Miracles of Life
He huddled beneath the dripping branches of an overgrown tree, wiping the water from his eyes. He felt sick to his stomach and his head hurt a lot. He couldn't remember much at all, except for running and running until his lungs felt like they would burst. He had no idea where he was, only that someone had been chasing him someone very bad.
He leaned over, resting his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. He was so scared, but he couldn't remember what he was afraid of.
The only thing he was certain of was his name .
The voice was subdued, but carried a hiss of threat and he cowered back under the tree.
"Where the hell are you? I swear when I find you If you ever go off on your own again without my express permission, I'm going to kick your ass into next week. Daniel?"
Carter swept the area in front of her with both her sight and her P-90 before heading over to her commanding officer's side. "No sign of him, sir, and he's been gone for over two hours now." Her heart thudded in her chest and she knew it wasn't just from exertion. They'd almost lost Daniel too many times. She didn't think she could bear to go through it again.
Jack nodded at her tersely and she could see the worry in his eyes, his frown deepening as he scanned their surroundings. "T?" he called softly as the Jaffa appeared at the opposite end of the clearing.
Teal'c shook his head, looking more troubled than Sam ever remembered. "There is no sign of Daniel Jackson," he replied.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Damn stupid Well, he's got to be here somewhere! What about his GPS, Carter?"
"I got a signal for a second or two, sir, then it stopped."
"Stopped?" Jack glared at her.
Carter shrugged. "Jammed, destroyed or just malfunctioning, sir. I don't know."
A sharp burst of weapon fire interrupted her words then they were all ducking for cover as an explosion sounded, too close for comfort. Sam brushed dirt from her eyes and staggered to her feet, her ears still ringing from the blast. "Sir, we have to get back to the gate."
"Daniel's still out here, Carter!" Jack shouted over the roar of more weapon fire.
She shook her head, knowing their only chance of finding Daniel lay with them surviving. "We need to get back to the base. Get some back up sir."
"Major Carter is correct, O'Neill," Teal'c added. "If we do not survive this attack, Daniel Jackson will be lost to us anyway."
Jack only paused briefly before heaving a sigh and nodding. He triggered his radio and spoke into it as he ushered Carter ahead of him. "Dillon, this is SG-1 team leader, dial up the gate. We're coming in hot."
Darkness was falling and his clothes were damp from the constant drizzle of rain. He shivered violently and his stomach rumbled with hunger. He staggered along a rough-hewn path, exhausted beyond belief, his eyes open wide, searching for obstacles in his path in the dim light, his ears still attuned for the sound of pursuit and explosions behind him.
He tripped over something and fell forward heavily, too weary to even catch himself, his outstretched hands skidding on the slick dirt, tearing skin. He lay where he landed, his gasping breaths giving way to heartfelt sobs of despair and fear, uncaring when the heavens opened and the rain torrented down, drenching him thoroughly.
A hand on his shoulder had him flinching but he had no energy left for either fight or flight, and he did not resist when he was lifted from the muddy ground and cradled against a broad chest.
"What are you doing out in the storm?" a deep voice said. A hand brushed his soaking hair away from his face.
He looked up, blinking the tears from his eyes and saw a tanned, lined face, rain dripping from black shaggy hair. The man smiled. "Fear not. You will soon be warm and dry. Sahira will see to that."
He opened his mouth to speak, to protest or utter thanks, he wasn't sure, but oblivion swept in without warning and he surrendered to it gladly.
Sahira poked the fire until sparks flew around the hearth and the hut was lit by a healthy glow. She wrapped her shawl more firmly about her shoulders then set water on the hub to boil. Micah would hopefully return soon with more wood and perhaps some meat for their meal tonight. She listened to the rain pounding against the straw roof then sighed and positioned a pot to catch the drips leaking through. The winter had been long and wet. Good for the crops as Micah always said when she complained of the constant dampness, but for a woman, accustomed to helping out in the small garden they'd cultivated, only a month away from giving birth, already confined more often than not indoors, it was nothing more than a nuisance.
She'd heard the faint sound of thunder before and prayed that Micah had the sense to shelter from the storm, shaking her head in fond exasperation as she settled down in a chair by the fire and picked up the soft scraps of cloth she was painstakingly stitching into a brightly colored jacket for the new child. Micah would come home, soaked through to the skin, as he always did. "The food will not catch itself and jump onto the table, Sahira," he would always say with a chuckle and a gentle kiss to her brow.
She paused a moment in her sewing and rested her hands on her swollen belly as the new life within her stirred and kicked gently. "Soon, little one, soon," she whispered. New life! Another son, perhaps. Micah would be pleased to welcome another son. A new beginning to make over the tragedies that had come before.
She jumped a little when the door was flung open and her husband strode in. Soaking wet, as she had predicted. In his arms, he held a cloth-covered bundle. Sahira stood awkwardly and went to greet him. At least he'd had the sense to protect the wood he'd collected from the rain.
"No meat for dinner, Micah?" she said, feeling disappointed. Their vegetables were almost depleted and the rain had washed much of the grain away.
"I found something in the woods," Micah replied. He was huffing for breath as though he'd run a very long way, and his eyes were bright as though with fever.
"What now?" Sahira asked impatiently. "If we can't eat it then it's of no use to us."
Carefully, Micah pulled back the cloth and revealed what was beneath.
Sahira gasped and took a step back, tears instantly stinging her eyes. A child, no more than five, lay cradled in Micah's arms. His face was deathly pale, his eyes closed, his tiny chest heaving with an ominous rattle that spoke of illness. His blond hair was plastered to his face, and mud speckled his cheeks and clothes Clothes unlike any that Sahira had seen before. She looked up at Micah. "A child in the woods? In this weather?" She stepped closer and brushed the wet hair from the boy's face. "He is not from the village," she said with certainty. "Who is he?"
Micah lay the boy down on their bed and covered him with the bedding. "Just a boy," he said. He straightened and stared at the child for a moment then strode over and stood in front of the fire.
Sahira followed him, anxiety churning her stomach. "Who would leave a child alone in the woods?" She pressed a hand to her mouth. "The Gods?"
Micah shrugged. "After Noah, I prayed to the gods for a miracle." He reached out and rested his hand on Sahira's stomach, smiling when the child within kicked. " Perhaps they have gifted us twice over."
"Ow!" Jack pulled away from the nurse wrapping his arm and glared at her. "Why don't you cut the circulation off entirely?" He sighed at her stricken look. He'd forgotten she was new.
"You know the bandage has to be firm, sir," Janet admonished. She sent the nurse on her way with a small wave of her hand and an apologetic smile.
"Yeah, I know." Jack scrubbed a hand over his face. He hadn't even realized he'd been grazed until they hit the ramp Earth-side. His adrenaline was pumping and he'd been too worried about Daniel. He'd slowed down as he approached the gate, pushing Teal'c and Carter ahead of him, looking over his shoulder in the hope Daniel would come hurtling out of the trees at the last minute. He felt exhausted, dirty and pissed off. "Sorry," he added belatedly.
Janet nodded then finished the bandaging herself, giving the tail end a sharp tug before securing it, ignoring his muttered protest. "I'll pass your apology on," she said with a smirk.
They both looked up when Carter strode into the infirmary. "Any news?" they asked in tandem.
Carter shook her head. "I can't tell you why Daniel's GPS malfunctioned, sir. For all we know, it could have been removed."
"By who?" Jack asked.
"He may have been captured by those who attacked us," Teal'c said.
"They wouldn't know a GPS locator from a hole in the ground," Jack countered.
"He may have been injured in the arm," Janet said. "It could have damaged the locator."
"My thought exactly," Jack said morosely. He slid off the bed. "We done here, Doc?"
Janet nodded. "You're good to go, sir. Just try to keep the wound clean and dry "
"I'll do my best." He turned to Hammond. "Permission to mount a search and rescue op, General."
Hammond held up a hand. "I'm as anxious to get Doctor Jackson back as you are, let's just make sure we know what we're heading into. Where was Doctor Jackson when you last saw him?"
"Oh, you know Daniel, sir," Jack replied. "Wandering around, muttering to himself, videoing stuff. I told him to stay close "
"Daniel Jackson mentioned some ruins that were noted in the aerial recon beyond our location," Teal'c added. "He seemed most eager to explore them."
"I told him they could wait until we'd established contact and ensured the area was safe from Goa'uld or any other nasties But you know Daniel, sir." Jack sighed heavily.
Hammond nodded, a small smile upturning his lips. "Yes, Jack, I do. Colonel Carter, I take it you've launched another aerial search of the planet?"
"Yes, sir." Carter led the way out of the infirmary and up the stairs to the briefing room. "We're conducting it now. So far, it hasn't shown anything, apart from the villages we'd already seen on our first go-round, about ten klicks from the gate."
"What about the soldiers who attacked you?" Hammond asked, taking a seat at the end of the table.
"Not what I'd call soldiers exactly," Jack replied. "T?"
Teal'c nodded his agreement. "I believe they were marauders from one of the villages. Their weapons were not sophisticated enough for Jaffa."
Jack rubbed lightly at his bandaged arm. "Could have fooled me."
Teal'c shook his head. "They were not Jaffa."
"I know that, Teal'c." Jack leaned forward, clasping his hands together on the table. "If we take a back up team, sir, I'm certain we can overpower them or at least scare them off. Daniel's there somewhere. He could be hurt-"
Hammond held up a hand. "No need to convince me, Jack." He pressed the button on the intercom. "Sergeant, mobilize SG-3 and 6 to return to the planet with SG-1."
Jack stood, antsy to just get on with it now they had a go. And you'd better be in one piece when we find you, Daniel, he thought to himself, because I have some serious ass-kicking planned.
Sahira gently but efficiently stripped the unconscious child of his bedraggled and ill-fitting clothing. She held the unusual green-colored jacket up for Micah's perusal. "These cannot be the boy's. They are far too big, and no one in the village wears clothing such as this."
Micah took the shirt and placed it on top of Sahira's laundry pile. "You said he was not from the village," he replied.
She rolled her eyes at the slight sarcasm in his voice. "It matters not, Micah," she said, knowing she sounded somewhat impatient. "Who would dress a child in such a way?"
Micah shrugged. He sat down in the chair in front of the fire, lifted the tiny jacket Sahira had been stitching and ran a hand over the vibrant patchwork colors, nodding in approval. "You've been busy today, I see."
"That does not answer my question!" Sahira snapped, her patience frittering away as her concern and unease over the unknown child grew.
Micah scrubbed a hand over his face. "We should not question the actions of the Gods. What they give, they might just as easily take away."
The air grew heavy with the import of his words and Sahira felt a chill pass over her. She pulled her attention back to the child, stroking a hand down his flushed cheek. "He has a fever," she announced. "He is ill." She snapped her fingers at Micah, her maternal instincts overriding all else. "Bring me the water in the pot and a clean cloth And don't light your pipe, Micah. He will not tolerate the smoke."
Micah stuffed his pipe back in his pocket with an aggrieved groan and did as she bid. Pouring the hot water into a large earthen bowl, he cooled it with cold water from the skin by the door and found a clean cloth then carried it to Sahira and set it on the floor.
Sahira wrung out the cloth and gently began wiping over the child's mud-streaked body. She hushed him softly when he stirred and muttered something under his breath, stroking his cheek until he relaxed and succumbed to slumber once more. "Why are you not afraid, Micah?" she asked as she rinsed the cloth. "If he is of the Gods "
Micah squeezed her shoulder gently. "We are good people, are we not, Sahira? We pray to the Gods, we thank them for their bounty, whether it be plentiful or scarce. If this is our reward, then what is there to fear?"
Sahira straightened, pain lancing through her heart as his words. "If this is our reward, Micah, then what was Noah? A sacrifice to the Gods? Are you so willing to accept this child in exchange for your own son?"
"Speak no more blasphemy!" Micah's voice was low but rumbled like thunder. Sahira shrank back from his ire. Micah sighed and gathered her into his embrace, reaching one hand out to stroke the boy's brow when he shifted and sobbed softly. "Rest, child, rest." He looked down at Sahira, his expression soft and apologetic. "I'm sorry. I can only seek answers in what I see. I grieve Noah as you do. He was my son, my firstborn child. But should we abandon this one because we have no understanding of whence he came?"
Sahira shook her head. "Of course not. He is but an innocent child after all."
"Jack," the child whispered.
"Do you know the word?" Sahira asked.
Micah shook his head. "Perhaps when he wakes, he will be able to tell us more. For now-"
"-he needs care," Sahira finished, picking up the cloth once more and wiping it over the child's sweaty forehead. "Noah's clothes should fit him." She stood and embraced Micah then stepped back, shooing him off. "He needs sustenance. I can strain the broth from the soup. Micah, the clothes!"
Micah hesitated. "I did not know you had kept them."
Sahira rested her hands on her stomach. "We have another child coming. It would not have done to throw them away." Traitorous tears brimmed in her eyes and she turned away, busying herself with straining the broth from last night's meal.
Micah touched her arm, squeezing it gently. "And if it is a girl?" he asked, a soft amusement in his voice.
Sahira looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. "I'm his mother. Mothers know." Then she shrugged and turned back to her task. "The clothes, Micah, please."
She waited for him to leave before she gave in to her anguish and loss. The child within her moved again, reminding her that perhaps prayers were answered. She glanced at the child on the bed. Perhaps twice over.
"Sahira!" Micah gestured over to the bed with his unlit pipe. "The child is awake."
Sahira put the earthen bowls onto the table and hurried over to the bed. The boy looked up at her, his blue eyes blinking drowsily. Reaching out, she gently stroked a lock of hair from his face. "Good," she said, satisfied. "Your fever is almost gone. How are you feeling?"
He stared at her for a long moment as though contemplating her question. "I'm better now."
Sahira sat on the edge of the bed. "I have some broth for you. It will warm you. What is your name, child? Why were you alone in the woods? Where are your parents?"
He continued to look at her then his face screwed up and tears brimmed in his eyes, dripping down his cheeks. He hiccupped a sob of distress and held his arms out to her. Without hesitation, Sahira gathered him to her breast, patting his back softly as he cried.
Micah stood and came to stand by the bedside. "You have confused him with so many questions. The boy is scared out of his wits and not yet recovered from his ordeal." He placed a hand on Sahira's head, smoothing back the stray hairs that had escaped her leather tie. "I'll tend to the fire and reheat the broth. Then I'll sit with him while you eat your dinner."
"I can wait, Micah," Sahira said. "You've been out all day, hunting. Eat the stew while it's hot."
Micah shook his head. "And you are with child." His stern expression brooked no argument. Before she could protest more, he turned away and walked back to place more wood on the fire.
Sahira smiled, accepting defeat, then turned her attention back to the sobbing child. "Shh, it will be all right. We will find your family and return you to them." She leaned back and placed a hand under his chin, lifting his head. "Can you at least tell me your name?"
He looked at her solemnly, tears still flooding his eyes. He swallowed and his sobbing slowed. "I know you, why do you not know me?"
Sahira shook her head. "I'm sorry, child, but I do not know you. You are not from Mordach, of that I'm certain." A sudden, worrying thought came to her and she sucked in a frightened gasp. Standing, she hurried over to Micah. "Micah, could it be that he is from Etenne?"
Micah prodded at the boy's discarded clothing with the poker. "These are not Etenne clothing, nor anything I've seen before. What makes you think that?"
Sahira stole a quick glance behind her at the child, who sat, glancing with undisguised interest around the hut. "If he is not from Mordach, and I am certain of that What if he is an Etenne child who became lost in the woods?"
"Then we shall return him to them," Micah replied.
"Return him?" Sahira tugged at Micah's sleeve in distress. "They are our enemies. We have been at war with them since I was a babe myself. What if they think we kidnapped him? What if they exact retribution on us, just as they have done so often before? None here in the village were even alive when the battles between us began. Yet still they come, burning our homes and crops, stealing our livestock, killing " She choked on a sob of remembered pain. "Do you not remember what happened to Noah-"
"Enough!" Micah cut off her words with a sweep of his hand. He sighed and cupped her face in his big hands. "I remember, Sahira. He was my son too."
Tears stung her eyes and she tried to pull away from him but he pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting embrace. The grief felt as raw, as bone-deep as it had that day and she clung to him, barely keeping her feet. A hand tugged at her skirt and she flinched. The child looked up at her, his expression calm, a small smile upturning his mouth.
"Why are you angry with me? Don't you remember me? It's me, Mama, Noah."
"All right, Davis, Miller, stay here and secure the gate," Jack ordered. "The rest of us will check the perimeter for the bad guys before we go any further."
The teams paired up and fanned out, heading for the forest several yards away. "Try not to engage fire," Jack added. "We want them cooperating with us."
"Sir?" Carter caught up with him. "We don't even know what village these marauders came from."
"I know, Carter."
"There are several villages in the immediate area."
"I know that too." Jack stopped and stared at her. "What's your point?"
"If Daniel stumbled upon the marauders, we have no idea what they might have done to him."
"Daniel's become mighty adept at getting out of scrapes," Jack said as he continued walking. "Died and came back to life more times than I can count," he added over his shoulder, though a lump formed in his throat at the words. Maybe this time He pushed the dark thoughts away forcefully. "Knowing Daniel he'd talk 'em out of killing him."
Carter gave him a small uncertain smile. "Yes, sir, I'm sure you're right."
Jack waved her forward and then waited for the other teams to signal the all clear. "Looks like the marauders got bored and went home. Maybe there was a hockey game on the tube. Which is the closest village to the ruins Daniel was so fired up to see?"
Carter pulled a map from her pocket and studied it. "East, about ten klicks."
"Ten klicks?" At Sam's nod, Jack sighed. "My knees are not gonna thank you, Jackson." He turned and waved Teal'c and the others forward. "Emerald City, here we come."
Sahira sat by the fire and watched the boy as he rolled a small wooden cart across the floor of the hut. The child smiled as Micah glanced down, as though totally disinterested in the game but then pushed it back to him with his foot. She didn't miss the delight in Micah's eyes or the small smile that played on his lips.
Her pleasure at watching the scene was dulled by memories from the past and fear of the unknown. This was not her Noah, of that she was certain, yet at the same time, there was something familiar about him, in the lilt of his voice, the shy tilt of his chin when he looked over at her, his familiarity with them.
The child stood, apparently tiring of his game and walked over to the table to lean against Micah's side. "I'm hungry, Papa," he said.
Micah reached out and ruffled his hair. "Are you now?" He looked over at Sahira. "He always had an appetite to rival mine, didn't he?" he said with a chuckle.
"He's not Noah!" Sahira snapped and shrank back a little in her chair when the child shot her a quick glance.
"Enough, Sahira!" Micah scolded. He lifted the boy onto his lap and pulled the platter of wildfruit closer. "Eat," he encouraged. He stood then settled the child back onto the chair before coming to crouch in front of Sahira. "Why do you fear him?" he asked. "He is but a boy."
"He says he is Noah," Sahira replied, her voice catching. "He cannot be. Noah has gone to the Gods."
"Perhaps the Gods chose to look kindly upon us and return him."
Sahira was already shaking her head before Micah finished. "That is against our learning," she said. "You know that. This can only be an evil magic."
"Visited upon us by who?" Micah stood and turned back to watch the child, who had picked up a wilderberry and was examining it with curious eyes.
"The marauders, perhaps," Sahira said, fretfully grabbing at Micah's hand.
Micah snorted. "They know no magic. They do not even worship the Gods. That is why they were banished from the villages all those moons ago "
"So the storytellers say," Sahira whispered.
Micah glared at her over his shoulder. "More blasphemy? Why are you so unwilling to accept this gift?" He lowered his voice when the child looked over at them, a sad look on his face. "What would you have me do, even if he is not truly Noah? Send him away, back to the forest?"
"No!" Sahira stood quickly, wavering slightly. Micah grasped her arm and steadied her. She nodded her thanks then slowly made her way over to the child. She sat beside him, watching as he examined the fruits carefully. "Ja-a-ck," she said. "Do you know what that means, child?"
The boy stared at her, his brow furrowing. "I don't Perhaps " He shrugged. "I don't know." He reached out and took her hand. "What troubles you, Mother? Are you not happy to see me?"
She pulled her hand from his grasp. "If it is you, then yes, of course I am."
He smiled at her, the familiar upturning of his mouth so familiar, it made her heart ache. "It is me " He touched his chest, over his heart. "Here."
She rested a hand on his head. "And here?"
He shrugged and picked up the wilderberry once more, sniffing at it. "Another dwells here too. He is afraid."
Sahira stifled her frightened gasp and glanced at Micah. "Another? How can that be?"
"I do not know." The boy brought the fruit to his mouth and took a small bite. "I only know that he is there."
"Well, they sure seem friendly enough." Jack tipped his cap at an older man who bowed his head in acknowledgment of them then strode toward them.
"Greetings," he said, "Welcome to Mordach. You are strangers here."
"What was your first clue?" Jack asked. He sighed when Carter shot him a reproving look. "Sorry. Making nice with the natives doesn't come naturally to me." Raising his voice, he said, "Yes, yes, we are. We're explorers from a planet called Earth."
"Then you are welcome in Mordach. I am Sagon. I am the village overseer."
"Just the man we need to speak with then," Jack said but he appeared to have lost his audience. Sagon had circled around him and was standing in front of Teal'c, staring at him.
"You are of the Gods," he said.
"Not anymore," Jack hastened to explain. "He's just plain ol' Teal'c now."
Teal'c gave Sagon a formal bow.
"If you are from the Gods, then you are most welcome here," Sagon said, dropping to his knees. "We, in Mordach, devote our lives to the Gods."
"Damn!" Jack whispered.
Teal'c reached out and helped Sagon to his feet. "Do not bow before me," he said. "I am but a soldier and explorer, as O'Neill has said. We came to find our friend."
Sagon shook his head. "I know of no others like you here in the village, or in Etenne, our neighbor, for that matter."
"Well, we know he was here yesterday," Carter said. "He got separated from us when we were attacked -"
"The marauders," Sagon said, nodding. "They were cast out from the villages for speaking blasphemy against the Gods. They dwell in the mountains, but in winter, when food is scarce, they steal from us, burn our homes " He sighed.
"Resistance movement maybe," Jack said quietly and Teal'c nodded.
"It is indeed likely."
"Wish we'd known that before they started shooting at us. So, Sagon," Jack clapped the man on the shoulder, "about our friend. You sure nobody's seen him?"
"I am certain of it," Sagon replied. "If he was here, I would have been informed."
"What about this other village," Sam said. "Etenne?"
"We have close ties with Etenne. I doubt your friend is there."
"What about the child?" someone following them said.
Jack turned to look at the young woman. "A child? No, ma'am. Thanks anyway. The guy we're looking for is a grown man mostly."
"Micah said the boy was a gift from the Gods," Sagon said. "Sent to replace their son, killed in the last Marauder attack."
"He wore clothes like yours," the woman said softly. "I saw them when Micah hid them in the barn." She lowered her eyes at Sagon's soft gasp. "I was getting grain," she said defensively. "I was not spying on him, I swear by the Gods!"
"It means nothing," Sagon said. "They were probably just rags."
"Exactly the color and cloth as these," the woman said firmly.
Sagon looked at Jack and shrugged. "Perhaps he found them. Still, it was a child that came to Micah and Sahira, not a man."
Jack stared at Sagon. "You sure it's a kid child?"
Sagon nodded. "I am certain. I have seen the boy with my own eyes."
"Sir " Carter began.
"Already there, Carter." Jack gave Sagon an easy smile. "Any chance we could see him? I mean, if he's a child of the Gods and all "
Sagon bowed. "Of course." He gestured to the young woman. "Ayla, hurry to Micah and Sahira, tell them we bring guests from far away."
Sahira stood from her seat and bowed when Jack and the others entered the hut. Micah crossed to her side and rested an arm about her shoulders. Jack's gaze immediately went to the small blond boy who stood beside Micah, one arm wrapped around the big man's leg. He glanced up at Micah and Sahira. Both had dark, curly hair and dark brown, almond-shaped eyes.
"Welcome to our home," Micah said.
"Thanks for having us," Jack replied.
The child stepped away from Micah, a smile slowly upturning his mouth. "Jack?"
"Huh?" Jack frowned at the boy. "That's me. How do you know my name, son?"
The boy ran forward, wrapping his arms around Jack's waist. "It's really you! You found me!"
Jack couldn't stop himself hugging the child back. "Umm, sorry, kid. I don't think I know you."
The child looked up at him, tears spilling from his eyes. "It's me, Jack." His glanced at Carter and then Teal'c. "Sam? Teal'c? It's me, Daniel."
Jack stared at Micah. "I thought his name was Noah."
"It is," Micah replied. "He told us himself."
Jack rested a hand on the boy's head. "Son, I don't know you, but maybe you've seen our friend, Daniel -"
"I'm Daniel!" the boy insisted.
"Noah?" Sahira took a step forward.
The child looked at her, shaking his head. "I am not Noah. I don't know any Noah " Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed, his limbs jerking wildly in the throes of a seizure. Only Jack's quick thinking prevented him from hitting the floor.
Jack gathered the convulsing child in his arms and crossed the room to lay him on the bed in the corner. "Carter?" He stepped back to allow her to examine the boy.
Carter merely shielded the boy, protecting him from injuring himself. Thick bloodstained mucus dribbled from his mouth and his face took on a faint bluish tinge. Swiftly, Carter turned him onto his side, and almost immediately, the child's choking breaths became less labored, though the seizure continued unabated. She looked up at Jack, her hands waving uselessly. "I don't know, sir "
Jack looked at Micah and Sahira who crowded in close to them. Sahira was sobbing and, it appeared, praying. "Has he been sick?"
"He had a fever when I found him in the forest," Micah said, "but he recovered."
"Did a doctor see him?" At the puzzled expression on Micah's face, Jack prodded, "Who looks after you when you're sick or injured?"
"Our herbalist," Sagon said, "but I do not know if he has the knowledge to treat this. The child is obviously possessed by a demon. It is best he is cast out to the marauders."
"Throw a sick kid out there alone!" Jack shook his head. "Not gonna happen, pal."
"It is the will -"
"Of the Gods. Yeah, I know." Jack dropped his gaze to the boy who continued to seize, his skinny arms and legs spasming so violently, Jack worried he would fracture bones.
"I don't know how long his body will withstand a prolonged seizure, sir," Carter put in.
Jack made a snap decision. "Let us take him back with us."
Micah's eyes widened and Sahira drew in a gasp and clutched at Micah's arm. "Through the Chappa-ai?" Micah asked.
"We have good medicine, doctors " Jack said.
Micah shook his head. "It is forbidden."
"He could die if he doesn't get help," Carter said.
Sahira pushed past Micah and looked down at the child. She rested a hand on his forehead, tears streaming down her cheeks as the boy continued to convulse. "Take him," she said in a shaky whisper. She turned and looked back at her husband. "Micah, if we are to save him this time "
Micah nodded slowly. "Perhaps it is a test from the Gods."
Teal'c was already gathering the child into his arms. "Will you accompany us?" he asked.
Micah looked horrified, and Sagon was shaking his head vehemently. "It is forbidden," he said. "Take the boy. If he can be healed, you swear to return him to his parents?"
"Of course," Carter said quickly. She laid her hand on Sahira's arm. "We'll take good care of him, I promise."
Sahira rested her own hand over Carter's, squeezing lightly. "Thank you. Go with the Gods."
"Radio ahead, Carter," Jack ordered as he followed Teal'c out of the hut. "Tell Stargate Command to have a medical team standing by."
The trip back to the gate was slow going, despite Jack wanting to rush them there. On top of keeping their eyes peeled for the marauders, Carter insisted on stopping now and then to monitor the child. Noah Daniel whoever the heck he was looked about as sick as any kid Jack had seen. He pushed the memory of Charlie away when it sprang to mind unbidden and forged on, urging Carter and Teal'c to hurry.
Fraiser was waiting for them when they stepped through the gate and immediately set about checking the boy's vitals before hurrying him off to the infirmary, tossing instructions to her staff on the way in her usual efficient manner. She stopped to look back at the team before entering the infirmary. "His seizures have stopped at least," she said. "That's a good sign."
"So he's gonna be okay," Jack said in relief.
"Too early to tell, Colonel," she replied. "I'll check back with you as soon as I can."
It was several hours before Janet paged the remaining members of SG1 and General Hammond to return to the infirmary. She came out into the hallway, brushing wayward strands of hair from her face. "I've done every test I can think of, and then some," she said. "He hasn't had another seizure since you brought him through the gate and his neurological signs appear normal. I can't find any sign of infection or infestation. He's a little scratched up, has some grazes on his hands and knees."
"So he's good to go," Jack replied.
"Not exactly." Janet looked down at the clipboard in her hand. "When he woke up, he was still insisting he was Daniel Jackson. I ran a DNA check."
"And?" Hammond prompted when she paused.
"He is who he says he is."
"Oh, come on!" Jack protested. "It's a kid. He's got to be, what, five years old! He probably found Daniel's dog tags or something and he's playing some kind of game."
"His DNA says otherwise, sir," Janet said.
"What about this other child, Noah? The people in Mordach insist he's their son, reincarnated somehow."
Janet shrugged. "I can't answer that."
Jack held up a hand and shook his head. "Well, your tests must be wrong. Do 'em again."
"I already did," Janet replied. "Twice over."
"Then he is who he says he is." Teal'c repeated Janet's words without a hint of disbelief.
Jack stared at him. "You really believe that little kid is Daniel?"
Teal'c gave a barely perceptible shrug. "Have we not witnessed many things that we would have thought impossible?" he said. "I, for one, never believed I would be free of the Goa'uld."
"Yeah, but this this " Jack's words dried up and he waved a hand uselessly in the air.
"There's another problem," Janet said into the silence.
"More?" Jack shook his head. He could feel a headache building behind his eyes.
"He's under the bed and he's refusing to come out until he can talk to you, sir."
"Oy!" Jack felt all the attention shift to him. "All right already. I'm going." He ushered Janet back in front of him and followed her into the infirmary.
Jack looked from the floor to Janet. "My knees are not gonna thank me for this." Hunkering down, he knelt on the floor and peered under the bed to be greeted by a vista of white. He cleared his throat, reached out and pushed down on the pillow blocking his view. Big blue, tear-filled eyes stared back at him. "Hey, it's me, Jack. Remember me?"
"'Course I do," the boy said, though his voice quavered. "You still don't believe I'm Daniel though, do you?"
"Well, according to the doc's tests, that's who you are, so I guess I have to believe you, don't I?"
The boy Jack couldn't quite get his head around calling him Daniel yet shrugged.
Jack sighed. "Look, my knees are killing me here. How about we sit up on the bed to talk?"
If anything, the boy's face grew paler. He shook his head. "I'm scared."
"Of ol' Doc Fraiser? Now, if you're really Daniel, you know she's really a pussy cat."
He shook his head. "Of the boy."
"I thought you said you were Daniel."
"I am! But he's here in-inside me. He scares me."
"Doc said there was no evidence of infestation," Jack said, realizing how ridiculous it sounded to be saying that to a five year old kid.
"He's here. I can feel him. He's not as strong now because I'm here on Earth but he's trying to take over."
"He was just a kid too," Jack said.
"I don't think he has a choice in this either. Survival of the fittest or something."
"Okay. Look, come out of there and you can tell me everything you remember."
" I don't remember much."
"Daniel, please "
The boy looked sharply at Jack at the sound of his name then slowly extended a hand and grasped Jack's. "Okay."
Daniel was finally ensconced in the bed and Jack sat on the edge, his hand still firmly clasped in Daniel's.
"So, tell me what you do remember," Jack said.
"Well, I wanted to take a closer look at the ruins." The boy rolled his eyes, and Jack had to stifle a gasp of surprise as he saw, acutely, clearly, in that moment, his adult friend in the child's features. "I know, I know, you told me to wait but I just wanted to get close enough to get some camera footage. Then the shooting started. I was headed back toward the rest of you when I heard a child scream. I looked back and saw him "
Jack quirked an eyebrow. "Him?"
"Noah is dead, Daniel. How do you know it was him?"
"I didn't know who he was then, but I do now."
"What happened after that?"
Daniel shrugged. "It's all kinda blurry. I ran back up toward the ruins and I saw an explosion near where the boy had been standing but when I got there, there was nothing. I walked inside, thinking he was sheltering from the attack then I woke up in Micah and Sahira's hut. I was insisting I was Noah, but inside I was screaming to them to help me Then you came and he retreated for some reason. The next thing I remember is waking up here." He reached up with his free hand and rubbed his forehead. "My head hurts," he complained, his demeanor suddenly as child-like as his voice and features. He sat up and leaned against Jack, resting his head on Jack's stomach. "It's Noah," he whispered.
Jack unconsciously stroked Daniel's hair. "I won't let him hurt you. We'll figure this out."
Daniel looked up at him, tears sliding down his cheeks. "He wants to go back. Please, Jack, don't make me go back there."
The voice washed over him. He watched, mesmerized, as the cars raced around the track, the red one finally taking the lead, outstripping the others with a surge of power.
"Jack!" A small fist dealt a solid blow to his shoulder and his hand clamped down reflexively. He watched in dismay as his favorite little red Maserati bucked and leaped off the Scalextric track, somersaulting once before skidding across the tiled floor and hitting the far wall with a tiny thunk. Jack sighed.
"Jack? I'm bored."
He looked up at the little boy who stood beside him, clutching a well-loved teddy bear - courtesy of Cassie - in one hand and hitching up too-big pajama pants with the other.
"Can't we do something else now?"
Jack rubbed at his itchy eyes. "I guess," he said apathetically. Truth was, he'd forgotten how much it took to keep a kid occupied and he was all out of ideas. "What do you want to do?"
Daniel's eyes sparkled. "Go to the museum!"
"Ah, that's a no," Jack said apologetically. "Not till the doc gives you the all-clear."
The kid looked so hopeful, Jack wanted to grab him up and make a run for it there and then. He shook his head. "Another no, same reason as before."
Daniel nodded slowly, though his expression grew downcast. "I can't go to my apartment and get my books either, can I?"
Daniel heaved a huge sigh that seemed to come from his feet, stared at the floor a moment longer then looked up at Jack. "My office!" he announced. "I've got lots of books there!"
"I dunno," Jack replied doubtfully. "Doc Frasier wants to keep a pretty close eye on you "
Daniel waved the words away as though they were dust, the action so Daniel-like that Jack's breath caught in his throat. "There's security cameras and intercoms everywhere!" He looked at Jack from underneath lowered eyelashes, looking every bit the five-year-old he now was. "Please " he wheedled.
"All right already!" Jack got to his feet with a groan, wincing as his knees cracked in unison. "No need to send in the big guns. I guess your office will be okay." He narrowed his eyes and bent down to Daniel's level. "You still got a TV in there?"
Daniel rolled his eyes and Jack realized that this coming and going between adult Daniel and short-stuff Daniel was giving him one hell of a headache. If Carter didn't figure this out soon, he was going to collapse. "With cable even," Daniel said and patted his arm.
"Well, why didn't you say so before my knees turned to stone?" Jack grumbled.
Daniel just grinned at him, slid his little hand into Jack's and led the way out of the infirmary.
Jack hailed a nurse just before he was hauled bodily to the elevator. "Tell Doc Frasier we're in Doctor Jackson's office researching stuff."
Jack was startled awake by the sound of something heavy thunking onto the desk. His eyes snapped open and he watched as Daniel pulled another book from the enormous pile in front of him and opened it.
Daniel leaned back and looked over at him, a kind of dazed, blissful expression on his face. "Thanks for bringing me here, Jack. This is much more fun than watching cars go round a race track."
"For some, maybe," Jack muttered. He stared at the ugly, shrunken head thingy on the desk in front of him, certain it was one of those weirdo things whose eyes would follow you around the room just to creep you out. "Look, Daniel "
No response. Jack could only just see the top of the kid's head over the books. "Daniel!"
"Hmm?" Daniel's gaze stayed on the book. Not much had changed since the kid had been downsized after all.
"I need to use the head. Stay here and do not go anywhere. Understand?"
Standing, Jack stretched the kinks from his back and headed out the door. Damn hockey game had been a bust and sitting there, chin cupped in his hands, he'd drifted off for god knew how long. He detoured past the men's room and strode over to the wall phone, a plan already forming.
That done, he made his way back to Daniel, who still sat where he had left him, silent, devouring the book in front of him. At least 'Noah' seemed to have disappeared, whoever the heck 'Noah' was. Jack didn't believe in ghosts or life after death or any of that mumbo-jumbo. They still had no real explanation of what had happened to Daniel on the planet. Carter and Teal'c had returned and checked out the ruins and the villages and interviewed Micah and Sahira more thoroughly. The couple were still convinced that Daniel was their dead son, despite there being no resemblance to them at all, begging Carter to return Daniel to them. Which was going to happen over Jack's dead body. They were good people and all but Frasier's tests had proven beyond a doubt that the little boy seated at Daniel's desk was the genuine article and that was that. As far as Jack was concerned.
Frasier was working around the clock to find a way to reverse Daniel's de-aging but had come up empty thus far. Daniel was getting bored and antsy, or at least he had been. Now Jack was starting to feel as though he was spinning in a circle, no help to anyone.
"Hey!" Jack said, touching Daniel's shoulder lightly. "I have an idea."
It took a couple of light thumps before Daniel finally looked up at him. "What?"
"How about we go the park?"
Daniel's eyes narrowed in what looked like suspicion. "I thought I wasn't allowed offbase," he said, one hand holding open the place in his book.
Jack leaned down and whispered in his ear. "They won't even know we're gone."
Jack shrugged. "I've got a trick or two up my sleeve. Covert ops, you know."
Daniel kneeled up on his chair, his book forgotten. "Really?" he asked. "Like we did when we sneaked on Apophis' ship and when we went to O'Malley's when we had the armbands on?" His eyes sparkled with amusement. "That was fun, huh, Jack?"
"It was at the time," Jack agreed drolly. He held out his hand. "So, what do you say: park or boring old books?"
"They're not boring," Daniel protested but Jack just rolled his eyes and waved his hand in front of Daniel's face.
"Park," Daniel said in a loud whisper.
"Okay." Jack held a finger to his lips and waited until Daniel climbed off his chair. They crept over to the doorway and Jack chanced a look out into the corridor. The coast was clear, exactly as it should be. Daniel didn't need to know that this was an executed plan and that two SF's would be following their every step, from a discreet distance, of course.
Jack looked back at Daniel, delighting at the excitement shining in his eyes. "Let's do this!"
"Higher, Jack! Push me higher!" Daniel cried.
"You're about as high as the chains will take you," Jack said but complied anyway, giving Daniel a slightly harder shove as he swung back toward him.
"Whee!" Daniel yelled. "I'm flying!"
"That you are!" Jack shouted back, a grin sliding into place as Daniel pulled back on the swing chains and swung his legs back and up.
"I'm almost to the sky I can see the clouds "
Jack knew something was wrong before it even happened. He was already running forward, arms outstretched to catch Daniel's flailing body as he fell.
He lay Daniel on the ground, turning him to his side, one hand hovering over his convulsing body, the other scrambling for his cell phone in his pocket.
"He's okay." Janet held up a hand as Jack, Carter, Teal'c and Hammond stood as one as she exited the infirmary. "I have no idea what caused the seizures. He's showing some elevated T waves in his brain but he seems stable for now."
"Can we see him?" Jack asked.
"Just you, Colonel." Janet gave the others an apologetic smile. "He's a little frightened and he's asking for the Colonel."
Jack turned and gave the others a thumbs up. "See, he's fine. Just a minor screw up with his brainwaves. I'll get back to you."
Carter nodded. "Yes, sir. Tell Daniel we're thinking of him give him our love."
"You got it, Carter."
"Apprise me of the situation as soon as you can, Doctor," Hammond put in. "I have the Joint Chiefs breathing down my neck, demanding an answer."
"Yes, sir. As soon as I know, you'll know." Jack sketched a salute, eager to get into the infirmary and see for himself that Daniel was okay.
The kid looked sick. Jack's heart clenched as he approached the bed and gazed down at the white-faced little boy, who just hours before had been rosy-cheeked and full of life. Gently, he stroked a finger down Daniel's cheek.
Daniel shifted slightly in the bed then his eyes snapped open and he surged up. "Jack! You have to take me back!"
"Don't think so, Daniel." Jack pushed Daniel back against his pillows. "You have to stay here until the doc gives you the clearance to leave."
Daniel shook his head frantically and reached up, grasping Jack's hand in his. "You don't understand," he said. "I have to go back for Noah!"
"Noah is dead, Daniel." Jack said. "I'm sorry, but it's a fact. No one can bring that little boy back."
"No, no! You don't understand!" Daniel shook Jack's hand. "Noah doesn't know he's dead. I need to go back and show him the way."
"Crap!" Jack paced the length of Hammond's office and back, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "I thought this 'Noah' kid was gone! I thought now we had Daniel back home, things would be okay Well, as okay as it ever seems to get for Daniel anyway, as okay as it could get now that he's a thirty-five-year old munchkin."
"He's a child," Janet put in, not unkindly. "He may still have the majority of his adult memories but a lot of his personality and emotions are very much that of a little boy, and children's psyches are fragile and unpredictable."
"Does that explain this Noah, or what the hell we do about getting rid of him?"
"Sir? Daniel was with Micah and Sahira for a few days after all this occurred," Carter said. "It may be that their talk of their dead son has affected Daniel at a time when he was psychologically vulnerable." She looked at Janet who nodded slowly.
"It's certainly a reasonable possibility," Janet said.
"The problem is, how do we convince Daniel of that?" Hammond asked.
"He must be told the truth," Teal'c said. "That Noah is dead and cannot harm him, that he is safe now, here with us. Daniel Jackson is a learned scholar, and as Doctor Fraiser has said, he still retains much of his adult memories. I am sure O'Neill will be able to convince him that his belief in the dead child is a fallacy."
"Me?" Jack stared at Teal'c. "Why me? You may have noticed, big guy, diplomacy and tact are not my strongest suits."
"He is your friend," Teal'c said equably. "That is all that is important."
"Maybe we should get one of the psychiatrists on staff to talk to him," Janet suggested. "Not Dr. McKenzie," she added quickly when Jack opened his mouth ready to protest. "Karen Stuart was wonderful with Cassie when I first adopted her."
"See?" Jack smiled in relief. "That'll work."
"Sirs?" Harriman's voice came through the intercom. "You might want to get down to the infirmary. There's a problem with Daniel."
"Crap!" Jack sprinted from the room, closely followed by the others.
"Where is he?" Jack demanded.
The airman standing guard at the infirmary door held up a hand. "He got Airman Wallace's sidearm, sir. He hasn't fired it but he won't surrender the weapon until he speaks to you."
Jack pushed back the memories of Charlie and concentrated on the here and now. "How did a five year old kid disarm a trained soldier?" he asked then waved it away when the airman opened his mouth to reply. "Never mind. We'll deal with that later." He approached the infirmary door.
"I'll come with you, sir," Carter said.
Jack turned to her and shook his head. "I don't think he'll want an audience, Carter. Besides, he's not gonna shoot me. It's Daniel, for crying out loud."
"He's emotionally disturbed," Frasier put in, "and he has a loaded weapon. He may not have the intention of harming anyone but-"
"It's Daniel!" Jack reiterated. He shook his head, sidestepped around the airman and pushed open the door.
Daniel stood by his bed, looking more miserable than any kid had a right to look. He held Wallace's gun in both hands, up and aimed at the door, but Jack could see his energy was waning, the barrel wavering from side to side.
"Daniel? This is not the way to get what you want," Jack said firmly. "Put the damn gun down before you shoot yourself, or me."
Daniel set the weapon on the bed with alacrity, regarding it as though it was a rattlesnake. "I'm not throwing a tantrum over missing my favorite TV show, Jack," he said, his tone sounding decidedly peevish. "This is important."
"And you couldn't just come to me and explain that," Jack replied. He sighed. "Okay, you did. But taking a gun and holding the infirmary at siege? What is that? Sounds like one hell of a tantrum to me."
Daniel sighed and reached up to rub his forehead. "I'm getting sick again, Jack, and this time, I don't think I'll survive. Noah's getting stronger."
"I know!" Daniel glared at him. "But Noah doesn't know that."
"How do you know that?" Jack fired back.
Daniel just rolled his eyes and tapped at his temple. "Jack, please. At least let me try. I don't know if this," he waved a hand over his body, "can be reversed and if it can't, then I guess I'll have to accept it, but I don't think I can handle having Noah's soul in me as well."
"And you think by going back to the planet, you can convince Noah that the room is taken and he'll move on."
"I hope so."
"You hope so?" It was Jack's turn to roll his eyes. "What if it doesn't work? What if he decides he's not going to give up the lease?"
"At least we'll have tried," Daniel said.
Jack stared at Daniel for a long time, seeing past the pale, trembling child to his grown friend within. "Okay," he said finally. "Okay."
Micah didn't seem nearly as glad to see them as Sahirah was, though he walked straight up to Daniel and wrapped him in a hug before allowing his wife her chance to fret over Daniel. "So," he said, standing and regarding Jack and the rest of the team with a barely disguised glare, "you have finally returned our son to us."
"He's not your son," Jack said, exasperated. "His name is Daniel Jackson, Doctor Daniel Jackson. He's a member of my team-"
"Your team?" Micah quirked an eyebrow. "He is but a child."
"But not yours." Jack sighed. He felt a keen empathy for the couple, knowing what it was like to lose a cherished child but he couldn't see how they could possibly think that this blond-haired, blue-eyed little boy could be theirs. Some weird kind of brainwashing perhaps, though god knew why anyone would want to screw with the memory of a dead child. He doesn't know he's dead, Daniel had told him. The whole thing was getting beyond screwy and moving right into weird and scary.
Daniel turned to look at him and there was something off about him. Jack rubbed at his eyes, hoping he was seeing things. Did Daniel's eyes look darker? "I'm glad we came back, Jack. Mother and Father have missed me."
"They're not your parents," Jack snarled. He was beginning to have the uneasy feeling they'd been conned. He walked over and crouched down in front of Daniel, grasping his shoulders and shaking him firmly, ignoring Carter's startled, "Sir!"
"Who are you?" he growled. "What the hell is going on here? What do you want from us?"
"Jack?" Tears brimmed in Daniel's eyes and he struggled to pull himself from Jack's hold. "Stop! You're scaring me!"
"O'Neill!" Teal'c grabbed Jack and pulled him up, away from the boy. "You are frightening him," he said. "That will achieve nothing."
"Yeah?" Jack shook off Teal'c's hands. "You tell me how we fix it then." He jabbed a finger at Daniel, who cowered, wrapped in Carter's embrace. "You tell me who the hell that is!"
"I cannot," Teal'c said. He let go of Jack and stepped slightly away.
"What do we do now, sir?" Carter asked.
Daniel took a step toward Jack, holding out a hand. "We have to go back to the ruins, Jack. It's gonna be fine."
"Why don't I believe you?" Jack said. "Your head gonna spin around any time soon? You gonna puke pea soup?"
The kid actually grinned at that and Jack saw Daniel in that smile. He felt his tension increasing all the same. "I don't like it but I get the feeling we don't have a choice." He glared at Daniel. "Do we?"
"Sure we do," Daniel said brightly, his earlier tears apparently forgotten, "but this is important, Jack, for Noah and for me." He turned and held his other hand out to Sahira. "You and Father must accompany us please. You will come to no harm."
At least it wasn't a pyramid, Jack thought as he followed Daniel up the overgrown path to the ruins. Some of the etchings on the rough-hewn stone just inside the entrance looked vaguely familiar though, causing a shiver to pass through him. He was beginning to think this was all a monumental mistake. "Daniel?" He motioned the boy over and gestured at the writing. "You recognize any of this?"
Daniel's brow furrowed. "Kinda." He ran a finger down one line of letters. "It looks similar to Cuneiform, but there's something off about it. I was trying to decipher it when I was " He waved a hand over his downsized body.
"Can you understand any of it?" Jack asked. He was suddenly impatient to get the show on the road and get the hell out of there. He glanced over his shoulder, certain that someone was lurking just behind him
Teal'c stopped his pacing and looked at him. "O'Neill?"
Jack waved Teal'c's concern away. "It's nothing I hope." He turned his attention back to Daniel. "Come on, sport, time's a-wasting. Any clues here to how you give Noah the clue that he's got somewhere else he needs to be?"
"Give me a minute. I think " And Daniel - the Daniel Jack knew, whether big or small - was off, tracing the etchings with his fingers, muttering softly under his breath.
Jack sighed and turned away, walking over to join Teal'c in his pacing. "Don't mind us, Daniel. Whenever you're ready."
"Don't rush me," Daniel shouted.
Jack's head snapped up, alarm bells sounding loudly in his head. "Look, I think we should get the hell out of here. Carter, pack up your stuff and get Micah and Sahira out-"
"No!" Daniel wheeled around to face them. "They must stay." His voice had taken on a deeper timbre and his eyes darkened to an inky black. He pointed a finger at Sahira. "She must stay!" Then he doubled over, clutching at his chest. "Jack!" he wheezed, tears spilling down his cheeks. "It hurts!"
Jack rushed over to him but as he began to lift the boy into his arms, Daniel's body began to convulse. His eyes rolled back, bloody sputum foamed on his lips. "Carter, give me a hand!" Jack snarled.
Daniel's eyes opened and he stared at Jack for a moment before raising a hand and striking a blow no child should have the strength to deliver. Jack slammed back against the stone wall, his ears ringing, just barely hanging onto consciousness. He heard Teal'c's staff weapon flare to life but before the Jaffa could fire, it was whipped from his hands and dashed against the rocks. Carter's sidearm was disposed of in the same manner. Jack staggered up, shaking his head to dispel the dizziness and took a step toward the boy. "Daniel," he rasped, one hand held out.
"Your friend no longer exists," Daniel said with a sneer though it was no longer his voice that spoke. The tone was deep and menacing. "He was strong. He managed to control me long enough to return me to my tomb, but now I have control once more." The child stretched out a hand and Jack was slammed back again, pinned to the wall by an unseen force. He managed to turn his head and saw Carter and Teal'c were likewise imprisoned. Micah and Sahira cowered in a corner, murmuring softly, clinging to each other.
"Daniel," Jack gasped. "Fight it! You did it before."
The boy smiled, though there was no warmth in it. "He ruined my plan to escape twice over. The first child died when I entered his body, now this one has returned me to my tomb but I have yet another option. In order to survive, I need a host who is pure of spirit." He turned and began to walk slowly toward Sahira. "The child within you will suit my purposes perfectly."
Sahira screamed and doubled over, her hands clutching her belly. "Micah," she gasped, "the child comes!"
Micah stood, towering over Daniel but before he could take a step forward, he too was smashed back against the wall. Daniel stepped forward, reaching out to touch Sahira's swollen stomach.
"No!" The voice, high-pitched, definitely that of a child, bounced off the stones. Jack saw the shimmering image of a dark-haired young boy coalesce at the rear of the room. He held out both arms toward Daniel, as though pleading. "I will not allow you to take him."
Blinding white light flashed from the child's palms, streaking toward Daniel.
"No!" Jack shouted. The light became impossibly whiter, blinding him, burning his eyes. "No!" He saw Daniel arch his back then fall, toppling to the ground heavily. He took a hitching breath and lay still.
Jack felt himself sliding down the wall. He hit the ground with a painful thump that stole the feeling from his legs. Scrabbling forward on hands and knees, he clawed his way over to where Daniel lay motionless. Daniel's eyes were open, staring vacantly at him, his chest ominously still. "No! Damn it!" Jack reached out with trembling fingers and felt for a carotid pulse. Nothing.
"Sir?" Carter's hand touched his shoulder and he shrugged it away.
"He's not dead," he said savagely. "He can't be." Another smaller hand reached out and rested over his own.
"I am Noah. Trust me, I will return him to you, unharmed."
"Trust you?" Jack looked up at the boy who stood at his shoulder, his form still wavering. "You almost got us killed!"
The boy shook his head. "Not I. That was the demon. I had to wait until I was sure I was strong enough to defeat him."
"Noah?" Micah was standing, staring in open-mouthed astonishment at the ghostly form of the child. "You are alive?"
Noah shook his head, a sad smile upturning his mouth. "No, Father. My body died when the demon entered me, but my soul was trapped here within these walls until Daniel came. Once the demon entered him and fled, I was free to build my strength in order to defeat him." He walked over to Sahira who shielded her eyes with her hand. "Mother, do not be afraid. I have come to say goodbye." He reached out and gently touched her belly. "You carry a brother for me."
Sahira dropped her hand and stared at him. "So, you are still lost to us."
Noah shook his head and moved his hand so it rested over her heart. "I am here. I will always be here."
Jack hated to break up the reunion but Daniel was still lying, lifeless, in front of him. "What about Daniel?" he shouted. "You said you could help him!"
Noah turned and smiled at him. "Daniel has helped me to find my path. He has been rewarded for his sacrifice." Again, a brilliant white light speared from his hands. Jack staggered back, blinded once more. He reached out for Daniel and felt him twitch. A hand grasped his an adult-sized hand. "Daniel?" Jack wiped at his watering eyes with a corner of his jacket, blinking until he could see again. "Daniel?"
Daniel groaned and sat up, rubbing at his head with a shaky hand. "Jack? What happened?" His gaze lowered and he covered his nether regions with a hand. "Why am I naked?"
"You're back!" Jack said. "Naked but back." He looked over at Carter, whose face was turning a healthy shade of red, and Teal'c, who he was certain was smiling, as much as Teal'c ever smiled anyway. "Um, someone got a spare set of clothes in their pack?"
Teal'c raised an eyebrow then bent and pulled an emergency blanket from Carter's first aid kit, holding it out to Jack.
"Thanks." Jack wrapped it around Daniel's waist and patted his cheek. "Better?" At Daniel's nod, he continued. "What do you remember?"
"Not much." Daniel nudged Jack. "Who are they?" he asked, gesturing to Micah and Sahira, who stood, hugging each other.
"Good friends of yours actually." Jack looked around the room. "Noah?"
"Gone, sir," Carter said. She checked her handheld. "No extra life signs here, apart from us, and Micah and Sahira."
"He has gone to be with the Gods," Micah pronounced, drawing Sahira into an embrace. "He is at peace."
Sahira frowned and clutched at Micah's arm. "The baby still comes."
Jack nodded at Carter. "Way too much excitement for one day. Let's get these folks home." He reached out and helped Daniel to his feet, relief overwhelming him for a moment at seeing Daniel alive and grown. "You okay?" he asked.
Daniel nodded. "Confused and a little shaky " He clutched at the emergency blanket as it slipped from his waist. " and entirely too exposed, but apart from that, I'm fine, mostly."
"Good." Jack waved the group forward. "Let's get out of here."
Daniel sat beside Sahira and gently stroked a finger over the downy head of the newborn she cradled in her arms. "I'm sorry," he said, smiling at her, "I still don't remember very much."
"It is for the best," Micah said, clapping Daniel heartily on the shoulder. "The demon is gone, banished for good. Even the marauders are beginning to return to the villages, seeking forgiveness."
"About that," Jack said, "you might want to listen to what they have to say."
Micah nodded. "Talks are already beginning with the village elders."
Sahira held the baby out to Daniel, smiling when he hesitated. "He is but a babe," she said with a laugh, "he cannot harm you."
"I'm not exactly used to this," Daniel said with a small smile but he cradled the baby in his arms and leaned in to kiss Sahira's brow. "He's beautiful. Does he have a name?"
"Isaac," Micah announced proudly. "It means laughter." He leaned down and bestowed a kiss to the baby's forehead. "And every time he laughs, we shall hear Noah's laughter as well. He will never be forgotten."
"I don't remember most of what happened to me," Daniel said, handing the child back to Sahira, "but I will never forget Noah." He pressed his hand to his head. "He will always be here," he said softly.
Sahira took his hand and rested it over her heart. "And here, Daniel. Forever here."