The Soul Senses

Jack sat back, sighed deeply and patted his stomach with contentment, ignoring the semi-annoyed glare Daniel was skewering at him. He couldn't help it. This was turning out to be a piece of cake mission, and since those came along so rarely he was going to enjoy it. They'd only been here two hours and already managed to successfully negotiate for the mineral of which the people of P8C 218 had an abundance. Daniel was uncomfortable with the arrangement, though the archaeologist kept his disgruntlement non-verbal. So far. Jack had to admit trading five hundred pair of standard issue combat boots and socks for access to the planet's supply of trinium did seem a bit unbalanced. He felt a minor glimmer of guilt, but was very able to look beyond it to focus on the positive.
Which at the moment was the table of food and drink spread before him. An almost inexhaustible supply of trinium and an excellent meal - oh yes, P8C 218 was definitely going on his Top Ten Planets list. Watching lazily as Daniel finalized their portion of the negotiations with the village elder, Tomahe, Jack's mind wandered to Carter and Teal'c. Too bad the duo had missed out on the feast, but the errant UAV had run out of juice about three kilometers from the Stargate, in the opposite direction as the village of course. They were collecting the standard soil and vegetation samples and retrieving the device while he and Daniel met the natives. Who knew they'd seal the deal before the team could reunite?
Tomahe interrupted his post-meal reverie, scooting closer to him and extending a crooked hand. Jack eyed the old man. Naked to the waist, he had flowing silver hair reaching mid back. Intricate tattoos covered most of his exposed flesh, including his sun-wrinkled face. According to Daniel, the markings looked almost Celtic in nature, though the people were more likely descendents of one of the Plains Native Americans. The archaeologist hadn't been more specific, leading him to believe the conclusion was mostly conjecture. Conjecture or not, it always creeped him out to contemplate the Goa'uld being on Earth in recent history. He shivered involuntarily at the thought.
Perhaps the snakeheads had no part in these peoples' lives. There certainly was no indication of anything Goa'uldy on the planet. The Asgard had been known to protect planets; perhaps this was one of them. All they needed to do was explore a little and Daniel would no doubt figure it out. With official business out of the way, they had nearly two whole days to roam the surprisingly, but blessedly, treeless countryside. Beautiful, rolling fields of grass stretched as far as his eye could see, at least from his vantage point at the outdoor banquet set up in the center of the village.
"Uh, Jack?" Daniel asked, voice sounding urgent. "How about you shake Tomahe's hand before you insult him by continuing to ignore him?"
Whoa. Food must have made him sleepy. Jack sat up straighter and placed his hand in Tomahe's, giving the native his best thousand watt smile. "Tomahe, thank you. You've been a very gracious host. On behalf of the people of Earth, I look forward to strengthening our relationship with the Way-"
"'zata," Daniel hastily mumbled into his ear as he trailed off.
"'zata. Years from now we'll both be able to look upon this moment as a great one for both our peoples," Jack concluded. And Daniel thought he'd bungle this up. Hell, he could schmooze with the best of them.
Tomahe beamed happily and called to several young women hovering around them. Instantly, he and Daniel were surrounded by dark eyed beauties, all showering them with tokens of appreciation from the villagers. Jack couldn't help but notice one in particular was fawning over the younger man, who was squirming and blushing from the attention. He let Daniel suffer for a few minutes before an alarming thought invaded his brain. Daniel had accidentally gotten married in a similar situation. No way did Jack want that to happen again. Not that he regretted the archaeologist's accidental marriage, he mentally amended with a wince. Never. He'd seen Daniel truly happy so few times, most of them revolving around Sha're. He felt a pang of remorse, so common when he wandered onto that subject. Time to lighten up a little.
"So I'm taking it this means it's all good?" He poked Daniel in the arm, then waved his finger at the adoring women.
"Uh, that would be yes," Daniel confirmed. "If we can prove we won't harm the land, the SGC won't have to worry about running low on trinium. Though the world will be in danger if the Wayzata ever develop a fashion sense and start requesting designer shoes."
Jack rolled his eyes and gently backed away from the well-meaning women. Daniel followed his lead and soon they finished their fussing, leaving with giggles. He had to chuckle himself when he looked back over at Daniel to find a string of beads had caught on the younger man's ear. A smile was playing at Daniel's lips and he had to admit it was a good look for the archaeologist. He looked healthy. Happy. His own smile widened.
They all needed a normal mission after the hellish ride they'd just gotten off. Teal'c was all back to normal, not functioning like he was a sociopath anymore. As far as missions went, Jack couldn't have asked for a better one to re-acclimate him into the team. Two days of non-stressful playing in the fields should do just the trick.
"Why don't you go contact the general and let him know we're already done?" he suggested, smirking as Daniel's face started to register a protest and twist into a scowl. "Ah, don't worry. Tell him we're going to spend the remainder of the mission exploring and building the relationship with the...what was it again?"
"Wayzata," Daniel supplied, darting his eyes at Tomahe.
"Right, the Wayzata. We'll be back at our regularly scheduled time," Jack finished.
"What are you going to do?" Daniel asked, sounding leery.
"Relax, Daniel. I won't do anything embarrassing, I promise. I just think it's time for a second helping. Tomahe will keep me entertained," he retorted with a chuckle. "We'll wait right here for you. Send Carter and Teal'c if you happen to see them."
"All right," Daniel hesitantly agreed. "I'll be back in a while."
He gave Daniel a quick, dismissive wave and immediately turned his attention to the platters of food enticing him. He wasn't going to argue with having two more days of cooking like this. Eat now and worry about the consequences later was his motto. Of course, sitting cross-legged for extended periods of time could prove a problem. Wincing as his hamstrings protested, Jack rose and stretched his arms over his head. Maybe he should wait until Teal'c and Carter showed up to eat more. That would be the polite thing to do and he was always polite.
Sitting back down, he observed the cluster of people surrounding him. The Wayzata had a lovely existence - no Goa'uld threats and from what Daniel told him, no rival tribes with which to contend. Happily hunting and gathering for sustenance seemed the ideal way to live to him. He bet they fished, too. With a grin, Jack thought should the opportunity ever present itself again, P8C 218 would be a perfect spot to retire. He clasped his hands behind his neck, closing his eyes.
Before he knew it, his head was floating somewhere up in the stratosphere. Sensing Tomahe might consider it an insult to fall asleep at the dinner table, Jack jerked awake. He kicked himself for sending Daniel to contact Hammond. The women were still lingering in the corners, giggling and eyeing him up and down. He hadn't considered the danger of getting accidentally engaged to one of them himself. Sure the Wayzata spoke English, but that didn't mean he was one hundred percent certain he knew what was going on. Daniel could at least recognize when something looked ritualistic. Which actually hadn't helped him any on Argos, now that he thought about it.
Jack sat up and warily checked for any overt signs he'd suddenly changed his marital status. He could just see it now: 'Sorry, General. We had to break the trade agreement because I refused to stick around and play husband to an underage native girl. Better luck next destination, huh?' That would so not be a good thing. Hammond would have his hide. Or rather, the powers that be would have Hammond's hide, who would turn around and share the wealth. Gotta love the trickle down effect.
He couldn't tell if the beads and feathers hanging from his neck signified anything in particular and none of the girls were going out of their way to cater to his needs. He figured he was safe from that threat anyway. Relaxing once again, he sat back and caught Tomahe's glance. The native was assessing him discreetly, though Jack had no clue what he was looking for. If he were Tomahe, he'd probably be making last minute observations to ensure the people he was dealing with were trustworthy.
"So, Tomahe, how's the fishing around here?" Jack initiated.
The older man relaxed and smiled with enthusiasm. "You are a fisherman, O'Neill? I, too, enjoy the bounties of our waters. More so, I appreciate the solitude of the lake. Away from the children. The wife."
The elder's voice deliberately increased in volume just as a very beautiful woman passed by them, long black hair streaming down her slim back. Her face scrunched into a scowl and let out a huff of disgust when Tomahe reached up his hand and affectionately swatted her on the rear. Jack's eyebrows flew up in astonishment. She had to be half the man's age. Apparently the Wayzata culture bore some similarities to Earth's...well, at least Hollywood's. Jack was suitably impressed.
He was even more impressed when after only a few seconds, her face transformed into a wide smile and she leaned down to wrap her arms around Tomahe's shoulders, hands grabbing his chest. She demurely batted her eyelashes at Jack as she responded, "No more than I appreciate the blessing of silence when you are gone, husband. You like the sound of your voice too much."
Jack grabbed for his glass, raising it to his lips to hide his grin. The couple tussled for a few minutes, playing like children, and warmth flowed through him. He stopped trying to disguise his amusement, chuckling openly at their antics. They were quite obviously in love, despite their age difference. Jack narrowed his eyes, looking more closely at Tomahe. He might have miscalculated the native's age. While Tomahe was silver-haired, he showed excellent physical fitness and his face bore fewer wrinkles than Jack thought. In fact, the Wayzata man couldn't be more than five years his senior.
"Oho! Does she not have fire in her spirit?" Tomahe chortled, easily pulling his wife onto his lap.
"So it seems," was all he could think to say.
"O'Neill, this is my wife Immokalee. My sweet, for the chance to dig in our soil, O'Neill and his people will provide us the means to aid our journeys and make survival of our winters more bearable. But it is not the material items in which we truly gain - it is, I think, the kinship of a good people."
"It's very nice to meet you," Jack said with a gentle smile.
Immokalee's face became bashful as she bowed her head, nuzzled closer into Tomahe and smiled back at him. If he hadn't already been convinced of the sincerity and overall goodness of the Wayzata, Jack would have been convinced by both the elder's honest words and the interplay between him and his wife. Their relationship was as open and loving as any he'd ever seen, and it seemed representative of the community as a whole.
"And I, you. If my husband considers you a friend, then it is so. Welcome," Immokalee simply stated, hugging Tomahe again before sneaking away.
"You will be here for two days?" Tomahe absently asked as he admiringly watched his wife depart. He turned back to Jack, eyes sparkling. "We will catch a great many fish in that time."
"If everything goes as I hope, yes. I can ha-"
A loud commotion from the edge of the village interrupted him, and he and Tomahe rose to their feet simultaneously in an attempt to get a line on the cause of the disturbance. The same stomach that had only moments ago been contented suddenly revolted against him as he realized what it was.
Surrounded by a frantic crowd of natives, Carter and Teal'c were being prodded toward him, weaponless, hands raised.

She wasn't quite sure what to expect. Deep down, Sam knew Teal'c was himself again, but she couldn't get past the images imprinted in her memory by his brainwashed, Apophis-loving alter ego they'd all been exposed to. She felt horrible about it, guilt ridden and ashamed. The vague inclination that the colonel and Daniel were in the same situation did little to ease her conscience. Vague? Maybe not. Her CO had practically run away from them after relaying his orders.
They walked in silence. Gathered soil and vegetation samples in silence. Found the UAV in silence. And that shouldn't have bothered her - silence was the norm for Teal'c - but suddenly Sam found it unnerving. Odd how only a month or so ago she had taken comfort in Teal'c's still, strong companionship and now she was distinctly uncomfortable. In the past couple of hours, Sam had also caught him mutely watching her, adding to her sense of unease. When discovered, his gaze would instantly avert but not before she saw a flash of hurt cross his features.
As they drew nearer to the Stargate, she looked at him and caught him at it again. His unusually obvious pain caused her to wince. Sam had to get a grip. She had to swallow the fear and even anger she still felt toward Teal'c; to move beyond the awkwardness and recapture the friendship she knew she had with him. Only she had no idea how to start.
"Daniel Jackson approaches the Stargate."
Sam's whole body lurched at the abruptness of Teal'c's voice filling the air. Her opportunity to seek redemption would have to wait. There were only two reasons she could think of for Daniel to go to the 'gate alone: the native people were willing to share their trinium, and the colonel had asked him to report to the SGC or the natives were unwilling, and the colonel had ordered him to report to the SGC. The latter didn't make sense, as her CO would likely accompany him, seeking herself and Teal'c before they left the planet. So Daniel must be reporting good news.
Turning to Teal'c, she caught bleakness in his eyes before he pivoted his face away from her. He must have misinterpreted her reaction to his words. She fervently assured, "You startled me, that's all, Teal'c. We haven't exactly been talking much. I was just wondering why Daniel's the only one at the 'gate."
"Indeed," Teal'c intoned, relaxing only slightly. She couldn't tell what he was indeeding.
"I hope it's good news." She tried a small smile. Confidence that she'd be able to overcome her trepidation grew with each word she uttered. If only Teal'c would feel do same, maybe she could too. His hesitancy only seemed to worsen hers. She picked up the pace, struggling against the weight of the UAV, calling, "Hey, Daniel."
Even from fifty feet away, Sam saw him jerk just as he was inputting one of the chevrons. She also heard him mutter in frustration and guessed he'd just misdialed. Oops. Daniel spun around quickly, annoyance transforming into a quick smile when he saw her and Teal'c.
"Hey, guys. Did you get everything you need already?" he cheerfully shouted.
"Yep," Sam answered, patting her daypack for emphasis. "We're all set. What about you and the colonel?"
"Mission accomplished," he reported. "It was surprisingly easy. In fact, I'm feeling a bit guilty about it, but don't have a good reason to object. Jack's having me let General Hammond know the details of the trade, and then I think we may actually have a couple of days to explore the culture of this world."
She and Teal'c were at his side by the time he finished, and Sam could see the excitement in her friend's eyes. She couldn't help but smile at his delight and while she had no doubts the inhabitants of P8C 218 had a fascinating society, she was just glad they had lucked out with such an easy mission. The countryside she had seen was quite beautiful; she looked forward to relaxing in it. Apparently Colonel O'Neill felt the same, or they'd already be packing their bags.
"Well, he'll be happy to know Teal'c and I discovered a nice little lake a short walk away. He hasn't been fishing in months, has he?"
"No, he hasn't. That's great, Sam. It'll keep him out of my hair for most of the mission. Yours too. Sorry, Teal'c," Daniel half-smiled and shifted back to the DHD, punching the chevrons again. He paused, turning to them, "Why don't you head to the village? I can send the UAV and samples back and make sure the general is okay with our staying off world."
Sam noticed the archaeologist focusing primarily on her when he spoke and sneaked a glance at Teal'c. The Jaffa's eyes were determinedly pinned away from both of them. A shot of remorse bordering on pity snapped through her. She knew Daniel didn't mean to exclude or avoid Teal'c, just as she didn't, but the result was the same. Looking pointedly at Daniel, she made sure she caught his attention before transferring her eyes to their quiet friend and then back.
"Sounds like a deal," she agreed, catching Daniel's blush. "Anything we need to know?"
"Not that I can think of. The Wayzata are a peaceful people, descendents of one of the tribes of Plains Native Americans, though it's difficult to pinpoint which one. There's been no indication of Goa'uld activity and they are very friendly. If Jack hasn't eaten it all, there should be food there when you arrive."
Sam was pleased to see him make an effort to have his body language address both her and Teal'c.
"What is it the Wayzata wished in exchange for mining rights to the trinium?" Teal'c asked.
Again, Sam found herself jumping at his entrance into the conversation. Damn. It's like she'd suddenly become one of Pavlov's dogs and Teal'c's voice the bell. Daniel, if he was startled, showed no reaction.
"Shoes and socks," he mumbled, shuffling his feet on the ground.
A bark of disbelieving laughter escaped her, which she tried to suppress by clamping her lips together. Shoes and socks? Daniel couldn't be serious.
"No, really. They migrate to a more temperate region during the winter, but from what I've been told it's still very cool. As long as we don't do any irreparable damage to the land, we could have found many years' worth of trinium. Like with Tonane's people, we will have to demonstrate we can do so," Daniel continued.
"Can we actually do that, though?"
"That's where I have a bit of a problem. The best I could do was to tell Tomahe...the elder, who I'm sure you'll really like...about the mining process. General Hammond will probably have to send SG9 to complete the negotiations. What we've got is tentative, but promising."
She nodded at him, freezing when her stomach apparently remembered his earlier mention of food and growled. She unconsciously rubbed it, chuckling as she noted Teal'c cocking an eyebrow.
"We'll see you in a few minutes, Daniel," she playfully said, keeping her hand over her stomach. She could definitely use something to eat.
"See you."
Sam raised her eyes to the sky as they continued on toward the village. It was an enchanting bluegreen, the clouds bright white and fluffy. Reverting to her childhood, Sam started imagining the shapes into bunnies...trees...and she swore even a naquadah reactor. Wouldn't the colonel roll his eyes at that? Chuckling lowly, Sam shook her head. They hadn't really had much of a chance to relax and just enjoy each other's company on a mission in months. Regardless of the colonel's disbelief and no doubt light-hearted condemnation of things she found entertaining, they all needed time off.
Especially Teal'c. God, why had it taken her this long to actually see he was suffering as much as they from the memories of his words and actions while he thought Apophis was his god? Half a second later, she answered her own question - because she'd been so wrapped up in her own misery. Sam vowed to herself that she would make every effort to salve those wounds and those he felt every time she, Daniel or the colonel unconsciously shrank from him.
"It's so peaceful here," she commented, bringing her attention back to the earth. Teal'c remained quiet, though she thought she saw mild surprise tear across his face. "I hope the general lets us stay. We could really get things going smoothly for SG9."
"Daniel Jackson appeared to believe the inhabitants of this world are very receptive to our presence. I, too, look forward to learning more about their culture."
Sam thought for a moment, trying to dig into what Teal'c was really saying. She hoped she wasn't stretching it when she interpreted that to mean he embraced the idea of a truly normal, mundane even, mission. She'd never actually heard him express interest in anything cultural - like the colonel, he typically amusingly tolerated their teammate's excited lectures. In any case, she thought it a good thing to keep the conversation rolling. He'd spoken more in the last few minutes than she'd heard for at least a week.
"If Daniel said the Wayzata have food prepared, I'll bet we find the colonel napping. He'd better have let them know we're coming. I'm starving."
"I could use nourishment as well, especially that which does not come pre-packaged. If O'Neill has not refrained from consuming everything, I will be displeased."
Smiling her agreement, Sam was about to make more slightly disrespectful remarks about her CO when she heard someone calling out in alarm. She instantly prepared to give assistance if it was needed, hand reaching for her P90. Teal'c grasped his staff weapon in both hands, but didn't raise it. Her scouting eyes locked on five or six men running directly toward them, all with long dark hair and tan clothing. None appeared injured, their faces wearing almost angry expressions. The closer the group got, the more uncomfortable Sam became. Something was not right, and she was beginning to suspect it had everything to do with her and Teal'c.
They remained passive, though Sam swung her head back toward the 'gate. There was no way Daniel would be able to see what was happening; he was a tiny speck, barely visible. She very clearly saw the blue shimmer of the event horizon. Reaching her hand up to her radio, she could only think to warn him back to the SGC. Shifting next to and in front of her provided enough of a distraction for rough hands to grab her arms and twist them behind her back. The grip was firm but not painful, and she thought she could break free easily. Beside her, Teal'c was in a similar situation. Their perpetrators were being very benign, silent. Sam didn't struggle as they ripped her weapon away and removed her radio.
"You serve the trickster, Apophis! Do not deny it, we know the mark," one of them finally hissed, pointing at Teal'c's forehead.
Great. Bitten by that snake again. Sam opened her lips to protest, but it died in her throat when the speaker grabbed her P90 from one of his colleagues, directing it straight at her head.

The accusation was harsh and extremely painful to his ears. Every day since throwing off his yoke of slavery, Teal'c had had to live with the reminder of his servitude on a daily basis. The golden tattoo was precisely why his quarters contained only one mirror, and he rarely used it. In the weeks following the Rite of Mal Sharran, he had not once been able to look at the reflection it held. This was not the time for that cowardice and denial.
"It is true. At one time, my life was devoted to Apophis. This is no longer the case."
"Teal'c, I really don't think-" Major Carter objected to his statements.
"You say this so easily, I might believe your sincerity. Yet you could be deceiving us in your trickster ways!" the young man angrily interrupted, nostrils flaring.
Teal'c watched the P90 waver in the Wayzata's hands, still aimed at his companion. His own staff weapon was held menacingly upon him. There was no choice but to follow the direction of the affronted natives. His mind instantly transported him back to Cartago and, as then, he was prepared to face his past with honor. Perhaps this time his friends would allow justice to eke itself out, especially since the crimes he had committed in his lifetime now included acts against them.
"I assure you I am not," he said calmly, gently holding up one of his hands.
"As I said, we cannot take your word for that, nor that of your companions," the man spat, glaring at Major Carter. "You will come with us."
Despite being very upset, the natives were not showing much aggressiveness. The hasty removal of his and Major Carter's weapons and communication devices had been swift and efficient, not brutal. Teal'c sought the major's attention with a slight twist her direction. She bore an apprehensive but not completely alarmed expression. He nodded once to the apparent leader in acceptance, lifting both hands.
As they were being led away, Teal'c took an opportunity to check on the status of Daniel Jackson. A very rapid turn of his neck permitted him to determine the Stargate was still activated and Daniel Jackson was speaking to the MALP camera. Teal'c could not read his lips at this distance, but the archaeologist's stance showed no alarm. Sharp probing steered him to look forward once again as they entered the small cluster of homes.
Their appearance garnered more intense reactions from the villagers, some crying out in fear and fleeing. For many years, he had not intentionally invoked such a reaction and its occurrence on previous missions was rare. To see it now saddened him. Perhaps the people were correct to be afraid; he had proven there was evil within him. Should he undergo a similar trial as that on Cartago, he would again accept his punishment. He could only hope his friends would not be deemed guilty by association.
"Tomahe! See who these new friends truly are!" the leader called.
Teal'c watched a tattooed, silver-haired man spring to his feet and move toward them, followed closely by O'Neill. The women who surrounded the low table of food retreated quickly, while the gathered men drew closer.
"Ciqala, what is the meaning of this outburst? Surely you do not-" the man called Tomahe trailed off, curious face hardening as he took in Teal'c's tattoo.
"I do. How can we trust them? We were going to join Daniel Jackson as he spoke with their leader through the Great Blue Circle when we saw their approach," Ciqala retorted, emphatically waving Major Carter's P90 around.
The colonel started at the mention of Daniel Jackson, one hand reaching for his weapon, the other his radio. As with him and Major Carter, the attempt was subverted. Helpless to assist, Teal'c inwardly cringed as two burly Wayzata secured O'Neill's arms.
"Tomahe, this isn't what it looks like. Please let me explain."
"You come here as friends, but fail to tell me of...this," Tomahe swiped a hand at Teal'c as if he were the most offensive creature in the universe. "O'Neill, you know I must hesitate to believe you. Ciqala, what of Daniel?"
"He has already activated the Circle. I sent four to stop him from relaying any messages to their world," the native smugly informed. "They will succeed."
Mind reeling, Teal'c tried not to contemplate the various meanings Ciqala's statement could take. Because they had shown tolerance to himself and Major Carter, he hoped the same would hold true for their fourth team member. Staring impassively at the native, he was disturbed to see open hostility. His fear for Daniel Jackson increased.
"Message? He's not going to tell them anything other than how our discussions went... Please. You have to listen," O'Neill attempted again. The entire group focused on the colonel. Teal'c read in his face the same fear he felt. "This is all just a really big misunderstanding."
"Teal'c told you the truth," Major Carter cut in, rotating her gaze between him and O'Neill. "Once, he did serve Apophis. He...doesn't anymore."
She winced at her stilted words, and Teal'c experienced a corresponding dagger of hurt. He did not blame his friends for their slow acceptance of him. He remembered every word, every threat, every attempt he had made to harm them both physically and mentally. Even though each was recommended to seek counseling because of his actions, none of them had, choosing instead to forge on individually, just as he. He was beginning to doubt the near dissolution of their friendship would be so easily repaired.
"He hasn't for years. Apophis is dead," O'Neill wearily bolstered Major Carter's statement.
Tomahe studied O'Neill cautiously for long seconds before turning his attention to Major Carter for similar appraisal. Teal'c saw the alien's face flicker with hesitation but it did not last. Like so many cultures they had encountered, it seemed the Wayzata were resolute in their beliefs. It was a common trait among the human race whether they resided on Earth or elsewhere, and he knew such commitment to be both an attribute and a detriment. Recent experiences had demonstrated just that.
"You believe this to be true, yet I sense deeper doubt. I cannot be certain of your true intentions," Tomahe mused at last. He snapped his head up, signaling his men. "Place them in the empty shelter. When Daniel Jackson is apprehended, I will decide the proper course of action."
O'Neill opened his mouth and raised a hand to once again protest, but was silenced by fierce, threatening glares from Ciqala and the other men. His arm fell to his side as his weapon was taken and they were prodded toward a large, triangular tent structure. Teal'c frowned, unsure if he should be surprised at O'Neill's complacency or resigned to it. Until Daniel Jackson's safety was ensured, none of them were in a position to object. He could read worry and guilt on both O'Neill and Major Carter's faces, which he assumed was for their yet absent friend.
A heavy shove pushed Teal'c through the small opening of the tent, his head roughly brushing against the soft arch. Snorts of derisive laughter floated behind him as Major Carter stumbled into his back, her breath gusting on his right arm. O'Neill cursed irritably but he did not listen to the words. He could not allow his friends to come to harm because of him. If Daniel Jackson did not arrive 'in one piece', he would do whatever it took to remove the threat from SG1.
"Well, isn't this cozy? Ya know, I always thought teepees were strictly Hollywood. Shows how much I know."
The comments were ignored as each turned instinctively toward the entrance, though they all kept an angle toward the others. A flap of cloth slapped over the doorway, dimming the enclosure considerably. Teal'c looked around their prison, noting the sturdy poles braced together, crossing at the top. There was a small hole at that location, providing the only source of light. His eyes adjusted quickly, and he looked back to his companions, jaw tightening. O'Neill's sarcasm did little to disguise the tension.
"Don't worry, Teal'c. I'm sure we can work this out. You'll be fine. Everyone will be fine. As soon as Daniel gets here, he'll smooth things over with Tomahe," O'Neill continued, his tone now softer. "He's a very reasonable man. Even if Daniel can't sweet talk us back onto his good side, the worst that will happen is we'll lose some trinium. Back to status quo."
"How certain of that are you, sir? Does Tomahe alone hold that much power? Do you know what the relationship is between him and Ciqala?" Major Carter's questions flowed together, betraying her agitation. "What if Dan-"
"He'll be fine, Carter," O'Neill broke in, halting her litany of questions. "Daniel said these folks are peaceful and we have no reason to think otherwise. Unless they show some sign of aggression, I don't want to show any. We've talked our way out of worse situations."
Major Carter quieted but did not look any less troubled. Teal'c watched her stride to the edge of the tent and violently kick one of the wooden poles. It was an action more suited to O'Neill, and his eyebrow rose in surprise. O'Neill loudly sighed.
"You're right, sir. I don't know why I'm so upset. Maybe because I feel like we've already been judged after one glance. They saw us and assumed..." She trailed off and turned to him, her face flushing. "God, I'm sorry, Teal'c. You know I didn't mean..."
"It is all right, Major Carter. I understand the difficulty in which I have placed you," Teal'c assured her, attempting to disguise the hurt he still felt at her unconscious hesitation. He did understand.
"No, Teal'c, it's not all right. I don't know why I keep-"
Loud voices from outside drew their attention. Teal'c could not decipher the actual words but that they were harsh was easy to discern. An increasingly uncomfortable feeling grew, encompassing not only him but O'Neill and Major Carter as well. Instinctively, they all drew away from the doorway with muscles tensed. Bright light filled the small space as the cloth was removed from the entryway and something was tossed onto the ground at their feet.
It was Daniel Jackson.

Watching Sam and Teal'c depart, Daniel couldn't help but think they all needed this mission. He certainly did. No way would he ever tell Jack, but he had no intense interest in American studies - he was an Egyptologist for a reason, after all. No, he was more excited to have a couple of days of peace, quiet and normality. A burble of laughter filled his throat as he turned back to the DHD to start dialing for the SGC for the third time. What exactly constituted normality for SG1? The abnormal was the norm.
The past couple of months had proven that. Just when he'd thought they'd faced everything, something new had sprung up and attacked with tenacity. Daniel's mind constantly returned to the bizarre, fearsome persona of a fully Apophis-devoted Teal'c, no matter how hard he fought the images down. Nothing could have prepared them for it. The mere idea someone could be that stanch in their beliefs, enough to forfeit personal freedom, to die, to kill for one being or one idea was difficult for him to comprehend. Yet Teal'c had changed into that. Had been that fanatical at one point during his life.
It frightened him still.
He tried to get his mind unstuck from that particular track, watching the Stargate spin and the wormhole splash out. General Hammond would be pleased at the simplicity of this deal, and Daniel was confident he'd allow SG1 to remain off world for the allotted duration of the mission. He wasn't sure if he had ever seen the general so shaken as when deprogramming Teal'c. He knew he had a tendency to place General Hammond on the father figure pedestal, especially after overhearing the other man's feelings toward him. Daniel had always known the general cared a great deal for all 'his people', and more and more often those feeling were coming out into the open. He applauded that on a personal level; worried about it on a professional one. The commander of the SGC showing the world how much it hurt him to see others in pain was dangerous. He was probably just being paranoid, remembering the forced retirement debacle not so long ago.
The MALP camera swung around. He hated being seen but unable to see himself to whom he was speaking; it always made him feel slightly helpless and impotent. Glancing quickly down at the UAV, he finally made contact with the camera and prepared to talk.
"Doctor Jackson, this is General Hammond. Is there a problem?"
Jumping at the unexpected greeting, Daniel thought about how foolish probably looked through the lens. Another lovely aspect to reporting in via video link. The general's words were hasty in delivery but he could easily read a touch of apprehension in the tone. He looked at his watch, and remembered he was reporting back sooner than scheduled. With assurance, he said, "No, sir. Not at all. Actually, I think we may be done. The Wayzata - the indigenous people - are very open to trade."
"That's good news," the general replied with barely concealed relief.
"Yes it is. And you'll like this, sir. All they want are shoes and socks. I think in the long run we'll be able to offer them more but they had little to no interest in our technology. It's a start for now. Jack asked I request for us to stay the rest of the mission to work on building diplomatic relations and study the culture in more detail."
Daniel paused, attention pulled by rustling in the grass from several directions. He darted his eyes nervously around, suddenly feeling a little like a bug under a microscope. His eyes revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and he felt silly. Likely he was just sublimating the feelings he always got with the video link to the here and now. Imagination working overtime.
"Doctor Jackson...Doctor Jackson?" General Hammond's voice drew him back to reality. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry," he swept aside the lingering uneasiness. "I thought I heard something. Just the wind. Anyway, I think it would be a good idea to stick around for a couple of days. Teal'c and Sam found the UAV, which I'm going to send back to you."
"Very well. In fact, why don't you stay an extra forty-eight hours? I'll send additional supplies in case you need them," Hammond agreed.
"Thank you, sir." Daniel was surprised at the extension but knew they all could use more than two days together. If they went back home, the avoidance game would begin all over again, and he for one had had enough of that. He needed to work through his shortcomings and get back to a comfort level with Teal'c. "They shouldn't be necessary, though. From what we've seen so far, the Wayzata aren't opposed to eating, drinking, and being merry. They don't appear to have any enemies, here or of a Goa'uldish nature. We've been welcomed with open arms."
"If you're certain?"
"You have a go then, son. Try and relax a little. Tell the same to Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter and Teal'c. Hammond out."
Though the words were somewhat abrupt, Daniel heard the general's honest desire to see them heal as a team. He also heard the older man's need for similar healing. When they got back to the SGC, Daniel really hoped they would be the SG1 they should be - four distinct parts, but bound together. That should help General Hammond more than anything.
Dragging the UAV toward the still open wormhole, Daniel grunted. He should have enlisted Sam or Teal'c to help him with this particular task, and thanked his lucky stars the Stargate wasn't set on a raised platform. Finally pushing the miniature plane through the event horizon, he rested his hands on his knees for a moment. Two weeks off from his workout routine, and the effects were oh-soevident. Shaking his head, he straightened up.
There it was again. The 'gate shut down with an audible snap and his senses went on full alert. While the people of P8C 218 may be friendly, Daniel had no idea if the same could be said for the animal life. The village was only a short walk away. Surely he could reach it without getting himself mauled. Walking more briskly than usual, he fought the increasing agitation his mind was feeling. There was nothing to...
He twisted around with a lurch. Whatever it was, it was NOT the wind. Silence surrounded him again and he was torn - should he go like a bat out of hell, or just resume a normal pace and hope whatever was stalking him would lose interest? His hand edged toward his sidearm. Better safe than sorry.
More movement sounded behind him. All around. Shit. Running it was. He was going to feel like such an idiot if this turned out to be prairie dogs or bunny rabbits. He got about ten strides before he felt something snag his daypack and tug. Instinct took hold as he halted and pivoted around with both arms swinging. He didn't even see what he was hitting but he did hear a pained groan, and felt his knuckles slam into something warm and soft. The hold on his pack released, mild satisfaction bubbling through him. Daniel finally looked at his attacker, still unsure what to expect.
What he saw surprised him so effectively he didn't even have time to react. He was grabbed from behind as he gaped at a Wayzata man standing before him, eyes black with anger and nostrils flaring. He noted slight discoloration to the man's jaw line and was instantly repentant. These were peaceful people - why were they hunting him?
"Uh, I'm sorry about that. I think there's been some kind of mistake. I didn't there something I can do for you?" he fumbled for words, hoping to settle the misunderstanding before this escalated to further violence.
"There has been no mistake," the native growled, drawing back an arm, unleashing a fist into Daniel's own jaw.
Head snapping back, he tried to understand what was happening, why he was being detained. He thought he understood the whole hitting thing, and though the punch hurt, it certainly wasn't the worst he'd ever received. Still, Daniel sagged into the arms holding him, which reacted by wrenching their grip and hauling him back to his feet. Violating hands removed his daypack, sidearm and radio.
"That wasn't necessary," he automatically chided, knowing right away he'd made an error in judgment. The Wayzata man glared at him, but it was too late for complacency now. "I thought I was being attacked by animal or some -"
"Quiet. We are to bring you to the village," the man sharply interrupted, eyes sparking angrily. "You will speak no further, or I will silence you."
"But if you'll -"
Another resounding slap had him seeing spots. Daniel decided the Wayzata meant what he said. He'd be damned, though, if he'd let them off that easily. Passive resistance should do the trick. They could cart him off to the village, but he didn't have to help them. Remembering how Sam had taught him to relax his muscles completely to give the illusion of unconsciousness, he limply folded, almost smiling at the muffled curses as the men tried to compensate. He was mentally prepared to fight back if they should start treating him harshly, but they simply pulled him along. Commotion and excited voices let him know when they'd entered the small community.
"Why have you harmed him?" he heard Tomahe exclaim.
"He struggled against us. I assure you, we did not do him permanent damage. He appears to wound easily," the guy who'd smacked him smugly said.
"Put him with the others."
"Of course."
He was carried only a few steps farther when the entourage stopped. The hands tightened around his arms, he was jostled, and then he was flying through the air, landing in a heap on the hard ground. Daniel stayed motionless, waiting for the mutters of disgust to fade away before rolling over onto his back to take in his surroundings.
"Daniel!" a worried voice called from above. Sam's face floated above his, and he shot her a brief smile while he straightened his askew glasses.
"Hey, Sam."
"That's it? You get tossed in here like a sack of potatoes and all you say is 'Hey, Sam'?" she criticized.
Peering up at her, Daniel was amazed at her lack of restraint. It took a lot to get Sam so ruffled. He grabbed her hands, which were patting him down for injuries, and squeezed.
"What happened?" Jack asked him as he felt hands underneath his shoulders prodding him to sit. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. Uh, what's going on? Why are they treating us like criminals all of a sudden?" He frowned at each of his three friends in turn, trying to read their expressions in the dim light. He waved his hand around the teepee. "I'm assuming this is serving as some type of holding cell?"
"It is because of my presence here, Daniel Jackson. This was a planet under Apophis' rule, though I have not been here before."
"Yeah, apparently there's been a little Goa'uldy influence after all. The good news is that they've been pretty calm about it all so far. Where the hell did you get that?" Jack asked, pointing vaguely, then indicating his own jaw.
Daniel shrugged. "Oh, you know...I hit one of them first."
"You didn't. Excellent communication skills there, Daniel. I'm sure that will do wonders to regain their trust," Jack snorted, beginning to pace.
"They think we're aligned with Apophis; that our trade deal is a scam. Apophis obviously plays...played...some role in their belief system. They called him a trickster," Sam told him, helping him to his feet.
"So when they saw Teal'c's tattoo, they thought we were working for him? That should be pretty easy to explain. Tomahe's a very rational man..."
"Where have I heard that before? Let me ask you this - how many words did you get in before they hit you, Daniel? Ah, let me guess. Two?"
Jack had a point but he maintained hope the Wayzata would listen to reason. And apparently they were about to find out sooner rather than later. The flap covering the small entrance to the teepee abruptly flew back, letting in the sunshine.
Daniel drew in a deep breath and hoped they could get out of this without trouble.

As he stooped out of the teepee, Jack really didn't have a good feeling. It was amazing how a person's attitude could change so drastically in such a short amount of time. Not more than half an hour ago, he was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying himself. Now? Not even close. He was trying not to be a pessimist but he thought the chances of them leaving P8C 218 with a sweet trinium deal were getting slimmer and slimmer by the minute. Actually, that wouldn't even be so bad. Daniel's spectacular entrance into their prison, though, had sent up classic warning bells.
So did the quick deliberation by Tomahe. Unless there hadn't been a deliberation yet, and they were on their way for just that. None of them needed the stress of being on trial at the moment, especially not Teal'c. Jack remembered very clearly his frustration at the Jaffa's acceptance of his punishment on Cartago. It was an incident he pretended to possess vague memories of but in truth, he could remember every single moment of that particular mission. What if Teal'c up and decided to take the fall again? He felt horrible for even thinking it, but he wondered if he, Carter and Daniel were up to the task of triple defense attorneys.
Trying to at least appear calm, Jack stretched his arms above his head as he had done earlier. The village had become incredibly quiet - the women and children had all but vanished, and the men were gathered together around the same table where he and Daniel had just eaten. Apparently changes in attitude were not limited to him and his team. The once jovial group of people now scowled at them somberly as they were guided to the center of the assembly.
Tomahe sat at the head of the now cleared table, looking sad and grim. Jack's stomach tightened and the alarms in his head went from DEFCON five to DEFCON three. Grim, he could accept. Sad gave a whole new string of possibilities. Foremost on his mind was this wouldn't be a simple case of no deal, go home. He edged closer to Teal'c as if it would protect his friend from an as yet unknown threat, unable to shake the feeling whatever was to come, the Jaffa would be at the heart of it. Daniel and Carter mirrored his movements.
Shaking his head, Tomahe stood when they stopped directly in front of him. He looked as though he were about to speak but had no idea what to say. Jack speculated if that was how he appeared to Carter, Daniel and Teal'c most of the time. The men surrounding the village leader, however, were anything but befuddled. They could definitely be interpreted as borderline hostile.
Finally, Tomahe began speaking. "I do not even know how to address you. Are you friend or enemy? When Ciqala implied your possible duality, I was skeptical. Now I am uncertain my faith was well placed."
Jack opened his mouth to speak but he had no idea what to say. He had already tried to tell the Wayzata about Teal'c, and had been shot down. Tomahe's right hand flew up, halting the unformed explanation before it could even get underway. He snapped his jaw shut tightly, nodding in acquiescence. On the other side of Teal'c, Jack saw Daniel's mouth also closing and wisely bit back a grin at their like-mindedness.
"The possibility of friendship between your people and mine still exists," the native continued, looking at them seriously. His gaze lingered on Teal'c. "However, if it is to be so, we seek confirmation of your good intentions."
"Well then," he burst, incapable of holding in any longer. "It's very easy to explain -"
Unsurprisingly, his words solicited a response before he could even complete his sentence. Angry pain burned the back of his legs, and then he was on his knees. That particular tactic was such a clich. The antagonists in any good altercation always had to clip someone to the ground, right? It was an unwritten rule. Wait, though. In this case, they might be considered the bad guys. Jack sheepishly looked up at his teammates. Carter and Daniel frowned at him with equal amounts of concern and disapproval. He shrugged.
"Ciqala, that was not necessary," Tomahe reprimanded calmly, watching Daniel help him to his feet. "O'Neill is right. They should be allowed to plead their case. I do not wish to hear it from him, however."
Circling around the table, the elder halted in front of them. There was no malevolence in his words or expression, merely apprehension for his people's well being. Jack took comfort in his interpretation of Tomahe's state of mind, tension easing slightly. The Wayzata wouldn't harm them. He was one hundred percent certain of that. Somewhere from behind and to his left, a low grumble emerged. Ninety-nine percent certain.
Tomahe paused before Teal'c, turning observant eyes to his, Carter, and Daniel's positions. Jack swore he saw the native nod as he resumed speaking. "Tell me, minion of trickster Apophis, are these truly your friends or mere pawns for your use? Slaves?"
For a long breath, there was silence. Jack heard Carter swallow and Daniel shuffle his weight, while he fought the need to clear his throat. Teal'c didn't move a muscle. Not even the telltale jaw twitch...twitched. Tomahe's query was too close to the experiences they had all just gone through. Even if that Teal'c was brainwashed, he had considered them lesser than himself. Jack finally did make a gurgling noise, not quite a throat clearing but enough to break the dead air.
Teal'c still didn't alter his position as he replied, "I am no longer in the service of Apophis. He is, in fact, deceased. I fight alongside the Tau'ri against false gods such as he."
Jack tried not to cringe when Teal'c referred to them as Tau'ri instead of friends. Deliberate or not, it hurt. Both in that Teal'c might not consider them friends or that he might not consider himself worthy of friendship. Eyes narrowing, Tomahe changed focus onto him. Uh oh. The other man had picked up on Teal'c's distinction as well. Jack wanted to give Teal'c some type of cue to use caution in his choice of words, a warning which normally would have been redundant. Fearing any sign from him would somehow serve to strengthen the Wayzata's doubt of their honor, he instead tried to make his expression one of complete pleasantness.
"So you have said," Tomahe amicably agreed, still eyeing Jack exclusively. "But we have also said the words of a trickster cannot be taken so lightly. Is it not true Daniel Jackson struck Atonwa?"
One of the men came forward at his mention, showing a jaw smudged by a bruise. Crap. The one time Daniel actually had been showing self preservation was now being held against them. Jack wasn't sure if he should refute Tomahe's claim or not. Permission to speak seemed to be required first, and he hadn't received it yet. The village elder nodded once at Daniel.
"That is true. However, I was not totally aware of exactly what or whom I was hitting at the time," Daniel admitted, an embarrassed look flickering toward him. On schedule, the younger man's hands started gesturing wildly. "You see, I was returning to the village and I thought something was tracking me, which turned out to be true actually. It just wasn't what I expected and I didn't realize it until it was too late to stop. I did apologize, for what it's worth. He didn't seem too -"
"Ahm, Daniel?" Jack broke into the archaeologist's nervously wordy confession before the Wayzata started getting impatient. When his interruption didn't gain a negative response from the natives, he hastily continued, "I think they got it. Accident, right?"
"Uh, right."
"You speak true, Daniel," Tomahe mused with a slight smile. "As you describe it, anyone would have acted in the same manner. I did not approve Ciqala's deception in escorting you back to the village, whether you be friend or foe. Please accept my apology."
"Of course."
Jack found himself puzzled by the strange mixture of trust and mistrust. It seemed so easy for Tomahe to believe the archaeologist meant no harm in his actions, yet the same truth that Daniel wouldn't have apologized if he truly served Apophis didn't seem to register. No sense whatsoever could be derived from the double standard. As far as he was concerned, they had already demonstrated their good will but they were still here, facing sentence for nonexistent crimes. Guilty until proven innocent, a common theme in many cultures as Daniel had once tried to point out to him.
"Your self defensive act does not negate the possibility you serve Apophis. As I said, anyone would have acted as you," Tomahe said.
"Apophis is dead. He was no god, though he may have been a trickster. My...friends did battle with him and prevailed," Teal'c suddenly spoke again. "Unlike I, they have never sworn allegiance to him. If it is proof of our loyalty you seek, there is no need to obtain it from anyone but me."
Great. His fear was coming to life. Jack unconsciously shook his head, frustrated at Teal'c for offering himself up so readily. Even as his friend's words hit the audience, he knew they were futile. No way would he let Teal'c stand this, whatever this turned out to be, alone. Not again. He snatched a look at Ciqala, then Tomahe. They wouldn't be satisfied unless they knew all of SG1 was trustworthy.
"I truly wish your statement alone could be believed. We have a saying - actions speak louder than words. A simple test should prove whether you serve Apophis or if you are honorable."
"Yeah, we have that saying too. And believe me, if we worked for Apophis, you'd know it by now. Don't you think it odd Teal'c and Carter gave in without protest? That Daniel and I chit-chatted for hours without raising a hand against anyone? What do those actions say?" Jack asked, disregarding the implied 'do not speak unless spoken to' rule. Frustration at the elder's narrow-mindedness overruled caution.
"How long has it been since you've seen Apophis?" Carter butted in. "Several years, right? Ever wonder why?"
"We can tell you why. Please Tomahe," Daniel continued. "You can trust us."
Conflicted emotions swapped places on the elder's expressive face like they were tag team wrestlers. Jack felt hope return. They were getting through to him. Tomahe exchanged glances with Ciqala and the rest of the men, and he noted with alarm only half the crowd looked to be swaying in their favor. He had the feeling this was an all or nothing deal; they had to convince everyone. Judging from the scowls, it wouldn't be easy.
"Ciqala, bring it," Tomahe directed.
So not promising. Tomahe had just essentially gagged them - they weren't going to talk out of this. All Jack could do now was hope the actions they'd have to go through wouldn't cause permanent harm to one or all of his team. Not knowing what 'it' was, he could only guess 'it' wasn't a good thing. A sudden thought that flight might be their best option crossed his mind, and he searched the crowd for blatant weak spots. Disappointed when he found none, he slapped his right palm against his thigh over and over. His hands were figuratively tied and he didn't like that feeling one bit. The point was moot anyway, he realized - their GDOs were gone.
Ciqala slipped back through the crowd, carrying a small bundle of cloth. The native drew up to Tomahe, and Jack saw the cloth was actually draped over something, not really a package. Gruesome images popped into his head - all of various implements of torture. He was pleasantly surprised and relieved when the covering was removed to reveal three very harmless looking earthenware bottles on a serving plate.
Jack allowed himself to relax just slightly. Maybe the Wayzata had some natural version of sodium pentothal. A little truth serum might cause some embarrassment, but it sure as heck would prove their innocence. Once this test was over, he could mend fences with those of his team he would no doubt offend and with Tomahe, then have an entire day of fishing. He might even get a couple of hours in yet today.
This wasn't so bad at all.

Sam watched her CO carefully, ready for any signal he should give for action. His face had remained relatively inexpressive throughout Tomahe's speech, but she was disturbed when emotion had managed to rupture through. If anything was an indication of the stress the colonel was under, it was a break in his stony, military faade. The things he flashed revealed much both to her and she was sure to Tomahe. She could see his frequent glances at Teal'c as concern; she also knew from an outside perspective they might be interpreted as anxiety. Or, more dangerously, as nervousness of a slave for his master. Any attempt by her to get his attention would have only exacerbated the suspicions of the Wayzata.
Now, as the small vials were displayed before them, Sam read the relief on his face. It was so obvious she could almost hear as well as see it. Shifting to check on Daniel, she witnessed the exact same expression take his face hostage. Teal'c though, standing in between the pair, remained extremely still. He had only moved to speak and even in those instances he hadn't given the impression he believed what he was saying. To say she was worried would be an understatement. She started to think maybe he didn't believe it. No, she mentally amended. Teal'c believed Apophis was dead; what she was troubled he didn't believe was that she, Daniel and the colonel were still his friends. Sam shook her head and tried to focus on the events unfolding around her, turning to once again to the colonel.
Judging from his stance, he seemed to think the little bottles posed minimal threat but something in her gut told her otherwise. The Blood of Sohkar had been an unpleasant experience for each of them - what if this was the same stuff? She wasn't sure she wanted to take that trip, she was positive. She was almost as concerned by the fact there were only three containers. Logically, she figured they were for the three humans of SG1, so what would Teal'c endure instead?
Her experience with the Wayzata was painfully limited, and knowledge specifically of Tomahe even more so. Sam couldn't be sure the test they were going to be subjected to would remain as harmless as their treatment had been so far. Surveying the men surrounding them, she decided it was better to stay calm and see what progressed than provoke unnecessary violence. Every indication from the colonel said he felt the same, and a good portion of the natives were staring at them with uncertain curiosity, not fear or anger. Ultimately, she knew there was little to be done to stop the proceedings. She tamped down on the part of her wanting to vocalize her questions and objections. Talking was bound to be plentiful in a few minutes.
"We are telling the truth. You don't need to give us anything to tell it. We already are," Daniel reiterated, ending the silence at last. His words were repetitive, betraying the desperation he tried to keep from manifesting, and Sam silently thanked him for issuing the protestations she wanted to. Daniel was remembering Netu also, she could see the same expression of disbelief and pain barely shining from his eyes now as had after her return to the pit.
"We must be sure," Tomahe maintained. "Do not fear. No harm will come to you unmerited."
For some reason, that did little to comfort her. With a wave of his hand, Tomahe directed Ciqala to follow him. He went to Teal'c first, taking him by the arm and guiding him forward and away from them. Heart beating triple time, Sam took an unconscious step, stopped by the colonel's hand and a headshake. She frowned, but halted in compliance, pivoting to watch Teal'c.
When they were about fifteen steps away, Tomahe nodded for Teal'c to stay still. Ciqala at his heels, the elder bent down and traced a large circle around her friend, then quartered it with lines running directly north, south, east and west. He reached for two pouches tied to a belt around his waist, pouring the contents of one into his right hand. Appraising Teal'c, he began to speak lowly. Sam could barely discern his voice but realized he wasn't speaking English. She drew her gaze to Daniel in unspoken inquiry. The archaeologist's face was scrunched in concentration, head shaking. He couldn't translate for her.
Sighing, she returned her attention to the ceremony and hoped she'd be able to figure out what was going on by herself. Tomahe had filled the east/west running line with black sand or ash and had turned Teal'c around to face them. Due south. The elder stood in front of him again, still chanting in a very beautiful, but totally incomprehensible language. Random realization that Tomahe also served as the community's shaman plopped into her brain, a thought she immediately dismissed as trivial. And obvious. She shook her head and watched him empty the other pouch into his hand and walk around Teal'c to trickle something into the north/south line. Sam saw burnt red filtering through his fingers, and it mesmerized her. It looked like blood. She shivered and swallowed heavily, averting her eyes to look instead at her friend in the center of the circle.
Incredible calm was all she could see, and it didn't surprise her. Teal'c was ready for whatever test the Wayzata saw fit to administer, physically. She hoped mentally as well. The question of his loyalty to them was academic - they had lived through the worst doubt already. Had lost that belief and regained it. Nothing done here would change that. She hoped he would come through it understanding their friendship and his worth to them. She hoped he would just come through it.
Tomahe said a few more unintelligible words before reaching for the first bottle Ciqala presented to him. He picked it up, removing the cover and toying with it loosely. Sam now thought all of the vials were for Teal'c, not for her, Daniel and the colonel as she had supposed earlier. The elder paused as if deliberating, his head swinging back and forth between the three of them and Teal'c. His shoulders straightened as he started walking toward them at last.
"No!" Teal'c cried out, voice startlingly loud over the hushed crowd. "Your concern lies with me. Do not harm my friends."
Stride breaking, the elder spared him a glance and stated, "No harm will befall them if it is not meant to be."
As he resumed his approach, Sam thought she saw gladness light in his eyes. Knitting her brows, she looked again to her CO. The colonel stood still, though his hands were bunching tightly. Apprehension was rising in his tensed face, back stiff. There was still nothing she could do or say to stop this from happening, and no valid reason for her unquestionable fear. Tomahe went directly to stand in front of the colonel, whose jaw now clenched in time with his fists. He said nothing as the elder began speaking in undertones again.
The bottle was raised above their heads for a full minute, the entire gathering caught up in the ceremony. Sam still heard Teal'c shouting, but the roar of blood in her ears muffled his voice. She swiveled her neck to make sure he was all right, and saw ten Wayzata had enclosed around the circle, preventing him from rushing to their sides.
She was more certain now than ever the content of the vials was more than simple truth serum. Tomahe lowered the bottle to the colonel's tightly pursed lips. This first small sign of obvious rebellion was not missed by her, or any of the Wayzata. Atonwa, the one Daniel had struck, interposed between him and Tomahe, hands clamping onto the colonel's jaw to pry it open. Without hesitation, the elder poured the thick liquid down his throat, then clasped his hands in a strong grip. The colonel fought to extricate himself, but wasn't able to move. Apparently satisfied the potion had been swallowed, Atonwa released his head.
"Gah! That's horrible!" the colonel roared, gagging slightly. His face went abruptly pale and his eyes glazed over. "W-what?"
"Jack, I think I know - "
"Quiet," Atonwa hissed and moved to Daniel's side. The native towered menacingly over him, ready to force his mouth open if necessary.
"You don't have to...urgh," Daniel gurgled as hands clamped on his jaw, words swallowed.
"Hey, knock it off!" the colonel muttered, already slurring noticeably. Sam saw him take a stuttering step toward Daniel, easily restrained by a single native. She frowned.
Tomahe ignored both men, continuing on with his incantation. He cautiously removed Daniel's glasses and handed them to Ciqala before placing his free hand over the archaeologist's eyes. Sam's breathing increased right along with her friend's, his alarm seeming to multiply in her. If Daniel was on the verge of panic, she knew they were in trouble. As if she hadn't already determined that.
She closed her eyes, listening only to Daniel's retches of displeasure. Instantly aware of his release when she heard him let out a string of curses, language so atypical for him, her anxiety was now mountainous. Opening her eyes again, she found herself looking directly into strangely sorrowful brown eyes. She glared back with disgust, refusing to give the Wayzata the satisfaction of her worry by looking at any of her teammates. Suddenly, though, she found her voice.
"I don't know what you think your magic potion is going to tell you. The colonel said it before - we've all said it! If we really served Apophis, you would have known it long ago. This is a total clich thing to say, but what you're doing is an exercise in futility. We are peaceful travelers and we want to be your friends. Though after this we may reconsider."
Tomahe blinked, appearing somewhat befuddled by her outburst. Then the sadness returned and he quietly placed a palm across her lips while he began the last stage of the ceremony. Sam grunted in protest, catching the colonel slumping to the ground out of the corner of her eyes. Jerking her head away from the elder's hand, she studied his still form for signs of life. His breathing was shallow, barely registering. Whatever this stuff was, it was fast acting.
"You speak with passion," Tomahe said, regret coloring his tone. "All of you. Your concern for one another is compelling, I admit, especially for the Jaffa. I believe all will be well."
Before she could figure out what he was talking about, Atonwa was giving her the royal open-yourmouth treatment and something vile breached her lips. Choking on the liquid, Sam's stomach was rising up in anticipation as it unwillingly slid down her throat. The texture of molasses, it was some of the nastiest stuff she had ever experienced - reeking like river mud on a hot, humid day and tasting exactly as it smelled. Its effects were nearly instantaneous.
Atonwa released her and she wavered unsteadily. Everything appeared to ripple, executing graceful flips. She raised her hands in the air and wiggled her fingers, watching with fascination as both her hands and their digits multiplied. A deep, burning sensation began to set upon her throat, making her cough dryly. Swallowing was difficult, though she really needed to alleviate the parched feeling.
The thud of Daniel collapsing next to her echoed loudly and she tried to locate him, finding herself unable to move. Her name. Someone was calling to her...Teal'c? Squinting through dimming vision, Sam searched for him. She cleared her throat, pain tearing through it. What was happening to her?
"Teal'c?" she screamed, though her ears only heard a faint whisper.
Then the ground proved its solidity, sneaking up and thumping her into unconsciousness.

Though he was effectively segregated from his friends and unable to assist them, Teal'c refused to be silenced by the men guarding him. Their threatening stares only provoked his outrage, his muscles contracting with readiness to fight. Once again his friends were being made to suffer for his crimes, and only logic and knowledge his actions would in the end harm their position prevented him from plowing through the human barrier. Major Carter remained standing, albeit on shaky legs. Her head bobbed toward their fallen companions in uncoordinated jerks.
"Major Carter!" he called, uncertain if she could hear him. Uncertain what he hoped to say to her.
Head slowly lifting, she peered in his direction. Her face was unnaturally flushed, eyes drunken as she raggedly whispered, "Teal'c?"
He could give her no assurances; only watch her slide to the ground as O'Neill and Daniel Jackson had only minutes ago. Teal'c stonily glared at Tomahe as he returned to him. Rage boiled within at the Wayzata's deception. They had been assured no one would be injured, yet his friends all sprawled unconscious on the ground, victims of some type of drug. He was certain his own fate was about to be determined.
"You care for them deeply," the elder declared knowingly.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow at the smaller man, realizing Tomahe wasn't asking him a question, merely stating fact. Under situations of capture and interrogation, he was accustomed to concealing all emotion, a skill long practiced. In this instance, though, he did not think denial would be effectual. The Wayzata appeared to be an intuitive people, the elder and shaman even more than the rest. To contradict the statement would only succeed in proving their trickery.
"I do," he stated, looking beyond the native to his inert teammates.
Tomahe nodded once, following his gaze. A frown deepened the wrinkles lining his eyes as he shook his head sadly. "Were it completely up to me, the trial would be over. Your kinship with them demonstrates you have a good heart, too good to serve the likes of Apophis. The others require more convincing."
"What is it you will have me do? Be assured, my own life matters little compared to my friends. They do not deserve to be treated in such a manner."
"What I told you was true - they have not been injured. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee their continued health. That is for you to ensure, Teal'c."
Restraining a growl of frustration, Teal'c wished Tomahe would simply proceed with the test. He would do all in his power to see his companions returned to the SGC unharmed, surely the Wayzata understood that? Eyes pinned on O'Neill's limp body, he squeezed his jaw convulsively.
"How am I to do so?" he repeated.
"First I must have your friends placed in a more comfortable location. They will be unconscious for quite some time, and it is not my desire to cause them ill," Tomahe explained. "I assure you, they will not be mistreated."
"So you keep telling me. Am I to believe you so readily?"
"Come, then. We will join them."
The assembly of men containing him to the circle parted at a slight gesture from Tomahe, and for the first time Teal'c was comfortable moving. The elder led him to his friends' sides, the guards forming an entourage behind them. Flight, if he would choose to abandon his team, was an impossibility. The simple thought rankled him, as though it alone was a betrayal.
Ciqala hoisted O'Neill carefully over his shoulder, with a thoughtful eye turned to Tomahe. Teal'c had the impression his handling would not be so gentle were the elder not present. The same could be said for Atonwa, who similarly lifted Daniel Jackson. He caught the native's eyes snapping with irritation, his jaw working side to side to accentuate the discoloration placed there by the scientist. Teal'c did not hold back a snarl this time, and was immediately rewarded by a head bowing in resentful acquiescence. Major Carter's transporter carried out his duties without a sound, managing her with delicacy. He presumed it was due to her gender more than anything.
They journeyed back to the teepee in which SG1 had been held before. Teal'c rotated his gaze between each of the three swaying figures before him, feelings of self-condemnation tiding again. They were useless thoughts. His confidence his companions were accepting of his presence among them had grown even since their confinement. He would not fail them now.
He and Tomahe remained outside as O'Neill, Major Carter and Daniel Jackson were carried into the structure. Sensitive ears distinctly heard them being jostled callously to the ground, and it disturbed him when no sounds of discomfort were emitted. The Wayzata were determining trust in them but Teal'c was finding it more and more difficult to extend the same consideration. He knew Tomahe could not have control over individual actions. Still, what was the saying O'Neill had said in reference to Colonel Maybourne? One bad apple spoiled the barrel?
Ciqala, Atonwa and the nameless Wayzata exited the teepee, holding the flap open for them and carrying the vests of his companions. He removed his own before instructed to do so, letting it fall to the ground. Tomahe entered quickly the structure, then called for him to follow. He did, giving the natives surrounding him a look threatening retribution should they seek to damage him or the rest of SG1. Gratification came in the form of hastily averted eyes. Teal'c knew he would maintain a close watch on at least Atonwa, who appeared to hold little power but had been the one to show the most obvious dislike for them.
A quick perusal of the enclosure gave comfort in his friends' safety. They were all lying on their backs, close together so their shoulders touched. The tent provided protection from the sun, and it was considerably cooler within than it was outside. He was heartened to see they would have at least minimal body heat, should they be detained for any length of time.
"Out of fairness, I must tell you basic information you will need for the next several days. The potions your companions were made to drink have three distinct results. When they awake, each will feel the effects acutely, and I must remind you these conditions can be reversed. They will only be so if you are successful."
Again, Teal'c's aggravations abounded. The long-winded explanation Tomahe was providing made him think he would be extremely unhappy when the true nature of the test was revealed to him. He nodded his understanding to prompt the elder to continue.
"O'Neill will be incapable of using his hands. Daniel will not be able to see. Major Carter's voice will not function," Tomahe quickly delivered the information. "You will be taken far from the village and left, with no tools or food. It will be up to all of you to return here within two days."
Teal'c did not understand how this would prove their honesty. Tomahe seemed to sense his confusion, continuing, "The soul of a person recently deceased is kept by an individual. This person must treat his eyes, his hands, and his voice as sacred vessels for the soul. In a similar way, your friends each now lack a component of the soul. Your soul. In order to prove your soul, and theirs, worthy to walk the Red Road, you must keep them safe."
He remained unclear as to the meaning behind the test but now that his role was defined, Teal'c wished only for it to be underway. As if his thoughts were broadcast, he heard numerous footfalls approaching, both animal and human. Tomahe nodded, gesturing for him to leave the teepee. Stepping out, he was greeted by several men atop horses. Roughly hewn travois were attached behind three of them, one presumably for each of his teammates. More time had passed than he realized, the sky deepened with the approaching sunset. The temperature was significantly cooler.
Apologetically, the elder took his hands and bound them securely. Natives moved past them into the teepee to retrieve his friends, and they were swiftly placed upon the biers. Teal'c noted O'Neill's hands were curled arthritically, a reminder of the handicaps forced upon the trio. Prodded to mount one of the horses, he tore his eyes away to look stoically ahead.
Once situated, the band of natives began their journey, leaving the village at a trot, taking a northern route. The trip was uneventful and quiet, giving him ample opportunity to memorize the terrain in the fading light. For a good while, there was nothing but grass. Gradually, the ground became more sparsely covered and rockier. Teal'c believed they had traveled between five and ten kilometers at the most when he observed a huge dark expanse in the ground.
As they drew nearer he realized it was a large gorge, only about two hundred feet across but so wide he could not see where it ended. A rope and wooden bridge crossed the divide, and it was here they stopped. He was prompted to dismount his horse, which he did while still sustaining visual contact with his unconscious friends. They were picked up and carried to the bridge, carefully taken across one by one.
Once they were on the other side, Teal'c followed. Tomahe was right behind him, ushering him along as though there was a rush. Teal'c was starting to suspect the true difficulty of the test they were about to undergo. Upon stepping off the bridge, Tomahe set upon releasing his bonds.
Warm hands remained on his as the elder spoke. "I think you understand. We will leave you here, but access to the bridge will be removed. I wish you luck, Teal'c. For both your people and mine."
With that, the Wayzata men quickly crossed back over the bridge. When the last had made it, Teal'c saw them removing the sturdy posts stabilizing the bridge, their grunts of effort echoing over to him. He solemnly watched, feeling alarmingly helpless. It took them considerable time, during all of which he stood impotently. Finally, he saw one side fold over and the other followed shortly. The ropes slapped the wall of the canyon with finality. It had begun.
Twilight still clinging, Teal'c made a hasty study of their new surroundings. The coolness of the air did not go unnoticed, and he knew the first thing he should do was attempt to build a fire. Eerie howling started up as the Wayzata got farther and farther away. It made the need for fire all the more important.
Reassured his friends would not awaken for some time yet, Teal'c scouted the surrounding area for anything that might prove suitable to burn. He never went out of eyesight of the three huddled figures, fearing the creatures of the night would sense easy prey. He gathered as many dried tufts of grass as he could, knowing it was not enough. It would have to do.
He piled it together tightly, and removed his jacket. Tearing it into strips for added fuel, he searched the ground for two flat stones. Doubt waged within. What if he could not start the fire using this method? The cold and the animals would become viable threats in a short amount of time.
Dismissing the negative thoughts, Teal'c painstakingly scraped the rocks against each other, rewarded with minute sparks. The grass failed to ignite, and he continued on, conscious of the howls coming nearer. This would work.
There was no other option.

Blood pulsing in his temples was the strongest indication of consciousness returning. Daniel struggled to focus his mind, finding it uncooperative and sluggish. Something hard and sharp dug into the small of his back and it took far too much energy to roll off the offending object. Lurching to his side brought along a bevy of unpleasant effects - nausea, vertigo and extreme muscle aches to name a few. He groaned, scrunching closed eyes even tighter.
And memory returned. Tomahe. That terrible stuff he'd been forced to drink. The ceremony. He hoped he was wrong about the purpose behind the ritual. God, he hoped. It had taken him too long to put it all together, only realizing the implications when the shaman had grabbed Jack's hands. Nagi Gluhapi. The Keeping of the Soul, or at least some mutation of that rite. Confirmation was Tomahe covering his...
He groaned again, shivering. He was outside and, judging from the lack of noise, no longer in the village. Maybe. Even though he knew what to expect, Daniel didn't want to open his eyes, scared he'd be proven correct. If he kept them shut, he could hang onto hope. Taking several deep breaths, he swallowed and knew he had to face the inevitable. Sleep crusted eyes cracked open a slit. Nothing. There was nothing but suffocating blackness, sending him into a panic despite his foreknowledge. He lay absolutely still, trying not to hyperventilate as the darkness seemed to close in around him.
Blind. He was blind. This couldn't be happening. It wasn't real, just some mind game. That's all. Not blind. He closed his eyes again, counting to ten. When he opened them, he'd be able to see. Jack, Sam and Teal'c would be right in front of him. Prying back his eyelids, Daniel bit back horrified disappointment. He really was blind. Not alone, though. Couldn't be alone.
"J-jack? Sam? Teal'c?" Daniel whispered, voice trembling pitiably. Because he had no idea where he was, he didn't want to call anyone's attention except his friends'. Not that it mattered. The lump in his throat prevented him from speaking in anything but hushed tones.
His query gained no answer, and he started breathing harshly. He widened his eyes as if he were merely in a dim room, an automatic physiological reaction. He had always wondered why people thought opening their eyes in the dark would somehow enable them to see better. It certainly never worked. Definitely wasn't going to work for him now. A manic chuckle erupted from him, out of nowhere. Now was not the time for hysterics. He brutally swallowed the frightened noise. If he was freaking out, his friends would feel their impairments all the more. At least he'd been able to figure out the basic gist of the ceremony. If only he could have given them some type of warning. The need to find them became more important than his own physical limitation.
Sobering, Daniel tentatively reached out his left arm. Coarse stones rolled under his fingers, cold. He shivered, realizing it must be either night or early morning. The sun hadn't had time to warm the ground. Wait. Rocks. The terrain near the village had been grassy, the soil fine and smooth. Okay, so he wasn't in the village. Question number one answered. The more important concern on his mind, though, was the location of his friends. Tomahe wouldn't have separated them, would he? No, not Tomahe. The people as a whole. They wouldn't. Keep the soul. His mind, anaesthetized before, now raced in leaps and bounds, searching for valid reasons for the only conclusion that was acceptable: Jack, Sam and Teal'c had to be around here somewhere. But why weren't they responding?
It was strange how the body seemed to know how to compensate for the loss of one sense. Rather, how the brain did. Daniel gave himself a few more minutes to settle down and get used to his new predicament. He banished all thoughts from his mind for the time being, trying instead to maximize the functions his body was still capable of. He could hear wind swirling, the noise something like what you hear when you blow across a bottle of beer. Feeling no such breeze, he puzzled over the sound for a moment before switching to smell. Dust, smoke, and something else. It was a pungent and tangy odor, familiar. The smell of the locker room after a mission or a workout. Sweat?
This was okay. He could deal with lack of sight. His other senses would work for him. Daniel reminded himself of this over and over, trying to get comfortable in his situation. Millions of people lived their entire lives without seeing a thing. So they weren't on an alien planet, seemingly abandoned without any means for survival. Big deal. If others could do it, so could he.
He planted his left hand firmly on the ground and drew his right one up, flopping onto his stomach. Pushing up, he fought another bout of nausea as he rose to his hands and knees. Crawling was his safest bet at this point. As long as he didn't have to go too far, his knees shouldn't get too damaged. His head finally stopped spinning, and he nudged forward a little. So far, so good. Slow and steady, and he'd be just fine. Right.
Completely terrified, that's what he was. Just about over the edge. His moods were swinging from total composure to panic in the span of half a second. The only thing that would even remotely calm him was if he could find at least one of his friends, if not all of them. Resolve growing, Daniel eased forward and to the right with hands searching cautiously, seeking warmth. He could do this. It was easy to keep hands moving, scrabbling over the hard earth. Focus, focus, focus. He didn't need his eyes. Didn't. Would find them soon. Roving faster and faster, he almost passed right by it.
There. Warm, soft, firm, cold. An arm, watch face soaked in cool air. His fingers probed gently across a wide hand, curled like a claw. Jack. Thank God...shouldn't he be moving? Normally, the slightest sound or touch jolted the older man into rapid awareness. Daniel frowned, tracing the fingers of his friend's hand. Eyes, voice, hands. Jack wasn't reacting because he couldn't feel anything. The brief comfort he'd gained at discovering his friend fled quickly. He pushed the lump in his throat down, determined now to find Sam and Teal'c.
He regretfully let go of Jack's hand, continuing his search. Which direction? Did it matter? Veering right, Daniel thought perhaps they were organized in a circle, as if they were at a routine mission camp. Three around the fire, one on guard. It didn't make much sense but he went with it anyway. He had nothing to lose. So much to gain. Nearly crowing with relief, he fumbled into another warm body. Sightless examination was becoming easier, and he quickly identified it as Sam. Two down, Teal'c to go.
What had happened to Teal'c? Daniel could scarcely remember witnessing Sam's forced intake of that oh-so-special concoction let alone anything regarding the Jaffa. If the Wayzata hadn't changed the ritual too much, he predicted Sam would have a hard time speaking when she awoke. God, please let it be only that. But Teal'c's fate was open for speculation, and he really didn't have any idea what to expect. Well, he had some idea, just not much yet. Either his friend had been kept at the village for some unthinkable reason, or he was with them. Wherever they were. Simple which he preferred.
"Teal'c?" he whispered again, knowing if his friend were nearby he'd be heard.
No reply came, and Daniel swallowed. That didn't mean they were all alone, him blind, Jack crippled and Sam unable to verbally communicate. Teal'c was probably just doing Kel No'reem. Shouldn't have any objection to a blind archaeologist interrupting him, should he? Heading right again, he slowly crawled. His hands produced only rocks and occasional sprouts of dry, long grass. Worry seeped into his bones. No Teal'c. God, he really wished Jack or Sam would wake up.
That out of control feeling flowed through him - the one he had had when speaking to the general via the MALP video. Only this time the blindness was certain and lasting and the unease amplified a hundredfold. He swore he'd never complain about giving video reports to the SGC when off world again. How far had he inched? Too far. Teal'c would never sit this far away from them, even if they were all in perfect health but especially not under these circumstances.
Daniel knew he should turn around but he so wanted to find his friend, he couldn't. He paused at a scuffling noise from the direction of Sam and Jack. He thought. He waited, but it didn't repeat. In the silence, he noticed the whirling wind sounds had gotten louder, and he could now feel a breeze on his face. Dismissing it, he resolved to go just a few more feet, then he'd stop and wait until the others regained consciousness. Why wouldn't they wake up already?
"Daniel Jackson, you must not move!" Teal'c's thunderous, inexplicably agitated shout startled him so thoroughly, Daniel jerked forward.
Into nothing.
Oh, God. The ground was gone. There was an insane moment of utter silence and absolute stillness. He was Wile E. Coyote about to take a tumble down what he imagined was a very extensive drop. In the longest second he'd ever experienced, Daniel still didn't have time to register the relief he felt at Teal'c's voice. He couldn't even breathe. Could only anticipate.
Then air was whooshing across his face as he somersaulted down. Instinctively, he reached for anything to stop his descent, a mad prayer incanting in the back of his mind. He got only ripped fingertips as he flipped around, the momentum of his actions steering his body to fall feet first. Forceful air clogged his nostrils, allowing him to breathe only through his mouth. He didn't know whether or not he was screaming. Cheek scraping along a rocky wall, he cursed, but thought he felt something warm brush his outstretched limbs. Couldn't be sure, it was happening so fast. What or whoever it was lasted only a fleeting second.
"Shit, Daniel!"
Jack? He sounded so far away, muted by the falling rubble and his own mental cries. Ohgodhewasgoingtodie. Daniel desperately hoped he wouldn't feel anything. That Jack wouldn't make it to the cliff's edge he'd apparently just toppled off to see his body crash gruesomely into the ground. That Teal'c wouldn't add this to his lengthy list of perceived sins. That Sam...
Grunting with pain and fear, Daniel looked up as though his sight would be restored just so he could see his friends' faces one last time. Darkness prevailed, though, denying him his wish. Regardless of physical sight, he swore he could see them anyway. Jack was tossing him a lopsided grin. Sam's face was lit up by a huge smile, eyes brimming with happiness. Teal'c's face was transformed into subtle warmth, almost imperceptible but so real.
Daniel reached for them as the ground finally greeted him, sending him into a permanent nothingness.

"Daniel Jackson, you must not move!"
Flat on his back, Jack went from a semi-conscious haze to shocked alertness in the span of one second. The scrabbling noises and soft murmurs he'd been trying to figure out for the past few minutes suddenly became crystal clear. Daniel was obviously awake and moving around. But what the hell was Teal'c screaming about?
His body responded without prompting, torso lifting vertically while his eyes jarred open. Whoa. It was dusky out, the sun still very low on the horizon. He couldn't tell right away if it was morning or evening, but surmised from the coolness in the air that it was the former. The vista before him twisted a couple of times, white clouds swirling in the aquamarine sky. Whatever that stuff Tomahe had fed him, it left a hell of a kick. He was still feeling quite punch drunk, despite his alarm. Tearing his eyes off the still spinning sky, Jack looked down to see Carter's prone form. She was out cold. Daniel, Teal'c. He had to focus.
He turned slightly to his right, and his stomach churned both in reaction to the movement and from what was playing out in front of him. Crap. Daniel was on his hands and knees on the edge of a very, very big hole. Very. Teal'c was running at him full speed but Jack could tell, even in his muddled condition, that the Jaffa wasn't going to make it. All he could think to do was to get over to the archaeologist before he slid right off the cliff.
Shifting his arms to help balance while he rose, Jack was more than a little disturbed to realize he couldn't feel them from the elbow down. He had two hunks of useless flesh dangling from his arms. Alarmed, he looked down at his hands, appalled to see them curled like an arthritic old man's. Shitshitshit. He didn't have time to deal with it; could only think about Daniel. His gaze snapped back to his friend hovering at the precipice.
To see him disappear with grim inevitability right before his very eyes.
"Shit, Daniel!"
The scream ripped from his throat, and he swore his heart would follow the sound out of his mouth. Teal'c was almost there, just missing Daniel by a millisecond. Watching helplessly as the Jaffa lunged for Daniel's feet, leaning far over the rim.
Carter moved restlessly beside him, but he couldn't spare her his attention. Cursing his useless limbs, Jack rolled his hips and rested his weight on his right elbow. He edged the rest of his body onto his stomach, fumbling for purchase with his arms while he pushed his knees to bear his weight. He inchwormed his arms closer to his body, and scrambled gracelessly to his feet with a grunt. Once standing, he ran pell-mell for Teal'c, hoping the fact the Jaffa hadn't moved from his position meant he'd managed to catch Daniel. Please.
His gait slowed as he approached Teal'c, noting his friend wasn't making any noises of exertion, nor were his back and leg muscles working overtime. Oh...God. Jack could clearly read the implications of those facts. Sharp eyes scanned the expanse, his legs becoming shaky as he confirmed just how far a drop Daniel had just fallen. He didn't want to look; couldn't stop himself. Jack held his breath and cautiously leaned over Teal'c's shoulder, expecting only the worst - to see Daniel splattered on the ground below. Would he be able to see him? He selfishly hoped not.
He couldn't prevent himself from closing his eyes for just a moment, unwilling to face truth quite yet. The image of Daniel disappearing kept replaying, already a terrible thing to have to live with but his imagination kept conjuring up even worse pictures of his friend's lifeless body, broken and bloody. His eyes opened with as much lack of control as they had shut and found himself staring at the back of Teal'c's head.
With a groan, he shifted and leaned just a bit more, arms swinging distressingly heavily. Suddenly, though, his condition made no difference to him. The frown he felt caressing his lips became a huge smile of relief as he took in one of the most beautiful things he'd seen in his life. Twenty feet from the cliff's edge, an outcropping about three feet wide held the crumpled figure of Doctor Daniel Jackson. The young man was facing the craggy wall, almost touching it. Jack watched unblinkingly for signs of life, relief trading down for worry. His full bank of will was invested on his friend.
'John O'Neill, get down from there this instant before you fall and break your neck!' His mother's standard, oft repeated words from childhood sprang to mind. He remembered wondering why she had always made such a fuss when she caught him on the garage roof, until the four-year-old neighbor kid, what was his name...Maxwell Anderson, had somehow climbed atop the family car. He'd fallen off, broken his back, and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Jack never went onto the roof again. Any fall greater than your height could kill.
He really wanted Daniel to shuffle, groan or something to ease the mounting concern. Twenty feet was a fair distance, and Jack had gone that far and more himself. He understood chances were the younger man would be banged up pretty thoroughly. That was it, though, he told himself. Nothing more than lacerations and bruises.
In the middle of his mental inventorying of potential injuries, Jack was startled by a hand on his shoulder. Jumping, he tore his attention away from the still body below, arms woodenly dangling. Damn. He'd forgotten about that problem, and about Carter or Teal'c. His 2IC stood behind him, face waxy with distress. He shot her a reassuring smile, then looked back down to Daniel.
"You all right, Carter?" he distractedly asked. He paused for her verification, which didn't come. Not withdrawing his gaze from Daniel, he repeated, "Carter? Teal'c, can you tell if he's breathing?"
"She cannot speak, O'Neill," Teal'c said in a subdued monotone. "I am sorry for allowing Daniel Jackson to fall. Had he perished, it would have been my fault."
Jack's brain went on overload. Daniel was alive. Carter couldn't talk? Why had the archaeologist been messing around where any sane human wouldn't venture without good cause Teal'c's fault? There was no way, Jaffa or not, he could have reached him. He started thinking about the younger man's fall, and he couldn't wrap his head around any good reason for Daniel's latest romp with Death. Why couldn't Carter talk?
"What?" he stupidly stuttered. He whipped his head to take in Carter's appearance again, and found her bleakly nodding as she stepped right between him and Teal'c to see for herself if Daniel was all right.
"The drink you were forced to swallow has affected each of you. You cannot feel your hands, is that not correct, O'Neill? Major Carter's voice has been stifled. Daniel Jackson is unable to see," Teal'c quietly said.
Understanding at Daniel's seemingly careless behavior dawned, and without thinking, he tried to lift his hand to swipe it across his mouth. It didn't work. A sick feeling took root as he thought about what Daniel must have gone through, waking up with no way of knowing he was alone or not. Completely in the dark. And the fall...he morbidly wondered if it was better to be able to see the bottom or to just hit with no warning. Nice. Cheery. And irrelevant. Daniel had not hit the bottom, and he was battered but fine. None of them would get hurt - Jack swore he'd heard that uttered by Tomahe several times. Tell that to Daniel.
He was getting angry now, mind fully getting with the program as his arm hung uselessly from the elbow. Letting it drop, Jack finally registered Teal'c's previous words in their entirety, looking down to find him still sprawled on the ground, head and shoulders leaning over the side. Even from an awkward angle, he saw the controlled anguish in Teal'c's expression and his fury cooled to the back burner.
"Teal'c, this wasn't your fault. There's no way you could have reached him in time to prevent it," Jack softly, unnecessarily absolved. "Daniel won't blame you in any way."
"I should not have ventured so far from you. My attention was needed at your sides."
Crouching down, Jack stumbled clumsily. His center of gravity seemed to be all screwed up, and he almost regretted the move. Out of habit, he tried to reach out his hands to grasp Teal'c's arms. Muttering a curse at his current inability to proffer any sort of physical comfort to his friend. He never realized how much he actually needed to touch for his own peace of mind until it had been removed as an option. The reminder of his ailment, for lack of a better term, also seemed to drive Teal'c's self-recrimination, his dark eyes burning with unspoken misery.
Carter shifted abruptly, a hand reaching for Teal'c's shoulder, to where he wanted his own to be. She squeezed, and Jack peered up at her briefly. She hadn't averted her eyes from Daniel, proving there was nothing wrong with her ears. Even without looking, she had known what he'd want to do for Teal'c. Not for the first time he was reminded how lucky he was to have such a great group of people around him.
"I know you, Teal'c. You were out there for a reason, weren't you? What was it?" he coaxed.
"Nothing should have distracted me to the level in which I could no longer effectively protect you, Major Carter, and Daniel Jackson," Teal'c stated, changing positions at last to look him straight in the eye.
"Distracted? I don't think so," Jack fired back. "Tell me."
"During the night, there was activity beyond the light provided by the fire I was able to build. As the night progressed, the fire diminished, as did the illumination. I was forced to move farther and farther away in my patrol."
"What kind of activity?" he prompted, sensing Teal'c still needed more reassurance.
"There were animals similar to canines circling the camp. I believe they would have done you harm if they had the opportunity."
Teal'c had been wandering around without a weapon, in the middle of the night, with wolves or coyotes out there? With anyone else, this would have led him to give a strongly worded reprimand, but instead he just nudged, "Which they didn't, because you were protecting us. And I'd say it was barely dawn when I woke up, so you must have been some distance away when Daniel started crawling around. Not. Your. Fault."
To support his assertion, Carter pressed harder on Teal'c's shoulder. The Jaffa didn't look much more convinced, though Jack was happy to see his shoulders relax slightly. He knew nothing any of them could ever say or do would make Teal'c forgive himself, but they could get try to get him to at least understand they didn't blame him. It wasn't nearly enough.
"You got us?"
After a moment's hesitation, Teal'c brought a large hand to cover Carter's and responded, "I have got you."
"Good," Jack breathed in relief.
A million unanswered questions uncurled themselves from the corner he had shoved them. So many he didn't know where to begin. Before he could place them in order of importance, a soft noise stole his attention. A barely perceptible moan...from Daniel.
The questions could wait.

It had only taken Sam a couple of seconds after the colonel's shout had wakened her to realize something was wrong with her throat. Her memories were fleeting but clear. An intense burning and dryness just before she'd passed out. They were the first clue. Of course, opening her mouth and not being able to talk had helped. She'd had no time to contemplate her strange physical anomaly when the understanding of where her CO had run off to hit her hard.
Now, listening to the colonel try to tell Teal'c not to blame himself - she suddenly realized the Jaffa seemed the only one without some type of handicap, at least not a physical one - Sam wanted more than anything to lend aid. She couldn't tell Teal'c that Daniel was fine; that he was already stirring. The only thing she could do was to keep her eye on the archaeologist and reinforce the colonel's words by some other means. Her hand clamped onto the first body part it came across.
As Teal'c spoke, she began to understand their situation a bit more and at the same time had more questions. Ones she had no idea how she was going to ask. So far, she had remained relatively calm about the loss of her voice. There was only mild discomfort - a persistent parchedness and need to cough. Now she was starting to panic just a bit. Without her voice, how could she give the guys her input?
Of the three of them, Daniel was the one she thought most likely to be able to communicate without words; he'd proven he could do it before. There was the kicker. It seemed obvious to her Teal'c's assertion of Daniel's blindness was correct. No way would he have ended up out of their reach if he had seen where he was going. The rumors rolling through the SGC about his ineptitude were completely unfounded. Sure, sometimes he tripped over his own feet but who didn't? That didn't translate into carelessness.
Without his eyes, she was going to have to figure out how to correspond with the colonel and Teal'c. Sometimes not an easy task even with a voice; now it seemed daunting. Sam tried to swallow, choking past a throat that seemed completely closed up. God, she felt as though she was constantly on the verge of vomiting. The sensation certainly wasn't going to help her in the least, becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore. Her frustrations were mounting, piling on top of each other. She was positive they were already way over her head.
"I have got you," Teal'c murmured. Instantly, her thoughts that she couldn't focus on anything but her throat disappeared. It was easy to ignore as his hand covered hers.
Sam heard relief in the colonel's voice but she could tell it was only halfhearted. Though she'd missed most of the conversation, she was sure Teal'c wouldn't forgive himself so quickly. Her CO knew that too, and they could both take the small victory as the first step for their friend. Knowing him so well, she knew he'd very likely never forgive himself completely. She squeezed his shoulder again, keeping her fingers tight, finding it extremely easy to get back to the level of comfort with him she had only hours ago struggled with. Teal'c needed it.
She watched Daniel's head shake from side to side, stopping when his nose was almost flattened into the ground. Guessing he was finally rousing, she pressed Teal'c's shoulder twice. They needed to let him know where he was and not to move. God, she wished she could say something. Daniel moaned softly.
"O'Neill, Daniel Jackson is awakening," Teal'c said as he withdrew from her grasp to lean over the side of the cliff.
The colonel shifted with a curse. Sam winced in sympathy. Without his hands, he must feel as useless as she did without her voice. Even more. He cautiously peered down at Daniel, who still hadn't really moved. She studied the archaeologist's every move like a hawk watches a chicken. It wouldn't help him but for some reason it helped her.
"I heard him," the colonel testily snapped, then paused. "Sorry, Teal'c. Nerves are a little worn. Let's just see if he's okay...Daniel? Daniel, can you hear me?"
The three of them waited for an answer. The lump in her throat grew with each passing second of silence, and Sam really did choke. There was no accompanying gurgle. Odd. She would have thought herself capable of some sound. Whatever the Wayzata had done to her, it was comprehensive. Augh. What was she doing? That wasn't important. From below, Daniel produced another groan, louder this time.
"Damnit, Daniel. Wake up, will you?" the colonel angrily called.
"Jack?" Daniel finally whispered.
He shifted suddenly, rolling onto his back. In her head, Sam was screaming for him to stay still. Her mouth even opened to let the words flow, to tell him she was here. That they all were. She clamped her lips together again in aggravation, stuck watching him as he tried to locate the colonel's voice. His eyes were still shut.
"Yeah, Daniel. You've had a little fall," the colonel called in a deceptively nonchalant voice. "Do me a favor and don't move a muscle, okay?"
From twenty feet away, she could still see Daniel tense. He swallowed a groan. Her mind raced to fill in the reasons for his distress. Duh. He'd just fallen off a cliff.
"Shouldn't I be, uh, dead?"
Sam smiled. Daniel sounded like...Daniel. That was undeniably a good sign. She glanced over to the colonel, for the first time relaxing enough to look away from the archaeologist. His face was sporting a pained smile. Her own faltered a bit as she realized what he was thinking. She closed her eyes, turning her head so she'd be looking at Daniel when she opened them again.
"Yes you should be, Daniel," he somberly answered. "I hope your lucky streak doesn't end anytime soon. You landed on a narrow ledge about twenty feet from the top of an extremely big cliff. And you scared the crap out of all of us."
"Sam? Teal'c?"
A pang of regret swept through her as Teal'c answered for both of them. "We are here, Daniel Jackson."
"Everyone okay? Tomahe..." Daniel opened his eyes as he trailed off.
Recoiling slightly, Sam was taken aback by the blankness of his stare. She expected his eyes not to register their surroundings, but this was worse. Irrefutable.
"Shit," the colonel breathed.
"We are fine," Teal'c answered. "What of your condition? Have you sustained any injuries?"
Never had she been so glad to have him around. While she and the colonel struggled to face the horrible whiteness of Daniel's eyes, so obvious even from a distance, Teal'c was pulling it together. Giving him a grateful look, Sam saw he was having as difficult a time as they. His jaw was clenching tightly, hands fisted and planted firmly on the ground in front of him.
"Ahm, I don't think so. Without moving, I can't really tell though. Bruises," Daniel called, eyes still searching as if sheer will would enable them to see again. "Nothing worse."
"Well, I'd feel better if you were up here with us," the colonel called, finally seeming to cram his shock down.
"You and me both," Daniel mumbled with a funny little chuckle. "Any suggestions on how I can do that? I don't suppose you've already whipped up a rope ladder or something? Sam?"
The question struck her more efficiently than a punch to the nose, bringing with it the same stinging pain. She'd been so stupid, wallowing in her own miseries when she should have been thinking about that eventuality. Apparently Daniel thought she would have been, too. Sam hadn't thought her throat could feel any more closed off than it already did, but his inquiry almost sealed it over. Rubbing a shaky hand across her dry lips, she rocked back on her heels.
"Cat's got her tongue, Daniel. She can't answer you," the colonel gently informed him.
"Oh...that's right. I figured that, I just forgot. I'm sorry, Sam," Daniel apologized, and then coughed.
"We'll think of something, don't worry."
The colonel slid to his butt, arms hanging limply in his lap. Sam crinkled her eyebrows at him. He furrowed his in return, a frown playing at his lips. She relaxed a bit, interpreting his body language to mean he hadn't been thinking about a way to get Daniel up either.
"I just don't have a clue what," he dejectedly muttered. "Goddamnit. Ideas, people?"
For the first time, Sam took in their new surroundings. Aside from the gaping canyon stretching farther than she could see in both directions, there was nothing but sparse tufts of grass and rocky ground. No trees. No bushes. Nothing of use. She balled her hands and thumped them against her hips rhythmically, trying to get ideas from somewhere. Their clothes as a makeshift rope? No. Daniel was too far down and too heavy. She noted with a frown that Teal'c's jacket was missing.
She leaned down to look at him again, glad to find he'd closed his eyes. Instantly feeling guilty for the thought, she closed her own eyes briefly and open them again to focus. Studying the craggy cliff wall, Sam came to the only conclusion available. Daniel was going to have to climb, unassisted and without safety harnesses.
Oh, and she couldn't forget - blind.

Every time Major Carter opened her mouth in a vain attempt to speak, his own throat constricted. His hands cramped painfully when he looked upon O'Neill's deadened limbs, though his friend expressed no such discomfort. Needles pricked his eyes as he gazed down upon Daniel Jackson. Teal'c was the cause for each of their conditions. He would ensure they were not permanent; that they would return whole to the SGC, no matter the cost to him. But there was no time to dwell on his self-pity. He stamped down those feelings, allowing them to instead increase his motivation.
He knew better than his companions the terrain would offer nothing to aid the task of bringing Daniel Jackson up from the ledge upon which he had fallen. Sheer fortune had saved his friend's life where he had failed, and he would not waste the chance he was given to redeem himself. Even the rope bridge, still attached on their side was out of reach of the archaeologist. Had he his sight, an attempt to jump to it would have been a possibility. Teal'c immediately dismissed the useless bridge; did not allow it to taunt his failure. Watching Major Carter, he sensed she had also realized they would not have any outside forces to rely on in their undertaking. Her eyes dimmed as she took in the fragile bridge swinging so near, and she quickly pivoted to scan him and O'Neill briefly. Closing her eyes, she then leaned over the precipice. O'Neill sat, eyes focused on some distant point.
"Anything?" O'Neill asked after a few minutes.
Major Carter's shoulders slumped and she eased back, turning her body toward O'Neill. She grasped his shoulders to get his attention, then turned to include him. Teal'c already surmised what her suggestion was going to be. It was the only one he himself had been able to ascertain. A scowl formed on the major's face as she opened her mouth again, shaking her head angrily.
"It's okay, Carter. Relax."
She smiled quickly and rose to her feet, pantomiming climbing motions. Teal'c slowly nodded his agreement and looked to O'Neill, who bore a confused expression. He suspected the team leader did, in fact, understand the implications of Major Carter's actions, but he explained nonetheless. "I believe she is suggesting Daniel Jackson must climb to safety, O'Neill."
"What! Not to state the obvious here, but he can't see. How exactly is he supposed to do that?"
In principle, Teal'c felt exactly the same as O'Neill but he knew of no alternative. Daniel Jackson had proven himself surprisingly adept in the skill of rock climbing. The idea was a risky one, and extremely dangerous. He had to believe that together they could guide the archaeologist through the process. They must.
Major Carter pointed to her eyes, then over the cliff. She moved to lean down next to O'Neill, indicating his mouth. Finally, she shifted to him and mimicked hauling something over the side. Again her thoughts mirrored his own, and Teal'c felt a surge of warmth for her. It had been some time since he had felt comfortable around his friends, and they around him. Perhaps the Wayzata were not so wrong to have them endure this test, though he still believed the method to be unduly harsh.
"We must be his eyes, O'Neill," he calmly stated, straightening his shoulders with confidence. "Daniel Jackson is strong-minded and will prevail."
O'Neill appraised him noiselessly, brown eyes flickering with an emotion he could not quite isolate, nodding tentatively. "Right." He raised his voice, head turning to face the canyon. "Daniel, you're not going to like this. There's nothing up here that will help you get...up here. You're going to have to climb."
"You're...kidding, right?" Daniel Jackson's voice floated weakly to them. "Please tell me you're kidding."
"Indeed he is not, Daniel Jackson. Major Carter has already delineated the route in which you are most likely to succeed. She will indicate the directions to O'Neill, who will relay them to you. Do not worry, the distance is short. Once you are near enough to the top, I will be able to lift you over. It will be all right."
"You make it sound so easy," Daniel Jackson snorted, raising a shaky hand to clasp the bridge of his nose in a familiar gesture.
"It's okay, Daniel. Trust us to guide you. We've got time, so slow and steady will do the trick," O'Neill bolstered, disguising the doubt Teal'c still knew he felt.
With O'Neill's words, though, came a vivid reminder of the deadline set forth by Tomahe. He had not had the opportunity to tell the others of the specifics of their location, nor of the ceremony. Recrimination ate its way back into him.
"We do not have time, O'Neill," he softly corrected. "Tomahe informed me that if we do not return to the village within two days' time, your impairments will remain."
"Ah...crap," O'Neill uttered but did not look nonplussed at his disclosure. "Let's not tell Daniel that, shall we? He's going to be under enough pressure."
Teal'c nodded, as did Major Carter. Collectively, they moved closer to the cliff's edge. Peering over, he saw Daniel Jackson had already risen to his feet and was cautiously feeling the stony wall with his fingers. Frowning, he detected a trace of blood tingeing the tips, and also a streak running along the archaeologist's right cheekbone. Worry insinuated into his veins, chilling him with misgivings. He carefully assessed his teammate's hands and face for any indications of pain. Only minor winces gave him slight reassurance. It would have to be enough.
"You ready, Danny?" O'Neill called, the use of the epithet the only indication of his apprehension.
Daniel Jackson's head snapped up to them, eyes wide and disturbingly colorless. He nodded. "As I'll ever be."
Poking O'Neill in the shoulder, Major Carter then proceeded to point to the first handhold. The process was painstakingly deliberate as O'Neill described to their teammate each step. On occasion, he would provide assistance but he found himself predominantly centering all of his energy on every move Daniel Jackson made, every falter nearly forcing his heart into his throat. Major Carter was sure with her guidance, O'Neill quick in his supportive delivery. Daniel Jackson's moves grew steadier but he knew the archaeologist's stamina was limited, and the closer he came to them, the more comfortable Teal'c became.
His concentration warped time, and it did not seem long before Daniel Jackson, red-faced and breathing harshly, was within his reach. He signaled O'Neill, who had been sneaking glances at him for several minutes. Teal'c rose to his knees, eyes never leaving the archaeologist, while O'Neill shifted to brace his legs between his own as extra support.
"Daniel Jackson, I am able to reach you now. I will lift you momentarily," he cautioned his friend.
The younger man scrabbled slightly, as he had each time Teal'c had spoken. He knew Daniel Jackson had merely designated all his attention to O'Neill and took no offense, thought the physical reaction was startling. Major Carter and O'Neill both twitched as though they believed their teammate to be falling again. His body instinctively concurred, muscles flexing.
"Go...ugh...od," Daniel Jackson struggled to say. "Don't think I..."
And then what Teal'c feared would...happened. His friend's right hand slipped from its hold, jarring his precarious balance. He felt O'Neill jerk behind him, the hold on his legs instantly strengthening as he lunged with both arms outstretched. Major Carter also moved, ensuring she did not interfere with his action. His mind flashed to the first time Daniel Jackson had fallen; to when his fingertips brushed the younger man's hands, seconds too late. As he again felt the rasp of fabric slip through his fingers, he cursed and extended even more. O'Neill's legs lost their hold, and he was falling.
The extra momentum enabled him to latch onto Daniel Jackson, though it no longer mattered. Teal'c was dragged farther off the edge, following his friend down. He gauged whether or not he would be able to land on the ledge and still maintain his grip. It would not be possible, the fall would launch them too far from the cliff wall. He stared at his friend's face for the first time since the drop began, refusing to look elsewhere though it disturbed him greatly. The blank eyes did not diminish the resounding fear haunting the features, which lasted only a moment before it converted to grim acceptance.
"No! Teal'c...Carter do..." O'Neill's screaming voice finally broke through the roar in his ears he had not been aware was there. "DAMNIT!"
Teal'c braced to plummet as he slid down, hands locked with Daniel Jackson's. O'Neill shifted quickly, and he suddenly felt a heavy weight on the back of his legs. Not enough to halt the descent, but enough to provide time. He became conscious of Major Carter's hands clutching at his shoulders in an attempt to find purchase. Her support gave him the leverage to draw the archaeologist closer to the cliff's face. He watched as his friend's feet instinctively sought solidity, hunting for any outcropping or crevice on which to land. Grim acceptance turned into relieved determination.
Closing his eyes, he used every muscle to inch back. Assisted by Major Carter, he soon was out of danger and he opened them again to ensure Daniel Jackson was still safe. The archaeologist's knuckles were white, a stark contrast to his own dark fists. Tremors of tension and muscle strain jolted into him through the embrace of hands, and he was startled to discover they did not only derive from his teammate but himself as well. It was all the more imperative to get Daniel Jackson to solid ground immediately.
O'Neill transferred some of the weight off his legs, tetchy comments continuing at not being able to use his hands. While he could sympathize with the team leader's frustrations, he could not dwell upon it. He automatically wriggled backward with each foothold Daniel Jackson attained, slowly gaining ground. As the young man approached the precipice, Teal'c had a resurgence of strength and heaved his body up, bringing his friend with him. Major Carter latched onto the archaeologist's right arm and tugged. Together they fell back onto O'Neill, a jumble of arms and legs.
"Yeah...urgh...get offa me!" O'Neill wheezed from the bottom of the pile.
Letting go of Daniel Jackson's hands, Teal'c carefully extricated himself from the heap and turned to assist his friends. Face down and still at the bottom, O'Neill was writhing to roll over but seemed to be having extreme difficulty. Curses peppered the air, and he knew he should not take pleasure in the colonel's discomfort.
But he allowed his lips to turn up in a smile, happy to have his friends safe, at least for the moment.

For an insane second, Daniel had the urge to roll off Jack and kiss the ground. Chuckles refused to be contained as he pictured how he'd look like a cartoon character if he gave in to the compulsion. This was quite possibly the most inappropriate time to laugh, and it was very unlike him but the relief was so overwhelming he needed release. There was movement on either side, and big hands rapidly clamped onto his shoulders.
The more Jack swore, the harder he laughed, and the harder he laughed, the more insistent the hands became. The rational part of his brain knew he was simply reacting to the stress of the past few minutes but that realization didn't make him stop. He was suddenly vertical, being bodily moved off the squirming form beneath him. The change in altitude was enough to make his head spin, oddly reminiscent of the time he'd had an inner ear infection as a child. He had been lying on his bed, eyes closed, and it had felt as though he was spinning around and around. Not enough to make him queasy, just very disoriented. As soon as he'd open his eyes, the feeling dissipated. So now, as then, he opened his eyes.
And saw nothing. He stopped chuckling as reality reasserted itself, and he remembered suddenly that Jack couldn't use his hands and Sam couldn't speak. The lack of her voice became devastatingly obvious, as did the absence of Jack's inquisitive, searching touches. The smile disappeared from his face as Teal'c moved to answer the older man's need for help. Smaller, softer hands replaced his, probing his arms, legs and torso in search of injury, on hand finally resting on his cheek. There was a dull ache emanating from his right cheekbone and he vaguely recollected scraping it along the rock face. His fingers throbbed a little too, and he wasn't surprised when the other hand gathered both of his together.
His left hand was tugged upward and placed on something warm, which then moved up and down. Smiling, he realized it was her cheek. He brushed his fingertips across her features quickly, amazed he could discern she was frowning and her eyebrows were furrowed. Daniel moved his hand to her neck, resting it just above the hollow.
"You okay?"
She nodded again, her chin butting into his hand. He let it drop into his lap as her fingers again probed his cheekbone. It must be a deeper scratch than he could envision based on the pain, or Sam wouldn't continue to fuss. He already missed the sound of her voice, and twinged at how much he knew she must be suffering. Daniel found himself selfishly and strangely thankful he'd been rendered sightless instead of voiceless.
"Thanks, Teal'c. Daniel?" Jack queried from behind and to the left, voice sounding muffled. Fabric rustled and the older man grunted as his voice suddenly became closer and clearer. "I think a more appropriate question is are you all right? Anything broken? Carter?"
Daniel waited a moment to let Sam answer however she could. He could almost feel the tension still electrifying the air before he replied, "I'm okay, Jack."
"Well, in that case, let me take the opportunity to ask you what the hell you were thinking when you decided to wander off? Oh, and blind at that!"
"I, uh," Daniel began, recoiling slightly at Jack's harsh tone. He wanted to protest but he knew he shouldn't have crawled away from his teammates. He shut his mouth, teeth clicking loudly.
"Do you realize how close you came to being smashed into a million unrecognizable..." Jack stopped his tirade as Daniel turned to face his voice. He heard a heavy sigh. "No, you probably don't."
Something told him he was better off not seeing the 'extremely big cliff' he'd just climbed back up. His imagination was conjuring some pretty spectacular images on its own, and they were accompanied by visions of his friends' faces right now. He heard them all simultaneously shift, Sam grasping his hands again and Teal'c moving closer to support his back. He didn't really need either but didn't move. The absence of Jack's touch was brutally obvious, his own need for it surprising him. Removing his left hand from Sam's, he reached for Jack and hoped he'd come into contact with anything other than his hands. Tender fingers bumped into something hard, and he felt around to determine what it was. A knee?
"I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't have...I panicked a little," he lamely mumbled, desperately wishing someone would change the subject.
"We do not have time to discuss this further, O'Neill," Teal'c abruptly stated.
Daniel heard the impatience and concern in his tone, and that was enough to make him alarmed. There was a long pause in which he could only hear each of his friends breathing. Just as he was about to ask what was going on, Jack spoke.
"Right. No time. Don't think you're getting out of this lecture, Daniel," the older man warned, then moved his knee out of Daniel's grip. "Teal'c, you said two days, right? No problem. By then Hammond will have sent someone to look for us."
Daniel's confusion grew, and he raised his hand in the air. It smacked into something...someone. He winced an apology, "Sorry. I have a question, though. What's going on? I mean, I figured out Tomahe was performing some strange variation of the Lakota Keeping of the Soul rite, right? But where are we? Two days for what?"
"You are correct, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c rumbled. He could feel the vibrations of the Jaffa's speech through the hands on his back. "The Wayzata have determined that in order to trust us, our souls must be proven worthy. Tomahe informed me each of your impairments represent a component of the soul, and only if we return to the village within two days' time will your sight be restored, Major Carter's voice returned and O'Neill's hands begin to function again. As I am seen as the instrument of Apophis, it is my responsibility to ensure your safety."
"Of course, that makes sense," Daniel agreed and twisted his hand free from Sam's to turn around to face Teal'c. He hoped. Even if he couldn't see, he felt reassured by maintaining some semblance of normalcy in his behavior. "But that's it? How far away are we from the village? Did they give you something, too? Are you all right, Teal'c?"
"We are approximately five kilometers from the village. I am well, Daniel Jackson."
"Five?" he repeated, still puzzled. It didn't seem that difficult of a task. "I don't understand."
"Ah, how could you forget that little tumble you just took? Think Grand Canyon," Jack muttered, sounding angry. Daniel thought perhaps it was more displeasure with the situation. "Very wide, very deep and very impossible to walk around in two days. Like I said, given we're essentially working with half a team, I think our best bet is to stick it out until Hammond sends back up. We've only got a day left of this mission, and Tomahe gave us two. So all we have to do is find something to eat, something to keep a fire going at night, and wait."
Only a day. That didn't seem right to him but he couldn't figure out why. Daniel tried not to think about the whole Grand Canyon thing Jack had just mentioned, searching his memory for why that comment had been flagged. A day, a day. What...oh, crap.
"Uh, guys?" he warily issued.
"Daniel?" Jack cautiously prompted, and without the benefit of seeing his friend's face, Daniel thought menacingly.
"When I contacted General Hammond, he authorized an additional two days for the mission," he spit out the words in a rapid string and cowered for Jack to whap either the back of his head or his shoulder. He only got a huge sigh, and closed his eyes at his insensitivity.
"You didn't think it important to relay that little tidbit earlier. Say, oh, way back in the village?" Jack was exasperated. Daniel guiltily interpreted his friend was bothered at his instinctive reaction more than his omission of information. Not being able to see a constant reminder of Jack's dilemma was at once a blessing and a curse, leaning more toward the curse side.
"Well, it wasn't exactly a priority at that point, Jack," he defended. "How was I supposed to know this was going to happen?"
Sam's small hands rubbed his shoulders in a comforting gesture, and he could picture her face softening in understanding. God, he wished she could talk. If wishes were fishes...
"There is no time to argue," Teal'c reminded. "It will not assist our situation. We must focus only on successfully returning to the Wayzata village. That is the only thing of importance."
"You're right. Sorry, Daniel," Jack sighed again. Daniel was becoming more and more agitated at the recurring sound from the older man and Teal'c's need to keep the conversation on track. "Can I just say how much this mission is starting to suck? I mean it. I can understand the need to confirm our good will, I really can. But I don't understand the apparent impossibility of the test we're being forced to take. Carter, Teal'c, any brilliant ideas on how we're supposed to get across the great divide?"
Daniel tried not to be hurt at the exclusion of his name in the question, certain Jack didn't mean to imply he was useless. He wouldn't. Swallowing the unintentional slight, he felt Sam's hands begin their massage again. Their weight on his arms had been forgotten, and the reminder now gave him comfort. He awkwardly reached up to find her hands, and nodded. He might not be able to see but he could still use his brain.
"I have not been able to devise a means yet, O'Neill. However, I do know we must reach the bottom of the gorge by the end of the day. During my patrol, it became evident to me there is little with which to build a fire in the near vicinity. As we traveled to this location from the village, the journey did not deviate from a straight path. I do not believe it efficient to seek the items necessary for survival against the canines which will no doubt appear again during the night."
"Canines?" Daniel nervously asked. This was getting better and better. He urged himself to think harder.
"Indeed. At the floor of the gulch there is a river to provide water, and sufficient brush to supply fuel for a fire. I believe we may also seek sustenance. Major Carter nor I have partaken in a meal since our arrival, and we will need energy if we are to surmount the other side of the valley," Teal'c continued.
"Okay, then. Now that's established, how do we do it?" Jack impatiently asked. "I'm not trying to be a Doubting Thomas here but I'm having a problem seeing how we're supposed to get down a thirty plus story cliff with Daniel blind and me...useless. We don't have any gear."
The hopeless voice provoked Daniel more than a little. It wasn't like his friend to be so negative, and he could only place the fault on Jack's inability to use his hands. He realized he was blind on more than one level. For all he knew, Sam was also feeling impotent. She'd probably already figured out how to get them out of this mess, and couldn't even tell anyone. He started feeling quite negative himself when he had a thought.
"Teal'c?" he called out, twisting slightly as if it would help him see his friend. "How did we get here, exactly? I'm guessing the Wayzata didn't launch us across with a catapult, right?"
The Wayzata were a peaceful people, and wouldn't have left them out here to die. Certainly Tomahe wouldn't have abandoned them without a means to pass the test, or how valid would that test be?
He had to be right.

The rest of the archaeologist's face may be as expressive as ever but that didn't seem to matter. All he could see was the younger man's eyes, and he was unable to overcome the vacant stare. If he could feel his hands, Jack knew they'd be itching to cover his friend's eyes with something. Or to cover his own face in frustration. He had no idea what Daniel was going on about. What difference did it make how they had gotten here?
"They did not, Daniel Jackson. We rode horses to this location, then took a rope bridge which extended across the canyon," Teal'c methodically stated. "The Wayzata then returned to the other side and detached it to prevent its use."
Jack was still confused but he knew Daniel must be on to something. He looked each of his team members over. Teal'c had a thoughtful expression plastered across his features, the dead giveaway being his cocked eyebrow and tilted head. Carter's eyes were widening by the second, and she squeezed Daniel's shoulders. He really tried not to pay attention to the ruddy fingerprints staining her cheeks from the younger man's earlier exploration of her face.
"What?" he urged. She turned to him, then to Teal'c, and shook her head. "You have to, Carter. Figure out how to tell us."
She rolled her eyes at him but relinquished her hold on Daniel to move next to Teal'c. Taking his right hand in her left, she turned it palm up and began tracing something on it. The Jaffa frowned at her, and shook his head. After a few moments, she dropped the hand in frustration, rubbing her forehead. She moved back to the archaeologist.
Studying her hands, Jack couldn't figure out what she was trying to say and doubted Daniel could figure it out either. He looked at his own useless limbs and cursed them again. He didn't know how, but it seemed Tomahe had known precisely which body part to infect in each of them. Admittedly clueless on how to read Carter even with her voice, now he didn't even have the means to try.
"H?" Daniel quietly asked, interrupting his internal rant. A shy smile turned the corners of the younger man's mouth upward. "Are you spelling something? When I was little, my mother would trace letters on my back and make me guess them. She'd mix them all up to try and confuse me. When B came I'd call it out, and she'd slap me like there was a bee on me."
Jack grinned at the wistful tone in Daniel's voice and the obvious happiness of the memory. The comments were slightly off track but it didn't matter. He thought he finally understood what Carter needed to communicate, and realized the archaeologist did too. They needed to let her finish, to work out a system of 'talking'. She squeezed Daniel's hand and nodded for the sake of him and Teal'c. She continued tracing letters on the palm, moving faster and faster as the younger man adjusted to reading them.
"H-O...wait, what was that one again?...W-F-A-R-A-C-R-O-S-S," Daniel recited the letters. "A-N-DH -O-W-F-A-R-D-O-W-N. How far across and how far down? Exactly what I was going to ask, Sam."
Talk about teamwork. Teal'c nodded, rose, and moved to the cliff's edge to peer over. His teammate had already mentioned he could see the floor of the chasm enough to feel confident that was where they needed to be by nightfall, and Jack was sure that was a good thing. Just how good was a Jaffa's eyesight, anyway?
"Your idea has merit, Major Carter," Teal'c announced as he rejoined them. "The depth of the canyon is only slightly longer than the length across. We should be able to climb down the ladder and jump the remainder of the distance without further injury."
Instantly, Jack's brain supplied a hitch in that plan. Both Carter and Teal'c were physically fine and able. Daniel had proven he could make do without his eyes, though it might not be easy. But he couldn't figure out a way to deal with his own very physical handicap.
"Uh, I think we have a problem," he called his team's attention to him. "I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get down two hundred feet without being able to use my hands. That, and I'm slightly concerned at how fun of a time Daniel won't have either."
He looked up from his inspection of his hands to stare into three blank expressions. Double taking, Jack had to remind himself only Daniel was blind. Apparently he was the only one to consider that particular wrench in the works, and he couldn't blame them. It wasn't as if they could feel what he wasn't feeling. Flashing a grimace, he turned away.
Scuffling noises made him turn back, and he saw Carter scrambling to her feet. She was waving her hands at Teal'c, who complied and stood up. She skirted around him, grabbed his shoulders and turned both of them so he could see her. Once she was positioned, she awkwardly wrapped her arms around his torso, gathering his arms to his chest. She mimicked lifting him up. The look on Teal'c's face made him want to laugh out loud but he merely choked back a snicker.
"What?" Daniel asked, blindly seeking out the source for his humor.
Sobering instantaneously, Jack realized her plan would have to work. There wasn't any way he could climb down without some sort of assistance, and pride was the least of his concerns at the moment. He could handle looking completely ridiculous if it meant getting them the hell where they needed to be. Besides, Daniel couldn't see anything and Carter wasn't about to make any comments.
"Nothing, Danny. Teal'c's just going to have to help me out. A lot," he softly said, brushing his knee into the younger man's thigh. "And you're going to let Carter help you."
"Oh, right. Jack?" Daniel tentatively asked. "How are you doing, really?"
"I'm peachy. Nothing I like better than being as useful as a square wheel, you know that." He hadn't intended for that to be so sarcastic but as he finally had the guts to look at Daniel's face, he saw the younger man's lips twist unhappily downward. He amended, "I'm okay. It's just been a rough day already, and I have a feeling it's not going to get any easier."
"O'Neill, we must endeavor to determine a means to scale the bridge in tandem."
Why couldn't Teal'c ever speak English? He nodded, realizing his friend was really telling him they needed to find a way to take his arms completely out of the picture. Two swinging deadweights would only get in their way. Teal'c would also have to bear the brunt of getting him down onto the bridge in the first place. He couldn't just slide off the edge of the cliff and hope he wouldn't plummet down. Nope, like it or not he was going to have to be tied to the Jaffa. Staring into to space, Jack's gaze landed on Teal'c's bare arms. Where was his jack...that was it. Their jackets.
"Carter, Daniel, take off your jackets. Teal'c help me with mine, will you?" he ordered.
He didn't have to say anything else; all three of them leapt into action. It was very disconcerting to know someone was tugging on his arms but to not be able to feel it. He swallowed the uneasiness as Teal'c and Carter quickly fashioned two of the jackets into slings, each of arms in the sleeves of a separate coat, fastening his arms to his chest and draping the other sleeves over his shoulders. Well, it actually seemed more like a straitjacket and for a brief second he was glad he couldn't feel anything. It was bad enough thinking that comparison.
As Teal'c stepped up behind him and Carter stood back to figure out the best way to secure them together, he asked, "Do you think it'll be strong enough?"
"I believe it will. I can use one arm to hold you as we begin the descent, and then transfer your weight on my chest as we progress. I am more concerned your jacket will not be big enough to encompass both of us, however," Teal'c rumbled, lifting his arms for Carter to scoot the jacket under them.
"Yeah, well. This is as close as we're getting," he groused, though he wasn't at all bothered by the close contact. In fact, he was strangely comforted by it. "And when you get your voice back, Carter, you will not make mention of this to anyone at the SGC. Ever."
"Oh, for a camera," Daniel called, brushing his hands on his thighs and taking a step closer to them.
"Ah! Don't go wandering around," he instinctively cautioned. "Just wait for your turn. You and Carter get to be up close and personal, too, remember?"
"Well, from the sound of it we won't be nearly as...intimate as you and Teal'c."
Damn. Daniel's fertile imagination was probably supplying countless sordid images right about now. Jack shot the archaeologist a lethal glare, almost reeling away from Teal'c as he caught the emotionless eyes looking at a point beyond them. God, that was just not becoming any less of a shock. He didn't think he could spend the next day and a half reacting like that every time he looked at his teammate. Carter's soft hands distracted him, silently probing in between him and Teal'c and he suddenly wanted to hear her voice. Of course, he wasn't going to get that either. He sighed deeply.
"Major Carter is tying the remaining jacket to the sleeves. This arrangement is provisional at best, O'Neill," Teal'c commented.
"It'll work," Jack scrounged up confidence from nowhere. "We don't have much of a choice, after all."
"Sam can tell me every detail later, right? I mean, because I'm here and all, I shouldn't be considered your ordinary SGC personnel. I'm technically a witness anyway," Daniel called, dutifully keeping his feet planted on the ground where Jack had instructed him to stay.
Jack growled.
"Killjoy. Sam, you're telling me everything. And I'm sure you'll be able to share some very useful information, Teal'c," the archaeologist undauntedly continued. "I still wish I could see it for myself, though."
In the middle of forming a witty retort, Jack swallowed it down at the pensive comment. He'd endure the humiliation if it meant Daniel could see again. And he'd even enjoy it if Carter could tease him right now.
There was no way he would allow these conditions to be anything more than temporary.

"I wish you could see, too," the colonel murmured so quietly she almost missed it. "And you will."
Sam doubted her CO intended for any of them to hear his words but Teal'c momentarily tensed in reaction, telling her he had overheard it as well. Knowing it was better to pretend she hadn't heard the softer side of the colonel sneak to the surface, she finished knotting the jacket sleeves and inserted her hand into the tiny space between the two men and zipped up the jacket Teal'c was kind of wearing. It probably wouldn't do very much good but it certainly couldn't hurt.
Concentrating on a specific task was definitely helping her cope with not being able to talk. She was pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been to get her points across, and ashamed she hadn't had enough faith in her teammates in the first place. None of them would blame her thoughts, she knew, but she still chided herself. She stepped back to appraise her handiwork. Well, it wasn't pretty, that much was true. It should work, though. There was enough give to allow Teal'c to be a few steps below the colonel. Crossing her fingers, she hoped it would last two hundred or more feet down a vertical drop. She felt the lighthearted mood dissipating quickly as they all realized it was time to begin.
"Carter? Do me a favor, will you?" her CO whispered. "Can you find something to cover up Daniel's eyes before we start? I don't want anything to get in them and do real damage."
She snapped her eyes to meet his, and knew instantly the request was really more for his benefit than Daniel's. More for their benefit. She'd seen Teal'c covertly checking out the archaeologist with haunted eyes, and she didn't exactly find it fun to look at those white orbs. Nodding, she quickly walked over to Daniel, tearing at the bottom of her T-shirt. She made sure to make enough noise to warn her friend of her approach, shuffling her feet slightly on the rocky ground.
"Sam?" he asked as she stopped directly in front of him. He seemed nervous, bouncing from foot to foot. "How are we going to do this? You're not big enough to wrap yourself around me least I presume that's what Jack and Teal'c are doing?"
The colonel was right. Daniel was looking in the correct direction but the lack of recognition was disturbingly apparent. She doubted covering up the offending eyes would completely take care of the problem. The only thing that would take care of the lead in her stomach was the reversal of whatever Tomahe had done to them.
She cringed at his rambling questions, wishing she could answer him. Knowing he was simply anxious, Sam reached out and squeezed his shoulders. The tense muscles relaxed a bit, and he stopped moving about. She moved her hands back to her T-shirt and mentally cursed people on television shows who made it look so easy to rip cloth into pieces. Capable Air Force officer she may be but that didn't mean she could was a hulk. Without a starting point, she couldn't do it.
Embarrassed, she could feel the colonel and Teal'c staring at her. She rolled her eyes at them and turned to concentrate again on her garment. Her roaming gaze caught sight of several tears on Daniel's T-shirt, which must have happened when he had fallen. Problem solved. Latching onto him, she grinned at his yelp when she knew she should feel bad for scaring him.
"What are you doing? Jack, what's she doing?"
"We thought it a good idea to cover your eyes, seeing as we're about to climb down a rocky cliff wall and you can't really see when it's good to shut them," her CO hastily explained. "Sorry, should have told you that."
"Oh. Okay."
"Knew you'd understand. Are you two almost ready?"
Sam triumphantly ripped a strip off the bottom of Daniel's shirt and rapidly brushed her fingertips across his eyebrows. He closed his eyes, simultaneously letting out a short puff of air. Placing the band across his eyes, she tied it snugly around his head and stepped back. A little bit better, though the black cloth served as a very physical reminder of his blindness.
"I think we're all set," Daniel redundantly stated as she latched onto his left arm and began steering him over to the fallen bridge where Teal'c and the colonel were already waiting. "Although I'm still not sure how you're going to help me, Sam."
Counting on him to figure it out quickly, Sam just tightened her hold on his arm and kept walking. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Daniel raise his right arm in the air and then quickly bring it back down. She clenched her jaw at the instinctive movement.
"Carter, Teal'c and I are going to lead. We stand a greater chance of slipping up, and I don't want to take all of us down in one fell swoop."
Sam blinked in objection, letting go of Daniel to run the rest of the distance. Shaking her head, she peered down the cliff and frantically tried to come up with a way to express her concern with that idea. His suggestion made sense, and she understood it but Teal'c had said there would be a slight drop at the end. Without his hands, the colonel wouldn't be able to control his fall and she didn't want to take the chance Teal'c's estimation was off.
"C'mon, Carter. You know it's the way it has to be. Let's go."
She vehemently shook her head again, this time bringing up a hand. Swinging to look at Daniel, she walked back over to him and dragged him over to the colonel. This was so aggravating. Ignoring the archaeologist's mild protests, she lifted his right palm and started tracing.
"Slow down, please. Okay...N-O-O-N-E-T-O-H-E-L-P-Y-O-U-I-F...I think I know where you're going with this, Sam. Do we really know how far a drop we can expect at the bottom? Not to doubt your eyesight, Teal'c but it might be better if Sam and I go first in case we need to catch Jack. Or build some sort of cushion on which he can land."
Beaming at him, Sam wavered at the now masked face before her. She impulsively leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, rewarded with a little cough and a blush. For the colonel and Teal'c, she bounced her right pointer finger off of her nose a couple of times to indicate her agreement.
"Major Carter and Daniel Jackson are correct in their assessment. We should allow them to descend first," Teal'c stated and bowed his head just a touch.
The colonel got the look that always reminded her of someone suffering from an ice cream headache, and she could tell he saw the logic in their argument. It was hard for him to let any of his teammates place themselves in danger when it was easily avoidable. In this case, the danger was present regardless of their position on the way down.
"All right, all right. Point taken," the colonel conceded after a moment. Worriedly checking over Daniel, he continued, "I know we're on a deadline here, but I want you to be extremely careful. I also realize I don't have to tell you that. It just makes me feel better."
Sam guided Daniel over to the big posts holding up the bridge, looking down one more time. She thought it would be pretty easy to navigate the planks once they built a rhythm. Pushing down on his shoulders, she led the archaeologist to his knees. He was practically vibrating with tension, understandably skittish.
"Daniel Jackson, you must relax. Major Carter is leading you to the right side of the bridge and she will accompany you on the left. There are short wooden planks spaced very closely to one another, which will aid you. If you are able, placing your foot on every other one will simulate a ladder. It will likely sway both from the wind and from our weight upon it," Teal'c calmly informed.
"Relax. Sure. This will be a piece of cake, no problem," Daniel grumbled as he scooted backwards, his hand firmly clamped onto hers. "Okay, relax. Relax. Relaxing now."
The nerve-induced comments were succeeding in causing her own anxiety to increase. Daniel couldn't help it, and if she could she'd probably be joining him. Instead, she simply constricted her fingers around his, then released the grip to place her hand across his back as they reached the edge. Her left leg fumbled for her first foothold, followed by her right. She waited for Daniel to get situated before tapping him once to urge him to continue. Climbing one handed wasn't going to be possible for the entire trip but as long as she could maintain it, she would. For his sake as well as hers.
Daniel was steadier than she would have expected next to her, rapid breathing now the only sign of stress. They slowly made their way down, faltering only a couple of times. About ten feet down, a shower of sand and pebbles beat on her bare arms as Teal'c began his and the colonel's descent. She mentally wished them well but didn't look up, instead keeping her eyes pinned on her companion. She was already growing tired at the uncomfortable position and her limbs were shaky. Her stomach was also beginning to remind her of its continued mistreatment. A low chuckle from Daniel made it apparent he heard the growls. She risked a slap to the back of his head.
"Ow," he mock whined. "I'm sorry, Sam. You must be starving."
She rubbed the back of his neck, trying to let him know her state of hunger was the least of their worries at the moment. They couldn't stay motionless for long; Teal'c was steadily approaching them. Sam visually scouted the thick ropes which had once served as side rails for the bridges, suddenly wishing for a knife. She'd feel so much more comfortable if she could somehow be connected with Daniel, uncertain she'd be able to catch and hold him if he slipped. Being tied to him might result in her own tumble but in the grand scheme, she thought that preferable to seeing him plunge before her eyes. And she had personal experience in that regard.
Falling into silence, albeit involuntary on her part, they began picking their way downward again. The rubble kept trickling down and she was thankful they had placed the makeshift mask over Daniel's eyes. She didn't doubt he'd have quickly figured out to close his eyes but the added insurance eased her mind a bit. Keeping her own head turned away from the debris, she vainly fought against the straining muscles of her left arm. She checked their position, stunned to learn they'd already navigated over halfway down the cliff.
At ease with Daniel's climbing competence, Sam patted his back and skimmed her hand away. Just as her fingers lost contact, a particularly large chunk of dirt landed on his head. He jerked, slipping slightly. She overcompensated, lunging for him and at the same time losing her own balance. There was no time to process anything as her feet came off the bridge. Hands clutching at Daniel's arm, her fingers unable to find purchase.
"Sam!" he shouted, his left hand reaching for her searchingly.
Momentum and gravity pulled her away and she haphazardly shimmied along the bridge, heart pounding and lungs seizing in panic. Daniel stretched as far as he could but she knew it wasn't enough. She cursed her carelessness, wanting to scream out.
"SAM! Jack, Teal'c! She's falling...I can't..."
The rest of his cry was lost amidst the scuffle of rocks, the rush of blood in her ears, and pain as her head contacted hard stone.

part 2

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  Hawk50 Nancy Bailey Carrie AnnO  
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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.