Many thanks to Paian for beta reading.
"How did she get
Daniel Jackson would have sounded annoyed; Teal'c himself was mildly bemused; Colonel Mitchell was staring unabashedly up, his head tilted back, an incredulous, entertained, interested look on his face.
Interest was hard to maintain as the decades marched by. Teal'c envied the colonel his ability to derive so much satisfaction and enjoyment from the most trivial of events.
"Of that, I have no idea, Colonel Mitchell."
"We could try asking the person in the tree," Vala called down, her voice testy. "I'm sure you were just about to think of that, of course. Followed by a rescue mission. I'd be eternally grateful."
"What do you do when you're grateful?" Mitchell asked. "Because I've come to the conclusion that it's safer being your enemy than your friend."
"Not true!" Vala protested. "Ask Daniel. He's my friend. Sort of."
"Jackson's what I'm basing my theory on, honey." Mitchell smiled. "He's finished looking at those cave paintings, he's sneezing like crazy, and he's blaming your perfume. Just how friendly did you try and get with him?"
"I'm not wearing any, and could we focus? Please?"
Teal'c allowed his hand to rest on Mitchell's shoulder for a moment, in what he told himself was an attempt to get the man to focus. The warmth of the sunlight held within the coarse material transferred itself to Teal'c's palm, lingering even after his hand had fallen away. "Colonel Mitchell. She is in some discomfort, I believe."
They squinted up into the shifting mass of greenery above them. Sun-dappled leaves, thick on arching branches, framed Vala dangling, skewered, a tree-limb thrust through the back of her jacket and T-shirt, her face flushed, the material strained tightly across her breasts. Her hair was dishevelled, hanging down, and her arms and legs were thrashing as she tried to free herself.
"Hey," Mitchell called, easing off his pack and dumping it on the ground beside Teal'c's. "You're one hell of a long way up. I'm not sure you want to do that."
"I really, really, do..."
"Vala!" Teal'c strode forward, realising that if she did get free there was nothing to break her inevitable plunge but the forest floor. "Cease your attempts."
"And wait for you two to stop snickering long enough to help me? I don't think so." Vala squirmed again, trying to reach behind herself. "No, this isn't working. Throw me up a knife, and I'll cut my way out."
"You're thirty feet in the air." Mitchell put his hands on his hips and grinned. "Really want to know how you got up there..."
"So? You can throw a knife that far, can't you?" Vala's voice was tight with discomfort or embarrassment; Teal'c wasn't sure which. "I'm bleeding. I can feel it on my back. It tickles. Do something."
Teal'c studied the tree. The trunk was narrow, straight, and bare. The branches were all at the top of the tree, and he could see no easy way to climb it.
"How did you reach your current position?" he asked her. "I see no marks on the trunk."
"I didn't climb it," she told them. "I was put here. Happy?"
"Wait." Mitchell shook his head, a grin still painted on his face. He smiled more than anyone Teal'c knew. It had taken him a long time to learn to trust happy people. His god had laughed at pain, death, victory. "You were out of my sight for ten minutes, tops, and you managed to annoy someone enough that they parked your ass in a tree? How do you do that?"
"Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c said firmly. "This can wait."
"Hey, you want to know, too."
He was correct. Teal'c did want to know. But he preferred to ask his questions when Vala was standing beside him. He was concerned, both by her predicament and the implication that they were not, as they had thought, alone on this world.
Vala's head drooped. "I was carried up here by a bird. A huge, flappy-winged bird. I imagine it wants to eat me, so unless you want to watch my insides becoming my outsides, would you please get me down?" Her head lifted, just a little. "There. Magic word. I said please. I'll say all manner of nice things if you save me."
"Okay." Mitchell shook off his amusement and focused on the problem. Teal'c felt curiously relieved, as if something had just shifted the odds in their favour. "We can't climb up there. No rope, nothing to hang onto, and the trunk's just that much too wide to shinny up --"
"I could attempt to climb up," Teal'c said, drawing a knife from a sheath on his belt. "If I were to use this, and your knife, as a handhold, and then a foothold..."
"Well, it's worth a try," Mitchell said dubiously. "But, no offence, Teal'c, you're heavier than me. And, yes, I know it's all brains and muscle, but the fact remains, it should be me who does it."
"How unexpected." Teal'c permitted a certain dryness to enter his voice.
"Was that a dig?" Mitchell turned and gave him a puzzled, strangely hopeful smile. What did he wish for? A challenge? Teal'c was not vying for his position. He had been content to follow O'Neill; he was willing to accept Mitchell's leadership. Not unquestioningly, not yet, but eventually... "Because I'm really not being a glory hound here, you know."
Teal'c nodded after a moment of staring into Mitchell's light-coloured eyes and measuring the sincerity there. "Of that I am aware. You simply wish to help. To prove yourself --"
"So why not help me," Vala called down, interrupting them. "Soon. Very, very soon."
"What's the rush?" Mitchell shouted back.
"I think it's coming back."
"The bird?" Mitchell turned to Teal'c. "Boost me."
"I do not understand."
Mitchell pulled his knife out and held it in his fist, point down. He reached over, taking the blade from Teal'c's hand with a neat twist of his fingers, and sliding it through his belt. "Link your hands. I step on them, you launch me into orbit, and I ram this in as hard as it'll go and hang on. We clear?"
Teal'c gave the seemingly empty blue sky a comprehensive, sweeping glance. "Vala! From what direction does it approach?"
Vala waved her hand to the left. "There! Hurry!"
"I'm on it!" Mitchell backed up a few yards, placing his rifle on the ground. "Hands, Teal'c." Without waiting for a response, he began to run, giving Teal'c no option but to bend, shape his hands, and, when Mitchell's boot smacked against his palms, heave upward.
Mitchell drove the blade into the trunk, his free hand scrabbling for a hold, a grunt of pain escaping him as his face and body collided violently with the tree. He began to slide down, but Teal'c reached up and arrested his descent, pinning him in place, his hands curling around Mitchell's knees.
"I have you," he said. "And if you move a little, you may rest your feet on my shoulders."
"Shoulders is good," Mitchell choked out, his feet waving about until they found their target.
"Had you waited," Teal'c continued inexorably, shifting his hands down until they were around Mitchell's ankles, "I would have suggested that I simply pick you up. I feel certain that the result would have been a more advantageous position on the --"
"Argue later! Rescue now!" Vala sounded panicked.
"Remove the knife," Teal'c said softly.
Mitchell let his forehead rest against the tree for a moment, his breathing laboured, then worked the knife free. "Okay. Now what?"
"I will lift you as high as I am able."
Mitchell muttered something that Teal'c didn't bother trying to catch and then said, "Ready when you are."
It was awkward, and Mitchell was heavier than he looked, but Teal'c was spurred on by both the need to hurry and the irritation he was feeling at Mitchell's precipitate action. He bent his knees and then straightened, forcing Mitchell several feet higher, holding the man high above his head.
Mitchell pulled back his arm, plunged the knife in, and reached for the other knife.
The first blade snapped and Teal'c had time to register a blur of green and black before Mitchell's boot slammed into his face and Mitchell's body crashed into his.
They fell to the ground, limbs tangled.
"Okay, that? Was not in the plan," Mitchell said, lifting his head from where it was pillowed face-down on Teal's stomach. "You okay?"
"Indeed," Teal'c snapped, sitting up and pushing Mitchell off him. "Your plan --"
"Your plan," Mitchell reminded him.
"It failed. We must think of another one."
The air above them was suddenly full of the whoosh and flutter of wings.
"Well, I'll be..." Mitchell sounded awed. "That isn't a bird!" he shouted, scrambling back and up, grabbing his weapon. "That, folks, is a genuine, honest-to-God dinosaur."
"I do not believe that to be the case," Teal'c said, kneeling and aiming his staff weapon with care. "It is neither purple nor green."
Mitchell didn't turn his head, but his lips tightened. "Teal'c, when this is over, let's you and me have a talk about inappropriate times to pull a little Tau'ri chain, huh?"
"Very well. It has feathers. It is not a dinosaur."
"Close, though," Mitchell murmured. "Sort of a cross between a --"
Vala's scream cut him off. From the way she was aiming blows at the bird with a calm ferocity, Teal'c guessed that she was screaming less out of fear than as an additional weapon. Even on the ground, it was painful to hear.
"Fire a warning shot; try and scare it off."
"Should we not kill it?"
Mitchell shook his head, going to single shots and sending a bullet smacking into the branch a few feet above Vala's head. Her scream became an indignant yelp. "For all we know, it's a sentient life-form, or she did something to piss it off. If we can scare it away, I've got an idea..."
"Very well," Teal'c said shortly. He aimed a blast high into the leaves, sending a shower of greenery down over the bird and Vala, getting two identical squawks of protest. The bird didn't seem to be touching her; it was flying at her, feinting and backing away. Mitchell continued to place bullets around it, the sharp bark of his weapon clearly disturbing the bird.
After the fifth bullet and the third staff blast, it drew off, retreating with a mournful caw and a vengeful flap of a wing that skimmed Vala's face.
"Right. It'll be back, so let's make this fast."
"What is your plan?"
"We aim at the branch. Blow it apart, catch her when she falls."
"Bad plan!" Vala yelled down, her voice hoarse. "Don't like it."
"Why not?" Mitchell asked.
"I've been hanging here while you two trigger-happy idiots had fun for long enough not to trust you. Suppose you hit me, not the branch?"
Mitchell and Teal'c exchanged glances. "'Not gonna happen," Mitchell said, rolling his eyes.
"Indeed it is not," Teal'c said decisively. "Both of us have sufficient skill to make this a simple task."
"So, I shoot, you catch?"
"I do not see --"
"Hey, you did a good job with me, Teal'c." Mitchell smiled at him, a quick flash of teeth. "Happy to lie on top of you any time."
And there it was. The culmination of weeks of hints and looks in one single, unmistakable invitation.
There was, Teal'c reflected, only one small problem with the phrasing. "It was most uncomfortable, Colonel Mitchell."
"Sorry 'bout that." Mitchell's smile faded. "Guess we'll have to keep it a once-only deal, then, huh?"
"Or perhaps you could catch me?" Teal'c suggested.
He watched understanding pass over Mitchell's face like sunlight over shallow water. "Any time you're ready. But I think you should be the one to catch Vala."
Teal'c stood in place as Mitchell aimed, both of them ignoring Vala's increasingly frantic protests.
"Hold still. You're distracting me," Mitchell shouted up.
Vala went limp and still and Mitchell nodded, his face tight with tension. Teal'c touched his shoulder, keeping his voice low. "You need have no fear. I have seen you shoot."
Mitchell smiled without taking his eyes off his target. "I don't want to hurt her."
"Then hurry. She is more frightened than she appears."
He moved away and Mitchell began to fire, the chatter and spit of the ejecting rounds splintering the waiting hush. There was a warning creak, a deeper crack, and the branch split, Vala's weight bearing it down.
"Hold!" Teal'c called out, seeing that she was sliding free. He had no wish to deal with the falling branch as well as the woman.
Vala fell, twisting in the air so that she was on her back, landing in Teal'c's arms neatly enough, although Teal'c suffered a blow to his ear from her elbow.
"Can I open my eyes?" she said faintly.
"They are open," Mitchell pointed out.
"So they are." Teal'c could feel her trembling, and cradled her close to him for a moment, wrapping his arms securely around her, before setting her on her feet.
"You are safe now," he told her, inclining his head.
"And we should get the hell out of here before Big Bird comes back -- and don't even try and tell me it wasn't yellow, because I know it wasn't."
Teal'c smiled. "Very well; I will not."
Mitchell smirked, thumbed his radio, and called Daniel. "Jackson? We had a -- small problem, nothing serious, no one hurt. We'll be back with you in ten, fifteen. You ready to head home? Good. Mitchell out."
"Is it always like this?" Vala asked. "Your missions, I mean?"
"No, since you got added to the team, they seem to have an added edge of insanity." They began to walk out of the clearing. "And now I want to know what the hell happened."
Vala shrugged. "It had something shiny and I got curious."
"And?" Teal'c prompted her as she fell silent, as if she had said all that was needed. Perhaps she had.
"It dropped it into its nest, which, before you ask, was in a tree at the other side of the clearing, and when it left I climbed it and took a look."
It was Mitchell's turn to ask, "And?"
She screwed up her face in remembered pique. "A fish. Can you believe it? Its scales must've caught the sun or something. Anyway, the bird came back, decided I was after its babies, and put me up there out of spite."
"You deserved it." Mitchell said. "I think we should've left you up there, myself, what do you think, Teal'c?"
Before Teal'c could answer, Vala staggered, a little too theatrically to be taken seriously. "Anyway, as I was saying, this was not what I was expecting when you told me I could join you for this little trip."
"What were you expecting?" Mitchell asked.
She waved her hand. "Different sorts of boredom. Not this." She got close to Mitchell and placed her hands on his shoulders, her face solemn. "You saved my life. Thank you."
Teal'c was of the opinion that the kiss which followed could have been avoided, but he didn't blame Mitchell for not trying. Vala kissed with the enthusiastic skill she applied to most of her endeavours and Mitchell swayed like a reed in the wind, keeping up with her.
Then she stepped away and brought her fist up, back, and forward, in a smooth strike which, again, Teal'c thought could have been avoided. He was less tolerant about Mitchell's slow reactions this time.
Mitchell fell back a pace, his hand flying to his jaw. "What the hell was that for?"
"You just said I deserved it! And you were laughing at me," Vala hissed. "I heard you."
"You looked funny! You would've laughed if it'd been me up there."
She considered that and then gave a grudging nod. "Might have."
"Would have," Mitchell insisted.
"I'll say no more about it, then." She really was quite magnificent at times, Teal'c thought, taking pleasure in watching Mitchell's face flush as he stammered over a response to such audacity.
"And thank you, Teal'c," she said, turning to him. "Nice shooting when I was getting attacked. Really. I've got leaves all down my back and in my hair, but even so."
"He doesn't get the double whammy?" Mitchell demanded, as Vala began to walk away. His blunt question earned Teal'c's gratitude, as it wasn't something he would have been able to ask himself.
Vala came back. "Well, in all fairness, I'd have to hit him, too." She looked up at Teal'c. "I didn't think you'd want the kiss, knowing what would come after."
"What makes you think he'd let you hit him?" Mitchell asked. "The man's good at dodging."
Teal'c gave him a repressive look, tempered by an awareness of a double meaning in Mitchell's words. "My sense of honour?"
Vala gave him a twinkle-eyed smile. "Well, in that case..." she murmured.
Her mouth, wide, generous, quick to smile, crushed softly against his, warm and spicy. Teal'c allowed her to lead it through to the end, flicking his tongue against hers in a mildly regretful farewell as she broke the kiss. From the corner of his eye he saw Mitchell frown and touch his fingertips to his lips.
Teal'c moved back, placed his hands behind him, and leaned forward slightly so that his jaw was in reach. She looked indignant. "There's no need to make it that easy!"
He didn't reply.
"Hit him, will you?" Mitchell snapped. "Jackson's going to be having kittens if we're not back soon."
Vala huffed, rapped her knuckles against Teal'c's chin in a token hit, and stalked off, looking thwarted.
"Man, that woman is hard to keep up with," Mitchell remarked as they followed her.
"Then we should increase our speed."
"You're doing that literal thing again, Teal'c."
"Is that so?"
"Lucky for you I'm a tolerant, easy-going fellow because it's damn irritating at times."
"I do not intend it to be irritating."
"Yes, you do." Mitchell kicked a stone out of his way. "Probably started as genuine, but come on, man; you've been living here for a decade, near enough; you're too smart not to have figured stuff out. You're just doing it now because it amuses you."
"Perhaps," Teal'c said after a while. "But do not --"
Mitchell halted him with a hand on his arm. "For me, just once, say 'don't'?"
"Don't." Teal'c tested the word and shrugged. "But -- don't," he said carefully, "forget that --"
"You know, that sounds worse. Forget it."
"I am not the only one whose conversation can sometimes be irritating, Colonel Mitchell."
They walked on in silence for a while and then Mitchell gestured at Vala, out of earshot, but still in sight. "Wasn't expecting that kiss."
"I'm going to regret this, I know I am..." Mitchell took a breath, staring ahead. "There's a tradition, or a legend, or something, that when two people share a drink of water and drink from the same place on the glass that they're... linked."
"In what way?" Teal'c asked when Mitchell stopped talking. "And how is that relevant?"
"When she kissed you, I was watching. Not that I don't trust her, but -- no, it's exactly that I don't trust her."
"Some caution when dealing with her is advisable," Teal'c agreed.
"And all I could think was that you were kissing her and I'd just been there, you know?"
"It was like -- God, regretting this, really am -- like you were kissing me, in some crazy, secondhand way." Mitchell flicked a glance at Teal'c. "Going to say something literal now?"
"You are mistaken, Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c didn't break his stride, but he glanced over at Mitchell. "It was not at all similar. When I kiss you, I believe you will discover that. Until then, we should hurry before we lose sight of Vala."
"'When'? Teal'c, did you just say 'when'?"
"You know that I did." Teal'c had thought that their earlier conversation had made his own wishes quite plain, but Mitchell seemed to have been led astray by the pleasure Teal'c had taken in Vala's kiss. Foolish of him.
"When is when?"
"Of that I am uncertain." Ahead of them, Vala's voice was raised in an excited jabber as she was joined by Daniel Jackson, who must have become tired of waiting. Teal'c smiled. "I do not think that now would be a good time, do you?"
"Can't think of a better one," Mitchell said, reaching out and taking a handful of Teal'c's jacket and hauling them both into the cover of a stand of bushes. "Do it. Show me."
Teal'c smiled. Eager. Precipitate. Reckless. They were, perhaps, not always bad qualities.
Mitchell's mouth closed on his. Tentative. Clumsy. A little shy.
Neither were they.
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