The glow had faded from the rock entombing them and night now filled the chamber in every corner, every nook. And it was cold. Daniel had never really understood the concept of 'chilled to the bone' until this moment and he wondered at what point the body becomes so cold that hypothermia sets in. It wasn't something he was particularly interested in finding out. One thing he did know, however - sitting still was no good. He needed to move, and so he paced, from the door to the far wall and back again, over and over, his hands tucked beneath his arms, collar turned as high as it would go.
Jack was no more than a dark bulk on the stone slab, his tightly coiled foetal position effectively trapping any residual body heat while at the same time providing the smallest possible surface area from which it could escape. He might even have been asleep, except that Daniel could somehow sense that he was awake and thinking.
They had hardly spoken in the last hour. Jack's confession had rocked them both and Daniel's immediate reaction had been anger that he had been allowed to take precedence when Sam's injuries were surely worse. Not only that, she was an important part of the team - far more important than he considered himself to be. When had he ever pulled their asses out of the fire, the way she had? It was more likely that he would be the one to get them into trouble, always diving into some new situation without stopping to think first, weigh up the consequences. He had tried to do better, had forced himself to stop and listen to Jack's instructions when they arrived on a new world, but it was not easy to curb his natural enthusiasm. Sam wasn't like that. She listened, assessed, complied and saved her questions for later, and that made her far more important as a team member than he would ever be. So - why had Jack felt forced to choose?
Jack, as always, had met his anger with more of his own, accusing Daniel of being so conceited as to think that Jack was trying to help him, when of course what he was really attempting to do was get to the DHD and open the gate. Someone had to get them home, and since Daniel clearly wasn't capable...
But how could Daniel show that he was capable when Jack never gave him a chance to prove what he could do and that he was quite able to taking care of himself and support the others?
Yet even as the harsh words spat back and forth, both knew deep down that the altercation had little to do with what course of action Jack should have taken and every bit to do with the stress of being confined, of not knowing what had become of their friends, the feeling that they no longer had any control over the situation. Driven to the edge and with no other focus than their emotions, they had ranted and raved at each other until their throats grew sore and they stood toe to toe, nose to nose, and looked hard into each other's ayes, only to discover there the shared horror of what they were doing.
Threads of their friendship strained to breaking point, they had retreated into silence, each casting up walls to defend themselves from the truth they had found in that brief exchange. If they were to stand any chance at all of escaping from this place, they must not let the unity between them be damaged by such pettiness.
So it was that Daniel paced and Jack feigned sleep, to give these self-inflicted wounds a chance to heal.
But even at rest, Jack was still complaining. "Will you quit that, before you drive us both nuts! They'll come for us when they're ready."
"Oh? And in the meantime I'm supposed to freeze to death?" He paused by the bed, peering down at the colonel, barely able to make out which end of the formless bulk was his head. "How can you sleep, anyway?"
"Wasn't. I was... thinking."
"Of a way to get us out of here, I hope."
A faint cough was edged with the awkwardness of embarrassment. "Matter of fact, I was remembering that time Cater and I got stuck in the Antarctic. You know, we would have died there if it hadn't been for you - I don't know if I ever told you that."
Daniel thought back to those terrible days: the discovery that two of his friends were missing, the long fruitless search - the overwhelming despair when Hammond had informed him Jack and Sam had been listed as MIA. Missing in action - that usually meant they were giving up because they thought you were dead, didn't it? And then the earth tremor - he smiled as he recalled that Jack really had made the Earth move for him - and the realisation, the incredible sense of joy tainted only by the knowledge that it might already be too late. And then more waiting as Jack lay in the hospital, his leg broken, his lungs punctured by cracked ribs, the very real possibility that he might lose his foot, and therefore his career, through injury and frostbite.
He remembered something else, too, a very private moment in Jack's hospital room. Jack had thanked him for going against Hammond and maintaining the search, for refusing to give up on them, and then he had reached out and covered Daniel's hand with his own and told him solemnly that while he might have initially questioned the advisability of taking an untrained civilian into such life threatening situations, he would never again doubt Daniel's abilities. Daniel had never felt as proud as he did at that moment.
"Yes," he said now "You told me," and he un-tucked a hand to reach out and squeeze - well, he hoped it was Jack's shoulder he was touching.
"Good. Just so you know."
The mood was getting too serious, a note of fatalism creeping into the conversation, almost as if, for some unknown reason, Jack was resigning himself to never getting out of there. Turning to sit on the edge of the bed, Daniel considered casually: "So, what did you and Sam do to keep from freezing?"
The answer was a self-righteous "Shared body warmth."
"Shared - ?"
"As in - ?"
"Two people, one blanket... It's - standard survival procedure."
Daniel wasn't so sure about that - Jack had proven long ago that he had his own version of the Airforce Training Manual - but he let his imagination illustrate the information for him and soon found himself staring at mental images of the two officers snuggled together in the sleeping bag. It was so vivid he was forced to remind himself that Jack had been badly injured at the time and was fighting just to stay alive.
"I guess you had to - do whatever was necessary."
"If we wanted to survive, yes. Never realised till then just how stubborn our major can be."
Stubborn? Yes, and thank God for it. He smiled as he thought to himself how the teamwork could function even when they were half a world apart.
"So ... " he changed tack, keeping his voice casual. " - this 'shared body warmth' thing... really works then...?"
"Oh yeah. Just a matter of - putting aside your inhibitions..."
A shiver skipped down Daniel's spine, a shiver that had nothing at all to do with the falling temperature. If he didn't know better, he might think that Jack was handing it to him on a plate - not fair to someone as hungry as he was... And I'm not thinking of food here! he acknowledged. Sharing body warmth with Jack - it really was too good an opportunity to pass by.
Baiting him, his voice barely above a whisper, suddenly hot and needy. "I think I left my inhibitions back in my locker."
A snagged breath, a rustle of fabric, the scrape of a boot over stone, all preceded Jack's voice murmuring the words that knocked the breath from Daniel's body. "In that case... why don't you give it a try?"
He was warm at last, from the tip of his nose right down to his feet. Warm and snug and safe, sandwiched between the wall and the heat that radiated from Jack's body.
They had started out lying side by side on the hard stone platform and Jack had insisted that Daniel take the side nearest the wall because he himself was more used to dealing with this cold. But the 'bed' was too narrow for that position to be maintained for too long and Daniel could feel the ripples of physical tension running up and down the colonel's body as he clung to the edge of the block, trying not to roll off. His first instinct was to abandon the idea, but that would mean going back to fighting off the cold alone - not a prospect he looked forward to with any spark of enthusiasm. In the end it had been Jack himself who solved the dilemma, encouraging Daniel to turn onto his side, facing the wall, with Jack tucked in behind him, spooning against his back.
At Jack's suggestion also they had taken off their coats to use as blankets, one over their upper bodies, the other over their legs. Without the barrier between them, he could feel the heat of Jack's body through the two thin layers of black cloth, feel each tiny shift, each twitch of powerful muscles. He could even feel the soft, inanimate bulk of Jack's groin pressed intimately against his ass and he grinned at the wall as he realised how well endowed his friend was. And he could smell him, the rich, maleness of him that clung to the collar of his jacket, natural scent spiced with cologne and tainted with dust. Burying his face in the soft material, he breathed it in deeply, imprinting it on his memory. Now he found there was another reason why he couldn't sleep, and he was grateful for the fact that he was facing the wall.
"Feel better?" Jack's voice murmured in his ear and the suppressed shiver that shot tendrils of desire into his groin tied his muscles in new knots.
"Yes," he whispered. "Thanks."
"Best way to keep warm..." He could hear the 'I told you so' in Jack's voice, unspoken but accompanied, no doubt, by a shit-eating grin.
Cool air slipped between them as Jack reached across to tuck the jacket more closely around Daniel's shoulder, but as he moved away again, the hand dropped lightly onto Daniel's arm and stayed there, curled against the swell of a biceps. It burned where it touched and Daniel bit back a moan of pleasure as he felt his cock betray him. Was this what they meant by full body contact?
Even so, he could have handled the situation had Jack left it at that. He didn't. Seconds became minutes of immobility and then, inch by delicious inch, Jack's hand began to move, creeping down past Daniel's elbow, skimming lightly over the silken hairs of his forearm, fingers splaying to cover the back of Daniel's hand.
Daniel held his breath, waiting to see just how far his friend would take this, all the while wondering just what on earth was happening here? Common sense told him Jack was just trying to reassure him that everything would be okay, yet he couldn't help thinking this felt very much as if Jack was - coming on to him. But - that was impossible... wasn't it?
Jack settled the matter with an ethereal "Want me to back off?"
Daniel searched his mind for a suitable answer: found nothing. To say 'yes' would be a lie, to say 'no' would open a Pandora's box of possibilities and this was not the time or place to be dealing with any of them. Instead, he spread his fingers, allowing Jack's to fall between them.
A sigh of moist warmth brushed against the patch of bare skin at the base of his skull and Jack's hand gripped his own. The gesture said wordlessly 'I didn't think so' and 'thank you' all in one, and Daniel responded by drawing their joined hands to his chest and holding them there. He had no idea what was going on, what it all meant, but at that moment he was past caring. This could be their last night in existence and God alone knew what they might be asked to endure tomorrow. Was it really so wrong of him to take advantage of this?
He rolled his head slightly, felt Jack shift until the rhythmic puffs of air danced across Daniel's cheek. Like that, nestled into Jack's arms, Daniel finally gave himself up to sleep.
Go to Part 5