Jack opened his eyes, then quickly shut them again. Every muscle ached, and his head was pounding. Still, the fogginess that had been attached to him had been lifted. He could almost feel the slithering drug as it made it's way out of his system.
Memories returned, and he wished he could keep his eyes closed forever. God, he had hurt his Danny. Had almost killed him. Had it not been for Daniel's unfailing faith, he probably would have.
He remembered a feeling of being locked away. It wasn't like a goa'uld, like his body was doing things while he remained in the background, forced to watch, unable to do anything. This had been more of a lack of recognition. He hadn't known the young man in front of him, knew only that he was a threat that had to be eliminated.
Gazing into Daniel's eyes, seeing the love, sorrow and forgiveness there, had been his undoing. It wasn't that he remembered exactly who Daniel was, or that he had loved him previously. It was the feeling of falling in love all over again that had finally started to clear his mind.
Once the path had been opened, then the recognition had set it. And for the pain of it all, oh god, there had been joy. To see that faith, trust and forgiving love in Daniel's eyes- it had been everything he'd ever hoped for.
He was about to fall back asleep when an old, withered voice came from across the tent. "The Trial of Truth has never been passed before."
Jack at last opened his eyes to see the old Shaman, sitting cross legged on cushions on the floor. "And you would be?"
"I am Arkaya, Shaman of the Iskat. You must have many questions for me," she hinted. Jack worked to sit up on the cot he had been sleeping on. He didn't sense a threat from her, but given what had happened, he wasn't about to relax.
Arkaya smiled sadly. "You injured him quite badly. He is resting, and we have given him some herbs for the pain, but I am afraid that time is what he needs most."
"Injured?" Jack frowned. He remembered giving his lover quite the beating, but Daniel had shown no signs of pain while they had sat endlessly in the ring, held tight in each other's arms. "Where is he?"
"In the Tent beside this one. He will not be awake for some time. Do not worry, O'Neill. He is safe, now. Your trespass has been forgiven. The Iskat will not risk upsetting the Spirits now that they have decreed you shall live."
"And why should I believe you?" Jack demanded, though found that he did. "You stuffed me with some kind of drug that wiped my memory, and then made me face off against my teammate. Not to mention left me with a hell of a hangover."
Arkaya laughed. "Daniel said you would say that. He said to tell you faith comes in many forms. And not to be an ass, which he explained to me was some sort of mule on your world. Apparently they are very stubborn creatures."
Jack chuckled. Only Daniel. Okay, so if Daniel trusted her, he supposed he could as well, at least a little. "So, no one has ever passed before?"
"Most come into the Trials alone. The White Bane's effects can only be over ridden by a strong emotion. Those who have come together, have shared but one emotion, greed. While it can be a driving emotion, it is not strong enough to overcome the White Bane," Arkaya explained patiently.
"Why? Why would your people do this?" Jack asked, hating the small bit of vulnerability in his voice.
There was a moment of silence, and when Arkaya answered, her voice was tinged with sadness. "It is our way. The Iskat have long been one of the Trial's. We play our own part in protecting the treasure. Originally, it was not done out of malice, but was a simple function. Over the generations, with fewer and fewer people coming for the Quest, it got turned into something ugly, an entertainment of sorts."
Arkaya nodded. "Yes. I am the last of my line. There will be no more Shamans. A new era will begin for the People. We are not evil, O'Neill. We have children whom we love, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters, mothers and fathers. Life for us is simple. But, the people have turned from the Original Path. They no longer understand the meaning of the Trial. Perhaps it is just as well that your arrival may mean the end of it all."
"Can you tell me about the Trials ahead?" Jack asked, certain that if Arkaya had already talked to Daniel, he had already asked.
She shook her head. "I am afraid not. We are but a small part of it all. Now, you must rest."
"I want to see Daniel," Jack insisted. His headache was better, and he didn't feel quite so shaky. He expected an argument, but the old woman merely nodded and rose to her feet, gesturing for him to follow her.
Daniel was, as she had said, asleep. Jack knelt down beside the cot, despite his protesting knees. Daniel's skin was pale, except for the darkening bruises on his cheek and torso, his breathing was shallow and jerky, as if he was afraid to take a deep breath.
"How bad?" Jack asked, hesitantly.
"I found two ribs injured, though I believe them to be more cracked than broken. I wrapped them, just to be sure of their support. He has a large gash across his left shoulder blade that will take time to heal, and while his bruises are deep, I do not believe there to be any bleeding inside. Minor cuts and bruises that we are applying an ointment too."
"He can't travel like this." While it came out as a statement, Jack was happy Arkaya seemed to recognize the question in it.
"No, he can not. Do not worry, O'Neill, for you will have all the time you need to heal. You are both safe here. The Trial has passed, and we will welcome you as an honored guest as soon as Daniel is able to join us. He will be in pain for some time, but I have treated much worse from hunting parties."
Jack nodded, and took up Daniel's hand. It was slightly chilled, which he considered to be a blessing of sorts. It meant that there was no fever, no infection. He heard movement behind him, but didn't care.
He had come close to losing his lover, there was no way he was moving away from him. He sat like that for some time, lost in a world of memories and nightmares. He jumped when he felt Arkaya's weathered hand on his shoulder.
"We have placed your cot in here. You can use it whenever you wish, but remember that you need rest as well. He will need you to be strong."
Jack nodded, and swallowed at the considerate kindness. "Thank you, Arkaya."
A pat on his shoulder, and she was gone, leaving him alone with Daniel for the first time since they had entered the Iskat territory.
"Ah, Danny. Alone at last," Jack whispered, not really wanting to wake his friend, but needing the comfort of talking. "You did an incredibly brave and stupid thing out there, Love. God, your faith in me was right there, so clear. It got through to me. Not because I recognized you, but because I fell in love with you all over again. So much passion, and love, just for me. How could I not? And then you apologized for not being strong enough to live through it, and my heart broke. It was then the dam in my mind broke, too, you know. I couldn't hurt you that way."
He looked up from the hand he had been caressing when it squeezed his. Two bright orbs looked at him, smiling. "Daniel?"
"You came back, Jack, that's all that matters. It's over, and done. We passed, we lived, and we get to carry away some new memories," Daniel answered, his voice hoarse and had a breathless quality to it.
"How are you feeling?"
"I'll live. You?"
Jack chuckled. "Hell of hangover, but I'm sure I'll survive."
Daniel nodded, and his eyes closed, too tired to maintain the conversation. He felt Jack pat his hand, his other carding softly through the silk of Daniel's hair.
"Rest, Danny. I'm right here. Not going anywhere."
Daniel smiled. "I know, Jack. I know."
Next Installment: Discovery