Cassie knew, she perceived with absolute crystal clarity as soon as she walked into his house; that Carter had told him. He was making coffee in a distracted manner, face completely blank, hands entirely steady; a picture of calm and quiet distraction. That in itself was an absolute giveaway.
"Hi," she said, slightly shyly, in order to announce her presence.
He looked up, spooning sugar into his coffee without needing to see what his hands were doing. "Hi Cassie," he returned, his dark eyes dead.
The teenager sat down heavily on O'Neill's sofa as he bought through his steaming drink to the living room. "Do you want some?" he asked, taking a sip from the cup and raising his eyebrows.
She shook her head. "No thanks."
He sat down opposite her, drinking his scalding coffee as if it were cold. "How's school?"
She shrugged. "Same as always."
"And the boyfriend?" he queried, as if working his way down a mental checklist.
"Dumped," she informed him, pursing her lips slightly. "I.. Well, things just weren't working out. So I ditched him before he ditched me." She stopped abruptly, suddenly realising her words, in the situation, might not be considered the most tactful.
However, O'Neill appeared not to have heard them. "Good. Good. That's good."
There was a long silence. Cassie inspected the nails on her right hand for a minute until it became an unbearable quiet. "Jack?"
His eyes flicked up to meet hers again, focusing on her as if for the first time.
Cassie took a deep, calming breath before speaking. "She told you, didn't she?"
O'Neill flinched as she spoke, an almost imperceptible movement, but one that Cassie registered with a medical efficiency her late mother would have been proud of. "Yeah," he replied, the word strangely constricted.
Cassie let out the breath, unaccountably relieved. "You... you're okay with it?"
O'Neill gave her another blank look. "Of course I am," he said, a little too quickly, "I'm very happy for her. Aren't you?" His eyes seemed to flash as he spoke the last two words, suddenly filling with life once more.
Cassie floundered, not adept at reacting to Jack O'Neill's methods of redirecting a line of questioning back onto the enquirer. "Well. Of course I am. I mean... it's great news. And he's a nice guy."
The word 'but' seemed to hover in the air, and Cassie shut her mouth before she spoke it to fill the void. O'Neill's gaze dropped into his empty coffee cup. When he spoke next, it seemed he addressed the dregs of his drained drink. "She's resigning from SG-1."
Cassie blinked. "So soon?" She was surprised, and mildly vexed, that Sam had said nothing to her about resignation.
"Yeah. Resigned her military commission. I got her letter this morning."
A sinking feeling spreading through her, Cassie tried to ask her next question in a would-be-casual voice. "She didn't come to see you about it?"
O'Neill's answer was a long time coming. "No," he eventually murmured.
Cassie's eyes closed briefly in an uncanny impersonation of the subject of their stilted conversation. "Oh," she squeaked.
He looked so mournful, staring into the cup as if it held the answer to universal understanding; posture so stiff and angular he looked like a soldier on parade and face so emotionless, that she felt moved to hug him. He put his cup down and stood up, ready to take her overnight bag to the room she inhabited in his house. She threw her arms around him unashamedly, feeling him go rigid with shock. She hadn't hugged him, hugged him like a child embracing a parent anyway, since she was eleven.
He patted her back awkwardly, as if worried she might explode. "I'm really sorry Jack," she said.
"Don't be," he replied off-handedly, as if he was supremely unconcerned. "I'm fine with it. Really I am."
This only resulted in his adoptive daughter nearly cutting off his air supply as her arms tightened. "No you're not."
O'Neill would not have tolerated anyone else to say those three words to him, but because it was Cassie saying it he let them pass without comment; either to confirm or deny. Since Janet's death the bond between them had grown; from something that had resembled the relationship between uncle and favourite niece into something more parental.
Cassie had lost a parent; O'Neill had lost a child. Whilst he doubted she would ever feel comfortable with calling him 'Dad,' or indeed that he would ever be comfortable with her referring to him as such, there was still an unspoken degree of understanding between them. O'Neill spoiled the teenager, generally unwilling to send her to bed late at night or reprimand her over late homeworks; and in return she accompanied him to hockey games, forced him to watch her favourite films and often acted far younger than her seventeen years in his company. In return for his willingness to play the role of doting parent, she was more than happy to take on the role of grateful child; giving him a taste of the time he might have enjoyed with his own son.
Sam, Cassie knew, was slightly hurt by the way the pair of them had settled so easily into their roles of guardian and child. It was difficult for Cassie to give shape to the concept when talking awkwardly to Sam about it; hard to explain that whilst she was far closer to Sam; that she shared with her the pain of losing a mother, the trials and tribulations of womanhood, a fierce intellect and yet somehow found it easier to talk, laugh and play with O'Neill.
O'Neill was an easy person to be around; he loved children. Whilst Daniel, Carter and even on occasion Teal'c would face his wrath or acerbic wit, would bear the brunt of his worryingly good ability to hurt other people with harsh words; Cassie knew she would always be unthinking catergorised by her guardian as 'kid' and that exempted her from contact with the sourer side of his personality. Sam on the other hand, was well aware Cassie was on the brink of adulthood and treated her as such. It made for a more conflicted relationship.
O'Neill extricated himself from her strangle-hold. "C'mon. Let's get this stuff up to your room. I thought you'd bought a film round for us to watch?"