Dark, Still Water
1. Chapter One
Teal'c walked behind his teammates, watching the growing exasperation evident in every line of Daniel's body.
"This is not my fault."
"Yeah, sure," O'Neill responded. Daniel turned to Carter, clearly looking for some sort of support. Carter gave a small smile and shrugged.
Sometimes, he still had difficulty not thinking of Daniel as cha'til, a young man before his first battle. He'd never before met someone who could walk through the sorrows of war and retain so little of the horrors. His grief tore at him, but when the pain passed, Daniel was again whole. His enthusiasm and conviction that people were essentially good just never wavered. Teal'c himself could not claim to have remained unscathed by the horrors he had witnessed. Sometimes, in kelno'reem, he did not know himself. As a young man, he had been convinced of his own power, determined to challenge an unfair universe and bring it to its knees. These days, he sometimes wondered whether he made any difference at all.
Teal'c pushed that thought aside as he scanned the room into which O'Neill had led them. Perhaps O'Neill's recent deception had created this sense of discord within him. When O'Neill had fled Earth, pretending to turn against his own team in order to infiltrate the NID, Teal'c had been disturbed at both the reactions of his team and his own thoughts. But now was the time for attentiveness.
Daniel had often chastised him for approaching every situation as though some great danger approached, but this room seemed to warrant suspicion. Enforcers—police officers and detectives—wandered the room, some with individuals who were restrained by metal cuffs. Teal'c quickly spotted the man with whom they wished to speak—Detective James Ellison. He was leaning over a desk talking with a younger man who had long hair pulled back into a ponytail. Teal'c had questioned such hair when he had first come to Earth, but these people thought nothing of providing an enemy with an advantage in hand-to-hand combat.
"I know. Where else can we look?" the young man asked as he jabbed at the computer with great frustration.
"I don't know, but, uh... anyplace other than right here." Detective Ellison pushed the younger man out of his way, physically shoving him to one side before pulling up a chair to take over the computer station. Teal'c limited himself to raising an eyebrow. He thought he might have misunderstood the interaction, but O'Neill and Daniel exchanged an equally concerned look.
"What's going on? What are you doing?" The young one demanded, obviously upset, and yet no one in the room responded. Perhaps Ellison was in charge of the young one's training, but if that were the case, he did not deserve the title of tec'ma-te. The young one would be better choosing another for his teacher.
"Look, Chief, what would you like me to do? Kid's got no charge. I got names to run in a murder case. I'd love to help you out, but my hands are tied with nothing else to go on. It's just the law." Ellison turned his back on the young one, but now Teal'c was even more confused. "Chief" was a term indicating authority, but yet Ellison dismissed the other from his presence by focusing all his attention on the computer. If he insulted Teal'c in such a manner, he would have found himself paying for his insult with a lesson in humility and manners. The young one only stared at Ellison with a lost expression that Teal'c rarely saw on adults. It was an expression of loss and pain that Daniel would sometimes wear, which was one reason why Teal'c still sometimes thought of his friend as cha'til rather than fellow warrior.
"Maybe this is a bad time, sir," Carter said softly.
They had not taken more than a few steps into the crowded room, and based on what he had seen so far, Teal'c agreed with Carter's assessment. If Ellison were having difficulties, they should seek his assistance later or perhaps just avoid him altogether.
"It's just the law?!" The young one demanded incredulously; however, Ellison had already looked up from his computer, not toward his outraged companion but toward them. His eyes narrowed. O'Neill moved forward, immediately sliding into that casual façade that had deceived so many into believing that he was not a threat.
"Hey, you're Ellison, aren't you?" O'Neill said as he cheerfully offered his hand in greeting. Standing quickly, Ellison took the offered hand suspiciously.
"Do I know you?" Ellison asked. As soon as possible, he withdrew his hand, and Teal'c noticed that the young one immediately moved to Ellison's side. Whatever the conflict between them, the young one did not lack loyalty to his teacher.
"Jack O'Neill. We crossed paths at Fort Bragg about a million years ago. I had a little problem in the area—" O'Neill paused just long enough to give Daniel a disgusted look, "and I thought I might call on a little local help."
"Colonel O'Neill?" Ellison asked, his eyes focusing on Teal'c for a long minute. The young one was now pressed closely to Ellison's side looking very much like a kal'ma who had found himself in the middle of fighting adults. Certainly O'Neill had said nothing to create such alarm.
O'Neill smiled and turned to give Daniel a smug look. "I told you this was a good idea, Danny. He remembers me, but then how could anyone forget me?"
"I never said it wasn't," Daniel quickly shot right back.
"Ah, but you implied," O'Neill chastised him. "Ellison, this is a friend of mine, Dr. Daniel Jackson, and this is Samantha Carter and Murray." Teal'c nodded at the appropriate time, but Ellison actually looked more aggravated after the introductions. The young one at his side shifted his weight, and Ellison managed to bump into him in such a way to push him back. Teal'c wondered if the gesture were one of protectiveness or annoyance.
O'Neill, however, pushed on. "We have a little problem. One of Daniel's friends called him because she's in a little trouble. It seems like she was digging around in some computer files where she shouldn't have been... which is not surprising for one of Daniel's friends. Anyway, she riled up the wrong people, and we can't seem to find her." O'Neill laid the problem out so simply. The reality was far more complex involving computer security breaches of both SGC and the NID. A former friend of Daniel had become obsessed with the belief that the government had acted maliciously toward him, perhaps kidnapping him. In her search for evidence, she had unearthed far more secrets than it was safe for her to possess. Teal'c had no doubt that the NID would eliminate her given the chance, and Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond both agreed that the woman needed protection, assuming, of course, that she had not already been assassinated or kidnapped by others.
Ellison cocked his head to the side, clearly still uneasy with their presence. This time O'Neill and Carter exchanged a confused look.
"Elizabeth would not have just disappeared," Daniel jumped in, obviously sensing the growing unease in the room and attempting to resolve it with his smile and enthusiasm. Teal'c often watched children do the same in their parents' homes—charming adults into forgetting disputes. This was a skill at which Daniel excelled. "I haven't been around much lately, but we talked three days ago, and she was supposed to meet me today. I'm really worried."
Unlike most of the universe, Ellison did not seem charmed by Daniel. "Missing persons? There's a good detective on the second floor. I'll—" Ellison started to say.
"Ah, proper channels," O'Neill nodded wisely. "I'm not good with proper channels... or proper channels aren't good with me, one or the other." He shrugged dismissively. "But Daniel's friend is in a good deal of trouble, and I was hoping you could give me a hand, one old soldier to another."
"Jim?" the young one asked. He had been sick recently, severely enough that he still had the lingering effects of a hard fatigue clinging to him.
"I'm sorry," Ellison said. He was shaking his head and still ignoring his companion. "I'm really quite busy, but I'll call down to missing persons." Ellison reached for the phone on his desk, and Teal'c noticed that the companion's hand was actually reaching for him, fisting his shirt. Ellison gave him an unpleasant look, and he withdrew his hand and physically backed up a step.
"Ellison!" a loud voice commanded from across the room. Ellison tensed. A large man approached them, one who clearly expected and had earned respect. The eyes of all those in the room followed him, men checking their commander to see if his orders were for them. But this new man walked directly toward their group, his gaze for Ellison. O'Neill shifted his focus from Ellison to this new man.
"You're already here," the new man sighed. "I'm Captain Banks. The commissioner said you needed some help finding someone." Banks shook O'Neill's hand with far more warmth than Ellison had. "Is this your team?"
"Sam Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Murray," O'Neill quickly introduced them. "I'm really concerned that we could have a problem, so I appreciate your department giving us a hand."
Banks tensed slightly at that. "Yes, well it seems that you have some friends in high places."
O'Neill did not bother to deny that charge, and Banks turned toward Ellison. "Jim, you're on the case."
Rather than follow that order, Ellison glared at his commander. "Simon, I'm on the Chung murder."
"Put it on hold," Banks ordered, his voice a clear warning. The young one shifted uncomfortably, his eyes going from one male to the other, but he remained silent.
"That's an order straight from the top, Jim. Colonel O'Neill, we do have a lot of work around here. I assume that your business won't tie up my best detective for too long."
"If he's your best, hopefully not. Our goal is to get out of town as fast as we can," O'Neill agreed cheerfully.
"Oh man, not fast enough." The young man barely breathed the words. Teal'c had much better hearing than the others, and yet he had to struggle to make out what the young one had said. Ellison, however, immediately turned a disgusted glare to the other. Banks did not seem to notice.
"He is my best. Jim, just get this wrapped up so you can get back to the Chung murder. Joel can handle it on his own until you get this cleared." Having delivered the unwelcome news, Banks retreated across the crowded room. Many of the detectives were now watching with thinly disguised interested, not even bothering to avert their eyes as Teal'c looked around the room.
"Blair Sandburg," the young one offered, moving around Ellison to offer his hand to them without being introduced. "I’m an observer with the department, and I guess Jim just sort of adopted me along the way. They couldn't get any of the other guys to put up with me." The words were pleasant, joking even, but the tone was wrong.
"An observer?" O'Neill clearly did not like the idea, and Ellison moved forward, his hand landing on Blair's shoulder, stilling the nervous movement as Blair shifted from foot to foot.
"He's getting a doctorate in anthropology," Ellison offered.
"Anthropology? Really?" Daniel's voice brimmed with enthusiasm.
"Awww, ya had to go and use a geek word, didn't you?" O'Neill complained, his tone far more indulgent that his words would imply. Daniel just glared at him for a second.
"I have a doctorate in archeology, I specialized in Egypt," Daniel said after offering O'Neill that malevolent glare.
"Oh man, no way. I did some travelling in Egypt but the best archeological sites were totally verboten," Blair's face lighted like a child who has seen a parent return from war.
"I was on digs in Hierakonpolis and Abusir." Daniel's face was equally enthusiastic.
"Cool!" Blair again bounced, and O'Neill rolled his eyes at both of the young scientists.
"What's your area of specialization?" Daniel asked, and both Ellison and Blair immediately stilled. Ellison's hand tightened on the young man's shoulder, and the energy and vibrancy appeared to drain from Blair, leaving behind the tired shell of the man he had been only seconds before. O'Neill stiffened, clearly unhappy with the reaction and the threat Ellison appeared to pose to the young scientist, emotionally if not physically.
Blair's voice had grown quiet, and he shrugged as he offered an answer. "Biological anthropology with some dabbling in socio-cultural... the mythology of South America mostly. But I'm working on the police culture... the whole in-group dynamic and thin blue line. You know."
"Social identity theory," Daniel agreed after a long pause. He appeared as confused as the rest of them about this sudden shift in tone. "That's a little more on the sociology end of things, isn't it?"
"It's a little cross-curricular, but I'm into the culture supported by the individuals, not the actual psychology or sociology of members of the group. The individuals are totally not the focus. It's the group as a whole. Everyone." Blair gestured toward the whole room, and now he had started to color, pink leeching into his face.
"Maybe you two could be geeky later," O'Neill said, stepping into the void when both Daniel and Blair appeared to unexpectedly abandon their conversation. "I'm looking for Elizabeth Canarsee." O'Neill set his briefcase down on the corner of Ellison's desk and retrieved a file. "She's a computer expert. She went to school with Danny at the University of Chicago and then obviously lost her mind."
"Jack," Daniel immediately protested.
"Danny, she decided that if you took a government position, that must mean you were kidnapped. She's a fruitcake."
"She just..." Daniel paused, obviously struggling to make a counterargument. "She's just a little anti-government."
Ellison pulled Blair back, and stepped in front. "So, what is an archeologist doing working for the government?" The suspicion was clear in the tone.
Daniel gave a sheepish grin. "Trying to make a living doing archeology is not easy, especially when you've burned a few bridges. I had to fall back on my PhD in linguistics, and I do cryptology and translation." Ellison did not appear placated.
O'Neill again attempted to move them back to the task at hand. "Look, Danny and his inability to play nice with others is not the issue. Ms. Canarsee finally reached him three days ago, nearly hysterical because of her wacky belief that he had vanished and because she believed that she had breached security at a few fairly secure sites."
"You want to arrest her," Ellison said flatly as he finally took the file.
"Not particularly," O'Neill answered. That made Ellison tilt his head and study O'Neill in a way that was most unusual. O'Neill shrugged. "I actually have a job offer for her. She's good. And if she breached the security of the people I believe she might have... she's going to need a job with some very good fringe benefits in the way of armed security details."
"NID, NSA or CIA?" Ellison flipped through the file without even looking up.
"Shit. No way, the spook brigade?" Blair asked. That earned him another withering look from Ellison.
"Look Darwin, maybe you'd better stay here."
"But—" Blair started to protest.
"Besides, don't you have a big, bad cheater to track down?" Jim asked. While the words meant little to Teal'c, he could see the way that Blair took them as though being hit in the gut. The young man backed up until he stood near the chair where he had been sitting when they had first come. Slowly, he sank into it, watching the rest of them as might a child who has been exiled from an adult conversation. O'Neill grabbed the edge of the desk, and Daniel moved to his side, obviously able to sense that the Colonel was about to say or do something highly undiplomatic.
This time Carter leapt into the awkward silence. "Detective, if you have a computer forensics department, I could use a terminal to try and track her on-line. We know she hasn't been using her computer, but she might be leaving traces in one of the systems we know she's hacked."
For a long time, Ellison studied her, but then his gaze slid slowly back to Teal'c. The man was excessively suspicious, especially since Teal'c had offered no word to inspire it. Then again, Daniel had suggested that his silence was sometimes very prominent.
"I shall accompany you, Major Carter," Teal'c offered graciously. Ellison's eyes widened a bit.
O'Neill sighed. "Ya, you two do that. Meanwhile, maybe Detective Ellison could show me some of his infamous tracking skills. After all, a guy doesn't get to be cop of the year without having a few tricks up his sleeve, does he?" O'Neill had that tone of voice that he would so often use to goad Goa'uld, but it was clearly just as effective on humans. Detective Ellison turned a darker shade, his face reddening with anger, but Blair appeared to lose all color entirely. "Danny, maybe you could just sit tight until one of use gets a lead," O'Neill suggested, his eyes on Ellison as he practically dared the man to contradict him.
For a second, Teal'c though Ellison might issue a challenge right there. Blair looked from Ellison to O'Neill and back with obvious panic, and even Carter moved unobtrusively into a better position for covering them in a fight. Teal'c remained impassive. He had already positioned himself to cover the room when he walked in, and if something happened, he had no doubt that he would be equal to any who might attack.
"Detective?" O'Neill asked. "Where would you start a missing person's investigation?"
Ellison's jaw was tight and his fists clenched, but he appeared to consciously relax both. "We should probably check out her home. If she went to ground, she may have left behind some clues, and if she was taken, there'll be some trace." Ellison glanced over at Blair. "Stay here, Chief." His words were sharper than needed, and Blair appeared so pale that Teal'c feared he might be ill. Instead he just nodded.
Stiffly, Ellison walked out of the room. Teal'c waited as O'Neill and Carter followed, watching as Daniel moved closer to Blair before he turned to follow Carter. They may have come to Cascade to rescue Daniel Jackson's friend, but clearly there was more here than a missing computer hacker.
"Hey, Teal'c," Carter offered him. He tilted his head in her direction as they both headed back toward Major Crimes where they hoped to find Daniel waiting with young Blair. Carter kept her own counsel as they passed guard until they were finally alone in the elevator. "Does Ellison seem a little abrasive or is it just me?"
"Blair Sandburg would be wise to choose another teacher," Teal'c said, unwilling to comment more on the sacred relationship between a young man and his chosen teacher.
"I take that as a yes." She sighed and studied the blank doors of the elevator. He could almost hear her brain begin to sift through information. "I don't like the way he physically intimidates someone sixty pounds lighter and a foot shorter than he is. And I bet Sandburg is a good ten years younger than he is." Carter fell silent, a distant expression on her face. She and Daniel were so very much alike, which is one reason for O'Neill's insistence that they never share a tent. They were both able and competent. Teal'c certainly respected Carter as a warrior; however, both were too likely to lose themselves in their own thoughts. And right now, her thoughts were clearly not charitable when it came to Ellison.
The elevator doors opened and for a second she stared down the wide hall without moving. The doors started sliding shut before she got off and started down the hall with a new determination in her step. Right now, Teal'c did not envy Ellison's position as the center of the major's ire. Carter hit the doors of Major Crimes, and her posture changed so quickly, that Teal'c's hand fell to his zat'nik'tel hidden within his clothing.
She turned to him. "They're gone." The anger Carter had reserved for Ellison now turned on Daniel. "Dammit, he was supposed to stay put."
Somehow Teal'c doubted Daniel or Blair had been kidnapped from a guard station, not even with Daniel's luck, so that meant they had willingly left.
"We need to get to the car." Carter turned and rushed by him back toward the elevator, and he followed. At times like this, Teal'c did miss commanding his own team. While he accepted that his judgment in following the false god, Apophis, was so flawed as to preclude him taking a leadership role again, he could still engage in some fantasy about Daniel and a little Jaffa discipline.
"The colonel is going to kill us if we lose him again," Carter muttered in the elevator. A prisoner gave her a salacious look, but when he caught Teal'c expression, the man quickly turned back to face the front of the elevator. "I can't believe him," Carter continued muttering, probably not even noticing the unwanted attention.
"Daniel Jackson shall be fine," Teal'c offered, but given Daniel's rather spectacular history with abductions, Teal'c could admit to feeling some apprehension. From the look Carter gave him, she felt the same way. The moment the elevator opened onto the garage, Carter was almost running to the car.
A police officer stopped to watch Carter hurry by, either because of her odd behavior or her attractiveness. So often Teal'c could not tell in this culture. Certainly he found Carter eminently suitable as a potential partner and he would have made an approach to her long ago if Daniel had not explained certain cultural expectations regarding team members abstaining. On the other hand according to Carter, most men found her skills unappealing. Earth males were not logical. This officer, however, seemed most interested.
She unlocked the trunk of her car, and the officer's hand moved toward his weapon. Ah, so the interest was professional.
"We shall be able to track Daniel Jackson and Blair Sandburg and discover where they have gone, correct?" Teal'c asked loud enough for the officer to hear.
"We should. Just as long as Daniel hasn't found the bug in his tape recorder, I'll be able to get a location on them in just a second," she assured him as she pulled out an oversized case and began to turn on the electronic equipment she had brought. Rather than leave, as Teal'c expected the officer to do, the man came closer.
"Did you say that Sandburg is missing?" he asked. Teal'c was surprised; most people avoided him.
"Indeed. We left our friend in the company of Blair Sandburg, and they have vanished."
"Fuck. Ellison's going to go on the warpath for sure," the officer swore with an exaggerated flinch.
"James Ellison?" Teal'c asked. Often times, many generations of family would serve in the same guard station, and many individuals within each generation would serve, so perhaps another Ellison was protective of young Blair Sandburg. If both James Ellison and Blair Sandburg were sworn to the same tec'ma-te, it might explain the way Blair endured Ellison's poor manners.
"Big guy with a huge attitude? Yeah, that's the one and only Ellison. The last time Sandburg got grabbed, he was a real bastard about it."
"The last time?" Carter asked, her hands pausing as she turned a concerned expression toward the officer.
"Sandburg's got a reputation around here. I mean, he's a stand-up guy... a lot more reliable then you might think what with the hair. He even holds his own in a crisis. But when he gets kidnapped, Ellison is a real dick about it. Last time it was Martin Smallwood. Ellison punched him out and nearly fed him to a crocodile. Before that was Mark Cantor and before that it was Vincent Lazar and then a druggie with some flower name and David Lash and the list goes on. It never ends well for whoever grabs the kid, but when we joke about him being a trouble magnet, we're not actually joking."
Teal'c exchanged a concerned look with Carter.
"If Sandburg's in trouble, I'm not telling Ellison, not with the mood he's been in lately," the officer continued. Holding up his hands as though ready to surrender at the thought of confronting Ellison, the officer backed away.
Carter cleared her throat. "I'm sure they just wandered off somewhere. Daniel and Blair are both into anthropology and archeology. They're probably just having coffee somewhere and talking about dirt." Teal'c had known Major Carter long enough to know that her tone of voice suggested that she did not believe her own words.
"Yeah, well for your sake, I hope so. When Ellison is in one of his moods, he is not the nicest person." With that, the officer turned and left. Teal'c looked at Carter who had the electronics case balanced on the bumper of the car.
"It's never easy, is it?" She asked with a sigh. "Okay, let's track down our trouble magnet before their trouble magnet gives our trouble magnet an even bigger case of bad luck."
"Were bad luck contagious, would we not already be contaminated?" Teal'c asked as he moved to the passenger side of the car.
"You think we aren't? We just can't afford another strain of the virus," Carter said with a small laugh. Once she got in the car, she turned on the small devise in the case she had taken from the trunk. The machinery hissed for a second, and then the sound of car traffic, the steady thrumming roll of engines and tires against asphalt, came through the small speaker.
"We have audio," Carter said cheerfully. "I really should have bugged him a long time ago. I can think of more than one planet where it would have saved us a lot of time."
"Indeed. Except Daniel Jackson does often lose his equipment while getting kidnapped," Teal'c pointed out. For years, he had shared a tent with Carter, and he shared a closeness with her that approximated the closeness Jaffa normally shared with each other within a command. She turned to him with a smile.
"Ah, if I put the bug in his weapon or his supplies, he'd lose it. I put it in his tape recorder."
Teal'c nodded. "Daniel Jackson will not easily part with his tape recorder or notes," he agreed, remembering the one time that O'Neill had suggested using the pages of a notebook for kindling when they had found themselves in an unexpected snowstorm. The two men had nearly come to blows over the paper and only the dried bark Teal'c had found ended the feud.
A voice came over the radio.
"Hey!" Blair Sandburg shouted. Teal'c stiffened at the implied threat. "Geez, learn to drive, idiot!" he shouted a second later.
"I don't think there's any hurry," Daniel's voice came through the speaker as Carter started the car.
"They're heading west," Carter said as she guided their vehicle toward the exit.
"Jack has class this afternoon. If your friend went to her, we need enough time to talk him into believing you're a good guy and not one of those spook types out to get her," Blair answered.
Teal'c truly resented the way humans all seemed to name their children using the same names. Obviously, Blair did not speak of O'Neill, yet the name was the same. Even more aggravating, he did not use a complete name which would allow them to identify the destination Blair and Daniel had chosen. Teal'c looked at Carter, but she didn't seem to know the name 'Jack' either. She frowned as she headed into traffic.
Daniel gave a weak laugh. "Just... let's not get killed driving there."
"Oh man, that's rich. You should see Jim drive. His insurance guy hates him. Seriously hates. I am an old lady driver compared to him." This happy and ebullient young man did not sound like the same scientist they had met in the squad room.
Whatever Blair Sandburg had promised, Daniel sounded hopeful that it would provide useful information. "Do you really think your friend can help us?" Daniel asked, and from the tone, he sough reassurance, not information.
"If she knows anything about spooks, and if she thought she'd seen too much—"
"She did," Daniel interrupted.
"Well then, she would have gone to Jack Kelso. He is the only one with the connections to know what's going on and the moral center to avoid getting sucked into the spookland power grab. Man, I hate people who think they're above the law and play these fucking power games."
"Are we still talking about the NID? Not that I have a problem hating the NID, but it sounds like you have something else on your mind."
"That obvious, huh?" Blair sounded almost embarrassed. Teal'c wondered why a man would need to feel shame about disliking those who abused their power. Most humans were a bit of a mystery to him with their strange morality and odd rules, but Blair Sandburg seemed more odd than most.
Daniel seemed to understand Blair far better than Teal'c did. "It just seems like you're having a shitty day."
"Politics, man. It's all about the politics."
"I think politicians were the eleventh plague of Egypt."
"Totally. Man, if the flies and boils and locusts didn't make the Pharaoh give up, politicians sure would have."
"Yeah, but Yahweh turned politicians loose on the world, and like cockroaches, letting them in is easier than getting rid of them." Daniel joked. He sounded happy and playful. Until his moment, Teal'c didn't realize just how rarely he had heard that particular tone from Daniel any more. O'Neill's deception and abandonment had hit Daniel hard, but no harder than having lost O'Neill for months, unsure of whether or not he survived—no harder than his own near death at the hands of Linea or their imprisonment on Ne'tu . Perhaps their difficulties were finally beginning to dull Daniel's enthusiasm. However, the sharp and sardonic tone he could hear though the speaker now was the Daniel he had first met.
"Step on one, and a dozen more come scurrying out," Blair agreed.
"So, what's your cockroach's name?"
"Which one? Man, right now, my world is just cockroaches." Blair's voice lost its enthusiasm. "The university is giving me shit. A student plagiarized his paper and when I called him on it, he actually threatened me. Man, I have no respect for people who don't take care of their own business. And then..." Blair's voice grew angry. "Then the university just wants to whitewash the whole affair. Dr. Sidney Oldham tells me that I'm too black and white. He says to just give Ventriss a C... Give him a C! Man, he cheated. This Ventriss threatened me and he raped one of the girls on campus, but his daddy has more money than God. So, hey, we should just brush the rest under the carpet."
"What did you tell them?"
"I basically said a polite version of screw you. Man, if I don't find some sort of proof that Ventriss is the one in the wrong, my goose is well and cooked. Shit."
"I would have done the same thing," Daniel said so quietly that the road noise almost drowned the soft words that came through the speaker. Carter had closed the distance so that Teal'c could see the back of the two men's heads. Sandburg was driving, and he was exceeding the posted speed limits. Daniel laughed, and now Teal'c could see him turn to Blair as the microphone relayed his words. "But then again, considering how unpopular I am in scientific circles, I might not be the best role model."
"I'd rather be unpopular than an accomplice to academic fraud. But then I'd rather be an accomplice than out on my ass. Man, if I don't have my dissertation, I'm just not sure what I do have... not anymore. And without that teaching fellowship, the money for tuition dries up."
"You can't get a part time job?"
Blair didn't answer right away. "There are complications," he finally admitted. Teal'c could hear the deception through the speaker. "I'd rather try to keep things like they are, but it's like I'm doing a balancing act, and I'm starting to lose my balance. They want me to pass Ventriss, just send him wandering out into the world with a degree that means nothing. I just don't think I can do that. Teaching underclassmen really sucks. Sucks monkey balls." This time, Blair's laughter sounded pained.
Teal'c could see Daniel reach out to touch Blair's shoulder. Something about Blair's statements seemed untruthful, but Daniel still seemed to trust the younger man. Then again, sometimes Daniel was too quick to trust.
"Don't assume it's all underclassmen who pull this," he told Blair. "Did you see anything about this huge lawsuit with the University of Chicago and the Egyptian government getting a court order for the return of some artifacts?"
"Totally. The university tried to claim that they needed something like six months to examine the artifacts before returning them. Man, I am totally on Egypt's side on that one. The university had no business trying to set up their own timelines and just arbitrarily tell the Egyptians when they could get their own treasures back."
"Maybe." Daniel did not sound convinced. "Anyway, I went back to the University of Chicago a week ago, and I found a piece of evidence that could have been land breaking in archeology. It would have rewritten the textbooks." Daniel laughed. "Of course, it later turned out the lab had contaminated the sample and I had a plain old funereal urn, but my point is that another archeologist stole the lab results and tried to take credit for the find."
"No fucking way!"
"Fucking way," Daniel countered. "Even better, he and I worked together under Dr. Jordan at Chicago. He was our mentor and Steven and I came through the doctoral program together. I can't claim I always have the moral highroad here, but his ethics crumbled in the face of a little profit and fame."
"Asshole," Blair quickly declared. "I hope he got what he deserved."
Daniel took several moments to answer. "Maybe a little too much."
"I tracked him to a small pyramid in Egypt where he was trying to screw me out of my discovery. The roof caved in, and he was badly injured."
Blair stopped at a red light, and when he turned to face Daniel, he appeared genuinely concerned. "Oh man. Karma's a bitch."
"More than you know. He has nominal aphasia. His career had been taking off, and now he's on disability."
"Whoa, hey, you're talking about Steven Rayner."
"You know him?"
"No way. But I read his book, and it was drivel. The conclusions were derivative at best, and he included some pretty questionable work just because it was sensational. No way did that deserve to be on the bestseller's list."
"Obviously, most people didn't agree." Daniel's voice sounded brittle. "I just... I felt guilty that I wanted a rock to fall on his head and it did."
"Yeah, I hear you. Karma is not usually that efficient. But, man, you know you're not to blame, right?"
Daniel nodded, but the traffic was moving again, so Teal'c could not see his face. "My head knows."
Blair's curls bobbed as he nodded at that. "I definitely hear that. Getting the head and the heart to agree... not always the easiest thing in the world."
"As irrational as it sounds, sometimes I feel like my work on that artifact or my hatred and jealousy are somehow to blame for the current situation. People were hurt. It's like the worst part of my life now spilled out onto the people I used to care about."
"I hear that. I totally hear that," Blair agreed softly.
Carter shook her head and hit the accelerator hard enough that Teal'c could well imagine O'Neill was driving. "I can't believe he feels guilty about that mess. Steven and Sarah were not his fault."
Teal'c did not answer, but he had no right to judge another man's guilt. He carried enough of his own to know that a man had to come to terms with his own heart.
The two scientists in the next car were quiet, but Carter appeared more distressed than Teal'c would have expected. "I can't believe he never talked to us about this," she said grimly.
Teal'c did not answer that either, but he could understand quite well. Daniel had not caused the events of that day. His lover had been taken as a host, and it was the goa'uld Osiris and Steven's own greed which had led to the confrontation. However, guilt need not be logical, and Daniel clearly did not want the illogic of his thoughts brought to light. Even more, he would never complain to any of them. Teal'c and O'Neill had both killed more than they could account for. Major Carter, while not as often in position to use deadly force, had often killed, both during and before she joined the Stargate program. How could Daniel complain to them about his own soiled hands when theirs were so much more tainted?
"Has he ever come to you with this?" Carter asked.
"He has not," Teal'c informed her. He wasn't sure if she was upset or comforted by that information. Daniel Jackson was far more likely to confide in O'Neill than the rest of them, but from the sound of his guilt, he had not shared this with anyone. Carter fell silent.
Daniel was the first to interrupt the silence in either car. "So, what are you doing to do with your problem?"
"Who knows. I'm sure as hell not giving him a grade, but that doesn't mean they won't go over my head. Seriously, it's not that hard to go over my head in academia or basketball." Blair laughed, and Daniel appeared to take that as a sign that the conversation had grown too serious.
"There are cultures that revere shortness."
"Says the man who has a good five inches on me. Oh, and then there's the part where you made that up."
"I don't have more than four inches on you," Daniel teased.
Daniel just laughed.
Their car grew quiet again as they passed a series of crosswalks where students walked lazily through the traffic, forcing the cars to slow.
"Some days, I just wish I was out of academia," Blair said wearily. "I mean, you did it. You walked away from the grants and the politics and the fucking backstabbing each other over rubber chicken. Are you glad you did?"
Daniel took his time before he answered. "Most days, yes."
"Maybe I'm just having a bad day here, but there are times that I'm just searching for an excuse to just say 'fuck it'. And I know there are people on that campus who just want to find a way to tell me to fuck off. There are too many people ready to tell me that." Blair's voice was weary.
"Have you thought of looking for other work? Surely you could finish up your dissertation and just move on." Daniel didn't go as far as to make an offer, but his desire to help was palpable, even through the microphone.
Carter turned and gave Teal'c an incredulous look. "He's trying to recruit. The colonel is going to kill him."
While he didn't approve of actually killing Daniel, the attempt to recruit the Blair did seem precipitous. Of course, Daniel was not well known for his reticent nature or cautious decisions. However, Teal'c suspicious mind saw patterns in both the coincidence of finding another scientist in such dire straits and the timing. Not more than seven months ago, Daniel had recruited the scientist Nyan from a world where he was in danger. And now here was another intimidated scientist with the skills the program needed in a place where Daniel was sure to meet and work with him. It conjured thoughts of conspiracies and infiltrators and NID plans.
Blair, however, did not seem quick to press his advantage. "It's not that simple."
"It's never simple. But if you need a change, there are opportunities out there."
Carter gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. "Daniel... don't go there," Carter whispered to herself.
"If you change your mind, give me a call."
"Shit," Carter sighed, sounding more resigned than angry. Teal'c could understand her frustration. Colonel O'Neill would want to know that Daniel had made even this tentative approach, particularly since they had no background information on Blair Sandburg.
Blair appeared pleased by the offer. "Thanks man. Sometimes it's just good to know that there's an out."
The car reached the university and pulled into a student lot, forcing Carter to circle around to a public lot that appeared to charge an unreasonable fee for simply parking a car.
"Let's go get our archeologist before he decides to adopt this guy," Carter said as she put the car into park and flipped off the tracking equipment braced on the console between their seats. Teal'c got out and looked across the vast wasteland of cars to where Daniel and Blair were walking across the concrete. Daniel did appear to have taken Blair into his trust. The two walked so closely together that Daniel would not be able to counter any attempt to disable him, and yet he appeared entirely at ease. Either Blair was a young man in great distress or the NID had devised a particularly effective trap to ensnare Daniel Jackson's trust.
"Sam! I was going to call you," Daniel quickly offered with a sheepish grin.
"You're just lucky the colonel isn't here," she pointed out. Normally Carter was indulgent with Daniel Jackson's failings, but this time her voice was sharp. Teal'c chose to not add anything to the reprimand since Daniel was already looking suitably chastised.
"Whoa, and I thought Jim was a mother hen," Blair laughed. "We're only a couple of miles from the station."
Daniel ducked his head and looked at Sam out of the side of his eyes, an expression that usually earned him forgiveness, although it did seem to occasionally anger O'Neill more than placate him. "Sam, Blair thinks he knows where Elizabeth might have gone. I was going to call you just as soon as we found anything out."
Blair appeared confused as he looked from Daniel to Carter and back with growing concern. "It was only a couple of miles," he said, suddenly uncertain.
Were Teal'c forward enough to comment on another's demeanor, he would suggest that Blair had been criticized too often. A little criticism would inspire a warrior to improve poor performance, but this young man had reached the point where even the suggestion of criticism caused him distress and withdrawal. If Ellison had caused this reaction, then he should be stripped of the title of tec'ma-te and never allowed to work with a cha'til again. But humans had odd notions of proper, and given the disinterest of the guards at the station, it appeared that the mishandling of a young one was not a priority. He doubted that O'Neill would approve of any attempt on Teal'c part to challenge James Ellison and publicly strip him of the cha'til's loyalty. Teal'c, however, would not allow Ellison near Daniel Jackson.
Carter reacted to that tone, Blair Sandburg's distress clearly causing her to reconsider her anger for Daniel. "I know it isn't far, but with Elizabeth on the run, some pretty aggressive people may be looking for her. You could catch the wrong people's attention," Carter pointed out.
"Sam's right," Daniel said as he gave Blair a reassuring pat on the arm. "I should have told them we were leaving." He turned to Carter. "I was hoping you were having luck with the computer trace, and I didn't want to pull you away."
"I could have accompanied you," Teal'c pointed out.
"I wanted to catch Jack before his afternoon class," Blair said apologetically.
"Jack?" Carter questioned.
Blair frowned. "Jack Kelso. He was CIA, but after he retired, he wrote a big expose. If she was looking for help, he would have been at the top of her list," Blair's tone was reserved, as though expecting to be berated.
"Good idea," Carter smiled. Teal'c did not believe that Daniel Jackson was the only one to feel an almost avuncular attitude toward Blair. "Why don't we go all see him?" she suggested.
Blair was already nodding, the frown clearing the moment Carter agreed to his suggestion. "He's always out getting his coffee before class, and he's way less suspicious about meeting new people in the open, at least when the people involved are connected to the government. Paranoia isn't actually paranoid when they're really out to get you," he laughed. But the sound was strained and ended in a harsh cough that made Carter frown with worry.
"He sounds wise," Teal'c agreed. Blair gave him a small smile between coughs before he finally got control of his breathing. He was clearly not well.
"Are you okay?" Daniel asked.
"Fine. You know how it goes, you get all worn down by the end of the semester."
"Is this not the beginning of the semester?" Teal'c asked, confused by what he had believed to be the instructional cycle for those pursuing advanced training.
"To-mA-to, to-maa-to." Blair shrugged, and Teal'c raised an eyebrow, signaling his confusion to the others. However, it was Blair who responded to his tacit request for information. "It's a saying meaning that different people say things different ways, and they're all right. People from one region pronounce the word to-mA-to and those from another will say to-maa-to. It's all good, man." Blair turned and headed for the campus, leaving Teal'c wondering if the others noted how Blair had failed to explain his poor health.
"Softie," Carter whispered with a smile in Teal'c direction before she followed. Daniel's smile was equally conspiratorial. Teal'c could only sigh as he followed. His desire to try and undo the damage inflicted by an incompetent tec'ma-te did not signal an unwillingness to kill this Blair Sandburg or a blindness to any potential threat he posed. He still worried that this young man's vulnerability could be no more than an effective trap to catch Daniel's attention.
"So, Murray, what tribe are you from?" Blair asked. He turned and walked backwards several steps, a bounce in his walk that lasted only moments before another round of coughing forced him to adopt a more sedate pace.
Teal'c looked to Daniel for the answer to this question.
"I mean," Blair went on, not even waiting for a response, "the fact that you aren't familiar with colloquial English pretty much means you're not American, but your language and cadence is so very proper. Totally colonial."
"Murray's from a rural area," Daniel said, largely ignoring the actual question. Blair gave him an incredulous look that made it clear that he had detected the obfuscation.
"Top secret?" Blair guessed with a smile.
"Indeed," Teal'c offered quickly. The young man was astute enough that Daniel Jackson's attempts to avoid the situation would, no doubt, simply inspire more curiosity.
"That's cool. Man, there are some very unstable regions, so I bet there are governments that would not want it known they have people training with the US military." Blair appeared confident in his interpretation of the situation, and Teal'c felt no need to correct his assumptions. "There he is," Blair said as he pointed to a man in a wheelchair who was sitting near the edge of a communal gathering area.
"Jack!" Blair called out, and then he was trotting over to the man.
"Geez, it's like watching Daniel hopped up on crack," Sam joked.
"Very funny," Daniel answered dryly before he increased his pace. Blair was pointing at them, talking far more quickly than most humans. This Jack Kelso watched suspiciously, and Teal'c would not have been surprised to learn that he had a weapon secreted within his wheelchair. The man had the demeanor of a warrior. Teal'c looked again, and realized that he knew the man's face.
When Teal'c had first received clearance to access cultural artifacts from earth, nonfiction descriptions of government agencies had been his first priority. Long before the NID had attempted to undermine the SGC, these books had educated Teal'c on the nature of governments and their lack of integrity. Jack Kelso had written a particularly scathing book outlining the ways in which honorable soldiers were co opted to serve corrupt and manipulative masters. This truly was a man of honor and a warrior who Teal'c trusted to assist them in their quest.
"Jack, this is Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson and Murray." Blair gestured toward each of them. "Guys, this is Jack Kelso, the man most likely to piss off covert agents here in Cascade. If there are spooks around, Jack knows it."
This Jack Kelso gave Blair an indulgent look. "I think the point of being a spy is to prevent people from knowing you're around."
"Whatever," Blair shrugged. "You are the best. Daniel here has a friend who's in trouble, so I thought you might be able to help."
Blair looked over toward Daniel, and once again, Daniel told his carefully edited tale that included only vague references to nefarious persons wishing to silence the woman. Jack Kelso, however, watched sharply, and Teal'c could well imagine that he knew more than he revealed.
"So, you were in Colorado when your friend was trying to prove the government was holding you captive?" he asked in a friendly tone that did not fool Teal'c.
Daniel nodded. "It was a stupid misunderstanding. I didn't get back to her quick enough, and she just figured if I wasn't calling her back it was because I couldn't. She overreacts sometimes."
Jack Kelso did not respond, but Sam turned to give Teal'c a concerned look, so Teal'c knew he was not the only one who had noticed this man's demeanor. "I can see where she's concerned," Kelso said slowly. "You disappear in the middle of the night and don't surface for over a year. Not a single credit card transaction." Teal'c hand shifted closer to his zat'ni'katel. Clearly this Kelso had investigated Elizabeth Canarsee's story, which meant he did have information. Daniel, however, continued on as though he didn't notice the man's unexpected knowledge about the situation. Much like O'Neill, Daniel was remarkably effective at feigning a certain level of obliviousness. Unlike O'Neill, Daniel could sometimes simply be oblivious.
"After what I said at that last conference, I thought it was in my best interests to give people time to forget," Daniel offered with a self-deprecating laugh.
"What did you say?" Blair asked. Kelso definitely looked interested in the answer to that.
"Just something stupid." Daniel shrugged the question off. "But Elizabeth is way off base, and if she's hacked information from the wrong people, she is not going to be able to fix this on her own."
"I wish I could help you," Kelso said, his eyes drifting to a spot on the far side of Carter. Teal'c angled his body slightly, and he could see O'Neill and James Ellison striding across the campus. Both men carried themselves as warriors ready to fly into battle, anger radiating from every step.
"She's a friend. I'm really worried about her. Look, I even have a picture of us together," Daniel said, reaching for his wallet. Teal'c noted that Kelso stiffened, and that Daniel moved with deliberate care, his body telegraphing the fact that he was not going for a weapon. Clearly Daniel had identified Kelso as a potential threat, even if his speech and mannerisms feigned ignorance.
"Hey, kids, whatcha doing?" O'Neill called out as he closed the distance.
"Colonel!" Carter appeared surprised. "Blair suggested that Mr. Kelso might be able to help us."
O'Neill and Ellison had reached the small group, and anger clouded Ellison's features. If Teal'c respected the man enough to offer advice, he would tell him that such strong emotion interfered with a warrior's ability to react to his surroundings. Teal'c offered nothing. Ellison quickly cut through the center of the group and took a position near young Blair.
"I thought you were going to stay at the station, Chief," he said, his voice tight, but a hand reached out and touched Blair's shoulder as though to reassure either himself or Blair.
Blair grinned sheepishly. "I thought that if Daniel and I could talk to Jack without all you military types around, he might be less likely to think that we're up to something sneaky."
Teal'c watched with amusement as O'Neill gave Daniel a withering look.
"We followed, sir," Carter quickly offered, pointing out that she had not been part of the plan where Daniel went with an individual who had not been cleared during an investigation including NID operatives.
Now Daniel gave Carter a look equally as withering. As much as Teal'c did not understand command structures and power within human units, he did enjoy watching the posturing and tacit communication between the members of his team. O'Neill looked to him for some sort of support, and Teal'c raised an eyebrow, silently asking what O'Neill expected him to do. O'Neill sighed.
"Yeah, well Ellison here had the same idea after he struck out over at the apartment. So, since we're all here, whatda know?" O'Neill asked Kelso. Teal'c was struck by how much Kelso had actually relaxed.
"Jack Kelso, this is Jack O'Neill," Blair introduced them.
"Yes, I know," Kelso said. "Jack and I have worked on a few projects together. I thought you gave up the business. You claimed your knees were too old for it."
"They work better than yours," O'Neill answered. Carter gasped, so Teal'c was guessing that O'Neill had broken some custom, but one that Teal'c did not fully understand. To comment on such a disastrous injury as Kelso had suffered was to comment on his strength in surviving it. Clearly Kelso felt the same. He laughed.
"But my aim is still better than yours, not to mention my ability to play well with others."
"Ya sure, but are you as handsome as I am?" O'Neill shot right back. Obviously, these two had worked together many times.
"Maybe we should ask Ilsa Beganovitch that question," Kelso suggested with a salacious expression.
O'Neill laughed. "You old war horse. I can't believe you've settled in for the boring life."
"Says the man who spends every vacation fishing in a lake with no fish and staring at the stars."
O'Neill shrugged, but he did not attempt to defend his odd choice in recreational activities. After one attempt to engage in fishing, Teal'c did not believe there was a defense for such a pointless exercise. In over one hundred years, he had found no voluntary activity that he disliked as much as standing still and allowing small insects to feast on his blood as he held a fishing pole.
Teal'c looked, and Blair was watching the exchange with the sort of fascination Daniel often displayed when finding new ruins. Ellison, however, appeared increasingly agitated.
"So, you can follow this lead up on your own," Ellison interjected with very little concern for politeness. He put a hand on Blair's back and began urging him back toward the parking lot.
"Um, hey, nice to meet you guys," Blair hurried to offer before Ellison had shoved him away.
Once they were far enough away to shield them from human eavesdropping, Ellison leaned over to whisper roughly in Blair's ear, "What the hell are you thinking, going somewhere with a member of the military?"
"He's an archeologist," Blair answered sharply.
"So he says."
"I think I know enough about archeology to spot a fake. Back off, Jim." Blair started to walk ahead, but Ellison reached out and yanked him back to his side. However, they were far enough away that Teal'c could no longer hear their conversation. He turned to look at O'Neill, but he shrugged, clearly indicating that Blair's business was his own and Teal'c was not to interfere.
"So, Jack, what are you really doing here?" Kelso asked long after Jim and Blair had left.
"Trying to find a girl."
"That's the story of your life," Kelso teased, but then his eyes grew serious. "Are you sure the girl wants to be found?"
"Oh, I'm sure she doesn't," O'Neill quickly answered. "But she can't live off grid forever, and the others who are looking for her are a lot more dangerous than I am."
Kelso leaned forward and studied O'Neill. "Don't forget, I know how far you'll go to get what you want," Kelso said softly. Daniel shifted uncomfortably, but then he rarely liked to be reminded that their leader had his own dark past. "What do you want from her?" Kelso demanded.
"We want to help," Daniel quickly offered, but O'Neill held up a hand.
"She's good, Jack. My boss is willing to offer her a position, something that she would probably enjoy since she likes trying to take down the bad guys in our own government."
Kelso sat back, obviously surprised. "Counter-intelligence? I thought you were out of the nasty end of the feeding frenzy."
"I am." O'Neill studied the crowd as though supremely uninterested in the conversation, but Teal'c did not believe that for a moment. "My work attracts some people with questionable ethics, and if I have to take action to stop them, I will."
"Questionable ethics?" Kelso laughed. "Who's been trying to teach you to be diplomatic?"
O'Neill smirked in Daniel's general direction.
"Oh no," Daniel answered the silent comment in that look. "You can be as undiplomatic as you want to the NID. I'm just trying to teach you to be nice to people who deserve respect."
O'Neill shrugged, clearly suggesting that he found the whole exercise in diplomacy to be a waste of time, and Daniel only shook his head. There was a day when this would have caused a vociferous and heated exchange between the two, but it was only after listening to the conversation Daniel had shared with Blair that Teal'c realized just how subdued their friend had become.
"We want to hire her, but even if she doesn't want the job, she's going to need protection," O'Neill told Kelso.
"And Jim and Blair?" Kelso's question appeared to throw O'Neill.
"What about them?"
"You come to Cascade, and you immediately go to a man with a history in covert ops and wetwork? I don't think Ellison has ever shared his whole background with Blair, but you and I know what he's done. Why would you use him to find her? What are you expecting him to do once you do find her?"
Teal'c watched Carter and Daniel stiffen at the implication that they would do harm to Daniel's friend. While Teal'c did not believe O'Neill intended any such action, he did understand the strategic value in destroying one who could not be controlled. Apophis had ordered him to destroy an entire planet once. He had stood on the ha'tak and pressed the crystal that had obliterated their cities from space. The memory of huge brown eyes pleading with him pulled him into another memory.
The child had been remarkable. By the age of eight, he would argue mathematics with the priests of the temple. He had unlocked a puzzle of the gatebuilders by nine, and Apophis had targeted the child as a host. The boy had run at eleven, and when Teal'c had caught up to him in the marsh woods of Tareen, he had begged Teal'c to not allow the goa'uld to have him, to instead destroy him. O'Neill often made fun of the staff weapons, calling them tools of intimidation rather than war, and he was correct. The staff weapon was designed to do no more harm than a sarcophagus could repair. But the boy had pleaded to be destroyed rather than to allow a god to take his form. Teal'c had aimed for the boy's head. His first shot had vaporized the boy's eye and seared that remarkable brain.
The sarcophagus had reanimated the boy but not his mind. Teal'c had destroyed the boy to prevent Apophis from using him. Teal'c certainly could understand destroying an asset before allowing the enemy to make use of it.
"We don't hurt people," Daniel angrily insisted. "And we certainly aren't planning anything with Ellison or Elizabeth, tell him, Jack," Daniel demanded.
"Calm down, Danny."
"I'll calm down when you tell him how wrong he is," Daniel said angrily.
O'Neill shook his head. "Danny, you know we aren't going to hurt anyone. Jack, Elizabeth's in trouble. If I'd been sent to eliminate her... first, I wouldn't. I didn't go along with that shit when I was younger, and now that I'm old and cranky, I really don't go along with that shit. Second, I wouldn't use Ellison. The man is an ass. However, the intel says he's the best ass to find a missing person in Cascade. When we find Daniel's friend, my only suggestion for him is that he not let the door hit him in the ass on the way out."
O'Neill stepped closer, and sat on the edge of the low wall next to Kelso's chair. "What aren't you telling me about Ellison?"
For long seconds, Kelso studied O'Neill. "Nothing I plan to tell you in the near future," Kelso said with a casual shrug that did not match the tightness around his mouth and eyes.
"I'm not interested him," O'Neill repeated.
"I'm less interested in him than Blair," Kelso said seriously. "Blair's a friend, and he doesn't need to get pulled into the middle of this, not now."
"Oh, for crying out loud. When did you start assuming that I was the bad guy? I'm not trying to drag Sandburg into anything."
"Um, Jack," Daniel said in that uncertain tone of voice that Daniel intended to use to defuse any anger. Unfortunately, that tone always managed to made O'Neill tense up even more. "I told Blair that there were options out there if life got to be too much, I suggested he could call me."
"You what?" O'Neill was up and standing inches from Daniel within seconds.
"Sir, he did not reveal anything classified," Carter quickly assured him.
With narrowed eyes, Daniel turned on her. "Of course I didn't, but how would you know that?" Carter didn't answer immediately. "Are you bugging Blair?" Daniel demanded.
"Indeed not. We have bugged you," Teal'c informed Daniel to prevent the coming fight. Daniel's mouth fell open and he looked from Carter to O'Neill.
"Hey, if you'd stop getting yourself in trouble, we wouldn't have to," O'Neill said without apology. "But back to you offering Blair a job..."
"I didn't exactly offer. I implied. The way a person might imply that they didn't trust a person by bugging them."
O'Neill threw an arm around Daniel's shoulders. "Oh, I trust you. It's just the rest of the universe I don't trust as far as I can throw."
"Not to interrupt," Kelso interrupted, "but I mean it, you need to leave Blair out of whatever you have going on. Weeks ago, he was laying on campus dead."
"Dead?" Carter sounded alarmed, and now the entire team appeared to be on alert. If someone had a sarcophagus in the area, that indicated goa'uld involvement or perhaps that the NID had more resources than Stargate Command believed.
Kelso studied them for a second, evidently confused by their reactions. "He was drowned by a woman named Alex Barnes who had stolen highly toxic nerve gas. The paramedics declared him dead before he started breathing again for some bizarre reason. Then he checked himself out of a hospital when he still had pneumonia to go running down to South America to back up Ellison."
"Sounds like someone I know," O'Neill said with a sigh as he glared at the whole team. Teal'c simply looked back at their leader. While all of them had gone against Dr. Frazier's advice, her advice was often inappropriate when it came to Teal'c. His symbiote was far more effective than the doctor or O'Neill seemed willing to believe, and both would order Teal'c to stand down when he was battle-ready.
"Then try this on for size," Kelso said. "I'm dating one of the colleagues from the department, and she said that once they were down there, Ellison started showing a lot of interest in Alex Barnes. He compromised their position and brought live fire down on them in order to cover her retreat." Kelso crossed his arms and dared O'Neill to make light of that fact.
O'Neill frowned, clearly confused. "Were Barnes and Ellison partners? Was Ellison in on the theft?"
"No." Kelso said the word so definitively that Teal'c had no doubt that his intel was sufficient to support his conclusion. "No, he had no interest in her at all until he was down there. Then he left Blair kneeling on a stone floor, still tied up from where terrorists had taken him captive, and instead he comforted Alex who had overdosed on something. If Megan hadn't been tied up, she would have shot Ellison on the spot."
"Megan?" O'Neill asked.
Kelso shrugged. "I'm in a wheelchair, I'm not dead. And if I can get a beautiful woman who knows how to shoot a gun to take a little interest, I'm not going to apologize."
Daniel spoke before Jack could. "He left Blair tied up? When Blair had pneumonia?" Daniel turned to O'Neill. "Jack?"
"Daniel, no!" O'Neill did not even ask what Daniel wanted, but then it was fairly obvious.
"No. We don't know him."
"We can do a background check."
Kelso watched the exchange with a sharp-eyed interest. "If you're thinking of pulling him into our world, don't," he said firmly. "Blair is always going to follow his heart, and in this business, that will get you killed."
O'Neill looked at Daniel who had learned that lesson entirely too many times. Teal'c sometimes despaired at his inability to keep Daniel safe, and he knew that O'Neill felt the same.
Eventually, O'Neill turned his attention back to Jack Kelso. "We are here to find Elizabeth Canarsee and either hire her or offer her protection. You and I both know that she can't stay off the grid long enough shake these people."
"Daniel Jackson here did."
O'Neill glanced over. "I helped him disappear from the grid, and if that's what she wants to do, I can make that happen. But we can't afford to let the NID stick her in a room with a computer and force her to do their dirty work."
"She wouldn't help them," Daniel said stubbornly, but then he and O'Neill had been having that disagreement for two days now.
"Danny, when they finished with her, she would do whatever they wanted her to," O'Neill said firmly. Teal'c tended to agree, but his relationship was not sufficiently close to Daniel for him to offer such suggestions without appearing to condescend to the man, so he held his tongue.
"Jack's right," Kelso agreed. "If the NID is after her, she's in real trouble." He pulled a small notebook and pen out of his pocket, and started writing. "I just hope you aren't lying about your motives because if something happens to her, I will come looking for you. Don't forget Johannesburg," Kelso warned O'Neill, jabbing the end of his pen in his direction.
"I still limp when it rains," O'Neill said, his words a clear promise to the man. Kelso handed the paper over.
"This is everything I have."
"If you hear anything..."
"I'll call," Kelso said. "I still have your cell number."
O'Neill nodded and then turned and started walking away without any of the convoluted pleasantries that humans often engaged in.
"Thanks," Daniel offered awkwardly before he turned to hurry after O'Neill. Carter offered a smile, and Teal'c inclined his head--one warrior to another.
Kelso watched them go, his eyes never straying, not even when Teal'c finally turned to follow the team, walking the rear to cover their position. The more Teal'c learned of Ellison and Blair, the more concerned he was becoming. He simply could not determine whether his concern stemmed from the fact that Ellison was abusive or that Blair appeared to be a well-designed decoy to attract Daniel's attention. Without enough evidence to judge or a strong enough understanding of human nature to intuit the correct solution to the puzzle of Blair Sandburg, Teal'c resolved to follow O'Neill's lead. If O'Neill permitted it, Teal'c would, however, be more than willing to teach Ellison the error of his ways. He would enjoy teaching that man a lesson that would last long after the bones healed.
"Well what?" O'Neill asked, even though Teal'c had no doubt that O'Neill was fully aware of the subject to which Daniel referred.
"What did he give you?"
"A cracked kneecap. We were in this bar in Johannesburg and we had this little misunderstanding..." From the way O'Neill exaggerated his facial expressions, clearly the misunderstanding was not little.
"Jack!" Daniel cut him off as he got in the passenger side and immediately pulled his seat up so that Teal'c would have room in the back. Daniel Jackson was like that, often thinking of others' needs with a casual automaticity.
"Relax, Daniel. You really need to cut back on the caffeine, you know." O'Neill smiled over at Daniel. "I got a name. If I know Jack, it's the name he gave her to use when he helped her go off the grid. He always was a softy for the totally insane girls."
"So we can track her?" Daniel leaned forward, totally ignoring the way O'Neill impugned his friend's sanity.
"You betcha." Jack handed over the slip of paper with the woman's new identity and Daniel reached for it greedily.
Carter spoke up. "I should use my own setup, sir. The police system isn't as fast, and their databases didn't have any matching information."
"Which means Jack Kelso made sure she wasn't too easy to find," O'Neill mused. "Hopefully this means that we don't need Ellison anymore, so let's get back to the hotel and find Daniel's kooky friend." This time the insult earned O'Neill a disagreeable look from Daniel.
"Just promise me that you'll look into the situation with Blair?" Daniel asked. "He's not NID."
O'Neill snorted. "Danny, you like him. In my book that means there's a better than average chance he's evil."
"Very funny," Daniel complained as he sat back, but Teal'c knew that O'Neill would take Daniel's request into consideration. While O'Neill was quickest to react to children in need, he did have a tendency to react to any individual facing unfair odds, and young Blair appeared to be in that situation. If O'Neill were aware that his employers were placing pressure on him to act unethically in the case of the cheating student, Teal'c had no doubt O'Neill would move quickly. However, that did not mean that Blair Sandburg could be trusted.
Teal'c mused on his own thoughts as O'Neill navigated through the rows of personal transports. Either Blair was in a grave situation or he was a most impressive agent who had caught the attention of Daniel Jackson. Daniel was in some ways their strongest teammate, but he was also their most vulnerable. Teal'c would not hesitate to kill Blair Sandburg should he turn out to be an NID agent, and if not--then Teal'c would like an opportunity to have a private discussion with James Ellison and his treatment of those whom have turned to him for leadership.
"Perhaps I should watch Blair Sandburg and James Ellison," Teal'c suggested mildly. O'Neill rarely responded to more overt pleas, and unlike Daniel Jackson, Teal'c did not intended to force O'Neill into taking action by simply ignoring their leader's wishes and explicit orders. For one thing, Teal'c no longer believed his judgment was sound enough to warrant such insubordination.
O'Neill was silently considering him in the rear view mirror, no doubt weighing the various facts. "Kelso did seem interested in them," O'Neill said thoughtfully.
"Jack, Blair is not some superspy," Daniel sighed disgustedly.
"Daniel, how many anthropologists who aren't mixed up in some funny business hang out with members of covert ops?"
Daniel gave O'Neill a smug smile as he raised his hand. Even Carter smiled at that.
"He has you there, sir," she offered, earning herself a glare in the rearview mirror.
"For crying out loud, you are mixed up in funny business, Daniel. Sandburg is supposedly just this small city student, but he's friends with two guys who have body counts on their records. Doesn't that make you wonder what he's studying?"
"He's doing a longitudinal study of police interactions," Daniel said, but even he sounded a little unsure at this point.
"Yeah, sure. So, he's doing a study by only hanging out with one guy and assuming that one guy represents the whole department? If he's as brilliant as you say, I think he would have spotted the flaw in that plan."
For long seconds, the car was silent. Clearly, Daniel did not want to think of Blair Sandburg as a threat, but the facts were just as clearly not adding up. Daniel was not a stupid man, and he would not ignore the reality of a very questionable situation.
"Daniel, he might not even know he's caught in the middle of something," Carter offered. Her suggestion was not logical since Blair was choosing to remain close to James Ellison, but Carter often offered compromises that allowed the two men to overcome their habit of entrenching themselves in some belief and refusing to move from it. "Jack Kelso did say that he wasn't sure that Blair even knew about Ellison's background, and he seemed pretty concerned about protecting him from Ellison."
Daniel turned around in the seat and studied Carter. "But if Ellison was dangerous, Blair would be sharp enough to pick that up. I talked to him for hours--he's brilliant. That's why I wanted to invite him into my department. We just don't have enough anthropologists, not ones who can make connections and look past the theories to seeing new applications."
"Daniel," Carter sighed, "he may have an unhealthy relationship with Ellison. Police officers are in high-stress jobs, and sometimes they don't handle that stress well."
No one commented, but Teal'c knew they were all thinking of Lieutenant Meyers of SG-5. After the police were called to his home for dishonorable conduct, he had pleaded guilty in court of domestic abuse. Teal'c had only wished they were still under Jaffa law because he would have enforced the rule of respecting others, particularly those to whom you have pledged your loyalty and protection. Daniel had discussed the situation with him and emphasized the unhealthy nature of some humans' reactions to stress, but even Daniel could not hide his disgust for what Meyers had done, even as he insisted that Teal'c could not take action against the soldier. However, if Blair were in a similar situation, Teal'c would not be convinced to restrain himself again. And none of this conjecture negated the possibility that the NID had created a clever decoy in order to plant a spy deep within the SGC itself.
O'Neill didn't comment as the car fell silent. He finally sighed. "Carter, I need you tracking down the name. Danny knows her, so he may have some insight on where she would have run. Teal'c and I are going to check out Ellison and Sandburg."
"Jack," Daniel immediately said.
"Daniel," Jack shot right back. Despite the fact that all four of them worked together in very close quarters, it was O'Neill and Daniel who had developed the personal communication that so often passed between fellow warriors. When Teal'c fought with Bra'tac, a single raised eyebrow or sidelong look might carry an entire conversation or reference a shared past or communicate a concern. Here, Teal'c had no doubt that Daniel's concerns were for Blair Sandburg.
"Just... be careful," Daniel settled for saying. Daniel Jackson was a warrior. He understood the necessity of acting in defense of the team, no matter how much he might loathe the reality. And after O'Neill's own deception where he feigned his own defection from SGC, Daniel had to understand the reality of Earth politics. Sometimes Teal'c believed that the manipulation of the Tok'ra had been inherited from their human hosts. Jaffa were born and bred to be somewhat more direct in their actions.
O'Neill smiled at him. "Now that's amusing. I should be more worried about you and Carter. Carter," O'Neill called, "don't let Danny get archeologist-nabbed or dragged off by any beautiful women."
"Very funny," Daniel complained, but Teal'c could tell from the tightness in O'Neill's shoulders that he was not joking.
"Yes, sir," Carter agreed with a conspiratorial smile for Daniel who only rolled his eyes. O'Neill pulled into their hotel, his eyes going to the various places from which the door to their rooms might be covered by a sniper. Carter and Daniel did not check such convenient places for ambush but instead engaged in a short round of mutual teasing.
Satisfied, O'Neill put the car into park, which disengaged the automatic locks. "Okay, kids, you stay close to home and don't make me ground your asses when I get back." His tone was light and easy, but O'Neill looked longest at Carter.
"Yes, sir," she agreed. Just as O'Neill and Daniel could communicate through nothing more than the saying of names, O'Neill and Carter could pass a hundred thoughts through a single glance. She knew that their commander was not joking as much as he might seem. Daniel just gave a derisive snort as he got out of the car. O'Neill watched him get out with great concern in his expression, and Teal'c wondered if O'Neill was as ignorant to Daniel's difficulties as he and Carter had been.
Silently, Teal'c moved into the front seat with O'Neill, not commenting when the man immediately pulled back into traffic with a destination in mind.
"So," O'Neill asked, "what's your assessment of Sandburg?"
Teal'c considered his answer. The evidence was confusing. "He is either a young man in need of assistance or a very capable agent."
"Ellison's not so capable." O'Neill made a very disagreeable noise. "Did you catch the way he was checking you out?"
"I did," Teal'c agreed.
"He knows more than he's saying, but he isn't even trying to hide his suspicions, so either he's really bad at covert work or he's sending a pretty unsubtle message about us getting the hell off his territory."
Teal'c considered that for a moment. "Does his record suggest incompetence?"
"Not even close. But his police records have holes that left Carter scratching her head. The man has dropped his weapon more often than Danny's gotten captured, which is not SOP for someone with his level of training. He's also been involved with some questionable shootings, including one where a mental patient ended up with six holes in his body. Sandburg was in the middle of that, too. This guy kidnapped Sandburg and Ellison took him down."
Teal'c refrained from pointing out that O'Neill was equally as aggressive in defense of Daniel and Carter.
"I don't like any of this, and I like this around Daniel even less. Whatever secrets Ellison and Kelso are keeping, I want to know what the hell's going on. And since those two live together, it's going to make it easy." O'Neill stopped at a red light. "The kid seemed to have his laptop with him, so we're going to be looking for any kind of physical evidence. I can talk to Carter about hacking Sandburg's laptop when Daniel isn't around."
"If Ellison and Sandburg return?" Teal'c asked, not sure how much force he had permission to use. The zat'nik'tel would effectively prevent questions from being asked, but the general would not want that technology used without extreme provocation.
"Sandburg is so hopped up on caffeine we'll hear him a mile away." O'Neill took out a small hand held monitoring device. "And I took the liberty of bugging Ellison." The smile he had on his face was not even remotely pleasant.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, but O'Neill didn't elaborate as he pulled onto Prospect road. O'Neill parked and started striding purposefully toward a bakery, and Teal'c followed. The area was not desirable as he understood human property values, so if Ellison was on the NID's payroll, he was not being paid well.
Opening the door for an elderly woman, O'Neill smiled at her and then ducked inside where a set of stairs went up behind the bakery. Despite using all his skills, Teal'c could identify nothing unusual in the way of surveillance or more deadly ambushes. On the third floor, O'Neill pulled out gloves and ran his hand over the door, feeling for traps before he quickly picked the lock.
Based on the man's personality, Teal'c had expected more security, but they were quickly inside a rather modest apartment. A small messy bedroom was tucked under some stairs that led to a larger bedroom area on a partial second floor. Either Sandburg and Ellison were not sexual partners or they continued to maintain separate sleeping spaces. After being away at war for long periods of time, warriors often found it difficult to sleep in the same bed with their partners. Teal'c himself, as a young man, sometimes had trouble sleeping next to his wife.
O'Neill immediately headed upstairs, and Teal'c walked carefully through the piles of papers and books littering what must be Blair Sandburg's personal space. If he were anything like Daniel, the man would know if a single paper was out of order, so Teal'c moved methodically, carefully studying a stack before shifting a single item. It was slow work, made even slower by the fact that Blair's notes were as nearly indecipherable as Daniel Jackson's. There were many references to concepts Teal'c did not understand, and Teal'c could only commit the phrases to memory for later repeating. The light lengthened as bars of it fell through the living room windows, but he concentrated on simply gathering data, trusting O'Neill to warn him if young Blair or James Ellison approached.
"Anything?" O'Neill asked as he stood at the door to Blair's room.
"Many references to sentinels and testing."
"Sentinels?" O'Neill stepped into the room, and put out a hand as if he were going to simply take a random book.
"I would not," Teal'c advised him.
He paused, his hand just short of touching a stack. "You think he's another Daniel, likely to have a heart attack if someone moves one little stinking rock?"
"Most likely," Teal'c agreed. He handed over a paper which had testing data regarding sight and hearing that indicated a level of sensory awareness that was greater than even a Jaffa. "He writes of men who have senses far more powerful than a human's. They may hear a conversation from a mile away."
"These guys get headaches and check out for lala land often?" O'Neill asked, suddenly looking far less interested even though he took the paper and quickly scanned it.
"I am unaware--"
"Lala land, their body is there but their brain checks out."
Teal'c nodded. "Indeed. Blair Sandburg calls them zones, I believe."
O'Neill shrugged. "He can call them whatever he wants. It's a kind of seizure. The medical records from right before Ellison's discharge say that he was suffering from Post Combat Hypersensitivity Disorder."
"Blair Sandburg writes of this as a great gift." Teal'c had never heard of this condition, but from what Blair had written, Ellison's abilities appeared quite impressive. He never referred to them as any sort of disorder.
"They're a giant pain in the ass," O'Neill said with a twist of his mouth that suggested he had an intimate knowledge of such matters. "It's a flight or fight thing. The brain starts ramping up and hearing and seeing and smelling everything for miles around until you go a little batshit crazy, but when you get back, the hospital plays a little soft music, turns the lights on dim, and the senses gradually fade.
"Do you have this condition?" Teal'c considered O'Neill curiously.
"No. You come down with P-chad and they pull your covert ops card. A member of my team came down with it and just about got us all killed before we could get him back to the medics. But that would explain why Ellison got out in the middle of a tour. He couldn't qualify for covert ops anymore, and you don't exactly take a soldier at that level and assign him to climatological technical service and let him predict how much it's going to rain."
"I have never heard of such..."
O'Neill's snort cut him off before he could finish, and Teal'c raised an eyebrow, inviting O'Neill to explain why the statement was amusing.
"They don't exactly want to advertise that soldiers go nuts and can then be disabled by flashing lights or dog whistles. P-chad is definitely hush-hush, but if Ellison reported his symptoms to a hospital, the minute a doctor typed in a medical search for any likely conditions, the Army would have been down here to take him into custody and get the damn seizures to stop. The human brain is not wired to have that much data flooding the circuits."
Teal'c frowned. Blair Sandburg wrote of this condition as a great honor, a position of strength and duty as a warrior committed himself to a group of people--a tribe. Teal'c's own people had stories of Jaffa with similar gifts being persecuted by false gods before the true god chose them as heir. But none of these legends matched O'Neill's clear dismissal of the condition. "Perhaps this is only a related condition."
O'Neill did not answer immediately. "Maybe. Why, what does Sandburg say?"
"He speaks of the many ways Ellison's senses have been of use during investigations. He also speaks of Ellison as having emotional distress relating to abandonment and fear," Teal'c said as he remembered the small notebook buried deep within one of the piles. Teal'c finished took the few papers spread over the top of a bookcase and carefully replaced them in the seeming disorder of Blair's piles.
"Wait. He still has the senses?" O'Neill frowned, and Teal'c recognized the expression as one of deep thought. Not wanting to interrupt, he considered the piles he had recreated and shifted one slightly so that the lean of the papers was closer to what he had first found in the room. "Sandburg's studying the senses," O'Neill said slowly. "That's why he's sticking with Ellison."
"He would be wise to chose one with more worthy traits."
"Teal'c, did you just call Ellison an ass?"
"Indeed," he answered, and O'Neill laughed and raised the monitoring device in his hand.
"Yeah, well that ass is around the block. Whadda say we go see what he's up to?"
Teal'c inclined his head in agreement before taking back the paper in O'Neill's hand.
They left quickly and hopefully without leaving a trace, but if Ellison's senses were as extraordinary as Blair Sandburg's notes suggested, Teal'c did not believe their deception would go unnoticed. However, since he had no suggestion, he followed O'Neill down the stairs and out to the street. Traffic had become more congested, but O'Neill turned his back on their vehicle and started down an alley behind the building.
Brakes squealed, and Teal'c hand fell to his zat'nik'tel, but O'Neill had pulled his firearm and pressed himself to the wall.
"Hey, make it hurt," Teal'c heard a man say, and then he was running after O'Neill in what was obviously a parking area. O'Neill held out his hand and Teal'c stopped, his eyes scanning the area. There were too many hiding places, and Teal'c could hear the dull thud of fist against flesh. Then it stopped.
"Four perps, armed..." O'Neill started.
"Enough! Let's go!" a man called.
O'Neill poked his thumb, and Teal'c took up position watching as three men retreated into a dark car driven by a young man. O'Neill circled around, his weapon out, and Teal'c pulled out his zat'nik'tel. The car sped past, and Teal'c committed the faces of those inside to memory, still not sure what had happened.
"Chief, you all right? Let me see. Let me see. All right, let's get you cleaned up. Come on." Teal'c pulled back into the shadows and watched as Ellison pulled Blair forward. Blair walked with a pained limp that suggested he had been the target of the attack, and concern was etched into Ellison's face. This was the first time Ellison had shown the sort of concern that a tec'ma'te should. Ellison's fingers skimmed over Blair's face, hovering over one cheek.
But then Ellison's face closed down and he turned away from Blair and retrieved something from a bag on the ground, throwing it at Blair.
"Peas?" From the tone, Blair Sandburg appeared weary, but Ellison's concern of just a moment ago had vanished in a way Teal'c found most perplexing.
"Yeah, it was the only thing I had that was frozen. Maybe it'll help cool off your love life."
Teal'c frowned. Such a callous disregard for the seriousness of an attack involving armed men was not reasonable. However, Blair Sandburg was not reacting as might one who had been worn down by the abuse of a trusted advisor or lover.
"Cool off my life?! What are you talking about? This wasn't a jealous boyfriend, Jim. It wasn't even a mugger. It was that Brad Ventriss. He saw me talking to Jill yesterday -- the girl that he raped."
It did not escape Teal'c notice that even now Blair was concerned for others. But Ellison was not acting as the protective warrior Blair described in his papers. When he had written of Ellison, he had suggested the man had an almost pathological need to protect others and bring justice to his chosen territory, but that was not an accurate description of the man Teal'c now saw face off against Blair.
"We have nothing to go on. You know that. You've just got to back off."
Teal'c cocked his head at that. Perhaps Ellison was concerned for Blair Sandburg's welfare. But were that the case, surely he would show some concern for the man's poor health and obvious distress. He showed no concern that his words had left Blair in the sort of manic desperation into which O'Neill occasionally drove Daniel Jackson.
"What do you mean "back off"? When have you ever backed off?" he demanded angrily, and again, Teal'c wondered at James Ellison's motivation because now he appeared to be the one weary through to his soul.
"If I had I backed off on certain things in my life, they would have gone down a lot easier."
O'Neill reappeared and Teal'c yielded his position so that he might see them more easily. "Either the NID is getting more creative with their covers, or Ellison's name is going right next to Simmons in my book. His partner gets jumped by armed thugs, and he accuses the kid of bringing it down on himself." O'Neill did not appear to be directly addressing him, so he waited, concealing his zat'nik'tel within his outfit.
"He is ill-tempered."
O'Neill looked over with a thin smile. "I don't think I've met many people who've made you so vocal in your dislike."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow as he considered that. It was within the nature of a warrior to dislike those who abused the cha'til who had pledged themselves. Sometimes Teal'c still felt a warrior's protectiveness toward Daniel, despite the fact he was no longer a child. By Jaffa reckoning, he had earned his status when he fought and killed next to them when they invaded Apophis' ship, but truly he had not been a true cha'til since Hathor... since his innocence had been stripped from him. But Teal'c somehow doubted that Blair had killed yet, and in Jaffa beliefs, that gave him a certain status: one that made Ellison's actions highly objectionable. Perhaps Teal'c felt this way because his work with the SGC prevented him from interacting with his own son or with the young men who had once looked up to him as tec'ma'te. It was not useful to examine such feelings; Teal'c only knew that he felt them.
"Either he's NID or he's not, but there's only one way to find out," O'Neill said as he stepped out into the alley.
"Sandburg, what the hell did you do to yourself?" O'Neill asked loudly. Teal'c followed, not sure what plan O'Neill had, but no doubt, it would... it would either work or prove remarkably dangerous and nearly cause their death. With O'Neill's plans, one could never judge until after the last warrior had retreated from the field.
But no way did he want to deal with the military. Not now. Between Ventriss and Jim's raging paranoia about everything from the military to Blair's love life, Blair was not going to make it through the week without killing someone.
"Geez, Sandburg, you really look like shit," O'Neill offered in a tone that suggested a familiarity that truly did not exist. Blair could practically feel Jim go on full alert.
"Good. If I'm going to feel like shit, I should at least look like it so I get a little sympathy," Blair shot back, but his glare was all for Jim. An armed assault really should get him more than a snide comment about his love life--especially when he didn't have one anymore.
"Colonel, what can I do for you?" Jim demanded, stepping forward so that Blair, once again, had a nice view of Jim's back. He'd been seeing a lot of that today, but at least when he was looking at Jim's back, he could convince himself that there was still a partnership to save. If Jim cared enough to act like a fucking mother hen, then there was some sort of emotion there. Quite frankly, Blair was on the edge of going home and packing all his shit up because all too often these days it felt like all the emotions and friendship had leeched out of their relationship when he lay dead in that fountain.
"Since you're assigned to help us, I thought I might give you a chance to be helpful," O'Neill answered with way more snotty in his voice than a grown man should use. Jim's back stiffened.
"If you have a lead, I'll look into it, but I do have actual crimes to investigate."
"Oh, I'm sure--stolen cars to track down, jay walkers to arrest..." O'Neill let his words trail off into a sarcastic silence. Maybe it was Blair's imagination, but he could practically hear Jim's teeth grind.
"I really should go arrest a jaywalker now. I'm behind in my quotas," Jim answered with just as much sarcasm. It was like watching pit bulls pee on each other. Blair rolled his eyes at the drama, even if no one could see him from his spot behind Jim.
"I thought you might be taking your partner to the clinic." O'Neill made the words sound so matter-of-fact, that it took the briefest second for Jim to react, and then he took a step back, physically crowding Blair.
"Sandburg can survive a black eye without coddling." Jim was cold now, his physical proximity about the only thing connecting them. In the past, Blair had survived Jim's hands all over him, checking for injuries, feeling for a fever, patting and touching a dozen ways. Now, the spot where Jim's back pressed against his arm was the most contact they'd had in days. Yeah, he'd survive the black eye, but he missed the old, easy relationship they'd shared. He missed trying to fight his way free of Jim's coddling, like after Lash when Jim had hovered with a beer in one hand and a pillow in the other as he kept trying to push one or the other off onto Blair.
"And that ankle?" O'Neill asked.
"Man, my ankle is fine," Blair interjected, trying to push himself forward only to get shoved back again. Jim's hand on his arm was a bitter reminder of times when Jim might have rested a palm against his shoulder as a friendlier gesture, but now it was all about control. Jim wanted him to stay put, so Jim tried to make him. Well, Blair was never really one for going along with the plan. He shoved Jim's hand away and glared at the man.
O'Neill said something before Jim could get his pissy going. "You're limping. Fine implies not limping, Sandburg." O'Neill was clearly not ready to let this drop and Mount St. Ellison was about to blow. Blair was just so fucking sick of dealing with all these alpha dogs with their alpha rules. The Chancellor and Ventriss and even Jim and Simon and now O'Neill. They were all so fucking ready to set up territory and Blair was sick of being the territory that other people kept trying to piss on.
"I just need some ice," Blair snapped at all of them as he turned toward the loft and started walking slowly, gathering the shreds of his dignity. He tried to not limp, but his ankle actually did ache. He'd just strained it a little, so a little gentle walking would work it out, but he didn't need to have Ellison and O'Neill fighting over it.
Jim reached for him, and Blair surged forward to avoid the touch and the not-so-subtle ownership Jim was trying to display. But the move sent him stumbling to the side with an ankle that now screeched with pain. His arms windmilled as he lost his balance, and then Blair found an unfamiliar hand at his elbow--Murray. The large man tilted his head, a question forming in his eyes.
Before Blair could even thank the man, Jim was there again, shoving between them and putting his hands on Blair's arms. For one second, hot anger flared through Blair--anger about Jim's attitude, his assumption that he owned Blair, his fucking carelessness because now the ankle hurt even more. But the anger flashed and then died, like a forest fire spluttering out when it hit the charred remains left behind by an old fire. That's what Blair felt like--an old burnt-out mountainside full of charred remains and ash.
"I wished only to assist him," Murray said as he backed away. Jim was practically snarling in anger, and Blair studied him cautiously. This was not anywhere near a normal reaction. This was more like some instinctive behavior like with Laura or Alex. Turning to the military guys, Blair studied the black man whose name was anything but Murray. If he was a Sentinel and Jim's instincts were going nuts again, Blair might as well go home and start packing now. Hell, maybe this Sentinel wanted to kill him, too. The way Blair's karma was going lately, that was entirely too possible. It terrified Blair just how little that thought bothered him.
"We don't need assistance," Jim snapped as he started hurrying Blair down the alley. Blair really was limping now, but it was so not worth arguing with Jim once he got going, so he just tried to keep up.
"Ellison!" O'Neill called.
"What?" Jim shifted so that, once again, Blair had a view of Jim's back as O'Neill closed the distance between them.
"I'm trying to cut you some slack because the military has done enough to justify a little suspicion on your part," O'Neill started, and Blair could have told him that was exactly the wrong tact to take. It combined two things that were both guaranteed to make Jim twitchy: the military and pity. "But I'm starting to think you're just an old-fashioned asshole."
"I've been called worse," Jim said, his voice as tight as his body. Blair leaned against a dumpster and rolled his eyes at the male posturing. He'd never seen this much testosterone outside of a boxing ring.
"I'm not surprised. But your partner just got assaulted and has injuries. So, are you going to take him to the hospital, or am I?" O'Neill asked calmly enough, but Blair could feel a growing fear gnaw at him. Jim had already blown up once about Blair going off alone with one of them, and now Blair wasn't sure if he was afraid of getting trapped into going somewhere with O'Neill or just Jim's reaction.
Jim inched closer, and Blair rested a hand against Jim's back, a reassurance that he wasn't going anywhere--not that he could with his ankle throbbing. "You may call the shots on your team, but we aren't Air Force, Colonel. Around here, my badge is worth a lot more than your rank."
"You really think so?"
Blair held his breath as the two alpha dogs just stared at each other. God, if someone ever came up with the cure for excess testosterone, Blair was going to slip it into Jim's Wonderburger. Between his bad habit of drooling over criminally insane women and getting in pissing matches with other men, it was a real miracle that he didn't get shot more often.
A cell phone beeped with three familiar numbers--911. Blair had called them often enough to recognize the tones, and then O'Neill's voice was reporting an assault and requesting an ambulance.
"Oh no, no way. No fucking way!" Blair objected as he tried to detour around Mount Ellison, but Jim shoved him back, and Blair was left clutching the dumpster just to keep from falling on his ass. Then, without warning, Jim was gone. Blair spun around in time to watch in horror as Jim careened across the alley and hit the rear end of a parked car, stomach first. He rebounded and had his hand half-way to his gun when he froze. Blair looked over to find that O'Neill already had his weapon drawn.
"Murray, check Sandburg," O'Neill ordered, and Blair froze.
"This is assaulting a police officer," Jim said as he carefully raised his empty hands.
"From where I'm standing, this is a citizen's arrest for domestic assault," O'Neill said with a nasty tone. Blair could only hold onto the garbage and watch in mute horror as Murray closed in on him.
"Man, I am so not armed," Blair hurried to say, holding up one hand in surrender. He'd hold up both, but he didn't think falling on the ground was the best idea right now.
Murray cocked his head and frowned. "I am more concerned for your injury, but I shall remember that you are unarmed," he promised Blair in that same formal tone. He went to one knee in front of Blair, his hands reaching for the injured ankle. One gentle poke, and Blair hissed in pain.
"The ankle requires attention," Murray offered.
"Hey, it's fine," Blair argued. In the distance, sirens sounded. The cavalry was coming.
"Leave him alone," Jim ordered, but considering that he had a gun on him, that was not a very effective communication strategy.
"Funny thing. When I see a civilian getting physically assaulted by a police officer with covert ops training, I get a little cranky, don't I Murray?"
"Indeed," Murray agreed as he stood up. "You should not attempt to balance on one foot and the refuse container is unhealthy for one whose immune system is already compromised. You should sit farther away," Murray told Blair. Blair really couldn't gather enough brain cells to even answer for a second. If this was some sort of CIA play to get to Jim, this was seriously not what Blair had expected. Murray slipped a hand around Blair's waist and gently urged him away from the garbage.
"Man, you guys have it all wrong. Jim would never hurt me," Blair insisted. Murray's pull was just firm enough to make him let go of the garbage, and he clung to Murray's shoulder instead. Jim was so tight and coiled that Blair was surprised the man didn't burst a blood vessel or have a heart attack or something. "This is all some misunderstanding," Blair insisted as Murray helped him toward a parked car. The ankle hurt enough that he was left hopping on one foot, but Murray actually supported most of his weight.
"I don't think they care about the truth, Chief," Jim said with a dark expression. "So, how is this going down, Colonel? Are you trying to get Blair's allegiance? Are you working on some psych profile that says I'll be more cooperative if you have Sandburg on your side?"
Blair froze as he considered the implications of Jim's comment. Jim had always warned him that the military might come back for him. He even had paperwork to transfer the loft to Blair's name just in case Jim mysteriously disappeared one night, but Blair had put all that into some corner of his mind labeled "Jim's paranoia." He certainly never expected to get caught up in the middle of it. Since he wasn't hopping anymore, Murray just lifted him and carried him the last couple of feet before carefully setting him on the trunk of a car.
"Ellison, I have no idea what you're talking about," O'Neill said, "but you're one cold son of a bitch." A police car came around the corner, and O'Neill stepped closer to the middle of the alley, his gun still trained on Jim. Blair watched, his eyes going from Jim and O'Neill to the patrol car that screeched to a halt, the two uniforms tumbling out with guns drawn.
"Put the gun down! Now! Face down on the pavement, all of you!" The officer yelled. O'Neill immediately pointed his gun up in the air and held up his left hand in surrender as he knelt down to put the gun on the ground.
"I'm Detective Ellison." Jim started reaching for his badge, and the second officer turned a gun toward him.
"Hands up! Do it!"
These guys were obviously new, and Blair did not want to be around when Simon ripped them new assholes, but for now Jim put his hands in the air even as he glared death at the officers.
"We have an injured man," O'Neill called out. He backed away from his gun. "I'm Colonel O'Neill, United States Air Force. I found Detective Ellison here assaulting his civilian consultant and I called 911. My phone is in my jacket pocket, you can check the last call made." O'Neill sounded downright calm and friendly as he slowly went to his knees in the middle of the alley, his hands on top of his head. Jim was still standing and glaring.
"On the ground!" one officer barked at the same time the other offered a soft, "Oh fuck. That's Ellison."
Jim focused on the officer who had recognized him. "Call Simon Banks right now. I want Colonel O'Neill and Murray over there arrested for assaulting a police officer and unlawful detention."
"Whoa, hey, let's just calm down," Blair urged everyone. He started sliding off the car so he could try and talk some sense into everyone, but Murray put a hand on his leg, holding him in place.
"Get your hand off my partner," Jim snapped as he took a step forward. A new patrol car pulled up and more cops came, weapons drawn.
"Blair Sandburg requires medical attention," Murray said, and again, Blair was very impressed with the calm. When he had guns pointing at his face, he usually didn't have that much calm going on.
"Blair is fine." Jim crossed the alley and physically shoved at Murray. Blair was used to Jim being physically intimidating. Hell, Blair felt intimidated any time the man had his shirt off, and Jim wasn't even angry with him. But Murray seemed immune to the power of Jim and Jim shoving. He didn't even move an inch. "Let him go," Jim ordered tersely.
"I will not. His attempt to stand shall damage his ankle further," Murray simply stated. For a second, Blair really thought that Jim was going to take a swing at Murray, and he wasn't sure what he thought about that. On one hand, it was completely emasculating to get shoved around like a bone between two junkyard dogs, but on the other, this was the most interest Jim had shown in their friendship since Mexico... since Blair had betrayed Jim's trust by working with another Sentinel. And somewhere in the back of his mind was the fear that Murray was another Sentinel. It made sense. Jim was clearly enraged by his presence, Murray had an interest in Blair's well-being, and tribal areas in Africa were more likely to have Sentinels. This time, Blair was not making the same mistake again.
"I won't stand up, but Jim's right, man. You so need to let go," Blair said in his firmest voice. Surprisingly, Murray complied, stepping back with another of those odd tilts of his head. Blair reached out for Jim, but Jim turned his back and focused on the cops. An ambulance appeared at the end of the alley. This was so getting out of hand.
"I want him arrested," Jim ordered with a poke of his thumb in Murray's direction.
"Jim," Blair tried saying.
"Save it, Darwin. I was the one he sent flying across the alley."
"I removed you from Blair Sandburg's vicinity," Murray said calmly.
"Can I get up now without having someone shoot me? My knees are not that young anymore, and technically, I was the one who called for police backup," O'Neill complained. The officer who had picked up O'Neill's gun was left looking from O'Neill to Jim, obviously lost. Blair couldn't blame him. This was not exactly in the manual. Citizens were not normally the ones trying to arrest the police. "And if I'm arrested, I want Ellison arrested for domestic abuse."
"Whoa, hey, no way," Blair objected. Jim turned and glared at O'Neill. Obviously the officer realized he was so out of his league because he backed away and O'Neill got up from the ground. "I am not making any complaints here!"
"It doesn't require a victim to press charges if the attack is witnessed," O'Neill answered, but he kept his eyes on Jim. The two of them faced off, and right now, Blair was almost sorry that Jim was armed because the man was not firing on all mental cylinders. Yeah, he'd been off his game since Mexico, since he'd been a fucking dick chasing after Alex, but these military guys were poking buttons that were making him a real ass. Asshole and armed went together about as well as drunk and armed, and never before had Blair ever worried about Jim, but he was worried now.
"Is someone injured?" a paramedic asked, and Blair's head started to softly throb. He needed a dance card to keep up with the wrong that just kept multiplying.
"Blair Sandburg," Murray answered, gesturing toward Blair.
Blair glared at the man. "So not cool. I'm fine."
"You are not," Murray answered without any trace of annoyance. "His left ankle is swelling."
Before Blair could complain or threaten or escape, the paramedic was pulling his shoe off and poking at his sore foot. "Hey!" Blair complained when the man hit a particularly sensitive spot.
"This is going to need some x-rays," the paramedic announced. Murray managed to look a little smug without even changing his expression. Blair could see the officers start to form their own opinions, and the tide was not going in favor of Jim.
"I just stumbled. Come on. I stumble all the time. I'm an expert at it," Blair said as he gave the paramedic his best smile. Unfortunately, that led to a flinch as his swollen eye twinged. Before he knew it, he had a little flashlight shining in his face. "Come on," Blair complained as he tried to bat the paramedic away.
"You should also check his ribs on the left side," Murray said, and again, that almost sounded smug even without changing the tone even a little. Murray had some talent, Blair had to give him that.
"I'm fine," Blair complained as he fought to keep the paramedic's hands away from the spot where one of Ventriss' goons had gotten in a good hit. This was so not how he had planned his day.
"Chief? Are you hurt?" Jim asked, hovering just behind the handsy paramedic.
"I'm fine," Blair insisted again, but the other cops were looking at Jim with varying degrees of suspicion and O'Neill had an obnoxiously smug look on his face. "And Jim didn't hit me!" Blair shouted to the half dozen cops who had gathered on scene.
"Of course I didn't hit you," Jim said with more than a little aggravation. A familiar car pulled up, and Blair would have jumped down off the car and gone over to kiss Simon if he didn't have the paramedic trying to get overly friendly with his ribs.
"Man, back off."
"I have to check for injuries," the guy said, holding his hands up in surrender for only a second before him and his latex gloves started groping again. Blair hissed as the guy found the sore spot just above his hip.
"Chief, let them check you out," Jim said almost absent-mindedly before he walked over to Simon. The sergeant in charge of the scene was already over there, and from the look on Simon's face, things were not going well.
"So, am I going to get my weapon back? There's a crapload of paperwork that goes with surrendering a weapon, and I do not do paperwork," O'Neill was complaining to the officer who had confiscated his gun, but the man retreated to behind Simon. With a dramatic sigh, O'Neill came over to stand near Murray. If these guys were trying to take Jim into government custody or trap him, Blair really didn't see what they got out of this public mess. Yeah, he wasn't exactly clued into the whole espionage game, but this seemed like the antithesis of effective espionage.
"You okay, Sandburg?" O'Neill asked as if he really cared. Blair glared.
"Man, you are so out of line. You are not even on the same field with the fucking line."
"Hey, you just got the shit knocked out of you, Ellison is refusing to get you treatment, he further injures your ankle by yanking you around, and then he shoves you face first into a dumpster. That's looking like abuse to me."
Blair stared at the man in horror. "Oh no. No way are you telling Simon that story," he hissed. "Even try it and I'll swear out a statement against you."
"For what?" O'Neill asked with an exaggerated innocence that was seriously annoying the shit out of Blair. Maybe his aggravation showed on his face because O'Neill sighed and rolled his eyes. "Look, kid. Ellison is a trained soldier. He has no business treating you like that, and at this point, I'm not convinced that you're safe." O'Neill looked over to where Jim and Simon were arguing in low voices, both their faces tight with anger. "Ellison's dangerous."
"And I'm chopped liver?" Blair demanded.
O'Neill gave him a look that fell somewhere between pity and amusement. "Compared to Ellison you're a babe in the woods, kid." O'Neill looked like he was about to say something else, but then Simon started walking toward them.
"Colonel O'Neill," Simon said in that tone of voice he saved for people he really hated like terrorists and the police commissioner.
"Simon, this is bullshit. Jim was just trying to protect me from these two," Blair blurted out.
Simon looked at him for a brief second before scowling at O'Neill. "Had they threatened you?" Simon's face made it pretty clear that he was itching for a reason to arrest Colonel O'Neill.
"Not exactly," Blair admitted.
"Shown a weapon, done something that might have been considered a threat?"
"Well, no. But Murray caught me by the arm, and Jim was trying to keep him from touching me."
"I attempted to prevent Blair Sandburg from falling," Murray offered without any emotion. Simon looked over at him, and Blair could read the worry in Simon's frown.
"So you had already hurt your ankle?" Simon asked.
"I hurt it when Ventriss' goons jumped me. That's when I got the black eye," Blair explained. He shoved at the paramedic who finally relented with a much put-upon sigh and stepped to the side.
"Someone attacked you?" Now Simon looked interested. "Someone you know?"
"I didn't exactly know them, but I know Brad Ventriss sent them. One had a baseball bat, and another one pulled a gun after Jim came riding to the rescue, but Jim chased them off just a few minutes before O'Neill and Murray showed up."
"And Jim called the attack in?" Simon asked with even more enthusiasm. Blair looked over toward Jim looking for some sort of help, but Jim was leaning against a cop car with his arms crossed as he looked off in the other direction. It didn't even look like he was listening to their conversation.
"Well, no," Blair admitted.
Simon closed his eyes for a second, frustration clear in every line in his face. "So, you're attacked by random strangers who are armed, but Ellison didn't call it in?"
"Simon, it isn't like—"
"Did Jim hit you?"
"No!" Blair tried to slide down off the car and make his point more emphatically, but the paramedic grabbed one of his arms and Murray grabbed the other.
"He just shoved you face first into a dumpster. That looked like assault to me, but maybe the police are going to cover for one of their own," O'Neill suggested. From the expression on Simon's face, he didn't like O'Neill's tone any more than Blair did.
Blair would have seriously considered shooting O'Neill himself if he was armed. "No way. That was an accident!"
"Stop!" Simon said as he held up a hand.
"You know Jim—"
"Sandburg! I mean it, stop right there. This is an official investigation, and as Ellison's supervisor, I cannot question anyone involved."
"No!" Simon took a deep breath before he started again in a quieter voice—the one he usually saved for victims. "Sandburg, go to the hospital, let them check you out, go home, and when the IA officer calls, try to not piss them off too much."
"IA?" Blair was glad he was sitting because his legs were suddenly weak. Oh fuck. Fuck and more fuck. Jim was going to give birth to radioactive, rainbow-colored kittens over this one.
"Yes, Sandburg, IA. Colonel O'Neill, they will want to speak with you, so if you would follow me..." Simon gestured toward his car.
"Right. We'll just leave the victim surrounded by cops. That sound smart to you, Murray?" O'Neill asked sweetly.
"Do not go there," Blair ordered, poking a finger toward O'Neill. "I am not some fucking damsel in distress, and you did not fucking rescue me. Man, if I had two working legs right now, I would so kick your ass." Oddly, the man actually smiled at that.
"You're welcome to try Sandburg. I'm not promising that you'll get far, but you can try if you'd like."
"I could offer instruction," Murray said. Blair looked in confusion from O'Neill to Murray and back before he finally looked over to Simon for some help. Maybe this was some sort of odd military or alpha-dog sniffing ritual, but he was so not understanding the interpersonal dynamics here. Unfortunately, Simon looked just as confused as he felt.
"Colonel," Simon said sharply, "since you're the one filing the complaint, you will need to make a statement to a member of IA downtown."
"I don't suppose you'd mind if Murray went along and made sure Sandburg didn't run into any more accidents on the way to the hospital."
Simon sighed. "No one is going to hurt Sandburg. It would be a waste of manpower."
"If I am accompanying Blair Sandburg, I do not believe my time is wasted," Murray suggested.
"Yeah, what he said." O'Neill turned and started walking quickly toward Jim, leaving Simon to either argue about it with Murray or chase after him to keep him and Jim from killing each other. Blair had to give O'Neill credit for being good. The man could manipulate with the best, and Simon ended up chasing after him. He didn't get there before Jim was off the patrol car and shouting in O'Neill's face.
"Can we go now? You are not the only injured person in the city," the paramedic complained. "Hey, Kent, bring the stretcher," he called across the length of the alley. All conversation ended, and Blair felt himself blush dark red as a dozen cops looked at him with expressions that ranged from pity to anger. Yep, some of these guys were definitely not happy with him bringing IA down on Jim's head, and others were ready to convict Jim right here, no trial needed. This was so incredibly screwed up that Blair couldn't even figure out how they were supposed to get out of this one.
"I'm not getting on a fucking stretcher," he snapped as he shoved the paramedic's hands away. Around them, officers started talking again, and Blair didn't even want to think about the rumors that were starting in this alley. Jim was watching from the far side of the ambulance, and now Simon was in his face, pushing him backwards as Jim said something, his face intense.
"You cannot walk on that injury," Murray said, his grip on Blair's arm firm enough that Blair couldn't push him away.
"Fuck that. This wouldn’t even be a problem if you and your buddy hadn't screwed things up," Blair lashed out. Yeah, it wasn't exactly fair because Ventriss got most of the blame, with the hired goons coming in a close second, and Jim and his need for an attitude transplant at a distant third, but he wasn't feeling like being fair right now. He felt like throwing an old-fashioned hissy fit, and as bad as his fucking day had gone, he was entitled.
"I do not wish for you to injure yourself. What compromise do you suggest?" Murray asked. He loosened his grip on Blair's arm, and Blair looked at him suspiciously. Murray gave another strange tilt of the head and took a step backwards, tucking his hands behind him military style.
"I'm not riding a stretcher and taking an ambulance to the hospital for a sprained ankle," Blair insisted. Murray just continued to watch him, offering no comment. The lack of verbal or non-verbal backchannel communication was actually a little disturbing. Wherever Murray was from, he seriously did not have access to contact with the outside world very often.
"Maybe one of the officers can give me a ride since Jim can't," Blair offered as a compromise. Murray tilted his head in agreement.
"Are you using the bus or not? I can't stand here all day," the paramedic complained.
"I'm not," Blair said firmly. "Just give me the release forms, and I'll get my own ride to the hospital." He didn't add that this was stupid and that Jim's bag of frozen peas would probably help as much as a doctor. The paramedic handed over a clipboard with the release paper, and Blair filled it out as fast as he could—fast enough that Simon wouldn't catch him. He just couldn't afford the emergency room bill, not considering the fact that he was holding onto his job by a thread and from the look on Jim's face, homelessness was a very real possibility.
The paramedic took the filled out paper and turned to Murray. "That ankle might have a fracture. Do not let him ignore it."
"I shall not," Murray agreed.
"Fucking mother hens," Blair complained softly, searching the patrol officers' faces for a friendly one. "Hey, Carlson!" he called, waving to an officer on the far side of the sea of cop cars that were now parked in the small alley behind the loft. Damn. Every cop in the fucking precinct was out here watching the cop of the year get busted for beating up his partner. Blair flinched at the idea of coming home to Jim tonight. He was going to be so very pissed. Blair figured there was a better than fifty-fifty chance that he was going to be homeless by the end of the night, and he started mentally figuring which friends would let him crash on the couch. The list was depressingly short.
"Are you okay, Sandburg?" Carlson asked as he came over. He was a young guy, with marks on his ear where he'd only recently given up wearing a half-dozen earrings at once. The other guys ribbed him a lot.
"Yeah, I'm fine. This is all one big misunderstanding. Look, do you think you could give me a ride over to the student clinic at Rainier?"
Carlson looked over to where Simon and Jim were still arguing with these tightly controlled, jerky hand gestures. "Aren't you going to ride with Ellison?"
"No way. By the time Banks gets done with him, I don't want to be anywhere near either of them," Blair joked lightly. Murray's eyebrow rose, and Blair could see his confusion over Blair's obfuscation, but if Carlson hadn't heard the rumors yet, Blair so did not want to get into it. He just wanted to get a clean bill of health and then find a quiet corner to hide until the fallout actually finished falling out.
"I can see why. I need to okay it with my sergeant."
"Could you ask?" Blair gave the man his best pleading expression, and Carlson smiled.
"Yeah, just a second." Carlson turned and trotted toward an older man in a uniform.
"You did not inform him that Ellison is suspected of causing your injury." From anyone else, that statement would have been an accusation, but Murray said the words as a mere statement of fact. Blair narrowed his eyes and truly studied the man. Had O'Neill arranged this so that the Air Force's Sentinel could get close to him? But the behaviors Blair was seeing just didn't seem to add up to Sentinel. Murray wasn't struggling with his senses or angry. If anything, Blair would call him unusually calm—someone who would fit in at one of his mother's retreats more than with the Air Force.
"Man, I do not want to get into that explanation. I do not have the energy to try and explain this again," Blair snorted. "With my luck, I'll just stick my foot in my mouth and say the wrong thing anyway."
Murray tipped his head, but he didn't comment at Carlson came back, giving Blair a thumbs-up gesture. Great, one problem down and only about a million more to try and figure out.
6. Chapter Six
"Bless you and three generations of your children," Blair said as he closed his hands around the cup. It was the first decent thing to happen to him today.
"Would you like some?" She offered the second cup to Blair's large and silent shadow.
"No, thank you," Murray said with that tilt of his head that Blair was coming to associate with politeness or perhaps just a recognition of the other person's good intentions. His body language was fascinating, almost more tribal than industrial or even pre-industrial, and very few places in Africa were remote enough to qualify for that distinction. Blair shoved the thought to the side for now because he had way more immediate concerns. Darla set the second cup on the small counter.
She leaned over with a conspiratorial smile, and for a half second, Blair thought he was about to get propositioned. He and Darla had certainly been sexually compatible during their short-lived relationship, so it wasn't all that impossible. "Your partner tracked you down and wants to talk," she said as she pressed a cell phone into his hand. "You are such a cutie, even if you do look like an extra in a prison show right now," she offered in a slightly louder voice, her fingers lingering over his cheek. "I'll get you a brace and some crutches, and you can go get washed up in the bathroom." Darla busied herself with Blair's ankle, and Blair was left hiding the open phone in his lap. He had no idea why he had to hide the fact that he was getting a call from Jim.
"Oh man, the bathroom sounds great," Blair said as he slipped the phone into his shirt and prayed that he didn't accidentally switch it off. As much trouble as he and Jim were having, Blair didn't think hanging up on him would go into the good column.
"You just need to not do anything stupid for a while," Darla told him as she sat on a stool at his feet and started strapping his ankle into a heavy brace. "Of course, that may be difficult for you."
"Har, har," Blair said with a roll of his eyes.
"You need a keeper. Seriously, Blair, do not go and screw your ankle up. You know, a serious sprain can require surgery, and you hate surgery. So take care of this."
"I hear you," Blair nodded.
Darla glared up at him. "Oh no, that's the tone you use when you plan on ignoring everything I've just said, Blair Sandburg."
Blair blinked down at her in surprise.
"And that's the look that is supposed to make me forget that you never listen to anything I say, and that look works better without the black eye." Darla crossed her arms and pinned him with an unhappy look. Funny, even though she was sitting on the stool at his feet, he still had the impression she was glaring down at him.
Blair held his hands up in surrender. "I'll take care of it. Promise," he offered. He and Darla had dated for about three days, and even in that time, he had learned that she really wasn't one to cross... not unless you really enjoyed extreme sports like skiing down black flag rated slopes and dodging teapots thrown at your head at near-lethal speeds. He'd never seen that side of her, but he'd heard some stories.
"I shall ensure that he cares for his physical needs if you will entrust any instructions to me," Murray offered. Blair rolled his eyes again. Despite his hair and his lack of height, he was a grown man and he truly didn't need to be taken care of. He hadn't since he was sixteen. And yet, he was nearly thirty and he had more mother hens in his life than he could shake a stick at. He had some seriously baggage a past life, that's for sure.
Not surprisingly, Darla smiled at Murray. "Keep the walking to a minimum, make sure the brace is on anytime he's out of bed, but it shouldn't be tight enough to leave marks on the skin. At home, keep the leg elevated and an ice pack will help with the swelling. I can write a prescription for anti-inflammatory medicine if you think you can get him to take it."
"I can." Murray tilted his head, and Darla gave him a conspiratorial smile.
"I can take care of myself," Blair complained softly.
"Of course you can," Darla agreed as she pressed the last Velcro strap over the brace and stood up. "Now let me help steady you on the crutches," she said as she reached over to the wall and grabbed a pair of silver crutches. Blair snatched from her, but when he stood, only her hands on his waist kept him upright as he struggled for balance.
"Whoa. This was so easier last time I did it."
"Were you just recovering from pneumonia last time?" Darla asked sweetly. The only problem was that Darla didn't do sweet.
"Nag, nag," Blair said softly as he navigated toward the door out to the hall. Unfortunately, Murray moved with him. If Jim was trying to hide their contact, he couldn't exactly go pulling the phone out in front of Murray.
"Hey, do you mind going out and finding some food? Something that isn't the crap you find in the vending machines here. Something that I can still recognize as having grown in the actual ground. No way can they call a sandwich sealed in plastic actual food. That's more like torture for the stomach."
"There's a shop just on the other side of Harper Hall," Darla said, gesturing toward the north. Murray tilted his head at them.
"I can pay," Blair said, reaching for his wallet, which led to Darla grabbing for him as he fumbled with one of his crutches.
"I do not require currency." Murray took a step backwards, and for one second, Blair was afraid that he wasn't going to take the bait. "I shall return quickly." He turned and walked down the hall without any other comment.
"Tall, dark, and laconic." Darla gave a little huff of laughter.
"No joke. He is totally not into idiomatic English and non-verbal communication," Blair agreed as he reached for the phone. "Jim?"
"Chief, are you okay?"
Blair smiled at the concern in Jim's voice, but Darla plucked the phone out of his hand before he could answer. "Blair will be with you as soon as he sits his ass on a chair before he falls on it," she told Jim even as she gave Blair a firm stare.
"You would make one hell of an Amazon," Blair complained, but he limped his way two feet to a chair sitting in the middle of the hall and then held his hand out, demanding the phone. She gave it to him and then headed down the hall so he had a little privacy.
"Nurse Ratched is gone now," Blair said into the phone.
"Chief, are you okay?" Jim repeated.
"Man, I'm fine. I just twisted my ankle. When IA calls, I'm going to..."
"Blair!" Jim cut him off with the barked word, but Blair could hear a scuffling on the far end of the phone.
"Hey, how ya doing, Sandy?" Megan's voice came over the phone, sounding concerned.
"Megan? I'm fine. Where's Jim?"
"He's right here, and he's fine. Well, he's as fine as he usually is, but I'm more worried about you, mate."
"Seriously, I'm fine. Look, Megan, I appreciate the concern, but I really need to talk to Jim."
Blair heard another shuffling, but this time, Megan's voice came through like a faint ghost. Blair was guessing she had her hand over the mouthpiece. "Play nice or I'll make you sorrier than IA could dream of, Ellison." Blair waited for the explosion, but Jim didn't answer.
"Blair, when IA calls, just keep to the facts. Blowing up isn't going to help anything," Jim said. Blair frowned at the weariness he could hear in Jim's voice.
"Oh man, how bad is it?" Blair asked softly. Jim's sigh was all the answer he needed. "Fuck. I'm going to kill O'Neill," Blair vowed. It might not be good on his karma, but right now, killing the guy seemed like a pretty good idea.
"Blair, I have no idea whether O'Neill is acting in good faith or not—"
"Good faith?" Blair nearly squeaked. "I can answer that. He's a manipulative, son-of-a bitch who needs a good swift kick in the ass."
"Blair." Jim stopped, and the silence that followed weirded Blair out about as bad as anything else on this truly crappy day. "Blair, I was out of line."
"You've been a dick lately, but it's not like I've been a joy to be around," Blair agreed.
"Sandburg, just shut up and listen for two seconds." Jim's words were cut off by more scuffling on the far end of the phone, and Blair could just imagine Megan giving him shit. The phone went dead for a second, and then Jim was back. "Blair, please let me say this. I might have been out of line back there. From the colonel's point of view, things might have looked bad. We can't assume he has other motives."
Blair narrowed his eyes and wished that Jim was here so Blair could look him in the eye. Jim had been the one assuming that O'Neill was playing some sort of covert ops game, and now he was definitely singing a different tune. Blair was all in favor of change. He was the quintessence of change. But Jim... Jim did not change. Once he made up his mind, he was more the sort who just closed his eyes and pushed his way straight through the middle. "So, you think he's just stupid and arrogant?" Blair asked.
That made Jim snort his amusement. "Maybe." Then the silence returned. "Blair, from his point of view, you were badly hurt, and I was the only one in that alley."
"We don't have evidence against him, Blair. Let's not borrow trouble here."
"Oh, so just because the Ventriss family has money, we're going to bend over backwards to—"
"Yes, we are," Jim snapped. "Try it and I'll be taking you to the hospital with broken fingers," Jim snarled, and for a half-second, Blair thought Jim was threatening him. The angry retort he could barely hear on the other end of the phone suggested that Megan had been the target of that threat, though. "Blair, things are difficult right now. If IA believes O'Neill, I'm guilty of domestic abuse. If they believe me, I'm guilty of malfeasance or possibly just stupidity. A civilian was attacked by someone using a deadly weapon, and I didn't call it in."
"Oh fuck," Blair breathed as he realized just how much shit Jim was in. He could lose his job over this, even if Blair told the truth. "You would have called it in if we hadn't been interrupted by O'Neill," Blair quickly added as he tried to think his way through this problem.
"Would I?" Jim asked, and instead of sounding challenging or angry, Jim just sounded weary.
"Totally. Man, I know you. You would have filled out the report the second we got back to the station," Blair said firmly. And again, that silence crept into the corners of the conversation.
"Maybe," Jim finally admitted. "It doesn't matter now. Look, I can't have contact with you right now, and I don't think Megan is going to volunteer her cell phone again anytime soon..."
Blair could hear her saying something in response to that, but all he could hear was the general tone, and she didn't sound happy.
"I wanted to say that I didn't mean for you to get hurt," Jim said quickly, but Blair could just imagine how much it bothered Jim to spit out that apology.
"No harm no foul," Blair quickly assured him. He then flinched as he looked at his ankle wrapped in the large, bulky brace. Okay, minimal harm.
"If O'Neill is on the up and up, he's going to try and get me booted from the force. At best, I'm looking at a suspension. But if he's not on the up and up..." Jim stopped for a second, and Blair could hear muffled sounds as Jim and Megan exchanged words. He hated not being there. He needed to see their faces to judge what they were really thinking, and a phone was a sorry substitute for true communication. After several seconds, Jim returned, his voice low and serious. "Chief, if O'Neill takes you into custody, don't fight him. Just tell him to contact me. I won't make trouble."
"Just... Chief, just don't get your mouth running when you don't have the ability to back it up, okay?"
"So, you think I’m a wimp?" Blair demanded.
"I think Colonel O'Neill has worked out of the Defense Intelligence Center in Langley. The information I have is sketchy, but from the stories I've been able to put together, he was a Lieutenant Colonel working Special Operations when he survived enemy capture and escaped on his own. He specialized as a Master Parachutist who worked behind enemy lines and has awards for courage under fire and completing a mission after being wounded. Even after calling in every military favor I have left, nearly his entire record is blacked out. I do know he has a Master's degree in Military Strategic Studies, and he's worked in satellite command, covert ops, and surveillance. His name set off red flags all over the system, and Kelso won't even talk about him except to tell me that I need to not get on his bad side, and I think it's a little too late for that. Chief, O'Neill is not a pencil pusher and I think *I'm* out of my league going up against him. I won't have you hurt getting between him and whatever the hell he's in Cascade to get."
"Oh fuck." Blair could feel his guts clench up as he tried to reconcile that resume against the gray-haired man with the dry sense of humor. They were so incredibly and totally screwed.
"What if he just wants to find his friend's friend?"
"Then we keep our heads down and survive this storm," Jim said seriously. "Chief, IA is going to figure out which hospital you went to soon enough. We really shouldn't be on the phone when they show up. Simon's ass is in a sling already because he refused to put me in an interrogation room while they tracked down witnesses. We can't make it worse for him."
Blair swallowed. "An interrogation room?"
"Let me handle this, Chief. I'll be fine."
That was a blatant lie. Blair could hear the stress in Jim's voice, but there was precious little he could do about it from here. If Blair had to guess, he would say that Jim was already on administrative leave, meaning Simon had taken his gun and badge. If they were talking about keeping in an interrogation room, that meant IA wanted him booked. They might have already forced Simon to book Jim and he was just out on his own recognizance. Maybe he was calling from jail. Fuck and fuck. Jim used the job to channel his frustrations, and this was so not the time for the fucking IA department to take that away from him. "Try the meditation routine. My candles are behind the chair."
"I'll be fine, Sandburg," Jim said, and some of the cranky was back. God forbid Blair suggest that Jim wasn't a fucking Superman. Blair sighed, and he knew Jim would hear that too.
"Call if something happens."
"I'll find a way to," Jim promised. "Take care, Chief." Before Blair could answer, the phone went dead, and Blair was left sitting in the clinic hallway wondering just what the hell he was supposed to do now. IA was coming to talk to him, and he had no idea what exactly Jim had told them on his end. Blair scrubbed his face with both hands before leaning over so his elbows rested on his knees and his face rested on his hands. Life just kept getting better. After the whole getting dead business, he had expected some sort of euphoria, a period of extreme joy as every pleasure reminded him that he hadn't actually died in that fountain with Alex's hands around his neck. Instead, he just found himself more and more weary.
"You ready to try to make it to the bathroom?" Blair looked up and Darla was standing there with a compassionate look.
"Totally," Blair agreed. He held up the phone and she silently took it.
"Babe, you have looked better. I hope that Murray plans to take care of you a little better than Ellison has been. I'm betting you didn't even take the full course of medicine."
"I took the antibiotics," Blair told her as he got his one good foot under him and used his crutches to pull himself up.
"And the pain pills? The muscle relaxers to help with the cough that was keeping you up, the pills to help you sleep?"
"A glass of warm milk works just as well." Blair could have talked all about tryptophan and melatonin and healthy sleep, he was just too tired.
She snorted. "Then why do you look like the walking dead?"
"Because a guy with a baseball bat kicked my ass," Blair quickly answered. Darla didn't look convinced, but she didn't argue as she helped him into the clinic bathroom. Blair felt scummy after clinging to the dumpster, so when Darla moved a chair to right in front of the sink, he happily sat and focused on cleaning up his hands and face instead of worrying about what he was supposed to do with the rest of his life.
"That's me," Blair said, pasting a smile on his face as he tried to figure out exactly what he was supposed to say now. A dozen plans darted through his mind, but a good half ended up with Jim kicked off the force and/or looking for a lawyer, and the really shitty thing was that a little voice in Blair's head whispered that he deserved it. Blair had died. Blair had laid in the fucking water and died, and Jim had the nerve to bring him back and then leave him floundering like a fish—although fish might not be the best metaphor under the circumstances.
"I need to ask you a couple of things about this afternoon," the dweeb said with a smile that was meant to put Blair at ease. He held his hand out. "I'm Detective Laurencin. Bruce."
Blair shook Bruce's hand and tried to not look like he was panicking. Sometimes he could pull off obfuscations that would make the Great Pretender look like an amateur, but other times... not so much. "You already know I'm Blair. I'm actually just waiting for my ride to show up, so ask away, man." Blair tried for a casual sort of air, but Bruce gave him a sharp look before he schooled his features into something more friendly. Blair wasn't sure how he did it, but he was fairly sure Simon had gotten the most incompetent boob in IA assigned to the case.
"Your ride? Detective Ellison?" Bruce's voice had that overly-casual tone that meant something big was up. Shit. Jim probably was in a cell. Yeah, he'd been a first-class dick, but no way was Blair going to give these assholes any ammunition against Jim. Bruce was about to go down in flames without so much as a hint of glory.
"After this afternoon? No way." Blair shook his head with a look of exaggerated horror. "Whatever issues Ellison and O'Neill have, I plan to stay far, far away. I thought archeologists were nasty with their feuds, but these covert ops guys take grudges way too far, if you know what I mean," Blair snorted. Stretching, he reached for the Kleenex on the small counter. He couldn't quite make it without standing up, so Bruce quickly came into the room and grabbed the box, offering one to Blair.
"Thanks, man." Blair blew his nose and waited for the seeds of doubt to do their work.
"So, O'Neill and Ellison have a history?" Bruce leaned against the counter and tried to look non-threatening.
"How the hell would I know? You'd have to pull both their military records to figure that out because no one is telling me anything. I'm doing my dissertation on closed communities, and I would love it if Jim gave me something on military culture and communities, but any time I mention his time in the Rangers, he goes mute on me. But when O'Neill showed up..." Blair whistled to indicate just how explosive that had been.
"At the station? They were in a confrontation in Major Crimes?" Bruce was scribbling in his little notebook.
"Oh man, I thought Jim was going to explode when he had to help O'Neill, and O'Neill kept making all these little references about how they'd worked together and how cops are nothing more than glorified meter maids." Blair paused, and sure enough, Bruce's gaze came up at that. Yep, all cops had two buttons guaranteed to cause total emotional meltdown: donut references and suggestions they were meter maids. Blair snorted again. "Jim and this O'Neill were in a pissing match from the first time I saw them, but does Ellison tell me shit? Oh no. No, he's going to handle O'Neill all on his own. I just get an order to steer clear, and then Ellison is off growling at O'Neill in private. Man, either they have history, or those are the two crankiest men on the face of the fucking planet."
Blair paused for a second. He knew for a fact that he couldn't defend Jim. If he did, everything he said would be tainted by the assumption that he was covering. "Then again, Ellison is one of the crankiest men on the planet, so... who knows." Blair shrugged and blew his nose again. Sadly, he wasn't even obfuscating on that front. Jim used to have this wicked, sarcastic sense of humor that would make Blair just about bust a gut laughing, but lately, the man had turned into this weird, serious, asshole version of himself. If Blair had met this current version of Jim Ellison first, dissertation or not, he would have told the guy to go fuck himself. He then would have been arrested for jaywalking or something because Jim version 2.0 did not have patience or a sense of humor.
Blair coughed, and that set off a long string of heavy coughing that brought Darla to the door. "Blair? Did you take that pill?" She crossed her arms.
"Yes, I took the pill. Geez, it's just a cough," Blair said with an eyeroll.
"I'm going to see if someone can cover for me so I can drive you home now," she said firmly before turning around and disappearing.
"Darla! You don't have to do that!" Blair sighed when he didn't get any answer.
"She's driving you home?" Bruce asked.
"Man, you sleep with a woman once, and she suddenly thinks she has a right to tell you what pills to take." Blair closed his eyes and leaned back. He hated not being able to see how his words affected Bruce, but this was delicate lying here. He had to debunk O'Neill's story without looking like he cared about O'Neill's story. And that meant that he had to look like he didn't care what Bruce thought of his heterosexuality. At least, Bruce would assume that Darla was proof of heterosexuality because people just did not want to recognize bisexuality or asexuality as legitimate orientations. They just divided the world into straight and gay, and Blair needed Bruce to make certain assumptions.
Bruce cleared his throat. "So, how long ago did you and Darla date?"
"Three or four months." Blair opened one eye and looked at Bruce. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Obviously, Bruce was buying Blair's stupid act. "Just curiosity." He smiled at Blair.
"Man, unless you have insurance, just do not go there," Blair advised him. "She's dangerous and has access to a large number of sharp implements."
"Is there bad blood between you?"
"No way. I have heard Darla's reputation, so I was a paragon of faithfulness when we dated. Actually, she reminds me a whole lot of Sam, you know in forensics?"
"At the station?" Bruce frowned.
"Totally. Now that is a dangerous woman. I forgot her birthday once... just once... she nearly took my eyebrows off with one of her experiments. 'Blair, just bend a little closer here,'" he mimicked her voice. "She is freaky scary. But you know, looking at my dating life, I have a pattern of scary women. A psychologist would probably call it an Oedipal complex or something because my mom, Naomi—now that is a woman who does not take shit from anyone. Even Simon begs me to keep her out of the squad room because she is seriously scary. She steps on toes all over the place, if you know what I mean." Blair nodded, and he was more than a little pleased to notice that Bruce looked ready to run for the hills. Yep, the very mention of Oedipus pretty much sent men running.
"So, this afternoon," Bruce quickly changed the subject.
A shadow appeared in the door of the exam room, and Bruce quickly shifted his focus toward the newest person in the room.
"Murray, how goes the mighty hunt for snacks?" Blair called out. Murray's eyebrow rose, but he simply held out a plastic grocery sack with a fern-like, bright green top sticking out of the top.
"It went well."
"Cool." Blair opened the sack and looked at the contents. Two apples, two oranges, a potato, a tomato, and a fennel root. Fennel root. Who the hell bought potatoes and fennel when they were asked to pick up snacks? Okay, some of Naomi's friends might, but Murray did not look like he was the kind to talk about the magical healing properties of root vegetables.
"That's a snack?" Bruce asked as he leaned over and tried to look in the bag.
Bruce was now looking from one to the other curiously, and Blair silently cursed as he tried to figure out how to bend this to fit into the picture he was trying to paint for the man. Murray being here didn't exactly fit the whole image of O'Neill having a grudge against Jim. Murray and fennel root was a combination he really didn't quite know how to weave into the lie he was building here.
"Man, fennel root is full of vitamins. Nurse Ratched out there may want me to take pills, but a few root vegetables can do way more good for a person than all the pills in the world," Blair said cheerfully as he pulled off a bunch of the lacy greens and shoved them in his mouth. Murray didn't look surprised at all, but Bruce... Bruce looked like he was either grossed out or considering calling in the folks with the white coats. Blair smiled and pulled off more fennel before popping it in his mouth, and Bruce decided to focus on Murray.
"I'm Detective Bruce Laurencin. Are you a friend of Blair's?"
Murray blinked without answering. Then again, the world 'friend' had a whole lot of connotations that were difficult to translate culturally, so the man might not know how to answer.
"O'Neill sent him along, and I'm pretty sure he's just hanging out here to annoy the shit out of Jim if he shows up here," Blair answered for him.
"O'Neill? You're a friend of O'Neill?"
Murray tilted his head for a second. "I am."
"Wait, you're the fourth witness. Murray Small, right?" Bruce flipped through his little notebook.
Small? Blair mouthed the name to Murray, a questioning look on his face, but Murray was busy having absolutely no facial expression at all. The man had a poker face that would make Jim jealous.
"I'll need to interview you later, so I'm going to have to ask that you wait outside." Bruce finally looked up from his notebook.
"I must decline." Murray took a position at the side of the door and crossed his arms. Blair hid a smile behind his fennel because Bruce obviously hadn't been expecting that answer.
"This is police business," Bruce said sharply. Murray continued to just gaze at the man. This was better than cable. Bruce glared at Murray, but the big guy was definitely not picking up on the non-verbal signals. Well, either that or Murray seriously did not care that he was pissing off the cop. "You cannot stand there during my interview."
"On the contrary, I find standing quite easy," Murray offered, and Blair choked on a laugh that he almost didn't catch in time. Bruce spared him a quick and nasty look before he focused on Murray again.
"I'm going to have to ask you to wait outside. Since you were present at the conflict this afternoon, I'll need to interview you later."
Blair watched as Bruce just about twitched. Of course, Jim would have been twitching and slamming Murray into the nearest wall by this time, so Bruce was actually doing pretty well, all things considered.
"You will leave." Bruce stepped forward and grabbed Murray's arm, yanking so hard that Blair thought he might lose his balance. And the really amusing thing was that Murray didn't even move an inch. It was like watching a Chihuahua try to play tug of war with a St. Bernard. "Sir, if you do not leave, I will arrest you for interfering in an official investigation." Bruce backed off a couple of steps, but Blair could almost feel the aggression swirling around the room.
"Whoa, hey, no need to tank any careers here," Blair quickly said. He just wished he could get up and get between them, but he kept coughing, and coughing plus crutches was so not the best combination. Bruce totally ignored him. Murray at least glanced over with that one-eyebrow twitch that requested more information. "I mean, come on. You can't seriously think his name is Murray Small. He isn't even American, and do the words 'diplomatic immunity' mean anything to you? How about the words 'flushing' and 'career' or the phrase 'pissed off commissioner'? Seriously, do not go there."
"Diplomatic immunity?" Bruce backed off so that he could keep his eyes on Murray while sparing Blair a confused look. "He told you he has diplomatic immunity?"
"No fucking way," Blair quickly answered. "I mean, he's one of O'Neill's buddies, and O'Neill isn't saying shit. But O'Neill is some big covert ops type, Murray here is from Africa, and neither one of them want anyone to know Murray's real name. As a trained anthropologist, I make observations and draw conclusions. In my professional opinion, O'Neill has a pretty big interest in making sure that no one even knows Murray is here. Man, alarm bells should be going off. I can name a dozen African countries on the verge of civil war and some of those governments would not be amused to know that the U.S. military is offering training to people more friendly to U.S interests, if you catch my drift. And that means O'Neill is going to protect Murray's identity, even if he has to ruin your reputation to do it. O'Neill is..." Blair held up his hands to show that he would not tangle with O'Neill.
Bruce was now looking fairly panicked. Blair hated giving the guy a heart attack—he was only doing his job. However, Blair was ninety percent sure he wasn't lying about Murray, and the rest... well, that was between him and Jim. He sure as hell didn't need rescuing.
"So, Murray, if Bruce arrested you, how long would it be before the State Department pulled you out?" Blair asked. Yeah, Murray would deny it, but that would just play into Blair's hand.
"I do not believe the State Department would retrieve me. I believe that either the Secretary of the Air Force or the President would." Murray tilted his head forward, and that was almost a smile on his lips. Almost. Blair looked at the man, wondering if he was playing along.
"The President?" Bruce cleared his throat. "I don't care who you are, you cannot be present when I am interviewing a witness."
Blair gave the man credit for having balls. He almost sounded like he meant that, but Blair figured the guy would take any out he could get at this point.
"Man, there's nothing to interview me about. I got attacked. Before Jim could call it in, O'Neill shows up and makes a crack about Jim needing to write more parking tickets. So not cool. O'Neill is an asshole, and two assholes cannot occupy the same space at the same time, so Jim starts getting pissy right back. Jim tried to get us out of the alley and into a more public space, and I do not even want to guess why. Man, if he doesn't trust O'Neill enough to be alone with him, then I am right there with him. We tried to leave, my ankle gave out, O'Neill got even pissier, Jim got even pissier than O'Neill, and the next thing I know, Murray here tossed Jim aside, and O'Neill had a weapon on him before he could recover. Interview over."
"So, O'Neill instigated the confrontation?" Bruce asked. Yep, the man was ready to run for the hills.
"I think O'Neill and Jim pretty much instigated each other. But the way O'Neill kept accusing Jim of being the one who hit me after all the vague references to their past? Man, I was so not surprised when Jim blew. And the shitty thing is that he's not going to tell me squat about what's really going on because it's all this covert crap he never talks about. He's a decorated officer, but he hasn't kept a single medal or reminder of his military days. He doesn't keep in touch with any of his army buddies, and when O'Neill started talking about some fort where they were stationed together, I really though Jim was going to punch someone, right there in the middle of the station." Blair didn't mention that it was Murray Jim seemed more likely to punch.
"So, you think this is personal?" Bruce was already eyeing the door. He'd probably be edging toward it if Murray wasn't standing there like some sort of bodyguard... or some sort of statue. It was freaky how still the man could be—almost like he was meditating, even though he was watching the conversation intensely.
"Think about it," Blair held up a finger. "Colonel O'Neill is this big muckity muck in covert ops, and he has his own team to track down leads. But the first thing he does in Cascade is track down Jim, who just happens to be retired covert ops. Stop number two is Jack Kelso, former CIA. Man, maybe I'm just way too into conspiracy theories, but my Spidey sense is tingling. I don't know what this is, and good luck getting anyone to talk. Actually, they may talk lots, but good luck figuring out the truth from the lies," Blair added after a second of thought. He took another bite of fennel greens. They actually weren't bad. A little sweet, but not bad.
"And do you have anything to add?" Bruce asked Murray. Blair knew police procedure well enough to know that anything Murray said now was next-to-useless. He'd sat in on another witness' statement, and that tainted anything he said. On the other hand, Blair almost sympathized with Bruce, who was trying to save some face.
"I do not," Murray said with a smile that actually looked a little creepy, like he was about to snarl or something. Bruce snapped his notebook shut and headed out the door without even leaving a card behind. Yep, the guy was freaked.
Blair sighed. One disaster averted... probably. The room was silent, and Blair seriously hoped that Darla found someone to cover for her because he felt like a limp dishrag. His dissertation, his job, his work at the station, his friendship with Jim... it all felt like it was on the verge of going up in flames, and he didn't know how long he could keep everything together. He was just so tired.
"You implied untruths," Murray commented eventually, his low voice so soft it barely disturbed the silence.
"Well, yeah," Blair answered. "People look for reasons, for motive. Man, you can have all the evidence in the world, but the human mind wants a story that makes all the pieces fit. I just gave Bruce a story that the piece might fit into."
"By suggesting a history of animosity between O'Neill and Ellison."
"Yep," Blair agreed. "Two guys holding a grudge, now that's a familiar story. Way more familiar and believable than whatever we have going on here."
Murray tilted his head to the side. "What do we have going on here?"
Blair pushed himself up a bit on the chair and studied Murray. "I'll be damned if I know. Man, I'm getting a headache just trying to figure out what kind of shit is hitting the fan with all this. I don't even know what direction to duck in any more." Blair closed his eyes and tried to will away the gathering headache. He almost wished Bruce was back because that gave him something to focus on. Weaving half-truths for the IA detective didn't leave him enough time to worry about whatever shit was going on for real.
"O'Neill holds no animosity toward you," Murray offered. Blair opened his eyes to find that he'd taken a step closer.
"I'm just collateral damage, got it," Blair agreed. Murray tilted his head to the side, and looked like he was struggling to construct a response to that. English definitely wasn't his first language. "Man, it's fine. I get it. I signed up for this shit when I started tagging along with Jim."
"One does not consent to abuse," Murray said softly.
"Oh man, do not start. Jim did not hit me. Seriously."
"He did not take your injuries seriously. He implied that your own sexual choices precipitated and warranted such violence." Murray said the words softly and in such a matter-of-fact tone that Blair's tired mind didn't make the connection right away. Jim had said that he thought Blair's love life had inspired the attack.
Blair sat up straight. "You saw the attack. You saw those three guys."
"There were four men."
"Four? Oh man. Please tell me one was really young, nineteen or twenty, a skinny runt with a narrow face."
"He was," Murray agreed.
"Yes!" Blair jumped up on his good leg and might have lost his balance except Murray darted forward pretty damn fast for such a big man and caught him around the waist. "Thanks, man. I mean, seriously, thank you. We can nail that little bastard for assault with a deadly weapon, even if we can't get him on rape. This... this makes the ankle so worth it."
Murray stared down at him, and Blair felt the joy slowly drain as he looked at Murray's impassive face. "No. No, you can't just let him get away with this," Blair said slowly. "No." Murray still didn't respond, and Blair shoved at the man's arms. "What? Is it because he has money? So, if a person has money, it's okay if they rape some girl and then frighten her into not talking? It's okay for them to blackmail someone?"
"It is not," Murray said firmly. Blair shoved at him again, and Murray slowly backed away.
"I'll have the DA subpoena you." Even as he made the threat, Blair knew that it wasn't going to work, but his other option was to take this lying down. Okay, so he had to sit because his good leg was feeling a little wobbly, but he didn't lie down for anyone.
"You are correct in surmising that your government would not allow me to testify," Murray said, and Blair started calculating the distance his crutch might reach. He had no illusions about actually hurting Murray, but hitting him would feel really, really good right about now. Blair closed his eyes and tried to find some sort of calm. Naomi always said that things happened for a reason, but right now he was having trouble just seeing past his own anger and helplessness, so universal reasons were way past him.
"I do not wish for my actions to cause you additional pain."
"Too fucking late," Blair snapped. "Can you see if Darla is ready to go, because I cannot take any more of this bullshit today."
"I have informed her that you no longer need a ride."
Blair opened his eyes and studied Murray, but the man didn't look like he was joking. "And why would you say that?"
"I shall return you to your housing."
"*You* don't have a car. You rode here with me in the patrol car."
"O'Neill has called. He will be here shortly," Murray informed him.
Blair stared at the man, remembering what Jim had said. Fuck. Fuck and fuck. So, O'Neill was coming, and was probably going to take him into custody. And with Murray standing at the door, Blair did not have much chance of slipping out the back. Hell, after Jim's speech about O'Neill's background, Blair was starting to think they hadn't had a chance since the colonel and his team hit Cascade. God, the universe really hated him. Blair grabbed his fennel and took another bite before he could say something really stupid.
Blair looked up to find Colonel O'Neill standing in the open door to the exam room. "Because Murray bought it for me," he returned, holding up the fennel. O'Neill looked over at Murray for a second.
"He requested food he could recognize as having grown. I recognized that plant."
"Oh." O'Neill left it at that, but Blair started trying to figure out which parts of Africa grew fennel. It wasn't a subject that had ever crossed his mind, but if he could get access to the Internet, maybe he could track down enough information to force O'Neill's hand. "So, kids, who's ready to hit the road?" O'Neill clapped his hands and rubbed them together like a kid getting ready to take off for summer vacation. It seriously did not match the description Jim had given him of a man who had more covert ops training than any ten soldiers should. Blair sighed and grabbed his crutches.
"Let's just get this over with," he said as he struggled up. For a second, confusion flashed across O'Neill's face and he traded looks with Murray, but Blair was not up to trying to decipher their shit. He just swung himself between the crutches and really tried to land one crutch on O'Neill's foot. Unfortunately, the man scrambled backwards to avoid a broken toe. Pity.
"Who pissed in your cornflakes?" O'Neill asked as Blair passed.
"You," Blair answered succinctly. Jim had told him to go along, but Blair sure as hell wasn't going to be nice about it. He navigated into the hallway and headed for the front. These guys weren't exactly the type to slip out the back door, and if they tried, Darla would probably try to stop them. Actually, Blair would give Darla fifty-fifty odds against O'Neill.
"Your friends showed up?" Darla asked, appearing around the corner as though summoned by Blair's thoughts. Yeah, he was sliding off into illogic-land, but the pain pills probably had something to do with that.
"Friends? Not really, but they showed up." Blair leaned his butt against the wall and pushed his crutches in front of him.
"Blair?" Darla took a step toward him with scary look on her face.
"Don't start. Look, Jim knows I'm going with them, so you can just back off the Mother Hen impression. I am a full grown man you know. Coddling is not required."
"I didn't—" she stopped. "Blair, I'm just worried about you, and with your history of trouble, it's not like I don't have a good reason for worry." She stepped close, and for a half second, Blair wondered why he'd broken up with her. He missed her. He missed Sam. He missed having a partner in his bed and having someone to verbally spar with. He missed touching. He reached out and let his fingers trace her shoulder.
"Why didn't we make it?"
"Because you love that job of yours more than me," she answered quickly, but she didn't sound particularly angry about it. She caught his hand in hers. "And because you're a good enough man to not fake it when it's really important. Blair, are you okay?"
"Nope. My ankle hurts, my head is fuzzy, and I'm pissed at so many people I need a dance card to keep them all straight." He looked up and Darla was watching him with dark eyes that searched his face.
"Maybe I should take you home after all."
"No. No, you stay here and intimidate more sick people. Colonel O'Neill will get me... home." Blair waved a vague hand toward the exam room where O'Neill and Murray were still doing whatever the hell they were doing. Planning his kidnapping, probably. And Jim had told him to go along with them. Even crazier, he was going to go along with it just because Jim told him to. He needed to have his head examined.
"Stay here. I can get a ride home without getting beat up again. Seriously, Jim knows I'm going with them, and do you really think Jim would let me go with anyone who didn't pass his Mother Hen test?" Blair asked with a smile that didn't reach any farther than his mouth. He knew he was faking it badly, but he was just too tired.
Darla made an unhappy noise. "His Mother Hen test needs updating," she said. She glanced over, and O'Neill stuck his head out into the hallway, his eyes going to Blair.
"Then how about respecting my choices," Blair suggested as he pushed away from the hall and started swinging his way toward the front doors, using his crutches a little too enthusiastically. Yep, he was going to fall on his ass if he didn't slow down, but he just seriously needed to get away. Darla let him go, but then maybe she was going back to give O'Neill and Murray a good tongue lashing. That would be justice.
By the time he got out to the parking lot, he was alone, so Blair just sat on the hood of one of the cars and tried controlling his breathing. Slow clouds crawled across the gray sky, and Blair wondered why he didn't just up and move to somewhere with the brilliant blue skies he remembered loving when he was young. He and Naomi had stopped in New Mexico for five or six months when he was about ten, and he remembered those blue skies against the red cliffs. He used to pretend he was a native out on a spirit walk. He never found his spirit. Jim had, but then Blair was getting used to coming in second to Jim.
Looking at the doors to the clinic, he willed Murray and O'Neill to just show up so they could get this over with. It was almost insulting. They didn't even think they had to keep an eye on him. Yeah, he couldn't go far on crutches, but if it were Jim, they'd at least respect him enough to think he might escape or pose some sort of threat. Instead, he was left to just stew. Eventually O'Neill came out of the clinic, Murray right behind.
"So, I hear I got cast as the big, bad commander come back to get revenge for some old grudge," O'Neill commented as he passed. The asshole actually looked amused.
"I call 'em like I see 'em."
Murray stopped near him, clearly wanting to offer some sort of help, so Blair got his crutches under him on his own and limped after O'Neill. "It really is your fault I got hurt so I don't feel even a little bit bad about siccing IA on you."
O'Neill looked over with that same amused look, and Blair started calculating distances and wondering if he could get one hit with a crutch in before O'Neill knocked him on his ass. Hanging out with these people was doing serious damage to his calm.
"Sic IA on me if you want." O'Neill shrugged before he pointed at Blair's ankle. "But that is still Ellison's fault."
"Don't even go there. Murray told me you saw the attack, so I'm not buying the bullshit." Blair stopped at the car as O'Neill unlocked the driver's side.
"He did, huh?" O'Neill gave Murray a look, but Murray was the king of poker faces.
Blair snorted. "Yeah, for all the good it does. You people suck, and I do not mean in any sort of sexually amusing way."
Blair had the satisfaction of watching O'Neill fumble with the car door for a second, his surprised eyes on Blair. Well, if O'Neill was that easy to throw, Blair had all kinds of ammunition he could use.
"Get in the car, Sandburg," O'Neill ordered, sliding behind the wheel himself. Blair stood with his hand on the passenger side back door and considered his options for half a second, but he didn't really have any. With an uncharitable thought for O'Neill and a quick wish for the man to come down with a nasty case of sexually transmitted skin rot, Blair pulled the door open.
"I shall hold your crutches," Murray offered, holding out a hand, and Blair handed them over before sliding into the backseat.
"The least you could do is help put Brad Ventriss in jail where he belongs. Unless you're so busy with your own secrets that you don't care about rape and assault. I suppose when you get to be a big, bad colonel, you don't have to give a shit about all the little people you walk on, huh?" Blair took the crutches Murray handed him and propped them on the seat next to him.
"Geez, Sandburg, are you always this annoying?"
"Yes, get used to it," Blair snapped. "So, now that we've established that we both have serious personality issues, why don't we get honest here?" Blair crossed his arms and just dared O'Neill to lie to him. He was in the car, isolated, alone with two armed members of the military, even if he didn't know which military Murray belonged to. They'd even left Sam and Daniel behind, so there wouldn't be anyone to discuss the ethical implications of kidnapping an American citizen.
"What the hell are you talking about, Sandburg? I saw Ellison yanking you around on an injured ankle, and I stepped in to stop him. That's as honest as I get." O'Neill started the car, but Blair could see the way he had adjusted the mirror to keep an eye on the backseat instead of on the road.
"Funny enough, that probably *is* as honest as you get, but we both know that in any sort of objective measure, that's not very honest."
"What is your problem?"
"Short answer—you. Long answer—you." Blair crossed his arms and glared murder at the rearview mirror. He could see O'Neill's jaw tighten, and Blair knew he was about to either get seriously hurt or finally get some truth. It was worth the risk.
At a red light, O'Neill took a deep breath and looked over at Murray for a second before twisting around to look at Blair. "Look, I've met terrorists I've liked more than you, but I'm trying to be polite and make up for the fact that you got hurt because Ellison and I were in a pissing match. So, do you think maybe you could shut up until we get to your apartment?"
Blair narrowed his eyes and looked at the street O'Neill had just turned onto. "And how are you planning on getting to Prospect from thirty-ninth?"
"For crying out loud. We have to make a quick stop unless that offends you so much that you'd rather we make two trips."
"I don't really have any illusions about my preferences mattering," Blair said in the sweetest tone of voice he could manage. Jim hated that. Obviously, O'Neill did too because his hands tightened on the wheel, and he just stared forward, even when the light turned green. The car behind them honked, and O'Neill hit the accelerator hard enough that Blair's crutches thunked into the window before he could catch them. Driving even worse than Jim, O'Neill slammed into a parking lot, and threw the car into park so fast that Blair was thrown forward against the back of Murray's seat. Even Murray had to slap the dash to keep from flying forward, but he didn't comment as O'Neill turned the car off and turned around in his seat.
Blair crossed his arms and braced himself for whatever was going to happen. Yeah, Jim had said to not make trouble, but Blair didn't know any other way to get a little truth out of these two.
"What, exactly, is your problem, Sandburg?" O'Neill demanded.
"You," Blair shot back, using his best 'no duh' voice. Yep, O'Neill was so going to crack under the Sandburg method. O'Neill's jaw was tight, and he exchanged another look with Murray—and from the look, he pretty much wanted to kill Blair.
O'Neill took a deep breath. "Look, Sandburg, you and Ellison have done nothing but give us grief since we've shown up. But since your tip with Kelso paid off, I feel like I owe you something. I've saved your sorry ass from Ellison, I put Ellison on notice at work, and I'm driving you home. So, once we get you home, let's just pretend that we never met and this was all a very unpleasant dream, never to be repeated. Deal?"
"We just go our separate ways?" Blair looked from Murray to O'Neill suspiciously. "I'll never hear from the Air Force again?" Murray didn't let anything show on his face, but O'Neill didn't have nearly as good of a poker face. He flinched. Blair poked his finger at the colonel. "Oh man, I knew it. Yeah, you drop me off and then someone else picks me up, is that the game we're playing? No way. No fucking way. Whatever is going on, I want the cards on the table right now."
"You're a suspicious little shit, aren't you?" O'Neill asked. "Have you ever known such a suspicious little shit?" he asked Murray.
"I believe you are equally suspicious, although I do not have any information on your bodily functions."
Blair laughed and then tried to smother it because this was not a funny situation. "Suspicious or not, you are planning on sending someone after me, so I would rather get the waiting out of the way."
O'Neill stared at him for long seconds, and Blair wasn't sure what was going to happen. A dark little voice in the back of his head whispered that he might have just made things a whole lot worse. Jim had warned him to play nice with these guys, and this did not even approach nice. Maybe the medicine was making him stupid. Then again, maybe he was just fed up with playing nice.
"Your dissertation work is on a classified subject. When I get back to base, I will report that you have unauthorized data. If you're lucky, you'll pass the background check, and an Air Force scientist will approach you about comparing your data to the information already gathered in classified studies. If you don't pass the background check, the Air Force is going to try very hard to pretend you don't exist."
Blair stopped breathing. Of all the answers he'd expected, that one wasn't even on his radar. "My research is classified?"
O'Neill got a look on his face that was a strange cross between disinterest and pure smug. "Heightened senses? You cover story needs work, kid. It didn't take much digging to figure out what you were really doing."
"My cover story?" Blair could feel anger and indignation rise up because it was so much safer to feel that than the terror he felt at the idea that the military had seen through him so easily. "This from the man with the story about Murray Small, the average man." Blair snorted. "Not even."
O'Neill shrugged and turned around to start the car again. "Yeah, well Murray here isn't usually in a position to need a cover story. You, on the other hand, are playing a dangerous game. After listening to Daniel, I thought you were smart enough to cover your tracks better. A bedroom is not a secure area for confidential records."
"You asshole," Blair reached forward and might have hit O'Neill in the back of the head, except Murray caught his wrist in a firm grip.
"You are injured. If you wish to challenge O'Neill, I will teach you moves which he has yet to successfully counter when sparring with me," Murray said calmly, and Blair looked from one to the other in confusion. Was Murray on his side? Hell, at this point, he didn't even know if Jim was on his side, so trying to figure his way out of the interpersonal relationships in this new team was way past his abilities. And the pain pills were making his brain dull.
O'Neill looked at him in the rearview mirror. "I don't hit injured civilians. I don't go shoving them around, either. You may be trying to cast me as the monster here, and maybe that's what has Ellison acting like an ass, but I'm not the bad guy. Ellison, on the other hand, seems to be running for office."
Blair yanked his hand back from Murray. "Look, I know Jim hasn't been the nicest guy lately—"
"Ya think?!" O'Neill interrupted. "If you can't see how far out of line he is, you need to do some reassessing. The cops only took my statement because it was true. Ellison had no right to dismiss your injury and then aggravate it by yanking you around."
"Which he wouldn't have done if you hadn't been there. You and Murray have been setting him off."
"Oh." O'Neill paused. "So, he doesn't ignore you or refuse to investigate potential rapists when we aren't around?" O'Neill gave Blair a sweet smile in the rear view mirror, and Blair could feel all the fire drain out of his arguments. Jim had been doing exactly that when the Air Force guys had shown up. Hell, Jim had left him coughing and cold and tied up on a stone floor while he comforted Alex Barnes. There was nothing like seeing your best friend pick your killer over you. That had actually hurt way more than watching Jim kiss Alex. Of course, it came in second behind watching Jim's slow reaction and lethargy when Alex had pointed a gun at him. For a second, he really thought that Jim was going to let her kill him again.
"Whatever," Blair said wearily. He was too tired and doped up on pain pills to think this whole thing through. He coughed and his stomach protested and threatened to bring up everything he'd eaten in the last day... which meant one algae shake and a bunch of fennel. Now that would make an interesting mess in O'Neill's car.
"I have promised the healer that I will ensure Blair Sandburg takes his medication and rests his foot," Murray said.
"Ya did, huh? Murray, you have a heart too big for your...." He stopped mid-sentence. "If Danny manages to set up a meet to have Elizabeth Canarsee come in, you should be free for babysitting."
"Fuck you," Blair offered from the backseat. Apathy was leeching his anger, though, so it didn't come out with any heat.
"So, Sandburg, do you think you'll pass a background check?" O'Neill asked. Blair eyed the back of the man's head and wondered why no one was mentioning Jim. No way would Blair be the first to bring him into this very bizarre conversation, but he still felt like he was swimming in quicksand.
"No way, man. I've been on more protests than you have missions."
Murray turned and gave him another raised eyebrow.
"My mom and I would protest when the government did something really shitty. We'd walk around with signs telling everyone what fucked up thing the government had done and we tried to embarrass them into not doing it again," Blair clarified.
Murray's eyebrows went up. "You are hi'ato'te?"
Blair mentally filed that word away. Given a word, he should be able to back track Murray's tribe. From the look O'Neill shot Murray, that wasn't lost on the colonel.
"I don't know." Blair shrugged as if he hadn't noticed the importance of the word. "I don't know that word."
Murray tilted his head. "It is one who attempts to get another to walk past a bad choice. It may apply to a mother guiding a child, or in some cases, to individuals attempting to alter the path or decisions of leaders."
"Yeah, I guess so. But man, the government is so not fond of protestors, so whatever background check you're going to do, I'll fail with flying colors. So, once I fail this background check of yours...." Blair studied O'Neill.
"At least I won't have to put up with you and Danny overdosing on geek-speak," O'Neill shrugged. "You aren't the target here. You or Ellison. I came here to find Daniel's crazy friend and go home before anything bad could happen. I obviously hadn't planned for meeting you or Ellison." O'Neill stared in the rearview mirror, and maybe it was the drugs or the weariness or the worry, but Blair found himself wanting to believe the colonel. "If Ellison ever wants to get those senses turned off, that I can help with. Other than that, I'll leave you two alone to live your dysfunctional lives."
"Whatever. Man, we were not dysfunctional until you showed up."
"And here I thought you were some sort of master liar," O'Neill said sarcastically. "You don't even sound like you believe that one."
Blair held up his middle finger as his answer and he leaned back against the seat.
"We have a little time to kill and I need to do a quick job for the Air Force. You know, walk on some little people," O'Neill answered with a smug grin. Blair glared at him, but the colonel didn't seem to care as he pulled into visitor parking. "You coming?" O'Neill turned around in his seat, and Blair could tell that something was up. The man looked way too amused.
"Yes," Blair said, grabbing his crutches. Distant thunder cracked, so hopefully they wouldn't be in there too long. With Blair's luck, it'd rain, he'd slip, and then he'd end up in a full body cast. Then again, in a full body cast, he'd have a good excuse to just hibernate until all this shit had managed to pass. That might be worth it.
"Well, this will be fun," O'Neill said, and he had that child-like look of glee in his face that made Blair wonder if the man wasn't slightly unhinged. Then again, anyone with as much combat experience as Jim had described probably was a little unhinged.
"Blair should not stress his injury," Murray said with a hint of disapproval, but he got out and held the door open for Blair.
"Oh, this will be worth it, T, trust me," O'Neill said. Walking around the car, he slapped Murray's arm. "He's going to enjoy this."
"What am I going to enjoy?" Blair demanded as he got the crutches under him. His better judgment told him he'd be better off staying in the car, but dying of curiosity didn't seem like a good solution.
"Wait and see," O'Neill said as he set off for the front door. Blair followed, Murray at his side. By the time they got inside, O'Neill had already talked his way past the secretary, and he was standing next to an open elevator, a security guard standing at his side. "This way, kids. So, what do you say that after this we go out for ice cream?" O'Neill sounded so damn cheerful that Blair was starting to wonder if the man planned to throw him off the roof of the building or something. Blair watched suspiciously as their escort pressed the button for the top floor.
The elevator didn't stop until it dinged open on the top floor. An older man with graying hair and the same long nose as Brad Ventriss met them in the hall.
"Mr. Ventriss?" O'Neill stepped forward and offered his hand.
"At your service. Colonel O'Neill?" Norman Ventriss smiled at O'Neill, but Blair could see the confusion. O'Neill had on cargo pants and a long sleeved shirt that was a truly obnoxious shade of green. He wasn't looking very authoritative. But then the way he stepped forward and clapped Ventriss on the arm made it very clear that he was in charge here.
"That's what the dog tags say," O'Neill answered cheerfully. Blair had to give the man credit—he was a master of body language. Ventriss' smile turned a little strained, but he lost his smile altogether when he glanced over at Blair. Murray took a half step forward and stepped between them, leaving Blair to wonder if his first assumption about Murray being a Sentinel wasn't right. Either that, or Blair just attracted a frightening number of Mother Hens.
"Colonel. I was surprised to hear someone from the Air Force was visiting. We can use the conference room," Norman Ventriss had all the charm his son didn't, but Blair actually found himself disliking the father even more than the son, and that was really saying something.
They made a strange parade as they all headed into a plush board room with leather chair. Blair aimed for the closest one and sank down. Between the pain pills, the fuzzy head, and the sore arm pits, Blair was already hating his ankle. Murray took a spot right behind him and simply stood.
"What can I do for you?" Ventriss asked as he gestured toward a chair, inviting O'Neill to sit. O'Neill perched on the edge of the table instead. This was definitely not what Blair had expected from a military colonel. Instead of spit and polish, O'Neill was radiating a sort of bored curiosity. He studied the art on the wall for a second as though expecting them to whisper secrets. The only thing they were whispering to Blair was that either they were reproductions or Ventriss just had way too much fucking money.
"You've done a lot of work for the military." O'Neill's voice sounded casual, but the way he suddenly focused on Ventriss totally felt like some sort of trap. Blair squirmed a little just watching it.
"I've always appreciated the work the government has provided. And I look forward to years of mutually beneficial contracts," Ventriss agreed quickly, but he also grabbed the back of one of the chairs. Oh yeah, he knew something was up.
O'Neill returned to studying the walls, and the silence grew tortuous. Finally he looked over at Ventriss with a resigned expression. "I'm afraid that's not going to be possible. The paperwork will follow in the next day or two, but I'm here to inform you in person that your security clearance has been revoked, both personally and the clearance of your company in general."
"What?!" Norman Ventriss lost every bit of color out of his face. "You can't—"
"Ah, but we can. We're the government, and the government pretty much does what it wants," O'Neill said, and that same childlike cheerfulness from earlier was back. Blair made a mental note to tread softly around O'Neill any time he seemed cheerful. He was scary when he was cheerful.
"Does this have something to do with Mr. Sandburg?" He looked fiercely toward Blair, and Blair sat up straight, suddenly a whole lot less tired. "Don't look so surprised that I know who you are. You're that teaching assistant who has a vendetta against my son. Don't think I'm going to take this lying down."
"I don't care how you take it," O'Neill said, and that was definitely a smirk. "And while this may have started with Mr. Sandburg, the federal government does not act on one man's word."
"I was never given any notice of a problem," Ventriss started, but he shut up when O'Neill stood up and took a step toward him.
"You should have known there was a problem," O'Neill said softly. "When you were notified that Mr. Sandburg was filing a complaint against your son, you hired a $500 an hour law firm to handle a case of plagiarism and threatened to pull university funding within earshot of at least three witnesses." That really made Blair sit up. Fuck. No way would the Chancellor stand up to that kind of pressure. His goose was so thoroughly cooked.
"I have a right to defend my family from the slanderous lies of..." Ventriss cut himself off, but his glare left very little to the imagination. Blair just wondered if Ventriss planned to finish that off with bastard, Jew, or fag. Blair knew full well how many irrational reasons people had for hating him.
"So, you believe Mr. Sandburg lied about the plagiarism?" O'Neill asked calmly. "Did he also lie about your son coordinating an attack against him, one that left him in the hospital?"
Ventriss looked like he might throw a blood clot for a second he turned so red. "Of course. My son is a responsible young man, unlike some people who cannot even make it to work on a regular basis. I have already filed a complaint about your rate of absenteeism," Norman Ventriss shouted, poking a finger in Blair's direction. Blair barely contained a groan. Oh yeah, he was so dead at work.
"Blair is working on highly confidential material. I think his word is worth something given his advances in a sensitive field that impacts the lives of front line soldiers." O'Neill crossed his arms and just considered Ventriss. The businessman looked from Blair to O'Neill and back, confusion written all over his face.
"But he's an anthropologist."
"One with a very unique perspective. However, he is only one man. The fact that I witnessed your son driving the men who assaulted Blair is another issue. Now, Blair is angry that I cannot testify in open court given the sensitive nature of my job and my inability to make court dates. However, your son is clearly a significant security threat. More significantly, he's a security threat that you are clearly unwilling to deal with. When your son is willing to commit felonies, I have to ask, what are you willing to sacrifice to cover up for that? At this point, I'm almost ready to believe... " O'Neill shook his head in exaggerated frustration. "What was that woman's name, Murray?"
"Connie Roberts," Murray answered, even though Blair had absolutely no doubt that O'Neill knew the name already.
"Ah yes. I'm ready to believe Mrs. Roberts who says that your son sent her and her family to Argentina for the express purpose of interfering with a police investigation. That your son used your money and your jet to send her to Argentina. The access you have given him is a clear threat to Air Force security. So, with the evidence I've gathered in less than a day, I have enough conclusive proof to pull your security clearance. That means that you are in default on the last two years of the current contract, and you'll need to contact the Secretary of State to arrange the repayment of any advances."
Norman Ventriss' mouth opened and closed several times, like a beached fish, and now Blair really couldn't keep the grin off his face. Oh man, he didn't even care if he got fired because this... this was so totally worth it.
"You have a nice day now," O'Neill said cheerfully as he turned and headed for the door so fast that Blair scrambled to get his crutches under him and follow. Okay, that was a shock. That was more than a shock. That was... that was what Blair had expected Jim to do, only Jim would have created havoc by arresting people instead of yanking government contracts. And this still left Brad on the streets, but it was going to be a whole lot harder for him to be a predator if his father cut him off from the money and power. A whole lot. And now Norman Ventriss was going to have a whole lot less money and power. Damn, too bad he couldn't short sell a few stocks of Questscape. Now if Jim would just follow through on his end and arrest the little shit, all would be perfect with Blair's world.
"Oh man. That... that was a thing of beauty," Blair said quietly once the three of them were safely inside the elevator.
O'Neill smiled. "There are some little people who I really enjoy stepping on. However, I don't make a habit out of stepping on people who don't deserve it."
"Indeed. That man does not deserve the trust others have placed in him," Murray agreed.
"You sing it, brother," Blair agreed enthusiastically. Murray looked down at him with a raised eyebrow. "I'll explain when my head isn't fuzzy with pain pills," Blair promised.
"You must rest yourself."
"Normally, I would argue, but I'm about out of steam here. I'm not even going to complain about you making things difficult at school."
"Geez, Sandburg. Does nothing make you happy?" O'Neill asked as the elevator opened onto the lobby.
"World peace, a really good piece of tongue, and seeing Brad Ventriss in jail for something serious enough to keep him there a while," Blair quickly answered. "But telling Ventriss I'm doing important confidential work for the Air Force? So not cool. Chancellor Edwards is going to be all over me on that one."
"Technically, it's true," O'Neill pointed out. Blair sighed and stopped for a second, rested his bruised underarms as he considered the three steps just outside Questscape's doors.
"Man, do not try to obfuscate with an obfuscator."
"I'm still hoping that you're going to pass that background check."
"Man, so not going to happen, O'Neill. But why would you even want that?"
O'Neill gave him a strange look. "You can call me Jack. And I looked at some of that work you had in your room."
Blair paused on the top step and glared murder at him. The man didn't even have the decency to look embarrassed about his breaking and entering.
"I've been on mission with men whose senses went out of control. If you can find a way to help a soldier in the field control a potentially life-threatening condition, you've got my backing, Sandburg." Suddenly O'Neill didn't look childlike or gleeful.
"You know Sentinels?" Blair rushed down the last two steps as he hurried after O'Neill.
"I know men who've had their sense go out of control. It's not pretty, and it's not safe," O'Neill countered.
"Well, if they don't have someone to guide them through it, of course it isn't. It's like a blind person suddenly being able to see. They'd flinch at every movement because they aren't used to it. Same thing."
"No, it's not the same thing," O'Neill stopped and held a hand up to stop Blair. "We are not having this discussion in the open, but just take my word for it. In the field, these senses are dangerous."
"Ellison is not typical, and quite frankly, that makes me happy. I wouldn't want too many like him around." O'Neill got a sour look on his face before he turned and started heading back to the car.
"You're a riot, O'Neill. Jim's a good cop and a good man."
"He does not appear to be either," Murray contradicted him, and Blair glared at him.
"You are supposed to be on my side, here," Blair hissed. That made Murray tilt his head to the side in obvious confusion. Hobbling after O'Neill, Blair left Murray standing in the parking lot. This was a small victory, and he still had so many battles to fight that he didn't know where to start, but Blair could feel a little spark of hope for the first time in a long time. Oh yeah, Ventriss senior had gone for his throat, and he got gutted instead. Now that was justice.
"You look like you're in a better mood," O'Neill commented.
"One asshole dealt with and only about a dozen more to deal with," Blair said with a saccharine smile that made it pretty clear that he still considered O'Neill one of them.
"You're dangling your preposition," O'Neill commented with exaggerated horror and a sarcastic smile before he got in the front seat of the car. The man was officially strange.