Jmas Fan Fiction

Title: Spirit Dance
Status: Complete
Author: Jmas
Category: angst, H/C, drama, Challenge response
Rating: PG
Email: jmasg1@bellsouth.net
Archive: Stargate Fan, Heliopolis, Belle's Place, Place of Our Legacy
Disclaimer: Characters are property of MGM, etc.
Spoilers: Legacy, Stargate the movie, mention of Learning Curve
Summary: Sometimes faith *can* move mountains...or at least trees.
Author's note: This resulted from a challenge on the H/C list in which a group of authors all began with the same bare bones idea...and ran away with it. Hope you enjoy.
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Spirit Dance
By
Jmas

Part One

'This place is giving me a serious case of the creeps.' Jack thought with still another look over his shoulder.

The mission to P3J159 had been envisioned as a simple recon mission to check out some ruins located twelve miles from the Stargate. There had been no perceived threats, no signs of recent life, no reason at all to think that something was watching them...

Jack had been aware of an intense claustrophobic feeling from the moment they'd left the general vicinity of the Stargate and it had quickly been accompanied by the distinct impression that he and his team were being watched.

It hadn't helped Jack's frame of mind to realize that Carter and Teal'c were also looking back over their shoulders with increasing frequency. They were soldiers, like Jack himself, trained to heed those life-saving survival instincts. But what really had Jack convinced that something wasn't quite right was the fact that Daniel seemed to be feeling it, too.

Daniel, who was usually so preoccupied looking for signs of former inhabitants on a planet that he wouldn't notice Bigfoot if it walked up and said 'hi,' was also glancing behind them with disturbing regularity.

Jack tried to ascribe the feeling to the impression of emptiness they'd gotten upon their first view of the planet. The UAV images hadn't shown any signs of evolved life with the exception of the ruins and they certainly hadn't seen any sort of life...not so much as an animal track.

They neared the ruins toward dusk and quickly set up camp with the simple ease of frequent repetition. Nearly three years of operating as a team had brought them to the point of knowing what was expected and following through on that knowledge. Jack knew the better part of wisdom, as well as of being an effective team leader, was to allow his team to act on their skills without unnecessary and superfluous orders from him.

Commanding SG-1 had become one of the most comfortable commands that Jack could recall. He'd been the both the leader and a member of many teams in the past, but this team...his team...was as much a family as a team....and yet Jack knew that SG-1 much more than even that.

Over time, Jack's team had formed a bond that consistently amazed him. The very fact that four such radically different people could get along and work together was a shock to those higher-ups who'd no doubt laid odds that SG-1 wouldn't last. The fact that they had connected so completely was nothing short of a miracle. A miracle for which Jack thanked much higher authorities than the military brass who'd given his team such poor odds.

While Jack had mused, his team had established their camp, started a fire and broken out the MRE's. Jack made sure to thank them, in his own sardonic way.

Watching his team quietly interacting, gently teasing one another over their military issue dinner, Jack realized once again how important these people had become in his life.

Carter was the most like him; raised in a military family, she best understood the discipline...the mindset...that was so deeply ingrained in them both. Despite the fact that Carter was also a scientist, she had proven herself time and again to be courageous, tenacious and loyal to a fault.

Teal'c was the strong, steady backbone of the team. He'd earned his place among his Tau'ri friends through his unflagging support, honorable dignity and unswerving faith that his friends would do everything in their power to defeat the Goa'uld and free his people.

And then there was Dr. Daniel Jackson, Ph. D...times three. The youngest member of the team, Daniel was also the smartest...at least by default, he had more initials after his name than Carter. Daniel was, without question, one of the most impulsive, passionate and trusting people that Jack had ever known. Daniel was also loyal beyond question, painfully honest, unfailingly dedicated and possessed of a courage and inner-strength that still managed to surprise Jack.

Watching Daniel give one of his shy smiles at some good-natured rib from Carter, Jack sighed. These were his 'kids'...his team....and he was damn lucky to have them.

Part 2

'I wish this weird feeling would just go away...'

Sam knew that she had to be imagining the eerie sensation of being observed, but she just couldn't shake it. There hadn't been a single sign of current life on this planet and yet...

In a way Sam wished that the colonel had ordered a double guard. It was bad enough to have these feelings when the team was awake and together in the daylight...

Sam berated herself for acting like a little girl on her first overnight camping trip. Sam knew Teal'c was just a whisper away, the colonel wouldn't take much more than that and Daniel...well...it might take a shout, but not so long ago it would have taken a brass band...with extra cymbals.

Of course, Daniel getting a decent night's rest was such a rare occurrence that none of them begrudged it to him. Daniel's young life had been full of things that disturbed his sleep...so much so that often he avoided it like a plague. Sam knew from grim experience that Daniel had developed that particular defense mechanism to stave off the nightmares that his all too active mind conjured up on a regular basis. They had all learned to recognize the signs and tried to help when Daniel would allow it...and occasionally when he wouldn't.

The protectiveness that SG-1 felt towards one another was just one of the many things that made them such a great team. The colonel could be an absolute martinet when it came to the safety and well being of his friends and teammates. It was his caring leadership...far above and beyond the call of duty...that had bonded them into the unbeatable entity that they were.

Sam tensed a little at a small sound she couldn't identify and was extremely grateful to see Teal'c's eyes snap open. They looked around cautiously, but found nothing. Teal'c was about to return to his rest when they were both startled by a sudden noise coming from Daniel's tent...

"Ahh..." It was Daniel's voice...sharp and pained.

Stooping down beside Daniel's tent, Sam clicked on her flashlight to peer inside. Daniel was sitting up, his eyes looking around wildly in confusion...his hands covering his face. Fearing another bad dream, Sam groped for something appropriately reassuring to say....but then she saw the blood. There was blood pouring out from between Daniel's fingers.

Yelling for the colonel, Sam helped Daniel out of the tent and over to the fire. By the time they got there, the colonel was beside them...gently coaxing Daniel's hands away from his face.

Bright crimson oozed from parallel gashes along both of Daniel's cheekbones...

"What the..?" The colonel seemed at a loss for words, shooting a questioning glance at Sam.

"We heard a noise, Colonel...but nothing got into this camp, much less into Daniel's tent."

The colonel nodded, accepting that Sam knew her business. Teal'c brought the medkit and Sam set about cleaning Daniel's inexplicable wounds.

Daniel still looked a bit dazed. "Jack...?"

So well did they know each other...especially the colonel and Daniel...that the one word was enough to convey Daniel's confusion and question.

The colonel shook his head briefly. "Did you see anything, Daniel?"

Daniel tried to shake his head and winced as it caused Sam's hand to touch one of the gashes too roughly.

"Ow...No...I was asleep, then I felt..." Daniel's mobile hands vaguely indicated his face. "Then Sam came..."

The colonel frowned, glancing at the dark forest that seemed so close around them; the feeling was back...even stronger than before...

Part 3

'I do *not* believe in ghosts....So what scratched me?'

Daniel's nervousness was not improved by the fact that Sam, Jack and Teal'c had closed ranks around him like a matched set of camouflage-clad mother hens. Over time Daniel had grown used to the rather over-protective tendencies of his teammates and alternately felt touched and irritated by the gestures. This time, however, it merely heightened the feeling that there was something out there to be protected from.

Jack had ordered them to stay in pairs and took the next watch with Daniel, who had argued that he was far too keyed-up to sleep.

Daniel watched the firelight set the shadows around them in motion, suppressing a shudder as that strange feeling intensified. Daniel was more relieved than he could admit to himself that his friends' well-honed instincts were in complete agreement with his own.

Jack had made a poor attempt at humor to distract them from the ever-growing tenseness, but neither of them was in really in the mood for jokes.

Daniel could feel a distinct 'danger' in the air around him...a sense of closeness and ill intent in whatever it was that watched them. He hesitated to mention those impressions...his last strange impressions had not been well received and had left him reluctant to share theories without at least minimal proofs.

Jack was watching Daniel as he sat there engrossed in unpleasant memories. "It's not the same, y'know..." Jack said quietly. "Something very 'real' caused..." He waved broadly toward Daniel's damaged face.

"I know..." Daniel almost whispered, somewhat embarrassed to be so easily read. "It's just..."

"I know." Jack stated and Daniel knew that it was true.

Daniel smiled, starting to shake off the jittery feeling...just before the first stone struck him in the chest.

Jack was on his feet in an instant, facing outward and placing himself between Daniel and his unseen attacker.

Another stone shot into the camp, knocking Daniel to his knees as it struck him behind the ear, drawing blood once again.

Jack ordered Daniel to stay down and tried to shield his friend from further attack while still vainly searching for its source...

"You alright?"

Daniel's hair was quickly reddening where the last stone had struck, the blood soaking in his collar.

"I'm okay..." Daniel started to rise and ducked swiftly as another stone launched out of the darkness, just missing him.

Jack called for Sam and Teal'c; he couldn't protect Daniel out in the open like they were and it was becoming quite obvious that Daniel was the intended target...

Sam and Teal'c were there in moments, surrounding Daniel with their presence in a very effective human shield. The stones stopped...only to fly again when Jack deliberately left an opening to test his theory that Daniel was the one 'it' wanted.

Daniel huddled within the circle of his friends...acutely aware of the risk they were taking for his sake...and unfathomably touched by it. Jack's hand reached back to touch Daniel's shoulder reassuringly...asking the question with one upturned brow.

"I'm okay, Jack."

And surprisingly enough, Daniel knew it was true.

Part 4

"This is not acceptable.'

Teal'c was not at all pleased that some unknown entity had singled out Daniel Jackson for this physical assault. Daniel Jackson was one of the best people...on any world...that Teal'c knew and Teal'c had long ago taken it upon himself to protect the young scholar. The only hardship in that task was that Daniel Jackson was a singularly difficult body to guard.

Teal'c's anger grew as he looked into Daniel Jackson's tired eyes. Major Carter had endeavored to bandage the young man's head wound, but every time that they attempted to move away from Daniel Jackson...or even to move with him to a more defensible position...the stones would begin again. Teal'c was sure that their friend would be a mass of bruises before morning....for all their vigilance, several more stones had hit their mark. Teal'c had not understood O'Neill's reference to three 'stooges', but understood all too well Major Carter's reply that those individuals had never been faced with attack by unseen forces.

Daniel Jackson was pale and clearly exhausted, but resisted all attempts to convince him to sleep within their protective barrier. Teal'c surmised that the young man was feeling guilty for causing the rest of the team such difficulty.

Major Carter and O'Neill had tried to convince Daniel Jackson that *he* was the only one in difficulty as it seemed the planet itself had chosen him as its victim.

So Daniel Jackson sat among them, head resting on his knees so as not to present a clear target.

"Jack?" Daniel Jackson's voice was low.

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"I need my notes on the ruins..."

"What?" O'Neill's voice was plainly incredulous.

Daniel Jackson smiled apologetically. "The UAV data on the ruins..."

Major Carter was smiling out into the darkness and Teal'c could see that O'Neill was trying very hard not to.

"Daniel..." O'Neill's warning tone was tinged with amused recognition. ..and perhaps a hint of surprise that it had taken Daniel Jackson so long to ask for his notes.

"Well, we're stuck here anyway. I might as well start trying to figure out why..."

Even O'Neill couldn't argue with the logic of that.

Teal'c and O'Neill prepared to encircle Daniel Jackson more closely while Major Carter would run for his pack. The switch was made quickly, but another stone got through...catching Daniel Jackson on the shoulder and eliciting a small groan from the young man. They tightened their arms around the smaller man, trying to eliminate all possible open areas. When Major Carter returned, pack in hand, they more carefully returned to their former positions.

O'Neill summed up the team's feelings succinctly.

"This is going to be a long night."


Part 5

'Well, this sucks...'

Jack couldn't help but wonder at the vendetta the so-called Fates seemed to have going for his best friend.

'They must've been Goa'uld, too....' Jack mused, more to keep himself awake than anything else, but it did seem that Daniel got tossed more than his share of grief.

Watching Daniel squinting at his notes in the fast-fading firelight, Jack shook his head. Some things about Daniel would never change...and Jack was quite sure he didn't want them to.

They had been relieved to see the first dim glow of dawn through the trees and all of them hoped this would bring an end to the night's strange happenings. As the light grew, Jack got his first good look at Daniel...the kid looked like how he must feel...pretty damn bad. The gashes across his cheeks stood out like some bad tattoo, the bandage behind his ear and the purplish bruise on his temple were just the most visible signs of the hellish night he had been through.

Daniel looked up suddenly, as if feeling Jack's eyes on him. He shook his head ruefully giving a fatalistic half-shrug which inexplicably angered Jack even further. He didn't like seeing Daniel accept the unfairness that seemed to come his way all too often. Most of the time, Daniel fought those feelings with a fair measure of success, but...occasionally... he would lose that battle.

"Daniel?" Jack's question was under the surface...a level upon which most of their relationship lay. They knew without knowing, said without saying...felt kinship on a level so far beyond words that the deep feelings between them rarely required them.

Daniel nodded his head, reading beneath the tone and answering the question. "It's okay, Jack."

As the twilight faded away into a bright morning, Jack knew they had to see if the rocks had decided to stop seeking revenge on the archaeologist...

'There's a joke in there somewhere...' Jack thought.

Daniel nodded at the unspoken thought, making ready to stand. Jack looked at his team and stepped away from Daniel, poised to jump back into position at the first provocation...

Nothing happened.

A collective sigh rose up among them and Teal'c bent to help Daniel off the ground. The young man swayed a little...tired and hurting...but managed to stand on his own and walked around stretching muscles cramped from staying still for so long.

Daniel offered a quiet 'thanks' to his friends...a single word that expressed so much more.

Jack nodded at his team, acknowledging their efforts and expressing his own gratitude.

Daniel was looking in the direction of the ruins, and Jack felt a distinct sense of dread...

"Jack..."

"No."

The two words tumbled over one another; blue eyes met brown in a test of will and purpose...

Jack didn't need to hear that it was important to discover what sort people had inhabited this world, to try to discover what sort of power had held them all hostage around his stubborn friend all night. What Jack *knew* was that they were all exhausted and that exceedingly stubborn...and injured...friend should be the one leading the argument to head back to the 'gate, but never would be.

Jack sighed...someday...."Two hours, Daniel. No more."

Daniel smiled in gratitude and understanding. He knew quite well when to push...and when not to.

"That's all I need."

Part 6

'This looks all too familiar...if I could only figure out where from....'

Daniel was taking notes as fast as he could while Sam took samples and videoed everything in sight.

Daniel knew that...somewhere...he'd seen pictographs similar to these before. The ruins themselves bespoke a pastoral culture, possibly migratory dwellings visited when the herds of ...whatever....came here for summer feeding. The pictographs depicted those animals as well as humanoid figures, but the image that captured Daniel's attention was subtly different....an image of a ghost-like figure....

'Where have I seen that before...?'

Daniel was aware of Jack and Teal'c rather conspicuously trying to be inconspicuous as they hovered around him. He smiled inwardly...if the situation weren't so serious, it would almost be funny...

Daniel's throbbing head reminded him that the situation wasn't a bit humorous. Jack tapped him on the shoulder, handing over a painkiller and a canteen. Daniel took them with a grateful nod, wondering when he'd become so completely readable to Jack.

'About the same time I learned how to read him...' Daniel guessed, reminding himself how lucky he was to have become a part of this amazing group of people.

He passed the canteen back, nodding again to reassure Jack.

'Take five, Danny...'

Daniel started to argue, but thought better of it. One thing he'd learned over time was to choose his battles with Jack. Besides, his head *did* hurt and the lack of sleep was beginning to catch up to him...it was a long way back to the 'gate....

Jack sat down beside him, raising a hand to rub at Daniel's aching neck...carefully avoiding the bandage. Jack knew a thing or two about pressure points and Daniel soon felt some of the pain ease. His head drooped to rest on his knees and he almost felt like he could sleep....

"The Spirit Dance!"

Jack's hand flew away as Daniel's head popped up.

"The...what?" Jack tried not to look too surprised by Daniel's intuitive leap.

Daniel jumped up...a little too fast...and Jack put out a hand to steady him. Daniel stood there a moment...letting his body catch up to the tangent his mind was well on the way to...then moved to the wall of pictographs. Daniel pointed out the ghostly figure that had intrigued him before.

"This...indicates a ritual performed among several native tribes on Earth..."

Jack's expression was loudly saying...'and?'.

Daniel hesitated a moment, trying to gather his racing thoughts into some semblance of order.

"Okay...many native tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, practiced a ritual designed to commune with the spirits of their ancestors..." Daniel started pacing as he warmed to the subject. "The ritual generally involved a series of tests designed to prove worthiness to receive the wisdom and gifts of those who'd passed on..."

Jack was looking at Daniel, a wary expression on his face. "Are you trying to tell me...?"

Daniel looked puzzled a moment, "Yes. I think. Maybe."

Jack grinned. "Well, that's pretty definite."

Sam had been listening and chimed in, " Are you trying to say these 'spirits' are testing you to see if you're worth talking to?"

Daniel glanced away as he realized how strange his words must have sounded and wondered if he should have spoken at all...

"Hey..." Jack's tone made Daniel look up to meet his eyes. "We know it's something real...and this is as good an explanation as anything else we've got."

"Ghosts, Jack?" Daniel couldn't help the self-deprecating tone that crept into his voice.

"Or some reasonable facsimile..."

Daniel nodded in a completely different sort of gratitude. "So what do we do?"

"We get the hell out of here before they throw something else at us."

Part 7

'Stupid, stupid, stupid...'

Sam couldn't believe she'd said that to Daniel...

Sam knew that many of the things they'd encountered since that first mission through the Stargate would have seemed outlandish...or even crazy....prior to that time. Now more than ever Daniel *needed* their support. After the episode with Machello's devices, the very insecure young man who lived within Daniel's great intellect had been deeply shaken by his team's lack of faith and Daniel was still working his way back from it...as they all were. There were barely perceptible moments of hesitation; moments to consider if what he was about to say could be misconstrued to read that he'd lost it.

Daniel's unique way of thinking was an integral part of what made Daniel who he was. Daniel possessed an intuitive, intrinsic intelligence that refused to be modified or characterized by any set means. Daniel could surmise more, and more rapidly, than a room full of classically trained theorists....had, in fact, done so or they wouldn't be where they were today. Sam had come to respect and admire Daniel for that intelligence...and much more...and she couldn't bear to think that something she said could bring that shadow of self-doubt to his eyes...

Watching Daniel lean on Jack for support as they made their way out of the ruins, she wondered if Daniel's theory was really so strange after all...

The stones *had* come out of nowhere. She'd personally seen one lift from the ground with no visible guiding force. If there were Reetou around Teal'c would know it, but who knew what other sorts of life forms...or life forces...were out there that possessed the ability to do this. As the colonel had said..."something real" had caused this...Something had definitely intended Daniel harm last night and it was up to them to protect Daniel until they could find out what...or just get off the planet.

Daniel stumbled a little ahead of her and was quickly caught by the colonel. Sam heard the colonel say something that made Daniel laugh quietly. Once again she felt like biting her tongue off for her thoughtless words earlier, while at the same time she was glad that Daniel had the colonel's unquestioning support. Sam had no doubt that her two friends would continue their famous arguments, but Daniel could always be assured that...when push came to shove...the colonel *would* be there for him...And the colonel knew the same was true for Daniel.

Teal'c sometimes had trouble expressing himself with the emotionally charged person that was Daniel, and Sam...she just had trouble expressing herself emotionally. Sam thought it was incredibly strange that Colonel Jack O'Neill...the least emotionally expressive of them all had so little difficulty relating to Daniel. Sam had once chalked it up to 'a guy thing', but she knew in her gut that it was so much more than that...

The colonel had once described Daniel as the voice and conscience of the team, but Sam felt that he'd become so much more since that time...Daniel was their soul, without him...they would all become so much less...

Sam realized they were approaching their former encampment and almost laughed as they all instinctively closed ranks around Daniel. Looking over at him, she caught a similar amusement in Daniel's eyes...he'd noticed it, too.

As they passed the site of last night's campfire, Sam took her eyes off Daniel to double-check that nothing had been left behind...and turned back just in time to see the trees...move.

Part 8

'I do not believe in spirits...or ambulatory trees.'

Teal'c moved closer to O'Neill and Daniel Jackson, noticing that Major Carter had done the same. O'Neill had a hand on Daniel Jackson's shoulder, as if he feared that the forest would somehow pluck him away from them.

"Well, this is nice." O'Neill's voice indicated exactly the opposite.

They backed away as a unit and O'Neill asked for suggestions.

Teal'c indicated his staff weapon and O'Neill nodded, backing away with Daniel Jackson and Major Carter. Teal'c charged the weapon and fired...

When the smoke cleared, they all watched in amazement as the limbs that the staff weapon had damaged were replaced by others.

"Okay," O'Neill drawled. "Any other bright ideas?"

Major Carter suggested going back the way they had come and trying to find an alternate route, but the trees closed them in again.

Teal'c was aware of a touch of fear in O'Neill's eyes as he glanced toward Daniel Jackson. If the young man's theory was correct...and the behavior of the trees seemed to support it...Daniel Jackson could be facing very real danger. Their friend was already injured and all of them were exhausted from lack of sleep; another such night would be far more difficult for them.

O'Neill considered their options, finally concluding that there weren't any. They proceeded to set up camp, this time with defensibility in mind. The clearing was devoid of much in the way of cover. There were a few boulders of reasonable size so they set up a lean-to near the largest one. If they were allowed to rest this night, it would be together.

Daniel Jackson watched them with a distracted expression, his eyes on the forest that was literally surrounding them.

"Is there something wrong, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked.

Daniel Jackson shook his head with a small shrug. "I don't know..." his voice trailed off, and they all became aware of the sound.

Something was howling.

Part 9

'This is getting monotonous....'

Jack was seriously becoming annoyed with P3J159, and its unseen inhabitants.

Daniel and Carter were trying to sleep while Jack and Teal'c guarded the entrance to the lean-to. Jack had given Daniel another of the painkillers, hoping it would help the younger man relax enough to sleep. Glancing over his shoulder, Jack could see that Daniel's eyes were closed, but somehow he doubted that it was in sleep.

Jack traded glances with Teal'c before resuming his scan of the darkening forest around them. The vaguely wolf-like howling rose and fell in intensity, but never stopped...like a gathering storm...

Jack shivered a little at the feeling...he didn't like being trapped this way...he didn't like that some 'spirit' had decided that beating up on Daniel was a fun way to spend the night...he didn't like the look he was catching in Daniel's eyes; the uncertainty, the self-doubt, the very real fear that he had to be on guard...even with them...lest his sanity be questioned again...

Long ago in their relationship, Jack had discovered something very essential about Daniel...the key, as it were, to understanding some of the things that drove the young man... against all odds...to go out on the limbs upon which he all too often balanced. Daniel would not, could not bear to encourage a lie. He'd been isolated among the people he been foisted upon after the death of his parents, unable to adjust to the lie his life had become. He'd been exiled from his colleagues for a his rebellious stand, had been isolated at the SGC for his differences, had stood apart for as long as Jack had known him.

The transition to becoming part of SG-1 had been hardest for Daniel in many ways...the young man simply lacked the skills to 'join' in, to smoothly become a part of something. It had been a long road to acceptance for Daniel...but he finally had. Jack, Sam and Teal'c had earned every measure of trust the young man had placed in them...until Machello's little device had set up a chain of events that all of them were still reeling from.

It hadn't been one of Jack's better moments, he simply knew that he'd failed Daniel...and couldn't imagine why his friend continued to trust him...

Jack caught Teal'c looking back over his shoulder and shook his head....this was getting to be a habit...

"Jack?"

Jack turned to look at Daniel, who was sitting up. "Yeah, Daniel?"

"Something's coming...."

Jack looked back toward the forest. There was a deepening of the shadows beyond the trees nearest them, a displacement of darkness with deeper darkness...

Jack felt his muscles tense and saw Teal'c doing the same...and then it was there.

Jack felt a pressure in his head as the darkness overtook them and strained to reach back toward Daniel, hoping against hope that he could somehow protect him.....

He heard Daniel call out something, then the blackness took over...
..............................................

Jack became aware of gathering mist and voices...or something like voices....chanting in the depths of it. He stood up and turned in a slow circle.

Something was coming through the fog...

Daniel.

But not Daniel.

It was as if everything about his friend had been stripped to its purest essence. The light of intelligence shone out of his eyes with a brilliance that hurt Jack to observe. The great caring heart, the compassion, the intensity...all were there radiating out from Daniel like sunlight breaking through clouds

Daniel smiled and the simple clarity and honesty of the expression merely served to confirm for Jack the things his gut already knew about his friend.

"Where are we, Daniel?"

Daniel smiled again and nodded. "Yeah, Jack...it's me. You look a little 'different' here, too."

Jack was confused. "Here?"

Daniel nodded, making an educated guess. "In the Spirit Dance...?"

"Okay..." Jack had a feeling he wasn't going to like the answer, but he asked the question anyway. "Where're Teal'c and Carter?"

Daniel shook his head. "I don't know...I don't think 'they' needed them here."

"They?"

Daniel nodded and Jack realized he already knew the answer.

"The spirits...?"

Daniel smiled again. "Or some reasonable facsimile."

Part 10

'Is this another trial?'

Daniel was worried about the potential for danger here. The peculiar perceptions he and Jack were experiencing had to serve some eventual purpose...

Jack seemed to Daniel like a solid, immutable presence...faithful, honorable, caring...never faltering, never-ending...

Out of the mist a sound, a 'voice', spoke to Daniel. The language was clear, but not clear...so close to something he knew and yet, somehow, intangibly different...just a syllable away from understanding...

A few of the words he recognized. 'Honor.' 'Trust.' 'Faith.' 'Death.' The other words just skittered away, beyond his understanding...too different, too changed to grasp so quickly. Impressions came to him of proving himself worthy, proving his people were worthy....

Jack was looking at him expectantly and Daniel hesitated before answering the implied question. He wished he could get past this feeling. He knew, in a way he couldn't explain, that it was important in this place for him to do so, but...

It was hard. The feelings were still there, the distrust he'd seen in his friends' eyes, the pity...the belief that what Machello's machines had caused in him was, in fact, his own failing sanity.....

Daniel shivered at the memory.

Jack was looking at him again...Daniel knew that Jack understood what he was feeling, but knowing didn't change anything. Daniel had to find it in himself to recapture the faith he'd lost...in himself, and...to a great extent...in them.

Somehow, soon...it had to be resolved.

Or he...maybe both of them...would die.

Jack reached out a hand to touch Daniel's shoulder, still asking.

"Um...I think this is another test..."

"Of..."

"I think...you're here to stand by me in this...trial...."

Jack's expression was still asking the question Daniel so obviously didn't want to answer.

"It's a test of...faith, Jack." Daniel said it quickly, almost angrily.

"Great," Jack said, dryly. His tone eloquently reflected Daniel's own realization that the 'spirits' had lousy timing. "So when does this test start?"

The mist swirled away, revealing a vast valley stretching out below them as they stood on a cliff face...not just any kind of cliff face...

It reminded Daniel of the monolithic formations of Monument Valley in the Southwestern United States...

Daniel took a step backward instinctively.

"I, uh, think it just did."

-
Part 11

'Why can't anything ever be easy...?'

Jack had seen Daniel's cut and bruised face go even paler. Daniel had exhibited astounding courage from General West's 'go' three years ago, but this was one of his greatest fears...and from the ropes at their feet, Jack was pretty sure that the 'spirits' intended for them to scale this cliff to the bottom.

Jack reached out to touch Daniel's arm, steadying the younger man on the precipice. They didn't have much room for mistakes; the top of the cliff barely measured fifteen feet in a roughly rectangular shape. Jack knew that Daniel was going to have a hard time with this...he also knew that the 'spirits' had to know exactly what kind of faith it would require of Daniel to allow him to successfully complete this descent.

"Oh, boy..." Daniel was shaking his head, breathing deeply. "Jack, can we...?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders in response. "Do we have any choices here?"

Daniel sat down on the rocky ground. "If we don't do it...they'll likely kill me as 'unworthy'....maybe all of us..."

"So...." Jack was leaving the decision up to Daniel. If they didn't do this, they'd try something else...but somehow Jack knew it was vitally important that Daniel be the one to decide.

Daniel looked out over the massive valley, still breathing deeply. Jack could see the wheels turning in Daniel's huge blue eyes; the options playing themselves out to an inevitable conclusion. He watched patiently as Daniel screwed up that tenacious courage that would walk through fire for his friends...

"I guess we go."

Jack nodded, allowing Daniel a little time to gather himself before picking up the rope and assessing the best way to approach the descent. After a few moments, Daniel moved to join him, careful to avoid looking beyond the rock face that awaited them. Jack could remember his first descent; it had been a hell of a lot less steep and under far more controlled conditions. It was no surprise to Jack that Daniel was willing to face his fear; what did surprise him was that Daniel's trust in him was still intact...Faith, now...that was another question....

Jack tied each end of the rope to their waists; there wasn't really enough of it to attempt to repel with. This would be the mother of all free climbs...approximately 200 feet, straight down, with no outside support, no anchors. If one of them fell, in all likelihood, they both would.

Daniel breathed again, looking at Jack in question. "Don't look down?"

Jack smiled broadly, amazed that his friend could joke at a time like this.

"Right, don't look down."


Part 12

'Easy enough to say...'

Daniel was finding it increasingly hard *not* to look down.

They'd made it down about 50 feet already and Daniel was sure it was only because Jack had managed to keep him distracted with a string of bad puns and lame jokes. Now they were both beginning to tire. The hand and footholds were all the support they had. There was no chance of rest.

Jack looked over at him and nodded in question. Daniel returned the nod and followed Jack's lead placing his hands in the small crevices and bare depressions that were all that stood between them and oblivion....

Daniel found that as long as he could maintain concentration on the rock face before him, he could keep his long-held fear at bay...but it was, without doubt, one of the hardest things he'd ever had to do. By the same token...nearly three years of facing things far more frightening than this, nearly three years of fighting through situations that would make anyone doubt their sanity, nearly three years of searching and hoping and dying a little inside each time he realized that the trail to his former life grew colder by the moment...

It *had* made him stronger...but it was a weary strength, a strength with a brittle edge and a chilling numbness that was sometimes almost impossible to surface from...

Daniel shivered there on the rock face, losing concentration for a moment. Jack was slightly below him now and looking back up in concern. Jack, his friend...but Jack had looked at him that way before....and still let them send him to...

Daniel tried to shake off the memories that threatened to shake him off the rock face, dragging his best friend along with him...

"Daniel?"

Jack's voice was urgent, questioning.

"I'm okay...Keep going."

But he wasn't.

He knew that.

He knew that Jack knew it.

And he didn't know how to change it.

'Great....a major soul-searching moment while hanging from a cliff...'

Daniel almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. He wanted things to go back to the way they were before...to the absolute certainty he'd held in his friends... to the unshakable knowledge that at the bottom of everything, whatever might happen...they believed in him.

He wasn't sure it could ever happen. They'd let him be taken away, hadn't questioned the evidence of their eyes, hadn't looked beyond the obvious...hadn't been there for him when he felt so desperately alone...so completely confused...

They'd let him down...

He'd let himself down...

And he couldn't help feeling he'd let them down, too..

It should have been enough that Jack came when he called, but he couldn't forget the doubt in their eyes when Jack brought him back from that place. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they still didn't believe in him.

Until they'd been infected, too...

Daniel tried to dismiss these thoughts as unworthy. They were his family, more than family....something he hadn't known since childhood... hadn't allowed himself to know. Unconditional trust, unwavering faith...he hadn't experienced that since childhood until Sha'uri, until SG-1...

It was an uphill battle.

And impossibly fragile....

"Daniel!"

Jack's voice was desperate now, trying to break through Daniel's wave of doubt...

Daniel tried to tell Jack that he was alright....tried to say that he felt something he didn't really feel...felt a knot building in his chest that threatened to choke him...

Then his hand slipped.


Part 13

'God, Daniel...'

Jack tightened his own handgrips and prayed as he watched the play of emotions crossing Daniel's face. At first Jack thought it was simply Daniel's fear of heights finally overtaking the raw grit that had gotten his young friend this far...

Until he saw Daniel's eyes, looking down at him as if from a great distance...as if he didn't know Jack at all...

The thoughts that crossed Daniel's mind reflected themselves in his eyes; the fear, the confusion, the loss, the hurt...

Jack knew where Daniel's thoughts had taken him and, despite the fore-warning that it was coming, found himself totally at a loss on how to deal with it while clinging to a cliff face a hundred or so feet from the ground...

And then the rock beneath Daniel's hand had crumbled...

Jack's heart stopped cold.

He reached out vainly, expecting Daniel to fly past him at any moment...

And breathed a deep sigh of relief as Daniel tightened his other holds and reached out a hand...

For Jack.

At the end of it all, Daniel reached out for Jack to help him...

Daniel had trusted Jack to help him...had faith in him to do it.

And Jack swore...whatever else may happen in the future...he wouldn't let Daniel down again.

They clung there for a moment, recovering from the close call and Jack tried to meet Daniel's eyes...

After a moment, Daniel looked back at him...eyes full of things that would probably never be spoken. Jack knew that, once again, they didn't need the words. The promise was given and received in the space of seconds, in the brightness of blue eyes meeting brown, in the nod of promise and the nod of acceptance...

Daniel smiled...seeming to realize that they were having a bonding moment at a very inopportune time.

Jack shrugged as well as one can when hanging by fingers and toes from a rock face.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

The mists returned then.

The test was over.

Part 14

'I *really* want to go home now.'

Daniel sat down in the middle of the mist, not caring where they were or who was watching. A hand dropped onto his shoulder and he knew it was Jack. He knew he'd nearly blown it back there...

"Daniel..." Jack's voice was gentler than Daniel could ever recall. "I'm sorry."

Daniel was confused; he'd almost gotten them killed back there...why was Jack apologizing....

Then he knew.

And felt shocked that Jack had finally put it into words.

With all that had happened through that strange experience, that particular sentiment had never been put into words. They'd both been so wrapped up in physical recovery, and then came the mission to Orban where Daniel had spent weeks alone or with Teal'c exploring the ruins...among other things about that strange world...

There'd never been a moment to simply stop and acknowledge that mistakes were made...

"It's oka..."

Jack cut him off, "No...whatever else it is...it isn't okay. We screwed up...big time...nothing can change that."

Daniel started to speak again, to express understanding...let his friend off the hook...

Jack shook his head, "It's not that easy, Daniel. We were wrong and you paid for it."

Daniel started to say something else...then realized there was nothing else. Jack was asking for something that required only one answer....

"I forgive you, Jack."

Jack smiled brightly then...the worry lines on his face smoothing out as he breathed a deep sigh and nodded...

Daniel reached out a hand for Jack to help him up and smiled in return.

'Sometimes you really *do* need to say the words...'

They stood there together in the mist, unsure of where to go or what to do...

Then the voices returned.

This time Daniel could make out more of the words. 'Life.' 'Worth.' 'Ending.'

The mists closed in around them again, then cleared to reveal a shadowed figure...vaguely Native American in appearance...approaching. The figure was neither overtly male or female, old or young.... It was clothed in darkness and seemed no more solid than the mist that surrounded them, but the eyes were as depthless as a star field and flashed when the figure finally spoke...

"We hurt you, Daniel Jackson... and seek forgiveness for that."

The voice was little more than a breath of wind, but fully understandable now.

Daniel nodded in acknowledgement, not entirely sure what to say....

"It was our original belief that you were one of our former people, come to rejoin the Clan of the Stars...The sadness in your heart 'spoke' to us and so we set out to test your worthiness to become a part of us."

Jack was staring open-mouthed at the 'spirit'.

"What exactly are 'you'?" Daniel asked.

The figure seemed to smile benignly. "We are what once was. We ceased to need a physical shell and exist as you see us now. We believed that you were prepared to make that transition as well. Your spirit is very like our own, so we believed you to be prepared for joining."

Now Jack was staring open-mouthed at Daniel, for once at a total loss for words.

"We would still offer you the transition, Daniel Jackson...if you should so desire it. Your spirit would be most welcome in the Dance."

A large part of Daniel was tempted...the part that grew so foreign to him everyday, the part he'd begun to leave behind as he grew away from the unfettered, obsessive young man he'd once been...

But now...he had a family *and* a better realization of what that meant, and beyond that a dying, but far from dead...hope....

"Thank you," he said quietly, "but no. My place is here."

The figure smiled in understanding and looked at Jack. "You have regained that which was lost...protect it."

Jack nodded solemnly, glancing at Daniel.

The shining eyes returned to Daniel. "We would show you the things you wish to learn about us before you go."

Daniel nodded acceptance, looking to Jack expecting the inevitable argument.

Jack looked into Daniel's eyes for a long moment, emotions cascading through the brown depths of his eyes. In a gesture of trust...of faith...Jack nodded agreement.

Part 15

'Somebody stop this ride..'cause I'm getting off."

Jack opened his eyes to find Teal'c staring down at him with a deep frown of concern. He looked past the worried face to see that he was lying in the middle of the clearing where they'd been trapped before. The trees had returned to their former positions, the sun shone brightly...all seemed once again right with this world, except...

"Daniel?" Jack sat up quickly, searching the immediate vicinity.

"No sign of him yet, Sir." Carter was at his side now, helping him to stand. "Where were you?"

Jack tried to form an answer that would make some kind of sense.” In the fog. On a mountain. Places..."

'So maybe making sense is asking a bit much right now...."

Jack kept glancing around the clearing as if expecting Daniel to materialize out of thin air. He really didn't think Daniel was in any danger with the 'spirits', but...

Carter handed Jack a cup of hot coffee, her eyes begging the question. Jack took a gulp of the warm liquid and tried to sum up the things he and Daniel had been up to...literally...since their separation from Teal'c and Carter.

"So Daniel Jackson has rediscovered his faith in himself?" Teal'c asked, a deep sigh apparent in his voice.

"And us....?" Carter asked, quietly.

Jack nodded, unable to express the relief and deep regret he still felt.

"And now he's off with these 'spirits' checking out the astral plane?" Jack could sense an argument coming from Carter, but he nodded.

"How could you just let him go off like that..." Carter's tone was remarkably close to Jack's own...on dozens of different, but similar, occasions.

"Daniel's a grown man, Carter. How can we expect him to trust us, if we don't trust him?" Jack smiled at his one words...such a simple truth, such a difficult lesson. "He's a smart guy, he knows what he's doing...."

Somewhere deep inside Jack prayed that his instincts were right...

There was a sudden rush of wind beside them and Daniel was there, looking slightly dazed and bedraggled, but smiling.

Jack stood up to join his young friend, handing over his half-cup of coffee. Daniel took it with a grateful sigh and drank deeply.

"They said we can leave when we're ready...and we're welcome to come back and explore the ruins anytime we want." Daniel smiled wistfully. " It was incredible, Jack...Thank you."

Jack smiled in return, glad that his instincts...however painful it may have been for him to heed them...had been correct.

Daniel was already reaching for pen and paper to get his observations down while they were still fresh in his memory....

Jack knew that Daniel would be oblivious to them for a while, so he asked Carter and Teal'c...very nicely...to put together some kind of meal. Jack was starving and he had no doubt that when Daniel came down out of the cloud he was on, he would realize that he was hungry, too.

It was still going to be up to them to see to Daniel's physical needs when he was too wrapped up to care for himself, that's what a family did for its members. But Jack resolved to more carefully foster that fragile thing called faith. He'd gotten used to thinking of Daniel as some innocent, naive kid who couldn't come in out of the rain without being reminded. Somewhere along the way, he'd missed Daniel's transition; the transition from naive academic to capable soldier, from flaky scientist to SGC's resident expert on things alien and ancient, from innocent rescuer to contemplative team member. So many things had changed about Daniel since his return to Earth...and somehow Jack realized that not all the changes were for the better. Daniel had lost more than his wife and his home...

Looking over at Daniel frowning over his notes, Jack could only hope that the things Daniel had gained made the loss more bearable.

As if feeling Jack's eyes upon him, Daniel looked up quickly over his glasses. There was sadness there, Jack could see, but it was a familiar sadness that had followed Daniel for nearly three years...the sadness that had grown to become a constant, familiar companion....

But that newer sadness, the one they had helped to put there...was gone.

Daniel smiled briefly and Jack returned that smile with a deeper understanding. Their friend was back with them and, whatever the future might bring, Jack knew that Daniel would be all right...

As long as they remembered to have faith.

*fin*


 

 

 

 

 

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