A Heart For Every Fate
a Stargate story
by
Destina Fortunato

Author's notes are at the end of the story.





Day 1


After his shoulder hit the floor, Daniel skidded a few feet over the rough stone before he realized he wasn't rolling down the gate ramp inside the SGC. Jack's weight landed on top of him and rolled over him as momentum carried Jack into the back wall of the chamber. They were used to coming out of a wormhole at the same velocity they'd gone in, but they'd never jumped through the open ring and missed it entirely before.

"Oh, god," Daniel whispered. He put his hand out toward the gate, toward where the wormhole had been active just seconds before. His stomach twisted in a knot and he scrambled to his knees, even as the room began to disintegrate around them. A thousand things should have been running through his mind, but there was only one - no way home now - as he turned back toward Jack.

"Run," Jack said tersely, his eyes not on Daniel, but on the ceiling of the gate chamber. "Now."

Daniel found he couldn't look away from the gate, but it didn't matter; Jack was shoving him, hard enough to get his feet moving again, to engage his brain. They dodged pieces of debris as they fled down the steps, but Daniel paused by the FRED. "Jack, the equipment," he began, but Jack reached back and caught hold of his shirt, and yanked him hard enough to make him stumble.

"Run, god damn it!"

Daniel followed him through the winding chambers of the heliopolis, lost from the outset. All around them walls were tumbling, cracking, splitting open under the combined pressure of nature and time, but Jack knew the way out. He'd been assessing, learning this place, while Daniel had been focused on things that no longer mattered. Jack prodded Daniel on until they reached a glade of trees not far from the gates of the heliopolis; then, finally, he let Daniel stop, let him turn to watch.

But Daniel couldn't stand to see it.

He put his hands around a tree trunk and held on, face pressed against the rough bark, until the sounds of crumbling stone died away behind him. Jack stood beside him, facing the heliopolis so he could see everything, and became the unwilling witness to the destruction. When he turned away and walked into the forest, Daniel didn't follow. Instead he focused his attention on the heliopolis. His eyes widened with surprise; it still stood, perched precariously above the sea. Parts of the far towers had crumbled away, but at least three quarters of the building remained intact.

It's the safest room there is, especially in a storm.

Slowly, Daniel began hiking back up the path toward the heliopolis, away from the woods.  


****
 
Ernest's few possessions were still stacked neatly in the corner of the room: a few pieces of brown fruit, sharpened sticks, and the husk of an old plant, filled with a makeshift ink. Next to them was a bed of rags, paper thin, so fine to the touch that Daniel thought they might dissolve into dust as he gathered them up. He set them aside, at the base of the pedestal. No telling if he might need them, later.

In the darkness of the room, the sounds of the storm seemed closer, as if the ancient heliopolis was turning inside out. Daniel shivered, not with cold. Beneath his feet, the building still shook, tremor after tremor, and he wasn't at all sure it wasn't going to give way and topple down into the sea, following after the stargate. Even so, he slid down the wall, braced against its comforting solidity, its long-standing strength, and huddled in the corner. It was all the shelter he had. He couldn't face going out in the storm. The wind and rain were minor things; he'd been through storms before.

But Jack was out there, too, and that was something Daniel didn't know how to face. Not yet.

Some time later, he was awakened by a rough shake; Jack was bending over him, soaking wet, his eyes dark and unreadable.  "Get up. You can't stay here."

"But the storm," Daniel said, as if he could explain everything with that piece of meaningless information.

Jack's hand closed on his arm like a band of iron. "This place could still go into the ocean. You're not going with it."

"Jack--"

"Not now. Not tonight." Jack stepped away from him. "Let's go."

Outside, the wind drove the sheeting rain into their faces; Daniel's glasses were useless, so he pulled them off. He could barely see Jack ahead of him. A sudden, desperate panic caught at him, clawed through him, and he turned back toward the shuddering building. Jack's fingers locked onto the back of his collar and he pulled, knocking Daniel down. "You're not going back in there."

Daniel got to his feet. He could feel the weight of Ernest's journal against his chest, warm and dry, precious to him. More than anything else, he wanted to throw it into the wind and let it be carried away, so the day could be washed away with it. All mistakes made right again; all courses reset. "I'm sorry," he shouted, squinting to see Jack's face. "You should have gone without me."

Jack grabbed him by the shirt and shook him hard enough to rattle his teeth. His face was twisted with rage Daniel had never seen on the surface before. He recoiled, even as Jack shook him again, harder this time.   

It was instinct, more than conscious will, when Daniel pushed him away. Jack pulled him back and their momentum carried them both to the ground. They rolled sideways in the mud until Jack straddled him, and when Daniel looked up, Jack's lips were moving. Daniel strained to hear his words above the tropical roar of the thunderstorm, but he heard nothing, saw nothing, except for Jack's eyes, wilder than the storm and full of lightning. Full of fear.

All the fight bled out of Daniel, leeching away into the muddy ground. Beneath him, the earth shook and rolled, but didn't open, and Jack's weight held him in place.

Jack sat back on his heels, then stood. He hauled Daniel to his feet with one hand; his breath made harsh clouds in the cold air. "Don't say that again," he hissed, leaving every nuance of the warning to Daniel's imagination. And then he turned and walked away.

After a moment, Daniel followed, before he lost sight of Jack in the darkness.

He was shivering again by the time they reached the shelter Jack had thrown up. The fallen branches of trees sloped against a heavy, straight trunks, and beneath them Jack had made a space large enough for two men to inhabit. Jack stooped and crawled into the temporary shelter. His muddy left boot kicked out from the opening. Daniel dropped to his knees and crawled in beside the wet mass of Jack's body, pressing close to his back, to his sodden jacket. There was no warmth to be had in the vast inches between them. When he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine Sam and Teal'c nearby, standing watch; he could imagine there would be coffee over the fire.

Almost.


*****


Some time later, Daniel woke; it was lighter, still drizzling, and Jack was gone. He lay still as water slid down the branches overhead, trickling into heavy droplets which pelted him in the face. He could easily convince himself it was a routine mission. Jack was scouting somewhere outside, and he'd be back, and they'd joke about the weather and the rain and hiking with foot rot, and things would be fine. Except, they wouldn't do any of those things, ever again. It was starting to sink in, finally. Where they were; where they would be...what he had done. He covered his eyes with one hand and took a few deep breaths, because there was panic brewing just beneath the surface of his calm, and he couldn't afford it.

Slowly, he sat up and turned his neck to each side gingerly until he heard a pop, then worked his bruised jaw. Jack hadn't meant to hurt him, or he was sure it'd be broken. It just hurt, a dull ache, not unlike every other part of his body.

Ernest's journal was still inside his jacket, still dry. His own pack was somewhere near the gate, thrown aside in an effort to go faster, to cheat fate. It was probably at the bottom of the sea.

He slid forward in the mud until he was clear of the branches, then stood. There were boxes scattered about near the shelter - the contents of the FRED, and all that was left of their equipment. Jack was sorting through them, his back to Daniel. "You retrieved all this from the heliopolis?" Daniel asked softly.

"Had to work fast," Jack said. He didn't look up. "That room is hanging on by a thread."

Daniel's hopes soared. "The gate?"

Jack stilled, then went back to sorting. "In the ocean."

Two steps back, and Daniel could brace himself against the tree. He thought fast, talked faster. "Maybe if we find a way to pull it up - if we can access it --"

"Survival, Daniel. That's our priority. Diving after the gate isn't going to keep us alive." Now Jack looked up at him. There was no anger in his face, only a tight, weary resignation. In clipped tones, he said, "Want to give me a hand, if you can spare the time?"

Daniel had the time. It was all he had, really.


Day 7

Daniel stopped talking altogether - except to himself - by the end of the fourth day. There wasn't any point. Jack answered with grunts and gestures, and only spoke to give him orders. Sometimes he found himself wishing Jack would order him around more. It was normal that way, like he had a choice and could do what he wanted to, fight and argue and be stubborn. It was worse when Jack didn't talk at all. Fire, water, food, shelter; those were the currency of Jack-speak. All other topics were superfluous.

Jack set the tone for what had to be done, and it was all about building stuff: shelter, latrines, drainage canals, storage. Daniel had an idea of what they were doing and why, but mostly he took the tools and stripped the branches or cut them where he was told. Eventually he got the hang of it and didn't need to be told which branches were right for shelter, which tree trunks were slender enough for their purposes. Jack was going about this like they were going to be there for a while. A long while. Whether or not he accepted it as truth didn't seem to be the point.

Daniel started to notice things about Jack he'd never paid much attention to before -- the way he breathed, slept, moved, ate, hunted, killed, cleaned, provided for them both. It was caveman stuff, not meaning of life stuff, but more important than universal knowledge. This was their universe, now.

Every day when they stopped their methodical progress toward survival and sat silent by the fire, Daniel paged through Ernest's journal, compiling his research. It was all he had to read; he'd gone through it cover to cover at least twenty times, trying to keep his mind focused on the here and now, on what was before him instead of what was lost. Sometimes he stared at the full pages and didn't see the writing; instead, he thought about what he should say to Jack, what he could possibly do to let him know how sorry he was, or how much regret he carried in his heart. It weighed on him like an anvil, pressing him flat and making his apologies useless. He couldn't come up with the words, so he pulled them back. They were no good to him now.

Each night, he went to stare at the sea and thought about the gate, and about home.

On the seventh day, Jack was frying up a piece of fruit in the fire - it hadn't killed them yet, so they ate it for every meal - and said, "You can go back in there now."

Daniel looked up from Ernest's journal, startled; it was the first thing Jack had said by way of conversation in days. "What?"

"The building. I looked it over. The rooms you're interested in are safe." Jack flipped over the fruit, which was scorching around the edges, its black skin curling. "They're partially built into the rock. They'll probably last forever."

"The builders probably planned it that way," Daniel said. "To make sure the device was safe." He hesitated then, wondering what he should say next. So many words, and so few were right, or could say what was needed. It was as though Jack had put the first piece out on the chessboard and was waiting for Daniel's move.

He closed the journal and set it down in the grass. "Jack..."

"I don't want to have this conversation." Jack poked at the fruit. His voice was even, neutral, but Daniel knew him too well; there was nothing neutral about it. "So whatever you're going to say...don't."

"We can't go on not talking about it," Daniel said. What he didn't say, Jack already knew: with no one else to talk to, they'd be foolish to let anything fester.

"What's done is done." Jack stabbed the fruit with the stick and lifted it from the fire. He broke off half with his fingertips, quick motions designed to keep him from being burned, and offered the rest to Daniel.

"Because of me." Daniel took the stick from Jack's hand, but set it down in the grass. The idea of eating nauseated him. He wanted to be free of the weight around his neck; he had only words to offer, to cleanse it away.

"Yes." Jack's eyes narrowed, but he kept them on the task at hand: peeling the roasted fruit.

Daniel nodded. He looked up at the clear blue sky, then out toward the sea, where cumulus clouds had billowed up. Any moment, he was going to fly apart; he was coming out of his skin, separating from what he had been, and he couldn't contain it anymore. He stood, unsteady, and took two lurching steps toward the woods - then turned wildly, toward the sea. Trapped. He fell to his knees and retched up the meager contents of his stomach, one hand braced on the ground to hold him there.

Eventually the nausea passed. He got one foot under him, then both, and went back to the fire. Jack hadn't moved. Daniel sat down again, nearer the fire this time.

Jack reached over and picked up the discarded piece of fruit, still skewered on the stick, and handed it to Daniel. They ate in silence, watching the sun descend over the water. Later, they slept back to back in a new shelter, elevated off the ground. It wasn't permanent, but it would do.


Day 10



Before dawn, Jack shook him awake. The night chill was in the air, and Jack hovered over him with his jacket in hand. "Come on," Jack said.

Still groggy, Daniel grabbed the jacket and obeyed, even though he wondered dimly what Jack could possibly want him for this time of morning. He slipped in the dew on the way down the trail, following Jack as he had that first night. The thought of it made him shudder. Jack glanced back once, to be sure Daniel was there, before he began the ascent up the bare rocks toward the ocean.

"Where're we going?" Daniel asked, but Jack was busy finding footholds. He didn't answer.

Before long they were to the edge. Jack inched along until he could swing his legs over the edge; he motioned to Daniel to move up beside him. Daniel did. Jack gestured toward the water. "Watch."

The ocean was nearly black in the pre-dawn night; the crescent moons above were waning into darkness. Daniel strained to see down into the depths of the water. "What the..."

"Yeah." Far below them, the only visible chevron of the gate glowed faintly, flickering beneath the flow of the water.

"They're still trying to get to us," Daniel breathed. He leaned forward to get a better look. "We should dive down there and try to clear it."

"I don't think so," Jack said. "It's sliding down, rocks, gate and all."

"What?"

"It'll be all be at the bottom, before long."

Daniel realized that Jack based his assessment on more than this morning's glimpse of the gate. "You've been coming out here every day, haven't you?"

"Since the first day."

Daniel thought he should have known Jack would never give up, even if he didn't mention the gate, or his thoughts about the likelihood of using the gate to get off this world. "Maybe there's still something we could do. If we get most of the debris off the ring, a wormhole can form. There only needs to be a small space -"

"Daniel, look at those waves. They're pulling the gate down a little more every day. If we try to swim out there, we're going to be pancakes on those rocks." Jack pitched a stone into the sea.

"Well, then...maybe when it slides free and sinks, it'll dislodge what's on top of it."

"Maybe." Jack threw another stone. "And maybe if it does, our people will gate into the ocean."

Daniel shook his head. It was all theory. There had to be hope. "They'll send a MALP. And then they will find a way to get to us."

One more stone curved into the air, arcing toward the sky before it dropped toward the water. And then Jack said quietly, "I brought you here so you'd understand, Daniel. It's not going to happen."

"I think it's premature for you to say that," Daniel countered. He picked up a rock and threw it hard, no graceful arc.

"I don't pin my hopes on what might be. I move on."

"To what?" Daniel's sudden anger overflowed; with a sweep of his hand, he scattered the neat pile of rocks between them, Jack's stockpile of thinking material. "Move on to what, Jack?"

"To whatever comes next."

"Nothing comes next. There's nothing." Daniel realized he was shouting, that his hands were trembling. He drew in a deep breath and struggled for control.  

A silence fell between them as the sun climbed over the horizon. Finally, Jack said, "You're alive." With one hand, he gathered up the rocks, scooping them back into a jumbled pile. "And you're not alone. That's something." He brushed his hands off on his pants and got up. "If you want to spend the next fifty years hating yourself, that's fine by me, but I don't have the energy to spare for it." He hurled one last rock toward the sun, and then left Daniel there in the first cool light of morning.

Jack's anger had been a constant, a touchstone; its absence left Daniel with a void he couldn't fill. He sat at the edge of the cliff until the sun was high overhead, until his hands stopped shaking. He would rather have had the option of forgiving Jack for hating him. It would have been easier, that way. It wouldn't be nearly as easy to stop hating himself.


Day 19

Though Jack had given him tacit permission already, Daniel didn't climb up to the heliopolis right away. He lingered around the camp, digging the latrine and helping Jack weave leaves together for the roof of their shelter. Jack eyed him once or twice, but said nothing about his presence there.

When he finally did decide to go, he wasn't sure what to take. He grabbed Ernest's journal and his canteen, and stood quiet in the glade for a moment. Their shelter was finished; their supplies were stored. The campsite looked less like a camp and more like a miniature fort, a place to come back to, at the end of the day.

Jack emerged from the shelter carrying fishing line and a knife. He glanced Daniel's direction, then said, "Going to work, finally?"

Daniel's fingers tightened around the journal. "For a little while."

"Take your time," Jack said. He sat down on his customary log, next to the fire pit, and began cutting the fishing line into lengths. He wasn't smiling, exactly, but something in his eyes made Daniel smile involuntarily.

"Tired of me already?" he asked, though a part of him wondered how he dared joke about it.

"You've got your thing to do...I've got mine."

"So that's a yes, then." Now Daniel's smile widened.

"Go away, Daniel. And don't come back until you've solved the mystery of the universe. You've got to earn your keep around here."

"Yes, sir." Daniel turned away, but for the first time, the sense of desperation was starting to ease. There was a normalcy in Jack's irritation, the buzz of familiarity. Daniel felt like he could breathe again.

When he stopped at the top of the hill and looked back at the camp, Jack was stringing up that morning's kill - a pig-like thing with a double snout - with the fishing line.

Inside the heliopolis, the air was thick and heavy with the heat of the day. Daniel shucked off his jacket and set it at the top of the stairs, then sat down beside it. From his vantage point he could see the pedestal directly before him, down the stairs and in the center of the room. He stared at it. Such a nondescript device, to carry such priceless secrets. He shook his head and folded his hands, clasping them tightly together. He'd been prepared to give everything up for it, but Jack's life, his future, had been the sacrifice. For the cost he'd paid, he should devote every waking moment to the thing, but he barely wanted to go near it.

He stood up and walked slowly to the bottom of the stairs, then circled the room, eyes on the pedestal. It was like an irresistible lure, the ultimate prize. He moved closer, to put his hands on its smooth surface, to touch the orange dome. He raised his fist; a sudden terrible urge came over him - he could put his fist through it, and that would be the end of it. No more than he deserved, and it might be the only punishment real enough for what he'd done. "I should," he murmured, though no one was there to hear him.

When he lowered his arm, he wasn't sure if he was a fool or a selfish coward, but he loathed himself enough that either might apply.

With no desire to open the 'book', he stepped away from the pedestal. From the corner of his eye, he noticed something at the base of the stairs, just to the left: a pack. His pack. He hadn't left it there; it had been in the gate chamber when they'd fled during the storm. He bent down to open it. Tucked under the flap was a piece of the native fruit, the staple of their diet these days.

"Jack," he said softly.

For the rest of the day, he took notes on Ernest's notes, using Ernest's journal to compare each bit of information on the first 'page' of the device.

He ate the fruit for lunch. When it was dark, he gathered up his materials and went home.

Jack was sprawled by the fire, his cap pulled down over his eyes, legs stretched out in front of him. It was a deceptive pose, Daniel knew; Jack was wide awake, listening to every sound, assessing it. His left hand was on his handgun. Half the pig was spitted over the fire.

"Got it all figured out?" Jack asked, without moving.

"Uh, no. That'll take...a long time," Daniel said, very quietly. He sat down beside Jack.

"Well, then it shouldn't be a problem," Jack said. "Time's the one thing you've got."

Daniel swallowed hard and bit back the apology that was always at the ready, the 'sorry' he was going to owe to Jack until they one of them died here, or they were rescued, whichever came first. And maybe beyond that, too.

Jack removed the cap from his eyes and sat up with a sigh. "You can tell me all about it over dinner."

"You're interested?" Daniel asked. He held the end of the skewer while Jack carved slices of meat off onto Daniel's plate.

"It's you or ESPN, and..." Jack gestured at the empty landscape around them. "I seem to have misplaced my TV."

"Right," Daniel said, smiling to himself.

"Words of three syllables or less," Jack warned, as he speared up a piece of meat with the tip of his knife. "And don't get all philosophical on me."

"I'll try," Daniel said. "That's five syllables," he added, because he couldn't resist.

"What?"

"Philosophical," he said. "Five syllables."

It had never occurred to Daniel that pig fat would be the perfect weapon of choice in a food fight, but Jack was way ahead of him. It was still in his hair when they bunked down for the night.

"You smell like bacon," Jack complained, shifting his sleeping bag away from Daniel.

"Your fault," Daniel said.

"Now I want coffee, dammit." With an exaggerated sigh, Jack rolled over and covered his face with one arm.

For a long time after, Daniel lay in the dark watching Jack sleep; he shifted position every few minutes to ease the discomfort of sleeping on the hard slat floor. They would never have coffee again. Jack could never watch hockey, or grab a beer from the fridge; he would never sleep in a comfortable bed again. Their clothes were going to wear out, eventually. They were going to grow old here with only each other for company, wishing for things they could never have, missing things they'd taken for granted all their lives, mourning the absence of co-workers, friends, lovers. They would never know what had happened to any of the people they'd known.

Sha're.

It wasn't that he'd tried not to think about her, but there'd been too much to do. He'd been busy. It had been a week, he realized, since she had occupied the most prominent place in his thoughts. Even now she seemed to be slipping away from him, forever out of reach; he didn't even have a picture with him, to remind him of her features. Her face was indistinct in his memory. After a while, he wouldn't be able to picture her at all.  

He closed his eyes and thought of her voice, and the way she'd comforted him on sleepless nights when he missed Earth - when he'd been marooned by choice. It had been so different, then; he had known what he was giving up, and what he was getting. He fell asleep thinking of sunrise in the desert, and of the song Sha're sang when she rose to set breakfast before him.


Day 40

Every now and then, Jack tried a little something to vary the routine. For instance, there was the day he dragged Daniel out on 'reconnaissance', looking for signs of habitation nearby. It was a four-mile hike through the forest, and Daniel knew damn well Jack had already been wherever they were going, but he was game.

As soon as they came upon the village, Daniel understood what Jack was up to. Amazing how the sight of a few decrepit buildings could thrill him so completely. He walked from one building to another, ten in all, looking around inside and out, making a simple assessment.

"How old d'you think this place is?" Jack asked, as he peered through the crumbling doorways of ancient houses.

"Uh, old," Daniel answered, preoccupied with comparing the architecture styles to what he knew of the heliopolis. "Really old."

"Precise as usual," Jack said, rolling his eyes.

Daniel chuckled. "Nowhere near as old as the heliopolis, if that's what you're asking," he said.

"What do you suppose happened to them?"

"Moved elsewhere, maybe? Or maybe they went...wherever those races that built the heliopolis went." Daniel plucked at the outer wall, trying to figure out what the houses were built with. "This is a kind of mud brick similar to that used in Egypt," he said. "Mud and straw harden into clay. We could use this to build a house."

"Only one problem. No straw."

"Native grasses will work, sometimes. We'd just have to dry them."

"I'll put that on the list of things to do in my spare time." Jack poked at the wall with the butt end of the MP5.

"If they moved inland, there could still be people here. Maybe they migrated because of climate."

"This place seems okay to me," Jack said. "Trees, water, things to eat, a view. What else could you want?"

Daniel said patiently, "Well, maybe the way we found it isn't the way they left it - maybe the game was thinned out by hunting, or the storms were too much for them."

Jack smiled tolerantly, as though it actually mattered. "I'll put 'finding the locals' on my list, too."

They collected the remnants of a chair, a piece of jewelry, and a functional pot. Daniel's hair was growing like a weed, and it flopped annoyingly in his face when he bent to examine the ashes in one of the hearths. He subdued it beneath a bandana and went right on sifting ash.

"That's a nice look for you," Jack said, when Daniel emerged coated with soot.

It was the most satisfying archaeological expedition Daniel had been on in years.

Then there was the day Jack insisted Daniel learn how to craft a bow and arrows. When Daniel protested that he had a working knowledge of archery already, Jack looked him straight in the eye and said, "Dusting 'em off isn't the same as shooting 'em." That was the end of that argument. In the end, Daniel found crafting arrows was relaxing, like whittling, or doodling. In the evenings, when they were sitting around camp, he would create piles of them. Jack would take them away and store them, and bring him new wood.

It crossed Daniel's mind that this was something for Jack to do, a way for him to be useful as more than the guy who ran the camp. He was teaching Daniel, even if Daniel was a reluctant pupil. He wanted to learn quickly, for Jack. He worked hard at it.

As if Jack knew he was thinking exactly those thoughts, he devised new methods of torture and called them 'tests' - like the day Jack blindfolded Daniel, dragged him off into the woods, and spun him around until he was mere seconds away from puking all over Jack's boots. When he pulled the blindfold off and made Daniel figure out his way back to camp without Jack's help, Daniel pursed his lips, but played along. He backtracked their trail like a pro; Jack had nothing to criticize.

Daniel cooked up a stew with the contents of the last MRE that night, but he didn't eat any of it. He watched the fire as it dwindled, and Jack watched him. When he couldn't stand that measuring gaze anymore, he took his introspection inside the shelter and crawled into his mummy bag.

When Jack came to bed, Daniel rolled over and looked him in the eye. "I know what you're doing," he said. "You're not being especially clever about it."

"Wasn't trying to be." Jack pulled off his boots - it had taken him nearly four weeks to stop sleeping in them - and pitched them into the corner.

Daniel sat up and squirmed partially out of his bag. "I appreciate what you're trying to do," he began, but Jack interrupted.

"Listen, I'm not doing it out of the kindness of my heart. You're going to learn to do everything I can do. Everything you need to survive here." He paused, then said, "It's too bad this happened before you made it to survival school. They would have been harder on you."

Outside, the incessant drone of insects stopped, then started again. Daniel watched Jack peel off his BDUs, his socks, his shirt. "Nothing's going to happen to you," Daniel said, as if saying it was a charm against any future disasters. The small seed of waiting panic in his heart knew that it could, and then he would be alone. Not something he could afford to think about and still stay sane.

"From your lips to...whoever's ears." Jack flopped back and stuffed his jacket under his neck for support. "But like my grandpa used to say, wishing don't make it so. And that's why you're going to learn it all."

"I already know some," Daniel said mildly.

"Some isn't all."

"Jack..."

"Daniel." In the near-dark, Jack's eyes were almost black. Daniel tried to find words for what he wanted to say, but there wasn't much point. Instead he shook his head and lay down.

"Nothing."

"Speaking of survival, there's something else you should know." Jack leaned up on one elbow. "After two or three years of 'nothing' when it's 'something', I'll probably shoot you."

"Good to know."


Day 48


Ernest's calendar was scratched on several pieces of yellowed paper, a thick parchment that reminded Daniel of vellum. It hadn't occurred to Daniel to keep a calendar when they first arrived, but eventually he started to think it was a good idea. It gave him something tangible to cling to in the passing of days, a way to track the seasons. Ernest had made some meteorological observations on the calendar beside the tiny hash marks. The seasons were laid out clearly, between and around the days as they passed. Daniel could picture Ernest standing on the turret of the heliopolis, watching the wind and the sky, observing the passing of the moon and alien stars and reducing it all down to a few sheets of paper: the universe in microcosm.

He made note of Ernest's observations, then turned the papers on their side and began all over again, building this new span of days overtop the old. He knew Ernest wouldn't mind.

On the first day they were marooned, Daniel had noticed the passing of hours was longer here than on Earth. Sunrise to sunset, they had fourteen hours of daylight, and twelve of darkness. Jack groused about the 26-hour-day, then joked about it. When they finally began to adjust to it, it became just another facet of their lives. Even so, neither of them set aside their chronometers. There was something comforting about knowing the day and date on Earth, the time of day.

This is how Daniel knew that their 48th day planetside - April 19, on Earth - was the day he cut off his hair. It was getting shaggy and hard to manage, and it fell in his eyes when he tried to do chores around camp. Tying it back didn't seem to help much. For the first time, it had become an annoyance. He snuck the scissors out of Jack's field kit and took them with him when he went hunting.

He first did what he'd gone there to do - shot down one of those flying bird-rodent things for dinner - and then he went to work on the hair. Without a mirror, he had to rely on his sense of touch to tell him how close was too close. He clipped it all off, then scattered the bits about in the forest. The birds might be able to use it for nests. It was as close as he could come to paying them back for dinner.

Daniel was pretty sure that no matter how long he lived, he'd never forget the look on Jack's face when he returned to camp. No spontaneous words, no sarcasm; just a long stare, one that made Daniel's ears burn. He stowed the bow and arrow and came back to their circle of two at the fire to pluck and clean the bird.

When Jack touched his hair, Daniel dropped the bird in the dust.

Jack's fingers rifled through the mess of short and long strands, combing it in every direction. His hand slid from the top of Daniel's scalp to the nape of his neck, then back again, too slowly to be good-natured teasing. "Where are the scissors?" Jack asked, and Daniel fished them out of his pocket. He ran his fingers over the bird's tough feathers, against their soft grain, as Jack corrected the wildest of his efforts. Jack's hands were warm; his body, pressed against Daniel's shoulder as he leaned close to trim his hair, seemed too close.

They finished their tasks at the same time. Jack sat down beside him and asked, "Want the mirror?"

"No." Daniel gutted the bird, then spitted it.

They were through with dinner, and Daniel was getting ready to cart the bones off and bury them, when Jack said, "What brought that on?"

For a moment, Daniel considered playing dumb, but they were past that. "It was time," he said simply. There wasn't much more to it than that, anyway. He looked at the ragged self-cut of Jack's hair and thought that perhaps next time, they should play barber for each other. It might be easier for them both.


Day 77


The season began to change in subtle ways - a morning frost on the grass, or the sight of the clumsy birds migrating to parts unknown. Jack suggested a move into the heliopolis during the colder weather, but his suggestion was an order based in practicality. They reclaimed one of the empty subterranean rooms from the birds and vermin that had taken it over and stored their supplies there - firewood, food stores. Daniel knew Jack was worried about food through the winter, but he didn't share his concern with Daniel, so Daniel didn't burden Jack with the knowledge that Daniel was worried, too.  

"What about storms?" Daniel said, as they lugged most of their equipment up to their new home.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

They stockpiled firewood at the campsite, just in case; Jack reinforced the walls on the shelter so it would be there, if they needed it on short notice.

At night, they went to the roof and sat under the stars, ignoring the cold bite that had come into the air. Jack borrowed Daniel's journal and made a star chart, a fascinating web of lines and dots that made Daniel dizzy. Even so, he stared at it at least as much as he looked over his notes, on those days when he had time to go down to the alien device and give it his full attention. Something about that drawing, the fine precise lines drawn by Jack's hands, made Daniel want to trace them over and over, spinning the same webs by touch.

Some days, Jack disappeared for a while, and Daniel was sure he wasn't hunting. More likely he had gone to the cliffs to look out at the sea. Daniel understood the temptation, but he had other things to fill his time.
He was only on the fourth page of the 'book' and already he was stuck. He wished he had reference books - there was so much he could remember only in generalities, and this forced him to sharpen his recall, to work harder to grab the information out of the deep corners of his mind.

No wonder Ernest had thought it would take a lifetime. Every time Daniel looked up at the images floating above the pedestal, a sense of wonder filled him, a sense of the beauty of things he'd never understood before. It had taken some time to recover the joy of learning, but he reveled in it now. It was so easy to lose himself in the complexity of it, the vast orderliness of things he could barely comprehend...thoughts swirling a thousand miles a minute like the patterns in the air...

When Jack came down to find Daniel, the sound of his words was an alien intrusion. "Daniel, cover that thing up and come to chow."

It had been a long time since anyone had needed to retrieve him from working on a problem, and it made him smile. He looked up at Jack, who was perched on the stairs in t-shirt, dog tags, BDUs, and boots; it was so familiar, and so like old times, that the smile was dashed from his face before it took root.

"I'm...in a minute." He closed Ernest's journal. "I'll be right there."

Instead of leaving, Jack descended the last few steps and squatted down beside Daniel. "How many hours have you been at it?" he asked, as he pulled the journal from Daniel's hands.

"I've lost track," Daniel admitted. He leaned back against the wall. His fatigue had nothing to do with the mental work, or the chores that went along with survival. He turned his head and looked at Jack's face. Jack was leaner now, and the lines of his face were more pronounced. The urge to touch them, trace them, came over Daniel without warning, and he clenched his fists.

Jack stood and stuck out a hand to help Daniel up. "Come on."

Their new quarters were smoky and smelled of roasting meat. It couldn't be helped. The two windows at the top of the room barely drew the smoke as it rose, and they lived in a perpetual fog. It didn't bother Daniel. He was able to give it a historical spin, and that entertained Jack to no end.

"So you're saying if I was Henry the Eighth, I would have had a lung full of smoke every night?" Jack said dubiously, squinting at him.

"Uh...no. Actually, their palaces were ventilated quite a bit better than...this." Daniel motioned up toward the ceiling.

"Ah." Jack stirred the fire with a stick, then said, "But it's close."

"Yes." Daniel smiled. "Well, except for the roving dogs picking at the bones, and the rushes on the floor, and the presence of a royal hierarchy."

"I get it," Jack said. "I don't think I want to get it...but I get it."

"You asked," Daniel reminded him.

"What was I thinking?" Jack said, and they both smiled. And then Jack jumped tracks without warning, as he sometimes did: "Listen, Daniel...I've got enough hides tanned for one blanket. There won't be time to make two. I can throw together a bed frame before cold weather hits."

Daniel noted the use of the singular - one bed. He turned it over in his head, then nodded. "It's fine with me," he said, though he was sure Jack had known it already.

"Good," Jack said, but the word seemed directed inward, at himself.

It was the only time they ever talked about it.


Day 86


The day before the first flakes of snow fell, Daniel and Jack went fishing down in the rock cove. Never mind the fact that Jack said they'd never catch a thing, or that the water was freezing cold. The sun was shining that morning, the sky was an expansive stretch of blue, and neither of them wanted to think about being cooped up in the castle for months.

"I think I had a bite just now," Jack said. His sunglasses hid his eyes, but there was a definite smirk on his face. Daniel trained a now-practiced eye on the fishing line; it was slack.

"Right," he said, and closed his eyes again. His own pole, such as it was - a bent stick and some fishing line - was propped up against a rock, beneath his hand. He knew Jack was just living for the moment when he fell asleep and let it fall so he could give Daniel hell about it.

"Maybe there aren't any fish," Jack said.

"Maybe they don't like your choice of bait."

"What fish wouldn't like a nice piece of pig?"

"You're the expert," Daniel said with a yawn. "You tell me."

"If you would have dug up some worms, we wouldn't be having this problem."

"It's not in my job description. I carry water, hunt birds and decipher alien languages. Worms are your department."

"Always have been," Jack sighed. Abruptly he peeled off his jacket and t-shirt. "Come on, let's swim."

"Have you lost your mind?" Daniel yanked the fishing pole up and tossed it aside. "That water is like melted ice."

"You need a good bath," Jack said. He stopped suddenly and shrugged in apology. "No offense."

"None taken," Daniel said, alarmed by Jack's enthusiasm. He'd noticed they both could use a bath, but he didn't want to be the one to complain.

"Strip. And that's an order."

"No way," Daniel said.

Jack, now naked, tossed his socks and shirt up higher on the rocks. "Daniel," he said. His dogtags caught the sunlight and gleamed against his chest, and for the first time Daniel noticed how lean he was, and how defined his muscles had become this last few months. "Either strip, or I'll throw you in fully clothed."

I'd like to see you try, thought Daniel, and then he realized: he really would like Jack to try. The thought of Jack touching him raised gooseflesh all over his body. He cleared his throat to answer, but just then Jack jumped into the water. He surfaced a moment later, spluttering and coughing.

"Cold?" Daniel asked, lips twitching with amusement.

"Come find out," Jack said, and began swimming back and forth in the inlet.

Daniel let loose an exaggerated sigh and began peeling off clothing. Jack swam laps for a while, but eventually he swam back up to the rock and made a grab for Daniel's ankle. He grinned when Daniel backed away. Jack's eyes raked him up and down, and Daniel acutely felt his lack of clothes. "In," Jack said, and patted the water with one hand.

One running jump later, Daniel hit the water and lost his held breath. The air whooshed out of him with the shock of cold; little pins and needles jabbed his skin. Jack swam over to him and hovered in the water next to him while Daniel sloshed around, gasping for breath.

"Cold?" he said smugly.

"You son of a bitch," Daniel choked, and then he started to laugh. When Jack grabbed his head and shoved him underwater, then swam away, the game was on. Bare naked like two kids, they dove and laughed and goofed around at the base of the cliffs, and Daniel felt fearless. The water was so damn cold he couldn't take a deep breath, but it didn't matter. This might be their last chance to play for who knew how long, and he had no intention of wasting it.

Jack disappeared beneath the surface of the water, then reappeared, and Daniel knew what he was doing. "You looking for the gate?" he called, shouting to be heard above the crashing surf.

"No," Jack lied, and disappeared again. A moment later Daniel felt hands close around his ankles. They wrestled beneath the surface, hands grasping everywhere for purchase, arms and shoulders; Jack's hands slid over Daniel's slick skin, over the curve of his ass, and the water didn't seem so cold to Daniel anymore.

They bobbed to the surface, still grabbing at each other; Jack's breathless laughter made Daniel warm and it turned his muscles to water. "We should head back before we freeze," he said, grinning.

"Yeah," Jack said, as he wiped water from his face. Together they swam the short distance back to the beach. Daniel clambered out on the rocks first, then gave Jack a hand; they gathered up their clothes and ran up the trail, quickstep, toward the heliopolis.

Daniel shivered the rest of the day, but that brief moment of laughter had been worth a pending case of pneumonia, and Jack built a fire that would last through the night without much tending.

Jack didn't eat much for dinner, though he picked at the fruit like he was eating it in sections. He fussed with the fire, and then with other things in the room - their supplies, the firewood. Finally he turned his attention to the bed, which was their only furniture now, aside from one forlorn chair. "I need to make another chair, and a table," he said, as if he'd read Daniel's mind.

"It doesn't matter that much," Daniel said. He stood and stretched, then yawned. He stripped quickly, unselfconscious about it, and helped Jack make the bed with their zipped-together bags and the blanket of roughly stitched pelts, which smelled a little like rotting leather.

"Oh, what," Jack said irritably, as he eyed Daniel's smile.  

"Remind me to teach you how to sew," Daniel said, chuckling, and climbed on the bed. It was hard, and had very little give, but it was better than the floor.

He meant to thank Jack; the bed was the best present he could ever remember getting - better even than the second-hand copy of Budge he'd received on his twelfth birthday - but he was asleep long before Jack climbed in.

Sometime in the night he woke, startled awake by a dream of Sam calling his name. He waited until his breathing had slowed, until he was certain that it was a dream, and that he wasn't still at the SGC. Then he turned on his side, one arm pillowed beneath his head. Jack was asleep, eyes closed. His face was relaxed, almost youthful. Those lines on his face, the ones that were so deep in daylight, seemed to disappear in the guttering firelight.

The impulse to touch Jack's face was almost impossible for Daniel to resist, but he didn't dare. He contented himself with looking instead.

Jack shifted onto his side, and a moment later, he opened his eyes to meet Daniel's stare. Daniel held his breath, as though he'd been caught in the act of so much more than seeing Jack, but Jack didn't speak. He only looked. They were only inches apart, tangled up in the blankets, and Daniel could feel Jack's breath on his face. Daniel had only to move his hand, to answer the questions forming in his mind. But caution overwhelmed desire, and he forced himself not to move.

Jack watched him a moment more, then closed his eyes again. Daniel lay awake the rest of the night, wondering if Jack had been waiting, just as Daniel was waiting.

In the morning, they went about their business in the usual way, but Daniel could feel Jack's eyes on him, everywhere he moved, as if the moment had never passed.
 

Day 99


On the 99th day, Daniel realized he was running out of paper.  

He'd had two journals in his pack on the day they first arrived planetside: one with unlined pages with sketches of plants and landscapes, and a second with his daily notes. He copied notes over the drawings, over every millimeter of free space. Toward the end of the book, Daniel's printing was small, so tiny it could barely be seen without a magnifying glass. He wondered if he'd still be able to read it when he was old, when the need for bifocals had overtaken him.

Even the flat edges of the pages could make a writing surface, when pressed together, but once he'd used that, there would be no more room. He still had his field journal, and it was only half full, but at the rate he was working, it would be overflowing in a few short weeks. Funny how wasteful it seemed now, writing in an easy scrawl across a page, when he could have ordered his words and structured his book to make the paper last. But as with everything else on this shipwreck, hindsight was cheap and useless.

No more writing. The prospect of it caused a clenching knot in his stomach. His work was dependent on language, on notes. Without those, he would have to store things away in the corners of his brain and rely on his memory to hold them.

For the rest of the day he was distracted. He gave up at midday and went down to their quarters to stow the notebooks. Jack was pacing around the room, running in short bursts and stopping to do pushups every few circuits. For the first time, it dawned on Daniel that Jack was bored and restless, and he kicked himself mentally for not recognizing the signs sooner.  

"You're knocking off early," Jack said, as he eased himself down on the steps and stretched his muscles.

"Yes," Daniel said. He sat down on the floor with his journals in his lap and pulled off his glasses.  

"What's up?"

"Noth-" He caught himself just in time to cut off the word and substitute a smile. "It really is nothing."

"Okay," Jack said, in his far-too-agreeable voice, the one he used to placate small children and irate aliens. "Tell me about it anyway."

Daniel smoothed his hand over the leather cover of his field journal. "I'm almost out of paper." He felt foolish, saying it; it wasn't a calamity like running out of food or water. He expected Jack to make an irritating joke, or tell him to write smaller; he waited for that familiar perplexed look on Jack's face.

But it didn't materialize. Instead, Jack came to sit down beside him and took the journal from his hands. He turned it over between his long fingers without opening it. "What we really need is a quartermaster," he said. "Order up a few refills, a couple of pens. Some beef jerky."

The laugh that bubbled up inside Daniel had a tinge of anxiety to it, so he shook his head and swallowed it back.

Jack opened the cover of the journal. It was a barrier he would never have crossed, if they weren't a million light years from nowhere; Daniel knew that. The thought made him shiver. Jack glanced down the first page, then said, "Just checking to see if I remembered how to read. It's been a while."

"There are no secrets in there, Jack." Or anywhere between them, anymore. "Read it, if you want."

Jack nodded, as if he was considering it. Then he closed the journal. "I don't suppose Ernest told you where he found that extra paper, did he?"

"It didn't come up."

"Doesn't matter. It had to have been somewhere close." Jack passed the journal back to him. "When spring rolls back around, we'll go looking."

"I could make my own, if I had the right materials," Daniel said. The wave of anxiety was dying down.

"Hey, now. Aren't you the resourceful one, Dr. Jackson." Jack hit Daniel's knee with his own. "Either way, we'll get you set up."

"Sure," Daniel said.

"So you should go back to work."

"Jack, it's not-"

"Daniel. It's what there is."

"I know," Daniel said softly. He put his glasses back on. "Here." He passed the journal back to Jack, who held it in one hand, a question in his eyes. "A little light reading," Daniel said.

He stayed away late into the night, working on a particularly strange series of images projected from the pedestal. If Jack was reading the journal, he didn't want to be there. All his thoughts and fears since they'd been marooned were between the covers of the journal. It was the complete key to Daniel's head. If Jack wanted to know, it was all there for him, and the thought made Daniel vaguely nervous. Too late now.

The fire was banked down when Daniel returned to their quarters. Jack was in bed, snoring softly. The journal was on top of Daniel's pack. At first, Daniel wasn't sure if Jack had bothered with it, but then he noticed the leaf sticking out of the top, midway through: a bookmark. He laughed under his breath. Such an odd sight, and oddly perfect.

He had a long way to go before he could master the trick of getting into bed without waking Jack, but they were getting used to each other now. Jack's squint of doom narrowed into sleepy recognition, and he flopped back down. Just as Daniel was drifting off to sleep, Jack's hand settled on Daniel's stomach, warm against his bare skin. Daniel's heartbeat didn't slow until he was sure Jack was asleep, and then he closed his own eyes. Weighted beneath the warmth of touch, he slept easily.


Day 100


Blizzards, Daniel discovered, brought out the chatty side of Jack O'Neill.

Maybe it was the howling wind, or the icy drafts whistling through their quarters every few minutes, but for some reason Jack seemed inclined to talk, and Daniel wasn't about to discourage it. They had so little to do, individually or together, that the distraction was welcome.

"Why would you stay cooped up in your office in a perfectly good snowstorm?" Jack asked, staring at him as though he'd grown a third head.

"Because it's what I enjoyed." Daniel scooted closer to the firepit and warmed his hands.

"You say that now, but I think it was an excuse," Jack said, with a knowing nod.

"Maybe," Daniel conceded. "I didn't mind. There was always research to go over, or new arrivals to catalog. Never a dull moment."

"Yeah, well. Depends on your point of view, I guess." Jack shook his head. "Didn't you ever want to...I don't know...go throw a snowball at some stranger in the street?"

"Not even when I was a kid."

Jack shifted the half-carved chess piece to his right hand and pointed it at Daniel. "That's part of your problem. You know, I always knew there was something weird about you."

"I did like snowmen, though," Daniel said. "I just wasn't good at them."

"You didn't build them enough. You probably gave up after one try."

Daniel chuckled. "You've got it all wrong on that point. I was obsessed with a perfect snowman. I spent hours building them, but I just couldn't roll the damn snowball so that it was round." A sudden memory of crawling around in the snow, slipping and sliding in snowpants, made him laugh out loud.

"Perfect snowballs. No wonder you and Carter hit it off so well."

"We had other things in common," Daniel said. Sam was one of the few he'd met through the course of his professional career who understood the strange appeal of a weekend spent holed up in a tiny room, puzzling out problems.

"No doubt."

Daniel picked up two of the finished chess pieces and held them up to the light. It had taken Jack a week to carve each, and they looked pretty good. "You like working with your hands, don't you?"

Jack grunted in reply, which Daniel thought wasn't much in the spirit of sharing. Then, as though he'd reconsidered, Jack said, "It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something. Anything."

"You've accomplished quite a bit," Daniel said softly. "Look around."

"That's not the same thing."

"Not to you, obviously, but..." Daniel rolled the pieces between his palms, warming their cold surfaces. "I would have died here, if I had been alone."

"Ernest managed." Jack didn't look at him.

"Ernest had Catherine with him."

"Yeah, so you said. Don't you find that whole thing a little creepy?"

"Not really. It's just a different method of survival. No one wants to be alone."

"I suppose you would have had company, too," Jack said. His voice was low. It took Daniel a moment to figure out what Jack meant, and then he got it: Sha're.

He tried to imagine it: creating her from what was left of their life together and living with her memory, day in, day out; talking with her, walks on the beach, making love to the ghost of what she was to him, in another world. The prospect of it sent chills up his spine. He opened his mouth to say he couldn't - wouldn't - have done it. Instead, he heard himself saying: "I'm not going to cling to her memory."

Jack's head lifted and he fixed Daniel with a stare so intense, Daniel wanted desperately to look away, to seek respite in pretending he hadn't meant it the way it had come out. But he did, and there was no point taking it back. "I'll never see her again. I know that," Daniel said. "She's been lost to me for a long time, Jack. I can't continue the search for her." Tears fogged his vision for a moment, but he drew them back with a deep breath. "I didn't want to let her go, before, while I knew there was still a chance."

"Carter and Teal'c will keep looking," Jack said. He'd abandoned all pretense of working on the chess piece.

"Maybe they'll find her," Daniel said. "And maybe they'll get Amaunet out of her, and maybe she'll have a good life. But I'll never know." He set the chess pieces down. "I have memories of when we were happy. That's enough."

Jack's eyebrows lifted, and he shifted his gaze to the fire. Daniel had the sense he wanted to say something; unspoken words were tense between them. When he did speak, his voice was rough. "You should be out there now, looking for her. If I'd done my job, you would be."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Responsibility." Jack was speaking toward the fire; his voice was so ragged that worry spiked through Daniel's heart. "I should have dragged your ass up those steps and thrown you into that wormhole."

"I wouldn't go," Daniel reminded him.

"That wasn't your choice!" Jack barked. When he met Daniel's eyes, a haunted look skirted the edges of his expression. "It was my job to make you go."

"You're feeling guilty because I was an ass?" Daniel frowned.

"No." Jack tossed the chess piece he was holding into the fire and stood up, but there was nowhere to go. The tension in his body made him seem like a coiled wire, sharp with electricity, dangerous.

Daniel fished out the chess piece and brushed ash off the hard wood. Scorched, but not harmed. He set it with the others. "I know you've given up on rescue, but there's always a possibility," he said.

"Believing that is no different than living with a ghost," Jack said, and turned away from him.

"I know. I remember." Daniel stood up awkwardly. "You move on. I heard that speech the first time you made it." He reached out and placed a tentative hand on Jack's shoulder. "What comes next, Jack?"

Jack turned and pushed him, not with violence but with intent, and Daniel found himself pinned against the wall. He met Jack's eyes with a steady gaze, answering the question, and then Jack kissed him. It wasn't like any kiss Daniel could remember; this kiss started in the hollow behind his left ear, just a flicker of tongue, a brush of lips against the pulse beating hard in Daniel's neck. Jack's lips traveled on to the corner of Daniel's mouth, where Jack licked Daniel's lips - just once - and Daniel opened to him without hesitation. Then Jack worked his way over Daniel's lips slowly, taking his time, pressing deeper into Daniel with the kind of certainty that made Daniel understand - this was how it was going to be, this was what was next.  

For Daniel, the rest of that night passed in a delirious, joyful haze. He remembered the smell of wood smoke; the half-sour, half-sweet taste of Jack's mouth; the way Jack's hands seemed to know his body as though he'd touched Daniel before. There was a moment of triumph when he finally dared to put his hands on Jack, when he skimmed them down the long lean muscles and over the hollow at the small of his back. Jack kissed the grin off his face, and then he yanked Daniel's shirt up and over his head - not carefully at all - and threw it somewhere to the side. Whenn his teeth closed around Daniel's nipples, first one, then the other, he wrenched the first sounds from Daniel's throat, low cries Daniel couldn't have stifled if his life had depended upon it.  

Daniel was drunk with touch by the time he got Jack's fly open, and he wasted no time wrapping his fingers around Jack's cock - later, he would take time to look at it, to really appreciate it, but right now he only wanted the feel of it in his hand, to match Jack's strong, elegant fingers stripping Daniel's cock at a steady, skillful pace. He threw his head back and closed his eyes, ready to surrender, but Jack's teeth sank gently into his shoulder, and then Jack raised his lips to Daniel's ear and whispered, "Look at me."

What he saw in Jack's eyes was enough to short-circuit any second thoughts, and Daniel came messily in Jack's fingers. Moments later, though his own hand was frozen in place, Jack pushed against him and came.

Only the weight of Jack's body was holding Daniel in place, but it was more than enough.


Day 254


"You burned the fish," Jack said mournfully. He scraped the disintegrated bits of their dinner out of the cooking pot and licked his fingers.

"Hey. You're the one who made me cook it. 'If I can spend all day fishing for our dinner, the least you can do is throw it on the fire'," Daniel said, his imitation one that had been perfected through many long winter days of listening to Jack whine.

"I don't see you out there catching fish," Jack said.

"Oh, please! This was a fluke! How many times have you tried - and failed, I might add - to catch something?" Daniel snatched the pot out of Jack's hand. "You're lucky I didn't mash up fruit pulp for you."

"Definitely. I am definitely lucky to have avoided any more of your cooking!" This last ended on a miniature roar. "And..." Jack gestured grandly with the spoon. "...I have to go to bed hungry."

"Isn't that a shame."

Ten minutes later, Jack's mouth was wrapped around Daniel's dick like it was the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. Daniel's fingers were buried in Jack's short hair, pulling him closer, closer always. He wanted in, and Jack wanted him, and there was nothing to negotiate here, just action too long delayed. As always, it took just the simple touch of Jack's fingers, and Daniel's entire body flew to obey any command, no matter how subtle. This time, Jack urged his thighs apart; Daniel opened them without hesitation.

One lick over Daniel's belly, and Daniel's body began to quiver. Jack braced Daniel, splayed hands across his thighs, and held him there as he took Daniel in, all the way, swallowed him to the root as Daniel said, "Jack..." With his tongue, Jack drove Daniel's cries, licking and teasing until Jack's name filled the space between them, over and over. His fingers sought the small opening beneath Daniel's balls and he rubbed there hard, a promise of what was to come.

Daniel made a strangled cry and came. Jack gentled him with his tongue, with his hands, soothing him through the orgasm. Jack crawled back up the length of Daniel's body and hid his face in the curve of Daniel's shoulder.

Jack guided Daniel's hand to his cock and closed his own fingers around Daniel's. Daniel lifted his head; there was a spark of lust still in Jack's eyes, along with something so raw Daniel could barely stand to see it; yet, he could barely stand to look away.

Gazes thus locked, Daniel moved his hand, and soon enough Jack was spilling across Daniel's fingers, panting into his mouth.

They lay there together, holding each other, breathing heavily. Finally, Jack lifted his head and kissed Daniel again, savagely, without restraint. "Just try not to burn the fish next time," he said softly. "I can't keep this up on an empty stomach."


Day 350

Most afternoons, Daniel went out to the jutting rocks overhanging the rough sea and crawled out on the cliffs. The stones were slippery with moisture and lichen, cool to the touch and precarious, but he liked the view from their wide expanse. From there he could imagine the top edge of the stargate peeking out from beneath the waves, curving above the white froth for a moment or two before it was swallowed by the water once again. Sometimes he stared down at the sea with the insane certainty that on the other side of the non-existent wormhole, Sam was dialing the gate, hoping for some kind of miracle. More likely, she was counting on Jack to do the thing he did best: find ways around disaster.

But not this time.

It was easy for Daniel to remember Earth when he could still see the gate; entire worlds formed around it, images that extended out in every direction from its imagined blue center, shimmering in the corners of his eyes: Abydos, Earth, the darkness between, the past beyond. It was all out there, but not for him. Not anymore.

After a year, he'd almost come to terms with the fact that he'd never see Earth again. In another ten or twenty years, he thought he might even come to accept it.

Jack climbed out on the rocks behind him, choosing his handholds carefully. They were equally sure-footed on the cliffs; he'd scaled pyramids, shinnied down ropes into musty tombs, while Jack had been scaling up mountains and down the sides of buildings. A few wet rocks were nothing. He stretched out on his belly beside Jack, bare shoulder to bare shoulder, and peered over the edge.

Daniel raised his head and looked out over the ocean, toward the horizon. "Clouds are gathering eastward," he said. "Ernest's famous yearly storm."

"Yeah." Jack stretched, then put his face down in the hollow made by his folded arms. "Time to get moving."

Daniel's lips were smooth against Jack's bare skin as he kissed the center mark between Jack's shoulders. Even after all this time, Daniel still felt as if he was exploring Jack with every kiss, every touch. He wondered sometimes if Jack was just another curiosity, something to replace what had been displaced, in the absence of books and great truths and vast knowledge.

Mostly, he didn't think it mattered much anymore.

"Come on," Daniel whispered. Jack pushed up from the rock and followed him away from the edge.

End


All comments are welcomed. destina@ix.netcom.com

Notes:This story was written for Meg Sage as my entry in the 2004 J/D Ficathon Challenge. Her request: I would like a fic with Jack and Daniel, any rating, offworld, trapped, desperate, and angsting heavily. Or, failing that, a fic with Jack and Daniel having a very big fight. So I figured, hey, why not a little bit of both? It's a two-for-one special.

This story is an AU which takes off from the last few minutes of Torment of Tantalus. Right up front I have to thank The Wild Mole for her support and beta. I would never have finished without her. *g* Huge thanks also to Barkley and The Grrrl for last-minute encouragement and insightful betas.

The title of the story is taken from a poem by Lord Byron: "And whatever sky's above me/Here's a heart for every fate."



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