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Bregman was sitting alone in the commissary. He stared at the pass-card on the table in front of him. It was the one that Rundell had been using all day. Whether the colonel had been called to other duties, or had simply decided he wasn't escorting the film crew any longer, he'd tossed the small, rectangle of plastic onto the table, and had then hurried out of the room.
He watched with little interest as an older man mopped the floor. The thought that the rumor mill within the SGC worked at amazing speed had him perking up the slightest bit. "Hi, how ya doin'?" he said, offering a friendly smile. "I don't suppose you know anything about what's going on…er…on here…"
The janitor had heard the rumors. Knew exactly who was speaking to him. With a glare, he shoved the mop into the bucket, and pushed it toward the small kitchen behind the commissary dining room.
James and Shep walked into the room. Both grabbed a cup of coffee before joining Bregman at the small table.
"There are multiple injuries. At least three people were hit with staff blasts-" Shep started.
"How do you know?" Bregman interrupted.
"There was a firefight of some kind. Apparently one of the teams got ambushed, so they sent in SG-1, SG-5, SG-7, Fraiser, and a medical team to extract them," Shep finished.
"Someone from the original team must have been badly hurt, or Fraiser wouldn't have gone in at all," Bregman mused, recalling his interview with Doctor Werner. According to Werner, when a team member was severely injured, as the CMO and an Air Force officer, it was Fraiser who went into the 'hot zones' when a doctor's care was required.
"One of the nurses said there was a fatality," James said quietly.
"Fatality? Someone died?" Bregman asked, wide-eyed.
James nodded. "She wouldn't say who."
Bregman frowned slightly. "Well, Carter's a seasoned officer. She wouldn't be crying unless…"
Rundell stepped into the room
"I mean..." Bregman paused, looked up at the liaison officer. "We hear that somebody actually may have died. What have you got?"
Rundell dropped into the only empty chair at the table. His distress was obvious. "O'Neill," he said quietly.
Bregman, James, and Shep looked at each other, shock mirrored on their faces.
"You sure?" Bregman asked.
"No," Rundell admitted. "I heard O'Neill was brought in on a gurney. He took a staff blast. And he wasn't moving."
"Just before we were…" James paused, glanced at Shep, then sheepishly at Rundell. "Before we were…invited…to leave the level-"
"Twenty-one," Shep clarified.
"We heard that they'd sedated Casey Jackson. And it seems Doctor Jackson has disappeared. No one is sure where Teal'c is, either," James finished.
Rundell rose to his feet. "Considering the…circumstances…I suggest that you gentlemen stay in the room General Hammond assigned for your use. Don't be surprised if you're asked to leave."
Bregman was too shocked to take offense at the warning. "No…no…not at all. We'll just…well…"
The liaison officer walked away. The fact that the film crew was still on the base was no doubt the result of the fact that for the moment, no one remembered or cared that they were there. That fact could, and most probably would, change in a heartbeat.
A A A A A A
The scientists who were assigned to level eighteen had already heard that there had been trouble…a mission gone 'bad'. And the team on that mission had been SG-13…Cam Balinsky's team. They were also as aware as everyone else that three casualties had been brought back through the gate. What they didn't know was who the casualties were. They chose to wait together in the room that served as a gathering place…a place to relax, a place to bounce ideas and theories off each other and the walls…waiting for word about what had gone wrong.
Daniel heard the soft murmur of voices from the commons room. He headed for the door…stopped and took a deep breath. Every eye was on him when he stepped over the threshold. "You've probably heard there was a bit of trouble," he said quietly.
Doctor Meyers took one look at Daniel's ashen face and knew. "Just tell us, Daniel," Beth said softly.
"Airman Simon Wells, one of Cam's teammates, was hit. I…I think…I hope he's going to be all right. Jack…er…General O'Neill took a hit too, but the new polymer armor worked. He's going to be okay, too." Daniel took a deep breath. Avoided looking at the faces of his colleagues. "Cam…Cam insisted on joining us to get his teammates. He…uh…he…" Daniel rubbed his eyes with the thumb and index finger of one hand.
"Is Cam okay?" Doctor Leanna Izett asked.
All he could do was shake his head. "Staff blast…chest…" Daniel ground out. "He died instantly."
For a moment the two anthropologists and two archaeologists sat in stunned silence. "Oh, god," Craig Nichols moaned.
Leanna let out a tiny squeak and then began crying, leaning against Doctor Warnke, who patted her shoulder awkwardly, his face mirroring his own grief.
Knowing that Casey had been struggling with a 'download', Beth Meyers rose to her feet. "Casey?"
"Not so good," Daniel admitted. "She's sedated right now. She thinks she's responsible for what happened."
"Balderdash!" Beth exclaimed.
He gave a weak smile. "Yeah…you tell her that."
"I most certainly will!" Beth declared. She looked around. "Is there anything we should do…anything you'd like us to do?"
"No." The answer had been curt…unintentionally so. He took another deep breath. "There will be a memorial. I'd-" He rubbed his eyes again as his voice broke. "If you'd like to say something, just let me know."
Again Beth looked around at her co-workers. "I believe we'd all like to say a little of something," she said.
The others were nodding their heads slowly, still too shocked to completely comprehend what was happening.
"Good. I'll give you the details as soon as I have them," Daniel promised. "Excuse me." He fled to his office. Where he wavered between grief over the loss of his friend, and frantic worry about his Wife's emotional and mental condition. Both emotions had tears rolling down his cheeks as he sat in his chair, his arms around his chest, hugging himself tightly.
Bregman followed Shep and James onto the elevator, and watched as James pressed the button for level twenty-five. He reached around him and pressed the button for level eighteen. "You two go ahead. Set up for editing. I'll be there soon."
"How you gonna operate the elevator?" James asked.
The journalist held up the pass. "Tom gave it to me."
A look of surprise passed between the two airmen.
"Yeah, surprised me, too," Bregman chuckled.
"So what…or who…is on level eighteen?" James asked.
"I dunno. Just thought I'd check it out," Bregman shrugged. If he'd learned anything during the hours he'd spent so far at the SGC, it was that these people were accustomed to dealing with stressful situations. They did it on a regular basis. To do that, they'd had to develop ways of coping. And places in which to hide while they coped. It was only a hunch, but he figured it was worth checking out.
Daniel was typing out his mission report, his fingers jabbing the keys…a small outlet for the emotions that roiled within him. He'd lost a good friend before, when Robert Rothman had been taken by a Goa'uld, and then killed. That had been on P3X 888. Cam Balinsky had just been killed by the Jaffa of Amaterasu. On P3X 666. The errant thought that any planet with a computer designation beginning with 'P3X' followed by a three digit, single number identifier should be avoided in the future almost made him laugh.
Daniel looked up to see Emmett Bregman hovering in the doorway. "Yeah, it's not a good time right now." His voice broke slightly as he spoke.
"I've…I've just been hearing bits and pieces of what happened. I was just hoping you might be able to confirm some of it," Bregman said.
"Sorry," Daniel said, shaking his head. It's bad enough that Cam has been killed, he thought. Casey is blaming herself for this…I can't lose her, too!
Bregman noticed the small, gray camcorder sitting on the edge of the work table. He couldn't miss the fact that it was covered with bloody fingerprints. He slowly entered the room, approached the corner of the table. He pointed at the small device. "Did you…?"
Daniel looked up to see Bregman pointing at the camera. The color drained from his cheeks as a wave of raw pain washed over him. He closed his eyes as what he'd witnessed…everything said…every thought he'd had…began to play again in his mind with crystal clarity…
The forest wasn't dense, but it did offer plenty of hiding places for the enemy. Something the Jaffa were taking full advantage of. Lieutenant Howie Bernstein of SG-5 called to him, and pointed toward a low spot where he could barely see someone peeking up, firing at any Jaffa who appeared.
"That's Bos," Cam said, already running toward his teammate.
He sprinted behind his friend and colleague. Janet, protected by the three men, the lieutenant right beside her, followed closely as well. The two medics who had been with the teams were still back with Wheaton and Casey…He had just enough time to send up a prayer that his Wife was okay while following Cam's running figure.
"Over here," Bosworth called, waving the doctor closer. "Man down over here."
It only took a minute or so to get to the fallen man. He continued to watch around him, Bernstein watching carefully as well.
"Cam?" Bosworth asked hoarsely.
"It's okay, Bos. I brought help," Cam grinned. The grin disappeared when he looked down at Wells. "Damn, Simon," he gulped..
"You're gonna be all right, Simon," Bosworth said worriedly. "Hang in there, all right, buddy? Cam brought Doctor Fraiser. You'll be home before you know it!"
The sound of explosions, the repeated rat-tat-tat of weapons fire, the high-pitched hum of staff weapons…all seemed to surround them. Another round of explosions had everyone ducking instinctively.
He knelt down beside Janet, barely noted that Cam had taken a defensive position just behind him, offering protective fire for Janet and himself, as well as the wounded man.
"There's a lot of blood coming from underneath him," Bosworth said. He glanced around. "I'm going up on that ridge, I can cover you from there."
"I'll go with you," Bernstein added. "We can see more from that vantage point."
Janet dropped down beside Wells. "I'm Doctor Janet Fraiser. Can you hear me?"
Wells groaned loudly. "Yeah. It hurts so bad! I can't move…I can't feel my legs. I think it went right through me."
Figuring that a bit of distraction would work wonders, he smiled down at the man. "I'm Daniel Jackson."
"I know…I know…SG-1," Wells said, gasping from the pain that held his body in a razor-sharp vise.
"Okay, you're gonna be fine," he continued, trying to remain as calm as Janet seemed to be. "What's your name?"
"I'm Senior Airman Wells. Simon Wells. Am I gonna die?"
"Not if I have anything to do with it," Janet said firmly.
He jumped slightly when Cam began to fire…he brought is own weapon up…looked around…met brown eyes that glanced down at the patient. Her silent message to him had been as clear as if she'd spoken…she needed his help to keep Airman Wells focused and calm. It was a message that Cam had seen as well.
"You help the Doc, Daniel," Cam said softly. "I have your back."
With a nod, he turned his attention back to the man lying on the ground.
"Okay, we need to roll him over and stop the bleeding," Janet had told him. "Okay?"
He nodded his understanding. In that moment, watching Janet reaching for a stack of bandages, he'd realized that moving Wells would be excruciating for the Airman. He had to keep this kid calm so Janet could do what she needed to do in order to save his life. "Simon, you hanging in there?"
The only response was another grunt of pain.
"Okay, easy," Janet said, the bandage she needed in hand. "All right, on three. One…two…three."
He rolled the wounded man over, Janet held his neck, to make certain there wouldn't be more damage. Wells screamed in agony, the sound ripping at his very soul. He'd been hit with a staff weapon…and his wound had been mostly superficial. He couldn't fathom how much worse this had to be…He dug through his pack, found the towel he carried, placed it gently beneath Wells' head. Janet was checking the wound, making the man flinch with every breath. 'Distraction, Danny, keep him distracted!' he thought frantically. Making eye contact, trying to keep his voice low and calm, he forced a smile to his face. "Okay, you're gonna be fine."
"That sonuvabitch! He came out of nowhere! The bastard shot me in the back!" Wells gasped.
"Just talk about something else right now, Simon," he said. "Uh…what's going on at home right now?"
"Uh…my…wife…" Wells winced visibly, then gasped again. "My wife is pregnant."
"Yeah? That your…" Janet had thrust a pile of gauze at him, which he held open-handed, letting her take what she needed from the stack as she needed it. "That your first?"
"Yeah," Wells grunted.
A loud cry of pain echoed around them as Janet gingerly probed the wound.
"That's good," Janet murmured reassuringly. "At least you felt that."
The radios on their shoulders crackled to life…
"General O'Neill, our position is being compromised. We're not gonna be able to hold this 'gate for long!
He wasn't certain, but he thought it was Major Evans making the report. It sounded like Evan's deep baritone.
"It doesn't matter," Jack's voice replied. "We're not gon-… to hold…posit-…long!"
The response was garbled…but he understood enough to know that they were in serious danger. He glanced around. 'Where the hell is Casey? She and the medics should have been here by now!' His heart was pounding with fear; adrenaline was rushing through his veins…he was simultaneously scared to death and worried sick. A combination of emotions that were familiar to him…pounding through his head and his heart whenever he was on a mission with his Wife, and things went tits up. 'Where the hell is she?'
Janet grabbed her radio. "General, I'm gonna need more time to stabilize this patient. He can't be moved yet!"
"Go without me! Leave me!" Wells cried out, trying to push Janet away.
"Nobody is going anywhere," Janet replied calmly.
"I can't believe I'm not gonna see my son," Wells sobbed.
"Okay, just stay focused. Stay focused. You…you…you know it's a boy you're gonna have, right?" he asked. Trying to ignore the sound of weapons fire beside him as Cam kept the Jaffa from being able to approach. Trying to ignore the nagging worry about Casey…reminding himself that she had been trained, and had been in fire-fights before. That she was with men trained to deal with situations just like this one… Doing his best to convince himself that his Wife was okay… 'Stay focused on the kid…'
Wells managed to nod. "Tell me the truth. I'm not gonna make it, right?"
He took the I.V. bag Janet thrust at him. He held his arm up slightly, so that the saline and whatever drugs Janet was administering would flow freely into the tube, and through the catheter she'd just inserted. "You're gonna be fine."
"Doctor Jackson? Please…please…please…" Wells continued to grow more agitated. "Just let me tell my wife…Let me tell my wife that…"
"Okay, okay," he said. Everyone knew he carried a camera with him when he went on missions, it seemed. He handed the bag to Janet, exchanging concerned looks with the doctor, noting her nod of agreement. Keep him as quiet as possible, her dark eyes told him. Janet put the I.V. bag over her shoulder as he reached for his pack…
...Anger and grief shook him…he pushed the rest of the memories away. Daniel jumped from his chair and strode across the room, his anger reflected in every stiff movement of his body. He snatched the camcorder from its resting place, and slammed it onto Casey's desk behind him, beside her computer. "I said now's not a good time. What part of that didn't you understand?"
"You got something on tape, didn't you?" Bregman asked.
"Get out!" Daniel hissed, walking toward Bregman. Debating on whether to just shove the man out of the office, or to take a swing at his smirking face. "Get out!"
Bregman realized that there was every chance he was about to be clobbered. He backed away quickly. "Okay. I'm going. All right?"
Daniel turned away, muttering under his breath about journalists and Goa'uld and how they were too damned similar in their belief that they were all knowing. He reached for the camera, his intent to put it away. The minute his fingers closed over the device he froze. It was here…right here. Every damned horrific second…
Bregman turned around and watched as Daniel hesitated and stared at the small recording device. "You know," he said softly, "I did a piece once on this war photographer. His name was Martin Kristofsky."
Why is that bastard still here? Daniel rolled his eyes and shook his head. Bregman's gall apparently knew absolutely no bounds.
"For about six months, he was with a unit in Vietnam, and…the day before he was scheduled to leave…the day before, he's out with a unit, and it was just a routine patrol. Or so they thought.
His entire body went taut with anger. If he got near Bregman, he'd hit him. He hoped that ignoring the bastard would make him go away. Or not, he sighed silently as the man continued.
"But suddenly, the lieutenant pulled him down…and Kristofsky…he hadn't intended to take a picture at that moment, but his hands were on the camera, and he hit the ground so hard that it just went off. And the picture captured…" He took a breath. "It captured the lieutenant getting shot in the head. And Kristofsky said to me…he said, 'That bullet would have hit me…should've hit me.' And he never showed that picture to anybody. Not for twenty-five years. But twenty-five years later, he got up one morning, and he looked at that picture. And he saw something that wasn't horrific. And he decided to tell the story because he realized that he hadn't accidentally taken a picture of a man dying. It was of a man saving his life." Bregman paused. "The picture I'm making…that I'm trying to make…is about what you people do every single day-"
Daniel turned to look at the journalist. So many emotions were rolling through him, he couldn't even identify them all. His Wife was sedated because all she could do was scream and cry…eaten alive by guilt because she had determined she'd failed. And her failure, according to her, was protecting Cam Balinsky from what had happened. What never should have happened…
"-under extreme circumstances that no one can even imagine," Bregman was saying. "And I don't know what went on out there. I'm sorry about what happened, whatever it was. And if you did tape something of it, that's not gonna change it. What will change is how you feel about it." With a nod, Bregman disappeared.
Right now, he wasn't sure how he felt…other than numb…angry…so damned angry…
A A A A A A
He was sitting beside the bed, his fingers wrapped around hers, when she opened her eyes. "Hey, babe," Daniel said softly.
Casey rolled her eyes, lifting one hand to her forehead. "I feel like crap," she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I know." He lifted her fingers to his lips, pressed a kiss against them.
Everything that had happened crashed down on her once again. She covered her eyes with her hand. "I'm so sorry! I screwed up so badly!"
"Casey, there's nothing to apologize for," Daniel insisted quietly. Tear-filled green eyes turned toward him. He reached out to caress her cheek, wiping away a tear that had fallen; wishing he could just as easily wipe away her guilt.
She took a shuddering breath, shaking her head at the same time. "Is Jack okay? And the guy who was hurt-"
"Simon Wells," he said, looking at where the man was resting quietly. Pushed away the images of the battle that had raged around him; had ended the life of his friend. "He's gonna be fine. Jack is fine. That new polymer shield works well," he added.
"That's good," she said softly. "Sam…Teal'c?"
"Everyone is fine."
"Everyone except Cam," she whispered.
"Why couldn't I see it?"
He knew the question was rhetorical…obviously he wouldn't have the answer. Except…he did. "Because you weren't supposed to," he said quietly.
"Casey, you don't always get all the details. There have been times that what you saw had to happen. What about the mission to get that scepter from Ba'al's ship?"
She shuddered as the memories of that mission flooded her mind. "I'm a seer. I'm supposed to see things."
"And you do. You've saved so many lives, Casey-"
"Randy Taylor died because I didn't see that ambush. Cam died because I didn't see the danger," she argued fiercely.
Daniel shook his head. He might as well try arguing with the wall. It would probably be less frustrating.
"I can't be here," she said suddenly, sitting up in the bed.
Before he could say a word, she had pulled the I.V. catheter from her hand, was swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She was still wearing her BDU. Even her boots. Knowing that she was determined to leave the infirmary, Daniel put his arm around her shoulders. "Let's go up to my office."
There were no medical personnel to witness the 'escape'. Daniel figured he'd explain to Janet when he had the chance. His Wife was his first and foremost concern. He understood all to well that at times the infirmary was the worst place to be.
The elevator ride was made in silence. She stood off to one side, her arms around her slender waist, her head down, her long hair hiding her face from view. No doubt hiding more tears, he thought.
"How can you stand to be near me?" she asked softly.
"Wha…wha…what?" The question baffled him. She looked up at him, the pain in her eyes cutting him to the quick.
"I might as well have-" she started.
He put a finger on her lips. "Casey, stop it. Stop it right now."
She started to protest, then shook her head. Followed him silently into his office. It was impossible for her body to remain still when her mind, her heart, were filled with chaotic emotions - anger…guilt…remorse…grief…
Daniel watched as Casey paced the room. "It's not your fault."
She whirled to face him. "Yes it is! We both know that! I failed, Daniel! I fucked up so badly! Cam died because I screwed up!"
"Casey, listen to me-"
Both hands went up, warding off his words. "Nothing you can say will change the fact that Cam is dead. And I'm as guilty as if I'd been the one holding that staff weapon." She angrily brushed away the tears that continued to roll down her cheeks. "How can you bear to look at me?"
Different wording than the question she'd asked in the elevator, but the same meaning. He walked toward her. Reached out and pulled her into his arms. In spite of the fact that she struggled against him, trying to move away from his embrace, he continued to hold her. Tightened his arms, and pulled her against his chest. "I love you, Casey. Nothing will ever change that."
"I'm responsible for Cam's death," she insisted.
"No, you're not."
One hand went to his cheek, even as the thought that she didn't deserve his love filled her mind. "How can you love me, after what's happened?"
He caught her hand, gently kissed the palm. "When Sha're was taken from me, I thought I'd never feel anything but anger again. When she was killed, I was left so lonely, so…empty…that I didn't think I could stand the pain. I'd made up my mind I was never going to love again. I was convinced that I would never have a loving relationship that would last. So, I wasn't going to take the chance of being hurt that badly again."
Casey lowered her head. "Then you met me, and look what I've done to you…I've hurt you so many times."
Wrapping his hand gently around her chin, he forced her to look up at him. "That has never happened, Casey. You've never hurt me. Things that have happened to you, been done to you, that has hurt me. But never you."
She shook her head slightly.
"I was just reaching the point," Daniel continued softly, not certain where the thoughts were coming from, or where they'd been hidden. He could only hope that they would help her to understand how much he loved her, needed her. So that she could accept the words he would use to help her understand she was in no way responsible for Cam's death. "…had reached the point where I thought that maybe…just maybe…if the right woman came into my life, I'd be able to take the risk again. It wasn’t long after that realization that the team was tossed into that alternate, future reality. Where I met my counterpart and his beautiful wife. When she told me that it was my destiny to be with a beautiful, caring woman, I almost couldn't believe it."
The love in his eyes brought more tears to hers. "Destiny," she whispered.
"You're my destiny, Casey," Daniel said softly. "I love you so very much. You don't know how much it hurts to see you so angry at yourself…blaming yourself for something that isn't your fault. You're hurting so deeply, and I’m hurting too…because I don't know how to help you. Tell me what you need, Angel. Tell me how to get through to you. Tell me how to help you see that you're not to blame for anything that happened today."
"I should have seen it! I did see it…just…just not…I didn't see Cam…" She took a shuddering breath. Tried to bite back the sob that followed.
One hand gently guided her head to his shoulder, the other arm wrapped around her, held her tightly against his body. "Cry it out, Angel."
A wail of absolute heartbreak filled the air. Followed by another…and another. Her body shook with the force of her grief, her tears wetting the shirt beneath her cheek.
Bregman backed away from the doorway. He'd overheard the conversation…could see the guilt that racked the seer. He had no idea just how her 'gift', as those in the SGC referred to her particular talent, actually worked. Apparently she didn't either. And even though she'd been unable to prevent the death of one of the SGC members, as far as he'd heard, no one blamed her. Except for the seer, herself. Maybe they should, he thought uncharitably. Isn't this exactly the sort of thing she's supposed to prevent?
"What the hell are you doing here?"
The journalist turned around. Colonel Carter's face reflected her own grief. He'd still not learned if General O'Neill had survived or not. "I was going to talk to Doctor Jackson…I didn't realize that he was…uh…um…busy."
"Get away from that door," Sam hissed. "God, she's torn up enough without you hanging around like a ghoul, waiting to pounce on her with your damned questions."
"I…uh…I have no intention of-"
"Get out of here!"
The ire in tear-filled sapphire blue eyes was enough to have Bregman backing away as quickly as possible. He headed for the elevator, deciding he'd head back down to the commissary, and see if he could learn anything useful there. By now there had to be someone…maybe even from the teams who had been off-… off-whatever…there by now.
Sam walked into the room, having heard the cries of agony echoing down the corridor. "Jack's asleep in our quarters," she said quietly, answering the question in Daniel's eyes as soon as his gaze met hers. "Janet said he could rest there as well as the infirmary. He'll have one hell of a bruise, but that's it. I also checked on Wells. Doctor Werner said he should make a full recovery."
"Thank god," Daniel sighed.
The colonel crossed the room; put her hand on Casey's back. "How are you holding up?"
Still trying to catch her breath after the bout of crying, Casey shook her head.
"Casey is blaming herself for Cam's death," Daniel said, his voice low.
Eyes wide, Sam turned her attention back to the seer. "Why? Casey, you couldn't have predicted what happened out there today!"
"That's my job, Sam! I'm supposed to predict what happens!" Casey replied emphatically.
"That's ridiculous! You're not omnipotent! Yes, you're able to warn us about danger-"
"Which I didn't do for Cam!" the seer interjected miserably.
"But no one expects you to predict everything that happens to everyone here at the SGC! You're not an…an…you're not an ascended being, Casey!" Sam finished, exasperation in her voice.
"That's what I've been trying to tell her," Daniel sighed.
"Casey, Janet said that she had enough time to see Cam looking over her shoulder, before he'd tossed her down, and was hit…there wasn't time to do or say anything. You know that Janet is blaming herself, too," Sam said gently.
"Whatever for?" Casey asked.
"Because she's-" Sam paused, looked over her shoulder. "Because of…you know."
Daniel caught Sam's worried look. "Don't move," he whispered to his wife, stepping away long enough to check the corridor. Then closed and locked the door. He walked back to where Casey waited, and took her back in to his arms. "Janet's blaming herself?"
Sam nodded. "She said she's immortal…three days and she'd be 'right as rain', to quote her. She said if she'd been paying closer attention, she could have saved Cam."
"But she was busy taking care of Wells," Casey argued. "She couldn't have done her job and kept watch at the same time."
"You tell her that," Sam replied dryly.
"What happened today was a terrible tragedy," Daniel said softly. "But the only person to blame is the Jaffa who shot Cam. No one else."
"But-" Casey started.
"Don't do it," Daniel said warningly. "You are not responsible!"
"Yes," Casey said sadly, "I am. Excuse me," she murmured, pulling away from her Husband. She fled the room, intending to go to the ladies' room to wash her face. The door to the storage room where the Quantum Mirror was stored stood open.
She paused. Would speaking to another 'Protector' help her? Would Oakey be able to offer her understanding? Would Oakey hold her responsible for her failure, just as she held herself? In spite of what her husband and friends said, or even believed, Casey was convinced that her task was to protect everyone around her, not just a select few. And that meant keeping them from any harm, and most certainly from dying.
Without a second thought she changed direction, and stepped into the room. Casey closed the door. She didn't want any interruptions. Or witnesses. She was about to admit her failure to a Seventh Level Being. True, Oakey was from a different reality. But still, she was a Seventh Level Being. A being of incredible power. One hell of a temper too, as she recalled. At least, when those She cared for were messed with. There was a very real chance that she might not survive the encounter she was about to initiate. Not that she was concerned about that. If she couldn't protect those of the SGC, if she couldn't do the job she'd been destined to do, then her existence didn't actually mean much, did it? What she was seeking was comfort. If judgment was what she received…She shook her head slightly. The only complete thought that could make its way past her chaotic emotions was that of speaking to the one person…Being…who would understand.
Will Oakey understand? Casey covered her face with her hands, unable to hold back the sobs that wracked her slender frame. Cam Balinsky…Cam - her teacher - her colleague - her friend…was dead. Her inability to see through the darkness had prevented her from warning him in time.
Shaking, she did her best to rein in her turbulent emotions. Wiping her face, she took a deep breath.
The lack of extra boxes and crates in the room, thanks to the appropriation of levels thirteen through fifteen, meant that she could walk right up to the mirror. She stared at the acorn that had magically been carved into the corner of the frame. Casey took another deep breath. She reached up, careful to avoid the barely visible red laser beams that prevented anyone from stepping through the mirror without setting off alarms.
Just like the first time she'd touched it, Casey felt as if she'd been zapped with a bit of static electricity. She closed her eyes. "Oakey? Oh, Oakey, please…I need to talk to you!"
Bregman was waiting for the elevator. The sound of footsteps had him turning to see who was approaching. He had no idea why Casey Jackson had fled her husband's office…the speed she had come running out of the room allowed for no other interpretation…only to stop, and then dart into what Cam had referred to as a storage room. He made his way down the corridor, careful to make certain he wasn't seen as he passed Doctor Jackson's office.
He had been sincere when confronted by Colonel Carter. He didn't want to question Casey Jackson about what had happened. Bregman realized that often just engaging in conversation could net him as much information as an in-depth interview. He'd simply offer his condolences, and if the lovely Mrs. Jackson wanted to talk, he'd let her. Encourage her, even.
His hand was on the doorknob, ready to open it, when he heard the soft voice of the 'resident seer'. Some seer, if she couldn't see what happened today, he thought bitterly. He glanced around, wondering if he could find Doctor Balinsky. The archaeologist's face had been the only friendly one in a sea of scowls. He'd never made a friend so quickly…
That thought gave him pause. He searched his memory. Couldn't remember ever feeling such a sense of camaraderie for someone in such a short amount of time. Doctor Balinsky - Cam, he thought with a smile - would no doubt be willing to talk to him about what was going on. The smile faded. Cam? Cam Balinsky was the fatality? No, that can't be right! I just misunderstood...
"Please, Oakey…I need your help. Or…I need something! I screwed up so badly!" Casey said softly Another sob tore from her throat, tears dripped from her chin. The rustle of leaves, and a slight breeze that moved the ends of her hair were the only signs of her arrival before Oakey's calm voice echoed in her head.
"Guide Sapling, what is wrong?"
"Oh, Oakey, I screwed up!" Wrapping her arms around her waist, Casey began to sob once again.
Seeing no person or thing threatening the Guide that she would need to shred to sawdust, Oakey gave a gentle caress to Casey's cheek. It was both a gesture of comfort and a quick method of touching the seer's mind to gain information on what had happened. Having Casey voice the event would give clarity to the jumbled images she was seeing. "Tell me what has transpired."
"Three days ago I had a download, but all I could see was that someone in danger and that that someone was near Janet but I couldn't see who it was so I couldn't warn him or her and it was Cam and he died because I failed!"
As much as it pained her to see the Guide in distress, she knew the rain of the eyes had as many healing properties as rain falling from the sky to parched earth. She settled for giving comfort with a gentle caress to the woman's shoulder. It also gave her a moment to compose her thoughts. The human branches had a different mentality to her own kind, and it was with a touch of perplexity that she pointed out, "It is not your task to stop death. Sometimes death holds more purpose than living."
"And just what purpose could Cam's death have?" Casey demanded to know.
"A tree must be pruned for it to blossom and grow."
"How dare you refer to one of the finest men it was my honor to know as…as…as 'deadwood'!" Casey fumed. "How dare you!"
"Not deadwood...a flower...whose scent has affected all who came in contact with him," Oakey replied gently.
Casey took a shuddering breath. "Because of me, that flower has been destroyed for all time. It will never offer its sweet scent again."
"You cannot stop death...if no one died then the garden would be choked with overpopulation." Oakey paused. "Cam flower's time was brief, but 'poignant'."
Her grief, and her guilt, refused to allow Casey to hear what Oakey was trying so diligently to tell her. "I killed Cam, Oakey, nothing can change that."
Oakey sensed the presence of the interloper. In a fit of temper that anyone would spy on the gentle seer's grief, anyone whose heart wasn't entwined with her heart, the Seventh Level Being reached out and with a flick of a vine transported the man three levels lower. As she touched the little weed she sensed he in some way was linked to the death that had upset the Guide Sapling. This 'Cam' had entwined a vine of his soul into the heart of this weed…a vine that had not much of a chance to grow, but was enough to affect the weed.
Bregman pressed his ear tighter against the door. It sounded as if the seer were having a conversation with someone. But he couldn't hear what the other person was saying. He couldn't hear any other voices at all.
What he did hear sounded like rustling leaves. At the same time he felt a cold breeze against his skin. He looked around hesitantly. Turning slowly in the corridor, Bregman did his best not to scream with fright. He'd been around the SGC long enough today to recognize the medical level. If there had been any doubt in his mind, the large '21' painted on the wall was solid proof. He had no clue what had just happened. Worse yet, he had no clue where Rundell was. If his 'tour guide' should start looking for him… He rubbed his hands over his face. Just how the hell was he supposed to explain being here?
Oakey inwardly sighed. Apparently taking on needless guilt was still built into the seer's psyche. "Did you cause the attack on the planet? Did you fire the shot that took the flower's life force? Did you manipulate the flower into joining the SGC garden in the first place?"
"Of course not," Casey snapped. Her words echoed back to her, harsh and filled with anger. She took a mental 'deep breath'. "I'm sorry Oakey. If I'd just seen it…"
"Those decisions and events, and countless others, are all vines that grew and twined the flower to that one final place...it was inevitable."
Casey frowned slightly. "Inevitable?"
"Had you prevented the flower from going on the mission, his life force would still have stopped. By leaving his death as it was intended, it has meaning."
Casey took a shaky breath. The first ripple of acceptance began to move through her. A ripple that the Being trying to console her felt as well. "So Cam's death had a meaning, even if I can't see what that meaning is?"
"The bud has yet to bloom, but bloom it shall, for all to see."
The comment was just as baffling as some of the things Miss Eloise had told her. Before she could comment further, the door opened, and Daniel peeked into the room. One thought did begin to form…that if she'd managed to stop Cam's death today, he would have died anyway, probably soon, from the way Oakey spoke. And by changing his death, it would have become…meaningless. The loss would have been for…nothing. Even though she had no idea what Cam's death might have changed…or influenced…it was better that it had meaning. Right?
She turned around, wiping her cheeks. Daniel had stuck his head into the room. He must have come looking for her. "Hey."
He walked into the room, closed the door gently. "C'mere."
She nearly ran into his arms. Felt the warmth of his love as soon as he pulled her tight against his chest.
"Don't cry, babe. It wasn't your fault," Daniel said softly.
"It feels that way," Casey sighed.
A soft breeze touched his cheek. He looked around the room, expecting to see…something.
"My condolence on the loss of your flower."
The words echoed in his head. Okay, that was a bit…odd. Flower? He had absolutely no clue what that meant, let alone what was going on.
"She means Cam," Casey whispered.
She? Again the soft touch against his cheek. The quiet rustle of leaves. In an instant he realized why Casey was here. His gaze was pulled to the mirror, and the acorn that had been engraved on the frame…by the Seventh Level Being from another reality. One who had comforted his Wife before. Daniel closed his eyes as a wave of grief washed over him. He shoved it away, not willing to let Casey see it. "Thank you, Oakey" he said softly.
The rustling of leaves was the only response.
Funny that he could draw comfort from just that soft sound, Daniel thought. "If you'll excuse us, Oakey, I'd like to take Casey to the commissary now. She hasn't eaten in several hours…she can't afford to lose any weight."
Again, nothing was said. But he felt the understanding that flowed from the higher level being. If he'd had the time, and if his mind wasn't already trying to deal with the events of the past few hours, Daniel would have taken a moment to wonder in awe about the events in his life that had led him to the place where he was on a first-name basis with a being that could essentially be considered a true god. Instead, he gently led Casey toward the door.
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