Disclaimer: Stargate is copyright Showtime Inc. and MGM/UA. I'm only borrowing Daniel, Jack, Sam and Teal'c and gladly give them back when I'm done writing. Can't be selfish, must let others have their fun! I derive no profit from this story other than the satisfaction of letting my imagination roam around in someone else's universe. So, on to the story...
Author's comment: The following story is your basic h/c-smarm fest, although it tried to develop a plot about halfway through and mutated into something abstract and vaguely slushy at the end. I plan on writing a sequel to this at some point, so don't panic if you feel like it leaves you hanging!
Copyright (c) 1998 Ellen J. Caldera
In the Valley of the Shadow
by Ellen Caldera
P36792. They really needed to start giving these places names instead of just a string of numbers designating ... nothing, really. Nothing that really mattered. Although with so many worlds to explore, and new ones being located all the time, he could hardly blame the stellar cartography team for lack of originality. He doubted he could do any better himself. Oh, he might come up with something more colorful, some name from an ancient Terran land, all liquid vowels and sibilants, pleasant to the ear, but in the end, that name would bear no more relation to the reality of the world to which it was applied than a random, impersonal code. Sometimes they were lucky enough to find friendly natives, or more likely, Goa'uld transplanted neo-natives, who would tell them their name for the world, and sometimes the team might be in a place long enough or make a discovery distinctive enough that an appropriate name would suggest itself, but more often than not, there was just the code name.
Daniel sometimes played a game with himself, trying to give even the emptiest of worlds the dignity of a name: Ozymandius for desert ruins eroded to the point where not even he could find a clue of past lives to interest him; Bastet for the world where wind blew across barren, stony land with a howl like a pack of hungry cats. He used these names all the time in his own personal journal, but one time he had slipped up and used his name for a place in an official briefing, Bacchus for the planet whose atmosphere contained just enough nitrous oxide to make the entire team giddy after only a few hours. General Hammond had frowned and asked him to kindly stick to the proper designations, but Jack had chuckled and Samantha had a twinkle in her eye when he looked at her. Teal'c had presented his usual stony-faced look of incomprehension, but Daniel had explained it to him later and was rewarded with an equally stony-faced look of bewilderment over the strange human's odd sense of humor.
OK, fine. Stick to the facts, stick to the official planetary designations, stick to the procedures. He could give the General and all his superiors whatever they wanted, just so long as he could continue his search for the one thing that mattered most to him, even more than the study of ancient cultures that had dominated the majority of his adult life his wife, Sha're, Sha're who had been given to him as a gift, but who had found something in him to treasure, a sympathetic heart or a kindred spirit or perhaps merely a fascination with the foreign; maybe all three. They both had been yearning for something that had been missing in their lives, a connection that bridged the gap of loneliness and let them feel a part of the larger world around them. He hadn't even realized that the void had been there until Sha're filled it. In the end, she had given herself because she wished to do so, and he had accepted her for herself, not as a token of respect or a gift to appease the minion of an angry god.
They had shared a simple life, simple from his point of view, an existence free of the frustrations of the modern world he had been born into, but filled with its own unique challenges and the hard but rewarding work of meeting the basic requirements of day-to-day life. He had become a part of the community on Abydos in a way that he had never been connected to a group of people before. He worked alongside Sha're and her people, ate meals with them, celebrated the feast days with them, helped them to regain their lost literacy and cultural heritage. At night, though, his whole world was Sha're, the fascinating mixture of her sensuality, innocence, earthy wisdom and keen intellect intriguing, astonishing and comforting him in equal measures. He had never felt more rewarded, more content, more at peace than he did in her arms. That existence had been taken from him by the Goa'uld, but it would be his again some day. He had promised that to himself, and he vowed it to Sha're's name in the empty darkness of every night without her. He would find her and free her from the alien parasite that inhabited her body and controlled her mind, no matter what the cost.
Daniel sighed and brought his mind back to the present task. New world, new number, standard procedure after emerging on the other side of the Gate. Carter, O'Neill and Teal'c had fanned out to investigate the immediate surroundings while he located the so-called "dial home device" (DHD to the acronym-mongering military types), made sure it was in working order and determined the sequence of chevrons that would need to be depressed to return the team home. This was an important rule when entering an unfamiliar situation always be sure you had a clear path of retreat. That might be military wisdom, but Daniel reminded himself that it was also common sense. They had landed in the middle of enough dangerous, even potentially lethal, situations that he had learned by experience the need of maintaining the slender thread that would return them to a safe harbor on the other side of the known universe. "Just call me Ariadne," he muttered to himself, taking one last look to make sure he had the order of chevrons just right. It wouldn't do to hesitate if the situation heated up unexpectedly.
Brushing his hands off on his pants, he turned to locate Captain Carter so he could ask her opinion on the strange, polished black tiles laid out over the stone terrace where this world's Stargate stood. He had initially thought they were merely decorative, noteworthy for the fact that the shapes they formed were vaguely reminiscent of Norse runes, but a nagging hunch told him that they might be something more. He squinted and pushed his glasses up on his nose, turning slowly with his hand over his eyes, more out of habit than because of a need to shield his eyes from sunlight. This place was at a high altitude judging from the thinness of the air, or else the planet itself merely had a thin atmosphere, but that didn't seem to hinder the proliferation of tattered shrouds of chilled mist and fog that veiled the midday sun and curled across the rocky ground and between the trunks of tall, dark trees.
He was so focussed on trying to detect movement at the edge of the clearing that would reveal the location of the other team members that he didn't notice the figure coming towards him until he turned to face it directly. By then it was too late. Something flashed dully and a stab of pain like ice and unbearable heat mixed together shot through his side. A wave of nausea washed over him as his eyes locked on his assailant a short, vaguely humanoid figure, chest high to him and coated with dark brown fur. Its eyes shone brightly on either side of a broad, flat nose, its face softened by a fine down instead of the thick coat covering the rest of it. Daniel thought that he could detect some very human emotion in those bright, black eyes, but whether it was surprise or fear or even triumph, he couldn't tell. His brain didn't seem to be functioning well enough at the moment to draw a conclusion.
Time seemed to slow down, and he and the creature stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity, eyes locked, Daniel distantly aware that his side seemed to be going numb at the same time as flares of pain were shooting out through the rest of his body from the same area. He finally managed to pull his gaze away from the creature who had attacked him, his head slowly tilting downwards to where he saw the fur-covered paw, more like a hand really, still holding the handle of the knife that was plunged into his right side just above the waist. The reality of what had just happened finally sunk into his clouded brain, and his head jerked back up to shoot an accusing glance at the animal (person?) still standing before him. The creature apparently decided that he had best beat a hasty retreat while he could and was gone in a flash, across the rocky field and into the misty forest, raising an alarm in a high-pitched, feral yowl as it went. The sound seemed to snap Daniel's perception of time back into place, and he went down hard and fast, his knees buckling underneath him and his right hand groping weakly at the handle of the still imbedded knife as he fell. He managed to twist his body so that he landed on his left shoulder, and as he hit the all-too-solid ground, he heard another cry as if from a distance, a strangely choked sound like an animal in pain. Had one of the other team members caught his fleeing attacker? It took him a moment to realize that the sound had come from his own lips.
He felt strangely detached from himself, as if he were standing outside of his body looking down, but he couldn't see himself as he had heard people could when they had near-death experiences. It was as though his sight were stilled lodged in his body, along with the knife that he fumbled at with a hand that didn't seem to be able to grasp. A still coherent part of his mind wondered why he would be affected like this. He had sustained any number of injuries during his journeys with the SG-1 team, including having been shot by Goa'uld weapons more than once. Pain had been chief among the effects of those unpleasant experiences, pain and the creeping symptoms of shock, never mind the times that temporary death had been among the results, but never before had he felt anything like this, except maybe the time he had been almost choked to death. This was different, though. A knife wound, especially one not in the vicinity of any highly critical organs as this one seemed to be, shouldn't be sapping the strength from him so completely and clouding his mind so quickly. Poison? That had to be it. The blade most have been poisoned, some quick-acting paralysis agent or maybe something more insidious maybe something deadly that was even now continuing to spread into his bloodstream.
He groaned and rolled onto his back, trying again, this time with his left hand, to dislodge the blade, but that hand seemed to be similarly affected. At that very moment, Jack skidded to a halt at his side and dropped to his knees next to his wounded friend. O'Neill had headed back towards the Gate at a dead run when he heard what sounded like a wolf howling, followed by an even more distressing howl of pain in a human voice. His heart had jumped into his throat when he burst into the clearing and saw Daniel on his side between the Gate and the DHD, obviously not in the same condition he had been when they had arrived what seemed like only a few minutes before. He swallowed hard and tried to catch his breath as he knelt by Daniel, not liking the ashen pallor of the young anthropologist's face and liking the knife handle protruding from his side even less.
"Dammit, Daniel! I thought we had this ducking thing worked out," Jack quipped with his usual sarcastic reaction to crisis, tugging with one hand at the corner of the other man's jacket where it had become entangled around the knife handle, while simultaneously sweeping the forest with the gun in his other hand in case the departed attacker decided to return. The other members of the team were in the clearing now, so he lowered the gun and returned his attention to Daniel. He cursed again, more seriously this time and without a hint of sarcasm, when he saw that the blade was buried to the hilt.
Carter ran up still brandishing her weapon in both hands and dropped down at Daniel's other side, Teal'c not far behind her. The former Jaffa stopped a few paces from his comrades and took up a defensive position, his back to the three humans, ready to ward off another assault if it came. Carter shoved her rifle to the side and quickly set about examining Daniel's wound, noting that there seemed to be very little blood seeping out around the weapon, making a small, hardly visible wet stain on the black T-shirt through which the blade had passed, effectively pinning the fabric to the anthropologist's side. Daniel flinched away from her ministrations and attempted to tug at the handle of the knife with a weak and blindly groping hand. "No, Daniel," she said calmly and firmly, pushing Daniel's hand away. "Hold still and let me get a better look. You're going to be OK."
Daniel didn't seem to be reassured, though. His head was rolling back and forth against the ground, his eyes squeezed shut behind glasses that were gathering condensation from the damp air. He had been mumbling incoherently, but when she pushed his hand away, his eyes snapped open and he said quite distinctly and with a sense of urgency she had very rarely seen in him, "Pull it out! Now!"
"That probably wouldn't be a good idea, Daniel." She spoke in a gentle but authoritative voice, exchanging worried glances with Jack.. "It might do more damage coming out than it did going in. The bleeding's under control right now, and I don't want to do anything that might make it worse before I can get a better look."
Daniel shook his head sharply and managed to muster the strength to lift his head a few inches. "No," he ground out, pain and numbness and nausea all conspiring to overwhelm him. He had to get this message across if he wanted to have any hope of making it through this. "Pull it out. I think it's poisoned." The last word came out as more of a gasp than a word, and he let his head fall back against the ground, what little strength he had left rapidly draining out of his body, seeping into the stones beneath him even as the cold of the stones began to seep into him.
Sam's eyes locked with Jack's in a moment of panic, then she looked down and frantically pulled the edge of Daniel's shirt free of his waistband so that she could look underneath. The skin around the knife was smeared with blood, but even through that and despite the dim light, she could see the angry red streaks emanating from the point of the wound. She pressed her hand against his side and felt the heat pulsing through his flesh like a living thing. She jerked her hand back and confirmed the situation to Jack. "He's right. That knife needs to come out now before any more of the poison gets into his system. Hold him down. This is going to hurt."
Jack nodded and leaned forward over Daniel, one hand pressing down firmly on each shoulder. Daniel's eyes were only half open and his breath was coming in short gasps. Jack wasn't sure whether the younger man was still registering what was going on, but he said, "Just hang in there, Danny. Carter's going to take the knife out now, but it's probably going to hurt a little." Daniel blinked and weakly nodded his head. That was a good sign. As long as he stayed conscious and coherent, he just might be all right. "I'm going to hang onto your arms here, but try not to kick her, OK? It's not polite to kick the person saving your ass."
A faint smile passed across Daniel's lips, but then he squeezed his eyes shut as he felt Carter's hand bracing against his side. She tugged experimentally at the blade, and he felt it scraping against bone, probably a rib. He shivered and swallowed hard. The sensation, although not really painful, was almost as unpleasant as the pain, reminding him of fingernails on chalkboards, something his students had loved to do back in the days when he was teaching. It somehow pleased them to see him flinch, something he had never understood, how someone could take pleasure in the discomfort of another. It also reminded him of the sound the grinding stone sometimes made when Sha're was making flour for their bread. That was a more pleasant memory, and he retreated into it, into a world where Sha're had never been taken from him.
There was a dull roar beginning to rise in his ears, punctuated by the throbbing of his own pulse, first quick, then slow, then skipping a few beats altogether, like the syncopated rhythm of Abydonian music. He concentrated on it, almost certain he could feel the world spinning around him as it had the few times Sha're had dragged him out into the dancing throng at some celebration or other, her eyes twinkling with merriment and her dark hair flying as she twirled about. He dimly heard another voice as if from a distance, or from out of a deep, dark well, echoing and hollow, Samantha saying, "OK, here goes."
The sharp stab of agony that ripped through his side was more than enough to pull him out of his reverie. It was worse, much, much worse, than the shock of the blade going in. His muscles all tightened at once, his back arched against the ground, and he struggled against Jack's hold even as he was glad of the restraint. Fortunately, his legs didn't seem to have the strength to move, or he might've given Sam or Jack or possibly both some bruises to remember. A strangled moan escaped his lips, the sound of someone too exhausted even to scream. He was sure he would've screamed if it hadn't been for the sapping effects of the poison.
After what seemed like an eternity in which the throbbing in his side filled his entire awareness, the pain melted gradually back into its former level, and his eyelids flickered open. He saw Sam holding the bloody knife in her hand, a wicked barb at its end snagged on what appeared to be a piece of his own flesh. He shivered once, stilled, then gulped and shivered again, a weak trembling passing through his body from his head to his toes, seeming to linger around his midsection.
Jack grimaced at the bloody artifact, letting go of Daniel's shoulders and frowning as the young man began to shiver even more violently. He was obviously going into shock. The anthropologist's eyes rolled back and his eyelids slid half closed, leaving Jack with the uneasy impression that he was being watched even though he was pretty sure Daniel wasn't seeing anything at the moment, except maybe stars. "I'll get the Gate activated," he said quietly, not at all reassured by Sam's grim nod.
"Is Doctor Jackson going to be all right?" Teal'c asked over his shoulder, never letting his guard waver as Jack began to study the DHD. They were all trained in deciphering the chevrons and activating the Gate, but none of them was as quick at it as Daniel. Jack would just have to set a new personal record this time.
He ignored Teal'c's question, intent on his task, so Sam answered, "I don't know, Teal'c. I hope so, but it doesn't look good." She quickly pulled a sample bag out of one of her pockets and stowed the knife in it. They would need it to identify the poison. She continued to dig in her other pockets with one hand, searching for her first aid kit, while she pulled Daniel's shirt up and away from the wound now that the fabric was free of the knife. The blood was beginning to flow a little more quickly from the deep puncture, but it seemed to be darker and thicker than it should be. An effect of the poison? She couldn't be sure. She pulled out a bottle of disinfectant and poured the entire contents directly into the wound, causing Daniel to flinch and suck in a sharp breath.
"Sorry, Daniel," she apologized faintly, even though she was fairly certain he wasn't hearing a thing she was saying. His eyes had shut completely, his skin almost matching the pale stones scattered all around them, and his breath was coming in deep, shuddering gasps between the tremors that seized his body in waves. She wished desperately for a blanket, but they had come on this mission lightly provisioned. It was only supposed to be a reconnaissance of a few hours.
She reminded herself that it would just be a moment until Jack had the Stargate activated, and then Daniel would be back at the base where they had the proper equipment to treat him. She returned her full attention to the first aid that would get him there in the best shape possible, gently swabbing the extra disinfectant off of the uninjured skin with some gauze. She deftly taped a bandage over the wound and pulled Daniel's shirt and jacket back into place, zipping the jacket to conserve as much of Daniel's body heat as possible.
She glanced up at Jack, who seemed to be having some problems with the DHD. He was punching at chevrons in what seemed a random pattern, cursing as he did so, "Damn, damn, DAMN!", his voice getting louder in relation to his lack of results.
Daniel groaned deep in his throat, his whole body jerking in a tight spasm before he began to shiver even harder than before, this time pretty much consistently instead of in waves with pauses in between. Sam added her own soft curse to Jack's litany, pulled off her jacket and tucked it around Daniel's upper body before going over to the DHD to see if she could help Jack.
"What's wrong?" she asked tentatively, wrapping her arms over her chest and rubbing her arms against the chill of the air. She wisely stood a few steps away from Jack, knowing that his temper tended to flair when he was faced with a deteriorating situation, a direction in which this mission seemed to be rapidly heading.
The colonel shouted one final "DAMN!", his fist punctuating the expletive by slamming down on the console. "It's not working," he said simply, spreading his hands in defeat.
"What do you mean, not working?" she asked, the surrounding coldness soaking into her and forming a tight knot in her stomach. "Did you get the sequence right?"
"Yes, I did," he replied, casting an annoyed glance in her general direction. "I may not be the whiz kid here, but I can damn well decipher these things as well as the rest of you."
"OK, OK. I was just checking." She raised her hands in defensive apology.
"It's just not working," Jack went on, his voice trailing off as his gaze wandered back towards Daniel. "It doesn't seem to be getting any power. There's no response at all." He dragged his attention back to Sam, and they simply stared at one another as worry flowed back and forth between them, their minds racing in search of a solution.
Neither one had the opportunity to voice even a tentative suggestion, though. At that very moment, there was a high-pitched whistling and each slapped at their necks as though stung by an insect. Teal'c twitched as well, but he kept a firm hold on his staff weapon, quickly sweeping the surrounding forest with the business end of the staff in search of what he had instantly determined must be a hidden attack. Carter and O'Neill both reached for their guns and fanned out to either side of Teal'c, but Sam had only gone a few steps before she suddenly crumpled to the ground, followed quickly by Jack.
Teal'c noticed their collapse, but continued to search the trees, knowing that if he went down, too, there would be no hope for any of them. The whistling came again, then again, three more times, and each time Teal'c felt a sting in various parts of his neck and face, indicating that the assault was coming from all sides. He didn't have time to decide what to do next, though. His senses clouded over quickly, and he fell to his knees before keeling over face down on the rocky ground.
Jack swam back up towards consciousness as if he were trying to reach the surface of a lake after diving deep, much deeper than any sane person would've done without the benefit of breathing equipment. He felt as though he couldn't hold on much longer, as if he would never reach the flicker of light dancing so tantalizingly above him. Him lungs were burning, and he knew that at any moment he would give up and let the dark, cold water drag him back down, down into the depths, spinning and tumbling head over heels until
His eyes snapped open and he sat up, drawing a deep, ragged breath at the same time. The room did a somersault around his shoulders, and he quickly pulled up his knees and dropped his head down to rest on his kneecaps. He took slow, deep breaths, gulping the warm air while his senses gradually fell back into line. He was sitting on some kind of cot in the corner of a dark room, a rough, wool blanket still pulled over his legs. He squinted and shook his head, trying to clear the last of the cobwebs away, and as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw Samantha lying on a cot next to the adjacent wall, her jacket neatly folded and laid at her feet on top of the blanket. Neither Teal'c nor Daniel were anywhere to be seen. His boots were on the floor next to the cot, so he reached down and stuffed his feet into them, his fingers lacing them up automatically. He noted that their weapons and other supplies had not been put in the room with them.
There was a door in the opposite wall, slightly ajar so that flickering light and the soft sound of voices spilled into the room. He crept quietly across the floor, pausing by Samantha's bed just long enough to make sure that she was just unconscious and not injured in any other way. She still seemed to be out cold, so made his way to the door and pushed it open a bit further to get a look out into the hallway. As he was looking down the passage in one direction, the sound of a woman clearing her throat coming from the other direction made him whip around so fast that his head throbbed in protest.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to sneak up on people like that?" he snapped as he rubbed at his temple. The young woman was smiling at him in what seemed like a friendly way, and he wasn't armed anyway, so he decided to play the situation casually, but still with caution. Of course, he could have easily overwhelmed her with sheer brute strength, but that just wouldn't be polite and might just get him into a heap of trouble. He had no idea where he was, after all. The last thing he remembered was being shot with a sedative dart like some animal, and two of his team members, one of them critically injured, were now missing.
"My mother tells me a great many things, O'Neill, but that does not mean I always listen," she said softly, a look of amusement spreading across her face at the consternation he displayed at being called by name.
"How did you know my name?" he asked, raising his guard a notch.
She just quirked an eyebrow at him, pale blue eyes glittering under a shining cascade of curly auburn hair, and pointed at his chest. He looked down, confused, then feeling foolish as he recalled that his last name was printed over the pocket of his jacket in standard military style. "So you can read." He hadn't meant it to be an insult, but she certainly took it as one.
"Yes, and from time to time, I've even been known to write a word or two," she shot back, "but I usually manage to find better uses for that skill than writing my own name on my clothing, as if I might forget who I am." Her eyes flashed brightly and she lifted her chin defiantly, daring him to insinuate that she was ignorant again.
"All right, all right," he sighed, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. First things first. Establish that his team members were all accounted for, then move on to nice little pleasantries. "I guess I'm not thinking too clearly right now, but being knocked out kind of does that to a guy. Look, why don't you just tell me what happened to the other two people I came here with."
Her angry expression faded away at his question, and she looked down and brushed absently at the dark gown she was wearing before lifting her eyes to stare at him with something akin to her former defiance, but mixed with a hint of concern. "The Jaffa is elsewhere, under guard, since we had no way of knowing what his intentions might be, whether you accompanied him willingly or were his prisoners."
"He's our friend, and his name is Teal'c," Jack replied, a bit annoyed that she had gone to the trouble to refer to himself by name, but not "the Jaffa." He had to remind himself that for most people who encountered Teal'c's kind, "Jaffa" meant nothing but trouble and usually in very large amounts.
"Very well. Teal'c, then," the woman replied, drawing herself up and folding her hands loosely in front of her. "I will see to it that he is released and brought here as soon as he awakens, although that may not be for some time. It took four darts to bring him down, so the sedative may take a while to wear off. I assure you that he is unharmed, though."
"And Jackson?" he prompted her, half of him not wanting to hear the answer.
"Yes, Jackson," she responded, her shoulders slumping slightly and her forehead creasing in a troubled expression. "The one who was wounded. He is..." Her voice trailed off and she seemed to reconsider her next words. Jack's heart skipped a beat, but he blew out a sharp breath of relief as she continued, "He's alive, but in very poor condition. Come. I will take you to him. Carter will also be brought to you when she awakens."
She turned and gestured for him to accompany her down the dimly lit hallway in the direction of the flickering light and the voices Jack had detected earlier. When he eyed her skeptically, she said with a hint of apology in her voice, "You are safe here, O'Neill. None of us wish you harm. My name is Brecca, and you are in the house of Shardova of Freyholm. You were brought here only a few hours ago by the T'loknae."
"The T'loknae?" Jack asked, stumbling a bit on the unfamiliar word. He was somewhat reassured by her forthcoming attitude and let her lead him slowly down the hall as she continued to speak.
"Yes, the Guardians of the Gate. They are the original inhabitants of this world, small, dark-furred creatures, vaguely human in shape, but their ways are very strange to us. They mostly keep to themselves, in the forest near the Gate. When the Tokra brought us here, they made a pact with the T'loknae to watch over the Gate in case the Goa'uld attempted to follow us. When the T'loknae saw the Jaffa with you, there were no doubt afraid that exactly this had happened. That may be why they attacked your Jackson as they did. Usually, if creatures come through the Gate who are not known to them, the T'loknae use their darts and bring the strangers here to us, as they did with you and Carter and Teal'c. They are not usually violent."
She was obviously very troubled by this turn of events, and her brief explanation intrigued Jack immensely, immediately raising about a dozen questions in his mind, especially concerning her mention of the Tokra, the Goa'uld resistance movement opposed to the System Lords who had taken Daniel's wife and her brother Skaara. They had arrived at their destination, though, and answers would have to wait for later, maybe even for a return visit to this place. Right now, his first concern was Daniel and getting him back to Earth as quickly as possible.
The room Brecca had brought Jack to was similar to the one he had awakened in, sparsely furnished with bare walls of wooden planking and smooth floors of dull gray flagstone, the one difference being a hearth where a small, bright fire was burning. Two women stood near the blaze, conversing in low, urgent tones, apparently having a heated debate of some sort. One was an older woman who bore a distinct familial resemblance to Brecca, her auburn hair wavy instead of curly and her face a bit longer and finer of feature than Brecca's rounded face. The other was a wrinkled old woman with brightly flashing ice-blue eyes and gray hair pulled into a braid hanging down her back. Both were dressed in simple, dark gowns like Brecca, making Jack feel as though they had stumbled upon some kind of Amish community without the funny white hats, although that would be totally inconsistent with the usual time periods for transplanted Earth cultures. How he could use Daniel's input right now!
The two women paused in their conversation when Jack entered the room, but he ignored them and went directly over to the cot in the corner by the hearth where Daniel was lying. There was a blanket pulled up to the young anthropologist's chin, but Jack could see that he was still shaking, although somewhat less violently than he had been back at the Stargate. His color hadn't improved, though, and now there were dark circles under his eyes and his lips were dry and cracked. They'd taken his glasses off, and his hair was damp and pushed back away from his face so that he hardly looked like himself. The signs of pain that flickered back and forth across his features further conspired to obscure the young man that Jack had gradually come to regard as family.
Brecca conferred briefly with the two other women, and although they were speaking so softly he couldn't make out most of what they said, he could tell from the tone of their voices that the old woman and Brecca were having a rather vehement disagreement with the woman Jack assumed was Brecca's mother. There was an abrupt silence, and the middle-aged woman turned and stormed out of the room with the old woman close on her heels. Brecca sighed in resignation, then turned and gestured for Jack to sit on one of the wooden stools at Daniel's bedside while she lowered herself to another, tucking her skirt under her knees as she sat. She pulled her long hair around her neck and draped it over one shoulder where it would not get in her way, then proceeded to wipe Daniel's face with a cloth dipped in a bowl of water smelling strongly of some kind of herbs.
"My mother and grandmother," she explained unnecessarily. "My mother is not happy about you and your friends being here, but my grandmother has reminded her that it is our duty to give aid to those in need." Her tone of voice made it clear that she agreed with her grandmother, but she didn't elaborate, becoming absorbed in her task for a moment. Although Daniel was clearly lost in a fog of delirium, his head jerking fitfully against the pillow and an occasional word or moan escaping from his lips, he seemed to respond to her touch, leaning towards her hand and briefly becoming quiet.
"Sha're?" he whispered, his eyebrows first lifting, then drawing together in a frown as the inevitable signs of pain crept back into his face.
Brecca looked at Jack questioningly. "Sha're?" she repeated. "He keeps saying that over and over. Is it a name?"
"Yes, his wife. She was taken by the Goa'uld," Jack answered simply. An oddly apprehensive expression crossed Brecca's face, but then she swallowed, nodded and went back to tending Daniel.
"Look, I don't mean to be rude," Jack continued, leaning forwards and resting his elbows on his knees, "but as you can see, he's obviously in very bad shape. We can help him if we can just get him back through the Gate to our own world."
"I'm afraid that's not possible," she answered, pausing in her ministrations and folding her hands in her lap, the wet cloth still clutched between her fingers.
"Why not?" Jack snapped, sitting up straighter.
"Are we prisoners here?" That was Carter's voice, and Jack turned to see her standing in the doorway, the old woman standing by her side for a moment before turning and departing again.
"No, no. Nothing like that. Come. Sit, and I'll explain," she said in a reassuring voice, waving Sam towards another stool. "You're free to go whenever you want and wherever you want, but you won't be able to go through the Gate until midday tomorrow at the earliest."
"We weren't able to reactivate it after we arrived here. Was it damaged somehow?" Sam asked as she hooked one foot around the offered stool and sat down.
"No, there is nothing wrong with it. It simply needs to recharge. It takes its power from the sun."
"Those tiles Daniel was wondering about," Sam breathed in sudden realization. "He pointed them out when we first arrived, but I didn't think much of them. They must be solar cells of some sort."
"Yes, that is what the Tokra called them," Brecca said, nodding. The name caused Sam to glance sharply at Jack, a look which did not go unnoticed by Brecca. "You know of them?"
"Yes, we've heard of them," Jack responded slowly, not wanting to say anything more until he had a better idea of exactly what kind of situation they had gotten themselves into this time. "Go on," he prompted.
"As I told O'Neill earlier, the Tokra freed us from the rule of the Goa'uld and brought us here to this refuge. The T'loknae protect us," and here she inserted a brief explanation for Sam's benefit. "The other means of defense that we have is built into the Gate itself. It can only be activated for a few minutes at a time, and it takes a full day at the very least before it can be activated again. In this way the Tokra made it impossible for large numbers of Goa'uld to come through the Gate together. The few that might make it through at one time can be easily dealt with by the T'loknae, although there have not been any Goa'uld here in a very long time. In fact, you are the first outsiders to come here in my entire lifetime, other then the Tokra who visit us from time to time."
"Great," Jack muttered. "No Goa'uld armies, but no rescue for Daniel either."
"Daniel?" Brecca questioned, confused by the use of the anthropologist's first name.
"Yes, Jackson. Daniel Jackson is his full name."
"Ah. I see. We are doing what we can for him, but the poison is strange, one we have never encountered before." She reached over and pulled a corner of the blanket down from Daniel's shoulder. They had removed his jacket and shirt in order to tend him more easily, Brecca explained, a slight flush of embarrassment coloring her cheeks and then quickly disappearing. She seemed to have had enough experience tending the sick not to be overly bothered by the necessities of healing, and her manner quickly became very business-like again. Her removal of the blanket from the right side of Daniel's chest revealed pale skin bruised to dark purple immediately around the wound and streaked with red across his chest and up onto his shoulder. There was a poultice of some kind covering the wound itself, which Sam leaned over to investigate more closely. She quickly regretted it as a sickening sweet odor overwhelmed her. She coughed and jerked back.
"It draws the poison," Brecca stated simply.
"It probably draws flies, too," Carter quipped sarcastically as she covered her mouth and nose with one hand until the scent cleared from her nostrils.
Brecca shrugged. The smell obviously didn't bother her, or she simply saw it as an unpleasant necessity. "There are men trying to find the T'loknae who did this in hopes that there is an antidote to the poison, but as I said, they keep to themselves, and it is very difficult to communicate in any event. We have not been able to learn much of their language, and they have never attempted to speak to us in ours. It's a very limited alliance, obviously."
She sighed and pulled the blanket back up over Daniel, then laid the back of her hand against his cheek. This time, he twitched away from her touch. "He grows hot, and then cold, hot and cold, back and forth. Sometimes he is still and quiet, other times he shivers, other times he tosses and moans and speaks in a language I have never heard." She was staring down at Daniel's pale face and it seemed for a moment that she had almost forgotten that Sam and Jack were there. "The poultice does not seem to be doing much good, and I'm afraid that he won't make it until the morning. We've sent for Trieste, but she has gone to one of the outlying villages. She may not make it here in time."
Jack swallowed and looked at Carter, who was not doing a very good job of hiding her distress at Brecca's opinion. He thought he could even detect the glimmer of tears in the corner of her eyes. Sam wouldn't cry, though. She was tough. She was strong. Jack had seen her go though much worse than this, and she always managed to hold together. This time would be no different. They would be fine. They would all be fine, dammit. There simply wasn't any other option.
"This Trieste she's a healer of some kind?" Jack asked to distract himself from the grimness of their present situation.
"Yes." Brecca nodded. "She has ... methods at her disposal that are ... very unusual, to say the least." She seemed reluctant to say more, so Jack let it drop. Either Trieste would be able to help, or she wouldn't. Jack felt so desperate at the moment that he thought he'd even be willing to try chanting and burning incense if someone suggested it.
They sat quietly for a few moments, the only sounds the crackling of the fire in the hearth and a few muttered words and fragments of words from Daniel as he struggled in the grip of the toxin that had invaded his body. It had been a long time since Jack had felt so helpless, since his son had died... He let that thought drift away. It wouldn't do any good to be dwelling on thoughts of death.
Brecca finally broke the silence by drawing a deep breath and standing up. "It should be about time for the evening meal. Would you like to join us?" she inquired in a weary voice. She seemed to be taking Daniel's plight as seriously as his friends despite the fact that she had never so much as laid eyes on him before this day. This reassured Jack that they had at least one ally here who truly believed in the "give aid to those in need" principle. Either that, or she was simply smitten by the sometimes awkward charms of the young scientist. At the moment, though, Daniel was hardly displaying his usual personality in any way, shape or form, and he looked like such complete and utter crap that Jack couldn't imagine any woman who hadn't met him before being in the least bit attracted to him. Some women were strange, though. Some women actually preferred geeks, and some women were simply drawn to the wounded and suffering like a moth to a candle flame.
Brecca's dinner invitation was obviously addressed to both Carter and O'Neill, but Jack answered for both of them. "No, thank you. I'd think we'd rather stay here with Daniel." He had absolutely no intention of leaving his friend's side until he either he was better or No. He absolutely refused to even consider that possibility. They would just have to hope that this Trieste arrived soon and that her healing ability was as advertised.
Brecca nodded her understanding and told them she would send some food for them to eat there at Daniel's bedside. Her offer and Jack's brief nod of acceptance were simply matters of form, though. He knew he wouldn't be able to get down a single bite, and he suspected Sam wouldn't either.
Just as Brecca was about to leave, though, a sudden thought occurred to Sam. "Brecca, wait." She stood up and looked back and forth between Jack and the young woman as she spoke. "If I could talk to some of your people, maybe take a look around your village, I might be able to find something to help Daniel. There's a lot we know about the Gate. We might be able to get it activated before tomorrow."
Of course! Jack wanted to bang his head against the nearest wall. That sedative really must have addled their wits if neither one of them had thought of this before now. If Sam could find something, anything, that she could jury-rig as a power source to free up the rings of the Stargate to allow manual input of the chevrons... They had done it before, they could do it again. What they had seen of this place so far didn't provide much encouragement that large power sources would just be laying about in the street, but Sam was very resourceful. If there were anything here that could be used to activate the Gate, she would find it.
Brecca nodded. "Yes, that can be arranged, although you should be careful what you say. There are those who would be very upset at the idea of reactivating the Gate prematurely."
The young woman seemed a bit uneasy at the idea herself, but Jack thought he could also detect a spark of curiosity there. "Go," he told Sam. "I'll stay with Daniel." He wasn't sure what he could do here, but he felt that one of them should stay. To be perfectly honest with himself, he didn't hold out very high hopes that Sam would find anything of use judging from the low- or even no-tech appearance of this society, but he couldn't let the possibility go unexplored. Maybe he would see if they had some incense on hand, after all...
Several hours passed, and Jack was more bone-weary than he had ever been in his life. Vigils were certainly not among his favorite ways to pass time, especially not when they involved sitting at what might become the deathbed of a friend if something didn't happen soon. Daniel's fever had risen and fallen at least a dozen times, each time draining a little more life away until Jack was quite frankly amazed that the anthropologist was still managing to cling to life. He had never realized the full extent of the reserves of strength that Daniel seemed to possess, all centered around one other person, a face, a name, a heart and soul that were always with him, no matter what Sha're. That bond was so strong that Jack was both amazed that such an incredible thing could really exist at the same time that he was terrified at the prospect of ever experiencing something even close to the affection that Daniel seemed to have for Sha're.
It was easy to forget what the anthropologist's main purpose was in being a part of the SG-1 team since he very rarely even mentioned his wife, but Jack supposed that was the only way that Daniel could deal with the pain of her loss on a day-to-day basis. It still hurt like hell for Jack to even think of his son, and he didn't much care to be reminded of what had happened to Skaara, who was like another son to him in a way. He could only imagine what agony it must be for Daniel with each day that went by without so much as a hint of where Sha're might be or even whether she was still alive or could be returned to herself again. So Daniel buried himself in his other great love, the study of ancient cultures, and griped and complained bitterly every time he was denied the opportunity to study a world more thoroughly. Sometimes his focus on that aspect of their missions bordered on obsession, but Daniel could be a very obsessive person. It was perhaps a good thing that he had some kind of outlet for all of the horribly conflicting emotions that must be inspired by the memory of that terrible day when Sha're had been taken.
Daniel was quiet now, but the look on Brecca's face the last time she had come to check on her patient had been as grim as it had been all evening. She had muttered something about Trieste arriving soon, but it seemed that she was beginning to believe that Daniel was already past all hope. Jack refused to believe that, though. That would be defeat, and losing was something he liked even less than waiting. He tried to reassure himself with the fact that Daniel had even opened his eyes less than an hour ago, looked right at Jack and asked him where he was. Jack had answered, but Daniel hadn't seem to register what he had been told and had tried to pull himself out of bed, muttering something about Sha're being angry at him for sleeping so late. Jack had gently pushed him back down into the bed, telling him that Sha're really wouldn't mind, just this once.
Immediately after that, a fit of violent spasms stronger than any so far had wracked Daniel's body, his breath coming in great, ragged gasps until Jack was convinced he was witnessing the death throes of his friend. Just as suddenly as the tremors had started, though, they ceased, and Daniel had slumped into the eerie stillness that had lasted for the last half hour. His breathing was extremely shallow so that Jack had to keep checking to see that he was still hanging on, but every now and then, the anthropologist's eyelids would slowly lift, and he would stare at nothing with glassy, bloodshot eyes for a few seconds before closing his eyes again. He didn't try to talk to Jack again, though.
Teal'c had been brought to the room a couple of hours ago looking like he had the worst hangover imaginable. Jack had been tempted to tease him about his wild partying habits, but that would've required an explanation that Jack didn't feel up to, so he simply briefed Teal'c on the situation. The Jaffa nodded and, without speaking a word, took up a position next to the door, as if he were guarding them and looking for all the world like he wouldn't hesitate to tear to shreds with his bare hands anyone who so much as glared at either O'Neill or Jackson. Jack let him be. He didn't think they really needed a guard, but if it made Teal'c feel like he was being useful, fine. Jack just wished he could do something more than sit there. Moral support was well and good, but when the intended object of that support wasn't even aware that you were there, well, it was frustrating at the very least.
Sam finally returned and briefly greeted Teal'c before shaking her head at Jack as she slumped down onto one of the stools. "If you were holding your breath, you can stop now," she said quietly.
"I wasn't," Jack answered truthfully.
"These people actually aren't as primitive as they seem at first. They have a highly developed culture and extensive knowledge of art, music, even mathematics, but there seems to be some kind of cultural taboo against altering the natural world. They try to live in harmony with their surroundings, using science only as a means to understand and protect their environment. They've got a helluva library, and some of the buildings here are pretty impressive feats of engineering, but their technology doesn't extend beyond simple machines like levers and pulleys. Judging from names and appearances, I'd have to guess that they're of Scandinavian origin, but it also seems like they've undergone quite a bit of independent development in the time since they were taken from Earth. Boy, Daniel would have a field day with this one." She fell silent for a moment, then swallowed and asked, "How is he?"
Jack didn't say anything, just reached over and pulled the blanket down from Daniel's shoulder. Almost half of his chest now looked like one huge bruise and the red path of the poison's ravages had spread down his right arm and up the side of his neck into his hairline. Sam sucked in her breath, then reached out a shaky hand to touch Daniel's side. The skin was very tender and very hot to the touch, but when she squeezed his hand in a vague attempt at comfort, his fingers were ice cold, as was the rest of his arm and his face. She pulled her hand back, feeling the knot in her stomach tighten even further, something she had not thought possible.
"Who would do such a thing?" she whispered fiercely, hot anger rising in her. "What sick son of a bitch would actually use a poison that kills so slowly and so painfully?" She flinched at the harsh sound of her own words, seeming to want to take them back, momentarily afraid of the power that words could have to create their own reality.
"I don't know, but as horrible as this sounds," Jack replied quietly, "the fact that this poison is slow-acting is about the only thing working in Daniel's favor right now." Silence again. Jack decided to add silence to the list of things he hated. "Then again, maybe I spoke too soon," he said slowly, nodding back towards the door and prompting Sam to turn around to see what he was talking about.
Brecca and her grandmother had both returned, bringing with them a tall, slender woman wearing an ankle-length cloak made of flowing, dark green fabric, a green so deep it almost seemed black. Jack would've sworn it was, in fact, black if it hadn't been for the contrast provided by the woman's hair, ebony tresses gathered onto the top of her head in an elaborate style of shining loops and braids. Her skin was a warm olive, and her almond-shaped eyes quickly swept around the room, lingering for a moment on Jack, Sam, Teal'c and Daniel in turn. Jack felt strange under that gaze, and his uneasy feeling wasn't helped by the fact that he couldn't quite place the woman's age, not even within a few decades. There seem to be faint lines around her eyes, but in the shifting light of the fire, she looked very old at one moment and very young the next.
Brecca quickly walked over to Jack and Sam and motioned for them to move away from Daniel, which they did with only a fractional hesitation. She then cleared all but one of the stools out of the way before coming over to join them on the other side of the room. Teal'c, however, was reluctant to abandon his post at the door and seemed to want to engage the newcomer in a staring contest. The woman gazed unflinchingly back at him until Brecca came and laid a hand on his arm. The Jaffa ignored her, though, and looked over the top of Brecca's head at Jack. O'Neill nodded and jerked his head to the side, indicating that Teal'c should join him and Carter. The Jaffa did so, but not before casting one final, threatening look over his shoulder at the strange woman.
Now that the area around Daniel was finally cleared, Brecca's grandmother escorted the dark-eyed visitor over to the cot, and the woman sat with a graceful sweep of her cloak, revealing a gown of matching fabric embroidered at the hem with strange, silver symbols and cinched at the waist with an elaborately braided belt of dark leather studded with silver.
"This is Trieste," Brecca whispered with a touch of reverence in her voice, confirming what Jack and Sam had both already guessed.
"She's not from around these parts, is she?" Jack whispered back, referring to the woman's dark hair and skin decidedly not Scandinavian in origin. He knew he was stating the obvious but hoped his comment would prompt Brecca to enlighten them further.
"No," Brecca replied. She didn't seem inclined to elaborate as she became absorbed in what Trieste was doing, which at this point was little more than assessing Daniel's condition with no instrument other than her hands and eyes, long fingers gently probing at the wound and tracing the crimson pathways across pale skin. Jack wasn't particularly reassured by this simple beginning, but he held a faint hope that some miracle was contained in the covered vessel of heavily engraved silver that the healer had carried in with her and set on the floor at her side. He was about to ask what was in the urn when Brecca turned, looking him directly in the eye with the sort of expression that dared him to object, and stated firmly, "She is one of the Tokra."
Expressions of surprise flashed across both Jack's and Sam's faces. Even Teal'c raised an eyebrow. Brecca had told them that some of the Tokra visited here from time to time, but she had forgotten to mention that their much-vaunted healer was, in fact, a Goa'uld. Jack stifled the objection that rose in him almost automatically. Goa'uld or not, their few past dealings with the Tokra had shown them that the enemy of their enemy just might truly be their friend, and to be brutally honest, they really didn't have any choice at this point. Daniel was quite literally at death's doorstep, and this woman, whatever her race or political affiliation, was the last hope he had.
None of them was quite prepared for what Trieste's "unusual" means of healing consisted of, though. Her preliminary evaluation completed, she reached down and flipped back the lid of the silver urn, reaching in to retrieve something small and whitish that seemed to be moving on its own. Jack wasn't sure what the thing was, although his thoughts jumped instantly to leeches, maybe some kind of mutant albino leeches, but Sam instantly recognized it for what it was. "My God, it's a Goa'uld larva," she gasped, frozen for a moment by the shock and icy fear suddenly flooding her veins. She lurched forward only a few seconds later, instinct screaming at her to stop what was happening, but by then it was too late, and she halted dead in her tracks. The larva had instantly homed in on the wound in Daniel's side and entered his body with a sickening, slithering sound. Daniel's eyes snapped open and he stared directly at Trieste for a few seconds of mute agony, every muscle in his body tensed and his hands balling into fists at his sides. Life seemed to flow out of him then, and his eyelids squeezed tightly shut as he drew a great, shuddering breath that was followed by an equally prolonged exhalation broken by several horribly sharp catches. His body abruptly went completely limp, and he was silent, even more silent than before, quieter than any natural state of sleep or unconsciousness, still as death.
Brecca grabbed Sam's arm and jerked her back hard. Normally, Sam would've been able to break such a grip with ease, but given the fear and dismay that filled her, she only stumbled numbly backwards until her back was against the wall. She was recalling her own experience being possessed by a Goa'uld, Jack could see that clearly written across her stunned features. Even though that Goa'uld had also been one of the Tokra and had given its life to save Sam, he knew that she would never wish the experience on anyone else. She had been devastated, both at the realization of how vulnerable she was, how vulnerable they all were, as well as at the overwhelming sense of helplessness and loss she had felt when the Goa'uld had died.
"Carter, it's all right," Brecca was saying, rubbing Sam's arm in an attempt to get some response out of her. "I've seen this done before. Daniel will be fine."
Teal'c hadn't said a word, which wasn't surprising since he carried a Goa'uld larva himself and wouldn't necessarily be bothered by the presence of another. Jack knew, though, where Teal'c's true loyalties were. He would act the moment O'Neill gave the sign. The only problem was that Jack didn't know what kind of action was dictated by this particular situation, if reaction was really needed at all. He turned to Trieste, unsure whether he should thank the woman or beat her to a bloody pulp. A Goa'uld larva did have incredible powers to boost the natural healing systems of its host, but what else it would do to Daniel in the process was by no means certain.
The healer had not taken her eyes from Daniel throughout all the commotion going on behind her, her attention entirely focussed on the initial effects of her remedy, but now she turned and rose to face Jack, as if sensing his intentions to confront her. He was a bit disconcerted by the fact that she was just as tall as he was, if not a bit taller, and she gazed at him with such an odd mixture of arrogance, certainty and compassion that he was struck speechless.
"This was necessary, O'Neill," she said in the deeply echoing tone of voice that verified beyond a doubt that she was, in fact, Goa'uld. "Your friend surely would have died otherwise."
"Maybe he would've been better off dead," Jack ground out, wanting to hate this creature, but finding it difficult to do so. He had only the word of strangers to let him know that she was not like most other Goa'uld they had encountered, but he was tired, so very, very tired, that things like anger or deception or blame didn't seem to matter any longer.
"I don't think you truly believe that," she answered simply, smiling at him in a way that was meant to reassure. He felt the distrust begin to melt away, nothing at all able to maintain solidity in the fog of weariness that was seeping into ever fiber of his being, but through the haze of exhaustion and futility, his naturally cautious and suspicious nature asserted itself. He refused to budge one little bit, and even stood up a little straighter, taller than even parade ground stance, noting with satisfaction that this allowed him to look down at her ever so slightly. Trieste did not seem to be interested in sparring with him, though, either verbally or through subtle gestures and posturing. She simply folded her hands in front of her and spoke quietly, a hint of pride in her voice, but a great deal of empathy there as well, encompassed by an undeniable air of truth. "I am Tokra, Colonel O'Neill. I would never force the bond of the Goa'uld upon someone who was not willing to accept it. The creature that even now heals your friend was not a Goa'uld larva, but something akin to it. Not as highly developed, very short-lived, not even truly sentient, but very useful in many ways, including the clearing of toxins or diseases from infected bodies. It will do its work, metabolize the poison into a harmless substance, and then die, its life's work complete. Its great fortune, and our great blessing, is the utter simplicity of its purpose in existing. It will do no harm."
Seeming to feel that her mission here was now completed, Trieste moved to retrieve the silver urn from the floor near Daniel's bed, but Jack quickly repositioned himself in front of her, his expression making it clear that she had better be telling the truth or there would be hell to pay. Trieste only tilted her head and smiled faintly. "It is difficult for me to fathom that one person could be so untrusting. Have faith, Jack O'Neill," she said softly, her eyes shining with some emotion Jack could not identify, if he even cared to try. "I know this does not come easy to you, but you must put your trust in others and let them believe in you in turn if you and your friends are to survive. If any of us are to survive." With that, she turned, quickly stooping to pick up the silver urn, and swept silently out of the room. Brecca's grandmother followed, but not before nodding to Brecca to accompany them and fixing Carter, Teal'c and O'Neill each with a strangely challenging stare. Brecca gave Sam's arm one final, reassuring pat before she ducked her head and followed her grandmother out of the room.
After a moment of stunned silence during which his brain did cartwheels in a futile attempt to digest what he had just been told, Jack shook his head and turned back towards Carter and Teal'c. "Well, that sounded ominous. What the hell did she mean by that?"
Carter simply shrugged, but Teal'c ventured, "It sounded like warning, but also like a prophecy."
"Prophecy, schmophecy," Jack retorted. "You can keep all that mumbo jumbo to yourself, thank you very much." Teal'c frowned at this, so Jack added apologetically, "No offense to you and whatever your beliefs may be Teal'c, but I feel like I've just been voodooed or something, and I don't like it one bit." He blew out a short, sharp breath and shook himself, waggling his arms in the air and then stuffing his hands into his pockets. He walked hesitantly over to Daniel and looked down for a moment, his eyes searching for some sign of life in the anthropologist. The younger man was barely breathing, his chest rising and falling only slightly, but life was life, and it was more than Jack had hoped for just a short while ago. He started to sit on the stool that Trieste had recently vacated, but without a word, he shoved the stool aside and pulled up another one. He rested his elbows on his knees and put his chin on his clasped hands. Carter joined him, and even Teal'c lowered himself to a seat, his tall body awkwardly folding to accommodate itself to the low stool. Back to waiting, but not for much longer, one way or another.
There was darkness, and there was light, and there was the grayness between the two. There was heat, and there was cold, and there was a gentle, comforting solace that was both hot and chilled at once. There was pain, and there was numbness, but there was a vital sense of being, of blood rushing through veins and labored breath being drawn into lungs. Daniel floated somewhere in the midst of these sensations, his awareness swaying like a pendulum from dark to light, from heat to cold, from pain to bliss. Fractured glimpses of another world made their way to him from time to time, familiar voices, the flicker of firelight, an unfamiliar touch that reminded him of someone else, cool water and the sent of herbs, and pain, pain, always the pain, burning and searing like a living thing, tearing him away from jumbled fragments of reality.
He heard a voice that sounded like his own voice, saying things that didn't make sense, speaking one moment in the flowing language of Abydos, then in Ancient Greek, then in English for a word or two. He couldn't hold onto a sense a self or an awareness of a physical body long enough to determine if he was actually speaking or if it was someone who only sounded like him or if he was simply catching the memory of speech as it drifted back to him across the silent gulf of still, dark waters that surrounded him. He let himself float on the water, feeling it wash around him, warm and shockingly cold, glittering with reflected starlight, pulsing with the velvet black of the space between the stars. Every now and then, the water would wash up over his face, and he would gasp for air, thrashing against the embrace of the water until he could breathe again, until the turbulence settled and he floated calmly yet again. Once or twice he even felt himself begin to slide beneath the waters, and he almost let it happen, wanting so much to find an end to this empty, ceaseless night, but something called him back, something made him find the strength to cling to the silvery thread binding him to fragile life. A memory called out to him, beckoned him with warm and graceful hands, a touch in another night, a twilight filled with soft breezes and the scent of wood smoke and a name, whispered on the wind. He clung to that name, letting it carry him through the endless midnight. It was his comfort, his heart's ease, his life's blood, his final resting place, no matter what happened, no matter what was yet to be.
There was a light, a sudden, blinding stab of searing pain, and the waters ran away into the desert sands. He walked across a wasteland at midnight, the sky above filled with strange stars wheeling about in foreign patterns, three moons silvering the ground with the reflected light of an alien sun. His feet were bare, and the sand was cool, but every few steps, a thorn would pierce the tender flesh of his soles, and he would stagger, sand grinding into the wound and fire flaring up through his legs. Again and again, the thorns tore at his feet and attempted to snag at his arms and legs with ragged hands, but he trudged onwards, limping painfully through the night, knowing in his heart that he was almost there, that if he could only manage a few more steps, he would be there.
And then, suddenly, he had arrived, his feet now pressed against smooth, cool stone, granite polished to the sheen of still, dark waters, the air around him sweet with incense and gentle breezes stirring long drapes of gossamer silk. She was there, huddled in a pool of shadow in a dark and lonely corner, one fluttering edge of blushing crepe waving back and forth next to her, obscuring her face and then revealing it again, like the moon coming out from behind a cloud. But it was a sorrowful moon, its pale contours tarnished with tears and its heart run through with fissures that threatened to break it apart. He felt every one of those cracks as if they were in his own heart, as if they were wounds in his own body. He held out his arms to her and called her name, willing her to rise up out of the shadows, yearning with every ounce of his soul and spirit to summon the bright dawn that he knew lived there still, its promise shrouded in the deep of night.
She lifted her head and turned dull, lifeless eyes towards him, but when she saw him standing there, like an apparition formed of her own desires but also solid and real, oh, so heartbreakingly real, a spark flared within her. She had thought there was nothing but cold stone left to her, had believed that there would never again be warmth in this frozen, dark place, but she knew now that she was wrong. There was still an ember, banked beneath the ashes, waiting for the moment when the breath would come that would fan it to life again. She sighed and let the radiance of that fire fill her, let her brittle, hollow bones fill with marrow again, let the blood come rushing out of the gates of her heart, pounding through her veins and throbbing in her head like the wild elation of a festival dance. She rose up from the dark and walked towards him, the soft embrace of silk flowing across her skin and falling away.
They touched, warm hands sliding across warm skin, arms full of life wrapping around bodies overflowing with radiance, lips brushing together, then melding into one another, the rush of life and breath and body and soul intertwining, welling up out of the boundless depths of the soul. An eternity passed, an endless, timeless wilderness of bliss, hope and faith and love returning, renewing, crying out that they had never gone away, that they would always be there, beyond flesh, beyond dreams, beyond life.
And then she was gone, fading away like the wisp of smoke that lingers after the flash, yet imprinted on every fiber of his being like the afterimage of a lightening strike. He braced himself for the searing pain that he knew would come, but there was nothing but silence and a veil of shadows. Light flickered through the tattered shroud of night, and he knew that she was with him, would be there always, for as long as his heart flowed with blood and his lungs filled with breath. Perhaps even beyond that.
The light called him back, beckoned to him, illuminated the path that would carry him home. A shimmering being appeared before him, tall and willowy, impossibly slender like nothing human. Its head was narrow with pointed chin, and its ears were long and sharply tipped. Its eyes were deeply slanted and filled with liquid light, a luminescence that ran down alabaster cheeks and washed over outstretched ivory hands, spilling across the path and filling all the world with its beauty. He let the creature take his hand, let it guide him back across the dark waters, across the wide valley filled with impotent shadows, back to the place where he truly belonged, back to the world where she waited for him still, back to love and to hope and to life.
- "All love is sweet,
- Given or returned. Common as light is love,
- And its familiar voice wearies not ever."
Percy Bysshe Shelley, _Prometheus Unbound_