Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

The Asgard Sequence

 

by Gumnut


Title: The Asgard Sequence

Author: Gumnut

Email: gumnut@gumnut.net

Status: Complete

Category: a little angst, drama, action/adventure, humour, and alien exploration

Pairings: None

Spoilers: Anything up to Season 7

Season: Branches out from 7.10

Sequel/Series Info: The first sequence in the Chronicles of the Alliance.

Rating: PG-13

Content Warnings: Language, violence in some parts, blood

Summary: They may seem alien to us, and us to them, but how much more alien are they to us than we are to ourselves?

Disclaimer: Mine? You gotta be kidding! Money? Don't have any, don't bother.

Author's Note: Thanks heaps to Lynette for the beta, and her wonderful support, I couldn't have done it without her. Thanks also to the Jackficcers. This is all their fault :D

Alien Reflections Part 1 of the Asgard Sequence By Gumnut Sep 2003

They may seem alien to us, and us to them, but how much more alien are they to us than we are to ourselves?

He reached out a hand to touch his skin. Still warm. He could see the slight rise of his chest as he drew in oxygen, but for that there was little movement.

He found it odd. When the human was awake he never stopped moving. Or more precisely, he never stopped talking. But this was the first time he had seen him this still. A heart wrenching absence of movement so uncharacteristic as to illustrate the gravity of his situation.

He had tried to stem the flow of O'Neill's life giving fluids as they seeped through his clothing and on to the floor. Some of the wounds had stopped. Others still dribbled crimson.

Jack O'Neill's life was trickling away, and Thor didn't know what to do.

He had been in this dank, dark dungeon of a room for a long time now. He had seen no-one, spoken to no-one, and wasn't entirely sure how he had gotten here. He didn't even know who his captors were.

Though he had his suspicions.

The place smelled like rank anosweed from the swamps far to the south of his home. A reek that spoke of neglect and putrifying remains. No doubt if O'Neill was awake he'd have to listen to a monologue of complaints. If only he was awake.

It was odd, his reaction to the human. Himself, and his people, had long ago assessed his planet, classified it too primitive, and left it to its own devices. But far sooner than expected the humans had turned up on their doorstep, vying for attention in a universe which they hardly understood, much less could handle.

And at the forefront of these exuberant people, came O'Neill.

Thor hadn't been the first of his race to meet him, but he had seen the reports. A human thrown from the stargate on Othalla, mumbling incoherantly in the Ancient's tongue, his brain addled by their knowledge. They had reached into him and taken the knowledge before it shut his body down. It was remarkable, however, that even though his mind had been barely functioning, he had still found a way to save himself.

This ability had surprised the people of the Asgard. It had been unpredicted, and it had been a while since the unpredictable had happened.

With the minor exception of the Replicators.

Was that sarcasm? He would have to ask O'Neill when he woke.

When the Goa'uld threatened Earth, the Asgard had debated on the viability of using the Protected Planets Treaty to Earth's advantage. It was a risk, much could be lost, but on the words of those who had encountered O'Neill, the council was swayed. Thor had been sent to make preparations.

He had been interested to meet this O'Neill. His reputation throughout Goa'uld space was formidable and he wished to see if his character supported the legend. To see the leader of this impetuous infant race.

On a whim, he had transported O'Neill up without prior contact. To test his reaction to the unexpected.

His lack of reaction to the unexpected was unexpected.

It could have been an everyday occurrence for all the excitement he displayed. A casual look at his planet from several hundreds of his kilometres above it, a couple of questions, and that was it. Thor had been pleasantly surprised. He had been getting rather tired of all the cringing and cowering he got from those primitive humans he happened to encounter from time to time.

No, this one was different. So they had chosen him.

They knew he didn't have the authority to speak for his people. The Asqard knew of the political structure of the planet. But there was something about O'Neill, a sense of abilities yet untapped, that prompted their decision to choose him.

Besides, Thor tended to agree with O'Neill on the subject of politicians.

The body beside him shuddered.

Startled from his reverie, Thor moved closer, again reaching out a hand to touch the soft skin of his cheek.

"O'Neill?"

A soft sigh was all the response he got.

Thor had never felt so helpless. For all his advanced technology, for all the fleet he commanded, he could not do the one thing he wished to do at this moment - save the life of O'Neill.

He had been doing his forty-third reconnaissance loop of the cell when the unconscious O'Neill had been literally thrown into the cell. The door had slammed shut, captor unseen.

O'Neill's prone body had hit the opposite wall and bounced to the floor in a crumpled heap.

Thor had not immediately realised who he was, but after repeated verbal attempts to awaken his new cellmate, he had ventured closer. The human was much bigger than himself, but the Asgard was able to move the arm covering the face peering awkwardly into the concrete. He had gasped aloud when he recognised O'Neill.

Beneath the swollen eye and split lip breathed the human he had come to call friend. What was he doing here?

The small puddle of deep red blood forming beneath him spoke of horrific injury and he was hardly breathing. Thor knew little of human medical needs, but he did know the purpose of blood and that loosing too much was not a good thing.

Thor located what wounds he could reach and, tearing the material O'Neill's uniform was made of, bandaged what he could. But he knew it was not enough. Oh, for the want of the 'Bellisner's medical bay.

But that was gone, too. At the bottom of Earth's ocean.

O'Neill had been there. Thor had offered him death in return for saving Earth from Thor's own inability to protect it himself. O'Neill, and his team, had, in return, offered him life, a second chance.

The third chance had come while he was in the hands of Anubis.

Half paralyzed, clamped to the table, Thor had awakened, not to the grisly visage of some loathsome goa'uld, but to the quiet urging of a holographic O'Neill.

Unpredicted.

He had seen the worry in those dark eyes, so much smaller than his own, and a small spark of hope sprang up where there had only been despair.

They were like children, these humans from Earth, and Jack O'Neill the biggest, bravest child of them all. And he liked him.

His friend, Frere, had complained at first. The audacity of these humans to think they could charge out into the galaxy disregarding the consequences. But their strength and determination up against the odds had swayed even the stodginess of his old friend. A grudging respect between the two races had formed.

And then came the days when the great and almighty Asgard had had to ask for help from these primitive people or cease to exist at all.

Jack O'Neill had called the shots and the war had been won.

Now that same Jack O'Neill lay beside him, dying, and he could do nothing to help him.

"Ah...god."

"O'Neill?"

"Uh, Thor, is that you?"

*********

O'Neill woke to a world of pain.

He was lying on something cold and wet, his face half flattened against it.

Someone was touching his face.

His mind instinctively flinched away, but his body lacked the energy to follow. He could feel the soft stroke of a small hand brush his cheek. Unknown, get away, move!

He moved.

"Ah...god."

"O'Neill?"

His eyes flickered open. Well, one eye, the other refused to co-operate. A grey blur sat beside him.

"Uh, Thor, is that you?"

"It is I. Do not move, you are injured."

"Ah, kinda figured that out already." God, that hurts. Somewhere in his midsection a butcher was carving him into steaks. "Whe...where are we?"

"I do not know."

"What are you doing here?" Didn't the Asgard usually save the day?

"I have been captured. Like you. I do not know how I got here."

"Any idea of who's got us?"

There was an empty silence before Thor answered. "I had hoped you would be able to enlighten me on that count."

"Oh." Another shudder shook his body. A cough stirred deep in his throat. Unable to stop it, he spat blood on the floor. The resulting wave of pain teetered him on the brink of blacking out.

"O'Neill!" Was that a hint of panic in the voice of the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet?

"I'm fine...fine, just dandy." The simple lie was not helped by the whisper-loud, sandpaper rasp of his voice.

"O'Neill, tell me what to do to help you." The hand brushed against his cheek again.

'Beam me up' was the first thought that came to his mind, but he figured he would've done that already. "Sorry, Thor, I may be many things, but a doctor I'm not." Another rasping, pain-ridden cough took him into its clutches, and he clenched his body into a knot of misery.

The feeling of the small hand on the back of his neck became his anchor as black spots clouded his vision.

As his breathing settled down, and he was able to think again, he thought of Thor. Thor was the guy who came swooping in with his big ship to save the day. Thor was the alien version of Scotty who beamed you up without prior warning. Thor commanded technology that could skip across galaxies faster than he could sneeze. But Thor had none of his doohickies with him now. He was used to being in control - unlike a certain Colonel who flew by the seat of his pants more often than he cared to acknowledge - and he probably found his current situation a little alarming. O'Neill found that he himself was actually starting to get used to ending up in possibly fatal situations. A bit boring really, another near death experience.

O'Neill, now you know you are losing it.

"Thor." He hardly heard himself. He tried again. "Thor."

"O'Neill, you are seriously injured and I do not know how to help you."

"No sweat, Thor. Happens all the time. We got out of those situations. We'll get out of this one. Trust me." A little optimism never hurt.

"I fear you are dying."

He flicked his one eye in Thor's direction. Through the fuzziness he thought he could see the trepidation on the Asgard's face that was reflected in his voice. Clenching his teeth and holding his breath, O'Neill reached out his hand. "Thor, give me your hand." He felt the small pale palm, so soft to the touch, brush his fingers. He brought the fingers to his neck, to where his blood pulsed in his veins. "Do you feel that?"

"Yes."

"That, Thor buddy, is life. While that is there, while there is life, there is hope. And no rank, reeking, stinking prison is going to make me give up that hope." He paused, catching his breath. "And you will not give up either."

This time the cough wracked his body mercilessly, sending his head spinning. He lost his grip on consciousness and slipped into oblivion.

*********

Thor continued to hold his hand to O'Neill's throat. Feeling the thump of his pulse as his life flowed through his body, unconscious though it was.

He knew that O'Neill's comments had been directed wholly at him. Thor wasn't new to this sort of situation either, and could see where O'Neill's obstinacy had stood him well in the past. But it was something about O'Neill that stirred dismay in his soul at the thought of his loss.

There were no second chances for O'Neill. No cloned body waiting in the wings. No, if he died, he would be lost.

Thump, thump, under his fingers.

And a bright, young star would be snuffed out.

He didn't want that to happen.

O'Neill sighed, his jaw clenched and unclenched. A thin trickle of blood ran from his nose, across his lip, to drip to the cold concrete.

You expected to see your children grow up.

Thump.

Thump.

An image of the child-like O'Neill, practically bouncing on his feet at the foot of the stargate, stepping out to explore new worlds.

Thump.

O'Neill the warrior, weapon drawn and firing, protecting himself and his people.

Thump.

Those sarcastic one-liners, usually aimed at the current goa'uld wannabe.

Thump.

The determination in his holographic eyes, to save Thor from his fate.

Thum...

Silence.

No movement.

Lost.

The world disappeared in a wave of white light.

**********

It's not easy being Green Part 2 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Alien Reflections' By Gumnut Sep 2003

He woke.

That surprised him. This time he thought he had really done it. Taken the big ship outta here. Bitten the dust.

But no, he was awake.

Infirmary? He listened for the familiar beeps and the click of heels on concrete. Nothing. Not Infirmary.

Crap.

He opened his eyes. No annoying pen light in his eye. No infirmary ceiling.

Completely unfamiliar ceiling for that matter.

Double crap.

He was lying down on a small, simple bed, his feet sticking off the end, and a thin sheet covering him. He couldn't see much in the dim lighting, but he didn't feel alone. He pushed himself up on to his elbows.

"Hello?"

A bright flash of white light momentarily blinded him.

"Greetings, O'Neill."

He shook his head trying to dispel the red after images dancing in front of his eyes. "You know, Thor, you could just knock."

"I apologise. I have been waiting for you to awaken." The dim, hidden lighting brightened revealing a large room, various shades of blue, in the typical Asgard design. The bed was the only piece of furniture present.

"Where are we?"

"You have been here before, O'Neill. This is the planet Othalla in the galaxy of Ida."

"Oh, that old place." He sat up fully in bed and the filmy sheet fell to his waist. He suddenly realized that the thin sheet was the only thing between him and fresh air.

He clutched the sheet to his chest. "Where are my clothes?"

"Your clothes were unfortunately damaged by myself during our imprisonment and we are in the process of synthesizing some replacements."

The sheet felt even thinner as he tucked it around himself.

"So, okay, Thor, what's the story? Why am I here and not on Earth?"

"Your medical condition required immediate attention. Your people would not have been able to help you."

"Oh, so am I fixed?" He peered down at himself, everything seemed to be working. His toes were sticking out the other end of the cover. He wriggled them, only realizing a second later that there was something strange in their colouring. "Thor, why are my feet green?"

"They are not green."

"They are green." He held up his hands. They were green, too. On closer inspection he realized that he was all green. "I'm green!"

"You had lost the majority of your circulatory fluids due to your injuries. We have the facility to create more, however, it was decided to substitute it with a healing fluid for awhile to ensure a complete recovery. As the fluid is green, your body will reflect that colouring."

"I can bleed green?" Thor just looked at him. "I'm a Vulcan!" Thor continued to stare at him, so he back- pedalled. "Um, okay, thanks. How long do I need this stuff?"

"Our medical staff will replace the fluid once it has been decided that you are fully healed." He paused. "And you are not green."

Jack wasn't going to argue.

"I have notified your General Hammond of your location. He requested your team accompany you, so Frere has gone to Earth to collect them."

"I'm sure he is happy to be chartered as an interstellar bus service."

"Hmm. He did comment, but agreed."

Jack glanced at Thor. Thought of a grumpy Asgard had him hiding a smile, but his train of thought was interrupted by another flash of light.

Speak of the devil...

Four mildly bewildered humans, and that afore mentioned grumpy Asgard, appeared at the foot of his bed. Frere moved to speak with Thor, as four pairs of human eyes focused on Jack.

All at once.

"Colonel!"

"Jack!"

"O'Neill!"

And all together now. "You're green!"

"You know, guys, if you did that in harmony you could probably make it on Broadway." He turned to Thor. "I told you I was green." Then, suddenly realizing there was a female presence in the room, Jack pulled the sheet even tighter around himself. "Umm, did you guys happen to bring any of my clothes with you?"

"Hello to you too, Jack." Daniel dug into his pack and produced the requested items. "So what's with the green?"

"Thought it would be a change from pink, you know, thought it would go better with the colour of my eyes." The mandatory annoyed looked emitted by Daniel, Carter, and even Janet - not Teal'c though, he was smiling, good ol'Teal'c - was interrupted by Thor.

"O'Neill has been very ill. Near death."

"Way to go with the drama, Thor buddy."

Janet stepped forward. "I am aware of that, Commander, that is why I insisted I come along." She moved toward O'Neill.

Start the countdown...3...2...1. Bang. Bright light in the eyeball. Way to go, Fraiser. "You know I think you like doing that just for the fun of it. It's a power thing, isn't it."

She ignored him. "How do you feel, Colonel?" He jumped as her cold stethoscope found his chest.

"Good. Hunky dory. Fine and dandy. Fit and healthy. Raring to go."

"Colonel, you're green." Fraiser was now sticking something in his ear.

"S...Ow! What are you doing in there? So what if I'm green? Thor says it's some fancy healing thingy and they'll put me back to normal when I'm all fixed."

"O'Neill is correct. The healing fluid is more efficient than your blood in providing nutrients and oxygen to his systems. The majority of his injuries are repaired, but the fluid provides the necessary support and immunity for his body as it returns to normal functioning."

Janet looked up from her traditional patient torture session. "Commander, I would like to confer with the doctors who have been overseeing the Colonel's recovery."

"Certainly, Doctor." He paused a moment, then a set of double doors opened to their left and two Asgard entered.

"Finally a door!"

Thor threw a tolerantly amused look in O'Neill's direction. "Doctor Fraiser, this is Tanor and Forel. They will be able to explain the state of O'Neill's health. In the meantime, I would like to suggest a short walk in the Centre's gardens where we can discuss the situation."

"Is the Colonel well enough to be out of bed?"

"I'm fine, Carter." He shoved his legs off the bed, grabbing at the sheet as it threatened to display his nudity in all its glory. "But I would like some privacy to get dressed." He glared appropriately at Daniel and Carter in turn.

"Uh, okay, fine, sir. We'll just be outside. Call us if you need us." His team moved towards the door.

That left Thor and Frere.

"Uh, guys, do you mind waiting outside a moment." Their looks were totally clueless. Obviously their knowledge of the human race was a little patchy in places. "Uh, Thor and, er, Frere, it is courtesy in our culture to allow people to dress and undress in privacy." A few more alien interactions and he would start sounding like Daniel.

The two Asgard quickly cottoned on and, with a polite bow, they followed the rest of SG-1 into the hallway. The doors closed behind them.

Finally alone for a moment, O'Neill dumped the clothes on the bed. His hands caught his eyes again. I'm Kermit the fricking Frog! Well, he trusted Thor, had trusted Thor, with his life, and he had come through for him every time. This was hopefully no different.

On to the first order of business. He fossicked through the pile of clothes. Oh, damn. Daniel, when are you going to remember which type of underwear I wear?

*********

Thor joined the group in the corridor.

From the moment Frere had returned with the humans, he had been complaining about them. The female kept asking questions to which any answer was beyond her comprehension. The Jaffa, at least, was silent, but the male human never shut up. Only the Doctor had managed to avoid directly irritating him, but the day was still young.

He let out a sigh. Some times Frere took it to extremes.

Fraiser was in one corner speaking with the two specialists. The other three were hovering just outside O'Neill's door. Thor knew the rest of SG-1, but found himself not as familiar with them as he was with O'Neill. It was no lacking on their part, but as the team required many different personalities and skills to function, each member was integrally different to the other. O'Neill was the facet he understood the most, and consequently was the most comfortable with.

As comfortable with an alien from a completely different race and culture, who was twice your height, as he could be.

He knew O'Neill valued his team more than his life, trusting them implicitly, and Thor trusted O'Neill. They had worked together to save both his life and his people.

They were SG-1.

Now they were standing in a corridor arguing.

Well, Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson were arguing. Teal'c was quietly supervising.

"I think we should tell him."

"Daniel, General Hammond specifically said not to tell him unless it is absolutely necessary."

"He should know."

"And he will. Just not now, he is still recovering."

The stubborn look on Doctor Jackson's face urged Thor forward. "Major Carter, is there some information being withheld from O'Neill?"

Major Carter looked at him, indecision on her face. "Something has happened. General Hammond felt the news would upset the Colonel and with his recent injury it would be advisable to postpone telling him." The look on her face illustrated her conflicting feelings of loyalty.

"He's going to kill us when he finds out we have been holding out on him." Daniel scowled.

"We will have to deal with that if and when it happens." She swallowed as if she had eaten something distasteful.

They were interrupted by a banging on the door. "Oi! Thor, wanna let me outta here?"

Beside him Frere muttered in Asgard, "Can't even open the door."

Whipping his head around, Thor glared at Frere. "We were once as them, and wouldn't be, without them. They deserve our respect."

Frere looked suitably chastened.

Thor waved his hand over the door control and the doors parted. A slightly rumpled O'Neill emerged into the corridor. The hair on his head stuck out at all angles, and, now out in the brighter corridor lights, the green cast to his skin was all the more apparent. It was rather amusing to see him this colour. He had had a friend several years ago who had been severely injured. The Asgard version of the healing fluid was an interesting shade of orange. His friend had been the subject of much jest for several months as he recovered.

Thor, smothering a chuckle, indicated the direction and led the group out into the gardens.

**********

The gardens were spectacular.

Combined with arches of elegant architecture, the plants of the garden inhabited all three dimensions. Towering pillars supported decorations of twined tinsel-like vines, thirty metres into the air. Some of these pillars were interconnected at different levels by arching buttresses, adorned by a variety of different vines and epiphytes, connected by the garden path that wove its way amongst everything.

The plants came in all different shapes, sizes, and colours. A flowering purple bush hung in midair by the entrance, seeming to have no contact with any surface. It just sat there. A tiny creeper wove its way along the edge of the path, its leaves minature crystals like those you would find on a chandelier. A breeze wandered through the air, bringing with it a musical sigh, as it breathed amongst the plants.

It was beautiful.

But there was one thing missing. Daniel spoke up first. "There are no trees. Do you have trees on this planet, Thor?"

"No, Doctor Jackson, there are no trees native to this planet."

Three human heads turned to look at Jack.

"What? So there is another reason why I like these guys." He put on a not completely successful look of innocence.

Carter chuckled.

They followed the path into the depths of the gardens in silence. Each seemed unsure where to start. Eventually Jack ran out of patience.

"So, Thor, did you find out what happened?"

"Not entirely, no." He turned to the rest of SG-1. "Has any progress been made to ascertain how Colonel O'Neill was taken from Earth?"

Jack's head came up as Carter answered. "As far as we can tell, the Colonel was taken from his home, probably while he was asleep. He was not missed until he failed to report for duty the following morning. That was seven days ago."

"Seven days! I've been missing for a week?"

"Yes, sir. We were becoming quite worried by the time the Asgard contacted us." Her eyes darted away from his as the term 'quite worried' took on its true meaning of 'frantic'.

Thor spoke up. "O'Neill was only in the cell with me for a short time before rescue."

"Thor," interrupted Frere, "you also were missing for approximately the same period of time. We had some serious difficulty locating you."

Something suddenly occurred to O'Neill. "Hey, Thor buddy, have you been fully checked out? You okay?"

"I am well, O'Neill. I was not injured in any way. I was only incarcerated." He paused. "Unlike yourself. However, I do not remember how I got there. Apparently, I too, was taken from my home whilst sleeping. He looked to Frere."

"Commander, all efforts were made to locate you. However, it was many days before your signature registered on our sensors."

O'Neill spoke up. "Where did you find us?"

"On an empty moon on the edge of your galaxy, Colonel. Once we had located Commander Thor, we immediately made to recover him. Once we realized your presence and condition, all efforts were made to save you as well."

"And for that I thank you, Frere." O'Neill bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.

"We could do no less."

"That's the 'where', all we need now is the 'who' and 'why'." Daniel pushed his glasses further up his nose, before folding his arms across his chest in a familiar pose of concern.

Jack looked at Thor. "I presume you have investigated the site. Any clues as to the persons responsible?"

"None. We were held in an abandoned underground bunker. Our sensors were unable to locate any trace of any beings other than you or myself." The look on Thor's face showed he had suspicions.

"So who do you think may have been responsible?"

The look on Thor's face hardened. "Anubis."

He thought as much. "Hmm, good ol'Anudist. Haven't seen him for awhile." He turned to Carter, Daniel and Teal'c. "So what do you think, kids?"

Carter spoke up first. "It is possible, sir. He certainly has no liking for either of you. The question is what had he planned to do with you?"

"Well, he obviously tortured Jack." Jack looked at Daniel and suddenly realized that that was exactly what it looked like, but he had no memory of it. Had he said anything under duress? A sudden helpless panic stirred in him. Some of it must have risen to his face because Daniel began to look uncomfortable.

Carter stepped in. "Daniel, we have no proof that torture was the source of the Colonel's injuries. All precautions have been taken." She looked apologetically at her CO.

'Colonel O'Neill would never betray his people." Teal'c's certainty echoed off the ancient brickwork of the garden. Nearby a featherless bird was startled into flight.

O'Neill knew his team trusted him, and to a certain extent he trusted himself, but he couldn't remember most of those seven days, anything could have happened in that time. "Thanks, T, but until we know otherwise it is a distinct possibility that that is exactly what happened." Carter opened her mouth. "Ack! Carter, I know what you are going to say, but for the time being, I think we should prepare for the worst." He paused thinking. "I presume Hammond followed standard operating procedure?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well then, as long as you three don't forget to take me home with you, there shouldn't be a problem." Something occurred to him. "Thor, was there a stargate on that moon?"

"No, we would have had to arrive by ship."

"Any trace of a ship in orbit of Earth, the moon, or your planet?"

"This planet is my home planet, O'Neill, and again nothing. I have had several complaints from my fleet commanders about the lack of information found." If an Asgard could frown, that was what Thor was doing.

Jack took a deep breath and suddenly found himself suppressing a cough. He cleared his throat. "Hmm. So where do we go from here?"

"O'Neill, I believe the specialists would prefer you to stay here a while longer until you have fully recovered. Also you need to have your circulatory fluid replaced before leaving." He looked at the group before him as if hesitating. "In the meantime, quarters have been prepared for you, however," and he turned to O'Neill, "I would be honoured if you all would join me at my home which is not far from here." He quickly added. "The security for my home has been recently upgraded due to this incident, I assure you, you will be safe and comfortable there."

If Jack didn't know better, he would have said that Thor was nervous. This could be interesting. He just hoped all Asgard architecture reflected the high ceilings he had seen on all occasions previously. He had this sudden vision of himself as Luke Skywalker in Yoda's hut.

He abruptly realized everyone was looking at him. He coughed. "Okay, Thor, sounds great." The tickle in his throat became persistent. He coughed again.

And again.

"Colonel, are you okay?" Carter moved forward.

"I'm f-" The cough that cut him off became a coughing fit that left him light headed. He put a hand to his head as Carter reached to steady him. "Uh, okay, perhaps I'm not a hundred percent." He felt dizzy. There was a flash of light and a hovering bed appeared. Abracadabra, Thor.

"Lie down, O'Neill, and we will return to the Centre."

Jack sat on the edge of the bed to steady himself, but refused to lie down. "I'm not legless. I just need a moment." He groaned when another flash deposited Fraiser and the two Asgard specialists. "Aww, thanks, Thor, now they will never let me outta here."

Thor just looked at him.

*********

It turned out that they did let him out, but only after the standard lecture in triplicate. Thou shalt not over exert oneself. Thou shalt do everything we doctors say. Thou shalt not make smart ass comments whilst being examined.

Well, at least he had learnt how to say the word 'ass' in Asgard.

They had given him his 'get out of our sight free' card and he had joined SG-1 at Thor's residence.

Earth had been allied with the Asgard for quite awhile, but he was forced to admit they knew little or nothing about them. Carter had reported back from that incident with the Asgard ship 'O'Neill' (note to self, must ask Thor about that). She had spoken of a vast city and a fleet of ships. She had also mentioned the food, and he was already thinking up excuses to out of that one.

Thor had beamed them all directly to his home. O'Neill didn't really know what to expect. What he did find was unexpectedly un-alien.

Thor lived in an apartment. Or what would be termed an apartment if it had been on Earth. It was quite large, possibly reflecting his status of Supreme Fleet Commander. He also had a garden. When Daniel commented on its similarity to the gardens at the Centre, Thor explained that it was part of the same garden. Apparently the gardens wove themselves throughout the inhabited portion of the planet, unbroken even by the oceans themselves.

Both Carter and Daniel started bouncing around like a pair of kids let loose in a candy shop. O'Neill was on the verge of ordering them to shut up, but was stayed by the look on Thor's face. Thor seemed amused by the two scientist's boundless energy, answering their questions extensively until even their eyes glazed over.

The apartment itself did have high ceilings to which O'Neill was immensely grateful. The basics followed traditional Asgard design, but were highlighted by various non-indigenous trinkets, presumably collected by its owner.

One wall contained a display of various weapons. O'Neill recognised a couple of definite goa'uld origin. He was even surprised to find one of their own Berrettas prominently on display. Briefly wondering where Thor might have gotten that, his eyes settled on Daniel. Yep, that's probably the source.

But one object looked far too familiar for his liking.

"Thor, why is my hockey stick stuck to your wall?"

The sudden look of guilt on Thor's face was memorable. He didn't answer.

"Do you realize how long I have been looking for that? It's a prime piece of sporting memorabilia. It's signed by three of the top players."

Thor still didn't answer, but the look on his face reminded Jack of a pet dog that knew it was in trouble.

Damn. Never could resist the puppy dog look.

"Ok," he sighed, "I suppose you could borrow it for a while." He held up his hand. "I want it back in one piece, though. No using it to bash some goa'uld over the head."

"Thank you. O'Neill."

Dinner was an interesting affair. Apparently Thor had taken note of Carter's distaste for Asgard cuisine. After some research and some synthesizing processes that O'Neill had no wish to investigate any further, the Asgard scientists had come up with what they thought constituted human food.

All O'Neill could say was, "Gee, thanks, Thor, looks great." as he was served something in a bowl that looked like cornflakes, was the colour of beetroot, and smelled like something between the milk that was left out overnight and burnt sausages.

O'Neill felt his stomach turn over. He checked out the rest of the diners. Both Carter and Daniel had expressions that would have won them a transfer to the diplomatic corps. Janet was eyeing hers as if it was a new lab specimen. But Teal'c...Teal'c was wolfing it down. He was literally shovelling beetroot cornflakes into his mouth. O'Neill felt his stomach turn over again.

He looked over at Thor, who was sitting behind a plate of children's multicoloured building blocks, waiting expectantly for their reactions. There was no way out. This was the part of 'do it for your country' they had never mentioned when he signed up.

He picked up the slender two-pronged fork and with the resignation of the doomed, poked it into the concoction and into his mouth. Fully expecting to gag, he was surprised when the morsel in his mouth melted like a bite from a Hershey bar.

In fact it tasted like a Hershey bar. Chocolate with a hint of caramel.

He took another bite. Hmm. Not bad, if you closed your eyes and held your breath. Perhaps chocolate was the food of the gods.

The rest of the evening, as the Othallan sun set over the garden, was spent discussing cultural differences. Daniel was in his element as they swapped examples of customs on different planets and compared them to their own. He was just starting a lecture featuring the pixie people on planet PXY-yadda-yadda when Jack O'Neill fell asleep on the couch.

********

It was Jack's snoring that alerted the rest of the group to the state of their CO. Jack had slipped backwards on the couch and now sat awkwardly, head flung back, half the brass section of the London Symphony Orchestra issuing from his throat.

After Thor had been reassured that this was a natural sleeping state, the now whispered discussion turned to whether they should attempt to manhandle him into bed or leave him where he was.

It suddenly occurred to Daniel that this had to be the first time he had ever seen Jack fall asleep in company. He supposed it had to do with recent events and his injuries, but Jack was always alert, even when on Earth, sitting in his lounge room drinking beer, he had that aura of watchfulness, an echo of experience. Daniel also didn't recall Jack ever snoring this loudly before. He glanced at Janet. She didn't look worried. Maybe he was being a bit sensitive regarding Jack - also to do with recent events.

Thor brought all discussion of manhandling to a halt by pulling out a small hand held device. He pointed it directly at Jack.

In the millisecond before he activated it, Daniel's reflexes had already reached for the gun he didn't have. But the beam that hit Jack did nothing but softly levitate him off the couch.

Thor led them to the sleeping room, gently leading a hovering Jack behind him.

Sam whispered in his ear. "We really need to get one of those. Makes handling the Colonel a whole lot easier." Daniel chuckled.

They were all going to sleep in the one room in deference to the Asgard norm and six beds had been arranged in a semi circle. They were a little small compared to what they were used to, but they would suffice.

Thor lowered Jack on to a bed and Daniel pulled his boots off and covered him with the sheet. Now he had stopped snoring he looked peaceful in sleep. His hair still stuck out at all angles and it made him look younger and untroubled. The green tinge to his skin was the only reminder that as recently as this morning this man had been on the verge of death.

They had been lucky to get him back.

The entire SGC had been frantically searching for clues as to his whereabouts. Daniel and Sam had gone to his house desperate for any hint to what might have happened. Call after call had been made to emergency services, hospitals, morgues, and a variety of alien governments, including the Asgard. It seemed he had disappeared off the face of the Earth.

And he had.

Janet had cornered SG-1 and threatened them with sedation if they wouldn't sleep voluntarily.

When it finally came, the call from the Asgard had been an immense relief, but none of them had relaxed until they had seen him with their own eyes.

And a funny sight it had been, seeing Jack half naked and flushing green with embarrassment.

Daniel smiled. Now that scene was worth relating several times at the next SGC Christmas party.

Making sure the sheet wasn't going to fall off during the night, Daniel left Jack's side and made ready for bed.

*********

It was dark and cold. Somewhere water dripped in a slow mournful rhythm.

Drip.

Drip.

He could see only shadows. He tried to move forward, but found himself restrained. A whisper of air movement raised the hair on his bare arms.

The dark was not empty.

Drip.

Drip.

A single footstep echoed on the hard floor. A shadow moved.

He tried to call out, but his throat was too dry for sound.

Drip.

Drip.

A voice asked him a question.

He could not answer.

Drip.

It asked again.

He could not answer.

There was a silver glint in the darkness. Pain in his side.

He could not scream.

Blood joined the water.

Drip. Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

Still he could not answer.

The shadow moved closer. He could make out shapes, twisting impressions of dimension. They formed themselves into a face.

Daniel asked the question again.

"Have you met death?"

He could not answer.

Drip.

Drip. Drip.

The shadows moved, silver glinted, and, finally, he could scream.

*********

Of Dreams and Nightmares Part 3 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'It's not easy being Green' By Gumnut Sep 2003

A heart wrenching scream.

The thud of a body hitting the floor.

Daniel was out of bed and reaching for his glasses before he was even fully awake. The lights came up suddenly, briefly blinding him, but he was on the floor beside a sprawled Jack by the time his vision cleared.

"Jack?"

The prone man groaned. He was face down and made to raise himself up on his elbows. Turning his head to look at Daniel he let out a dazed, "Wha...?"

The moment Jack's eyes met his, the daze turned to terror. Letting out a terrified yell, Jack backed himself into the corner between the wall and the bed.

"Don't touch me! Get away!"

He knotted his six foot two inch frame into the smallest shape he could and sat there mumbling, his eyes darting back and forth, but always returning to Daniel.

"Step back, give him space."

Daniel backed off, confused, looking at Sam in bewilderment. Janet moved forward. "Colonel O'Neill, can you hear me?"

The mumbling stopped and the eyes focused. A wary "Doc?"

"Colonel, are you okay?"

He looked at himself and at the people arrayed around him.

"Why am I on the floor?"

"You tell me."

His eyes flickered to Daniel. "Uh, bad dream." He pushed himself up against the wall and stood, leaning against it awkwardly. He radiated embarrassment. "I'm okay."

Somehow Daniel didn't believe him. "You sure, Jack?"

A defensive anger flashed in the Colonel's eyes. "I said, I'm fine, Daniel. Go back to bed, spectacle over." He punctuated the statement by climbing into his own bed, pulling the sheet up to his chin, and turning his back on all of them.

Daniel caught Sam's eyes and saw his own worry reflected in them. Janet indicated with a shake of her head to leave him.

Seeing Thor moving towards Jack, Daniel ushered him aside gently. "I wouldn't bother him now. It is probably best we leave him alone." Daniel did his best to whisper, praying that Jack couldn't hear him.

"O'Neill is upset." Concern etched itself into Thor's words.

"Jack is..." How could he explain this? "Uh, Jack is Jack. He needs to work things out on his own."

Thor bowed his head respectfully. "I will take your advice, Doctor Jackson." He glanced once more at Jack's back before returning to his bed.

Daniel followed suit, but throughout the rest of the night, he lay wake, the terrified look on Jack's face haunting him.

**********

As the others drifted away and back to bed, a series of panicked thoughts ran through O'Neill's mind.

What the hell was that?

He searched his memory for a place or event that resembled his dream.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

He'd had dreams of torture before, flashbacks to his checkered past, but nothing like this.

Where had it come from?

His thoughts turned to his missing week, the only explanation. The black gulf that was his memory of that time taunted him. What had happened during those seven days?

And why did the sight of Daniel, his best friend, terrify him beyond belief?

**********

The next morning, breakfast was a quiet affair. Jack didn't feel like talking and no one knew what to say to him.

Thor had left before they awoke. Apparently the Asgard needed about half the amount of sleep that humans did and Thor was a busy man.

He had made some arrangements, however. They were to tour the Asgard shipyards. A diplomatic courtesy as Carter had expressed an interest. Several times.

Thor's aide, Fekel, escorted them, and this time they travelled by a more traditional mode of transport. Well, traditional to the Asgard perhaps.

They were met by a hovercar outside Thor's apartment and for the first time they got a bird's eye view of the capital city of the planet Othalla.

George Lucas, eat your heart out. Coruscant had nothing on this place.

Large monoliths rose in a sea of spires, the Othallan sun casting shadows that could swallow a city on Earth. The word 'cathedral' came to Jack's mind. A city of churches reaching for the sky.

And in amongst the buildings wove the Garden.

Jack had to hold his breath. This brought home the depth and age of the Asgard civilisation. Current Terran architecture couldn't hope to construct a building half the size of these monoliths. And certainly not with such grace.

The sun stroked the city like the paintbrush of an artist.

"Beautiful, isn't it, sir."

"I've never seen anything like it, Carter." His voice was almost a whisper.

She looked at him, obviously surprised that it affected him that much. "And we helped save it, sir."

The thought of replicators let loose in this city brought bile to the back of his throat. "No, Carter, we also saved ourselves. We wouldn't have lasted a second if this had been taken." Absorbed. Eaten. Replicated.

Destroyed.

Gone.

"It is good to know that what we risked our lives for was worth it."

She glanced up at him again. "Are you okay, Colonel?"

"I'm fine, Carter." He looked at his boots. "How about you?"

She backed off. "Fine, sir."

"Good, keep it that way." He turned back to the view, effectively ending the conversation.

**********

O'Neill remained pensive for the rest of the trip. They dropped Doctor Fraiser off at the Centre as she had expressed a stronger desire to discuss medicine than ships and weaponry.

SG-1 was then taken offshore above the city to the Othallan shipyards.

Five Asgard vessels were currently in dock.

One of them was the 'O'Neill'.

"I thought you blew it up?" He shot a look at Carter, daring her to deny it.

"We did, sir." Her eyes widened, looking innocent.

Fekel interrupted. "The original prototype was indeed destroyed, Colonel O'Neill. However, the plans were not, and as it was our most highly advanced design, it was rebuilt."

"So this is the 'O'Neill II'?"

"No, the prototype was never fully completed before it was destroyed. This vessel has taken that name in its stead. This is the 'O'Neill'."

The ship was graceful. There didn't seem to be another word for it. It echoed the standard Asgard ship design, but where there were normally angles, there were now curves, and the whole effect spoke of sleek and fast.

He noticed another difference between this ship and the others in dock. A red colour decorated a thin sweep of the hull, like a detail strip on a Mustang. None of the others had any such colouring.

"What's with the red?"

"A sign of honour." Fekel stood tall and looked O'Neill in the eye. "It declares that this ship was named in the honour of a great hero of the Asgard people." He paused. "It was named for you."

Jack didn't know what to say. Normally he would have thought up some wisecrack to deflect attention from himself. But today...today he felt bare and weary. "I'm no hero, Fekel. I just do what needs to be done." He gestured to his team. "These are the people who saved your world. These are the people who are SG-1. You should be thanking them."

He turned away, ignoring the indrawn breath of his teammates.

As soon as the car docked, he was out of there.

Carter caught up with him.

"Sir, what was that?!"

He turned to her. "What?"

"Fekel is upset, terrified he has offended you." Her worried face looked up at him. "I thought you liked the idea of a ship named after you."

"I do. It's just..." He flung a hand in the air. "I don't know." He coughed, clearing his throat. "Get Daniel to apologise for me will you."

"Sir..."

"Carter, not today." He almost pleaded. "Please."

"Yes, sir." She stood so straight she almost saluted, turned and walked back to the others.

Great. Now she's pissed at me as well.

He saw her approach Daniel and whisper in his ear. Fekel stood nearby, literally washing his hands with worry.

Oh, for crying out loud...

He stalked up to Fekel. "Fekel, I'm sorry. It is a great honour to have this," he raised hands towards the 'O'Neill' "this magnificent ship named after me, and I apologise for my abruptness earlier. I am just..." he brought a hand to his head "...not feeling the best today." Another cough punctuated his statement.

The small alien nodded. "I understand, Colonel O'Neill. Do you wish to return to the Centre?"

"No, no, I'm fine. Just a little tired." He smothered another cough. "Lead on. Tour away."

Jack didn't miss the multiple concerned looks directed at him by his team as they were conducted through the complex. He made sure he was at the back of the small group as much as possible to avoid their eyes.

**********

The shipyards were impressive, he had expected no less after what he had seen already. As the day worn on though, he found himself becoming more and more tired, probably due to his lack of sleep the night before, and he had begun to truly push himself by the time they were offered a tour of the 'O'Neill' itself.

He was introduced to the captain of the ship and, for the first time, he walked onto the bridge of an Asgard vessel.

Well, one not overrun with Replicators, that is.

Unlike the 'Bellisnor', the 'O'Neill's bridge only spanned two levels and now, at full operation, both were full of crewmembers going about their business. A huge viewscreen, spanning both levels, was at what Jack assumed was the forward postion.

In the centre of this organised chaos was a dais with several of the familiar control consoles and accompanying high backed chairs.

On the largest sat Thor.

"Thor buddy, how's it hanging?" O'Neill made his way to the platform.

Thor looked confused. "How is what hanging, O'Neill?"

"Oh, uh, never mind." He scratched the back of his head. "So, uh, whatcha been up to?"

"I had thought you might like to join us for a short foray into nearby space."

All thoughts of weariness left him. "You mean we get to take the 'O'Neill' out for a spin?"

Thor's brow wrinkled, but he said, "If I understand you correctly, then yes." He indicated they should join him on the dais. Four of the Asgard chairs disappeared in a flash of light to be replaced by more humanly proportioned furniture.

SG-1 and Fekel sat down, and, with a word from Thor, the ship disappeared.

O'Neill jumped. All around him was the Othallan shipyard, the four other vessels floating quietly in the blue sky. But all that he could see of the 'O'Neill' was the dais beneath his feet. What?

Carter, as usual. beat him to it. "Thor, you have a fully holographic display system built into the ship." Her mouth was hanging open.

"Yes, Major Carter, it is one of the improvements in the 'O'Neill' series of ships."

Jack glanced at Thor. "Series?"

"Yes, the 'Carter' is under construction now."

They all looked at Sam. O'Neill wished he had a camera, it was definitely a Kodak moment - Carter was speechless.

Thor issued an order and the ship began to move. From O'Neill's point of view it seemed as if their platform was coasting in space, but beyond the holographic curtain, the ship that bore his name left dock.

O'Neill had been into space many times before, but he had yet to take a pleasure cruise, or as in this case, a joyride. In fact just about every time he had previously been aboard any spacecraft his life, or someone else's, had been in jeopardy or ended up in it. It was a wonder that he didn't have a complex about it.

He sneaked a look at Thor. The Asgard was clearly waiting on their reactions. He looked almost eager to show off his new toy.

Maybe that was it. The Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet wanted to show them his world, and, perhaps, help both sides to get to know each other a little better.

And it obviously didn't hurt to have a little fun along the way.

He really did like Thor. He was his kind of guy.

*********

Thor watched his guests with both eagerness and a little trepidation. He knew he was showing off, but didn't care.

The Asgard Council had expressed various concerns about this venture, particularly regarding exposing the humans to too much Asgard technology. But Thor had argued that the people from Earth had given their talents and experience freely. Should he not give his?

The discussions had taken most of the morning, but eventually he had wrestled permission from his peers under the condition that no technological details were exchanged.

Thor was half hearted about this issue. He agreed with the theory of not giving younger races too many advances in technology too quickly, but there were times where the rule became too ridiculous to apply.

Besides, it wasn't like they weren't going to work it out sooner or later anyway. Certainly not with the keen eyes of Major Carter absorbing everything in sight. The Council was seriously prone to underestimating this race of people.

His eyes sought O'Neill, noting the tiredness in his eyes that hovered beneath the interest he was currently expressing. The human had not fully recovered yet, despite their best efforts. Thor was hoping this little exercise would bring some lightness into the heart of the weary man. A distraction from recent events.

He couldn't speak for O'Neill, but he could speak for himself. He had a small blank area of memory and it alarmed him. The Colonel, with almost seven days of lost thought, and those horrific injuries...

He gave the order. He would take them to Osaris.

**********

O'Neill watched as Othalla shrank to nothing behind them. They passed several different planets, one of which resembled Jupiter enough to send a shiver down his spine.

"Where are we going?"

"Osaris, a nebula, not far from here." Thor paused. "In fact, we are there."

And they were.

A spidery kaleidoscope of shining dust particles surrounded them. An eternal sunset of red, oranges, and gold rippling gently in an unseen breeze.

O'Neill stood up, turning around in amazement. "This is a nebula?" He had seen them through his telescope, but had never expected to be standing amongst one. He had really blown his beauty quota for the day.

Thor stood next to him. "This is Osaris. I used to come out here alone when I was young. It was my place to think and consider." He looked up at O'Neill. "This place has always been special to me. I like to think that it is because it came into being the same day I did. But, truthfully, it has been a refuge in times of worry and sadness and it has always made me feel a little better." He paused, then added. "I hope it will do the same for you."

For the second time that day, Jack didn't know what to say. He saw what Thor was trying to do, saw it for what it was, and appreciated it. What more could a man ask for? He stood in the midst of spectacular beauty, surrounded by his closest friends. He turned to look at Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c, each equally mesmerized by the sight around them. He felt his weariness lift, and, for one moment in time, he was flying.

He let out a breath, turning to Thor once again, and said, sincerely, "Thor, thank you."

From behind them came a moan, and the thud of a body hitting the floor.

**********

That that Lives. Part 4 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Of Dreams and Nightmares' By Gumnut Sep 2003

It had taken two days, but he was dead.

Two long days of intermittent consciousness and pain.

And the worst of it was that he wasn't alone.

**********

Jack O'Neill sat and stared out at the Garden.

It was dark and only the reflected lights of the metropolis lit the foliage. The Asgard didn't believe in garden lighting, and, for all he knew, didn't need it.

It didn't really matter, he wasn't looking at the plants.

He had tried sleeping to no avail. Each time he closed his eyes the dream would take over his mind. The dark, Daniel, and the screams.

His terrified yells had woken the others twice tonight already, and he was sick of their worried stares. When they got home, he could see himself being chained to MacKenzie for a month if he didn't get a handle on this. And soon.

It was Daniel that hurt the most. Seeing the confused look on the younger man's face each time Jack flinched at his proximity. This time it had been Sam who had been there when he woke screaming. Daniel now knew to stay away.

He coughed into the silent room.

Get a grip, Jack, this is not the time to start cracking up.

In truth, MacKenzie was the least of his worries, because, for the moment, they weren't going home anyway.

They were under quarantine.

Fekel had died that evening. Nothing the Asgard could do had been able to save him. Thor had been inconsolable.

How do you say goodbye to a soul you have known for a thousand years?

SG-1 was now quartered back at the Centre. They had been run through every test the Asgard could think of and it seemed they were unaffected.

They were quarantined anyway.

O'Neill understood and agreed. The Asgard were not only protecting themselves, but Earth as well. The Colonel knew what could happen if a disease was brought back through the stargate. He didn't need to imagine it, he could see it.

The Asgard were dropping like flies.

Fekel had been the first, but within hours of their return to Othalla, three other Asgard had collapsed. An hour later, five more. It got steadily worse from there.

The people themselves were in a state of shock. Technology had eradicated most health problems for the Asgard. Nothing like this had happened in centuries.

But they had rallied well. If O'Neill squinted in the dark, he could see the subtle sparkle of the quarantine force field in the distance. It encapsulated a large portion of the city - nothing came in and nothing got out. Except perhaps sunlight.

They were hunting for the cause. They were hunting for the source.

O'Neill and Thor had been prime targets as a possible source, particularly due to the mysterious circumstances of several days ago. However both Thor and himself checked out clean. Neither of them were showing any symptoms. No-one knew if humans would be susceptible, but then the Asgard scientists had yet to fully identify the problem.

The victims would suddenly collapse, no earlier indications of illness, no warning. The next two days of their lives would be spent fading in and out of lucidity, in a great deal of pain as the very tissues of their body broke down.

Then they died.

O'Neill didn't know the specifics, his eyes had glazed over as Fraiser and Carter slipped into scientist-speak, but he had seen the results.

Janet had brought pictures.

He didn't want to think of those Asgard, their small bodies covered in lesions, wracked with pain. He didn't want to listen to the keening in the hallways.

He needed to do something.

He needed to help.

But there was nothing he could do.

The first hint of dawn was forming in the west, its soft glow outlining the city's skyline. The spires were still magnificent even hidden in shadow, but they were no longer of innocent beauty.

They now resembled teeth.

Of the jaws of death.

**********

Janet Fraiser could feel the hairs on her head turning gray. Lack of sleep, worry, and an epidemic could do that to you. It was probably written down in a textbook somewhere.

She stumbled out of their sleeping room, suspecting she still had bed hair, but not caring. She had hardly slept. Ropa, her Asgard assistant, had finally demanded she go to bed the previous night after he had walked into her makeshift lab and found her sleeping face down in a petri dish. He had given her a rundown on her body's requirements that rivaled her at her worst. Though perhaps not when her victim was the Colonel - he required the big guns.

Speak of the devil.

He was sitting in a high-backed chair, turned toward the window, the morning sun glinting in the silver of his hair. He looked asleep. His head bent to one shoulder as his body slouched, hands in his lap, the soft rise of his chest as he took in breath his only movement. He should have looked peaceful, but instead he looked tired and worn.

She was worried about him. The Asgard specialists felt he was not recovering as fast as he should. The healing fluid seemed to be helping, but he still had a persistent cough and tended to tire easily. And he was avoiding her again.

Colonel O'Neill diagnosis 101.

Rule number one: Never believe him when he says he is fine. He could possibly be missing a limb.

Rule number two: Approach with caution. Has been known to bite...and gnaw...on occasion.

Rule number three: Restraints may be necessary. Malpractice insurance does not cover missing patients.

She smiled. Despite being one of the most difficult patients she had ever met, he was a friend. A good friend who spent far too much time in her infirmary.

From the injuries Tanor had described, Janet knew that if it wasn't for the Asgard, they would have lost him. And now he sat there, a little too green to look healthy, but alive. The Asgard had fixed him physically, now it was up to his friends to help him through the aftermath.

If he let them.

"So, Doc, you gonna stand there staring at me, or are you going to say something?"

She jumped. He hadn't moved, hadn't opened his eyes, but he was awake.

Damn his black ops training, anyway.

"Colonel, I didn't realise you were awake. How are you feeling?"

"I'm feeling fine, Doc." He opened his eyes, their darkness staring at her. "Where are the kids?"

She felt awkward under his gaze, like a child who had been caught stealing candy. She gestured briefly. "Sam's probably in the lab. Daniel and Teal'c went to get breakfast." Damnit, Fraiser pull yourself together. "Did you want something to eat?"

He looked away, his gaze wandering out the window. "No, I'm not hungry."

She steeled herself. "Colonel, you really should eat something, you are still recovering."

"I'm fine, the Asgard fixed me." He didn't look at her.

"Colonel, despite your repeated claim to health, I know for a fact that you are not eating, not sleeping, have had at least three coughing fits in the past two days, look exhausted, and have recurring nightmares. Is that your definition of health?" She challenged him with her eyes.

This time his eyes met hers and the pain in their depths spiked her heart. "Doctor, we are currently surrounded by people who are dying. I think the question of whether I have eaten breakfast or not is the least of our worries." He paused. "There are more important things."

Rule number four: Patient will put everyone else before himself. Use sedation if necessary.

"Colonel, you are not doing them or yourself any favours by denying your condition."

He sat up straight. "Janet, I'm fine. Now go back to having your breakfast, or fiddling in your lab, or whatever it was that you were doing, and leave me alone." He stalked out of the room.

She sighed, reminded of rule number five:

Wear protective clothing. It is likely you will be needed when the shit hits the fan.

**********

Ah, god, he'd done it again. Way to go, O'Neill, chew out the Doc why don't you.

She was only worried about him. He put a hand to his head. She was right. He was feeling lousy. But who wouldn't if they had to stand by helplessly and watch these people falling like leaves in an autumn wind?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on the door.

It had not taken long to impress on their hosts the need for privacy. The human cultural habit of knocking before entering was new to the Asgard, but after Thor managed to walk in on Carter in her underwear, Jack had pulled him aside for a little explanation.

They didn't have doorbells, so they knocked.

Jack opened the door and was surprised to find Frere standing in the corridor.

"Colonel O'Neill, we have made arrangements for you to contact your General Hammond in person. He has become very adamant that he speak with you."

O'Neill had been wondering how long it would take before the General cracked. The Asgard had been keeping Hammond informed on SG-1's activities, but since the epidemic had arisen, communications had become prioritized toward the emergency. He knew that sooner or later the General would want to speak to one of his people.

Time to interrupt breakfast.

**********

George Hammond was having one of those days. Nothing went quite right, nothing got finished, and he felt he was getting nowhere.

In the absence of his second-in-command, the paperwork was piling up. Granted, even when his second-in-command was hale, healthy, and present it still piled up, but at least it wasn't on his desk.

He had a crick in his neck, a cramp in his hand, and he had lost contact with his backside about an hour ago. Ah, the hell with it. It could all wait ten minutes while he got a coffee and walked some circulation back into his feet.

That was how he found himself in the control room speaking with Sergeant Davis when Jack came up behind him and scared what little hair he had left off his head.

"Howdy, General."

Coffee and computers don't mix. There were even a few sparks as the dialing computer's keyboard died.

"Damn it, Jack." Hammond flicked the hot coffee off his fingers, fumbling with his cup as Davis handed him a paper towel. He turned around expecting to see the holographic projection of the Colonel, but nearly spilt the coffee again when he caught sight of him.

"My god, Jack, are you okay?"

His second-in-command suddenly looked defensive. "I'm fine, sir." But then his eyes widened with realisation. "Oh, you mean the green?" He grinned. "Don't worry, General. Just the latest Asgard fashion craze. All the rage."

Hammond frowned. Jack capitulated.

"No worries, sir. The Asgard fixed me up. They just thought this green stuff would help."

"Well, I'm glad to see you again, Jack. Yet again we thought we had lost you."

"Thor and his friends saved the day again, sir." Jack swallowed, and all the joviality left his face.

"Jack, what's wrong?"

"We have a situation here." His eyes looked hollow.

"Is everyone okay?" Hammond felt like he was pulling teeth.

"Doc and SG-1 are fine, sir. It's the Asgard themselves who are in trouble. We have an epidemic on our hands." He studied his feet. "They're dying, sir."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" The words were out of his mouth without thought.

"I'm afraid not." Jack cleared his throat. "Doc's set up a makeshift lab and has scrounged what equipment she can. I think she is hoping our approach might be useful. Carter's helping her." He coughed. "We are all under quarantine, so we won't be coming home soon."

Jack was distracted by someone Hammond could not see. "I was getting to it, Daniel, keep your pants on." He turned back to face the General. "Daniel would like someone to feed his fish." O'Neill rolled his eyes.

Hammond almost smiled. "Tell him, I will, Jack." He sobered as the Colonel ran his hands through his hair and across his face. He looked tired, and it was understandable, but there seemed to be something more. "Jack, are you sure you're okay?"

O'Neill looked up at the General. "Huh?"

Now something was seriously wrong. Alarm bells started ringing.

"Jack?"

The Colonel looked at him and his eyes glazed over. "General?"

As if its strings had been cut, the hologram of Colonel Jack O'Neill collapsed to the floor and disappeared.

**********

Note on title: from the following piece of poetry.

'That that lives shall never die. Though death is apparent, however, They will dwell in thought and memory In other's hearts forever.' Gumnut Logic, 1986

**********

Jack the Ripper Part 5 of 'The Asgard Sequence' Sequel to 'That that Lives'. By Gumnut Sep 2003

There was humming, the sound of bees swarming.

There were voices, muffled in the dark.

But most of all there was quiet.

He lay there for a long time, hearing nothing, seeing nothing. Calm.

But all things come to an end and soon a nagging presence intruded in on his sanctuary. A hint of wrongness in the right.

And from the darkness came a voice.

"Have you met death?"

He flung his eyes open and gasped in a breath, his lungs heaving.

Light, he was surrounded by light. He twisted his head around, eyes tracking for familiarity as they focused. Where the hell was he? Sarcophagus? He tried to raise his arms but they were pinned to his sides. He could not move anything but his head.

Restrained. Captured?

He yelled into the light.

"Colonel?" Whispered mutterings. "Oh, god, get him out of there. Now."

**********

The moment Janet heard him yell, she knew she had made a mistake. If there was one thing the Colonel did not handle very well, it was being restrained. The man's history and his natural need to be in control tended to produce a resulting panic should his movement be restricted for any extended length of time. Combine that with an enclosed space...

"Colonel?" She moved to check the monitor. He was thrashing his head about. "Oh, god, get him out of there. Now."

Ropa fiddled with the control board and the scanning equipment shut down. The panels covering the Colonel fanned out, retracted, and the restraining field snapped off.

The moment he could move, the Colonel flung himself off the table, stumbled, almost fell, catching himself at the last moment. Janet watched as his eyes focused, scanning the room. There was a fearful predatory sense emanating from him, and, for all his obvious weakness, she knew he was fully capable of defending himself.

The Asgard specialists in the viewing room with her stared, shocked that he would be able to stay on his feet in his condition.

"Ropa, call Teal'c. Everybody else, stay here." She made her way into the scanning room. "Colonel?"

His head spun in her direction. "Doc?" The hands clinging to the bed were white knuckled, taking his weight as he struggled to stay upright.

"Yes, Sir. You are in the Othallan Medical Centre. Do you remember what happened?" She edged closer.

His eyes darted in thought, before fixing on her again. "The Asgard got sick." Anxiety flickered across his face. "They were dying." He brought a hand to his head, and he swayed, only to grab the table again for support. He looked at her desperately. "Thor? Where is Thor?"

"Thor's fine, sir. He was here earlier." She gestured to the bed. "Please sit down." Before you fall down, she thought to herself.

He ignored her. "The General was here."

"You were speaking to General Hammond when you fell ill."

"I'm sick?"

She felt the hitch at the back of her throat. If only it was only that. She blinked rapidly. She hadn't come to terms with it herself. She wasn't ready to tell him yet, and he wasn't ready to hear it.

As if he ever would be.

"Yes, sir, you're sick. Please sit down." He was trembling now.

His concentration was interrupted by Teal'c entering the room. From some inner reservoir Jack managed a smile. "Hey, T."

Teal'c came up beside her and bowed his head. "O'Neill."

Janet itched to go to the Colonel and now Teal'c was here to help her, she did not hesitate.

She was a fraction of a second too late.

O'Neill's legs folded and he hit his head on the table on the way down. They were just in time to prevent it from hitting the floor.

"What happened, Doctor Fraiser?" Teal'c gently supported the unconscious man's shoulders.

"I screwed up." She mentally berated herself. Damnit, she should have sedated him. "He woke while we were in the middle of a deep scan." She ran her hand across the side of O'Neill's head, searching for any wound. The isolation field surrounding him tingled on her fingertips, but she only found a lump. "We had him in a restraining field and he panicked when he woke." Double checking him for any further injury, she found none, and gestured for Teal'c to lift him on to the table.

"Have you made any progress?" Teal'c turned to her, his dark eyes calm, but concerned.

She glanced at the Colonel. Now no longer dressed in his familiar uniform, but in the plain medical whites supplied by the Asgard, he looked vulnerable and alone. "Teal'c we have been able to stabilise him, but I don't know for how long." She sighed, rubbing a hand through her hair. "Damnit, why is it always him?"

She felt Teal'c's warm hand on her shoulder. "Colonel O'Neill has shown resilience in the past. He will not give up without a fight."

"I know Teal'c. I just wish he didn't have to fight at all."

**********

The next time he woke, his mind was clearer. He found himself back in the same room he had originally found himself upon awakening on Othalla. The room was just as dim as before, but this time there was no question that he wasn't alone.

Daniel's snores were obviously what had awoken him.

His friend sat on a chair beside the bed, slouched sideways, head flung back, singing to the ceiling. He was making enough noise to wake the dead.

He brought a hand to his face and was surprised when it buzzed and tingled on contact. What?

Holding his hands up, he noticed that they were still green - if anything, greener - but there was also something else different about them. They sparkled. With each movement, shiny, glittering points of light skipped across his skin.

What the hell is that?

"How are you feeling, O'Neill?"

He jumped, only then noticing Teal'c sitting on the floor at the end of the bed in the dark.

"Teal'c? Whatcha doin' on the floor?"

"I am meditating. We have been waiting for you to awaken."

"Well, I see it's my turn to wait." He grinned, shoving a thumb in Daniel's direction.

"Daniel Jackson has had little sleep since your collapse. His current state was inevitable." Teal'c's wiry smile had Jack grinning even more. Teal'c repeated his question. "How are you feeling?"

He turned his attention inward. "A little tired and achy." He felt a crackle and pop as he ran his hand through his hair. "What happened?"

"Do you not remember?"

"Bits and pieces. I was talking to Hammond. Talking to Doc." He frowned. "You were there. The details are fuzzy."

"While you were communicating with General Hammond you collapsed. Daniel Jackson raised the alarm. Doctor Fraiser has been attempting to locate the source of the problem."

"Well, I feel pretty good now. Am I fixed?"

"No, I'm afraid not, Colonel." Her voice was almost a whisper, as Janet, accompanied by Carter, walked into the room. As the lights increased in brightness, he realised that her eyes were red and swollen as if she had been crying. Carter didn't look much better.

Teal'c stood up and roused Daniel, who sat up straightening his glasses. "Uh, Jack, you're awake."

"Wakey wakey, Daniel."

The room fell silent.

Oh, damn, this couldn't be good.

"Hi, Doc. Hey, Carter. How's it going?" Forced cheerfulness.

Janet stared at him like she had just lost a member of her family. Sam avoided his gaze altogether.

Okay, approach the subject head on. "What's wrong?"

Janet took in a breath. "Colonel, we have found a fault in your DNA. A seemingly random chain of nucleotides has been added to one of your chromosomes."

When she didn't continue, O'Neill said, "And that means what?"

Carter spoke up. "As far as we can determine these nucleotides form a template for the creation of a pathogen."

Pathogen. He felt his heart sink to his feet. Oh, god, no.

"Carter, are you trying to tell me I'm the source of the disease that is killing these people?" Please say no, please say no.

"Colonel, your body has been genetically altered to generate a type of virus. This virus is specific to Asgard biology. You do not carry the disease, sir, your body is creating it."

The words spun in his head. Oh, god, no. His voice was rough, and he didn't look at them as he asked, "How is the disease transmitted?"

Janet cleared her throat. "It's airborne." Then quickly continued. "But now we have located the cause, the Asgard are positive they are close to a cure. A vaccine is in production now. With the genetic code and molecular footprint now known, the Asgard can program their force fields to destroy it. Nobody else will be exposed."

He could feel his heart breaking, cracks forming right down the centre. Eyes closed, he whispered, "How many?"

They didn't answer. He looked up at the two scientists. The sorrow on their faces carved chunks out of his soul. "How many?!" He demanded.

Janet's voice was barely a whisper. "Several thousand. They are still finalizing the statistics." She looked at her feet.

Several thousand more souls who had their cause of death listed as Jack O'Neill. His mind was frozen in shock. Several thousand. All because they had tried to save his life. How much did the universe think he was worth? How many more deaths could his life take?

"Oh, god." It came out as a whimper.

"Jack, it's not your fault." Daniel placed a hand on his arm. "This was done to you, not by you."

He didn't answer. It was all too much. His mind spun until it locked on to one thought.

"Cassie." He looked up at all of them. "I'm Cassie."

It was Carter who answered him. "That's pretty much our conclusion, sir. You were captured, genetically altered, and placed in a situation where Thor would need to return you here, or another Asgard world, to save your life."

The pain in their eyes spoke of things yet unsaid.

"There's more, isn't there."

Janet's turn again. "Sir, the added gene has compromised your body's ability to repair itself on the cellular level. Cells are not undergoing successful mitosis, and those that die, or are damaged, are not being replaced." She paused, reinforcing her composure. "The Asgard specialists have managed to slow the degradation for the moment, and you are stabilised, but unless we can reverse the genetic tampering..."

"I'll die." He finished for her.

Her voice was quiet, almost defeated. "Yes, sir."

The silence in the room was deafening. He could feel his friends' grief emanating from them in waves. It was too much for him to handle at once. He needed to get away.

They must have seen it in his eyes, because Daniel suddenly increased the pressure on his arm. "Jack?"

He quietly answered. "I'd like to be alone for awhile."

Daniel studied his feet for a moment. "Okay. We'll be just outside." He stood up and with Sam and Janet walked towards the door.

Teal'c followed, but paused at the end of the bed. "We will find out who did this, O'Neill. Their lives will be short and painful."

Jack did not answer. Teal'c bowed his head before leaving.

He had no doubt Teal'c would stand beside him in vengeance. But would it be enough to satisfy the souls of several thousand people? Could his soul repent for that many lives?

**********

Thor was beginning to think O'Neill was right. He should beam all politicians into some black hole somewhere.

He had spent half the day trying to convince the Council that this disease was not an act of aggression against the Asgard by the people of Earth. Most of the Council understood clearly that a third party, most likely Anubis, was responsible, but one particularly dense councillor was not to be swayed.

He swore the man had only gotten on to the Council through some serious backhanded maneuvering. He certainly did not have the brainpower to get there by himself.

The idiot had managed to keep the Council riled up for hours. May the seven stars of Karnass give him starna warts.

O'Neill would be awake by now and he needed to give the man his assurance that he was not blamed by himself or the Asgard people.

He flicked a control and beamed himself into the corridor outside O'Neill's room.

The corridor was full of SG-1.

They all looked pale, even by Asgard standards. Even Teal'c looked a little grey. The noise coming from the room behind them the obvious cause. He could hear the sound of breaking furniture, punctuated by curses. He wondered why none of them had gone in to check on O'Neill.

"Major Carter, what is Colonel O'Neill doing?"

There was an extra loud thud as something hit the other side of the door. The four humans flinched.

"Uh, Thor, he is a little upset right now. He asked us to leave him alone for awhile."

"You have told him." The devastation on their faces was a clear answer. "I must reassure him that we, as a people, do not hold him accountable."

"I'm not sure you should go in there right now." The cursing suddenly stopped, and there was silence.

"I assure you that I am fully capable of defending myself if need be. However, I do not think O'Neill would seek to harm me."

"He wouldn't, Thor." This from Daniel Jackson. "I think he considers you a friend as much as any of us."

Thor bowed his head at the archeologist. "And I him." He gestured down the hallway. "Please, take your leave for a moment. I would like to speak to O'Neill alone."

They seemed reluctant, and cast thoughtful eyes towards the door, but, with a word from Major Carter, they headed off down the corridor towards the lab.

Thor straightened his shoulders, and walked through the door.

He almost tripped on a broken piece of chair. The chair had been the only piece of furniture in the room apart from the bed, and it looked as if it had born the brunt of the human's anger. It lay in pieces all over the floor.

Thor did not see O'Neill at first, his form hidden by the bed, but he soon found the human on the floor at the far side of the room, knees drawn up, his head in his hands. He did not look up as Thor approached.

"O'Neill."

His head shot up, alarm on his face. "Thor, you shouldn't be here."

He hurried to ease his concern. "I do not have the sickness, O'Neill. It seems that I am immune."

The anguish in his small dark eyes did not abate. "I'm so sorry." The whispered words tumbled out.

"You could not have known. We do not hold you responsible."

O'Neill focused into the distance, the pain lining his face. "All those people."

Thor looked at him, before reaching down and taking his hand. He moved it to his own throat. "You once told me, Jack, that while there is life, there is hope. Feel the life in my body. I live. And so do millions of other Asgard - all because of you." He paused, watching O'Neill's eyes meet his. "What has happened is a tragedy, and we mourn. But those we have lost will be remembered with honour. Do not blame yourself for what could not be avoided."

Thor felt O'Neill's warm fingers on the skin of his throat, the isolation field prickling, his own pulse reflected in the human's eyes. A spark ignited.

O'Neill's voice was rough. "I want to find who was responsible. Will you help me?"

"I have already begun making arrangements. The Asgard do not take an attack on their people lightly." Their eyes met. "We will find them, O'Neill. I promise."

Some of the tension left the human's body. Taking his hand back, O'Neill stood, and, looking down at Thor, said, "Then I better get ready." He turned towards the door.

A young Asgard stood in the doorway, a weapon pointed at O'Neill.

"Colonel O'Neill," His voice was startling in the sudden silence, assuring himself of their attention. "For your crimes against the Asgard people."

The weapon fired.

**********

Chess and Checkers Part 6 of The Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Jack the Ripper' By Gumnut Sep 2003

It was his reflexes that saved him.

Well, almost.

As he flung himself and Thor to the floor, the weapon discharge clipped him across his back. There was a sizzle, pop, and crack as his isolation field overloaded and burnt out. It wasn't designed to be shot at.

They should have thought about that when they put it on the perpetual target, he thought sarcastically as he hit the floor.

Immediately alarms started blaring and a force field snapped into place across the doorway, trapping their assailant inside with them.

Thor untangled himself from O'Neill and they quickly scuttled behind the bed for cover.

They could hear the young Asgard walking confidently around the room.

"You can not escape, O'Neill. I will have my vengeance."

Oh, please, he thought, think of something original, for god's sake.

He glanced at Thor. The small alien was flushing a faint shade of purple, he could almost see the steam coming out of the sides of his head. Thor was furious.

"You are a fool, youngling."

"Oh, the great Commander Thor speaks does he? What does he say about the results of his bringing this vermin to our home?"

"We have suffered, youngling, but O'Neill has suffered also. It was a crime against both our people."

"I don't see any humans writhing in pain. I see none dead in the streets." O'Neill could hear footsteps on the other side of the bed. "How can he know of our suffering?"

Thor moved to the edge of their cover, his body tensed for movement.

"You see little at all, youngling." Thor pounced. The weapon went flying, and before O'Neill could blink, Thor had the assailant immobilized, face down on the floor. He whispered in the young Asgard's ear. "You know even less."

"He should die." The captive almost wailed.

Thor was unsympathetic. "He will not if I can prevent it, but unfortunately, you will. All your own foolish fault." He indicated O'Neill. "You have exposed yourself to the disease by disabling O'Neill's isolation field. You will know our suffering first hand."

"No!" A frantic look at O'Neill, fear in his eyes. O'Neill looked away, but the Asgard's face seared itself into his memory.

It wasn't until O'Neill tried to stand up that he realised he was injured.

Owwww!

He reached around to touch his back. The hand came back smeared with green fluid. Well, that's a little unusual.

He sat back heavily, leaning his shoulder against the bed.

"Uh, Thor."

Thor glanced up at him. Jack held up his hand.

The prisoner gave a yelp as Thor's hold suddenly got tighter.

"Help is on the way, O'Neill."

He certainly hoped so. Damn it hurt.

There was a clattering of footsteps in the corridor and Janet, SG-1 and a group of Asgard security stood on the other side of the force field. The look on Janet's face was enough to bend metal.

Oh, man, he was so gonna get it.

**********

Sam Carter was exhausted.

She sat in the corner of the cabin they had been assigned aboard the 'O'Neill', nursing a cup of the coffee substitute she had been forced to concoct before the caffeine-free Daniel went into meltdown.

It didn't look like coffee, it didn't taste like coffee, but it had the correct caffeine levels to fuel her favourite archeologist.

Across the room Colonel O'Neill was wriggling in his seat, trying to get comfortable. He still looked drawn and tired. She knew that he was in some pain, but he refused to acknowledge any, except perhaps when he thought no-one was looking.

Her heart had skipped a beat when he had held up his green smeared hand on the other side of that force field. Once they had been able to isolate both the Colonel and his assailant, preventing contamination of the rest of the building, she had followed Janet into the room, hurrying over to her CO. He had been conscious and cursing in several different languages, none of which she had known he knew. A quick glance at Daniel had proved that whatever he was saying, it wasn't pretty.

Fortunately he was not hurt badly, but he did have a nasty burn across the left side of his back. Also, a small burn on his chest where the isolation field generator had been attached to his skin.

Unfortunately, in his current condition, the burns were not going to heal.

Several hours of microsurgery later, the Asgard specialists had patched him up somewhat. He was no longer bleeding and the wounds had been sealed, but it was still a worry for Janet. And despite the medication the Doctor had forced on the Colonel, he was still in some pain.

Her thought was illustrated before her eyes as the Colonel flinched in his seat.

While the Colonel had been quiet and compliant coming out of that room - which was a worry in itself - Thor on the other hand, had been like a tornado blowing through a farmhouse.

The Asgard had been livid.

She had seen a side of the normally polite and calm alien that had his fellow Asgard flinching in his mere presence. This was Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet. You did not want to mess with this guy.

Frantic investigation had proved that the assailant had worked alone. He had recently lost three members of his family group and it had been grief that drove him to do it. She understood fully, but had great trouble feeling sympathy as she watched her CO flinch yet again.

After everything he had been through, they could have lost him so easily.

They still might.

She stared down into her coffee-wannabe. She still couldn't face it. The thought of losing Jack O'Neill touched her on many levels. As her CO, as her friend, and...maybe more. It seemed hopeless. The Asgard had done all they could. The man was green, for god's sake. The only thin thread of hope was finding the persons responsible, praying they would be able to reverse it.

And if they couldn't, they were going to pay.

She had seen it in Teal'c's eyes. She had seen it in Janet's eyes. She had even seen it in Daniel's eyes. Too much had been done to this man. SG-1 was family, you mess with one, you mess with them all.

Thor had called a strategy meeting. Himself, Frere, three Asgard captains, Janet, and SG-1. The Colonel had just recently come out of surgery at that point, and Janet had him tied to some sort of hover chair.

The chain of complaints had been memorable until Daniel had threatened to push him off a balcony to see how high up the hover pads worked. Jack had shut up rather abruptly at that point.

She smiled to herself. The man was incorrigible. Several hours later, Daniel's favourite notebook had gone missing.

It had reappeared the following morning complete with stick figure aliens and odd looking UFOs scribbled over several pages. 'Beam me up, Danny!' was scrawled at the bottom of the masterpiece. Daniel had looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Jack was no artist.

But Daniel had kept the pictures.

At the meeting they had gone over all the data that had been recovered by Frere in relation to both Thor's and O'Neill's original capture. Further information had been discovered by the medical staff. After it had been discovered that O'Neill was the source, the fact that Thor had not contracted the disease, yet had been exposed to O'Neill the longest, sparked their suspicions. Those suspicions were confirmed when a tiny, previously undetectable antibody was found in the Commander's blood. An artificial immunity to provide transport for O'Neill's time bomb to the Asgard world.

Unfortunately, the antibody was designed as a short term preventative. Slowly but surely Thor's immunity would wane. Fortunately, the Asgard had by this time a permanent vaccine under production. All the crew of the three ships assigned to this task were immunized.

It had been decided to send the small fleet of three ships back to the moon where the Colonel and Thor had been imprisoned in the hope of locating further information on their captors. Sam had offered her scientific expertise, thinking perhaps a different approach may shine some new light on the situation. She and Daniel had been swapping ideas ever since.

Daniel was uniquely qualified for this venture, a detective of the past, and had some perspectives and approaches that she had not considered. Teal'c had even thrown in some ideas. The Colonel had remained strangely quiet.

She glanced at him again. He had a piece of filmy printout and was folding it with some concentration. As she watched it became a paper plane. Not a simple child's paper plane, no, this was a plane of origamic proportions. The thing had tail planes, for goodness sake. Funny, she had never thought him to be one for origami.

Then he launched it.

It glided effortlessly up into the air, executed two perfect Immelmann rolls before returning precisely to his hand.

He caught her stare, and a devilish grin spread across his face.

On second thoughts, that is so Jack O'Neill. The thought of him in some flight school classroom with an armoury of notepaper. She quickly took a mouthful of coffee-wannabe to hide her smile.

A paper plane hit her squarely on the top of her head.

Her coffee-wannabe ended up on her shirt.

"Hey, Carter, whatcha doin'?"

She coughed, she spluttered, but one look at him, innocent look firmly in place, she couldn't even generate annoyance.

"Looking for a clean shirt, sir."

He grinned. "Oops, sorry."

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am."

"Not."

"Am."

"Not."

"Am."

"Not."

"You're starting to sound like Daniel." He picked up another piece of paper. She must remember to ask Thor where to get some of that, so she could build her own origami air force. She might need it for defense.

"How are you feeling, Colonel?"

"Now you're sounding like Janet." He grumbled.

"You know me, sir, multitalented."

"Hmph."

"So..."

"So, what?"

"How are you feeling?"

"Argh. I've got a map of Colorado burnt into my back, how do you think I feel?"

"Sorry, sir."

"No, Carter, it's fine. I'm just bored. I hate having nothing to do." He was pouting.

"Thor said we would be there soon." They were jumping galaxies after all.

She suddenly had a picture in her mind of a young Jack O'Neill, in the back of his parent's car, whining 'Are we there yet?' all the way to some long distant destination. Bart Simpson, the original. She smirked.

"Something funny, Carter?" He had a new plane fully armed and ready. A cocked eyebrow indicating he was primed to launch.

"Uh, no, sir. Nice plane."

He looked at the piece of paperwork in his hand. "Haven't made one of these for years. Used to be great fun in flight school."

She knew it.

They were interrupted by Ropa's voice over the intercom. "Major Carter, Doctor Fraiser would like to see you in her laboratory."

She spoke to the ceiling. "Thanks, Ropa. Please tell her I will be there shortly." She looked back at the Colonel. "I have to go, will you be all right here by yourself?"

"Carter, I'm fine. I'm not going anywhere. Thor has so much security pinned on me, I doubt Anubis himself could get through." He rolled his eyes.

"Let's hope so, sir." Then as the door opened, she saw him eye the Asgard security forces outside the door and a crafty smile lit his face. He picked up another piece of paper.

Oh, dear.

As she left she shot him one more glance and said, "Behave yourself, sir."

He just grinned.

As she walked off she could not help laughing to herself. She almost felt sorry for the security team.

Halfway down the next corridor, she was shot from behind.

*********

Yep, Asgard security types were just like human security types. You could pinch them on the nose, stick flowers in their hair - or in the case of the Asgard, in their ears - and stamp on their toes, and they still would not react to your presence.

His entire air force bombing brigade lay at their feet and they had not even looked at him.

Distraction, he needed distraction.

He didn't have anything to do. Even if it was only a short trip between galaxies, he didn't want the time to think.

About things.

That and the continual ache that his body had become.

Paper planes...maybe he should graduate to frisbees.

He eyed the plastic crockery left over from lunch. Hmm.

Standing up carefully, he was making his way to the table when the ship suddenly lurched, the floor disappearing beneath his feet.

He stumbled.

And all the lights went out.

**********

Heart of Flame Part 7 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Chess and Checkers' By Gumnut Sep 2003

They came out of hyper-speed into a wall of vaporised rock and flame.

In that microsecond between hyperspace and normal space when any Asgard ship is briefly vulnerable, it struck.

Chunks of jagged rock impacted the immaculate hull of the 'O'Neill', carving canyons of crumpled alloy. One fragment completely severed an arched wingtip, deflecting the helpless ship into a spin. It tumbled over and over, pitted by rubble and seared by heat, until it came to rest, drifting slowly, battered and broken.

**********

First there came silence.

Then came the moans of injured people, punctuated by the creaks and groans of tortured metal. Erratically, the occasional boom would shudder through the ship as it impacted with a stray projectile. Sparks of disrupted power conduits and the hiss of escaping atmosphere echoed down the hallways.

On the bridge, Thor staggered up from where he had been thrown, a streak of dull violet smeared across the side of his face, the captain lying dead at his feet.

The viewscreen spat and frosted interference, but remained determined to perform its function, and, through the static, Thor could see the gas giant that had been their destination.

But the moon was gone.

**********

Once the shaking of the ship had reduced itself to the occasional shudder, Jack O'Neill unwound himself from the tight knot he had curled himself into. Hanging on for dear life, cramped under the table, which, thank god, was bolted to the floor, had saved him, as his world had suddenly redefined its definition of up and down.

Jack stretched out his limbs, the simple pains of bumps and bruises compounding his already aching body. The iso-field crackled against his skin, annoying him with its existence, a continual reminder of things he would rather forget. Gritting his teeth he sat up and surveyed his surroundings.

Broken bits of loose furniture could be seen in the reflections of the faint emergency lighting. The lights flickered like an erratic heartbeat in time to the shudders of the bulkheads.

In the darkness he could see little, but fumbling around he found his field pack, not too far from where he left it, wedged under a broken chair. Digging in, he pulled out a flashlight.

Time to put some light on the subject.

The flare of brilliance blinded him briefly, as he managed to turn on the flashlight while staring at the bulb.

One day he would learn not to do that.

He found his radio, and it seemed intact. Locate the team.

"Carter?" No answer.

"Daniel?" No answer.

"Teal'c?"

"O'Neill?"

"Teal'c, where are you? What's your situation?"

"I am well, O'Neill. However, Daniel Jackson in unconscious and in need of medical aid. We are currently in Major Carter's laboratory."

"Have you heard from Carter or Fraiser?"

"Doctor Fraiser, was in the laboratory next door. I have not seen Major Carter since this morning. I had thought she was with you." He could almost hear the arching eyebrow in his words.

"She left just before all hell broke loose. Teal'c stay there and try to locate Fraiser. I'll try to find Carter. We will meet you there back at Carter's lab asap."

"Agreed."

"O'Neill out."

He grabbed his pack and shouldered it, wincing as he settled it over his back. Considering briefly, he then grabbed Carter's pack as well.

Struggling with the door, but finally locating a manual override, O'Neill left the cabin. The first sight in the corridor echoed the sound of the dying ship around him.

Lying in a pile of mangled paper planes were the two security guards, both obviously dead. Having had nothing to cling to out here in the hallway, they had been flung around like leaves in the wind.

O'Neill turned his back to them and started off down the corridor.

The Asgard were so small. Like children. They sparked his instinct for protection. He had the urge to keep them safe. And the sight of their frail looking bodies mangled and broken... His heart lurched, and he swallowed, forcing himself to file the images away, and deny their existence.

The corridor sloped downwards in places, and upwards in others. Whatever the Asgard used for artificial gravity was obviously damaged, so O'Neill hurried, praying it would hold out. He combed the corridors with his eyes, hoping to find Carter, preferably in one piece, but apart from two other dead Asgard crewmembers, he found no-one.

Teal'c briefly radioed in at one point to inform him that he had found Doc Fraiser and she was attending to Daniel.

He only had to find Carter.

He came around a bend and almost ran head first into a dead end. The corridor bulkhead had collapsed and there was a suspicious hissing sound, probably atmosphere venting into space.

Turning around and intending to try another route, he was halted by a soft moan. He stopped, listening.

Another moan.

There was someone under all that twisted metal.

He made his way to the collapse, stepping over fallen light fittings and mangled bulkhead, a part of him hoping it wasn't Carter, the other hoping he'd found her. It didn't take long to find the source.

It wasn't Carter.

The crewmember lay on his back pinned just above his waist under some of that same mangled bulkhead, a pool of purple blood slowly spreading beneath him. He was conscious, and, as his eyes focused on O'Neill, his expression became one of amazement.

"C...Colonel O'Neill?"

O'Neill crouched down beside the man, trying to locate a way to get him out. "Yeah, that's me." He reached under the crumpled heap, attempting to gain leverage, no luck. "What's your name?"

"Linper, sir." The small alien coughed. A trickled of purple made its way down the side of his face.

"Well, lets see if we can get you out of here." He began shifting broken metal. The Asgard nodded, but his eyes wandered.

"Commander Thor said you saved our lives." The words were almost whispered.

O'Neill didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't say anything, continuing to heave pieces of ship over his shoulder.

"Thor said we should honour O'Neill." He coughed again. "I would so like to meet the Colonel." The voice faded out briefly before saying, "Just once."

The sudden silence was deafening.

O'Neill knew, before he turned back to Linper, what he would find. That absence, that emptiness, where life once was.

O'Neill couldn't even close his eyes for him.

He closed his own. Turning, grabbing his pack, he left, making his way down the corridor, leaving his thoughts behind him.

**********

Thor slammed his fists down in frustration.

Little or nothing remained working. The pride of the Asgard fleet had become nothing more than a drifting hulk. Whole sections of the ship had lost atmosphere as the mechanisms designed to prevent such an occurrence had been destroyed along with the hull they were attached to. All attempts at communicating with the other two ships had failed.

Shields were gone, weaponry basically non-existent, sensors patchy. All chances of reaching hyper-speed had evaporated once the hull had been compromised, even though the hyperdrive engines seemed to be functional. Sublight engines were not responding.

He had had to send crewmembers running through the ship to assess damage and report back, as the internal communications system was also inoperative. What they had brought back was not encouraging. Engineering was inaccessible due to a coolant leak. One transporter module remained working and that was the only good news. What remained of Medical had priority access to that.

He stared at the flickering viewscreen again. Thor was highly suspicious that a previously stable moon, would choose to explode precisely at the moment they exited hyperspace. He was awaiting the appearance of the aggressors. They had to be out there. In the meantime, he was desperately attempting to contrive some means of defence.

"Ach! Dimwo woo dah!"

The first officer jumped out from under the main control board spitting expletives in multiple variations of Othallan Asgard, as sparks flew in all directions.

So much for weapons control.

He sighed, turning to internal sensors, attempting to assess the crew capability of the ship. Those sensors at least were working, partly. They had lost many people. Thor felt his heart sink as the statistics of the number of living persons aboard flashed past. Only several hundred out of over a thousand. He shut his eyes, willing the numbers from his mind. Tomorrow is a day to mourn, today we fight for the living.

His eyes returned to the panel, flickering briefly as he came across four human life signs. Where was the fifth? Who was missing?

A sudden need to know prompted him to activate their one transporter.

A swash of bright light and four humans appeared on the bridge.

O'Neill had been walking and kept doing so for a second before he realised where he was. Daniel Jackson was unconscious on the floor, Teal'c and Doctor Fraiser standing over him.

O'Neill caught sight of him and moved in his direction. "Thor, what the hell happened?" The human had purple smears on his uniform. Thor closed his eyes briefly yet again, steeling himself, before opening them to find O'Neill studying his face. "Thor, you okay?"

"I am well, O'Neill" He touched a hand to his head. "The cut is superficial. Unfortunately, I can not say the same for the 'O'Neill'." He indicated the console. "It seems that by some agency, most likely external, the moon we had come to investigate exploded the moment we exited hyperspace. This ship is severely damaged. We are unable to defend ourselves, or call for assistance."

"Exploded? The entire moon?" At his subtle nod, he could see O'Neill's mind flicking through possibilities. "Is there anything we can do? Beam Carter up here, she may have some ideas."

"I could not locate Major Carter."

The look on O'Neill's face abruptly reminded Thor that despite his appearance, this was a seriously ill man. He immediately regretted his abruptness.

"The internal sensors are only partially working, there is a chance that the Major is in a section of the ship we are currently unable to scan."

O'Neill moved up to the console. "Thor, she was on her way to Doctor Fraiser's lab. She has to be somewhere between our cabin and the lab."

As far as Thor could tell, the sensors in that area were largely undamaged, but not wanting to give up hope, he scanned the entire ship again.

Nothing.

"I am sorry, O'Neill, I can not locate the Major."

**********

Jack looked at the apologetic alien, not wanting to believe what he might be telling him. Turning to his team, he made a decision.

"Doctor, look after Daniel and assist the Asgard medical teams anyway you can. Teal'c, please offer your assistance to the damage repair teams. Keep in radio contact. I'll go find Carter."

He was about to ask Thor to beam him to her last location when there was a gasp from Fraiser.

Turning he caught a glimpse of the viewscreen.

Oh, damn. Wasn't one challenge enough? Did fate always have to throw him the curve ball?

As he stood and stared at the Goa'uld mother ship fast approaching their crippled vessel, he suddenly felt every single injury he had received in the last week or so come crashing down on him. He felt he didn't have the strength to rally himself for yet one more battle for survival. It had become too much. All these people dying, and now the fates wanted more.

He let one word slip, and it came out in a tortured whisper. "No."

No. No more. He was looking at the persons most likely responsible for all his pain and all the suffering of the Asgard. They were coming and the 'O'Neill didn't have enough life left in her to defend herself.

It had all been a trap. An elaborate trap. And they were caught like a bug in a spiderweb.

He looked at Thor and saw the answer in his eyes. They could not let the Goa'uld have access to this ship's technology.

He would not.

God, he hoped Carter was in a better place.

O'Neill held Thor's gaze as he let himself relax into a formal parade stance. "Commander, do we have any means of defense or maneuverability at all?"

Thor matched his stance. "Colonel, our defense systems are inoperable or damaged beyond repair, and our capability of maneuvering non-existent."

"Then, Commander, I formally recommend we blow the 'O'Neill' to hell and take those bastards with us."

Thor matched his gaze, and, for a moment the tableau froze pending his decision.

When it came, it was final.

"I concur."

Decision made, O'Neill relaxed. It wasn't a bad way to go, defending your beliefs and your allies. A brief glance at the still unconscious Daniel and his heart missed a beat. Sorry, Danny, we are not going to get out of this one.

The look on Janet's face made him proud. A scared, but steely, determination set her features. He sent her a slight smile.

Teal'c caught his eye and bowed respectfully. Always the warrior was Teal'c, and if he had to give his life, as long as he took a Goa'uld or two with him, he would be content.

Thor was fiddling with the console while conversing with a crewmember in Asgard. He finalised something and, turning to both SG-1 and his own crew, he made an announcement.

"Many have died today, but all have died with honour, and I have no doubt that all shall be remembered for their sacrifice." Thor caught his eyes and held them. "Let not us or our enemies ever forget the name O'Neill."

As the Goa'uld ship moved closer, one small grey finger pressed a button.

The world dissolved into light.

**********

Dark Places Part 8 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Heart of Flame' By Gumnut Sep 2003

...The world reintegrated into a set of plain grey walls.

O'Neill spun, taking in his surroundings. Thor was beside him, Janet nearby, looking shocked, Teal'c looking surprised. Daniel still unconscious. They were in a cell, one wall buzzing with a force field.

A lone Asgard stood on the other side. He was smiling.

Asgard to the rescue?

Frere chuckled. "So you really did it, Thor? Made the ultimate sacrifice for your people. I had often wondered what the life of the great Supreme Commander Thor was worth. I guess I now know."

Thor looked thunderstruck. Speechless.

Frere just smirked. "What? You thought that the pathetic Goa'uld could do this all by themselves?" He laughed, and, turning, left the room.

**********

They were back in that cell where this had all begun. Back where Thor had originally woken alone. Back where O'Neill had died beneath his finger tips.

They had not been on that moon after all.

It had all been a lie.

Thor struggled to reconcile the man who had taunted him with the man he had called friend all these millennia. Frere had always been a little difficult, a little quick to anger, a little distasteful of other races, but he had never thought he would ever be capable of anything malicious. Certainly not a conspiracy such as this, of such magnitude, of so much death, and against his own people.

A brief flash of Fekel, weak with pain, bloody lesions scarring his face, struggling for breath as even that was taken from him, and an anger began to burn away the shock, building in his gut, burning through his nerve endings.

They were back in that cell where this had all begun. Back where O'Neill had died beneath his fingertips.

And it was all happening again.

O'Neill was lying in almost the same spot, Daniel Jackson's jacket under his head. He had been forced into the prone position some hours ago as his weakening condition overcame him. His illness, without medical assistance, had begun to manifest itself in the form of lesions not unlike those that had afflicted Fekel towards the end.

He had begun to bleed.

Eyes bloodshot green, echoed suppressed pain. The man said nothing, hiding it all, while his friends fussed around him, unable to vent their anxiety.

Thor had chosen a corner to sit and had said little, either, choosing to take some time to sort things out for himself. To examine the betrayal, to find out where he had gone wrong, and how he could have possibly missed the signs.

But most importantly to work out why.

He felt eyes on him. O'Neill.

**********

Jack looked at Thor. The small alien was a huddled ball of misery in the corner. The betrayal of Frere had hit him hard, and O'Neill could only imagine what it felt like. Sure O'Neill had been betrayed before - Makepeace, for example - but to have someone you have worked with for a thousand years or more, trusted with your life, to suddenly turn around and backstab both you and your people...it would be devastating.

Sorta like misplacing one of your team, O'Neill.

He was in pain, physical pain, yes, but it was nothing compared to the heart wrenching pain of losing Sam. The worst of it was the fact that he had no idea what happened. She was just gone. They were alive and she was not. He had left her behind, something he had sworn he would never do.

Then her body had been consumed by the unforgiving fire of the death of the 'O'Neill'.

He remembered her smile as she left that room - his last sight of her - it was engraved on his memory.

Along with a hundred other faces.

And faceless thousands.

He blinked rapidly, clearing his eyes of faintly green tinged moisture.

The other three members of his team had been awkwardly fussing around him. All totally aware there was nothing they could do for him, all venting their frustration in their own unique way.

Teal'c was meditating in a corner, probably preparing himself should a chance of escape occur. Janet sat next to Jack, checking his condition so often that he swore if she checked his pulse one more time he would bite her fingers off.

Daniel.

Daniel sat on the other side of the cell staring at him. He had been sitting there doing just that since he regained consciousness, and, frankly, it was making Jack paranoid.

"What?" His voice cracked and he coughed.

"Jack?" Daniel looked concerned as O'Neill waved off another attack of Fraiser.

Jack cleared his throat. "Daniel, you've been staring at me for ages. Do I have warts on my nose? What?"

"Sorry." Daniel's eyes suddenly seemed anywhere but on O'Neill.

"Daniel, is there something wrong?"

Daniel sighed, and looked down at his feet before looked back at him. "Jack, I know you have been avoiding me lately, and I know it has something to do with your nightmares. What I want to know is, why?"

Jack looked away. "It's nothing, Daniel." Now he wished he hadn't pushed for this conversation. How do you tell your best friend that you dream every night that he is torturing you to death? Next time he would put up with the staring.

Daniel leant forward. "No, Jack, it's not nothing. You flinch every time you look at me. And, God forbid, if I actually touch you." He calmed his tone. "Jack, if it's something I've done..."

Jack coughed, his voice fading. "No...no, Daniel, it's nothing."

"C'mon, Jack."

"Daniel."

"Jack, I want to know why you are scared of me."

"I'm not scared of you!" The thought was preposterous.

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not!"

"Are."

"Not."

"Are."

"Not."

"Are."

They were interrupted by Teal'c deep voice. "It amuses me how two highly intelligent people can have an entire conversation using only one syllable each."

Jack glared at Teal'c. The man's eyes were still closed, but a very slight smile was on his lips. "Teal'c, if I could get up right now, I'd punch you right on the arm."

"You could try, O'Neill."

O'Neill tried to hide a smile and failed, his lips cracking. He looked at Daniel once again, saw the anxious defiance in his eyes, and suddenly wondered what he had been making all the fuss about. There was no way Daniel would ever set out to hurt him, so what the heck was he worried about? It was only a dream, wasn't it?

He had to say something before those blue eyes bored a hole into his head and retrieved the information themselves. "Daniel, yes, you are in my dream, but-" He lifted a hand to gesture and immediately regretted it. "Damn. Danny, don't worry about it. It is not going to bother me anymore, I promise."

"But, Jack..."

"Daniel, I said don't worry about it." He was talking too much, but he didn't care. He coughed to clear his throat. "I'll be fine."

Daniel must have seen something in Jack's eyes, because from that point on, he stopped staring.

O'Neill's eyes wavered in focus for a moment, and he had to blink to clear them again. His gaze wandered back to Thor, and realised that, perhaps, there was someone who needed to talk.

**********

O'Neill's eyes were on him again. Thor could feel it.

"Thor?" The voice was rough. "Come here, buddy." The sick man was gesturing him over.

Thor reluctantly rose, and walked over to his friend crouching down beside him. "O'Neill, I am sorry."

The pain filled eyes suddenly became confused. "For what?"

"It was an Asgard that caused all this."

The human's eyes flared. "For god's sake, Thor, you are not responsible for the actions of an entire people." He looked away for a moment before continuing. "Did you blame all humanity for the actions of a few rogue agents who stole your technology and breached your trust in us? No." He sighed. "This just proves that the word 'asshole' exists in any language."

Thor was about to reply when he was interrupted by Daniel Jackson. "Actually, Jack, in Goa'uld, the word 'a'ssh'oal' means 'pretty lady'.

O'Neill looked at Doctor Jackson and something passed between them briefly. O'Neill smiled slightly.

"My point exactly, Daniel."

They were interrupted by the cell door opening.

Frere stood staring at them, a Jaffa on either side of him.

"Oh, isn't this sweet. Old man Thor looking after his pet human."

Thor did not even look at his fellow Asgard, choosing to ignore the taunt. The traitor was not worth the effort of a reply.

O'Neill, on the other hand, had no such compunctions. He struggled to sit up, Daniel Jackson quickly moving in to assist him.

"So, Frere, kill any more Asgard lately?"

Frere leveled his gaze at O'Neill. "Not recently no, but I had heard that you had."

O'Neill's lips thinned to a bare line, his eyes flashing. "I don't know what you hoped to gain from this little charade, but let me assure you, you won't get it."

"Little do you know, human, I already have." He waved the weapon in his hand. "Now get up. Someone wants to meet you."

O'Neill, determined not to amuse his captor with a display of weakness, shoved off both Daniel and Teal'c and struggled to stand on his own. He walked slowly, deliberately, step by step, until he was directly in front of Frere, and looked down at him.

For a brief moment, Thor thought the human was going to reach out and strangle the Asgard, his arm even twitched, but he did not. He stood there standing slightly a kilter, his whole body radiating defiance.

Frere was forced to look around O'Neill to set his eyes once again on Thor. "You as well, Supreme Commander." He nudged O'Neill in the leg with his weapon.

Thor stood, still refusing to look at Frere, and walked past him without a word.

**********

The moment O'Neill walked into the room, he knew he had been there before. It was dark. It was dank. And in the distance somewhere, that water still dripped.

Drip.

Drip.

He shivered in the chill.

The walk from the cell had been agonising. Every muscle cramped, every joint ached, and his clothing rubbed against the lesions on his skin, causing them to weep fluid, green stains soaking into his shirt.

It wouldn't be much longer before his blood once again dripped in beat to the falling of the water.

At the end of the room was a large wooden cross. Shackles hung limply from it. Shards of memory crowded into his brain. Flashes of pain, of questions, of blood, and of screams. The urge to run was strong, and in the dark his heavy feet lost co-ordination suddenly and he fell to his knees.

Frere muttered something in goa'uld, and the two Jaffa grabbed O'Neill, dragging him up to the cross, and began securing him to it with the shackles.

O'Neill struggled, watching as Frere pushed Thor contemptuously into a corner. Thor caught his eye and held his first two fingers up against his throat.

Life.

Hope.

"Oi, Frere. Get your skinny ass over here!"

Frere looked up, and in that second, Thor was on him.

O'Neill let loose with everything he had left in an attempt to distract the two Jaffa until Thor could subdue Frere. Mere moments and the weapon was in Thor's possession. A flash of energy later, and Frere was on the floor unconscious. Both the Jaffa joined him seconds later, but O'Neill was already shackled to the cross.

And Thor couldn't reach.

"Thor, go, get the others." Jack's voice an urgent whisper.

"But, O'Neill-"

"GO. Now."

The Asgard looked at him, bowed his head briefly, and headed towards the door.

It opened before he got there.

A large hooded and cloaked figure glided into the room, the definition of menace..

Thor fired repeatedly to no effect, all the assaulting energy was flung back, deflected, ricocheting to hit and chip the concrete of the walls. The figure casually raised a hand and Thor was flung across the room to land in a crumpled heap.

O'Neill stifled a curse, his eyes boring through cloak and fabric.

The hood turned in his direction. The voice was deep and masculine. And familiar.

"So, Colonel O'Neill, we meet again."

In his head he had heard that same voice asking him question after question. He couldn't answer then.

Now he wouldn't.

"Hmm. Not talking, I see. Well, that will change." He moved closer. "Do you know who I am?"

"The tooth fairy?"

From within the cloak he heard a laugh. "I always did like your sense of humour, Jack."

Ice water trickled down his spine. Jack?

"I am Anubis." The guy said it like he was announcing the winner of a lottery, for god's sake.

"Anudist? With all that cloak and hood thing going on, you have a long way to go to live up to your name."

The hood moved to within inches of his nose, an unseen glare emanating controlled fury.

O'Neill looked up at him. "You know, have you ever heard of Tic Tacs?"

The dark form didn't answer, but two gloved hands reached up and pulled part of the hood aside.

Two startling blue eyes stared out from underneath the hood.

Out of Daniel's face.

His lips uttered a few words.

"Do you remember me now?"

**********

Eyes in Shadow Part 9 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Dark Places' By Gumnut Sep 2003

Thor woke to the sound of screams.

He stared into the concrete, briefly wondering where he was before remembrance hit.

The screams were O'Neill's.

He slowly tilted his head in order to gain a better view of the unfolding drama in the room. The Goa'uld stood directly in front of the Colonel and was applying a torture device to his midriff.

The Colonel's screams choked off as he coughed up a stream of green fluid.

The Goa'uld stepped back.

"Let that be an indication of the result of further flippancy."

O'Neill's head drooped sideways, but he managed to mutter a few words. "What do you want anyway? If you think using Danny's face is going to have me quaking in my boots, you're dreaming." He coughed again, bright green flecks danced in the air.

"Who said I wanted anything, human? I feel like some amusement. Inadequate returns for your crimes against me, I think, but I can keep this up for a very long time, so eventually I may be satisfied, and let you die."

O'Neill coughed again, his body slack in the restraints. "Been there, done that, didn't want the T-shirt. Have fun, by all means."

Thor cringed at the human's audacity in continuing to defy an enemy from whom he had no defense. A stubborn pride that could only lead to detriment, but one of which Thor found he was proud.

Moving as little as possible, in the hope of not being noticed, he glanced further around the room. Frere seemed to be awakening, but the Jaffa were still out cold. Several other Jaffa stood by the only entrance. He could see no other way to escape without alerting their captors.

As Thor watched, Frere groaned and finally sat up, clutching his head as if worried it might come off. Thor was surprised by his own hatred of the man he once called friend. He generally considered himself to be even tempered, using anger only when necessary, and as a tool in strategy, but the sight of Frere stirred within him a boiling rage of injustice, loathing, and betrayal. He wasn't sure he trusted himself if left alone with the man.

Frere eventually regained his feet, and his gaze swung around the room until it latched on to Thor. Thor, eyes closed again, feigned unconsciousness, and he heard the soft tread of the Asgard's feet as he approached.

It was at this point that O'Neill screamed again. Thor must have twitched, because Frere kicked him in the abdomen and snarled. "Get up, old man. Do not think for a minute that you can fool me."

Thor opened an eye. "Why? I already have once. Why not again?"

That earned him another kick. He had been around O'Neill for too long. He was starting to act like him.

Frere reached down and, grabbing him under the arm, wrenched Thor to his feet, shoving a weapon in his face.

"You are coming with me, so we can have out own little discussion. Anubis has his toy, now I want my part of the bargain."

He dragged Thor towards the door, but was stopped by Anubis' voice.

"Where do you think you are going?"

Frere snarled back at him. "You have what you wanted. Thor is mine." He turned and continued towards the door.

Anubis' voice was liquid. "I have not finished with him yet."

Frere spun around, almost tumbling Thor off his feet. "I would watch what you say, Goa'uld, the Asgard are not out of this galaxy yet. We are still capable of squashing you like the insects you are." The Asgard radiated contempt.

Anubis left the cross, and the limp, gasping body it supported, and made his way toward the two small aliens. "I would not be so self assured of your position, Asgard. I see no fleet standing to support you, no minions coming to your defense. You are in my domain now, little one." The contempt was mutual.

Frere studied him like some odd experimental result. "Sometimes I wonder how you people evolved enough to crawl out of your oceans and walk on land. You are so pathetically stupid. But then I remember, you didn't did you?"

Anubis towered over Frere, and Thor began to wonder a similar thing about the traitorous Asgard's ancestors, but as the Goa'uld raised his arm, Thor felt a familiar dislocation, as he was transported away.

**********

O'Neill, his body trying to decide between breathing and trembling, saw the familiar flash of the Asgard transporter, and smiled. Frere may an asshole, but he definitely knew how to deliver a line.

He could feel a cough stirring in his chest, and desperately trying to avoid the furious Anubis' attention, he did his best to smother it. A thin trickle of fluid slid out the corner of his mouth and down his chin. The healing fluid tasted nothing like the metallic taste of human blood. It was almost pleasant, a faint hint of peppermint, perhaps.

At least he would die with fresh breath.

His attention was wandering, but was abruptly reclaimed as Anubis stuck his torture device into his ribs.

"Where have they gone, human?"

"What?" Sputter, cough, attempt to keep breathing. "He's your partner in crime, how should I know?"

He didn't even see it coming. The Goa'uld swung the device like a baton, and it impacted on the side of his head. Jack fell abruptly into a painless oblivion.

**********

Thor found himself on the same ship that had snatched their party from the dying 'O'Neill'. Except this time he wasn't in a cell.

Not yet.

And he seemed to be alone with Frere.

Thor spun, one hand going for the weapon, the other fully intended to gouge vulnerable eyes. Frere stepped back, but not quickly enough to avoid Thor's fingers reaching the soft, black surface of his corneas.

Thor dug in.

Frere screamed in agony, arms flailing. The weapon went flying.

And Thor was on him.

All his pent up rage and anger found a release as he lay his hands on the cause of it all.

Frere lost his sight within the first few moments. And as the images of all the suffering of his people, and that of O'Neill, danced through Thor's memory, Frere lost a lot more.

At some point Thor realised that they needed this piece of Trakyak vomit alive for questioning, but by that time Frere was well beyond unconscious. Thor stood back, eyeing the crumpled heap on the floor. The council would disapprove, but he honestly didn't care.

Thor looked around for something to restrain the piece of filth, but was unable to locate anything. So, picking up the weapon, he grabbed an arm, and pulled, dragging the unconscious form behind him.

**********

Daniel had begun to pace.

Finally the screams had stopped, but now that just worried him more. He eyed Janet, sitting, knees drawn up to her chest. He had watched her as she flinched in rhythm to Jack's outcries in the distance. Now she sat almost rocking her body with pent up distress, her brow crumpled with strain.

Teal'c still sat calmly. Daniel understood it was because the Jaffa knew he could do nothing at this present time, but part of Daniel just wanted to shake him, just to see an expression on his face.

Face it, Danny, you're losin' it.

God, even his own inner voice had started to sound like Jack.

He cursed, causing Janet to flinch and Teal'c to raise an eyebrow.

He looked at them apologetically. "Sorry."

"O'Neill is strong, Daniel Jackson."

"Yeah, fine, sure, Teal'c. He is strong. One of the strongest men I know. But that isn't going to stop some scum sucking Goa'uld from ripping his heart out, is it?"

The silence after that statement was deafening.

Damnit, Daniel, pull yourself together.

It was almost as if Jack was standing next to him. When had it become so integral to his being that Jack would be there for him? Cajoling, muttering, making snarky comments, sarcastic replies, the man was an annoyance, but Daniel had grown to rely on him, to trust him, and Daniel knew that if he lost him, it would be like losing part of himself.

Like the part of him missing that was called Sam.

He stopped at a wall and rested his forehead against the cold concrete, closing his eyes. Daniel had been unconscious though all the events that had led to the destruction of the 'O'Neill', and the loss of Sam Carter. But the group had had hours in this cell together, and Daniel had had to listen to a monotone rendering of events from Jack. The bleakness in Jack's eyes had cut Daniel to the core. While Sam's death had cleaved his heart in two, Jack looked like his heart had gone through a mincer. It wasn't long after that, that Jack had been forced to lie down by Janet, his body on the verge of collapse.

Daniel hit his head against the concrete wall. They had to find a way out of here. For Jack's sake, for Thor's sake, and for the sake of sanity itself. He turned to the others. "We have to get out of here."

"Daniel Jackson, I agree. However, an opportunity has yet to present itself."

"Well, then we'll have to-"

The clunk of the cell door opening cut him off. A horrifyingly familiar presence entered the room.

Anubis.

The son of a bitch Goa'uld who had destroyed Abydos, who had killed the last remaining members of his family...

Daniel's body trembled with tension, straining to hold back the impulse to attempt to strangle the bastard on sight. The heavy hood, as if sensing his animosity, turned in his direction.

His own face stared out from under the shadows.

And all the pieces fell into place.

Jack had been tortured by this...thing...wearing his face. This half goa'uld, half ascended being had used whatever abilities he still possessed to create this illusion, this fallacy, for what? To ingrain into Jack's mind a fear of his best friend? To imprint on his subconscious a terror that would be remembered each time he set eyes on Daniel? Or to seek information from the tortured man by displaying a 'friendly' face?

Most likely it was just for his pathetic amusement.

To toy with the both of them.

For the first time since he had descended, Daniel longed for the abilities he knew he had had, but didn't remember. To do one thing, and one thing only. To wipe this reject of mother nature out of existence.

But now he was just a man. So he stood tall and looked the obscenity in the eye and said one word.

"Why?"

"Why, Daniel Jackson? I know who you are, I know how you came to be aboard my ship, and I know your relationship to these...people. That is why."

He turned towards Janet and Teal'c. "Unfortunately, your friend, the Colonel, has left us for the moment, and I am in need of a new subject. Which of your friends would you like me to choose?"

**********

Thor ended up locking Frere in a closet.

The traitor was too heavy and too messy to continue to drag around.

As far as Thor could tell, this ship was a small Asgard courier vessel, and after securing Frere, he made his way cautiously to the bridge.

The bridge was empty.

A quick status check confirmed they were in orbit above a planet. A planet quite a distance from the solar system that had contained the now destroyed moon.

The ship was under cloak and a quick scan of the planet divulged the location of the underground complex. There was no sign of the 'O'Neill's companion ships, or the Goa'uld vessel.

With no time to waste, Thor quickly accessed the communications link, and, using a code known only to himself and his fleet commanders, initiated a call for assistance. Help would be here shortly.

Thor accessed the transport controls only to find that a shield had been erected around the complex. A response to Frere's sudden self evacuation earlier? Thor swore under his breath. Sensors could locate SG-1 and O'Neill, but all he could do was watch helplessly.

Check for weaponry. None.

Check internal sensors. Huh? Two other lifeforms on board.

Thor swore again.

Grabbing the weapon, he made his way off the bridge, intending to find those two people, and disable them if necessary. And to find out who else had betrayed the Asgard people.

*********

Thor came upon the lab quietly. Someone was humming merrily to themselves inside. He peered cautiously around the open door.

A lone Asgard was pottering around a prone figure. Thor gripped his weapon tighter, before storming into the room.

"By the six nebulae of Tarkis, Loki, what do you think you are doing?!"

*********

Only Shooting Stars Part 10 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Eyes in Shadow' By Gumnut Sep 2003

Sam Carter woke to the sound of arguing.

"What do you mean you thought it was the right thing to do?"

"Frere said-"

"Frere is a traitorous fool. You know the importance of O'Neill. How could you do this?"

"Frere said it would be advantageous for our people."

"Advantageous?!" Thor's voice hit a new height of incredulity. "How does murdering thousands of people and mortally wounding one of our greatest heroes become 'advantageous'?"

"I didn't intend-"

"No, Loki, you never do." There was a frustrated sigh. "What were you intending to do with Major Carter?"

"Frere said I should alter her DNA to create a pathogen specific to the humans. This would enable us to defeat the Goa'uld without endangering any more Asgard lives."

There was a loud crash and the sound of shattering glass. Sam sat up quickly, just in time to see Thor pick up another piece of lab equipment and aim it at a terrified Loki. The look on Thor's face was pure thunder.

Carter jumped off the bed and intervened between the two Asgard. "What is going on here?"

"Major Carter, my apologies." Thor took control of himself. "Please forgive me." The depths of his velvet black eyes sparked flame as he stared malevolently at Loki.

Sam swayed for a moment as her body adjusted to suddenly being upright. "What were you doing to me, Loki?" Her eyes bored into the diminutive alien.

Loki shrunk back from both of them. Thor took a step forward threateningly. "Loki, tell us quickly and from the beginning."

The Asgard scientist swallowed. "Frere came to me with an idea. He believes that the Asgard have been fighting wars for far too long. We are just starting to recover from the war with the replicators. Our people are tired of being scared and running. He felt that it was time for the Asgard to look after the Asgard. We shouldn't have to look after every primitive race in the galaxies we span." He paused a moment, as if assessing his chances of getting shot in the next few moments.

"He thought the Goa'uld to be a force to be reckoned with, particularly with this Anubis person. We shouldn't have to endanger ourselves on behalf of aliens who don't even know about us, much less care. So, Frere took steps to alienate them from us."

He looked directly at Thor. "Your policies regarding the humans are widely known, but not necessarily widely supported. When our flagship was named 'O'Neill' many thought we were desecrating the memories of many Asgard heroes whose importance to our race's survival was as crucial, or even more than, the human O'Neill's."

The look on Thor's face was disbelief itself. "You did this because we named a ship after a non-Asgard person?"

Loki looked at the floor, flinching under Thor's stare. "It should have been named for an Asgard."

"But why infect all those people?" Sam was having as much trouble as Thor in believing the excuse.

"That was Frere's idea, a plan to create a rift between us and the humans, disguised as an attack by the Goa'uld. He came to me with this wonderful machine he had found. It is Ancient's technology, you would not believe what we could do with it."

Sam looked at the machine Loki was pointing at.

She knew it on sight.

She still had nightmares from the last time she saw one of them.

Nirtii's genetic manipulator.

Hell, that explained a lot. It also presented possibilities. She turned to Loki. "You worked out how to use it?"

The scientist looked proud. "Why, yes, it's rather simple actually. We only had to practice once."

Realisation kicked in. "It was you who did that to Ferretti, wasn't it?"

"Ferretti? Was that his name? Yes, I'm afraid we made some initial mistakes with that subject. We did need to practice before attempting the final design on O'Neill."

Sam felt the fury burning inside her, this...man...had taken a good friend and killed him so that he could try to do a similar thing to another. She took a step towards him.

Loki stepped back. "It is working well now. I know exactly how to use it."

She pinned him with her eyes. "So why is Colonel O'Neill dying?"

"He has served his purpose."

Sam had to restrain Thor once again. The Commander struggled slightly in her grip. Who would have thought he had such a strong temper?

Well, he did have cause.

She addressed the errant scientist again. "Can you save him, Loki? Can you repair the genetic damage and remove the pathogen template?"

The alien looked up at her. "Why, of course." Then his eyes narrowed. "But why should I?"

Sam reached out and took him by the neck. His eyes widened in alarm.

Her voice was calm and deadly. "Because, Loki, if you don't, and Colonel O'Neill dies, I will personally make sure you are physically incapable of performing any more such experiments in the future."

She let him go with a small shove, and he stumbled. She turned to Thor. "Where are they?"

"I'm afraid, Major Carter, Colonel O'Neill, Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, and Doctor Fraiser are being held captive on the planet below. Colonel O'Neill is gravely ill." He paused looking her in the eye. "He has been tortured by Anubis."

Sam felt her heart sink even lower. God, how much more could the man stand?

Thor continued. "There is a shield protecting the facility and we are unable to transport them to safety." Thor looked Sam up and down. "Are you physically well, Major Carter?"

She paused a moment. "I think so." Her eyes fixed on Loki. "Am I?"

The scientist feigned innocence. "I have not done anything. She was transported aboard this vessel by Frere. As far as I know he only stunned her, and she has been kept under a sedation field ever since. Until you turned it off."

"Good." Thor grabbed Loki, and forced him on to the bed Sam had recently vacated. He flipped a few controls and a restraining field snapped into place. "Stay here, Loki. I will deal with you later."

Thor led the way back to the bridge. She took in the compact set up, and turned back to the Commander. "Any ideas?"

"I believe assistance will arrive shortly."

As if on cue, the sky was suddenly full of starships.

The Asgard fleet had arrived.

**********

Jack woke to the sound of his name.

"O'Neill."

He faded out for a moment as the pain that was his body thrust its weight upon him. He tried to cough, but only emitted a rasping moan.

"O'Neill."

Whoever they were, they were persistent.

He made the effort to open his eyes, only to find a green filled blur. A brief fluttering of eyelids cleared it somewhat, and he felt the liquid run down his cheeks.

Was he crying tears of blood?

"O'Neill. Please wake up."

The voice had a hint of desperation. Was it worried? He didn't want to cause worry. He tried to lift his head and was rewarded by an explosion that surely took his head off.

"Oh, god." His voice was like sandpaper on tin foil.

"O'Neill, can you hear me?"

He was able to tilt his head slightly, just enough to sight a blurry grey form.

"Thor?" He coughed, and more fluid ran down his chin. "You okay?" The last he had seen of the Asgard, he had been in the hands of Frere. "F...Frere?"

"Frere is in Asgard custody, O'Neill. I am fine. We are attempting to find a way to get you and your team out of this place."

"B...Beam me up?" Huh? Asgard had those flashy things, why was he still here?

"I can not, O'Neill. There is a shield protecting the facility. We are going to attempt to negotiate."

O'Neill spat blood, his head came up abruptly in anger, and the pain was incredible. "N...Negotiate?! Thor, I'm ha..hanging on by a thread here." He coughed violently, and his world spun. He let his head droop once again.

"O'Neill? O'Neill?!"

"Thor?" The world kept fading in and out. "Can you get me down from here?" Why hadn't Thor already done that?

"I can not, O'Neill. This is only a holographic projection." O'Neill seemed to slip even further into despair. "O'Neill, we need you to hold on for a little longer. O'Neill? Can you?"

"Thor? What are you doing here?" Where was here for that matter?

"Jack, look at me." O'Neill followed the small grey hand to the face with its large black eyes. Why did his head hurt? "We will get you out of here." Those liquid eyes stared at him with determination. "I promise. Will you wait for me?"

"O..Okay." His throat hitched, and he coughed again, black spots dancing in his vision. A sudden thought occurred to him, and he panicked. "Sam?" Again he wrenched his head up, but this time the pain battered him into the dark.

*********

Thor saw consciousness pass from O'Neill's body and fought an urge to catch his suddenly limp head. He panicked briefly as the tortured body was still for a moment, but was quickly relieved as O'Neill drew breath once again.

The same sense of helplessness he had felt in that cell those many days before, attempted once again to consume him. He was unable to protect the man from the pain, and could not even touch him to give comfort.

But this time, he was not alone. This time he had the fleet to back him up.

This time he could save O'Neill.

He gave the order.

**********

Daniel watched as Anubis made a move toward Janet Fraiser and tensed his body, preparing to fling himself between them.

Fortunately there was no need.

Everyone froze at the sudden sound of a voice echoing throughout the cells and corridors of the complex.

"I am Thor, Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet. I address Anubis, the Goa'uld in charge of this facility. You have committed multiple crimes against the Asgard and our allies. Please be advised that our fleet is standing by, and upon my order, will proceed against multiple objectives within your domain. Unless you release your prisoners into our custody immediately, you can, in the words of one of our allies, 'Kiss your ass, goodbye'."

**********

Across several thousand light years of space, Asgard ships started appearing above Goa'uld installations. Where they appeared, Thor's voice was heard.

Some outposts attempted retaliation. Those outposts were short lived.

Several accidents occurred in a busy Goa'uld shipping lane as six Asgard vessels appeared out of nowhere, weapons fully primed. Several of Anubis' mother ships met each other in a bright conflagration while attempting to avoid them.

And far beneath the feet of the Asgard Supreme Commander, a Goa'uld attempted spontaneous self combustion.

**********

He did not have to wait long, but for Thor, those few minutes were the length of years.

It was wholly a bluff. He had grabbed every available Asgard ship he could find. Although the Asgard had defeated the replicators, thanks to the efforts of O'Neill and SG-1, their military was not recovered fully enough to take on another opponent at this time. This was a show of force, a threat that Thor knew Anubis could not afford to ignore.

And there were important lives in the balance.

The shield came down with an abruptness that surprised even Thor. The captives were beamed immediately to the Medical Section.

No word came from Anubis.

Thor didn't care.

He just hoped they weren't too late.

*********

May the Gods have Mercy Part 11 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Only Shooting Stars' By Gumnut Sep 2003

Sam chose to be inside the isolation field when he materialized, and it was her who caught him as he crumpled.

The Asgard had supplied her with an antigrav device which enabled her to lower him gently to the waiting platform. They could have levitated him from outside the force field, but she had insisted he would need the comforting presence of touch. In truth, he was probably unconscious, considering the injuries described to her by Thor, so it was really she who needed the comfort.

As his weight appeared in her arms, the first thing she noticed was the green. It was everywhere. He was bleeding through both his nose and mouth, and weeping sores covered all the exposed skin she could see.

At first her heart stopped as his body was still and unresponsive in her hands. Were they too late? But a weak rasping breath saved her. His eyelids fluttered.

He wasn't only alive, he was conscious.

"Colonel?"

His bloodshot eyes opened, wandering across the ceiling, the room, until they latched on to her.

"Sam?" His voice was a bare whisper. "Wha?" His brow crinkled, breaking open a lesion on his forehead. Green blood ran into his eyes.

He blinked rapidly, blinded. "Carter?"

"Colonel, relax - you're safe, and we think we've found a cure for you."

"Carter?" He wrinkled his brow again, anguish written across his face. "I lost you." His eyes blinked again.

He saw her, but he wasn't really seeing her.

She spoke reassuringly. "Sir, the Asgard are going to help you." She hoped desperately she was telling him the truth. She had to blink her own eyes a few times.

She lowered his head on to the platform, lining his body up so that the machine's field would encapsulate him.

Once she had him settled, she stepped back and gave the signal to Loki, who was standing behind the controls with two guards, now accompanied by a hovering Thor.

The genetic manipulator snapped on, its protective field flaring up around the Colonel. His body was lifted, suspended, as the glowing representations of his genetic structure floated in the space around him.

Loki flicked a control and the pattern changed.

Jack, his body suddenly strung tight, gasped a silent scream.

She remembered the pain. She had been whole and healthy at the time. She prayed for him to hold on.

It seemed to go on for hours.

Jack writhed in its grasp.

She turned almost pleadingly to Loki. "Finish it."

"It takes some time, Major Carter, you will have to be patient."

She turned back to O'Neill. Blood still dripped, drifting from his suspended fingertips. He was floating in a haze of his own life fluids.

Come on, come on, come on. She shot another glance at Loki. Thor hovered behind him, a hairsbreath away from taking the controls.

O'Neill gasped again, his eyes wild.

"Loki!" This time it was Thor begging him.

The floating symbols flickered one more time and disappeared.

Carter caught her CO before he could hit the floor. It rained green.

The body was very still, its silence terrifying.

It drew in a sudden ragged breath, as that stubborn Irish O'Neill determination refused to give up. She thanked the nearest deity for his strength.

Speaking of deities...

She was almost blinded by the decontamination flashes throughout the area protected by the isolation field. Now the colonel had been negated as the source of the disease, the Asgard could finally remove the pathogen from the immediate area and treat him.

Suddenly, she was surrounded by efficient grey bodies. Jack was taken from her hands and whisked off into the bowels of the medical section.

She was left, sitting, staring at her green covered hands in the middle of the med room floor.

*********

Daniel was startled as the walls of an Asgard ship suddenly replaced grey concrete.

Spinning around he located his teammates. The look of horror on Janet's face set him spinning back again.

His eyes landed on Sam.

Sam! Oh, thank god!

But it was the body in her arms that brought his heart to a screaming halt.

Jack?

Oh, god, Jack.

As one the three ex-cellmates moved to the flickering isolation field and watched the drama unfold.

They watched as Jack struggled to draw breath.

They watched as Sam moved him to the machine.

They watched as his body arched in pain as its base molecules were rearranged.

They watched as he was whisked away for treatment.

Then they started breathing again.

It was Daniel who was the first to move.

"Sam?"

She still sat in the middle of the floor, staring at her hands. The eyes she turned towards him stared up in shocked anguish. She had green on her clothes, and in her hair, speckles were scattered all over her face.

She held up her green covered hands in mute supplication, her face crumpling.

He was down beside her in a moment. He held her as the soldier shattered, and the anguished woman beneath sobbed her heart out on his shoulder.

*********

He woke.

Again.

And again he was surprised. This time he really thought he had done it.

But no, he was awake.

Infirmary? He listened for the familiar beeps and the click of heels on concrete. Nothing. Not infirmary.

Crap.

He was finding that he was really beginning to miss those normally annoying sounds.

Double check. Open one eye.

No infirmary ceiling. No pen light-

"Oh, crap, Doc. Did you have to do that?" He now had a bright sunspot in one eye and not the other. It made for a very interesting sense of sight.

"Sorry, Colonel, I didn't realise you were awake." The look was innocent, but he had his suspicions. "How are you feeling?"

"I hadn't got that far yet."

She smiled, so he knew he couldn't be that bad. In fact he felt rather good considering. He was tired, yes, but in no pain.

He tried to sit up.

Whoa! The world began to spin. Round and round and round and round and...oh, migod...

Janet had the bucket ready for him.

Just as well.

He lay back down and waited for the world to stop spinning, eyes tightly closed. When it had calmed down somewhat, he daringly opened one eye. The world stayed put. The other eye...yep, seems safe.

He looked directly at Janet.

"Well, what do you expect, Colonel? The Asgard may be gods, but they are not miracle workers. The condition you were in challenged the medical team to their limits. If it wasn't for their cloning technology, you wouldn't be here?"

"Cloning?"

"A good deal of blood and tissue replacement was required." She sighed. "You couldn't be satisfied by pushing the SGC medical team to the limits, no, you had to go out and challenge an Asgard team as well."

He wasn't listening to her anymore.

He was staring at his hands.

"I'm not green."

"I always said you weren't."

"Thor!" The small alien walked in through the open door. Hmm, no flashy beaming thingy, perhaps you could teach an old alien new tricks.

He was almost blinded by the abrupt glare of a transporter.

Damn.

He was still blinking away sunspots from his optical nerve when he heard Carter say, "You know, I could get used to this."

Oh, great, now she would want to take one home with her.

Then it clicked.

"Sam?" He tried to sit up again, but was halted as the world gave a sudden lurch. "Oh, god." He squeezed his eyes shut, begging himself not to throw up in front of his team.

His stomach tipped, teetered, and righted itself. Okay, O'Neill, I know you are a little thick sometimes, but twice is enough - don't move!

He went through the open one eye first routine, and was presented by a hovering Carter. Daniel and Teal'c floated in the background.

"Colonel?"

"Hi, Carter, uh, where you been?" He could finally see straight again. He cleared his throat as his voice cracked. "We thought we had lost you."

He could see his expression reflected in her eyes, and tried to school his features into one of polite concern. He didn't entirely succeed.

"It was Frere, sir. Stunned me on board the 'O'Neill'. I woke up in Loki's laboratory. Thanks go to Thor again, I believe."

He turned to Thor. "Saved the day again, huh? Getting kind of a habit, isn't it?"

Thor bowed. "One I am glad to continue."

"So everyone okay?" There were a bunch of nods, and a head bow from Teal'c.

"With the exception of yourself, Colonel." He knew Janet would mention that somewhere along the line. He gave her a dirty look. "Before you say it, sir. No, you are not fine. It is going to take awhile for you to fully recover from this one."

"So what's wrong with me?" He added a dramatic sigh to that statement.

"Nothing serious, but - No, Colonel let me finish - your body has been through an incredible amount of upheaval. It will take quite awhile for it to readjust. And as you have just demonstrated for yourself, it will tell you when it has had enough. I advise you to listen to it."

"But, Doc, I feel f-" Her glare cut him off. "Okay, okay. I do feel a little tired, but I'm sure I'll be up and around in no time." He grinned his most charming smile.

There was a snicker, suspiciously from the direction of Thor. Jack glared at him. The Asgard stared back innocently.

It was a plot, he was sure of it.

Janet continued. "When you feel up to it, Thor has given us access to the hoverchair again." Jack saw Daniel roll his eyes.

Hmm, a pre-emptive strike might be called for here.

"Don't worry, Danny. If you are a good boy, I'll let you have a turn."

Daniel just glared at him. Sam laughed.

Yep, definitely a plot.

They were interrupted by an Asgard entering the room to give Thor some information. Jack's eyes tracked over the healing sores on the aide's forehead, and he abruptly sobered.

The aide noticed his stare and turned away, embarrassed.

Aw, hell.

"Thor, care to introduce us?"

"Certainly, O'Neill, this is my new aide, Tala."

Jack carefully raised himself on an elbow, daring the world to wobble, and held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Tala."

Tala hesitated. Thor said something in Asgard. Tala shook his head and looked at his feet. Thor repeated his command, his voice becoming firm.

Jack let his arm drop. "Don't worry, Thor, I understand." He paused, and then addressed the trembling Asgard. "Tala, I want you to know that I am truly sorry about what has happened to you and your people. If I could reverse it I would." His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. "I am so sorry."

The aide wouldn't look at him, but bowed his head before looking askance at Thor. Thor dismissed him.

"I am sorry, O'Neill, I-"

"Thor, not a problem. He has a right to feel that way." He swallowed. He wanted to deny it, but it had hurt. From adoration to fear was a steep slope.

"Jack, it wasn't your fault-"

O'Neill cut him off. "Thor, have they found a cure yet?"

"Yes, Tala is one of the first recovered."

"Thank god." He lay back down. He wanted to ask about the statistics, but part of him felt he would shrivel up and die if he added one more name to the list of his dead.

"Jack-"

"Daniel." He cut him off. He knew Daniel meant well, but he would rather handle it his own way. "I'm fine."

Daniel shut up, but his expression was caught between annoyance and worry. Jack couldn't reassure him any further without betraying his own feelings on the matter. And he wanted no-one to see those.

It hurt too much.

So he kept up the banter, casting out jokes, making silly comments, stirring the pot, so hopefully no-one would notice.

But, of course, they did.

And they worried.

**********

When Thor left O'Neill to his friends, the first place he went was back to his office to find Tala. He could understand the man's reluctance to speak to O'Neill, but he had no excuse for such rudeness.

It was such a relief to know O'Neill was going to recover, albeit slowly. According to the specialists, it was the man's own tenacity that had kept him alive. Thor was not surprised. If there was one thing he had learned about the human, it was his capacity to be as stubborn as an Acaran Griplock Crab.

And it served him well.

Thor was heading the investigation into Frere's actions. He trusted the task to no-one else. It was yet to be discovered if he had worked alone with Loki, or whether his sentiments ran deeper into their society and government. Thor was rapidly beginning to suspect the latter.

How else could his plan have gone so smoothly.

Tala was at his desk, scanning through a holographic readout.

"Tala, I sympathise with your feelings, however, that display was offensive towards the humans."

The younger Asgard looked down at his fingers. "I apologise, Commander Thor, but I could not talk to the alien."

"Tala, Colonel O'Neill is not at fault here. He was as much a victim in these circumstances as we."

The aide did not look at him. "Yes, sir."

Thor sighed. It would take quite awhile for relations between the two races to repair themselves. He would certainly do his best to assist those repairs.

Many Asgard had become too complacent about their superiority. Even with the replicator threat, they had been far too confident, and it had almost led to their downfall.

The humans provided a fresh perspective. They were a young and vibrant race, eager to make their way in the universe. Sure they made mistakes, but so did all children. The Nox still considered the humans too young to associate with, but Thor saw a spark in them, one that was very strong in O'Neill, and he felt the Asgard would be stronger with them, than without them.

He suddenly had a thought. Perhaps there was a way to make some progress in a positive direction for both their races.

He opened a comlink to the appropriate person.

**********

The sound of crystal tinkling in the air surrounded him. A soft breeze wafted its way between the plants, sighing when it intertwined with the feathery plant beside him.

It was relaxing.

But he wasn't relaxed.

He had taken to coming here almost daily, to get out of that room, away from his friend's best intentions.

To be alone.

It was here, he could truly think and consider.

He was slowly coming to terms with his role in the epidemic that had shaken this world. His logic centres told him that there had been nothing he could have done. But the part of him that felt, felt deeply, refused to listen.

He mourned them.

He had never set eyes on most of them, but the thought of thousands of Asgard dying in pain, those sores eating them away...it brought tears to his eyes.

And he wasn't a crying man.

And he couldn't let anyone see.

So he came here alone.

Of course, it was an illusion of solitude. Thor had argued and argued with him about security concerns. The little guy had been almost apoplectic when he found that O'Neill had gone to the Garden by himself the first time.

So there were guards. He couldn't see them, but they were there. After all, Thor is Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, what could a lowly Colonel say to refuse him?

He didn't know, but he had certainly tried.

The breeze brought the soft sounds of Asgard talking in the distance. It was a melodious language, and one O'Neill had been seriously considering attempting to learn. He had even spoken to Thor about it. Consequently, he had a whole pile of Asgard literary printouts hidden in his pack where prying archeologists couldn't find them.

But he hadn't touched them since the plague.

What Asgard would want to speak to him now?

He sighed and began to move himself and the hoverchair to a new location, to leave these people in peace.

A voice, speaking in English, stopped him.

"What are you doing here?"

It was followed by an urgent soft voice in Asgard.

O'Neill fiddled with the chair's controls, finally turning the gadget around.

Two Asgard stood on the path. One was staring at him, belligerently. The other was desperately trying to shush the first.

"No, Isha, I want to talk to the alien." The first Asgard walked directly up to O'Neill, his eyes level with the seated human's. "I want to see the cause of all this death."

The Asgard was small, but he radiated hostility. O'Neill was wary, fully aware that his self defense capabilities were still seriously compromised by his weakness. Having seen Thor in action, he knew the Asgard's apparent frailty of body structure was not indicative of their physical capabilities. He heard the rustle of plants as his four armed guards materialised out of the foliage.

The first Asgard looked at the escort with apparent unconcern. "Don't worry, human. I don't intend to hurt you. I just want some answers."

O'Neill swallowed, and steeled himself. "What can I do for you?"

"Apart from leave, and never return?"

O'Neill chose to ignore that.

"Well, human, you can start by telling me why six of my family members had to die."

Six? The thought was inconceivable. Almost.

O'Neill shut his eyes.

"What, human? Don't like the number? How about a description? Should I describe to you their last moments? Will that make you leave?"

O'Neill raised a hand. "Look, I know-"

"Know? What could you possibly know? You wander out into the galaxy, knowing not what you do. And when you do damage, you have no way of repairing it. This time you have left death in your wake. Does it feel good?"

"I would never intend-"

"Intentions are irrelevant. My family is dead."

O'Neill opened his mouth again, but was once again denied the opportunity to say anything.

"Leave us, human. Get off our planet, and go home while you still can." The Asgard turned and stalked off.

Jack's eyes tracked him until he disappeared around a corner of the path. The second Asgard stood staring at him awkwardly. "Sir," he said. "Please forgive, Anwah, he is not himself."

Jack looked at his feet, his hands twiddling helplessly in his lap, before looking up. His voice was quiet. "Please tell him that I am so sorry for his loss, and if there is anything I can do for him, or his family, he only has to ask."

"That is just it, Colonel. There is nothing you or anyone can do." He turned, and followed his friend down the path.

Jack was left by himself, his guards once again amongst the plants.

There was nothing he could do.

Suddenly needing the privacy of his room, he turned off down the path, and headed back.

Lost in thought, he didn't see it until it hit.

**********

Across the other side of the city, Thor was leaving his office.

He didn't see what hit him either.

**********

The Hammer Falls Part 12 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'May the Gods have Mercy' By Gumnut Sep 2003

"I hit a tree?!"

The Colonel's voice went up an octave.

He was lying in the middle of the Garden path, propped up against a rock, holding his head. Blood, a startling red colour, ran down the side of his face.

"I thought this planet didn't have any trees?"

"Colonel O'Neill, you are correct." O'Neill turned, wincing, towards Fann, the Asgard medic. "Your hover chair collided with a Palfa vine."

The Colonel looked up at the massive chunk of botanical obstruction. "Looks like a tree to me."

"Colonel, please lie down, you might have a concussion." Janet heaved a sigh.

"Doc, I'm fine." He made to get up, but groaned and sank back down.

Obeying her rules of Colonel O'Neill Diagnosis, Janet checked him out for other injuries.

Typical of him to neglect to mention his broken arm. And it was obviously broken, that, or the Colonel had sprouted an extra joint.

"What was it doing in the middle of the path, anyway?"

"Palfa vines are mobile, Colonel." The Asgard was being extremely patient.

To illustrate the medic's statement, the said Palfa vine suddenly extended branches out from its base, and wandered off into the bush.

The look on the Colonel's face was definitely something to write home about, Janet began to wonder if he had broken his jaw as well. "A tree jumped out and hit me. Now I have seen everything."

A flash beside Fann, and a hovering medcart appeared. It was quickly followed by another, revealing several concerned faces of SG-1.

"Jack, you okay?"

"Just dandy, Daniel."

"You've broken your arm, sir." Janet was being extremely patient as well. "It will need to be set."

Jack looked at Fann. "Can't you use one of those wandy-light things and abracadabra, it's fixed?"

"Unfortunately, Colonel, no." Fann gestured toward the medcart. "Please lie on the bed so we can take you back to the Centre for medical treatment."

Janet could see by look on Jack's face that he was about to capitulate, but his next words were interrupted by yet another transporter flash.

And another. And another.

Suddenly they were surrounded by Asgard security.

And they didn't look happy.

**********

Jack looked up at all the heavily armed grey bodies and reverently hoped that Palfa vines held no religious significance.

One of the Asgard stepped forward.

"The council has requested you come with us. We are to place you in protective custody."

It didn't sound like a request.

Carter spoke up. "What has happened?"

The small alien's dark eyes were hard. "That is none of your concern."

O'Neill did not like this one's attitude at all. "And if we refuse?"

The Garden disappeared to be replaced by three walls and a force field. The arrogant Asgard stood opposite them, the shadow of the sparkling energy rippling across his face. "I do not think you will." He turned and left.

The five humans stared at each other in amazement. What the hell was going on?

**********

"Oh, god, shit, Doc, you done yet?" Sweat popped out on his brow, and he swore his jaw was about to shatter his teeth.

"Nearly, sir, hold on a bit longer." He so did not want to watch her maneuvering the broken half of his arm.

"Aaach!"

"Done."

Jack looked down, finding his arm wrapped in a makeshift splint. Thank god it wasn't his gun arm, he could still shoot the Doc if she touched it again.

He wiped his other hand across his forehead, his hair was damp with sweat. Maybe he should ask Thor if he could borrow one of those healy devices so he could pack it in his medkit to avoid this scenario in the future.

"Colonel, I want you to rest for awhile."

He looked up at Janet. "It's not like I have anything else to do in here." He knew he was being petulant, but he didn't care. He was pissed off.

They had been dumped here and left. No-one had come to tell them why. O'Neill had gone through everything he and the team had done in the past few days, and apart from his head-on collision with that stupid vine-thing, he couldn't think of anything that might have offended the Asgard. Danny hadn't even managed to touch anything. Of course, it quite probably was something as small as jaywalking for all he knew.

His team was still hovering around him. The often asked question of his health was still annoying the hell out of him. Since he had come back from the almost dead...okay, again...okay, for the second time that month...his team had turned into a dancing set of mother hens.

Daniel rarely let him out of his sight. This had resulted in an overload in those few neurons Jack reserved for archeology and anthropology. Daniel had spouted theories about Norse mythology until Jack's eyes started to cross.

And he couldn't get away. The man was stuck to him like glue. He'd had to literally sneak out this morning to visit the Garden. Combined with the other three conspiring to keep him in their sight, he had had to use all those skills he'd learnt in his career in black ops just to get some time alone.

He suspected that part of Danny's obsession had to do with his nightmares.

He still had them.

But Daniel was not in them. His decision to not be afraid of his best friend just because some scum sucking goa'uld wanted to play with his mind had banished any spark of worry associated with Daniel.

But that hadn't stopped him from waking up screaming.

He had tried to convince Daniel that he was fine, but his extensive history of lying on that count had come back and bitten him in the ass.

Danny didn't believe him, so he hovered.

Teal'c on the other hand, to the casual observer, was still acting his normal stoic self.

Except for the fact that he was always there.

O'Neill was beginning to wonder if he would ever be able to go to the john by himself anytime soon. Who knew that Jaffa could perform synchronised urinating?

Janet was, as usual, relishing in her medical dictatorship. But every now and again, he would see a glisten in her eye, a sudden tremor in her lip. Something had disturbed her deeply on this turnabout mission. She was hurting, he could tell, but he was unsure what to do about it.

But Carter was the worst.

She hovered, like the others, but she was too quiet. Gone was the exuberantly babbling scientist. She hardly spoke to him at all, except to ask him how he felt.

And he had bitten her head off at least twice for that already, so she was talking to him even less. But if he so much as sighed, her eyes were on him. They rarely left him, anyway, but now when he flinched, or yawned, or complained a little too much, her eyes would fill with pain.

During the last few minutes, his exciting time with 'lets grate the bones together and make muscle mush' had Carter on the far side of the cell, almost cowering.

Was it worry? He wasn't sure. It almost resembled fear, but fear of what?

God damnit, he hated the recuperation phase. He had been through it so many times. Perhaps it would be easier if he just shot himself and put them all out of his misery.

He sighed.

Carter's eyes flickered towards him.

Perhaps not.

She would probably chase him down into the afterlife just to whip his ass for it.

Mental image.

O'Neill, watch yourself, or you'll turn into a raving loon.

His self discussion was interrupted by an Asgard entering the room. Several Asgard in fact.

Most of them seemed to be security personnel, but two of them were definitely not. One well dressed Asgard - O'Neill was shocked at that, he had gotten used to seeing naked grey aliens - stood at the forefront of the group. Another non-security person stood at the back. He only wore a badge of office.

The 'clothed' Asgard wore a robe and some type of necklace. His bearing spoke of surety of command.

Jack wanted to be on his own two feet for this one.

"Guys, help me up."

Daniel and Janet protested, but Teal'c grabbed his good arm, levered him up, and supported him. The world spun sickeningly. His body was still not a fan of the full vertical position, his legs like jello, but Teal'c's strength held him up.

Okay, both feet in....

"Excuse me, why have we been detained?"

The clothed one spoke. "You have been held for your own protection."

"Why?"

"Commander Thor has been shot."

The jello in his legs turned liquid. Teal'c stumbled and Daniel grabbed Jack around the waist to keep him upright. He coughed, the shock running up and down his spine. "Shot?! How? Is he okay?"

"The Commander was found outside his office. We are currently attempting to ascertain the circumstances." He paused, his eyes skimming over the group of humans. "The Council has decided that it would be in both yours and our best interests for you to return to your planet at this time."

O'Neill was persistent. "Is Thor okay?"

"I have told you all you need to know. I ask you respect our privacy in this matter."

O'Neill's head was spinning again. An image of Thor lying dead in a pool of purple blood flashed across his mind. He had to know. "Please tell me, what is Thor's condition?"

"I can not."

Anger sparked in O'Neill. "Well, get your boss, or whoever else has the authority, in here so he can tell me."

"Colonel O'Neill, I am the highest authority. I am Val, leader of the Asgard High Council. Please realise that this decision was not made lightly. Your past efforts in assisting us have only staved off other possible solutions to our problem. You will go home. I will tell you no more."

He signalled to the decorated man at the back of the delegation , and O'Neill's world changed again.

They were standing in front of a stargate.

But it was no ordinary stargate.

It was huge. Twice the size of the stargates they were used to, and, instead of the standard seven chevrons, there were nine.

He found it interesting, but he could almost hear the whirring of the cogs in Carter's head from here. He knew that if their circumstances were different, the Major would be clambering all over it.

As it was, they were just a small group of extremely stunned travellers who were about to be chucked involuntarily through a wormhole.

There was a flash and all the belongings they had left, which weren't much - a couple of packs supplied by Thor with their remaining odds and ends stuffed into them - appeared beside them.

At a sound from above, Jack looked up. The High Councillor was standing on a platform above the stargate. "I would like to thank you, SG-1, for all your efforts on behalf of the Asgard, and want you to know that we, as a people, bear you no ill will. Despite recent happenings, you, Colonel O'Neill, are still considered a hero of the Asgard."

Jack didn't know what to say to that. He certainly didn't feel like a hero. Accusing eyes stood out amongst the security contingent surrounding them. Perhaps it wasn't so much of a bad idea that he get out of here. The emotional situation seemed to be reaching combustible levels.

He still couldn't think of anything to say.

He nudged Daniel with his splinted arm, immediately regretting it.

Daniel, surprised, as it was usually Jack who addressed the Asgard, stuttered. "Yes, High Councillor, we thank you for your hospitality, and hope that our two races will continue to work well together."

Way to go, Danny.

"I bid you farewell." And with that the High Councillor disappeared.

The security contingent didn't, and their immediate preferences were obvious.

"Okay, guys, grab your stuff. Let's go."

Obviously, Daniel and Teal'c considered their CO to be their 'stuff', because it was only Janet and Sam who grabbed their packs. He didn't comment, because, frankly, he couldn't stand straight without them.

The group walked up the ramp, and, turning, took a last look out over the massed Asgard to the windows and their view of Othalla. It still was an amazingly beautiful place, and a part of O'Neill's heart wanted to stay, but a simple glance at the Asgard below emphasized that they were no longer wanted. So, somewhat reluctantly, they turned as one, and entered the wormhole.

SG-1 went home.

**********

Blame Part 13 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'The Hammer Falls' By Gumnut Sep 2003

The universe sucked him in, chewed him up, and spat him out between its teeth.

His feet landed on the ramp, but if it had not been for Teal'c and Daniel, he would have fallen flat on his face.

As it was his stomach did a flip-flop as Earth's gravity switched sides. He had to sit down. Sit down now.

"Dan..." He coughed, swallowed, controlled his stomach. "Teal'c, down." His eyes widened. "Down now."

He was abruptly lowered to the ramp. He grabbed his head in his hands. Oh, god. Do not throw up, do not throw up. Aaach! Bile crawled up the back of his throat. Every muscle in his body tensed in a command to his stomach.

There was a clatter of boots on metal ramp, and a hand touched his knee.

He flinched. Just leave me alone for a minute.

The hand disappeared.

"Colonel?"

Janet.

Not daring to open his mouth for a reply, he closed his eyes tight, and held up a hand, shushing her away.

He just needed a minute.

Time passed, his stomach slowly settled down, and he was finally able to let go of his head without the world changing dimensions.

Opening his eyes he came face to face with five concerned friends. It was like he was at the carnival, those clown faces you threw balls into, mouths wide open, heads all lined up.

And they were all looking at him.

He looked at them impishly, particularly his Texan CO.

"Hi, General, long time, no see."

"Jack, are you okay?"

That question again.

"Dandy, sir. Just had a little reaction to gate travel. Not too steady on my feet yet. It's those Asgard toys, sir. Great for fixing the big things, a few side effects on the down side."

Janet spoke up. "General, I would like the Colonel down in my infirmary asap"

"Aw, Doc, I've been in and out of hospital all week, can't I have a break?"

Janet looked at him as if he was a five year old who had just broken her favourite china tea set. Gee, no wonder Cassie was so well behaved, thought Jack. "Okay, I'm going, I'm going." He mumbled expletives under his breath and she glared at him some more.

He obviously wasn't going anywhere without some help. He had a feeling he was going to miss that Asgard hover chair, no matter how much he had complained about it. With a hand from Teal'c and Daniel, he stood, none too steadily. The world seemed to be lopsided, tilting somewhere off to the left. Daniel tightened his grip on his belt, and they guided him down the ramp.

He was surprised to be confronted with a lot of guys with a lot of guns. Hadn't he just left a similar scene? The Asgard must have made Hammond jump with their 'takeover the gate' routine.

Realization kicked in.

He still hadn't found out about Thor.

Shit!

They had been chucked off the planet without a yay or nay. Thrown across the galaxy, sent home like good little children.

And they hadn't been told anything.

Thor could be dead. O'Neill stumbled at the thought, earning himself a worried glance from Daniel. Dead, never to be seen again. He hadn't even had a chance to say goodbye.

The anger in him told him he should have put up more of a fight, but logic prevailed. There had been nothing he could do to prevent leaving the planet.

The Security Advisor had seen to that.

And there was no way to go back.

God, he hoped Thor was okay, almost wished he would turn up unannounced, not caring even if he beamed him out of the shower naked. Just so long as he knew.

Knew he hadn't left a friend behind.

As they finally walked through the infirmary doors, the fear and anger had coiled into his gut and set up house...and it had no plans to leave until he found some answers.

**********

Thor al'ka kesereen of the Melsaran Steppe, Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, Ambassador Elect to Earth, was absolutely livid purple with rage.

"You did what?!"

"Sir, please calm down, your condition -"

"To Nithhogg with my condition!" Even the High Councillor blanched at such language.

"Commander!"

Thor battled with himself, being held back from jumping off the bed and throttling the Security Advisor only by the warning in the High Councillor's eye. "What have you accused them of?"

"Nothing."

"Then why have you sent them away?"

"It was felt that with this development it would safer for both them and the emotional health of our people."

"Emotional health? By sending them away, you have all but confirmed anyone's suspicions of them. Do you not want to give them the chance to speak for themselves?"

"We did not tell them."

Thor did not believe he could get any angrier, but he did.

"What did you tell them?" He hissed.

"Only that you had been attacked."

"Nothing else?"

"No, Commander."

"Did it ever occur to you that they may be concerned?"

"Why, sir?"

If Thor had a weapon it would have been used.

"Do you not worry if a friend is ill?"

"Yes, sir, of course."

"SG-1, O'Neill in particular, are my FRIENDS!"

"As you say, sir."

"Well, what are you standing there for? Contact them!"

The High Councillor spoke up. "We can not do that, Commander."

Thor was not deterred. "Why not?

"We are treating this as an internal matter. If our suspicions prove correct the humans will be informed."

"You think they did it, don't you?" His eyes narrowed, laser sharp, glaring at the Security Advisor.

"The evidence does point in that direction."

"Have you learnt nothing from my reports? Can you not see the character of these people?"

"Commander, need I remind you to whom you are speaking?"

"No, sir, need I remind you?"

Black fire passed between two sets of Asgard eyes.

"Very well, Commander. I will leave you to rest. We will talk once you have recovered your sensibilities." The High Councillor gestured to the Security Advisor and together they left.

Unthinking fools, Thor fumed. His brow creased slightly as he thought of O'Neill. The man was still recuperating, Thor had hoped to be there to reinforce the Colonel's innocence to the Colonel himself. The man was carrying the guilt of the death of thousands and it was not his fault. Thor felt he was the only one able to prove it to the ailing human.

And now he was denied even that.

As for himself, he was recovering quickly. Tala had found him in time. There was no permanent damage. He was resting, regaining his energy, and would be fine in no time. But the question was still 'who?' Thor's suspicions led him directly back to the events involving Frere. If so, there were more rogue Asgard out there.

And if Thor had been a target.

O'Neill could be one, too.

**********

George Hammond looked into the depths of a pair of deep brown eyes and watched the pain well up.

It brimmed, but as always, it never overflowed, and slowly it was sucked under, dragged beneath those deep pools of ice, hidden, never to be seen again.

Hammond, in his position, had had to notify friends and family of fallen soldiers many times. He had seen tears, he had seen anger, he had seen hysteria, but with Jack he saw none of these.

Just the pain.

Its control.

And then the emptiness.

The soft sounds of the infirmary were loud in the silence.

"I'm sorry, Jack, there was nothing we could do."

"He was a good man, sir."

"I know, son." He drew in a breath, god, he hated this. "There is a memorial service scheduled for next week. We wanted to wait until you and your team got home."

"Thank you, sir. I appreciate it."

And George Hammond felt the Jack O'Neill privacy doors slam down. Time for a discreet exit.

"Well, Jack, you are off duty for the next week or so. Doctor's orders. I want you to take it easy. I need my second in command back in working order."

"Yes, sir." The voice was empty.

"Get better, son." Hammond laid a hand on the man's shoulder, and left.

**********

Lou Ferretti is dead.

Those four words wrapped themselves around his brain and squeezed.

Dead because some alien wanted a test subject.

Frere, Loki, and that bastard machine.

He felt anger, he felt loss, he felt like he was going to scream.

Oh, Lou.

The man had been a smart ass with a wicked sense of humour. A lousy cook, and a worse poker player. You could trust him to watch your six, and stand beside you under fire, all in all a great friend.

Gone.

Lying back on the bed, he put his arm over his eyes, hiding from the memory of that cocky grin he would never see again.

**********

Daniel closed his notebook, and rubbed his eyes. While on Othalla he had had little to translate, now he had a backlog to get through. He sometimes wondered if he should hold classes on basic translation for some of his workmates, it might lighten the load.

The thought of Jack O'Neill arguing with him over the meaning of some obscure hieroglyph brought a smile to his lips.

That would be the day.

C'mon, Danny, be fair, if it wasn't for Jack you would still be trying to work out which end of the gun the bullets came out.

Besides, the man speaks better Ancient than you.

Each to their own.

Okay, now he really knew he needed a break. Not only was he talking to himself, but answering himself as well.

He stood up and made a beeline for his coffee machine. He was halfway there before he remembered that some kind soul had borrowed it while he was away, and neglected to return it.

Damn.

Commissary coffee - blech.

But beggars can't be choosers, and he could drop in to see how Jack was doing on the way back. Janet couldn't kick him out twice in one day, could she? He could see if the Colonel had managed to weedle his way out of the infirmary yet.

He doubted it.

Janet had been present for his latest near death experience, she knew what he had gone through. Daniel would be surprised if Jack was let out of her sight by Christmas time - no matter how many medical staff the Colonel sent insane.

Yep, he was right, the commissary coffee still tasted like bilge water. He even found himself longing for that coffee-wannabe Sam had concocted for him on Othalla. It certainly hadn't tasted as bad as this. Urgh. The things he did for caffeine.

Jack was curled up on his side, asleep, when Daniel walked into the infirmary. A tuft of silvery hair and one closed eye peeking above the covers. Daniel hesitated, not wanting to disturb the somnolent man, but decided to sit down and wait for a while.

Since General Hammond had informed him of the death of Major Ferretti, Jack had seemed to collapse in on himself. He was quiet, far too quiet. Janet said he was hardly eating. He had just seemed to give up.

The man had been through so much in his life. Was this the last straw?

Daniel knew, regardless of how illogical it may seem, that Jack blamed himself for the many deaths of the Asgard. He knew he saw them in his dreams.

He saw them in his own.

And Thor. What had happened to Thor? The question haunted them. Sam had tried contacting the Asgard multiple times, no answer. It was as if they no longer existed.

O'Neill had been furious at first. Angry because they hadn't been told, angry because they could not go back and find out, angry because quite literally there was nothing they could do about it.

And there was nothing as formidable as a frustrated and angry Jack O'Neill.

Nothing.

By the end of the first day, Daniel didn't know whether he wanted to wring the neck of the Asgard High Councillor, or wring Jack's instead.

But after the days passed with no news, Jack grew quiet, kept to himself, and mourned.

Daniel preferred an angry Jack.

He knew what to do then - yell back. But a sad, distant Jack shut all his emotional doors and let no-one in.

Not even Danny.

"Can I help you with something, Daniel?"

The archeologist nearly jumped out of his skin. Lukewarm coffee spilled all over his hand. That one eye, poking above the covers, was open and staring directly at him.

"Jack, you're awake."

"I knew you had all those degrees for something." He pulled the covers back and slowly sat up in bed. Daniel saw him close his eyes as his equilibrium was disturbed. He still couldn't walk without the dizziness overcoming him. Janet expected him to recover soon, though, as long as he took things easy. Hence the compulsory confinement to the infirmary.

"So how are you feeling, Jack?"

"You know, it would be nice to be asked a different question once in a while."

Okay, grumpy Jack firmly in residence, watch your step, Daniel.

"Okay, Jack. Read any good books lately?"

He got one of those looks for his efforts. The one that usually precedes the Jack O'Neill Death Glare. Sort of 'Warning: one more smart ass comment and you're toast'.

Fortunately Daniel had his own facial weaponry.

He immediately put on his 'You asked for it, I'm only trying to help you' look, which was very useful for giving Jack the guilts.

As usual it worked.

"Okay, Daniel, I know you mean well. I'm just sick of sitting here." He briefly put on the look of a pouting five year old, and Daniel almost smiled.

Jack O'Neill was such a paradox. A fun loving child encapsulated in a battle wearied hardened soldier.

"Jack, we are just worried about you."

"I know, Daniel." Jack looked down at his hands. "I'll be fine."

"But if you just talked-"

"Daniel, I don't want to talk about it. I'll handle this my way." He kept his eyes firmly locked on his hands, avoiding looking at Daniel.

"You are not alone, Jack. Not anymore."

Jack looked up at him, tired and worn, the pain turning his dark eyes almost black. "Sometimes I think it would be better for the universe at large that I was. At least nobody would get hurt." His gaze returned to his hands.

"If it wasn't for you, Jack, many people more people would be dead."

"Tell that to the Asgard."

"Thor believed in you."

"And look what happened to him."

"We don't know-"

"Daniel, he was shot, most likely he is dead. Sometimes it seems that everyone I call friend eventually gets hurt. Look at you, huh, how many times have you been declared dead? Perhaps you should get away while you are ahead."

"Jack, you can't take the blame for everything." Daniel was beginning to wonder if depression was another side effect of the Asgard treatment. "Actually, I would say you are responsible for the fact that I am here alive talking to you now."

"Oh, great, now you nagging me is my fault, too." He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

"Jack, c'mon, you and I know it's the truth."

Danny, as much as I am loathed to say it - because I'll probably never hear the end of it - you are quite capable of handling yourself now."

"All thanks to you, Jack."

"Oh, and your great degree endowed mind had nothing to do with it, huh?"

"Don't play the dumb ass with me, Jack." Daniel knew he was pushing it. Mount O'Neill could easily blow up in his face, but he had to get his point across. "You know I know you better than that. I'm here today because of you. All those hours of training, workouts, everything you put me through, reluctant student that I was. You knew I would need it, and I did. It was you."

Jack looked like he didn't know what to say.

So he didn't say anything.

That has to be a first, thought Daniel, I must be getting somewhere.

"Thor knows, I know, Teal'c and Sam know, hell, everyone who knows you knows. If there is a way to protect the innocent, you will find it." It was Daniel's turn to look down at his hands. "What happened on Othalla was a tragedy, Jack. For the Asgard, yes, but also for SG-1. We have seen a member of our team accused, tortured, and blamed. We have seen his spirit beaten down, and now we are terrified we will lose him." He turned to Jack and looked him in the eye. "Have we lost you, Jack?"

The look on O'Neill's face was one of stunned amazement. All Daniel got was an almost whispered, "No."

"Good." Daniel stood. "Then get your ass into gear, because I am sure as hell not braving the universe without you."

And he left. A speechless Colonel behind him.

**********

Time passed. Jack O'Neill slowly recovered. The day he walked the length of the infirmary without falling over once was declared a day of celebration. Unfortunately, Jack sulked because Janet wouldn't let him have any of the champagne.

But eventually things started to return to normal. O'Neill became a familiar figure wandering the corridors once again, and although quieter than usual, still managing the occasional quip. His arm protected in a sling, Janet had released him from the infirmary and authorised him for light duty - translation? paperwork - as long as he stayed on base. Seems she still wanted to keep an eye on him.

George Hammond had been ecstatic to finally get several piles of paper off his desk, they had started to accumulate cobwebs, and he was happy to hear Jack grumbling about it.

A grumbling Jack was better than a quiet, sad Jack.

He knew his second in command was still stewing over what had happened to Thor. Hammond was himself. He had come to like the Asgard. The people had been willing to help them on many occasions, and of all their allies they had been the most honest and straight forward.

Even if they stole his Colonel every now and then.

Jack had formed a friendship with Thor and despite his repeated protestations regarding his diplomatic skills, the relationship was one of the firmest ambassadorial ties the SGC had.

George smirked, thinking of Jack's reaction to the label 'Ambassador'.

Today Hammond, with Janet's blessing, had finally managed to send him home. Doctor Jackson had quickly volunteered to be a chauffeur and off they went. He told the both of them that he didn't want to see either of them for a good five days.

Jack had been heard to protest vehemently. Terms like 'nursemaid' and 'babying' were bandied about, along with complaints about Daniel's choice in cuisine.

Daniel had just rolled his eyes, Sam had been heard to snicker, and Teal'c had raised an eyebrow, but the truth was they were happy to hear the complaints.

The Colonel was back.

George's ruminations were interrupted by the gate klaxon going off, its strident alarms ringing through the base. The familiar cry of 'Unauthorised incoming wormhole' echoed off the concrete.

Damn, what now?

He was halfway out of his office when everything went dark.

Power blackout.

Shit.

Stumbling around in the dark, the conference room was suddenly lit by the swirl of the stargate's emerging wormhole. Hammond dashed down the stairs, two at a time, almost doing in an ankle on the last rung.

"What've we got?"

"Unknown, sir. Main power is down, iris is not responding."

This was familiar, it could only be one of two things - the Asgard...

Or Anubis.

He prayed for the former.

Samantha Carter, dressed in civvies, came running into the room. He had ordered her home two hours ago.

Typical.

SG-1 had been hanging around Jack O'Neill too long.

His prayers were answered as a small grey form arrived through the event horizon. Thor?

"Defense team, stand down!"

He and Carter hurried towards the gateroom, just before the wormhole cut out and the base once more was plunged into darkness.

By the time they reached the gate ramp, the lighting was coming back on. Hammond looked to their visitor.

It wasn't Thor.

"Tala?"

"Yes, Major Carter. I am sorry to intrude, but I have come with some urgency. May I speak to Colonel O'Neill?"

"He is currently off base. Can I help you at all, sir?" Hammond made it clear he wanted an introduction.

"Oh, sorry, sir, this is Tala, Commander Thor's aide. Tala, this is General Hammond, leader of this facility."

Tala bowed his head towards Hammond. "It is imperative that I speak with the Colonel immediately."

"Does this have anything to do with our sudden departure from Othalla?"

"Yes, indeed, Major. However, I am not here on behalf of our government. Commander Thor has sent me to ask you for your help."

Carter beat him to the obvious next question.

"Is Thor okay?"

Tala paused, as if hesitating to tell them anything, his eyes darting between the two of them.

"Commander Thor has survived his attack, and is recovering. However, that is not his major concern." He held out a hand, and suddenly a hologram appeared. "This is the weapon used in the incident, and the reason you were so hastily removed from Othalla."

Both Hammond and Carter sucked in a breath.

A P-90 flickered in the alien's palm.

**********

Loyalty Part 14 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Blame' By Gumnut Sep/Oct 2003

Jack sat and watched the P-90 hologram revolve slowly on the conference room table.

He and Daniel had been arguing about dinner when the call came through from Sam. The choices had been pizza or Thai food. Jack, of course, was all for pizza. Daniel claimed he was sick of it, and wanted to try something new.

How could you get sick of pizza?

Beer and pizza, staple food, can't live without it.

And since he had been denied anything remotely resembling that delicacy for the last month - he wasn't sure he would ever be able to eat chocolate again - there had been no way he was going to settle for anything less than the real thing.

His house, his rules, his pizza.

So there.

The phone had rung just as he was reaching to pick it up and dial Dominoes.

He was still hungry.

Two handfuls of month old potato crisps from Daniel's glove compartment, and a glass of water just didn't cut it.

He was being deprived. The universe was out to get him by denying him pizza.

It was just the icing on the cake, though, because now round two of 'Let's get the Asgard to hate Jack O'Neill' had begun.

It was his gun.

Well, it looked like his gun.

But as far as he knew, his actual weapon had been blown to stardust aboard the 'O'Neill'.

Apparently not.

Damn.

All of SG-1 sat around the conference table, Hammond, as usual, at its head. Tala was playing show and tell.

Look, this is Jack's gun, see he shot Thor, how dare he? What do you mean he didn't do it? His DNA is all over the weapon.

"Oh, for crying out loud, I couldn't even walk at the time Thor was shot. In fact, I was probably flat on my back having hit that stupid tree."

"Vine."

Jack slowly turned his head towards Daniel. A patented Jack O'Neill death glare was released.

The archeologist melted before his eyes.

He turned back to Tala. "As I was saying, there is no way I could have shot Thor, even if I wanted to, which I most certainly do not."

Tala looked him directly in the eye. "That is precisely what the Commander said."

Jack was confused. "What?"

Tala addressed the room at large. "Commander Thor unwaveringly believes that Colonel O'Neill would never have injured him. Although, he does say that, walking or not, O'Neill could be physically capable of such a task, he is adamant that the Colonel would never do such a thing." He looked over at Jack. "And I agree."

Jack was still confused. This was the same alien who a few weeks ago could barely look at him, much less speak to him? Now, he was declaring his firm belief in his innocence?

As if sensing O'Neill's confusion, Tala said, "Colonel, Commander Thor has declared you his friend. In our culture, we value friendship on par with family. It is a great honour to be bestowed such a title by any of us." His eyes seemed to see into O'Neill's soul. "With it comes a great responsibility. Commander Thor would give his life in your name, and he has told me you would hold his life in a similar esteem. Is his faith in vain?"

O'Neill felt as if everyone in the room was staring at him. Embarrassment was just the beginning of what he was feeling. Of course, he would lay down his life for Thor should the situation warrant it, it just wasn't something you spoke about casually.

Tala was waiting for an answer.

Crap.

He cleared his throat. "Of course." His voice was rough earning him a glance from Carter.

"A betrayal of this loyalty is one of the gravest crimes in our society. Unfortunately, in declaring his allegiance towards yourself, the Commander has strained his relationship with the Asgard High Council." The alien took a breath. "Certain elements in our political system are applying pressure to usurp his position." Tala glanced at his hands before turning to look at O'Neill once more. "Colonel, last night Commander Thor was taken forcibly from his home by persons unknown. He left me instructions that should his life be threatened, I was to contact SG-1 and request assistance. He was of the firm opinion that no-one else on Othalla could be trusted."

The sudden silence was broken by a choked cough from O'Neill, followed by a firm, "Okay, what can we do?"

"Commander Thor believed that he had been attacked with this weapon," he indicated the hologram, "in an attempt to remove SG-1 from Othalla and possibly from Asgard relations altogether. The fact the council acted almost immediately has spurred his suspicions. And now that he has been taken, I am deeply worried for his safety." Jack saw the honesty in Tala's eyes. "He told me to give you this." He held up a small box. "It can only be activated and viewed by you. He said you would know what to do with it."

Jack accepted the box. It was small, about two inches cubed, and had no discernable markings.

He had no idea what to do with it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Carter and Daniel eyeing the box with curiosity. Hah! If he let them anywhere near it, it would be in pieces in minutes. He pushed the box closer into the crook of his broken arm

He turned back to Tala. "So what do we need to do?"

The Asgard looked a little flummoxed. "I presumed you would wish to view the Commander's message." Ah, mail in a box, so that's what it was. He looked down at it again. Nope, still no idea.

He glanced up. "Yep. I sure will, just not yet." Daniel rolled his eyes, and opened his mouth to say something, but Jack cut him off. "I want to view the message in private." Now, that shut him up. If in doubt, bluff.

"Well, Jack, I suggest you excuse yourself for a moment and open your mail." The General was being patient.

Jack glanced across the table at Tala, and asked him one more thing before he left. "What do you think he wants us to do?"

The Asgard didn't hesitate. "I believe he would want you to return to Othalla to declare your innocence."

O'Neill looked down at the box again, thinking.

"I guess I will have to find out." He stood, clutching the small cube in one hand. "If you will excuse me, Tala, General." He looked at SG-1. "Kids."

That earned him a smirk from Sam.

"Tally ho."

He left the room.

*********

He ended up back in his on-base quarters. He had hoped to not see them for a while, but here he was.

He placed the box on a table, and sat staring at it. Thor said he would know what to do with it. What? It couldn't be too complicated, Thor knew that much about him, didn't he?

He turned the box over and over in his hands. No apparent openings, no switches, no writings.

Good on the lack of writings, otherwise he would have to fight for it with Daniel.

It was Asgard, perhaps it was holographic?

He rattled it. There was something inside.

Shit. He put it down suddenly, hoping he hadn't broken anything.

He stared at it awhile longer. C'mon, Thor buddy, what did you mean I would know what to do with it? It was a bit much to place such faith in the stunted part of his brain that contained all his scientific knowledge. This could be a matter of life and death.

Life and death.

A sudden flashback of Thor in the clutches of Anubis' Jaffa holding his fingers to his throat.

Jack reached out a hand, laying his fingers on the box.

He said one word.

"Life."

Nothing happened.

He tried again.

"Hope."

Two things happened at once. The box sprang open, scattering several objects onto the table.

And a six inch high hologram appeared.

"Greetings, O'Neill."

*********

Sam Carter was deep in discussion with Tala, when Colonel O'Neill burst back into the conference room. He immediately caught all her attention.

The look in his eyes was haunted.

He wasted no time on pleasantries. "General, request permission to return to Othalla."

"What did you find out, Colonel?"

Jack's eyes didn't meet the General's. "Sir, Thor is in need of our assistance. I recommend we supply it."

"I repeat, Jack, what did you find out?"

"I'm afraid, General, that I am not in a position to disclose that information."

The General looked surprised. "What?"

"Sir, may I speak to you in private?"

The General stood, and gestured the Colonel towards his office, before following him and closing the door.

Sam looked at Daniel, whose eyebrows were raised. Something was up.

Raised voices had them both looking in the direction of the closed door. Through the window, they could see a wildly gesticulating Colonel and a stony faced General.

The argument went on for quite awhile, the Colonel's body language getting more and more agitated.

Abruptly the door was flung open. A furious Colonel stormed out of the office, stalking past a stunned SG-1 towards the stairs. He paused briefly before leaving, his eyes casting over his team, and locking on Tala. He said one word.

"Soldacium."

And, turning, he left.

All of SG-1 turned to look at Tala, but he looked as confused as Sam felt. She looked at Daniel, finding his face thoughtful, but puzzled.

"Do you know what he said?"

Daniel jumped as if she had spooked him. "What? No, not yet." She could see his mind clicking over behind his eyes. She watched as he scribbled something in his notes.

The General finally came out of his office, looking tired and worried. "I'm sorry, Tala, I can not give SG-1 permission to return to Othalla. The situation is too unstable and without further information I am not willing to take the risk. Colonel O'Neill is also not medically fit for such a mission at this time."

"But, sir-" Sam knew how much Thor meant to the Colonel.

"Major, I have made my decision. Colonel O'Neill refuses to divulge the information Thor sent him. Tala has told us the Asgard High Council all but blames the Colonel for assaulting one of their officers, and it sounds like the political situation is becoming unstable." He turned once again to Tala. "My deepest apologies, Tala, and my sincerest hopes that all will be well with Commander Thor. But I can not send my people into a situation where they are outnumbered and outgunned on all sides should the situation erupt. I'm sorry."

She knew he genuinely was, she could see it his eyes. The General liked Thor in his own way, and obviously he had had a furious argument with the Colonel.

Tala bowed slightly to Hammond. "I understand, General." He looked towards the stargate through the glass windows. "I am unable to return to Othalla for two more of your hours. I left as unobtrusively as possible and must return as such."

"Major Carter can show you to some guest quarters, please let her know if there is anything else you need during that time." He turned to the remaining members of SG-1. "Dismissed."

*********

Jack was back in his quarters....again.

Staring at the box....again.

He knew how to open it now, and had one of its objects in his hand, rolling it amongst his fingers.

Two loyalties stood before him, and he had to choose.

Thoughts of Thor charging to his rescue, the entire Asgard Fleet in tow, came to mind.

George's stony, but anguished, face saying the word 'No'.

The two loyalties were in conflict. At the end of the first came court martial, a life in prison. At the end of the other....

Looking down at his fingers, he stared at the piece of alien technology.

He made the decision.

*********

Daniel went immediately to his office, pulled a book off his shelf - was nearly killed by the several that came off accidently with it - and thumbed through its many pages.

Teal'c had followed him, his curiosity obviously piqued.

"Daniel Jackson, do you know what Colonel O'Neill said?"

"I think I do." His fingers moved down the pages, searching until he found what he was looking for. "Aah! 'Solacium: Latin for help, support, or military aid'."

Daniel saw realisation dawn on Teal'c's face. "Colonel O'Neill speaks the language of the Ancients."

Daniel tipped his head slightly in acknowledgement. "He does, some, so do you."

"I do not know that word."

"He obviously does. 'Soldacium' is close to 'solacium'. I'm thinking he asked Tala for help."

The two suddenly looked at each other.

"Shit." Daniel grabbed his phone. "Sam, can you get to my lab asap. No Tala." The affirmative at the other end of the line was enough for him. He put the phone down.

"You believe O'Neill will attempt to go to Othalla regardless."

"Yes, Teal'c, and it wouldn't be the first time either. Give him enough reason and he'll go to ends of the Earth for a friend. So why not the ends of the galaxy." Where the hell was Sam?

"Will General Hammond not attempt to stop him?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he will, Teal'c, but there is an Asgard on base. Since when have we been able to stop them from doing anything?"

A raised eyebrow was the only answer.

Sam came running into his office. "What's up?"

Daniel filled her in.

"Shit!"

At least they all agreed.

"He'll go without us, won't he?" Sam's eyes said she knew the answer to her question.

The truth echoed in the room. Jack O'Neill was well known for endangering himself for a good enough cause, but he never endangered his team if he could help it.

As one they made for the door.

*********

General Hammond made his way to the gate room with Tala. He had gone to visit the Othallan to see if there was anything, anything at all, he could do to help the Asgard without endangering his premiere team.

There was nothing.

Tala was gracious and undemanding, and Hammond genuinely regretted his inability to help the Asgard. They chanced to lose an incredibly important ally if the Asgard government fell.

But, damn, there was no way.

Entering the gate room, he was surprised to find a fully kitted up Colonel O'Neill waiting at the base of the ramp.

What the hell did he think he was doing?

"Colonel, where do you think you are going?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I need to go to Othalla."

"I gave you a direct order. Stand down."

O'Neill's body was as rigidly at attention as it could be. "No, sir, I am sorry, sir. I can not in all conscience, obey that order."

"Jack." Hammond's voice was almost pleading. "This is a court martial offence."

"I know, sir." The General could see the strength of Jack's resolve overlaying a barely seen distress in his eyes. What the hell had Thor said to drive O'Neill to this extreme?

His thoughts were interrupted by the rest of SG-1 entering the room.

Doctor Jackson's voice echoed off the concrete.

"Jack, you are not going without us."

*********

Jack felt every muscle in his body tense. No way in hell....

His three teammates were all fully kitted out, ready to go. Had he been that transparent?

"Daniel, I am going alone."

"No, you are not, sir." Carter.

"No-one is going anywhere!" Hammond gestured to the guards at the door. Weapons were raised.

Jack raised his own, on reflex alone. SG-1 moved to his side.

"Carter, leave now."

"No, sir, it's SG-1 together or not at all."

He swore.

Tala, almost forgotten in the fray, joined SG-1 at the base of the ramp. He addressed O'Neill. "Am I to understand that you wish to return with me to Othalla?"

"Soldacium, Tala."

"Very well."

The small alien gestured, and a sparkling force field appeared around SG-1 and himself. A wormhole shattered into being behind them.

"Tala, me only." Jack did not want the rest of SG-1 to throw their careers down the toilet. It was his decision and his alone.

Apparently they had other ideas.

Sam walked right up to him and defiantly looked him in the eye. "Colonel, sir, SG-1 is a team."

"Carter, no."

"Sir, no-one gets left behind, not even in safety."

"Carter, I said, no!"

"Sorry, sir, we can't let you go on your own."

"I am going alone."

"No, sir."

"Which part of that order did you not understand, Carter?"

"None of it, sir." The woman's face was set at a furious attention, looking up at him.

"Carter, your career...."

"Some things are more important, sir." Her gaze held his eyes, beyond her defiance something else floated, something nameless. Briefly, a fear flickered in her eyes before it was dismissed.

"Jack." Daniel. "If we are going, we better be going now."

His reluctance tore at him. His decision had cost him so much, but the kids....it would cost them so much more. He still hesitated, his eyes skipping over the furious Hammond and the massing troops in the gate room.

Teal'c caught his eye once, and once only. Loyalty shone like a beacon.

This was what it was all about wasn't it?

He turned to Hammond. "General, I am sorry. Please trust me when I say that I am not doing this for a fickle reason. It is important, more than I can tell you." He paused, the look of betrayal on Hammond's face tearing him up inside. "If I can I will return. Do with me, then, what you will. I'm sorry."

With that he took a deep breath and turned towards the stargate, knowing that his team followed behind him.

As he stepped into the wormhole, he wondered if it would be for the last time.

He sincerely hoped not.

*********

On a small planet in the galaxy of Ida, three humans, a Jaffa, and an Asgard burst through an event horizon to land on their feet in front of a stargate.

And all hell broke loose.

*********

Slugs, Snails, and Puppy Dog's Tails Part 15 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Loyalty' By Gumnut Oct 2003

Thor was right.

No-one else on Othalla could be trusted.

A beam of some sort of weapons fire flew past his head and sizzled through the still fluctuating event horizon.

He ducked.

He rolled.

He yelled out orders.

"Everybody get down!"

SG-1 scattered for cover. Fortunately they had not returned through the same stargate that had sent them home last time. They were in some sort of parkland, possibly part of the Garden, but he could see little as it stretched off into the dark night.

And there were a dozen Asgard shooting at them.

Damn it!

He dove behind a tree that wasn't a tree, as he felt the hot breath of fire caress his cheek.

Eyeballing the enemy, he checked for SG-1's status.

Teal'c was in the best position, covered by a statue behind the now dormant stargate. Carter had opted for a tree-wannabe like himself. Daniel...

Crap.

Tala had Daniel, and was pointing what was obviously a weapon at the archeologist's midriff.

He waited for the demand he knew was coming.

"Colonel O'Neill, you know this is a no win situation. I suggest you surrender now to avoid some unpleasant consequences."

What is it? Are all bad guys related, or do they just read the same trashy novels?

He thought briefly of the box's contents, but dismissed using them. The box was stashed where no one could find it.

At least he hoped.

Damn it, this search and rescue mission had not gotten off to a good start at all.

"Colonel, I suggest you give yourself up. Doctor Jackson will not be of much use to me much longer."

Damnit!

"Jack, don't-" There was a blast of weapon's fire and the sound of a body crumpling.

Oh, god, Daniel!

A quick visual showed Daniel in a heap at Tala's feet. Dead or alive, he couldn't tell.

Shit!

"Colonel, one more shot and he dies. Your choice."

No choice.

He would have to rely on the box.

Arms outstretched, he walked out from behind the tree-wannabe. "Tala, okay, you got me. Let the others go."

The Asgard laughed. "How valiant, Colonel, but whatever gave you the idea I just wanted you?" The laugh turned to a sneer.

Jack's sight was blinded as Tala fired.

**********

She woke up lying flat on her back.

It took a few seconds for her to remember what happened. A brief flash of Jack O'Neill under a barrage of enemy fire had her sitting up in a hurry.

She was in a cell.

Four walls, solid looking door, the standard dcor for such a room.

Daniel lay sprawled beside her, Teal'c on the other side of him. But it was her commanding officer who caught her immediate attention.

He was awake.

He was standing.

He had his hands down his pants.

"Sir?"

Despite the seriousness of their situation, god, she wished she had a camera at that moment.

He jumped. The look on his face was priceless. "Carter?" His hands were suddenly behind his back.

"Sir, are you okay?"

"Oh, um, yes. You?"

She made a brief appraisal of herself. Nothing hurt, everything seemed to be working. "Fine. Stunned?"

"That's what I thought. Danny and Teal'c seem to be okay."

There was a silence. He looked everywhere, but at her.

She had to ask.

"Sir, what were you doing?"

He was obviously embarrassed. "It's not what you think, Carter."

"What do I think it is?"

He frowned at her, bringing his arms around to his front. He held out his hand. In his palm she could see a small patch about a quarter of an inch square.

"What is it?"

He didn't answer, but brought it in close to his body. He did something to it, and it changed.

It became the box.

The box Thor had sent him.

He held it close to him, obviously concerned about being observed by their captors. His eyes looked directly at her. "See if you can wake Daniel and Teal'c."

The Colonel obviously knew something she didn't, she could see the plans under construction behind his eyes. She shook Daniel and was rewarded by a muffled grunt.

"Oh, god, what hit me?"

"Wakey, wakey, Danny. Rise and shine." Jack was almost cheerful.

Teal'c was much faster to respond to her touch, coming awake almost immediately. "Major Carter, are you well?"

"I'm fine, Teal'c, how about you?"

He paused, as if reflecting inwardly. "I am well."

"Okay, kids, time for some show and tell."

He tapped the box and it opened. He pulled out five small objects before closing it again.

Four objects were the same. One was not.

The Colonel fiddled with the fifth for a moment until he seemed satisfied. "Okay, kids, Thor has lent us some of his pet toys. This causes surveillance interference." He put the gadget on the ground between them. "You may recognise these." He handed out one each of the other four objects to the team.

Sam looked at the small piece of technology. It was round and about half an inch in diameter. There was something about it that seemed vaguely familiar.

Then it clicked.

Could it be?

"Sir-"

"Before you say it, Carter, yes, they are similar to those shape changy gadgets."

She looked at it again. Yes, it definitely was very much like the small holographic projectors the alien invasion had used to take over the SGC. But it was smaller, more compact, a different colour...

She had a million questions.

"Sir-"

The Colonel held up a hand for silence.

There were footsteps in the distance.

"Damn."

A couple of swift movements, and the box was gone.

At least now she knew what he had been doing in his underwear.

She quickly grabbed the interference device from the floor and stashed it, and her gadget, on herself. Daniel and Teal'c followed suit.

A scuffling outside the door was all that heralded the entrance of several Asgard.

Tala was not amongst them. He was lucky. Sam fully intended on strangling him the next time she saw him.

Several of the small grey aliens were holding weapons, trained, of course, on their captives, but the lead alien was not. He stepped forward.

"Greetings, O'Neill and SG-1. It is my pleasure to finally meet you."

O'Neill snorted arrogantly. "And it will be a pleasure to kick your ass on our way out."

"I apologise for your treatment, Colonel, it was necessary."

"Well, remind me to mention that to you if you get shot during our exit outta here."

"Your confidence is somewhat amusing, Colonel, but please excuse me if I know better."

Sam spoke up. "Why have you brought us here?"

The alien turned to her and she was surprised to find genuine sorrow in those deep, black eyes. "As I said, Major Carter, out of necessity." He turned back to the room at large, straightening his short frame. "You can call me Kalta."

Sam was persistent. "What do you want with us?"

He looked at her again, and again, his pain bore into her soul. "Life, Major Carter. A future for our people."

Her heart sank. She looked at Jack O'Neill. Beneath that silvery crop of hair was a mind that had held the entire knowledge of the Ancients. It wouldn't be the first time the Asgard had come looking for him.

He said the very words she was thinking. "But Thor said I could not provide what the Asgard needed."

Kalta looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Colonel, but the Commander was correct on all but one point. You can not help us....and live."

The silence in the room echoed in her soul. It was broken by a quiet word from the Colonel. "You could have just asked."

Kalta's eyes flickered. "I sincerely doubt you would have given us what we need." He gestured towards the door. "Colonel, if you would please come with me."

His options limited to one, he complied, his eyes catching hers on the way out. His trust in her chilled the warmth from her bones.

The Asgard crowded around him and they left, the door clicking shut behind them.

The Colonel was gone.

It was up to her.

And she didn't intend to fail him.

She pulled out the gadget he had given her, and turning to her teammates, set about solving its mysteries.

**********

As Jack followed Kalta down the hallway, he tried his best to work out where they might be. He failed miserably.

The corridors all seemed the same. Similar Asgard accents, cool light, high ceilings. He could be anywhere. Whoever had built this place hadn't been a fan of windows.

"Where are we going?"

Kalta came back to walk beside him, almost as if he was playing the polite host. "I want you to meet someone."

"Who?"

"My son."

Son? He had heard of family groups, but this was a first mention of a familial relationship of the Asgard.

They came to a door and stopped. Kalta seemed to hesitate before waving his hand across the control to open it.

It was dark inside, but it brightened as they entered. Jack was reminded of his hospital room at the Othallan Medical Centre. The moment he located the occupant, he knew why.

A lone Asgard lay on his back on a bed in the centre of the room. He was awake, but seemed unaware of their entrance. When he finally turned in their direction, as Kalta approached, he saw the reason why.

The normally velvet black eyes of the Asgard were the colour of smoky milk.

He was blind.

"Father?" The voice was scratchy.

Kalta reached the bed and placed a hand on an unmoving arm. "I am here, son."

"Please end it."

"I can not, my son."

"End it, please. I can not go on like this."

"I have found an answer."

"Will you end it, Father?" The tortured soul was beyond hearing.

"Kanya, hear me, we have a solution." Kalta gripped the arm tightly.

"Father? Have you come to kill me yet?"

Kalta bowed his head, before looking towards O'Neill.

Jack asked quietly. "What happened?"

The grief stricken Asgard let go of the arm he had been holding and turned from his still pleading son. "The war with the Replicators took many lives. Many were saved via our genetics program." His eyes wandered. "I, myself, saved thousands. Unfortunately, not all Asgard are able to be cloned successfully anymore. Our genetic structure is failing. Kanya." He coughed to clear his throat. "Kanya was mortally wounded, but he was rescued in time and a clone prepared. However the clone's genetic structure was not stable and not long after transfer, his body began to fail." Kalta looked up into Jack's eyes, his pain echoing through his body. "His mind is intact, Colonel, but his body is not. His DNA can no longer support reproduction via mitosis at all. If I do not find a solution soon, he will die." He took a breath. "You are my last hope, Colonel O'Neill."

Jack swallowed a lump in his throat. His sympathy for the distraught father was absolute. But what could he do?

"What can I do?"

Kalta didn't hesitate. "You are aware of the discovery of a ship of our ancestors in your galaxy recently?"

"Yes."

"Using elements of our ancestor's DNA and combining it with yours, we will be able to restructure your body to enable it to support Kanya's consciousness."

Jack's eyes widened. "And what about my consciousness?"

"As I said, you will not survive the procedure."

Cold ice settled in his stomach. They didn't want his DNA, they wanted his body.

They wanted a host.

"No."

"I'm afraid, Colonel, that neither of us have a choice in the matter."

"There are always choices."

"You die, or my son dies. Which would you choose, Colonel?"

Jack's heart stopped momentarily, his mind filled with images of a dying Charlie. What would have been his choice? What would Charlie's have been?

O'Neill's eyes settled on Kalta. "You are no better than the Goa'uld."

Kalta's eyes hardened. "This is a matter of survival, O'Neill, and even your backward scientists know - only the fittest survive."

Realisation dawned. Kalta didn't plan to stop with Kanya. He saw it as a permanent solution to the Asgard's genetic problems.

He wanted to prey on O'Neill's people.

Jack couldn't allow that.

He was lightning fast. His hands moving towards Kalta, to stop this travesty at its root.

He wasn't fast enough.

A field snapped around him. He couldn't move.

Restraining field.

Kalta looked sorrowfully up at him. "I am sorry, Colonel, there is no other way." He signalled to the guards and Jack was levitated and moved involuntarily, out of the room and down the corridor.

Inside he fumed.

He swore.

He raged.

Visions of the Asgard swooping in on Earth, taking humans as they chose. Flashes of light stealing people from their lives.

He couldn't allow it.

It was his responsibility to stop it.

But there wasn't a single thing he could do.

So he raged.

Eventually his body was moved into a room, obviously some type of laboratory, in the centre of which lay a long tub of clear bubbling liquid. With Kalta's direction, the guards lifted him, straightened out his limbs, and slowly lowered him into the fluid.

He tried to move, tried to struggle.

He couldn't do a thing.

As the liquid swelled up around his body, his thoughts were of his team. Of how they had blindly followed him here, trusting him as always. Of how he had failed to protect them from what was likely to be a similar fate.

The liquid ran into his ears, and crept up his cheek. He couldn't even close his eyes as it slithered across his vision. Finally it filled his nose, running down into his lungs.

Beneath the still, motionless, submerged body, the spark that was Jack O'Neill took a deep phantom breath and screamed.

**********

Unseen and Unspoken Part 16 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Slugs, Snails, and Puppy Dog's Tails' By Gumnut Oct 2003

Before his very eyes, Major Carter flickered, rippled and disappeared.

"Major Carter!"

"Teal'c, I'm fine." The voice came out of thin air.

The Jaffa moved forward, his hand searching the space where the Major had been.

His hand met something soft.

The thin air squawked. "Teal'c, watch where you put your hands!"

He jerked back. "My apologies, Major Carter."

"Sam, you're completely invisible." Daniel Jackson looked stunned. "If I didn't know better, I wouldn't know you were there. No shadow, nothing."

"Well, I'm still here. My vision is a little hazy, though, possibly interference."

"Can you see yourself?"

There was the sound of rustling fabric before she replied. "No, and that will make things a little interesting." She paused, and Teal'c was about to ask another question, but she continued, sounding resolute. "Okay. It's time we got out of here."

**********

Once the anti-surveillance device was deactivated, it didn't take long for a guard to come and investigate the fact that three very important captives had gone missing. The moment he walked in the door to investigate, Teal'c had overpowered him, taken his weapon, and stunned him. A careful investigation of the corridor proved it to be empty, and they made their initial escape.

They crept through corridors dodging passing Asgard. In fact avoiding the aliens was easier than avoiding themselves. It is hard to avoid someone you can't see.

Daniel Jackson managed to step on Major Carter's feet twice, who in turn had managed to trip over Teal'c at least once, but they made good progress.

The big question was where had their captors taken O'Neill? They searched methodically praying that they hadn't taken him too far away.

And they had to be quiet.

They couldn't be seen, but they definitely could be heard.

Nevertheless, when they did find the Colonel, the scientists responsible didn't know what hit them.

**********

Jack O'Neill had known pain in his life, but this was worse.

It was the absence of pain.

An absence of everything.

His mind wrestled with it. He could feel nothing but warm fluid. It soaked through his uniform, curling up against his skin, caressing his eyelids.

But worst of all was breathing it.

Panic at every breath. Lungs not designed to move liquid, strained to meet his body's demands.

He could see little. Hear little. Everything was muffled.

Except for his sense of taste.

This stuff tasted like crap.

If only he could spit it out.

His whole world had been reduced to the basics of life.

Breathe in, breathe out. Live.

It continued like this for an unknown amount of time as the very concept of time was stolen from his existence.

Eventually he felt himself slipping away. He struggled to focus.

It was important to stay.

Though he couldn't remember why.

Focus.

There must be something in the fluid. He tried to hold his breath.

No breath to hold.

No sensation to stimulate his struggle.

He slipped further, drowning in his own mind, desperately clinging to one thought. A life buoy.

Three pairs of eyes.

And a trust given to no-one else.

**********

It was a laboratory. Sam would recognise one anywhere. Five Asgard were in attendance, including Kalta and two armed guards.

The body of Colonel O'Neill floated in a tank in the middle of the room.

He looked pale, almost dead, a ghostly wraith, bubbles lazily drifted past his skin.

Something inside her broke, she just couldn't take it anymore.

The two guards suddenly found themselves minus their weapons, as the very air in the room stole them from their hands, and turned them on those they were there to protect. The Asgard fell like autumn leaves from trees caught in a windy day.

The weapon was cool in her hand, but did little to stave off her fury.

She couldn't see Daniel or Teal'c, but she presumed it was Teal'c who suddenly wrestled Kalta to the ground.

She was wrong.

It was Daniel.

His voice was rough with strain as he hissed into the scientist's ear. "What have you done?"

Kalta's eyes darted about as if looking for purchase. "Doctor Jackson?"

Sam could feel the anger emanating from the invisible archeologist. It echoed her own. "Who I am is not important. What have you done to Jack O'Neill?"

"He is the saviour of our race."

The air took in a breath. "I will only say it one more time. If you do not answer you will die. What have you done to Jack O'Neill?"

The Asgard ceased struggling emitting a resigned sigh. "I have done nothing. I was merely preparing him for genetic manipulation."

Genetic manipulation? Again? Hadn't the man gone through enough?

Sam's turn to question. "Can he be safely removed from the tank?"

Kalta peered in her direction from his place on the floor. "Ah, Major Carter, I'm not likely to tell you that, now am I?"

Kalta's sudden yelp of pain was the only indication of Daniel's reaction to that statement. Sam guessed that Kalta was walking a very fine line with the archeologist.

He was lucky. Sam doubted she would have been that restrained.

She sensed, rather than saw, Teal'c hovering around the tank. The anxiety in the air was tangible.

And they had to hurry. Who knew what surveillance was in this room. Security could beam in at any moment.

She made the decision.

"Teal'c get him out of there."

There was the sound of splashing as Kalta protested. "No! You don't understand. There's a life at stake."

Her voice was deathly calm. "Yes, we know. Colonel O'Neill's."

Kalta whimpered as Teal'c lifted the sodden form into the laboratory's life giving air. Sam rushed over, leaving Kalta to the mercies of Daniel.

"Lay him down, Teal'c. Turn him over. We need to get that fluid out of him."

He looked so pale, so drawn. It was happening again. How many times did she have to watch this man dance with death?

How many times could she nearly die inside?

She knelt down, desperate to find a pulse. His skin was, thankfully, warm, but sticky beneath her fingers. A fluttering movement stabilised her heart.

His eyelids fluttered.

She was spared yet again.

**********

Jack O'Neill's world shattered back to reality as a force pulled him from the depths of his senseless tomb.

Cold air hit his skin as the thin viscous fluid ran from his body.

Voices. There were voices.

"Lay him down, Teal'c. Turn him over. We need to get that fluid out of him."

Carter?

Warm fingers touched his throat, drifting across his cheek.

His eyelids blinked desperately, trying to clear his vision with little success.

He opened his mouth to speak but he had no voice.

"Colonel?"

Again he tried to speak, but something was preventing him.

"Colonel, you need to breathe."

Breathe?

"Damn it, sir! Breathe!"

Never one to disobey an order, Jack expanded his diaphragm.

Oh, god. He couldn't inhale. Panic welled in his mind.

He felt a pressure on his back, a swell in his chest, and he was suddenly coughing as if his insides wanted out.

He ended up on his hands and knees, broken arm and all, vomiting fluid into a rapidly expanding puddle on the floor, taking deep gasping breaths. A soft hand rested on the back of his neck, while stronger arms supported him.

He looked up expecting to see Carter and Teal'c, but the room was empty.

He attempted to get to his feet to scramble away from his unseen captors, but he was too sick to stand, and too weak to break free.

"Colonel. Colonel!" Sam's voice again. "It's us, sir. Daniel, Teal'c and Sam."

He ceased struggling. "I c....can't see you." He darted his eyes around the room, and reached out a trembling hand. It was captured by that same soft hand that had been on his neck. But there was still nothing there. "Where are you?"

"Sir, remember the devices. The Box." She paused as if waiting for his response. "Thor."

Pieces fell slowly into place in his fuzzy mind. "Thor. Thor needs our help."

"Yes, sir, and we need to get out of here now."

He was picked up again, the motion disturbing his still fragile breathing, and he burst into a laboured spasm of coughing that sent black spots dancing across his already blurry vision. "Carter, I can walk."

"I don't think you can, sir. Teal'c can carry you."

"Damnit! I c-" More fluid dribbled down his chin to moisten his already soaked collar.

"Colonel, I need to activate your shielding device, where did you hide it?"

His sudden vision of the answer to that question set him squirming. "I'll....I'll do it." Then he said warningly, "Carter, don't look."

She sighed. "I'm not looking."

He would never know if she was anyway.

Grabbing the gadget, he slipped it under his sodden shirt, attaching it to the skin of his chest, activating it as Thor had instructed. God, he hoped it was waterproof.

His body disappeared.

Now that was the weirdest feeling.

Then he coughed.

Drops of fluid appeared in mid air and fell to the ground. He could feel his team's eyes on him.

"Sir, you are going to have to try to be quiet."

"Obviously, Carter." He finally noticed Kalta squirming on the floor. "What's wrong with him?"

"Uh, I think Daniel has his knee in the middle of his back."

Jack narrowed his eyes at the man who had tried to destroy his soul. He still had pity for the Asgard, but no sympathy remained. "He is coming with us."

"Sir?"

"We may need a hostage."

Tactics 101.

"Yes, sir."

And with that, an invisible Daniel hauled Kalta to his feet and they left.

**********

Jack O'Neill was a heavy man, though more unwieldy because of his shape rather than his weight.

And he continually wriggled.

Teal'c knew that O'Neill was doing his best to stave off his coughing fits. Twice they had had to duck into unoccupied rooms to give him a chance to clear his throat of that vile liquid substance, and Teal'c could feel the small tremors that shook O'Neill's traumatized body.

But weak as he may be, he still couldn't keep still.

An elbow in his ribs was the last straw.

"O'Neill, if you do not cease movement immediately, I will be forced to drop you."

A muffled grunt was the only reply, but the body in his arms became still.

For at least the next two minutes, where upon O'Neill simply started wriggling again.

Teal'c sighed.

They had found that by sticking items under their clothing they were able to hide them. This avoided the appearance of two weapons floating down the hallway, and Daniel had Kalta leading them towards the exit. Apparently they were underground. Daniel had also forced the scientist to walk normally as if he was alone, and it was working well until they ran into Tala.

"Kalta, did it work?" The traitorous Asgard hurried over to their captive, completely unaware of SG-1's presence.

Kalta cleared his throat. "It did not go well, Tala. I was interrupted by important business."

Immediately Tala's expression became one of suspicion. "What could be more important than your son's life?"

Kalta must have communicated something, because Tala suddenly pulled a weapon.

He didn't have a chance.

Two separate volleys of fire appeared out of nowhere as both Major Carter and Daniel Jackson abruptly ended his nefarious career.

"Oops." Daniel muttered.

Teal'c heard Major Carter sigh. "I only intended to stun him."

Teal'c did not bother with any paltry regrets. "He deserved no less."

Kalta was stunned. "How could you?"

Daniel was unsympathetic. "No, how could you?" The Asgard was shoved forward and they resumed their hurried way out.

***********

Jack's lungs burned.

He struggled to hold his coughing spasms at bay, but they continued to hammer at him.

And he was covered in goo. He now knew exactly how Bill Murray had felt when he was slimed.

Teal'c still carried him, and while he did feel grateful, he didn't like it in the slightest. It took away control, and to O'Neill, control was a religion.

All in all, everything pretty much sucked.

But on the positive side of things, they were making an escape.

They finally ended up in a room at the end of a corridor that seemed to go nowhere. A familiar control panel stood in the middle of the floor. Great, beam me up, Scotty.

Carter's voice confidently came from the direction of said control panel. "I can work this, sir. Looks like we can go just about anywhere on the planet. Any preferences in particular?"

Jack's answer was immediate. "Septula Garden, Septo Province."

He was surprised when no one asked him anything. Such was their trust in him.

"Set, sir."

Jack looked at Kalta. "We don't need our hostage anymore."

Kalta looked directly at him, even though he knew the alien couldn't see him. "O'Neill, I will do what I must to save our people."

"And so will I." He paused. "Daniel, shoot him."

"Jack?"

"Just stun him, Daniel. I'm not ready to kill him....yet."

"Oh, okay." The alien crumpled in a flash of fire.

"Do it, Carter."

The world disappeared to be replaced by the beautiful Othallan Garden."

But the guns pointed at them were not held by plants.

**********

Missing Souls Part 17 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Unseen and Unspoken' By Gumnut Oct 2003

He woke.

His head ached, his chest ached, and that blasted broken arm ached. And, consequently, he was in a foul mood.

But most of all he was angry because he couldn't remember what the hell had happened.

Upon opening his eyes he had found that he was lying under a bush. But as to how he had gotten there, he had no idea. The last thing he remembered was beaming into a garden full of armed Asgard. Everything from that point onwards was a blank.

Damn.

The world was swimming again. God, he was sick of being sick. He had only gotten the world to sit straight a couple of weeks ago. Whacking himself unconscious was not conducive to keeping it that way.

Putting a hand to his head, he realised he was still invisible.

Shit.

The next question was regarding the location of his team.

Peering out from the underbrush, he saw nothing but more plants. He climbed out from under the bush as quietly as possible, and, once his vision settled, scoped out the situation.

The entire section of the Garden was surrounded by a forcefield.

Double damn.

There was no sign of his team.

Triple damn.

And to top it all off, he was still covered in goo.

He muffled a cough, and was surprised to see an Asgard pop up in a shrubbery not twenty feet away. They were obviously looking for him

Shit, this was going to be difficult.

Okay, O'Neill, you have been in worse situations than this.

When? You are surrounded by aliens out to get you who have a technology for which gives you no concept of their capability. You're sick, probably concussed, and still haven't eaten a decent meal since sometime yesterday - at least he thought it was yesterday, his time sense had been thrown out of whack with the rest of his head. Face it, O'Neill, you're in deep shit.

Oh, shut up.

Kicking himself for zoning out for a moment, he focused and set out as quietly as possible to do some recon.

There were Asgard everywhere.

And in the centre of the area covered by the force field stood a familiar figure.

Frere.

Shit! What the hell was he doing here? Hadn't Thor locked him up for good?

Apparently not.

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!

But an over use of expletives did not solve the situation. Investigation was the only option.

O'Neill was an experienced woodsman. Give him a forest and he could walk the length of it, and set up and collapse camp three times within its perimeter, but nary a soul would know he was, or had been, there at all. No tracks, no noise, no disturbance.

But that was back on Earth.

And on Earth, plants don't tinkle, rattle, or ring bells. What had formerly been a pleasant relaxing garden, now became an alarm minefield.

Twice he nearly bought it. The second time, it was only sheer luck that saved him from discovery, as a branch took an extra couple of seconds to snap back. When it did, it set the whole bush tinkling, but he was far enough away not to be caught by the stun beams that immediately coursed through the spot where he had been.

Eventually, however, he did make it to the edge of the forcefield, and began tracking the perimeter of it, attempting to locate some sort of way out that did not involve yet another Asgard prison cell.

He was approximately halfway around the expanse when his pursuers tried a new tactic.

The forcefield began to move. Inwards.

It was collapsing.

The plan, obviously to snare him in the middle.

Crap, crap, crap, and double crap.

He skipped backwards as the shield advanced towards him, madly trying to think of a solution out of his current dilemma.

The invisibility gadget did have one other function. But he had no idea whether it would work. Thor had said it could make him appear as an Asgard. It was a necessary tool if you were an alien who was twice the size of the indigenous population, and you wanted to do anything remotely resembling covert. He could play bad guy and hope they took the bluff.

The Asgard hunting him were now appearing out of the brush, and, to his amazement, walking through the forcefield as it decreased in size.

Perhaps he could do the same.

Reaching under his now drying shirt, the goo cracking and flaking off, he fiddled with the device.

His body suddenly appeared around him.

Well, *a* body.

The ground seemed a lot closer, and he was alien-naked, but at the moment, beggars could definitely not be choosers.

There was a sudden excitement around him. Although he had hidden behind a convenient bush, they must have been scanning.

In a desperate move to avoid losing his chance, he made a dash for the forcefield.

God, he hoped the gadget could pull it off, if it didn't he was toast.

Eyes shut, he hit the forcefield....and passed through it as if it didn't exist. Way to go, Thor.

Not wanting to give his pursuers any chance to track him, he dashed out of the Garden and into the warren of the city walkways.

It was a long while, and an exhausted time later, when he finally allowed himself to stop and rest. There was no sign of pursuit, and he hadn't been beamed anywhere, so he figured the gadget was doing its job, and he was indistinguishable from any average Asgard.

The only problem was that he may look like an Asgard, but underneath all the grey skin, he was just a sick and exhausted human who really needed to sit down.

He searched around the strangely deserted streets until he found an empty building. A gaping door provided entrance to an old storehouse of some kind.

O'Neill didn't really care. He grabbed a broken plastic crate, propped it in a corner, and, crawling under it, promptly fell into an exhausted sleep.

**********

Doctor Daniel Jackson, archeologist, linguist, and all round nice guy was pissed.

And it was not a Daniel-like angry, it was a Jack-like angry. He wanted to grab the nearest Asgard - as long as it wasn't Thor - and pound him into the ground.

They were in a cell....again.

They were missing Jack....again.

And all because they had disobeyed orders and put their lives on the line in the belief they would be coming to help these people.

At every turn they were treated as criminals where mere weeks before they had been celebrated heroes. Fickle bunch of grey-butted know-it-alls as far as he was concerned at the moment. He wondered if any of the Vikings had had days like this.

He had to admit, though, at the core of his anger was a big ball of worry by the name of Jack.

At some point in the scuffle following their abrupt beam in to the Garden, Teal'c had made an attempt to fling the sick Colonel out of harm's way. Jack's affronted protests had been the last they had heard of him.

Despite their best efforts, all three of them had been caught by the Asgard stun weaponry. The weapon's fire had overloaded their invisibility generators, allowing the Asgard transporters to lock on to them, and they had all been beamed here.

All except Jack.

Damn it! When the man wasn't annoying him, he was worrying him.

And he wasn't the only one.

Sam had gone all quiet again, her face an illustration of distress. Teal'c, who was also recovering from a blow to the head, had repeatedly apologised for losing their commanding officer, even though it clearly wasn't his fault. If anything, if Teal'c hadn't thrown O'Neill from the fray, he would probably be right in here with them.

Daniel just wished he knew if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

But most of all, he just wished he knew the fate of his friend.

**********

"Hello?"

Jack jumped, his head hitting the packing crate, causing it to fall on top of him.

What the hell?

His shock was compounded when the crate was carefully lifted off of him.

"Are you all right?" A face peered around the plastic rim.

An Asgard face.

A disfigured Asgard face.

"Can I help you at all? I was worried when I found you lying here all alone. Ros always tells me to help people when I can. I can go and get him if you want. He will know what to do."

Jack finally reacted. "No, I'm okay. You don't need to go and get anyone." The Asgard flinched, and Jack realised he was staring. He looked away a little guiltily, and sat up, pushing the crate to one side.

He felt much better. His head still ached and he was starving hungry, but the world stayed pleasantly stable, and he wasn't feeling sick anymore. A little sleep can do wonders.

The Asgard had backed away when he had sat up, and had begun to look like he wanted to be anywhere but here. He was very small, even for an Asgard, and one side of his face seemed to droop, the muscles slack, its eye smoky grey.

Jack felt a chill run down his back.

The small alien flinched once again, and turned as if to leave.

No, this wasn't right. Jack held out a hand, still a little surprised when it came up small and grey. "No, don't go." The Asgard hesitated, so Jack continued. "What is your name?"

"Eelyn."

"Eelyn, I'm...." He suddenly realised that 'Jack' didn't sound particularly Asgardish. Since he looked like one, he should probably sound like one. He fossicked around in his head and grabbed the first exotic sounding name that came to mind. "Nemo. My name's Nemo. And, yes, you can help me."

Jack stood up - not as up as he was used to, four foot did little to compare with his usual six foot two.

Eelyn looked at him curiously. "Nemo? I have a Chanta by that name, do you know him?"

Oh, god, he knew nothing about Asgard naming conventions.

"No, I'm sorry, I don't."

"Do you want to meet him?" The little Asgard was positively jumping up and down with eagerness.

"No, I'm, sorry, Eelyn, I'm in a bit of a hurry." Eelyn looked crest fallen. Aw, hell. "Okay, perhaps we can go and see him afterwards."

The little Asgard brightened up. "That would be great! Chanta Nemo has been everywhere. He has this great collection of things from other planets, and he can tell the most wonderful stories...."

Eelyn went on about his Chanta for quite a while, and Jack realised that there was something not quite right about him, apart from his face. If he had been human, Jack would have guessed by his speech patterns that he was a child. But the Asgard didn't have children - that he knew of.

"Eelyn, how old are you?"

The little Asgard stopped his Chanta adulations mid-vowel, and looked at O'Neill suspiciously. "Why?"

"I just thought I 'd ask."

"Oh, alright. I'm twenty-three."

"Twenty-three? Years?"

"Oh, no, silly. Twenty-three thousand Hallan sun cycles. Ros says I'm one of the oldest, but I don't know, he seems so much smarter than me. Now Peta, he's only nineteen, but he likes to boss me around. He thinks that since my last transference that I have changed too much, but I think he's just jealous of my age. Ros reckons...."

And Eelyn was off rabbling again. The word 'transference' rang in O'Neill's head. It would explain a lot. Twenty-three thousand years was a long time, no matter what sun your planet cycled around. Plenty of time to degrade DNA by cloning.

The image of the dying Kanya played across his mind, and he suddenly began to wonder exactly how old Thor might be.

But he really didn't have time for this. He had been delayed for far too long already. There were people depending on him.

"Eelyn." He interrupted the continuing monologue. "I need to get to the 'House of Fires'. Do you know where that is?"

The little Asgard looked up at him. "Of course, everyone knows where that is. I live very close to it."

"Can you show me?"

"Oh, yes, can I?" The jumpy eagerness was back.

"Lead the way, Eelyn."

The Asgard spun and was out of the room in seconds. Jack was taken by surprise and had to hurry to follow.

"Eelyn, wait for me." He called down the street. And it was only at that point that he realised the entire conversation had been in the Asgard language.

**********

"Where is Commander Thor?"

Sam Carter stared across the table at her accuser, and a chill ran down her spine.

Frere asked the question again.

"Where is Commander Thor?"

"I don't know."

"Where is Colonel O'Neill?"

"I don't know."

"Well, it appears you know little, doesn't it, Major. Perhaps you are no longer of any use to me."

She glared at him, still in shock at the fact that Frere would be in charge of anything other than his own holding cell. After all that he had done. After all he had done to the Colonel. Murder would be too good for him.

He simply stared back at her. Another chill ran up her spine.

"You do know that the Council is holding you and your friends responsible for the disappearance of Commander Thor. The fact that you returned here after clearly being asked to leave has not gone in your favour."

She still said nothing.

"Very well, let's see if Doctor Jackson can be persuaded to tell us a little more." He leant over the table, his face directly in front of hers. She could see her reflection in his dark eyes. "Oh, I do so hope he is as difficult as you. I do so like it when I have to be forceful." A sneer curled his small mouth, and it chilled her.

Or did it?

As she was beamed away, she realised what she had been feeling. It wasn't chills, it wasn't fear, but it was familiar.

She didn't know how it was possible, but she sensed it.

Frere was a Goa'uld.

********

Jack eventually caught up with Eelyn, who was now pleasantly chatting along, to no-one in particular, about his home and the House of Fires.

From the rambling monologue, Jack was able to piece together that the House of Fires was an ancient meeting place that was no longer used.

In fact, O'Neill was beginning to wonder if any of the buildings in this area were being used at all.

"Eelyn, why are all the buildings empty?"

Eelyn's voice took on a sad tone. "There are no people left to live in them."

Jack stopped in his tracks. "Why?"

Eelyn looked back at him. "I was lucky, Ros says, many can not be transferred anymore. I survived, but only just. And I don't look right anymore."

Again, Kanya's blind gaze wandered across his mind.

"Is all the city like this?"

"Oh, no, this is a very old part. Ros says people moved away to be with other people as their friends passed on. Only a few of us live here now. It is very quiet."

They turned down another street, cast in shadow by a huge spire at the end of the walkway. The building stood out from all the others. It was literally carved from fire, petrified flame reaching for the sky. Its architecture was old and broken, but it still maintained an austere grandeur.

There was no mistaking it, they had found the House of Fires.

Eelyn led him up to its grand opening, and, before O'Neill could say anything, he was bounding in through the door. Jack hastened to follow, unsure of what he would find.

They entered a foyer that echoed with familiarity. He had been here before, he knew it.

His assessment was interrupted by a squawk from Eelyn who suddenly scrambled to hide behind him. O'Neill looked up.

And came face to face with a monster.

**********

The House of Fires Part 18 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Missing Souls' By Gumnut Oct 2003

It had red eyes.

That was the first thing that sunk in.

The second thing was that it was waaaay bigger than him.

Crap.

He backed away, shuffling Eelyn behind him. His eyes darted about the room looking for possible weapons.

The monster spoke.

"So, little Asgard, what are you doing here?"

O'Neill didn't answer, his mind flicking through possible escape routes. The creature was almost twice his height, his human height that is, which made him almost four times his current Asgard height. Its body was covered in a rough bark resembling that of a tree, and it was, as far as he could see, naked - it seemed to be the trend in this galaxy - except for a belt that held what could be some kind of weapon.

A tree seemed to be a good comparison, as its legs and arms were like tree branches, and while it was basically humanoid in shape, two legs, two arms, and a head, there were various oddities about those limbs he could not quite identify.

"Well, little Asgard, what are you doing here?"

Jack was about to attempt an answer when the door behind the creature opened, and Thor walked into the room.

"Niikrahl, what are-" Thor stopped, his eyes pinning Jack to the spot. "O'Neill?"

"Thor?"

They stared at each other for a moment. Then both started to speak at the same time.

"Sorry, I'm late."

"Where have you been?"

They both stopped. Both opened their mouths to speak again. Both shut them.

Niikrahl broke the logjam.

"Thor, who the mikbar is this?"

Thor blinked, and appeared to gather himself. "Niikrahl, may I present Colonel Jack O'Neill."

The red eyes blinked, an air of disbelief permeated the room.

The huge alien finally found his voice. "What? This is an Asgard."

Thor gestured to O'Neill. "Please, Colonel, this building is shielded sufficiently."

O'Neill reached into his non-existent shirt and disengaged the gadget. There was a gasp from Eelyn, and Jack's perspective suddenly gained height.

"A human?" Niikrahl looked aghast. "Not a Goa'uld? Are you a host, human?"

Jack again attempted to answer the huge alien, but was interrupted by a wail of terror.

"Neeeeeemo! What are you?!"

Jack spun on his heel, and caught Eelyn as he tried to run. "Eelyn. Eelyn." The Asgard struggled, and O'Neill heard Thor approach behind him.

"Great Master Eelyn, please calm yourself."

Eelyn stopped trying to wrest himself from Jack's grip the moment he was addressed in that manner.

Jack looked at Thor and found sadness on his friend's face.

"Master Eelyn, I would like you to meet Colonel Jack O'Neill, the man responsible for the defeat of the replicators."

Eelyn looked up tentatively. "He said his name was Nemo. He lied to me. I thought he was my friend." Eelyn hung his head.

Damn. Jack reached out a hand and caught Eelyn's chin gently, raising it so his large dark eyes looked into his own. The weak side of the little Asgard's face seemed emphasized by the sadness in his one seeing eye. The blind eye stared back at him dully. "Eelyn, I didn't mean to hurt you. I couldn't tell you my name."

The eye blinked, and a tentative curiosity replaced most of the sorrow. "What are you?"

O'Neill had rarely needed to explain his existence. Most aliens they met knew of humans, usually connected with the Goa'uld, but known nevertheless. "I'm human, from a planet very, very far away."

Eelyn tilted his head, looking up at him. "You are very ugly, not like my Chanta Nemo at all."

O'Neill stood up, and smiling, placed a companionable hand on Eelyn's shoulder. "No, I'm sure I'm not." He caught the expression on Thor's face from the corner of his eye. The Asgard was looking upon Eelyn with some sadness, but there was admiration there also. O'Neill briefly wondered who Eelyn actually was, and was about to ask, but his attention was drawn back to the large alien Thor had called Niikrahl.

"Human, if that is who you claim to be, we have been waiting a long while. I, for one, refuse to wait any longer." He stomped off through the door Thor had entered by.

"Yes, O'Neill, we must hurry. We have people of some importance awaiting us." He addressed Eelyn. "Eelyn, you must come with us. Important things are happening, and I can not have you wandering the streets with this knowledge."

"But Ros said-"

"I will speak with your Granta, everything will be well. Don't worry." He walked towards the door. "Come. They await."

O'Neill made for the door, following Thor, and was surprised to feel a small hand curl into his. Eelyn looked up at him. "You are ugly, but you listen to me." And briefly, just for a moment, Jack saw the man Eelyn had once been behind those eyes, and wondered yet again who Grand Master Eelyn actually was.

Beyond the door was a grand hallway. It's walls of carved flame so realistic that in the corner of his eye he could almost see it flickering in the stone. Great shafts of sunlight were channelled from the ceiling, and what must be through the entirety of the building itself since they were on the ground floor, to highlight engraven statues of Asgard.

The statues seemed to move as with the flickering stone fires. He realised there was something odd about the statues. They were Asgard, definitely, but they were different. A quick glance at Thor ahead of him for comparison, and it came to him.

The artwork was that old, the Asgard form had changed in the time since it had been created.

Daniel would have had a field day.

The sudden thought of his team brought a chill to his heart and sobered him. He still didn't know where they were. He edged closer to Thor, pulling Eelyn with him.

"Thor, my team came with me, we were separated. Have you located them?" There was no question in his mind as to whether Thor had actually been looking for them. It was a given.

Thor continued walking, but looked up at O'Neill. "They have been taken into custody by the Security Council. They are safe for the moment, but we are monitoring them. I had worried when it became obvious you were not with them. I was most relieved to see you arrive."

"Sorry about that. We ran into a little trouble along the way." His statement was punctuated by a hacking cough that came out of nowhere and took him by surprise. Hmm, a little trouble, yes. "I wouldn't be trusting your new aide anymore. In fact, I think you need a new one."

Thor stopped in his tracks. "Tala?"

"Yeah, he, ah, sold us out to some Nazi geneticist."

Thor blinked, obviously missing out on the reference to World War II. "We tracked you arriving on Othalla, though you did exit the wrong stargate. I had thought it may have been a simple mistake, easily corrected on Tala's part."

Jack responded with a derisive laugh. "No, he intended it all right."

"My apologies, O'Neill. I should have come myself." He turned and started walking again, his posture uncomfortable.

"It couldn't be helped." A lot of things couldn't be helped. "You are sure my team is safe? Can we communicate with them?"

"They have been taken into custody under the charge of trespassing. Although, for a while we were unable to locate any of you with our sensors due to your cloaking devices, they are clearly now located in the Othallan holding facility. Those cells are impervious to our communication devices"

"Trespassing?"

"You were asked to leave, and you returned. I did not request your presence as a representative of the Asgard Council. They do not even know of my whereabouts at this time." Eyeing Eelyn, he said, "And I would prefer to keep it that way for the moment." Directing his glance back up at O'Neill, he continued. "I requested your presence as a representative of the Alliance Council."

With that statement they came to an ornate doorway, its panels an image of billowing steam, arching away from the flaming walls. At Thor's touch they opened without a sound.

O'Neill's eyes widened.

The room was an eye in a hurricane of flickering light.

It was circular, and the walls, like the hallway, were decorated with flame, but unlike the hallway, this fire danced. Yellows, oranges, reds, intertwining with hot blues and whites, leisurely curled and warped, climbing the walls silently in a neverending, three dimensional lance of burning.

It was beautiful.

There was no other word for it.

Looking up he could see no ceiling. The walls must extend up through the height of the spire he had seen from the outside. The flames arched up into nothing, their tips reaching as if aching to lighten the darkness above them.

"Thor, what is this place?"

"This is the House of Fires, designed by Grand Master Eelyn in the year of Tennet. It is one of the five great meeting places of the Alliance. The use of flame was chosen to remind us of what could happen if we did not find a diplomatic solution." He paused, casting his sight downward. "Sadly, the building has been little used of late, and has fallen to disrepair. I hope to remedy that this day."

O'Neill's eyes had darted to Eelyn, who was looking around in rapture. He now knew the cause of the sadness in Thor's eyes when he looked at the little Asgard. Much had been lost.

Thor walked towards the large circular table in the middle of the room, and O'Neill finally noticed the people seated around it.

The first to catch his eye was obviously a Nox, female, but not one he had met before. Seated next to her was an angry looking Niikrahl, and beyond him there was a human looking man, bearded, with crystal blue eyes.

Those eyes were looking at him. He could feel their piercing gaze, and he felt a chill in his bones.

As Thor approached, the Nox and the odd looking human stood, as if in respect. Niikrahl remained lounging around in distain.

"It is about time you arrived." The large alien muttered. "Well, let's get on with it."

"Patience, Niikrahl. I would like to meet these newcomers." The Nox's voice was musical.

Thor gestured around the table. "Renaya of the Nox, Niikrahl of the Furlings, Tethys Torolla of the Pensiltinaar, may I present Colonel Jack O'Neill of Earth."

The response was immediate.

"Earth! That pathetic, backwater planet! What business of theirs is this meeting? They can hardly crawl into their own backyard, much less assist us on a galactic scale." Niikrahl's contempt flashed in his eyes, their red gleam reminding O'Neill of a pair of heating lamps on a frosty morning.

"I have to say that I agree, Commander Thor." Renaya spoke eloquently. "The children of Earth are far too young."

Tethys said nothing.

"Young though they be, they are capable of much more than mere assistance, Niikrahl."

"I suppose you are referring to that little incident with those replicator things you keep telling us about."

O'Neill felt some of the flame from the walls flare up in Thor.

"There was nothing 'little' regarding any incident with the replicators, Ambassador." Thor's eyes flashed.

Tethys spoke for the first time. "Do not let him rile you, Thor. Calm is the centre of logic. And logic binds the strings of the universe together."

The eyes were still on him, even though Tethys spoke to Thor. Calculating, sizing him up. This guy really creeped him out.

"Still talking in circles, Tethys, I see. Tell me, is there a fancy way of saying 'Shut the mikbar up'?"

"Ambassador Niikrahl, please restrain yourself. This petty bickering will get us nowhere. We are here to discuss the threat to the Asgard. I suggest we excuse the human from the proceedings and begin some productive discussion." The Nox's voice became cold.

O'Neill had had enough.

"Excuse me, your royal sirs and ma'am, but I was invited to this little party to do what I can for Thor and his people, and, in turn, the people of Earth. Now, I don't know where the hell you have all been in the last couple of years while the replicators have been taking the Asgard apart, but I can say that there was definitely nothing 'little' about that war." He glared at Niikrahl before turning to Renaya. "Secondly, yes, we are a young race, and, yes, we don't always do as we are told. But what we do do is our best. Our damnedest best, to protect ourselves and our allies from any threat." He paused for a breath, no-one interrupted him, so he continued. "The Asgard are threatened. They asked for our help, so I am here. So I politely ask all three of you to please shut the hell up, and let's get productive." He sat down in the nearest seat, pulling Eelyn into a chair beside him.

Four sets of eyes stared at him. Thor's were smiling.

Niikrahl spoke first. "You were right, Thor, he is an upstart and stubborn little picton."

O'Neill glanced back at Thor, and saw the mirth behind his eyes. "Welcome to the meeting of the Alliance Council, Colonel O'Neill." He turned to the room at large. "My fellow members, may I present the Ambassador of the Fifth Race."

**********

Teal'c had his eyes closed, but he knew the scene before him without seeing it.

Daniel Jackson sat on one side of the cell, fuming, his worry manifesting itself through anger.

Samantha Carter sat opposite him on the other side of the cell, glaring at the archeologist.

The words had been uttered , had been said, in anger, and Teal'c knew that neither of them meant what they had said. The tension was simply straining them both.

Teal'c, himself, was not short of ire regarding their current situation, but as he could not affect any change towards improving it, he chose not to anger.

He did, however, not have a choice regarding worry.

O'Neill had been his responsibility, and he had lost him.

Losing his commanding officer did have some possible positive outcomes, but due to O'Neill's condition on their last contact, Teal'c seriously worried about the more negative results.

Major Carter had been returned to them shortly before Daniel Jackson had been taken. Upon his return, Teal'c had steeled himself for the battle of wills he was sure was going to occur, but his own beam out had yet to happen. The length of time that had passed, led him to believe that perhaps he was not going to be questioned after all.

Major Carter had returned with some startling news. The Asgard Frere was possessed by a Goa'uld. It would explain why Teal'c hadn't been called for questioning. The Asgard had not known of Major Carter's history, and had intended his possession to remain secret.

It was a secret no longer.

His thoughts were interrupted by yet another outburst by Daniel Jackson.

"We have to get out of here."

Major Carter sounded tired. "We all know that, Daniel. If you have a constructive suggestion, please don't hesitate."

"Sam, I'm sorry. I'm just worried."

"We all are." She sighed.

Teal'c chose this moment to open his eyes and interject. "Colonel O'Neill is strong. He will recover, and no doubt, attempt our rescue." He meant his words to encourage, it didn't work.

Daniel Jackson seemed to become even more frustrated. "How exactly, Teal'c? God, Jack is good, but this is Asgard technology in the hands of a bastard Goa'uld." He appeared to shake himself, gain a little control. "I'm sorry, Teal'c, but Jack is probably in the cell next door to us."

Teal'c levelled his gaze. "You have little faith, Daniel Jackson."

"I don't need faith, Teal'c, I have reality."

This was unlike the archeologist. Major Carter's expression had flickered to one of concern.

"Daniel, we have to be positive."

"What is there to be positive about, Sam?"

Major Carter bit her lip as if deciding whether to say something. "Daniel, several years ago, I woke up beside an injured Colonel O'Neill on a deserted planet surrounded by ice." Teal'c remembered the incident clearly, they had nearly lost the both of them, and with them the fate of the planet. For if they had not been found, Earth would have fallen to Apophis not long after.

The Major swallowed, and continued, Daniel Jackson's gaze pinning her where she sat. "I tried everything that day, nothing worked. Every idea, every solution I thought of ended in disappointment. The Colonel was severely injured, and we both knew he was dying, but from the moment he awoke, we were going to get home." She returned Daniel's gaze with equal determination. "Faith and hope kept us going in an impossible situation, and we survived. Even though our rescue was entirely thanks to the two of you, I don't think we would have made it as far as we did without the Colonel's determined stubbornness in the face of defeat. You have both seen it at work, and even though he is not here with us at the moment, we should not give up on him. He would never give up on us."

There was silence as the truth echoed throughout the room.

And then the room disappeared.

**********

Jack O'Neill felt like he was making history, but also, that he was wasting a hell of a lot of time.

As the meeting worn on, and the discussion wandered off into petty argument, his mind repeatedly returned to the fate of his team. He trusted Thor, but he did not trust fate.

And to top it all off, the damn room was sweltering. He wondered if the walls gave out heat as well as flame, he didn't recall it being this warm when he first walked in.

The discussion had revealed more about the four races involved than he would have ever thought possible.

The Nox woman was exactly what she was - a Nox - complete with a pacifistic attitude that riled O'Neill each time she spoke against any suggestion remotely involving any form of violence. He had had to fight the urge to climb over the table and throttle her several times.

Niikrahl had no such hesitation. Only several sharp words on Thor's part had stopped the Furling from causing Renaya permanent damage. Actually out of all of them, except perhaps Thor, O'Neill found himself to have the most in common with Niikrahl. The brash alien was alarmingly honest, and didn't hesitate to lay his cards on the table at any point.

Tethys, on the other hand, was a mystery. He hardly said a word. And when he did, it was so couched in incomprehensible jargon that no-one really understood what he said in any case. Niikrahl hadn't made any positive comments in his direction either.

Thor was showing his strengths as a commander and diplomat. O'Neill had known the Asgard for quite awhile now, but apart from the occasional command, Jack had never seen him interacting in such a position as his title - Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet - entailed.

He played the room like a musical instrument.

One word here would quieten an irate Niikrahl, another one there would encourage the reticent Tethys to speak. He kept the meeting in order, on topic, and flowing in a positive direction.

Even though O'Neill could see a similar impatience to his building in the Asgard.

As for O'Neill, he found himself to be largely ignored. It seemed he had yet to prove himself to this group. Renaya treated him like a five year old, Tethys refused to speak to him, only Niikrahl seemed to warm to him at all, even if it was to roll his eyes ceiling ward each time Renaya opened her mouth.

Thor had been the instigator of the meeting. Due to Anubis' obvious access to Asgard technology, and his recent access to Asgard personnel as well, Thor had become suspicious of various persons in the Asgard Government.

Making his own enquiries into the matter, he had found repeated inconsistencies. Something was brewing in Asgard politics. Something not good.

Thor's investigation had led him to being shot. The fact that the incident had apparently involved the human contingent, and said human contingent had been firmly and abruptly removed from the planet, had set Thor's hackles rising.

It had sent him hunting deeper. What he had found, sent him into hiding.

No one could be trusted.

No one on Othalla.

So he had called for outside help.

And worse. What seemed to be happening on Othalla had happened before.

It could not be allowed to happen again.

The Council of the Alliance was called for the first time in millennia. His desperate call had been answered. And now they were five.

But O'Neill seriously wondered if this bunch of politicians were capable of any decisive action at all other than arguing.

"If it wasn't for you people giving them the technology in the first place, we wouldn't have this problem." Tethys' blue steel gaze pierced the air in the room as he said his first intelligible thing for the day.

Niikrahl stared back at him, shock on his face.

The Persiltinaar continued. "You were warned, but you chose to ignore us. Every death perpetuated by the Goa'uld can be laid at the feet of the Furlings."

Niikrahl found his tongue. "We were not to know."

"You should have known, it has been proved many a time."

O'Neill had to ask. "What happened?"

Niikrahl looked across the table at him, guilt and sorrow plainly written on his face. "We made a mistake."

"Tell him, Niikrahl. Tell him how your race condemned the humans to eternal slavery." Tethys' tone was utter contempt.

The Furling was quiet, his brashness gone. "Millennia ago, the Furlings came across a planet of a pre-industrial civilization, those you know of as Unas. They were a very young race, but valiant and determined. We saw very much of ourselves in them, and the decision was made to assist them technologically. Unfortunately we neglected to realise that there were two types of intelligent life on that planet. We gave freely, and they grew and prospered. Eventually those Unas possessed by Goa'uld took our technology for their own. Shortly thereafter they turned on us. The very technology we had so freely given became the tools of our destruction. There was a great war. One the Furlings did not win." His face spoke of unspeakable horror. "The devastation was almost total. We almost did not survive. It was the Asgard who saved us."

"They should have let you die, it would have been only the beginning of what you deserved."

Renaya interrupted Tethys. "Punishment would not have negated the problem."

Tethys' sharp gaze was turned on the Nox. "Oh, so you have forgiven the Furlings for what the Goa'uld did to your people?"

Renaya looked away. "That was our doing. We have learnt from our mistakes. We make war no longer."

"But it was a Goa'uld who fanned the flames of your civil war, was it not?"

"He paid for his crimes." Renaya's voice was venomous, and it startled O'Neill. He had never seen an angry Nox. He now understood why.

Thor called their attention to himself. "Let us learn from history, not argue it." He stared from one diplomat to another. "My people now face a similar crisis, and I am asking for your help."

"I don't think they can help you, Thor. You are too late."

The voice came from the door.

There were weapons, there were Asgard, and there was Frere.

Damn it, thought O'Neill, here we go again.

**********

Told by Time Part 19 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'The House of Fires' By Gumnut Oct 2003

It happened so quickly.

One minute the weapon was just pointed, next it was firing.

And Jack was moving.

Time slowed.

The beam of burning light, faster than a bullet could ever be, sliced through the atmosphere, its promise of death heating the air before it.

And it was promising Thor.

It didn't reckon on Jack.

A tangle of human and Asgard limbs fell to the floor followed by a yelp of pain, and a loud thump as plaster, stressed beyond design, hit the floor, and cracked, scattering like snow.

O'Neill looked up, his body already in motion for the automatic scramble for cover, one arm clutched to his side, the other full of shocked Asgard.

"Don't you hurt my friend!"

Eelyn.

Oh, my god, no!

The little Asgard was charging up to the angered Frere, distress warring with fury on his face.

"Eelyn, no!"

Frere stared down at his diminutive opponent, disgust rippling across his features.

The weapon levelled.

O'Neill flung himself towards the little Asgard, knowing in his heart, he was already too late.

The weapon fired.

And time froze.

Literally.

O'Neill's momentum carried him forward, his mass knocking Eelyn to the floor where he lay motionless, absolutely still.

O'Neill's heart froze. Too late?

Then the silence around him soaked into his awareness.

Utter silence.

His own breathing was loud in his ears.

"You can not save them all, you know."

Looking up, he found the room to be a tableau of frozen forms, all in midmotion, even the flames had stopped flickering. Thor looked up at him in horror from the floor where Jack had thrown him, his eyes no longer seeing him. Niikrahl was paused like a videotape, anger on his face, hand on weapon, threat in every line of his huge body caught storming around the meeting table. Renaya stood eyes closed, arm raised. And Tethys...

Tethys was walking calmly towards him. Those eyes still contemptuously calculating.

He repeated himself. "You can not save them all."

"Why not?"

"It is impossible."

"I can still try."

The Ancient looked thoughtful. "I have heard of you, but I refused to believe it until I saw it for myself."

Great, his reputation was preceding him again.

"Believe what?"

"Your obstinacy."

"It has served me well in the past."

"And, oh, what a checkered past that is." The Pensiltinaar walked calmly around him, invading his personal space.

Boy, did he not like this guy.

"Your point?"

"You are dangerous."

"Me?" O'Neill had to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. "How on Earth....to whom?" This was incredible.

"Exactly. You are not on Earth, are you?" The Ancient's eyes seemed to breach his defenses and see into his soul.

He honestly didn't know what to say.

"In the past seven of your years, since your race gained access to your stargate, you in particular have managed to alter constants that have been static for millennia. You have changed the face of your galaxy."

"Listen, Tetanus, that was not by our choice." His finger poked the air for emphasis.

"Oh, but it is, Colonel."

O'Neill was beginning to get angry now, where did this guy get off? "Or what? Let ourselves be wiped out by the Goa'uld?"

"It is your place in the chain of life."

"What?!"

"You and your planet are an anachronism, Colonel. You were unexpected, and, quite frankly, unwanted. You should have fallen."

He could not believe this. "And what puts you in a position to judge us? Who died and made you god?"

Tethys' eyes twitched. "Interesting phrasing, Colonel." The man turned his back on O'Neill, walking the length of the room.

Jack struggled to hold his temper. Before him stood one of the most powerful alien species in the known universe. Through Daniel, he knew exactly what they were capable of. Now was not the time for a temper tantrum.

It didn't stop his blood from boiling.

He coughed, his eyes watering.

The Pensiltinaar looked back at him. "Feeling a little angry, Colonel? Frustrating isn't it, being faced with your own inadequacies."

"Inadequacies?" Screw diplomacy. "I think you should check your own backyard before you start complaining about the grass in ours. Yes, we have affected some changes to the political balances in our galaxy." The Ancient's eyes twitched. "Oh, I'm sorry, did I forget the Replicator incident?" He pointed in the direction of the Asgard. "They were on the verge of defeat, they asked for our help, we gave it. End of story."

"You had no right to interfere."

"And you had no right NOT to interfere!" He stalked up to Tethys, and, ironically finding himself taller, looked down at him. "Oh, I know all about you guys, sitting up there on your high horses, looking down on the rest of us, choosing not to interfere in case you might get your hands dirty. There are points in time where any help would be good help, but you people stand back denying responsibility while our galaxy is ravaged by the Goa'uld. You even claim an alliance with the Asgard, yet I see no sign of your assistance here. In fact, none of you high and mighty people have lifted a finger to help." He looked around the room at the other members of the Council. "The Asgard have stood alone against the Goa'uld, and offered us what help they could. If you call that interference, I am glad they condescended themselves down to our level to give it. They have what assistance we can give them. That is what having an alliance is for. We help each other survive a damn inhospitable universe."

The ancient lifted his hands and clapped. At O'Neill's reaction, he lifted an eyebrow. "Isn't this the appropriate response to a speech, Colonel?"

Jack was wasting both his time and his breath. "Tethys, what the hell is it that you want?"

"Want? I want nothing, Colonel." His eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm just delivering a warning. You are in the adult world now, Colonel, and children should be careful that they are not trodden on. We will be watching."

O'Neill stared back at him stoically. "You can watch all you like, but remember adults don't know everything, and children can be precocious."

Tethys ignored him, and glanced down at Thor. 'Please inform Commander Thor that the Pensiltinaar choose to withdraw from these negotiations. We can not provide assistance."

"Or won't."

The Ancient's gaze levelled at O'Neill. "You were right when you told Daniel Jackson that you didn't have what it takes to ascend. You don't."

O'Neill's sharp response was cut off as the Pensiltinaar became the familiar glowing ball of ribboned white light, and disappeared up through the dark that led to the ceiling.

The room exploded into sound and motion.

A keening erupted from the floor. Jack spun to find a distressed Eelyn sitting up where O'Neill had flung him.

Frere was taking second aim.

"No!"

He tried to move, to prevent, but one foot was suddenly not working. He stumbled and fell.

He couldn't stop it. His heart cried for the coming shot.

The world disappeared.

**********

They found themselves in a forest.

Sam looked around in amazement. This did not look like Othalla. For one, there were trees, the non-walking kind. In fact, the whole scene looked familiar, as if they had been here before.

Her assessment of their surroundings was abruptly interrupted by a yell, a crash, and a mournful keen.

As one, SG-1 clambered to their feet, moving in the direction of the noise. Beyond a small group of shrubs they found the source.

Jack O'Neill lay, arm outstretched towards a small keening Asgard. Thor was getting to his feet beside him.

Behind the Commander walked a huge creature with red eyes whose presence made her want to step back, even though it was quite a distance away.

The fifth figure in the group caused all the pieces to fall into place.

A Nox.

The place was familiar because they had been here before.

**********

Involving himself in politics that included a bunch of technologically superior aliens tended to leave one Colonel fully expecting the world to change without notice at any time.

Transporters did have their downsides, particularly if you were not the one at the controls.

Or even asked.

After a while it became extremely disorientating as the world came and went as it felt like it.

But for the moment Jack didn't care. Whoever had flicked the magic switch had saved a life.

A life that was now sitting in a clump of grass keening its little heart out.

Thor made it to Eelyn before O'Neill could even spit the grass out of his teeth. The Commander knelt, putting his arms around the little Asgard. "Eelyn, you are well, calm yourself."

The grip Eelyn applied to Thor's arms had O'Neill wincing in sympathy, but the sight of both Asgard alive and well made everything worth it.

The world suddenly moved by itself, and O'Neill's head spun.

No, no transporter. Just ten feet of Furling.

"Are you injured, Human?" There was a huge fist balled into the back of his jacket holding him upright. A pair of red eyes looked at him in concern.

God, this guy was intimidating. O'Neill bravado kicked in.

"I'm fine, thank you, Niikrahl."

"Good." The Furling let go.

One foot still refused to work, a searing pain shot up his leg, and he stumbled, his body attempting to make itself one with the grass again.

Furling reflexes appeared to be quite good.

Niikrahl looked at him curiously. "Are you sure, O'Neill?"

"Ah, okay, I'll just sit down here for a moment."

He was promptly deposited on his backside. The Furling was, if anything, efficient.

O'Neill finally had a chance to look around, to find where the wizbang transporter had dumped him this time.

He was in a forest.

A familiar forest.

But how was that possible?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of his team.

Alive, in one piece, and whole.

Thank the God Almighty.

"Colonel!"

"Jack!"

"O'Neill, are you well?"

"I'm fine, kids. What about you? Where have you been?"

Carter had obviously been taking notes from Fraiser because the first thing she did upon reaching him, was kneel down and examine him thoroughly with her eyes. Talk about making him feel self conscious. He saw her flinch the moment they landed on his broken cast, but it was when she reached his feet that she exclaimed out loud.

"Colonel, your foot!"

My foot?

He lifted his right leg and an immediate explanation as to why his foot wasn't working was supplied.

The outside of his boot had been seared away leaving his ankle and part of his foot exposed. The skin was burnt, blistering, and in parts completely raw. Now his brain had been informed by the sight of it, it had begun to hurt.

And, oh, god, did it hurt.

"Shit!"

He clutched at his leg managing to jar his semi-healed broken arm in the process. And that began to hurt, too.

This so wasn't fair.

**********

The sun was setting by the time the Council had managed to sort itself out and reconvene.

O'Neill was hobbling around with the assistance of Daniel, sporting some makeshift bandages on one foot since the Nox had been unable to assist him with healing - apparently it had something to do with staying hidden. He had to inform Thor of his little encounter with his royal snitness, Tethys.

Thor did not seem in the slightest surprised. Things were no longer as they had been, once, long ago. The look in the Asgard's eyes spoke of years of remembrance, of a time before certain calamities had changed the the face of the Alliance. O'Neill had no concept of what a memory spanning several thousand years of change would be like.

He had enough trouble with his own paltry fifty or so.

Carter had had the unpleasant task of informing Thor regarding Frere and his Goa'uld guest. The Asgard had looked at her in disbelief at first, apparently Asgard physiology had previously not been able to support a symbiote, but when she made it clear that she was absolutely sure, Thor went very quiet. O'Neill watched as the Commander took the news on his shoulders, controlled his reaction, swallowed his worry, and faced the world once again.

It was so familiar, O'Neill shivered.

The news was horrific, and the possibilities defied coherent thought, but there was nothing any of them could do for the moment. Time would have to reveal all, and they would have to face it as best they could.

The Asgard depended upon it.

If the Asgard fell....No, he wouldn't let it happen. Not while he lived. He had given up his career for this exact reason, for if the Asgard fell, Earth fell with them. O'Neill could not allow that, so he had come, he had thrown his life on the line, to do what he could, and to be there, even if he couldn't.

It turned out that the forest was a forest in name only. It resembled the world of the Nox because it was a recreation of that world. A portable one.

They were aboard the Nox starship 'Athenayer'. Apparently it meant 'blessed' or somesuch, but O'Neill didn't really care. They were in orbit around Othalla and, as they had been since the ship had transported the Furling and Nox delegates to the meeting, under cloak. And it hadn't been an Asgard transporter that had saved them, Renaya had done her Nox bit instead. Not even the Asgard could detect a hidden Nox.

And if there was one thing the Nox were capable of, it was hiding.

Unfortunately, it looked like they fully intended to keep on doing just that.

Renaya sat at the rough hewn wooden table declaring that the only assistance the Nox were willing to provide the Asgard was non-violent - a place to hide, a place to recuperate.

O'Neill had never come across such a blatantly narrow sighted race. No matter how many times he tried to get his point across to the petite Renaya, she just refused to listen. Any ally willing to provide refuge, ultimately became a target.

Ambassador O'Neill, failure number two.

The moment Thor had addressed him as 'Ambassador' in front of the kids had been a memorable one. Daniel's jaw suddenly seemed to stop working and dropped to the floor, and Jack thought Carter's eyes might suddenly pop out if she widened them any further. Teal'c....

Teal'c just bowed, as if he had expected it all along, his eyes glistening with humour. Sometimes the Jaffa seemed to know more about his CO than his CO did.

Unlike the Nox, the Furlings were ready to get down to business and kick some serious Goa'uld butt. Niikrahl was gaining points in O'Neill's book by the moment. Brash and honest to a fault, the Furling stared down the length of the wooden table at Renaya.

"Nox, are you aware that by providing refuge to an ally, you are yourself a target?"

Wasn't that exactly what he had said a moment ago?

Renaya barely battered an eyelid. "An enemy can only retaliate against an opposition they can locate."

O'Neill had had enough. He shot to his feet, suppressing a flinch as his injured foot hit the base of his chair. Pain echoed up his leg, stirring his already shattered temper.

"The Goa'uld know where your people are, Renaya. They don't need to see you, they can scorch the surface of the planet from space."

She turned to him calmly, and, as if explaining to a particularly dense child, said, "Colonel, you know very little of our people. What leads you to believe you know anything?"

He may not know much about the Nox themselves, but he did know warfare. And it was a sad fact that a pacifistic people not willing to defend themselves were usually the first to be slaughtered.

He knew from Thor, and the previous discussions on Othalla, that the Nox had been stirred into a civil war at the hands of a Goa'uld. Their race had barely survived it. They had since sworn themselves off any form of violence, focusing on the calm of healing and the beauty of nature.

While O'Neill could sympathise with their beliefs, he was far too aware of the consequences of failure, and the simple thought of children such as Nephreyu as prey to the Goa'uld made his heart miss a beat. He felt his face flush with heat, and he coughed out his frustration.

"I know enough, Ambassador. And it is for that reason I plead and beg for you to reconsider."

It was no good, she would not listen.

Niikrahl kicked the table, causing both it, and the Council, to jump. "Thor, you have our support. What little we can provide." He turned to Renaya. "Nox, be aware that when they come for your children that it was Furling blood, Human blood, and the blood of the ever vigilant Asgard that strived to keep it from your doorstep. Never forget, because it is your children who will never forgive."

The Furling turned his back to Renaya obviously disgusted. Thor rose, apparently intending to say a few words, but was interrupted as the Nox Ambassador stood abruptly. "Ambassador Thor, please direct your attention to the viewer."

One half of the room suddenly dissolved into a view from space.

God, these guys all had one thing in common, they excelled in special effects. Lucas and Spielberg, eat your hearts out.

O'Neill heard SG-1 come to their feet behind him. Eelyn was muttering to himself, but O'Neill didn't have to look to know that the little Asgard was glued to Carter. He had been since the moment he had laid eyes on her. Carter seemed to have that effect on all men, regardless of species.

In the centre of the view was the huge Othallan space station, an elegant series of arching spires attached to a fan of energy collectors. On their first trip into Othallan orbit aboard the ill-fated 'O'Neill' all those weeks before, Carter had thrown a whole bunch of technical jargon in his direction about those energy collectors. Something about Othalla's magnetic field and the solar wind. She had looked like she might wet herself with excitement at any moment. He had sworn that Thor had pointed them out to her only to get a rise out of him from the inevitable result.

It still looked to him as incomprehensible as ever. Asgard ships of all shapes and sizes weaving in and out - wait a minute, what were they doing?

Beside him, Thor had risen to his feet, disbelief on his face. "No, they can't have."

As O'Neill watched, several large Asgard battlecruisers dropped out of hyperspace, shortly followed by several more. They coasted in quietly, ignored by all except the silent members of the Alliance Council.

Even O'Neill could see they weren't supposed to be there, their presence ominous in the echo of the forest around him. They were aiming directly at the space station, almost as if they were going to dock.

But they weren't.

Thor moved to Renaya, his face etched with disbelief, denial, and desperation. "Renaya, I-"

He was too late.

They were all too late.

The ships opened fire.

**********

The Key Part 20 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Told by Time' By Gumnut Nov 2003

It was like watching your own heart being torn out.

Lancelets of fire carved the delicate looking space station into a pile of shattered glass, a mass of shining flotsam, the pieces individually catching the spark of the Othallan sun and reflecting it as they spun.

Space was silent, but you could still hear the screams.

**********

The sudden silence aboard the 'Athaneyar' was broken by a blood curdling Furling oath.

Renaya flinched, and Eelyn broke into a keen, his hands clinging to Carter's uniform pantleg.

O'Neill glanced at Thor. The Asgard was staring at the maneuvering warships in shock, his eyes tracking them as they settled into orbit, as they set up a perimeter around Othalla, and proceeded to shoot down any ship daring to breach it.

They made no attempt at communication.

And there was no planetary response to the incursion.

But there was a response from Thor.

"No."

No-one had heard him, except the small group standing with him, but from several feet away from the Asgard, you could feel the fury building.

Thor glanced in Niikrahl's direction, his head giving a simple nod.

Niikrahl returned it.

And disappeared in a wave of red light.

Thor's eyes flickered to the Nox Ambassador. "I ask you but one thing, Renaya. Should I fail, protect the children."

The Nox bowed her head. "Ambassador Thor, you have my word."

And now it was O'Neill's turn. The silky, black eyes stared up at him, pain in their depths.

"Thor, what are you doing?"

"O'Neill, I must inform the Council of the activities of the Goa'uld. This is their doing. I must stop this civil war before it cripples us."

"You can't go down there."

"What choice do I have?" The Asgard looked up at him as if desperately attempting to find another solution. "I must go."

"Then let me go with you." He held up a hand at the sudden, but predictable protests of Carter and Daniel. "Thor, I owe these people."

"No, O'Neill, you do not. It is us that owe you. A debt that can never be repaid."

"Thor-"

"O'Neill." Teal'c's voice was alarmed, and he had Jack's attention immediately. His hand pointed toward the planet.

Just beyond the nearest rogue starship, a huge vessel suddenly appeared in orbit.

Aww, hell.

It was Goa'uld, the biggest Goa'uld ship he had ever seen, its pyramidal centre gold in the flash of the Othallan sun, slowly turning, as it slipped into orbit. It was something that this planet had never seen, or had ever thought to see.

It's presence in this galaxy could mean only one thing.

The Goa'uld were now intergalactic.

The problem suddenly got a whole lot bigger.

**********

O'Neill waited a moment. It wouldn't take long. The Goa'uld could be pathetically predictable at times. It was coming, he knew it.

He was right.

"I am Anubis. I am your God. From this day forth you will direct your allegiance to me."

The speech was typical, boring in its repetitiveness. Its interruption was not.

"Don't you people ever change your lines?"

Niikrahl.

Jack O'Neill felt his eyes widen as a fleet of fifty-odd blood red spider-like starships shimmered into existence around Othalla, around the Asgard ships, and around the Goa'uld. The Furling's voice echoed like the enemy's had moments before.

"I am Niikrahl, and I'm no god, but I do have a whole lot more ships than you do, with enough weaponry to carve up that mikbar ship of yours like a quekchek holiday roast. I seriously suggest you reconsider your previous offer.

"The Furlings stand by the Asgard. I suggest you leave."

Oh, boy, Jack thought, you gotta love his style.

There was no response from the Goa'uld, their ship silently sitting in orbit, its menace somewhat dwarfed by the vessels encircling it. The Furling's ship design was at a complete opposite to their physical characteristics. Having met Niikrahl, if O'Neill had been asked to guess the type of ship he might command, he would of suggested something blocky, tough, a tank-style dreadnought or some such. But no, these ships were anything but.

If you looked closely you could see a vague similarity between the Goa'uld and Furling ships. At the centre of both was the pyramidal structure, the Goa'uld's the ever present gold, the Furling's a deep blood red. But the Furling's pyramid was so rounded, so sculpted, as to almost not be a pyramid at all. And it blended with the rest of the ship seamlessly.

Where the Goa'uld ship had its engines and armaments crouched haphazardly around its pyramid, the Furling's spoke of sleek, supple, and deadly. Ten long 'legs' arched out from the base of the ship, ten branches of blood red metal tensed to grab, attack, fire, to throttle the enemy. These ships were cool. These ships looked mean.

And they were on his side.

Way to go, Niikrahl.

For a moment, things looked up. Several respiratory systems suddenly found themselves under strain as a collective breath was held. Fingers were crossed, and a general hope that the Furlings would be able to scare away the Goa'uld with no bloodshed permeated the air.

A vain hope.

Anubis had another card up his sleeve.

Its name was O'Neill.

*********

The view flickered suddenly, and Thor found himself presented with a familiar sight, though with some unfamiliar players.

The Asgard High Council Chamber was full. The Council had obviously been in session when the attack occurred.

It certainly wasn't in session now.

Anubis stood in the centre of the room, surrounded by his Jaffa, one hand full of the neck of the High Councillor.

He was addressing the world at large.

"Colonel O'Neill, I am aware of your presence on this planet. I offer you a choice. Join me here for a little....discussion....or see the High Councillor of the Asgard die." The deep voice smirked. "You can take your time if you like, I have plenty of Asgard here to play with." His hand twitched and the High Councillor gasped.

Thor turned to O'Neill, knowing his answer before it was spoken.

O'Neill's face was taut with strain, and suppressed anger. "Looks like I'm going."

"Sir-"

"Carter, I have no choice. It is my decision."

"Jack, you can hardly stand on your own!"

Immediately, to refute Daniel's claim, the Colonel took his weight on to both feet, pushing himself away from the archaeologist. He swayed, momentarily, before straightening and looking Daniel in the eye.

"Jack, what the hell do you think you will be able to accomplish? Anubis is just as likely to kill the High Councillor whether you give yourself up, or not."

O'Neill's expression was cold and bleak. "He might, but at least it will be one Asgard death I am not responsible for."

"Jack-"

"Daniel! I can't do anything from up here. Perhaps I can do something down there."

"What?" The archaeologist was furious. "What, Jack? What can you do?"

"Daniel, just for once - just once - could you please just shut up!"

The look in O'Neill's eyes chilled Thor to his core. It spoke of finality and death. Doctor Jackson seemed to realise that a line had been crossed, his tone relented. "Jack, we can't let you go."

"Yes, Daniel, you can. And that's an order." O'Neill turned his back on his team, as if witnessing their distress was unbearable. Those cold eyes turned in his direction. "Thor, I need to get down there now."

"O'Neill-" Teal'c.

The Colonel held up a hand in the Jaffa's direction, but didn't turn to look. O'Neill's eyes pleaded with Thor. "We need to hurry. I doubt the High Councillor has much time."

Thor matched his stare, seeing into the depths of those small, dark eyes, seeing the determination and selflessness that made this man - and he made his own decision.

Turning to Renaya, he asked her, "Do you have my equipment?"

The Nox nodded, and a carryall appeared in the centre of the table. Thor reached into the bag and pulled out several weapons. He handed two to each of SG-1, including O'Neill.

The Colonel turned them over in his hands. "Thor?"

"You will not be going alone, O'Neill." Thor fixed a weapon to his hip, no holster, no belt needed.

O'Neill protested. "I will not endanger anyone else."

"Fortunately, O'Neill, I am not under your command. I will be accompanying you, or you will not be going." O'Neill's expression became stony. Thor looked up at him, knowing more at this point in time than at any other, why he called this human friend. "O'Neill, you are my friend. Asgard honour demands no less from me. To leave you to face an enemy alone and injured would be unjustifiable. And besides, I have not finished teaching you the Asgard language - and you know how I hate leaving things unfinished." Thor attempted a small smile to soften his statement.

"Thor, I-"

In an eerie echo of the gesture O'Neill had used on Teal'c, Thor held up a hand. "O'Neill, shut up."

If it hadn't been so dire, it would have been funny.

Even though Thor knew he would probably have an extensive conversation with O'Neill sometime in the future regarding his last statement should they survive this day, he had no time to think of it now. He gestured to SG-1 and the four humans came closer so he could quickly demonstrate the function of the Asgard weapons.

**********

Jack took his emotional turmoil and shoved it into the back of his mind where he could ignore it. If they survived this, he and Thor would be having some serious discussions regarding command protocol. It wasn't that he wasn't honoured by Thor's loyalty, it was just a long time since anyone had told him to shut up. Well, apart from George Hammond, but that was different. Wasn't it?

Who cares, O'Neill? There are more important things to think about at the moment.

Yeah, like offering yourself up for slaughter.

Jack looked at the two objects in his hands. One was obviously a gun, he had been shot with one of these often enough in the last few days to recognise it. The other was something he hadn't seen before. It looked something like a Swiss army knife.

Thor demonstrated quickly. "This is a shield disruptor." The little alien flicked the gadget in his hand and a blade appeared. Oooh, definitely a Swiss army knife. "If you are trapped by a Goa'uld force field, inserting this blade into the force field and activating the device will disrupt the field allowing escape."

Carter piped up. "If it is a force field, how can you insert anything into it?"

"The blade has nanophasic properties."

The look on Carter's face told O'Neill she understood that statement about as much as he did.

"Thor, if we are going, we better be going now." He turned to SG-1. "Kids, you are backup. If you see anything that could solve this problem, you have my orders to act on it, but - and this is a direct order, Carter - you are not to endanger yourselves." He swallowed, looking at his team, his voice softened. "Your safety is my responsibility." It was obviously clear to all of them that his statement had a double meaning. A second meaning he would not voice.

Both Teal'c and Carter looked unhappy. He could see that as soldiers, they understood, but it didn't mean they had to like it.

Daniel...

Daniel was Daniel. He could see that the archaeologist understood, but a stubborn denial, a refusal to give up, brought fire to his eyes, and he just stood looking at O'Neill, his arms folded, as if clutching himself for support.

Jack looked away. "Well, see ya, kids." He turned to Thor, who turned to Renaya, who waved her hand.

The forest dissolved around them.

**********

They materialised into chaos. Several Asgard had made an attempt to rescue the High Councillor.

They had all failed.

They lay scattered about the floor, dumped there by the Jaffa milling about them, their small grey bodies limp in death.

The figure of Anubis still dominated the scene, his fist still clasped around the neck of the now hopefully only unconscious High Councillor.

The eyeless face found O'Neill, and the voice sneered. "So you chose to join us, human." The hood waved in the direction of Thor. "However, I don't recall asking you to bring company." He gestured and Frere moved out from behind him. "Psyphus, I believe you and this Asgard have some unfinished business."

"Indeed I do." He raised the weapon in his hand, and fired.

For the third time that day, O'Neill flung himself in front of Thor. He felt the searing flame scorch across his back, and he landed hard, his breath taken away.

There was a roar of disapproval from Anubis, the soft thud of a falling body, and suddenly he was being lifted, a steel hand around his throat. "You continue to be an annoyance, human, a fatal habit." The hand squeezed.

O'Neill saw stars. "Wh...wha the hell do you want from me?" His hands flailed at the fist cutting off his air.

Anubis let his grip slacken as his voice betrayed astonishment. "You don't know? Your simple little mind hasn't worked it out?" The empty hood tipped backwards in laughter, before once again turning to his captive. The smoky miasma twisted beneath the hood, and features began to form. Daniel's face once again stared out at him. Jack flinched, but refused to show it. "O'Neill, you are the key." Daniel's lips curled up in what could only be called sensuous pleasure. "The key to the Asgard."

Those lips snarled. "You are their one vulnerability. Do you realise how these puny people view you? You are their hero. They consider you to be legendary. Imagine having someone as pathetic as you for a role model. However, my understanding is not a requirement, all I needed to know was that they would do anything for you. And they have." He smiled. "I couldn't have done any of this without you."

O'Neill didn't have a chance to react to that statement, before the Goa'uld grabbed his wrist, and began to bend it back. "And you are weak." The wrist bent further and further until with a sickening crack, the back of his hand met the top of his arm. The hand around his throat restricted his scream to a gurgling cry. "Their weakest link." He let the limp hand drop. Jack gasped, his groan becoming a whimper.

Suddenly the room lit up with light as Thor fired on Anubis. His weapon flaring up and down the length of the Goa'uld's robes.

Jack found himself abruptly dropped to his feet. Agony shot up his leg to join the burning ache in his back, and the molten fire in his wrist. He stumbled and almost fell, catching himself only through stubborn determination.

A weapon was pressed into the small of his back. "Do not even think of moving, human."

Frere.

He looked up just in time to see Thor flung across the room courtesy of Anubis. The Commander fell into a crumpled heap as he rebounded off the wall. The Goa'uld raised his hand again.

"You bastard." His voice rasped with pain, but Anubis heard it, his attention once again turning to the injured human. "Leave him alone."

"Why?" The sneer illustrated to Jack his absolute lack of control of the situation. There seemed to be no damage to Anubis or his robes. Failure.

The weapon pressed harder into his back, and Frere snarled. "Answer him."

O'Neill had had it with the little rat.

One good arm was all it took. O'Neill spun using the full length of his arm as leverage, he slashed his fist across the Asgard's head. There was the sound of a snap, of twigs breaking, and the little alien was flung to the floor.

O'Neill knew it was coming, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Anubis came up behind him and grabbed him by his hair and pulled. "Not wise, human."

"Aach, what are you going to do about it, snake boy?" He could feel his scalp separating from his skull, but if the snakehead was focused on him, he was ignoring Thor. "If I remember correctly you are surrounded by a superior force and are unlikely to leave this galaxy alive."

"I intend to do no more than what I had already intended." Daniel's lips smiled once again. "Oh, but I haven't told you yet have I?" The confidence in the Goa'uld's tone chilled O'Neill. What didn't he know?

"Human, you are not aware of what is in the balance here. The Asgard are presented with a dilemma. On one hand they have the planet Othalla, their home, and on the other.....the planet Earth."

Oh, god, no.

An expression must have crossed his face, because the smile on Anubis' face widened. "Yes, human, I sent a fleet of ships to your pathetic little planet. The Asgard are a little occupied at the moment. Which planet do you think they will choose?" Daniel's eyes glinted with black humour. "And to think I couldn't do this without your help. I must thank you, O'Neill, before I dispose of you."

Oh, god, the implications spun in his head. No.

No.

No.

Not while he still lived.

His one functional hand groped for purchase, for anything, and Anubis laughed at his struggles. "You have lost, Tau'ri, give it up."

No.

His hand fell on one of the weapons Thor had given him.

A flick of his wrist and the shield disruptor was active. He had nothing to give.

And nothing to lose.

Twisting in the Goa'uld's grip, he abruptly shoved the knife deep into folds of the dark cloak, his eyes meeting the blue orbs of his best friend.

"I never give up, you asshole."

He didn't expect a reaction.

He expected to die.

But he didn't.

The grip on his hair was suddenly loosed and once again he found himself dropped to his feet, and stumbling.

There was a moan from within the dark hood. Anubis clutched his midriff and began to shake. There was a roaring sound, a sound of wind through pines, of waves on rocks. O'Neill still trying to catch his balance stumbled backwards, as the figure of Anubis became fluid, its cloak caught in a unseen wind, flapping frantically, revealing the smoky figure within. There was a scream of nails on blackboard, and what had been the most powerful Goa'uld in existence, spun into a tornado of black smoke and disappeared up through the ceiling.

There was a stunned silence, the only sounds the settling of fabric on the floor as the wind disappeared to wherever it had come from.

O'Neill stood dumbly, staring at the empty cloak.

He looked up at the first sound, and came face to face with a bewildered but angry Jaffa.

"What have you done?" He was nudged with a staff weapon.

His brain didn't seem to be connected to his body anymore. He stared at the Jaffa, not able to say a thing.

"Colonel O'Neill?"

He managed to turn without falling. The High Councillor looked up at him, a little shaken, but whole.

Suddenly the import of what Anubis had said came crashing down upon him. It had been all his fault. He had been the weak link. He stared at the rumpled High Councillor, suddenly aware that beyond the Jaffa, several hundred Asgard had witnessed his guilt. There was only one thing he could say.

"I'm sorry."

His voice trembled, and the world closed down around him. The floor came up and took him away.

**********

Damage Part 21 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'The Key' By Gumnut Nov 2003

As Ambassador O'Neill collapsed to the council chamber floor, several things happened at once.

Three human forms appeared out of nowhere, and methodically decimated the Jaffa population of the room. None of the enemy soldiers, still stunned by the defeat of their god, even managed to fire a single shot.

In orbit, several Furling starships suddenly opened fire on the Goa'uld vessel, their spider legs painting flame in the darkness of space. The enemy vessel vainly attempted to defend itself, but it was outnumbered and out gunned, not to mention uncaptained.

It rained Goa'uld on Othalla that day.

The Furling fleet attempted to herd the rogue Asgard vessels away from the vulnerable planet. Of the six, five complied without protest, the presence of the Goa'uld must have brought some epiphany to their occupants.

One craft, however, proved defiant.

Caught between the planet and the Furlings, it was cornered, and chose to threaten the planet in order to blackmail its way out of its difficulty. It attempted to fire on the Council Chambers.

It was a mistake.

The Furling ships were slightly smaller than the Asgard vessels for a reason. They were more atmospherically capable. Three red spider ships were suddenly between the rogue and the planet, their defense shields deflecting the attack, their own weaponry targeting and tracking.

It only took a couple of pot shots from the ten or so Furling ships now surrounding it to convince the rogue of its ineffectiveness.

The Othallan situation was quickly contained.

But there was another situation desperately in need of attention.

*********

Thor woke to the sound of people. A lot of people.

Someone touched his shoulder, and he flinched. The movement caused his head to spin, lurching sickeningly.

By Nithhogg, his head hurt.

He opened his eyes cautiously, daring any light in the room to blind him.

His entire field of vision was filled with the face of Samantha Carter.

"Thor?"

"Major Carter?" He attempted to sit up, probably not a good idea, but he tried it anyway. Human hands helped him, and he found himself sitting back against the Council Chamber wall.

The world slowly stopped spinning.

Mostly.

The room was a picture of chaos. Dead Jaffa lay everywhere. Asgard medics hovered in small groups, assessing those they would be able to save, and those they wouldn't. By far the largest group was in the centre of the room. A pair of human boots stuck out of the huddle. O'Neill?

Thor staggered to his feet, Major Carter protesting but ignored, and made his way towards the converged figures. Vaguely he acknowledged Teal'c and Doctor Jackson in the background, but all of his attention was focused on the body on the floor.

It was O'Neill.

One arm lay awkwardly, its hand bent in a direction that even he knew it wasn't meant to go. His face was flushed, and Thor desperately looked for some sign of breathing.

"What has happened?"

No-one spoke to him, all intent on their patient's need, and, before he could say another word, O'Neill was whisked away. Taken from him, questions unanswered. He moved to follow.

"Commander Thor?" A medic brushed his elbow.

He turned to face the man, but was confronted by two of him, both dancing in his vision. The world suddenly tipped sideways, and Thor found himself falling to the floor.

Samantha Carter caught him and lowered him safely to a reclining position.

The medic hovered.

O'Neill! What had happened to O'Neill?

"What happened?"

"Sir, you will just need to lie still for a moment, you have been injured."

"I have?"

"Yes, sir."

"What happened to O'Neill? Anubis..."

Anubis!

He struggled to rise. Anubis was on his planet, a planet that he should have been able to defend.

Hands held back his struggle, forcing him to the floor. "Sir! Everything is well. Anubis is gone."

He stopped struggling. "Gone?" He stared up at the medic, and tried to stop both of him from dancing.

"Colonel O'Neill stopped him, sir. You should have seen it."

Stopped him?

The medic applied a device to his forehead, and there was a soft hum. His mind slowly cleared and reason set in. His vision became one, and he found himself once again looking into the strangely blue eyes of Major Carter.

"Commander?"

"Major Carter?"

"You okay?"

Thor's eyes flickered to the medic, and he answered the question for him.

"I recommend rest, sir. Several blood vessels were damaged, and you may experience a recurrence of symptoms if you place too much stress on the system. I expect to see you tomorrow at the Medical Centre for a follow up exam."

Thor glanced back at the Major. "It seems that I am."

Major Carter's eyes suddenly looked anxious. "There is a problem, Commander. We need your help."

"O'Neill?"

"No, sir, Earth. Anubis sent a fleet."

He swore, and Major Carter's eyes widened, leaving him briefly wondering if she had understood the obscenity. He hoped not, it was anything but diplomatic.

Questioning her succinctly he gathered as much information as he needed, of that she could provide, his mind tripping over the events that led to the apparent destruction of Anubis and O'Neill's collapse. But he had to hurry, much was at stake and they had little time.

Pushing himself to his feet, and ignoring the protests of the medic, he stormed from the room.

His worry for O'Neill would have to wait.

He had a planet to save.

**********

Major General George Hammond almost caused himself permanent injury as he flew down the stairs to reach the control room.

"What have we got?"

"Twelve Goa'uld ships on an intercept course, General."

Damn.

"How long do we have?"

"A matter of hours, sir. They appeared almost on top of us."

"Notify the Alpha site, and Alpha Group. Prep the evacuation teams."

He grabbed the phone.

The time had come to defend the planet.

He just hoped they were ready.

**********

Thor stood on the bridge of his commandeered ship, the 'Falkris', and stared out at hyperspace as if his will could make the ship go faster. They had to be in time. O'Neill had once again helped save the Asgard people, he could do no less for the human.

He snarled out a command to the helmsman. The reply was negative. The crew was doing all it could.

Behind Thor's ship fanned out a fleet of mixed Asgard and Furling vessels. As soon as the rogue Asgard had been removed from their position around Othalla, the Council had ordered them evacuated and re-crewed. Thor had seen to the task being completed in record time. A short discussion with Niikrahl had resulted in ten Furling vessels accompanying the Asgard fleet to Earth. They had no idea how many Goa'uld ships had been sent, Thor had decided to err on the side of caution.

He couldn't risk anything else.

The hyperspace in front of the ship still ignored him as he stared into it.

They couldn't be too late.

They couldn't.

**********

Jack O'Neill woke to the sound of soft breathing that wasn't his.

And hair tickled his nose.

Opening one eye, he was confronted by a mass of golden strands that twitched each time he breathed out. Carter?

He forced himself to wake up fully, squinting his eyes as if to brush away sleep with his eyelashes. Where was he? And why was Carter asleep in a chair beside his bed, her head almost on his pillow?

A crowd of thoughts converged on his head all at once. Anubis. Earth. Thor!

He sat up abruptly, and found the world spinning - at this point for him - not unexpectedly. Crunching his face up he groaned to himself. Not again! Damnit!

He felt the bed move slightly and a sleepy voice enquired, "Colonel?"

He raised a hand to his head to cover his eyes, but was surprised when instead of encountering the softness of his palm, his head clunked into something hard. What the?

Not knowing, and not wanting to try to find out, why his hand was encased in something hard, he settled for just sitting and squinting his eyes shut until the world stopped spinning.

"Colonel, how are you feeling?"

"Carter?" His voice croaked as if he hadn't used it for a century or two, and the pain in his throat warned him off speaking again.

"Yes, sir?"

He vainly attempted to clear his throat, causing his head to spin even more. Oh, god. "How do you think I'm feeling? Do I look okay? I'd look myself if the frickin' world would stop doing its happy dance." He needed water, something to douse the sandpaper that was his throat.

She didn't answer him, but laid a hand on his, and for that, part of him was grateful.

He sat there for awhile, his only real sensations being the feel of the bed beneath him and the soft hand on his, and eventually the world did stop spinning, and he was able to open his eyes and tentatively move himself into a comfortable reclining position supported by pillows. He was in a room with a view this time. A breeze wafted in from open doors that led onto a balcony overlooking, from what he could see from the bed, part of the Garden. If he listened intently, he could here the distant chimes of the plants. Finally, though, he got to look his second-in-command in the eye.

And all he found there was pain.

"Carter? You okay?" He coughed, his throat rebelling against movement, and of course, that sent the world teetering again. God, sometimes his life sucked.

She handed him a small glass of water, before looking away from him as if hesitant to say something. She bit her lip.

Uh, oh, this couldn't be good.

He quickly swallowed a mouthful of god-given fluid before attempting to speak. "Where are Daniel and Teal'c?"

Her eyes flickered back to him as if she had found herself suddenly on solid ground once again. "They have gone to see if they can contact General Hammond, sir. Thor has taken a fleet of ships to Earth to defend us against the Goa'uld."

"Is Thor okay?" The sudden replay of the last time he had seen the Asgard - a small crumpled body in the corner of the Council Chamber flashed across his mind, and he coughed again. God damnit!

"Yes, but he was injured, at least the Asgard version of a concussion. He received treatment, and seemed okay when he left. He said to give you his good wishes for your welfare, and he promised to do his best."

Jack had no doubts in the Asgard's intent. "And Anubis?" He had a vague memory of a tornado of black smoke, and then nothing.

Carter was cut off before she could answer. "That is exactly what we are trying to ascertain at the moment, Colonel."

The Asgard High Councillor walked into the room, his robes once again neatly pressed, his stance confident.

"High Councillor." Carter bowed her head in respect. O'Neill would have done the same if he could guarantee that the world would stay in one place.

The Asgard bowed his head at Jack. "I am glad to see you awake, Colonel. You had us worried you would not recover."

"That bad, huh?" He looked up at Carter just in time to see her swallow uncomfortably. "So am I fixed?"

Carter smiled slightly. "Just about, sir."

"What do you mean 'just about'?" He coughed again, and her smile disappeared, replaced with the haunted look she had had on her face when he awoke. She didn't answer. He looked at the High Councillor, clearing his throat. "I thought you guys were great at fixing me."

This time even the High Councillor smiled. "Yes, Colonel, we are quite capable of 'fixing' most problems encountered by the human body. However, " and he sobered, "you have developed a lung condition brought on by the fluid you were submerged in by the subversive Kalta." His expression soured. "The liquid has certain properties we use in our genetic procedures. Had the procedure been completed, it would not have been a problem, however it was interrupted, and now we have the result."

"Had the procedure been completed, I would be dead, Councillor." In the corner of his eye he saw Carter flinch, what was wrong with her?

"And thankfully it wasn't." The Asgard moved closer to the bed. "But, Colonel, due to those properties we have been unable to fully repair the damage done to your lungs. They will need to heal by themselves." At O'Neill's expression, he quickly continued, "We do expect a full recovery, but you will need to be patient."

He swore he heard a snort of laughter at that statement from Carter's direction, but when he glanced at her, her face was turned away from him, so he couldn't see.

At any rate, they were interrupted.

"Colonel Jaaaaaaaaaaack!"

A tiny hurricane in the form of an Asgard came tearing into the room. "Eelyn?"

He was followed by two other very harried looking Asgard bobbing their heads like they were about to fall off. "We are so sorry, Councillor, sorry, Colonel O'Neill. He slipped out of our grasp."

Eelyn came barrelling up to the bed, and ran into it, hitting it so hard it shook. "Colonel Jack, did you get hurt?"

Jack looked down into the little guy's face, no longer seeing the drooping muscles, or the blind eye, he just saw the worry. "I'm fine, Eelyn. They fixed me up."

But the Asgard's eye had fallen on the intricate cast protecting his arm. That eye widened. "You still hurt?" O'Neill could see the keen building in his eyes.

"No, Eelyn, I'm fine." He lifted the arm and waved it gently in the air. "See?"

Eelyn tracked the arm as it moved, as if it might fall off or something. Jack sincerely hoped it wouldn't, for both their sakes.

"Eelyn, come here." The Asgard perked up at Sam's voice.

"MaajorCarter?" Seeing her, he dashed across the room. Colonel Jack immediately forgotten.

Carter was eventually herded by Eelyn into a corner of the room to be introduced to the two Asgard who had followed him in. The High Councillor took the opportunity to speak closely with Jack.

"Colonel, in regards to your question about Anubis, we are unsure. We suspect that the shield disruptor actually may have interfered with his electrical field, or if he had some personal shield operating it may have disrupted that. There is no sign of him, however, and we can only hope that at the very least, we may not see him for a long while."

"I suppose we can always hope." He yawned, and found himself coughing - again. God, this was getting tiresome. He shut his eyes momentarily, waiting for the world to steady itself.

The High Councillor immediately looked contrite. "I am sorry, we have tired you, and you need rest." He called to Eelyn and his friends, motioning them towards the door. "I wish you well, Colonel. Should you need anything, do not hesitate to call me. We are in your debt yet again."

O'Neill moved to protest, but they were out the door before he could find the words.

Carter moved to leave him also. "Sam?" She flinched. He seldom used her first name, and this time it had just slipped out. "What is wrong, Major?"

She hesitated, only half turning back to him, as if wishing to be somewhere else, but suddenly something in her eyes snapped, and she wilted. The haunted look returned. "Major?" She turned to him, and he swore she looked broken. "What's wrong, Sam?"

She flinched again. Oh, god, what was going on?

She took a deep breath, and saw her determination kick in, as if pushing herself to do something. "Sir, if and when we return to the SGC, and if we are still able to operate as SG-1, I would formally like to request a transfer."

His ability to breathe left him. "Why?"

Her eyes were empty, vacant and desperate. "Because I can't take this anymore."

**********

Hammond's phone call was echoed around the world.

Nellis Airbase came alive. From hidden places appeared a fleet of never before seen aircraft. Gray, sleek jets with wings so arched they almost touched the tarmac as they taxied. One by one they lined up and launched, dark eagles reaching for the sky.

Not far away another group of X-302's launched from Vandenburg, joining the squadron from Nellis far above the desert.

A parade of F-15's arrowed beneath them. Back up. Support.

Government spoke to government, and across the globe similar fleets of fighter aircraft shot into the sky, coasting the atmosphere in preparation.

Planetary defense systems tracked for targets. Missiles, long left dormant in silos, stirred, electronics shunting through last minute checks.

It was time for the Tau'ri to defend themselves.

Or die trying.

**********

The Asgard Fleet shot out of hyperspace almost on top of the enemy fleet - they were already launching death gliders.

Thor didn't bother to give the 'this is a protected planet' speech. The Goa'uld knew that, and they had blatantly defied it. So they came in firing.

The 'Falkris' shot between two of the enemy ships, spitting flame as it flew. The plan? Divide and conquer.

It soon became apparent that the defensive shields of the enemy were superior. It took concentrated fire to disable a single ship's defensive capability, and the Asgard were not impenetrable.

They also had debris to consider. Thor was very aware of Earth's lack of transporter technology, lack of defensive weaponry. One large dying ship could decimate millions of earth-bound humans.

He couldn't allow that to happen.

They were depending upon him.

There was a huge explosion as the Furlings took out the first Goa'uld vessel, sending pyramidal fragments spinning off in the direction of the sun. Thor was chasing another around the planet's sole moon, their speeding arc so close to the ball of rock, he could see the flags planted by human explorers. As they came out of the dark side into the glaring sun, the Goa'uld only had moments to register the two blood red Furling ships directly in its path before their, and Thor's, combined firepower shattered its shields, carving the pyramid in two.

Shards of ship littered the moon.

Two down. Ten to go.

**********

"Sir! NASA reports that the Goa'uld have broken formation!"

"Why?"

"Unknown, sir. However there have been a number of bursts of energy in the vicinity of several of the ships, they may be under attack."

Davis brought the images up on screen for Hammond to view. An array of the familiar motherships was scattering, darting about like pigeons disturbed by a cat. For a moment he wondered if it was a tactical maneuver, but suddenly as one erupted in an explosive flower of flame, the shadow of another ship, previously unseen, was outlined by fire.

The eerie shape of a spider.

What the hell was going on?

*********

Thor's ship skimmed along the top of Earth's atmosphere, streaking flames of heated air. He spat an order and the ship abruptly shot upwards, avoiding the enemy fire directed at them from behind. The Asgard ship flipped in place and came back down again, the inertial dampeners screaming.

But the maneuver worked.

The enemy ship was sandwiched between the 'Falkris' and another Asgard vessel. The two opposing ships' shields touched briefly and there was a crackle of energy across the space between the two vessels.

The touch was all they needed. Science grabbed the data on the shields, Defense calibrated their weaponry to match, and Thor gave the order.

The Goa'uld ship shattered apart like a tiny star gone nova.

Thor signalled his counterpart on their sister ship, and they spun off in search of further enemy prey.

The battle was going well. Thor scanned his tactical display, seeing most of the Goa'uld either damaged or contained with little injury taken by his fleet. Two Furling vessels had been disabled, but had managed to crawl out of range of the majority of the battle. An Asgard ship and one other Furling vessel were maintaining their defense.

His eye caught something at the edge of the display. What the...?

Suddenly the screen was lit up by an explosion, and Thor quickly glanced up to see the Furling vessel he had been momentarily tracking, explode into a cloud of fiery fragments. The Goa'uld ship responsible, now finding itself free of hindrance, set out on a direct course for the planet's atmosphere.

They had managed to slip through - there was nothing between them and Earth.

Thor swore under his breath as he gave chase. They were too close. Too close to the planet, too close to the atmosphere.

But not close enough to prevent anything.

The 'Falkris' darted along the curvature of the atmosphere desperate to intervene, but was suddenly attacked from behind. Not by weapons' fire, but by the death throes of another Goa'uld vessel desperately attempting to escape the three Furling vessels carving it into pieces.

Thor had just a moment to register its existence before it collided full force into the 'Falkris'.

The Asgard's shields buckled under the strain, and metal met metal.

The two ships, locked together in destiny, tumbled end over end, and trapped by the planet's gravity, began their long descent towards oblivion.

**********

Confrontations Part 22 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Damage' By Gumnut Nov 2003

Daniel was angry. In fact, Daniel was royally pissed. But he had no-one to blame, because it was no-one's fault.

So he just stewed.

The Asgard had tried to get a holographic line to Earth, so that he could speak with the General, but apparently the space around the planet was so full of energy discharges, creating a maelstrom of interference, it was impossible for the time being.

C'mon, Danny, the truth is that you're angry because you are worried sick. And there isn't a single damn thing you can do about any of it.

He and Teal'c were currently stalking down the hallway to Jack's room. They couldn't do anything out here, perhaps they could be useful in there.

The doors opened, and they were confronted by a scene they could hardly have expected.

Jack was bent over in bed, apparently attempting to cough up a lung - both of them, in fact - and Sam was....

Sam was standing motionless in the middle of the room. She looked stunned, like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car.

The moment she realised they were there, she snapped out of it and, edging past them, literally ran off down the corridor.

What the?

"Jack?" Daniel made his way towards the bed.

The Colonel looked up, still coughing so hard his eyes were watering. Both Teal'c and Daniel hurried over to him, taking a side each, giving him what support they could. Suddenly there was a flash of a transporter, and two Asgard medics appeared. Without a word they moved towards the bed, and with the help of Daniel, placed a gadget on the Colonel's heaving chest.

Jack's coughing fit immediately subsided, leaving him gasping. Daniel tried to help him get comfortable, leaning him back against the pillows, but he protested, struggling against the archaeologist, his voice harsh, almost incoherent. His resistance was abruptly cut off as one of the medics placed another gadget on his forehead. A soft hum and Jack's eyelids immediately began to droop. He uttered one rasping word before drifting off to sleep.

"Carter...."

Daniel looked up at Teal'c. What the hell was going on?

**********

Thor hung on for grim death. The ship spun around him as the gravity generators desperately attempted to keep up. The inertial dampeners were screaming again, their wail, and its accompanying alert siren, battered his ears.

His grip slipped, and he landed hard, but managed to roll, coming to a stop up against the base of the helm. Head aching, he stumbled to his feet, and hand by hand, made it back to his station, desperately attempting to assess the situation. The display on his console flickered, internal and external sensors impeded by a chunk of Goa'uld pyramid.

The helmsman suddenly screamed, and Thor turned just in time to see him collapse, his face a bloody purple ruin. The helm continued to shoot sparks and fizzle.

Thor quickly re-routed helm control to his panel, one hand still gripping the arm of his chair. The ship was dangerously low in the atmosphere. The ship's thruster network was responding sporadically - there was too much mass.

Thor yelled through his intercom, and received an affirmative. They had to lose the Goa'uld vessel - time for some creative transporter work.

External sensors picked up the white flash of the transporter carving chunks of Goa'uld ship off the hull. The beams flickered back and forth across the wreck, transporting whole sections off into space. He made a mental note to himself to commend the technician for his speed should they survive this.

The 'Falkris' was starting to heat up badly by the time enough mass had been removed. Fortunately some thrusters remained functional to halt the ship's spin, and firing the deceleration drive, Thor was able to stop the ship's plummet.

The 'Falkris', however, was badly damaged, and as she crawled back into orbit Thor's readouts informed him that the ship would never see hyperspace again - not without some major structural repairs.

And there was still the problem of that Goa'uld vessel which had breached his lines of defense.

As he re-emerged into space he realised that he needn't have worried.

As O'Neill would have said - that ship was toast.

*********

Daniel Jackson was still angry, but this time his anger had a focus.

And the focus was Sam.

He had left Teal'c with a sleeping Jack, the Colonel was breathing easier and had finally managed to gain a measure of peace, the stress of the last few days draining from the lines on his face. Daniel made himself a note to try and wrangle one of those sleep-inducing gadgets off the Asgard. God, they had some good tools for handling rebellious patients.

He made his way out into the Garden and found Sam sitting alone on a bench. She was unusually still, hands in lap, looking at nothing in particular.

"Sam?"

Her head shot up, and he saw a mixture of fear and anger in her eyes that confused him. She looked away, and his anger cooled somewhat in the presence of her obvious discomfort.

"Sam, what's wrong?" He took a seat beside her.

"Daniel." It was all she said in greeting, her eyes following a distant bird as it flittered between arches in the Garden wall.

"What happened back there?"

She didn't answer him for a while, but then finally turned to look at him. "I don't know what to do." The fear in her eyes was so unlike her, so unlike the confident Air Force Major he was used to.

"Sam?"

"Doesn't it affect you? I can understand Teal'c, but you....he's your best friend."

"Sam, you are not making any sense."

She looked down at her hands in her lap. "Daniel, how many more times do we have to sit back and watch that man in there attempt to sacrifice himself for the greater good?"

He looked at her, and finally realised why she was so upset. Oh, Sam.

She turned to him and almost pleaded with him. "Daniel, what am I going to do?"

"I really don't know, Sam. You can't change Jack, I know, I've tried." That brought a small smile to her face.

"I stood on that ship, powerless to do anything to help him. All I could do was watch..." She balled her hands into fists. "God, the man is so frustrating."

"Yep, that would be Jack."

She looked up at him. "I can't take it anymore, Daniel. I....I can't watch him do it any more. I can't stand by and do nothing. I'm beginning to think I shouldn't be out here."

Daniel grabbed her gently by the shoulders, forcing her to face him. "Sam, look at me." She reluctantly met his eyes. "Jack is Jack. He can be an annoying pain in the ass sometimes, but he knows his job, and he does it well. I may argue with him, but I know that his first priority is always protection. Protection of us, protection of Earth, god, this time even the protection of a couple of galaxies. If that job requires him to sacrifice himself, he will do it, has done it on several occasions. I would do the same, so would Teal'c, and, I know, so would you. It's what we do."

She looked away. "I requested a transfer."

Daniel started. "You did what?"

She stared back up at him again. "Daniel, I thought I could take it, I thought I could be the tough, resilient soldier, and stand up to whatever the fates threw at us. It has always been hard, and there have been times before where I thought, is this me, is this what I want to do? The science is wonderful, the discoveries....but lately it seems that all I've been able to do is stand by and watch my friends get injured, sick, tortured...God, the Colonel even managed to get shot while supposedly safe in hospital. I've seen war before, and I've seen people die before, but the Colonel...God damnit, what am I going to do?"

"You requested a transfer?" His voice was cold, and it made her start, but she didn't back down.

"Yes, I did, Daniel. How can I be effective as either a scientist or a soldier if I spend my life worrying about the next time my CO might jump in front of a gun?"

"Jack is not reckless, Sam."

"I know that, Daniel, but the man is a goddamned serial hero. How the hell am I supposed to live with that? How am I supposed to work with a man I care about knowing that the first sacrifice will always be his? How can I live with the knowledge that one day that sacrifice may be the last, the one where I have to watch him die?" She suddenly stopped talking, the fire in her eyes flashing as she realised she had said too much.

"Major Carter." Daniel's chilling tone cut through the sudden silence, his use of her title more prominent for its usual absence. "Colonel O'Neill has gone through hell in the past few weeks, how could you dare to put your concerns above his right now?"

She stared back at him, shock echoing across her face. "Daniel..."

No, he wasn't going to let her finish. "Sam, how could you? The team is everything to Jack. We are his one constant. And now, when he needs us the most, you pull the rug out from under him."

"I did what I thought was right."

"Well, you thought wrong!" His raised voice startled a bird from its perch as it echoed across the park. Her stunned silence was enough for him, perhaps he was getting somewhere. He sighed, softening his tone. "Sam, Jack will never change, he can't, it is what he is. What you have to decide is whether knowing him, working with him is worth the risk." He stood. "Think about it, Major, and remember, Jack isn't the only one who depends on you."

With that he turned and left, hoping to god it had been enough.

*********

Just as the 'Falkris' reached orbit, twelve gray birds shot out of the atmosphere, their shadows arching across the sun before swooping in attack formation upon their unsuspecting prey.

The Goa'uld, as always, underestimated the Tau'ri - it continued to be a fatal flaw on their part - and in moments the little grey ships were swarming around the golden mothership, their weapons, once primitive, now not so - Thor could see the naquadah enhanced explosions raining down on the enemy's shields - were more or less as effective as the energy weapons Thor was familiar with.

A quick assessment of the status of the battle at large, and Thor found it had ended. Several Furling ships had a couple of damaged Goa'uld vessels as unwilling prisoners, now putting up no resistance as they were herded away from Earth, but apart from that, all that remained of the battle was a field of debris. The remainder of his fleet was doing clean up duty, wreckage disappearing in waves of both white and red transporter activity - a stream of broken Goa'uld bits and pieces were appearing on course toward the sun.

The only remaining defiant Goa'uld vessel was now in the hands of the humans. Several of the Furling vessels were hovering just out of range of the battle, no doubt invisible to the instruments of the craft attacking the golden pyramid, but waiting should they need to intervene.

A stray shot suddenly took out one of the graceful little ships, its destruction barely a puff of smoke, and Thor jumped. He gave the order and the 'Falkris' began to move in slowly to assist. He was halted by a wideband transmission in English.

"Uh, this is Major Josh Kramer of Alpha Squadron, er, of Earth. Thanks for the offer, guys, but with all respect this one's ours."

And it was.

One of those naquadah enhanced missiles made it through those shields and impacted the pyramid, shattering its superstructure. The ship drifted sideways and began to shudder. The Earth vessels scattered as the sky was lit up with an explosion.

All down, none to go.

As the Earth craft maneuvered back into formation and began re-entry, Thor was reminded of the tenacity of a human he knew well.

Oh, the Human race was definitely going to be an interesting addition to the Alliance.

*********

General George Hammond stood amongst a sea of computers and piles of paper. Both the computers and the paper were currently subject to heavy disturbance as every human body in the room was dancing around in excitement.

The good guys had won!

Alpha squadron had reported mission success, jubilant in their triumph. NASA reported the continuing presence of an Asgard vessel. Visuals showed that it was clearly damaged, but its orbit was stable, and Hammond had no doubt about the presence of others. Just because they couldn't see them didn't mean they couldn't see the effects of their presence - the dangerous amount of debris currently in orbit was disappearing piece by piece.

Their picture of events was patchy, several satellites had been early casualties in the crossfire, but they had known it to be a battle, a battle the Goa'uld had obviously lost.

But the General wasn't celebrating.

It was a relief, yes, but experience told him that this was just one battle in what was probably going to be a very long war. His lack of jubilation also had to do with certain members of his team who were currently still missing.

He honestly didn't know whether he would ever see Jack, Sam, Daniel, or Teal'c ever again. And if he did the first thing he would have to do would be to arrest them.

Damn it, Jack, there had to have been another way.

A chime and flash of a transporter, and the room fell suddenly silent. Paper fluttered gently to the floor.

A single small grey figure stood in the middle of the room. Thor.

Oh, thank god.

"General Hammond, may I speak with you?"

"Commander Thor, I would like to express our gratitude...."

"Yes, General, and you are very welcome, but I would like to speak to you." He glanced around at all the stunned faces in the briefing room, before directing his gaze at Hammond once more. "In private, if possible. It concerns SG-1."

"Certainly." He gestured. "My office?"

"Very well." Thor made his way across the paper covered floor, his footsteps quiet in the silence. Eyes followed him, and as Hammond glared around the room, everyone quickly found themselves some busywork.

George followed Thor into his office, and closed the door. He directed the Commander to a chair, only to realise the alien was too small to sit in it comfortably. Thor declined and chose to stand. He made himself a note to order some furniture appropriate for this type of occasion sometime in the near future and sat down. He politely waited for Thor to begin.

He suddenly realised the Commander was bleeding.

Purple.

"Commander, are you all right?"

Thor raised a hand to his head and wiped the purple smear, causing it to streak across his forehead. "I apologise, General. I did not realise I had injured myself."

Hammond grabbed a box of tissues from his drawer and handed them to Thor. "You acquired it defending our planet, sir. I think the apology should come from us. Do you need medical assistance?"

Thor dabbed a handful of tissue to his forehead. "I will be fine. We could do nothing less for a member of the Alliance. Nothing less for those to whom we owe so much."

Hammond blinked. "Alliance?"

Thor looked up from underneath the tissue. "General, Earth has been invited to join the Alliance. Many thousands of years ago when the Goa'uld first became a threat in this galaxy, four of the great races chose to form an Alliance to protect themselves and others from this rapidly spread scourge. Over the years this alliance has changed, some of its members taking a step back, others passing on from this region of space altogether. But the Alliance remains." He paused to take a breath, removing his hand from his head. He stared down at the tissue for a moment as if steadying himself. Hammond opened his mouth to enquire on his health once again, but Thor continued before the words even formed. "I requested Colonel O'Neill's presence at the first Alliance Council meeting for centuries. He needed to speak for your people."

There was a silence for a moment and Hammond swallowed, not sure whether to be worried, angry, or just plain frustrated. "Sir, you are aware that Colonel O'Neill had no authorisation to leave this base, much less any authority to speak for our people."

Thor didn't speak for a moment, he just stood there, looking stunned. "General Hammond, Colonel O'Neill has just saved my planet."

It was Hammond's turned to look stunned. "He did what? How?"

Thor briefly outlined SG-1's experiences, as he knew them, finishing off with O'Neill plunging the shield disruptor into Anubis' belly.

"Colonel O'Neill is currently recovering on Othalla."

Damn it, Jack, you don't do things by halves do you?

"Commander, I don't know what to say. I realise that you and your people consider Jack O'Neill to be a hero, and I agree, the man has a habit of saving the day, but you must see that the Colonel has defied a direct order by leaving this base without authorisation. And this is not the first time. My superiors will not let this pass by the wayside." It was Hammond's turn to take a breath. "Thor, Colonel O'Neill can not speak for our people unless he is nominated to do so, and I seriously doubt after this latest display he will be allowed represent anyone but himself."

Thor seemed to stagger a little. "But O'Neill is the one we have chosen."

"Forgive me, Commander, but if we were to join this Alliance, it would have to be a representative of our choice. Now I agree, Jack O'Neill is one of the best, but it is not up to me."

"General, it is not a case of 'if'. Earth has joined the Alliance, and lives have been lost in its defense. Asgard and Furling lives. I suggest you tell your superiors that."

Furling?

"Thor-"

"General, I am also concerned about the fate of SG-1. What will happen to them should they return?"

"I'm afraid they will be arrested."

Thor was silent for a moment before raising the tissue once again to his brow. "Thank you very much for your time, General, I now know how to act."

Thor opened his mouth as if to say his farewell, but only a soft groan issued from his throat. Hammond barely had the time to open his mouth to call his name before the Asgard collapsed to the floor.

**********

Symbols Part 23 of the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Confrontations' By Gumnut Nov 2003

Jack O'Neill sat on his balcony and felt like an old man.

He was several stories up and had a wonderful view of the Garden, but although he was gazing out towards it, he was not seeing.

Life sucked.

He brought a hand to his face and rubbed his eyes. His head still pounded, but at least he was no longer dizzy. The Asgard had had to semi-permanently attach the anti-coughing gadget to his chest. Upon waking, he had immediately attempted to talk and had been wracked by spasm after spasm until he thought his diaphragm was about to end up in his lap.

The gadget stopped the coughing, but talking was painful, so he kept to himself through the parade of visitors, letting them natter away around him.

Since word had come from Earth of Thor's victory, Teal'c and Daniel had hardly left him, one or the other playing sentry duty at all times. In the end he had so wanted to be alone, he had had to throw a hissy fit that ended up offending Daniel who stalked off in a huff. Teal'c had just flicked an admonishing eyebrow at him, letting him know that he had stepped over the line, and apologies were required in the future.

Carter he hadn't seen at all.

His thoughts on the Major could only be described as turbulent. Various emotions tangled and fought, but one thought was clear above all.

He didn't want to lose her.

Not as a soldier.

Not as his second-in-command.

Not as his pet genius 'pull the rabbit out of the hat' scientist.

And not as just plain old Sam Carter.

He just didn't want to lose her.

But it wasn't up to him. It was up to her.

Up to her to decide whether she could survive serving with Jack O'Neill.

He rubbed his hand across his eyes again.

Yep, life sucked.

Without thinking he reached out his other arm to grab a glass of water from the table beside him. He forgot the cast on his arm, misjudged, and the water went flying.

Damn.

Thankfully, the glass wasn't made of glass, and when it hit the floor, did not shatter. It clunked dully and rolled.

His eyes tracked the spreading fluid. It reflected the blue of the sky, and when combined with the dark of the floor, it reminded him of one thing. One thing only.

Blood. Purple Asgard blood. A substance he had become far too familiar with over the past month.

And it had him wondering how much of it was on his hands.

Renaya, Ambassador of the Nox, had come to see him earlier. She had been very quiet. Very kind. Offering to listen to him.

But he didn't want to talk.

So she had him listen.

She sat beside his bed just like his grandmother had when he was small, and, just for a moment, he had felt young. Oh, so young compared to the elegantly aged woman beside him.

She had told him of a time far before his own. Of a galaxy far different from what it was today. The Nox had been an aggressive race. Not violent, just eager to learn and explore. They had spread across the stars wanting to meet new races, make discoveries, and, generally, wonder at the universe.

But at the centre of all this excitement lay a core that slowly began to decay. A single person who through charisma and propaganda stirred up trouble. His name was Psyphus.

His excuses had been many. His accusations the same, and some of the Nox had believed him.

Some had not.

Arguments had ensued. Arguments that had led to political unrest. Unrest that had led to civil war.

The Nox had simply attempted to self destruct.

So much was lost. So many died. And it was not until the eleventh hour that the Nox, as a people, discovered the root of it all.

Psyphus was not a Nox.

He was a Goa'uld.

The Nox knew little of the parasites, the System Lords yet to gain the power they currently held. They only knew that this creature had manipulated them with ease - they had willingly set out to destroy themselves.

The shock was total.

And realisation came at a price.

The war came to an abrupt end.

And the Nox set out on the path to what they were today.

Only one thing remained. The fate of the Goa'uld.

He had been punished, or so popular Nox myth told, however, the truth was that Psyphus had slipped their grip, and disappeared.

They had searched in vain, and eventually it was realised that justice may never be served. But regardless, the nature of the Nox had been changed forever.

Renaya had been quiet for a moment, and he had looked at her directly, surprised to find a great anger in her eyes. They flashed, and he had had an urge to scramble backwards, to get away from a creature who emanated hostility and harm.

Psyphus was in Frere.

Anubis had declared it in the centre of the High Council Chamber, and O'Neill now realised there would be no mercy for the parasite at the hands of the Nox. At the look in her eyes, part of him had pitied the Goa'uld's fate, and a sudden understanding of how the Nox could have managed to decimate themselves came to him.

Every being had their price, some were just higher or lower than others. All were capable of killing, no matter how reputedly peaceful.

He added a 'pissed off Nox' to his list of must-avoids.

He had shivered, and she had flinched, the moment fading as she realised what she was communicating.

Her point had been that O'Neill had not been at fault - that this had happened before - and she was adamant that he should not feel guilt in this matter.

But it didn't change anything.

Didn't change the fact that if he hadn't been who he was, none of this could have possibly happened. Didn't negate the fact that he was the weak point, the key to the possible downfall of the Asgard.

It didn't stop the dreams that haunted his sleep.

Or the faces that haunted his memory.

He watched the glass roll away, and wondered if he would ever be able to look at himself in a mirror without seeing the face of a killer. The glass hit the balustrade and rebounded softly. Who was he kidding, it had been a long time since his face had been guilt free.

His thoughts were interrupted by the doors to his room opening. He resisted the urge to check who it was, fighting his natural instinct to check for danger. He really didn't want to know.

"O'Neill? Where the mikbar are you?"

Niikrahl.

Jack found himself indecisive as to whether to make his whereabouts known or not, he wasn't able to be seen where he was on the balcony from within the room, but abruptly the choice was taken from his hands.

A head appeared through the doorway.

"Oh, there you are." The head was suddenly followed by another nine feet of Furling.

Niikrahl walked up to the edge of the landing, and stared out over the Garden. "Beautiful, isn't it."

O'Neill didn't know whether an answer was required, but kept quiet anyway, his eyes refusing to latch onto the Furling, still staring out into the plants below. He did, however, feel the soft heat of Niikrahl's two red orbs brush across his face as he turned in his direction. "I can't say that I agree with the Nox philosophy of pacifism, but I have to admit they know how to plant a garden."

O'Neill's eyes flickered at that comment, and the Furling immediately picked up on his confusion. "Oh, so you didn't know that little bit of information? I suppose you thought the Asgard created the Garden that encompasses this world?" O'Neill didn't react, but Niikrahl continued anyway. "Well, I have to say, Human, that you've been misinformed. The Nox created the Garden millennia ago."

The Furling didn't continue, and, quite frankly, O'Neill's natural curiosity overcame his reticence for conversation. "Why?"

Niikrahl's eyes flicked back to the Garden. "I do not know." His hands gripped the edge of the balustrade. "But I am sure it was for some symbol of peace, some gesture of alliance, they are such a people, and they and the Asgard have been allies for a very long time."

Again, he had to ask. "The Alliance, how old is it?"

The Furling turned back to him, his eyes appraising. "Many thousands of your years. The Pensiltinaar and the Asgard were the first, their ties were long, and soon the Nox joined them. We, the Furlings, came to the table much more recently." His head turned away. "We had much to prove after our many mistakes, but there came a time where allies were needed more than grudges. The Asgard have ever been our friends, regardless of the scoffing of the so called Ancients." O'Neill could see the annoyance beneath that statement, but was not surprised. After his own encounters with the high and mighty Pensiltinaar, he could do little but agree.

"O'Neill, I have come to take my leave of you. The Asgard have the usurpers under control, and the Furling fleet is needed elsewhere, but I did not wish to leave without telling you something."

O'Neill stared back in askance, but the silence continued to stretch. "Yes, Ambassador?"

The alien seemed to take a deep breath before continuing. "O'Neill, the Asgard have assisted the Furlings on multiple occasions. If it wasn't for these people, it is likely that we would no longer exist. We owe them a great debt, one we are currently unable to repay. Are you aware of the difficulties they are experiencing regarding reproduction?"

O'Neill cleared his throat, a little uncomfortable with the change of subject. He had had a few discussions about the topic with Thor, and the little alien's embarrassment had been considerable. "I know something about it."

"Well, what you don't know is that it is far more serious a concern than the Asgard are letting on." He gestured out towards the great city. "Impressive, isn't it? It stretches for many emples. It is beautiful, and it is ancient." He caught Jack's eyes. "It is also mostly empty, O'Neill. Where billions once resided, this planet supports barely a million Asgard."

O'Neill's heart froze. Only a million?

"Between the genetic difficulties and the recent war with the Replicators, their population has been decimated." At Jack's dismayed reaction, he continued. "Did you not wonder how it was so easy for Anubis to gain control of the planet? How such a quickly contained plague was able to do so much damage? O'Neill, they are hanging by a thread, and unlike us, there is no great, generous race out there to save them from oblivion. It is only a matter of time."

Jack thought back to the empty houses he had passed in the city on the way to the House of Fires, he thought of Kalta and Kanya, of Eelyn, of Heimdahl and his lab, of Loki and his desperate attempt to access O'Neill's DNA, and it all came together. They had been bluffing again. Jack briefly wondered about those times the Asgard had claimed they had no ships available, how many had been because no crew were available instead.

He looked up at Niikrahl and found his own dismay mirrored in the Furling's features. "How did you find out?"

Niikrahl glanced at his feet. "During the battle. Othalla's planetary defense systems had been nullified by internal insurgence. They managed to shut down everything, including normal scanner deflection. My ship's sensors picked it up. It was one of the reasons I ordered the Goa'uld vessel destroyed, this cannot be allowed to become general knowledge, O'Neill. Far too much depends on the Asgard."

Didn't he know it.

"O'Neill, I know you to be an honourable man. You have proven yourself, several times in the eyes of Thor, and your passion in the defeat of Anubis inspired me. I thought you should know. The Furlings will do what we can to assist, though I doubt it will be enough, our technology has yet to reach the levels of the Asgard. The Nox, I do not know, but I am sure that if they do have knowledge of this predicament they would do their utmost to assist. The Pensiltinaar..." His voice drifted off, and the red of his eyes flashed slightly. "Of all five of us, the Pensiltinaar are most likely to have the technology to help the Asgard, but it is they who are most likely to refuse. I expect no help from them." His disgust was palpable. "I know that Earth is technologically far behind all of us, and I do not mean that in a derogatory manner." He held up his hand. "But you yourself have proven recently, and in the past, that you have a unique way of viewing the world. All I ask is that should you come across anything that may help the Asgard, you need only ask for our assistance, and you will have it."

The honesty in the Furling's eyes called for nothing less from O'Neill. He faced him firmly. "You have my word, Niikrahl."

The Furling turned to leave. "Thank you, Ambassador O'Neill." The simple sentence said everything, and the Furling exited off the balcony. Jack's thoughts were left spinning, a sudden need to speak with Thor, the highest priority amongst them.

He made to get up to go and see if Thor had returned as yet, when he heard the doors to his quarters open once again. He heard Niikrahl greet Samantha Carter on the way out, and he froze.

Perhaps she wouldn't find him out here.

No such luck.

*********

The world came back to him in pieces. Pieces peppered with voices. Arguing voices.

"I don't care how worried the humans are, Commander Thor is seriously ill."

"The General is only asking for a report."

"As if I have time-"

Thor took that moment to interrupt. "Technician, that will be all." He struggled to a sitting position, ignoring the protests of various med assistants.

"But, sir!" The medtech hurried over to Thor, his expression alarmed. "You were severely injured, your collapse is but a symptom of a most serious head injury."

"Will I live?"

The technician looked almost affronted. "Certainly, sir, we could allow no less."

"Good, then I'm fine. I have far more important things to do than lay about." He slid himself off the bed.

His equilibrium wobbled momentarily, but he found himself able to walk out of the medbay, regardless of the many protests. The ship's captain must have been called as he met him halfway to the bridge.

"Status?"

The man's eyes flickered to the medpatch on Thor's forehead, but he answered smartly. "All the battle debris, plus some of Earth origin has been removed from orbit. Three of the Furling vessels are skirting the outreaches of the solar system, scouting for any further incursions. The Earth general continues to enquire after your health, sir. I believe he was quite alarmed at your sudden disappearance."

"Very well, once the area is secured, assign one of our vessels to patrol this solar system, and its nearest neighbours, and prepare the fleet for return to Othalla. The 'Falkris' will need to be towed. In the meantime, I wish to speak with the General."

"Yes, sir."

As soon as they reached the bridge, Thor called up the transporter tech and had himself beamed back down to the SGC.

Hammond's back was to him when he materialised in the General's office, but the sound of the transporter alerted the human, and he spun.

"Commander Thor!"

"General, I apologise for my abrupt departure."

"No apologies are needed, Commander, I was more concerned about your health."

"I am well, General." He ignored the fact that his image of Hammond occasionally doubled in rhythm with his pounding headache. "The fleet will be departing shortly. I just wanted to reassure you of SG-1's safe return in the near future."

Hammond sighed, and lowered himself carefully to his knees so that his eyes could level with Thor's. "Commander, as soon as SG-1 returns to Earth, I will have no choice but to arrest them. There is little I can do to prevent it."

Thor looked into the General's small eyes, reaching to see beyond the obvious anger and worry, briefly wondering about the man that O'Neill followed. O'Neill had a quality that defied being led, yet this man garnered his trust and his loyalty. A loyalty O'Neill had been forced to break in order to save Thor's people. He reached out a hand and rested it on Hammond's shoulder.

"Do not worry, General, no harm will come to O'Neill or his team."

Hammond opened his mouth as if to protest, but he must have seen the certainty on Thor's face, because he didn't manage to say anything. A small flicker of hope stirred in the back of his eyes, and Thor briefly saw some of that quality O'Neill had pledged to follow.

"I give you my word, General." He stepped back, letting his arm fall. "I must take my leave now, however, I will return."

He left the General, kneeling, lost in thought, in the middle of his office floor.

*********

Sam Carter nearly walked into Ambassador Niikrahl as he was leaving the Colonel's room. She narrowly missed having her foot squashed by several hundred pounds of Furling. As it was he had to steady her as she stumbled trying to get out of his way.

"Major Carter, are you well?"

"Fine. Uh, sorry, I didn't see you there." Ten feet of Furling can be damned intimidating.

"There is no problem, Major. Are you looking for O'Neill?" She nodded, somewhat unnerved by the alien. "He can be found on his balcony. I believe he may be trying to hide." His smile unnerved her even more.

"Thank you, Ambassador." She edged past him to enter the room, and the doors closed behind her. She found the bed rumpled and empty, and, taking the ambassador's advice, sought the Colonel out on the balcony.

He was sitting on a chair gazing out into the Garden, a closed look on his face. She could tell he was aware of her presence, but he did not acknowledge her, and she chose to do the same to him. She walked to the edge of the balcony, her hands brushing the balustrade, eyeing him surreptitiously. In the midmorning light, she was shocked to see how aged he looked. His silver hair, usually rumpled and sticking out in all directions, lay limp and lustreless. His face looked so tired and weary of life, she felt her heart clench. The man was usually so active, so lively, that age never seemed to matter. She had sworn that even if he was ninety, he would still act like he was ten. But today all that energy had left him and he looked sick and worn.

"Jack?"

He flinched, her use of his first name having the effect she wanted. She did not want to speak to him as her commanding officer, that could come later, now she simply wanted to speak to him as a friend one-on-one.

His eyes looked up at her. "Sam?"

Her turn to flinch. She should have known that any tactic she could use, Jack O'Neill would be just as proficient at, if not better. She steeled herself. "I would like to apologise."

He blinked, his eyebrows twisting slightly in question. "For what?"

Suddenly she didn't know what to do with her hands. She wrung them a couple of times, looking down at them, looking back at him. He must have noticed her discomfort, because he abruptly offered her the single other chair on the balcony, urging her to sit. She reluctantly complied, but only sat on the edge as if ready to leave in a hurry if necessary.

He didn't fail to notice. "Relax, Major, you of all people should know that I don't bite."

She couldn't resist. "It's your bark that worries me." His eyes darted towards her, she smiled slightly, and she was rewarded with a small smile in return. The smile took away some of that awful tiredness in his face.

"Have you been talking to some of the new SGC recruits, Major?"

"No, sir, I've experienced it first hand."

"It's never held you back before."

No, it hadn't, and it never would, the team was worth more than that.

His eyes drifted back to the Garden once again and there was silence except for the odd sounds of the Asgard birdlife.

"This is such a beautiful place." His voice was so quiet, she almost missed it.

"Yes, sir." She looked out into the Garden with him, but suddenly felt his eyes on her once again.

"Please don't go."

Three simple words. And they meant so much. She didn't answer him directly, she had come here to explain, to talk.

She continued to stare out into Garden, taking solace from its gently swaying plants, tended by the breeze. She began to speak.

"How have you survived it, sir?"

She could feel his puzzlement. "Survived what?"

"Survived holding the life of a someone you care about in your hands, and having to watch it slip away, powerless to prevent it?"

Her eyes determinedly followed the flight of a bird, as she heard him swallow. This would be as difficult for him as it was for her.

"I haven't." She looked at him, and saw the answer in his eyes. "You don't survive it, Sam. You live through it, but part of you dies inside. You can never be the same."

She thought back on all the people the Colonel had lost. The man seemed as hard as iron, as inflexible as steel. She had accused him of being uncaring in the past, even when she knew it was her own grief speaking. They had not spoken of it since, but over time she had begun to realise that just because an emotion is not expressed does not mean it is not felt. Jack O'Neill carried his grief deep, hidden from prying eyes, controlled through necessity, but it was still there, and he hurt as much as the next person.

The question was could she manage it? Did she have the energy to pick herself up after tragedy and just keep going?

She looked at her hands, and she heard his quiet question. "What happened, Sam?"

She shot him a look, shocked. How could he not know? He had lain in her arms, his life bleeding out all over the floor. There had been so much blood. It didn't matter the colour, it had still been his. She had sat there waiting on his every laboured breath, breathing with him, urging him to take the next one. His eyes had stared up at her, seeing her, yet not seeing her. Saying her name, whispering that he had lost her.

Yes, he had been saved. But each time he had been injured, or taken from them since, she had feared she would be placed in that scene again. A powerless player in a play of death. And this time there may be no wonderful rescue by the Asgard. Maybe this time would be the last.

And she didn't know if she could stand it. She didn't know if she had enough soldier in her to watch Jack O'Neill die.

He must have realised he wasn't going to get an answer, because he suddenly said. "I survived, Carter. I'm not dead."

"I know, sir, but what about next time?"

"There will always be a next time, Carter, until the last time." He had begun to fidget in his seat, probably a combination of the discussion topic, and the slow return of his normal self. Abruptly he stood, swayed a little, but steadied, and made his way to the balustrade to lean out over the view. "All I can promise you is that I will avoid the last time as long as possible." He turned to face her, leaning back on the railing. "As long as you do the same."

There was a slight tremble in his voice and she suddenly realised that he was mirroring her feelings. The indications were subtle, but there. And it all finally clicked into place.

He had thought she had died in the explosion of the 'O'Neill'. He knew exactly how she felt, but he had managed to 'soldier on'. He hadn't panicked, he hadn't attempted to throw his career out the window, he had simply suffered in silence. Shame chilled her heart.

Again she had failed to understand.

"I am so sorry."

He held up a hand. "There is nothing to be sorry for, Carter. We all handle things differently. Just do me a favour, and don't quit. Someone needs to explain all these techno-gadgets to me, and Daniel and Teal'c just don't have the finesse you do." He smiled at her. "Besides we had so much trouble replacing Daniel, you can imagine the uproar at the SGC if we had to replace you. Hammond would never forgive me." He stopped abruptly, and the doubt about Hammond ever forgiving them ever again suddenly hung in the air.

The abrupt silence was shattered by the sound of the doors to the room opening once again.

"Oh, for crying out loud, what is this, Grand Central Station?"

O'Neill stalked, a little gingerly, back into his room, looking determined to face the latest invader of his privacy. Sam composed herself before following him a few moments later.

The tableau that confronted her upon entering the room, unnerved her.

A lone Asgard medical assistant stood just inside the doors. Colonel O'Neill stood frozen in the middle of the floor, apprehension in every line of his body.

"Colonel?"

He didn't answer her. So she turned to the Asgard and asked him instead.

"Is there something we can do for you?"

The Asgard bowed slightly from the waist. "I am here to check Colonel O'Neill's respiration monitor." He looked like he was going to impart further information, but he was interrupted by the Colonel.

"I know you. We've met before."

"Yes, we have, Colonel. My name is Anwah. We encountered each other in the Garden not long ago."

Sam watched O'Neill pale suddenly, and for a moment she thought he might collapse. "Colonel?!"

He held up a hand and moved toward the bed, leaning on it as if for support. "I'm fine." He clearly wasn't, but as he was sitting down, she didn't protest, instead turned to the apparent source of his distress.

The Asgard stepped back slightly as she approached. "I think it would be best if you perhaps came back later. The Colonel needs to rest."

The assistant looked uncomfortable. "Perhaps it is better that I ask another to assist the Colonel." His eyes darted nervously between her and O'Neill, but he suddenly held out his hand. A small, brightly wrapped box sat in his palm. "However, I do wish to give this to the Colonel first. It is small, but it is all that I have to give him in return for what he has done for my people." He turned his face toward O'Neill, steeling himself. "I once accused you of something. I wish to let you know I was wrong, and I apologise. You are capable of far more than I ever realised. You were worth my family's sacrifice, and I was wrong to blame you."

Carter watched as each word caused her CO to flinch. He didn't answer.

Sam decided on some action, and accepting the box, ushered Anwah out of the room.. Briefly checking with security outside the door, she ascertained that the box contained no threat, and returned to find O'Neill curled up on the bed.

"Sir?" He didn't answer. She walked up to the side of the bed, crouching slightly to bring her face level with his. "Colonel, what's wrong?" No answer. "Jack?"

"You know if you use that tactic too often, it's going to lose its impact." The voice smiled, but the face didn't.

"Sir, what is wrong?"

"Give me the box, let's get this over with."

Still unsure and puzzled, she held out the package to him, and he sat up, staring at it in her hand. He hesitated for a moment and then grabbed it from her. He didn't open it immediately, turning it in his hands, his hands in his lap. For a moment she thought he might ask her to leave, but the words never came, and he slowly began to pull off wrappings.

His long fingers made short work of the simple fastenings, and soon the box sat open in his palm. The first item he pulled from it was a folded piece of that filmy printout material the Colonel had made paper planes from - it seemed so long ago now. He barely spared it a glance before reaching in a second time and pulling out a crystal.

It was about the size of his hand, exquisitely carved out of pale blue crystal the colour of the Othallan sky. A beautiful replica of the 'O'Neill'.

O'Neill coughed despite the suppressor attached to his chest, and his hand trembled. The paper-like material fell from his hand as he stared at the small starship. He didn't move for a long moment, just sat there staring at the little model, his shoulders slumped.

"Should I open the note, sir?"

He started, his eyes suddenly meeting hers. "Wha? Oh, give it here." He gently placed the crystal on the bed, and reached for the folded material.

As he opened it, she saw his eyes widen, but could not see its contents for herself. He took a moment, his eyes darting across the 'paper', obviously reading something, but abruptly the note was crumpled in his hand, his fist tightening, his eyes closed.

"Sir?"

"Sam, could I be alone for awhile?" His eyes opened and looked directly at her, their darkness swallowing her whole. "Please."

She hurriedly bowed her head, and with a brief, whispered 'Yes, sir', left him there.

She allowed herself a single glance back at him before she walked through the door. He sat on the edge of the bed, shoulders bowed, and for the only time she could remember, a picture of defeat.

It tore at her heart, and she suddenly realised that she couldn't leave SG-1. Because there was one thing she could do for Jack O'Neill. One thing he needed, desperately. Daniel had said it in one. SG-1 was like family to Jack O'Neill.

All she needed to do was be there.

And she would.

*********

The world came back to Psyphus very abruptly. One minute he was oblivious, the next he was fully awake.

Something was different. He realised that immediately, as his eyes opened, unbidden. He was lying down, his only view, that of a ceiling, a plain, grey ceiling. An insect flew around haphazardly trapped within the room, buzzing, looking for escape. It flittered in and out of his line of sight. There were various other sounds around him. The sound of footsteps, breathing, and, in the distance, voices, but as he tried to move his head in their direction to find out their source, he found he couldn't move.

In fact, he couldn't move anything. He could feel his hands, his feet, but he could not move any part of his body, not even his eyes.

Perhaps the Asgard had him in one of their restraining fields in some petty attempt to punish him. Yes, that's what it was. Pathetic people that they were, you'd think with all their technology they could be a little more creative than this.

Psyphus had been caught many times in his very long life, but each time he had made an escape, this would be no different. He just needed that one moment of inattention and he would be free.

Suddenly his singular view of the grey ceiling was interrupted by the form of a Nox, and the insect fluttered away. A Nox? What were they doing on Othalla?

"Psyphus? You have decided to rejoin us."

As if he had ever left. The Nox were pitiful creatures, single minded and stupid. They had fallen easily to simple manipulation, didn't even know they were following him. That assignment had been pure pleasure. Anubis had awarded him much. Yet another possible Goa'uld opponent had been defeated before they could challenge the greatness which is the Goa'uld.

"Psyphus, I know you can hear me. I am Renaya, Nox Ambassador to Othalla. I am here to inform you of your fate."

Fate? What could she know of his fate? She should be on her knees before him. Petty mortals know nothing of the minds of the Goa'uld. She would be among the first to die once he regained his freedom.

"You have been sentenced to oblivion, Psyphus. You wish to possess a body not of your own. We have provided one. However, this body holds no soul but your own, and despite the Goa'uld's repeated claim to dominance over their host, it is a medical fact that without the host's consciousness to provide higher motor functions, you possess no access to the voluntary nervous system. You are in effect completely paralysed. We, the Nox, will provide your body with sustenance and protection, but no stimulation. Your world will consist of four grey walls of which you will only be able to see one."

Psyphus felt the first stirrings of worry, but he knew he only had to jump hosts. One step closer, foolish woman, and you will feel the wrath of your god first hand.

"Oh, and one last thing, Goa'uld" Her voice snarled. "Do not think to attempt to trap another host. Your parasitic body has been surgically restrained within this host. You will be here for a very long time."

The Nox's face disappeared from his line of sight, and suddenly an unfamiliar panic built up inside him. He struggled, his physical body attempting to move within the trap of this mummified corpse. He felt the pins anchoring his body to the host's spine. She was right he couldn't leave. He attempted again to move the host's body, but its mind was silent and didn't respond. All he could do was watch, listen, and feel.

The nameless insect suddenly reappeared, hovering over him. It landed on his face.

Psyphus, hand of Anubis, and destroyer of worlds, opened a mouth he didn't have, and screamed.

He screamed for a very long time.

*********

Jack O'Neill stared at his hands for a long time. The note had been simple, written in English in a child-like scrawl by a hand not used to forming the letters. Anwah wished to thank him for his great service to the Asgard people, to apologise for his outburst in the Garden, and to give him the little starship, a keepsake of the youngest in his now deceased family.

Jack didn't know how he felt. He didn't know which was harder, his condemnation, or his celebration. All his emotions just seems to tangle up inside, a knot of grief, despair, guilt, and remorse that wrapped itself around his ribs and squeezed the breath out of him until he found he wanted to do only one thing.

He wanted to go home.

He wanted to go home now.

He made the decision. He was the leader of SG-1. They would go home, music to face or not.

Standing, he tested his equilibrium. The world stayed steady, he would be fine. He made his way towards the door and barrelled on through it, ignoring the surprised squawks of the Asgard security detail.

He would find SG-1, speak to who ever was in charge, and get the hell out of here.

He made it halfway down the corridor, full security in tow, before Thor suddenly materialised in front of him.

"O'Neill?"

"Thor!"

"It is good to see you well." Thor's eyes tracked over the cast on his arm even as O'Neill eyed the Commander's medpatch on his forehead.

"You okay?"

"I am well, however I wished to speak with you privately." His eyes tracking the hovering security detail. A flick of a hand and they were dismissed. "Shall we go back to your room?"

Having just fled it, O'Neill had no wish to return to it. "Could we go some place else?"

Thor looked up at him, as if assessing his mood, his velvet black eyes studying him for a moment. A decision flickered in their depths. "Follow me." The Asgard Commander gestured, and they set off down the corridor.

Thor took him into a room with a single control panel in the centre of the floor. Moving quickly to it, he activated the controls and a face suddenly appeared on one wall. He spoke briefly in Asgard and the image disappeared once again. A pile of fabric appeared in a flash beside Jack. Thor turned to O'Neill. "Please wrap this around yourself, it will be cool where we are going." He turned back to the panel and before Jack could question him, the world dissolved around him.

**********

The first thing he became aware of was the cool breeze, it gusted gently against his clothing, and made him shiver, but he ignored it as the sight around him took his breath away.

They were standing on bare rock, atop a lone mountain at the end of a valley. At the other end, the sun was setting. Clouds, not unlike those of Earth, gilded the sky in many shades of red and orange, purples and rose. Single rays of light pierced those clouds, striking the landscape randomly, and painting it gold.

In the distance, off to his right, he could see the sparkling lights of an Othallan city, which one, he didn't know. A ship launched from its floating dock, and its tiny figure darted briefly across the dying sun, its shadow nothing more than that of a bird.

Behind him he found the darkening sky sprinkled with tiny fire rain, debris from the battle too small to worry about, burning up in the atmosphere.

The breeze made him shiver once again, and he suddenly found cloth placed in his fingers. He looked down to find Thor placing a robe in his hand, the golden sunlight reflecting in his eyes. "What is this place?"

"It is no place special, O'Neill, just a part of Othalla. There are many beautiful places on this planet. This is just one of them." Jack was abruptly reminded of many a sunset on Earth. It was true, they were all beautiful. Thor continued. "I just thought it would be nice to watch the sun set while we talk." He gestured towards two chairs, one human size, one standard Asgard. Wrapping himself in the offered cloth, O'Neill complied.

They sat in silence for a while, the only sound the breeze and the odd calls of birds in the distance, their song heralding the end of the sun's daily journey. It was O'Neill who broke the silence first.

"Thor, I don't know what I can say to thank you for saving Earth."

"You need not say anything, O'Neill, we could do no less for one who has done the same and more for us." He turned to Jack. "And as a member of the Alliance, Earth's stature in the universe has changed."

"About that, Thor, I have no official sanction from my government regarding this Ambassadorship thing."

"I am aware of that, and I promise you I will set things to right."

O'Neill turned abruptly in his direction. Uh, oh, what was Thor up to? "How?"

Thor smiled. "Do not worry, O'Neill, I have been around a long time, I know what I'm doing."

Oh, shit.

"Thor, don't risk our alliance for my sake, it is worth more than that."

Thor just looked at him, still smiling slightly. "Trust me, Ambassador."

Jack didn't know what to say to that, so silence reigned for a few moments longer. The sun continued to drift towards the horizon in silence.

Thor breached the quiet this time. "Do you still have the box, I sent you?"

The box? Oh!

"Yeah, I do, excuse me a moment." O'Neill stood, and with his back turned to Thor, retrieved the box from where he had hidden it. One flick of his hand and it was full size in his palm. He turned back to Thor and offered it to him.

Thor looked at him with some amusement. "Dare I ask you where you have hidden it all this time?"

Jack flushed slightly, but shrugged. "I've had to hide things in worse places."

"You will need to open it, I can not."

"Oh." O'Neill sat down, and, holding the box in one hand, he tapped it with fingers of the other, and it opened. He held it out to Thor.

Thor didn't take it. "It is yours, O'Neill, I'm sure you will find it use for it. However, please take out the last object, it is of some importance."

Jack reached into the box and pulled out a small amulet on a silver chain. It was about the size of his thumbnail, an upside down, incomplete, outline of a silver teardrop, its rounded apex pierced by a tiny shaft of blue crystal, a single diamond like gem suspended from it.

He had wondered at its purpose when he had originally opened the box, Thor's message had said nothing of it, so he had left it in the box, not wanting to lose it. He handed it to Thor.

"This is your sign of office." Thor touched a hand to his neck and suddenly a similar amulet appeared on his chest. He brought the two amulets together and a blue light flared between them. As he separated them, Thor's crystal dimmed, but O'Neill's continued to shine.

Thor stood, and before O'Neill could say anything, the chain was around his neck.

Surprised, and not a little edgy, Jack resisted the urge to back away. "Uh, what is it?" He fingered it, bringing it up towards his face in the fading light. The blue shine had dimmed.

"All five Ambassadors of the Alliance wear one of these. It is a sign of office, and can double as a communication device. Using this, you can contact Niikrahl, Renaya, myself, or even Tethys, at any time." Hah, the day he needed to contact Tethys, hell would freeze over. "It is easily hidden, and I will show you its full capabilities before you leave Othalla." Thor touched his own amulet, and it vanished from sight.

'How'd you do that?" Thor reached over and placing O'Neill's considerably larger fingers in the right places, showed him. The Amulet disappeared without a trace.

Jack ran his fingers around his neck and found nothing. "Oh, great, how am I supposed to be able to find it when I need it?"

Thor smiled at him in amusement. "Place your hand on where your neck meets your torso, and tap twice."

O'Neill did as he was told, and the amulet appeared beneath his palm. "Cool." A flick of his fingers and it disappeared. He did it again. And again. And again. "Amulet goes on, amulet goes off. Amulet goes on, amulet goes off."

Suddenly a voice interrupted him. "What the mikbar do you think you are doing O'Neill? I'm trying to sleep here!"

Jack dropped the amulet like a hot brick, and Thor provided him with an extensive demonstration of Asgard laughter.

Okay, perhaps he should learn how to use it before he started playing with it.

He turned to Thor, who was still giggling - a giggling Asgard, who would have thought? - and said, "Okay, show me what to do."

**********

It didn't take long, but by the time Thor had finished instructing Jack, the sun had disappeared over the horizon, and the sky was getting dark, the wind chilly.

But before he they went back to civilisation, O'Neill had one more question.

"Thor, what will happen to Frere?"

The Commander looked away, but O'Neill could see that the subject was a sensitive one. "I do not know, O'Neill, it will not be up to me. The Goa'uld has been removed, and the Nox have extradited it, having a prior claim on its punishment, but Frere's crimes before his possession are still grave."

"Have you worked out how the Goa'uld got their slimy hands on him?"

"As far as we can determine the Security Advisor was the first Asgard possessed by a Goa'uld."

"There was more than one?"

Thor's eyes looked darker than usual in the fading light. "I'm afraid there were several key Asgard infected, including the Security Advisor. They were not detected because Asgard physiology can not support a Goa'uld."

O'Neill frowned. "Then how?"

"Genetic manipulation. The machine Loki used to alter your genetic structure was also used on the Asgard required to become hosts. Frere is no longer the Asgard I once knew, he has forfeited his chances to reproduce, he will die when his body fails this cycle." Thor's tone was sad. Frere may have turned into a traitorous enemy, but O'Neill shouldn't forget that he had once been Thor's friend.

Something suddenly occurred to O'Neill. "That machine, could it have the potential to help solve the problems your people are having with reproduction?"

Thor looked up at him. "Indeed, that is our hope. At least some good could come from this. Our scientists have it now, we can but wait and see."

O'Neill yearned to ask further questions of Thor regarding the fate of the Asgard, but now was not the time. "How did Frere get hold of it?" "Apparently, he located the technology while on an exploratory mission. He saw its immediate possibilities, but instead of bringing it to the attention of the Asgard Medical Authority, he turned to Loki. He planned to use the technology to remove the Asgard from your galaxy, leaving it free for the Goa'uld, and allowing us to focus on our own problems." Thor trailed his foot in the dust in front of his chair, obviously unnerved by his former friend's actions. "While he was setting up the scenario, with Loki in your galaxy, they were both captured by Anubis. Frere talked his way out of death, and a pact between the Goa'uld and the two traitors was sealed. Anubis aimed to remove the Asgard from the equation, and Frere offered to help him do it. Consequently, we were captured and the plan executed. Anubis, however, wanted one guarantee. He demanded that one Asgard be given to a Goa'uld as security in case the plan failed. Frere was foolish enough to comply."

Thor was silent for a moment, his eyes still tracking the movement of his foot in the dust. O'Neill waited ever aware of what that plan had cost the both of them.

Thor took a breath and continued. "Frere chose the Security Advisor, and as soon as he returned to Othalla, used the machine, and the poor man had his life stolen from him." Thor suddenly became angry. "It wasn't enough for him to kill innocent people with a plague, he had to take the lives of some of our most honoured citizens, piece by agonising piece! Chella may never recover. He sacrificed so much during the war with the Replicators only to have his life taken from him during a time of celebratory peace." Thor's foot kicked the ground, and dirt and dust went flying.

O'Neill jumped, he wanted to help Thor, but there was nothing he could say, nothing that could be done, and they both knew it. Thor let out a breath. "I am sorry, O'Neill, it seems I need some time to reconcile myself with our new reality."

"There is nothing to apologise for, Thor."

The Asgard didn't answer, and continued to stare at his feet, but a moment later, he continued. "Once their initial plan failed, due, in no little part, to you and myself, Anubis enacted his secondary, more conclusive plan. As both Frere and Loki were captured by the Asgard Security Force, as Security Advisor, Chella had direct access to both them and the machine. Frere was implanted with Psyphus, a Goa'uld with an extensive history of political infiltration, and Anubis made his attempt to conquer Othalla."

"What tipped you off?"

"I had been aware of dissension in the Council for quite a while, but after the events involving Frere, I chose to delve a little deeper. There are factions within our government that do not agree with our current pacifistic attitude. Many call for more aggressive tactics to solve our problems. Some, like Frere, choose to ask us to hide our heads from the universe and look after ourselves. However, a balance between the two extremes is all we should achieve otherwise we would find ourselves as tyrannical as the Goa'uld." He took a breath, his frustration with his government obvious. "For my investigative attempts, I was shot. They attempted to use me as a tool to drive popular opinion against our current policies. A side effect was to expel you and your team from the planet. I feel this was done because your team is most recently familiar with the Goa'uld, and both Teal'c and Major Carter are able to sense a Goa'uld's presence. The Security Advisor did not wish to take the risk of discovery."

"So that is why we were so suddenly sent home."

"After my assassination attempt I realised the situation was becoming more dire. I took steps of my own and contacted the Alliance."

Something suddenly occurred to O'Neill. "Kalta - he was a member of one of those factions, wasn't he?"

Thor sighed. "Again, I must apologise, O'Neill, I had no knowledge of Tala's political leanings, I can only be grateful I did not allow him access to further information. The members of that group are now in custody, charged with crimes against the state, and your person. They will suffer what they deserve, but all I can say is that I am sorry."

"Thor, you can't control everything."

The Asgard looked up at him in the near dark. "Perhaps, O'Neill, you should listen to your own advice. None of this tragedy was your fault, yet you continue to blame yourself."

Jack suddenly found himself unable to look Thor in the eye. His own words, so simple to say, yet so difficult to follow. He knew it would be a long while before he could look at recent events objectively. There was too much pain, too much hurt, and too many deaths for him to think straight.

"Thor, all I can say is that I am sorry for everything that has happened, and the part that I played in it. If I could reverse all those deaths, I would do it in a heartbeat."

"I know." Thor's reply was quiet, but it said so much.

Again a silence stretched in the dark, but neither of them made a move. O'Neill found the cool breeze stimulating, the dark restful, and it seemed Thor felt the same.

So they sat, on top of a mountain, watching the stars come out.

**********

At some point later, O'Neill realised that it had become quite cold, not the best conditions for a pneumonia sufferer to be in. If Janet were here she would have had his hide, and despite his reputation as a difficult patient, he was not stupid.

The thought of Janet had him thinking of home again. He had made the decision earlier, and it was time to act on it.

"Thor, I think it is time for SG-1 to go home."

The Asgard looked at him, the starlight outlining his form in the dark. "You are still injured, O'Neill."

"Nothing that Doc Fraiser can't handle, and I really think it is time. I need to go home."

Some of his earnestness must have been in his voice, because Thor bowed his head. "Very well. I will take you."

It was time for SG-1 to go home.

*********

Thor was a man of his word. He grabbed a starship, gathered up SG-1, all their belongings, and took them home.

There was the inevitable medical protest, but O'Neill had had enough, and, surprisingly, once the anti-coughing gadget was removed, and a couple more Asgard wands were waved over him, he found himself fairly stable. He still had to be wary of speaking too much, and a bottle of tablets to sooth his throat was shoved into his hands, but he was mobile, coherent, and he was going home. No coughing fit was going to stand in his way, no matter how many doctors frowned at him.

The trip across galaxies was uneventful, but even though SG-1 was mainly concerned with its coming fate, O'Neill could see that Thor had something up his sleeve. But he didn't actually realise the level of its ambition, until it came time to beam down to Earth. All the team stood ready to transport down, but Thor took O'Neill aside first.

"O'Neill, I would ask you to accompany me for a short visit."

Jack was immediately suspicious. He narrowed his eyes at Thor, noticing the twinkle in the Asgard's. "Visit where?"

"I would prefer that you trust me in this matter." Was that a smile? An upturn of his mouth?

"Oooookay."

So they beamed down.

Into darkness.

What the?

A light suddenly appeared as Thor held out one of his handy stones, and their surroundings came into relief. They were in a large room, antique furniture arranged neatly, and in front of him a large four poster bed was outlined in the dark.

"Thor, where are we?"

His companion didn't answer him, and an exclamation came from the direction of the bed. A bedside lamp suddenly snapped on, and O'Neill flinched at its sudden brightness. A man was sitting up in bed, nightcap askew, looking for all the world like Scrooge during the visit of the ghost of Christmas Past. A woman, possibly his wife, was waking up beside him.

"What the hell! Who are you?"

O'Neill finally got a good look at the man's features.

Oh, shit!

He found himself staring into the face of the President of the United States

Thor stepped forward.

"Sir, we need to have a talk."

*********

Human Reflections Epilogue to the Asgard Sequence Sequel to 'Symbols' By Gumnut Nov 2003

Jack O'Neill hated his dress uniform.

In fact, he hated it with a passion. It was tight, it was uncomfortable, and the damn tie never sat straight. He much preferred his casual BDUs. Military decorum aside, he was a lounger at heart, and his dress uniform was the anti-thesis to lounging.

It did have a couple of advantages, though. Women loved it. Before he had met Sara, he had worn it when he could to attract the appropriate attention, but as he had gotten older, and as the medals had gotten heavier, the memories along with them, he had begun to dread putting the thing on. There were things in his parade of ribbons he would rather not be reminded of.

But right at this moment it wasn't the medals that were bugging him, it was the tie again.

Janet had reached up to straighten it after his physical. He had glared at her, but as with all his facial weaponry in regards to the Doc, it had no effect. She had just smiled at him and patted his shoulder.

By the time he made it to the conference room for a last minute run down with Hammond, it was crooked again. This time it was Carter that smiled at him and smartly straightened his tie. He eyed her dress uniform, communicating with his eyes that he thought it damn unfair for women not to have to suffer the torture of a tie like he had to.

The briefing, for once, lived up to its name and was brief. They had all gone through his notes - yes, you heard right, his - not Daniel's, not Carter's - his. He was the Ambassador after all.

He rolled that thought around in his head. Jack O'Neill, Earth Ambassador to the Alliance and to the Asgard. Who would have thought it? He did have to admit to himself that he did approach the role with some trepidation. He had never really considered himself to be particularly diplomatic. In fact, he had gone out of his way to be as undiplomatic as possible on most occasions. But Thor seemed to think he had it in him. He just hoped the little guy was right.

He smiled at the thought of Thor. The sight of the President of the United States of America clambering out of bed in his nightwear had been a memorable event. He had left that open invitation to O'Neill in the past to drop by and visit, he just hadn't expected him to take advantage of it at three in the morning accompanied by an alien.

And after Thor had frozen a couple of secret service guys who had come immediately to their chief's defense, the President had been quite happy to sit down and talk. It seemed that Thor had that effect on people.

Half an hour later, O'Neill had his pardon, SG-1 was free to operate as usual, and Hammond had been awoken from his slumber as well.

It seemed that no-one could refuse Thor anything. Not even O'Neill.

He thought it had something to do with those puppy dog looks Thor was good at throwing at people.

The meeting with Hammond had been nowhere near as spectacular. All of SG-1 had had their hearts in their throats as they were beamed to the SGC.

They had landed at one end of the conference room. Hammond had been at the other.

A man to whom he had sworn his loyalty, and then betrayed. The President may have pardoned him and his team, but that didn't negate the fact that he had let down a friend as well as his commanding officer.

Hammond had just stared at them for a moment, his face showing nothing. Jack had felt uncomfortable under his gaze, and he could hear Carter squirming beside him, shifting from one foot to the other. He chose to break the ice first.

"Sir, I'm sorry."

"You better damn well be." Uh, oh, this wasn't starting off well.

"Sir, I had no choice-"

"Colonel O'Neill, as you are fond of saying 'There are always choices'." And Hammond was stalking the length of the room. Jack almost stepped backwards as suddenly his CO was standing directly in front of him, his lack of height made up by his towering presence. The General pinned him with his glare, looking up at him as if searching his eyes for something. He must have found it, because suddenly the moment broke. "I'm just glad you made the right one."

Then Hammond's hands were on his shoulders, a smile on his face, and everything was all right again.

Mostly.

O'Neill spent a laborious debriefing going over detail after detail of the extensive mission, and he and Hammond still had a few discussions on Ambassador versus Colonel duties ahead of them.

But for that moment things had been good.

Until both Carter and Daniel dobbed him in, and Janet had been called. Between his long day of emotional visitations, the trip to the mountain top, the drop in on the President, his worry about Hammond, and a huge dose of the hyperspace version of jetlag, he was on the verge of collapse.

It had been the return of the good old coughing fit that had done it. A couple of splutters, and Teal'c and Daniel had an arm each, and he was literally carted off to the infirmary. And to be honest, after all the Asgard medical facilities he had been touring, it was like coming home. His head had barely touched the pillow, and he was out like a light.

That night had been over a month ago.

Now he was hale and healthy complete with a certificate framed on his office wall saying this Colonel is fully fit for duty. His wrist still ached when it rained, but since most of his body had been broken at one time or another, he didn't really notice amongst all the other aches he had when it rained.

When the briefing finished - brief because as he had said on various occasions, Jack O'Neill was a man of few words - SG-1 made its way to the gateroom.

It was extremely strange to be standing ready to embark on a mission dressed in his formal getup. It was even stranger to have both General Hammond and Janet Fraiser standing ready to accompany him.

Now they only had to wait for Thor.

He fiddled with his tie, damn thing was strangling him.

A nudge from Daniel, and a pair of blue eyes told him to leave his tie alone.

He glared back. His tie, his hands, his rules.

Blue eyes rolled skywards, and suddenly Teal'c was directly in front of O'Neill. The Jaffa was taller than him, not that Jack usually noticed, but his friend's stance seemed to communicate it rather loudly at that moment.

Teal'c bowed his head slightly in respect before reaching out with both hands, clasping O'Neill's tie, and wrestling it straight. He didn't say a thing, but O'Neill had the distinct impression that if he reached a hand up to play with his tie once more, it might go missing before it could come in contact with it.

Okay, O'Neill, calm down, or you're gonna lose it.

He had to admit he was nervous, and not a little reluctant. Thor hadn't given them any details, just that they be ready for pick up in the gateroom at a certain time. They were attending some sort of Asgard ceremony, celebrating who knew what, but O'Neill and gang were required attendees. They didn't even know whether they would be beamed up or should be expecting to travel by gate. Another reason for a brief briefing - lack of information.

The look on Thor's holographic face during the invitation had been similar to the one he'd had prior to their unexpected visit to the President, so Jack didn't know whether be reassured, or just worried.

His thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the stargate started spinning, its alarm echoing throughout the base. Okay, stargate it is. The now fully expected power loss occurred, and the gate room grew dark briefly before the gate erupted in its usual display of shattered event horizon.

Thor entered the room, and the gate shut down, plunging the room into darkness.

Once the lighting was restored, O'Neill stepped forward.

"Hey, Thor, how's it going?"

"It is going well, O'Neill. Are you ready?"

"As ready as we ever will be. Where are we going?"

"Othalla. Please, come." He reactivated the stargate with a wave of his magic stone, and led the small group up the ramp to be swallowed by the shimmering water.

**********

They stepped out into midair.

Jack gasped, coming to an abrupt halt directly in front of the stargate.

What the?

There was no ground, there was only sky.

Jack O'Neill found himself standing on clouds. Sunlit, pure white, cottonwool clouds. To his right towered a majestic thunderhead, its top sporadically lit from within by the lightning it generated, its rumble echoing amongst the lighter, less threatening cumulus.

There was an exclamation of 'Holy Hannah' and Carter barrelled into him from behind. He stumbled slightly, but did not comment as she mumbled an apology. There were similar sudden intakes of breath as the rest of SG-1, Hammond and Fraiser took in their new surroundings.

Rays of late afternoon sunlight bounced from one cloud to the next, contrasting their white with the clear blue of the sky above. Jack had seen such a sight before, but it had been behind glass, from the safety of a cockpit. Here....there was nothing beneath his feet except a feeling of solidity with no apparent source. He literally was standing in midair.

O'Neill glanced back at the stargate only to find it gone. Glancing around he found out why.

Renaya, Niikrahl, and an unfamilar Asgard stood off to his right, framed by the thunderhead. The Nox bowed her head slightly in his direction. Val, High Councillor of the Asgard stood beside them, a curious smile on his face. And they all seemed to be defying gravity as much as he.

He turned to Thor, questions on his lips, but the expression in the Asgard's eyes held him back. Thor simply looked up at him and said, "I heard you love to fly."

It was true, he did. A wave of Thor's hand and the invisible platform holding them began to move.

A soft breeze ruffled what hair he had not secured by his cap, but apart from that, there was no sense of movement, only the sigh of the passing clouds.

It was an awesome sight. To stand, unconfined, almost able to reach out and touch the sky....Jack's heart thrust itself into his throat. He had the urge to stretch his arms out to feel the breeze course over his body, to experience existence itself. He held himself back, content to settle for the brush of the air across his face, but he did shut the others out a little, telling himself that it was just him and the sky, and for a while he just flew.

Eventually the clouds thinned and the ground became visible. Slowly the platform drifted down, its target the Othallan Capital City in the distance. Jack could see the spires stark against the angling sun, and the sight, though beautiful, sent a shiver down his spine. Memories could be a curse.

There was something different this time however. Atop each spire a thin thread of flag flew. Many colours, many shapes, all fluttering softly in the breeze.

And then the platform was amongst them, swooping in and out at a dizzying speed. It was both frightening and exhilarating. There were a couple of gasps behind him, and not all were human. He glanced at Thor. It seemed O'Neill wasn't the only one who enjoyed flying. The look on Thor's face was pure glorified mischief.

Again, he was about to say something to the Asgard, but again was interrupted - this time by a familiar sight.

The platform had levelled out, skimming across a section of low buildings, and in the distance one piece of architecture stood above them all. The House of Fires.

But no longer was it old and broken. Where before it had been grey, it now was marble white. Not plain white, more a white of many colours, the sun interacting with a firelight seemingly generated within, so now the intricately carved flame appeared to move like the flames that had adorned the walls of its interior.

"My god." The exclamation came from Daniel, and O'Neill was forced to remember that his team had not seen this place before. The look on the archaeologist's face was pure astonishment. O'Neill made a note that should they go down there, to point out the sculptures for Daniel - the man would be in heaven. It would be worth the risk of having to send Teal'c in later to drag him out kicking and screaming when they needed to go home. "It's beautiful."

"Why, thank you Doctor Jackson."

O'Neill jumped. The unfamiliar Asgard had come up behind them, and now stood between himself and Daniel. He was staring at O'Neill. Jack stared back, suddenly realising there was something familiar about him.

"Have we met?"

The Asgard smiled. "Why, Nemo, I thought at least you would recognise me."

O'Neill's eyes widened. "Eelyn?!"

"In the flesh, my dear Colonel, thanks in a large part to you."

O'Neill's eyes darted over his friend. Gone were the infirmities, gone was the blindness, and he stood several inches taller. "My god, Eelyn, you look.....great!"

Eelyn smiled, and O'Neill turned to Thor. "How?"

"Our investigations into the Ancients' gene manipulation technology has been met with some success. Finally we are able to help some of those Asgard afflicted with genetic degradation. Grand Master Architect Eelyn was among the first to recover."

"And it was just as well, this city was falling apart without my attention." The Architect looked off into the distance, and Thor smiled.

"The Master was somewhat eager to return to his work."

Eelyn glanced at Thor, his new face attempting a frown, but only managing a smile.

Their invisible ride darted around the House of Fires and came to an easy halt about twenty feet off the ground.

When O'Neill had been here before he must have entered through the back way because the other side of the House of Fires stood on the edge of a large square.

A large square currently filled with Asgard.

They were everywhere. The ground was hidden by thousands of alien bodies, in the buildings bordering the square, on floating platforms above the buildings, in hover cars, even a few floating in midair by themselves - it was an audience in three dimensions consisting of probably most of the planet's entire population.

He looked at Thor again. What was going on? Why were they here?

Thor, as if sensing his unasked questions, turned to him and said, "We are here for a dedication. Please, O'Neill, take a seat, I will speak." He handed O'Neill a small gadget, indicating he should attach it to his clothing. The others received the same each, Hammond staring at his with some interest before lodging it beside a medal.

Several chairs appeared with a flash, Asgard size, human size, and one Furling size that dwarfed the rest. O'Neill found himself seated next to Niikrahl, and used the moment to fully introduce Hammond and Fraiser to the group. The look on the General's face at the sight of the huge Furling patting his second-in-command on the back in welcome was worth the possible broken rib. At O'Neill's quick questions as to why they were here, Niikrahl just eyed him, and said nothing, managing only a mischievous smile. Did everyone know what was going on except him?

Thor turned, stepped forward, and faced the throng.

"My fellow Asgard." His voice silenced the roar of the crowd, and thousands of dark eyes suddenly turned in their direction. There was an abrupt silence except for the combined subtle movements of many small bodies, and the soft sigh of the breeze. "I come before you on this day in commemoration." Thor's voice was speaking melodic Asgard, but a translation echoed in O'Neill's ears, the gadget on his lapel proving its worth.

"Several cycles ago our race was reintroduced to one we had thought beneath us. We considered them a primitive race, one not worthy of our attention. Over those few cycles we have been educated as to how our pride could have led us to our downfall, for the people of Earth have demonstrated to us that technology is not the indicator of race maturity we once thought it was. They taught us that character, determination, and outright stubbornness," O'Neill could hear the smile in his voice, "can take you a very long way in a universe that shows no mercy. And they have proven that youth is not necessarily a handicap, and the young can often teach the old.

"So today we celebrate a union, formalise a trust, with these people, for they have proven that we are stronger together than we are apart." He paused, and then turned towards O'Neill. "And the Asgard would formally like to thank Colonel Jack O'Neill for his recent sacrifices in the name of the Asgard people."

At the mention of Jack's name the crowd erupted into a roar. Arms waved, voices screamed, and O'Neill was shoved to his feet by a large Furling hand. Thor motioned him forward, and O'Neill reluctantly found himself to be the centre of attention.

Thor continued his speech, one hand firmly grasping O'Neill's arm as if he knew that the one thing O'Neill wanted to do at this point in time was bolt. There were so many eyes on him. Eyes that now looked at him in adoration where just recently so many had looked on him in accusation and despair. Again, he didn't know what was worse - condemnation or celebration - for he did not fully understand either, his heart beating in his throat. How could he be to these people what they obviously thought he could be if so many of their deaths stained his soul?

But Thor continued on regardless, his voice magnified to carry to the thousands around him. "It is for these sacrifices, for the strength of his indomitable spirit, for his determination in the face of insurmountable odds that we have engraved his name into our history. I give you the 'O'Neill'!" Thor thrust an arm into the air and suddenly the sun was blocked by a great shadow. The air trembled.

A great starship hovered above them, its engines pulsing in rhythm with O'Neill's beating heart. Oh, god. It was the 'O'Neill'. A reincarnation, a rebirth. Jack craned his neck, his eyes widening as he saw his reflection in the shining hull. She was as sleek as her predecessor, her great red racing stripe now accompanied by a purple streak the colour of Asgard blood. At the sight of it, he knew it could mean only one thing. His throat tightened. Oh, god, how could they?

Thor's voice became stern. "There are some among us who have said that the Asgard need not patrol the universe in the defense of others, that we should hide ourselves, protect what is ours, and leave the rest of the universe to its own devices. There are some who oppose the naming of this starship, some who say blessing it with a name of non-Asgard origin is an offense to those Asgard who have given themselves in the name of our people." Thor's eyes ranged over the thousands as if challenging them to refute his claims. "To those of you who believe this, I ask you, define what it is to be Asgard, define what it is that all those Asgard died defending, and you will find that it is the same thing that all races hold dear. For they may seem alien to us, and us to them, but how much more alien are they to us than we are to ourselves? We are one in this universe. We are all birthed of the same stardust. The 'O'Neill', flagship of the Asgard Fleet, serves to remind us of this. Dedicated to a man who stood, and ultimately offered up his life, for those not of his race, and a simple reminder that by helping others we ultimately help ourselves."

The throb of the starship's engines was the only sound. Thousands of eyes stared at him, and he knew not how to answer them. O'Neill recognised the great honour that had been bestowed, but had no words to express how he felt. He opened his mouth, knowing he would have to say something, and praying he wouldn't make an idiot of himself at the same time, but he was interrupted by a voice from below, clear above the throb of the engines.

"The name 'O'Neill will never stand for anything but death!"

He heard Thor's intake of breath, heard Daniel swear softly behind him, heard the mutter of the crowd, and his eyes tracked for the source of the statement. A lone Asgard with a rapidly growing space around him stood directly in front of the floating invisible platform, his face a mask of anger. Out of the corner of his eye, O'Neill saw Thor open his mouth to reply, and held up a hand to stop him. He had finally found the words. It was Jack O'Neill's time to answer his accusers.

With deliberate slowness, he unclipped the translation device, and, holding out a hand, dropped it to the invisible floor. The murmurs no longer translated, the aliens before him seemed even more alien, but with his heart in his throat, and a prayer that he got the syntax right, O'Neill spoke.

"I can not ask your forgiveness for the loss of the lives of loved ones. I can only offer mine in return. If the sacrifice of my life would regain those that have fallen, I would not hesitate. I am not Asgard, but I can offer my blood for what I believe, and I believe that you are worth fighting for."

**********

Thor looked at O'Neill in astonishment, as the crowd roared out its approval, the swell of sound reaching up and enveloping them. The Asgard language was not an easy one to learn. Thor had appreciated O'Neill's willingness to attempt to learn it, but had never dreamed he would become fluent in it. His accent wasn't flawless, but he was easily understood.

The effect of those few words in Asgard on the population below was staggering. Even the one who had scoffed at him, now stood shocked, his face an illustration of confusion, as if the man who had spoken now conflicted with the man the Asgard had envisioned.

O'Neill stood silent, his stance erect and tense. Those small dark eyes suddenly turned to Thor, and for once the emotion was clear in them. This would be an alliance like no other.

Saying nothing, but holding those eyes with his, Thor raised his arm above his head and, far above them, the sun was blotted out by the Asgard Fleet, its many ships straining the atmosphere with their weight. A blunted arrow stretching across the sky.

Another wave of his wrist and the 'O'Neill' moved to take up its position at point, as flagship.

Thor turned to his people. "We, the Asgard, are strong. Our ships patrol this galaxy and others, we defend the less fortunate, we save those who can not save themselves. But there came a time when it was us who could not save ourselves, and it was the Humans of Earth who stood against the darkness in our stead. Let us never forget that we are stronger with them, than without. Let us never forget that while there is life there is hope. But, most of all, let us never forget the name O'Neill."

And again the crowd erupted with a roar.

**********

Jack O'Neill stared at the alien he had learned to call friend. A small alien, a grey alien, an alien who had some fancy gadgets that could do wonderous things. An alien standing as a representative of a great people, a people calling his name above the roar of the fleet far above them.

Ambassador O'Neill of Earth held out his hand, and a small grey palm grasped it. A pair of dark, velvet black eyes caught his, and he saw himself reflected in them.

His reflection smiled.

********** THE END.