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 Fragile Balance of Politics


Chapter 11

Casey cringed as she listened. Annika was still fighting...was completely convinced that her presence at the SGC meant the deaths of those she cared for the most...her husband and her teammates. There just seemed to be no end of the chaos and heartache the daemons had...were...causing. Or rather, one daemon. Mibi. The most arrogant of them all. The leader, perhaps of the entire Ascended rebellion, if her suspicions were correct. If only she hadn't failed Daniel when the team had been captured and taken to the astral plane to face him and his minions!

Daniel flexed his fingers...the tips burning slightly. If he hadn't been such a total ass about destroying the daemons who had run amok in his own reality, this wouldn't be happening here, and now...

She could sense the struggle between Annika and Mibi. Began to repeat the protective chant that Teal'c had taught her, the words comforting as she silently spoke them again and again.

When green eyes widened, Daniel put his arms around her. "I'm right here, Angel," he whispered.

"Cold," she whispered in return. "So very cold."

She was shivering in his arms. When she jerked slightly, her eyes going slightly unfocused, Daniel forced his panic down. "Casey?"

"He knows we're here."

His jaw moved forward slightly. "Bring it on," he muttered. He concentrated his attention on the door to the isolation room. If Mibi was going to escape, he'd try to do so by 'jumping seers'. He'd nail the Ascended bastard to the wall before he could touch Casey.

A primal scream had her covering her ears with her hands. The momentary look of confusion on Daniel's face let her know that he hadn't heard the sound. The shivers that had moved over her slender frame morphed into the shakes as the battle between the psychic and the daemon continued. Casey could feel Mibi's panic, the desperation. "Oh, goddess," she whispered, when she felt the tug in her mind. Her eyes reflected her own panic when they swung from the isolation room to the blue eyes of her Husband. "He knows!"

Daniel was about to ask just what it was that Mibi knew when Casey pressed her fingers against the side of her head. "Not my Wife, you don't," he growled, looking around fervently, trying to catch sight of the daemon. He was already calling up the power that resided within him.

Casey felt a gentle touch against her mind, and the tugging ceased. The cold that had flooded her dissipated as well. "It's over. Oakey has him," she said softly.

Oakey's voice echoed softly in their minds. "I must return this parasite to the higher planes of its own reality. You must bear witness to the daemon's demise."

Daniel nodded his understanding.

Casey cocked her head sideways, hearing the 'echo' of the message Oakey had sent to her 'saplings'. Different in nature...apparently Daniel's presence was required. But Annika and her SG-1 would be allowed to witness what happened as well. They sure as hell deserved to see what was about to transpire, she thought, giving a slight shiver.

Hesitantly, still not certain of the welcome they would...or wouldn't...receive, Daniel stepped into the isolation room, Casey's fingers wrapped tightly around his. Annika and his counterpart looked like hell...but there was peace in their eyes that had been missing before. The rest of the team, and the beautiful dark-skinned woman he had realized was Teal'c's lover in this reality, looked exhausted as well.

The Seventh Level Being's caress felt like a gentle breeze on their faces, making them blink. When their eyes opened the world they were standing in began to fade into a mist. "I am on the threshold of reality," Oakey's voice softly informed them.




The rustle of leaves was the only warning they had that Oakey was about to make her move. In a blink they sensed more than saw, the Being shed the semblance of the kind, benevolent Matriarch she had contentedly existed as for eons. When she crossed over the threshold, she entered as the Seventh Level Being - Protector of the balance of Life - that she was.

Casey had reached automatically for Daniel, was comforted to feel the strength of his arm beneath her fingers, even as his tightened slightly around her other hand.

Oakey's entrance, which resounded with the equivalent of a sonic boom on the higher planes of existence, caused quite a flurry of activity. Much to the amusement of the all the SG-1 observers, three Ascended beings appeared before the 'rumble' through the universe had tapered off.

"Why are you here?" the oldest of the 'greeters' asked coldly. The other two tried not to stare at the 'visitor'.

Without the constraints of a mortal body, a higher being's size in its natural form tended to be based on the amount of power it could wield. The more power it had, the larger it was. Normally, unconcerned with 'boasting' appearances, most of the beings, regardless of their level of existence, used an unpretentious form such as a human body. Oakey, however, had no intention of maintaining that 'courtesy'. She towered over the Ascended beings, and while she had restrained her size to a certain degree, the pearly white glow that exuded from her 'body' told them just how powerful she was. Accustomed to the form of a tree, she had adopted the bark she was most comfortable in, though her trunk had blossomed into a female head and torso and splintered into arms and legs. Her hair was a mass of vines that trailed down her back and rippled with a life of their own, each strand capable of independent movement should She need it. On her left side, was a bundle of vines covered in thorns and briars, which held the daemon in place. On her right was a bundle of eight vines, with a blossom on the end of each, which they guessed correctly were the 'portals' Oakey had created for them to look through. One of the eight blossoms was a pale shade of blue, which represented The One.

"I am here to correct the heinous errors that your Protectors have made," Oakey replied with a snort of disdainful disbelief. It didn't even take a glance for Her to know that these weeds were nothing more than lackeys, despite having positions on the Ascended Committee of this realm. The very air around her vibrated with her rage. A being with unlimited power arrives out of nowhere and they send three mere Ascended, who could do nothing but cause an itch in her bark? She flicked a vine at them. "Scurry off and fetch Those who are responsible for allowing this menace to roam free, or I will leave no star or nova unturned until I find them myself."

The three, who had the appearance of elderly women, exchanged frightened glances, then they vanished.

Oakey tapped her foot impatiently. Irked at the initial attitude of the trio. Weeds thinking that they're oaks, she grumped.

"This is gonna be a good show," O'Neill quipped, resisting the urge to rub his hands together in glee; he still wasn't confident that he wouldn't drop like a stone if he moved. It was nice for a change to not be the ones doing the ass-whipping. "We should have popcorn."

Casey couldn't help but giggle at both Oakey's and O'Neill's comments. "Our Jack's going to be so bummed that he missed this."

The remark drew Oakey's attention. "Apologies, that I did not think of that." She paused. "I have no connection to your teammates...a verbal link must be made before I can safely project images to their minds. Would they be offended if they received only an aural projection?"

"I don't think they would be." Daniel replied, stifling a chuckle. They'd probably think they were going nuts, but he doubted that they'd find it offensive. It then occurred to him that Oakey hadn't made a 'verbal link' before she had 'updated' him on events when he'd first stepped through the mirror. Must be that whole Protector thing, he mused.

Almost immediately Oakey replied to the thought. "You are different, Chosen sapling. We are linked on an entirely different level." She paused. When she had created the flower viewing portals she had intentionally made them only one way, so that her saplings could see without the alternate reality aware of their voyeurism. Primarily she did this to give, Annika particularly, a sense of 'normalcy'; for the experience would be similar to the modified Goa'uld device she used for her visions. The only difference...there would not be the emotional transference that so often accompanied her visions, something she knew Annika would be grateful for right now. However, since Oakey was basically 'invading' The One's garden, she thought it was only right that He be allowed to play a more active role should He desire. "Chosen sapling, should you object to my methods, please do not hesitate to speak up..." She gave a sheepish sigh. "Today I fear my emotions may get the better of me."

"They'll be able to hear me?" Daniel asked, surprised.

Oakey chuckled. "Not even I would dare to silence a fellow Protector, especially in his own garden. It may be disconcerting, but you and your Guide will be connected to both my and your gardens."

"Okay," Daniel agreed. He wasn't exactly certain what the Tree meant...nor did he have a clue how the entire procedure would work. He didn't need to know, he thought briefly. As long as it worked.

It took barely a moment for Oakey to locate the remaining members of SG-1 who belonged to this reality. Three extra vines with only partially opened blossoms joined the eight portal flowers. There was no time to introduce herself, for four glowing beings appeared. Oakey supposed, a little snippily, that the weeds were too frightened to return. Probably for good reason she conceded. She had recognized the Fifth Level Beings from the memory she'd 'borrowed' from The Chosen and Guide. She rounded on the higher level beings. "You have allowed one of your own to cause untold harm and grief." She shook the thorny cage at them, "to wreak havoc in not only your reality but in mine."

One of the beings shrugged. "And yet the balance of the universe is restored with your actions to return him."

Oakey’s eyes narrowed. "No, not quite." Quicker than the eye could see, Oakey tossed the daemon at the four beings.

Mibi felt a millisecond of hope that he was simply being transferred to their custody before Oakey exerted her power.

A flash of burning light consumed him, then he exploded in a rain of fiery ash. The Fifth Level beings sputtered in outrage at the indignity of Oakey’s act. They weren’t given the chance to wipe the filth of the daemon’s taint from themselves before a new group of beings appeared; these as powerful as the Seventh Level Being who stood enraged before them.

"So you’ve finally bothered to investigate your garden," Oakey drawled. "Nice to know you've a seed of moral fiber."

The leader of the group drifted forward, not acknowledging the sarcasm of his counterpart. "Have you come to merely..." he glanced at the Fifth Level beings, who were trying madly to wipe the residue of the daemon from themselves, "tease our lower level beings?"

"They got off lightly for their error," Oakey retorted. "But it is not the fault of the flower if the stem is of no support."

"By ‘stem’ you mean us?" A faint air of amusement rose from the newly arrived Beings.

Oakey bristled at the placating tone. "You should have been struck down for your failure to protect the Innocent! You have much to account for."

"What actions have we to defend?" He seemed genuinely curious.

"Why have you given the task of The One to a mere mortal?" Oakey demanded to know.

"He was chosen according to our...prophecies," was the haughty reply.

"Such a role shouldn't be given to a being who can ultimately 'die'; the burden of responsibility is too much for a 'mere mortal'. How can one being be expected to protect every inch of the universe and every level in between when he lacks the 'fluidity' to 'hear' everything going on?"

"But that is why He was given the power he possesses, and why only one who had a Guide could be considered for the position. Both were given immortality, as were his Protectors. The One needs only to protect...there is no need for him to be omnipotent." The being who was speaking seemed to study Oakey for several long moments. "Your role of 'Protector' is one you have acquired, it was not your original purpose. Do you deny that it was mere boredom and curiosity that sent you to the level of the mortal beings? Not the grandiose purpose of protecting the Innocent."

Oakey bristled slightly. "No, we don't deny it. Because we did our tasks! We rid our garden of the malevolent beings who would threaten it. We lived for scores of millennia in complete peace."




In the storage room in their own reality, the members of SG-1 were blinking now, not certain what was happening...knowing only that they were hearing a conversation...but they weren't seeing anyone! They instinctively moved closer together.

Young Jack had been adding to the running list of things the Space Monkey and Radar had done so far today to give him more gray hair. He was so going to make them pay! When he began to hear a conversation for which there were no visible participants, he rolled his eyes. "As if this day isn't screwed up enough! First I wake up only to discover I'm still Mini-Me..." he continued to push away what his counterpart had told him. It wasn't true. He was Colonel Jack O'Neill, and nothing could convince him otherwise! "Now I'm hearing voices in my head. Carter, what the hell is going on? Did I miss the memo that it's pick on me day?"

Sam was frowning slightly, her head tipped to one side.

"Carter? Did you hear me?"

"Hang on, sir, I want to hear what the Tree says next."

"Carter, listen to yourself! A tree?"

"How is that any stranger than a fifteen year old colonel? Please, sir, just listen!"

"You're hearing it too? Well, that's okay then. At least we can go nuts together."

"Indeed, O'Neill, I am hearing it as well," Teal'c said quietly.

"Oh, well if we're all hearing a talking tree-"

"Shh, sir!"

"Side note," Young Jack whispered. " How do we know it's a tree?"

"Um...because we do?" Sam answered, trying to listen to the tree at the same time, not ready to examine how she knew it was a tree...named 'Oakey'. The name was so familiar...but she wasn't going to think about that at the moment. She was too intent on 'hearing' what happened next.

"Because, O'Neill, it does not sound like a person," Teal'c whispered.

"Oh, yeah, right. And I'm so not even going to try to follow that logic."

"Shh!" Sam hissed, tossing an irritated glance at the teenager. Ignored his glare of indignation.




"At what cost? How many of your own kind did you destroy in your quest to be rid of all those with whom you disagreed? Where is the free will among those of your kind?"

"We were chosen by those on the Ninth Level as the Protectors because of our ability to remain impartial. We did not let petty squabbles or personal feelings mar our judgment. Free will exists in our reality because of us," Oakey insisted.

The being remained silent. For all that they might have wished to deny the charges, they realized that this Protector spoke the truth. The rules of the Nine Levels had been put into place to prevent chaos. They had not, however, allowed enough latitude with which to prevent their own kind, and those of the lower levels, to shirk their duty as the Protectors of the Innocent.

"Even free will must exist within the governing rules of the Universe," Oakey continued, pressing on with her diatribe.

"Your words echo loudly with truth."

"No shit, Sherlock," O'Neill muttered.

"Um...Jack...don't get snarky with God," Casey whispered, for a moment forgetting that it wasn't her Jack that she was hearing.

"However, The One will continue to be a Protector in this reality. Who better to Protect the Innocent than one who walks among them? He will not do so alone."

"And you expect me to believe that promise? When all evidence up to this point shows that you will shirk your duty at the first opportunity?" Oakey huffed.

"If I may..." The One spoke, just a bit timidly. Daniel took a deep breath before continuing. "I think they have learned their lesson. Being threatened with nothing less than total annihilation is a pretty good incentive."

Oakey saw three new beings appear by her bundle of blossoms, hovering protectively around the pale blue flower. So the Seventh Level beings of this reality weren't totally inept. They had assigned guardians to observe. She studied the souls of the Triad. Loyal to a fault to The One, and had bent the rules on occasion to help Him. She returned her attention to The One's suggestion. Gave a sniff of disagreement, but conceded to him; this was after all, his reality to protect. "Your Chosen Protector is more forgiving than I. Chosen sapling, should your 'higher beings' not heed my warning, you need only contact me or my kin and we shall be more than happy to follow through with our threat."

"Um...thanks," Daniel said, a bit amused, and a lot overwhelmed. He had just been offered the equivalent of his own 'backup' against Beings he couldn't even comprehend. Unaware of his protection, and oblivious to the fact that his 'private' thoughts, his very emotions were laid open to these higher beings, Daniel continued to struggle with his guilt. Had he just done what had been expected of him, none of this would have happened. In a fit of self-righteous indignation, he'd allowed one of the most dangerous daemons to escape, and the result had been heart wrenching.

Casey took note of what Oakey said, and tucked the promise away in her heart. If she ever needed the help, she wouldn't hesitate to call on her new-found friend. Daniel was a forgiving man by his very nature. As the Guide to The One, she didn't have that luxury. Whatever it took to protect him, she would do. Even if that meant calling on the Protective Trees of another reality.

"We will not tolerate any further interference from you," the Seventh Level being warned.

Oakey gave a snort of disdain, highly doubting that they would object to someone else doing their job for them, not with their past history. However, she acknowledged the warning. "Though it has been eons since the Protectors of my garden have gone into battle, we have more experience than you, since you have never used your abilities in such a manner. I hope we never have the cause to put those skills to further test here."

She turned her attention to The One, more than a little concerned about the emotions that were rolling from him in waves. "Protector, you have the burden of a conscience so pure that it can tear you apart when things do not go as planned. You are one being, and as your Beings have pointed out, you are not omnipotent. You could not foresee the mischief Mibi would cause." Oakey gently caressed Casey's mind. "And neither could you, Guide sapling."

Casey started. Her own guilt made her stagger mentally. "But I'm his Guide! I should have seen this! What good is a gift that doesn't help protect Him...or my friends?" she protested; Annika's face - twisted in anger as she hurled those hurtful, hateful words - filled her memory. "It's my fault that Annika suffered so!"

"No, Angel," Daniel murmured softly. "It's my fault for letting the bastard get away."

"I and my kin are a spiritual forest, tasked with the job of Protector's. Your forest is of the mortal realm, your team and the people who surround you. Neither of you are at fault. The protection of my garden rests solely on me and my kin. We became complacent. We had been so long without threat that we missed the warning sound of Mibi's arrival."

"Had I done what was expected of me, that threat never would have reached you," Daniel insisted.

"Had the higher beings of your reality not shirked their duty then Mibi and the other rogue elements would not have been given the chance to escape," Oakey replied gently.

Daniel couldn't help but smile. Which widened when he sensed the uncomfortable shifting among those Higher Beings. "That's true."

Casey nodded. "Yeah, it is true."

"We can continue to play the blame game for many eons to come. None of us can change what has happened. Guilt serves no purpose except to cause doubt that will affect your future actions. Doubt that neither of us can afford to have. Learn from it, but do not let it consume you."

Daniel let the words fill his mind...echo in his heart. He grabbed at the comfort they offered. "Let it go, Angel," he whispered, hoping that Casey would take the comfort as well. After all, Oakey was stating the simple facts of the matter.

Some lessons were horribly painful. This, Casey decided, was one of the worst. She felt the soft caress against her mind. "Right. We move forward, and do our best in the future," she said softly.

"Your best is all that anyone can ask. Mistakes happen on all the levels of existence. Just listen to your soul to guide you and it will not fault you." Oakey gently caressed the mind of her counterpart, scooping up the guilt that had been hounding him. The One didn’t need the burden; his responsibility was heavy enough as it was. For that matter the Guide didn’t need it either...

Daniel closed his eyes at her whisper soft caress. "Thanks," he said gratefully.

Casey felt the gentle withdraw of Oakey's 'touch'. With it went the guilt that had plagued her for months.

Oakey was surprised by how much guilt the couple had created. Juggling the guilt in her vines, She wondered what to do with it...She couldn’t just release it for it to fall on some poor unsuspecting soul...it would cripple anyone less than The One and His Guide. Movement from the sidelines drew her attention to the Fifth Level beings who had monumentally screwed up their task. Perfect. With a flick of her vine she sent the bundle of guilt and doubt at them. Couldn’t help but chuckle as three of the beings staggered to their knees under the weight, causing a resounding clap of thunder as they hit the 'ground' of the higher plane.

Casey 'watched' for a moment. "Sucks to be you, I guess," she said, understanding that for the first time in eons, the beings were dealing with the consequences of their actions.

The Seventh Level beings watched silently as the members writhed beneath the weight of the guilt, that which had been harbored by two mere mortals. Their silent communion with one another led to a nodding of heads. They had chosen well. Daniel Jackson was indeed The One. His Guide was every bit as strong as her husband. With a flick of invisible fingers, the Fifth Level beings disappeared, returned to their level of existence, to deal with the consequences of their actions...or lack thereof...for eternity.

Oakey had taken the guilt from Daniel and Casey as one Protector assisting another, knowing that to allow the guilt to continue to fill their hearts and minds would only hinder them in the positions they held in their reality. And by doing so in the presence of the Higher Beings of their reality no one could fault them for what she had done.

The Seventh Level Being then turned to the team of her reality, intending to relieve the burden from them as well, though her reasoning for this was more of motherly concern. She wanted to spare her saplings any more heartache, especially since it was from a lapse in her duty that it had ever come to pass.

When he felt Oakey's attention shift away from him and Casey, Daniel gave a silent sigh. It was over. Finally...without a doubt...the Ascended rebels of his reality had been dealt with. He couldn't help but wonder just how much...influence...there had been from the highest levels. Had Mibi been allowed to escape, and in so doing, the resulting confrontation removing the apathy that had settled among the higher level beings? A slight 'noise' caused him to turn slightly...had he just heard...?

"What in the hell was that?" Young Jack asked, rubbing one ear slightly. Nothing like a clap of thunder in the head to send one deaf!

"Um...three...um...higher beings...just fell down," Daniel said softly.

"Daniel?" Jack glanced around, as if expecting to see his missing teammate.

"Yeah, it's me," Daniel replied.

"Okay," Jack said slowly. He wasn't even going to ask how he could hear his friend...in his head. Not going there. But his other questions..."How can that happen in...nowhere? And just what knocked them off their feet?"

Daniel shifted, the heat in his cheeks alerting him physically of his embarrassment. "Um...Oakey just...um...well, Casey and I have been feeling pretty guilty about this whole Mibi thing...and...well..."

Sam frowned slightly. Put 'two and two' together. "She took your guilt away?"

"Yeah, and tossed it where She said it belonged," Daniel replied.

The three team members exchanged shocked looks. For the weight of that guilt to drop higher level beings..."Damn, Space Monkey, how much guilt have you been carrying around?" Young Jack asked.

"You have no idea," Daniel murmured. He wasn't able to see the looks of concern that his friends exchanged. Nor did he realize that they had suspected, from the moment they had spoken with him and Casey regarding their current location, that both were feeling far more guilt over the situation than was warranted.

"Damn," Young Jack muttered again. And mentally tossed away the list of 'punishments' for the break in SOP and for giving his young head its first strands of gray. Seemed that Daniel and Casey had been punished for far too long...if only by their own sense of guilt and failure. They were doing what they deemed was necessary...and right. Wasn't that what they always did?




For several long minutes, the three teammates were silent. Each dealing with what they had heard, had learned. Knowing that for the first time in months, Daniel and Casey were free from the guilt that had wracked them...guilt over what they considered failures. All because of daemons run amok. The very last of those rebel daemons was now gone...destroyed by a Seventh Level Being from another reality...the reality where that daemon had fled to escape his ultimate fate.

Young Jack couldn't help but smirk. Served the Ascended asshole right.

Still waiting for Daniel and Casey to say their goodbyes and return to their own reality, Sam opened the folder in her hand once again. Began to read the notes written by her counterpart, and their Doctor Fraiser. Glanced up to find Young Jack watching her intently.

"What?" he asked, forcing more bravado into his voice than he was currently feeling. It had been easy to push away what he'd been told. Until he'd watched Sam's face as she read. The way her cheeks had paled. The tears that had formed briefly.

"The...uh...the test results for their...uh...'Mini-Jack..." Sam took a shuddering breath.

Young Jack braced himself. "What about them?"

"They're identical. Every marker, every genetic code...it's all the same," she said, whispering the last four words.

If he couldn't trust Sam, who could he trust...right? And if she said he was a clone... He squeezed his eyes closed. The room seemed to spin around him. What Sam was trying to say, without actually uttering the words, was that his counterpart had been right. No...wouldn't be his counterpart now, would he? Nope, because you're a clone, O'Neill.




Veta had watched from his position in the observation room. The man who he had only caught a glimpse of when they'd arrived through the Stargate, had arrived shortly after all hell had broken loose in room below. Veta hadn't taken offense when the bald man had been a bit curt in introducing himself; the CO's attention primarily on the team below. The tiny little doctor had been hot on Hammond's heels. He didn't need to look around to know that the other guy...Furry something...would be nearby. Seeing the concern on their faces only enforced that he'd done the right thing in trying to get Myst back to her people.

His view of the universe had already been so turned on its head that when what appeared to be a cloud of black smoke...lunged - for that was the only way to describe what he'd seen...he'd hardly blinked. However now that the threat was over, he shuddered mentally. That cloud had lunged toward the open door of the isolation room. He'd seen the shadows below in the corridor, but hadn't realized until they entered the room that it was the lovely Casey and her Daniel. And then... He shook his head. They'd all stared at the wall. Literally just stood there, huddled together, staring at the wall. Apparently the Tree was showing them something; at least that's what was happening according to the woody sprites who had appeared from who the hell knew where. Since no one was surprised by their presence, he assumed all was good.

Then, Annika had given a little cry, opened her pretty violet eyes, and within a heartbeat, everyone in the room below was 'awake'. Looking around as if they weren't certain where they were, or what they were supposed to do.

In that moment, Veta was racing for the door. Not actually aware of the fact that he was instinctively running to make certain Myst was okay. He paused slightly as soon as he was inside the observation room. "You do know who I am, don't you?" He was only half joking.

Annika gave a shaky smile, not really thinking about what she said. "Sure...you're the guy who's seen me naked, kissed me, and shot me."

All heads turned toward the security man, who squirmed a little, especially under the accusing stare of blue eyes from behind glasses. "Now, let's just remember..." he thumbed at his chest, "Gay to the core."

Casey watched the psychic. Knew that everything she had endured was crashing down on her. She reached for Annika's hand.

Annika jerked away. "How can you bear to look at me, let alone touch me?"

"Because I know what it's like to be used by them. Whichever daemon it was, it used my own fears, my own insecurities, my own...jealousy...against me," Casey said softly. "I ran, too. Only not as far," she said, giving a small smile. She ignored the curious glance from her husband. No doubt he'd want to know exactly when she'd worked that out for herself.

"I'm so sorry, what I said..." Annika grimaced, "what I yelled at you..." her eyes darted to her team, "at all of you...it's inexcusable."

Casey smiled. "That wasn't you, my friend. That was Mibi. He's an asshole...was an asshole...of the highest caliber. Or..." she frowned slightly. "Would that be lowest caliber? Anyway, he was desperate, and he was using the best weapon he could find. You."

"Only we knew who it was, so what he said..." Daniel took a deep breath. He'd seen his Wife's face. He knew the words had hurt her. "What he said was intended to hurt. He needed it to hurt. We've all been wounded in battle before. Probably will be again."

O'Neill nodded, grabbing onto the analogy. "Don't sweat it, Casper. Doesn't even rate as a flesh wound."

Annika doubted that. She had seen how much her venomous attack had hurt them...wished like hell that Mibi had taken full control of her mind. It would make it easier to accept the 'out' Casey had offered if she didn't remember what she'd said. But she remembered everything...every word. She remembered thinking of the 'best' way to get them to let her go...digging through the memories and knowledge she had of her teammates and friends to pluck out the worst of their 'guilty' secrets. She shook her head. "I went straight for the jugular."

Casey could see that Annika was suffering. There was one thing...she reached for Annika's hand. "Let's talk. Privately."

Once again, Annika backed away.

Crap, Casey thought, giving herself a mental whack on the head. Touch was how Annika received her visions. She resolutely walked to the corner of the room. Looked over her shoulder to see if the psychic was following.

Annika took a step forward.

"Um...Annika..." Jackson lifted his hand, which also lifted his wife's.

Her hand fisted as he fished out the tiny key. "Please don't," she barely whispered. She didn't want to be separated. As illogical as it was, the cuffs symbolized Daniel's love for her. And she really needed that in that moment.

Jackson hesitated. He was torn...he could see that Casey really wanted whatever is was that she was going to say to be just for Annika's ears. Yet, how could he deny the plea in his wife's eyes?

She wondered just when Annika's Daniel had cuffed himself to his wife...she had no doubt that was what had happened. A way to prevent her from trying to escape again. She understood that the literal 'bond' was just as important right now as their emotional bond. "It's okay," Casey said softly.

"Whatever I hear, it's safe with me, I promise," Jackson said, his voice low.

She knew, without a doubt, that this man was just as trustworthy as her own archaeologist. She gave a slight nod.

Annika didn't try to hide her sigh of relief.

Casey took a deep breath. "I was taken captive by Ba'al. He used ker'nish'ta' on me...a nice drug the Goa'uld invented to wipe a slave's memory clean...so they can be trained," Casey explained at the question in violet eyes. "But..." Her glance darted to her Husband. His eyes were focused on her. She turned slightly, so that he couldn't see her face.

Daniel frowned. Whatever Casey was about to say, she was serious about not wanting it to be shared. That worried him...a great deal. Just what 'secret' could she be hiding?

"I...it hurt so bad...the knives," Casey explained. "It was in the first hours after I was captured. He hadn't...there hadn't been...he hadn't given me the first shot yet. But...there were four knives in me...one in each thigh, one in the palm of each hand." She closed her eyes. Shuddered slightly. "Not just 'in'. Through. Long damned blades..." Tears filled her eyes. "I was willing to do anything to make the pain go away."

"Gods," Annika murmured.

"I never knew what pain was until that day," Casey continued. "And...I...I..." she lowered her head, but not before her confessors saw the wetness of tears in her lashes. "I hated them. I screamed my hate out loud. Ba'al...he...he laughed. I called Daniel the most horrible things...I hated him for not rescuing me...for not stopping the torture. I hated all of them. What you said was nothing compared to what I was screaming that day."

Annika took a shuddering breath. "The difference is, they didn't hear."

"Maybe not. But I have to live with what I said...what Ba'al knows...every day," Casey replied. "And what he knows, he knows because of me. At the time, in that moment, I meant every word. I was striking out at them, Annika, even though they weren't there to hear...or defend themselves. I wanted them to hurt as badly as I was in that moment. Not logical, I know. But then, I suppose when you're being tortured, logic isn't in great supply. And Ba'al heard it. He sat there and listened to every word...every accusation, every hurtful thing I could think of...I..." once again green eyes closed. Then opened slowly. "I handed Ba'al the perfect weapon against us."

"Casey, I don't know how 'exact' our two realities are, but here...every one of us have said things...revealed things to our enemies...that we're ashamed of," Jackson said gently.

Casey shook her head stubbornly. "Not like I did. Never like that." She turned her attention back to the psychic.

"Being tortured...you'd do anything to make it stop," Blue eyes were haunted by his own memories. "Say anything...do anything." Jackson repeated, giving Annika's hand a squeeze. "You may not have known you were being tortured, but you were. None of us will hold it against you...just as I know that if Casey's team knew what she said they wouldn't hold it against her."

Casey started. She'd never contemplated the idea that if her teammates knew what she'd done, that they would...could...understand. And would forgive her. Her gaze moved to meet her Husband's. The worry in his beautiful eyes made her cringe. Maybe...maybe someday she'd tell him...confess her sin to him as well. "You'll learn to live with what you said. It will hurt, it will bother you from time to time...but their love..." Casey smiled at her Daniel's counterpart, "his love will help you heal."

Annika felt the tiniest knot of guilt unravel. Both Casey's and Daniel's words gave her a starting point to heal. Daniel's thumb caressed her hand. She knew that he was trying not to 'bombard' her through their bond with his emotions. She glanced up into his eyes. Saw the love reflected in them, despite everything she had put him through. For the first time she really felt like she would get through this. At least...she would after she was able to douse herself in vanilla oil to cleanse Mibi's stench from her. "Thank you," she whispered, reaching out her free hand to grasp Casey's.

"What are friends for?" Casey asked, squeezing Annika's fingers slightly.

She released Casey's hand, and her hand of its own accord started to rub at her forearm, where the essence of Mibi lingered the most.

Jackson barely hesitated. His hand dipped into his pocket and pulled out a bottle of the cleansing oil his wife used. "Here."

With only one free hand each, they fumbled a bit to unscrew the lid. Casey was about to offer her help when there was the loud clearing of a throat behind them. Annika turned her head, and her eyes pricked with tears. Jack, Sam, Teal'c, and Keelah each had a bottle of the oil in their hands, tops undone.

"We've got spares," O'Neill quipped.

With a wobbly smile, Annika stepped towards her team. One by one, each of them sprinkled a few drops of the oil onto her hands.

Casey moved silently, into Daniel's welcoming embrace. They watched as Annika rubbed the oil onto her arms, the vanilla scent filling the room. Neither was certain of the reason for what almost seemed to be a rite of some sort, something private for the members of this reality's SG-1. They were certain, however, that the 'rite' was necessary...a welcome home for the prodigal teammate.

Watching from above, Hammond let the impromptu 'ritual' play out. It struck him as symbolic of SG-1's attitude, to all rally around and help one of their own when they were hurting.

When he had received word from the security room about Annika's suicide attempt, he had hurried to the observation room with Janet. The pair had arrived in time to see the daemon removed. He'd been worried when the whole team, plus Casey and her husband, had taken on glazed expressions to their faces. However, Lya and Rosettym...now that it was 'safe' for them to emerge from the infirmary...had explained that Oakey was showing them the destruction of Mibi. "If everyone is feeling up to it, I think it would be best to debrief as soon as possible," Hammond said.

"If you don't mind, sir, we should be getting back to our reality," Daniel said, his arm tightening around Casey. "We still have problems that need to be taken care of."

Hammond nodded his understanding. "Very well. Thank you for your assistance."

Jackson couldn't help but notice that the oil Annika was rubbing in was doing a fine job of smearing the blood on her arms. "Sir, do you mind if we clean up a bit first?"

"Of course," Hammond agreed.

"I'll take the Jacksons down to the mirror," O'Neill decided. "Teal'c, could you show Veta where the briefing room is?"

The Jaffa gave a nod.

Annika turned to her friends from the alternate reality. "Thank you for everything that you've done." To her the words sounded lame, but she didn't think there were any words that could express her gratitude.

Casey smiled. "You're welcome."

Daniel gave a guilty smile. "Just wish I'd have dealt with Mibi when I had the chance, then none of this would have happened."

"He's taken care of now and that's all that matters," Jackson said.

"True. The Ascended rebellion is over now, forever," Daniel replied.

Casey turned to the other members of SG-1. "And thank you for the intel on the mini-Jack situation." She glanced towards the ceiling. "Goodbye, Oakey, and thank you...for everything!

There was the rustle of leaves, and Oakey's voice echoed in their minds. "You are welcome, Guide sapling. It was a true pleasure to meet thee."

"Thank you Oakey," Daniel said, pulling Casey closer. "For everything you've done for Casey, and for me."

"It was an honor to meet thee, Protector sapling. I have given my word to thee and to your Guide. I am but a whisper away."

Casey nodded toward Teal'c, Sam, and Keelah. "Help her?" She gave a wry grin. "But I guess that goes without saying, huh?"

Carter nodded. "And we have back up plans in place."

"Plans A through Z," Casey giggled.

Veta couldn't help but wiggle his fingers at the blonde. "See ya', gorgeous."

Casey grinned. "See ya, handsome. Good luck man hunting."

Daniel gave a barely civil nod at the man, already propelling his Wife toward the door. He wasn't at all pleased to hear that little 'exchange', something he had always considered a term of endearment reserved solely for his use...when it came to Casey. And as for her calling the alien 'handsome' in response...he was gay for crying out loud!

O'Neill took note of the look on Daniel's face. Best to get those two back where they belonged, before someone got hurt. He didn't want to do the paperwork that would undoubtedly be involved with returning a broken archaeologist to his own reality. "Okay, let's get the Mirror Express moving."

Casey had no chance to make any further comments. Daniel was already dragging her into the corridor. O'Neill was doing his best in that moment to keep up. "Express is just a term, Stud Muffin. I don't think Jack meant we have to run."

"Uh huh." Daniel dared to glance over his shoulder. Damned if the alien hadn't moved...was Veta watching Casey's ass...or his? That thought had him moving for the elevator with even more haste.

Jack hid his grin behind an innocent nose scratch. "So, anxious to get home?"

"Apparently," Casey said, frowning at Daniel. She leaned back against the metal wall of the elevator. "It's been a long day," she sighed.

"Ended on a high note," O'Neill said.

"For you," the seer sighed.

"Oh, right. Mini-Me."

"He'll be okay," Casey said softly.

Daniel glanced at her. "Case?" The smile she gave him warmed him to the core. She gave a simple nod. She'd 'seen' it. He leaned back beside her, let his head rest against the shiny metal. It had been a long damned day.

The silence that had enveloped the trio as they each contemplated what they had seen and heard remained wrapped around them as they walked down the corridor, and into the storage room. Sam, Teal'c, and Young Jack were perched on crates, watching the mirror intently. All three stood to their feet when their 'missing' teammates walked through the door.

"Okay, guys. Play time's over," O'Neill said to the guards. He waited until the two men had left the room. "If you ever...you know...need anything..."

Daniel smiled. "You'll be the first call we make."

The general nodded. "Good luck," he said quietly.

"You, too."

Daniel and Casey stepped through the mirror. He hadn't realized how tight his shoulders were until his boots hit the tiled floor of his own storage room. In his own reality. Felt his entire back relax. Until his eyes settled on Young Jack. Could see in brown eyes that he was still struggling to accept the fact that he was a clone. How fucked up was that, anyway?

Casey immediately hugged the teenager. "We'll get it figured out," she said softly.

Sam grimaced. "We have to do it soon. According to this," she held up the mission report from Annika's reality, "and my calculations, we're just about out of time."

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