His House Lasts 'Til Doomsday
Daniel had to shovel on his knees.
Jack was 6'2''. That made him less than one inch taller than Daniel. But Jack had better posture, having spent more time at parade rest and less time hunched myopically over mostly obliterated squiggles on mostly eroded fragments of clay, stone, vellum or parchment. So the extra inch was more about discipline than actual physical dimensions. Jack never slouched, even when he was looking like he was slouching. He could slouch with his attitude while his spine stayed straight like it was threaded onto rebar.
Daniel was on his knees, driving the blade of the collapsible shovel into the gravelly soil and forcing it in deeper with his weight, pulling back on the too-short handle to gather up the dirt and throwing it in front of him, across the widening, deepening hole. He didn't throw it behind him; it was too hard to twist his body that way. Across the hole, Teal'c was digging, too, bowed low, beads of sweat gleaming on his bald head. Daniel didn't look at his face. He kept digging.
Jack's legs were the same length as Daniel's. The two men stood hip to hip. The extra inch was in Jack's torso, his shoulders higher than Daniel's. His head was smaller, narrower, his neck longer. His body was narrower in general, less obviously muscular. But it was also more... elegant, bending from that military bearing in lean curves like the eloquent stroke of a bamboo brush on textured paper. When he bowed his head his vertebrae stood out at the neck in subtle knobs, visible only when the light was slanting in just the right way, casting oblique shadows of vulnerability; the rest of the time, they could be known only by touch. At the small of his back, his spine was a furrow, smooth, as wide as the side of Daniel's hand. The shadows there tasted of salt.
Teal'c's shovel grated against the scree rhythmically, in jarring syncopation to Daniel's own. Unconsciously, Daniel adjusted his pace until he was shovelling in time with Teal'c, and then it was like there was only one shovel pulling up grey, empty soil and stones worn smooth by the rasp of an ocean that had drained away two million years before the goa'uld ever thought to terraform the planet. Above them, some kind of bird was circling, each turn marked by a sharp cry, keen as a needle, piercing the air almost painlessly. After a dozen turns, Daniel knew that the bird had come to sew the sky shut around them, pulling it tighter and tighter on each turn. The hole got deeper.
Jack's hands were long in the palm, long in the fingers, dexterous and nimble, eloquent in their own way as they moved across the parts of a P90 spread out on the clean cloth like an exploded diagram. It was a different sort of eloquence that his fingers spoke when they traced Daniel's spine up from the small of his back and into his hair. It was an eloquence that Daniel couldn't stay turned away from, a gentle insistence that made him uncurl and roll onto his other side to face him, to repeat that silent speech as though he were memorizing, his own hand moving upward along that straight, tense back and into the soft brush of Jack's hair at his nape. They were hip to hip then, knee to knee, toe to toe, man and reflection mirrored across the space of a breath, eye to eye. Jack's fingers made small circles in Daniel's hair. Jack's eyelids were half-lowered, lashes casting shadows.
At the top of the ridge, Sam appeared, a silhouette black against the red glow that was sunset smeared by smoke. When she turned sideways to look back the way she'd come, Daniel could see the pack on her back, another dangling by its strap from her hand. The second pack dragged on the ground as she started down the hillside, her feet turned sideways against the incline. The sound of tumbling gravel preceded her, amplified by the curve of the ridge and the stillness of the air. But then the bird cried and Teal'c's shovel struck the earth with a scraping protest and Daniel's perspective narrowed again to the shovel and the blistered pain of his hands. The hole was deep enough now to be dark at the bottom.
Jack's lips were thinner than Daniel's, more prone to lopsidedness, to pressing together and yet quirking up at one corner like the grin was escaping without permission. They were always dry when Daniel touched them with his own and so Daniel couldn't help but to moisten them with a flick of the tongue. Sometimes when he did that, he would feel a shudder pass through Jack's body, through his chest, like the first time, when Daniel's tongue had first tasted him, back when Daniel didn't know what Jack tasted like. At these times, Jack's grin would escape and Daniel would feel it. Sometimes, Daniel would lose track of whose grin it was, Jack's or his own.
Daniel stopped shovelling when Sam gave up dragging the backpack and let it rest at the edge of the hole. Its weight pushed some of the dirt back in, a faint drifting of grains that reminded him of the whisper of fabric. He was in the hole now, and leaned against the edge at his hip, dizzy with straightening too fast. The tight focus of his attention widened long enough to see Sam shake her head, frowning. The radio was as much a write-off now as it had been when the sabotaged ship had spiraled down the gravity well toward the rocky terrain. No-one heard them calling for help, then. No-one could hear them now. The bird knew this, and circled one last time before drifting away into the gloaming, drawing the day closed around them with a final stab of its voice as the sun disappeared and the shadow of the ridge cut a dark swath against ground suddenly leeched of colour. Crouching down to pull another shovel out of the battered pack, Sam snapped it to its full length and stepped around Daniel, laying her hand on his head, her fingers tightening into a fist in his hair. He could feel her shaking. Taking her wrist, he pulled her hand away and let her squeeze his fingers instead. Teal'c's shovel was silent until she let go of Daniel's hand and dropped heavily into the hole behind him. Then three shovels sounded like one, a steady rhythm that continued unbroken until two moons hung low and heavy in the sack cloth sky.
Jack was 6'2''. A little taller than Daniel. The hole was big enough for both of them.
Notes: For the Contrelemontre "manual labour" challenge. I'm posting it 'cause Cofax said so.
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