The only thing the Tau'ri had worth offering them were hosts.
The amount of information they had begun providing was costing them greatly and so far they had three hosts to show for it.
Pitiful in comparison.
*Better than not having any and you must admit that having a world teaming with sick future hosts is better than our usual methods of searching out those who hate the Goa'uld and are brave enough to stand against them. Fear of death in our favor will always work more quickly than fear of death at the hands of the Goa'uld for joining us.*
*I would rather stand beside those who choose to stand against the Goa'uld, knowing how dangerous it is. We will never be completely sure of those who come to us only as a way to stay alive. Once they are healed, if any are strong enough, they could overpower the symbiote and betray us.*
*Yes, they could, but then we could come here if absolutely necessary. They would help us. They've proven this.*
*We shall see. I do not like this situation at all.*
*I will endeavor not to pass that on to the General.*
Yousef's gentle, but wry tone caught Garshaw and she sighed, knowing she was very emotional these days.
Her mate had been without a decent host for a very long time, but was too stubborn to leave him.
She had hoped that perhaps upon longer acquaintance, O'Neill would possibly have agreed, but Yousef was right.
He truly did not trust the Tok'ra and so the only way she could guarantee he would host her mate would be to have them in battle together.
Even there, there was no guarantee O'Neill would not watch him die.
It was too large a risk to take.
*Of course you do.*
* * * * * *
Nora stood, frozen, listening to the sounds above her.
"Help! Help Me! I'm stuck!"
She'd already figured out that she'd gotten caught in the cave-in, but couldn't figure out how the room she'd obviously been stuck in had formed.
She sighed again, having decided the scent of blood had to be from the baby dragon.
She'd tried so hard to save it, trying to hold onto that small life, but she knew as she went down that she'd dropped it and she had no idea how far away it had been thrown.
Now it was dead and part of her was remembering just how sharp those large dragon claws had been.
What if they sought revenge for her being alive and not the dragon?
A sliver of light appeared and Nora smiled, hope lightening her eyes.
Then, confusion filled those same eyes as she looked into the faces of quite a few dragons.
It wasn't the dragons that confused her, they were obviously digging her out.
It was that she was apparently in the middle of many rocks at once.
She looked around her, realizing the cold, rock feeling had been real and not just her mind projecting to keep herself from going insane in the dark.
She moved her arms, at least she thought she moved her arms, and felt different textures as they passed through solid, compacted rock.
She'd never been afraid of the dark, but being trapped...that was different.
She reached up to touch the dragons, but was stopped almost a foot away from the nearest one by the same wall she'd felt earlier.
It was an invisible wall.
Maybe she was...out of phase or something because of it...
A very cold trail of fear began to race up and down her spine.
The dragon claws were now digging through her, and she shrunk back from the dark sight of the sparkling rocks being lifted and flung through her head.
Out of phase...blood scent...in box...can't move...trapped...still trapped.
She hadn't known all the details of what happened to Capt. Carter, but she had heard a lot of Dr. Jackson's theorizing through rumors about the cause.
Rumor had it that everyone in that temple thing would die.
Like it was pre-destined or something.
She'd laughed at it, never having believed rumors before, but the evidence was mounting.
What if she was dead?
Nora began scrabbling across the wall again, her mind reminding her that she'd already tried this and that it wouldn't be any different.
She looked into the now visible faces of her teammates, reading the horror and pain in their eyes.
She looked down at her feet and saw her chest...she was standing in her body.
She screamed, emotions slicing through her.
She shook and cried and tried to grab one of the clawed hands still digging her crushed corpse out of the rocks.
Her hand passed through it, but she felt it.
Her mind became confused.
She could feel, but couldn't control.
How could she move...why didn't she just...was she a ghost?
But didn't ghosts rattle chains?
No no no...you're confusing myths and stories and there's no guarantee they don't have some basis...
Her mind spun around and around and she screamed repeatedly, horror crashing down on her.
She was dead...
There was no room.
There never had been a room.
It had been dark because she had been, was encased in rocks.
Well...was being the operative term.
The last of the rubble was clear and she, along with everyone watching, had an unobstructed view of the smashed remains of her corpse.
She didn't think any of it had stayed together, covered in different liquids and ground by the shifted rocks so that it was really not much more than a smear.
She vomited as her mind remembered long ago anatomy lessons in high school.
She might not be an accredited scientist, but even she could recognize her body parts...
The dragons keened, the first sounds she'd heard from any but babies, and it was a soulful melody that bemoaned her loss.
She saw grief in their eyes and while it warmed her a bit to know someone would actually be sad that she was dead, she was sick and tired of being dead.
* * * * * *
Jack laid back against the seat, picturing the pleasure on Janet's face.
She would forgive him his haste, he was sure.
**Not if you don't do some courting.**
**We're not that bad and I want to make sure she knows I'm serious.**
**Has it occurred to you that she might not find eloping romantic?**
Jack smiled, remembering the conversation he'd listened in on between Janet and Carter awhile back.
**Okay, fine. She will find it romantic, but I still think she's going to kiss you with her fist before saying yes.**
**You jumped to this awfully fast. Are you certain? Oh, nevermind.**
Jack leaned forward and kissed Cassie's cheek, making the girl look back at him with half a smile and half a "Are you nuts?" frown.
"Just making sure you're real."
Cassie stared at him, smiling and then went back to her drawing, glancing at him occasionally.
She'd been trying to figure out what was going on between him and Janet.
Sometimes adults were just strange.
**She won't buy that eloping is the only reason you're going.**
**It isn't. I figure the further away we are from the SGC, the less chance of things getting worse. That plus the small chapel that she'll just die to see, much less get married in...well you'll see. It'll all work out.**
**I hope you're right. All I see is her knocking your brain sideways.**
Jack smiled, wiping his face blank at the frown Carter sent him in the rearview mirror.
**You realize she's driving to stay on the opposite side of the Bunny from you.**
**Yeah. I got that.**
**'Kay. Just checking.**
* * * * * *
Terry gulped, trying not to lose it as Frome's body was revealed.
He was sickened both by the loss and the sight.
He looked over and saw Mason biting her lip, unsuccessful in holding back all her tears.
He sighed as she stumbled forward, holding out Slimer to maybe help ease the remorse the dragons were now crooning in harmonies that soothed and tore at his heart.
GoldenBird stepped forward, his claw motioning to Frome's body and Terry began to get an inkling of just why they'd been given Slimer.
Sure enough, as Syla walked near the hole, GoldenBird pushed Slimer a bit, showing Syla she was to keep him.
They were repaying a life with a life.
Terry grimaced as he saw realization dawn on the faces of his team.
SG-13 just adopted a dragon.
Oh wouldn't the General just be dancing with sugarplums over how well this mission had gone.
Terry slipped off his cap, going down on his knees at the edge of the hole.
A second later, Harris joined him as did Mason.
The team stayed on their knees, as silent as the dragons were loud.
* * * * * *
Nora looked into her CO's internal organs wondering how Carter had stood it.
She'd been...sucked into him as soon as he'd gotten near and now she was able to move away from her corpse...a ways...only to be sucked into Mason and then into Harris...and she was sick of it too.
She was sick of the whole situation.
She didn't find it interesting anymore, just annoying.
Nora opened her mouth and began yelling at the top of her lungs to everyone who couldn't hear her.
Her throat wasn't even getting sore...that fact alone hit home to her just how unalive she now was.
Maybe she'd at least be able to see Carter...and wring her neck.
Everyone who got involved with SG-1 met a bad end eventually.
Well if they thought she was going to be the token extra that would be killed to add drama to their lives without them getting anything more than a good whipping, they could think again.
Shivering fingers of bitterness grabbed and choked at Nora as she was sucked into her CO again as he stood and the only thing she could be thankful for was that she wouldn't be stranded with her body.
* * * * * *
Sam pulled into McDonald's, listening to the bickering.
"It's not even five, yet. You couldn't wait one more hour so we could combine food and gas?"
"Oh I think you do that just fine without waiting."
"Hey! I'm not the one that..."
The Colonel's harsh cough caught everyone by surprise and Sam hurriedly parked so Janet could jump back there and examine him.
The engine was off in record time and Janet took control mid-stride, almost falling in the moment it took to adjust.
Daniel moved his feet and bags quickly so Janet could maneuver around to the back seat, wedging herself between Jack's knees to check him properly.
"It's okay, Doc. Don't need to kill yourself getting to me."
"It's not okay. It's not okay at all. The glaze on your eyes has solidified. Can you see me?"
"Ya, but you're a bit fuzzy."
Jack grimaced at the pain racking his chest with another cough.
His forehead felt as if it was going to explode.
Pressure built at an increasing rate until he was certain he had to have something growing inside of him.
**Why don't I feel that? It's like an interrupted signal except that doesn't make sense since we can still talk.**
**I don't know and I don't care. Just make it stop.**
Burning pain lanced through his throat and seared his ears.
He was sure smoke was going to billow out his nose.
He didn't even feel Janet's hands anymore and her figure blurred as blackness edged his sight.
"His fever's rising. We need to get him to a hospital. Now."
"No, I'm okay."
"Jack, you're not okay and you're going to a hospital. I don't care about confidentiality at this point."
His throat throbbed and dried moisture as soon as it was produced.
"Anaphylactic shock, maybe."
**Jonathan??? I can barely feel you! Jonathan?**
Screams were cut short and Jack's ears throbbed horribly.
Then the pain stopped abruptly and Jack breathed easily again.
Relieved, his eyes shot open, a grin curving his mouth.
A grin that fell away when he found himself looking into Janet's eyes and a nasty feeling moved through him.
No...oh no...he did NOT think so.
He looked down and sure enough, he'd moved slightly out of his body.
It looked bad, too.
His throat had exploded and most of the results were on Janet, Teal'c and Amber, though Daniel and Cassie hadn't escaped all of it.
Janet's body had caught the largest percentage of fluid and projectiles created from his blasted skull, blocking the two occupants in the middle seat from their share.
Jack grimaced, surprised when he felt nauseous.
Amber sat up straight, tiny pieces of bone imbedded in her face.
**Jonathan? You're not dead?**
Hearing it from her brought it home, drilling it into his head.
Really, truly dead.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and tried not to enjoy how pain-free he was, knowing Amber was probably still in pain.
**Yeah, I'm dead. Whoa!**
His eyes had opened and he, needing to see Janet, had looked at her.
**What is it?**
The grin in his voice was undeniable as he looked into Dr. Janet Fraiser's eyes and saw his second in command sitting up straight, tears filling her shocked eyes.
**I can see Carter.**
**Can you not see my thoughts?**
**No. I can only hear you. Are you okay?**
**Other than being slightly...dead, sure. I feel great...umm...sort of.**
**What is it?**
**Huh? Nothing. I'm fine.**
Jack's mental training was having some definite positive side effects, but that was a view of Janet he'd not wanted to see.
He'd tried to move away from his body and barely felt some resistance before he'd been yanked into Jan, full on.
No wonder Carter had sworn she'd kept her eyes closed in the shower with him.
He didn't feel so bad if all she'd gotten a look at was his guts.
Ick...no one should see their loved one's insides...
The simple truth that everyone in the vehicle was looking at his insides...mostly on themselves...made him ill and he began to think.
It became a mantra.
Think, think, think, think.
You heard what Carter and Daniel kept saying about it.
You're not dead, just disconnected and that means...
Jack moved on through Janet and looked Daniel in the eye.
When Daniel's eyes widened and he fell on his backside in shock, Jack realized that seeing your deceased best friend's head stick out of your doctor's back probably wasn't great for your health.
"It's okay. I'm here."
Janet's head shot up, her ears perking.
"Did I just hear that?"
Daniel raised a hand.
"Deja vu. I see Jack."
"I hear him."
Amber and Janet turned to each other, both measuring the other for a moment before Amber dropped her eyes.
She might not be in love with him, but he was important to her too and this was...terrifying.
"What if this happens to me too? I wasn't in the temple. I'm probably not gonna stick around."
Janet's eyes widened and she pulled out the medical kit, cleaning her hands.
"We need to figure out exactly what happened here."
Cassie was stock-still, so quiet that only Teal'c had taken in her mortified appearance.
"DanielJackson, you will switch places with me."
Daniel's brow drew together, but he was too dazed to argue as the large, bloody Jaffa lifted himself past the middle seat to give Daniel room to get in the backseat.
Teal'c removed his shirt and began cleaning the bits of shrapnel from Cassie's shoulder.
Cassie tried to smile, but just couldn't.
Nothing had prepared her to see her almost-Dad die and she had no idea what to do.
"I believe the implant in O'Neill's head exploded."
"Yes, Teal'c, I already guessed that. The thing we need to know is why. Why did it happen?"
Janet desperately tried to control her emotions and not let the reality of what she was seeing make any difference.
She had a mystery to solve and as long as she didn't think about who it was that had just died...died....dead...gone...no.
Can't think about that.
Janet cleaned her hands and gloved them, ready to start examining what was there immediately.
Jack avoided looking at his body as things began hitting him at once.
This was what it had been like for Carter.
Unable to fathom how she'd coped with not knowing already what had happened, he was increasingly grateful that as bad as it was, it wasn't worse.
His hands touched Janet's hair and he threaded his fingers through it.
Daniel jumped forward, not sure he'd seen what he thought he'd seen and Janet froze.
"Jack! You can move physical objects?"
Janet felt a cold touch on the side of her face, and though she couldn't see him, she allowed her mind to pause a moment, savoring the touch.
Then bitterness at the way he'd been treating her and how this might have been avoided cut her and she cried out, emotional pain wreaking havoc with her voice.
*Figures. He'd have to die to get off this kick.*
*It's not fair! We were almost to his precious Florida. He just had to go there and now he's dead.*
*Not dead...just like me.*
*You're dead, Sam, and you know it. You can't leave me and have your own life. Jolinar's dead, too. You're all dead!*
Janet's lip quivered and she shook off the ghostly hand as she hit her hip against the middle seat while pushing alongside it to pull open the Bunny's sidedoor.
She almost fell out in her haste and sunk to the ground, sobbing harshly.
Sam recoiled from the frozen, white, hot pain in Janet, making herself as small as possible as things she knew Janet would never have revealed willingly made themselves known.
Flashes of memory began shaking Sam and she couldn't make sense of all of them.
A wedding dress, kisses, the Colonel near death, the Colonel pulling through and some of him walking down the ramp, a smirk on his face, and then memories of him and Cassie played.
Some with the dog, some not...all with Jack...
Amber watched Janet, her own eyes tearing up.
She knew...or at least thought she knew what was hurting her and part of her was so mad.
He should've told her.
**You should've told her!**
Two words, softly spoken.
**It wasn't worth this.**
The fire drained out of her and she slumped, blanking her face as much as she could.
She curled against the window, laying the uncut side of her head against the cool, tinted glass.
She was a bit out of practice and it felt odd to hide her emotions so completely now.
**It's okay. We'll figure this out.**
**Yeah, sure. If this happens to me, you just pop into my spirit when I leave my body and use the force to pop into someone else. Might wanna avoid Janet, though. I don't think she'd much appreciate having you as a guest at the moment.**
**I'm still here. And I can touch things. So...**
His voice trailed off and Amber looked up to see why only to remember that she couldn't see him.
Her throat felt gritty from mucous and swallowed tears.
Teal'c noticed the audience beginning to form outside and gently laid CassandraFraiser down to guard his team from prying eyes.
Jack waited until Teal'c was outside, torn between going to Janet and doing something about the still child in front of him.
He kissed her brow, picking up the wetcloths Janet hadn't put up.
He cleaned his own blood off of her face, his smile one of bittersweetness as her eyes watched the cloth move seemingly of its own accord.
"You're really here?"
Jack sighed, knowing she hadn't heard him and unbuckled her, lifting her onto his lap.
He held her tight and she felt him with her hands until she was wrapped around him.
She couldn't resist looking around her, enjoying for a broken moment the way she looked as if she were floating.
Then the moment faded and her heart crumbled and with it Jack's as he listened to her sobs proclaiming her heartache to all whom listened.
Now she had lost four parents.
Part of her wondered when Janet would die, too.
* * * * * *
Syla choked back a sob, completely unsure how to act.
She whispered brokenly to Gorowitz as he held out a hand to lift her to her feet.
"Sir, what about the dragon?"
"We keep it. You know why they gave it to us."
"It's not right, though...that they should feel they have to give up a baby..."
"How do you think they'd feel if we gave it to them and refused to take it? I know how I'd feel if I gave something that valuable only to have it shoved back and not wanted."
"Can you think of any way to explain to them you're not rejecting their gift? So far, they're smart, but we're not exactly communicating human-to-human here."
"So start figuring out its needs and we'll make sure it's well looked-after."
Syla smiled a bit at the catch in his voice, glad her CO was one of the best officers she'd ever had the privilege to know.
"Well now we know their motivation here...just gotta figure out how to get Nora's body home."
"Yeah, well...you get your sweetheart there to take us to the Gate and I'll get people out here to extract her body and take it home for a proper burial."
Syla's smile was a little shaky, but it was there and that was all the Major seemed to be aiming for as he smiled back and started assessing the situation.
She touched each of the dragons, smiling at them and then hugged GoldenBird.
"I wish I could keep you..."
* * * * * *
Daniel slid out of the Bunny after Teal'c, wrapping his arms around Janet.
She stiffened until she saw the arms around her and began to relax.
"I'm sorry. I just...couldn't..."
"Shhh...you have nothing to apologize for."
Janet saw Sam still huddled and sighed.
He was wrong about that.
*I'm so sorry. You didn't deserve any of that.*
*I had no idea you were going to marry him.*
*I wasn't. He never asked.*
*He would have.*
*Would he? I guess now I'll never know.*
*Oh come on, like having a ghost husband wouldn't be fun? Ugh...sorry. That sounded bad to me, too.*
Janet's mouth twisted as she tried to hold in her misery.
Even more people had heard the crying and were now huddled around the blood-covered group of people.
No one dared to move past Teal'c to the woman and man crying together on the ground, but a few curious souls gasped when they saw the bloodied corpse, the floating girl, and the rope-tied man in the front seat.
* * * * * *