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 The Return of the Gray-haired Avengers


Chapter 2

The day was sunny, and the weatherman promised that temperatures would be in the upper nineties. A perfect day, Casey declared, for a trip to Pike's Peak, where the altitude would provide much cooler breezes.

A picnic had been decided upon, and she hummed softly while she loaded the basket: sandwiches - ham and American cheese as well as turkey and Swiss cheese on whole grain bread, her homemade dill mayonnaise liberally spread on each slice; what were left of the chocolate chip cookies she'd baked earlier in the week; a container filled with grapes and strawberries; and soft drinks - which she'd sent Daniel to the Quik-Trip to pick up.

Two strong, familiar arms wrapped around her waist from behind. Daniel rested his chin on her shoulder. "Looks good," he said.

She turned her head slightly, kissed his cheek. "I just hope everything stays cool enough."

"I could get out the ice chest," he offered.

She contemplated for a moment. "If you do that, I could put the plates and flatware back into the basket, so we can use them. I'd have room for crackers, too."

Daniel reluctantly released his Wife. "We can stop for ice on the way. I'll go get the chest."

With a nod, Casey began to unpack the food. Nestled the heavy stoneware plates and stainless steel flatware back into the special pockets of the basket that safely held each. The cookies, in their colorful tin container also went back into the basket. She found the box of Sun-dried Tomato Wheat Thins, and after a moment's hesitation, added the box of Ranch Wheat Thins. There were a few of them left. The container of spreadable cheddar cheese joined the other items that would stay cold in the ice chest. "That should be enough," she murmured.

"I'd say so!" Muriel said, walking into the kitchen. She'd waited until Daniel and Casey had finished their showers before slipping in to take her own.

Casey looked up and smiled. "You've never seen Daniel eat on a picnic!"

The older woman chuckled. "Fresh air is always good for the appetite."

"True. I suppose we could have just eaten at the Summit Café, but a picnic on a day as beautiful as this just seemed like a much better idea," Casey admitted.

"I love picnics," Muriel confided. "There's a small park just a few blocks from my house. I used to take Melburn and Ralph there on nice summer days."

No mention of Marvin. No doubt the old bastard couldn't be bothered with his family, Casey thought uncharitably, then chastised herself. "Did Marvin ever join you?" she asked, in an attempt to compensate for her insensitive thoughts.

"Once or twice," Muriel replied. "He usually worked for the local hardware store during the summer."

"Did he enjoy the job?" Casey inquired, suitably chastised for her less-than-kind thoughts about Daniel's grandfather.

"Oh, I suppose so. He never complained," Muriel said. She frowned slightly. "Which, now that I think about it, was rather odd. Marvin seemed to complain about everything!"

Casey smiled. "Maybe he enjoyed getting to chat with the customers."

Muriel nodded. "Maybe so."

"Here," Daniel said, setting the ice chest on the breakfast bar. "Load it up, and I can just dump the ice in on top of everything."

With a nod, Casey quickly put the container that held the sandwiches, the bowl of fruit, the cheese spread, and the two six-packs of soda into the chest, arranging them carefully so that everything fit snuggly. "There. Let me grab a couple of blankets, and I think we'll be ready to go!"

Daniel watched as she dashed down the hallway to the linen closet. "My whirlwind," he grinned.

"She certainly does seem to run, doesn't she?" Muriel mused.

"You should see her in the…er…at work," Daniel chuckled. "I've seen her darned near plow over Marines. They see her coming, they all jump out of the way!"

Muriel laughed.

"Talking about me again?" Casey asked, coming back into the room with two thick blankets in her arms.

"You're my favorite topic of discussion, Angel," Daniel teased.

She scrunched her nose. "You need to broaden your discussion répertoire, then."

Daniel's smile widened. "Ah, but Angel, you're the music of my soul."

"Huh?" She stopped, looked over at her husband. Recognized the look in his blue eyes. Apparently she was about to learn the precise meaning of the word 'répertoire'.

"Répertoire. A collection of musical pieces played by one person, or a group of people, composed for a particular instrument. Or a particular group of instruments," Daniel explained.

"Brilliant." She couldn't help but smile. "Your mind is amazing, Stud Muffin. You know so much…remember so many things. Brilliant," she said again, the word a soft sigh.

There had been many times in his life when his intellect had caused him no end of grief. He'd been ridiculed, teased, ignored, heckled, turned down, and turned away because he was 'too smart'. Casey had a way of making his intellect something to be proud of. To hear her, it was part of what made him the 'astonishing, handsome man' that she insisted he was. He shrugged, just a bit self-consciously. There were times, such as now, when he spouted off without intending to do so. The need to share information, his desire to teach, always lurking just beneath the surface of his soul.

Casey turned to Muriel. "Daniel has the most amazing memory. I don't think he's forgotten anything he's ever read." She turned to look at him again. "He's brilliant."

There it was again, that soft sigh. Making him feel as if he were the greatest thing since sliced bread. And if the heat in his cheeks was any indication, he was blushing.

"Melburn loved words," Muriel said softly. "He loved languages. I suppose that was part of the reason he was so fascinated by archaeology. He was looking for the beginning of language."

"I never knew that," Daniel said, surprised. He remembered his father teaching him how to speak Egyptian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and at least a dozen other languages. He could remember learning the differences between modern Egyptian and the ancient variations of the language. Dad always made languages seem easy. But I didn't know he was searching for the origins of language. Or maybe I was just too young to realize that was what he was doing, Daniel thought.

"I rather imagine that's where your interest in languages came from," Muriel smiled.

A slight frown wrinkled his brow. It seemed his father had impacted his thoughts, his ambitions, his life, far more than he'd ever realized. He held tightly to this newfound information. It was just one more precious link to the man he'd adored.

"You're very much your father's son," the elderly woman continued.

"He was a wonderful man," Daniel replied.

For a moment, tears filled Muriel's eyes. "He was a wonderful son. I just wish-" She broke off, turning away, not wanting her grandson to see the pain and regret she struggled with.

Daniel put his arms around his grandmother, hugged her tightly. "He knew you loved him, Grandma. He knew."

Muriel hugged him back, then stepped away, offering a watery smile. "He was my favorite. Just don't tell anyone."

"I won't, I promise," Daniel smiled in return. "Let's get this stuff in the Jeep, and head for the mountain."

"Great idea," Casey smiled.

Muriel took the blankets when Casey attempted to balance them with one arm and grab the picnic basket with the other hand.

Daniel picked up the ice chest, much heavier now that it was full of food and soda. The muscles in his arms bulged slightly. He was totally unaware of the look of sheer lust his Wife tossed at him.

Casey took a deep breath, and shook herself mentally. She firmly pushed aside thoughts of those arms holding her, or tightening as she held his hands, using his strength as leverage as she rode him.

Muriel hid her smile. She didn't have to interpret the look that had filled Casey's green eyes for a moment. Young love…how special it was!




Casey read off the information she'd searched out from her phone, and by the time they had reached the mountain itself, it had been decided that they would stop at the Anasazi ruins before returning to Silver Springs after their picnic. The sun was climbing ever higher as the Jeep made its way up the twisting, turning two-lane road toward the top of Pike's Peak.

"There are a dozen turn-outs," Casey said. "Several of them are large enough to have picnic tables. We figured we'd just stop at one of them, on the way up the mountain."

"That sounds lovely, dear," Muriel replied. She was busy watching out the windows as Daniel maneuvered the Jeep along the winding road. "It's so beautiful today, I'm sure we'll be able to see all around us."

"The views are spectacular," Casey affirmed. "I rather imagine it was even more beautiful before modern cities were built."

"Casey would have made a wonderful explorer," Daniel chuckled.

"Maybe," Casey allowed. "Although seeing such beautiful landscapes before they were destroyed by man would have been a definite plus."

"Most of those explorers were seeking out what they could exploit from the land," Daniel reminded her.

"Greedy opportunists," Casey muttered. "In hundreds of years…probably thousands of years, and not a thing has changed. Mankind is still greedy and destructive."

"Not arguing," Daniel assured her. "We have managed to do one or two things right, though."

"I know. Still wish the human race wasn't so darned short-sighted. That’s our biggest flaw, I think. Wanting things 'now', rather than planning and waiting and doing things logically."

Daniel chuckled again. "We're still a young species. Give us a few hundred years, we'll grow up."

"Probably won't be anything left to save by then," Casey grumbled.

Muriel smiled. "Well, as long as there are people who care, I think we'll manage to save a few things."

"I hope so," Casey sighed.




It seemed that the Jacksons weren't the only family with picnic plans. Every turn-out was filled to capacity. Daniel continued to drive, until they reached the Summit parking lot. He found a place to park, then looked around. "I don't see any signs forbidding us from having a picnic over there," he said, pointing to an open area full of rocks and boulders.

"We should be able to find a good place to sit," Casey agreed.

As soon as Daniel had helped her out of the Jeep, Muriel wandered toward one of the look-out spots, her eyes wide. "It's just breathtaking! I've never seen anything so beautiful!"

"It is that," Daniel said quietly, standing beside her.

"I've lived in Missouri almost all of my life. Was born in Iowa. I've never…I'd never seen the mountains before I visited you," Muriel said.

"Now you can see them whenever you want," he said softly.

She turned and patted his arm. "Thank you." She glanced around. "I think we'd better find a nice place to eat. Looks as if we aren't the only ones with the idea."

Daniel looked over to see a family climbing among the boulders, picnic basket, blankets, and ice chest in hand. He chuckled. "I guess not!"

It was sheer luck that they located a large, almost flat boulder with three smaller, rounded rocks near enough to sit on. It made the perfect 'table'.

"Daniel and I spent an afternoon up here the first summer we were married," Casey said. "We spent the entire afternoon talking. I don't remember there being so many people up here that day."

"It wasn't a holiday weekend," Daniel pointed out. He remembered that afternoon well. Cherished the memory of her wiping away the tears that had fallen as he shared every moment of his life, the good and the bad. The way she had pressed her cheek against his palm when he had done the same for her…for the same reason. Treasured the warmth that her love provided…the healing balm that had mended his tortured, battered heart.




He was in luck…the street was filled with parked cars. No doubt the barbecues and parties being held in the various homes would prevent many people from watching too closely. Strangers wouldn't be noticed among those coming and going.

The house was like all the others…neat, attractive. All quietly proclaiming that the occupants were 'comfortable'. The lawn was immaculate. He wondered if the back yard was as devoid of obvious human occupation. Or if it were filled with toys and yard tools - signs of an active, healthy family.

He gave a start when the front door opened, and a teenager hurried out, tossing a backpack over his shoulder. Typical of those his age, he was talking on his cell phone, not paying attention to anything around him. Keller's lips curled up in the semblance of a smile. It seemed that grabbing this kid would be as easy as waiting for him to reach the corner!


Keller looked at the man who suddenly appeared on the porch of the house. There was something about him - the way he stood; the quick, casual survey he'd made of the parked cars along the street - something that worried the kidnapper. He couldn't put his finger on it, but Keller was certain there was more to this 'foster father' than he'd been told.

The teen turned around. "Yeah?"

"Make it two pints of sour cream." The man glanced at the door of the house. "Just in case your mom decides she needs it for something else, you might as well pick up three."

The teenager laughed. "Got it. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Thanks, son. Appreciate it."

The teen waved, then hurried along the sidewalk, resuming his interrupted phone conversation.

Keller was frowning now. If this was a quick trip to the grocer for his parents, he'd be missed within an hour. That wasn't something he needed. With it being a holiday, police coverage for the city was bound to be heavier than normal as well. If the kid made any noise…managed to attract any attention…

He started the car, shivered slightly when the man on the porch looked directly at him. No, he'd continue to follow the kid. Eventually the right time would present itself.




Jesse Hatcher ran his hands through his closely cut, coal black hair.  Gave a sigh, stretched, then rose to fill his empty coffee mug. There had been three NID hits on the SGC computers in the past forty-eight hours. Nothing from the first information request had seemed unusual. But then, those were the most dangerous types, he thought. The second and third hits, however…whoever had been sitting in the NID office in the Pentagon had been after one thing: Jack O'Neill's personnel record. That had definitely set off warning bells. Jack had been instrumental in shutting down the NID's illegal activities at least twice. If those bastards were sniffing around, they were up to something.

He hadn't notified Gary…or Jack…of the activity as of yet. So far, there wasn't enough to go on, only his own gut feelings. One more hit, though, and he was calling his boss. The NID had caused more than enough trouble for the SGC.

The young man glanced at the notes that he'd taken after talking to Dennis Ballard; information confirmed and approved by General Hammond, via Colonel Reynolds. He wondered if a call now might net him more info while he waited. Someone from the 'inside' would certainly have access to more details than he'd ever have. He debated for a moment, then made up his mind. He typed a text message, took the time to send a more detailed email, then dialed the number listed on the piece of paper. Then wondered if the man would be too busy to answer…


"Agent Barrett? Malcolm Barrett, NID?"

"Who is this?"

"I'm with Franklin Enterprises."

"Uh huh."

"We do a little work for a place known as the SGC."

"I'm listening."

"I need to know I’m talking to the right man."

"I'm Malcolm Barrett."

"Talked to anyone at Homeworld Security lately?"

"Only person there I would talk to would be Doctor Elizabeth Weir."

"Agent Barrett, I'm Jesse Hatcher, Franklin Enterprises. There have been three hits from the NID on the SGC computer system. First request was so generic I almost missed it. Second two were for info from General Jack O'Neill's personnel folder. I'd like to know if there are any legitimate…er…official investigations going on."

"Not that I'm aware of. Three hits you say?"

"In the past forty-eight hours."

"Two specifically about General O'Neill?"

"Straight to his personnel file."


"I thought the same thing."

"Let me do a little looking around. There shouldn't be anyone in the offices right now. I'll see what I can find. Do you have a number where I can reach you?"

Jessie recited his cell phone number. "I'll give my boss a call. I hate to ruin anyone's holiday just yet."

"I agree. If I find anything, I'll give Doctor Weir a call, just to keep her in the loop."


"I'll talk to you soon."

The call ended. Jesse tossed his phone onto the table, just as the alarm on the computer went off…again. "Okay, asshole. What are you up to?"

He followed every move the computer user made, and managed to prevent the would-be hacker from locating any personnel files - or anything else that was classified. The first attempt had caught him off guard; when it seemed that it might be a legitimate info request, he'd simply watched. His gut had told him that whoever the hacker was, he or she would be back...and not for a simple monthly activity report. The second attempt he'd been a few seconds too slow to completely shut the connection down. Jack's file had been accessed. But not completely. The third attempt hadn't even made it past the routine supply requests. He glanced at the clock. "You're sloppy, asshole. You're also predictable. Time to shut your ass down."

The information packet was a simple bios command that would erase the entire hard-drive of the receiving computer. It wouldn't completely stop this person, Jesse was aware of that fact. But it would slow him…or her, the hacker could be a woman…down. And when the link couldn't be traced, and nothing could be tracked back to the SGC, more confusion would ensue. It would reveal the fact that someone besides the SGC was monitoring those computers. But they wouldn't have a clue who was doing the monitoring. Not unless they could dig very fast, and very deep. And he was there to prevent that from happening.




Gary frowned when his phone beeped softly. Excusing himself from the group of people he'd been talking with, enjoying the food and the sunshine at his daughter's Fourth of July barbecue, he slipped toward the driveway. He read the message, and cursed under his breath. There wasn't much to go on. Probably no need to actually say anything…yet. But he could feel the tension tighten between his shoulder blades. The email had more information than the text message. And only increased the tension.


He jumped slightly. Turned, coming face to face with is daughter. "You're a sneak, you know that?"

Casey smiled. "All I did was walk over here. Whatever it is," she nodded toward the phone still in his hand, "you were totally focused on it. Trouble?"



"Looks like."

"Should I be worried?"

He smiled, reached out with one hand, tugged her close enough to wrap his arm around her shoulders. "Nope. Franklin Enterprises will deal with it."


"Hey ho, campers! What's up?" Jack asked, walking toward the two from his place on the deck.

That man doesn't miss a thing, Casey thought with a smile. Jack had been standing beside the grill when she'd seen her father hurry toward the garage. She'd followed, knowing that something was wrong. No doubt Jack had seen both of them.

"Just a little problem that Jesse is dealing with," Gary replied.

"NID." There was no question, just the acceptance that if Jesse Hatcher was involved, whatever the problem was, the NID was the cause.

"Looks like they're doing some snooping around where they shouldn't be," Gary said.

Jack snorted softly. "There's a news flash for you."

Gary chuckled. "Yeah, Jesse says they could at least try to make it a bit more entertaining for him."

Casey and Jack laughed. The tension that had filled the air dissipated slightly.

"He's on it for now, so let's just enjoy the party, shall we?" Gary said.

"Good idea," Casey agreed.

"You're almost out of beer, Radar," Jack said casually.

The slender blonde raised one eyebrow. "There's a Quik-Trip two blocks from here. Bet you can walk there and back in less than twenty minutes."

"You are such a smartass," Jack complained, although his cheek was twitching. "Besides, you're the hostess, I'm the guest. You're supposed to provide the beer for me."

"Which I did. Two six-packs of Heineken," Casey retorted. "If you've gone through both six-packs, you don't need any more!"

"I'm not the only one drinking them," Jack countered.

"And that's my fault?"


"I don't see how! If you'd just drink the same thing as everyone else, no one would be tempted to 'snitch' the more expensive stuff!" Casey declared.

Daniel noted the three standing together, and the frowns that had covered their faces for several moments. He headed toward them as casually as possible, but moving quickly. "Hey. What's going on?" he asked, slipping his arm around Casey's shoulders.

"Little NID problem," Gary replied. "Jesse's on it."

"Good," Daniel said.

"Jack is complaining that we're out of beer," Casey added.

"We are not! I just grabbed a soda…and there's a full case of beer still in the ice."

"It's not Heineken," Casey said.


"Jack doesn't drink 'cheap' beer."

Daniel rolled his eyes, turning his gaze toward his best friend. "You'll drink base sludge when it comes to coffee, but Miller Genuine Draft isn't good enough for you when it comes to beer?"

"Some things you don't compromise on," Jack retorted.

"Well, Quik-Trip is that way," Daniel said, pointing with the top of his soda bottle. "About two blocks."

Gary began to laugh. "Come on, airman. I'll walk with you."

"You two are horrible hosts! Making your guests do beer runs," Jack complained good-naturedly.

"As long as you're going, pick up a couple more bags of potato chips," Casey replied cheekily.

"What kind?

"Um…Doritos. Original flavor."

"You got it," Jack nodded.

"Thanks, Jack." Casey leaned up and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"You're welcome, Radar."

"And no talking shop while you're gone," she said, giving a warning look to both Jack and her father.

"I promise," Gary grinned.

Casey heaved a sigh, and shook her head. "Just figure out a way to deal with this after the party winds down, okay?"

Gary dropped a kiss on his daughter's forehead. "We will."

Daniel shifted from one foot to the other. Glanced at his Wife. "I'll walk with you," he said quietly. If the NID was involved, then more than likely SG-1 was the target. Again. And if SG-1 was the target, Casey was in danger. He wanted to know every detail available now…rather than being blindsided later.

The two older men nodded, neither of them unaware of the reason for the archaeologist's company.

"I'll try to keep everyone from getting too worried," Casey promised.

Daniel pulled her close, took a quick taste of her sweet lips, the kiss too short to completely set his body on fire for her. "Shouldn't take us long."

"If you're not back in thirty minutes, I'm coming after you," Casey warned.

"Shouldn't take that long," Jack vowed.

The three men started walking down the driveway.

"What's that all about?" Sam asked, appearing at Casey's elbow too late to hear any of the conversation.

She jumped slightly. Glanced around, and caught Teal'c's eye. He gave a barely perceptible nod, and was excusing himself from the group of people he and Janet had been chatting with before she'd fully turned back to Sam. "Looks like we might be in for some trouble," Casey sighed.

Sam shook her head. "When aren't we?"

Teal'c joined them. "What is transpiring?"

"Daddy just got a call from Jesse. Seems the NID is doing a bit of snooping. He didn't have details, just that Jesse is dealing with it," Casey explained.

"You know this Colonel Marshall is probably madder than hell about that investigation," Sam pointed out.

"Probably," Casey replied.

SG-1 was aware, thanks to Doctor Weir at Homeworld Security, that Senator Sheppard had reprimanded the senators on the Oversight Committee who had pushed for the investigation. Their interest had been less about the mission that had resulted in Doctor Cameron Balinsky's death than what they could gain politically out of the investigation. While the director of the NID had intended to use the results to force the president into allowing more NID involvement in the SGC program, the exact opposite had occurred. The report written, by one Richard Woolsey - whom Colonel Marshall had tasked for the job - stated that the actions of all parties involved had been in accordance to procedure, and that given the nature of the disaster, very little could have been done to have prevented it. His report had, in fact, stated that nothing short of an 'information dump' giving Casey all of the details could have altered the outcome of that day. No one within the SGC was at all sure what had influenced the investigator. His time at the base had seen him trying to pin the blame squarely on Daniel's shoulders, alienating everyone he came into contact with, and totally pissing off the members of SG-1. General Hammond had speculated that the president and Senator Sheppard had called in a favor or two, and had put pressure on Woolsey to offer an accurate and objective review, based on facts and evidence alone.

"If they are attempting to gain access to information stored in the computers, no doubt they have a plan to discredit the SGC once again," Teal'c said.

"No doubt," Sam agreed. "Until we have details, though, there's not much we can do."

"Also true," Casey sighed. She grinned at Tony when he looked over at her. "In the meantime, let's keep the party upbeat, shall we?" She hurried onto the deck. "Okay, everybody, how about a lip-syncing contest?"

Shouts of approval filled the air.

"Whadda'ya say, Tony, shall we show 'em how it's done?" Casey asked playfully.

Tony bounded onto the deck. "Absolutely! The best will go first, and the rest of you can just wish to be as good!"

Hoots and jeers, catcalls and boos from SG team members had the remainder of the guests laughing. Casey conferred with her partner, chose a song by Paula Abdul, and the contest began.

"They're really very good," Muriel said to Emma and Janelle, as the three women sat in lawn chairs watching the frivolity around them with quiet indulgence.

"Yes, they are," Janelle agreed, as Casey and Tony danced side-by-side.

"Casey told me that when things are quiet at the data center, sometimes she and a few others get together and do this to break up the monotony," Emma said.

"I suppose gathering all of that data could become boring," Janelle replied. She glanced first at Emma, then at Muriel. She didn't for a minute believe that her great-niece and her husband were actually doing anything as uninteresting as cataloguing computerized telescope photographs of space. "Although I doubt they get bored often."

Emma gave an understanding smile. "I doubt it."

"Whatever it is they do, as long as they're safe, that's all I can ask for," Muriel said quietly.

"Amen," Janelle nodded.




"Did Jesse say just what the NID was looking for?" Jack asked, hands in the pockets of his jeans.

"Seems someone is very interested in your file," Gary replied.

"Wanna bet that the Director…um…Marshall, Colonel Marshall, is going to try to blame you for something?" Daniel asked.

"Probably," Jack sighed. "They couldn't pin Cam Balinsky's death on you, so they'll probably try to find something to hang on me."

"Shouldn't being a general now make that more difficult?"

"Nope," Jack replied. "Probably makes it easier."

Gary nodded. "This Marshall can start asking why Jack is still at the SGC…why the facility needs two generals."

"Shit!" Daniel hissed. All they needed was for some damned paper-pusher in DC to start trouble, and get Jack transferred. SG-1 didn't function properly if all team members weren't together. It had always been that way…and it would always be that way.

"Well, Hammond put me in charge of the F303s. Considering the secrecy of the program, where better to be headquartered than at the SGC for doing that job?" Jack asked.

"That could keep the complaints down," Gary conceded. "Although from what we've been able to determine about this Marshall, he's been in contact with some very interesting businessmen. Men who shouldn’t know about the Stargate, but do. And men who would like nothing more than to have complete, unhindered control of the 'gate."

"So they can destroy other planets as well," Daniel grumbled. "Nothing like stripping your home planet, leaving it in shambles, and then heading out to do the same elsewhere."

"It's all about profit, Daniel," Gary said quietly.

The archaeologist snorted derisively. "Isn't it always?"

"So, we know that the NID is up to something. At least we know that much," Jack sighed.

"Jesse contacted an agent Malcolm Barrett. Got the name from Dennis Ballard," Gary said. "It's nice to have a legitimate contact inside the NID."

"Casey said that Barrett wants to see the NID 'cleaned up', and run like it's supposed to be," Daniel said.

"Did she see anything else?" Jack asked.

Daniel took a final swig of soda, then shook his head. "Only that she thought he'd be an asset as the Director. She said he's honest, and wants to follow the actual mandate of the NID."

"Which is to provide civilian oversight of military projects," Jack replied. "Don't think it's possible for the NID to ever be a 'friend' of the military."

"Not a friend, no," Daniel admitted. "But the two entities don’t have to be enemies, either."

"Right now, the NID isn't anyone's friend," Jack said.

"Ya know," Gary drawled, "It's possible that if we let this play out, we can catch the guys that Marshall is talking to. He's not the one who spread the word about the Stargate. But he's taking advantage of what those men know, and want."

"I'd ask how you know that, but I'm probably better off not knowing details," Jack grinned.

"Got that right," Gary grinned in return.

"Kinsey," Daniel said. "It was that bastard Kinsey. Always out to make himself more powerful."

"That's what the scuttlebutt says," Gary confirmed.

Jack shook his head. "That is so par for that bastard."

"Even if we find those men, there's nothing we can do about it," Daniel pointed out. "They haven't broken any laws."

"That we're aware of…not yet, no," Gary agreed. "But if we can link them to any attempts to discredit or…possibly blackmail…Jack, that will put a kink in their plans. It would put them on a 'watch list' of every security agency in the country."

"Well, until something happens, all we can do is wait," Jack said. He pulled open the door of the Quik-Trip market and tossed a rakish grin at the young woman behind the counter.

"Hello," the clerk smiled.

"Been bored today?" Jack asked amiably.

"Not really. This is actually the first lull I've had since I came on," the clerk replied.

Daniel grabbed the three remaining bags of Doritos, which had seemed to be what everyone was in the mood for. Jack grabbed beer, and Gary grabbed two twelve-packs of soda.

Jack raised an eyebrow when the older man approached the counter.

"Might get another call from Jesse," Gary said quietly.

Which could mean the need to spring into action, Jack realized. And Gary needed to be sober to do that. His frown deepened as he contemplated the two six-packs of Heineken.

"Enjoy the day, airman," Gary said quietly. "Don't know that you'll be called on to do anything for a day or so."

With a nod of understanding, Jack put the beer on the counter. "I've got it," he said, pulling his wallet from him pocket.

"Not necessary," Gary said.

"Maybe not, but I've got it," Jack replied.

With a grin, Daniel tossed the chips on the counter as well. "Thanks, Jack."

"I said nothing about this," Jack countered.

"So I have to pay for the chips?" Daniel asked, eyebrows raised slightly.

With a pained sigh that even the clerk recognized as being fake, Jack pushed the items together. "Why do I always get stuck with the bill?"

"You offered," Daniel said immediately.

Chuckling, the clerk rang up the purchase, accepted the cash, and gave Jack his change. Her eyes twinkling, she bagged the beer, soda, and chips, handing one bag to each of the men. "There, no fighting about who's carrying what."

"Us? Fight? Never happens," Jack grinned, following his friends out the door.

They had just crossed the street when a black sedan pulled into the parking lot. The driver and the passengers, involved in what appeared to be a heated conversation, didn't even take note of the three men who were walking up Baldwin street.




"I know she lives around here somewhere," Michelson said, climbing out of the car. "It would be a nice bonus to be able to grab her as well."

"Boss doesn't want trouble," one of the men replied. He held open the door of the Quik Trip, then followed his companion inside.

"No, no trouble. But if we get the opportunity, we won't pass it up," Michelson explained.

"So, you think sitting around her house might provide that opportunity?" the second man asked.

"It's the only place where we have the chance to grab her without anyone else being around. Might even be able to do it without being seen at all."

"You'd better hope no one sees it," the first man grunted. "Otherwise, you've got trouble. And the boss-"

"Doesn't want trouble," Michelson finished impatiently. "I know that!" What he wouldn't admit was the fact that he was still upset about having had to walk away when he'd managed to capture her the first time. Had Kinsey not been such a coward, and just let that group from the SGC make all the noise they wanted, he'd have had his chance at her. She was beautiful, and sensual, and she smelled so damned good! She'd haunted his dreams for months after he and his cohorts had left Wyoming that night. Every woman with long blonde hair who crossed his path could bring memories of her soft skin crashing into his mind. He was going to have that woman…come hell or high water. No matter what it took.

The first man paid for four bottles of soft drinks, nodded at the clerk, and led the others back outside.

The clerk frowned slightly. She hadn't been trying to listen to the conversation, and the men had been speaking in fairly low tones. Had she really heard the man with the scar talking about 'grabbing' someone? A woman, if she'd heard correctly. She watched as the car pulled out of the parking lot, and drove slowly up the street. Unsure what to do, certain she should do something, she called the owner of the store. Who assured her that she'd probably misunderstood, that no one planning a real kidnapping would be so brazen…or so stupid…as to discuss it in the open, where anyone might hear. Reassured, the young woman settled into the routines of the store, the conversation pushed completely from her mind.




The sun was dipping behind the mountains. Last minute arrangements made with the city had allowed the residents of Baldwin Street to barricade their particular block. Everyone had chipped in for fireworks, and now those residents and numerous guests were moving chairs to line the sidewalks. Hoses were connected to faucets on the front of the houses and dragged toward the street, a safety precaution everyone hoped would not be needed.

The Jacksons had by far the most company, and several of their guests had opted to move vehicles to adjoining streets in order to provide more room for the men who would be firing off the roman candles and rockets.

"We were going to go to the display at Grant Park," Casey explained to Janelle, "but Mr. Wilson was complaining to the Hewlitts about the parking, and they agreed, and were talking to the Thompsons about it, and the next thing we knew, the Andersons were arranging a neighborhood display. It happened so quickly, no one even knew about it until yesterday morning! Daniel only had fifty dollars in cash, but Mr. Anderson said that was perfectly fine. Mrs. Anderson said that as far as she knew, that money was used on all of the sparklers for the little ones."

"They sure seem to be enjoying them," Emma said, pointing to where the group of a dozen or so of the neighborhood children were playing with sparklers, laughing and shouting their joy of the celebration.

"That speaks well of your neighbors," Janelle replied.

"I agree. We're very lucky. Mrs. Anderson would like to start having a Christmas pot-luck for our neighborhood. I think it would be fun. And it would give us the chance to get to know one another better."

"Which will make the neighborhood all the happier, and safer," Janelle nodded in approval.

"I hope you don't mind, but I let the Coopers know about this," Emma said. "They'll probably slip over to watch."

"That’s fine," Casey assured the older woman. "I think the Wilson's let the people behind them know."

"Oh, the Jacobsons," Emma nodded. "Wonderful family."

"I've heard the little ones playing in the back yard," Casey smiled. "I get such a kick out of them. Especially when they play 'house'."

Emma chuckled. "Oh, they are entertaining, aren't they?"

"What's even funnier is knowing that we're hearing what goes on inside that house," Casey giggled. She glanced at her aunt and Daniel's grandmother. "It's nothing bad. I think the funniest thing I've heard is 'if you don't clean that bedroom, the dirt will take over and we'll never find you', something I'm certain has been said to them."

Janelle laughed. "Children are wonderful little tape recorders. And the batteries never run low!"

Muriel laughed as well. "I always thought that the laughter of children was the most beautiful sound in the world."

"I agree," Janelle sighed. "John and I weren't able to have children of our own. He was wounded in the war."

"World War Two?" Muriel asked, certain that Janelle and she were near the same age.

"Korea," Janelle replied. "John was in the Air Force. He would have retired, if he hadn't been wounded."

"I'm so sorry," Casey said, reaching over and taking Janelle's hand.

"He was alive. That's all that mattered to me," Janelle replied, squeezing slender fingers gently. "He had four brothers, and all of them had children. So I kept my house full of nephews and nieces. Worked out rather well. When I was tired of them, I sent them home!"

Muriel chuckled. "Our house was always full of youngsters. Marvin would just hide away in the basement, working on his hobbies. Or he was out bowling or fishing with his friends. When the boys hit high school, though, they weren't home as often. Well, I suppose the fact that both of them had part-time jobs probably contributed to that fact. My boys were always hard workers."

"Russell and Caroline always had friends over," Emma said. "There were days I swore I was going to lock all of them outside for the day, just for a bit of peace and quiet."

"I'd give anything for just one day of that noise and chaos," Muriel sighed.

"Me, too," Emma said softly.

"Okay, folks! Here we go!" Craig Anderson called out.

The first of the roman candles went off in a wild display of sparks. Explosions overhead lit up the sky with green, red, and blue showers. The crowd watching 'oohed' and 'aahed' in appreciation.

Daniel wandered over to sit behind Casey, his arms and legs wrapped around her as they perched on the curb in front of their house. "Not a bad holiday," he said softly.

"Not bad at all. Even if we didn't go to the carnival," Casey replied, her voice as soft.

"Had more fun here."

"You're just saying that because you and Teal'c won the lip sync contest," Casey teased.

He chuckled softly. He and his teammate had shocked everyone with their rendition of a country song titled 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy'. SG team members, particularly those who had worked with Daniel, had howled with laughter as the two men did a perfect lip-sync of the song.

"I had no idea you even knew that song," Casey giggled.

"Teal'c knew it. He told me about it a few months ago. We did a bit of practicing…just in case we decided to get brave and perform it at one of the SGC parties. He was the one anxious to give it a try today."

"Well, the two of you were awesome," Casey whispered. "I think you should learn a few dance moves to go with it, though. That would be even better than just standing there reciting the lyrics."

"Which we did very well, thank you very much!" Daniel replied.

"Yes, you did."

He kissed the side of her head. It had been a very nice Fourth of July. In spite of the news that the NID had targeted Jack…again.

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