Summary: The first day of snow
On the first day of snow, Jack woke before the sun did. For a few minutes, he didn't move; there was a gap between the curtains that covered the room's only window, and through it he could see little drifting flurries of snow, diving toward the ground like a thousand flocks of tiny birds.
Daniel's arm was a welcome weight against the bare flesh of Jack's hip, and though he could see that the fire in the little iron stove had dwindled away to almost nothing, the bed was still warm with body heat. Daniel's breath chuffed out against the back of his neck, keeping time, counting the moments as they changed from experience to memory, a fast-moving chrysalis.
Eventually, Jack wrapped his fingers gently around Daniel's wrist, and lifted that arm just enough that he could slip out from under it, and out from under the blankets, too. His feet hit the icy cold floor; he gritted his teeth and dressed himself with a speed he hadn't managed since basic training.
In the bed, Daniel grunted at the loss of heat against his chest; he rolled over, burrowed deeper under the blankets, and buried his face under Carter's chin. The two of them twisted and shifted for a moment, trying to find comfortable positions, and then they subsided again. Daniel muttered something in his sleep that wasn't English, Carter mumbled something back that wasn't coherent enough to be considered language at all, and then they were still.
Jack had things to do out in the cold white world, but he lingered for a moment in the bedroom, watching the two of them sleep. He bent to the wood stove and slowly fed it little bits of dry twigs and leaves from the kindling box, and then a few little logs from the pile against the wall, until the fire was burning merrily again and the temperature in the room started to climb a little.
He closed the bedroom door behind him carefully and quietly, went into the little kitchen and grabbed a couple of slices of bread for his breakfast. His boots were still where he'd left them, tumbled over each other next to the back door. He slipped them on with just his feet, held his bread with one hand, and used the other to yank the boots on the rest of the way. He tried to tie them one-handed, and finally gave up, shoving the last of the bread into his mouth so he could use both hands to pull the laces tight and knot them.
He put his gloves on before grabbing the ax that hung on the kitchen wall, and then he stepped outside in the freezing pre-dawn.
The snow wasn't heavy, but it had already layered itself a few inches deep on the ground, and the line of skeletal white trees that formed the edge of the forest were nearly invisible from where Jack stood. He stood in the doorway for a little while and watched the snow fall, then trudge his way past the winter garden, along the rough spruce-log fence toward the upper field. He was looking for a particular thick tree stump; the tree itself had been cut down long ago by the cabin's previous owners, but the stump had stubbornly remained, standing in the way of orderly farming and making a nuisance of itself.
Jack recognized that this was not the best weather for clearing stumps, or handling sharp implements outdoors, but hacking away at the stump had proved to be an excellent way to combat stress. Today, though, he took a break before beginning; when he found the right spot, he put down the ax and just sat on the snow-covered stump for awhile, enjoying the absolute silence of the winter-hushed world.
Several hours later, sweating under his layers and having made barely a dent in the stump, he made his way back to the house. The snow had stopped falling, for awhile at least, and there was a faint orange glow to everything, where the sun was not quite breaking through the flat gray clouds. At the back door of the house, he stopped to knock the snow from his boots with the blunt head of the ax and wiped a gloved hand across his stinging nose. From inside the house, he could smell something cooking, something like pumpkin and potatoes and gravy; outside, the air was clean and sharp, damp, with a frosty edge that promised more snow.
It smelled like the end of autumn, like winter, like jack o' lanterns and ginger snaps and a child-sized handprint on construction paper made to look like a lop-sided turkey. It smelled like pine needles and wrapping paper.
Jack bent over, braced his hands on his knees, and panted as if he'd run all the way in from the field. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think of something else, but it didn't really work. So he just breathed around it instead, and eventually opened the back door and stepped out of the cold and into the warm kitchen.
Carter was at the little work table with her back to him, but he could see that she was chopping vegetables. The potatoes he'd smelled were in the little cast-iron stove, turning warm and crispy over the fire. It all looked incredibly domestic.
He opened his mouth, and Carter paused what she was doing, waved her very large knife at him without even turning around. "Go ahead," she said. "I dare you to say it." There were still unspoken "sirs" dangling at the end of her sentences sometimes.
He paused a beat while she gave the knife one more threatening wave, and then said, "So. Where's Daniel?"
Carter paused again, then resumed her chopping with slightly more vigor. He narrowed his eyes. "Caroline stopped by," Carter said, while she savagely dismembered a carrot. "Daniel hitched a ride to her place. He'll be back soon."
Jack narrowed his eyes a little further, then realized he was mostly squinting and it probably made him look old, so he stopped that immediately. "And what," he said, "is Daniel doing at Caroline's?"
He could see Carter's jaw tense, even from behind, so he toed off his snow-wet boots, tugged off his coat, and eased up behind her. He rubbed his hands briskly together to warm them before he slipped both underneath her shirt, rubbing little circles against the small of her back.
She put down the knife and leaned back into his hands, bracing herself against the work table. He slowly rubbed his way upward.
"Well," she finally said, "we both thought that we could really use a horse."
Jack shrugged, one-shouldered, and dug his thumb into a knot of muscle along Carter's spine. "Sure, that'd be nice. We could use it for plowing, and transportation into town, maybe one day get a cart. But we don't have anything of value to trade for one."
Carter didn't answer. Jack paused with his hands pressed flat against her back, and stared for a moment at the arch of her neck, the set of her jaw, the way she bit at her bottom lip.
He stepped back. "You didn't."
Carter sighed, shrugged, picked the knife back up and started chopping again. "We sort of did."
Jack crossed to the kitchen window, peered out at the sparkling white world, the fenced paddock right next to the house that had once been home to animals, and the lean-to sheltered for livestock. There were fresh drag marks in the snow, and ruts where wagon wheels had dug a path. There was a net bag hanging from the shelter wall that hadn't been there before, and it seemed to be filled with fresh hay. The broken-down MALP that they'd stored under the shelter in the spring wasn't there anymore.
Jack leaned against the edge of the washbasin and rubbed at his forehead, as if he could massage some sort of patience and understanding straight into his brain. "Far be it from me to be overly concerned with annual expenditures," he said, very carefully. "But you realize that that thing is worth way more than a horse."
Carter said, "Not to anybody here. We're lucky Caroline wanted to tinker with it." There was a clatter as she put down the knife again, and hollow thunking sounds as she scooped her chopped vegetables into a pot. "It wasn't useful to us anymore. Not as much as a horse will be."
She was right, of course. Jack knew that. But it still felt like giving up, like selling off pieces of themselves. It felt like maybe by next winter, they wouldn't be SG-1 anymore, they'd just be three more anonymous villagers who plowed and planted and didn't travel the universe at all.
Of course, with Teal'c gone years ago to re-join the Jaffa, and the three of them stranded now on this little world in this little village, they hadn't really been SG-1 for a very long time.
After a long considering pause, Jack finally sighed, thawing. "He shouldn't have gone alone," he said. "He'll probably bring home some broken-down nag."
Carter shook her head, and some of the tension went out of her shoulders. She crossed over to the stove, used a thick rag to retrieve the hot potatoes and drop them into the pot with the rest of the vegetables. "He'll be okay," she said. "Caroline likes him; she won't let him make a bad choice. Anyway, I don't think she has any nags on the place. Marcus says she's got the best horses in the territory."
"Yeah, well," Jack grunted, turning back to the window. "Marcus just wants to get into her pants."
It was snowing again outside, this time in slow gentle drifts that floated downward so slowly that they almost seemed to have claimed exemption from the laws of gravity. At the back edge of the property, where the mountain road ran along the fenceline, there was a flicker of movement.
"Be right back," Jack said, and he pulled his boots and his coat back on and stepped out of the house. As he drew closer, the movement resolved into shapes, and the shapes into recognizable configurations.
Daniel waved and called out, "Hi, Jack." He was holding a woven sack in one hand and a rope in the other; the rope was attached to the head of the massive, shaggy creature that was trailing docilely along in Daniel's wake.
"That's a horse?" Jack said, somewhat dubiously, when he'd gotten close enough to see that the animal was somehow even larger close-up. He might've mistaken it for a mastadge if its winter coat had been a little thicker, and if it hadn't had that broad white stripe on its face, like some sort of equine safety reflector.
Daniel stopped and looked, too, as if to make sure that the horse hadn't slipped loose of the halter and tethered a moose in its place. "Yeeeeees," he said. "That's a horse."
Jack said, "Hmm," and the horse snorted back. "I see. Has it been involved in some sort of nuclear mishap? Was it giganticized?"
Daniel blinked at him, and finally thrust the woven sack into his hands as a distraction. "Why don't you take that inside?" he said.
Jack didn't move, except to bend a little closer to inspect the horse's feet, which were each roughly the size of hubcaps.
"By which I mean," Daniel elaborated, "go away."
Jack snorted. The horse snorted. They blinked at each other in a way that probably invalidated every joke that Jack had ever made about making contact with alien species. "I'm naming him Sven," Jack said.
Daniel said, "Um... okay." Then he turned and walked toward the livestock paddock, tugging a somewhat reluctant Sven along behind him.
Jack smiled, hefted the bag, and went back inside. He shucked off his layers again, kicked his boots somewhere near the door, and peered into the bag. "Daniel brought us a carcass," he announced. "How sweet. I used to have a cat that did that."
Carter took the bag away. "You had a cat? Isn't that considered harboring the enemy?"
Jack sniffed, partly to convey that he was offended, and partly because the sudden heat after being outside was making his nose run. "It was my mother's," he qualified. "The dog and I didn't associate with it."
The back door swung open again, admitting Daniel; he brought fledgling winter in with him, in the form of a blast of frosty air and the liberal coating of snow on his coat. He started to shrug out of his layers, and Jack helped -- because helping Daniel get undressed was one of Jack's favorite leisure activities -- by crouching down to untie Daniel's ice-encrusted bootlaces.
Sam said, "So? We've got a horse?" and passed a steaming cup of tea over Jack's head and into Daniel's hands. Jack inhaled the mellow cinnamon aroma, gave Daniel's ankle a positively pornographic stroke, and wondered why Daniel got a hot drink and he didn't.
"Yeah," Daniel said. "One of the really big kind that Caroline uses to pull the logging carts."
"Oh," Sam said. "That'll be good. We can use it to turn the upper field in the spring; I'll repair that old plow in the shed."
Daniel put a tea-warmed hand on Jack's shoulder and braced himself while Jack pulled off Daniel's boots, one at a time. When he was standing on his own again, he ran that hand through Jack's hair, ruffling away the remains of moisture from outside, then wiped his fingers dry on Jack's shoulder.
Jack said, "He is not an 'it,' Carter." Daniel offered him the mug of tea when he stood, so he took it, drawing an overly ambitious gulp that scorched the roof of his mouth. "His name is Sven."
Carter said, "Sven?"
"I'm just glad he didn't name it Dorothy," Daniel said. He reclaimed his drink from Jack's hand, passed the cup to Carter, and then leaned in to Jack for a kiss that was all chapped lips and cinnamon-flavored tongues.
Carter received similarly thorough treatment a few moments later, and then Daniel wandered over to the stove to assess the progress of the evening meal. Carter took the opportunity to foist the rest of the cooking off on Daniel, who accepted the responsibility with accommodating good nature. She crossed to the window, where she could peer out into the back yard and the intensifying weather. Since she was so close anyway, Jack put his hands on her hips and pressed a kiss against her shoulder, at the spot where the wide-open collar of her oversized work shirt -- one of Daniel's, he noticed -- left the skin exposed.
Outside, the horse was a tall black shadow, unconcerned with the elements and munching on its hay. Daniel said, "Hey, I was thinking we should go out tomorrow and cut a Christmas tree. We could use the horse to pull it back. What do you guys think?"
Carter frowned a little and leaned back into Jack's body, lending him some heat. She said, "I'm pretty sure it's August, back home."
Daniel looked up from the pot he was stirring and said, "So?"
Jack smiled against Carter's neck, and Daniel started talking about getting more horses, so they could all go riding together, even if the horse they already had was too tall to scale without a stepladder. The house smelled like the end of autumn, like winter, like potatoes and ginger snaps.