more than bandage his lover's head wound to try and stop the bleeding.

More crashing sounds drew Jack's attention.  Looking to his right, his pulse quickened.  One giant tree had fallen, crashing into its neighbor, and it too had collapsed, pushing into a tree next to it.  One after another, tree after tree collapsing, ~like dominos,~ he thought.

The wind was deafening, and Jack barely heard the all-too-soft voice of his lover, calling out to him.

“J'ck?”

“Hold on, Love.  We need to get out of here.”

As Jack worked out his game plan, a new round of thunder boomed in the distance as lightning danced through the skies; both he and Daniel were soaked, water running down their skin.  A blizzard of zaps and jolts surrounded them, the wind threatening to push them into rolling tumbleweeds; and the hail increased in size and density.

Jack was hit sharply in the middle of his back by a one-inch ball of ice, prompting more frustrated obscenities to leave his mouth.

As he prepared to move Daniel, Jack heard a noise over head, and looked up just in time to see yet another limb coming loose from the battered tree they were nearest to.  Realizing the dangling appendage was about to fall, he threw himself over his linguist.

“J'ck, don't,” Daniel tried to argue, vainly trying to move his hovering Jack armor aside.  Not surprisingly, since he could barely lift his arms, he had no luck, and Jack held his position, shielding the scientist, covering as much of Daniel's head and torso as possible.

The branch hit the colonel solidly near the top of his left shoulder, and he couldn't hold back a cry of pain.  With an anguishing push upward, the branch rolled off to the side, the wind helping the movement.  His shoulder ached from the effort, but he was glad that the falling limb hadn't done more damage.

As he sat up and removed himself from his lover's injured body, Jack saw his radio fall onto Daniel's chest.

“Oh, for crying out loud, what else can go wrong?”  The radio was broken, and Jack realized for the first time that Daniel's had been crushed when he fell from the tree.  “Danny, are you all right?” he questioned, shoving aside the knowledge they now had no way of contacting Sam and Teal'c.

Jack knew it was a stupid question.  Daniel wasn't all right.  Blood was still freshly staining the bandage on his head wound; his cuts hadn't yet been cleaned, although the rain had washed off the dirt and debris, and with the temperature continuing to drop, hypothermia was becoming more of a possibility.

“J'ck, are you hurt?”  The question was wheezed as Daniel labored to breathe.  He tried to look at Jack, but had a hard time focusing, his mind jumbled as he asked himself, ~Where'd the truck go?~ sure that an eighteen-wheeler had run over him.

“I'm okay, just banged up my shoulder a little bit.  Nothing to worry about,” Jack lied.  He was worried, and whatever damage was done to his own body by the fallen branch hurt more than he cared to admit.  They were stranded with no way to call for help.  On top of that, the elements were making it difficult to see and hear.  “Yep, we'll be fine.”

The lovers were still quite a distance from the passageway, and the storm was showing no signs of letting up; even if the tunnel had been close, Jack was certain that with his injured shoulder, he wouldn't be able to carry Daniel up the sharp rise.  In any case, fallen trees were now blocking the path they had originally used.  They'd have to find a way to go around them, and that meant a longer, harder trip.

First though, Jack needed to get Daniel out of the rain, away from the chance of further injury from the hail, the wind and falling tree branches.  A part of him, that innermost part of him where his deepest fears and doubts resided, felt helpless, but his survival skills were strong and once again, the colonel took charge, calling upon his training and experiences to protect his lover.

Surveying the perimeter, Jack couldn't see any place for he and his lover to take shelter.  All he saw were trees, and he noticed with alarm that many of the old giants were swaying with great fragility at the whims of the winds.

Thunder once again roared overhead.  The rain was pouring down even harder than before, small pieces of hail falling onto both men. Jack remembered a couple of openings near the base of the incline at the edge of the valley where they had entered the forest-like area.  If he could get Daniel there, they could wait for help to arrive.

“Help, right,” Jack mocked himself.  He knew Sam and Teal'c would be looking, but the odds of them finding the passageway leading to the valley were slim.  ~That *was* a costly mistake I made after all, Danny.  Crap!~ he bemoaned at his failure to notify Sam and Teal'c before he and his lover had walked through the passageway.

More lightning decorated the sky, accompanied by the roar of thunder and the cacophony of crackling trees and howling winds.

“Okay, Daniel, we're going to move now.  I need you to help me as much as you can.”

“J'ck, go.”

“Daniel, shut up.”

Worry over his soulmate's condition and their dire situation had made Jack unusually sharp.  Though he regretted the need for such sharpness, he had no intention of wasting precious time debating the undebatable, so putting his game face on, he became the tough-as-nails colonel, silencing his lover with his sharp tone, ignoring the other man's objections and concentrating on getting them both the heck out of Dodge.

Though his shoulder hurt like Hades, Jack refused to let it hinder him too much.  He got Daniel up, supporting him almost completely.  He tried to pick up the archaeologist's pack, but the pain in his shoulder was too great.  Knowing that it was more important to get his lover to safety, he reluctantly let the pack fall to the ground.  The contents of his own pack would have to last them both until they were rescued.  Together, the two men made their way towards the edge of the valley where Jack hoped the openings would provide a suitable shelter.

====

It took quite a while, and Daniel was practically dead weight, but the two men finally reached the opening to a cave.  Out of the rain and wind at last, Jack gently placed his injured lover on the hard, rocky floor.  He gingerly removed his pack and his jacket, folding the wet coat into a roll and placing it under Daniel's head.

Pulling out the medical supplies, Jack did his best to clean the cuts, dressing the bigger ones with Band-Aids.  He was especially worried about Daniel's head wound, which was still bleeding slightly.

“Danny, we need to get these wet clothes off.”

“Trying to take 'vantage of me, J'ck?” Daniel asked, his attempt at humor strained by his weakened voice and labored breaths.

“Always, Love,” Jack replied, trying to sound reassuring.

Jack gave Daniel a gentle kiss before gingerly removing the younger man's clothes.  He tried to hold back revealing his own pain, not wanting to alarm Daniel more than he already was.  The young man had very little strength left after their walk to the cave, so it was up to SG-1's CO to do most of the work.  Once he had Daniel stripped, he pulled out the thermal blanket from his pack and wrapped it around his lover's chilling body.

“Hey, Danny?”

“Hmm?”

“I'm sorry I told you to shut up back there; I just ... we needed to get out of there, and I wasn't going to leave you.”

“Sor...sorry, J'ck.  My fault 'gain.”

Jack placed his hand on his lover's cheek, smiling as he refuted, “No, Love, it's not your fault.  You were saving a life, and there's nothing wrong with that.  There was no way you could have known the weather would change so quickly here.  I didn't see it coming either, so stop the blame thing right now.  Okay?”

“'K.  Head hurts, J'ck,” Daniel gasped as Jack gently touched his chest, reminding him that his head wasn't the only thing that hurt.

“I know, and I'm sorry, Danny.  It feels like you may have a couple of broken ribs, and you have a nasty cut on your head, probably a concussion.  I think we need to make sure you stay awake until they find us.”

“Sl'py, J'ck.  Wanna sl'p.”

“No, Danny, you can't, not right now.”

“C'n't stay 'wake.”

“Yes, you can, and you will,” Jack ordered with all the command tone he could muster.

“Try'ng to give me ord'rs, J'ck?”

“Yeah, and you are going to obey this one to the letter, Doctor Jackson.  You got that?”

“Hmm” was all the young man could utter, blinking his eyes as he tried to focus on his demanding life partner.

Jack finally stripped off the last of his own clothes.  He and Daniel were now naked except for their white boxer shorts.

“Good thing we didn't go commando,” Jack tried to laugh.

Daniel responded with a soft sounding chuckle and then the tease, “Or yyy...yyyour Ho...mer ones.”

Jack groaned for a moment, but said nothing, seeing the weariness of the jokester.  Letting the young man rest for a few moments, he took a better look around their shelter.

There wasn't much in the refuge, the cave itself not being very big, but Jack could see some straw and wood shavings. The pain in his shoulder jarred him as he leaned down to pick up the few pieces of wood he could find.  Fortunately, there was enough to start a small fire.

Jack also realized that once the rain lessened, he would have to leave the cave to find more wood.  On the positive side, with all the falling trees and snapped branches, finding wood wouldn't be a problem, but having it dry enough to use might be.  On the negative side, however, leaving Daniel even for a few minutes frightened him.  The archaeologist had to stay awake and would struggle to do so, if left alone.

Reminded of the need for warmth as he watched his sexy soulmate shiver, Jack spooned up against him, covering as much of the young man as possible without aggravating his injuries and then making sure the blanket was as snug as possible around him.

“Hi, J'ck,” Daniel said sloppily with a small smile.

“Hi, yourself.”  Jack couldn't stop himself from placing a short kiss on his lover's cheek.  He held the man tightly, stroking his soulmate's arms and abdomen tenderly to bring warmth to the man he loved more than life itself.  He watched as his Love's eyes closed.  “No can do, Danny.  I can't let you sleep.  Open your eyes.”

“Sl'py.  C'n't.”

Jack was desperate.  He needed to get Daniel focused on something other than sleep.  His partner had a mind that once started rarely stopped for anything, including sleep.  He figured if he could distract the genius, they might have a chance.

“Danny, this lost city business, I don't get it.  How does an entire civilization lose a city?”

“You're smarter than that, J'ck,” Daniel replied, knowing that his Love wanted him to talk.

“So humor me.  How do you lose a city?”

“Done lots, J'ck, ev'n Col'rado.”

“If it's lost, how do you know it's in Colorado?”

“'Cause they found it.”

Jack laughed as he replied, “Well, it's news to me.  When did they find this place?”

“I think 'twas late eighteen hundreds.  Cowboys lookin' for ca...cattle in a cany'n saw a cave that looked like a p'lace.”

Jack listened, recognizing with relief Daniel was entering full lecture mode, and this was one time he wasn't going to try and quiet him.  He noticed Daniel was having a hard time breathing, though, a result of the ribs he figured.

“It was the lost city of Mesa Verde we now call Cliff Palace ... means 'Green Table' in Sp'nish ... is in Col'rado that is flat tableland ... top is 'bout two-thousand feet higher than the s'rounding land.”

Daniel took a deep breath, let out a painful moan as he gasped slightly as if fighting for breath, and closed his eyes.  He continued to talk, though, picking up steam with each word as his lecture progressed.  As he did, Jack persisted in trying to warm him with tender strokes, being mindful of the young man's bruised abdomen.

“Arch'ol'gists think the native Americans who built Cliff Palace arrived in Mesa Verde as early as one A.D. They lived a quiet, peaceful life on the Mesa tops until about twelve-hundred A.D. when they 'bandoned their towns 'n' built new ones in caves on the cliff faces.”

The scientist paused, regrouping for a moment and trying to gain the strength to continue without broken speech.  Jack didn't rush him, but kept his focus on his lover, ensuring that he would continue his mini-lecture that was much needed at the moment.

“Cliff Palace has over two-hundred rooms and some parts are three stories high. It probably housed around four-hundred people. They lived in the cave, but commuted to the Mesa top to work their agricultural fields.  'Round twelve-eighty, Injuns sud'nly 'bandoned their cliff dwellings 'n' moved away ... no sign they were forced out by war ...”

Daniel's voice was getting softer and slurred again off and on.

Jack could tell talking was a bit painful for him because of the ribs, but Daniel needed to stay awake, so Jack gave him a slight nudge and asked, “So why did they leave?”

“Drought ... drought hit Mesa around twelve-seventy-six ... last ... lasted twenty-four years ... 'fected foo...d supply ... forced to move.  They 'par'ntly went south an...and mixed with Pueblo Ind'ns ...”

Daniel's last words were more labored.  He coughed, then dry retched as his stomach convulsed in an attempt to vomit.  However, since there was nothing to be expelled from his ailing body, all the violent motions achieved was to cause him to sob briefly at the intensity of the pain.

Jack calmed his lover, pulling him back into the safety of his embrace as they lay on the cave floor, soothing, “It's okay, Danny.  I've got you.”

Daniel refused to give in to the turmoil of his body and ignored the pause from his nausea to continue his lecture, explaining, “In'ans still live there, J'ck.  Many items were still in the rooms at Cliff Palace 'n' 'tis likely res'dents intended to return at the end of the drought.  N'ver came back, though; all left of their culture is ...”

Jack listened for a while longer, but Daniel was tiring, exhausted from the activity of simply speaking.  Soon, he knew he would have to try a different tactic.  When Daniel stopped his dissertation the next time, he jumped in.

“Let's fix your bandage, Danny,” the older man suggested, seeing that the original one he had placed around the younger man's skull was showing the strain of dampness, dirt from their wind-blown walk, and blood from his lover's head wound.

Jack was concerned about the possibility of infection and wished he could change the bandage, but he knew the risk of infection by doing so was greater.  Also, if he removed the saturated cloth, Daniel could bleed even more from the loss of the pressure to the head wound.

“Oh, for ...”

Jack couldn't hold back the exclamation at the pain caused by his too-quick movement to get the bandages.  He swore silently to himself, determined to take care of Daniel and not let his own pain interfere.  He worked as rapidly as possible, reinforcing the bandage around the injured man's head.  He also took the opportunity to do another exam of his partner, making sure he hadn't missed anything, checking his arms and legs for any signs of broken bones.

~Crap, we need more bandages.  I need to wrap his ribs, but ... no, I can't.  I have to save what little we have for Danny's head wound.~  Jack sighed, desperate to find a solution.

~Maybe I could rip his tee shirt into pieces and use those as bandages.  No, it's soaked, but maybe ... ouch!~  Whenever he moved, Jack felt a stab of pain.  As he considered the possibility of tearing up the shirt, he realized he was no longer sure that he had the strength to rip the fabric.  ~Crap!  I forgot the knives,~ he lamented as he gave up the idea of trying to make bandages from the shirt.

It was only now that the colonel realized that he'd failed to retrieve Daniel's knife that had fallen and the one he'd dropped while getting the unusual thistle off of his lover.  Guilt threatened to engulf him, but he didn't have time for sorrow.  Instead, he let anger and sarcasm rule the moment.

~Great; just great.  We're stuck here in Paradise Lost with no way out.~

====

A while later, Jack stood up and walked to the edge of the cave.  The rain had stopped, and very soon he would have to leave Daniel to get more wood to keep the dimming fire burning.  His own pain still ached sharply within him, but it was far outweighed by his concern for his soulmate, and he renewed his resolve not to be hampered by his shoulder.

~Pain don't hurt,~ Jack said to himself over and over.  He'd heard that phrase in a movie once and thought it was crap; but now it was his silent mantra.  ~Pain don't hurt; it don't, don't ... crap, it don't.~  He hadn't realized he'd been standing, facing the storm at the cave's entrance so long, until he returned to his Love and saw that Daniel had fallen asleep.  “*Danny*!”  His pulse racing from fear, he leaned down and shook his lover's face, making sharp, rapid motions with his hands to jar awake his better half.  “*Daniel!*”

“Whaaa?”

It was a faint word from Daniel's lips, and Jack released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.  His hastened heartbeat began to settle as he closed his eyes for a moment and took a few calming breaths, getting his anxiety under control.  Daniel needed him to be in charge -- calm and reassuring -- not shaking like a leaf blowing in the wind.

“Where are we, J'ck?” Daniel asked in a state of confusion, not helping Jack's plundering emotions.

“We're on P2Y-333, stuck in a cave, remember?  You saved that cat thing and fell.”

“Oh, yeah.  How's your sho'der?”

“It's fine.  Here, Danny, let's sit up for a while,” Jack urged, once again in control of his nerves as he pulled his lover up to sit next to him against the wall of the small cave.

The colonel helped Daniel take a couple of Tylenol and then maneuvered him so that he was snug against Jack's healthy shoulder.  He was relieved that Daniel's breathing seemed a little easier than it was a moment ago when he'd been lying down.  He took another look at his injured soulmate, reassessing the cuts, new bruises, and both the dried and fresh blood.  Daniel's hair was mussed from the bandage and the rain of earlier, and he was tired.  Still, all Jack saw was perfection.  He placed a kiss on his Love's forehead and laughed softly.

“What's so fun'y, J'ck?”

“Just thinking how cute you are, Dannyboy, even now.”

“Am not cute.”

“Oh, yes, you are, as a button even,” the older man insisted.

“Not.”

“Too!”

“Not.”

Jack laughed louder this time, maintaining, “Face the facts, Love, cute is cute and, you, Doctor Daniel Jackson, multiple PhD, are most definitely cute.”

“Jaaaaack.”

After another laugh and kiss to Daniel's forehead, Jack rubbed the young man's arm and insisted, “You can't fight your destiny, Daniel, and you're definitely part of the Hall of Fame of Cute.”

Daniel did his best to grumble, “J'st name me one time, J'ck, when I was cute, and not now 'cause I'm not cute, J'ck.”

Jack smiled at his lover's defiance.  The archaeologist was definitely awake and into their banter.

“Easy to do, Plant Boy.  How about when you did that little dance on the planet with those naked guys?  That was most certainly cute, not to mention sexy, and it made me want to take you right there on the spot.”

“If I h'd 'en'rgy, J'ck, I'd hit you.”

Jack laughed again as he said, “No, you wouldn't.  Besides, you know that was cute, doing that little Danny dance.  Sexy, hot, and cute, cute, cute!  I'll never forget the expression on your face.  We talked about that when you did your computer diary a few months back, remember?”

“M'mm.  You're fa'lt, though!”

“Mine?  And just who called who condescending?”

“J'ck.”  **(You know you can be sometimes.)**

“Daniel?”  **(Yeah, I know, but you still love me.)**

“J'ck?”  **(Got me there, I do love you, but, Jack, my head hurts.)**

“I know, Love,” Jack uttered quietly, still gently caressing his lover's body.

“You're cute, too, J'ck.”

“Nice try, Daniel, but I'm just a worn down colonel with the bad knees to prove it.”

“Thor, Sys'm Lords.”

Jack was confused and asked, “Danny, you okay?”  He again realized it was a dumb question, considering the injuries Daniel had, but the colonel was having a hard time making the connection from cute to System Lords.  ~I don't get it.~

“Meet'ng, Yu, Nirr'ti, Cr'nus walked out.  Dress blues, lost, bea't'ful eyes, v'ry confused.  You cute, J'ck, v'ry cute.  I wanted Thor to go home so we could ... you know.”

Jack laughed at Daniel's words, remembering their meeting with the representatives of the System Lords when the Asgard had tried to make Earth a protected planet.

“Being cute was the last thing on my mind that day,” Jack stated.

“But you were, J'ck.  You were cute.  Love you in dress blues.”

Daniel stopped and tried to laugh as much as his weakened condition would allow.

“Enough with the cute already,” Jack insisted.

“You start'd it.”

“Bite me.”

“Wish I co'd,” Daniel lamented.

“Ah, Danny, I love you, and we're going to get out of here, soon, and then you can bite me or do whatever you want to do to this old body, okay?”

“K, J'ck, but you're not old,” Daniel responded almost as a whisper.

Smiling at his lover's almost silent reprimand, Jack then stated, “Danny, I need to get us some wood to keep this fire going.  It's almost out.”

The storm had stopped, their fire was dying, and Jack had managed to get Daniel as alert as possible.  It was as good a time as any to seek out more wood for the campfire.

With great care, Jack removed his healthy arm from around Daniel's shoulder and made sure Daniel was as secure as possible against the cave wall.  Finding his clothes, he got dressed as the younger man watched, not saying anything, but displaying a small smile of want and desire.  Once dressed, he kneeled down, ignoring a jab of pain flowing through his shoulder as he did so.  Wanting to make eye contact with his soulmate, he placed the palm of his right hand on Daniel's face, urging the young man to look into his eyes.

“I'll be right back, Daniel, but this is important.  You have to stay awake.  Daniel, you cannot go to sleep.  Do you understand?”

“Stay 'wake.  No sleeeeeee...”

“Daniel, this is important.  I'll just be gone a couple of minutes, okay?  Stay awake, Daniel.  Understand?”

“Yes.”

Jack gently kissed the man who owned his heart and hurried out towards the slowly drying forest.  He was worried that even if he did find something to use for firewood that it wouldn't be dry enough and wouldn't burn.

====

As he searched for wood, Jack was amazed at how bright the skies were again.  While the greenery was still wet and the ground damp, there was no trace of darkness in the sky, and when he picked up his first solid piece of wood, he was stunned to feel it was completely dry to the touch.

Whatever strangeness caused the diversity between the rock portion of the planet and the valley where he now was, must also account for the unique contrast of the wet greenery that he could see and the dry wood.  Jack was confused as he examined the small log, but his thoughts were halted by a knife-like stab of pain he felt when he tried to hold the log with his left arm.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Jack bellowed, almost dropping the log.  “That hurts worse than ... ”  He stopped, remembering that he was talking to no one but the trees.  He shook his head, and continued his task.  ~Stay focused, O'Neill.~

It was difficult to move with the pain intensifying, and the action of picking up the kindling wasn't helping.  Plus, the man was exhausted.  Keeping Daniel awake had meant he couldn't rest either.  Part of Jack O'Neill wondered if he could go on and just how he would manage to collect and carry enough wood to do any good.

Time was of the essence and that fact catapulted his will to continue.  Whenever Jack began to lose his conviction that he would succeed, one thing kept him going, giving him the strength and resolve to move forward:  Daniel.  When it began to be too much, too heavy, too painful, all he had to do was picture his lover, and it was more than enough to motivate him to complete his task.

It took longer than he wanted, and when Jack returned to the cave, he was afraid he had taken too long.  His heart pounded as he saw Daniel sagging against the cave wall, eyes closed.

“*Daniel!*” the colonel shouted to try to get his lover's attention.

“D'n't shout, J'ck.  J'st r'st'ng.”

Jack lowered his fire makings to the floor of the cave and hurried over to Daniel, who slowly opened his eyes.

“I'm sorry, Love; I was just ...”

“Scared?”

Jack again placed his hand on Daniel's cheek, caressing it.  He smiled, leaned in and kissed the soft lips of his injured lover.

“Yeah, scared.  I'm sort of used to you, you know.  Would be miserable without you.  I wouldn't have anyone to ...”

“'Noy?”

Jack chuckled, “Yeah, annoy, or do this to.”

The lovers kissed again, this one more possessive than the last, more a message to the younger man that Jack needed him, wanted him, and he had better stay awake and alive.

Daniel smiled as Jack set about to build up the fire, telling him his discovery about how dry the wood was and how quickly things were drying outside as he did so.

Next, Jack examined Daniel's previously removed BDUs and decided they were dry enough to give his companion some much needed warmth.

“C'mon, Danny, let's put these back on.”

“Thought you were gonna take 'vantage of me, J'ck.”

“Oh, I am, just as soon as we get you home and back to bed, our bed.  Then, you'll be putty in my hands,” Jack promised seductively, backing it up with the sexiest smirk he could manage as he dressed his soulmate.

His task accomplished and the fire stoked, Jack once again sat down next to Daniel, grimacing in pain as his shoulder bumped against the wall.  He pulled his lover into him, adding more warmth and trying to reassure him all would be well.

“J'ck, I know you'll argue, but you sh'd go, find Sam, Teal'c ... get help. They won't find us if you ...”

“Sure they will.  We just need to hang on for a while longer.”

“J'ck.”  **(Don't lie to me, Jack.)**

Knowing Daniel wouldn't give up on this topic, Jack acted to end it rapidly.  He wasn't going to leave him, so why let his lover get agitated over something that wasn't going to happen.

“Danny, let's just get this over with and put all the cards out on the table, and then we'll go back to talking about how cute you are.”

“Am not.”

“Are, too!”

“Not, J'ck.”

“Are too, Danny, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, and I love every cute millimeter of you, too.”

“St'p ch'g'ng the sub'jt.”

Jack was distressed at Daniel's slurring speech as the young man struggled to stay awake.  He, himself, was tired, on the verge of numbing from the exhaustion, but he couldn't give in, not if he wanted to get his linguist home alive.

“Danny, you have a head injury; it's not pretty, even if you are still cute.  You're still bleeding a little and are probably concussed.  You've got broken ribs, and cuts and bruises all over your sweet body that need watching to stave off infection; and did I mention you're going to have quite a shiner on your right eye?”

“Na-huh,” was the mumbled response.

“Well, you are.  The fact is, we're both cold, and you've got a slight fever.  Put it all together, we both know that if I walk out of here right now, you'll be asleep in two minutes.  You need to stay awake, and I'm going to make sure you do that by ...”

“... 'Noy'ng me?”

“If that's what it takes,” Jack laughed.  “I'll do whatever I have to do to get us both out of here in one piece.  Carter and Teal'c have to be close.  We missed the check in; they knew where we were before we reached that passageway.  They'll find it when they come looking.”

“J'ck, it was a fluke that I found it.  H've go, J'ck.  Pl's.”

“No, Danny.  Look, I would have a hard time making that climb up the incline to get back to the passageway even if I went alone.  My shoulder is ...”

Jack paused.  He never liked talking about his own pain, but he needed to put an end to a conversation that was only going to end one way, and that was his way. He probably could make it up the rise alone, but he wasn't about to admit that to his injured lover, and so he embellished his injury a bit.

“... the shoulder is very painful, Danny.  Whenever I try to move too much it jabs me.  I wouldn't have the strength or grip to get out of this valley, and there's no way could I carry you.  Bottom line,” Jack quieted his speech a bit, “I'm not about to leave you alone because I love you, and truth is, you couldn't or wouldn't leave me if our places were reversed.”

Jack felt Daniel tense a bit as he continued, still quiet, but very firmly, “Admit it, Danny. If I were the one with my head cracked and your shoulder felt like it was about to fall off, would you leave me behind?  Would you?”

“Jack ...”

It was the strongest and firmest sounding version of his name that the colonel had heard from the injured man since they'd been stuck this side of paradise.

“Right.  I didn't think so.  Now, just so we're clear on this.  I'm not leaving you.  We'll do what we can to stay warm.  Before you know it, Carter and Teal'c will come save the day.”

“J'ck.”  **(Jack, please.  I want you to be safe; I want you to live.)

“Daniel.”  **(End of subject.  I don't have a life without you.  You've lost the argument.  Stop now.)**

“J'ck?”  **(Will you listen to me for a minute?)**

“Daniel?”  **(So help me, Daniel, I am *not* leaving you here alone.)**

“I love you, J'ck.”

Jack's heart melted, dissolving into mush.  He couldn't help it, a tear escaped from his eye.  More were threatening to follow.  He was so afraid for this man who represented everything that was good and worthwhile in his life.  If he lost Daniel, there would be nothing left.  Why Daniel loved him would always be a mystery to Jack O'Neill, but he felt blessed.

More tears found their way down the older man's face, a sign of his exhaustion, unable to fully hold back his emotions.

~Not the time and place for this,~ Jack chided himself, swearing a string of silent obscenities that were expressed only by a verbal sniff.

Daniel felt a change in his life partner's breathing and heard what he was sure was a sniffle.  He forced himself to look up at the man who had already saved his life once that day.  He saw the not-so-hardened colonel's eyes, saw the tears.  He didn't have a lot of energy, but his heart did the work for him, willing his right arm to reach up to his lover's face.  He gave a little smile, brushing back his colonel's tears with his fingers, and then pulled him in for an all-too-short kiss.

The younger man whispered, “You're my hero, Jack.  You always think of something, and you will now, too.  We'll ... be okay.  Sam and Teal'c will find us.” He'd spoken calmly, clearly, and reassuringly, and it zapped what little reserve of energy he had stored.  He rested his head on his lover's healthy shoulder, still drying the falling tears with the last of his strength.  “It'll be 'k, J'ck.  Love you.”

Jack knew he had to pull himself together.  He was supposed to be taking care of Daniel, not the other way around.  It hurt like heck, but he pulled his left hand up to grab Daniel's hand, lifted it towards him, and kissed the young man's palm.  Then he moved their hands back down to their waists, but not letting go just yet.  He always liked holding the hand of his linguist.

“You're right, Danny.  We will be okay, both of us.  Just a little longer now, and I love you, too, Space Monkey.”

Jack almost lost it again, his use of his favorite nickname for his lover bringing to mind another time when Daniel had died aboard Apophis' ship.  He threw his head back as if that could rebuff his weakness of the heart.  He had to keep it together.  He felt the younger man's breathing change, causing Jack to snap back to reality and the need of keeping his lover awake.

“Hey, Danny, I'll give you that meeting with Thor and the snakes, but name me one other time when I was cute.  I dare ya.”

“Six'y nine”

“Huh?”

“Nineteen-sixty-nine, w'rk'ng on bus, le'th'r j'ket, butt sticking out.  Cute, J'ck, v'ry cute.”

“My butt, Daniel?”

Laughter tinged with pain was heard from his linguist, prompting Jack to snicker, “You are sick, Jackson, to think my butt is cute.”

“Like yer butt, J'ck.  Is mine.”

Jack laughed, “No, Daniel, your butt isn't cute, it's sexy, and it's mine, all mine.”

“No, J'ck, meant yer butt is mine, not is my butt cute.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“S'k.”

“You realize you had to go back almost twenty-five years to find a cute me, dontcha'?” Jack questioned.

Another soft laugh emerged from the linguist, but Daniel didn't say anything, and that concerned Jack.

“J'ck, look,” Daniel said.

“What, Danny?” Jack asked, looking up and then spotting the three-eared cat standing at the entrance to the cave.

“He're, K’tty.  It's okay; we won't h'rt you,” Daniel urged, trying to coax the alien cat to come closer.

“Meeeeooow!” the cat replied and then slowly walked towards Jack and Daniel.

“It must be some kind of cat, J'ck.  It meo'd,” Daniel pointed out.

As the cat got closer, Jack noticed it wasn't alone.  Seven small kittens were following it into the cave.

“It must be a she-cat,” Jack spoke, motioning with his hand toward the kittens.  “One more princess saved to add to your resume.”

Daniel looked over and smiled, saying, “See, J'ck.  If I had l'ft her in the tree, her babies would be orf'ns.”

Jack reached out and patted the mother cat, saying, “Hey, Momma.”

The mother cat started purring and rubbing her face against Jack's hand.  Then she went to Daniel and licked his nose, causing him to chuckle.

“You're welcome,” Daniel said to the mother cat as she rubbed her face against his, then laid down next to him, keeping her eyes on her offspring.

The kittens then jumped on Jack's and Daniel's legs and meowed their thank yous.  Both men laughed, and Jack patted each kitten.

Several minutes later, the mother cat got up and walked towards the entrance to the cave.  Then she meowed, and all the kittens went to her side.  After one last look at Daniel, she turned and left with all of her brood following her.

~I guess cats aren't that bad, but I still prefer dogs,~ Jack thought as he watched the cats leave the cave.

“Time to eat, Danny, and don't even try to tell me you're not hungry.  Argument over before you even do one 'but, Jack', understand?”

“Yes, J'ck, but ...”

Daniel's argument was cut off by a piece of a nutrition bar being stuffed into his mouth.  Glaring at Jack, he nonetheless obediently started chewing it.  He gave it a valiant effort, but he could only manage to eat half the bar.

Jack knew his linguist had tried his best, but even at his healthiest, Daniel was not a big eater, and, when he was sick, it was near impossible to keep him fed without IV's and such.

The colonel checked the other man's bandage again.  He was still bleeding some, but not as much as before.  Still, the white wrap was stained from blood and sweat, so one more time, he reinforced the bandage, afraid to remove the dirtied material already there for fear of undoing any clotting that may be preventing his lover from bleeding even more.

The colonel also gave Daniel some more Tylenol.  He considered Morphine, but the laceration on his Love's forehead worried him.  He feared doing more damage giving the medication than going without.  Daniel had a rising temperature now, adding to his concern.  There was nothing he could do but try to comfort the feverish man and pray for his teammates to find them soon.

Having sensed that his lover had been uncomfortable earlier sitting against the hard wall, Jack shuffled their positions a bit, putting himself against the wall and having Daniel sit between his legs so he could lie back into him, Jack serving as a loving pillow.  He placed the thermal blanket over Daniel's legs.

The older man liked embracing Daniel in this way.  His shoulder still hurt, but having his lover against him felt like having a warm, soothing blanket shielding him.  His right arm was wrapped around the younger man, gently caressing the bruised abdomen.  Jack's chin leaned against the side of his lover's silky hair, and he occasionally couldn't resist kissing the overly heated skin now so close to his lips.

Enjoying the sensation of his lover against him, Jack wished they were in front of their fireplace at home instead of in some cold cave on P2Y-333.

~You're a sap, O'Neill.~

====

After letting Daniel rest for a while, it was time to make sure he was still awake and thinking again.

“Okay, Doctor Jackson,” Jack began, trying to sound uplifting, wanting to keep his lover awake and thinking of good things.  “Name me one other time when I was, dare I say it, cute.”

“Hmmm,” Daniel thought and then laughed.

“What?  C'mon, Daniel, spill!”

“When we switched bodies.”

“Ah, Ma'chello.  So are you saying Teal'c is cute, since I was in his body?” Jack asked.

“No, J'ck, when Sam switched us.  I was you, and ...”

Jack laughed, “Oh, so you're saying I was cute because I was in your body, Doctor Jackson?”

“Not 'rg'ng, J'ck.  Yer the one who said I was cute.”

“And you are, Danny, cute and sexy and beautiful and absolutely perfect in practically every way.”

“Not M'ry Poppins, J'ck.”

“Thank goodness for that.  I'd hate to have to go running after you when you went flying away with your umbrella, especially here in this windy paradise.”

“J'ck, yer b'ng silly.”

“No, am I?  I thought I was being serious.”

“That's a good one.  J'ck O'Neill b'ng sr'us.”

“Hey, I can be serious.”

“Yeahsrb'tcha.  That's why you rode a bike in the SGC,” Daniel replied.

Jack grimaced and responded, “We were in a time loop, Daniel.  I was ... bored.”

“Could have pla'd with me.  Left me w'rk'ng while you went bike rid'ng.”

“Since when do you like riding a bike?” the older man asked.

“Co'lge.  Rode bike all the time.  You n'ver took me bike ri'ng, J'ck.  You d'n't love me,” Daniel spoke, trying to let out a hurt whine.

Jack laughed and ruffled Daniel's hair slightly, teasing, “Want some cheese with that whine, Dannyboy?”

“Yes, pl'se, and crack'rs, too.”

Both men laughed and then fell into a contented silence for a few minutes, thinking private thoughts about each other and their life together.  Jack was still caressing his lover's abdomen in gentle circling motions, staying clear of the injured rib areas, but then Daniel's hand took hold of Jack's hand, and he brought it up to his lips and kissed the palm.

The two often did this small act of affection that sometimes said more than their words could, or than their bodies were able when they were in situations where they couldn't express their love in more physical terms.

Daniel lowered his hands back to his waist, not releasing Jack's hand.  Instead, he continued to hold it, stroking it with the little energy he had.  He needed to do this, to do something with his body that said 'I love you' when words seemed not to be enough.

Jack felt Daniel's fevering body tense suddenly.  His lover was sweating more but it was too soon for more Tylenol.  His silent observances were broken when Daniel spoke again.

“Where are we, J'ck?  What hap'n'd?  Hurts, J'ck.”

It was difficult to understand Daniel's words, his chattering teeth louder than the spoken questions.  Jack's heart broke, realizing how disoriented his lover was again.

As reassuringly as possible, Jack answered, “We're in a cave, Babe.  We took shelter here when the storm hit.  You were hurt when a tree branch broke and you fell, but everything is going to be all right.  Carter and Teal'c will be here soon, and until they come, we get to snuggle.”  He paused to kiss his lover's hair.  “I'm here, Danny.  The cavalry will be here soon.”

Daniel didn't say anything except for a murmured, “Okay.”

The soulmates continued to sit in their silence a while longer, Jack constantly caressing his partner and checking to make sure he wasn't sleeping.

====

The more time that passed, the more helpless Jack felt.

~I'm supposed to protect him and keep him safe.  I've failed at both.~ Jack was heartbroken as he held his soulmate.  He loved the younger man more than he'd ever known it was possible to love a human being.  ~I'm sorry, Angel.~

As Jack became lost in his despair, Daniel shifted slightly so he could nuzzle a bit more into Jack's shoulder and look up to face him without too much difficulty.

“What is it, Love?” the older man asked.

“T'gether, always?”

“Always, Danny.  You know that.  Nothing, no one, separates us, not ever.  Besides, I still don't believe you want this old saggy colonel. If you weren't around, who'd want me?”

Daniel pretended to give it some serious thought, his nose scrunching up slightly.

Jack winced when he saw Daniel flinch from a flash of pain.  Daniel was still holding Jack's hand and didn't appear to have any intention of letting go, which was just fine with Jack.

Then, Daniel smiled, answering, “Freya.  She likes you, J'ck.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel, she's a snake.”

“She's the host, and she likes you,” Daniel insisted.

“Yeah, well the snake likes you, and that makes it a conflict of interest.”

“We could share.”

“Daniel, I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap if you keep saying things like that,” Jack threatened.

“Be hon'st, J'ck.  You liked her at first.”

“Me?  You were the one flirting, Daniel.”

“Did not.”

“Did, too.”

“Not.”

“Too.”

“Too”

“No...t.  Daniel!”

“S'ry, J'ck, too tir'd to bic'r.”

Daniel's grip on Jack's hand had loosened, and Jack began his caress of his archaeologist's upper body again.  Daniel hadn't chastised him for the 'old' remark, either, and that worried the colonel as well.

“It is too bad we don't have those armbands right about now; they'd come in handy.”  Not hearing a response from Daniel, Jack looked down carefully and realized his lover's eyes were closed.  Panic engulfed him as he tried to prod his lover awake.  “Danny.  C'mon.  I'm so sorry, Danny, but I can't let you sleep.  Wake up, Daniel,” he ordered as he raised his hand to pat the linguist's face, shaking slightly until Daniel let out a slight gasp.

“J'ck?”

“You went to sleep, Daniel,” Jack spoke softly into his lover's hair, before beginning a new round of silly conversation designed to keep his soulmate alive.

====

More time passed.  Jack changed some of the Band-Aids he had used on Daniel's smaller cuts from the fall down the tree, gave him more Tylenol, fed him the other half of the nutrition bar which Daniel barely kept down, helped him take some much-needed sips of water, and did his best to keep the love of his life entertained and talking.  Jack himself was exhausted, but he couldn't give into it because his lover's life was on the line.  Help would arrive soon; it had to.

Daniel's fever had risen, and he was shivering like a scared animal, unable to keep warm.  The scientist was sweating profusely, and his skin was pale to the point of being white.

“Fish,” Daniel said suddenly, startling the colonel.

“Fish?”

“J'ck, will you keep my fish?”

“Daniel, in the first place, they're *our* fish, and, in the second place, they're *your* responsibility.”

“Fish perty,” the young man laughed weakly.

“Yes, Daniel, they are.”

“D'n't f'rg't feed fish, J'ck.”

“Danny, you'll feed the fish when we get home,” Jack stated firmly.

Daniel took hold of Jack's hand again and held on as tightly as he could.  As he did, he mustered up all his strength and moved his aching head to look up at the man who was his heart, his soul, and his everything.  Trying not to blink, tears forming in his eyes, the archaeologist spoke in a barely audible whisper.

“Love you, J'ck, always, f'r'ver.  'memb'r, J'ck ...”

“Danny,” Jack squeaked out, panic churning his stomach into knots of dread.

Daniel blinked a couple of times, tears streaming down his face, and requested, “Kiss me, J'ck.”

Jack did as his linguist requested, pressing their lips together in a recommitment of their unity.  They were both crying now, and their tears mixed as Jack kissed his lover with a kind of desperation as though he could use their contact to infuse Daniel with his some of his own strength.  Then Daniel's hand released his, falling limply to his side.

Jack felt his partner's lip tremble and then cease sensation.  His lover was soaked with sweat.  He pulled back and saw his soulmate's closed eyes.  Tears flowed openly now from the supposedly tough-as-nails Air Force colonel.

“Daniel.  Don't do this.  I need you.  Wake up, Danny.”  Jack stared, frozen for a moment in time, a time when life stopped, when all that he was flashed in front of him, and all that he was, was Daniel.  “Danny.”  He snapped out of his shock long enough to take his life partner's pulse.  It was there; the archaeologist was still alive.  “Daniel.”

Over and over, Jack said his lover's name, but Daniel wouldn't wake up.  Jack's face was wet, and the despair in his heart and soul reminiscent of only one other day in his life, the day his son died.

“Charlie.”

Jack thought of his son every day.  He had wanted to die when he and Sara buried their only child.  He would have died, if not for the man he now cradled in his arms.  He also knew that if Daniel died, he would follow.  He held on tight to his soulmate, feeling his lover drifting away from him.  Daniel had said goodbye, and Jack's broken heart just couldn't go on alone.

“Danny,” Jack cried in a quiet desperation into his lover's ear.  “I won't feed your fish, Danny.  I won't live without you, so you have to live.  You hear me, Doctor Jackson.  If you ... you have to survive, Danny.  Help is on the way; just a little longer, and when we're home, and you're safe and healthy again, we'll go bike riding down the halls of the SGC.  We'll do it, Danny.  What are they going to do to us anyway?  We've saved the world, over and over again.  They won't touch us, Danny.”

As Jack made his promise to his lover, he never noticed the pair of eyes that watched him for a few moments and then left.

Jack could barely speak.  He was losing his control, his composure shot.  He felt his life, his Daniel, slipping away, and there was nothing he could do, but hold on.

“Danny.  I love you, Danny.”

The words were repeated over and over.  Jack's grip on his lover tightened, as if he could will Daniel to gather whatever strength he needed from him.

“Live, Danny.  You haven't used all your nine lives yet.”

Memories of Daniel's various deaths and near deaths flashed in Jack's mind like a murderous nightmare.  From Ra to Nem to Apophis, and even their crazy Kelowna dream, Jack relived his lover's loss until he simply couldn't stand to think anymore.

“Space Monkey,” Jack whispered, finally closing his own eyes, giving in to his exhaustion; after all, without Daniel, there was no point in fighting to stay alive.

====

“Sir.  Colonel O'Neill.”

Jack slowly opened his red-stained eyes.  Daniel was clutched tightly to his chest, his fingers molded to the young man.

“Carter?”

“Sir, please.  You need to let go of Daniel.  He needs help, Sir.  Please,” Sam begged.

Jack looked at the man he held.  He was pale, but looked so peaceful.

“Danny?”

Jack's grip was still firm, like ice on metal that needed to be pried loose in order to free both objects.

“Sir, we need to go, now.  Janet is bringing some emergency medical equipment through the Gate.  If we leave now, we should rendezvous with her in just over an hour.  Colonel O'Neill?”

Jack was confused, staring at Sam, not sure if he was hallucinating or not.  He didn't want to release Daniel.  He was afraid of what would happen if he did.

“Carter, Daniel is ...”

“Sir ... Jack, Daniel is alive, barely, but we have to get him out of here, now.  I know this is hard.  Sss ... Jack, Daniel needs you to let go of him so we can help him.”

Sam watched with relief as her words finally registered with her CO.  What she didn't realize was that Jack had never heard her.  He had simply realized that the sooner he let go of Daniel's physical body, the sooner he would be free to take steps to join his lover in the afterlife.

“Okay.”  Jack nodded.  He didn't know who else was in the cave besides Sam, nor did he care.  He kissed his weakened partner on the forehead and said, “I love you, Danny.  We're going home now.”

Slowly, Jack let go of his lover, releasing him to Sam's care.  He heard some shouting, but to him, the world was a blur.  He was aware of people moving about, but his eyes were focused on the unconscious man being placed on a stretcher, secured into place with blankets and straps.

More men arrived, and another stretcher was brought into the cave.  Jack heard Sam talking to him, but her words were indistinct.  All he could hear was Daniel's last words to him -- “Kiss me, J'ck”.  He'd never forget those words.  He would hear them until the day he died, and he knew that would be soon.

The weary and defeated colonel never felt the injection of morphine.  The last thing he saw were the Marines headed out of the cave, carting his lover away.

“Danny.”  

The word died on Jack's lips as he succumbed to the drug-induced sleep.

--

Jack dreamed of Daniel, holding him, touching him.  He dreamed of precious blue eyes, soft succulent lips, slender fingers, fingers that touched him, stroked him, sent him to places of elation that he never knew existed before those magical fingers had touched him.

A Smile: Jack dreamed of a smile, the most beautiful smile in the universe.  When Daniel smiled, it was like watching a tree being lit at Christmastime; his entire body shined as a reflection of this happy act.  That smile, the one that said love, happiness, home was only for Jack, and Jack smiled, in his dream of Daniel.

Jack wanted his dream to last forever; he didn't want to wake up and face the world alone.  He couldn't.  He wanted to stay where he was, with the dream of Daniel.  Daniel: beautiful Daniel with his soft silky hair, once long, but now short.

The silver-haired man dreamed of laughter, Daniel's laughter.  Daniel laughed when Jack had fallen out of his little fishing boat.  He laughed again when Jack dressed up as Bugs Bunny complete with long floppy ears and a furry tail (and Daniel really liked that tail) one year for a children's shelter.  He laughed again when Jack kissed his appendix scar and called it sexy.  Jack's subconscious smiled at Daniel's laughter, laughter few but he ever saw.

Love.  Love was Daniel, and Jack dreamed of making love with his soulmate.  He hungered for their passionate, all-consuming nights of ravishing and reassuring, of grounding and connecting.

Words.  Jack dreamed of words, words from the man he loved.  “I love you.” “Home,” “dance,” “together, forever,” “mine, mine, mine,” “Jack, My Jack”.  Memories of words spoken by his lover, words echoing of love and commitment, of devotion and longing.  Daniel's voice, sometimes low and seductive, sometimes high and enthused voice stirred Jack's emotions.  More words.

Then, suddenly, Jack realized it was all fading away.

“*No*,” Jack thought in his dream state.  ~I want to stay here, with Danny.~  He didn't want to wake up.  He wanted to stay with Daniel.  He needed Daniel to survive.  “Danny,” Jack's dream mind cried.

--

“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Jack yelled loudly as he thrashed about in his small bed.

“Colonel O'Neill, it's all right.  You're at the SGC,” Doctor Janet Fraiser informed.  “Colonel, you'll be fine.  You've pulled a ligament in your left shoulder, but it's nothing too severe.  You'll have to be on light duty for awhile and go through a bit of physical therapy, but then you should be fine.”

Jack said nothing.  He wanted to go back to his dream world.  What did it matter whether or not his shoulder was mended when Daniel was gone, when help had come too late to save the most important person in his world.

“Danny,” Jack whispered.

“Colonel, Daniel is ...”

“No!” the colonel interrupted sharply.  He turned his head away from Janet.  He didn't want to hear it.  He just wanted to go back to sleep and stay there with his dream Daniel.  ~Danny.~

“Daniel is fine, Colonel,” Janet promised.  “Well, he's not fine, but he will be once he recuperates.”

Jack turned back to Janet and tried to sit up too quickly.  He let out a groan as shockwaves of pain drove through him at the sharp movement.

Janet reached towards him and gently pushed him down to a lying position on the bed, chastising, “You should know better than that, Sir.”

“Daniel?  Where's Daniel?”

The doctor answered, “I have him in a private room.  His head injury was pretty serious.  If we hadn't gotten to him when we did, it would have been too late.”

“I tried, Doc, tried to keep him awake.”

“And you saved his life, Colonel.”

“He fell asleep,” Jack almost cried.  “I ... I couldn't wake him.”

Gently, tenderly, Janet spoke, “You kept him awake for hours, Jack, and that made the difference.  He's going to be fine.”

“I need to see him.”

Her bedside manner returned to a more normal stern nature as Janet ordered, “You need to rest, Sir.  Daniel is still unconscious.  He won't be awake for several more hours. You can see him then.”

Jack's desperate look worried the Air Force major.  There was something haunting about it, but she couldn't determine what her eerie feeling meant.

“I ... I need to see him, Major.”

Janet's eyes arched at the use of 'major'.  Physicians in the service had the option of being addressed by their rank or their title, and she'd always preferred the title salutation.  Thus, few ever referred to her as 'major'.  There was a message there, and she had to quickly decide whether or not to give in to the colonel or hold her ground.

“Please, Janet.  I have to see Daniel.”

Just then, Sam walked in, interjecting, “Janet.  Sir, you're awake.”

“Good observation, Carter.  Carter, I need to see ...”

“Daniel, yes, Sir.  I know, Sir.  Janet, could we talk for a few minutes, privately?  Excuse us, please, Sir.”

After Jack nodded, Sam flashed a reassuring smile and walked off to the silence and security of Janet's private office.

====

Five minutes later, Janet returned to Jack's bedside.  Behind her were two attendants.  She unhooked the cardiac monitor and pulse oximeter and pushed the IV stand aside as Jack watched.

“Janet?”

“We're moving you into the room with Daniel, Sir.  I'm holding you on your honor as an officer to obey all the rules I give you, beginning with getting some rest once we get you in there.  You will follow my instructions to the letter, Colonel.  If you don't, I'll have you removed and returned to the infirmary.  Is that clear, Sir?”

“Crystal.”

Speedily, but still at a pace that was too slow for Jack, the attendants moved the bed into the private room where Daniel was.  Jack's eyes widened at the sight of his lover.

Daniel was hooked up to the same medical doohickeys Jack had been, the cardiac monitor, pulse oximeter, and a few IVs for who knew what, Jack thought, but the archaeologist was on oxygen as well, one of those things that went up through your nose instead of a mask, and he had some other thing attached to him as well that Jack didn't recognize.  A nurse was making notations on a chart, but she quickly exited when Janet nodded her way.

“Janet?” Sam called out, asking a hidden question with her friend's name.

“Five minutes, Sam, and then I want him back in his own bed and ready to sleep.”

“No problem, Janet.”

“I mean it, Sam.  I'm breaking a lot of rules here, but I won't jeopardize Daniel's recovery, or the colonel's.”

“Understood.”

With that, Janet left, leaving Sam with Jack and Daniel.

“Carter?”

“Sir, let me help you up,” Sam spoke.  “Janet is giving you five minutes to ... to ...”

“Understood, Carter.”

Sam helped Jack get his bearings and made sure he was safely at Daniel's side, seated at the edge of the bed.

“I'll ... leave you alone, but I'll have to come back,” Sam reminded.

“Five minutes.”

“Yes ... Sir, and then I'll be back.”

“Carter?”

“Sir?”

“Thank you.”

Sam smiled and said, “He's going to be fine, Sir.  I'll be back in five.”

Jack's eyes had never left his lover's face, not even when he was talking to his second-in-command.  With his good hand, he reached out and took one of Daniel's, finally touching the man who was his heart, feeling his warmth for the first time since being in the cave.

“I thought you died again, Danny.”

The colonel's voice was quiet, soft, and he choked back years worth of tears he never knew he had.  His hand caressed that of his lover's.  It hurt, but Jack didn't care, supporting himself by pressing his good arm against Daniel's pillow, Jack leaned over and kissed his soulmate, taking his hand and placing it on his lover's cheek as he rose upward.

“Angel ...”

Jack had no other words.  He just kept stroking Daniel's cheek and then he let his hand glide back down to re-engage the archaeologist's hand.  Emotions threatened to overtake the supposedly tough colonel, but, right now, he felt drained.  He'd been sure that Daniel had died, and he'd been equally sure that he had died too, if not physically, then emotionally.

Taking his Heart's hand in his, he moved both their clasped, entwined fingers over Daniel's heart and emotionally declared, “Your heart is my heart, Danny,” after which he moved their hands to rest over his own heart.  “It's here, Danny.  Your heart is in mine, always; always, Danny.”

Jack knew Sam would be returning soon; his time was running out.  He leaned in to his lover one more time, and placed a tender kiss on Daniel's lips, and then on his cheek, and yet another at the side of Daniel's neck.  He placed yet one more on his lover's earlobe and spoke into the young man's ear.

“You're my life, Danny, my heart.  I wish I could tell you how much I love you, but you're the expert with words.  How can I tell you what you mean to me, how empty I am without you?”

Jack found Daniel's lips again, briefly, and then his time was up.

“I'm sorry, Sir.  Janet insisted.”

Jack was still holding Daniel's hand.  He was, in fact, still leaning over his lover when Sam walked back into the room.  Jack had frequently been amazed at his 2IC's unerring knack of interrupting the couple at their most intimate moments on base or off world.  It was frustrating.

The colonel sat up straight, brought Daniel's hand to his mouth and kissed it.  He didn't care that Sam saw.  Even though she had known about the couple almost from the beginning of their relationship, they tried hard never to put her in the compromising position of actually seeing them do anything that the average person on the street couldn't see.

~I'm selfish,~ Jack opined, but in the moment, he didn't care about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'; he cared only about making sure his lover knew he was loved.  He pushed Daniel's hand back to his chest and over his heart.  “My heart, Danny.  Yours, always.  Remember that.”

A quick moment later, Jack released Daniel's hand and softly called to Sam to help him back to his nearby hospital bed.

A misty-eyed Sam made sure her CO was comfortable, noticing that Jack's focus was still totally on Daniel.

“Janet promised me Daniel would be fine, Sir.  The nurses will be in at least once every hour to check on him.  He ... Janet said he might wake up for a bit when they check him, but probably won't be very alert or even remember if he does.  But he should be awake by morning, Sir.”

“I thought he was dead, Carter.  He fell asleep, and I couldn't wake him.”

“I know, Sir, but he'll be fine.”

“You found us, Carter.  I told Daniel you would be ... I ... that passageway was so hidden.”

“We got lucky,” Sam advised.

“How?”

“Well, Daniel, he ... well ...” Sam began, hesitating slightly.

“Carter, please, no games.”

The blonde explained, “Sorry, Sir.  We had no clue where you two were.  We didn't see the passageway, and we wouldn't have, except ...”

“Carter, spit it out.  What's the problem?”

“He's going to be embarrassed,” Sam sighed.  “He hasn't done anything like this in ... well, Sir, in years.”

Jack was glaring at her.  He wanted to focus on Daniel, and if the major couldn't get to the point and fast, he was prepared to strangle her.

“For the last time, Carter, what is it Daniel hasn't done in years?”

“He must have been using his tape recorder and gotten preoccupied; and then forgotten about it.  Teal'c spotted it on some rocks just as we were about to leave that area and check another.  It was just sitting there.  When Teal'c retrieved it, he saw the passageway.”

Jack smirked, “Why would Daniel even have out his tape recorder, Carter?  There was nothing there to see.”

Seeing Carter laugh slightly, Jack asked, “What's so funny?”

“Well, Sir, that's what Daniel said, on the tape recorder.”

“Carter, my head hurts.  Speak English.”

“Sir, before we went through the passageway, Teal'c turned on the recorder to see if we could learn anything about what happened, but the only thing on the tape was, 'I'll never admit this to Jack, but if I never see another rock, er artifact, in my life I wouldn't complain.  This place is nothing but rocks, and boring rocks at that.  I'm bored'.”

Hearing the words, Jack smiled and then surmised, “He probably put the recorder down without realizing it when he saw the passageway.  After all those boring rocks, seeing it was pretty exciting.”

“Sounds like Daniel ... well, Daniel a few years ago anyway,” Sam responded.

Jack looked at his lover; then he suggested, “Let's give him a break, Carter.  This lapse saved our lives.”

Sam grinned, agreeing, “Yes, Sir, his lapse and one more thing,” Sam stated.

“One more thing?” Jack asked, never taking his eyes off his Heart.

“Colonel, when we went through the passageway and climbed down the slope, there was this … cat.”

Jack then looked at his second and asked, “Did this cat have horizontal stripes and three ears?”

“Yes, Sir.  It acted like it wanted us to follow it, so we did.”  Sam smiled, tilting her head to the side for just a moment as she added, “It led us right to the cave that you and Daniel were in.”

Jack smiled, replying, “The reason Daniel was hurt was because he climbed a tree to save that cat.  Its paw was stuck in a crevice on a tree limb.  As Daniel was climbing down, he fell.”

“Well, Sir, I guess the cat figured it would return the favor.”

Jack returned his attention to his lover, saying, “That cat helped save Daniel's life.”

“It definitely did,” Sam agreed.  “I should go and let you rest.  Janet insisted, and one of the nurses will be in to check on Daniel later.”

“Carter, about Doctor Fraiser ... did you ...”

Sam looked away from her CO's eyes and over to her science twin; then back to Jack as she answered, “Sir ... Jack, I didn't tell Janet anything.  I asked for a favor.  I asked her to trust me, and I suggested that she not ask me any questions.  I told her that if she didn't ask, I ...”

“Wouldn't tell?”

“Yes, Sir.  I'm sorry if I overstepped, but she was being pretty, uh, stubborn.  I probably shouldn't ...”

“Carter?”

“Sir?”

“Daniel and I thank you, again, for everything.  You're a good friend, Carter.  We couldn't ask for a better one.  I ... we ... Thank you.”

Sam blushed and was about to cry, something she didn't want to do in front of her CO.

“Anytime, Sir.  I really should go or Janet will be angry.  I'll check back later, Sir.”

====

The next afternoon, Jack was in his usual place, by Daniel's bed.  The young man had yet to awaken except for brief moments when the nurses had performed their neuro checks.  The nurses assured him that Daniel was still making good progress and that his reflexes were good, but the most the archaeologist had done in response to their questions was flutter his eyelids.

The colonel was concerned.  Janet had said Daniel would be fully awake in twenty-four hours, by morning, so why wasn't he?  The graying-more-by-the-second man was becoming even more worried. Sam had coerced the physician into giving him some more private time with Daniel without the chance of being interrupted by the hovering nurses, and for that, he was grateful.
 
Jack smiled for a moment, thinking about the traffic pattern into their private room, speaking softly to his still-unconscious lover:

“See, Danny, those nightingales are only required to come in here every couple of hours, but for you, it's like Grand Central Station; I think they just want to get their hands on you.  Who could blame them, but you're mine, Danny, and I won't let you go.

“You better wake up soon, Love.  You know how I am ... about other ... people touching you.  I might end up decking Nurse Higgens.  She's the worst you know.  Keeps telling me she's just checking your pulse, but those hands are roaming a bit low for that, Dannyboy.  You wouldn't want me to hit a nurse, would ya, Danny?”

Jack's tone had turned from amusement to desperation, as his fear increased.

“C'mon, Danny, it's time to wake up.  Let me see those baby blues.  C'mon, Love.”

Jack's heart soared and his fear dissipated when he heard the soft and questioning “J'ck?  Sleeping. Go 'way.”

A chuckle later, and sporting a very big smile, Jack responded, “Sorry, Danny, can't do that.  C'mon, open your eyes, and look at your old colonel.”

Daniel's eyes slowly opened, and then he corrected, “Not old, Jack.  Cute, not old.”

“I love you, Doctor Jackson,” Jack said, smiling, his heart doing flip-flops at hearing Daniel reprimand him for calling himself old because he knew that if his archaeologist was well enough to banter about age, then he was just 'fine'.

“Ditto, Colonel O'Neill.”

====

Two days later, Jack was telling Daniel how Sam, Teal’c, and the search team had found them.

“I can't believe I forgot and left my recorder,” Daniel stated, a slight blush coloring his still pale cheeks.

“You were excited about that passageway and that little bit of forgetfulness saved our lives, that and Princess,” Jack related with a smile.

“Princess?” Daniel questioned.

“Your friend from the tree,” Jack explained.

“My friend from the tree?  Oh, you mean the three-eared cat?  You named her?”

“She helped save your life and mine.  She deserves a name,” Jack responded.

“Yes, she does, but what does she have to do with us being rescued?” Daniel asked a bit confused.

“Carter said when the rescue party got to the bottom of the slope, the cat was there and acted like it wanted them to follow it.  They did, and it led them straight to our location.”

Daniel smiled, commenting, “I guess that makes me and Princess even.”

“Yeah,” Jack sighed.  ~But I'll owe Princess forever,~ he thought, smiling at his Love and feeling nothing but gratitude for the alien feline.

====
--Six Weeks Later
====

“Jack, we can't do this,” Daniel said as he stood with his arms folded across his chest.

“Yes, we can, Daniel.”

“The general won't be happy.”

“The general likes us; he'll be ... amused.  Besides, he'll never know.  It's after 11 p.m., Daniel.  Hardly anyone is in the complex, let alone down here.”

“Jack”  **(He might court-martial you.)**

“Daniel.”  **(No, he won't, now don't argue.)**

“Jack, honestly, this is crazy.  People are going to see us.  The cameras,” Daniel pointed out nervously.

“Daniel, don't be a spoilsport.  No one is down here, and I've taken care of the cameras.  I promised you we'd do this, and we're going to.”

Inwardly, Daniel felt Jack wanting to keep his promise was sweet and endearing, but he really was nervous about what would happen if they got caught, so he refuted, “I was unconscious.  It ... it doesn't count.”

Jack looked down the corridor, making sure it was still empty.  He quickly kissed his archaeologist on the nose and went back to the task at hand, saying as he did so, “Yes, it does, Danny, because I made that promise to you, and I always keep my promises, especially to you, even if you don't know I make them.”

“Jack.”  **(Please, Jack.  I don't want you to get into trouble.)**

“Daniel.”  **(You are nothing but trouble, Daniel, the best kind of trouble, and I love you, and we are doing this, so hush up.)**

Realizing he had lost the argument, Daniel relented and did as Jack instructed.

“I'll handle the tough part, Angel,” Jack said.  “You just hold on, and don't let your feet drag.”

“You're a crazy man, O'Neill.”

“Yeah, but you love me anyway.”

Daniel laughed, “Well, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it, and I'm the only one dumb enough to take you on.”

“Here, put this on,” the colonel instructed.

“Jaaaack!”

“Daniel, Fraiser will kill me if you fall off and aren't wearing a helmet.  You're still on light duty, and she'll yell at me for messing up her fine stitch job.  Put it on ... now!”

“Slave driver.”

“No, that's for later tonight.”

“Jack, stop.  We're at the SGC.”

“Okay, okay.  You ready for take off?”

“Ready, Colonel.  Full throttle ahead.”

====

General Hammond had stayed uncharacteristically late at the SGC.  Meetings had interrupted his schedule, and, with a vacation coming up, he wanted to go away with a clean desk.  As he was reviewing the latest report from SG-11, Sergeant Siler, who was working late to assist the general, entered and interrupted him.

“Sir, come quickly.  You ... you have to see this, Sir.”

“Okay.”  Hammond rose and followed Siler to the control room while asking, “What is it, Sergeant?  I don't see anything unusual.”

Siler gulped, saying, “The gate room, Sir.  They're ... in the gate room.”

The major general walked over to the large windows overlooking the room in question.  As he looked down, he saw Colonel Jack O'Neill and Doctor Daniel Jackson, the two leading members of his flagship team, riding a bicycle built for two.  Both men were laughing wildly with looks of joy and happiness on their faces.

“General, what should we do?”

The leader of the SGC watched Jack and Daniel for a moment and then turned his attention to Siler, replying matter-of-factly, “Go back to work, Sergeant.”

“Sir?”

“I have work to do, Sergeant.  Don't you?”

“Yes, Sir, I do, but what about Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson?”

Hammond took one more look at his leading clowns, still riding around in circles. Suppressing a laugh, he looked at Siler, displaying the military face that helped get him his rank of major general, and said simply, “What about them, Sergeant?”

Siler understood the tone and nodded at the silent message -- O'Neill and Jackson were not here, and they were definitely not riding a bicycle, built-for-two or otherwise, in the gate room.

“Nothing, Sir,” the nervous sergeant responded, gulping somewhat at the general's most menacing glare.

“I suggest you get back to work.  I'd like to get out of here before midnight.”

As Siler acknowledged and exited, Hammond took a final look down at the two laughing men and smiled.  It was good to see them having a good time.  They had been through so many tragedies over the years, and the general noted the two had seemed more at peace in recent times.

Hammond watched Jack and Daniel stopping the bicycle and getting off.  He saw them look at each other, still laughing, and saw their laughter dissolve into something else, into looks and glances that the major general knew he should not witness.  For their and his own good, General Hammond turned and returned to his office.

In the gate room, being none the wiser about having been observed, Jack touched Daniel's cheek and said, “Let's go home.  Now, it's your turn to keep your promise.”

“And what promise is that, Jack?”

“Bite me.”

Daniel laughed seductively, “At your command, Colonel.”

With that, the two lovers quietly exited the SGC, drove down the Mountain, and to their home, where they made their own paradise of love and warmth, one that would last forever and always.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author


Counter
Vista Print Discount