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Fragile Balance of Politics
"I wish to God I didn't know now,
The things I didn't know then...
Give me something to believe in..."
"Something To Believe In"
performed by Poison
Written by: Bobby Dall, C.C. Deville, B. Michaels and R. Rockett
The jangle of the ringing phone echoed loudly in the nearly silent room. The second ring jarred the occupants of the wide brass bed, causing them to stir slightly; their peaceful slumber disturbed by the annoying noise. Third ring...which was enough to bring him out of the very pleasant dream he'd been having...had his hand flailing in the general direction the noise was coming from. Images still danced behind his closed eyelids...white sugar sand beaches; Casey naked...her golden-tanned skin glistening with suntan oil, droplets of water on her breasts and nipples...With a groan he opened one eye, reached for the offending instrument as it rang for the fourth time. "Hullo?"
"Doctor Jackson, there's been a security breach. General Hammond has requested that Mrs. Jackson arrive as soon as possible," a very efficient, very awake voice informed him.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah...we're on our way." He dropped the receiver back into the cradle. Ran a hand wearily over his face. Sometimes he wished they weren't part of SG-1. Part of the premier team of the SGC. That the five of them weren't part of the upper echelon of the hierarchy in the mountain complex 'pecking order'. And sometimes, he wished he'd followed his instincts after Casey's first abduction, and had left the facility. That thought, of course, was immediately pushed aside. He loved his job...most of the time. Even if he didn't always want to admit that fact, especially to himself. With a sigh, Daniel rolled to his side, ran his hand from her shoulder to her hip. "Wake up, Angel. Duty calls."
"Tell him to leave a freaking message," Casey mumbled into her pillow.
A smile toyed with the corners of his lips. Early mornings and his Wife had never been on friendly terms. Dropping a kiss on her bare shoulder, he shook her gently. "Move it, Case. There's been a security breach in the mountain."
She rolled to her back, as much as possible that was, as Daniel was directly behind her. Green eyes squinted up at him. "Security breach?"
"Yep. The general has requested your presence."
"Who in their right mind would try to sneak into the SGC?"
He couldn't help but grin at her incredulity. "I have no idea."
With a soft groan, she sat up, ran a hand through her hair. Tried to force the last traces of blissful sleep from her brain. "Fifteen minutes."
"Please tell me the coffee maker is finished."
"Don't know if it's even come on yet," Daniel admitted, glancing at the clock. With no briefings to attend, he hadn't planned on leaving for the SGC until eight-thirty, given that he and Casey had been working until nearly nine the night before. The coffeemaker had been programmed to start fifteen minutes before their alarm was set to go off. Which, he thought, glancing at the small black box, wasn't for another hour. He reached over and flipped the switch on the clock.
"No coffee, no radar," Casey grumbled.
Another grin split his face. Her love...her need...for coffee was as intense as his own. "We'll stop at Pike's Perk on the way."
"I love you," she sighed.
"You love that I keep you supplied with coffee," he countered, already on his way to the bathroom.
"That, too." She pushed the blankets back, shivered with appreciation as she watched his naked body disappear through the doorway and into the hall; then with a sigh of resignation, followed him.
A A A A A A
Sam hurried through the last check point. The only thing she knew for certain was that there had been a security breach...the message from the duty officer hadn't been very concise; hadn't offered any details. The DOD had merely insisted that she arrive as soon as possible - pursuant to the general's orders. Stepping off the elevator on level sixteen, she nearly collided with General Hammond, who had obviously been pacing in front of the doors. The look on his face had her reeling mentally. He was upset...really, really upset. Not angry...but something was going on that had him highly agitated. That could be just as...challenging...as an angry CO. "General, what's all this about?"
"At 06:20 hours this morning, someone tried to enter the base...using this."
She looked down at the plastic card sleeve the general had pressed into her hand. She recognized it instantly. It held, and displayed, Jack's ID card. Her heart lurched against her ribs. What had happened? She'd worked late the night before, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation on how the Ancient weapon worked. Jack had wanted to watch two back-to-back hockey games. They had agreed that he'd spend the night at his place, where he had a large screen television, and then he'd pick her up on the way to work. "This is Ja-...um...Colonel O'Neill's security ID," she said, the words out before she realized how silly the observation sounded.
"After the...person...was taken into custody, he insisted on seeing you." The general led the way down the corridor.
"Me? Why?" Her relationship with the colonel wasn't exactly a secret any longer, she knew that. Was someone going to use her feelings...her love for Jack...to blackmail the SGC?
Hammond stopped in front of a closed door, beside which two armed security officers stood. "Well, I was hoping you could figure that out, Major." He turned to the guards. "Open it."
They stepped into the holding room, where a teenaged boy was sprawled out on the bunk. His clothes - blue jeans, a gray tee shirt, and a beige, corduroy jacket - were all obviously too large for him. Shock had sent Sam's brain reeling...she didn't even notice that the jacket the boy had on was the very one that Jack had been wearing when she'd seen him last, on his way topside, to go home to watch his hockey games.
The teenager's face went from a scowl to a look of satisfaction. "Thank you! Now we're gettin' somewhere! Sergeant, that...uh...coffee that I asked for half an hour ago? Ya know...any time ya feel like gettin' it?"
Hammond nodded at the sergeant, who turned to leave the room; but not before casting a dubious glance at the prisoner. A kid trying to waltz into the mountain with Colonel O'Neill's ID. The rumor mill would have a wild time with this one!
Sam barely kept her jaw from hitting the floor. A teenager? This...boy...had tried to sneak on base using Jack's ID? What sort of stunt was this? How had he managed to get hold of the ID card? Was this something that one of the local high schools...as this teen was too young to be in college...was doing to haze new or young students? A dare of some sort, to see how far he could actually get? Were those kids out of their freaking minds? Did they have any idea how dangerous a game that was? She realized that the general was waiting for her to say something...probably hoping she could identify the young man. "He's a boy, sir," she blurted. Sam, you're two for two in the stupid, obvious comment category!
The teenager sat up. His expression went hard for a moment. Anger flashed in his brown eyes. "As it turns out, Carter, yes I am. For the moment."
The attitude was certainly familiar. She couldn't help but smile, even as her brain continued to try to work on the puzzle of who this kid was. "Do I know you?"
"Come on! It's me!" Exasperated, the young man tossed himself backwards on the bunk, crossed his arms over his chest.
"We've tried to contact Colonel O'Neill, I've sent someone to his house," the general said quietly. "Confirmation of the colonel's whereabouts has yet to be made."
Sam nodded, then turned back to the teenager. "Do you understand how much trouble you're in right now? Impersonating a military officer is a federal offense."
"I'm not impersonating anyone! I am Jack O'Neill!"
Sam glanced at the general. Who seemed to be as perplexed by the situation as she now was.
A A A A A A
Casey was tugging her lip between her teeth as the guard waved the Jeep through the gate. That nagging feeling, the one that insisted that she needed to be near the Quantum Mirror, was stronger than ever. She glanced at her husband. The only thing she was certain of at the moment was that he was in danger. She had no details; only a very strong, heartbreaking feeling. Was the person who had tried to breach security a threat to him? And what the hell did the Mirror have to do with anything? She was unable to hold back her sigh of frustration.
"What's wrong?" Daniel asked gently. He suspected that the nightmare that had been haunting her, that had awakened her nearly every night for two weeks, was to blame for her distraction.
"I can't figure it out," she murmured. "What if...what if my gift...what if I'm losing it?"
The fear in her voice, and her eyes, had his own heart clenching in fear. It was true, she was an asset to SG-1 for more than just her gift of sight. But without it...he shook his head mentally. Without it, the job that every SG team member did would be a hell of a lot more dangerous...again. And no doubt his Wife would convince herself that without that special gift, she was useless...Please God, don't take it way from her! Something in the back of his mind insisted that it was impossible...she was Guide to The One. Without that gift, how could she guide him? He grabbed onto that thought with both hands and held tightly. "I don't think that can happen," he replied gently.
"Then something screwy is going on," she said. Screwy and downright terrifying. Not to mention heartbreaking. The emotions she was battling were nearly stifling in their intensity. And heartbreak was the strongest of all of them.
He reached over, wrapped his hand around hers. "You'll figure it out."
"Hopefully before the fact, this time," she groused. It seemed that her ability to interpret what she did 'see' in a timely manner had been more than just lacking of late.
"Angel, we've been over this before. You see what you see. You can only interpret what's there, and what you recognize."
"I know," she replied softly.
"Believe in yourself, Casey. As much as we do," Daniel said, lifting her fingers to his lips.
Not so easy to do when she continued to screw up, she thought morosely. When they reached the elevator after the checkpoint on level eleven, Casey punched the button labeled 'eighteen'. "I just need to look," she explained. "Maybe whoever is sending the jumbled message will be there."
He wouldn't argue with her. Could tell by her tone of voice that she didn't expect to find anything. He didn't think she'd find anything, either. None of her other trips to the storage room where the mirror was kept had offered her any sort of resolution. "Don't take too long. The general requested you specifically."
"I know," she replied. When the elevator began to slow, she leaned up and kissed his chin. "Just a quick look, I promise."
He smiled as she stepped out, blowing a kiss to him over her shoulder. Whatever was going on, whatever it was that she was seeing - or rather, that her gift was trying to show her - he could only hope that she would find the answer soon. Before the bruises beneath her eyes became any darker.
A A A A A A
"Finally!" the teenager declared, watching the man enter the room.
The sergeant who had been dispatched to get coffee had returned. The guard bit back his chuckle when the teenager stood up; the too-large jeans nearly falling to the kid's knees as he did so.
Holding the waistband of the pants, trying to ignore the fact that his clothes didn't fit properly, the young man took a sip. He froze for a second, then glared at the sergeant. "Hot chocolate? Are you kidding?"
Sam held up the ID. "Where did you get this?"
'Young Jack' sat the cup on the table, threw another look of utter disgust at the guard before turning his attention to Sam. "I didn't-" He grabbed his jeans to keep from losing them. "I didn't 'get it' anywhere! It's mine!"
"Because you're Colonel O'Neill?" Sam didn't bother hiding her smirk of disbelief.
"Exactly!" The look on the woman's face brought forth a heartfelt sigh. "Look, last night I ordered some Chinese. Picked it up and took it home. Watched two hockey games. Had a couple of beers while I watched. Then I went to bed. I woke up...like this. Now, can we please just get to the part where you and Fraiser run some tests, find a cure, and make me big again?"
Before Sam could reply, Daniel walked into the room. He glanced at the teenager, then around the room, and surmised the situation. It didn't make sense, but then he was working at the SGC, and there were times when damned little made sense! "This is the security breach?"
"Daniel!" The relief in the boy's voice was tangible. "Will you tell them who I am? Please?"
The archaeologist shrugged. "Okay. Love to. Who are you?"
The glower that the teen sent in Daniel's direction could have melted steel.
"This young man claims he's Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond said calmly.
Daniel looked from the young man to the general, back to the young man, then to Sam. Then turned to the general once again. "It's a joke, right?"
The general, sighed, shook his head, then glanced down the hallway. "Is Casey going to join us?"
"Yes, sir. There was something she needed to check on." Daniel looked down at the floor, rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Has to do with a nightmare she's been having."
General Hammond wasn't privy to all that occurred in the young seer's life. He did know, however, that she often dealt with nightmares - either as the result of something that had happened, or as a premonition of something that was about to happen. He gave a single nod of his head in understanding.
"What's going on?" Daniel asked, when it became clear that this wasn't just someone's idea of a really bad prank.
"Daniel!" Young Jack nearly shouted.
He looked over at the teenager. "Well, it does sound like him. At least the loud, grating parts."
Sam and Hammond both smiled.
Hiking his pants up once again, the teen simmered silently. "Okay, you want proof? Carter, you once carried a Tok'ra named Jolinar, who gave her life to save you; and she left enough memories in your mind to haunt you."
Sam's smile faded. Only Jack knew how often she struggled with the images that had been 'implanted' in her mind during the time she had been unwittingly joined with Jolinar. Usually when she was overtired or stressed. Most of the images were of the 'not so pleasant' variety, and always left her feeling frightened, angry...and used.
"Daniel, you were declared dead a couple of months ago during a mission to wipe out Ares; and Casey damned near lost it completely. She and Rocco just came back from their first deaths," Young Jack continued.
Teal'c walked in the door at that moment, and heard the comment the boy was making.
"Did you meditate this morning, Teal'c?" Jack asked, tossing his question at the Jaffa almost angrily. "Even though you don't need to kel'no'reem any longer, because you're snake free, thanks to a little visit to an underground cavern and some really powerful Beings. You don't even have the pouch for Junior any more."
"How would this child possess such knowledge?" Teal'c asked, looking from the young man to the general.
"Because. It's. Me!" Furious, the young man grabbed at his jeans yet again, the color in his cheeks evidence of his embarrassment, and a fair amount of frustration.
The general stepped into the hallway; Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c joined him. "Would anyone care to speculate on just how a boy could be aware of our most classified information?"
The elevator doors opened, and Casey hurried toward them. "I'm sorry, general, I just..." she took a deep breath, shook her head. Now wasn't the time to get into the fact that once again that damned mirror had just sat there, annoyingly dark and silent. "What's up?"
Daniel ached to pull her into his arms, hold her until that troubled look disappeared from her green eyes. Instead, he pointed into the holding room. "Recognize him?"
Casey peeked into the room. Saw the teenager who watched them closely, a mutinous expression on his face. "Whoa! Jack, what the hell happened to you?"
"Radar, I love you," Jack sighed.
"I'll also deny I ever said that."
"Deny away. I have witnesses," Casey grinned cheekily.
"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to convince them that I'm me for...what time is it now?"
"Almost seven-thirty," Casey replied. "So you've been annoying the crap out of people for what, an hour now?"
"Latrine duty, Radar. Think about it."
"Thinking. Rejecting. Next item on the agenda?"
The others had followed the seer into the room. Casey's reaction, and the banter, left no doubt in their minds. The...teenager...who was obviously wearing Colonel Jack O'Neill's clothes, who had the colonel's ID, really was Jack O'Neill.
Jack chuckled. And tugged at his pants again. He stood grinning at the group clustered around the door watching him curiously. Now that he'd been duly identified, they'd find out what was going on, and get him 'fixed'.
"There is a physical resemblance," Daniel admitted.
"So how in the world did Colonel O'Neill...regress...more than thirty years in a single night?" the general demanded to know.
"I don't know," Daniel admitted. "But stranger things have happened."
"Name but one," Teal'c said, still eyeing the teenager suspiciously.
"Well, there was the time he got really old, after eating that 'marriage cake' - although that took a few days; and the time he became a caveman - that was entertaining; and the time we all swapped bodies, which was really bizarre-"
General Hammond held up his hand. "Why don't we move on to the testing portion of this exercise."
Jack visibly relaxed at the comment, and a look of hope filled his brown eyes.
A A A A A A
Henry Hayes was a patient man. It was more productive to sit quietly, watching his opponents as they squirmed; wondering what he knew, how he would react to that knowledge, or how he would use it. He closed the folder that he'd been studying. Which had been sitting on his desk for over an hour. He glanced over at the man who sat just as patiently. For a moment, the President of the United States wondered if he and the general were in an old-fashioned children's pastime known as the "quiet game", where the first to speak would lose. With a sigh, he pushed the folder toward the center of the large desk. "When you first told me about the Stargate Program, I thought it was a joke." Loser, he thought, with a touch of amusement.
General Francis Maynard, Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, appointed by the man sitting behind the desk, smiled at the Commander In Chief. "I hated to be the one to shatter that delusion."
"Bullshit," Hayes chuckled. "You enjoyed every minute of my open-mouthed response."
"I won't deny that, sir," the general replied, giving a low chuckle of his own.
"What you're trying to tell me with this," Hayes said, pointing to the folder, indicating the report therein, "is not to expect to be welcomed with open arms."
"That's the gist of it, sir," Maynard agreed.
"I'm the President of the United States!" Hayes protested.
"Yes, sir. And in the eyes of those who work at Stargate Command, that puts you at the top of the heap...of politicians."
Hayes shook his silver head. "Robert Kinsey has a hell of a lot to answer for," he muttered. Held a hand up when it looked as if Maynard was about to respond. "I know. I should probably have more compassion for someone who's become a host to a...Goa'uld. Did I pronounce it right that time?"
"Yes, sir, perfect pronunciation. As for Kinsey, I personally think the bastard got what was coming to him," Maynard replied. Would never admit out loud that his opinion of the man sitting behind the desk had plummeted when, having announced his candidacy, Henry Hayes had put Kinsey's name on the short list for his running mate. Thankfully, that nightmare hadn't come to pass.
"Any suggestions on how I can make these folks a little more...friendly...during my first visit?"
"Take Senator Sheppard along. He's been a staunch supporter of the program since he became aware of it as a member of the Oversight Committee," was the immediate reply. "General Hammond trusts him. More importantly...to the people in that mountain...Casey Jackson trusts him."
Hayes frowned for a moment. Apparently what their CO and the 'resident seer'...as she was apparently described...thought carried a lot of weight with the people who were associated with the Stargate program. Given that the woman had reportedly saved every life in the facility at least once held bearing on that fact. If she trusted Sheppard...the president sighed. That particular senator was on the other side of the political aisle. Had risen among the ranks of his political party because he was a straight-shooter, someone who could be trusted to do exactly what he promised to do. A fact-finding mission with Sheppard as one of his entourage...that just might have a bit of political capital for him. An obvious attempt to obtain bilateral support of Capitol Hill. And if it made things a bit easier for him, well, that was just a nice fringe benefit. "I'll have Stan contact the Senator's office and ask him if he'd be interested in going along."
Maynard nodded his head in approval. "Excellent idea, sir."
"Should be. It's yours," Hayes shot back with a grin. He reached for his phone. Made his request. "I suppose now you're going to tell me we need to discuss Iran."
"I suppose so, sir."
Hayes sighed again. "And to think...three months ago I actually wanted this job."
A A A A A A
Casey had gone to the infirmary with Jack...Sam, Daniel, and Teal'c following along as well. Had watched Janet take blood samples, and a cheek swab for a DNA test. Had listened to her CO complain about being poked and prodded as if he were a science experiment. Janet had rolled her eyes, but had remained silent - other than giving the teenager instructions on what she needed from him.
Doing her best to keep the atmosphere light - to help Jack deal with the fact that, for the time being, he was fifteen years old - Casey had cajoled him into cooperating with the people most able to help him. Everyone was aware of the fact that Jack was not nearly as amused by his predicament as his teammates were. But it was the seer's quiet acceptance of the teenager, the banter that the two tossed back and forth at one another, that had convinced those around them that the boy suddenly in their midst was none other than Colonel Jack O'Neill.
Now, she was back in the storage room, staring at the dark mirror. She was sitting cross-legged in front of the ancient device, elbows on her knees, her chin resting in her upturned palms. A position more conducive to causing a backache than offering any answers to the questions that continued to bump around in her mind. Sorting through the feelings...for that's all she had to work with...she had determined that there were two distinct problems. One lay with the mirror, the other with the danger that Daniel was in. What she didn't know was if the two were connected in any way.
Such agony. Absolute, heartbreaking agony. It was the only way to describe the strongest of the emotions that flowed through her whenever she had the nightmare. Wrapped around that heart-wrenching pain, like a thread around a stone, was fear. Black and cold and terrifying. She could sense that Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were also involved; she had to assume that they were in danger as well. But where would this fate befall them? When would this danger occur? Why were they in such danger? From whom? Which Goa'uld had set their sights on SG-1...again? Questions that refused to be answered. Without those answers, she had no way to warn them. No way to protect them.
At first she had thought Jack's current condition had something to do with what she had been sensing. It hadn't taken but a few minutes to come to the conclusion that, while she could sense deceit around him, there was nothing else. No fear. No heartbreak. The deceit itself she assumed had to do with the fact that he was Jack O'Neill, but he wasn't Jack O'Neill. That made little sense, but...there it was.
A soft sigh escaped her lips. She'd hoped that by concentrating on the mirror, if there was someone 'out there' trying to get a message to her, she'd be able to 'hear' it more clearly. So far, that theory was proving to be incorrect as well.
He stood in the doorway, hands shoved into the pockets of his BDU pants...watching her. Unable to see her face, but knowing that a frown creased her brow. Wishing he could offer her some sort of comfort. Realizing that until she had the answers she was seeking, that she needed, there was little he could do. This was the first time he'd ever been witness to her struggling so with a premonition...at least, he assumed it was a premonition. She'd had that nightmare before they'd walked through the mirror and wound up in a very wrong, very screwed up reality. Daniel fought down the fear that something similar was about to occur. Sometimes he thought maybe Jack was right, and the mirror should be smashed into little pieces, then burned and the ashes buried, just for good measure.
When she sighed again, he took another step into the room. "Casey?" he asked softly.
She jerked slightly, put her hand over her suddenly pounding heart. "Damn! You scared the bejeezus out of me!"
"I know I should be working on the database, but..." She waved a hand toward the mirror. "I can't put it into words...I can't describe what I feel. I just know that the feeling is so strong..."
He settled himself behind her, wrapped his arms around her as her voice trailed off. "You don't have to explain, Angel. I wish there was something I could do to help you."
Leaning back against his chest, tugging his arms tighter around her waist, Casey let her head drop back onto his shoulder. "Just hold me," she whispered.
"I'm here," Daniel whispered in return. "I've got you, Casey. I'll never let go."
She closed her eyes as his words, and his love, wrapped around her like a soft, warm blanket. Sought the protection and the comfort that his arms offered. Held it up as a talisman against the agonizing heartbreak that continued to torment her.
A A A A A A
"SG-1 to the briefing room...SG-1 to the briefing room!"
The call over the intercom continued to echo for a few seconds. The entire mountain was buzzing with the news that Colonel Jack O'Neill had somehow been transformed into a fifteen year old boy. Most conversations were circling around the concept of what the participants in those discussions would change if they were fifteen again..
The team arrived, Daniel and Casey the last to walk into the room. Sitting in his usual seat was one very sullen member, who was now dressed in khaki cargo pants and a dark blue pullover - which was just visible beneath the green BDU shirt he insisted on wearing - thanks to the fact that one of the nurses in the infirmary had a fifteen year old son about Jack's...current...size; and whom had been dispatched to bring something for the grumpy colonel to wear...something he wouldn't be in need of pulling up with every movement. "About time," Jack muttered waspishly.
"Bite me. You're not the center of the freaking universe," Casey snapped in return.
The teenager sat back, the sullen look that had been on his face since the visit to the infirmary dropped. Wide-eyed surprise took its place.
Curious glances were exchanged between the others who sat around the table. It wasn't difficult to sense that the young seer was upset...the frustration radiated from her. What was difficult to understand was just what had happened...especially given that only an hour or so earlier, she and the now very young colonel had been verbally sparring with their usual wit and humor. Something had happened in that short span of time to affect Casey's temperament. The first guess was that she'd had an information dump. Whatever was wrong, it was serious. Which went without saying if it had her reacting in such a manner. Even her teammates were hard pressed to recall when she had been so short-tempered.
"Casey, is there anything we need to discuss?" General Hammond asked quietly.
"Other than the fact that I'm losing my freaking mind? I can't sleep because of a nightmare I can't remember once I'm awake...having only overwhelming emotions to deal with, and facing the fact that I might be losing my 'gift'? Nope, not a damned thing!" she declared, wrapping her arms around her waist in a familiar, defensive posture.
Daniel visibly winced. He'd known about the nightmares, of course. Had held her while she dealt with the aftermath of each one. He had thought the discussion they'd had about her gift, and the fact that she was his Guide, and as such, losing her gift couldn't possibly be happening, had calmed her fears on the matter. Once again she proved that she would hold onto a fear, clutch it tightly, convinced that the worst possible scenario was the truth for her. He hadn't known how vulnerable she was feeling over the matter...something he promptly began to berate himself for. She was his Wife! He should have recognized how deeply she was hurting!
Casey shook her head, the color in her cheeks a response to her outburst. "General Hammond, I'm so sorry! Please...I...I didn't...I'm sorry," she said, ending on a whisper.
The general leaned forward, reached for her hand. Smiled when she leaned forward as well, putting her fingers against his. "No need to apologize. Does what happened to Colonel O'Neill have anything to do with your nightmares?"
"No...I've looked...all I can sense is deceit. He's Jack, but he's not Jack. Which is rather obvious," the slender blonde admitted with a sigh.
Hammond patted her hand. "If there's anything I can do, please let me know."
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
The general turned his attention to Doctor Fraiser. "I've read your report. Do you have any idea of what this 'tiny abnormality' that you refer to could be?"
"Abnormality?" Sam asked, a hint of fear in her voice. Her eyes darted to the teenager who had been, just a few hours earlier, the man she loved. She began to skim over the report, which had waited unopened in front of her.
"Tiny abnormality? Like the fact that he's suddenly quite a few years younger than he's supposed to be?" Daniel said at almost the same time, his movements mirroring Sam's.
"What abnormality?" Jack demanded to know, his voice nearly lost between Sam's and Daniel's.
"According to his DNA, he's Jack O'Neill. But there is an...abnormality. To be honest, this is out of my league. We're dealing with the genetic code here, and that's not something I've spent a lot of time working with. I've made a few inquiries, discreetly of course," she added, noting the general's frown. "With the general's permission, there are two specialists I'd like to have working on this. We'll run more tests, and see what we can learn."
"Very well. I've looked at your request, Doctor. Permission granted. Best time." He looked at Jack, then at the other members of the team. "In the meantime, let's make...the Colonel...as comfortable as possible."
"I'll set up a PlayStation," Sam said with obvious impertinence, unable to keep from grinning at the frown the teenager tossed in her direction. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, it was impossible not to see humor in it.
"You're just a laugh a minute, Carter," Jack grumbled aloud. Although, sitting and playing games all day did have a bit of appeal. Surely that wasn't because of his...current condition...was it?
The general dismissed the team, and returned to his office. He dropped into his chair. Of all the times for something like this to happen! Less than twenty-four hours before the president was due to arrive. There were already notices posted that any 'training games' would not be permitted until the end of the week. In an attempt to prevent a repeat of the last time 'unscheduled' training had occurred, coinciding with a presidential visit. Hammond sighed heavily. Hopefully a solution to this current problem would be found before President Hayes's visit. He had no desire to try to explain a fifteen year old full bird colonel who was second in command of the most secret military installation in the world!
A A A A A A
"I'm sorry," Daniel said softly, as soon as he and Casey were alone in his office.
"I didn't realize...god, Angel...I had no idea!" He reached for her, drew her into his embrace. Thrilled at her touch when her arms went around his neck, and clung tightly.
"I'm so afraid," she whispered. "What if I'm losing my gift of sight, and this is the result?"
"I thought we'd talked this out. I can still feel it, Casey. That...heat, the fire that I've felt since...since I became The One. If I'm still The One, you're still my Guide. There is no way that you could be losing your gift. No way it could be taken away from you." As soon as the words hit the air, he bit back a curse. Glanced down at her face. Yep, she'd just latched onto that idea!
"It's because I failed!" she whispered, her eyes going wide.
"It's punishment for failing you!"
"That is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard," he exploded, his frustration fueling his reaction. "There were daemons screwing around with the messages you were supposed to receive! If not for Father William, you wouldn't have gotten as much as you did!"
"I screwed up by not figuring it out in time!" she shouted in return. She pulled away from him, began to pace around the work table. "I could have saved you, but I didn't! Because I didn't figure it out in time!"
He rolled his eyes. No matter how many times he tried to get through to her, she just refused to listen to reason! No matter who tried to talk to her, to assure her that she'd done the best she could...given what she had to work with...she refused to hear; refused to accept the facts of the matter. And, because she refused to listen to anyone, she would continue to beat herself up over something that wasn't her fault. If there was just one person who could get through to her...the solution to the problem smacked him in the face, figuratively if not literally. Although he figured that as long as it had taken him to come to the realization, if the old seer could have slapped him senseless, she probably would have. "Let's go talk to Miss Eloise, shall we?"
"What? Just how is talking to her going to change what's happening?"
"I'm The One. If my Guide is being affected, I think I should know about it. Don't you?" He was 'pulling rank' on her...something he didn't particularly care to do; because doing so just seemed too tyrannical. But, sometimes, it was the only way to make her at least entertain an idea not colored by her low self-esteem.
Talk to Miss Eloise. The thought echoed in her head. Not as Daniel, her Husband, but as The One. Because she, as his Guide, had proven to be...a colossal failure. Talk to Miss Eloise. So that he can find someone to take my place. That particular thought left her gasping with pain.
"Casey?" He was around the table, his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes before she'd taken another breath.
"Oh, I can't live without you! Please don't do this to me," she begged, tears filling her eyes. "Please don't make me leave!"
Blue eyes went wide. "Wh-wha-what? Make you leave? Angel, I just want to get this settled once and for all! If someone is messing around with your gift...again, I need to know about it - so I can protect you," he explained gently.
When he pulled her close, she held as tightly as she could, terrified that somehow, someway, she was about to lose him. That Daniel would no longer need her. That without her gift she would be useless...worthless...to him.
"Close your eyes, Angel," he instructed softly. "Talk to Miss Eloise. And let her know that I want to be in on this conversation."
She nodded against his shoulder. Closed her eyes and felt herself drawn to that place, that dark room with the single incandescent bulb offering what light it could, where she met with her Spirit Guide.
"Miss Eloise?" She turned around, rubbed her hands up and down her arms in the chill of the room. "Miss Eloise?"
"Well, hello, Sunshine!"
Casey hiccupped a sob, then began to cry. "Something's wrong!"
"You don't say?" the old woman replied. "Shh...dry your tears. Tell me what's going on."
It took a moment before she was able to regain control of her emotions. She carefully dried her cheeks, then took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm losing it."
The old seer stared at her charge for a moment. "What in the world are you talking about?"
Casey heard the whisper, nodded her head. "Daniel wants to be here for this. He said that as The One, he deserves to know."
Miss Eloise gave a snort of disbelief. "How do you like that? I go for a little walk, and everything just goes to hell!" She frowned, looked up for a moment, then nodded.
Casey turned around to see Daniel walking toward her, rubbing his thigh. "What happened?"
"Walked into something. Where are we?"
"In the one place where she always sought safety," Miss Eloise said softly.
"In the shadows," he replied immediately. How typical that she would seek a 'safe' place to talk to Miss Eloise. How sad that the shadows were where she sought that safety. How unfair that she should continue to be haunted by the abuse she had suffered as an innocent, defenseless child. He ached to help...to offer the warmth of the sunshine; just as her love, her very presence in his life, had offered him. Taking a deep breath, he tossed about in his mind for a solution. Considering where they were, it should be as simple as just...choosing...the sunshine over the shadows. It was worth a try, he thought. He turned to his Wife, cupped her cheek with his hand. "There's no need to hide, Angel. Not any longer. I'm here. I'll protect you...always."
"I know," Casey whispered.
"Where would you like to be?" Daniel asked gently. Fairly certain he knew what the answer to that question would be.
In an instant, the three of them were standing in a sunny meadow. It was surrounded on all sides by a forest of tall pines. The darkness of that forest became more intense the deeper one went...or even looked...but the meadow itself was warm and full of sunshine. Overhead, the sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue. Tiny white flowers bloomed among green grass. The faint hint of honeysuckle scented the air. And somewhere in the distance a bird was trilling a song of absolute joy.
Daniel couldn't help but feel a bit of smug pride in the fact that he'd known his Wife well enough to know her heart, and had actually been in the position to help her. The trust...and the gratitude...in her green eyes humbled him, even as validation of his own step of faith surrounded him.
"Much better," Miss Eloise said, nodding her white head. "Now, what in the blazes is going on?"
"Casey is convinced that she's losing her gift of sight," Daniel said.
"She's what?" The tiny woman turned to the slender blonde. "Where did you get a crazy notion like that?"
"I haven't been able to give the team an accurate reading in...in months," Casey replied, her arms crossed over her chest. In defiance of the fear she felt.
"Uh huh. Last time I checked, which was right after you all made it back to the SGC after dealing with Kookoo-"
Daniel snickered. Casey had told him that Miss Eloise liked to watch the team. She hadn't said anything directly, but he had the feeling that the old seer watched Casey whenever possible. This was certainly proof of that observation! Apparently Jack's bad habit of renaming everyone and everything was even influencing Beings on the astral plane!
Miss Eloise tipped her head back and grinned up at him. "Well, he'd have to be cuckoo to be planning the things he is! Anyway, seems to me you're doing just fine."
"But I didn't see-" Casey began.
"You saw exactly what happened."
"But I should have been able to warn the team! We should have been able to change the outcome!" Casey argued.
"Says who? You see what you see! And correct me if I'm wrong, but you did warn your team, didn't you?" The old seer waited until Casey gave a reluctant nod of affirmation. "If you're meant to change what you're shown, you will. If not, you deal with what you're about to go through the best that you can. Just like you did!" Miss Eloise insisted.
She glanced at Daniel. He had such an 'I-told-you-so' look on his face that she could hear the words. "What about the nightmare?"
The old seer frowned. Took a quick look around Casey. Was...surprised...at what she saw. Heard the whispered warning. As if she didn't know that, she thought grumpily. "That, Sunshine, is something I can't tell you," she said, holding up a hand when Casey would have interrupted. "I do know this...the fact that you're sensing what you are is...unusual. It...demonstrates...the amount of power involved. When you've figured it out, and you will, you'll understand the power that I'm talking about." What Miss Eloise didn't elaborate on was just where...or from whom...that power was coming from. She chose to say nothing; at the moment all she had were her own suspicions, and no proof whatsoever.
"So what do I do?" Casey asked, sighing softly.
"Keep searching for the answer. You'll find it," the old woman said gently.
Casey rolled her eyes. "I hate that part."
Daniel smiled. "At least we know that the only problem Casey is having is believing in herself."
Miss Eloise cupped Casey's cheek with a gnarled hand. "Sunshine, you're more...skilled...than you realize. Don't let what happened because of those daemons prevent you from moving forward. Don't let them win by default."
Now why hadn't he thought of that ploy? Daniel grumped silently. He could see that she was thinking about what had been said, carefully mulling over the facts of the matter. "Angel, you've never let us down. Never. You're protecting every team that walks through the Stargate. Especially SG-1."
He put his finger on her lips, stopping the protest he knew she was about to voice. "No 'buts', Case. Miss Eloise is right...if you continue to second-guess yourself, if you continue to believe you can't 'see', then you're allowing Dartal and his buddies to win."
She stood straighter. Nodded her head. "Right. It's...I'm..." She lowered her head.
Daniel's finger moved from her lips to curl beneath her chin; raised her head so that she was forced to look at him. "No matter what Helen Webster said to you, it was a lie. Everything that woman said to you...everything...was a lie."
"I know that," Casey said softly.
"Say it," Daniel repeated gently.
"Everything she said is a lie."
"No...everything she said to you was a lie."
"Everything she said...to me...was a lie."
"Again," Daniel insisted.
"Everything she said to me was a lie."
"Believe that, Angel. Because it's the truth."
Miss Eloise nodded approvingly. Now, maybe Casey could move on. The young seer certainly had her work cut out for her. She glanced at Daniel. She could only hope that the two wouldn't harbor so much guilt that it would incapacitate them. Perhaps...She glanced up. Nodded in apparent understanding. "Remember this as well...both of you. What can be done, is done. You alone don't make the decisions. You can only act upon what you know."
Casey frowned. "That is the most confusing gibberish you've come up with yet!"
"I'd say you're spending too much time with Oma Desala," Daniel added.
Miss Eloise gave a loud 'harrumph'. "Not very likely. Just remember what I told you." She looked around the meadow. Then turned to Casey. "I like this place."
She smiled. "Me, too."
"Good. This is where we'll meet from now on. There's no need to hide in shadows, Sunshine."
"Except when we're hiding from the Goa'uld or their Jaffa," she retorted with a cheeky grin.
"You're a smartass," Miss Eloise huffed.
"I keep hearing that," Casey retorted.
"Thank you," Daniel said softly.
"You're welcome," Miss Eloise replied in kind. "Your path is a difficult one. More so for her."
"I know." When Casey frowned slightly, and looked over her shoulder, he glanced around. Felt the burning in his fingertips that he was learning to associate with the presence of Ascended beings. He thought about those whose arrogance had allowed the daemons to become far too powerful, much too dangerous. They were watching...listening. He had no idea if it was a normal occurrence, or if his presence had piqued their interest. He did know that the group called the Ascended Committee seemed to need reminding of the plain, simple facts of life. There was one that he certainly didn't want them to forget. "Together, Casey and I can't be defeated."
"As long as you always remember that, all will be well," the old seer said.
"I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure that we're always together," Daniel replied. His tone held as much warning as his words.
Miss Eloise nodded. The One was learning the rules of the 'game' much quicker than expected. A fact she was certain was causing no small amount of disconcertion for certain beings. She didn't think that that particular group had ever considered that The One would protect the Innocent from whatever threat loomed - no matter from where, or whom, that threat might be. Even if that threat came from Them. With a smug smile, she turned and walked away, fading into nothingness.
Casey opened her eyes. Looked into blue ones that regarded her with such love it took her breath away.
"Told you so," Daniel said immediately.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"Being there. Being you. Loving me."
He smiled. "You're welcome."
"Guess you'd better get to work on those translations. We have to find the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle of a weapon before Ba'al does," she sighed.
"And I need to get to work on the database."
"I really need coffee first."
"I love you," Daniel sighed.
"Me, and coffee," she teased.
"In that order." He dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose. They'd slip to the espresso stand across the road from the main gate, and grab a latte. And when they returned, they'd face the challenges of the day together.
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