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Fanfiction: One Small Step - Part VII

For author's note and disclaimer see Part I.

Chapter 19:

Everything hurt.

Cassie gave a soft moan as she was pulled slowly but insistently back to awareness. Sounds filtered in through the fog in her head; soft murmurs that comforted her; a breezy laugh that triggered a feeling of happiness. There was a crackle of fire; the clink of a tin mug; whispers in the darkness and the rustle of fabric.

Her fingers closed on the slippery nylon of a sleeping bag, and she could feel the weight of a heavy blanket over the top of her. It was warm and cosy; so comfortable. She was almost tempted to let herself sink back into the darkness, back to sleep and dreams.

But there was an uncomfortable dampness over her forehead. It was clammy and wet; moisture trickled down the side of her face. Her hand shifted to move it as she opened her eyes, and she gave a sigh of relief as her fingers closed around a cloth and removed it.

The vast ceiling of the hall in the pyramid was above her momentarily before Vala's face immediately filled her vision. 'Finally!'

Cassie winced.

Vala grimaced apologetically. 'Sorry,' she mouthed.

'Just...headache.' Cassie croaked. She gestured at Vala. 'Water?'

Vala hurried away but returned a moment later with a mug. She helped Cassie sit up and take a drink.

Cassie swallowed the water gratefully; letting it slide down and soothe her raw throat. 'How long was I out?'

'A day give or take a few hours.' Vala admitted.

Cassie sighed. She looked around and her eyes settled on Sam, sitting cross-legged beside her, her blue eyes intent on Cassie.

Vala noticed the direction of her gaze. 'She's been like that since they brought you back.' She said conversationally.

'Is she...?' Cassie began hopefully.

'She hasn't recovered as far as we can tell but...' Vala shrugged. 'When the boys brought you in and placed you down, it seemed to pull her out of her numbers. She's just been sat there watching you.'

So, a change but not really an improvement, Cassie mused wearily. Or maybe it was; if Sam had somehow recalled that she cared about Cassie...she rubbed her head, trying to soothe the ache there.

'Here.' Vala handed her some painkillers. 'I'd offer to heal you but somehow I don't think it will work.'

'What happened?' Cassie asked, bemused. The last thing she remembered was the Dragon Queen, opening her eyes and seeing Jonas before blissfully sliding into unconscious and away from the pain, the storm of memories and emotions...

'You tell me.' Vala said evenly. She sat beside Cassie and picked up a mug. She took a large gulp as she looked at Cassie quizzically. 'According to Daniel, you tried communicating with the Dragon Queen, started sobbing and then, poof.' She gestured at her with the mug. 'You were out like a light.'

'It was too much.' Cassie admitted. 'She was in my head and...' she took a deep breath, 'it was just too much.'

'At least you tried.' Vala patted her hand.

Footsteps had them both turning toward the door.

'Cassie!' Jack walked over swiftly and knelt down beside her to hug her gently. He pulled back and looked at her searchingly; his brown eyes raking over her. 'You OK?'

'I'm fine.' Cassie assured him. 'A little sore around the edges maybe.' She tried to smile so he'd lose the anxious look that was etched into his features. He seemed to have aged overnight; his hair askew and his face puffy with lack of sleep and worry.

Jack darted an annoyed look at Vala. 'You were supposed to come and get me when she woke up.'

Vala lifted a shoulder. 'I thought she might like a few moments before everyone descended on her.' She said blithely.

Sam moved suddenly, surprising them all. She muttered something under her breath and picked up her notebook and pencil.

Cassie saw the disappointment flicker in Jack's eyes before his guard went back up. He'd evidently hoped her vigil with Cassie had been a sign of improvement. She searched for any topic to change the subject but her mind was consumed with a need to know how she had gotten back to the pyramid.

'What happened?' Cassie asked. 'The last thing I remember is the Dragon Queen and then...'

'Cassie?' Daniel's voice sounded from the door and before she could say anything, he was across the hall and hugging her tightly.

She winced even as she tried to free a hand to pat him consolingly.

'Thank God! We thought...' he stopped before he said anything more but Cassie filled in the blanks.

'You thought I'd been injured like Sam.' She realised. Her gaze shot to Jack who pressed his lips together as though to prevent a confirmation from escaping.

'But you're OK?' Daniel checked. He studiously avoided looking at Jack and she guessed that they had argued about it.

'Sore,' repeated Cassie; she shoved at the blanket and pushed it away as she sat up more fully, 'but OK.' She grimaced as her body made its needs known. 'I need the bathroom.'

Vala immediately moved to support Cassie as she got to her feet. 'Easy.'

Cassie wobbled as she got upright and she was grateful as Vala helped her walk the short distance to the bathroom.

'I'll get you some clean clothes.' Vala said, pushing her towards the toilet before leaving her.

Cassie made use of the facilities and when she walked out of the small cubicle, she saw the stack of clothing Vala had left for her. She washed up slowly; her limbs trembled with fatigue as though she had jogged a marathon. The feel of clean clothes was heavenly; the soft cotton of her t-shirt a welcome relief against her sensitive skin. She dunked her hair and washed it but the activity used up the last of her energy. Vala arrived back as though she had sensed Cassie needed her. She towelled Cassie's hair, tsking loudly and proclaiming her disapproval at Cassie attempting something so strenuous before she escorted her back to the hall.

Everyone was gathered. Cassie accepted gentle hugs from the rest of the group before Vala shooed the men away and settled Cassie by the fire with some soup. The others gathered round with mugs of coffee and a tense silence filled the air.

Her stomach rumbled hungrily and Cassie made short work of the meal. She set aside her tin and looked around. Jack and Daniel were looking anywhere but at each other; Mitchell had his head down as though to avoid unwarranted attention; Jonas was unusually subdued as was Vala. Teal'c and Rya'c sat on opposite sides of the fire...

They must have argued, Cassie deduced. Jack and Teal'c had probably not been impressed at the others turning up with her unconscious after attempting to communicate with the Dragon Queen. Add in the worry that the communication might have left her as scrambled as Sam...

Curiosity nibbled at her again. 'What happened?' She blurted out into the silence. 'I don't remember anything after the Queen talked to me.'

There was a long pause.

'Then she did talk to you?' Jonas inquired tentatively.

'Kind of,' Cassie murmured. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs.

'You don't have to talk about it.' Vala said firmly, ignoring the look the others shot her.

'It's OK.' Cassie assured her. She rubbed her nose. 'There wasn't really so much talking as she...she kind of searched through my memories to check we weren't the Goa'uld. She knew I had healed Puff, Rya'c and Jack with the device, and she identitfied Rya'c and Teal'c as Jaffa so...'

'So she thought we were Goa'uld.' Daniel sighed. 'No wonder she was hostile. She was probably worried that we were here to try and enslave her and her people again.'

'It looked like it hurt.' Jonas said quietly.

'It did.' Cassie softened the words with a smile but the memory of the cold that had invaded her mind made her shudder. 'I'm fine.' She wondered if she had said it to convince everyone else or herself. She gestured at Jonas. 'What happened after I, uh...'

'Took a nap?' Jack suggested caustically.

Cassie's lips twitched. 'Well?'

Daniel cleared his throat. 'Puff appeared out of nowhere.'

'Puff?' Cassie smiled. It seemed her baby dragon had remembered her. It warmed her to know it still wanted to protect her.

'Uh, we think he talked to the Queen.' Jonas explained. 'And then she flew back to the ground and the rest of the dragons cleared the sky.'

'Puff escorted us out of dragon territory.' Mitchell added. 'Once we got past the mountain, he headed back.'

Once they were safe, Cassie mused. She was disappointed Puff hadn't come back with them but she understood. He was with his own kind; his family. Her mind returned to the mission.

'So, they let us leave.' Cassie stated. She felt the same dull disappointment that she had once again failed to find a solution for Sam's predicament.

'Yep,' Mitchell confirmed, 'they just let us go.'

Jonas stirred. 'I think whatever communication happened between you and the Queen definitely confirmed to her that we weren't a threat.'

'Yippee.' Jack quipped.

Jonas flushed.

Daniel frowned at Jack. 'Jack.'

'Daniel.'

'Oh please. Let's not start that again.' Vala said brightly, confirming Cassie's suspicions that there had been a major argument over the events of the mission and bringing Cassie home apparently injured.

Both men glared at Vala.

'All I'm saying,' Jack said tersely, 'is that now the Queen's poked around in Cassie's head, they must know our capabilities.'

'And that's a bad thing because...' Daniel baited.

'As you are well aware, Daniel Jackson,' Teal'c asserted forcefully, 'if the dragons choose to attack us they will know our vulnerabilities.'

'If they attack en masse we'd be toast anyway.' Mitchell countered. 'Believe me, they don't need to know our vulnerabilities; they can overwhelm us with sheer numbers.'

'I agree with Colonel Mitchell.' Rya'c confirmed.

'It's more likely that now they know we're no threat to them that they'll leave us alone.' Daniel pointed out with some exasperation.

'Well, we're not waiting to find out.' Jack said authoratively. He gestured at Cassie. 'I agreed to wait until Cassie recovered but now she's awake, we should get off this rock and make our way home.' He looked around the group. 'How soon before we can leave?'

Cassie looked at him, shocked. They were leaving?

'A couple of hours to get things organised and stowed away, sir.' Mitchell replied.

'I still think...' Daniel began.

'Ah!' Jack held up a finger. 'We're going.'

'You're forgetting it's not your ship.' Daniel pointed out.

Jack looked over at Jonas.

Jonas glanced at Daniel and back to Jack. He sighed heavily and Cassie could see he was debating whether to argue or whether to accept Jack's decision that it wasn't safe to stay any longer.

'I can get the cargo ship ready for departure in a couple of hours.' Jonas said eventually.

'Good.' Jack set his mug down with a thump. 'Then let's get moving.'

He walked out before any of them could reply.

'You stay put!' Vala instructed Cassie sternly. 'Look after Sam. We'll take care of packing everything.'

Cassie didn't argue. She felt as weak as a kitten. She watched as the others set to work; as the realisation they were really leaving the planet sank in. Cassie searched through her memory of her interaction with the Queen. If only she had done something differently; if she had explained somehow...

Sam scribbled away beside her; the scratch of the pencil across the page was becoming far too familiar a sound for Cassie's liking. Cassie couldn't believe Jack was prepared to leave with Sam still injured; with the dragons still Sam's best hope for a cure.

But...

What if he was right? What if there was a chance the dragons would attack them? They had tried to communicate with the dragons twice and twice they had failed. She had failed, Cassie thought depressed. There was no guarantee a third encounter would prove more fruitful than the others. And there was a risk a third encounter would seriously harm her. She could remember the cold feel of the Dragon Queen in her head; the pain of it all too well.

Cassie shuddered.

Jack couldn't take that risk, Cassie surmised regretfully. He was looking after all of their safety and not just Sam's. And the others knew that - even Daniel despite his protest. She would bet that it was the reason why Jonas had acquiesced.

She looked at the woman writing beside her and sighed. Maybe when they got to Earth they'd be able to find some other way to assist Sam. Or maybe there just wasn't a solution and Sam would remain injured for the rest of her life; trapped in the endless stream of numbers running through her head.

Tired tears smarted Cassie's eyes and she swiped at them angrily. There had to be another way! There had to be some way of reaching the Queen and making her help them!

Cassie got to her feet slowly. The others were busy preparing to leave; their attention on the packs, the sparse belongings and supplies. She crept quietly out of the room and into the passageway. Cassie took a moment to catch her breath and waited to see if anyone followed her; nobody did.

She smiled grimly and started towards the exit.

Chapter 20:

Cassie paused on the top of the steps and scanned the forum below for Jonas and Jack. There was no sign of either. They must be in the cargo ship, Cassie mused. If she could make it down the steps, across the forum and into the jungle...

And then what?

How far to the Stargate? How far to the dragons' lair? There were days of walking ahead. She grimaced. How far did she think she would get before someone caught up with her?

And seriously; she had no water, no healing device, no common sense! Cassie snorted. She had stormed out of the hall on a whim like a child. She knew better.

Her body sagged downwards as the last of her energy drained away. She stumbled to sit on the top step.

'Decided against making a run for it?' Jack's caustic tone behind her made her flush.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw him leaning against the wall to the side of the doorway. She hadn't even noticed his presence.

Jack closed the distance between them and sat down beside her.

'It feels like we're giving up on Sam.' Cassie admitted tiredly.

'We're not.' He replied tersely.

'We're not?' Cassie retorted. 'Because leaving kind of feels, you know, like we're giving up.'

Jack's jaw tensed. 'Carter cared that you were injured.' He pointed out evenly. 'She's in there somewhere. There's a chance she can come back from this on her own and if she doesn't...we'll still be there for her.'

'I know but...' Cassie sighed heavily. 'I just feel like I haven't done enough to try and talk with the Queen. Maybe if we stop by the dragons on our way and I tried again...'

'Cassie...' Jack bit out before he caught himself and reigned himself back.

'I feel like Sam was counting on me to get her help, that you were all counting on me,' Cassie admitted miserably, 'and I...I failed.' There was a lump in her throat.

Jack stared at her for a long moment. 'C'mere.' He stretched out an arm and hugged her to him.

She went willingly, sliding her own arm around his waist; resting her head on his shoulder.

'You did good out there.' Jack said quietly. 'Whatever you showed the Queen made her let everyone go: that's a win in my book.'

'I didn't save Sam.' Cassie mumbled into his jacket.

'It's not your responsibility to save her.' Jack said firmly. 'You did your best; that's all you can do.'

'It wasn't enough.' Her fingers twisted the zipper on his BDU jacket.

'Sometimes it just...isn't.' Jack sighed.

They sat in silence, watching as the suns dipped lower in the sky.

A noise behind them had Jack glancing over his shoulder.

'Sir.' Mitchell hoisted the packs he was carrying. 'We're ready to pack up the cargo ship.'

Jack nodded and shuffled Cassie and himself to the side of the steps so the others could walk down.

Teal'c was last out, carefully guiding Sam past them and down the steps.

Jack gave Cassie a final squeeze. 'Come on. We don't want to miss our flight.'

Cassie attempted a smile at the joke but she couldn't quite manage it. 'Jack...' Cassie caught hold of his hand. 'I'm sorry about...before.'

He tapped her nose. 'You wanted to help. You have nothing to apologise for, Cassie.'

She let him help her up. She looked out a final time at the planet, wanting to lock it into her memory - and froze. One hand gripped Jack's arm as she pointed at the sky with the other.

'Jack!'

He looked up, following the direction of her finger. He stiffened at the sight of three dragons approaching. 'Son of a...'

Jack tugged at her arm and they hurried down the steps. Cassie tried to keep her footing on the worn stone as she ran quickly, trying to reach the others.

'Everyone into the cargo ship!' Jack yelled. 'Now!'

Rya'c turned at Jack's words and spotted the dragons. He called out a warning to the others.

Teal'c made to grab Sam but she eluded him and ran back towards the pyramid, back towards Cassie and Jack...the others set off to stop Sam...

The dragons were getting closer.

Jack let go of Cassie and caught hold of Sam as she made to run past into the pyramid. He struggled with her until Teal'c and Daniel caught up with them; helping to restrain her. Rya'c and Jonas reached Cassie. They placed an arm around her, supported her, half-carried her as they headed to the cargo ship. She was barely aware of Mitchell and Vala covering them all.

The dragons fell from the sky in front of them; between them and the ship. The ground shook as they landed.

Cassie recognised one immediately. It was Puff! She let go of the others and moved forward without thinking. The baby dragon bounded happily towards her. Joy filled Cassie to the brim as her arms went around the baby dragon. She hugged the dragon close and felt its own joy at being reunited with her. Love and happiness raced through her veins.

'Puff!' Cassie pulled back and looked at it with a wide smile. 'You came back!'

'Cassie?' Jack's quiet voice intruded and she glanced behind her to see him stood in front of Sam with Teal'c. Daniel and Jonas both had their arms around the injured woman, holding her steady. Mitchell and Vala were ranged either side closing the defensive circle.

'Puff came back.' Cassie said needlessly as she straightened.

Jack nodded. 'I see that.' He gestured with his head towards the two adult dragons Puff had brought with him. 'Who are its friends?'

She looked back to the others and straight into the yellow eyes of a silver dragon; the Queen!

Cassie froze. 'It's the Queen and...a guard, I guess?'

'The Queen, you say?' Jack's eyes swept over them. 'What do they want?'

She felt a strange sensation; a tickle across the forefront of her mind. She looked sharply at the silver dragon with foreboding remembering her previous experience.

It bowed its head and looked her deeply in the eyes. I do not wish to harm you, child.

Cassie suddenly found it hard to breathe. The voice was melodic and perfect; it was tinged with a maternal overtone that reminded Cassie of her Mom. 'I can hear you.' I can hear you.

'Cassie?' Jack asked again impatiently.

'I can hear her, Jack. In my head.' Cassie explained. 'She doesn't mean to harm us.'

'Is she here to help Carter?' Jack asked brusquely.

Cassie turned back to the dragon. Sam, she thought strongly at the dragon, can you help her?

The silver dragon cast a look at the green dragon beside her before she dipped her head back to Cassie. After you shared your memories, child, I realised what had happened. Those who went to greet your kin did not realise your sister could not hear them as you can hear us. The psychic connection was too much for her. They meant no harm. Her green eyes flickered to Jack. This one attacked and we believed your kin to be the same as those that once imprisoned us.

Cassie winced. Jack was only trying to protect her.

We understand this now, the silver dragon concurred. We will try to help. Bring her forward.

'Jack, they're going to help.' Cassie said quickly. 'They want us to bring her forward.'

Jack hesitated for a long moment.

'Jack.' Daniel said.

'Daniel.' Jack replied calmly.

'We have to trust them.' Daniel said quietly. 'We have to try.'

Jack sighed and nodded.

Teal'c took Sam's arm and escorted her forward to stand beside Cassie. He bowed his head to the Queen before he moved back.

Cassie put her arm around Sam and looked up at the silver dragon. Now what, she thought.

Now, we try to repair what we damaged, the silver dragon said smartly. We will need you to act as the conduit. Sit on the ground and place your arms around your sister.

Cassie urged Sam to sit and dropped to sit behind her. She placed her arms around Sam's waist. She could feel the other woman trembling in her hold. 'It's OK, Sam.' Cassie whispered in her ear. 'Remember what you told me in the bunker? Be brave.'

Sam stilled.

'Cassie?' Jack sounded anxious and concerned.

'It's OK.' Cassie tried to reassure him but her own voice shook with fear and nerves.

The baby dragon dropped to lie beside them and placed its head on Cassie's thigh. The silver dragon slowly folded its legs underneath it; it lowered its head and Cassie closed her eyes as its forehead touched her own.

Be calm, child, the silver dragon whispered. All will be well. Open your mind as you did before.

Cassie breathed in and tried to do as the dragon asked; tried to ignore the previous memory of pain and cold...

Chapter 21:

Tendrils coiled around her mind and she shivered but they lacked the impersonal ruthlessness that Cassie had felt before; instead, a welcoming warmth seeped through...

And suddenly, in her head, she stood in the centre of the forum; there was a collar of naquadah around her neck and a woman with red hair and glowing eyes in front of her forcing her to bow down before her...

It wasn't her in the forum, Cassie realised with a start; it was the silver dragon; Shela, the Queen of the Dragons, the matriarch; the same dragon that was communicating with her. She was Ancient, wise and immortal...

Cassie's eyes almost flew open but she forced herself to remain in position.

A memory of a violent riot, of blood and pain; Shela was free and she was angry. So many of her children had died because of the Goa'uld's whim. Fire rained down on the Goa'uld and her Jaffa; their human slaves. It was terrifying and it was glorious; Cassie could taste the ash in her mouth; taste the fire. Revenge and vengeance for the pain caused to her kin.

The scene washed away and another tableau formed; Hanka. They were in Sam's mind now, Cassie thought with confidence.

Teal'c approached with Cassie clutching his large hand. Sam's compassion and her love for her sparked.

The cold grey walls of an elevator appeared. Sam was crying; wrenching sobs. She was leaving Cassie behind and it was unfair, so unfair and...Cassie was awake. Sam's mind was making the connections so quickly and then she was on her feet before the thought had even had a chance to take root; her hand slamming into the controls to stop the elevator, to go back down and return to Cassie...

Another SGC room took shape; an exotic woman with dark hair glowering at the formidable Janet Fraiser stood in front of her with a gun in her hand.

Shock ran through Cassie as she recognised Nirrti and her Mom. She had known that her Mom had coerced Nirrti somehow into helping Cassie when she'd been sick but she'd had no idea...her Mom looked so fierce – a tigress protecting her cub...

Everything shifted again and it was a school corridor. High school. Her chest tightened at the memory about to play out: of Sam telling her of her Mom's death and the crushing pain. She felt her own grief rise up as she experienced Sam's.

Another memory blurred the edges of the harsh loss of Janet Fraiser; a sterile hospital room and the slow beeping of a monitor. Sam's hand clutched Cassie's tightly as Sam promised Cassie that she would help her get sober; that she would take a leave of absence, whatever it took but she would be with her...

Love suffused Cassie; coursed through her and into Sam.

And abruptly, Cassie's mind was her own again.

The silver dragon – Shela – lifted her head and shuffled back. The green dragon bumped her gently as though checking Shela was fine. Puff moved too; scampering away to Shela.

Sam stirred in Cassie's arms.

'Sam?' Cassie said softly.

Sam raised a hand to her head and rubbed her forehead. She gave a soft moan.

'Sam?' Cassie tried again.

Sam lifted her head and looked around. She stiffened at the sight of the dragons but her focus shifted back to Cassie. She frowned. 'Cassie?'

Cassie couldn't help the smile that lifted her lips despite the tiredness that threatened to overwhelm her. 'Yes. It's me.'

Sam looked at her bemused. 'What's going on?'

Cassie let out a shaky sob and hugged Sam hard. Sam responded instinctively, shifting to hold Cassie properly and hugging her back.

'Cassie?' Her voice was filled confusion.

'I just...I just...I thought I'd lost you.' Cassie said, tearfully. She turned her head and buried her nose in the crook of Sam's neck.

Sam stroked her back. 'It's OK. I'm OK.' She rocked, comforting Cassie as best she could.

Cassie held on tightly for another long moment before she shifted and looked behind her.

Jack stepped forward. 'Carter?'

Sam scrambled to her feet and Cassie followed. 'I'm OK, sir.'

Almost as though they coordinated it; the rest of SG1 moved up beside their team-mate.

'Glad to see you up on your feet again.' Mitchell grinned at Sam.

Vala hugged her. 'It's good to have you back, Samantha.'

'Vala?' Sam's face creased with confusion and her eyes widened as she caught sight of Rya'c and Jonas.

'What are you all doing here?' Her disbelief raised her voice an octave.

'Hey.' Jonas offered her a broad smile.

'It is good to see you again, Colonel Carter.' Rya'c bowed.

Sam's attention returned to Cassie. 'What are you doing here?'

'Rescuing our collective asses.' Jack explained succinctly. His eyes strayed to the dragons who remained motionless, watching.

'We've been MIA for weeks.' Daniel jumped in.

'Weeks?' Sam frowned. 'The last thing I remember is the dragons,' her eyes flickered to them, 'arriving at the Stargate and then, this.' She raised a hand to her head. 'What happened?'

Before they could reply, the hum of a transporter beam sounded in the air. Shapes appeared behind them; SG3.

For a frozen second, the new arrivals stared at the dragons.

Immediately, Cassie, Rya'c and SG1 all moved to stand in front of the dragons, their hands raised up.

'Lower your weapons!' Jack ordered briskly. 'They're friendlies.'

'Sir?' Colonel Reynolds questioned the order.

'They're friendlies.' Jack repeated. He shot Cassie a look. 'Right?'

'Right.' She agreed.

Reynolds and his team lowered their weapons and it was as though it was a signal for them all to move. For a few seconds there was chaos. Cassie caught the end of Vala explaining everything to Sam; of Reynolds explaining their orders from General Landry to Jack and Mitchell...

Cassie moved away from the melee and quietly walked over to the dragons. She wanted to say goodbye to them. Puff hurtled towards her and she dropped to hug the young dragon. She let go of Puff and stood in front of Shela cautiously.

You and your kin are leaving us, Shela's voice fluttered through her head like a leaf falling to the ground.

Yes, Cassie thought sadly. I just wanted to say thank you – for Sam. And for sharing your story with me.

And you with me, Shela replied. You are a fascinating people to have overcome the Goa'uld and gained your freedom. Her silver head lowered again and her yellow eyes met Cassie's kindly. You are much loved, little one.

Cassie flushed. I know.

Shela lifted her head and stretched out her wings. Come back and talk with us again, Cassandra Fraiser. We would be friends.

Cassie watched as the dragons took flight, rising into the air with sweeps of their wings before turning in an elegant glide to fly away. She was aware of the others moving to stand beside her; watching with her as the dragons disappeared from view.

'They are just incredible.' Jonas broke the almost reverent silence. He grinned at her; his eyes gleaming with curiosity.

'Incredible.' Cassie confirmed.

'And fascinating.' Jonas said.

Daniel sighed. 'I had so much to ask them and...'

Cassie placed her hand on his arm. 'Shela, the Queen, shared their story with me and we have an invitation to return.'

'And we're going to have plenty of time getting home on the Odyssey for you to grill her for the details.' Jack said crisply.

Vala patted Cassie's arm and made a face. 'Be afraid. Be very afraid.'

'Well, I'll miss that too. I should take the cargo ship back.' Jonas said, disappointed.

'We could give you a tow.' Jack jerked his thumb towards the ship. 'Drop you off on the way.'

Jonas smiled. 'Sounds good.'

'Come on then. Let's get the packs and get going.' Jack ordered.

Everyone turned in the direction of cargo ship. Cassie made to follow after them but Sam stopped her.

'You came looking for us?' Sam questioned lightly but her blue eyes were serious. 'You gave up your studies, left Earth and came looking for us?'

Cassie pushed her hands in the pockets of her jeans. 'Are you going to yell at me?'

The corner of Sam's mouth lifted. 'Don't get me wrong; I'm proud of you, and I think I may owe you big time for whatever you did back there, but...yes, I might be going to yell at you.'

'Jack said you would have a conniption fit.' Cassie teased.

Sam's eyebrows rose. 'He did, did he?'

Cassie nodded, happily throwing Jack under the bus. It was in a good cause; better for Sam to be mad at Jack than mad at her.

'You know what?' Sam slung an arm around her and squeezed.

'What?' Cassie asked.

Sam grinned at her. 'He was right.'

Uh-oh.

Epilogue

It had been a crazy three months.

Cassie smoothed a hand over her hair, checking that her long auburn hair was tamed into the elegant French ponytail. She looked over her appearance critically; the smart green BDU, the black bulky tactical vest all gave her the appearance of a member of the SGC. She picked up her worn olive cap and carefully put it on.

Sam had been surprisingly understanding about her decision to change tracks and join the SGC after they had returned from the Land of the Dragons although Daniel and Teal'c had been the most outwardly supportive. Jack had taken some convincing. Cassie figured it was only after she'd made it through the six week boot camp that the SGC used to train all their civilian personnel that the Head of Homeworld Security had conceded that her decision wasn't a spur of the moment reaction.

Cassie had joined as a research assistant reporting to Nyan, an alien archaeologist who had joined the SGC after saving SG1 on a mission during the early years of the programme. Cassie had wrangled her way onto a new correspondence course studying anthropology and sociology. It would be hard to work and study at the same time but she was looking forward to the challenge.

Will was a distant memory. She'd heard from Kelly that he'd broken up with Susie or whatever her name was. Cassie wasn't interested. Vala had called it "taking a boy break" and she was right. Cassie was actually sharing a house with Vala in Colorado Springs. The other woman had been keen to try living off base but hadn't wanted to do it alone; she had jumped on Cassie moving to Colorado Springs as an opportunity to try.

Her eyes flickered to the pictures on the inside of her locker. One showed her, Jonas, Rya'c and Vala. It had been taken on the planet after Jonas's and Vala's arrival by Daniel who had given it to Cassie on their trip home on the Odyssey saying he thought she might like it as a memento. Cassie smiled at the picture. Jonas had pushed for a Stargate programme and it looked like the Langaran government was going to agree. He had already proposed a joint return mission to visit the dragons. Cassie couldn't wait. Cartegia, on the other hand, had been declared off limits by the SGC. The last they had heard was the planet was in the midst of a civil uprising instigated by the Cult.

The next picture had been taken the week before and handed to her with solemnity by Teal'c; it was a snap of his son and pregnant daughter-in-law. Cassie had promised herself she would see Rya'c and Karyn when the new baby was born. They were family after all.

The third picture was of SG1; an old picture of Jack, Sam, Daniel and Teal'c flanked by her Mom and the late General Hammond. Cassie felt a renewed pang of grief at the sight of the old General. He had passed away a couple of weeks before.

The last picture was a shot of her with her Mom. Her Mom stood behind her, arms around her, head peeking out over Cassie's shoulder. Her warm sherry brown eyes were alight with laughter and Cassie's face was screwed up in giggles. It had been taken on Cassie's birthday shortly before her Mom's death. She gently touched the photo before she closed the locker.

It was her first official off-world mission. She was accompanying SG20 with a few of her civilian colleagues to survey some ruins. It was an orientation mission meant to get the civilians used to being off-world. She placed a hand over her belly where the monster butterflies were back at work. Just nerves; she could handle them. She straightened her shoulders, picked up her pack and headed out.

The corridors were busy. SG3 had just returned from a mission; an ambassadorial delegation led by SG9 was being escorted down one corridor; an alien complaining loudly at the smell of Earth, down another.

Cassie returned nods from people she knew as she hurried to the gate room. She accepted her zat from Sergeant Siler with a murmured word of thanks before she entered right on schedule and froze.

Jack stood to one side with one hand in the pocket of his BDU pants, the other gesticulating at Daniel wildly. Sam, who was temporarily in charge of the SGC while General Landry headed up some special project in Washington, ducked her head and tried to hide a grin at whatever Jack was saying. Vala whispered something, probably an observation about Jack and Daniel, to Mitchell who smiled. Teal'c stood beside Daniel, hands clasped behind his back regarding the others with a look of indulgence.

Cassie frowned. She had explicitly told her SG1 family not to treat her any differently to anyone else at the SGC even though her connection with them was common knowledge. She sighed and allowed herself a moment to check Daniel looked OK. He'd been injured on a trip to Atlantis and had taken some time to recover. She adjusted her cap and marched into the room to stand beside the other civilian assistants, Alisha and Brian. She ostensibly ignored SG1.

Major Grogan and his team marched in. Grogan nodded sharply in approval as he saw the civilians lined up. He spotted SG1 and did a double take; he and his team snapped to attention at the brass in the room.

'At ease!' Sam called out, walking over to the SG team with Jack. She nodded at them but she didn't glance over at Cassie.

Grogan shifted his position. 'Colonel. General.'

'Relax, Grogan.' Jack ordered. His brown eyes stayed on the young Major. 'I woke up this morning with something of a yen to spend the day in the gate room with SG1.'

'Really, sir?' Grogan managed a straight face although how he kept a straight face was something of a mystery to Cassie who refused – refused – to be amused by Jack.

'Yes,' Jack continued, 'we're wishing everyone well today as they set off through the old Stargate, aren't we, Carter?'

Sam didn't bother hiding her amusement and her blue eyes drifted to Cassie with something of an apology before returning to Grogan. 'You all set, Major?'

'Yes, Colonel.' Grogan allowed a small smile. He was only too aware of the relationship between SG1 and Cassandra Fraiser. 'We'll keep the civilians safe, I promise.'

'Excellent.' Jack agreed. His brown eyes moved to Cassie. 'Because we wouldn't want anything to happen to any of our civilians.'

Cassie rolled her eyes. 'Oh, for crying out loud.' She muttered.

Teal'c moved forward. 'I wish you well on your mission, Cassandra Fraiser.' He shot Grogan a severe look that promised things would not go well for the young Major if Cassandra was not returned without harm.

Mitchell was more circumspect; he nodded at her and stayed back. Vala bounded over and hugged her before winking at her and moving aside.

Daniel stepped up and punched Cassie lightly on her upper arm before he stuck his hands in his pockets. 'I'll look forward to your report.' He said cheerfully.

'You promised.' Cassie hissed at him. If there was one person who she would have expected to comply with her wish for SG1 to ignore her, it would have been Daniel.

He shrugged unapologetically.

Jack nudged Daniel out of the way. He wagged his finger at all of them. 'Remember, kids; no dragons. It's a rule.'

Alisha and Brian looked completely bemused. Cassie was tempted to stick out her tongue but she wrestled the urge into submission. She was a professional; she could do this without resorting to childish tactics where Jack was concerned.

'You ready?' Sam asked softly, placing a hand on her arm.

Cassie took a deep breath and nodded. Sam squeezed her arm gently, turned and nodded up at the control room. There was a suspicious sheen of tears in Sam's eyes as she regarded Cassie for a brief second before looking away.

Cassie knew Sam was thinking of a certain late CMO; how proud Doctor Janet Fraiser would have been to have seen her daughter walk through the wormhole as a fully fledged member of the SGC. Cassie swallowed back her own emotion as the Stargate spun; as the wormhole bloomed in the centre of the Stargate. The blue puddle glistened and rippled.

Grogan ordered his men to move out and followed them up the ramp. Alisha and Brian cast SG1 nervous looks and followed after SG20.

Cassie turned on her heel and walked up the ramp. She paused in front of the event horizon. She remembered the first time she had walked through with Sam's hand holding hers; of walking through during an evacuation with her Mom's hand tight around her own. And she remembered, walking through the wormhole a few months earlier on a personal mission to find and save SG1 just as they had once found and saved her.

She looked back over her shoulder. Her family were lined up watching her; love and worry, pride and joy written across their expressions as though they had spoken the words aloud.

Cassie smiled brightly at them and stepped into the wormhole.

fin.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jul. 19th, 2010 02:56 am (UTC)
Wow what an awesome story! You had me hooked and I didn't want it to end. And yep even had tears in my eyes with this: "Cassie knew Sam was thinking of a certain late CMO; how proud Doctor Janet Fraiser would have been to have seen her daughter walk through the wormhole as a fully fledged member of the SGC." Hope we'll hear more of Cassie's adventures :D.

JanSam
rachel500
Jul. 20th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
Hi, really glad you enjoyed it! It was a long one!! I do have a sequel in mind but when I'll get time to write it is a different thing!! Thanks for the feedback.
concarnadine
Sep. 20th, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)
Yes :: Awesome. Your "voices" are IMHO very close to the show -- especially Daniel & Teal'c.
I'd love to read more
rachel500
Sep. 21st, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you found them in-character and enjoyed the story. I do have a sequel in mind but I have no idea if I'll ever write it. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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