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Know Thyself

Chapter 5

Daniel had seen her stealing glances at her watch. Something was up. Sam had pointed out that his birthday was approaching. Knowing Casey, she could be up to anything. And whatever it was, he was going to love it. So, he wasn't at all surprised to see his best friend rush into the room, glance around, then focus on the woman beside him.

Sam hurried toward the table. "Casey! I've been looking for you."

"You've found me."

"SG-11 brought an interesting piece of equipment in last week. This is the first chance I've had to look at it...but I'm at a total loss as to what it is. Could you take a look and tell me what you can 'see' about it?"

He bit back his grin. There had been occasions when Casey's gift had been able to help the techs in the labs identify alien artifacts that defied their best efforts to categorize them. He also knew for a fact that SG-11 hadn't found anything at all last week. "Go on, I can take your dad and his friends around."

"You're sure?" Casey asked, hoping he wouldn't decide to put a time limit on her absence. Tiesha had told her that she was 'set up' to do the photography, but wasn't certain exactly how long it would take to get the 'perfect' shot.

"I'm sure."

Sam gave an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry to steal her away like this, but it could be important. I'm not sure how long we'll be."

It was damned hard not to laugh. He ducked his head, used his napkin to hide behind for a moment, made a show of wiping his mouth. "No problem," Daniel replied.

Casey was up and moving away from the table before anyone could object. "Sorry, Dad. It was nice to meet all of you. Talk to you later," she said quickly. She dropped a kiss on Daniel's head as she walked behind him. "Love you."

"Love you, too."

The two blondes dashed out of the door.

Gary watched them leave. "What the hell was that all about? And don't tell me it's some alien thing-a-ma-jig."

Daniel gave in to the impulse to laugh. "My birthday is July eighth. I think she's planning something."

"Ah," Dancer nodded. "Surprise party."

He shrugged. "Possibly. She and the rest of my friends here in the SGC threw one for me last year."

"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure you'll enjoy it," Charley smiled.

"I'm sure I will, too."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Sam had volunteered to drive Casey to Tiesha's home, where the photo session would take place. It helped to have her best friend with her. Knowing what Tie wanted to do was making her nervous. She'd managed to slip everything she needed into her duffel, using the excuse that she was bringing clean sweats to the base to work out in. A quick stop in the locker room to retrieve it, and they were on their way out of the mountain. Janet was the only other person to know what was going on, although she didn't know exactly why the two were leaving...and would do her best to keep people from asking about the two missing SG-1 team members.

The lieutenant was waiting at the door for them, excitement lighting her chocolate-colored face. "I am so psyched about this! It's the first chance I've had to be so...creative...in a very long time."

The woman's exuberance was contagious, and by the time Sam and Casey were in the small bedroom that would serve as the 'studio' they were excited as well.

"You can change in the bathroom," Tie said, pointing at the door. "Just come on in when you're ready."

When she was ready. Hoo boy. That might take some time. Casey smiled nervously, went into the bathroom, closed the door, then blew out a breath. What if Daniel was upset by such a....revealing...photo? She would be wearing a thong, and have her hands over her breasts, but still...She shook herself. Tiesha had put forth a lot of effort to help her create a fantasy photograph for him. She couldn't let her friend down, couldn't disappoint her by backing out now.

She stripped, pulled on the thong, put on the corset and the stockings. Slid her feet into the stiletto-heeled sandals. Brushed her hair. Carefully applied her make-up, using the soft, natural colors that Tiesha had recommended. She studied herself in the mirror. She was as ready as she was ever going to get. "Please don't let this freak him out," she murmured.

"Holy Hannah!" Sam exclaimed when Casey walked into the room.

"Wow!" Tiesha said, nodding with approval. "Girl, he is going to flip over this! Okay, first we have to get your wings on."

The wings were just as the woman had described them...spread out, pointed ends up as if ready for flight, actual snowy white feathers lined the soft white silk. They were also heavier than she'd imagined them to be. It took several adjustments of the straps before Tiesha was satisfied that they were exactly where they needed to be against her shoulders.

A stiff wire was attached to the center of the wings, and held a thin, gold circlet over her head. "I'll be able to take out the straps and this wire," Tiesha assured her. She led the seer to a corner, where a dark green blanket covered the wall. "I was going to use blue, but I thought this would bring out the green in your eyes better," she explained.

Casey nodded. "Okay, what do I do?"

"Relax," Tie laughed. She picked up one of three cameras that were sitting on a nearby desk. "I'll take a few random shots until you're comfortable, okay?"

Another nod.

Sam watched as the lieutenant began to take pictures, instructing Casey to turn this way or that, lower her hands or raise them. It was easy to see that the photograph was going to be incredible.

"Give me a sexy smile...like you look at Doctor J when you're wanting to get him to bed," Tiesha said, clicking away on the camera. "That's perfect! Just like that! Okay, tilt your head down just a bit...look up at me...don't lose that smile...oh, Casey, that's the one! I just know it!"

Casey couldn't help but grin. When Tiesha lowered the camera, her dark eyes were sparkling with elation. It seemed that the artist had captured 'the' shot. "That's it?"

"That's it," Tiesha confirmed. "I'll have proofs ready for you to look at tomorrow afternoon."

"No one else will see them?" Casey asked worriedly.

"Nope, because I'm using the dark room at the college. I'm on good terms with the instructor there, she lets me use the dark room in exchange for helping her keep it clean, and buying a few of the chemicals once in awhile," Tiesha explained.

She gave a sigh of relief. "Good."

"I'll keep them with me, you can take a look, decide which one you want, and then I'll turn it into a portrait that will knock his socks off," she promised.

"Thank you so much!" Casey said.

"You're welcome." Tiesha glanced at her watch. "Hey, we managed to do that in just under two hours!"

"Holy moly! I'd better get back before Daniel panics," Casey muttered. She ran to the bathroom to pull on her jeans and shirt.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel was, at that moment, sitting at his desk, hands behind his head, trying to figure out exactly what his Wife was up to. Siler vehemently denied any knowledge of surprise parties or get-togethers, and the man had always been a horrible liar. Jack had seemed as puzzled as he was to learn, through the guards at the last check point, that Sam and Casey had left the base.

His eyes wandered around the room, the familiar objects almost comforting in their presence. Came to rest on the picture of her from their wedding, one of his favorites. A candid shot of her looking at her bouquet, her cheeks slightly flushed, her green eyes full of wonder...she was beautiful.

"Staring at her in an attempt to locate her?"

He looked up at the door, grinned to see Jack standing there, leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets.

"Just looking," Daniel replied honestly. He looked at the photos in front of him quite often, as a matter of fact.

Jack nodded. "So where's Dad?"

"He and his 'crew' are talking to Dennis Ballard right now, going over the communication software for the base computers. Apparently we link up to a totally different computer network when we access the internet. All of the internal computer networks are run by programs that Sam and her colleagues wrote. Dennis has written new programs that control internet access. We never notice because he's good at what he does. But he can tell General Hammond what has been accessed by which computer in the Pentagon, what 'route' was taken, and what, if any, information was retrieved. The president can't access our stuff without us knowing about it now."

"That's a good thing, I think," Jack replied.

"So what exactly will Gary and his group be doing?"

"To be honest, Daniel, I don't know. Gary said something about independent monitors. I have no idea what that means."

"It means, airman, that we'll have a dedicated system that will do nothing more than monitor any and every computer that is associated with the department known as the NID," Gary's voice said.

"Tells me nothing," Jack grumped.

Gary grinned. "We'll be keeping tabs on the same computers that try to access the SGC computer system. We can run real-time comparisons. Be able to tell you every keystroke that was made during the duration of the connection."

"And this helps us how?"

"If someone is getting too...nosy...about certain things, we can stop them without them realizing they've been detected. All they'll know is that they can't access the information. They'll get common errors, as if the data has been removed," Gary explained.

"On the flip side, we can 'feed' them whatever information we want them to have," Jess said, stepping into the room behind his employer and friend. "Major Carter has a team compiling files now that are useless, but the hackers won't know that. When the hacker comes through the back door, we'll 'catch' them, and send them where we want them to go. They'll never know the difference."

"I'm impressed," Daniel said.

"You should be," Gary said proudly. "This is where the Kid shines. Jess can follow a hacker, move for move, and that's not easy to do."

"So any information taken from here will be exactly what we want it to be?" Daniel asked. The idea was simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Just as the idea of the Pentagon having access to funds outside of the normal flow of taxpayer dollars was frightening, the idea of one or two people determining what information would be allowed 'out' of the SGC was as troubling. Knowing that General Hammond would be the final voice on that matter eased his mind somewhat...the military man had earned his complete trust over the years.

"It's a necessary evil," Jack said quietly, noting the disquiet in the eyes of his friend. "We have to keep an eye on the NID. For more than one reason."

"I know."

"It's a way to protect her," Jack said. He wasn't above using Daniel's need, his obsession to protect his Wife in order to keep the young man from protesting too loudly about certain security precautions.

Daniel looked up into brown eyes he knew well. Understood the message they were sending. The NID was dangerous. They might have been rendered politically powerless, but no one in the SGC believed for one moment that the people involved in the organization weren't continuing to carry on as they always had. If they were to get their hands on Casey, as they apparently wanted to do...he shuddered mentally. "I understand," he said softly.

"Casey said something about dessert at your place, around eight," Gary said. "Is that still on?"

"As far as I know. You, Sam, and Teal'c are supposed to be there, as well," Daniel told his best friend.

"Why am I always the last to know about these things?" Jack complained.

"Because you never read your memos?" a soft voice suggested.

Jack rolled his eyes. "You are such a smartass."

Casey giggled, walked into the room, Sam on her heels. "So, is this a private, male bonding thing, or can anyone join?"

"Since we forgot to put out the 'no girls allowed' sign, I suppose we could let you join in," Daniel teased.

"Now who's the smartass?"

"So were you able to help the major with that...whatever it was?" Gary asked.

"What?" Casey was momentarily lost.

"Yep," Sam said quickly. "It's a battery of sorts. Dead now."

"Uh huh," the older man replied. He looked at Daniel, gave the young man a wink.

Casey looked at Daniel. Gave him the best 'innocent' smile she could manage. He might know she was planning something, but he'd never in a million years guess what that something was!

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Laughter moved easily among the group gathered on the deck and in the yard. The sun was beginning to set, dropping quickly behind the mountains. Only crumbs remained of the two apple pies that Casey had baked as soon as she arrived home.

Sam, Casey, and Charley were sitting at the round, glass-topped table, sipping the last of the Merlot. "He just couldn't stop talking about you," Charley said. "How beautiful you are, how much you look like your mother, how sweet you are."

Casey ducked her head slightly, holding her glass with both hands, studying it intently, her cheeks flushed.

"I know he was devastated to find out that Brenda had kept you a secret, never told him about you," the woman continued. "If he'd known about you, he'd have raised you alone, if that's what it took to get custody of you."

"He's angry," Casey said softly.

"Yes, he is," Charley agreed. "He's angry at her, he's angry with himself. He's angry with the people who have known for years, and never thought to tell him...contact him."

"I can't imagine how frightened she must have been," Sam admitted.

"Me, either. What I'd like to know is how she could think Gary would turn his back on her," Charley said. "She'd known him for over three years by the time she got pregnant. You'd think she'd have known him well enough by then to have at least told him, even if she was planning to have an abortion."

"Her father had colored the way she viewed men...I suppose being raised in the fundamentalist church they attended only reinforced that view. She never realized that those men, that her father, were the exceptions, not the rule," Casey said softly.

"I suppose," Charley sighed. "He's dealing with the frustration, with the anger. I'm so glad that you've allowed him in your life. I think it would have killed him to have found you, and then have to walk away."

"I'm thrilled that he wants to be in my life," Casey replied. When the phone began to ring, she sighed. "If it's the base, I'm gonna be pissy. I want a weekend off, and at home!"

Sam chortled. "You and me both, girlfriend!"

Casey grabbed the instrument on the fourth ring. "Hello?"

"Mrs. Jackson, this is Mr. Preston."

"Oh...uh...hello."

"The jury has been in deliberations since four o'clock this afternoon," the man said, without preamble. "It seems that they had the guilty verdict within the first thirty minutes. However, they spent the remainder of the evening debating on the appropriate punishment for Mrs. Webster. They returned the verdict twenty minutes ago. She's been found guilty on all charges. The amended insanity plea that her attorney entered was rejected. She's going to serve the maximum sentence allowed by law, regardless of whether or not she cooperates with the District Attorney's office. The only thing I can offer her at this point in time is the chance to serve her time in a better facility."

"Do you think she'll cooperate?" Casey asked.

"I don't know. I'm not holding my breath. We have enough evidence to start making indictments. Your testimony panicked one of the members of 'The Club' into confessing. Apparently he believed that his cohorts had raped you, and that you knew who they were...and were naming names. He was hoping that by coming forward, he could deal for a lighter sentence."

"You didn't tell him otherwise?"

"Now why would I do a thing like that?"

She couldn't help but smile. "What are the chances of getting guilty verdicts on the others?"

"Rather good, I'd say. We've actually located several more of Doctor Hayling's journals. His children are being very cooperative about letting us search through his belongings. It seems that none of them were fond of their father. He was very...well, one of his daughters said he behaved as if they didn't exist most of the time."

"I suppose that protected them."

"It's possible that his wife was aware of his...activities, and had threatened to expose him if he tried to hurt her children."

"I suppose so," Casey agreed.

"Anyway, I wanted to let you know. Formal sentencing will occur next week. Do you wish for me to call?"

"No, that's not necessary."

"I understand. I want to thank you again for your testimony. I know that it wasn't easy for you."

"No," Casey said, "it wasn't. But I survived."

"Yes, Mrs. Jackson, you did," Mr. Preston said softly. He wasn't referring to her time on the witness stand. "Good evening, Mrs. Jackson, I wish you well."

"Goodbye, Mr. Preston. And...thank you." She replaced the receiver gently. Turned to find Daniel standing directly behind her.

"What's up?"

"The jury just returned the verdict. Guilty on all charges. And they decided that she was to serve the maximum sentence."

He held open his arms, pulled her tightly against his chest when she stepped into his embrace. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I rather imagine Sheryl is a mess right now, though. I wonder if there's a way to let Frank know," she mused.

"I'm betting he already does," Daniel replied. "No doubt he's been following the whole thing."

She nodded. "Probably."

Jack, Sam, and Teal'c had gathered by the open French door. "Radar?" Jack asked quietly.

"Jury verdict," she announced. "Guilty on all charges, and she's to serve the maximum sentence allowed."

"Good," Jack said.

"Not long enough," Gary grumbled.

"Better than getting away with it," Jack pointed out.

"True." He looked at the clock on the wall. "I hate to cut this short, but we have an early flight back to K.C. in the morning. We have a new project, don't know how it's going to shape up."

"Will you be here for the 4th?" Casey asked.

"Absolutely," he replied.

"All of you," she said, her smile encompassing Dancer, Lucky, Jess, and Charley as well.

"We'll be here, if we can," Dancer promised.

It took another fifteen minutes for goodbyes to be said. His friends watched with smiles on their faces as Gary hugged his daughter. "See you in a week," he promised.

"See you soon. We'll be here...I hope," Casey replied.

"I'll understand if you're not."

"Damned Goa'uld can be so inconsiderate!"

Gary laughed. "Of that I have no doubt."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

She sat on the bed, brushing her hair, waiting for Daniel to finish in the bathroom. Helen Webster would serve eight years in a state prison for her part in the molestation and rape of eight little girls. One year per child. Not nearly enough, she thought peevishly. Not nearly enough for what she'd endured. For what the others had suffered. The bitch was getting off easy.

That thought echoed in her brain. Now that is just wrong, she decided. Feeling vindictive was a waste of time and energy...and bad karma to boot. There was no way to change the past. No way to change what had happened to her. The hurtful, hateful words could never be taken back; the scars they'd put on her heart, on her very soul, wouldn't just magically disappear. But she didn't have to dwell on the past. Didn't have to sit and pick at those scars, nurture those hurts. To do so would be to poison her soul with bitterness. And, in the long run, allow Helen Webster to destroy her completely. 'Know thyself', Socrates had said. She remembered the discussion those two words had ignited in her philosophy class. Much easier said than done, she thought. It wasn't always easy to look into one's heart, and face what was there. No, she was going to move on, move ahead, focus on her life now, and the future that stretched out before her.

Casey smiled. Daniel was helping her to face those demons, those hurts...those scars. One step at a time, one day at a time, she moved farther away from the darkness that had been her life, and further into the sunshine that was her life. She would continue that journey, her hand firmly in his, and someday, the scars would be nothing more than a small part of the tapestry that was her...just dark threads that were only a portion of the woven story of her life.

He watched her from the doorway, the slight frown on her face. Wondered what she was thinking, what she was worrying about. Were memories of her childhood, the horrible things that had been said to her, done to her, playing through her mind? He settled onto the bed behind her, gently took the brush from her hand, worked it through that long, blonde silk. "You're all right?"

"I'm fine," she replied. He'd asked her the same question three times now. "Because of you," she added softly.

The woman had a way of making him feel...invincible. Important. He pressed a kiss onto the shoulder left bare by her teddy.

"I can finally, forever put that part of my life behind me, and move on," she said softly. "I'll never have to think about it, or talk about it again."

"What happened to you is part of who you are," he said quietly.

"Yes, it is. But it doesn't have to...control...my life."

"True."

"I refuse to let that woman have one more moment. She took enough from me, I'm not letting her have any more."

He could hear the anger in her voice. She had every right to be angry. "You're right, you shouldn't let her take any more from you."

"Damned straight I'm right. Now, this subject is closed. Forever."

"Got it," he replied.

She turned sideways, looked at him for a moment. "Does it ever stop hurting?"

"Does what stop hurting?" He smiled mentally. He accustomed to the fact that she could jump from one subject to another with lightening speed.

"Not being able to help everyone...not being able to save those who so desperately need to be saved." She reached out, traced his jaw with one finger. "I wanted to tell General Hammond to send the Marines after them. But I couldn't! I...when I looked, I could see them being captured...they had to get home...but..."

Daniel wiped away the single tear that escaped, made its way down her cheek. "No, Angel. I'm sorry. It doesn't get any easier. That's what makes us human. What makes us...better...than the bad guys."

Allowing him to pull her close, she rested her head on his shoulder. "It's difficult to see what's happened, to know where they are, and not be able to do anything about it."

He couldn't say he understood, because he didn't. He had no idea what it was like to 'see' the things that she saw, to know the things that she knew. He had no clue how she dealt with the 'information dumps', as she called them, that left images and sounds in her mind that often tormented her, turning into nightmares that haunted her. "We do what we can, Angel. And learn to live with what we can't," he said, unknowingly echoing what her father had told her as they stood in the 'gate room. Something that Jack had said numerous times, trying to comfort him when he'd been unable to make enough of a difference. Something he was struggling to accept, himself.

"Hold me...make it all just...go away, at least for a little while," she pleaded softly.

He'd become adept at understanding her, knowing by the way she phrased things, the words she used, just exactly what she wanted. As much as he wanted...ached...to make love, for the moment, until she was ready, he'd do as she asked. He'd hold her. Shifting slightly, so that he was sitting cross-legged, she settled her fanny between his legs, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and held tightly. He drew her as close as he could, locked her in his embrace.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Gary poured himself a drink. Sat in the dark, staring out at the lights of Silver Springs. It had been an interesting day. He and Daniel had been able to talk, alone, just the two of them in the archaeologist's office. He'd learned the things about her that Casey would never tell him.

Sitting in that courtroom, listening to the answers she gave to the prosecutor's questions, he'd had a glimpse of the hell her childhood had been. His son-in-law had filled in any blanks. He snorted softly. Daniel had taken perverse pleasure in telling that fat bitch off, to her face. No doubt the young man had wanted to do more than that.

Jack had walked into the room about that time, and under the guise of letting Daniel return to work, had taken him to the firing range, where they'd managed to mutilate a few targets.

Another sip. Jack was damned proud of his team...had every right to be. He had the best, the brightest minds the place could offer. General Hammond had already explained that the SGC had brought the best of the best together.

His former Special Ops partner had told him more about Casey's 'gift'. How she'd literally saved the lives of every member of every SG team. How in awe Jack was of her. And how it worried all of them, Daniel especially, when she was forced to deal with things she couldn't change, images that haunted her.

Like the group of people from that village. He'd seen her pain, mirrored there in the eyes so much like her mother's. Watched her curl her hands into fists, trembling with the need to help, struggling with the knowledge that to do so would put the men and women she worked with at risk. Knowing that the information she provided the general would result in a decision which would bring more suffering to innocent victims. And knowing she was helpless to stop it...or change it.

He shook his head. Didn't know how she could deal with all of it, and not go stark raving mad. Hell, he didn't have to face...what did she call them?...oh yeah, 'information dumps', on top of knowing what he now knew.

Another snort, another sip. Aliens...good and bad. Nearly instantaneous travel to other planets...he'd heard someone say the trip through the wormhole took about zero point three seconds. Knowing that they...those who worked within the SGC...were the only thing between planet Earth, and total occupation, or annihilation by these Goa'uld. His heart swelled with pride to know that his daughter, a part of him, was considered crucial in that battle.

He chuckled softly as he imagined her meeting the president. Wide-eyed and awed, then popping off with the questions and comments that Jack said had him nearly in pain from the attempt not to laugh out loud. She had a wicked sense of humor. Must have gotten that from him. A thought that had his stomach doing weird things, and his heart fluttering slightly.

Maybe he should think about sending Natalie flowers. For telling him about his daughter. She'd only been in his life for a couple of weeks, and he was already unable to imagine it without her. He clamped down on the anger, wondering what his life would have been like if he'd known about her from the beginning. Present and future, Gary, he chided himself, think only about the present, and the future. Leave the past alone.

He finished off his drink, settled into bed. Maybe he should think about renting a place somewhere around here. He had the feeling he was going to be in Silver Springs often. The thought brought a smile to his face...and he drifted to sleep, to dream of holidays spent with his daughter.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

She could feel his arousal. "Anaconda's awake," she said softly.

"Yep."

"I didn't do anything," she continued.

He chuckled. "Yes, you did."

"And what, pray tell, have I done?"

"You're sitting pressed up against me, that sweet little twat heating my balls. No way to ignore that."

Casey pulled back slightly. "Say what?"

Daniel simply looked down at the way their bodies were pressed together, her thighs over the top of his, her legs wrapped around behind him.

"Oh."

He grinned. "Gonna tame it?"

"I suppose I should. Don't think you can sleep like that," she replied, heaving a dramatic sigh.

"Nope, don't suppose so." He brushed her hair over her shoulder with one hand. His face grew serious. "Are you all right?"

She smiled. Fourth time. The only way to convince him would be to love the worry away. "I'm in your arms. Can't be any more right than that."

"What you do to me, woman," he whispered, just before his lips tenderly claimed hers. He wanted, god, he needed to make love to her...but there was no way he'd force himself on her. He wasn't a randy teenager, unable to control himself. He was a grown man, more than capable of suppressing his urges...at least, for awhile. Nor did he believe that being married gave him the right to take what he wanted, whenever and however he wanted. Making love was just that, making love. It wasn't just sex, wasn't a way to control, or punish, or reward. It was a way to express the love that filled his heart to overflowing. There was no pleasure for him if she wasn't willing, wasn't finding as much pleasure as he. It had always been that way for him...for them...and it always would be that way.

Succor for her soul. His kisses were succor for her soul. The familiar thought moved through her mind as Daniel's lips moved over hers. When his tongue slipped into her mouth...gently teasing, touching her, taking from her what he wanted, what he needed...she sighed and tightened her arms around him, one hand in his hair, her fingers curling around short, dark-blond locks. One kiss from him could make her world right again. Take away the pain she battled. Set her body on fire.

Every kiss was so sweet...so special...he could feel the love that she poured into him through her kiss, her lips telegraphing that love to his heart, his soul, his body. He ran his fingers up her back, down over her hips, up her sides to her ribs...then cupped her breasts in his hands, the silk of her teddy preventing him from touching her skin to skin. He moved his lips slowly from hers, over her cheek to her jaw, stopping to suckle on the spot behind her ear that always made her shiver in his arms...just like...that. He left a trail of kisses over her shoulder, following the satin strap as he pulled it down her arm. His body was instantly cold when she pulled away, stripped the teddy off and tossed it toward the floor. He hooked his thumbs over the waistband of his boxers, sent them sailing off the bed as well.

She settled onto her back, opened her arms, smiled at him as he settled over her, the warmth of his body adding to the heat that continued to build in her own. "Love you," she whispered.

"Love you, too," he whispered in reply. His mouth went to her throat. Her arms were around him, her hands in his hair, and she was sighing contentedly, pressing up against him, before he'd worked his way to her collarbones.

Some nights their love was an explosion of passion, their movements fraught with frantic, delicious need. Others were soft and gentle, their love taking them into the clouds on gossamer wings of pure pleasure. Tonight was one of the latter.

The soft moan that filled her throat when he greeted his beauties made his heart pound and his cock throb. That she enjoyed what he was doing as much as he did always made his heart rejoice. He smiled against her skin when her legs wrapped around his hips, holding him tighter still against the warmth of her body. He kissed, licked, and nipped his way from one pink tip to the other, then suckled greedily, giving both beautiful breasts his full attention.

There would be no teasing tonight...no taking one another to the edge of the cliff, only to deny flight until they were insane with need. When she needed him to move on, needed the most intimate of his kisses, he was sliding down, leaving wet kisses on her belly. "Turn around," she whispered, "please let me taste you!"

He moaned with gratitude...with delight. Raising up, he dropped kisses on her thighs, her hips as he maneuvered himself over her. Felt her toss the pillows aside, then gently tug his hips where she wanted them. Moaned again when that warm, sweet mouth closed around his aching flesh.

She mewled softly when his tongue moved over her, slid inside her. She felt his body shiver as he took what he needed from her.

Sweet and hot, her honey rolled over his lips, coated his tongue. There it was, that jolt of adrenaline that made him shake, made him feel invincible, made him all the more addicted to her. He moaned softly as those pheromones sent him on the high that he so loved.

Time meant nothing as they made love to one another, determined to give the other the most pleasure possible. She tilted her head back, pulled his hips just a bit closer, took more of him into her mouth. Felt him throb harder, his hips moving just enough to let her know that he was getting close. She forced her mind to focus on him, on making love to him, when fingers of white hot pleasure raced up and down her spine as his mouth moved over her, touching her in all the right places, in all of the right ways.

Her hips were in motion now, she was close. He slid two fingers into that warm well, concentrated on licking around that swollen little button. He brushed it with the tip of his tongue, felt her jerk. He could feel her breasts heaving, her hard nipples brushing against his belly as she moved closer to the pinnacle. It was getting damned difficult to keep his mind on what he was doing, and not the amazing sensations that were racing up his cock to explode in his brain.

It was a test of wills now, each of them determined not to fall first. She relaxed, felt him slide back into her throat. She began to swallow, her hands moving over his throbbing flesh with loving determination.

He groaned, pulled her hard clit into his mouth, suckling gently as he teased it with his tongue. Her moan of completion was more than he could take, and he began to empty his balls down her throat, the added stimulation of her swallowing making his hips jerk.

She was still shivering when he collapsed to his side. "Better?"

"Much better." He turned around, dropped his head onto the pillow, pulled her close.

Her fingers moved slowly, softly over his chest. Her thoughts moved toward his birthday surprise. "Do you think we can get a couple of days off around the 4th?"

"I don't know, Angel. Why?"

"Well, I just thought maybe we could show Dad around a bit. Maybe have a picnic on Pike's Peak."

"We can always try."

"I'm so glad he found me. But I feel a bit guilty, too," she admitted.

"Guilty? Why should finding your dad make you feel guilty?"

She lifted one slender shoulder slightly, let it drop back down. "You don't have your parents in your life. Before, we were both...alone. Now...well, I have my Dad...and you don't."

He smiled, pressed his lips against her forehead. "You have nothing to feel guilty about. I'm glad that your dad is in your life now. I have great memories of my Dad. And my Mom. Memories you helped me reclaim. Now you'll have the chance to make great memories with Gary."

She sighed softly. "Maybe someday your grandfather will come back. That would be nice."

"Yeah, it would," he replied, smiling again. Casey was big on family. Probably because she'd never had one. The gentle touch of her fingers was sending messages of need to his brain. She was aware, because her hand closed around his throbbing shaft, began to stroke him gently. "I want to be inside you," he whispered.

"I want you inside me," she sighed softly.

He rolled until he was lying on top of her, her arms and legs going around him, encircling him with her body, with her love. He couldn't stop the low moan of satisfaction when he sank into her warm well.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Love that feeling."

"Me, too, Angel."

Easy...gentle...like floating on clouds. Their hips rocked together as they performed the age old dance of love. This was what she needed...what she'd wanted. When he nuzzled her cheek, she turned her head, gave herself up to his kiss.

He could feel the total surrender as she kissed him, gave to him. His soul soared from the knowledge that she belonged to him, totally...forever. When she began to use those muscles deep inside, he stilled his movements, pushed deep, and let her take them both higher...even as he knew that soon it would be too much, and he'd be pounding into her, completing their journey to the stars.

More...she needed more. She clamped her body around him, held him tightly, moved her hips up and down, seeking the stimulation she craved. Her hands slid from his shoulders to his hips, gripped his firm ass...and she began to ride him.

"That's it, Angel," he whispered in her ear. "Take it, take what you want."

Her eyes fluttered closed as her body moved...fire building in her belly, radiating throughout her body as sensations of pleasure raced up and down her spine.

With a grunt of need, he rose up on outstretched arms, his own body making demands of him. He pulled away from her, then plunged back into her warmth, her soft cry urging him on. Again and again he moved...deep, hard thrusts that were hurling them toward the precipice.

"Nngg...oh, god! Yes!"

Fire raced across his brain as her soft cries echoed in his head. He began to move faster, felt her hips meeting him step for step. When that sweet whimper filled her throat, he was past the point of no return, fast approaching his own climax. As her whimper turned into an aria of love, he cried out, her name on his lips, his shaft throbbing against the pulsing walls of her well.

She locked her arms around his shoulders, held him close when he dropped down on top of her, both of them breathing hard and fast. "I love you."

"Love you, too." With the last bit of strength he had, he rolled them over. They were asleep within minutes, still clinging to one another. Comfort had been offered, and received. And worries had been put to rest.


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