A/N: It's been a long, long journey. Thank you for bearing with me.
Cassie's head started swimming not long after the SG teams arrived. One moment Daniel was telling her something about how they were taking down the Trust cells responsible for the attacks and the next she was having trouble concentrating on his face, let alone his words.
"Cass?" Daniel asked worriedly when he noticed the look on her face. "Are you okay?"
"I - I need to sit down," Cassie whispered breathlessly a split second before she collapsed in a heap, unconscious. Teal'c thankfully still had sharp reflexes from his time as the First Prime of Apophis and caught her before she hit the floor.
Daniel started to shout for a medic as the Jaffa carried her outside so the sun could warm her suddenly cold skin. Dr. Lam looked up from where she was checking Joe Spencer over for injuries when he nodded to her and told her to go. She ran after the others as fast as her heeled shoes could take her.
Tesa watched them go from her place beside a medic who was checking her over for serious injuries. The baker swatted him away and got up to follow where Teal'c took Cassie. "I'm fine," she told the medic as she rose on shaky feet.
"You are not fine," the medic replied as he caught her when she lost her balance. He knew he couldn't convince this woman to stay still so he did the next best thing and wrapped her arm around his shoulder and wrapped one of his own around her waist and helped her.
Outside, they found a small group that had formed around the unconscious woman as they waited for her to wake up. She counted Teal'c and Mitchell, as well as the thief she remembered being named Eliot and a few others she couldn't name.
"Is she alright?" the redhead asked when she was within hearing distance.
The woman examining her patient looked up briefly before getting back to work, "She'll be fine. Looks like exhaustion and low blood sugar."
"What?" Eliot asked irritatedly, his feet pacing of their own accord, back and forth the length of Cassie's prone body. "That's impossible. She ate less than two hours ago." He turned slightly and said something so low no one could hear it, one hand going up to his right ear briefly.
Tesa dropped to her knees beside her college roommate, shaking off the help of the medic who'd followed her, one hand moving to shake her awake. "Cassie?" she whispered hoarsely. "Cassie?"
"Tes?" Cassie replied in an equally soft whisper with her eyes still closed, her head rolled to the side, burrowing into Teal'c's arms the way she would burrow into a pillow. "Take notes for me in class, 'kay? I think I drank too much last night."
"It's not a hangover, Cassie," Tesa replied, tears prickling her eyes as all the emotions she'd been put through the past twelve hours came to the front of her mind. "Please wake up."
Cassie's eyes fluttered open as if on command. She turned and gave Tesa a small smile which turned into a frown as she looked at her face covered in bruises and cuts, and her matted and bloody hair. Shakily the pregnant woman brought up a hand to smooth away the tears falling from Tesa's bright green eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't get there sooner," Cassie said loud enough to draw the attention of the others who had been caught up in their discussion of her welfare.
Tesa brought her own hands up to cover Cassie's as she leaned into her embrace. "It's my fault. I should have seen them coming."
Cassie shook her head as she let her hand fall weakly. "They took you to get to me."
"Yeah, well, it worked," Eliot snapped at her even as his concerned and very angry face entered her field of vision. "What the hell were you thinking?" he snapped at her as he gestured to all their surroundings.
Her tired hazel eyes met his in a soulful gaze as she silently apologized for scaring him and he silently let her. Before she could verbally respond, however, one of the soldiers came up and interrupted.
"Sir," he said, addressing Mitchell, "Dr. Jackson and Vala have something they want you to see."
"What is it?" Cassie asked as Dr. Lam pushed the straw from a juice box into her mouth and made her drink. Cassie swatted at the good doctor and with a little help from Teal'c sat up to drink some of the apple juice.
The unknown soldier looked down toward her, "The host is awake."
"She was asleep?" Cassie asked with a frown as she put the half-empty juice box on the ground beside her.
"Unconscious, ma'am. She sustained a bump on her head from the fall," he replied with a straight face.
Cassie frowned as she turned to Teal'c, "I didn't mean to drop her so hard after the symbiote was out."
Teal'c gave her a tender look few others ever saw and patted her arm, "All will be well, Cassandra Fraiser. Do not fear."
Cassie looked at him with wide eyes that held a tint of self loathing Teal'c knew all too well. "Will you check on her? Please, Teal'c?"
Teal'c nodded, "Very well." He rose carefully, making sure that Cassie was stably situated before he followed Mitchell and the other soldier to where the former host was waiting.
Eliot waited until Teal'c was out of hearing before he sent Cassie a scathing glare. "What the hell were you thinking? Are you trying to get yourself or the baby killed?"
A tear fell down Cassie's flushed cheek and her eyes flickered to Tesa before moving to where the medics were fixing up the other hostages. Tesa took that as her turn to escape what was sure to be a row of epic proportions. As she hobbled away with the help of the medic charged with her welfare, Cassie looked down at her hands. She busied herself with drinking the rest of the apple juice as she tried to stop the tears from falling.
The hitter eased himself down beside Cassie on the cold ground, pulling her into an embrace as his anger left him. As Cassie returned his embrace she could feel him shaking slightly under the nerve endings of her skin.
"I - I didn't mean to scare you, Eliot. I wasn't going to do it. But then I saw Tesa and Joe ..." Cassie said as she lay her head down upon his shoulder, the tears coming to her eyes again so fast she couldn't force them back. "I just didn't know what else to do."
As much as he wanted to, Eliot couldn't fault her for that. "Well it was stupid to go in without backup," he told her firmly, his hand tightening on her waist as he thought about what might have happened to the baby or to her. His own emotions frightened him so much ...
"I'm fine," she reaffirmed as she nuzzled closer to him and her eyes drifted closed in exhaustion. She yawned as she wrapped her arms around his waist and said, "The babies are fine, too. Peachy keen. Nothin' to worry about ..." she trailed off into sleep even as Eliot's brain stopped working properly.
"Babies?" he whispered sharply.
"I wouldn't have let anything happen to them, you know," a voice said from his other side. Eliot turned his head and saw Ganos Lal sitting beside him cross legged on the ground.
Eliot shook his head at the "Ascended being" and glared at her even as Cassie moaned lightly in her sleep and hugged him like a teddy bear when he accidentally shifted away from her. "Because they're important, right?"
"More than you know, Eliot Spencer," the woman said with a slight smile. She turned to him and her eyes flickered over how Cassie had wrapped herself around him in her sleep. "Those children are the key."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Key to what?" he whispered.
"The survival of this planet and evolution of humanity," Ganos replied rather matter-of-factly, the same way she had told Cassie a few days before. She looked up at the afternoon sun and her look became distant. "This planet ... has been so important. And it's role isn't over yet. Neither is Cassandra's. This side effect of her using her powers will wear off eventually. Her mind and body have to get used to using the parts of them that have been dormant for a long time."
She turned back to look Eliot in the eye, "She will need protecting. All three of them will. Can you do that?"
"Protect them?" Eliot frowned, his throat suddenly very dry and his heart dead in his chest. He swallowed a few times, trying to regain the ability to talk. After a few tries that made him look like a fish out of water he finally added, "From what?"
Her eyes were determined and completely serious, "You know from what. And from who."
Eliot opened his mouth to respond but his vocal cords seemed frozen. Instinct fought against his frozen muscle and his eyes widened as he realized it was some sort of magic for lack of a better word. He couldn't have made a sound no matter how hard he tried, even if he screamed his throat raw.
Ganos brought herself up to her full sitting height and maintained eye contact with Eliot as she formally asked, "Will you accept the task of protector to this woman and her offspring, Eliot Spencer?"
As if not of his own will, Eliot nodded, still unable to speak.
The woman inclined her head with a slight smile playing on her lips. She reached out a hand to touch his forehead and said, "Then accept and embrace the dormant power you've always had and will need."
A surge of heat filled up Eliot as if his pores started soaking up heat and what felt like raw strength. He opened his mouth to ask what she just did to him when she smiled and vanished. He felt his vocal chords loosen and soften back to their normal state as he grunted at the woman who was no longer present.
Eliot shook Cassie awake, determined to tell her what had just happened with the apparently crazy Ganos Lal. Even as her eyes fluttered open with a groan though, he felt the memory of his conversation with the Alteran slipping from his memory.
"Wh's't?" Cassie asked groggily, barely lifting her head from his shoulder to look at him, as if it weighted twice as much as it did.
Eliot glared as he tried to hold onto the memory of the conversation, but the harder he tried the further it slipped away from him. After a few seconds he shook his head in exacerbation and said the first thing on his mind, "When did you find out it's babies and not baby?"
Cassie frowned sleepily as she tried to make her groggy brain think. "My mom told me. This morning ... after I yelled at you."
"I thought your mom was dead?" Eliot asked, now even more confused than he had been before.
Cassie shrugged, "Different mom. Nimue ascended so she's still alive. She's the one who ... conceived me."
Eliot pondered this for a few moments before Cassie asked, "Can I go back to sleep now?"
"Yeah, go ahead. I"ll wake you when it's time to move," Eliot promised, his head still trying to wrap itself around all the new information Cassie had given him, even as he forgot that Ganos had even spoken with him.
Nate had Hardison by the arm as they looked down at the commotion going on beneath them.
The four thieves were standing on top of a warehouse nearby where Cassie had been sent. Eliot had made the decision to call in the SGC after he'd seen the pictures, and he'd met them outside about fifteen minutes ago.
The reason Nate had such a firm grip on Hardison's shoulder was this:
Hardison had just asked Eliot if all was clear down on the ground and the hitter had replied that the people held hostage by the megalomaniac were all very badly beaten and Cassie had passed out from exhaustion.
"My sister's down there, Nate," Hardison repeated for what was probably the fiftieth time in the past half an hour. "And she's hurt," Hardison's eyes were glued on the people moving on the ground beneath them, searching for the tell-tale mop of brown curls.
"Yeah, well there's also about twenty armed Air Force officers down there who'd be more than happy to arrest you," Nate replied. "They're all wild cards. We don't know them."
"But we know Cassie," Parker said as she turned to look Nate in the eye, "And Cassie knows them."
"How well do we really know Cassie?" Nate prodded her, his face set in the perfect poker face as his barb hit its mark and Parker flinched.
"Well enough for Eliot to feel comfortable going down there," Sophie reminded them all, pointing to where their hitter was standing with a group of the others. "They're obviously not arresting him."
The four stayed that way, stalemated against each other until Eliot's voice reached them through their coms, "All clear. Y'all can come on down now."
Hardison didn't wait for Nate to clear him to leave. He yanked his arm out of the older man's grasp and ran toward the fire escape on the side of the building. Parker was only a few steps behind him.
Nate swore under his breath as he watched the two run toward the Air Force contingent on the ground. He watched as they were stopped by two guards and then waved through by someone further in - most likely a civilian judging by the brown leather jacket he was wearing.
Sophie stepped up next to him and whispered in his ear, "Don't tell me you wouldn't do the same thing if that was your sister down there."
He leaned his head back a little and looked her in the eye before saying, "Doesn't mean it's smart."
Cassie was jostled awake when Eliot tried to disentangle himself so he could put Cassie in the back of the car Daniel had pointed out to him.
"Wha's goin' on?" she mumbled sleepily as she reattached herself to Eliot like a leach.
"Just movin' you to the car. Thought it'd be more comfortable.
She forced her eyes opened like a reluctant child and looked around. WHen she saw Parker rushing toward her she yawned and dropped her feet to the ground. She rubbed her eyes to help clear away the grittiness just before Parker enveloped her in a bear hug.
Cassie patted Parker's shoulder awkwardly because her arms were mushed together with her torso and she had limited mobility of her hands. "Parker," Cassie squeaked out. "Can't. Breath."
"Oh," Parker immediately let go of Cassie and took a step back, her eyes narrowing into a glare, "You weren't supposed to do that."
"Do what?" Cassie tilted her head to one side, trying to get a gauge on what Parker was berating her for.
"Leave by yourself," Parker's frown intensified. "You scared us."
A gust of wind blew over them, causing Cassie to shiver in her barely protected body. She'd forgotten it was fall when she'd chosen the gauzy sundress and sandals for her showdown with Hera. She wrapped her arms around her waist in an attempt to conserve body heat as she replied, "I - I didn't mean to, Parker. I'm sorry."
Parker looked down at her shoes as another gust of wind blew in from the ocean. Cassie shivered again as a warm jacket fell over her shoulders. She looked up at Eliot and gave him a small smile in thanks.
The three stood there silently for a few more moments, each wrapped in their own thoughts in the sea of commotion around them. A male voice interrupted their contemplations.
"There you are, Mr. Spencer," Daniel said a he rushed up with a folder in his hands. He handed it to Eliot along with a pen, "You need to sign these."
"What is it?" Eliot asked as he flipped open the unmarked folder to reveal the pages of text within.
"You're standard non-disclosure agreement," the archeologist explained. "I'm sure you know the drill by now."
Eliot gave him a very serious glare as he replied, "I don't know what you're talking about." He opened the pen and signed his name in the spots indicated on the papers before handing everything back to Daniel with a silent frown.
Sophie and Nate joined the group at that moment. Nate berated Parker for running off like that, but cut himself off when he saw the somber mood of the group. Daniel handed Nate and Sophie the two other folders he hand in hand, full of papers that said the U.S. government would hunt them down and make them pay if they so much as breathed a word of the existence of the Stargate program to anyone.
The grifter was the first to finish signing. She handed the papers to Daniel and he flipped them open. With a fleeting smile he asked, "Is this your real name?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation as Daniel flipped the folder closed again. "I hope you'll be discreet about it."
"Don't worry, Sophie," Cassie reassured her, "They know how to be discreet when it serves their purposes."
"So what happens now?" Nate asked as he handed his non-disclosure agreement back to Daniel, along with the ballpoint pen.
"Now ... you go help the helpless," Cassie replied, removing Eliot's jacket and giving it back to him with a nod of thanks. "And try to move on."
Parker hugged Cassie again, not voicing any of the halting, unfamiliar goodbyes she heard others say so often. As they pulled back the alien smiled softly at the thief and nodded once in understanding.
"I'm going to miss you," Sophie was next with her own warm hug of farewell.
"I'll be around," Cassie replied as she reciprocated the embrace, taking comfort from the honesty that hid underneath all the masks Sophie wore.
Nate opted for shaking her hand after Sophie let her go. "Stay out of trouble," he cautioned her.
"Likewise," she replied, her eyes holding a hint of mischief. She moved to take a step toward Daniel and almost fell as her legs decided to stop cooperating with her. Her arm went out and grabbed hold of Eliot in order to stop her fall.
"Still a little shaky, apparently," she attempted humor with a forced laugh.
"Here," Eliot said, pulling her into his side and putting one of his arms around her waist, "Let me help. No good if you fall and hurt yourself or the babies."
"Babies?" the other four said in unison.
"It's a long story," Cassie dismissed them all as Eliot helped her walk toward the car where Teal'c was waiting.
Daniel and the others fell in step behind the two as they started walking away. Of course, no one got more than a few yards before Alec overtook them with his sister.
Both had tears running down their faces as Hardison enveloped Cassie in a bear hug without saying a word. Cassie hugged him back. "I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner," she whispered.
"You showed up just in time," Tiana replied for her brother as Alec was still unable to speak.
Cassie disentangled herself from the hacker and looked at the woman before her. Even with the bruises that were starting to darken, and the cuts and scraps that seemed to cover her, she was beautiful. Like a vision of an African goddess with her hair still stylized in a small afro with a silk scarf being worn as a headband (torn and dirty but bearing no blood). Her body covered in Western clothes that looked right and wrong at the same time.
The Alteran brought her hand out as if to touch Tiana's cheek, but stopped a few centimeters away from making contact with her skin. "This is all my fault," Cassie whispered. "Forgive me?"
Tiana took her hand in both of hers, warm and full of life, as she smiled tenderly, "There is nothing to forgive, sister. You already destroyed the things that did this to me."
Daniel came up and took Cassie under his arm with a nudge. "Come on. Sam's waiting, we need to go."
Reluctantly Cassie left the group of civilians and made her way with Daniel to the car where the others now waited (minus Vala, who opted to travel with the former host). Mitchell opened the door for her but before she got in, Cassie turned around and locked eyes with Eliot. Almost without thinking she ran back to him and embraced him as you would a lover who was going off to war.
After some minutes, when breathing became difficult, they stopped kissing and he walked her back to the car, helping her get in as the others took their places.
As the Leverage team watched the car drive away Nate leaned close to Eliot and asked, "You didn't ... you know -?"
"What? Trade cornbread recipes?" Eliot replied with much snark. He let out a breath and much calmer he shook his head, "We didn't sleep together, if that's what you're wondering, Nate. She's more important than that."
It wasn't until they were halfway to Colorado that Cassie let the tears start to fall. She had her duffle bag shoved under the seat in front of her, and for the life of her she couldn't stop thinking about the snow globe Eliot had saved from destruction. She kept her tears as silent as possible, not wanting to disturb Daniel's reading, Mitchell's sleeping or Teal'c's ... staring. At her.
The fasten seatbelt sign was off so Cassie unfastened hers and swiftly walked to the bathroom at the rear of the commercial plane.
As she cried her heart out over the sink, something moved inside her. Two somethings as a matter of fact. Her sobbing quieted until the only sign of it was the tears that continued to run down her cheeks at a constant pace. One hand went to her stomach as the other braced her body on the edge of the counter.
Her children were in there, their little heartbeats fluttering around, as if they were trying to comfort her. She smiled a watery smile as her consciousness traveled deep inside her and interacted with her unborn children.
Somehow, in that moment she knew, everything was going to be just fine.
A/N: All in favor of a sequel say "Aye." I've planted a few hints in this one about what that would entail. I wonder if you caught them ... tehe