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The diner was empty when the five walked in. They headed for the corner booth, the one where they sat whenever they came in together.
Once the mugs that waited on the table had been turned upright, and had been filled with fresh, steaming coffee, Casey sighed. "I feel sorry for her."
"The Ice Queen...er...Astrild."
Daniel rubbed her back gently. "Thor will be able to help her," he said gently.
"If they're not adversaries," Casey replied.
Sam frowned, rested her chin in her hand. "I just wonder if this will help the Asgard. The male that Heimdall found...they were hoping to use DNA from him to find a way to prevent the degeneration of their clones. It's possible that Astrild will be able to help them."
"It's a shame they can't reproduce the good old fashioned way," Casey said.
"They might be able to. They have the DNA from the male Asgard. They have Astrild..." Sam shrugged.
"It won't be easy," Daniel said.
"Better than dying out," Jack countered.
Sam cleared her throat when the waitress approached. The team had worked for nearly ten years in secret. The Stargate might not be a secret any longer, and they were sitting on a different planet, but the details of their missions were still classified. And they knew well how to keep their secrets.
"Ready to order?" the waitress asked. An older woman with gray hair and a quick smile, she jotted down each order, then refilled coffee cups.
Alone again, speculation returned once again to the Asgard. "It's interesting that Thor told Duncan he was anxious to 'meet' Astrild...and she claims that they know each other well," Casey said.
"There is definitely some history there," Jack agreed.
"You don't think that Thor believes he'll be meeting a clone of Astrild, do you?" Sam asked suddenly.
Daniel shook his head. "Astrild was working on perfecting the cloning process-" he broke off. "Her daughter! Not born, but a clone!"
Sam nodded eagerly. "That's what I was thinking! So Thor has no idea if he's meeting the 'original', or a clone!"
"And the difference would be?" Jack asked.
"What he said," Casey tossed in. "If all of her memories and knowledge...all that is Astrild was 'downloaded' into the clone-" She shuddered. "This is too weird. If she downloaded herself into the clone, then how can she still be...her?"
"Maybe she hadn't done the download thing yet," Daniel suggested. "The clone body has to be ready before that process can even be started."
"And you know this how?" Jack wanted to know.
Daniel shrugged. "I asked Thor about it once."
"I was curious," was the response.
"Don't tell me you've never wanted to know just exactly how they move from body to body," Daniel said.
"I might wonder, but I'd never ask," Jack retorted.
"How is it rude? If we don't ask questions, how are we supposed to learn anything?"
"Who says we need to know everything? It is kind of a touchy subject with them."
"No it's not. They don't like to talk to others about it, but if asked directly, they have no objection to explaining how it's done."
Jack shook his head. "It's rude," he insisted.
Daniel smiled. "Thor didn't think so."
Meals arrived, and conversation was limited to 'pass the salt', and 'more coffee'. Feeling somewhat better after the warm and tasty meal...the diner had earned a reputation for simple but excellent food...the team headed back to the base. Having been up a total of twenty-eight hours, thoughts of their beds began to dance in their heads as they waited.
A A A A A A
They were waiting in the briefing room when a flash of light heralded Thor's arrival. "Greetings, President MacLeod," the small alien said.
"Hello, Thor," Duncan smiled.
Thor turned toward Jack. "Greetings, O'Neill."
"Greetings to you, too, Thor."
"Where is Astrild?"
"I'll go get her," Casey said, giving the alien a smile.
"Thank you, Mrs. Jackson."
She hurried through the corridors. Thor certainly seemed eager to see the woman. It was hard to believe that at one time Thor had looked more like Astrild than he did now. Thousands of years of cloning had changed them drastically...each copy changing just a little more...until there was little left of the original. Had it happened so gradually that they hadn't noticed the changes...or were they shocked...or even dismayed, as the bodies they inhabited grew smaller, weaker, more fragile with each round of cloning?
With a nod at the guard, Casey tapped softly on the door.
The voice was muffled, but the response had been audible. She opened the door. "Astrild, Thor is here."
The Asgard stood to her feet. She was as tall as Sam, Casey noted. She could sense the sadness that seemed to wash over the woman in waves. "Are you all right?"
Astrild jerked slightly.
"I'm a seer," Casey said softly, slender shoulders moving up and down.
"Fascinating. I was studying one who..." she shook her head. "That was a very long time ago."
Casey crossed the room, took the woman's hand, led her toward the bed. She sat down on the edge of the mattress. "We can stay here and talk for a few minutes, if you'd like."
"Yes, please," the Asgard responded, relief in her voice.
"Just let me tell Daniel," she said with a smile. 'Daniel?'
'I'm here, babe.'
'Tell Duncan and Thor we'll be there in a few minutes.'
'I don't know, yet. Astrild needs to talk. Woman to woman.'
'Uh...okay. So what do I tell them?'
'That we'll be there in a few minutes.'
Astrild was watching the young woman. The slight smile on her face, the dreamy look of love that filled her eyes.
Casey turned to face the woman. "Sorry. Daniel and I can communicate with one another. I told him to tell Duncan and Thor we'll be there in a few minutes."
"I see. Thank you."
Casey continued to hold the woman's long, slender hand. "Seeing Thor upsets you."
Astrild looked startled, then shook her head. "We were once lovers."
It took a few seconds to comprehend this tidbit of information. Lovers? Oy! Oh hell, now I sound like Jack!
"You find it unusual that the Asgard would love?"
"Sort of. I mean, they're all basically sexless now. There are male and female personalities, of course, but the bodies are...well..." Casey replied weakly.
"I suppose that they control their emotions as much as possible, as well," Astrild sniffed.
"I guess. They've never been...emotional."
"Once, we were a proud, passionate people," the Asgard woman said softly. "We reached out to the stars. One of the first races to do so, or so we believed. We met the Furlings...the Nox...the Ancients. As we progressed scientifically, we became obsessed...we wanted to be better...live longer...why lose all of the memories, the knowledge, the experiences of our greatest minds? We would create clones of ourselves, download our very essence into the bodies, and continue our studies, our work. It all sounded so noble, so..." She shook her head. "We lost ourselves. When we discovered Earth, the 'First World' according to the Goa'uld, the humans we observed were just learning to build shelters."
"We think that humans are a hybrid of Homo Erectus, the humanoids that inhabited portions of Earth, and Ancients," Casey said.
Astrild nodded. "It was a way to help the humans...to protect them from extinction."
"Yes. We were fascinated by their experiments. We set up
observation posts. Watched as the 'hybrids' multiplied, learned, grew...built
societies...spread over the planet. So much emotion...that which we had already
lost..." Once again the Asgard broke off. "When I first started my
experiments, I had hoped to accomplish what the Ancients had...before they
ascended. To create a hybrid race of humans and Asgard. Then I was told to
concentrate my efforts on cloning. I was sent to...I was sent to one of our
first outposts to conduct my work."
"Why were the Cardorians brought there?"
"Because we feared that left to their own devices, the Goa'uld would wipe out mankind. We did not know that the humans of the First World would rise up against their masters. So we rescued those whom we could. And brought them here...to the planet where you found me," she corrected herself. "From a handful of survivors, a great race emerged. As much our children as the Tau'ri of the First World were the children of the Ancients."
"So where does Thor fit into all of this?"
"He was the commander of the observation post. He had spent many years on the First World, overseeing all of the observation posts. He became too...enamored...of the people. So he was...reassigned. Punishment for daring to interfere with their 'natural progression'." Her words were full of bitterness, anger.
"What did he do?" Casey asked softly.
"He prevented an entire clan from perishing."
Astrild smiled. "Yes. We met during a routine briefing. I didn't like him at first, he was too...emotional. He didn't like me...I was too wrapped up in my work, still hoping to create that hybrid species. He told me that the humans didn't need our genes to help them become a thriving civilization. He even predicted that they would become our equals one day. He and a few others truly loved the humans."
"The Norse gods," Casey murmured. "But you fell in love?"
"As much as an Asgard would admit to love. You must remember, by this time we were so proud, so arrogant, as to believe that emotions were only for 'lesser' beings."
"He's anxious to see you. But he's also afraid."
"How do you know this?"
Casey shrugged. "I feel it. He's not...he's not the same Asgard you knew. Thousands of years of cloning has...changed him. Not his mind, exactly. But his body..."
Astrild frowned. Took a deep breath. "Take me to him. I will speak with him now."
A A A A A A
Thor looked up when Astrild walked into the room one step behind Casey Jackson. "Greetings, Astrild."
She was taken aback. The Thor she had known had been nearly seven feet tall. He had been as large as the holograms he had created, adding hair and beard to look more like the humans he had hoped to interact with. How could this tiny...creature...be Thor?
"My appearance surprises you."
"Yes, it does. Is it not rude to speak our language when our...hosts...cannot understand?"
"They may not understand our words, but they do understand the need to communicate...privately."
"The research...Loki has brought our entire people to ruin, has he not?" She spoke softly, changing to the language of their hosts in deference to them, whether Thor approved or not. Her own guilt in the research that had been a blow to the once great, and proud Asgard race echoed in her words.
"Tell me that he is imprisoned in the lower rooms of the Great Hall of the Asgard Council Chambers."
"Unfortunately, the Great Hall was destroyed when the Replicators attacked our home world. Nothing of it remains."
Astrild gasped. "Nothing?"
"I'm afraid not."
Sitting down in the chair that Casey Jackson had silently pulled out for her, Astrild stared at the face of the being who had at one time been her lover. She noted that the leathery skin required no covering. There were no physical attributes to denote what sex the being was. Nothing that could be identified as unique to the individual. She knew instinctively that all of the Asgard looked this way. She shuddered. What had she done? What had the leaders of her people done? What had Loki condemned them to?
Duncan cleared his throat. "If you wish to speak privately, you're welcome to use my office."
"That is a most generous offer, President MacLeod," Thor said, inclining his head. "It will not be necessary, however."
Casey watched the two aliens...one more alien than the other. She wondered what thoughts were going through their minds, neither of the Asgard showing any emotion at all, although Thor's face was really incapable of displaying anything more than the calm, docile look that she was so familiar with. Astrild's features were more apt to give away what she was thinking, although at the moment her expression was carefully masked.
"We should return to Odin," Thor said, referring to the new home world of the Asgard, a move made necessary during their long and trying war against the mechanical 'toys' created by a child android. 'Toys' that continued to wreak havoc in those places where they had yet to be totally destroyed.
Astrild smiled. "Does he live?"
"No. He died in the war against the Replicators. There are those you will remember."
She shook her head. "I remember you much differently."
"No doubt. I am still Thor," the little alien replied.
"We shall see," Astrild said softly.
"Are you prepared to leave?"
No one missed the slightly perturbed tone in Thor's voice. Including his one-time lover. "Yes."
Thor turned to Duncan. "Once again the Tau'ri of Gamma, and in particular SG-1, have been of great assistance to the Asgard. We are in your debt."
Duncan nodded. "You're welcome," he said quietly. It was always good to have brownie points built up with the Asgard. Made them quicker to respond when their superior ships and firepower were needed. Nothing would be said about the fact that finding Astrild had been an accident, more or less.
Thor stood, moved stiffly toward the door; waited for Astrild to join him. "Goodbye, O'Neill."
"Yeah, see ya around, buddy," Jack replied.
In a flash the two were gone. "That was weird," Daniel murmured.
"She's in shock," Casey replied softly. "Thor isn't the same man...well...Asgard...that she loved."
Five pairs of eyes focused on her. "Say what?" Jack sputtered.
"Thor and Astrild were lovers while he was the commander of the science outpost...she remained there to work on her cloning project. He returned to Earth. Loki stole all of her research and fled, just before they were attacked," Casey explained calmly, quietly.
"Any idea about these attackers? Couldn't have been Goa'uld, they weren't powerful enough back then to have even dared to do so," Duncan asked.
"Case, you said you saw ships, right?" Daniel asked.
"That's right. Huge, black ships." She shuddered at the memory of watching the intimidating craft firing down on the city.
"They could be the same as what we saw on the mural."
Her head shot up. "I had forgotten about those!"
"We have photos. Take a look and see if they look the same," Daniel suggested.
Casey hurried to the computer console that was set up in the corner of the room. Did a search, found the images that Daniel had referred to. Even across the room her teammates could see the shudder that moved over her slender frame. "The very same," she replied.
"Great, more bad guys to worry about," Jack complained.
She shook her head. "The Ancient weapon...it was...the Chosen at the time....whoever he... or she was...could focus on a particular enemy. And did so. The Ancient weapon obliterated that species...that civilization...from existence."
"Wow," Sam murmured.
"They had to have been a serious threat for...The Chosen...to have taken such drastic measures," Daniel said.
Jack wiped a hand over his face. "If we don't have to worry about them, that's all I care about."
"I agree," Duncan nodded. "Go get some sleep. You can head back planet side when you've all rested."
"What about our guest?" Daniel asked. He wanted the man off of Gamma, and as far away from Casey just as soon as possible.
"As soon as he gives us the coordinates to that settlement, he's free to go," Duncan replied.
With a nod, Daniel stood to his feet. It had been well over thirty hours since he had indulged...had gotten a fix of his sweet Angel. He knew she would never turn him away. He also knew she was tired. Exhausted. He'd survive for a few more hours. He'd done it before.
A A A A A A
He was tired, but every time he closed his eyes, he saw Marcus touching her, smiling at her...saw her smiling in return. He lay beside her, watching her sleep. She was relaxed, her lips pulled up softly. He couldn't help but wonder what she was dreaming about. Her fingers curled around his when he picked up her hand. He held it to his lips for several long seconds. "Let me see, Angel," he whispered. Began to grin as he watched his children playing in her dream. He backed away slowly, carefully, lest he disturb her and perhaps mar that lovely scene. With visions of his children dancing in his thoughts, he snuggled closer to her soft, warm body, and closed his eyes.
She was vaguely aware of his presence, but when she turned to look, he was gone. Then Nicholas was demanding her attention, wanting to discuss the pictures of the insects in the book he was looking through, wanting to know just why Gamma didn't have bugs like these...which were suddenly flying into the house...
Emily and Nicholas were playing at the water's edge. Ethan was asleep in his basket. Life just didn't get any better, he thought happily. When he turned to look at Casey, to share this perfect, precious moment with her, she wasn't there - he felt a moment of panic. He looked around. She was standing beside the Blazer. Talking to Marcus. Who was holding her hand, the fingers of his free hand moving up and down her cheek, traveling over her sweet lips. Anger swelled and burned in his chest. "Casey!"
She turned to look at him. "What?"
"Get over here."
The anger that flared up in her own eyes was visible from where he sat. "Get fucked."
He felt as if she had kicked him in the gut. He couldn't breathe. She never used that word...unless she was really, really pissed off. 'Angel?'
She ignored him. And then threw up the mental block that prevented him from feeling her, touching her. With a toss of her blonde head, she slipped her arm around the dark haired man's waist. And headed over the hill toward...toward the place where they had made love so many times!
He gasped at the pain that flooded his being...
"It would never happen," her soft voice said from beside him.
He looked at her, the love that filled her eyes. Reached out and touched her cheek. A glance told him that the couple walking away had disappeared. "I love you."
"I love you, too. I belong to you, Daniel. Heart, mind, body and soul."
When her hand began to caress his face, he closed his eyes, leaned into that soft touch. "You're mine."
"All yours, always and forever," she whispered.
With a start, he sat up. She was already sitting beside him, her hand moving gently over his chest.
"I'm sorry," she said immediately.
She shrugged. "For making you feel threatened. For making you doubt my love for you."
He groaned, pulled her into his arms. "Never, Angel. You've never done that."
He cut off her question with his kiss. Pulled away slowly. "Because I'm jealous as hell," he admitted with a grin.
"There's no need to be."
"I know. I guess it's just that seeing him pursue you like he is-"
"Pursuing me? Oh, Daniel, please! That is not happening and you know it!"
His grin widened. There really wasn't anything to worry about if she was oblivious to the Terran's advances toward her. Sometimes her innocence surprised him. Sometimes, like right now, it delighted him. "Yeah, he is. But I'm glad you didn't notice."
"How can I notice when I'm so busy watching you?" She wrapped her arms around him.
"C'mere, you," he whispered. When she was settled on top of him, her head on his shoulder, his arms holding her tightly, he closed his eyes once again. And if he dreamed, it was much more pleasant than the earlier one.
A A A A A A
"Mommy! Nicholas took my orange!"
"Nuh-uh! Mine orange!"
"Meemaw peeled it for me!"
Daniel stood in the doorway to the kitchen. Grinned as he watched Casey quickly peel another orange and plop it in front of their daughter. He walked toward the counter where the coffeemaker sat, managed to slip his arm around her waist and pull her close. "'Morning."
She leaned up to kiss his whisker-stubbled chin. "Good morning."
After he poured his coffee, took that first badly needed sip, he greeted his children. Erin smiled up at him, put Ethan into his arms and hurried toward the refrigerator. "Time for a bottle, huh son?"
The baby's blue eyes focused on the face of his father, bringing a smile of recognition. One tiny hand reached for that face.
Daniel caught the tiny fingers and kissed them. His son. His youngest son. Three kids. God, could he be any luckier? Can you see them, Dad? Can you see how beautiful my family is, Mom?
Casey smiled at the look of adoration that had filled his blue eyes. Could feel the joy that flowed off of him, surrounded him. Couldn't help touching him, just briefly...his caress in return warming her heart. "Mom will take Ethan home with her as soon as he's fed. The buses for the kids will be here in just a few minutes."
Nicholas was attending the Little Stars Preschool, and Lou Ann Donovan was just as enamored of him as she had been with Emily. Emily was now in second grade at the New Horizons Elementary School, and was delighted by the fact that she joined a third grade class for reading three times a week, and twice a week for art classes with Tessa MacLeod. Both schools had buses that picked the kids up almost at the front door.
Daniel smiled. Her way of telling him that very shortly they would be alone. Which was a very good thing. He was at the end of his endurance...he'd need a fix of her sweet honey soon, or he'd start getting irritable and shaky. Neither was pleasant. Nor did he want either happening in front of the kids. Wouldn't that be a pain in the ass to explain! He already knew that at some point they would find out. Oh, not from him or Casey...at least, he hoped they never had to have a discussion like...that! But no doubt Emily would overhear a discussion, about the fact that their father was literally addicted to their mother. No way in hell was he ever going to tell them exactly how that addiction worked!
She double checked that Emily's lunch contained all that her daughter had requested...peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, and animal crackers. The thermos was filled with grape juice. Satisfied, she pushed the pail into the backpack, took the time to work the knot out of one sneaker's shoelace, shoes purchased especially for her dance class with Carly, and put the books her daughter had brought home the night before on top of all of it. "Emily, are you sure this isn't too heavy for you?"
"It's not," the little girl replied. Emily was small, would be slender like her mother. And just like her mother, she was much stronger than she appeared.
Erin took both children to the bathroom to supervise the tooth brushing routine, hurried back into the room just as the microwave dinged.
Casey grabbed it and thrust the now warm bottle at Daniel when the familiar honking of the preschool bus echoed outside. "Let's go, Nicholas, the bus is here."
Racing to first hug and kiss his Mommy and Daddy, Nicholas allowed Erin to take his hand and lead him outside. "Bye, Mommy!" he called.
"Bye, Little Man," Casey called in reply. "Emily, get your bag, your bus will be here any minute."
Just as her brother had done, Emily hugged and kissed her parents, then ran out the front door. Casey hurried into the office to watch out the window. Assured that her mother had seen both children safely onto their buses, she returned to the kitchen. "Feel like a shower?"
"Oh, yeah," Daniel replied, as Ethan kicked his feet against a strong, muscular thigh. "As soon as Squirt finishes up."
She couldn't help but smile. The nickname was one that Emily had given her baby brother. Where or how the child had come up with it, she had no clue. But it had stuck, and it seemed that everyone referred to Ethan as 'Squirt'. Which, no doubt, would cause a multitude of problems later on. Then again, Emily seemed to dote on her youngest brother, and often when Ethan was fussing for his bottle, he would quiet the moment she appeared in his line of vision. She would talk to him, telling him about her day at school, his blue eyes never leaving her face as she spoke. So it was possible that she would get by with using the nickname...be forgiven for giving it to him in the first place.
Erin came back into the room. "I'll bring the children home from school."
"We're going back to PX5 726 this afternoon," Casey informed her mother.
"That's fine. Your father is meeting with the First Four again, something about freighters being attacked in some far corner of the galaxy. It seems that the Tau'ri may be asked to help protect the ships," Erin replied. "I'll stay here while you're away."
Casey nodded. "That's fine, Mom. Hopefully we'll get started on those rooms downstairs soon, and you'll have a decent room to sleep in."
"I'm not concerned."
"I know you're not, but I am," Casey smiled. She finished packing the diaper bag. "I appreciate this, Mom."
Erin smiled. "I know. Come here, my precious one," she cooed, lifting Ethan from Daniel's arms. "You and I shall run some errands while your brother and sister are busy at school."
"We shouldn't be gone more than a couple of days," Casey said, kissing her infant son's head. Just as she had with Emily and Nicholas, she felt torn about being away from him, and doing the job she was created to do, that she loved to do.
"And we will be here when you return." Erin kissed her daughter's cheek, did the same to Daniel, then took the diaper bag. "Have fun."
With a giggle that sounded much like Casey's, Erin hurried down the hallway to the front door.
Daniel was on his feet as soon as the sound of the door closing reached them. "I can't wait much longer," he whispered.
Without a word, Casey took his hand, led him toward their room. In the bathroom she pulled off her sweats and tee shirt, turned on the water in the shower to warm it up.
At last, he thought. He was going to be alone with her at last.
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