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 What the Eye Beholds, the Heart Denies

 

Chapter 2

The corridor to the 'gate room was lined with SG teams...each member wearing his or her dress blues, or in the case of civilians, black suits or dresses. The medical techs and corpsmen were gathered in a group together, tears streaking the faces of several of the nurses. Doctors Felger, Coombs and Lee, and four other scientists, stood near Cam Balinsky and Jonas Quinn. The two latter men looked stunned. The other archaeologists and anthropologists of the Archaeology Department seemed uncertain...as if they weren't completely convinced that what was happening around them was real.

As soon as word had reached level eleven that Casey Jackson was on her way down, Teal'c had taken the elevator to meet her. She was clinging to his arm as he led her toward the 'gate room, where the service would be held.

General Hammond greeted her softly, his usual warm smile missing as he did his best to maintain his calm demeanor, not wanting to break down in front of his people. He'd buried far too many friends over the years. He could remember the days before the Stargate Program had been reactivated. Quiet days, counting down to his retirement. He sighed mentally. As important as this job was, as important as the Stargate Program was, there were times when he wanted to just walk away from it all. Today was on of those times. Another memorial service. Held in secret. He'd led more of these services for SGC personnel than he had ever dreamed in his worst nightmares would be necessary.

The room was bathed with shimmering blue light, the Stargate standing open and ready, the event horizon as inviting as it always was. It took all of her concentration to put one foot in front of the other, to move into the room, to walk past the teams standing at attention. Toward the chairs that had been arranged to one side of the podium, which stood at the foot of the ramp. Her father and his 'crew' were already seated, Gary stood when he saw her approaching.

Casey came to a halt when she saw Jacob Carter standing with Ren Au, Aldwin, Anise, and Lorraine, the young woman who had become host to Karinda. "What are they doing here?" she demanded.

"They wanted to pay their respects," General Hammond replied softly.

"Keep them the hell away! It's their fault! They killed Daniel!" Her voice carried over the soft murmur of those who waited in the room, technicians from the control room, Siler and the mechanics who worked for him. Silence rang in the large room.

"They have no right to be here," Jack said, his voice hard and angry.

Jacob grimaced when he looked at Casey. It was obvious that she'd lost weight, and her eyes had the dull glaze of grief in them. "We'll leave," he said quietly.

"You can wait in my office," Hammond offered.

"I do not understand why we are being blamed," Anise argued. "It was not our fault that the timers malfunctioned-"

"Lady, you're the reason SG-1 was on that mission," Hammond hissed. "Perhaps not you personally, but certainly the Tok'ra. If Casey Jackson doesn't want you present for the memorial service for her husband, then by god you won't be here!"

Again Jacob cringed. He and Selmak had debated the wisdom of arriving at the SGC for the service; Jacob pointing out that George wouldn't have given them the time and date if they weren't invited, Selmak insisting that the relationship between the two groups was too delicate to put to the test. Without a word he grabbed Anise's arm, led her out of the room; Ren Au, Lorraine, and Aldwin in close pursuit.

The men from SG-12 and SG-3 were standing at attention along the sides of the ramp. Ferretti watched as Teal'c led Casey to the chairs, and her father. Mrs. J looked as beautiful as she always did, except for the fact that her eyes seemed...dead. There was no life at all in them. Her pale cheeks were stained from her tears, her mascara smudged slightly beneath her eyes. She didn't seem to notice anyone around her. She was clinging to Teal'c, but he wasn't sure she was even aware of that fact. He also noted that even though she didn't seem to see him, Gary Franklin sat beside his daughter, there if she needed, or wanted, to turn to him for comfort.

General Hammond waited until all of those who could fit into the room had done so...knowing that what was said during the service would be broadcast throughout the lower levels of the SGC, and to the Prometheus, which was orbiting above them...before signaling that it was time to begin.

The color guard entered the room, the first man carrying a rifle, the woman behind him carrying the flag of the United States, the man behind her carrying the flag of the SGC, and behind him, Tony Sabotti, his face as solemn as anyone had ever seen it, carrying a rifle. The honor guard then marched slowly into the room, one carrying another United States flag, his partner a wreath of flowers. Behind them a man and a woman carried highly polished rifles.

The color guard had reached the ramp, the flags were put into place, and the four lined up beside the podium. When the second group reached the ramp, the wreath was nestled gently onto a waiting stand. The four lined up opposite of the color guard. The second American flag was carefully removed from the pole, care taken that it never touched the floor. Those of the two ceremonial guards who were carrying rifles stood at attention, while those whose hands were free began to meticulously fold the flag as General Hammond stepped up to the podium.

"This is without a doubt the most difficult, the most dreaded act that a commander must face. As I look out at those who have gathered with heavy hearts, to say farewell to a most beloved comrade, I know without a doubt that not one of us would be standing here if not for Doctor Daniel Jackson. His intellect unlocked the mysteries of the Stargate. His curiosity, his enthusiasm, his generous spirit gave life to the Stargate Program. This place exists because of him. It will be-" his voice broke, he looked down, struggled with the tears that refused to be held at bay.

The sound of sniffles and quiet weeping could be heard, breaking the silence that hung over the room like a heavy pall. There was slight shifting among the civilians who were standing, although the military personnel remained rigidly at attention.

"It will be a much sadder place without Daniel," Hammond finished. He turned, nodded to Jack.

Jack took the general's place, gripping the sides of the lectern tightly, willing his knees to cooperate and keep him upright. "The first time I had to do this, I made a nice speech about how Daniel was the voice of SG-1, that he is...was...our conscience. That he was a good and courageous man. Nothing has changed from that time to now. Only that he became even more important to SG-1, to the SGC...to me. He was the best friend I ever had."

The color guard and honor guard had finished folding the flag into the memorial triangle. The Airman holding the flag presented it to Jack, gave a stiff salute, which was returned woodenly. Jack crossed the floor, knelt down in front of Casey. He'd never had to do this before...had never presented a flag to a widow. How he'd wound up with the task he wasn't certain. He forced the much rehearsed line from his throat. "This flag is presented to you with the gratitude of the people of the United States of America." The words tasted as flat and bitter as they sounded. The people of the United States had no clue what was going on; they didn't know that one of the best men he'd ever served with, the best man he'd ever known, had died protecting their collective asses. Screw military protocol. "It doesn't mean anything, I know," he whispered. "But it's what they do...what we do. It's just part of this pomp and circumstance that we perform while we try to come to terms with the fact that another good man has died."

Casey watched with detachment as he placed the flag on her lap. Fresh tears began to roll down her cheeks. She squeezed Teal'c's hand, trying desperately to hold back the sobs that tightened her chest, made her feel as if she were gasping for breath. Never noticed that Gary gently caught the flag as it slipped sideways.

Jack rose, and he and Sam walked together to the wreath. Each grasping a side of the colorful floral circle, they walked up the ramp, the two teams that lined it saluting smartly, stood just in front of the event horizon. "Deja-fucking-vu," Jack muttered.

Sam swallowed hard, the tears in her eyes making it difficult to see. She didn't acknowledge the comment, although her heart was vigorously agreeing. And reaching for the hope that somehow, someway a miracle would bring the same ending to this...nightmare...as it had the first time they'd thought Daniel dead. And the second...well, they had all died that day, and been revived by the Nox...then there was the third time, on Klorel's ship, when against all odds Daniel had made it to a sarcophagus...the death she, Jack, and Daniel had experienced when the Tok'ra base had been attacked, their immortality preventing those deaths from being a permanent situation... Just one more miracle, she prayed silently. Her mind poking at her heart, insisting that she accept the reality of the situation. Daniel was dead. Forever. No coming back. Not this time. She swallowed again.

The wreath was placed against the 'water' of the event horizon, Jack pushed it gently, watched it disappear. "Goodbye, Daniel," he whispered. His jaw worked furiously as he battled to keep in check the tears that wanted so desperately to fall.

That whisper broke Sam's resolve to be strong, and a soft sob escaped from her lips. She reached for Jack, felt his fingers close around hers, warm and strong.

The recording of taps that had been used far too many times for his liking began to play as Jack saluted. Wishing that he was anywhere but standing there; his throat parched and begging him for a drink, his heart shattered, his guilty conscience eating him alive.

The sound of sobs filled the room as Casey lost her battle, gave in to the grief that assailed her from all sides. The sound echoed in the missile silo, so forlorn and full of pain that it was palpable.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The conference room on level seventeen had been set up to serve as the reception room. Slowly the members of the SGC began to make their way upward. There were several who made a stop on level twenty-four, lighting a candle in the Memorial Room for the latest fallen hero in the war against the Goa'uld. Daniel's picture hung alone in the center of the far wall, surrounded by cards and notes that held memories and prayers to send him on his way.

Casey hadn't yet turned thirteen when her Grandma Rose had died. She remembered her adoptive father taking her to that little house, which had been filled with people she hadn't known. There were a few familiar faces...Miss Eloise, and Mrs. Pritchard, Rose's Polish neighbor. Mr. Ingersoll, who had built her tree house. She hadn't understood the need for the food and the drinks and the groups of people standing around talking. Fifteen years later, the circumstances the same...the loss of someone she loved, people she didn't know were gathered, eating and drinking and talking, and she still had no idea just why these people thought she needed to be there.

Faces loomed in and out of her vision, voices offering their condolences. 'If there's anything we can do'...'I'm so sorry'...'It's a terrible tragedy'...'Time will heal all wounds'. Line after line of bullshit. There wasn't anything anyone could do. No one was as sorry as she was. It was more than just a terrible fucking tragedy, it was the end of her world. And there wasn't enough time left in the universe to heal the gaping hole in her heart, left there by Daniel's death.

Daniel's death. Dead. Daniel...dead. The words echoed in her head, becoming louder and louder, until the cup of coffee and the plate of food that someone had pressed into her hands dropped to the floor, shattering against the concrete; hot liquid splashing against her nylon covered legs...to which she paid no attention at all. She pressed her hands to her ears. Backed away from whomever it was who had been trying to talk to her. Turned and fled from the room.

There was no way of knowing just why she took the path that she did. Perhaps in the back of her mind she knew...needed to go there. Perhaps it was just an automatic reflex on her part. She stood in the doorway to Daniel's office. He wasn't there. The coffeemaker was cold, and empty. His mug was empty as well, the coffee left in the bottom dried and black now.

She dropped onto the chair. She should probably work on the database. Daniel wanted it finished soon. Catching site of her finger, the light mark where her rings rested looking bare without the platinum and diamond bands, she shook her head slightly. Why hadn't they picked up their rings as soon as they returned? That was one of the first stops they always made.

Pulling open the drawer to his desk, it struck her that it should have been locked. Daniel must have forgotten to lock it. The small metal box was near the back. She pulled it out, sat it on top of the desk. Damn it, he had the key to this thing! She'd have to find him...

Her eyes strayed to the pictures on the desk. The two of them together; smiling...happy...so deeply in love that it was almost tangible; love that was obvious in their eyes, the way they looked at one another...

Images danced through her head. Jack looking at her, Teal'c just behind him...so sad. She strained to hear what Jack was saying...Daniel gone...

No! No, that wasn't right! She wouldn't accept it! They just had to find him, that's all! If she could get to the Prometheus, then everything would be all right...she could go back and find him. By now, he'd be furious! He'd probably rant and rave for hours at being left so long in that damned escape pod...

That was it...she just had to ring up to the Prometheus, and go get him...She was on her feet in a flash, her goal so clear. She ran to the elevator, cursed quietly when she realized she didn't have her access badge. Where the hell had she left it? No matter, she could take the stairs.

She shoved the door open, began to descend, slowed by the black patent heels on her feet. No clue why she was wearing them. She stopped long enough to pull them off. Tossed them aside, began to run again. The ring transport. Onto the Prometheus...then back to wherever it was that they had been. Hooboy, is Daniel gonna be pissy! She'd rub his back for him...bake him some cookies...

It was just coincidence that the ring transport room was down the corridor from the storage room that had been converted to an on-sight Memorial room for the fallen heroes of the SGC. Just coincidence that she had to pass it to get to where she wanted...needed...to be.

The flickering of dozens of candles caught her attention. Oh, wow. It's been awhile since I've been in there...I should really light a candle for Randy Taylor... She stepped inside. Directly in front of her, hanging in the center of the wall opposite the door, was a picture of Daniel, one of him in his blue BDU, smiling that shy smile that always made her knees weak. Dozens of cards were tacked to the wall around it.

No! His picture didn't belong there! This was the room to honor their fallen...Pain overwhelmed her, as physical as it was emotional. Oh goddess, no! Once again images flickered in her memory...fuzzy and awful and dark and oh, please god, no!

Dead. Daniel was dead. The love of her life...gone. The sobs she had tried so valiantly to hold in check rose up again, escaped in a loud wail of pain that echoed through level twenty-four.

 

 

 

Jack felt his heart break just a bit more when the sound of her cries accosted him as he stepped off the elevator. He'd had no idea she was even here...didn't have a clue when she might have slipped down here. He'd listened to enough of the damned obligatory niceties, couldn't take any more of the conversations about what a great guy Daniel had been. What the hell did they know? Daniel had never been their best friend!

Another wail and he was running toward the room where he'd hoped to find a bit of peace...to maybe talk to Daniel. He'd figured Radar would approve of that. More wails...he doubled his pace. She was crumpled on the floor, just inside the room. He knelt down beside her. "Casey?"

"I can't be here. I need to go...I need to go home. I have to leave here. Can you breathe? I can't breathe!"

She was clutching at his arms, her fingers tight and insistent, her green eyes wide and wild and feverish. "I'll take you home," he promised.

"Good, that's good," she whispered. "I can think at home. I can figure out what's going on. Daniel will know. He'll tell me." She looked up into the face of a man she trusted. "Daniel will tell me, won't he? We have to get to him, he's going to be nine kinds of pissed off about having to wait so long in that pod..."

Oh, fuck. Radar was losing it. Not that he could blame her. At the moment, he was only a few short steps behind her. "Let me get you home," he said softly.

Jack half-led, half-carried Casey to the elevator. She leaned heavily against him, mumbling beneath her breath about baking cookies, and how pissy Daniel was going to be, and was it snowing yet. He knew only that she was losing touch with reality. Being on base, in the SGC, was the worst thing for her. Wasn't so conducive to his own well being, either, truth be told.

His desire to get the seer home, to the safety she desired, that she needed, forced any and all other thoughts from his mind. He completely forgot that Sam and Janet had ridden with him to the base until he pulled to the curb in front of the little gray house on Baldwin street, and was greeted with the sight of their cars in the driveway. He gave a mental shrug. They were competent women, they'd be able to find a ride from the base to retrieve their respective vehicles.

"Is Daniel home now?" Casey asked.

"Uh...I don't think so," Jack replied. He had no idea if he should cater to her delusions, or if he should try to snap her out of them. He opted for the easy route. He'd decide later, after they were safely inside.

"It's not snowing. Daniel promised to take me sledding when it snows again," she pouted.

"There will be plenty of new snow before long," Jack promised. There was still plenty of the white stuff on the ground...dirty and grimy. The way his soul felt at the moment. "Let's get inside where its warm."

When he helped her out of the truck he realized how much she was shivering. And that was a direct result of the fact that she had no coat on...what had she done with it? And where the hell were her shoes? Shit! He hadn't even noticed before. Her nylons were shredded around her toes and heels. He scooped her into his arms. Yeah, he was doing a bang-up job at taking care of Danny's wife, wasn't he? Letting her run around the last week of December with no shoes and no coat! Was it that difficult to do one damned thing right?

The backdoor was unlocked...he remembered taking out the trash. Must have forgotten to lock it again. He deposited Casey on to the sofa, not certain whether to be worried or relieved that she was silent once again. He tucked the afghan from the back of the couch around her, reached for a gun that wasn't there, carefully checked the rooms to make certain they were empty.

When he walked back into the living room, Casey hadn't moved an inch. He sat down beside her. "How about you go put something warm on, and I'll make a pot of coffee."

She nodded. Didn't move.

Jack reached out, pushed a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. A movement he'd seen Daniel make dozens of times. "Casey?"

"Hmm?"

"Go put something warm on. I'll make coffee."

She shook herself. Well, she was home. That was nice. The last thing she remembered was someone talking to her at the reception. Which had followed the memorial service. For Daniel. Fingers of pain closed around her heart, made it difficult for her to breathe. Jack was beside her...he wanted something...what was it? Oh, yeah...something warm...she needed to change her clothes...she was cold...

He watched as she pulled herself from the couch. Her arms were around her narrow waist, as if she were trying physically to hold herself together mentally and emotionally. He ran his hand over his face, yanked his tie loose. How had everything managed to get so fucked up? He closed his eyes for a moment, forced away the images...refused to relive those last moments on that Goa'uld ship. Adamantly refused to think about the seventeen long, heartbreaking hours he'd spent searching for one escape pod, and the man it contained. Wasn't going to think about the fact that Daniel was dead. Nope, he was going to make coffee, and that was all he was going to do. All he was going to think about. Because he couldn't deal with the pain of losing someone he cared about so deeply. Daniel was the closest thing to a brother that he'd ever had. He'd been damned near inconsolable after Charlie's death. This felt just as bad...hurt just as deeply.

It was difficult to find the strength to stand. Just gonna make coffee. That's all. No thinking. No feeling. Focus on taking care of Casey. She was a widow now. Because, Jack O'Neill, you screwed up. Again. He glanced toward the closed bedroom door. Being here was a bad idea. It was the only place where he could hide. From his grief. From his guilt. How many times had Daniel told him that this place was his sanctuary? Only now did he realize it wasn't just the house. It was the blonde with the big green eyes. She had a way of making it safe. Of making feelings...emotions...acceptable, no matter what they were.

His hands began to curl. If she was Daniel's sanctuary, then surely Daniel must have been hers. He'd been witness to the fact that a simple touch from Daniel's hand...on her arm, on her shoulder, on her back...calmed her down. Whether she was angry, or scared. Riled up over an injustice, or terrified when they'd been captured, one touch and those green eyes softened with love, and then filled with understanding, or determination. Daniel helped her to deal with the info dumps she endured as a part of her gift, he knew what to say, how to hold her, touch her...how to keep her safe while she dealt with the images and sounds and whatever else filled her mind from wherever that stuff came from.

Yeah, you fucked up big time, O'Neill. Daniel is dead. He won't be helping anyone now. Not Casey. Not you. Especially not you. No arguing over saving every damned group of villagers or slaves or whatever collection of innocent people that the team came across. No arguing about how pointless hockey is...even though you know he secretly enjoyed the games you watched together. No arguing about coffee. Or memos. No more shy smiles when he managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together, to give us the chance to beat the snakes...to beat the odds.

The gap in his heart, the Daniel-shaped hole in his life, began to throb...the pain unbearable. It dropped him like a cheap shot in a bar fight. And it hurts so damned bad!

Casey pulled a hoodie over the tee shirt she'd put on. Tugged sweat pants over her slender hips. Had just finished putting on a pair of thick, fluffy socks when she heard it. At first she thought Jack was laughing. Then the sound became much more defined.

She hurried to the living room. Jack was on his knees beside the couch, his hands curled so tightly into fists his knuckles were white. Tears were streaming down his clenched jaw, and the sounds of sobs filled his throat, ignoring the fact that he refused to open his mouth to allow them passage. Kneeling down beside him, she reached out tentatively, placed a cool hand on his arm. "Jack?"

Tortured brown eyes, full of tears, turned her way. "I'm so sorry," Jack gasped. "My fault, god it's my fault! I'm so sorry!"

"It's not your fault," she said softly. Her own pain, her own heartbreak, took a backseat to the throes of agony that her friend was dealing with in that moment. She reached out slowly, gently. Put her arms around him, guided his head to her shoulder. "Not your fault," she whispered.

"Oh, god! Daniel!" The cry of despair rent the air around them, echoing off the walls.

Her own tears were falling freely once again. "Daniel," she whispered. Coming face to face with the reality that he was gone. Forced to deal with that cold hard fact for the first time since that awful, awful day.

Time passed, each tick-tock of the clock on the wall was evidence of that. But it meant nothing as the two wrestled with the pain that held them in a death-like grip, that refused to give even an inch. Daniel's death hung over them like a shadow, preventing any light...any hope...from reaching them. They faced that shadow alone...they faced it together, clinging to one another, trying to fight back the pain that engulfed them. The shadow darkened in victory.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

No one who had witnessed Casey's departure was speaking of it. There was too much respect for her, too much sympathy for what she was going through. Nor did anyone mention the fact that the base second-in-command had left the room as well. There would be no speculative rumors...not on this day.

Sam looked around. Two faces were conspicuously missing. "Where did they go?"

Teal'c looked around as well. "I did not notice when they left," he admitted. He had been doing his best to keep his hands at his sides, his voice from revealing the anger and frustration he was feeling. He was tired of the same words, over and over again. Words that changed nothing. Words that only made the loss that much more intolerable.

"We'd better find them," the major whispered, nodding toward the general. Who was busy talking to three suddenly present Joint Chiefs. When the men had actually arrived, Sam had no clue. She didn't remember seeing them at the service. Nor did she have any idea why they deemed it necessary to show up this time. Perhaps they'd been scheduled to visit the SGC, and she'd simply not seen the memo. She didn't remember actually checking her email since returning from the Prometheus. She glanced at the ribbon-covered chests, groaning mentally. No doubt the men would want to offer their condolences to the widow personally. Casey wasn't in the frame of mind to deal diplomatically with anyone. Jack wasn't in the best of moods either...or at least, hadn't been the few times she'd actually been able to speak to him.

The fact that Jack had spent the past three days with Casey was a niggling thought that wouldn't give her a moment's peace. She knew that Jack loved her. Right now, leaving Casey alone wasn't a good idea. She wasn't responding to anyone, and Sam understood that Jack, as the team CO, was feeling responsible for her well being. And was doing a damned fine job of beating himself up over what had happened. Knowing those things didn't stop the stabs of jealousy that were every bit as annoying.

The two slipped from the room. "I suggest that we look first in Daniel Jackson's office," Teal'c said.

With a nod, Sam led the way to the elevator. Slid her ID badge through the reader. She wrapped her arms around her waist, studied the toes of her shoes.

"Do you wish to talk?" Teal'c asked quietly.

She looked up at the Jaffa. "We're hurting as badly as she is. Why can't he see that?" The words were out before she could stop them. Sam shook her head. "I know that what we're feeling can't come close to the grief that Casey is dealing with. Daniel was her husband. But..." Her voice faded, she shrugged slightly.

"O'Neill is holding himself solely accountable for Daniel Jackson's death. As such, and as the leader of SG-1, he would determine it his duty to care for Casey Jackson. He would believe it to be an obligation brought on by his decisions as commander of SG-1. His friendship with both Daniel Jackson and Casey Jackson will allow him to do no less. He cares deeply for both-" The large man broke off, turned his head for a moment before continuing. "O'Neill is a man of honor. He will do what he believes is his duty...as a leader, and as a friend."

A soft sigh escaped. "I know. It's just...I'd like for him to hold me while I cry."

Teal'c reached out, gently pulled the major into his arms. Felt her shoulders start to shake as she began to weep. His eyes filled with tears as he held his teammate, his friend. They took silent consolation from one another with the simple act of clinging to each other. Neither moved when the elevator doors slid open. Nor was there anyone nearby to witness their private moment of grief.

 

 

 

"There's her jacket," Sam said, pointing to Daniel's chair.

Teal'c picked up the small metal box that he knew held the matching wedding bands that always adorned the Jackson's fingers. "She was attempting to retrieve her rings."

"Maybe she went off looking for a way to open it. Daniel had the keys. I don't know where he keeps them when we're off world," she admitted. Sam swallowed hard, swiped at the tears that refused to stop falling.

"I will check Daniel Jackson's lab. If she is not there, perhaps she is in Jonas Quinn's office. She had been working on the database there as well," Teal'c said quietly. "It is possible that she will search there for a tool to assist her."

"I'll go check there," Sam said.

Less than two minutes later the teammates were standing in the corridor, matching frowns on their faces.

"The commissary?" Sam suggested.

Teal'c nodded his agreement, swiped his ID badge to open the elevator.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

The two airmen climbed the steps, the normal chatter that they engaged in as they patrolled the corridors of the SGC as part of their guard duty missing completely. They had been able to attend the service for Dr. Jackson. While neither of the young men had actually met the archaeologist, they had been fortunate enough to meet his wife. And the stories told about Dr. Jackson, his brilliance and his courage, were the stuff of which legends were made.

The first one frowned slightly when he saw the first black object on the steps. "What's that?"

Fingers tightened on their weapons. They made their approach slowly, uncertain of what they would find. Both minds whirling in circles...one word pushing forward, demanding acknowledgement...bomb.

"It's a shoe," the second man sighed.

The frown on the first man's face deepened. He leaned down to scoop the first shoe into his hand, noticed the second one two steps up. He picked it up as well. "Who the hell would leave shoes here?"

"These are nice heels, too." The two men looked at one another. It was almost an audible click when they realized just who the shoes belonged to.

"We should tell the general. Mrs. J could be in some sort of trouble. Looks like she took them off to run," the second man suggested.

The first man grabbed the radio that was strapped to his shoulder, contacted the duty officer of the day. The first call was to the level eleven security check point. Only to learn that Casey Jackson had not signed out. Which meant there was a real problem There were suspected intruders, a distinct possibility since there had been several civilians allowed down to the most secret levels of the facility for the memorial service. All of them had the needed security clearances. That didn't mean squat. He reported that he and his partner had just found Mrs. Jackson's shoes in the stairwell between levels eighteen and nineteen.

The duty officer sighed. What a hell of a time for something like this to happen. He barked his orders, demanding that the security video for the past eight hours be pulled up for examination. Everyone who had come through the final check post would be scrutinized, faces linked to the signatures on the sign in sheets. Then he called General Hammond.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

General Hammond glanced around the room. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't see Mrs. Jackson here."

The three uniformed officers standing in a semi-circle around him were scanning the faces as well. Admiral Sheraton nodded. "Perhaps she slipped out for a few moments."

One of the Marine guards, wearing his dress uniform in deference to the day's events, quickly approached the general, whispered in his ear. The general's face became a mask of inscrutability. "Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me, there's a matter I need to attend to."

The three Joint Chiefs shared a look. "George?" Sheraton asked.

"Sir, we may have a situation. Two security guards just found Casey Jackson's shoes in one of the stairwells. They reported that it looked as if she had tossed them off. Which would indicate she was running."

The military men shifted immediately from mere visitors to ranking officers. "What steps need to be taken?"

"We'll seal off the mountain, starting at level eleven. But we'll do so quietly. I don't want to tip our hand. If she, and whoever has her, is still here, then I don't want them getting out. Security tapes are being examined right now."

Sheraton nodded. "What can we do to help?"

Hammond looked around. "It would seem odd if I left, and you didn't. If you wouldn't mind waiting in my office for a bit..."

"Let's go. This will give the impression that we wished to speak privately with you," Sheraton said, arranging his face with a small smile. All business, his features proclaimed.

With a nod, Hammond led the Joint Chief's from the room. Only a few interested parties noticed, but no one seemed to care about what the brass was doing.

The black phone on his desk was ringing when he entered his office. He hurried forward, grabbed the receiver. Listened to the report, then hung up slowly. "Security footage showed Mrs. Jackson going to her husband's office. She then ran out, took the stairs, to level twenty-four. Colonel O'Neill located her in the SGC Memorial Room. He left the mountain with her, the lieutenant reports that the colonel had to help her, that she was barely able to stand."

Sheraton frowned. "The colonel should have let you know."

Hammond stared coolly at each of the faces. "Admiral, Mrs. Jackson was here for the memorial service of her husband. I doubt she's thinking clearly at this moment. As for Colonel O'Neill, he just gave a eulogy for his best friend." He emphasized the words. Could see the understanding in three pairs of eyes. All of them had, unfortunately, buried best friends. It wasn't something that went down easily.

"I believe we'll be on our way. I was able to speak to Ren Au and General Carter...and Selmak; I believe I can assure the president that there's no ill will from the Tok'ra, and that our treaty with them is as solid as it ever is," Sheraton said quietly, the comment an admission of the true reason for his and his associates' presence. The president was angry, was blaming the Tok'ra for the latest disaster; but as always, realized that personal feelings had to be put aside in the matter. "Please give Mrs. Jackson our condolences, and tell her that we're sorry we missed speaking with her."

"Yes, sir, I'll do that," Hammond replied. He didn't figure Casey would give a damn about their condolences. Truth be told...he didn't give a damn either.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

One by one, the men of the SG teams who had been involved in the attempt to rescue Casey from Ba'al's clutches on R7Y 379 had left the reception. They were gathered in the commissary. Lou Ferretti produced a large bottle of Jack Daniel's from a backpack he'd carried in with him. Carefully poured a drink for each man present.

Major Tim Andrews stood up. "To Doctor Daniel Jackson. Bravest damned man I've ever met."

"Hear, hear," Ferretti mumbled, downing his drink.

"Poor little thing," Major Parker muttered. "She's had a hell of a time ever since she arrived."

"Been through a hell of a lot," Major Newsome agreed.

Tony Sabotti studied his empty cup. "She's tough. But this..."

The men around him nodded. This was the one thing from which Casey Jackson might never recover.

"Think she'll quit working here?" Sergeant Dobson asked.

"Possibly," Ferretti replied. "Not that I would blame her a bit."

"Gonna be tough going through the 'gate without a full 'head's up'," Newsome sighed.

"I hear that," Andrews said. He shook his head. "Goddamned Tok'ra. They knew that it was only a fifty-fifty proposition that killing Ares would stop that snake alliance from happening."

"What I want to know is what the hell happened with those timers. Teal'c's report said that three explosions happened before they could get to the rings, damned near eight minutes early! There were two more when they were trying to get to the escape pods," Newsome growled.

"Their timers malfunctioned?" Sabotti asked.

"That's what the briefing notes say," Ferretti replied.

"Damned Tok'ra," one of the men hissed.

"I say we tell those snake bastards to fuck off," Andrews said slowly, quietly. "They're snakes, same as the Goa'uld. They say that they want to wipe out the Goa'uld. But not why. Seems to me that we've taken out more system lords in seven years than they have in thousands of years. Why is that, do you suppose?"

Frowns wrinkled every brow. "I'm not going to sacrifice my team for them," Newsome said firmly. The men of his team shifted gratefully around him.

"Same here," Parker said. "I refuse to let my boys be cannon fodder for the damned Tok'ra."

"General is madder than hell," Ferretti said. "If we're going to make a stand, now's the time to do it."

The team COs nodded. "We stick together on this. We make sure every CO understands. If no one is willing to go through the 'gate for those snakes, won't be much Hammond can do," Newsome said.

"Court martial us," Parker offered.

"All of us? Every man and woman on every SG team? That'll bring the place to a grinding halt, won't it?" Newsome tossed back.

"Place won't run right now anyway," Sergeant Murphy mumbled.

Ferretti heaved a sigh. "That's for damned sure."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Jack wiped his cheeks. Casey was sitting on the floor beside him, evidence of her own emotional battle still fresh on her face. "I never knew a man quite like Daniel before. So damned sure he was right, that he had all the answers. But he was so modest about it...so...insecure at the same time. But he wouldn't back down from anyone. Especially me."

She smiled softly, but said nothing...understanding instinctively that Jack simply needed to talk, no response was actually necessary.

"I didn't like him when we first met. He was this stubborn, way too smart, hippy-looking scientist who thought he had a clue about how the world worked." Jack gave a lopsided smile. "He liked me about as much. Called me a narrow-minded military grunt who couldn't get his head out of his ass long enough to see the big picture. Points of view we exchanged at the top of our lungs."

Casey remained silent as she listened, could picture the two men shouting at each other. She'd witnessed it a time or two.

"Never thought he'd become my best friend," Jack said sadly. "I couldn't tell him how much I admired him, how in awe I was of him. How honored I was to be his friend. How much..." his voice caught, he looked away...battling his tears. "How much I loved him."

"He knew," she whispered.

"He proved what kind of a man he was...how damned brave he was...on that very first mission. He took a staff blast for me there. Ra put him in a sarcophagus. First time we'd ever seen one. He saved my life..." Jack frowned slightly, the burden of that debt, the amazement that Daniel would sacrifice himself, after the way he'd been treated, the way he had encouraged the others to treat Daniel by the simple act of example, pressing down on him. "He wouldn't walk away from those people. We didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of helping them. Hell, I wasn't supposed to survive the damned mission. I went because I wanted-" He broke off, shook his head slightly. "Kawalsky, Ferretti, Brown, Freeman, Daniel...none of them knew what the orders were." He snorted loudly. "I was convinced that the ivory tower pain-in-the-ass would get the rest of the team home. Then he hits me with the fact that he didn't have the symbols to dial the 'gate to get back. I was so pissed at him. Blamed him for stranding my team."

"But he found them," she said softly.

"Yep, he did. Daniel figured it out, just like he always does...did." He frowned. "Did he ever tell you about the first time we had a memorial service for him? Geez, he was pissed off that we'd gone through his stuff, got rid of most of it, closed his apartment...I think he cussed for an hour...in a dozen different languages. Or the time he shoved me away, laying there with a chest wound, telling me he'd watch our backs...I thought for sure we'd lost him that day. Did he tell you about that?"

"Yes, he did," she replied.

He looked at her, watched her eyes. "You don't suppose we might get another miracle, do you? I mean, this is Daniel we're talking about. He's damned hard to kill."

"I don't know, Jack," she whispered. "You tell me. Is it possible that his escape pod...escaped? Could it have been tossed so far from the debris field during the explosion...the beacon didn't work..."

Jack shook his head. Buried his face in his hands. Seventeen hours of searching had proven only one thing...nothing had survived those final explosions. Nothing.

"Why didn't I see it?" she asked hoarsely. "I'm supposed to be his Guide...I'm supposed to protect him! But I didn't! I didn't see anything! Just a damned black blanket, and fireworks, and stupid gold and silver tubes! What kind of fucking warning is that?" Her eyes went wide as the interpretation settled into her brain. "Oh, fuck!"

Like Daniel, Casey wasn't prone to such profanity. Unless she was really scared. Or shocked. "Casey?"

"I didn't have time," she whispered hoarsely. "We were brought back to the SGC, and we were through the 'gate right after that briefing, I didn't have time to look at the images...didn't have time to figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

"The blanket...someone is...was...hell, maybe they still are, I don't know...I was being blocked. Totally! The fireworks are pretty damned self explanatory."

"The tubes?"

"What did the escape pods look like?" she asked softly.

"They were silver and gold and...oh, shit," Jack muttered. He looked at Casey just in time to see the weight of her discovery crash down on her.

"NO! NO! It's not fair! It's not fair! I didn't see it! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" She was screaming her grief, pounding her fists against the sofa beside her. "I'm so sorry!"

He grabbed her, pulled her close, held her tightly as she continued to scream and sob, pressed his face against her hair as his own tears began to fall again. Had no idea that her revelations would send her into a downward spiral from which she would struggle to return.


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