The branches whipped into Jack's face and he barely caught a glimpse of Daniel's back. Their P-90s were useless against the giant lizards and their only option had been to run for it. And he'd been excited about seeing dinosaurs.
One thing this potential death had up on their other deaths was that at least Jack and Daniel would die together. And then they'd be in a dinosaur's belly together, like side-by-side grave plots. Christ, why did his brain always choose the worst moments to go careening off into Daniel Land? Daniel was probably having appropriate thoughts like "Run!" and wasn't contemplating the romantic capacities of a dinosaur's digestive tract.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Daniel stopped short, his arms pinwheeling. Jack knocked into him but hugged Daniel across the chest and they stayed upright, overlooking a steep slope into a valley.
Carter crackled over the radio. "Sir, we don't have a visual. Where are you?"
Footsteps thundered behind them, both of them startling and turning toward the sound.
Jack grabbed his radio, clicking it to transmit. "Hit a dead end." Daniel's eye were wide, like he might miss the moment a 30-foot tall dinosaur would come barreling through the trees behind them.
"Carter, get back to the 'gate! We'll figure something out and meet you there." Sturdy trees all around them, but not enough time to tie off and rappel down to the floor of the valley. Now would be the perfect moment for a timely Asgard intervention.
"Jack." Daniel's voice was nearly drowned out by the thundering footsteps that signaled the pursuit of the beast, but Jack didn't need to hear his voice to perceive the fear and uncertainty. Big lizard in front of them, steep drop behind them—they weren't likely to walk away from this one.
Jack swallowed, glancing over his shoulder at the fifty-yard slide to the bottom of the valley—always amazing how much farther half a football field looks when it's vertical.
The dinosaur broke through the tree coverage—stretching his long yellow neck and roaring, looking more like a tyrannosaurs rex than Jack liked to admit. Daniel grabbed Jack's hand. Jack turned and stepped off the slope, hoping that they could kind of slide down, and that they wouldn't be followed in a dinosaur avalanche. Side-by-side digestion aside, Jack wasn't all that interested in being a meal for what was at the top of the food chain.
Branches and rocks cut them—the slope wasn't exactly part of a padded obstacle course—but it looked like they were going to survive this. Timely Asgard interventions aside, Jack and Daniel tended to be damn lucky.
Daniel's hand slipped out of Jack's grip and Jack turned his head, trying to see Daniel. Naturally, that's when he felt a sharp pain in his temple and then blacked out.
* * *
Jack threw a towel over the end of the couch, chuckling softly as Daniel pulled it off his face, letting it gather around his neck. Jack sat on the coffee table, picking up Daniel's glasses and offering them to the reclining archeologist with a friendly smile.
"Running a little late today?" Jack was already dressed to head into the mountain and he had a pot of hot coffee all ready for Daniel's usual morning stumble to the kitchen.
Daniel grunted, getting out those early non-words he usually mumbled. "Your couch isn't nearly as comfortable as I remember it being."
"You say that nearly every day."
"Apparently it's true every day." Daniel sat up on his arms, the towel sliding, his bare chest peeking out from under it. "You really should start offering me something better."
Jack's stomach dipped suddenly, his mind dwelling on what other sleeping arrangements he'd like to offer Daniel. "You could, you know, sleep at home." He inwardly winced because that was not the direction he'd like to encourage Daniel, just . . . there hadn't been much to make Jack think Daniel wanted to be bedroom material.
Daniel licked his lips, finally putting on his glasses. "I could. If that's what you'd prefer. . . ."
"It was pretty late," Jack said, trying to make the correct excuse that would keep Daniel there the next time this happened but still not make him seem . . . desperate. He winced inwardly, trying to keep it off his face.
"Yeah," Daniel said a bit absently. He sat up. "Guess I should hit the shower. Or, do I not have time?"
Jack smiled, heading into the kitchen. "There's time. Want me to bring you a coffee?"
Daniel smiled a bit sleepily. "And you wonder why I like sleeping here."
Jack got a coffee for Daniel and passed it through the partially opened bathroom door. It wasn't exactly a domestic routine, but it was the closest Jack had come to one since he was married. Most nights Daniel came over and they watched television or played chess, it got ridiculously late, Jack made excuses to keep Daniel there, and then Daniel slept on the couch. In the morning they drove into work together, sometimes admitting that they spent too much time together by carpooling and other times driving in separately.
It was almost like dating, except Daniel had no idea Jack was interested in him and Jack had no intention of cluing him in any time soon.
Daniel scooted past Jack, hair slicked wet and wearing nothing but a towel. "Forgot my boxers," he said as he passed, his towel slipping slightly. "Hey, did I leave an extra pair of jeans here? Mine smell a little funky."
Oh yeah, Jack thought, just like dating. He took a long surreptitious look at Daniel's wet back—dating was just as frustrating as he remembered it.
* * *
Jack found him in his lab, packing an insane number of reference books into his pack.
"Planning to teach the dinosaurs to read?" Jack picked up one of the books, examining the spine and making up a title for it. "Theropods and You, not your usual reading material."
Daniel snatched the book out of Jack's hands. "I'm a little outside of my field. I still don't know why they're sending SG-1 on this assignment. SG-16 has a paleontologist. Dr. Lindsay's been bored researching fossilized goa'ulds."
Jack knew all about Dr. Lindsay's preference for studying dinosaur bones instead of goa'uld bones. He also knew about the twelve mission requests Dr. Lindsay had sent the General the week after the video footage from the MALP was reviewed. And Jack knew that being second in command of the SGC and leader of the flagship team meant he could occasionally manipulate the mission roster in his favor. He'd also already recommended that Lindsay's team have an extended mission if SG-1's exploratory mission panned out. But Jack wanted first crack at that planet because if there was one thing Jack had to see for himself, it was dinosaurs.
Jack shrugged. "Just lucky, I guess. You know all the red tape Hammond has to go through to get these scientific missions approved."
"Yeah," Daniel said distractedly. "I've gotten tied up in it myself a few times." The image that came into Jack's mind was not entirely bureaucratic and it took him a moment to shake it off.
"You know." Daniel turned to Jack, leaving aside his packing. "I've been spending a lot of time at your place recently. Maybe next time you should stay at my place." He smiled with his mouth closed, that happy, polite thing he usually did when he was trying to win over the magistrate in some village.
"Your couch is pretty abysmal. I wouldn't really want to have to try to stay comfortable on it all night."
Daniel's smile quickly turned. "Well, it was just a thought." He turned back to his packing, his shoulders hunched.
"Yeah," Jack went on, "but with my bad back and bad knees, it's not a very practical thought."
"Yeah, I get it." Daniel shoved one of the books in his bag and then glanced over his shoulder. "Are you babysitting me while I pack or can I meet you in the 'gate room?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay. I can take a hint. Geez." Jack held up his hands and exited, heading first to get his own pack and weapon, and then on to the 'gate room. Daniel was the last to arrive, offering Jack no more than a clipped nod in greeting. He seemed friendly enough to Carter and Teal'c, so Jack just figured that he was special.
* * *
"That's not a brontosaurus," Daniel corrected. He flipped the pages of the book propped between his legs, nearly losing the one balanced on his knee—the number of reference books he'd somehow stuffed in his bag was ludicrous; Jack was beginning to wonder if he'd stolen some piece of alien tech to make his pack bigger on the inside.
"It's not?" Carter tilted her head. "It looks just like what I remember from when I was seven. I knew all the dinosaurs back then."
"You? Interested in science?" Jack earned an eager smile from Carter for his tease.
Daniel set another book on top of his pack, which was just barely out of the puddle they'd collected samples from. "Yeah, I know," he said, skipping over what Jack had said, "but the brontosaurus was just the fiction of a jealous scientist who wanted to one-up his colleagues."
"You know how he felt?" Jack grinned at his joke, but faltered when Teal'c raised a warning eyebrow.
"I can't believe you didn't know that," Daniel said to Carter, still ignoring Jack.
Carter's brow wrinkled in disappointment. "But they still teach it in schools, don't they?" Ah, when the science community fails Carter by teaching children lies, a fairy loses its wings.
"It's been a while since you were in school." Daniel's tone was matter-of-fact and distracted, but Jack knew well enough to not bring up age to a woman past thirty—especially a woman armed with a P-90 and a penchant for claymores. To Carter's credit all she did was frown sharply for a moment.
Daniel turned the next page, studied it for a moment and then pushed up his glasses, clearly annoyed that his reference book wasn't panning out. Jack didn't think most people could push their glasses up their face and actually show annoyance through that one motion, but he'd taken Daniel-watching to a new level.
"Not a brontosaurus?" Carter's voice was falsely hopeful, like she was trying to replay the moment with a different ending.
Daniel's response was clipped—Jack guessed he'd regret it later. "Brontosauruses aren't real; it's an Apatosaurus."
Actually, what they were looking at was a Brachiosaurus—same family, different branch or something—but Jack didn't want Daniel to know that on this mission he was the one who was the scientific expert.
Daniel slammed shut the book in his lap, and the book on his knee finally beat him, sliding off the side of his leg and right into the puddle, splashing dirty water on Daniel's open notebook. Daniel groaned, launching into the rant that was quickly becoming scripted. "I'm an archaeologist! I'm not even a paleoanthropologist. Archaeologist means I know nothing about dinosaurs." He carefully fished the book out of the puddle shaking it by the covers and wiping it on his shirt.
Even Carter rolled her eyes at this point—Daniel had been reciting this rant since they stepped through the 'gate, each time getting increasingly frustrated. Jack didn't know what prehistoric bug had crawled up Daniel's butt, but by now it was laying eggs.
Carter fixed a pleasant smile on her face and gestured at the herd of giant lizards in the valley, ready to find a silver lining. "You knew those weren't brontosauruses."
Jack tilted his head, looking at Carter. "Brontosauri?"
Daniel pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping away as much water as he could. "Either is correct."
"Yeah, in Latin you'd add an i, but—ugh. Jack, brontosauruses aren't even real!"
"More interesting facts you know about dinosaurs," Jack said encouragingly, taking a perverse pleasure in how much this was annoying Daniel. He tried to convince himself it wasn't payback for how frustrating Daniel could be. "You know which ones are fictional."
Carter took a step back toward Teal'c, turning and covering her smile.
Daniel shoved his books into his pack, muttering something, probably half about Jack and half about how Hammond and the military constantly misinterpreted his skill set. The funny thing was that before he'd Descended, Daniel rarely complained about working outside of his field. New and Improved Daniel apparently wanted to be more focused.
Except he never seemed to focus on Jack, a cruel voice in the back of Jack's head noted.
Jack slapped his neck, thinking about swatting that voice like the alien mosquito he'd taken out.
Teal'c stepped closer to Jack and stared him down, giving Jack the solid impression that Teal'c was thinking about Jack like he might be an alien mosquito.
Jack took the hint and side-lined himself with Carter, asking her about her findings and keeping her talking while keeping one ear on Daniel and Teal'c.
Teal'c cleared his throat, his jaw flaring out in that terrifying way that either meant he was thinking about killing you or he had something important to say—either way, it usually wasn't a good thing. "Daniel Jackson, you have voiced much displeasure at this assignment."
Daniel looked up and lost his balance a bit, probably trying to look all the way up to Teal'c's face.
"Has it not occurred to you that perhaps SG-1 was still best suited for the job—despite it being outside your field?" Teal'c stepped away after that, making Jack wonder how much he knew about Jack lobbying for this assignment. Daniel blinked at him for a moment and then resumed packing the books into his pack, this time being a little gentler with the thick texts.
"There were interesting readings south of the 'gate," Carter reported—pulling Jack back to their conversation. She wiped at the sweat dripping over her forehead. "And the UAV showed an area which might be safe to camp out for the night."
"Now that's the boy-scout camp out I would have killed for as a kid—surrounded by dinosaurs." Jack gestured for Carter to lead the way through the jungle. "Teal'c, bring up the rear?"
Jack stepped carefully through the narrow space between Daniel and the puddle. "Got everything you need?" He waited for Daniel to nod. "Did you get pictures of the brontosauri?"
From Daniel's glare, Jack was probably lucky Daniel didn't push him into the puddle. Even so, that last dig felt good. Good enough that he could almost convince himself that moving back to a professional relationship might be easy—once he'd abandoned his delusions and gotten over his crush, of course.
They followed Carter's directions for the rest of the day, pushing aside heavy leaves that seemed like they were feeling the oppressive heat as much as SG-1 was and dodging bugs that looked too big to swat and gave Jack flashbacks of that time Teal'c nearly turned into a bug, but despite the uncomfortable heat and humidity, they still spent half of their time staring in awe at these giant creatures that were long since extinct on their planet. Jack had never seen anything so graceful and huge. He was amazed that after all the aliens and spaceships and robots and everything—that something that came from Earth could still surprise him and strike him silent.
The rest of their time was spent listening to Daniel curse at his books, curse at the dinosaurs, and otherwise act like he had a vendetta against the entire universe. Jack would say that Daniel just needed to get laid but he didn't really want to put that thought in Daniel's head—it was difficult enough pining after a celibate archaeologist. Aside from what Daniel viewed as a shitty mission, Jack couldn't tell there was any reason for Daniel to be in such a foul mood. He must have woken up on the wrong side of the couch.
"Looks like it checks out." Carter and Teal'c had scouted ahead to the campsite while Jack stayed behind to watch Daniel classify things. Daniel had snarled at Jack once when he'd picked up a book Daniel was reading and after that they'd agreed to do things separately and silently for a while.
"No giant lizards going to come munch on us in the middle of the night?"
"We should be fine, sir. It's actually a cave and it's definitely empty. And small," she quickly added, "so most of the dinosaurs we've seen wouldn't be able to get in there."
"What about the small ones?" Jack glanced at Daniel, knowing exactly how to push his buttons. "I've seen all the Jurassic Park movies."
Daniel opened his mouth—probably to complain about the science—but Jack cut him off. "I know there are smaller dinosaurs."
"We should have flares ready," Carter amended, giving Jack a look that was skirting that line between being subordinate and telling him to shut up.
She helped Daniel gather the last of the samples while Jack returned to camp to stand watch with Teal'c. Teal'c didn't say anything, but Jack understood the message and was perfectly pleasant to Daniel over dinner and even gave him his choice of the watches.
Carter and Teal'c took the later watches and when Jack came into the cave after the second watch, Daniel was still awake, going over his notes.
"You're allowed to sleep," Jack said good-naturedly. He'd considered over his watch that sleeping in the same tent would be awkward if they were both annoyed with each other.
Daniel turned a page, making sure to keep his reading light focused directly on the book. "Am I?" he said distractedly.
"I can order you to sleep, if you like; we're on a mission." A little pointed, yeah, but Jack wanted to make sure Daniel knew that despite his earlier cattiness, Jack wasn't going to hold it against him. Jack was trying to have a new outlook on Daniel in his life anyway, so why not start now?
"I'll go to sleep soon. Go ahead." Daniel looked up. "Unless the light's bothering you. I could shut it off—or, or go elsewhere." He pushed up like he was already preparing to head out and bother Teal'c.
"What? Am I cramping your style?" Partly a joke, but mostly serious, Jack was hoping Daniel would roll his eyes, shut off the light, and close his book.
Daniel marked his page, carefully choosing his words. "You've been a little . . . impossible. Recently."
At least he shut his book, Jack thought. "Just recently, then? Guess I shouldn't worry."
"Daniel," Jack snapped back in the same tone.
"You were the one who asked." Daniel tucked away his light and notebook, pulling on his jacket—the temperature had really dropped since the second sun had set.
Jack tried a different track—the kinder and gentler O'Neill who was sensitive to all archaeologists' needs. "Aren't you tired?"
Daniel shrugged. "Thought I'd keep Teal'c company."
"I mean, I had all that coffee earlier, so I'm kind of wired."
He hesitated, his hand still on the zipper of the tent flap. He slowly turned, his eyes meeting Jack's. There was something there that Jack didn't like, something sad that reminded Jack of the times Daniel had been broken and had chosen to come to Jack with his problems. This time, though, it seemed like he was avoiding Jack.
"If you're going to stay up, maybe you should take Teal'c's watch," Jack finally said. He lay back, tucking into his sleeping bag and turning away from Daniel. He closed his eyes, trying to pretend that he didn't care if Daniel left or not.
The zipper hissed as Daniel unzipped it; his boot steps were quiet on the stone floor. Jack turned, struggling to get comfortable (it was just his back acting up again, he thought) and fell asleep some time later. He woke when Daniel came back into the tent, but kept his breathing even when he felt Daniel watching him. He nearly startled when he felt Daniel's hand lightly brush his arm.
When Daniel got into his sleeping bag and rolled over, Jack cracked his eyes open, watching Daniel's shape in the darkness, wanting to brush his hand over Daniel's arm, too, but sure that Daniel was still awake.
* * *
Teal'c nodded to Jack, significantly staring at the same place Jack had looked.
"So . . . not paranoid?"
"In this situation, I believe a heightened sense of caution would be the appropriate course of action." Teal'c stepped along the ridge, keeping his eye on the trees.
Bright tropical flowers stretched toward the late morning sunlight, the pinks and reds allowing Jack a moment to forget about the danger and wonder only if Daniel had taken his allergy pills.
Carter looked up from her computer monitor. "Sir, there's a concentrated mineral deposit due east of our location that I really think we should check out."
Daniel sighed heavily.
"Daniel?" Daniel was worse today than he was yesterday, picking up the complaints from just working outside of his field to the humidity to every decision they made about which way to explore. Jack had thought a night's sleep might have cooled him off—he'd certainly been cool enough to Jack when they'd woke in the morning, turning away pointedly when Jack had changed in front of him.
Daniel shook his head. "There are some tracks here I wanted to follow. I thought it might give us a better idea about the Brachiosaurus's eating habits." While Daniel looked through his notes over breakfast, Jack had flipped through a book until he found an entry on the Brachiosaurus. He let Daniel make the discovery and was glad that Daniel corrected himself—it'd be easier if Dr. Lindsay didn't later challenge his work.
Daniel paused, running a rag over the back of his neck; his tone taking a poorly veiled edge. "We chased after mineral deposits all day yesterday."
Jack grit his teeth, feeling the thin line he was having to walk with Daniel. "Would you like to follow those tracks?"
Daniel draped the rag over his head to tie it, replying coolly, "I'm sure Sam's discovery is just as important. Maybe more so."
Carter's eyes widened.
Teal'c exhaled audibly—it usually took a lot to rile the big guy; Daniel really was in fine form today. "Could we not investigate both? I could accompany Major Carter while you and O'Neill follow the dinosaur tracks."
"I could go with Carter—" Jack started, but his mouth dried up when he saw the look Teal'c was giving him.
Carter glanced between Jack and Teal'c for a moment and then stepped forward, pointing out the location of the mineral deposit on the map and confirming with Jack where they'd be.
Jack took a deep breath, glancing over at Daniel who had his arms crossed over his chest. "We'll check in with you in twenty and figure out the best place to rendezvous; no telling where these tracks will lead."
"There's a stream," Daniel cut in. "Running along next to us, if you haven't heard it. I'm willing to bet these tracks will lead there."
Jack pressed his lips together. "To the stream. Maybe." Carter's lips wobbled in a grimace, but she held it together. "We'll radio in twenty minutes."
"Yes, sir," Carter said before turning around and heading out of sight with Teal'c. Jack sighed, wishing so much that he'd be spending his time with Carter and Teal'c instead of Daniel.
Daniel clicked his tongue and then headed west, following the tracks of the Brachiosaurus. Jack let Daniel lead their little expedition, taking mental notes as they walked. They spotted a few smaller dinosaurs Jack couldn't identify and Daniel couldn't find in his books. Most of the time Daniel just muttered to himself, Jack somehow staying quiet. The glances he cast in Jack's direction slowly softened, Daniel's aggravation focusing more on the job than the uncomfortable wet heat.
Even so, Jack was glad to radio Carter when twenty minutes had passed—something had shifted in his dynamic with Daniel and he was tired of feeling so awkward. "What's your status?"
"The deposit didn't pan out," Carter reported, but there was definite dejection in her voice. "We're heading back to where we broke off."
"Understood." Jack looked over to Daniel. "All right, Danny-boy, time to pack it in."
Daniel grumbled, but he didn't argue. He finished collecting the plant samples he'd been taking and tucked them into his pack. There was a fairly large splash from their left—something that sounded like a tree hitting water.
Jack had been trying not to think about bigger dinosaurs—dinosaurs that rivaled the size of the Brachiosaurus but were not nearly as friendly to things that were made of flesh—but suddenly the names of half a dozen of those terrors flooded his mind and he took a step backward, positive a P-90 wouldn't do much against them.
He clicked on his radio. "Carter? Daniel and I may be in some trouble. Something . . . large just made its presence known. We are not—I repeat not—requesting assistance." He paused, trying to force as much confidence into his voice as possible. "Get back to the 'gate."
"Sir? What's your position?"
Jack stepped backward again, moving away from the stream they couldn't quite see through the thick jungle growth. "Daniel? If that's what I think it is, we're going to have to run."
Daniel backed up to Jack. "I think it is what you think it is." Daniel's voice was light and sing-songy, like if he stayed happy the dinosaur wouldn't try to eat him.
Jack kept backing up and clicked on his radio again. "We're a little less than two klicks west of where we split up. We're close to the stream—which now seems like it was a very bad idea." If they weren't in danger, Jack was sure Daniel would have taken offense at that. "We're going to try to run for it."
"Affirmative. We'll rendezvous on your position."
"Negative. Get back to the 'gate. We'll meet you there."
The trees lurched a few feet down from where they'd been standing.
Daniel grabbed Jack's arm, his grip hot, and Jack thought that if the last person to ever touch him was going to be Daniel, he'd be okay with that.
The trees lurched again and Jack made a command decision.
"Run," he whispered.
They turned together, following the path—they'd made it a few yards before there was a sound like a muffled explosion and then lumbering footsteps that followed them.
Jack brought up his P-90, holding it awkwardly behind him to fire it as he ran. Yeah, it did nothing as he'd guessed. He made a mental note to tell Hammond to arm the next team with grenade launchers.
Daniel got ahead of Jack—being the faster natural sprinter—and he veered off the path into the trees. Jack followed, not questioning Daniel's decision to eschew the easier run in favor of cover. Branches whipped up into Jack's face and before he knew it Daniel was cursing, they were at the lip of a valley, and Jack had walked them off a slope to avoid side-by-side digestion.
Yeah, their luck was really great.
* * *
Daniel plopped down next to Jack—already worked into a snit, apparently. Jack wondered what rock had suggested an archaeologist could stand in for a paleontologist.
"We're kind of humped. The 'gate's somewhere up there." Daniel pointed back up the slope. "And I haven't been able to raise Sam and Teal'c on the radio." He tilted his chin toward the sky. "We were out for a while, though." His eyes shifted toward Jack. "You okay?"
Jack stretched gingerly, biting back a curse. Probably bruised his entire back sliding down that slope. "We've dealt with this kind of thing before."
"Yeah, jumping off a mountain wasn't one of your better ideas."
"It's not a mountain."
Daniel took off his glasses, wiping the sweat from his eyes, but there was a hint of a smile playing at his lips. "How are we getting back to the 'gate?"
"The traditional way." Jack thumped his own legs, but took a sidelong glance at the slope. The 'gate wasn't so close, straight up the slope and another seven klicks, give or take—this certainly had the potential to suck.
"Think Sam and Teal'c made it back to the 'gate?"
"Think they 'gated back and that's why I can't get them on the radios?"
There was a hint of worry in Daniel's voice, so Jack answered as positively as he could. "They'll have to be debriefed, assemble a team; it'll be a few hours before they're back, so. . . ." Their gear seemed to have mostly followed them down the slope. Looked like Daniel's bag had seen better days, but it didn't appear to have any gaping holes. Jack's had a sizable tear near the top, but it wouldn't be a problem unless it rained. "We should try radioing every hour either way. Anything get trashed on our trip down?"
"My protein bars are a little—" Daniel held up one, pressing a finger to the wrapper to show it was mushy. Those bars normally made Jack's stomach twist; he couldn't imagine what they'd be like pre-chewed. "My digital camera survived—guess Lee finally found a shell that could survive any off-world mishap."
"Think he tested it against dinosaurs?"
"Who knows at the SGC." Daniel squatted in front of Jack, reaching out to touch the bandage over Jack's temple. "You took a tree branch to the face."
"Are my good looks ruined?" Jack winced when Daniel's finger brushed over a scratch high on his cheek.
Daniel pulled his hand back, and then approached again, this time more careful, using the same light brushes he used on artifacts that were thousands of years old. "It's not pretty, but . . . rugged?"
Jack's head swam as he resisted the urge to wrap his hand around Daniel's wrist, to pull him closer and kiss him. It wouldn't help Jack's whole "moving on" strategy, but for a moment it would be nice to remember they were alive and pretend Jack had a chance with Daniel.
Jack cleared his throat. "Not so different then." Daniel leaned back, wiping his mouth. Jack released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"So . . . thoughts?" Daniel's cheeks were a bit pink under the dirt—probably from the sun.
Jack shook his head. "A few, but none of them are entirely helpful." He pushed up, slowly getting to his feet, the world tilting dramatically for a moment. "We should try climbing back up."
Daniel put a foot on the bottom of the slope, the dirt giving way with his weight. "The topsoil's pretty loose. It's hard to get decent footing."
They were still in pretty dense tree cover—the jungle forming a canopy that made it impossible to tell which way they should walk to get to a portion of the slope that was less steep. Of course sitting around and doing nothing wasn't exactly Jack's style, either.
"Let's rule out 'up' before we go wandering off. Get out your rope." They worked in silence—which was better for Jack, really. After a few failed attempts, one of which ended in Daniel sliding twenty feet back down the slope to Jack, gave up on trying to scale the slope where they'd fallen.
"What are our options now?" Daniel picked dirt from a fresh scrape on his elbow. He'd insisted he could handle cleaning it himself—just another way Daniel let Jack know he wasn't needed.
"Sit on our asses and wait for Carter and Teal'c to come back with the MALP and a lot of rope—or an Al'kesh, I suppose—or pick a direction and start walking." Jack ticked them off on his fingers, leaving silent the third finger which was "get eaten by a dinosaur."
"I prefer the option that involves doing something."
Jack did as well. "Grab your gear." Both directions looked fairly unpromising, and Jack couldn't remember anything from the aerial telemetry that would be helpful for getting them out of this valley. Basically Jack was hoping they'd find somewhere the ground was more firmly packed or where there were sturdier trees along the slope—or where there was an inexplicable ladder; he'd be fine with a cheat about now—otherwise, Jack figured they'd be walking into nowhere for a very long time.
* * *
"Gaaah! Daniel! Get a grip! Get a grip!" The number of times Jack had said those words or thought them at Daniel and this was by far the one time when Jack desperately hoped Daniel listened.
He dug his foot into the loose dirt and pushed in, gaining purchase first with one leg and then untangling the other and getting himself steady again. "Jack. Is this really going to work?"
"It's not exactly rock climbing equipment, but sometimes you have to get creative." Jack reached out and stabbed the butt of his P-90 into the packed dirt wall, making sure it was secure before he pulled himself up. "Hang tight and let me get up to this tree. I'll tie off there and then help you up." He was stable enough to adjust his harness slightly, gaining back a little bit of circulation.
"Jack, are you sure I shouldn't try to—" Jack could feel Daniel shifting again, trying to pull his weight as it were.
The ground slipped out from under Daniel again and he fell. This time the rope connecting them pulled—Jack's stomach hollowed out and he slipped, holding tightly to his P-90, trying not to let Daniel drag him down any further.
"Use your spade! Use your spade!"
There was a hollow sound when Daniel stabbed his spade into the slope, but a moment later the tension lessened and Jack hazarded a look down at Daniel who was sideways and on his back. Jack stifled a chuckle—it really wasn't that funny, he was just so relieved.
"Do you need help?"
"I can do it," Daniel huffed, spitting out dirt.
Jack wrapped his free hand around the rope anyway, trying to bring some tension to the rope so Daniel could use it to pull himself upright. Jack stayed where he was until Daniel had moved a foot closer and steadied himself. It only took a few more carefully planned climbs for Jack to get to the tree, which thankfully did not give way like the adventure that had landed Jack ahead of Daniel on the slope.
"This one should hold our weight." Jack positioned his back against the trunk of the tree and braced his feet. "If you slip again, I've got you."
Daniel started climbing, something Jack felt through the tension of the rope rather than by watching him. There were occasional grunts and the hollow sound of the spade cutting through earth, but otherwise Daniel was silent, focused only on moving up the slope to Jack. Sweat rolled down Jack's back, the slow trickle counting the seconds in between Daniel's movements. Jungle planets had trees and heat. Why had Jack thought dinosaurs would make up for either of those things?
The sudden hand on Jack's ankle startled him, but when he reached down to help Daniel around the trunk, he didn't think Daniel had noticed.
"Fuck—you—mountain," Daniel panted.
"It's not a mountain."
"Tell that to my bruises." Daniel pulled out his canteen and took a sip of water. They'd had to leave most of their supplies at the bottom of the slope, filling their vests and Daniel's daypack with just the essentials. Rock climbing was hard enough without the full weight of their packs. Of course Daniel still made a neat pile of his books and complained about leaving the digital recorder until Jack reminded him to just take the tape. Oddly enough he hadn't complained about any of the samples; Jack guessed it was because they could pick up more on their way back to the 'gate.
Daniel leaned to the side and Jack put his arm around him, unnecessarily catching Daniel in a half hug, but it was a reflex, not anything else. Still, Daniel leaned against him, breathing a little hard, and Jack felt something in his midsection somersault.
"Think the dinosaur is still hanging around up there? Or that something else is?" Daniel's voice was soft, like maybe he'd been thinking about this for a while but had been too afraid to say anything. Hope could often be destroyed with a single wrong word.
Jack raised an eyebrow. "What, are you not a dinosaur expert?"
Daniel rocked into Jack's body, shoving slightly—if Daniel were a woman, Jack would have taken it for flirting.
"I don't think so. Most predators don't hang around after dinner gets away—and we walked at least a klick from where we first came down."
Daniel sighed. "Think we'll make it back to the top before sundown?"
It was slow going, yeah, but they had at least another hour of daylight, maybe two if Carter was right about the distance between the two suns. Plus they were over half way to the top—getting to the steeper part of the slope.
"I think so."
"Good. Only thing worse than getting chased by a dinosaur is getting chased by one in the dark." Daniel spread out, crawling up the side of the slope and getting his spade into place.
"I think worse is probably being eaten by a dinosaur, but that's your call."
"Chased in the dark, then maimed, then eaten?" Daniel compromised. He dug in his knees, starting the climb.
Jack let Daniel get a little ahead and then climbed as well, the two of them communicating when they were stable and when they weren't. A few more close calls on either side, but they moved steadily up the slope, keeping each other from slipping too far backward.
Finally Daniel crested the ridge, pulling himself up and over on to level ground. He turned back and reached for Jack. His hand was firm around Jack's forearm, pulling Jack up over the edge of the slope with all his strength. "Use your legs," Daniel growled.
"I have bad knees," Jack reminded.
"Fuck your knees."
"Language," Jack grunted, pushing off the ledge in a way that made his knees groan.
Daniel grabbed Jack's waist, and together they got Jack up on to the safe, sturdy ground. They both rolled to their backs, panting from the exhaustion.
"Remind me," Jack said in between gasping for breaths, "to never jump off a mountain again."
"It's not a mountain."
Daniel chuckled and rolled over, leaning over Jack and touching his face carefully. He lifted up the bandage—Jack winced—but Daniel kept watching Jack, the scant rays from the setting sun dappling Daniel's face.
"I'm glad we didn't die," Daniel finally said.
"Yeah, I was getting tired of it. Lousy hobby."
Daniel stroked Jack's cheek, his fingers lingering. The awkwardness Jack had felt earlier was now electrified. Jack thought maybe Daniel was going to lean closer and kiss him, but that was probably more Jack's hope than Daniel's actual feelings; there were a lot of scratches on Jack's face after all—Daniel was probably just thinking about disinfecting them.
"We should try the radio."
Daniel startled at Jack's words and sat back, the electricity tingling as it faded. "Right." He fumbled for the radio, making the routine call for assistance and getting back silence. "Nothing," he reported even though Jack had clearly heard it.
"It's still a long way back to the 'gate."
"Do you want to head all the way back or find somewhere to sleep for the night?"
Jack stretched his shoulders, trying to shake the feeling of Daniel's fingers on his skin. "Let's go as far as we can, but be on the look out for things that might try to eat us." He got to his feet, pulling off the rope harness and starting to untie the knots—anything to keep his hands busy.
"If we get to the cave we stayed at last night?" Daniel reached into his pack and pulled out a mushy protein bar and his flashlight.
"We'll stay the night. If we can make it there it's probably worth it to take cover."
"If," Daniel repeated almost absently.
Jack wound the rope, finally tucking it into his pack. "Come on. We still have some light."
Daniel moved parallel with Jack and even though they usually moved single-file, Jack was more than happy to have Daniel level with him.
* * *
"Would be nice if we had some of that coffee." Daniel yawned, reminding Jack of how little sleep he'd gotten the night before.
"I'll take the first watch." He patted Daniel's leg, turning to the mouth of the cave. "Get some rest."
"Hmm." Daniel zipped up his jacket, pulling their single sleeping bag up around his chin and shoving his daypack under his head as a pillow. "Too bad I left all my books back there; I'd have no trouble falling asleep on those." Daniel tucked his hand behind his head, adjusting his make-shift pillow. "Not to mention we might be able to figure out what was chasing us—I don't think it was a T-rex."
"It's an Acrocanthosaurus," Jack said without thinking.
"Excuse me, what?" Daniel blinked at Jack as Jack's words echoed. The off-hand words didn't sound like something he could easily cover with his usual dumb-colonel routine. Besides, even if Daniel fell for it when he wasn't paying attention, he knew Jack better than that.
Jack cleared his throat. "An Acrocanthosaurus." Jack poked at the wadded up wrapper of the MRE, flattening it out and folding it as he continued to speak. "It was the major predator during the Cretaceous—which is when all these other dinosaurs lived."
He hazarded a glance at Daniel and was rewarded with more blinking.
"How—how . . . ?" The fishface Daniel was pulling was almost cute.
"You think we got this assignment because Hammond thinks you're a dinosaur expert? He probably knows your skill set better than you do, Daniel. I requested this." Jack tucked the wrapper into his vest and sat back, resting on his elbows.
"But." Daniel snapped his mouth shut, seeming to recover as he sat up. "When did you learn about dinosaurs?"
Jack shrugged. "I'm a man of many talents."
"And knowledge of dinosaurs is just one of those talents?"
"It's not like I have a doctorate," Jack said with a tease, sitting forward again. "But I was interested, so I read." He shrugged again. "I spend a lot of time in hospital beds and there's only so many times you can rewatch The Simpsons." He tried to joke it away—it shouldn't be that shocking that he had a brain and occasionally used it.
Daniel shook his head, still digesting the information. "So, you've been making research notes?"
Jack pressed his lips together. "I've been making observations—you've been making notes."
Daniel blinked again, but this time it was that rapid-fire blink he reserved for when he was trying to keep his patience—it was like deep breathing for the eyes. "You let me think I was here to study dinosaurs. And I made notes—apparently for you."
Jack shrugged. "Just because I talked Hammond into letting us take this one, didn't mean he trusted me to make a thorough analysis."
Daniel laughed, the sound louder as it reverberated in the cave.
"Hey," Jack admonished, glancing over his shoulder. No need to draw unwanted dino-attention.
Daniel pulled himself together, quieting to a snicker. "I've been complaining this whole time that the General didn't know the difference between an archaeologist and a paleontologist when apparently I should have been complaining that he doesn't know the difference between a scientist and a soldier!" Daniel doubled over again in quiet laughter and Jack scooted closer.
"Are you sure I'm the one who hit his head?"
Daniel waved it off. "I'm fine, I'm fine." He took a deep breath, sobering. "I've been kind of an asshole about this."
"Hmm," Jack said, not wanting Daniel to get upset that he agreed.
Daniel settled back down, quiet for a moment while he shifted. "I'll apologize to Sam and Teal'c when we meet up with them tomorrow."
Jack waited, wondering if he was going to get an apology . . . or trying to figure out if he owed Daniel an apology.
"That hasn't been the only thing bothering me," Daniel confessed, giving Jack a pointed look.
Jack sighed. "I figured that." He pressed his lips together and looked away, ready to admit that he'd been harder on Daniel than normal. "It's just so easy to push your buttons," Jack said in lieu of an apology.
Daniel hmmed, but some of the tension between them vanished into silence. Daniel was quiet for long enough that Jack thought maybe he'd fallen asleep.
"You think any of our stuff will survive a few days out here?"
Jack squeezed his eyes shut, trying to find the tracks of Daniel's train of thought. "You mean the gear we left behind? We didn't leave behind anything important, did we?"
"It'd be nice to recover the digital recorder. Most of the books were Dr. Lindsey's—I'm sure he's heard about SG-1's track record with books."
"What, that you worship them?"
Daniel snorted. "That you leave them all over the universe or use them as kindling when the temperature goes all screwy."
"Once! I did that once!" Jack shook his head, smiling, remembering how cold that planet got when the temperature dipped. SG-1 had to huddle together in one tent, practically on top of each other. Carter blushed when Jack pointed out that sharing heat would help, but even then he hadn't been thinking about sharing heat with Carter. "Plus that was years ago. You going to hold that over me forever?"
"Probably," Daniel yawned.
Jack pulled his knees up, loping his arms around them. "Besides, I replaced the book when we got back, didn't I?"
Daniel hmmed again in sleep-addled agreement.
Jack kept quiet, letting Daniel fall asleep. There was some movement far off in the trees—maybe something large was moving through them, maybe it was just the wind. Being off world was a lot like being in Minnesota. The ways in which it was undeveloped was peaceful and the ways in which it was savage wasn't always terrifying, sometimes it was just a challenge. If going off-world meant more nearly or completely uninhabited planets and fewer Jaffa, Replicators, and other aliens shooting at him, Jack would never feel compelled to retire.
Daniel suddenly rolled over, his face catching the firelight. "Why'd you bother purchasing that book for me, anyway? The SGC would have replaced it."
Jack shrugged. "Because I fucked it up and it was yours."
He seemed to accept the answer and shifted again. "Wake me up when you need to sleep, even if it's before your watch is up."
Jack nodded, but there was no way he'd wake up Daniel early and they both knew that. It was just the way Jack was about some things.
* * *
"J'ck?" Daniel's hand snaked out of the sleeping bag and he tugged on Jack's sleeve. "Is it my watch?"
Jack shook his head, trying to keep his teeth from chattering. Daniel pulled his hand back.
"You're freezing." He woke up a little more and shifted inside the sleeping bag.
"Wish we hadn't left behind all the books." Jack cracked a smile.
Daniel unzipped the sleeping bag. "Get in here."
Jack hesitated for a moment—it'd been a long time since he'd been that close to Daniel, before he'd realized his attraction—but then Daniel grabbed Jack's arm and tugged, getting Jack moving, climbing under the sleeping bag beside Daniel.
Jack shifted, trying to figure out where to put his arms so they were comfortable. Even with the sleeping bag unzipped and spread over them, it was a tight fit and the position was awkward. He curled his hands in front of him, lying on his shoulder, his head on the pack, right next to Daniel's face.
"You look . . . comfortable." Daniel took Jack's hands, rubbing them between his warm ones, the circulation coming back slowly as Jack's fingers thawed.
"Well, it's tight." He wiggled his fingers, intending to take them away, but Daniel held his grip.
"You complaining about that?"
Jack opened his mouth, not quite sure what to say.
Daniel pressed his lips together. "I don't mind sleeping next to you." His eyes met Jack's gaze, vulnerable and honest. "Is it so bad sleeping next to me?"
Jack shook his head, wondering if he'd already fallen asleep.
Daniel suddenly smiled. "Are we stupid?"
Daniel's hand tightened around Jack's; Jack inhaled sharply, his heart pounding.
"I have a theory . . . that we're stupid," Daniel said slowly, his face coming closer. "I'd like to test that theory."
"How are you going—?" Jack didn't get to finish his question because in the middle of it, Daniel leaned closer and timidly kissed Jack. It was only a few seconds long, but it was enough to give Jack the same awe he'd experienced watching the Brachiosaurus.
Daniel pulled back and Jack opened his eyes, finally seeing Daniel nervously biting his lip.
"Yeah," Jack said. "Stupid. We're stupid."
Daniel's shoulder relaxed and he exhaled. "Oh, thank God. I wasn't sure."
Jack closed his eyes for a moment, his mind trying to catch up and wrap itself around this revelation.
"I thought maybe we'd been dating and you just weren't sure how to ask."
"Well, you aren't exactly known for being the most sensitive," Daniel explained.
"No, I mean, we were dating?"
Daniel's mouth curved in a knowing smile. "I spend most of my free time with you. I watch an uncharacteristic amount of hockey. I sleep over about three times a week." His look turned more pointed. "I've been dropping hints."
"Hints?" Now Jack had no clue what Daniel was talking about. Jack was the one who'd been obvious—flirting with Daniel, being careful not to flirt with Daniel, his stupid heartbeat quickening every time Daniel changed in the locker room next to him.
"Complaining about the couch? Hinting that I might prefer sleeping elsewhere? Walking around in a low-slung towel? Inviting you to stay at my place?" Daniel's eyebrow rose. "I had decided you weren't interested and just didn't know how to tell me no. Hence the exceptionally bad mood."
Jack blinked at Daniel for a moment—this was a lot to take in all at once.
"We don't have to . . . I mean, if you want to just keep this what it is. . . ." Daniel started to pull his hand away but Jack's grip tightened.
"No, no. Daniel. It is what it is. Whatever we call it doesn't matter. But, I mean, yeah. I'm stupid."
"I'm stupid, too," Daniel admitted. "So, are we done being stupid?"
"Probably not," Jack confessed. "But I'm more than willing to forget the past two days."
"If you forget my complaining, I'll forget you purposely pushing my buttons."
Jack grinned, scooting closer to Daniel. "I was actually planning to just start pushing your buttons."
Daniel raised an eyebrow, an amused smile curling his lips as he slipped his hand over Jack's waist. "Those are different buttons. You can push those."
Jack smiled as Daniel closed the distance and they kissed again. They kept everything PG-13, kissing, chuckling at how stupid they'd been, brushing their hands over each other's faces. There was nothing desperate or even overtly sexual about it—it was pretty much the opposite of Jack's fevered fantasies and more in line with the romantic he liked to hide. Jack had to smile—Daniel always knew more than he did.
* * *
"Morning," Jack grunted, smacking his lips. His hair felt like it was sticking up.
Daniel looked up and came closer. "Hey. Good news: Sam and Teal'c radioed."
Jack opened his eyes wider, trying to chase away the last remains of sleep and realign himself as a colonel and not a boyfriend.
"They 'gated back to Earth when they couldn't raise us and came back with a rescue team during my watch." Daniel held up his coffee cup. "They brought the essentials."
"They're here?" He looked around, but there wasn't even extra equipment in the cave.
"With SG-16. Dr. Lindsay is checking the area—retaking some of the samples we lost yesterday." Daniel chuckled softly. "I was already chewed out for leaving behind his research books."
"We'll replace them." Jack patted down his hair, trying to get it to lie flat before any of the rest of the team showed up.
"He's still annoyed you snaked the mission out from under him. Which he knows, by the way, somehow." Daniel sat down, resting his hands over his knees, making it feel more like a lazy morning than an off-world mission with dinosaurs. "I'm still trying to figure out how he knew and I didn't."
Jack shrugged with one shoulder, keeping his voice low. "You didn't know I'm into dinosaurs."
"Or that you have a thing for me." Daniel looked over his shoulder and then turned back and ran his hand over Jack's hair, presumably fixing the cowlick. "This mission has been very enlightening on many levels."
Jack snorted, asked for permission with a look, and then took Daniel's coffee off his hands, taking a healthy swig.
"You both seem like you're in a better mood." Daniel leaned back as Carter stepped into the cave, tucking a handheld tracker into her vest. "I guess getting chased by a dinosaur helped you work out your differences?"
Jack kept his features carefully arranged. "Daniel was just telling me how much he's come to appreciate dinosaurs."
Jack nodded. "And something about not caring if it's called a Brontosaurus or an Apatosaurus since both names refer to the same animal."
Daniel's eyes widen and his mouth dropped. "There's no such thing as a Brontosaurus, Jack! They're not synonyms!"
Jack just smiled at Daniel, glad that while some things had changed between them, other things could remain the same.