Summary: Jack finds himself in a bad situation and wonders if he'll be as lost to his family as the Destiny's crew may be to theirs.
Darkness loomed over the desolate mountain valley that was now filled with foreign objects, many made of metal. A small fire dwindled into nothing but smoke, a perfectly timed drizzle of snowfall having prevented it from spreading and becoming a danger to the beauty of the valley. It was quiet at the moment, except for the sounds of arousal.
"Oh, for crying out loud. How do I get myself into these fixes?" Jack groaned, his body aching and his discomfort growing.
The lieutenant general was lying face down, his body humped over an unopened parachute. He slowly lifted his head to let his bleary eyes get a better look around. That's when he realized his own body placement, slumped over a packed parachute.
"Okay, I didn't do this intentionally."
Carefully, the general attempted to right himself, only a sharp pain caused him to plummet down again. The good news about that was that he was now seated on the floor with the parachute supporting his back.
His wits returning to him, Jack called out, "Carroll?" He waited a moment and then shouted, "Corrigan?" A few seconds later, he tried again. "Clifford?"
There was no response and, along with his concern, Jack still had his snark.
"What is this, the Three C's Flying Club?"
The man waited, listening for a sound, any sound to indicate life in the cockpit of the cargo plane he had hitched a ride on to return home to Colorado Springs.
"Okay, assessment time. What do I know?"
Jack had been in Washington D.C. to deal with the latest crisis involving the Destiny and her crew. That was the spaceship cruising around in another galaxy, her crew that was a mix of military and civilians trying to figure out a way to reach Earth. Through the communication stones that Daniel had stumbled upon years ago, the stranded Destiny personnel had been able to keep in contact with Earth. In fact, Jack himself had once gone on board the vessel.
"That's just not normal," the general sighed, letting out a verbal "Ouch" as he moved his right leg, banging his ankle against the bench seat of the plane. "Okay, one bad ankle. Where was I?"
Using the stones equaled a transference in which a person's mind was relayed into another person's physical body. There was no linkage or bond between the two, nor any sharing of personality or knowledge. Once the connection was severed, both parties simply went on their way, unaware of what the other had done during the connection.
Jack continued his mental recall of recent events. He'd been in the nation's capitol where he had conferred with Colonel Telford, met briefly with the President, and then engineered a ride home on a cargo flight.
"Try to save the government a night's lodging and look what I get?"
More recent events began to come forth. The plane had come nose to nose with a flock of birds.
"My son is not going to like what happened to those birds," Jack groaned, rubbing the side of his head for a few seconds as he thought about the extreme compassion Little Danny had for all creatures, human, animal, and otherwise.
The engines had conked out, and there was nowhere to land safely. The crew was still looking for an alternative when the engines completely stopped. They had no choice but to bail out.
"That's what happened to Corrigan and Clifford. I remember now. I watched them jump out. They're fine; but where's ..."
A sharp pain interrupted the silver-haired man's query. Automatically, he focused in on the source and determined it was his head.
"That's why I'm so fuzzy. Ah, crap. I've got one of Danny's concussions."
Jack still needed to try to figure out what had happened to the plane's pilot, Major Craig Carroll.
"Think, O'Neill. The other two followed orders and jumped, but Carroll wanted to play hero and go after me. It's that rank thing."
In his mind, Jack heard his lover chastising him for having to be the last one out of the aircraft. He wasn't the pilot, after all. It wasn't his responsibility to be last. In fact, per regulations, it was Carroll's duty to ensure the safety of his crew and passengers.
"He disobeyed my direct order to bail out." Jack snickered mockingly. "Okay, so I should have gone first, but blast it all to Netu, I'm the dang general, and my orders are supposed to mean something."
Then it finally came back to the stubborn general. He'd argued with Carroll as the two retrieved their parachutes. Carroll had been quick to put his on, even though he had no intention of exiting from the craft until after Jack. Having hesitated in putting on the parachute, Jack saw his chance. As soon as Carroll's parachute had been secured, Jack simply gave the pilot an unexpected push out of the aircraft.
The problem was that right after that, the plane had lurched and begun a steep dive downwards. Jack had been tossed back. The rest was just a guess. His body tossed over the parachute back, Jack's head made contact with the floor, knocking him out.
"Now I remember why I'm in this friggin' predicament, but now what?"
Jack's head slowly went back as he slumped down a tad more. He closed his eyes, trying to determine the appropriate course of action. Then he heard it. The tapping of a foot against the metal floor. Opening his eyes, confusion set in. There was his namesake in his mini SGC fatigues, hands on his hips, his right foot tapping in frustration.
"Dad, this isn't Iraq."
"You aren't in the middle of the desert. You aren't alone."
"I think maybe I might have taken a drug, possibly something from the eighties," Jack remarked with a grimace, certain he was losing control of his mind.
"Daaaaad!" Jonny chastised, pointing toward his father's Air Force jacket pocket.
Jack let out a grunt and then glanced down at his jacket. That's when it hit him.
"Oh, geez, my phone." Shaking his head that he hadn't thought of it himself, he reached in and removed the mobile phone. Then he looked up to say something to Jonny, only the boy was gone. "Losin' it, O'Neill."
With his phone in his hand, Jack attempted to turn on the device, but nothing happened.
"One step at a time. Did you charge this thing last night?"
The question was a common one. Jack had never really warmed up to the latest in technological wonders. If he'd had his druthers, he would never have a cell phone of any kind. Unfortunately, his obligations in the military had forced his hand many years ago. With his family, it was also a necessity to be within a call's reach. That said, he never viewed the portable phones all that fondly, so there were often times when charging the device was simply out of mind.
~I think I did. Didn't I? I was going to and then Danny .... ah, crap. Dang geek is too sexy for my own good. I decided to recharge him instead of the phone.~
"Shame on you, Dad," Jennifer scolded, her floral print dress flowing around her as she moved. "I know I always tell you and Daddy to get a room, but you knew you were going out of town today."
"Hey, your old man is ..."
Jennifer shook her head at her older father's words, cutting him off by refuting, "You are not old, Dad. You're just cranky."
"Cranky? Careful, Princess. I can still bend you over my knee."
Laughing, Jennifer returned, "You know you don't believe in spanking."
"Yeah, but it sounded good."
Smiling, Jennifer asked, "Didn't you bring the charger with you? I thought I heard Daddy reminding you to put it in your briefcase this morning, just in case."
"Briefcase?" Jack echoed. Pleased, he began to look around, hoping his briefcase was somewhere in sight. Only then he stopped and looked back over at his daughter. "How am I supposed to charge it without electricity?"
"Oh, well, never mind then," the girl returned, shrugging ingenuously at the situation.
As the injured father stared, the image of Jennifer disappeared, only then she became solid again.
"But I gave you hope. You and Daddy always say never give up hope."
"You're right. Bet Carter could rig," Jack trailed off as he saw his daughter fade from view again, "something up." He groaned, wondering if perhaps he were dead since he kept seeing his children. ~What I need is ...~
The man paused, uncertain what he needed at the moment to get out of this situation.
~Stay or go?~ Jack paused, leaning his head back slightly as he pondered the query. ~Okay. The plane went down. The three Cs got out. They'll report back. People know the plane is down. It was tracked. They'll come.~
His decision was to stay, Jack feeling certain that the military was already on their way. The big question was where did the plane crash. Were they over a remote mountain range or an easy to reach hill? He wondered if he should risk making his injuries worse by leaving the plane to check out the surroundings. Pain was not an issue. He was used to pain and was confident he could do whatever was necessary. He was slightly concerned about his concussion. The truth was that he felt fuzzy, more fuzzy than he could recollect feeling in a very long time.
~Not good. This is usually Danny's department.~
"Come on, Dad, get over it!"
"Oh, look, it's the tomboy," Jack snarked, smiling afterward at his hallucination of Brianna.
The girl stood in front of him wearing an old jersey over a pair of faded of jeans. She had a cap on her head, twisted a bit to the right side, and was holding a hockey stick.
"You've taken worse hits in grade school playing hockey."
"I was nine."
"So now you're ..."
"Hey! Let's not do the age thing," Jack interrupted. "Daddy almost killed me when he found out how old I really was, and," he let out a 'whoo' type sound, "Aunt Sara? I thought she'd never forgive me."
"Dad, it wasn't about your age, and you know it. Daddy was upset you never told him the truth, and Aunt Sara was afraid you'd never really loved her."
"She knows better," Jack retorted.
"I know, and so does she. So does Daddy."
"Wait! I think I'm confused. Sara wasn't upset about the age thing. Where'd that come from? She blew up at me because I never told her about my teaching certificate." Jack let out a groan as he searched his brain for clarity. "Geez! My brain is a slushy mush of nothing. It's all soggy."
"You're funny, Dad. Besides, it doesn't matter."
"True enough," the injured man agreed. After a moment and a wince of pain, he queried with a frown, "What were we talking about?"
"Stay or go," Brianna reminded. Confidently, she continued, "If you need to leave the plane, you'll be okay. You're always okay, Dad. You're strong. Besides, you don't want us to worry about you."
"Does that mean I'm supposed to go?"
"It means you need to trust yourself, just like you always tell me to do when I have a problem. I trust you, Dad, to trust yourself."
Jack chuckled, looking off to the side for a split second. When he returned his focus, his daughter had disappeared into thin air. He replayed the conversation in his mind and tried to interpret its meaning.
~Stay or go?~
The questioned continued to echo through his mind, but then Jack made a realization.
~Don't be complacent in your old age, O'Neill. Get up and hop to it!~ Jack looked around to see if there was something he could use to brace himself up. He had a mission now. ~Perimeter check. I have to know more about my situation.~
Not seeing anything that could help him at the moment and ignoring the pain, the general stood, grimacing and groaning during the process, and hobbled to the open doorway where he studied the outer area for a minute. Then he walked out several feet and did a 360 degree turn to give him a panoramic view of his location.
~Worse than I thought.~
Wherever he was, Jack was surrounded by a mountaintop of snow. The plane had impaled itself onto the mountain like a skier on a tricky ski run, landing on its belly and sliding forward until it had slammed into a rise. The good news was that a search plane should spot the wreckage fairly easily. The bad news was the plane was in pieces and not nearly the shelter he'd thought it was earlier. Worse, it had started to snow again, the flakes falling faster by the second and not at all like the light drizzling that had occurred earlier to extinguish the majority of the fire.
~Stay or go? Freeze in the falling snow or try to stay warm in a broken airplane?~
"The snowfall will get worse, and the wind will pick up. The weather forecast indicates a blizzard is coming," David told his father.
"So if they don't find the plane soon, they may not even be able to look," Jack sighed, unfazed by the sight of yet another one of his children.
"It'll take a while to get down this mountain."
"You're right," the boy agreed.
"Staying in the plane will make it easier to stay warm."
"For how long?"
"Now that's the million-dollar question, isn't it, Son?"
"You're a survivor, Dad. Hurry home, okay? I need help with my telescope, and you're the only one who can help me."
"It's nice to be ..." Jack let out a small chuckle as David became thin air, "... needed." He lowered his head, seeing the snow building on his shoes. ~I think I have finally lost what is left of my mind.~
The general continued to evaluate what could be a life and death situation. He couldn't help but compare it to the same critical circumstance that the crew of the Destiny had faced earlier that day. He thought a lot about the video game genius he had helped to recruit.
"Eli Wallace. That kid would never even make it through boot camp." The truth was that beneath his protective military layer, Jack was feeling guilty about going along with recruiting the MIT dropout. He was just a college kid with a big brain.
"And now he's alone up there."
"No, he's not," Jeff corrected as he stood comfortably beside Jack in a pair of khakis and a black turtleneck, a camera hanging around his neck.
"A bunch of bodies in stasis is not what I call company," Jack maintained.
"But he's a geek, Dad, like David and Little Danny," Jeff pointed out.
"What's your point?"
"I don't know. You brought me here," the photographer shrugged non-comically.
"How else did I get here?"
"You know, Son, you're sounding a lot like your daddy."
"Maybe it's your mind. You're concussed."
Looking down and away, Jack bemoaned, "My brain is so scrambled I can't even keep the kids in their right personalities."
"That Eli kid will save them. That's why Colonel Young left him."
"The kid is cocky."
"Let's hope he's smart enough."
"Smile, Dad," Jeff requested, raising his camera and snapping a quick picture. "Gotta go!"
Jack stared at the vanishing teen and shook his head. He had to be worse off than he thought. He'd seen Jeff, but the boy's responses just weren't typical of his oldest son.
The general now knew about his surroundings, but he had also made a distressing discovery. The plane's survival equipment was nowhere to be found. The kit had either been destroyed or jettisoned during the crash landing. Only a few items were accessible. This meant that the warm outerwear and space blanket Jack was counting on were not available. It was going to get cold, very cold, inside the damaged shell of the aircraft.
~Time to go. Staying here isn't going to work out.~
Having retrieved the few things from the plane that were small enough to be carried and which he thought would be helpful, Jack began the trek down the mountain. He was hoping to find a cabin along the way where he could take refuge. Better yet, maybe he'd run across some small village where he could contact his family.
With every step, Jack ignored the pain of his foot and the throbbing of his head. He was focused on one thing: survival. As his vision of David had predicted, the wind had indeed picked up, adding more chill to the air that blew against Jack's skin. The snow was intensifying, though not yet near its worst. The decision to go had to be the right one.
~The skies are darkening. It's too late for a search. Even if they are already in the air, they'd have to turn back.~
Jack's mind began to wander, his concussion making it difficult for him to concentrate. He found himself thinking once again about the plight of the Destiny. As guilty as he felt about having recruited Eli, he knew that Daniel had concerns about his role in convincing Doctor Nicholas Rush in joining the project.
~Rush's ethics are questionable; Danny's are impeccable. Young's been fighting that arrogant brain all year. He can't be trusted. His antics caused those people to be on that ship in the first place.~
"Daddy blames himself," Little Danny sighed as he walked just ahead of his injured father. He was dressed warmly, his parka and snow boots protecting him from the elements. He turned around and walked backwards as he faced his dad and continued to talk. "Doctor Rush is very smart."
"Too smart, Son," Jack sighed as he trudged forward, rejecting the spike of pain that just jolted through his ankle.
"Is he a bad man, Dad?"
"He's ... I don't know. That's the problem. He has a lot of secrets."
"So do you and Daddy."
"Ya got that right, but ours ..."
When his father paused, Little Danny, who was still walking backwards without any difficulty, prompted, "But what, Dad?"
"He just has a lot of secrets, and I don't trust him."
"Yeah, my gut."
"Daddy's gut doesn't trust Doctor Rush, either," Little Danny replied. "Maybe he's just sad because his wife died."
Jack smiled slightly. His conversations with the members of the brood were surprising. Little Danny knew nothing of the Destiny or the difficult-to-assess Doctor Rush.
"Maybe," Jack half-heartedly agreed.
"Will they get back to Earth, Dad?" the boy with the soulful eyes asked.
"I hope so."
Suddenly, Jack's ankle gave way as he hit a super soft pocket of snow. He fell to the ground. His six-foot-two frame rolled over, an unfortunate event since the slope of the mountain increased at that spot. Without warning, the general's tumble worsened. Out of control, he rolled several hundred yards down the mountain until he crashed into a tree.
The words preceded the general blacking out, a result of his already injured head having made contact with the tree.
Out of the blue, Jack felt a weight on him. It was accompanied by the sensation of hands pressing against his chest. He opened his eyes to see the focused face of his youngest daughter, her red hair fanned like a halo around her.
"Jenny, what are you doing?"
"CPR, Dad. Aunt Janet taught us, remember?"
"Red, I don't need CPR."
"I hit my head. My heart is fine."
"Oh, okay," the Spitfire responded, stopping her compressions and instead settling into a seated position on her dad's abdomen.
"I know my head is concussed, and I realize my mind is fried. I even know I'm talking to myself, but could you *please* get off my aching body?"
Giggling, the little girl did as requested. She began to play in the snow, lying down and forming snow angels.
"I love snow angels," Jenny expressed happily, blowing imaginary snowflakes off her face.
"Me, too," Jack said, the memory of the first time he and Daniel had made snow angels causing him to smile. "How's your daddy?"
"He's okay. We don't know you took the cargo plane, remember? He thinks you're in meetings."
"That makes sense," the father replied, even though the now completely darkened sky indicated it was nighttime. He slowly maneuvered into a sitting position while also taking inventory of his physical condition. ~Ankle's worse; head is worse; think I just broke a rib.~
"Dad, how come that ship is sleeping?"
Jack watched as his daughter worked on building a snowman. She looked as if she did not have a care in the world. Of course, she didn't. Her image was all in Jack's mind.
"The ship isn't sleeping, Jenny. The crew is, except for Eli."
"He likes video games."
"Smarter than Doctor Rush?"
"He thinks so, and so does Colonel Young," Jack spoke, recalling the final report that had come in from the Destiny's commander.
"But he's not as smart as Daddy," Jenny returned with certainty.
Jack could not help but smile as his daughter's confident remark.
"No, he's not. No one is as smart as your daddy."
"You're smart, too, Dad."
"Not like Daddy," Jack refuted.
"Right now, you need to be smart like you."
Jack's face grew taut as he took in the statement and worked on its meaning; that is, until he recalled that he didn't like thinking all that much.
Rephrasing her query as she patted the bottom part of her snowman, Jenny continued, "How come all the people are asleep?"
"The Destiny was crossing through a galaxy, and they needed to get out."
"Evil forces with drones were ready to attack them," Jack answered in a droll-like manner, a temporary feeling of amusement at the discussion running through him. "The only way out was to do an FTL jump." He looked at his daughter, expecting a question wanting an explanation of FTL. When he didn't get, he shrugged and continued his response. "The jump would take them safely out of the galaxy into a new one."
"How does that work?"
"How does it work?" Jack asked incredulously, uncertain how to answer it.
"Yeah. How does the ship go through an entire galaxy?"
"Very carefully," the father returned, shaking his head quietly.
"I'll ask Aunt Sam."
"You do that, Red, but make sure you have a few hours when you do."
"You're funny, Dad."
"That's not the first time I've heard that today."
"How come they are sleeping?" Jenny asked again, this time with more force, her voice slightly strained as she stood up and placed a second circle of snow on her growing snowman.
"Because to make the jump, they have to save power and resources."
"Oh, you mean they can't use life support or they'll die."
~I can't believe I just made my imaginary daughter say that,~ Jack told himself. "More or less."
"So they got into the pods?"
~You're so out of it, O'Neill,~ Jack laughed at himself. Apparently, he was worse off than he thought. He couldn't even finish his explanation and was having his vision of Jenny do it for him. "All but one," he spoke softly.
"Dad, do you like my snowman?" Jenny asked, standing up and showing off her three-feet-high white creation.
"That was fast," Jack observed. "He's perfect."
"I'm naming him Eli."
"He's a hero, Dad. He deserves to have my snowman named after him."
"Yeah, he does."
"You need to keep going now. You're all rested. Hurry home. I love you."
Jack smiled, feeling warm for the first time in several minutes. He was about to respond in kind when the redheaded girl disappeared. He knew Jenny was right, though. He needed to move on. There was no shelter where he was, and he felt pretty sure that the briskness of the night was going to turn into below freezing temperatures soon.
Ignoring the tug on his abdomen from whatever damage had been done to his ribs, Jack carefully took a standing position. He looked ahead, seeing two trees dissolve into one lone fir.
~Blurred vision: not a good sign.~
Determined, Jack retrieved the flashlight he'd taken from the cargo plane and activated it. He needed to move, but he needed to do so cautiously since the field of visibility was limited. First, though, as he had done periodically since leaving the wrecked plane, he began to leave his latest trail marker. After all, there was always the chance that a rescue was in process, and he needed to ensure his path could be followed. He wished he had something colorful to use to make his route more obvious, but all he could do is blaze the trail and hope it would be noticed.
Within two hours, Jack was questioning his decision to leave the plane. He was grateful that the snow had ceased falling a half hour ago, but he was cold with numbness beginning to take over his extremities. Even so, he could feel the pressure on his swollen ankle and the intense throbbing of his head.
"Can't blame this mess on Danny, that's for sure."
Jack sank down to the ground, or rather, the top of the snowfall. While conditions were not as bad as the blizzard that had been expected higher up the mountain, several inches of snow had fallen before finally stopping. His eyes closed as he felt the dampness on his rear. He didn't care, though.
"Sleep. That sounds good."
"Dad, watch us dance!" Chenoa beckoned.
Jack's eyes opened and there in front of him were his two favorite dancers in the entire world, Chenoa and Lulu. The tap dancer and the ballerina were young masters of joining their two dance worlds and performing beautiful blendings of the two styles.
"Yeah, Dad. We created this dance just for you," Lulu proudly told her father.
Lulu nodded and began to dance.
~I am *so* out of it,~ Jack realized internally. Still, he smiled contentedly as he enjoyed the unusual routine played out on the snow. ~Amazing how they can tap dance on snow.~
"Keep your eyes open, Dad," Chenoa ordered upon noticing her dad's eyelids fluttering.
"I get it," Jack responded, his voice now raspier than before. "I've got the kind of concussion where I'm not supposed to sleep, right? That's why you're here, to keep me awake."
Leaping through the mountainside, Lulu paused to shrug her uncertain response and then continued dancing.
"Aren't you cold?" Jack asked his ballerina, seeing that she was wearing the traditional tutu outfit.
"Na-huh. I'm really at home, and it's nice and warm at home."
"Home. What a nice word," Jack heard himself say as his eyes shut once again.
"Dad!" came a chorus of two insistent chastising exclamations.
"Sorry. I'm here. I'm awake. I'm watching. Go ahead -- dance. Tap on the fluffy snow. I'm ... watching."
Soon, though, Jack felt himself drifting away, just as the visualizations of his two daughters did. Forcing himself to go on, he rose and began trudging his way down the mountain again.
Home and recovered from his injuries, Jack enjoyed the warmth of his home's interior. It had never felt so good. He'd been resting due to strict orders, not from Janet, but from his children. Refreshed, he left the master bedroom and went downstairs, where he received one of the biggest shocks of his life.
"Danny, what the heck are you doing?"
Calmly, Daniel looked up, his expression coy and mischievous, and answered, "Cleaning the rifle."
"In the living room?" Jack asked anxiously. Since having their children, the lovers had never allowed their weapons to be seen. In fact, the kids did not even know there was a weapons stash, thanks to a highly sophisticated gun case that Sam had designed. While the weapons were checked and cleaned regularly, it was always done when the children were out of the house. "Danny, the kids."
"It's okay," a smiling Daniel spoke in an attempt to reassure his panicked husband.
Jack anxiously walked around the living room, checking the kitchen and backyard for any signs of the brood.
"Daniel, *why* are you cleaning the rifle in the friggin' living room?"
"Beauregard?" Jack echoed. "What's a beauregard?"
"Well, actually, he likes to be called Beau, but Ash thinks it is more romantic to call him by his full name."
"Ash? *Romantic?* Daniel, what's going on?"
"They went out on a date."
"Date," Daniel reiterated.
"Yeah," the younger father said with a frown. "She's starting late."
"*Late?*" Jack shouted, feeling like he was in the middle of a nightmare.
"You know how popular she is."
"Daniel, granted, I don't intend for us to let Ash date until she's at least ... thirty, but when the time comes, *I* will be the one to frighten away the boyfriends."
"Sorry, already done."
"Where'd they go? The zoo?"
"No, the mall. Jen's chaperoning."
"I'm out of my friggin' mind," Jack muttered as he paced rapidly around the room. He looked back at his husband and groaned, "Danny, I thought it was *my* job to scare the boyfriends."
"Sorry, Babe, but you were asleep." Devilously, Daniel added, "You'd be proud of me, though. Beauregard was scared to death. He won't even offer her his jacket."
Jack just shook his head. He couldn't believe it. He just couldn't. He needed air and walked hurriedly outside.
"Daniel! Daniel! A rifle? Danny, what are you doing?"
"Dad, you're funny."
The young voice cut through the nightmare like a knife through bread. With a start, Jack bolted forward, breathing heavily as he did so.
"It *was* a nightmare."
"Of course, Dad. Daddy would never do that. He hates guns." Aislinn smiled and pointed out, "He'll try to scare away my boyfriends with logic and psychology." Giggling, she added, "And if that doesn't work, he'll talk them to death."
Jack broke out into laughter. He knew that Aislinn was speaking his feelings, not hers.
"That was a bad nightmare, Ash, but even though you're just a figment of my warped mind, I want you to know that I just decided you are not allowed to date until you're forty. I'll be dead by then, but I'll haunt them all."
"Ya gotta be careful, Princess. Daddy and I are trying like heck to keep you safe, but the day will come when ..." Jack sighed, wondering why he was getting emotional. ~The concussion.~ He looked away, expecting the youngest Munchkin to disappear into air as he did so. Turning back, he was surprised to see Aislinn's bright blue eyes gazing lovingly at him. "Ash, promise your old man that you'll be careful. You're so dang beautiful, like your mommy."
"I promise, Dad." Aislinn paused, her smile fading. "Dad, you can't sleep anymore. We almost couldn't wake you up."
"Daddy and me. The rifle was our fifth try."
"You made me have a nightmare?"
"You wouldn't wake up," Aislinn said amid a sniffle. "Get up, Dad, and keep going, okay?"
"Okay, Princess." Jack stood and blazed his spot into the tree. The cold was brittle, and he was weakening. ~Age is not always a positive thing. Twenty years ago, this would be a breeze.~ He put his knife away. "Ash ..."
The little girl was gone, her mission accomplished.
Though wondering if he would survive, Jack determined to give it his all. The snow pack was lessening the further down he went, but he felt like he was turning into an ice cube. That's when he had another visitor, who had picked up where Jenny had left off in her Destiny inquiries.
"They really sleep inside those pods?" Ricky asked, his favorite blue blanket wrapped around his neck to help him stay warm.
"For how long?"
"About three years."
"Wow!" the boy exclaimed. "I get real tired sometimes, but three years is a long time, isn't it, Dad?"
Jack chuckled his affirmation, knowing Ricky didn't have a grasp on the time issue. The Spitfire was just six-and-a-half himself.
"Who pilots the ship?" Ricky questioned.
"Auto pilot," Jack answered.
"Why are you sad?"
"One of the pods malfunctioned, so a member of Destiny's crew didn't have a pod."
"Don't feel bad, Dad. He'll figure it out."
"That's what Colonel Young said."
"Don't you believe him?" the boy queried as he looked up at his father.
"Maybe they'll find a Stargate."
"They have one."
"Why don't they use it to come home?" Ricky inquired curiously.
"This is not really my department," Jack sighed. Still, he forged ahead with an explanation, as best he could. "Stargates have six coordinates that are like addresses. A seventh chevron is the point of origin, like our house if we were going to Grandpa's."
"I get it."
"You're ahead of me," Jack teased lightly. "An eighth chevron lets us travel galaxy to galaxy. Trust me, that's not easy."
"It's like an area code, huh?"
Again, Jack marveled at the words he was having his children say.
"Yes. Then there is the ninth chevron. It goes to this big mystery ship."
"The Destiny," Ricky stated emphatically.
"That's the one," Jack confirmed. "What we know is that Destiny's Stargate was designed to connect with specific Gates, like the one we have at the Mountain."
"Then why don't they just come home?"
"Easier said than done, Ricky," Jack sighed sadly. "The problem is it takes a ton of power to activate that ninth chevron, and we don't know how to make it work so we can dial it up and have everyone survive."
"Have Daddy fix it."
"Daddy can fix it. He opened our Stargate, didn't he?"
"In less than a minute," Jack chuckled. "I'll never forget that long-haired geek turning those stuffed shirt scientists into gaping zombies."
"Bet Daddy could figure out Destiny's Stargate, too."
~Not quite the same issue, but ...~ Jack looked down at his son and nodded while agreeing, "I bet he could, too."
"Dad, do you have to go to Washington again?"
"I like it better when you're home with us. We miss you when you're gone."
"I miss you, too, but with the Destiny's situation as it is, I don't think I need to back too often."
"I'm glad. Are you ready to come home now?"
"I'm workin' on it," the weary general answered.
"Good! I'll tell JD. He wants you to read him a story," Ricky advised with enthusiasm. "Can I listen?"
"If you want to," Jack responded, pleased that the Spitfire wanted to sit on story time with his baby brother. "Daddy may have to do it tonight. Somehow, I don't think I'll be home."
"Sir! General O'Neill!" the rescue team's medic called out.
"I'd like to be home," Jack spoke, still thinking he was talking to Ricky.
"We'll have you home in a couple of hours, Sir," the medic advised. "Your injuries appear to be minor."
"What the ...?" Jack looked around, stunned. He was cold, but he not freezing and numb as he had been in his apparent dream. "I'm still on the plane."
"Yes, Sir," Lieutenant Reid Mooslinger replied as he looked down as his team's medical officer and the injured man. "Major Carroll and his crew parachuted to safety. He had a visual on where the plane went down, which assisted us in locating you quickly."
"I've been here the whole time," the groggy general remarked, confusing the rescue personnel.
"The doctor may want to keep you in the hospital overnight," the medic expressed cautiously.
"No! Just ... get me home."
"You mean you thought you'd walked down that mountain, in a near blizzard, wearing just your uniform?" Daniel asked in disbelief several hours later.
Per his wishes which were probably construed as "take me home or risk demotion" orders to the rescue team, Jack had been transported to the Academy Hospital in Colorado Springs. Daniel had been notified, and he'd contacted Janet. Leaving the brood in the care of Mrs. Valissi, who lived next door to the family, the archaeologist met up with Janet at the medical facility. Both were briefed on Jack's condition via an Internet conference with the Air Force medic who had tended to Jack at the crash site and the doctor at the nearest base where Jack had first been taken after the rescue. It was another hour or so before the transport plane had arrived and Jack was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Ultimately, Jack's assessment of his injuries were pretty accurate in terms of location, but not severity. His ankle was badly sprained, but not broken. It was swollen, but not as much as his nightmare vision had implied. To the general, it was a piece of cake injury. He knew how to handle it, and Janet had barely attempted to give even basic ice, elevate, and compress instructions. Fortunately, he did not have any broken ribs, but they were bruised and sore, probably from the impact of being tossed forcibly onto the packed parachute. His worst injury was the concussion, only because he was so uncertain about how long he'd been unconscious.
After examining her friend, Janet had known better than to even suggest he remain in the hospital. She had simply looked at the couple and instructed, "Concussion: you know the drill." Jack and Daniel had exchanged a sad look that indicated they knew the drill routine all too well.
The reunited couple had headed home, updated their brood on the events, and then, while Jack relaxed, Daniel prepared dinner. Afterward, Jack read JD a story and, interestingly, Ricky had asked to listen in. Even more curious to the general, David had indeed needed his assistance with a bit of trouble he was having with his telescope. That problem solved, Jack had then spent some playtime with Bijou and Katie, too, the family's precious beagles. Eventually, the kids had all gone to bed, leaving the lovers to relax in their favorite place, on the roof deck outside the master bedroom.
Jack had taken his preferred position, leaning against the wall, and wrapping his arms around Daniel, who was leaning very gently against him. It was an extremely familiar position for the two, the only unusual part of it being that Jack's ankle had been elevated with a pillow.
"Yeah," Jack responded to his lover's query. "This concussion thing must have really done a number on my brain. I saw all the kids, Danny. They were all there, and so were you, but it didn't always make sense. I just don't get it."
"I don't think it's that complicated."
"That figures," Jack snarked in a fun-filled way. "What's your theory?"
"Well, we know how powerful the mind is," Daniel began. "We also know that we have a ... a very strong connection, to each other, and with our children."
"So far, I'm with ya."
"Jack, I think you just did what you had to do. You were unconscious, but even in that state, you knew you needed to keep your mind active. Somehow, ..."
"I conjured up the kids to keep my mind working."
"You weren't exactly thinking your best."
"... which is why I didn't necessarily have the right personality with the right kid ..."
"... and why you got your facts turned around."
"Like Sara being mad at me for the wrong thing and thinking JD was a baby."
"He's just two," Daniel pointed out with a smile from the simple thought of thinking about the toddler.
"And you with the rifle."
"Now that was weird," Daniel chuckled.
"You got that right." In amusement, Jack stated definitively, "For the record, Love, I and only I, will scare off the boyfriends."
"But not with guns, Jack."
"I'll think of something."
"I'm sure you will," Daniel mused. He paused a moment before continuing, "And I think you had the fate of the Destiny on your mind, and that interfered, too."
"That kid is up there, alone for all intent and purposes, trying to fix a pod so he can put himself into stasis for three years. If he can do that, he saves himself and the crew."
"Jack, do they have enough life support to keep Eli and the crew alive long enough to cross the galaxy?"
"Young's initial report indicated they all needed to go into stasis or the power supply will be affected."
Silence loomed, and then the archaeologist reached for his Love's hand, pulled it up and kissed it. In response, the general tenderly placed a kiss on Daniel's nape.
The quiet was peaceful and lasted for several minutes as the two men touched and enjoyed being caressed in this favorite hold of theirs.
"Do you think you could do it?"
The inquiry by his lover caused Daniel to blink, move forward slightly, and turn his head to stare into the face of the questioner.
"I don't know. Their situation is different."
"Daniel, the entire Stargate Program exists because of one man -- you. Okay, Carter contributed, and so did a lot of other people who helped to master the science of it; make the thing work so the Mountain didn't shake like an earthquake and fix it so we didn't reach the other side looking and feeling like icicles, but you started it. You opened the Gate, and you figured out how to get us home."
"I was lucky."
"That's crap, and you know it. You are also the one that found Atlantis, remember?"
"You figured out the eighth chevron."
Jack laughed, "That was the Asgard. They borrowed my brain."
"Just proves you shouldn't stick your head inside strange objects."
"Yeah, but ..." Jack's face cringed as he considered how he was going to respond to his husband's tease, but he thought better of it. "Never mind."
"If I did try, you'd have to cover for me at J-O, but I won't sacrifice time with the children, or with you, not long term, anyway."
"I can do that."
"Can you get me what I need? I need office space and my staff. This isn't their field, either, but I need people whose skills I know, and I need them to be completely dedicated to this project." Daniel licked his lips as he considered the path he might take. "There are some others, too -- Rodney."
"McKay? That ..."
"Jack, he's good, and he thinks creatively." Daniel paused and then added definitively, "And I need Sam. We're not talking about a translation, Jack. This is math. Sam's an astrophysicist. I need her for this."
"The science twins live again," the general teased. Growing more serious, he opined, "Landry won't argue," a reference to General Hank Landry who was now running Stargate Command. "Besides, three stars represent a lot of power."
"I love your stars, not necessarily what they represent, but they do look good on you," Daniel professed seductively.
"The only thing I miss about wearing dress blues more often is you tearing them off."
"I miss it, too."
"I feel responsible for the kid, Danny," Jack admitted. "Look, I've sent a lot of men, and women, out into the field. A lot of them never made it back, and some who did, maybe shouldn't have."
"But Eli Wallace was a kid ..."
"He wasn't a kid, Jack, he was an MIT dropout, and he chose not to pursue his degree or explore his full potential, but he was not a ... kid."
"Danny, against my better judgment, I participated in recruiting Eli and letting Rush practically blackmail him into going along."
"I never liked that part."
"I've made darn sure the Air Force is following through and is giving his mom the best treatment for her HIV."
"How's she doing?" Daniel asked. "I mean, uh, I remember when she got so depressed thinking Eli was just ... gone."
"Good. They used the stones so Eli could say goodbye to her." Jack sighed, "That Rush guy doesn't have much of a heart."
"Are you sure it was his idea to use Eli's mom that way?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure," Jack responded, his displeasure noted in his tone and rising blood pressure. "But the Brass went for it."
"Don't say it, Angel, I know. I *am* part of the Brass now."
"The good part," Daniel assured, giving his lover a kiss on the cheek. "You have to realize that I am not that happy about getting someone like Nicholas Rush into the Program," he pointed out as he once again rested his head on Jack's shoulder, which had always been a symbol of strength to the archaeologist.
"He has a lot of secrets."
"We all do," Daniel reminded, though admitting, "I believe his grief over his wife's death has altered his perspective."
"Young's reports were full of misgivings. Eli is awake because Young trusts Rush about as much as we trust the Goa'uld. He had zero, zip, zilch belief in Rush to stick to the timeline."
"I'd like to think he'd work for the betterment of the Destiny's crew."
"And I'd like to have completely healthy knees."
"Daniel, he gives me the creeps. He's like that Rumpelstiltskin character, a little rattle snake always making bargains that benefit him and no one else."
"Fairy tale characters are not always good."
"Unfortunately, Rush isn't a fairy tale. Danny ..."
"I know, Jack. You don't want your last big job for the Air Force to be a ship drifting across galaxies with a crew that is ... sleeping, or worse."
There was truth to that statement. Jack and Daniel had actually both retired for good in 2013, but with the offering of another star which was accompanied by a nice spike in pay and another subsequent retirement that would assist in putting twelve kids through college, the lovers consented to work on a very limited basis on the Icarus Project. It was just shy of a year that they had been doing so, and the vast majority of it was on Jack's shoulders as he'd taken multiple trips to the nation's capitol to work on Icarus and related projects. In fact, it was Jack's guilt over being away from his family, even as short as the trips were, that had prompted his vision of Ricky wanting his dad to not travel so much. The main issue, though, was Jack wanting to look back on his career and not have the most recent mission be an abysmal failure that was highlighted by a civilian suicide.
"Two weeks, Danny. Eli has two weeks to fix that pod before his breathing body starts to impact the ship's power. Without that power, the ship won't have the ability to make the jump . If he does fix it, he slips inside and goes to sleep like everyone else. Then we wait a few years and hope everyone revives and the Destiny is in the next galaxy. Even that is a gamble."
"And if Eli can't fix the pod?"
"I really don't want to think about that."
Daniel didn't need to hear the words. He already knew what would happen. If Eli could not repair the damaged pod by the end of two weeks, he would kill himself to save the others already sleeping in the pods. He also understood that Colonel Young could not rely on Doctor Rush to follow through and stick to that timeline. Rush had shown conflict of interests many times. Deep down, Daniel's concern for his own involvement in convincing the scientist to join up for the original mission was disconcerting. Even in three years, should the mission go well and the crew of the Destiny awake just fine, they would still be out there, and Rush would still be doing what was best for himself and not the others on the ship. Daniel wanted to figure out the secret of the ninth chevron just as much as Jack wanted him to. He just didn't have Jack's confidence about being able to solve the puzzle, especially because the secret was more of a mathematical calculation about how to create a stable wormhole that did not result in blowing up the Destiny or Earth.
"Two weeks may not be enough, Jack."
"No pressure, Love."
"Actually, some pressure is good," the general spoke suggestively, suddenly wanting to forget everything about the day he'd just had.
Daniel felt his Love's hands reaching down and applying a bit of pressure of a different kind.
"Oh, well, pressure like that needs to be relieved."
"Like a pressure cooker gets steam released."
"Feel up to it?"
"Daniel, I'm already up!"
Jack had survived a day that had begun in crisis over the fate of a ship called Destiny, and it had continued with a crash that almost had him confronting his own fate. Fortunately, the visions of his family had kept his mind functioning and helped him to get through the potentially fatal wreck. The day was ending, though, on a happier note, the joining of his body with his husband's. It never got old, that explosive feeling of unity and desire.
Starting tomorrow, Daniel would do his best to come up with a miracle. He didn't know if he could do it, especially in such a short period of time, but he felt Jack's belief in him. Both wanted the crew of the Destiny home. Jack wanted Eli reunited with his mother, while Daniel wanted Rush where he could not negatively impact the people aboard the vessel. Right now, however, he only wanted to enjoy the passion of making love with his soulmate.
Two things were clear on this March evening in Colorado Springs. First, Jack and Daniel's adventures with the Stargate were not over, in spite of their limited retirement, and second, there was no end to the love that Jack and Daniel shared. It went beyond time, to the depths of forever and always, and always and forever.
~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Author's Note: Please feel free to email me with your comments or suggestions; constructive criticism, things you'd like to see, etc. A chronological listing of my universe is at http://orrymain.com