Title: Conversing with Cliffs

Author: Jojo

Email: randomleaves@yahoo.co.uk

Status: Complete

Category: Romance, Drama (I think)

Pairings: Sam/Jack

Spoilers: Er, none. Itty bitty one for Desperate Measures.

Season - Season 5, after Desperate Measures, before Meridian (ie. Before Danny Goes Glowy).

Rating: PG-13 for some bad language

Summary: Sam does some catching up.

Disclaimer: Not mine! Not mine I tell you! Alas! No money made here.

Archive: SJD yes!

Author's Note: Emry beta-ed this. Thanks Emry! Mel - have I mentioned how much I really, really appreciated your cousin's help? There's a word in here that I owe completely to him (guess which one!).

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She sought desperately for something to say, her eyes fixed straight in front of her at a particularly cracked piece of rock. It was definitely predominantly granite, she'd decided earlier, with occasional layers of a sandy sedimentary rock. But there was no way Laura was going to be interested in that. "So... how's the, um, dentist?"

"Dentist?"

"Weren't you dating a dentist?"

"Sam. We're hanging onto a cliff with our fingernails. Do you think this is really the time to discuss my ex-boyfriend?" Laura asked.

Sam could see her point. But she didn't really know what else to say and it seemed important to keep talking. Her fingers had gone numb long ago - the sheeting wind and rain coating her skin with iciness. Her toes, which she had dug in as far as they could into small gaps on the ledge, weren't fairing much better in her combat boots, though she was almost ridiculously grateful that she'd chosen to wear the right kind of socks this morning.

"I don't know. I thought we ought to catch up," she said through chattering teeth.

Laura shivered violently. "Catch up?" she repeated in astonishment, shaking her head to get the soaking strands of hair away from her eyes where they kept slipping.

"Yeah. We don't get to talk much these days."

Laura and Sam were the only female 2ICs out of all of the off-world teams, Sam as 2IC of SG-1 and Laura as 2IC of SG-14. They were about the same age, Sam was about a year or so older, and they were both single, both Major's in the USAF and both scientists, though Laura was technically a phenomenologist. Those facts alone meant they had enough in common to be friends.

That and the fact that they got on really well together.

"Clashing schedules for the past few months. You must have saved the world at least twice this year, after all," Laura muttered. She heaved out a breath and they both watched the puff of white dissipate. "It's getting colder."

Sam turned her head back to the cliff-face resolutely. "Don't think about it."

"Okay. So, yeah, I broke it off with the dentist."

"Damn." Were her knees shaking? God, the numbness was spreading. What the hell were they doing up there? Making a rope? "Sorry."

"It's okay."

"You know you were the only one of us with any kind of sex life whatsoever, don't you?" Sam reminded her pointedly.

Laura winced, her dark hair being whipped back into her face again by the virulent wind. She spat strands of it out of her mouth. "The sex wasn't that great."

Sam sighed and rested her forehead against the rock. "Laura, you're missing the point. You had sex. Who else do you know in the SGC who has sex? And she has to be on an off-world team."

The woman frowned, running through the short list of women carefully. "Wasn't Hendley dating someone?"

"That was four years ago."

"No kidding. Gee, time really flies doesn't it?"

Not when you were clinging to a cliff, Sam couldn't help but think.

Below them, a particularly violent wave sent a shower of salt water up the cliff, the spray coating Sam and Laura with even more moisture.

"My hair is never going to recover from this."

Sam grunted, a fine trembling sweeping her body as water leaked under her clothes. "God," she complained. "What are they doing?"

"I don't know. I wish they'd get a move on."

Carefully, recalling what had almost happened the last time she'd tried to look up, Sam tipped her head back to try and see the top of the cliff. The landslide that had carried her and Laura Drake down had curved the cliff so that she could see little above her but more cliff. More and more cliff, as a matter of fact. Unable to do anything for them by himself, Daniel had presumably raced back to camp to get the rest of SG-14 and SG-1. At least, Sam hoped he had. They thought they'd heard Daniel shout something down at them and both Laura and Sam had shouted back, but there was a distinct chance that Daniel might think they were both dead.

She almost shook her head at that miserable thought. She knew the Colonel wouldn't rest until he was convinced she had died. God, she hoped he didn't think she was dead. She really didn't want to put him through that.

"For a dentist, he didn't seem particularly interested in my teeth," Laura said contemplatively.

Sam snorted with a weak impression of laughter, blinking water out of her eyes. "No?"

"Bastard."

"Did he dump you?"

Laura's bottom lip came out. "Yes."

"I'd give you a hug but I'd probably die, taking you with me."

"That's so....... ah!"

Another, more violent wave spewed up more icy water, considerably more of it too since the tide was no doubt coming in as well. Both women clung to the cliff face, swearing under their breath. Sam didn't think she'd ever been this wet or this cold in her life. And she'd certainly been to some really cold and wet places - on missions and otherwise.

And this time she didn't have the Colonel to cuddle up to.

"Did you say something?" Laura shouted over a gust of wind.

"No."

"I'm freezing!"

"No kidding."

They chuckled tiredly. Sam made the fatal mistake of actually glancing down and consequentially suffered from a not unusual bout of vertigo. She didn't consider herself particularly afraid of heights, but it was very difficult to be impartial when she was dangling over broken rocks and frothing waves. Moaning woozily, she pressed her face back against the rock and concentrated on taking in deep, salty breaths.

When the wind died down a bit - relatively speaking - Laura resumed their conversation. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"How's your love life?"

"Nonexistent, of course."

Gritting her teeth in a wan imitation of a smile, Laura persevered, "How's your, ah, crush on you-know-who?"

Desperately trying to recall what Sam had actually told Laura, she fumbled a bit, causing Laura to laugh.

"You don't remember, do you?"

"Ah... no."

"It was only two years ago, Sam."

Two years ago was a lifetime away, as far as Sam was concerned. When she imagined that time, and all the things she'd done, seen and experienced, all she could see was work. Work, both on and off-world. Very few social occasions sprung to mind. Several painful memories pressed over her heart. "When exactly?"

"When else? Christmas. The Colonel's."

Now, with Laura 'the Colonel' could mean either Sam's CO, or her own. And Sam wasn't really up to a lot of memory searching.

"Colonel O'Neill."

It clicked. "That wasn't two years ago, Laura, that was three," Sam said, frowning as she tried to remember. Last Christmas had been, of course, spent with her father. And the Christmas before that... she couldn't remember the Christmas before that. Oh yes, that was right. She'd been unconscious over Christmas, as had Daniel and Colonel O'Neill. But the Christmas before that had definitely been spent at Colonel O'Neill's along with a vast number of SGC members who didn't have family to go home to or hadn't got the chance to go home to them.

And Sam and Laura spent the entire night in the basement with several packs of beer, avoiding certain men. Actually, now that Sam thought about it, she'd been avoiding the Colonel and Graham Simmons. Who the hell had Laura been avoiding?

She was about to speak when another blast of water and wind pushed the women against the rock and left them gasping with cold.

Sam licked her lips, the taste of salt reminding her of just how thirsty she actually was. "I remember now."

"Yeah. And? The crush?"

Deciding to go for vagueness, Sam responded with, "It's no longer a crush."

Had Laura been anyone else, she would have nodded, probably smiled and left the conversation at that. However, Laura was strangely perceptive when it came to Sam and she eyed her friend thoughtfully. "Worse than a crush?" she asked.

Sam made a face. "It was worse than a crush two years ago. Last year it was... much worse than a crush. Now it's... well..." She trailed off weakly, unable to think of a description that explained the state of her heart.

"I see."

"Yeah," Sam sighed.

"Awkward."

"Yeah."

"So... is it true about the Zay'tarc thing?"

Blinking, she glanced over at her friend. "How did you hear about that?"

Laura shrugged, then clutched harder at the cliff. "I don't know. Rumor mill I suppose. Everyone knows about it."

"Jesus."

"Don't worry. It's not like you've ever done anything remotely suggestive."

True. Which was entirely due to her refusing his fishing trips. There would likely be no fishing on any fishing trips she undertook with her CO.

Not that he'd asked her recently.

A trail of water that had probably been building up in her hair started down the center of her forehead. It didn't really add much discomfort to how Sam was feeling at the moment, it was just that it dripped irritatingly off the end of her nose. She blew a breath upward and shook her head, sending a shower of droplets into the rain. It was a pointless task - only moments later more water dripped down her flattened hair.

"Want to know so-?"

Not quite catching Laura's sentence completely as a gust of wind blew the sound away, Sam raised her eyebrows, "Huh?"

"I said, want to know something funny?"

"Go on. I could do with a laugh."

Both women snorted and braced themselves for another gust of rain, wind and salt-spray.

"You know Colonel Branson?"

Since he was Laura's CO, Sam thought it was a pretty dumb question. Her expression must have told Laura exactly that because the woman grinned, a flash of white teeth on an increasingly pale face. "Yeah, guess you do. You remember I told you about that guy I used to date, the one I never got over?"

She could already see where this was going. "Oh my God."

Laura sighed. "Yeah."

"Oh my God."

It seemed to be all Sam could say.

"Pretty damn funny, hey?"

Laura didn't look all that amused.

"Shit, Laura, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, well. Obviously they hadn't done their research. It was years ago. I mean, I was in my twenties, all fresh and sparkly from the Academy. And he was in his thirties, all embittered and grumpy from his divorce. It was a match made in heaven."

Part of Sam wondered, nervously, why Laura was telling her this now. It seemed like something someone would reveal on their death bed. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I thought it only fair... I mean, I know about your you-know-who and now you know about mine. It's why the dentist didn't work out."

"Laura, I'm so sorry."

"Hey, at least I've slept with him."

Sam smiled through her wince. "There is that. But does that make it better or not?"

"Not really. Sometimes," she giggled, "though, when I look at him, I have flashes of him naked. He looks really funny holding his gun naked, I can tell you."

Sam spluttered, the image of the grumpy, rumpled and darkly humorous Colonel appearing naked before her eyes. "Damn, Laura, I really didn't want to see that."

"Heh. Keeps me awake at night." She sighed deeply. "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"I can't feel my hands."

"Me either. Just hold on. And keep talking."

*

"Fuck."

Jack had to agree. The sheeting rain was sending rivulets of mud and debris of the curve of the cliff, the bare rock showing exactly where the landslide had occurred. "Daniel, where exactly did they go down?"

"I put a rock down. Here." He pointed to the large lump of granite. He took off his glasses and uselessly wiped them against his rain gear. "They went down here. I tried to get them on their radios but they didn't answer."

Teal'c yanked at the rope secured around the Colonel's waist. "Are you sure you do not wish me to go down for you, O'Neill?" he asked, resting a hand on Jack's shoulder in concern.

"No."

"Sir?" Lieutenant Warring said, looking at his own CO, the same question in his eyes.

"No. She's my 2IC. I'm getting her." Branson's slate eyes turned to Daniel and all-but scorched him with accusation. "What the hell were they doing that close to the ledge?"

"They weren't near the ledge. I've told you," Daniel said, all but hopping from one leg to the other, "it was an enormous landslide. A whole chunck of the cliff came off. For God's sake, will you just get down there and see?"

Jack checked over to where the rest of SG-14 were securing the ropes attached to himself and Branson. He made a questioning gesture with his head and received a thumbs up from the last of Branson's team members.

Shit.

The last of his team.

He couldn't think about it. He just couldn't. Every thought had to be on the mission, on the search. Every thought had to be military.

"Ready?" Branson asked abruptly.

"Let's go."

Jack had rock climbed in so many weather conditions that it didn't really hit him until he was just about getting parallel with the cliff face just how bad the weather was. Exposed to the elements, the wind buffeted the cliff, driving the rain harder and harder against him as sea spray rose up from where the waves crashed against the rocks.

As soon as he was able to, he pulled on the rope to stop and he looked down, water easing down his face.

All he could see was the misty whiteness of spray and the frothing darkness of waves. "Can you see them?" he shouted to Branson, who was also desperately searching.

"No, no I.... yes! Yes. Thank God," the man replied. He caught Jack's eye, his own expression full of desperate relief, and pointed to somewhere below Jack. "They're directly below you, O'Neill. Both of them."

If he'd been dry, safe, alone and on Earth, Jack would have dropped to the ground and said something extremely thankful to any deity willing to listen. As it was, he nodded grimly and gently released more rope to descend.

They began their slow decline downwards, trying not to let their feet slip on the rocks, careful not to dislodge anything that might disrupt their Majors' tentative hold on the cliff.

"I swear to God," he heard Branson murmur, "I'm not doing this any more."

Not sure he should have heard that - or if the comment was even aimed at him - Jack remained silent, his every focus on the cliff in front of him and the woman, women, below him.

"You took your time," a familiar voice informed him when she was all but underneath him.

"We stopped for burgers," Jack replied lightly, ignoring the similar instructions that Branson was issuing to his own 2IC. "I'm gonna walk down over you, Major, and then we'll see about grabbing a hold of you."

"Yes, sir."

Aware that the winds were pushing him about a little more than was safe, Jack took him time, although he was doubly aware of her trembling, particularly when he was walking all but above her. Pulling on the rope, he came to a stop, clenching the ropes between his hand as he dropped his legs down until he was almost parallel with her. Okay, what was the best way to do this?

"May I make a suggestion, sir?" she shouted.

"Go ahead."

"Put your feet on the ledge and hold me against the cliff while I turn around."

He nodded in agreement, then realized she couldn't see him. "Okay. I can do that." Releasing a bit more rope, he scuffed the toes of his boots down the rock until they hit the ledge that both Carter and Drake were resting on. Effectively providing a secure shield in case she fell back, he pinned her against the rock, the wind acting as a helper this time, one arm going around her waist.

Slowly and, he had a feeling, painfully, she pulled her fingers from the cliff side. They were a chilled blue-grey color, very unnatural, and Jack reminded himself that he had great warming up plans for her the moment they got up top. He could feel just how much she was trembling now, as their bodies were aligned, and his worry began to gnaw at him. He hoped to God she didn't get pneumonia. She really didn't need that.

She twisted her upper body around and very quickly, very jerkily, and with a yelp of pain as her arms no doubt complained about being changed positions, wrapped her arms around his neck. Tightening his grip on her waist, he helped her turn around, one foot twisting over the other as she turned herself to face him, pulling each boot from the holes she had forced them into. He heard the rope creak as she put more weight on him, then he helped her lift up and wrap her legs about his waist. "Hold on to the rope," he ordered.

She nodded, pulled her arms away from his neck and carefully wrapping her cold fingers around the rope, her face scrunched up in pain.

"Okay?" he asked, smiling at her.

Seemingly not inclined to speak, she simply smiled back at him. He imagined the pain in her fingers was enough to silence even Carter.

"Radio," he said, wanting her to keep her fingers moving and get the circulation going. "Tell them to pull us up."

Using one hand, she fumbled a bit on the radio button, then leaned forward and spoke clearly. "This is Major Carter. Pull Colonel O'Neill up."

"Yes, Major. Good to hear your voice."

She let go of the radio and wrapped her hands around the rope, closing her eyes with relief.

Jack turned to check on the state of Branson and Drake. He did a double take, at first not surprised to see their heads so close together, then suddenly shocked. He supposed if he felt completely neutral towards his own 2IC, he would have given their almost-embrace no thought. It had been a near-fatal situation and if he hadn't been who he was and Carter hadn't been who she was, he would have pulled her to him like Branson had done Drake.

When he turned back to the rope, he caught Carter looking at him strangely. He wondered what she expected of him.

"So," he managed as they inched their way up, "this is new."

"Sir?"

Her voice was a little scratchy and he wondered how much shouting she had done down there.

"Me rescuing you. It's usually the other way around." Jack grinned at her.

"It'll never happen again, sir."

"You're damn right it won't." With a rapid change of mood, he scowled at her. "What the hell were you doing so close to the cliff edge, Carter?"

Carter's face scrunched up a little bit. "Sir, we were a good way away from the cliff edge. The landslide happened so fast and it took out so much of the cliff..." She faltered, her face losing what color it had and he tightened his arm about her waist hurriedly, worried she was about to pass out. It had been a good two hours since they'd fallen down.

"It's okay. I'll yell at you later."

"Thank you, sir."

Jesus, half frozen, wet through and numb and she still managed to call him 'sir'. Glancing at the other two again, he couldn't help but wonder if they had the right idea.

He wondered how long that had been going on.

Jack's boots grazed the edge of the cliff and he realized they were approaching the curving-off. "Right, Major, nearly there. There's a nice warm tent and a sleeping bag awaiting you."

"We're not going back to the SGC?"

"Are you kidding? It's a four hour walk."

"Oh yeah. I forgot."

That alone was enough to convince him she needed warming up and feeding hot liquids right now.

As soon as he was able, he began using his feet to walk up the rest of the cliff. He could see Daniel bobbing up and down at the edge of the cliff - dammit would any of them learn? Jack hoped to God someone had set up the tent away from the cliff. He didn't want to hang around with her soaking wet in his arms.

"Tell me the tent's ready," he snapped at Daniel as Lieutenant Warring undid the straps around his legs and waist. Carter was now lolling fairly heavily against him, her legs still around him, head heavy on his shoulder.

"Teal'c and one of the others has just finished it up," Daniel said hurriedly, peering at Sam through his droplet soaked glasses. "Is she okay?"

"She's freezing, Daniel."

"She can talk," Carter whispered stubbornly against his neck before a great shudder ran through the whole of her body.

"Hi, Sam. Great to see you. Now that you're back, Jack, we can send someone to get Janet, can't we?"

"I will go," Teal'c announced, fairly predictably Jack decided.

"We'll see," was all Jack could say. He would see if the weather showed signs of improvement before he sent anyone out in it.

He kicked off the harness into the Lieutenant's hands and started to walk away from the sea towards where he presumed the tent was pitched - a good distance away from the cliff, in other words.

Two members of SG-14 were carefully trying to keep a small fire going, one shielding it from the driving wind having created a kind of lean-to with his pack and rain gear, the other boiling something hot and liquid on top of the small flicker of flame. They both moved out of the way from the mouth of the tent as the Colonels approached.

Jack knelt down and literally fed Carter through the hole in the tent, allowing her to crawl towards one of the sleeping bags and flop. He pulled off his rain gear, handed it to someone and then unlaced his boots and pushed them to the inside corner of the tent. After that, he crawled inside after her and started working on her clothes.

Moments later, Drake was shoved into the tent, her CO after her. Glancing wearily at Jack, Branson started to untie her shoelaces.

Usually Jack would be very tentative about undressing his 2IC, even if it was an entirely necessary action, but with Branson in the tent with him, and Drake too, though she was fast asleep already, he was able to complete his job without feeling like a dirty old man.

Stripping Carter down to her underwear - and he really didn't look that much, really - he slid her into the sleeping bag and debated whether to climb in after her.

"What do you think? Not that I mind... obviously." The man held Jack's eyes with such seriousness that Jack lost any urge to crack a joke.

So Branson knew Jack had noticed. This put Jack in an awkward position, unwillingly privy to something he shouldn't know.

"In," Jack said shortly.

Carefully, trying to be polite, military and distinctly unfeeling about it, they slid in next to their Majors. Carter's eyes opened and fluttered at him for a moment. "Whatch'a doing?" she murmured thickly.

He rested a hand against the side of her head, grimacing when he felt how cold her ears were. Feeling slightly stupid, he slid another hand under her face to cup the other ear. "Warming you up."

"Good." She sighed and closed her eyes, moving her cold feet to rest against his legs. "Very dramatic, sir. Thank you."

He grinned.