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 Heaven Called While You Slept

 

Chapter 9

Daniel opened his eyes, momentarily confused by the sight of rock walls. Shadows played along the stalagmites and stalactites. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to figure out just what had happened. He'd just gotten into the cab... Cab? Had he really been in Chicago? Spent time in what had been the Jackson home, drinking coffee and chatting with his parents? He was still groggy from sleep, his thoughts chaotic at best as he attempted to figure out what had happened. If he'd been asleep, it could only mean that he'd dreamed the entire afternoon, pleasant as it had been. Still... He frowned. The images that filled his mind were more like memories of actual events, rather than those of just a dream, vivid or not.

A soft gasp beside him pulled his attention to the woman who was lying in his arms. He smiled when her green eyes focused on his face. He lifted his hand to caress her cheek, to wipe away the stains of her tears. Kissed her palm when her soft hands wrapped around his face, brushed away the tears he'd not known were there.

"I just had the most amazing dream," Casey whispered.

"I did, too," he replied.

A frown pulled her eyebrows together. "I'm not sure it was a dream."

"What else could it have been?"

Sitting up, Casey looked around her. The fire had burned down to embers, offering little in the way of light. Two torches, stuck into fissures in the rock wall, lit the cave. The pungent scent of the burned flowers hung heavy in the air. "Dream world," she murmured.

Daniel sat up as well. "What?"

She nodded toward the fire. "I knew I was smelling smoke!"

A frown on his face once again, Daniel recalled the two times during his dream when he was certain he'd smelled smoke. He'd also been aware of the sweet scent of his Wife...she'd been in his arms, no doubt he'd buried his face against her neck...he'd awakened in that position many times.

Whispers of cloth against cloth alerted him to the fact that Sam and Jack were sitting up now as well. Sam was wiping Jack's cheeks; a moment later, Jack returned the favor. For a moment Daniel wished that Janet were with them, to wipe away the traces of tears that were undoubtedly on Teal'c's face. The Jaffa had shifted, his back toward his teammates for a moment, his movements obvious. When he turned back around, there was no way to tell if he'd shed tears or not.

"Did you sleep well?" Casey asked, her gaze focused on Jack.

"Must have had a bit of indigestion," Jack replied immediately.

"Interesting. I don't know if indigestion aids in reaching the dream world or not," Casey said flippantly.

Jack started. Every moment that he'd been at the cabin, been with Charlie, stood as distinctly in his mind as any other memory he could recall.

Sam was frowning now as well. "Dream world?"

"I believe we all visited the dream world," Teal'c said matter-of-factly.

"So, you were visiting with dead relatives, too?" Jack quipped.

"I spoke with my father," Teal'c replied.

"I had coffee with my mother," Sam reported.

"I had coffee with my parents, in our house...the house where we lived, at least when we were in the country and Mom and Dad weren't on a dig," Daniel said.

"I went to Grandma Rose's house. Met my mother," Casey said.

Jack looked from one face to the next. Noted the expressions of awe that were replacing the confused frowns.

"Jack?" Daniel asked gently.

"What?"

"Who did you visit?"

His jaw working, Charlie's words echoed in his ears...

 

"When you get back...let go of the guilt, and the anger."

 

"Charlie," Jack said, his voice raspy. "I saw Charlie. Pappy was there, too."

Sam reached out to touch his shoulder. Felt the muscles tighten beneath her fingers for just a moment, before he relaxed, and actually leaned into her caress.

Hania had been waiting just outside of the cave entrance. Hearing the voices, he stepped inside. "You have awakened! It is my wish that the answers you sought were found in your dreams."

Casey beamed a smile at the darshinah. "It was wonderful!"

Jack studied the smile on the seer's face, the sparkle in her eye. So, Radar had met her mom. Maybe she'd been able to find answers to the questions he was certain the young woman must have had. Frowned when he thought about the time he'd just spent with his son. He hadn't had questions. Or had he? Was his need to beg Charlie's forgiveness the reason he'd been...what, allowed?...granted time?...whatever had happened, had that need been the catalyst for the visit he'd just made? The time he'd spent with Charlie, while emotionally charged - and Jack O'Neill had never been comfortable doing emotions - had been...pleasant. Nice, in fact. It had been a very nice afternoon, spent fishing with his son.

Daniel watched Jack's face. Could see him struggling to accept that what he'd experienced, what they'd all experienced, had been real. The best way to accept what had happened, the archaeologist thought, was to treat the...encounters...as if they'd been commonplace events. "How was Charlie?"

Jerking slightly, Jack looked over at his best friend. "Tall. Fine. He...he was fine," Jack replied.

With a nod of understanding, Daniel unzipped the sleeping bag, reached for his boots.

"Your folks okay?" Jack asked. He figured it was the oddest damned question he'd ever asked his best friend.

"Yeah, they were," Daniel replied. "What about you, Angel? How were Grandma Rose and your mom?"

"They're fine. Well, Grandma needs to stop listening to all the gossip that Miss Eloise passes on," Casey grumped.

Daniel chuckled. "Think she will?"

"No," she said. "That old bat just needs to stop being such a voyeur." She looked over at Sam. "How was your mom?"

"She was good," Sam replied, a smile tugging at her lips.

Casey's gaze shifted to Teal'c. "And your dad?"

"He is well," Teal'c replied.

"When you are ready, a meal awaits you," Hania said. He understood that these people, these very special people, needed time to process all that they had seen and heard in the dream world. He could only imagine the wonders they'd experienced there.

"Thank you," Daniel said. "We'll be there soon."

With a nod of understanding, Hania left the team alone, all of them tying on the boots they'd removed just before crawling into their sleeping bags.

"So, what happened...that was real?" Jack asked. He just needed to hear someone, anyone, say the words out loud.

"It was real, Jack," Casey said softly. "As real as what we experienced when we were on the astral plane dealing with Mibi's minions."

That had certainly been real enough, Jack thought. Or at least it had seemed real. He could remember every moment of that 'mission' with crystal clarity...even the moments he'd prefer to forget. Like seeing Sam kissing that guy... He pushed the memory away. "It was real," he murmured. Held more tightly to the new memories of being with Charlie, tucking the precious moments away in his heart.

"I don't know about anyone else, but all that coffee I drank is complaining now," Casey quipped.

"I know exactly what you mean," Sam nodded.

"Now that you mention it," Daniel said, reaching down for the sleeping bags.

"We'll roll 'em later," Jack said, nodding toward the sleeping bags. "Let's take care of business first."

If the villagers found the sudden appearance of the strangers odd, as they all seemed to rush into the brush and behind trees that surrounded the path to the cavern, they would never speak of it.

 

 

 

Fifteen minutes later the members of SG-1 were standing at the opening of the cavern the villagers called 'home', reattaching sleeping bags to their packs. The aroma of cooking food tweaked noses, and had empty bellies rumbling in anticipation.

To Jack's consternation, the Elders insisted on 'greeting' the team as they had when SG-1 had arrived. Once again it was a look from Daniel that prevented him from complaining. Out loud, anyway. He was not about to let the archaeologist forget about this!

Hania stood beside the large, communal fire. Lifted his arms and waited until all eyes were on him before speaking. "It has been many years since seekers have come to us," he said. "Let us feast in honor of this special occasion."

Acknowledging Hania's nod with one of his own, Daniel stepped forward, Casey beside him, his teammates directly behind him. The women of the clan filled wooden plates with food, and offered them to the guests. Who most gratefully accepted the meals.

Seated beside the darshinah, the team did their best not to gulp down the food, all of them much hungrier than they'd realized.

"It is with much gratitude that we offer our thanks for the return of the maNika," Hania said quietly.

"We're glad to have brought it back where it belongs," Daniel replied.

"Perhaps we will see a return to the old ways, and more seekers will arrive," Hania said hopefully.

Casey frowned for a moment as she contemplated the darshinah's comment. "You know, maybe we should let the other teams know about this place - about that cavern and the maNika."

"Uh...why?" Jack asked immediately.

"Maybe they'd like to visit with dead friends or relatives, too," the seer said softly.

Jack poked at the feelings of peace that had surrounded him since he'd awakened. His anguish...the heartbreak...the guilt...all were still lurking in his heart. But the pain wasn't as sharp. His chat with Casey during their Christmas vacation at the cabin had most certainly started the healing process. He had no doubt of that. Now...Charlie's words, his admonishments, echoed in his ears. The declarations of love warmed Jack, surrounded his battered heart like a warm, healing balm. "Maybe they would," he admitted, his voice low. "I'll talk to the general about it," he promised.

"It would be a blessing for those seekers," Daniel said. "We bring a message from The Others," he added, watching the darshinah carefully.

"What is the message?" Hania asked, his eyes guarded.

"They wish to convey their regret for taking the maNika," Daniel replied. "The...woman...who had appeared in their village was...cruel. Her presence resulted in the deaths of three of their people." Well, three that they knew about, he thought. Hopefully those poor souls had been the only victims of the demented Goa'uld. "She demanded the stone, and the Others had no choice but to take it to her. They asked me to tell you that if you...any of The People, wish to visit their village, all will be made welcome."

Hania blinked, felt tears form in his lashes. After so long, was it possible that the rift between The People and The Others would finally be mended? "It is with happy hearts that we hear these words."

Daniel nodded. "Perhaps there will be a way for the two groups to live in peace, together."

"Perhaps," Hania nodded slowly. Studied the visitors as they finished eating their meal. The message from The Others was just more proof that these people were not just simply sent by the gods, they were gods! Only gods could have brought about such a miracle!

"So, Danny, is there anything else we need to do, or can we head home now?" Jack asked. He wanted...he needed...time alone. Time to relive every moment he'd spent with his son. Time to come to terms with all that had occurred...all that had been said.

"I think we can leave now," Daniel responded.

"Good. Tell Hania we hate to eat and run, but we need to get back."

"Hania, we appreciate the chance to dream. And the meal was very good. But we must leave now," Daniel said, hoping that their 'sudden' departure wouldn't be considered bad manners.

"We will remember you, always," Hania said. He pointed to one of the cave walls. On which was a new bit of artwork...a depiction of five people, and what had to be the sacred stone.

"Wow," Daniel said softly. Turned his attention to his host. "Thank you for such an honor."

Hania nodded in acknowledgement. Rose to his feet. "Safe journey to you," He turned to Casey. "You are a powerful darshinah. I have been blessed in meeting you."

Casey smiled. "I have been blessed, as well."

The darshinah's eyes moved to Sam, Jack, and then Teal'c. "You will all be remembered as the Blessed Ones."

"Thank you," Teal'c said, inclining his head slightly.

Sam and Jack smiled and nodded their understanding of what had been said. Jack locked his gaze with Hania's. "Thanks."

"It was the will of mahAlaya. You are most welcome," Hania replied.

The villagers followed the teammates as they pulled packs onto their backs, clipped P90's to their vests.

"Goodbye, Hania," Casey said softly.

"Goodbye, Ca'see," Hania replied.

Teal'c led the way up the path, toward the top of the mountain where the Stargate waited. Calls from the villagers, wishing the team a safe journey, continued to echo until they turned the first corner.

"This was one of the good ones," Casey sighed.

"Good ones?" Daniel asked.

"One of the good missions. We were able to help," she explained.

"Yeah, it was a good one," Daniel agreed.

"With a nice bonus," Sam said. "We were able to finally get rid of Nirrti."

"That we did," Jack nodded. "Always nice to add another snake is gone into the reports."

Casey began to hum as the team climbed the steep path. It had been a very good mission.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

"Incoming wormhole!" Walter announced.

"IDC?" Hammond asked, watching as the inner circle of the Stargate spun, locking in another chevron.

"It's SG-1, sir," the sergeant replied.

The general hurried into the 'gate room. Given the distance the Stargate had been from the only village their intelligence reports had located, he hadn't expected regular check-ins from the team. That didn't prevent him from worrying about the lack of communication from team. SG-1 had a penchant for getting themselves into trouble. The fact that he'd had personal reservations concerning this particular mission had made the wait all the more difficult.

The event horizon opened with its customary splendor, and five people walked down the ramp, smiles on their faces.

"Sir, I'd like to report that the stone is back where it belongs, looks like the two groups of villagers are going to kiss and make up, and, best of all, a certain twisted Goa'uld has been dealt with," Jack said as he ambled down the ramp.

"That's good news, colonel. Which Goa'uld?"

"Nirrti."

Gasps of surprise filled the air. The general's eyes went wide. "Nirrti was behind this?"

"Yeah, go figure," Jack replied. "Should have known a snake was the problem to begin with."

"Well, duh," Casey muttered. Bringing smiles to the faces around her.

"She's dead now," Daniel said, handing his pack and weapon to the supply sergeant who had moved forward to collect the gear.

"That's the best news I've heard in a long time," a voice from the doorway said firmly. Janet walked into the room. "No chance of her getting to a sarcophagus?"

"No way," Sam told her best friend. "I...we...made certain of that."

"Good." Tears filled Janet's eyes, visible for just a moment, until she blinked them back.

"Get checked out. We'll debrief in thirty minutes," Hammond said.

The team fell into step behind Janet as she led the way to the elevator. "She's really dead?" Janet asked.

"Can't get any deader," Jack replied.

"What was she doing there?"

"Usual delusions of grandeur," Casey snorted.

"She thought the sacred stone...well, the villagers refer to it as the maNika...would open a portal, and allow her access to an army of demons," Daniel explained.

"Demented bitch!" Janet hissed.

"Yeah, well, Nirrti was always a special kind of batshit crazy. Carter put an end to her scheme. Permanently," Jack assured the petite doctor. He'd already decided that, unless someone else mentioned it, he wasn't going to say a word about Casey's reaction to learning who the snake had been. The seer's response had been filled with a hatred so deep it had been tangible for those few seconds. He was well aware of the fact that she hated the Goa'uld. He'd never had a clue that a heart as tender as Radar's was capable of harboring such deep, dark emotion. And nobody not a member of SG-1 ever needed to know about the fact that it could.

"She was in a new host," Sam said. "She must have been trying to hide from the other System Lords."

"I don't think that's actually possible," Daniel mused, recalling the feelings of recognition he'd experienced. "At least, not if she was in close proximity to any of them."

"You know this...how?" Jack asked.

"I recognized her," Daniel replied with a shrug. "Took a few minutes, and the recognition...well, some of Rihat's memories were...triggered...in my mind. And she seemed to recognize me...sort of."

"With the symbiote you carried dead, perhaps there was only a residual of Rihat that she could sense," Teal'c suggested.

"That could be," Daniel nodded. "So taking a new host wouldn't be total protection against being identified by other Goa'uld."

"A new host might have prevented any of the other Goa'uld from simply noticing her," Sam offered. "If they didn't know the face, and they weren't close enough to sense the symbiote, she was able to escape any detection."

"Possible," Daniel agreed.

"The important thing is the wicked witch is dead," Casey said drolly.

"I'm going to call Cassie," Janet said, a wide smile on her face. "This is sure to make her day!"

Settled side by side on infirmary beds, the members of SG-1 tolerated...barely...the examinations that were mandatory after the return of every mission. There was even less of a reason for concern now, knowing that any symbiote that tried to infest any of the Immortals wouldn't live. But it was procedure, and although the SG teams were aware of the 'special' traits that SG-1 shared, not everyone in the mountain was privy to the information. Too many questions would be asked if the premier team wasn't treated the same as every other team...questions that could pique the interest of those outside the concrete bunker, those who really didn't need to know how special those five people were.

Blood pressure was taken, blood samples drawn, eyes and ears checked, the "Snake-o-meter"...as the device from the Tegerian people had been dubbed by the SG teams...proved each of the team members to be Goa'uld free, and temperatures were recorded. The medical staff barely had time to move out of the way before SG-1 was jumping to their feet and racing out the door.

"They really hate the infirmary," one of the nurses muttered.

"Yeah, I guess they do," one of the medics replied. He glanced at the nurse. "Can't blame 'em, though; they've all spent more time here than any of the other teams."

 

 

 

General Hammond looked up from his desk when he heard the voices of SG-1. They were settling around the conference table, looking particularly pleased with themselves. He couldn't help but smile. The death of any Goa'uld always managed to make the team happy. To know that they'd taken out Nirrti...no doubt they'd be celebrating for days to come. He finished signing the report he'd been working on, then hurried into the briefing room. The team had been gone for three days. They were looking forward to a bit of well-earned down time, he was sure.

Casey smiled at the general as he walked into the room. "We did it, sir. We set everything right."

"I'm glad to hear that," Hammond replied, smiling in return.

"Radar was right, sir. That stone in the wrong hands...not such a good thing," Jack said, shaking his head slightly. "Nirrti was in control of the village that had stolen it. She was the one who wanted it to begin with. Not sure exactly what happened, but three villagers were...affected...by the stone."

"No, not the stone," Casey said, her head cocked slightly at an angle, her eyes slightly unfocused. "Nirrti was trying to unlock the secrets of the stone. She used something else...that's what affected those people."

"There was a funny smell in the air," Sam frowned. "Like burnt plants."

"Probably a flower or plant that causes hallucinations," Daniel surmised. He silently compared the odor that had permeated that small hut with the smell he'd noticed in the cave when he'd awakened. His memory contended that the two were certainly similar, but not identical. Hania had given them tea in what had seemed to be a ceremony of sorts. No doubt that tea had been made using flowers or leaves that put 'dreamers' into a deep sleep. Whether it was the same plant, or a different one that the darshinah had used to sprinkle into the fire, he had no idea. The only thing he could say with any assurance was that whatever Nirrti had used, it had smelled different. She'd probably used something far stronger...more of a narcotic than a simple herb. "Possibly something akin to hashish."

"Whatever it was, those people were out of it. Catatonic," Jack said. "Nirrti killed them. Radar says she wouldn't even have acknowledged their existence, let alone their condition, if we hadn't been there and interfered."

"We saved them, general. Maybe not their lives, exactly. But their souls," Casey said softly.

"The people the stone belonged to were frantic with grief," Daniel said. "I have no doubt that if we hadn't arrived, the Elders would have sat on that ridge until they starved to death, and I'm not so certain the younger villagers wouldn't have attacked The Others in an attempt to take the stone back. If they had, they'd have been killed for sure."

"The folks who took the stone didn't want it," Jack added. "But they were more afraid of Nirrti than they were of what their kin would say about the theft."

The general nodded his understanding. It seemed that, in this instance anyway, interference between two groups of people had been in the best interest of both. The outcome had been positive, and that's all he'd ask for.

"The stone is a portal, just like Casey said," Daniel continued. "It opens a door to the dream world."

"Dream world?"

"Yes, sir. We think it's actually a plane of existence. Under the right circumstances, mortals can reach that plane," Daniel explained. "We...uh...we all were allowed to 'dream'."

"I see. And what did you dream about?"

Nervous glances were exchanged. "Actually, sir, they weren't technically dreams. What happened, really happened," Casey said slowly.

"I see. So what happened?"

Daniel took a deep breath. "We were all allowed to...visit...with members of our families. Members no longer...well..."

"We chatted with dead relatives, sir," Jack said bluntly.

Hammond's jaw dropped slightly. "These weren't just dreams?"

Casey shook her head. "No, sir. Our family members were able to access that plane of existence, and 'meet' us there."

"We thought that maybe other teams would like the same opportunity," Daniel said softly. "If the ability to do so exists, I can't see any reason not to take advantage of it. The healing that could take place would be well worth the trip."

"I'll take it under consideration, Doctor," the general replied. Wondered briefly if he'd be able to 'visit' with his beloved wife. The thought that it was selfish, especially in light of the fact that the same opportunity wouldn't be available to Abby, poked at his conscience.

"Radar also had an idea that we think is a pretty good one," Jack said.

"And what is this idea?" Hammond asked, pushing aside his personal thoughts.

"When we were tossed into that alternate reality, they had the walls of the corridor that led from the 'gate room to the elevator painted with the names of all the Goa'uld they'd killed," Jack explained. "None of us really remembered that until Radar had the idea of making our own list 'visible'. We figured we could do something similar."

"We'd like to put all the names in Goa'uld, then in English. We'll list the team responsible for the kill, as well as the date, and the planet, or wherever the death occurred," Daniel added.

"It would certainly boost morale," Sam tossed in.

"Indeed. It would be a reminder of our many victories," Teal'c said.

The general sat back in his chair, contemplated the hopeful faces watching him carefully. "Who would do the work?"

"Sir, Casey can do calligraphy, and I can do the hieroglyphs," Daniel replied.

"And just think, general, if any snakes do come to visit, it's sure to worry 'em," Jack prompted, his usual cocky grin on his face, his brown eyes twinkling.

His lips twitched at the thought. It was almost enough to hope there would be a reason for a summit between the Goa'uld and the Tau'ri. "Very well. You can start at your earliest convenience."

"Thank you, sir!" Casey said, her eyes sparkling. "Oh, I do hope Ba'al decides to show up. I might just put his name on the wall...I could leave everything else blank for now. Maybe put a picture of a stopwatch beside the name...you know...to show how he's running out of time."

Jack chortled. "Might make him fall dead from shock."

"Now I have to do it!" Casey declared.

The general was barely able to hold back his laughter. Focused his attention on the other matter at hand. "Doctor Jackson, do you believe that it would be safe for any teams to return to this planet?"

"Absolutely, sir. In fact, Hania...um...the darshinah...er...seer...for The People was hopeful that there would be other 'seekers' to arrive."

"Write up your recommendations."

"Yes, sir.

"SG-1 will have down time tomorrow. On the day after, you'll be flying with me to DC," the general said.

"Not another hearing for funding, I hope," Jack groaned. They'd only been gone for three days! Surely the idiots in DC hadn't decided that a 'command performance' was necessary.

"No, colonel. We'll have a brief meeting with the president. At his insistence."

"What'd we do this time?" Casey asked immediately.

The smile that had been threatening before broke free. "Exactly what SG-1 always does. A good job."

"Sounds a bit ominous, sir," Jack fretted.

"I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised." Just as he'd been to finally get a response to his suggestions. To have his suggestions given the full stamp of approval, and the results 'fast-tracked', made him even happier.

"Oh, no doubt I'll be surprised. Just not sure about the 'pleasantly' part. Sir," Jack grumbled.

Hammond's smile widened. "There is the possibility that you won't be as...happy...about what is about to happen as I am...er...will be."

"Oh, now see, that just worries me," Jack said.

"I promise, colonel, it will be absolutely painless."

"Sir, if you don't mind, I'd rather not hear any more. It's just getting worse."

Casey cocked her head sideways, then studied the general. "Makes sense."

Certain that the seer knew what was about to happen, the general nodded. "Yes it does. And I'd prefer that it remain...undisclosed." No sense giving Jack O'Neill time to contemplate retiring.

"Yes, sir," Casey replied immediately. "It won't change anything, though, right?"

"Operations will continue just as they are," the general assured her.

"Now I'm worried," Daniel admitted.

"Me, too," Sam said, frowning slightly.

Casey giggled. "Oh, relax, everyone. It's a good thing."

With a chuckle, the general rose to his feet, the team following suit. "Reports on my desk by the end of the day. Dismissed."

Jack waited until the general was seated at his desk before turning to the seer. "Okay, Radar, what's going on?"

"Didn't you just hear General Hammond tell me he wants this left quiet?" Casey asked, one eyebrow lifted slightly.

"I'm your CO. You can tell me," Jack insisted.

"Uh uh. No way." She turned around, walked determinedly toward the elevator.

Hurrying to catch up, Jack dropped his arm around slender shoulders. "Just a hint."

"Nope."

"A clue?"

"Uh uh."

"Okay, how about this, if I guess what it is, you just nod," Jack suggested.

"No! I am not going to tell you," Casey insisted.

"You are just a pain-in-the-ass," Jack complained.

"So you keep telling me."

"Well, you just tell Danny, and Danny will tell me," Jack said, his eyes on the digital counter that indicated what floor the elevator was on.

"Not gonna happen. Daniel won't even ask about it," Casey retorted.

"If we have to go to DC to deal with politicians, we should go as prepared as possible," Jack said, deciding to try another tactic.

"Not necessary this time," Casey replied.

"You're sure about that?"

"Yep." Surrounded by her teammates, Casey looked up at Jack. "What's about to happen will be a good thing, for all of us. The more leverage we have, the better."

Daniel frowned. "That's...intriguing."

"Very," Sam agreed.

"I hate this not knowing, Radar," Jack grumped.

The slender seer began to giggle. "In this instance, you're much happier. Trust me."

"Can't trust you if I don't know what's going on," was the instant response.

"Too bad." The elevator doors slid open, and Casey bounced into the car. Began to giggle as her teammates stared at her. "Going up?"

With a smile, Daniel stepped in beside her. "Stop gloating, Angel."

"I'm not gloating!"

"Yes, you are," Sam grinned, stepping into the elevator as well.

"Big time. Gloating all over the place," Jack tossed at her.

"Indeed." Teal'c pushed the buttons for levels eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-one.

"All I'll say is this...General Hammond has taken steps to protect us, and to give us more...leverage...than we've ever had before. He has allies in the Pentagon, staunch allies. And those men and women are influencing those who will be replacing them. But there are still...factions...that could cause trouble for us. As long as we follow all of the rules, none of the naysayers can make a move against us."

"Now that is just about the most confusing thing you've ever said," Jack complained.

"Actually, it's not," Daniel said, studying his Wife carefully.

"It's not?"

"Not if you think about it. What rules do we need to follow, Jack?"

"Military regs come to mind."

"Agreed. So, all we have to do is figure out what rules...or rule...might have slipped through the cracks, as it were," Daniel mused.

"Or," Casey said softly, her expression one of guarded contemplation, "you could just trust me, and enjoy your day off tomorrow."

He was about to argue, but the plea in her green eyes was his undoing. Jack heaved a sigh. "Right. It's nothing bad?"

"No, Jack, it's nothing bad," Casey smiled.

The elevator stopped on level eighteen, and Daniel and Casey stepped into the corridor. "So, are we doing O'Malley's tonight?" Casey asked.

"You betcha," Jack replied.

"Cool!"

"I'll let you know when I'm ready to leave," Jack added.

"Jack?" Daniel asked.

"Colonel stuff. Who knows how many requests the lab rats have made in the past three days." The heavy sigh had the entire team chuckling.

"Right," Daniel grinned. He put his arm around Casey. "Later, Jack."

"So," Jack said, as soon as the doors slid closed, "do either of you have any idea what Radar was trying so hard not to say?"

"No, sir," Sam replied. "The only thing I can think of is that we're going to be awarded medals or something."

"Now that makes sense," Jack nodded.

"Indeed."

Sam bit her lip. She suspected there was more to the visit to DC than just receiving medals from the President of the United States. Unlike her lover, however, she'd prefer not to think about it. Even if Casey did insist that it was a 'good thing'.

 

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Jack sat in his office, his mind not on the forms scattered in front of him, but on the afternoon he'd spent with his son. He carefully examined every word that had been exchanged, the expressions on Charlie's face as they talked. Only now did he realize that he'd held off doing something that he probably should have done a year ago. Something that deep inside, he'd wanted to do for much longer. Could only speculate that Charlie's 'permission' was the catalyst that had destroyed the last...obstacle; freeing him, heart and soul.

Unlocking the bottom desk drawer, he pulled out a small, square velvet jeweler's box. Opened the lid and stared. He'd bought it right after the first night he'd spent at Sam's house, in her arms. Even though they'd never discussed 'the future', both of them happy enough to simply be together after years of loving each other from a distance, he'd known, lying there with Sam in his arms, that he wanted her to sleep in his arms every night...forever. He was fairly certain she felt the same way. He steadfastly refused to even entertain the thought that she loved him, but not enough to make any promises.

His thoughts turned to how and where he would offer it to her. Not one idea that came to him seemed 'right'. Maybe, he thought, he'd just go with the moment. Casey was always saying that his heart would never lead him wrong. Okay, he'd follow his heart. Just let it happen, O'Neill.

One decision made, he did his best to focus his attention on the folders that covered his desk. He had his mission report to type out, and a dozen request chits. The sooner he finished with all the paperwork, the sooner they could get out of here, and the sooner 'that moment' would arrive. With a sigh, he pulled the first chit toward him. What the hell was a Lyophilizer, and why did Doctor Coombs believe that they needed a new one?


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