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Fanfiction: One Small Step - Part V

For author's note and disclaimer see Part I.

 

Chapter 13:

The pyramid loomed up out of the dark.

Cassie barely took in the immense size; the luminous white stones towering into the sky. She was exhausted. Her focus was on putting one foot in front of the other; her gaze pinned to the ground to try and avoid falling over a stray root or branch. She was barely aware of the dragon keeping pace by her side, of Mitchell behind her carrying one pack, of Teal'c and Rya'c ahead of her leading the way.

She was regretting the decision not to camp out again overnight but they'd all wanted to try and make their way back to the pyramid. After Mitchell's cryptic comments, she had wanted nothing more than to see Sam for herself.

Cassie shivered as she realised that they left the undergrowth of the forest and were walking across a large square of clear land in front of the pyramid. The rough ground had given way to paved stones. There were weeds breaking through the cracks and a slick layer of moss in places but she could imagine it in her minds' eye; a forum where the Goa'uld would have held court.

Two stone dragons guarded the staircase up to the pyramid's entrance. The baby dragon bounded over to sniff inquiringly at them before smartly running back to her side. Cassie looked at the steps with trepidation. There were so many and she was so tired. The dragon sent her a wave of sympathy. It was tired too. She took a deep breath and began the ascent.

One step at a time.

Jack, Sam and Daniel were in the pyramid, Cassie reminded herself as she felt the climb up the stairs begin to bite at the muscles in her calves. She was almost there. Almost there. She stumbled on the last step but Mitchell caught hold of her elbow steadying her. She smiled at him gratefully before they moved into the cool passageway. It opened out into a large hall. Huge statues of dragons lined the room and what remained of a throne marked the back wall, but Cassie's attention immediately went to the three people sat around a brazier in the centre.

She hurried over despite her tiredness as Daniel and Jack rose to their feet to greet her. She hugged Jack first, careful of the bruised ribs that Mitchell had told her about. The General gave a soft, muffled humpf and she quickly stepped back.

Jack kept hold of her though, his brown eyes running over her, taking in her appearance. She flushed. She knew she looked terrible although Jack looked the same. His BDU was rumpled. His face was etched with pain; the lines that gave him such character were deep and there were dark circles under his eyes. His short white hair had grown a little and stuck up everywhere. She repressed the urge to tousle it, aware that he wasn't in the mood for humour. She waited for him to say something.

'Just what the hell are you doing here?' Jack asked bluntly. He cast an accusing look in the direction of Rya'c.

Teal'c bristled on behalf of his son, and Daniel sighed. Cassie saw him adjust his glasses from the corner of her eye.

'Don't blame Rya'c.' Cassie said quickly. 'This was my idea.'

'Of course it was.' Jack retorted. He glared at her instead. 'Have you gone nuts?'

'Jack.' Daniel gently nudged him away from her and stepped in to hug her.

Cassie hugged him back. He felt thinner as though he had lost weight but he looked OK otherwise. Tired, maybe.

'It's good to see you.' Daniel said firmly. He glanced at Jack pointedly as he moved back.

Jack ignored him and gestured at the dragon. 'Who's your friend?'

Cassie was suddenly grateful Mitchell had contacted Daniel and warned him as soon as they were in radio range of their impending arrival and guest. She got the distinct feeling Jack would have shot first and asked questions later.

'It's a dragon.' Cassie said absently as her eyes fell on Sam.

The other woman hadn't moved from her position by the fire. She sat, scribbling into a book, muttering to herself. It was as though she hadn't even noticed their presence.

A sense of grim foreboding made Cassie's stomach quiver. 'Sam?' She crouched down beside her.

Jack's expression softened. He lowered himself to sit beside Sam, grimacing with pain. He rested a hand on her arm, stilling the writing. 'Carter,' he said gently, 'Cassie's here.'

Sam looked at him blankly before she turned back to the notebook.

Cassie pressed her lips together as she took in Sam's disinterest; a sharp arrow of worry lodging in her chest. 'What's wrong with her?'

'We don't know exactly.' Daniel answered carefully. He folded his arms around his torso.

Jack shot him a meaningful look. 'She was attacked.'

'We don't know that.' Daniel said with the air of a man who had said the same thing many times.

'The dragons showed up; Carter collapsed.' Jack snapped. 'It sure as hell looked like they attacked her to me.'

'They might have been trying to communicate.' Daniel replied firmly.

They glared at each other.

Teal'c swiftly moved to stand in between the two men. 'Perhaps we should organise the supplies and allow Cassandra Fraiser and my son an opportunity to rest and eat.'

'Good idea, big guy.' Mitchell agreed quickly.

Jack darted a look to Daniel but nodded jerkily. Jack's attention returned to Sam. He handed her another pencil.

'You go ahead and rest up.' Mitchell said, nudging Cassie's elbow.

Cassie waited until everybody was busy before she simply sat down beside Sam and Jack at the brazier. She watched as the dragon scampered away to investigate the pyramid, and she made sure it was occupied and wasn't getting in the way of the others. She looked over Sam's shoulder and tried to read the scrawl across the page in the firelight. 'What's she writing?'

'Numbers.' Jack said quietly. 'Equations.'

Cassie reached out and gently stroked a strand of Sam's blonde hair away back from her forehead.

'She's in there.' Jack said forcefully. 'Somewhere.'

Sam suddenly stopped and stared at Cassie. She dropped the pencil and reached up with a hand to cup Cassie's cheek; the calluses that marked her fingers were rough against Cassie's skin.

'Sam?' Cassie covered Sam's hand with her own as she searched the blue gaze for a sign that Sam recognised her.

'Pretty.' Sam declared. She moved away from Cassie and picked up her pencil again.

Cassie swallowed her disappointment. The urge to cry was strong and she dropped her gaze to the ground feeling tired and drained, and wanting nothing more than to be somewhere, anywhere else. Home, maybe, wrapped up in her cosy towelling robe with a large, very large mug of coffee in her hands after taking a marathon shower.

'Hey.' Jack murmured.

Cassie looked across at him inquiringly.

'She's going to be OK.' Jack said confidently.

Cassie nodded but she felt too like crying to speak. She focused on the walls of the room; on the pictures that filled every space but were too faded to see what they were at a distance. She let the activity around her wash over her; watched as Teal'c and Rya'c set about making a meal; as Daniel and Mitchell arranged the blankets and set up another couple of beds in the far corner of the room which had been designated for sleeping. She made a half-hearted offer to help when they started stowing the rest of the supplies but Daniel declined and she didn't protest.

Half an hour later they were all sat round the fire with some kind of vegetable and meat stew. Cassie pushed it into her mouth and tried not to gag. It didn't taste bad but she had no idea what the meat was and she was afraid to ask. The dragon wolfed down his portion and curled up behind her.

'Tastes just like chicken, huh?' Jack teased her.

Daniel shot her a sympathetic look from the other side of the fire. 'It's a bird creature of some sort.'

'One tried to attack Cassandra Fraiser earlier.' Rya'c said. He sat beside Cassie; his father to his other side.

'Really?' Jack looked at her concerned.

'The dragon protected me.' Cassie explained.

Jack grimaced and turned his attention to his food.

She tried not to take his disbelief personally; maybe a change in subject was in order. 'So what happened to you guys?'

'Well, you worked it out, right?' Mitchell replied, apparently confused by her question.

'We think we know.' Cassie said. 'But...it would be good to hear what exactly went down.'

Jack motioned at Daniel with his spoon. 'Why don't you tell the story?'

There was a long look between the two men and Cassie heard the silent apologies and acceptance that were exchanged for their earlier spat – she had known them too long not to be aware of the communication.

'Well,' Daniel began, 'you know we went to Cartegia for a renewal of our treaty.'

Cassie nodded.

'Sam went on a hike into the mountains with Teal'c and Cam on the first day while Jack and I handled the new treaty signing.' Daniel continued.

'Sam had some device tracking an energy signature.' Mitchell chipped in. 'Teal'c found footprints going in the same direction.'

Teal'c inclined his head.

'Then we found the temple which kind of shocked the bejesus out of us.' Mitchell added.

'I can see why.' Cassie said, remembering how ostentacious it had appeared from the cargo ship.

'When they came back we realised that the Cartegians hadn't been seeded by Merlin and were just another race of humans left behind by the Goa'uld.' Daniel sighed. 'Sam and I went to the library the next day to do some more research.'

'And found the scrolls.' Cassie inserted.

Daniel wrinkled his nose. 'Well, more accurately, Kitana gave us the scrolls when she realised we were looking into pre-Council history.'

'Kitana was very interested in Daniel.' Jack commented slyly, licking his spoon.

Even with the firelight, Cassie could see him flush.

'Which is how we really should have known she was a bad guy.' Mitchell quipped.

'Indeed.' Teal'c intoned, a hint of a smile playing about his lips.

Daniel glowered at all of them. 'She must have heard Sam and I talking about the Goa'uld lock on the DHD.'

'And she knew Sam could activate it.' Cassie nodded. 'We worked that out.'

'We went back to the Council and tried to talk them into giving us access to the naquadah; tried to reassure them the Goa'uld are pretty much gone but...' Daniel shrugged.

'They didn't go for it.' Jack threw his spoon into his tin and turned to help Sam who had simply been stirring hers listlessly. 'We'd already signed the treaty; had a party.'

Daniel rolled his eyes. 'When we got back to the inn, there were two notes waiting for Sam. One was a warning...'

The one they had found, Cassie mused tiredly, as she set aside her own dish. She watched as Jack coaxed Sam into eating.

'And one that said Saki, the maid from the inn, was in danger and that if Sam wanted to help her, she had to go to the temple alone.' Daniel finished.

'You did not let her go alone.' Rya'c noted.

Teal'c held his son's gaze. 'We did not.'

'We followed at a safe distance.' Mitchell said. 'Sam was going to stall while we got the lay of the land. We figured they wanted Sam to unlock the Stargate so we thought we would go along with that; activate the wormhole, we'd grab Saki and escape; dial home from the other side. That's why we had our stuff with us.'

'Obviously Saki didn't need saving; she was in on the whole thing.' Daniel sighed heavily. 'Kitana had Sam surrounded. She threatened her and Sam believed the best route out of there for all of us was through the Stargate like we had planned.'

'Only things didn't go to plan.' Cassie surmised, hugging her knees to her chest and resting her chin on top of them.

'Sam activated the lock; the dial started automatically. Kitana and the others hadn't seen a wormhole engage before, and Sam didn't warn them about the backwash. It took out the three closest to the Stargate; the rest moved away in fear.' Daniel explained. 'We used the moment to attack and...'

'We escaped through the Stargate.' Mitchell concluded.

'The Cult did not follow you?' Rya'c asked, his brow creasing with confusion.

'Sam was the first through on this side,' Daniel shrugged, 'as soon as we were through, she touched the lock on the DHD this side and...'

'The wormhole disappeared.' Mitchell shook his head.

'Carter said if someone was mid-transit they were lost.' Jack said bluntly.

Daniel grimaced. 'Although I think it was unlikely. The Cult were a little apprehensive about the wormhole after it took out their people. I'm not sure they would have followed us immediately.'

'You did not encounter the dragon as we did on your arrival?' Rya'c questioned, sitting forward, his face lit up with the flames from the brazier.

The dragon behind Cassie, snorted.

'Not when we came through.' Daniel said. 'No. We were alone for a while; long enough for Sam to work out that the DHD was locked back to Cartegia.' His hands weaved in the air as he explained. 'Sam had started trying to figure out a way to detach the lock device from the DHD and that was when the dragons showed up.'

'You mean when they attacked.' Jack snapped.

'Showed up.' Daniel said tightly.

Cassie frowned at the angry edge to their voices and shot an anxious look over her shoulder at the baby dragon.

'Three of them just descended right in front of us.' Mitchell jumped in, evidently hoping to ease the tension. 'We had weapons raised but we hadn't fired; they just kept looking at us and then...'

'Sam collapsed.' Daniel allowed soberly. 'She screamed and fell to the ground holding her head...'

'I got off a couple of shots.' Jack added gruffly.

'Which is when one of them lashed out and hit you with its tail.' Daniel retorted.

'They took off, didn't they?' Jack glared at him.

'Guys.' Cassie gave them both her best admonishing look. Given she'd perfected the look from watching her Mom and Sam with the two men, it had the desired effect.

Sam patted Cassie's knee and she turned to her quickly. Sam passed her a half-filled food tin. Cassie took it, bemused. Jack reached over and snagged it from her hand; he began to coax Sam into eating again.

'With Colonel Carter unconscious and O'Neill injured,' Teal'c continued the tale, 'we determined that taking cover in the pyramid would be wise.'

'Been here ever since.' Mitchell put his tin down and picked up a tin mug filled with warmed water and the instant coffee Cassie had packed.

'Sam woke up the day after the attack.' Daniel said quietly. 'It was clear her mind had suffered some kind of psychic shock.'

'So no playing with the Stargate to get us home.' Mitchell said brusquely. 'Not that it would have been possible; the dragons have posted a sentry since we left. That's the one that greeted you.'

'We figured it would take the Odyssey five days to reach us from Cartegia.' Daniel added. 'When they didn't show up, we realised that it was probable that Kitana and her friends had managed to intercept the message we left for Goy with the inn-keeper, and that the other clues we had left hadn't been found.'

'We found them.' Cassie murmured.

'And here you are.' Jack said lightly.

'We had no idea if anyone was still looking for us.' Mitchell admitted. 'We kind of hunkered down for the long haul.'

The room fell into silence.

Cassie glanced at Sam. The older woman had finished her meal with Jack's help and had returned to her scribbling. Cassie bit her lip. 'I could try healing her.'

'Healing her?' Jack questioned.

'I have the healing device and Vala taught me how to use it. It's how I healed the dragon.' Cassie explained. 'I can try healing you and Sam.'

Jack glanced around the group as though getting their opinion before he met her gaze again and nodded. 'Tomorrow. You need some rest.'

'We all need some rest.' Mitchell agreed.

There was a beat between the two men, and Cassie took a moment to wonder at who had command. It had to be awkward for Mitchell suddenly having his predecessor back on the team. Cassie slid a look to Sam. Well, both his predecessors; Sam had led SG1 too although in the circumstances it was clear Sam wasn't up to sparring with the two men over who was leading. Not that Cassie could see Sam being aggressive about it - Sam was too gracious for that. Cassie could imagine that Sam had left it to Mitchell and Jack to tussle over the leadership while just smoothly stepping in to offer the best decision when they reached an impasse.

Jack sighed and pushed himself to his feet. She could see his wince of pain and the way he gingerly fingered his side. He patted Sam on the shoulder.

'Come on, Carter.' Jack ordered briskly.

Sam set her note book aside and got to her feet. She followed Jack out of the room.

'We found a bathroom down the hall.' Daniel explained. 'It has stream water running through it. Jack will help Sam clean-up before we all turn in.'

Cassie flushed and gave a nod of understanding. She could hear her Mom's voice nagging her to offer to take over, and Cassie knew on one level that Sam would hate having the guys see her so vulnerable. But Cassie didn't have the first clue what Sam needed from a care perspective and it was evident that SG1 had it well in hand.

Mitchell got to his feet. 'I'm going to check the perimeter.'

Cassie wasn't surprised when Teal'c and Rya'c went with him. Cassie wondered at Rya'c's energy; she knew she was going to struggle to go to the bathroom, wash-up and change before bed.

Daniel moved to sit beside her. He picked up Sam's note book and flipped through it before setting it aside with a heavy sigh.

She nudged him. 'You OK?'

Daniel nodded. He nudged her back. 'You know we're really pleased you're here, right?'

Cassie cuddled into him like she'd done when she was a child. She rested her head on his chest as her arms went around his waist. She felt him shift to hold her; the feel of his chin on top of her head.

'I'm really pleased you're here too.' Cassie murmured. 'I thought...' She left the rest of it unsaid knowing he would understand, and when his arms tightened around her briefly, she knew he had.

Daniel was quiet and Cassie absorbed the solid feel of him, soaking in the movement of his chest beneath her head as he breathed; the brush of air across her hair; the solid, regular thump of his heart-beat. She felt her eyes closing of their own accord; the firelight blurring in front of her.

Just a moment, she thought muzzily. She just needed a moment...

Chapter 14:

Cassie wasn't sure what woke her.

The dying embers of the fire cast a reddish glow over the stone walls, distorting the pictures painted there with shadows.

She stared sightlessly at the ornate ceiling before letting her gaze slip to the sleeping bodies of SG1 around her in the semi-darkness of the room. Teal'c was missing and she guessed he was keeping watch. She wondered briefly how she'd gotten to her bed and blushed as she realised Daniel must have carried her.

Poor Daniel.

She gazed at the slumbering form of Sam beside her. In the dark, with Sam asleep, it was all too easy to pretend that everything was fine with the other woman; pretend that she knew who Cassie was and that she loved her.

Her heart ached a little and Cassie wet her lips a little. She closed her eyes, intending to fall back into sleep.

Beside her, Sam gave a sleepy moan and Cassie's eyes flew open again.

Sam's face was creased with pain; she was in the throes of a nightmare. Cassie was suddenly aware that she could somehow feel the edges of it; the skittering panic, the terror.

Cassie looked towards the foot of her sleeping bag and the bulky form of the dragon. It lifted its head and gazed at her as though confirming her unspoken question whether it was responsible for the emotional amplification and her being able to feel Sam's nightmare.

And just as suddenly as she had felt the nightmare, a balm of peace and warmth from the baby dragon encompassed her. She could feel Sam responding too; sliding back into deeper sleep.

'Good boy.' Cassie whispered at the dragon. He had soothed Sam's nightmare. It lowered its head.

She wondered at what horrors Sam had dreamed about; Cassie knew Sam had experienced enough for real for many of them to come back and haunt her in the night. The faint memory of Not Sam, of the Goa'uld - Tok'ra - threatening her in her Mom's office flitted through Cassie's head; of Sam curled up devastated in an infirmary bed and so sad.

Cassie stretched out a hand and wrapped it around Sam's.

She closed her eyes again and slept.

It was morning when she woke next. Daniel directed her to the bathroom and Cassie indulged in a long wash in the bathing pool. She dried off and dressed in clean jeans and t-shirt, surprised at how much better just getting clean could make her feel. She grimaced at her pink skin. She'd caught the sun the day before and it was sore to the touch. She slatered on moisturiser in the hope it would help alleviate the worst of it. She secured her wet hair into a ponytail and wandered back into the main room.

The dragon padded up to say hello before it wandered away, curling up in a corner to sleep. Sam was back by the brazier. She was scribbling again. Jack and Daniel sat beside her, eating breakfast. Cassie joined them. Daniel made her a plate of some reconstituted eggs mixed with some starchy vegetable that tasted like potato. She wasn't surprised to learn Mitchell, Teal'c and Rya'c had left early on a hunting expedition. When she had finished eating, Daniel poured her some coffee and handed her the mug.

She inhaled the bitter aroma and wished again for her espresso machine. 'I miss real coffee.'

'You should have seen Daniel in the third week.' Jack said dryly. 'It wasn't pretty.'

Daniel shot him a look but conceded with a wry smile. 'At least this is something like the real thing.'

Cassie smiled at him apologetically. 'Sorry about falling asleep on you last night.'

'You were exhausted.' Jack commented. His long fingers tapped at the metal mug he held. His gaze speared hers. 'Mitchell said you got snagged by a dragon?'

Cassie shrugged. 'I'm fine.' She hid her face by taking another sip of her coffee. She didn't really want to talk about the terrifying minutes in the grip of the dragon. She knew Jack would react badly and she decided it was best not to encourage him to think the worst of the dragons given the baby dragon was still around. She cast her mind about for a distraction. 'So,' she said brightly, 'when do you want me to heal you?'

Jack gave her a knowing look. Apparently she wasn't getting away with it that easy. 'Mitchell also said something about you facing down Kitana and her crew?'

'Well, not me so much as Vala.' Cassie waved a hand dismissively. 'She handled it really.'

Daniel looked over at her with amusement. 'I can imagine how that went.'

'She was brilliant.' Cassie said with fervour. 'She just bamboozled Kitana into agreeing to what we wanted.'

'She's good at that.' Daniel said dryly.

Cassie smiled at him. 'I still can't believe we found you.'

'I can't believe you found us either.' Jack agreed caustically.

'Jack.' Daniel cautioned.

'Daniel.'

Cassie cleared her throat hurriedly. 'So: healing?'

Both men stared at each other for a long moment before they turned to her.

'Carter first.' Jack said firmly.

'OK with me.' Cassie agreed. Her eyes settled on Sam. She seemed unaffected by the nightmare and disturbed sleep, but equally as uninterested in anything other than the journal as she had been the day before. Cassie swallowed her disappointment; she couldn't deny she had woken hoping that Sam would miraculously recognise her. She really hoped the healing device would work on Sam's injury.

'Where do you want her?' Daniel asked, setting aside his crockery to assist them.

'Stretched out on her sleeping bag?' Cassie suggested. She didn't think it made a difference but Sam might as well be comfortable.

It took all three of them to coax Sam into giving up her scribbling and lying down on the bag. Sam muttered under her breath, shifting restlessly. Her fingers continue to scribble even though she was without pen and paper.

'She's not happy.' Daniel noted uneasily. He looked at Jack. The silent question of whether they were doing the right thing, what Sam herself would want, hovered in the air.

Jack grimaced. 'If this works she can yell at us all she wants.' He determined. He nodded at Cassie to go ahead.

Cassie took out the healing device and knelt beside her. She closed her eyes and thought of Sam; of hearing her voice for the first time and the way Sam had reassured her, how Sam had held her hand when she had walked through the Stargate for the first time...

Cassie could feel the healing light flow through her but she knew it wasn't working even before she opened her eyes. The device couldn't heal what had happened to Sam. Cassie slumped back onto her heels. She didn't want to look up and see the disappointment in Jack's and Daniel's eyes.

'It didn't work.' Daniel said quietly.

Cassie shook her head. 'I'm not certain, I mean, Vala might be able to help her - she has more experience of using the healing device than I do but...I think, whatever's wrong with her,' she swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat, 'I think the injury is just too great to be healed by the device.'

Jack got to his feet. 'You did your best.'

She heard his footsteps walk away and when she looked up he was gone from the room.

Daniel tried to smile at her but when he couldn't muster one up he turned back to Sam. 'Come on, Sam. You can get up now.'

He helped her off the sleeping bag and back to the brazier, settling her down with her note book. Sam gave a happy murmur and started writing quickly; her attention completely focused on whatever numbers and equations were running through her head.

Cassie wandered back over to the fire, uncertain of what to do; what to say.

'Can you stay with her?' Daniel asked, straightening and stretching to ease out the kinks in his muscles. 'I want to check on Jack.'

Cassie grabbed hold of his hand before he could leave. 'Let me go.' It was evident he and Jack were butting heads and while she knew that was just part of who they were, she didn't think Jack was going to appreciate another lecture on how the dragons weren't to blame for what had happened to Sam.

Daniel raised his eyebrows in surprise, but he slowly nodded in agreement. 'He usually sits out on the top of the steps.'

Cassie patted his shoulder and made for the door. She followed the passageway back out into the bright sunlight and blinked madly as her eyes adjusted. The heat drenched her in sweat within seconds and lightly scorched her sensitive skin.

Jack hadn't gone far; he sat on the top step of the staircase exactly where Daniel had said he would be. His face was set in harsh lines; an impassive mask of granite that wasn't exactly welcoming; his sunglasses an extra barrier between him and the rest of the world.

She walked over and sat beside him anyway. She didn't speak for a long time, breathing in the scented air and looking out at the vast landscape with its green carpet of jungle and brilliantly blue sky.

The dragon had followed her out and it sniffed around the top of the staircase before running down into the empty forum below. She tracked it as it chased around around a small bird and a scampering creature of some sort. It seemed happy to be out in the air.

'I'm sorry.' Cassie said eventually.

'Not your fault.' Jack shifted, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands in front of him. His jaw tensed.

'It's not your fault either.' Cassie remarked. She hooked her arm around his and leaned in to rest her head on his shoulder.

Jack didn't reply and Cassie knew he wouldn't confide in her. She hugged his arm and hoped he'd accept her comfort. There was a long pause when she thought he wasn't going to before he moved and slid a hand over hers.

'Doc would have been very proud of you.' Jack murmured.

Cassie closed her eyes to hide her tears. 'I miss her so much.'

Jack gave a huff of agreement.

Her Mom would have known how to have helped Sam, Cassie mused. She would have been able to reassure Jack because her Mom had always known how to do that. She had been a wonderful doctor.

'Of course your Mom would also have had a conniption fit at you being off-world on a mission putting yourself in danger to save us.' Jack said conversationally.

Cassie couldn't prevent the laugh that bubbled up and escaped her, because it was too true. 'Are you planning on having a conniption fit on her behalf?' She asked, amused as she remembered his greeting the night before and his words at the fire over breakfast.

'Nah.' Jack bumped her shoulder with his own. 'I'll leave that to Carter.'

There it was again, Cassie thought; Jack's absolute certainty that Sam would make it through OK. She wondered whether he was just in denial or whether he needed to believe it to offset his own guilt and fear over what had happened.

'We should go back inside so I can heal your ribs.' Cassie suggested.

Jack nodded but he didn't move. He pointed at the dragon. 'You know it could be a Goa'uld.'

He sensed the naquadah too, Cassie realised. He hardly ever spoke of the time that he had been a Tok'ra host but it had left him with the same physiological legacies as Sam even if he usually denied it.

'It's not.' Cassie said, confidently. 'I doubt a Goa'uld would want a baby dragon for a host.'

Jack didn't look convinced. 'Either way, you know we can't take Puff home with us.'

Cassie looked at him askance. 'Puff?' She spluttered.

Jack smirked. 'Teal'c named it this morning.'

'Puff?' She repeated indignant. Her little dragon was so not a Puff. Maybe a Drake or Draco; she'd been playing with the name Marmaduke – but he was definitely not a Puff. Cassie pressed her lips together. She'd talk with Teal'c later. 'Weren't you the one who told me every kid had to have a dog?'

'It's not a dog.' Jack pointed out exasperated.

'Maybe every kid has to have a dragon.' Cassie retorted. 'It's like an alien rule.'

Jack's eyes narrowed on her. 'When did you become such a smart-ass?'

'I was taught by the best.' Cassie said, primly, trying to keep the smile off her face.

Jack's chest puffed out proudly. 'So you were.'

'Mom was a wonderful smart-ass.' Cassie said cheekily.

Jack's mouth fell open a little before he slammed it shut and wagged his finger at her. 'Oh you are so going to pay.'

Cassie giggled. After all the stress and worry of the previous weeks, the light-heartedness of their exchange had her almost giddy. She hugged Jack. 'I was really worried about you.' The admission slipped from her lips before she could call it back.

Jack tightened his grip on her. 'We're OK.'

Cassie let herself be comforted for another moment before she moved. 'Come on.'

She knew she could heal Jack and maybe, just maybe, it would make them both feel better about not healing Sam.

Chapter 15:

Sam was playing with the baby dragon. Or maybe, Cassie mused as she watched them, the baby dragon was playing with Sam.

It had returned with Cassie and Jack to the pyramid. Jack had made a token protest at getting horizontal but he had settled on his sleeping bag and stayed relatively still while she had healed him. His bruising was easy to repair and Cassie was pleased to see him roll back onto his feet without the movement causing pain. He had given her a sincere thank-you.

Daniel took advantage of their presence to head over to the far side of the room to study the walls, leaving them to look after Sam.

The dragon had somehow managed to tease the notebook away from Sam and was happily chased after the pencil she kept throwing for it. Sam was apparently enjoying herself and the dragon seemed happy enough so...her eyes went to Jack without thinking.

Jack watched warily as the dragon rolled over on its back and unashamedly let Sam rub its belly. He seemed to sense Cassie's regard and looked over at her, raising a scarred eyebrow in a remarkably scary imitation of Teal'c.

Cassie picked up Sam's discarded notebook. She flipped through it and blinked at the scrawl of numbers. Every page was covered with formulae as though Sam was trying to work something out or trying to hold onto what she could remember.

'Some of it is flight calculations for the 302s.' Jack said with studied casualness, glancing at her from over the rim of his mug. 'There's some astronomy. I made out naquadah generator fuel ratios and Daniel apparently recognised one calculation as part of the proof of the intergalactic bridge.'

'How come she remembers all this but she's...' Cassie struggled for a description.

Jack shrugged. 'Who knows how Carter's brain works?' He motioned with the mug towards Daniel. 'He thinks she held onto the numbers somehow when they attacked, but now she's just trying to make sense of them.'

'And while she's trying to make sense of the numbers, she just ignores everything else including take care of herself?' Cassie clarified.

Jack didn't bother to reply.

Cassie bit her lip and set the notebook aside. 'Do you think she knows? I mean, do you think she understands what's happened to her?'

Jack's lips twisted. 'I hope not.'

She flinched.

Jack sighed heavily. 'If she remembers the numbers, I think there's a good chance deep down she remembers everything, Cassie. But how much she's aware of right now...' He shrugged. 'I don't think she knows otherwise she'd be better.' He tilted his head. 'Maybe.'

Cassie nodded slowly. It made sense; in a Jack O'Neill kind of way.

Jack peered into his mug and set it down. 'I'm going to head out and get some air.' He got to his feet and stretched. He took a couple of steps towards Sam and crouched. The dragon watched Jack as he placed a hand on Sam's arm.

'Carter, come on. Time for a walk.'

The dragon leaped to its feet and hovered anxiously.

Jack stared at it. 'You want to come too?'

It gave a huff and looked over at Cassie.

She felt a rush of hope; it wanted to stay with Sam. Cassie nodded slowly giving it her permission.

'OK, Puff.' Jack said slowly, his eyes narrowing at the interplay between them. 'You can come but you're cleaning up your own mess.' He tucked Sam's hand into the crook of his arm and led her out. The dragon bounded after them.

'We are not calling it Puff,' muttered Cassie under her breath. She rubbed her arms and got to her feet, suddenly feeling at a loss. She missed the company of the baby dragon but she couldn't be too displeased at how it had attached itself to Sam. She considered how its soothing empathy had helped Sam in the night; maybe it was helping her somehow with its playing - bringing Sam some peace from the relentless numbers in her head.

Her eyes caught on a movement at the far end of the room. It was Daniel; he was immersed in his study of the walls. She wandered over and stood just behind the archaeologist as he examined the picture on the wall intently.

'Daniel, what are you doing?' She asked, curious.

Daniel started as though surprised to find him behind her. He briefly looked at her over his shoulder before he turned back to the wall and gestured up at the pictures. 'These mosaics are telling the story of the reign of the Goa'uld Queen who built this pyramid. It's fascinating.' He turned and pointed at the far corner. 'They show how she was exiled by Sokar and banished to the far corners of the galaxy. How she found this planet which was rich in naquadah and discovered the dragons.'

'The dragons are native to the planet?' Cassie asked, her interest rising.

'Yes, and I think there are signs that they were – are – sentient.' Daniel gestured wildly towards the wall. 'According to the history here, the Goa'uld attempted to enslave the dragons as beasts of burden but they attacked. There was a war but the dragons lost and the matriarch, the Dragon Queen, was placed under some kind of mental control by the Goa'uld. A collar of naquadah was placed around her neck.'

He made a motion with his hands as though choking someone. 'Actually, there's a...' he walked along one wall and back to another.

'Here.' He pointed at a brilliantly realised picture of a silver dragon wearing an ornate collar. 'I think that controlling the matriarch enabled the Goa'uld to control all the dragons although it's not clear whether this was because they didn't want their matriarch to be harmed or whether there was a domino effect.' He stopped, pausing for breath.

Cassie examined the walls and pointed. 'This is when the Goa'uld went to Cartegia.'

'Yes.' Daniel's fingers hovered over a line of hieroglyphs. 'It says that she had discovered Cartegia scouting for Sokar but without his dominion over her she decided to claim it for herself.' He nudged his glasses up his nose. 'She brought slaves to mine for her.'

'The Cartegians.' Cassie surmised. She looked around the walls and gestured. 'Is there anything about the Cult here?'

'No,' Daniel said slowly, 'but then the Cult only happened on Cartegia because the Goa'uld abandoned the human women she kept around as spare hosts.'

Something about the way he said it made Cassie pace away anxiously.

'Something's troubling you.' Daniel commented, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Cassie whirled to a halt and looked back at him. 'I think about what Kitana did in trapping in Sam, in trapping us and I know she's...a bad guy - woman - but,' she grimaced, 'I can't help thinking Kitana had a point.'

'Ah.' Daniel said. He waited a moment. 'About what?'

'She said that we were only interested in our own agenda. That we didn't care that her ancestors had been given to the men as chattel, raped and...and married against their will.' Cassie spoke quickly; the words toppling out one on top of the other. 'She said we didn't care that it still happened to the women on Cartegia.'

Daniel's brows rose at the last sentence but despite the pained look in his blue eyes, Cassie could tell he was giving her words serious consideration. 'I can see how she must feel that.' He said eventually.

'But?' prompted Cassie. Her anger flared when he remained silent. 'She was right; we don't care?'

'It's not that we don't care, Cassie, it's just...' Daniel grimaced, 'complicated.'

'So explain it to me.' She demanded.

Daniel gestured for her to join him and they sank down in front of the wall into cross-legged positions.

'Look, we made a lot of assumptions about Cartegia.' Daniel admitted. 'We'd just got past the plague on Earth; just lost the Prometheus...and then the Odyssey made an emergency stop for some repairs when we were aboard one time, and we found Cartegia.'

'You made first contact.' Cassie said. 'Didn't you question them about their society?'

'Enough to establish that while they had a medieval society, there was a justice system and the majority of their laws were fair. Beyond that, it wasn't - isn't - our place to make a judgement about their society.' Daniel said firmly. 'Admittedly, we should have dug deeper and done more research, and then we might have realised about the true origins of the Cartegians and the internal issues they have with the Cult. But we had a war to fight. There just wasn't time.'

'It doesn't make it right.' Cassie muttered.

'No,' agreed Daniel, 'it doesn't.' He sighed and leaned forward. 'And I don't personally agree with the way the Cartegians treat the women in their society. I even discussed the issue with Goy at the new treaty signing. Now, I know about the Cult, I can understand why the men have worked so hard to maintain a patriarchal control but I would prefer they adopted a different approach.' He paused. 'And as an anthropologist, I have to respect that the inequality is part of their society just as the planet Juygu has a matriarchal society which doesn't allow their men to vote or Calli where the women hold the warrior positions and ban men from doing so.'

'If Kitana had come to you and asked for sanctuary though...' Cassie let the question trail away.

Daniel shrugged. 'If she had lodged a complaint regarding the equality of women in her society and a wish to leave...we might have listened. As a Goa'uld sympathesiser though,' his nose wrinkled, 'we might have requested the help of the Tok'ra in finding them a new home in a very remote part of the galaxy without a Stargate.'

Cassie nodded slowly. 'What will happen about Cartegia now?'

'Well, if Jack has his way we'll go back, rip up the treaty and dance on it.' Daniel said with a touch of exasperation. 'But seriously? I can't see the IOA or the SGC wanting to retain Cartegia as an active ally given the danger to SGC personnel now.'

She sighed, propping her elbows on her knees and leaning forward to rest her chin on her clasped hands. 'It's just...I was thinking that if I was on Cartegia I would probably be in the Cult too. I mean, especially since I wouldn't know about the Goa'uld not really being Gods.'

Daniel nodded enthusiastically. 'If I was young, female and living on Categia, I'm sure the Cult would appeal to me too. It is the active feminist movement despite the religious association with the Goa'uld.'

Cassie waved at the walls around them. 'Why did the Goa'uld abandon them anyway?'

'I think the Goa'uld lost control of the Dragon Queen and,' Daniel said, 'when that happened, she lost control of all the dragons. Like I was saying, I think the Dragon Queen and all the other dragons are connected somehow.'

'You mean like telepathically?' Cassie realised.

Daniel nodded, without looking at her; his eyes scanning the walls with its myriad of images again. 'Maybe.'

'I think you're right.'

Her words had his head snapping round again. He looked at her quizzically. 'Really? Why?'

Cassie lifted one shoulder. 'The baby dragon communicates with me empathically.'

Daniel stared at her. 'It...you...' he motioned wildly, 'how?'

Cassie shrugged. 'I don't know, I just...,' she sighed, 'every so often I'll get this wave of emotion from it; comfort if I'm upset or gratitude when I healed it.' She gestured, warming to her subject. 'Last night, I woke up because it had picked up on Sam's nightmare and I could feel her emotions through it but then, it soothed her.'

'Incredible.' Daniel murmured. He crossed his arms over his chest. 'Are you sure? I mean, you have been through a lot in the last few days and...'

'I'm not making this up, Daniel.' Cassie said firmly.

'But when you arrived, you didn't feel anything from the dragon that, uh, snatched you?'

'No,' Cassie allowed, 'but maybe that's because it wasn't attempting to communicate with me.'

'Why haven't any of us felt anything?' Daniel asked.

'Maybe...maybe it's like the healing device. Maybe you need naquadah like it does to feel it.'

'The dragon has naquadah in its blood?' Daniel questioned, blinking.

Cassie nodded. 'Not a lot, just enough that I can feel it when its close. Jack felt it too. He thinks it could be a Goa'uld.'

'Unlikely.' Daniel frowned. 'If naquadah is part of the equation,' he mused out loud, 'that could explain why the dragons we encountered focused on Sam. She has the most naquadah in her blood and she's female. They probably assumed Sam was the leader.'

'But if they tried communicating with her telepathically, she wouldn't have been prepared for it,' Cassie theorised, 'it might have felt like they were screaming at her.'

'And it caused a psychic overload.' Daniel frowned. 'That makes sense.'

'Do you think they'll help us with Sam?' Cassie asked, her mind leaping ahead. If the dragons could repair the psychic damage they had caused...

Daniel shrugged. 'I don't know. I mean, it's possible if they knew what had happened that they might be able to help her but we would have to have some way of communicating with them, and it's possible that they might communicate just empathically like...' he waved towards her.

'I think that's because he's a baby.' Cassie said.

As if he knew they were discussing him, the dragon walked back into the room, flopping down beside her with a growly oomph. She absently patted its head.

'We can't be sure.' Daniel said, looking at the dragon with renewed interest.

'Can't be sure about what?' Jack questioned as he ushered Sam back into the room. He set her down by the smouldering brazier and handed her a note book. She happily began scribbling.

Daniel exchanged a cautious look with Cassie as they got to their feet as Jack approached them.

She folded her arms firmly over her chest. 'I think Daniel's right.'

Jack placed his hands on his hips. 'About?'

'About the dragons trying to communicate with Sam.' Cassie held up her hand as Jack's brow lowered ominously. 'Just listen before you freak out.'

'I do not freak out.' Jack protested.

Daniel looked at him in disbelief.

Jack waved a hand. 'Just tell me what you've got.'

They went back through their findings and thoughts. Jack listened intently. Eventually they stumbled to a finish.

Jack rocked back on his heels. 'There are a couple of flaws in your theory.'

Daniel frowned. 'Such as?'

'Well, for a start, I have naquadah.' Jack pointed out. 'Yet the dragons didn't try to communicate with me.'

'Because you're a man.' Daniel rejoined. 'They're matriarchal; they assumed Sam was our leader. If anything they probably thought you were her consort.'

Cassie had to look away to prevent herself from smiling.

'But when she collapsed...' Jack argued.

'You started shooting.' Daniel pointed out. 'At which point they left. It probably explains why the other dragon didn't try talking with Cassie either.'

'OK,' Jack conceded, 'but it doesn't change the fact that I haven't felt anything from Puff.'

'Puff?' Daniel's brow creased in confusion.

Jack pointed at the baby dragon.

'We're calling him Puff?' Daniel checked.

'No, we're not.' Cassie said firmly.

'Whatever we're calling him, it – whatever,' Jack made an impatient gesture, 'I haven't felt anything from it.'

Cassie looked at him bemused.

'Actually, that might be another reason.' Daniel said thoughtfully. 'We know Cassie's DNA, and the DNA of her people, was manipulated by Nirrti. It's entirely possible that she's slightly more advanced than us genetically. She might have latent telepathic abilities.'

Jack raised his eyebrows.

'So you think it's the combination of my advanced physiology and the naquadah?' Cassie murmured. 'I just haven't had my brain scrambled like Sam because of what Nirrti did to me?' Her disgust edged her words.

Daniel lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. 'I don't know but it's possible. After all, if we assume...'

Jack lifted a finger effectively cutting off Daniel as though he had asked out loud for him to shut up. 'How does this help Carter?'

'Maybe if we could find some way of communicating with the dragons, they would be able to fix the damage they caused.' Cassie suggested.

'So you're suggesting we go in search of them and ask them to help?' Jack checked.

Cassie winced at the incredulous scepticism in his tone. 'Maybe?'

Jack looked at Daniel.

'It's got to be worth a try.' Daniel said quietly.

Jack looked towards Sam. She was rocking back and forth; writing away in the ubiquitous note book. Cassie saw Jack's concern glimmer out of the dark depths of his eyes for a brief moment before he slammed his mask back in place.

'Yeah.' Jack turned back to them. 'It's worth a try.'

Continued in Part VI.

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