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Fragile Balance of Politics
"We got her!" O'Neill announced, the first to emerge from the wormhole. He blinked in surprise to see the 'gate room cleared of the standard security team. The only person waiting anxiously at the bottom of the ramp was Casey. His glance moved upward to see Hammond at the control desk. The rest of the personnel were conspicuously missing.
"The way's cleared to the isolation room." Hammond forestalled the inevitable question from his 2IC for the break in protocol. Curiosity flickered across his face when the stranger strode down the ramp beside Teal'c.
The iciness of the dematerialization process had roused Annika from her stupor. As soon as she realized where she was, she began to struggle. "No! I can't be here! You have to let me go!" She fought against her husband's hold.
"Crap. Here we go again," O'Neill sighed, grabbing at Annika's legs to stop her from bucking free.
Casey could see the panic in the redhead's violet eyes, knew she was trying desperately to find a way to break free, to make another attempt at escaping. What she still couldn't figure out, wouldn't know until she'd had a chance to speak to the psychic, was why she felt such an overpowering need to run.
O'Neill's hand closed around Annika's ankle.
"Child killer," Annika snarled. "You have Charlie's blood on your hands. You may as well have pulled the trigger yourself! You destroyed your family, now you'll be responsible for our deaths too!"
O'Neill visibly blanched at the cruel accusation, but his grip only tightened around her leg. He gestured with his head for them to start moving to the corridor.
"Which is nothing for you, is it, Teal'c?" she spat at the Jaffa trying to hold her other leg steady. "How many people did you torture, maim, and kill to keep your little shol'va secret?"
Gaining no response from Teal'c either, her eyes frantically searched for a new victim. Her gaze landed on Casey, and a new terror crawled through her. "You stupid slut, your meddling has screwed up everything!"
"...stupid slut...screwed up...stupid slut..." The words were like ice water down her spine, cut her to the very core. Every action, everything she had done had been with the intent to help. Casey took a physical step backwards in response, that dark guilt writhing inside her, twisting...squeezing her heart until she thought she'd scream from the pain. Annika was a psychic...she could 'see' aura's. If the redhead thought she was a slut...Another thought pushed past the old pain that continued to burn in her heart. Had she inadvertently made a bad situation worse? What if Annika did have a legitimate reason for running?
Casey's glance darted to her Husband's counterpart. She couldn't imagine him being cruel. But...Sam had said that there could be subtle differences in realities that seemed to be identical. What if...what if the Daniel Jackson of this particular reality wasn't like her gentle archaeologist? What if he abused Annika...beat her, demeaned her? What if Annika's flight from the SGC had been in self-defense? Goddess, what had she done? "...stupid slut...!"
Daniel took one look at his Wife's face and moaned mentally. She was taking every word that Annika had screeched to heart. Damn it...how much damage would this do to her fragile psyche? He'd done what he could to help...Annika was home. His first concern was his Wife. He hurried down the ramp, reached out to pull Casey into the protection of his arms.
Annika watched Daniel, the hatred she felt glowing in her eyes. "You screwed up in your reality so you've come to ruin ours? Why don't you take your useless, kinky little whore home and leave our reality the fuck alone?"
Daniel flinched. If he'd just killed those damned daemons...all of them, this wouldn't be happening. His counterpart wouldn't look like a man teetering on the edge. The alternate Sam and Jack and Teal'c wouldn't look as if they needed a few good nights' sleep. Annika wouldn't be possessed. His own Wife wouldn't be standing here, listening to the verbal abuse, her green eyes wide and full of tears...and guilt. He wrapped Casey in his embrace, doing his best to push down his own guilt...trying to protect her from the words that seemed to echo in the silo.
Casey's shoulders shuddered beneath his arm. He clamped his jaw tightly in an attempt to remain as silent as the counterparts of his own team were doing. He would trust them...for now...and assume that this wasn't normal for the redhead. A glance at his double's face confirmed his assumption. Daniel didn't think Jackson's cheeks could get much paler.
"Carter, get the elevator down here," O'Neill said through gritted teeth.
The blonde bolted ahead, though she wasn't quick enough to avoid Annika's screech at her.
"Sam, you Black Widow! Every lover you've had has died. It's a miracle Jack has survived this long."
Oakey, who had been flittering overhead, could sense the anger and hurt building in her saplings. They didn't fully grasp the control the daemon had of Annika's thoughts. Though the Seventh Level being knew that the team didn't believe that Annika truly meant the cruel words she was firing at them, they did believe that she was independently saying them in an attempt to gain her freedom. She had to step in before they fueled the daemon's power by reacting to the accusations.
Carter slapped at the elevator call button, the psychic's words ringing in her ears. A gentle caress to her mind, and Sam distinctly heard Oakey telling her to 'look'. She turned back to watch her team as they carried the still struggling woman.
What she saw was like a transparent curtain descending over her vision, and an image danced over Annika’s head as she continued to scream at them. The image showed a black shadow sitting at a computer screen. The shadow opened a file labeled Annika’s mind and began running the cursor over the thousands of ‘documents’ highlighting what Carter identified as memories. The shadow searched the documents and when it found one it liked it opened it, changed the font and rewrote it, twisting the memory’s perspective, and then Annika let loose with another hurtful snarl, her words the twisted ones the shadow had created. Sam activated the radio, whispering into the mouth piece. "Is everybody seeing this?"
Slowly they nodded, though they were unaware that they were seeing their own interpretation of what Oakey was showing them. O'Neill saw a shadow fishing in the middle of a school of baitfish, plucking one fish at a time, tossing the small ones back. When it came across a larger fish it swallowed it whole then belched back out a deformed monster to swim in the ocean once again. Jackson was shown a temple wall, the shadow spraying graffiti all over the beautiful glyphs and pictographs, changing them into grotesque, warped translations of what the true meaning was. Teal’c saw the manipulation of Annika’s mind simply as a puppet, the black shadow pulling the strings, making her hurl the insults, fooling her into believing that her mind was coming up with them.
Understanding that the visitors were just as vulnerable to the daemon's words, Oakey gently caressed the minds of the Guide Sapling and The One. Daniel gasped as he watched a beautiful scroll, perfect in every way, ruined by huge blobs and streaks of black ink...a quill moving over the parchment, changing a symbol here, adding a symbol there, until the meaning of the text had been twisted to mean something entirely different.
Casey was shaking as she watched a dark cloud, in the shape of a man, who seemed to hover above Annika. The black form wrapped around the distraught woman, seemed to control her body as it yanked and jerked her legs. It leaned forward, breathed into her mouth, and immediately filth flowed from between her lips; even as she seemed to fight against the stream of hateful words that filled the air.
Oblivious to what her team...and Daniel and Casey...had been shown, Annika continued to hurl abuse, this time focusing on the one person whom she had avoided speaking to until now. "You think you're so smart for deciphering the Stargate? How much death and destruction has happened because you just had to solve the puzzle?"
It was obvious that Jackson was damned near biting his tongue to keep his mouth shut. Instinct told him not to give the daemon the satisfaction of responding, but his anger was growing. His rage wasn't directed at Annika, but at the daemon. He already knew that once his wife realized that she had been manipulated into running away, she would be mortified. But to add this abuse on top of that could be crippling for her. He was barely aware that they had entered the elevator and were quickly traveling up to level twenty-one. What he did notice was that Annika's struggles had lessened to a minor degree.
Jackson glanced at his teammates. Carter had crammed into the elevator with them; Daniel, Casey, and Veta would remain behind due to lack of space; because of the way the men had to manhandle Annika. Four faces remained blank, jaws set stonily. Each of the team doing their best to tune out the hurtful tirade spewing from Annika's mouth.
A A A A A A
Casey glanced up at her Husband. Just as she had felt the draw of the mirror, she needed to be near the isolation room. "We need to be there."
"Let's go," Daniel said, taking her hand. He glanced over his shoulder at Veta. "You should probably come with us."
"Right behind you," Veta replied.
Daniel ran for the stairs that would lead them upwards. The stairwell echoed with the sound of their boots hitting each and every step. He felt as if the slap of leather against the concrete was a slap of a fist against his ribs. Why hadn't he destroyed those damned daemons, like he'd been expected to? Just who the hell did he think he was? He wasn't omnipotent; he had no clue what his actions...or rather, his lack of action...could cause. This god-awful, heartbreaking situation was his fault. Pure and simple. Because he'd refused to do his freaking job! He'd never wanted the task of being The One. For the first time realized the ramifications of his failures...by choice, or by defeat.
All my fault, was the thought that continued to echo in Casey's mind. None of this would be happening if I'd just given Daniel the information he needed! He chose not to destroy the daemons, based on what I told him!
In record time Daniel was shoving open the door for level twenty-one. Racing up the corridor, toward the isolation room. He was The One. If there was a daemon to deal with - one from his reality, escaped because of his lack of action - it was his responsibility to deal with the damned thing.
Casey slid to a halt just inside the room, breathing heavily, Daniel panting slightly beside her.
As soon as Annika saw them, her eyes hardened, and she let out a bellow that had little resemblance to any human sound. She launched herself at Daniel, her hands reaching for him...her intent clear.
Taken completely off guard, Daniel remained frozen in place, watching the violet-eyed beauty as she attempted to get close enough to physically attack him. Daemon, he thought briefly. Something about the situation was already stirring in his mind.
Teal'c managed to snag her around the waist before she was able to reach the stunned archaeologist...but her hands continued to stretch out as if she wanted to scratch out his eyes. Something clicked in the Jaffa's head; Annika Jackson's struggles had lessened whenever the visitors from the alternate reality were not near. "Your presence is exacerbating the situation." His comment was drowned out by a cry of agony from the psychic in his arms, one of her hands going to her head.
O'Neill's heart wasn't the only one that started pounding when a trickle of blood dripped from Annika's nose. Teal'c was right. For whatever reason, Daniel and Casey were making the situation worse. "Everyone with a hocus pocus connection take a wander right now," he ordered. Keeping his back to Annika, but more specifically to the daemon using her, he raised his eyes to the surrounding air, hoping like hell Oakey would take the hint that he meant Her too.
Daniel grabbed Casey's arm, yanked her out of the room. He was breathing hard, but it had nothing to do with his sprint up seven flights of stairs. He didn't stop moving until they were standing in front of the elevator.
"It recognized you," Casey whispered, her eyes wide, her heart pounding with fear.
"Yeah, I noticed," he replied. It hadn't taken a but a moment for that realization to set in. The daemon had taken complete control of the psychic, as it had in the 'gate room. There was more than just anger...he had felt the absolute desperation of the being. The fact that Casey was shaking so hard that it was visible drew his attention to her. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close.
"I'm so sorry...this is all my fault," she whispered.
"No, it's not," Daniel said softly, pressing his lips against the side of her head. "I'm The One, remember?"
"I'm your Guide, Daniel. I screwed up."
This wasn't the time, or the place, to have this conversation. Again. Not that he'd have any more luck getting through to her this time than he'd had in the past. At the moment, there was a daemon in control of his counterpart's wife. And it was up to him to deal with the damned thing.
He pulled up all of his memories of the events of their time on the astral plane, as prisoners of the daemons. Had the rush of emotion that always accompanied thoughts of that battle...wondered again what would have happened had the team failed to break free of the mental blocks the daemons had placed in their minds. Unconsciously tightened his arms around his Wife. Only one daemon had escaped. One daemon. In doing so, he had managed to remain alive. It seemed, however, that coming to a different reality had forced the daemon to come up with a new plan or two. That entity had done a hell of a bang-up job doing that, hadn't he? There was no doubt about it. The daemon was-
"Mibi." He looked down into green eyes. "He's the one who escaped, right?"
She nodded. "He hates you...because you stopped him. A mere mortal, and you prevented him from becoming the god he believed...believes...he is."
"He won't get away this time," Daniel said firmly.
"No, he won't," Casey replied. "We can't let that happen."
"Together, Case. We'll do it...together."
For just that moment, she allowed herself to relax into the safety of his embrace. She needed the comfort only Daniel's arms could offer. To prepare herself for what was yet to come.
"Let's go see what's going on," Daniel said quietly, nodding to where Carter, O'Neill, Teal'c, and Janet, followed by Ferretti and Veta, were moving toward the observation room. "And tell them just who we're dealing with."
Daniel poked his head into the observation room, glanced around warily. Considering what had happened...what had been revealed...he wouldn't be surprised, nor offended, if his company wasn't welcomed. He received nods that told him his presence, and that of his Wife, would be at the very least tolerated.The team was talking quietly, with Veta taking center stage, describing Annika's behavior during her time on the gambling ship. The conversation paused at their arrival.
The look on O'Neill's face let Daniel know that he had immediately picked up that something was wrong. The general wasted no time with idle chitchat. "What's up?"
"Um...we don't know if this makes a difference," the archaeologist said. "But we know who the daemon is."
Carter raised an eyebrow. "You've actually encountered this particular daemon before?"
Casey nodded. "He calls himself Mibi. He was the ringleader of the group of daemons our team fought."
"Is there anything you can tell us of how to remove its influence over Annika Jackson?" Teal'c asked.
Daniel shrugged. "His method of attack is different here. I can only assume that's because it's a different reality; his abilities may be affected here, he might not be as...strong...here as he was in our reality." He paused. "Or he might have changed tactics because his plan didn't work in our reality. He and his minions captured us...took us to the astral plane with the intention to either destroy us, or imprison us there for eternity. We were physically unconscious the whole time...Casey had 'seen' enough that our bodies were returned to the SGC almost as soon as we were knocked out. Once on the astral plane, we were manipulated into believing that we were different people, but all of us had some inkling that something wasn't right."
"Once we began to question the 'world' we were in, the illusion fell apart," Casey added quietly. "We knew we were going to have to face the daemons. Realized what was happening to us. But Annika's totally oblivious to the daemon's presence."
"Okay, so I guess the key is to convince Casper that the daemon is messing with her." O'Neill looked to everyone for a 'yea' or 'nay' to his conclusion. He received nods from all, including Jackson, in the isolation room below, who was hearing the conversation through the ear piece of his radio. A gentle pat on the top of his head told him that Oakey also agreed.
Daniel gave a silent sigh. Until Annika was awake, there was no way to deal with Mibi. He led Casey to the last two empty chairs in the room. He glanced down into the room, where his counterpart lay next to his wife. The fact that they both seemed to be sleeping suggested that either Jackson had gotten through to his wife, or she'd given up the fight. He frowned slightly at the sight of the handcuffs that linked the two together. Contemplating what he knew about the situation, he was fairly certain he'd have done the same thing, if Casey was as determined to run from him as Annika seemed to be to run from her Daniel.
"Right, so, Veta, you were saying?" Jack said, turning his attention to the large man.
As Casey and Daniel settled themselves in the seats, Veta continued his account of Annika's time on the Loft.Conversation tapered off once Veta wrapped up his recount; each of them lost in their own thoughts. Janet's hopeful theory that exhaustion would overcome Annika, now that she had stopped running, proved correct.
"Doctor Fraiser, do you know the whereabouts of Keelah?" Teal'c asked. He had found it puzzling that she had not made an appearance since they had returned.
Janet briefly explained about Casey's premonition that Keelah remain out of sight when Annika returned, leaving out that she had also been included in the warning. "She's talking with the Nox." Her lips twitched. "Apparently Oakey would like to get to know the new sapling who has entwined with your heart."
The Jaffa gave nod, and he spoke to the entity who was both everywhere and nowhere at once. "Great One, when you have finished your discussion, could you please let Keelah know I am thinking of her." He took the gentle breeze against his cheek as a yes.
Casey leaned against her Husband. She'd listened as Veta told how sad Annika had been, how desperate to protect the people she cared so much about...to protect her soul mate. She rubbed the bridge of her nose absently. She was tired...so much had happened in such a short amount of time that her mind was spinning. And there was still the problem 'at home' that needed to be dealt with as well. "I wonder how Jack is doing," she said softly.
"I don't know, Angel," Daniel replied. "Hopefully he's okay."
Eager for a distraction from waiting, O'Neill' perked up at the mention of his name. Guessed it wasn't him they were talking about. "What's wrong with me...him...your Jack?"
Casey sighed. "He has a bad case of Mini-Jack syndrome."
Daniel couldn't help but grin. It was an amusing description, and fit the situation perfectly. "From what evidence we have, he was abducted, and regressed to about fifteen years old. We don't think the regression was intentional, but whatever the cause, it's killing him."
"Oy," Jack scowled. "Been there, done that. So don't want the Loki t-shirt."
Casey's eyes lit up. "Really? How did you..." She frowned, realized she was asking the wrong person, and turned to look at Carter. "How did you fix him?"
At that moment, the speaker overhead came to life; Janet was being paged to Hammond's office. The doctor rose to her feet. "I'm guessing he wants an update."
Every eye in the observation room looked down at the couple who was sleeping in the isolation room below. The 'update', they all knew, wouldn't be much. Mibi was still very much in control of Annika. She was in danger...and they all sensed that time was running short.
Veta had only been listening with half an ear to the conversation. He would admit that when Myst...Annika, he mentally corrected himself...had drunkenly told of her team's accomplishments, he had taken it with a grain of salt. In the short time he'd been here, he had begun to realize that Annika had actually downplayed them. He studied the sleeping couple below. Daemon or no daemon, he was convinced that his plan to reunite them was the right thing to do. There was a serenity to Annika's face that he had never seen before; that he knew in his heart was brought on by the simple fact that she was in her husband's arms. And despite the threat of the daemon still hanging over his head, Jackson also had that same look of peace. His gaze shifted from the sleeping couple to the other Daniel and his wife. Now those two were something he had never even considered possible. When he'd demanded to come with SG-1, he'd had no idea that his whole concept of the universe would be turned on its head. Daemons and alternate realities...it all seemed so commonplace for the people sitting around him, who were now chatting about abductions, and people being 'regressed' in age, of all things.
He hadn't meant to stare at the blonde seer, but the casual movement of her husband, sliding his arm around her shoulders possessively, brought his thoughts back to the observation room. Veta recognized the male action of 'claiming' his mate. He couldn't resist having a bit of fun...inadvertently interrupting any continuation of the previous conversation. "Your wife is safe from me...you on the other hand..." he paused, his gaze moving over Daniel's frame as if it were a caress. "You are just sex on legs, aren't you?"
Casey nearly gaped at the man. Then couldn't fight the smile that spread over her face. Yep, that was a very apt description of her Stud Muffin!
Daniel felt as if he'd been sucker punched. 'Sex on legs'? Was this guy joking? And why did it seem that he was the recipient of so damned much gay male attention? Did he put off vibes or something that said 'Fuck with me'? Without realizing it, he had shifted slightly, putting Casey more firmly between him and the alien, using her as a shield from Veta's 'predatory' gleam.
It took monumental effort to keep a straight face at the archaeologist's reaction. "Don't suppose there's a third Daniel Jackson around here who bats for gay pride?" Veta asked innocently.
"Um...no," Daniel's voice was slightly strangled.
"Pity," Veta shrugged. "Just thought I'd check." He tossed a cheeky grin at Casey.
Casey found the man's mischievousness contagious. "You could try a different reality. But if your counterpart is alive there you'd only have a couple of day's...bliss...before you had to come back."
Veta raised an eyebrow. Now there was a concept he'd hadn't thought of. Wondered if the other...'hims'...were as straight as he was gay.
"But between you and me, a little taste would be better than none at all," Casey whispered conspiratorially. She frowned slightly. Thought about the agony of making love to Daniel, knowing that she'd never be allowed to do so again. "On the other hand...it could leave you with such a bad case of want you'd never be satisfied again."
Daniel had to fight to keep his jaw from dropping open. It was one thing to speculate that there might be, somewhere out there, a Daniel Jackson who was gay. It was totally different to hear that...discussion...being carried on between his Wife and a gay man. Who kept looking at him like he was an item on the daily menu. And while he was secretly delighted to know that he pleased her when they made love, having his...skills...discussed in the manner in which they were left him more than a little disconcerted.
Veta could see that Daniel was both aghast at his wife's suggestion, and embarrassed by her praise. "You're one lucky lady."
"And I'm well aware of that fact." Casey said softly. "I thank the Goddess every day for bringing Daniel into my life."
Veta's gaze, which was filled with merriment, flicked to the others in the room. Carter was biting her lower lip to stop from grinning. Interestingly, Teal'c seemed just as amused as the women. Ferretti was trying to make himself as small as possible in the corner. O'Neill wasn't quite as subtle in his reaction as Daniel had been. He grabbed Carter's hand, lifting it to clearly show the diamond ring on her finger. Having seen the matching rings on Annika and Daniel's fingers, Veta could only assume the adornment was a sign of commitment.
The general felt like a deer in the headlights; he much preferred the Mini-Me distraction to this new turn of conversation. "Hey, I'm so straight you could use me for a ruler."
Carter decided to rescue the three men who were doing an obvious job of freaking out. "As you might have guessed, homosexuality isn't really accepted in the military here." Decided to add a friendly warning, for she didn't want Annika's friend to be unnecessarily targeted while he was on base. "Those who are 'outed'...let's just say that they're subjected to prejudice."
Veta smiled. Touched that she had felt the need to give the warning. "Do I look like someone who gets teased because I like ass instead of tit?"
Casey couldn't hold back her giggle. "I just can't see anyone teasing you. Can't see too many men turning you down, either!"
"Well, aren't you a sweet little boost to the ego," Veta grinned. He was gay, but he could flirt with the opposite sex with the best of them.
The banter was too much for O'Neill, who was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Veta, who looked as tough as they come, was gay. "I didn't think you liked girls!"
Veta's ingrained sense of humor wouldn't be denied, even as he had the thought that in his line of business, the distinction between 'girls' and 'women' was important. "I have been known to swing both ways when the right person comes along. And Casey's not a girl. She looks like a woman to me."
"A happily married woman," Daniel said, his voice almost a growl at the unspoken implication that Casey just might be 'the right person'.
"Girls, women...semantics. You know what I mean," O'Neill replied, edging closer to the door.
Casey ducked her head. She could sense that Veta was simply teasing. He was thoroughly enjoying the fact that O'Neill and Daniel were damned near panicked, both searching desperately for a way to excuse themselves from the alien's company. "You're pretty good at boosting egos yourself, Mr. Veta."
From his seat, Veta gave a short bow to Casey. It was becoming all but impossible not to laugh out loud. "Why thank you, gorgeous. If anyone could turn me completely straight, I have no doubt it would be you." He grabbed Casey's hand, placed a playful kiss on her knuckles.
Casey smiled. "What a sweet thing to say, Mr. Veta! Thank you!"
"And it's just 'Veta'. We're pretty casual on the Empyrean Loft."
"Of course...Veta. You can call me Casey."
"With pleasure," he replied, deliberately adding a sultry hint to his voice.
Daniel narrowed his eyes. Just what the hell was Casey up to? Did she actually believe the line of crap this guy...this gay guy...was laying on her? His glance went back to Veta. Who was smirking at him. Don't think so, asshole. Make one move toward my Wife, and I don't give a damn who you are, I'll take you down!
"Jacksons, how about I get the Mini-Me report for you?" O'Neill by this time had successfully skulked to the door.
"Yeah, good idea," Daniel replied, on his feet in an instant. He dragged Casey along with him...for protection, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
Ferretti watched the 'mighty warriors' of SG-1 hotfoot it out of the room. He was pretty sure Veta was messing with them, at least as far as the man's 'attraction' to the SG-1 members went. But it was always good to let a guy know where he stood. "You just keep your eyes away from the Doc and we're good."
Veta chuckled. "Relax. I was just pulling their leg. I don't pursue happily married 'anybodies'...and I'm a hundred percent homosexual. Are you married per chance?"
"Nope, but it's a possibility in the cards." Ferretti got to his feet. "Now if you don't mind, I'm going to do something manly, like cleaning my gun."
Veta fought back the automatic quip of innuendo that comment conjured up. The major's retreating figure signaled the opportunity to finally let loose with the laughter that was bubbling inside him. He really did love homophobes. They were such easy marks.
Carter's chuckle joined his. Her sapphire eyes met his and he could read the silent 'thank you' for giving a bit of levity to what had been, so far, a very stressful day.
His returning smile was warm, then he raised an eyebrow at the warrior who had remained silent all this time. "You're not worried?"
Teal'c kept his expression neutral. "Should I be?"
"Depends," Veta shrugged. "Would you attempt to brain me if I said your ass is cute?"
"It would just be a statement of fact," Teal'c replied, his cheek twitching. "I have it on good authority from Keelah that my ass is indeed cute."
Veta blinked, then another laugh of genuine amusement escaped. "Damn, is everyone partnered off in this place?"
Carter, still chuckling, replied. "Annika's made it her mission to find a love match for everyone."
Laughter tapered off, the comment inadvertently snapping them back to the current situation. All eyes turned back to the window, and to the couple who slept fitfully in the room below.
A A A A A A
To say that he was angry was an understatement; that he was gripped with fear more so. How his plan had gone so drastically wrong in so short a time was a mystery that he had yet to fathom. But that was the least of his problems. That the SG-1 of this reality, and those of his own birth place, had found him was pretty much irrelevant. Mibi, having no intention of being a martyr for his own cause, had devised a contingency plan for just this kind of situation. Having dealt with SG-1 before, he knew their infernal luck could wreak havoc on the best laid plans. His backup plan had been simple. He would simply leave the seer he had spent many joyous weeks playing with...leave her to face the aftermath of what he had made her do. Leave it up to her to try to explain why she had felt compelled to abandon Jackson...the unwavering conviction that would begin to dissipate as soon as his influence was removed, making the dreams she was positive were visions, seem like a pitiful excuse. It wasn't ideal, for he knew that every Jackson possessed the most annoying of attributes, that of a forgiving heart, especially for those he loved. But it would be a thorn in their relationship, one that could take a long while to remove. At least that was what he had thought - until now.
Something had changed in the archaeologist since Mibi had seen the seed of hatred take root on the planet of the assassination attempt. Rather than fester and grow as it should have, it had withered. Perhaps if he had tried to check on the progress of Jackson's emotional state he would understand how the man's love had increased and not waned. But he had been having way too much fun reveling in the misery of Annika and he had assumed it was not necessary.
Hindsight was a cruel mistress. For if he had tried at any time over the past two weeks to leave the psychic, he would have discovered the problem he was now faced with. He could have worked out a solution before finding himself trapped in a room with his mortal enemy outside. It never occurred to the daemon that while he had been compelling Annika to run, he was being subjected to an even subtler compulsion than he was exerting; one that was fed into the pleasure center of his mind that made him hungry to not miss even a moment of the torment his victim was going through. A compulsion that was unwittingly being sent by the subconscious mind of Mibi's victim herself; the process of which ironically she had learned from Mibi's manipulation of her.
When he had felt the ripple of rage of the Beings he had befuddled on the Nox planet, Mibi had cringed in terror, and self-preservation had kicked in. He wasn't fool enough to think that he could survive a direct confrontation with the Beings, even a daemon knew his limits, and he had intended to revert to his contingency plan. He had gathered the necessary force of will to open a portal to another reality; however, when he had tried to fly through it, he had literally been snapped back. Knowing it would only be a matter of time before the Beings, now free of his influence, would locate him, he had tried to rouse Annika, screaming through her mind to wake up and leave; his panicked intent to find a portal that the psychic could use to take herself, and thus him, to another reality. The universe was dotted with many such devices, thanks to the Ancients having left their experiments and technology intact; one of which he had sensed nearby when SG-1 had dragged Annika back kicking and screaming.
Abject terror had filled him when he had sensed the Being on the ship, which had turned to stunned disbelief to be confronted with SG-1, and now he was trapped and annoyingly deaf to anything that was happening beyond the walls he was enclosed in. He could only assume that The One and The Guide had somehow devised some sort of shield after their previous experience with him and his kind, and had passed that technology onto this reality's SG-1. He had also sensed the Being on base, though he was unsure if the mortals were aware of its presence. None of them had mentioned it that he had heard. He was also pretty sure that the Being was no longer near. There was only residual 'dust' within the room, but that was no more than what was littered around the rest of the universe. He presumed that since The One was here, the Being had withdrawn for him to deal with the situation. The higher beings of Mibi's home reality were known to palm off certain tasks to The One, and Mibi had no reason to think that this wasn't true in all realities. He had escaped The One before, he was confident he could do so again.
His one obstacle was how to rid himself of the seer. And he had to do it before she regained her strength. Even now, after just a few minutes of being back with her team, back with Jackson, he could feel the walls of deception he had so carefully built being weakened by the vines of love, determination, and support from the humans. Shoving aside the panic gnawing at him, Mibi began scheming.
A A A A A A
O'Neill led the way to his office, half expecting some smartass quip from either one of the Jacksons about him actually knowing the location. "So, you have a Mini-Me running around?"
"A very annoying Mini-Me," Daniel replied, his cheek twitching. "I'm sure your teammates could commiserate."
"Ha ha. You're just a laugh a minute, aren't you?" Jack groused. He paused, then looked sideways at the couple next to him. Hell, they didn't know about Mini-Me! Not the cloning part, anyway. So, would it be kinder to hear it from 'strangers'? Or should he tell them that he was unable to locate the folder concerning the mission? Surely their Doc would be figuring it out soon.
Casey was watching the man who was identical to the Jack she cared for. The Jack she trusted. "There's something wrong," she said softly.
O'Neill started. He'd momentarily forgotten that Casey was every bit as good at that hocus pocus stuff as Casper. Started to deny it. Who am I kidding? She already knows something's hinky "Yeah, there is."
Daniel and Casey exchanged worried glances as O'Neill sorted through files in one of the tall filing cabinets in his office. Daniel had always wondered if there was actually anything in the damned things...or at least...those in his Jack's office. It seemed, however, that there was. The two Jack's were identical in every way. Most of the time, his mind added, as images of the teenaged Jack O'Neill danced in his memory.
Handing the thick folder to the twin of his own archaeologist, O'Neill watched the guarded look that filled those familiar blue eyes.
Feeling as if he were about to read his own execution orders, Daniel flipped open the folder. Scanned the contents of the summary. One word seemed to jump off the page at him. He barely heard Casey's gasp of disbelief beside him, as she read the report as well. "This is a joke, right?" Please let this be a case of Jack's lousy timing and penchant for equally bad jokes, he thought desperately.
"Would we joke about an Asgard science drop out not putting the pieces of me together properly?" Jack quipped.
"It might not be true for our reality," Casey said softly.
O'Neill shrugged. "Maybe not. But...since everything else up to the point where Daniel went all glowy-jellyfish is the same...I'm betting that it is."
When it rains, Daniel thought wearily, it pours. "Guess we should let them know we're okay. And about...this." He held the file up.
O'Neill nodded. "You know the way."
It was obvious that he wanted to get back to his team, to be nearby should Annika, or her Daniel, need anything. "Right," Daniel murmured. He put his arm around Casey's shoulders, led her toward the elevator. His mind was spinning. It was just too much...way too much to for one damned day.
A A A A A A
Casey leaned against the wall of the elevator, let her head drop back and rest on the metal sheeting. Wasn't sure just how much more she could take. The emotions that churned through her, had been boiling inside her for days now, had her near the point of physical exhaustion. What she had read in the file hadn't even sunk into her brain yet...her thoughts still in the 'gate room of the alternate SGC. When Annika had seen her standing there...
Daniel had let his own head drop back, his emotions in as much turmoil as those of his wife. God, what a lousy day it had been so far! The best thing...the only good thing to happen...was that Annika was back at the SGC. She wasn't 'home'...not yet. With luck, she soon would be. He figured he understood what his counterpart was going through, he'd been through it himself, a time or two. At least Casey hadn't been screaming her anger...her hatred...at him, and everyone around them, when she'd been returned to the base. She hadn't remembered him. Somehow, as heartbreaking as her failure to recognize him had been, he had the feeling it was the better of the two.
They both hesitated for a few seconds when the elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
Her arms were around her slender waist as they walked, her head down, her long hair hiding her face from view. Tears stood in her green eyes as she replayed, again and again, the twisted features of the woman she called friend. Heard over and over the hurtful, vile things that Annika had hurled at her, and at Daniel, her eyes glowing with rage; spittle nearly dripping from her chin as she screamed...
"You stupid, slut, your meddling has screwed up everything!...stupid slut...meddling...screwed up...stupid slut...stupid slut...screwed up everything..."
The words hurt, and hurt deeply. Words the psychic never would have uttered if she hadn't been controlled...infested...by Mibi. And that situation, she sighed, was her fault. She had failed to let Daniel know that Mibi, of all of the daemons, had to be destroyed. Her inability to interpret what she had heard - what she had felt - had led to her hesitation. As a result, Mibi had escaped. Only to arrive in this reality. The daemon had wreaked havoc in Annika and her Daniel's lives. Had brought such sorrow and heartache. All my fault, she thought miserably.
"I should have killed him when I had the chance," Daniel muttered, more to himself than to his Wife.
Casey's head came up. "What?"
"Mibi. I should have killed him the minute I knew who he was...what he was."
Her eyes went wide. "I'm the one who failed! I failed you! I didn't understand...I hesitated. It's my fault he was able to get away!"
He looked into green eyes so full of misery that his own heart twisted in pain. "Oh, Angel!" Glancing around, Daniel took her arm, gently tugged her into the nearest room. Which was, he realized, as he gave it a cursory examination, his counterpart's office. He recognized most of the artifacts that were displayed...or strewn on the shelves. The location of the office was an interesting difference in the two realities, his mind numbly acknowledged.
"I'm so sorry," Casey whispered, the tears she had struggled to hold in check sliding down her pale cheeks.
Daniel dropped the folder onto the desk; cupped her face between his palms, used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Casey. I'm The One. I knew what I had to do. Instead, I threw a sanctimonious fit, refused to do what I was supposed to do."
She shook her head slightly. "You were being the man you are...which is exactly why you were chosen to be The One. I'm your Guide, Daniel. It's up to me to give you all of the information you need, so that you can make the right decision. I failed you."
"You have never failed me, Angel," he said softly. "You told me that I had to destroy the daemons. I knew that Mibi was their...leader. But I stood there, arguing with...well, whoever I was arguing with. And that allowed Mibi the chance to escape. If I had just killed that daemon, I could have focused on Mibi. Then none of this," he glanced around the room, "would have happened."
"You did exactly what you thought was right, because I didn't give you enough...didn't warn you," Casey argued.
"I'm The One, Casey," Daniel replied. "The fault is ultimately mine."
A shiver moved over her as the burden of her guilt settled more firmly on her slender shoulders. "I'm so sorry," she repeated.
He wrapped her in his embrace. She would cling to this 'failure' for a long damned time, he had no doubt about that. It would eat at her, hurt her...and he was completely to blame for allowing Mibi to live...to escape. "No, Angel, I'm sorry," he whispered.
The aura of remorse that surrounded the two, that weighed their hearts down, was heavy indeed. So heavy, that it hung darkly around them; their pain visible to any who were capable of seeing it.
Daniel took a deep breath. He and Casey had scanned the report he once again held in his hand. He'd not read the details. But he'd seen enough. One word had changed the entire situation. How in the hell was he going to explain this to...the kid? "Come on, Angel. We need to tell the team what's going on."
She nodded. Ferretti had informed them, as they had emerged from O'Neill's office, that their own teammates were waiting impatiently by the mirror. No doubt Jack would be nine kinds of pissed off...her breath caught in her throat. Jack! Oh, goddess, how much more screwed up could this day get?
Daniel took Casey's hand and led her back into the corridor, toward the storage room where the Quantum Mirror waited, their steps laden with the turmoil of emotions that were nearly suffocating.
He hesitated when he walked through the doorway, saw the faces of his worried friends peering at him through the mirror. Casey stopped beside him, slipped her arm around his waist, the movement intended to offer comfort, and her support. His fingers tightened around the mission report in his hand. God, how could he tell Jack - Young Jack, his brain insisted - about...this?
The Marines nodded, and discreetly slipped into the hallway, giving the team the privacy to speak in.
With a deep breath, Daniel stepped closer to the mirror. Still managed to
remain closer to the door than to the portal that led to his own reality.
"Hello, yourself. Would you like to tell me what's going on?" Jack demanded immediately.
"Little problem. One that originated there," Daniel replied, motioning toward his own reality.
"We're staying until it's all...over," Casey said softly.
Jack studied the slender blonde. She looked like she'd been dragged through hell and back. She'd been looking tired...but now...haunted. She looked haunted. He nodded sharply. "A few details would be nice."
"Mibi," Daniel said simply.
Jack shook his head. "I'd ask how, but I don't think I want to know...I suppose this is why you went jumping through this thing?" he asked Casey, motioning to the mirror.
"Not exactly," Casey replied. She explained to her teammates all that had transpired since her arrival, and the reason she had jumped into an alternate reality in the first place. Daniel filled them in on his part of the mission to retrieve Annika, with Casey adding tidbits about what she and Oakey had been able to do.
That no one asked who Oakey was bespoke of their focus on the two members of the team who remained on 'wrong side' of the mirror. "Are we getting any blame for this?" Young Jack inquired. His meaning was clear...'Are you in danger of being arrested...of being held prisoner? Should we be planning a rescue mission?'
"None, at least, not that we've heard," Daniel replied. He shifted slightly when O'Neill brushed past him as he walked into the room, glancing at him curiously, then toward the mirror. "Jack...um...there's something you need to know," Daniel said quietly, the folder in his hand weighing it down almost as much as the information contained within was weighing on his heart. He glanced at the counterpart of the man who was his best friend. "And...um...Jack, here, is going to tell you all about it."
O'Neill shot the archaeologist a glare. "You did it again!"
"Did what?" Daniel asked, genuinely confused.
"You palmed this little...task...off when that," he pointed at Young Jack, "happened here."
"It wasn't me," Daniel protested.
"You, him, all the same," O'Neill muttered.
"At least I'm consistent," he couldn't help retort.
The general rolled his eyes. There was no doubt in his mind that every Daniel Jackson in every reality was just as annoying as his own. This version of Daniel was case and point to that 'consistent' little fact. "You're his best friend."
Daniel took a deep breath. Yes, he was Jack's best friend. His Jack. How in the hell was he going to share this particular tidbit of information with a...teenager...who was in no way prepared to hear what he had to say?
O'Neill could see the unease in familiar blue eyes. With a sigh, he stepped closer to the mirror. Motioned for his...counterpart...to do the same.
Young Jack frowned as the man, who looked like he was supposed to look, visibly struggled to find the words to say whatever it was that needed to be said. He moved warily, edging a bit closer to the mirror; glanced over his shoulder. Sam and Teal'c had stepped back, discreetly trying to offer the two O'Neill's as much privacy for the conversation as possible. Radar and Daniel had done the same thing, hovering near the door, watching anxiously.
"Uh...well...you're not...um...You're not me,"O'Neill said.
"Duh. I'm me."
Shaking his head, the colonel blew out a sigh. "No. You're not him. You're you."
"Huh? Look, I might not look like myself at the moment, but I'm still Colonel Jack O'Neill. Just spit it out already."
"Sorry, kid," O'Neill replied sadly. "You're not Jack O'Neill. Oh... part of you is. In a way, I suppose."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Young Jack demanded, frustration in his voice and expression.
"Seems that Loki, the Asgard clown who took...Jack O'Neill...graduated last in his class at Asgard U. He cloned you. You're...you are a copy of Jack O'Neill. And...um...well...the copy didn't turn out clear. There are a few fuzzy spots. Kind of screwed you up."
It felt as if every bit of oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Had been pulled from his lungs as well. He could only stare at brown eyes that were identical to his own...or would be if he was himself. "What?" he managed to croak.
"The real Jack O'Neill is up there on Loki's ship somewhere," O'Neill said, pointing upward, toward the ceiling of the room in the reality on the other side of the mirror. "You're a copy. A clone."
"You're full of shit."
O'Neill turned around, held out his hand. Daniel put the mission folder in it without a sound. "Here. Read it for yourself," he said quietly.
Carefully taking the folder that poked into the room through the mirror, Young Jack looked over at Daniel and Casey. They were looking particularly worried. With a glance and a subtle nod, he encouraged Sam and Teal'c to join him. The three of them spent several silent moments going over the mission report.
"Oh, God," Sam whispered.
No, this wasn't right! This couldn't be happening! He shook his head. That...report...was just as faulty as the reality it had come from. No matter what typed suppositions and theories were in that folder, those reports weren't necessarily true for this reality. No matter what his...counterpart...said, it wasn't true. He didn't believe it. He knew who the hell he was, even if no one else seemed to accept the facts of the matter.
"Crap, something's happening with Casper," O'Neill muttered. He turned and ran from the room.
"What was that about?" Young Jack asked watching his double race through the door.
"Annika has been...possessed...by Mibi," Daniel said. "We can't come back until it's resolved, one way or another."
Jack wondered if he should raise the alarm, especially given the intel about Mibi. If that damned daemon decided to make a mad dash for home, chances were he'd head straight for Radar...especially if he'd taken up residing in seers married to Daniel Jackson. "You gonna use cool blue fireballs on it?"
"Actually, I don't think that will be necessary."
Before the archaeologist could explain about his counterpart in this reality, Casey interrupted. She'd been staring at the doorway for the few seconds since Jack had bolted through it, trying to figure out the reason for the annoying poking in the back of her mind. "Daniel, I don't know why, but we have to be with them." She pointed to the floors above.
Daniel saw the worry reflected in her green eyes, and reached for her hand. He glanced through the mirror at his teammates, who were still reeling from the revelation that Jack was a clone. Hated to leave them right now, but he didn't have a choice. They had to see the battle of the daemon through to the end. "We'll be back." He dashed through the door, tugging Casey after him. "Any more details?"
Casey was about to reply in the negative when they both heard Oakey's voice reverberate in their minds.
"Guide sapling, you are needed." Oakey had been puzzling over the incident in the alternate reality that she had gently taken from their minds. Just as the daemon had attacked her sapling, she had realized what the anomaly had been. "The daemon is connected to you as well."
"What?" A shiver ran through the blonde at the mere idea.
"I can only assume it was an inadvertent mistake from your previous experience with him. In his haste to escape he left a...hook...in your mind. It must be removed before I can smite him."
"How do we get rid of it?" Daniel asked, hitting the elevator button for the second time in the vain attempt to get it to arrive quicker. His assumption was that the hook was similar to the 'wall' that Dartal had erected in Casey's mind. She'd had no problems ridding herself of that mental block.
"I can do that without harm to your mate, Chosen sapling," Oakey assured. "But not until after Mibi's influence has been removed from my sapling."
"Okay," Casey said slowly, heaving a sigh of relief when the doors finally opened. Practically leapt into the car with Daniel a hair's breadth behind. "I take it that I need to be near the daemon to remove this hook?"
"Yes. I need you as close as possible to ensure every trace of the daemon's essence is removed. However you must time your entry precisely. If the daemon sees you too soon, I fear it will react badly."
"Just let us know when to go in," Daniel replied.
"We?" Casey balked at the suggestion of Daniel putting himself at risk needlessly. "Daniel, you don't have to be there...right, Oakey?"
Daniel cut in, not giving the Seventh Level Being a chance to answer. "You think I'd let you go into a room with a daemon...alone?"
Despite the urgency of the situation, Oakey couldn't help but smile at the protective flare-up of emotions from the couple. "Your strength will be of assistance, Chosen sapling."
Before he could question the use of the word 'strength', the elevator doors were opening on level twenty-two; and the sound of raised, desperate voices echoed down the hall. Giving Casey's hand a squeeze, they silently crept toward the isolation room.
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