Trials of Friendship pt2
Disclaimer and other information in pt1
O'Neill sized up the situation then glanced back at the wall behind them, now only a few feet away, then back to Daniel, who waved to them, "Trust me! I know this is right!"

O'Neill locked eyes with Daniel and knew what he had to do. He had to trust this awkward, hopelessly naive, yet brilliant in his own right young man. "Shit. We're not gonna be able to do it like this." O'Neill released his hold on Carter's waist then turned to face her. "Wrap your arms around my neck and hold on, I'll carry you across."

"You can't do that! You won't be able to see where to place your feet!" She implored him.

"I'm not leaving you behind. Even if I make it to the crystal, that wall will have pushed you out by then. Not gonna happen, Major." He paused to consider the options then dropped his pack and turned around thumbing his shoulder. "On my back Major."

She stiffened, trying to think of a better way.

"Right. I know. It's a bad plan, but that's what we're gonna do. That's an order!" With that he crouched and reached back to grab her thighs. She instinctively grabbed for his neck and held on tight. It took a little jump to get her settled tight up against him and his knees were already protesting the additional strain. Yeah, bad, bad plan.
He blew out the breath and licked his lips as he focused on the far end of the stripe on the floor. 'Just a straight walk on a level floor. How hard could it be?' He told himself as he took one step out into the blue light.

They were bathed in the soft azure glow for a moment unmoving as the wall behind them came to stop just inches away, cutting off their only route of escape.

O'Neill could hear Daniel saying something but he was so focused on his task that he barely understood the words. He took another step and then another, the path remained unbroken by flashes of red and yellow energy bursts. The blue seemed almost serene and drinking in the calm atmosphere he took another step. He had to shuffle his feet, leading with his right each time to stay on the mark.

Carter was sure they'd never make it. She clutched helplessly at her CO's neck with her eyes closed. All she could do to help was to be as still as possible, and hang on. She stifled a shiver but not before O'Neill felt it.

"It's okay, Carter. We're gonna make it." His voice was very soft and he tightened his grip on her slightly, assuring her. She thought about how many times she had put her life in his hands before, though not so literally, and how now both of their lives were being held in Daniel's hands, hanging on his words, his interpretation. She allowed herself a smile thinking how appropriate it was since the Colonel's strength was in his physical abilities and resolve, while Daniel's strength was in his words. Both were being put to the test today.

So O'Neill continued forward, his eyes glancing from the floor to Daniel, taking his cues from him as to whether he was staying on track. They managed to get as far as the corpse and O'Neill realized he wasn't gong to be able to step over the body nd still carry Carter. He stood, balancing precariously and whispered harshly to her, "Major? If we press on that crystal like this fellow did, will the trap deactivate?"

"I'm not sure, Sir. That's a good guess though, worth a try."

"Good. We're about two steps away. When I tell you I want you to reach down and see if you can touch it." She nodded.

He took another hesitant step and then one more and felt his boot hit up against the leg of the dead man. "Okay, now."

Carter reached to the wall and slowly felt around for the panel. She could just barely touch the edge of it. "It's too low, I can't reach it." O'Neill allowed his knees to bend slightly and crouched a bit to lower her and felt his knees and back complaining loudly at the awkward positioning. "Hurry, Major." He croaked out.

With a grimace he lost his balance and tumbled forward and down dropping Carter nearly onto the corpse. As he hit the floor he instinctively ducked and covered his head expecting a flurry of blasts to erupt from the walls. When they did not come he raised his head to see Carter, trying to keep her face away from the corpse, with the fingers of one hand on the crystal. The crystal went dark and the blue light dimmed leaving only the stark shafts of white light from their own devices still illuminating the cave. He quickly crawled over to her and pressed his hand over hers on the crystal.

"Teal'c! Come get Carter. We need something to hold this crystal down. Daniel, what do you have in your pack? Anything we could use?"

Teal'c carried Carter to the end of the hallway as Daniel grabbed his pack and dumped it at O'Neill's feet. He then began to dig through it not finding much to help as O'Neill stood and shifted from one foot to the other with annoyance, carefully keeping his hand on the crystal. "You need something with a little weight. There! What's that?"

"What a book? I'm not leaving one of my books behind!" Daniel was completely indignant at the thought.

"Well, I'm not staying behind either!" Then seeing the hurt expression on the young man's face he relented, "Okay, how full is your canteen? Get the tape out of the med kit and secure it to the panel."

Daniel handed off the canteen and dug out the tape as O'Neill bounced the canteen in his hand, judging the weight of the water. Between the two of them they taped the canteen and secured the crystal.

O'Neill stepped to the end of the hallway and slid to the floor with his back up against the uneven surface of the wall. Between the stresses of their ventures so far, the poor air quality and carrying Carter, he was exhausted. He sat and wanted to close his eyes badly but instead looked over his team. Carter of course was injured, and Daniel, despite all odds was faring quite well. He hadn't been hurt yet; chalk one up for the kid.

His gaze fell to Teal'c who was taking the opportunity to meditate for a short while as they rested. Something seemed not quite right with the Jaffa, though. He seemed to be restless or in pain. It was so unusual to see any outward signs of his condition O'Neill felt it was worth investigating. With a great deal of effort he got up and moved to sit beside him.

"Teal'c, you okay?"

Teal'c was displeased that he had not hidden his discomfort well enough and took a deep breath. "Indeed I am not, O'Neill. The symbiote within me has become increasingly restless."

"So what do you think is upsetting Junior?"

"There are no external stimuli which would affect it in this way." The Jaffa grimaced and O'Neill noticed he was beginning to perspire.

"Something internal? An infection? Or proximity to the other Goa'ulds?"

Teal'c's eyebrow rose. "It is possible, a symbiote can sense others nearby. However, I believe there is more, it desires to take a host."

O'Neill's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, no. Not down here. Can't be. Didn't you get any warning about this?"

"It is unusual for there to be no 'warning', but it is not unheard of. I will attempt to Kel-no-reem to reduce the urgency of its need." He got up and moved off to a corner of the cave by himself.

O'Neill went to check on the rest of his team and found Daniel had gotten Carter settled with her leg elevated on one of their packs, trying to reduce the swelling. He sat near them and feeling the movement of fresh air felt it was safe enough to light a sterno and heat up some water for coffee. He busied himself with the task all the while wondering what he was going to do about Teal'c. From the look of the big guy, Junior wasn't going to be up for a long wait. He grimaced as he burnt the end of his finger and pulled his hand away.

Carter was dozing with her head back against the wall and Daniel came over to sit beside O'Neill. Graciously accepting a cup of the steaming coffee he turned to his friend, who was being uncharacteristically quiet.

"Jack? I wanted to thank you."

Drawn from his reverie, O'Neill looked at the man, "For what?"

"For believing in me, trusting me."

At the odd look he received from O'Neill he continued, "Look, I know that sometimes I don't pay attention like I should and it's put us all in danger more than once. I know you didn't want to trust me on this one, and I don't blame you for it. But, you did, and that means something to me."

O'Neill gave the young man a crooked smile and shook his head. "Daniel, a lot of the time I have to do things I don't want to do. Trust isn't a factor there."

"Then why did you do what I said?"

"Given the options, and the fact that you had encountered something like this before, I made a decision on what action to take. It's a command thing, like making a risk assessment."

"So, you put your life and Sam's on the line even though you weren't completely sure. You trusted me."

"I weighed the alternatives and followed a plan." O'Neill sipped his coffee trying to hide a grin. He lowered the cup and shot Daniel a sideways glance.

"A plan? You've never had an honest plan in your life!" Daniel suddenly caught O'Neill's hidden grin and his mouth dropped open. "You ass! You're baiting me!" He shoved O'Neill hard enough to spill some of the coffee.

Instead of becoming angry, O'Neill laughed. "No I'm not!"

"Yes you are!"

"Am not."

"Are too!" Daniel folded his arms across his chest, sulking.

Carter was awake now and giggled at the men. "Would you two grow up?"

They both looked at her and then back to each other. O'Neill shook his head. "Okay, okay. Yes, Daniel, I trust you. If I didn't, believe me, you wouldn't be on this team."

Daniel raised an eyebrow to his nemesis, clearly saying, 'see I told you so.'

They settled into a companionable silence and O'Neill got up and moved over to Carter, handing her a cup of coffee.

"Thanks, Sir." She held the cup in both hands letting the warmth infuse her cold fingers.

He glanced over to Teal'c and then to his 2IC. "Carter, we've got a situation here."

Something in his tone alerted her military training and she snapped her head up, "Sir?"

"Have you noticed anything odd about Teal'c?"

"Now that you mention it he's been a bit restless." She nodded to the Jaffa who was shifting his weight and stretching his neck muscles, obviously uncomfortable. When meditating it was normal for Teal'c to become still as a statue, never even permitting a twitch.

"He's having some trouble with Junior. He said it's almost time."

Her eyes widened. "You mean?"

"Yeah, 'fraid so. We need a plan."

Carter thought for a while, now having to regard Teal'c as a possible threat was unnerving. O'Neill finished what was left of his coffee and chewed his lower lip, "You know, the reason we're here in the first place is those baby Goa'ulds, you think we could get one and, uh, switch 'em out?"

Carter's mind went into overdrive. "Maybe."

"You mean we could?"

"Yeah, I think so. But we need to verify the procedure with Teal'c, and then there's the Goa'uld. We've got to make sure it doesn't get loose."

They discussed a few more options and presently Teal'c rose, giving up his attempts to meditate.

"Teal'c, Daniel, come here. We need to talk."

After they sat, O'Neill turned to the Jaffa, "How's Junior?"

"Not well. I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to meditate."

Daniel was surprised, "What do you mean?" So O'Neill filled him in on this latest development in their journey. He had to resist the urge to wriggle away from the Jaffa's side.

"Have no fear, Daniel Jackson. I would rather die than allow this creature to harm any one of you."

"Now Teal'c I don't think we're gonna have to go there. Carter and I have been thinking about the point of this mission. We've got a whole crate full of baby Goa'ulds just up ahead somewhere and one of them is gonna be for you."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, "Perhaps, but what of the mature symbiote?"

"We're just gonna have to make sure it doesn't find a new home."

"I do not believe the symbiote would willingly leave it's pouch if a suitable host is not procured. It would likely kill me first."

"So you're saying it would be aware of a deception? If you died, wouldn't it die too?" Carter winced as she spoke.

"We would both die."

Daniel was torn between flailing his arms and holding them close to his sides protectively, "Jack, you can't let that happen. We've got to do something."

"I know, Danny, I know."

The resolve in his voice made Daniel suddenly still as he regarded his friend. "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?"

O'Neill shrugged and cocked his head to one side. "Let's just say I'm considering all the options."

Carter nearly panicked, "Sir, you said you'd never!"

"C'mon, Carter! Of course we'll try to kill it first, but if it comes to letting Teal'c die, well, never is an awfully long time, things change. Do you want the honor?" He was instantly sorry for putting her on the spot as he saw her cringe. He raised his hand up, "I wouldn't let you, or you either Daniel." He turned to the younger man. "It's a moot point anyway unless we find those Goa'ulds. Teal'c can you travel?"

"I am able, O'Neill."

Daniel and Carter nodded to their CO as he looked at each of them. "Let's pack up and move on then."

Carter was still having to hold onto either O'Neill or Daniel to walk and Teal'c was moving at an incredibly slow pace as well. After several hundred more feet and more twists and turns, they found themselves in a large cavern. The ceiling was at least sixty feet above their heads and their footsteps echoed as they crossed the floor to a raised platform in the center. There was a plain looking wooden crate sitting on it.

Uncharacteristically Teal'c hung back at the rear of the group, not approaching the crate, his symbiote was sensing the presence of others of its kind and began to thrash within him.

"Carter? Sense anything?" O'Neill walked up to the crate and lightly tapped it with the end of his P-90.

"Oh, yeah, Sir. Its them." Her voice quivered and she took a step back away from the platform.

Daniel had been beside her and after watching her retreat turned back to the Colonel. "Jack, you may not want to do that." He half expected the lid to pop off and a hundred Goa'uld to leap out.

O'Neill shrugged and walked slowly around the crate. He stopped at one end and swung his P-90 out of the way then put both hands firmly on the top edge and shoved. The lid slid back a couple inches with a low grating sound to reveal bubbling water inside. He peered in and then took an involuntary step back. "Carter, get that device ready."

Daniel was trying to see what was inside without coming any closer. "What do you see?"

"Goa'ulds. A whole lot of Goa'ulds." He went to the other side of the crate and slid the top back in place then stepped over to Teal'c and put his hand on his shoulder. "You sure we can't trick that thing out?"

"I am certain of it."

"I thought Frasier removed it once to study it, why can't we just do what she did?"

"If the symbiote is mature it will have great strength and speed however I will make an attempt to remove it."

The Jaffa leaned back against the cold stone wall and unbuttoned his shirt. O'Neill stayed crouched beside him and watched in disgust as he gently pried open the womb and inserted his hand. The mucous substance within him made a sickly smacking sound as his fingers probed deeper. Suddenly Teal'c opened his eyes wide and gasped; quickly withdrawing his hand, which was now dripping blood from a deep gash.

"It *bit* you?" O'Neill was taken aback. The Jaffa only nodded, holding his injured hand out and inspecting the damage. Muttering to himself, O'Neill got up and dug a med kit out of his pack, then returned and wrapped the wounded hand with gauze. "All right. Plan 'A', total failure."

He called Daniel and Carter over who had been watching from a distance. "This is what we're gonna do and I do not want to hear any arguments. Understood?" He warily regarded each member of the team.

"We need to make it think it can get to one of us, namely me. Carter and Daniel you will stay far enough away for safety but be ready to shoot it. If you are not able to take it down before it does its thing be forewarned you will be dealing with a Goa'uld. There will be nothing I can do to help you. You'll have to get me back to the Asgaard for help."

Carter was looking extremely stressed now, "Sir, there's got to be another way."

"It's not gonna get me, Carter. You're a good shot. I'm just the bait." He gave her a shy smile. "All you have to do is not miss."

She stared at him. How could he make such drastic measures seem so innocent? "No pressure, huh?"

He grinned. "You thrive on pressure, don't even *try* to tell me otherwise." His eyes fell and he continued in a more serious tone, "But if you fail, you might only have seconds to react." He handed Daniel his P-90 and removed his vest and other weapons. "Teal'c get some rope out of your pack, you need to bind my hands and feet as tight as you can."

The Jaffa nodded, still displeased with this foolhardy plan. He did as O'Neill requested while Daniel and Carter watched helplessly. When it was done he left O'Neill kneeling on the hard floor. Carter and Daniel took up a position off to one side where they could get the best shot between the two men, Carter with her sidearm and Daniel with a Zat.

Teal'c removed his vest and shirt preparing to allow the symbiote to extricate itself from him. As he began to walk to the Colonel, O'Neill looked toward his 2IC and spoke with his voice soft yet full of resolve. "Carter, final order. If this thing gets in me and gets loose, you *must* shoot to kill. Understood? Once I've been compromised, you will be the team commander. Get your people out alive, Major, complete the mission."

She blinked hard twice, clearing the tears from her eyes. "Yes, Sir. It has been an honor, Sir." He only nodded in response.

Teal'c stepped in closer, noticing the symbiote was strangely quiet. He stopped a few feet from the Colonel who was watching his face with eyes of coal. The symbiote was making no move as yet and Teal'c was forced to move closer, one small step at a time. As the Jaffa neared, now looming over the kneeling man, O'Neill closed his eyes and waited. He could hear the sickening sound of mucous and opened his eyes just in time to see the pouch begin to open.

The creature first stuck out only the front part of its head, assessing the presence of danger, leaning its head from side to side. O'Neill glared at it, refusing to flinch until the last possible moment.

Suddenly it sprang at him making its move to his neck in with utter precision. He jerked back at the same instant the weapons erupted but the beast was already on his neck. As the firing ceased, Teal'c reached forward making a grab for its tail but it was too slippery and in a moment was gone.

The look on O'Neill's face told what they did not want to know. He grimaced in pain and fell to his side, writhing on the floor. They ran to him but could do nothing but watch as he fought for several seconds then stilled. Instinctively Daniel backed off from his stricken friend, pulling Carter back with him.

O'Neill lifted his head and turned to look at her as the tell tale light lit up his eyes. He never got the chance to speak though as Teal'c leveled a Zat at him and fired. His head fell back to the floor with a thud, unconscious. After the energy dissipated, Teal'c checked for a pulse and found one. "He is alive."

The Major sank to her knees, numb with grief. Daniel stood behind her shaking his head at the sight before him. It was several minutes before either of them could function.

Carter went to Teal'c to assess his condition. "I will need a short time before I am able to receive another symbiote. You must use this time wisely and prepare to activate the device."

"Not until we get one of them out for you Teal'c. This would all be for nothing if we don't do that." He nodded once in agreement. Daniel had checked the bonds on O'Neill and found them to still be tight so he backed off a few feet and took position as a guard.

After nearly an hour Teal'c announced it was time and Carter and Daniel slid the lid of the crate back a few inches to reveal the interior. It was lit from within by a bright white light and frothing at the surface as the primtas swam about. There were a great many and it took Daniel only a moment to snatch one out of the pool. He nearly retched as his hand closed on one and he lifted the slimy beast out of the liquid. Carter pushed the lid back in place as Daniel hurried to get the infant to its new home and out of his hands.

Teal'c was lying on his back, looking quite ill. The sweat was running off him in rivulets and his face looked gray. He lurched as Daniel laid the Goa'uld on his belly permitting it to seek out the pouch on its own and enter slowly. It sent a shiver down Daniel's spine to watch the beast slither into his friend but it had to be done.

He turned back to the crate to assist Carter only to step right into the hands of O'Neill, eyes blazing white. "Jack!"

Carter looked up from the cryogenic device to see O'Neill with his hands around Daniel's neck strangling him. She instinctively reached to her hip and pulled out her side arm, aiming it as she stepped closer to the men. "Stop! Put him down, now!" She yelled at the intruder.

O'Neill turned his face to her without releasing his grip on the archaeologist. His eyes flashed again and he smiled with a malevolent smirk. She knew her only option was to fire and tried to see the Goa'uld and not her CO, but it was impossible. She closed her eyes for a moment knowing that when she opened them again she would have to kill O'Neill. As she heard Daniel's choking sounds she opened her eyes and centered her target. With no more warning she squeezed off two rounds into the left side of the beast she once knew, letting the tears flow freely from her eyes.

"Oh, God. Jack!" She watched him fall to the floor, releasing Daniel as he went. The younger man scrambled back to his feet and to his friends side. Ignoring what had just happened he found the bullet wounds and began to hold pressure on them with bare hands to stem the flow of blood. He checked for a pulse with one hand and finding none his shoulders visibly slumped. "No!" His eyes met with Carter's in a split second of hesitation before he turned the Colonel onto his back and began to pump on his chest.

"Sam! Help me!" She shook herself and ran for a pack, tearing into it as she ran to their side then dumped the contents out and ripped open the medical supplies. She saw Daniel make a move to give a breath to O'Neill and stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, "You can't, Daniel, the Goa'uld -" He understood and resumed his rhythmic chest compressions. If O'Neill breathed he would have to do it himself.

Carter tore O'Neill's shirt out of the way and began to pack the bullet holes with thick wads of gauze. While holding pressure she leaned over and noted Daniel was kneeling in blood. She gasped and yanked O'Neill's clothing out of the way revealing a gaping hole in his chest where at least one of the bullets had exited. She was horrified by the damage for which she was responsible but forced herself to focus on providing medical attention, limited though it might be. She recalled the entrance holes were always the lesser wound and chided herself for forgetting to check for exit wounds sooner. It was almost preferable for the bullets to have lodged in his chest; they could always be removed later, now they had to deal with a massive bleeding wound.

After stuffing as much gauze in the wound as she could, she continued to hold pressure now on both sides of his chest. Daniel stopped for a moment and pressed his fingers into O'Neill's neck, willing a pulse to be there and was shocked to find it was, very weak but present. They watched with trepidation as his chest rose and fell in shallow breaths. Containing the sucking chest wound had allowed him to breathe but there was likely internal damage and bleeding, of which nothing could be done right now. They realized they'd likely bought only a few minutes for the Colonel to live.

O'Neill's eyelids fluttered and then opened with no light shining within. He coughed and spat out blood but managed to stay conscious and turned his head slightly toward Carter. With a raspy whisper he said, "Well done, Major" then closed his eyes and went limp. Teal'c was up now and stood by O'Neill's side, his face grim with sadness. Daniel checked for a pulse again and amazingly still found one, thready and weak, but still there. "Sam, we've got to go!"

It was a huge risk to move a patient in such condition but to not move meant certain death and Carter nodded her consent. "Teal'c are you okay to go?"

"I am in fact more than 'okay', Major Carter. The chosen symbiote is strong. My strength returns quickly. I will carry O'Neill."

Carter ran back to the crate and activated the device as Teal'c held the Colonel sitting up. Daniel used the rest of the med kit gauze and tape to tightly wrap his chest, keeping pressure on the wounds. He finished his task and then shouldered another of the packs containing more medical supplies he knew they'd need soon. Carter nodded that she was done and grabbed up the other unused pack as she hobbled after him.

She never looked back at the crate but the high-pitched whine let her know the device had begun the freezing process. Daniel took point running back up the entrance hallway. Teal'c followed at a rapid pace flanked by Carter. They left all their weapons except sidearms behind as insignificant now. It had taken them hours to get to the cavernous center of the cave system and they knew O'Neill had only a slim chance of living to see daylight, despite having a symbiote with its impressive powers of healing.

They sped through the first hallway carefully stepping past the corpse and the still bound crystal weighted under the canteen. The wall at the opposite end had reset to its earlier position and they were able to easily get back to the place of the second trap.

Now they were standing at the top of a sheer rock wall. The handholds would do no good in trying to get O'Neill down. They ended up wrapping two jackets tightly around O'Neill and attaching ropes. Carter and Daniel descended the wall first and received O'Neill's body at the base as Teal'c lowered him down.

Teal'c nearly jumped to the bottom after O'Neill was down safely, his descent was so swift. Carter had removed the ropes and Daniel rechecked the bandages, reinforcing them where needed.

They assisted Teal'c to once more take up his charge and started off again toward the exit. After trudging uphill for what seemed to be a mile, they came to the first trap.

Carter looked hesitatingly at the ceiling in the hallway before her. "Okay, this shouldn't be too bad, we already know the ceiling is full of spikes and is going to come down on us. All we have to do is run. Daniel, you go first, then you, Teal'c. I'll be right behind you." She was panting with the exertion but was determined to make it. She had been limping badly for most of the walk, barely able to keep up, saved only by the fact that Teal'c was slowed by having to carry the Colonel. At one point they had stopped for a five-minute break and she'd rewrapped her ankle tightly. It was enough to offer support but the pain was increasing with each step she took.

Daniel had only taken a few strides before he suddenly came to a dead stop, ignoring the ominous rumbling sound from above, signaling the beginning of the ceiling's slide downward. He focused on the end of the hall and pointed, "Thor?"

The rumble ceased as Thor activated the device on his hand and he approached them through the passageway.

Carter called out to him. "We need help, Colonel O'Neill-"

"I have been monitoring your progress and am aware of O'Neill's condition. We must move him quickly. Stand very close together here. We must be physically touching each other" He motioned for them all to join him.

Surprised and confused the team obeyed his request and were suddenly engulfed in a blue light. When it faded they were at once at the opening of the cave, facing an obelisk, which had not been there before.

Daniel gestured at it and looked at Thor, "Isn't that just like the one on Cimeria?"
"No. It is in fact *the* device from Cimeria. We must hurry."

With no other explanation they were engulfed by a white light now and deposited on the Asgard vessel. Unseen by them immediately after they were gone, the obelisk itself was whisked away too.
Once on the ship they were besieged by a flurry of activity. Thor had deftly ascertained O'Neill's condition and sent him immediately to the medical lab area. The rest of the team was an awful sight. All three of them were covered with O'Neill's blood. It was hard to believe he had much more left.

Thor provided them with accommodations and clean clothing first then insisted Major Carter be seen by one of the Asgard physicians. Finally Thor allowed them in to see O'Neill.

His condition had been grave, he was only barely alive when they arrived on the ship and the only thing the Asgard could do was to put him in temporary stasis for the trip back to Earth. His condition would not deteriorate further at least. While in stasis they had scanned him and found his numerous injuries. He had a partially collapsed lung on the left and bleeding into the lung on the right, which was completely collapsed given the large wound where his chest was gaping open. There was massive internal bleeding from a severed artery although the bullets had somehow missed his heart and spine. One of his ribs had taken a direct hit and was completely shattered. And he had a snake in his head.

The physicians and technicians hovered around him, gibbering to each other. It was decided to transfer him to a cryogenic chamber. The Goa'uld would be killed and his body would be preserved until treatment could be provided. The only difficulty would be reviving him from cryo and giving the human physicians time to stabilize him.

SG-1 did not leave the Colonel's side for the remainder of the trip home. The Asgard had removed his blood soaked shirt and bandages leaving him uncovered from the waist up. He was cleaned up and the wounds covered with a pressurized mesh. He really didn't look too bad except for the dark purple bruising all across and around the right side of his chest where blood had seeped into the tissues. His barely perceptible breathing and pulse were to be expected while in the chamber.

It took a few hours for the journey home and well before they arrived in Earth's orbit Thor had contacted General Hammond and apprised him of O'Neill's situation. Doctor Frasier was appalled at the condition in which Colonel O'Neill was to be delivered to them and insisted if at all possible, and she knew it was, for him to be sent directly to the operating room suite from the Asgard ship. A full trauma team including a top chest injury specialist from the Academy Hospital would be standing by to receive him.
O'Neill's arrival signaled the beginning of a well-orchestrated plan. With all the chest trauma Doctor Warner didn't waste any time placing two central IV lines, one in the right jugular and one in the right femoral as his OR nurses prepped and scrubbed the operative sites. The two central lines could handle six different IV fluids and Warner designated two of them exclusively for blood. His order was to keep it running until he said stop, no matter how many units it required. It helped that the Asgard had provided them with the scan results and much of the damage was known but Warner wasn't about to miss something by relying on an alien scan. The surgeon from the Academy stabilized O'Neill's breathing and inserted chest tubes on both sides to expand the lungs. The anesthesiologist inserted an endotracheal tube at the same time and kept up an almost continuous infusion of drugs through the jugular IV line. One to stabilize the heartbeat, one to keep his blood pressure from falling too low, one to help expand the low blood volume, and one to make sure the patient would not wake up in the middle of all this, not that anyone could.

After breathing and circulation were under control Fraiser assisted Warner to remove the one bullet they found and repair any lacerations on the way. Surgery was quite long and when it was over, all three physicians looked as though they had taken the same blood splattered trek through an alien cave as SG-1 had.

Janet Fraiser knew her duties would not permit her a break until she had faced the people waiting in the hall. She knew they'd all be there. Carter, Jackson, Teal'c, and even Hammond. She emerged from the suite and looked at them each with kind eyes. She didn't speak, just gave a nod and a forced smile indicating O'Neill was alive, for now anyway. It was all she could offer and she turned back to make sure the ICU was ready for him to come out of the OR.

After he was settled Fraiser allowed his team inside. "He's stable for now. There was really less damage than you'd think from the loss of blood and all of it was contained in his chest. Abdominal gunshot wounds have their own set of problems and in some ways are worse than hits in the chest. With the misses to the heart and spine, we are concentrating on his lungs, which were unfortunately badly damaged. He'll be on the vent' for several days, I expect."

"Will he wake up anytime soon?" Daniel inquired.

"No. We'll keep him deeply sedated until the endotracheal tube can be removed."

Carter looked at her, "But even sedated, patients can sometimes be aware of their surroundings and hear people talk to them, right?"

"Yes. You can talk to him. He may be able to hear you." After a few more minutes Fraiser asked them all to step out. They could return one at a time and stay by his side.
Two evenings later Daniel came in to check on the Colonel and found Carter asleep next to his bed; she roused as the he entered.

"Not the best way to get a sound night's sleep."

Carter shook her head sleepily, "I don't think I'd sleep well anywhere right now." A shadow crossed her eyes. "I don't know if I'll ever sleep well again."

Daniel put his hand on his friend's shoulder, "It's still to early to tell anything, you know that."

Carter looked up and blinked back the tears in her eyes, "Daniel, I shot him and he died back there on that planet. It was because you didn't give up we brought him back alive instead of a corpse."

"I know, but you did what you had to do, now you still have a duty. You've got to hang on. This isn't over yet by a long shot. If anyone could pull through this, I'd put money on Jack."

Carter only blinked back at him. He noticed the dark circles under her eyes and frowned. "You're exhausted. Why don't you go on and at least try to rest a while, I'll stay with him."

She shrugged her shoulders and stood up, glancing back at the still form on the bed. The muted pulsing sounds of the monitors and the light whooshing sound of the air through the ventilator were the only perceivable signs of life. As she turned to go Daniel stepped in front of her and took her into his arms letting her take a little bit of his strength. She self consciously wiped a tear away as she let go of his embrace, "Thanks, Daniel."

He watched her go and then pulled the chair close to the bedside. He reached out and took his friend's hand in just the same way Sam had been holding it only moments ago. Without thinking he spoke aloud, "Jack, It's Daniel. I'm here." Despite the grim situation he smiled. It was like the changing of the guard in some eastern palace. One left and another took their place, never leaving their leader to do battle on his own.

A few more days went by and the Colonel grew stronger, breathing with less help from the mechanical devices. His chest was still badly bruised but the color was fading slightly from purple to dark reds and yellows. On the sixth day Fraiser removed the chest tubes and stitched the gaping holes closed.

SG-1 came and went, never really leaving O'Neill alone for more than a few minutes, being on stand down until further notice.

General Hammond made his usual morning visit to the infirmary. "Doctor Fraiser? How is your patient today?"

"Better, stronger. But we can't take him off the ventilator yet, and so I' m keeping him well sedated. Blood work is pretty much normal, allowing for the machinery breathing for him."

Hammond nodded his understanding. "You'll let me know if there's any change?" It was his obligatory final remark.

"Yes, Sir."
After another two days Fraiser had lightened the sedation and was pleased to note the ventilator was providing only occasional support as O'Neill began to breathe on his own.

It was late in the afternoon when Carter came in to sit with him for awhile. She settled herself in the hard plastic chair and prepared to endure another long vigil. The room was quiet except for the humming and soft beeping of the monitors. Sometime over the past several days she had taken to talking to him during her stays at his side, mostly to keep herself awake than anything else.

She took his hand in hers and leaned in to him, "Sir, its Carter. How are you feeling today? Janet says you're breathing almost completely on you own now. That's good news huh? Daniel had to go help out SG-7 and so he won't be back to visit you until maybe tomorrow night."

She paused, waiting for the response she knew wouldn't come then continued, "I've been working on those Naquadah projections for P3C 827 and it looks promising. You might not even mind going there. The whole planet seems to be a grassy plain, no trees, not even one. We fitted the UAV with an additional fuel supply and sent it over seventy miles from the Stargate."

She continued on, talking to herself as well as to her CO, "It was hard to get the fuel to weight ratio within acceptable limits and I'm beginning to think we should consider an alternate fuel source or engine type. If I could build a small enough Naquadah generator we'd have a virtually unlimited power source and increase the range exponentially." She suddenly stopped talking. Was that a squeeze or maybe just a twitch of O'Neill's hand? She looked closely at his face and could discern no change.

"Sir? Colonel?" The hope sprouted from her voice. "Did you squeeze my hand? Can you do it again? Sir! Move your fingers, squeeze my hand." She allowed her fingers to be limp in his and felt the pressure increase as his fingers closed on hers. She jumped up and shouted for Fraiser who came running out of her office.

"I asked him to squeeze my hand and he did!" She was ecstatic.

Fraiser quickly checked the machine settings and pulled out her penlight to assess his pupil response. She took his hand and made the same request and smiled as he responded. "Colonel, I want you to open your eyes now. You know how we ladies fall for those big brown puppies of yours." She thought she could see him smile even though the tube was still in place as his eyelids fluttered for a moment then opened with great effort. "Would you like to get the tube out?" She was met with a squeeze of her hand and a forceful blink at the same time. She raised the head of the bed.

"Okay, you got it. Sam, hold onto his hands, would you?" The Major, having to go through the same process knew it would elicit a coughing fit and a bit of panic as his first few breaths were taken without the tube in place. Fraiser removed the tape from around the tube while holding it still with one hand. "Okay, Colonel. I'm going to tell you what we're going to do and then we'll do it, right? You will need to take a deep breath and blow it out. As you exhale I'm going to pull the tube out. It will make you gag but you need to try to stay relaxed and concentrate on breathing. As soon as it's out, take another breath but don't hold it, just keep the air moving in and out." He blinked his understanding. The explanation was several times longer than the actual procedure would be but Fraiser knew it was worth it to gain a cooperative patient.

"Okay, Colonel, take a deep breath. Here we go." As she extricated the tube he lurched forward half coughing, half gagging. Carter still had his hands and he squeezed them until both of their knuckles were white. Fraiser eased him back down to the bed noting that he was making an effort to breathe slowly.

She put her stethoscope to her ears and with the disc listened in several places around his chest. She nodded and smiled, "All there Colonel. How about a sip of water?"

He shakily nodded and realized he was still holding Carter's hands. He released her with a fleeting thought of embarrassment, and glanced up at her, but she didn't yet let go of him, meeting his eyes for a moment. That was all either of them needed for the time being. Just a split second to reaffirm that everything was going to be all right.

After accepting a sip of the cool liquid from Fraiser he let his eyes close again, exhausted with the effort of waking up. He drifted off to sleep still feeling the warmth of Carters hand and gave it one more squeeze for good measure.
After two days O'Neill was much more alert and his team was finally giving him a break from their constant attention. They decided he really was getting better when he started giving the nurses a hard time.

It was now night and having dozed so much during the day he wasn't tired enough to sleep just yet. He lay still, resting and realized he actually *liked* the infirmary at night. There was something soothing about the continuous soft whirring of the machinery and multicolored lights blinking rhythmically. The night shift nurse was obviously sensitive to over-stimulation and as soon as the previous shift left she'd gone around and muted all the alarms. They still would cause urgent flashing silent warnings at the nurse's desk and he knew from previous experience she never missed one. Must have really good peripheral vision or maybe she just 'knew.'

She reminded him of his Special Forces days, she was aware of every detail around her but only let on what she wanted someone to know. She never, ever slipped. He reached for his water pitcher and poured some, knowing without having seen her do it, the ice was fresh. It was still fun to badger her.

He drank the cool water and settled back down into the bed to doze some more, it was just past 0100 and he was finally getting sleepy.

As if in response to his thoughts about the nurse, his own early warning system kicked in raising the hairs on the back of his neck just enough so he could feel them. He was being watched, and not by the nurse.

Slowly and without moving any part of his body he opened his eyes to survey the room and saw nothing out of the ordinary but his radar had already honed in on its target and he lowered his gaze and turned his head to the side of the bed.

Despite his awareness of the presence he nearly leapt out of his skin when he found himself nearly at eye level with- Thor. The sight of the diminutive alien peering over the edge of the bed made O'Neill suddenly giddy.

Half laughing but trying to whisper O'Neill spoke to him, "Thor? What the hell are you doing here?"

"I am here to speak with you, O'Neill."

The Colonel glanced at the nurse who was sitting with her back to them. "This may not be a good time."

"We will not be observed."

"O-kay." Must be some technology thing. "So, you want to talk tome."

"It is regarding the mission you undertook for us. It was never my intention for you to come to such harm. I regret it greatly."

"Its okay. Sometimes bad things just happen. I'm not mad at you." O'Neill couldn't help but speak as if to a small child.

"I wish to make amends."

"It's not necessary, really. From what I've been told you saved my life. You 'borrowed' that obelisk from Cimeria to get me back to your ship faster and you got the Goa'uld out. Fraiser says there's not even a Naquadah marker in my blood left behind."

Thor blinked at him. "Then we can still consider ourselves allies?"

"Of course."
The next day General Hammond stopped by the infirmary for a visit. "Jack, I just had a very interesting meeting with a mutual friend of ours."

"Who would be-?"

Hammond smiled, "Thor. I've asked Major Carter to come here and join us. We can talk as soon as she arrives."

O'Neill raised his eyebrows. He just knew the little guy had gone and done something after their talk last night.

Soon they were joined by SG-1's 2IC. "Glad you're here, Major. I've taken the liberty of contacting the Tok'ra. Jacob may not be able to join us, but he will want to hear about this as well."

O'Neill's eyebrows were getting a serious workout.

"Well I'll get right to it then. I met with Thor early this morning and was given some very interesting information regarding the accident that claimed your mother, Major. I was made aware of certain discrepancies, which I then followed up.

Colonel, I had to pull a few strings but I was able to get the details of your mission that day. Including the date-" he paused for an instant, "Which was exactly ten years *after* the accident. Same city, same intersection, same day, but not the same year." Hammond sat back in his chair and smiled, completely pleased with himself.

Carter looked at Hammond, then to O'Neill and back again. "You mean, it wasn't-, he didn't-, not the same year?"

"Nope."

O'Neill was sitting with his mouth still open trying to take in the meaning of what had been said. "You got this from Thor?" His voice ended with a squeak.

"I did."

"Whoa." When the guy said he wanted to make amends he wasn't kidding.

"And I have a theory too."

Both of his subordinates were rapt in attention now.

"I believe we were fed false information on purpose to break up SG-1. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other details didn't match as well if the original reports are pulled. Someone, Colonel wanted you out of the way and they almost got their wish."

"Actually, General, we, ah, kinda worked it out before we went on the mission for the Asgard."

Hammond regarded his 2IC, his look asking for more information.

"Well okay, they ganged up on me and I caved. They are the best, you know." O'Neill boasted.

"Major, will you take care of informing your father?"

"Yes, Sir!"

O'Neill whispered an aside to her, "Soon. Dealing with Dad was bad enough, but I thought Selmac was actually going to bite me!"
Epilogue

Colonel O'Neill sat at his desk lost in thought. He needed to put down in words what happened during the time the Goa'uld had blended with him. It wasn't like anything he could relate to. He'd been aware the entire time, struggling, and losing. It wasn't that he always had to win, God knows there had been enough times when he'd lost, and it didn't matter that someone else may read what he was about to write either. He just didn't know what to say.

The last four weeks had been one disaster after another. First the fiasco concerning his sordid past and the death of Sam's mother, then the mission to Lethew which ended in his being parastized by a Goa'uld and then being shot to death. He'd had some major damage to his chest and though he was improving daily, Fraiser hadn't yet cleared him for off world missions. So he took the time to catch upon paperwork.

He looked at the computer screen and went over what he'd already typed.

Summary: Threat Assessment
1. Live immature symbiotes in crate.

The container had a solid heavy wooden exterior and was three feet by four feet tall by four feet long. The inner chamber appeared to be of an unknown metal alloy. There was an internal light source as well as heat. It was filled with liquid that appeared to be water but was most likely a nutrient broth of some kind meant to sustain the occupants. The exact number of symbiotes present was undeterminable at this time but was likely at least one hundred.

Threat: LOW (As long as crate remains secured.)

2. Presence of at least three traps set throughout the cave system.

We encountered three traps between the entrance and the cavern. Although these were set off as we encountered them, it would be just as likely they were meant to keep someone in as keep us out. There were cryptic panels explaining how to defeat the traps on the way in. Daniel Jackson was instrumental in deciphering the language and extrapolating the meaning.

(See description of traps above)

Threat: LOW to MODERATE

3. Maturation of Goa'uld symbiote carried by Teal'c.

According to Intel provided by Teal'c, the symbiote should be considered extremely dangerous. It now had increased strength and speed and was actively seeking a host. Teal'c himself was in danger of death if the symbiote was unable to leave him and would also die unless a replacement could be secured. Three possible hosts existed, Daniel Jackson, Major Samantha Carter and myself, Colonel Jonathan O'Neill.

Four possible outcomes identified:
1.The symbiote would continue to be carried by Teal'c until able to return to SGC.
2.Teal'c and the symbiote would die.
3.The symbiote would attempt to take a host but be neutralized before able to do so.
4. The symbiote would take a host.
4a. In the event that a host is taken, that individual should be considered a hostile and must be neutralized immediately.

Threat: HIGH
He looked at the sentence: 'The symbiote would take a host.'

It was such a simple short description of such a ghastly process. He closed his eyes and mentally added the details. 'The symbiote will use it's sharp teeth to rip open the skin at the back of the neck and burrow it's way in causing considerable pain. It will wind it's way around the upper spinal column and neck eventually lodging within the skull of the host.'

He opened his eyes and looked back at the screen. He typed in:

Note: Once in place within the host it secretes powerful chemicals into the cerebral spinal fluid of the host allowing it to effect extreme physical and mental pain at will to elicit cooperation. The host, although aware, is in effect cut off from the outside world at this point.

He pushed himself away from his desk and got up out of the chair, suddenly needing to feel himself doing something, anything, pacing was good. After several minutes he returned to his desk, intent on completing his task. After another hour of typing and editing he finally came to the end.

Conclusion: Outcome and Recommendations

1. Goa'uld threat on the planet Lethew neutralized.

2. Trade negotiations with Lethew pending arrival of SGC Diplomatic Corps.

3. Teal'c returned to active duty after being in compromised situation.

4. O'Neill returning to active duty pending medical release.

5. Ongoing progression of alliance with the Asgard.
Recommendations regarding the planet Lethew deferred to SG-9 (Diplomatic Corps).

Recommend upgrade SG-1 status to Active and resume mission rotation.

Recommendations concerning the Asgard:

Opinion: While the Asgard are advanced far beyond the current level of technology on Earth, which assumes an advanced intellect with which to create such technology, they are not all-powerful or infallible and in a way they can learn as much from us as we can from them.

A certain level of trust has been achieved on this mission and the Asgard did demonstrate their resolve to remain our allies. In addition it is noted, when required the Asgard are willing to take extreme measures to protect or enhance this alliance. There exists a potential risk associated with collaboration with beings of this technological and intellectual level, which in this officer's opinion ranks the Asgard as a high-risk contact, however the benefits cannot be ignored. In light of this fact continued or augmented interactions are recommended.
Far away at the other end of the galaxy voices spoke. "The observations are concluded then."

"Yes, the results were most impressive."

"The subject demonstrated his true nature. The qualities range from remarkable perceptive abilities, exceptional leadership qualities and self-sacrifice for the greater good. The level of intelligence is well above predicted levels."

"The Tau'ri indeed possess great potential to evolve. Was the subject a true representative of the race?"

"Yes. However, I acknowledge he may in fact not be an 'average' representation. As I have evaluated this and other interactions with this race it is clear the chosen subject is perhaps their 'best,' though the potential exists for all."

"And your recommendations?"

"We should continue to observe this race and now that we are known to them, begin to interact on a more frequent basis. The already proven subject would be an acceptable point of contact."

"Very well. The council will consider this report with interest. You will continue to liaise with the Tau'ri and their representative. By what name should we call him?"

"O'Neill." Thor nodded his head and exited the chamber.