Cassie swallowed back the lump in her throat as she got off the plane, amidst a throng of people she'd likely never see again, and made her way to the baggage claim. Part of her wanted to go running back to Colorado, but things wouldn't be the same there anymore. Part of her wanted to go running to D.C. but that didn't seem like home either. Nevada was straight out unless she wanted to end up a lab rat. Literally. Chicago seemed like a good alternative. At least it didn't remind her of Mom, and she'd have a chance to start her life. Again. For the third time. This time without the government's interference. Most of the time. Maybe she could start a new home here.
She followed the signs through the airport and was reminded briefly of her first trip through the maze of signs and doors and metal detectors. The part of her that was still a little girl from the planet Hanka cringed at the sight. But the presence of her new family had helped ease her mind as she said good-bye to her mother and all of their friends as she left for cooking school. Little did she know her mother would be killed off-world by a stray staff weapon blast before they could see each other again.
As she waited for the baggage carousel to start spitting out luggage from her flight, she let her mind wander to how much things had changed in the past five years since the death of her second mother. Her mind was sharply pulled back to the present when the young woman felt someone brush up against her and deftly grab onto something in her pocket. There was only one thing in that pocket and there was no way Cassie was going to let some lowlife take it.
Her hand shot out and grabbed the other woman's arm before she could completely remove her hand from Cassie's pocket. Lighting fast reflexes were thanks to long hours of practice with Janet and Teal'c and sometimes Jack and Sam. Before she had left for school they had made quite sure she was capable of defending herself, and after Janet had died, Cassie had taken to keeping in practice just for situations like this.
The vibrant blonde turned to look at the other woman with wide eyes. Before she could open her mouth to speak, the hardened alien-turned-Earthling smirked, her fingers pressing into one of the pressure points on the other woman's wrist. "Would you mind letting go of my pocket watch? I'd really hate to have to chase you in these shoes."
The other woman grinned impishly and Cassie was reminded of another thief that she had met only briefly a few times before. The thief's hand released her prize and Cassie let her go. She smirked, "I've never been caught so quickly before."
Cassie smirked back, memorizing the woman's features, "I've had practice."
"What's so great about a gold plated pocket watch anyway?" The thief asked curiously as Cassie turned to look back at the now moving baggage claim.
"It was a gift from my mother shortly before she died," she replied, unsure why she was telling a stranger so much information. Especially a stranger that was a thief. Seeing her bag being spit out onto the carousel, Cassie stepped forward and snatched it up quickly. No use telling the woman it wasn't gold plated, but gold brushed trinium that did more than tell time accurately. Very few would recognize it's worth.
"Why would you want to steal it anyway when it's not worth anything?" Cassie asked, turning around to find the odd thief walking toward a waiting group of three men and another woman. "Chicago thieves are just plain weird," she mumbled as she made her way outside to hail a cab.
Five pairs of eyes watched her less than stealthy exit, intrigued by the woman's lighting fast reflexes. After all, Parker was more than good at what she did: she was the best.
The little bakery was in fairly good condition given the decline in business recently. Apparently an increase in the crime rate of the area had made business decline and the current owner (showing Cassie through the closed shop) was not up to the task of owning a bakery in the center of a turf war going on between the local gangs. While it wasn't something Cassie was particularly fond of, either, she trusted her skills as a fighter and knew that if things got too bad, she could always call Jack or Teal'c for help. They gave her the backbone she had needed to buy the shop on sight a month before.
Today was dealing with the last of the paperwork and setting things up so Cassie could take ownership immediately of the bakery. She had been drawn to its name as well as its reputation ... but mostly its name: The Mountain. Who in the world thought that was a good idea for a bakery name she didn't know.
She turned toward the current owner, pausing in her signing of the necessary documents, "Why is it called 'The Mountain'? That seems like an odd name for a bakery."
The man chuckled at the secret joke. "When I bought it, it was 'The Valley'. Didn't think that fit either. So I changed it to 'The Bakery Between the Valley and the Mountain' but that was too long for people to remember. Then it was just 'The Mountain'." He frowned as he thought about it, "Not so funny, is it?"
Cassie grinned at him. She had an entirely different reason for liking the name, "It's a great name. But, no, not that funny."
A few minutes more and the bakery was legally and in every meaning of the word hers.
Now to deal with the gangs.
"I wonder who she is," Parker wondered aloud as the team lounged around their new headquarters two days later. A hockey game was on in the background and Nate and Eliot were half paying attention to it while Sophie and Parker played a game of Go Fish. Alec was watching the game intermittantly while doing god knows what on his shiny new laptop.
"Probably just another thief," Eliot mused as he took a pull from the beer in his hand. "She caught you fast enough, darlin', and you're damn good."
"No," Parker shook her head as she rearranged her cards for the start of a new game, "Got any five's?"
"Go fish," Sophie responded.
"She wasn't a thief," Parker continued. "I can tell. A hitter, maybe. But not a thief."
Eliot snorted, "If she was a hitter, than she's pretty new. If she was seasoned you wouldn't have gotten within two feet of her."
"Then who is she?" Parker asked again. "She's been trained by someone but she doesn't seem active in anything. It's unnatural."
"According to the flight manifest," Alec chimmed in, "Her name is Cassandra Fraiser. She started off in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and made her way to D.C. via southern Nevada before ending up on the same plane as you for the final stretch to Chicago. I'm looking at her financials and history now."
Eliot frowned at the news. There was one thing those three locations had in common. "She might be military."
"Naw," Alec contradicted with a shake of his head, "According to this she graduated four years ago from Le Cordon Bleu in Portland. Oh. Yeah. Orphaned at age ten and adopted a short time later. Her adoptive mom was Air Force until she died eight years ago. Stationed at the Air Force Academy and NORAD for the last seven years before her death. She was a doctor. Name was Janet Fraiser."
"No dad?" Nate asked, suddenly as curious as the rest of them.
Alec pressed some more buttoned and announced, "Dr. Fraiser was divorced and never remarried. Man, this is too weird."
"What?" Parker asked, ignoring the card game now that they had something interesting to think about.
Alec's head came up and he was wide eyed as he looked at each member of his team. "There's no record of Cassandra Fraiser having existed before Janet Fraiser adopted her in 1997."
"Witness protection?" Sophie asked, her voice soft and as curious as the others.
Alec shook his head, "It gets weirder." Locking eyes with Nate he said, "Her files and her mom's have been sanitized. I'm betting if I look into any of the other personel files from their department in NORAD I'm going to find the same thing. Whoever she is, Cassandra Fraiser grew up in some pretty deep stuff."
"And there's no record of it," Parker added needlessly.
"None that I'd hack into." His eyes took on a note of fear that none of his teammates had seen before. "It's hacker noman's land. We don't go there, and they don't track us down."
"Who's 'they'?" Eliot wondered who his seemingly fearless partner could be afraid of.
Alec's eyes held something deep inside of them that caused a shiver to run down the spine of his four teammates. "People who make the CIA look like bunnies."
General Jack O'Neill sat in his office wishing more than anything that he was at home in Colorado Springs with his wife of two years. Anything to be away from here and the damn burocrats of Washington D.C. Being head of Homeworld Security sucked almost as much as bringing down the Goa'uld had. Only now he couldn't use a gun -- or even a zat to make them shut the hell up.
The unexpected chirp from his computer drew him out of a very vivid daydream involving Sam and a can of whipped cream. He frowned as he opened the new alert and came face to face with something he had hoped would never happen: someone was running an illegal background check on Cassie Fraiser. His heart constricted slightly at the thoughts of his dead friend, but soon all emotions other than anger were pushed to the side as he followed the hacker's movements in and out of encrypted files that were supposed to be safe.
Jack started to press a few buttons and was moments away from frying the harddrive on the hacker's computer when the search stopped on its own -- two clicks away from one of the best kept secrets in the world. Jack changed his focus and pulled up a search for the hacker himself.
When he saw the face of the wanted criminal he had to smirk at the irony. Alec Hardison was infamous in the world of computers. His hacks legendary. Jack knew first hand that he was smart and didn't get into things that could bite him in the ass so hard he'd need a bag the rest of his life. He was a hacker who didn't make mistakes. Usually.
The truth was, Alec Hardison had just made the biggest mistake of his hacking career.
Reaching for the phone, Jack pressed number "3" on speed dial and waited for the man on the other end to answer.
"Jackson," a familiar voice said over the slight sound of static.
"Daniel! Good, you're in," Jack replied in a jovial tone. "What do you think about taking T and Vala to visit Cassie later this week?"
Daniel sounded pleased with the idea, "This week's no good for me, though. I have new recruits for the SGC next week. How about next week? It'll give us all enough time to make sure the world's not about to end while we're in Chicago. Not to mention we could take the week off and see how she's settling in."
That would give him enough time to make Hardison more paranoid than he's been in years. "Sounds great. She told Sam that she bought a bakery named The Mountain. Great, right? You tell T and Vala, okay? I'll tell Sam later tonight."
"What about Mitchell?" the archeologist asked curiously.
"What about Mitchell?" Jack replied, unsure what the other officer had to do with a spontaneous trip to Chicago.
"Jack," Daniel whined, "He's a part of the team and he might --"
"He might what, Daniel? Throw a fit that he wasn't invited to visit a woman he's never met before?" Jack pointed out logically. "The only reason Vala's even invited is because she's your girlfriend. This is not a team vacation. This is visiting Cassie."
Daniel seemed to just bypass the last part of Jack's statement and stuck with, "She's not my girlfriend!"
"From what Teal'c tells me, she is."
Flabergasted silence met him on the other end so Jack concluded the conversation with a simple, "See you Monday, Danniel."
Eliot was taking a walk through what could only be described as some of the seedier parts of Chicago when he saw her. The girl from the airport: Cassie Fraiser. And she was talking to what looked like six gang members. From two different gangs.
Wondering if the woman was looking to get killed, Eliot made his way closer so that he could be on hand in case she needed him. Part of him wasn't really sure why he was going closer to a potential fight that had nothing to do with him, but the more human part of him that had been getting stronger in the past year with Parker and Hardison knew that if Parker knew that he had just stood by while the young woman was attacked, she'd never forgive him. Eliot really didn't need Parker holding a grudge.
A few of the gang members seemed adgitated, but their leaders held them back from attacking the seemingly unarmed woman. Finally, Eliot was within hearing and listened intently to the conversation.
"Are we clear here, gentlemen? You leave my shop alone and there won't be any trouble," Cassie was clarifying with the men.
One of the underlings snorted, eying the woman like a piece of meat as he cockily asked, "What kinda trouble a little lady like you give us? Betcha can't even fight."
Eliot was too far away to see Cassie raise her eyebrow, but he could hear the subtle amusement in her voice when she said, "Did you just volunteer for a demonstration, Mikey?"
"What's the rules?" Mikey's boss asked.
"I win," Cassie said, walking in a circle around her new prey, "And you leave my shop in peace. He wins, and
The Mountain is fair game. Deal?"
"Mikey's got nuthin' to do wit us," the other leader's second put in.
The rival leader glared as he decided, "Let's see what happens. I seen Mikey fight. He's good. He wins, we win. He loses, we stay away like the lady says."
Eliot had to hold himselve back from intervining as the thug known as Mikey ran at the woman. He saw her losing the fight without the damn thing even starting. The whole thing flashed before his eyes in a moment. Until he blinked and found something he hadn't been expecting: Mikey was on his stomach, one of his arms twisted up at an awkward angle by Cassie's slim form. She had one of her heeled boots directly over Mikey's spine.
The retrieval specialist winced at the wimper he could make out from the man on the ground. He raised his eyebrow in admiration at how nicely the fight had been wrapped up.
"What's the matter, Mikey?" Cassie asked patronizingly. "Didn't realize a baker could fight, did ya?" She lifted her head and turned back to the gang leaders, her grip on Mikey's arm tightening a fraction, "A deal's a deal. See me if you need a cake and leave the illegal stuff out of my shop and off the immediate premises. Got it?"
Mikey's leader nodded, visibly shocked by the outcome, "Yeah. We got it. Deal's a deal."
The rival leader nodded once as well, "Yeah. Deal's a deal."
Cassie nodded and let go of Mikey's arm. She took a few steps back from the gang bangers. "If any of you decide to question the parameters of this deal just keep this in mind: I won't get the cops involved, but by the time I'm done with you, you'll wish I had."
Eliot faded back into the shadows as the woman passed him. He felt something in his stomach he hadn't felt in a long time. If he wasn't so hardened to the ways of the world, he might have mistaken it for longing mixed with lust. Pushing it out of his mind, he turned his thoughts to the nice redhead waiting for him at one of his apartments around town. She should be up for some fun tonight. Briefly, as he made his way to the nearby apartment building, he wondered what type of wares a shop called "The Mountain" would sell.
Cassie made her way to the apartment she had set up before her final move up to Chicago. It was small, without being cramped -- just the way the Air Force liked it when she was using her mother's death benifits to live off of until the bakery took off. She had no doubt it wouldn't take long now that the gangs were out of the way. Sam and Jack liked her apartment because it was really easy to wire for alarms and motion censors.
Part of her wanted to roll her eyes at the lengths they went to in order to protect her, but there was always that voice in the back of her head that sounded way too much like her adopted mother for her not to listen, "Cassandra Fraiser! You are an alien on this planet and there is naquadah in your blood. You know what the NID would do to you if they could. Now suck it up, young lady!"
After deactivating the necessary alarms and setting the one that said "I'm home and in for the night, so scream if someone tries to open the door or a window," she checked the time on the clock, wincing when she saw that it was already ten o'clock in the evening. It wasn't that she felt that was particularly late normally ... but she had to wake up at four in the morning to get to the bakery before anyone else so that this change in ownership could go off without a hitch.
With a sigh she hung up her purse and jacket on the coat hanger Daniel had so thoughtfully contributed to her new place. It looked like it came straight out of the Smithsonian's Elizabethian England collection. Knowing Daniel it probably had.
One hand went to her now short brown curls, for a moment forgetting that she had chopped them all off three months back to donate to Locks for Love. Something about stupid drunken bets flitted through her mind, but she just sighed again as she kicked off her shoes and pushed them toward the wall.
She made her way groggily toward the kitchen, where she poured herself some orange juice to drink before hitting the sack. One hand went up to rub the back of her neck where it was just a little more than sore for some unknown reason. Her head hurt, too, come to think of it.
After finishing her juice and washing the cup, Cassie made her way to her bathroom, where she changed for bed and brushed her teeth before turning out the lights and setting up the other alarms from the panel right by her bedroom door. Quickly she sprinted across to the bed and snuggled into the massive blankets she had piled on top. Nothing could change her love of her blankets. Not even the fact that it was still a solid seventy-five degrees outside her apartment.
She turned on her alarm clock and let the sounds of the city lull her into sleep. As her eyes closed a final time, the woman watching her apartment could swear that the brown eyes glinted as they looked straight at her through the half closed blinds. But that was impossible.
A/N: So? Can you feel the set up of sexual tension? Are you cackling at how Hardison is not nearly as clever as he once thought? Should I stop now or continue writing? Do you want to see what happens when Teal'c meets Eliot?
No comment on the gangs. It was just an excuse for Eliot to watch Cassie kick some ass.