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Hanging By A Thread

By Mara_DragonMaster

Mystery / Adventure

Chapter 1

How odd. Jack surveyed the landscape through his black sunglasses, and found it interesting how they had left the mountains of Colorado (a.k.a. Stargate Command) and stepped into– the mountains of Colorado. Complete with brilliant red rock, cactus, and gnarly shrub-like trees.

Daniel's voice suddenly came from behind him. "Jack, I see some ruins over there."

Jack turned in the direction of Daniel's pointing finger. "Where?"

"There– those red rocks."

Jack squinted, then nodded wisely. "Ah yes. The other red rocks."

Without looking he knew Daniel was giving him 'the look' from the corner of his eyes. "There's a large pile of rocks, Jack. See? Now look next to it."

"Oh– you mean the red boulder!"

Daniel rolled his eyes. "I'm going to check it out."

"Remember to check in–"

Daniel was already heading off, pulling out his notebook. "Every fifteen minutes." He called over his shoulder.

Jack watched him move away, and shook his head. How someone could get so excited over old rocks– "Sam, you take your soil samples. Teal'c, stay with her. I'll radio in every fifteen."

Sam swung her bag from her shoulder as Teal'c nodded. "Yes, sir."

Sure enough, there were crumbling ruins of some old buildings just to the left of the pile of rocks, blending in so well with their surroundings that Jack wondered how Daniel had seen them at all. He found the archaeologist sitting at the base of a wall, one leg thrust out, his hat pushed back. He was copying some painted drawings into his notebook, mumbling to himself, his eyes scrunched up behind his glasses in concentration. Daniel paid no attention when Jack approached, or when he cleared his throat. Giving a resigned puff of air that inflated his cheeks, Jack gave a final glance around before finding a comfortable seat on a boulder, which happened to rest in the shade of the wall.

How long he sat there, watching Daniel copy the paintings with painstaking accuracy, Jack didn't know. He had lost track after checking in with Carter six times. Adjusting his sunglasses he squinted up at the sun, then back at Daniel as he stood up with a long-suffering sigh. "Daniel, how much longer?"

"Just a little more." Daniel mumbled automatically.

Jack took a step forward. "It's just thaa-Ahh!"

Daniel spun around at Jack's outcry, the roar of crumbling rock pounding in his ears. "Jack?" As the dust cleared Daniel's eyes grew wide. Where Jack had stood there nothing. The ground had fallen out, leaving a black gaping hole at least ten feet in diameter. Crawling carefully to the edge Daniel looked down. "Jack?"

There was cough. "Oh, for crying out loud."

Daniel closed his eyes in relief, then looked back down. Jack was standing up on a very narrow ledge, shaking dust off of his head, slapping it from his jacket in red clouds. From the little bit of light that filtered down it looked like he was in some kind of cave, but Daniel couldn't be sure. "Where are you?"

Jack pulled his broken sunglasses from his face and spun in a slow circle, then looked over the ledge. "Looks like an underground chamber." He called up. "There's paintings and word-pictures all over the walls down there."

"Really?" Daniel craned his neck, trying to see better.

"Hey! Don't you fall in too!" Jack exclaimed.

"Do you see a way out?"

Jack spun in a half circle, stopping with his back to Daniel. "Uh, yeah." He said. "But it's a long way down and been rocked in."

Daniel frowned. "Rocked in?"

"Yeah. Sealed. Barricaded. Filled with rocks."

"Why would they do that?" Daniel wondered.

Jack did a quarter turn, and stopped. "Maybe because of the coffins over there." He quipped.

Daniel's eyes widened. "You mean it's a burial chamber?"

"Looks like." Jack looked up, squinting. "Mind getting me out before you start digging?"

Daniel gave him 'the look'. "What about your radio?"

"Smashed. Why? Where's yours?"

"In the burial chamber." Daniel pointed. "I had it and my extra pack behind me a little. They fell in with you."

Jack looked down into the chamber, then muttered something unintelligible.

"What?" Daniel called, putting a hand to his ear.

"Nothing.'" Jack responded irritably.

Daniel sighed. "Okay, uh–" he glanced around. "Hang on. I've got some rope."

"Great." Jack made a circle with his forefinger and thumb.

Daniel nodded, then carefully moved away from the edge and headed to his pack. Pulling out a long coil of rope, Daniel muttered a 'thank you, Sam' to himself. Taking one end he gingerly made his way around the hole to the other side and the boulder Jack had been sitting on, where he looped the rope around the boulder several times and tied it. "Okay, here it comes." he called, tossing the rope down.

There was a slight scuffling sound as Jack tied it around himself, then the rope went taut. "Ready!"

Daniel wrapped his hands around the thick fibrous cord, set his feet, and pulled. It was easier than he had thought; then he realized that Jack was helping by climbing some.

Then the rope snapped.

Daniel suddenly found himself being dragged forward, inexplicably, towards the edge. Grasping at the rope with his hands his feet kicked furiously, trying to find some purchase on the ground. Then they did, and Daniel came to a crunching stop, but the rope kept going. He tightened his hold, yelling when the rough, thick cords burned a line across his shoulders and through his hands, tearing the skin. Then it, too, stopped. Daniel didn't move, breathing hard, sweat beading on his face, every muscle taut and shaking.

"Jack?" he called tightly.

"Daniel?" Jack's voice echoed its way up to him.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Came the reply. "Sure. You betcha! You?"

"Oh–" Daniel glanced around, heels digging into the ground. He locked his knees. "You know." He tightened his hold, grimacing. Then he set his feet, ready to move. "I'm going to get you up, okay?"

"Don't hurt anything in the process!"

"I won't hurt myself, Jack!" Daniel said, mentally crossing his fingers.

There was a pause. "I was talking about me."

Daniel rolled his eyes heavenward, a slight dry chuckle escaping him. Carefully he pulled his feet up, drawing his knees closer and closer to his torso. Then he dug his heels into the dirt and rock and pushed. At first he didn't move. Then slowly, his hands burning, Daniel slid backwards, scraping over loose dirt and rock. Teeth bared, Daniel drew his knees up again, and again braced his feet and pushed himself back. Dust clung to his damp skin, the sun beating down harsh and bright. Very quickly his SGC uniform became uncomfortably damp and scratchy with sweat. The burn of his shoulders and hands became like a physical white noise, flaring every once in a while as the rough fibers of the rope rubbed.

"Hey! Hey!"

Daniel paused mid-push, legs trembling. "What?"

"Can we hurry it up? The rope's leaving a blister 'round my middle."

Licking sweat from his upper lip, Daniel gritted his teeth, eyes rolling up in a quick prayer. Taking a deep breath he tightened his grip on the rope, and once again dug his heels into the dirt. After what seemed to be an eternity of pushing himself back, the rope, slick in his hands with sweat and some blood, suddenly slipped. There was a startled shout below the edge, and Daniel desperately grabbed, clenching his teeth with a bit back grunt when the rope burned through his hands and then caught. For a moment there was nothing; no movement, no sound, except for the harsh panting of two men.

"Jack? You okay?"

There was a grunt. "Yeah. Little banged up, nothing serious."

Daniel nodded. "Sorry about that."

"It's okay. Just be nice if we didn't have a repeat performance." There was a pause. "You okay?"

Daniel hesitated. "Yeah," he finally answered. "Why?"

"Well, your voice sounds a little strained. You sure you're okay?"

Daniel ground his teeth, dug his heels in, and pushed back.

"Daniel?"

"Yes, Jack!" Daniel gasped in exasperation, a little harsher than he intended. He closed his eyes for a moment. "Just– let me get you up, okay, Jack?"

"Sure." There was a wry, disbelieving tone to Jack's voice, and Daniel knew that Jack would be thoroughly checking him over when this was over.

Blinking furiously as sweat suddenly trickled into his eye, Daniel ignored the sting and focused on pushing himself backwards. He wished he could take off his jacket; the heat was almost overpowering. The minutes strung together, slipping by in a dust and sunlit haze. Suddenly the rope became slack in his hands. Blindly panicking for a moment, thinking that the rope had snapped and Jack had fallen, he grabbed at it. Then he heard the grunts and muttering ahead of him. Blinking to clear his vision Daniel squinted, and saw Jack in the last stage of hauling himself over the edge and onto solid ground.

"Jack?" Daniel pushed himself to his knees and started to crawl, stopping with a grimace when his hands made contact with the rough ground. He lifted his left hand, looking at its torn and bleeding palm in disgust.

"Holy Hannah!" Jack crawled over to him and took his hand. "What…?" he looked up, eyeing the rope with the frayed end, and the separate piece of rope still tied around the boulder. "Dang it, Danny." He muttered. "Come on."

"Jack, I'm fine." Daniel protested as Jack grabbed him under the arm and hauled him up, guiding him back to the painted wall. At Jack's pointed finger he sat down obediently, and watched as Jack pulled open his pack and rummaged through it, trying to find the first aid kit amongst his books and notes.

"Aha!" Jack exclaimed triumphantly, pulling out the kit. He quickly opened it and pulled out the disinfectant wipes, tearing them open. Daniel looked away when Jack took one of his hands, biting his lip when the cold wipe slid across his palm. "Next time," Jack advised. "Wear gloves."

"I'll remember that." Daniel hissed.

A few minutes later, with his hands freshly wrapped, Daniel followed Jack away from the ruins with the promise that they would return to excavate the site properly.

On the way back they ran into Sam and Teal'c, who were making their way up toward the ruins. "Colonel!" Sam called.

"Howdy." Jack greeted them jovially. "What are you doing?"

"Coming to find you." Sam stopped in front of them, her brows pinched together. "You missed your last check-in ten minutes ago, sir."

"Yeah, well, we were– preoccupied."

Teal'c tipped his head, eyeing Daniel. "Daniel Jackson, are you injured?"

"What?" Realizing Teal'c had seen his hands, Daniel hurried to reassure as Sam's eyes snapped to him. "Oh, no. Well–" he glanced at his white-mittened hands. "Not seriously. Got a little rope burn."

Jack smiled as their companions looked at them curiously. "Long story." He quipped. He started to walk, and they all fell in step together. "We'll tell it on the way."

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