Dark, Still Water
Rated TEEN




10. Chapter Ten

Teal'c sat on the floor across from Ellison's couch staring at three candles that flickered in the dark. He sought kelnoreem. The young man in the next room was finally sleeping, his breathing raspy and wet. In some ways, the man reminded him of Daniel—his intelligence and his ability to understand others. In other ways, he was much like Colonel O'Neill—irascible and manipulative. Both he and his work would be an asset at the SGC.

And yet both O'Neill and Blair Sandburg seemed to believe that he would not be allowed to join their cause because of his actions as hi'ato'te—a protestor. That disturbed Teal'c.

He was used to entire planets or systems of planets uniting under one lord. Sometimes world united in opposition to a lord. Worlds spoke with one voice, and those who publicly voiced dissent were silenced. Teal'c had silenced many of them with his own hand. The staff weapon was designed to burn and kill slowly, so Teal'c had often forgone the weapon in favor of breaking the necks of those who spoke out against Apophis. He had expected no less when he had finally decided to risk death rather than continue to serve false gods.

But then he had come to earth. Teal'c had seen the way in which General Hammond had respected those who spoke words that he did not want to hear. Even though Teal'c had expected a quick death after accompanying O'Neill back through the Chaapa'ai, O'Neill had defended him. And even when General Hammond had doubted Teal'c, he had listened to O'Neill's words of dissent. After years of serving the goa'uld, that had won Teal'c's respect. He had believed that he found a world where opposition was respected. The court system, the political system, everything Teal'c had researched about his new country had led him to believe that to disagree was a right.

But now O'Neill believed that Blair Sandburg would be denied access to information because he had acted against authority, something O'Neill did with great regularity. Sometimes Teal'c truly did not understand human thought, no matter how long he lived on Earth. Then again, perhaps Goa'uld were not the only ones to detest dissention. Perhaps that was the normal state, and those like General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill who respected divergent opinions were the exception. He had seen so little of Earth culture that perhaps he was deceived by their literature, perhaps the stories reflected not their true behaviors but the way they wished to see themselves.

He tried to ignore these thoughts so he could find the peace of kelnoreem. The young cha'til would sleep for a while if the healer spoke truth about the medicine. Slowing his breathing, he freed his mind from the current dilemma. His thoughts wandered back to events of several months ago, the sight of Amaunet pointing a weapon at Daniel Jackson. At first, Teal'c tried to push the image aside, but it persisted. Allowing the familiar events drift through his mind, Teal'c remembered firing the weapon that had taken the life of Daniel's wife along with the symbiote she harbored. He had not shown her the mercy of a broken neck, but instead had used his staff weapon to burn her death into her.

Even knowing that he had acted to save the life of young Daniel, Teal'c could feel the sorrow gathering because he knew how this would change his relationship with Daniel Jackson. The man no long sought out Teal'c's companionship. He distanced himself from both Teal'c and the team. After listening to Daniel speak of his pain to Blair, Teal'c had more reason for wishing that Blair Sandburg would join the program. He had never meant to cause such damage to Daniel, but Daniel had found a friend in Blair Sandburg.

Then Colonel O'Neill had injured Daniel by going undercover and not informing him. Daniel's reaction was not something Teal'c understood. He had struck out at Colonel O'Neill, made cutting comments about how he had not wished to seek out the older man and how he had not minded the team being led by another. It was most confusing. Teal'c understood Jaffa. Had these conflicts come up within a unit he commanded in Apophis' name, he would have a solution. Had he not known how to handle something, he could have turned to Bra'tac. Yet here he did not feel free to take his concerns to the rest of the team. O'Neill could certainly see that Daniel was floundering, and yet he chose not to act. Teal'c could only trust that judgment.

"Man, I would not have pegged you for the meditating type." Blair wandered out of his room, hobbling on one crutch. Teal'c considered retrieving the man's other crutch, but he did not appear to be putting weight on the injured joint. He did, however, cough several times before heading into the small kitchen and pouring himself water. "Then again, you do seem like someone Naomi would hang with." Blair walked over and dropped onto the large chair beside Teal'c, pulling a red blanket around him as he stared at the candles. "Naomi is my mom, and she's very into meditating and being her own person," Blair added.

"I find it restful," Teal'c offered.

"Totally," Blair nodded.

"You should sleep."

"Yeah, but I can't." Blair tucked his feet under him and stared at the candle flame.

"Perhaps another pill..."

"No way," Blair quickly cut him off. "Pills are not going to change the fact that I can't get my own brain straight here. I mean, you're here and Jim is over at Simon's place sleeping on the couch. So not right."

"Perhaps I should leave." Teal'c leaned over to blow the candles out, but Blair put a hand on his shoulder.

"It wouldn't change anything. Jim still wouldn't be here." Blair left his hand on Teal'c shoulder for a second before he pulled it back under the blanket.

"You show him great loyalty." Teal'c was surprised when Blair made a small noise that clearly indicated disgust. Given what he had seen of Blair Sandburg, the man had more loyalty than even a young Jaffa to his tec'ma'te. Teal'c simply waited for clarification because Blair's reaction did not appear rational.

"Man, I betrayed him, and he is not getting over it." Blair said the words with great sadness and in a tone that made it clear that he believed them. Teal'c thought of his own staff weapon ending the life of Daniel's wife.

"Sometimes betrayals are necessitated by life."

"Sometimes they're just a sign that someone is really fucking stupid. So, before I do anything else stupid, I just have to know. Are you a Sentinel?"

Teal'c tilted his head, surprised by the question. "A human with advanced senses? No. I have more acute hearing than most, but I have no behavioral imperatives and my taste and sense of touch are normal."

Blair nodded slowly. His hair was tangled, and dark circles under his eyes made him appear quite unhealthy. "So, no territorial imperative to keep me safe or get between me and Jim?"

Teal'c considered his answer carefully. "I would like to see you removed from Jim Ellison's influence. He is not as careful with your needs as you are with his."

Blair stared at the candles. "Yeah, I think I know that. It wasn't always that way, you know? He took me in after my apartment blew up."

"Blew up?" Teal'c frowned. He had not believed Cascade to be the center of any significant fighting, nor would he expect Blair to be in the middle of any conflict which did break out.

"Drug dealers set up shop next door, and boom!" Blair raised his arms to show the size of the explosion. "Oh man, I lost almost everything in that blast. I would have been homeless if Jim hadn't taken me in and given me a home. Three years. He's put up with my hair in the drains and weird food in the kitchen for three years."

"Is that a hardship?" Teal'c asked. He lived in a facility with hundreds of men, so he could not see how having two men in the apartment would cause difficulties. Before he'd been First Prime of Apophis, he had lived in a dorm in the belly of a Ha'tak. Two hundred and ten men had shared one room and seventy beds. While the Goa'uld lived lavishly, the slaves who served them could only aspire to eventually have a bed of their own on the ship and a small home with a wife who would wait as they spent years in the service of their god. By both counts, Teal'c had been successful. He had slept in a small room off Apophis' own quarters and Drey'auc had spent most of her life waiting for him to return from a war.

"Sometimes I think it is," Blair said softly. "You know, if you were a Sentinel, this would make a lot more sense."

"What would?"

"Your sudden interest in my well-being."

Teal'c frowned at that. "Should I not be concerned about one who has a good heart and suffers?"

"It's just not normal. But then again, maybe in your part of the world, people aren't quite as... you know." Blair shrugged, but Teal'c clearly did not know because Blair Sandburg's words were distressing.

"Shall I call Jim Ellison and request that he return?" If the young one wanted his teacher, Teal'c would request that the man return. Teal'c did not have to approve of Blair Sandburg's choice. As long as Ellison could command Blair's loyalty, he would have a place in Blair's life.

"No way. IA would have a cow if he came back here before getting cleared." Blair sighed. "Maybe I should have gone to a hotel. This is his loft, and it's not fair for him to get locked out."

"You could return with me to our hotel," Teal'c quickly offered. The solution would be ideal. Daniel and O'Neill had made contact with Elizabeth Canarsee, but she refused to meet them until tomorrow. If he could convince Blair to return with him, he could guard their rooms with Sam without failing in his promise to tend to Blair's injury.

"No way. Murray, I actually like you, but I'm just getting to the point where I don't hate O'Neill. Let's not push things, okay?"

Teal'c nodded his agreement. O'Neill had been aggressive with Jim Ellison, and it spoke well of young Blair that he remained firm in his allegiances. Blair settled back in a corner of the couch, and Teal'c waited for him to continue their conversation, but after another round of coughing, Blair just tucked the blanket around him and drank his water.

With no indication that Blair wished to talk, Teal'c turned his attention to the candles and tried, again, to quiet his mind. As before, the image of Amaunet rose in his memory. Teal'c jerked back as though recoiling from the memory.

"Bad trip, huh?" Blair asked softly. Teal'c stared at the candle and tried to calm his own symbiote. The creature could feel the unease, even without understanding the cause. Blair continued without waiting for a response from Teal'c. "A bad trip usually happens when you take drugs and your subconscious pulls up images that scare the shit out of you. Sometimes, though, I find that I have a bad trip when I'm meditating. The brain... sometimes it goes exactly where you don't want to go. You know what I mean?"

"I do," Teal'c agreed. He certainly did not wish to relive that moment. He had acted to save Daniel, but he had also destroyed some piece of the man with that same shot.

"I think I gave up meditating after my near-death with drowning. The paramedics actually called off the CPR. Technically, I think I was dead." Blair coughed again and set his glass down on the table. "Ever since then, when I meditate, the images are so not pretty. I can't face it, you know?"

"Your death?" Teal'c asked curiously. Humans had such fear of death. In the last one hundred years, Teal'c had faced certain death so many times that he could no longer gather more than a general regret when life led him to that edge again. He feared slavery and failure much more than death.

"I don't know," Blair said with a laugh. "I mean, yeah, death is not on my list of places to visit. I just feel like things weren't that bad on the other side. I remember being an animal, of searching for and finding something really important. But once I came back..." Blair shrugged again, a gesture most humans used to dismiss the trivial, but Teal'c could see the pain in the way his muscles were tightly knotted and the line of his mouth.

"Tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah," Teal'c said softly. They were ancient words. Blair leaned his chin on his knees and looked at Teal'c, the worry and fatigue and curiosity all laying exposed on his features. "Tec'ma'te can mean one's master—one's teacher. But it also means to greet one as an honored member of the group."

Blair nodded. "A greeting to indicate respect as well as a title of respect."

"Yes," Teal'c agreed. "Tao qua is death, the state of being beyond this life. Cal mah is sanctuary." O'Neill would not approve of Teal'c sharing this knowledge, but the young one was clearly lost, and Teal'c would not leave him to struggle through such a difficult rite alone.

Blair frowned for a second. "Something about greeting death and seeking sanctuary in it? Oh man, do you think I'm looking to die? Because no way. No fucking way."

"I believe you misunderstand," Teal'c said as he struggled to put words to this sacred rite. "The belief is that some can greet death and will find sanctuary. They may then find both life and death open to them, although I do not believe those who are so inclined seek any final death."

"So, a person who faces death and shows it respect, and in return death respects them? That's a shaman."

"You have such people?" Teal'c was surprised. He had seen nothing but fear of death in all that he had read, with the exception of the Bible. And the Bible did not speak of men who stood between life and death, earning knowledge from both--not unless one counted Jesus Christ, and from Teal'c's research, he had assumed Christ's journey to be unique.

"Not in mainstream culture, but yeah. They face death and earn magical powers from the experience," Blair agreed. "Man, that is so not me. Trust me, there was not a lot of respect shown between me and death."

"You found nothing to fear in death, but you struggle with living," Teal'c observed. From the way Blair frowned at him, Teal'c knew that he was right. "My people have a great respect for death. When one has lost all direction the rites of mal sharran involve denying oneself sustenance until the truth is rediscovered."

Teal'c had expected objection to that. The Tau'ri valued life, even beyond reason in many cases. Instead, Blair nodded in agreement. "Lots of Native Peoples do the same thing. Young men fast and then go out looking for their spirit guide. I tried that myself when I was ten, but I didn't get far."

"Is ten considered a man?" Teal'c asked curiously. He had not thought Tau'ri grew as quickly as that.

Blair laughed, and it was nice to see the pain and fatigue fall from him for just a moment. "No, but I was always a little old for my age. Mom says I have an old soul. Jim just says..." Blair fell silent again.

"Among my people, one who is tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah is special. He may have insights beyond that of others. They say these people can see past the needs of their body because they understand that they will go to a world where their body no longer has needs." What he didn't say was that the village would often have to tend the man carefully because he would often forget his own needs. Sometimes Teal'c believed Daniel was one such. That was why he tried to care for him, but that had ended with a staff blast through his wife's body. "Their advice is much sought," Teal'c finished.

That made Blair laugh, but it was a dark and bitter sound. Teal'c frowned at the despair he could see in Blair. "Man, no one seeks my advice. No one." He held his palms up as through surrendering, and Teal'c tilted his head in confusion.

"O'Neill would seek your advice on these men you call Sentinels."

"Yeah, well O'Neill has issues, and we both know that background check is going to sound FBI alarms so loud we'll be able to hear them from here."

"Do you not give advice to those enrolled at your university?"

"When they listen." Blair pushed the blanket down and stretched. "They don't listen all that often and I get tired of saying the same things over and over when it doesn't feel like it makes any difference. I am not into masochism, you know?"

"I do," Teal'c agreed. He wondered if the young man was failing to embrace life as much as he had embraced death. It was not unheard of among the tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah for them to lose the balance between life and death. Teal'c knew so little of their journey that he wished Master Bra'tac were present to provide more effective guidance. "What in life holds you as firmly as the peace you found in death?" Teal'c asked.

Blair jerked and stared at Teal'c with wide eyes. Teal'c sat still, waiting for the shock to pass. His words should not have triggered such fear... not unless he was right about Blair yearning for the sanctuary of death.

"I have a lot to live for. A lot. No way would I consider suicide. That is seriously bad for the karma." Blair got up and grabbed his crutch, hobbling toward this bedroom, but he hit the end table, and his glass clattered to the floor and shattered with a tinkle of glass on the wooden floors.

"Do not move," Teal'c ordered the young man, and Blair froze in place, his bare foot surrounded by glass.

"Oh man, one foot out of commission is quite enough. This is me not moving."

Teal'c went to the end of the couch and quickly put his boots on before he returned to Blair, shards of glass resting against the top of Blair's foot as he leaned against the couch.

"Man, my karma sucks."

Teal'c picked him up easily and carried him to the dining room table where he set him down. "Where would I find materials for cleaning?" Teal'c asked, and Blair pointed at a cabinet.

"It is a huge cultural taboo to have guests clean, you know."

That caused Teal'c to pause for a second. He did not wish to offend, but the physical needs outweighed the risk of offense. "I offer apologies for violating a taboo, but I will not allow you to clean this."

"No way, the dishonor is all on me. I'm the one allowing a guest to clean."

"I am not a guest. I am here on instructions from the healer."

"True. So I can just blame the broken taboo on her. That works." Blair gave a short laugh. "She is totally okay with breaking taboos. That's one reason we actually managed to get to a fourth date because her ability to break taboos is a beautiful sight, Murray."

Teal'c used a hand broom and dust pan to sweep up the glass and deposit it in the receptacle Blair pointed to. One of the candles had blown out, and Teal'c considered it, trying to decide whether to continue in his attempts to kelnoreem.

"Maybe I could meditate with you," Blair said softly. Teal'c turned and considered the young man.

"I would very much like that, Blair Sandburg," Teal'c returned to the table and gathered the man in his arms.

"This is totally emasculating, you know," Blair sighed.

"I have often been carried when injured."

"Oh wow. I so do not want to meet the dude big enough to carry you," Blair said with a laugh.

"He is impressive," Teal'c admitted as he thought of Master Bra'tac. It had been too long since he had a mentor to turn to or a student to share his own wisdom with. Perhaps that dormant need was drawing him close to Blair Sandburg. If so, Teal'c vowed to police his own thoughts and actions because this one already had too many people pulling at him. Teal'c carefully settled Blair on the couch and then pulled the blanket off the chair, offering it to him. Blair pulled it close around him as though cold.

"I think I want to be on the floor with you," Blair insisted when Teal'c walked around the table and returned to his own spot on the floor. Blair slid off the couch and landed between the coffee table and couch. Carefully settling his injured ankle, Blair pulled the blanket around his shoulders and focused on the candles.

"Do you require anything?" Teal'c asked. Blair looked up at him with serious eyes.

"No. I'm good." He swallowed, his expression looking more like a man prepared to go into battle than one preparing for kelnoreem. Teal'c simply inclined his head and trusted that if Blair needed something else, he would speak of his needs. For now, he focused on clearing his mind and allowing his body and mind to finally rest. Across the table, Blair Sandburg's breathing slowed as he sought rest or answers from his own journey.


11. Chapter Eleven

"Oh man, I feel like I got hit by a truck, or maybe two." Blair stuck his head out from under the blanket and blinked.

Teal'c did not answer, but he was not surprised at the comment. For him, kelnoreem was all the rest he required, but humans required actual sleep. Blair had not fallen asleep until long after the city had grown quiet. He had slept no more than a few hours, and the healer had clearly indicated that he needed more. Perhaps Teal'c should have carried the man to bed, but he had stirred restlessly during even the short time required to move him to the couch. Teal'c walked over to him and offered Blair the coffee he had prepared along with a variety of medicines prescribed by the healer. If Blair was anything like Daniel, he would not be pleasant or rational until he had coffee.

"May your mocassins make happy tracks," Blair said happily, taking the cup. While Teal'c understood each word individually, that combination was unique. But then young Blair Sandburg was rather unique.

He brought the cup to his mouth and immediately started choking. Teal'c pulled the cup from his hand before he could burn himself. "Oh man. Shit. Damn, that is strong coffee. Did you remember to put water in it?" Blair finally spluttered.

"That is how Daniel Jackson prepares coffee."

Blair blinked up at him. "Whoa. He has way more hair on his chest than me. Is there any chance you could pour about a quarter of that out and put water in?"

"Of course." Teal'c returned to the sink and added water to the beverage. "You should return to your rest. You slept little."

"I slept more than I usually do," Blair countered. "And I have class this morning. Man, I have class in about five minutes. Fuck." Blair pushed back the blanket and ignored both the cup Teal'c offered again and the pills.

Teal'c put a hand on Blair's shoulder and pushed him back down before handing him the coffee. "A call came in this morning," Teal'c assured Blair. "A woman advised that she would have your classes covered until an event she called an administrative review."

Blair turned a startling shade of white and sagged back against the couch. "Shit."

"Are you ill or in need of food?" Teal'c asked. That was not a healthy hue for a human face. When he'd lifted Blair from the floor to place him on the couch, his body had been lighter than Teal'c had expected.

"No. I’m fine. Man, that is just a little harsh, waking up to news like that."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow, unsure what news he had delivered.

"An administrative review is a nice way of saying you're unofficially fired until they can get enough administrators together to look at your file and officially fire you. I knew it was coming, but still..." Blair made an unpleasant face. "I seriously hope Jim is in a good mood when he comes back because I will so not be paying the rent this month. With my ankle out of commission, I'm not even going to be able to look for work until I can walk. Damn it."

Teal'c watched the shock transition to anger before it faded to a weariness that was more familiar on Blair's face. Blair rubbed his hand over his face and pushed his hair back. "I should call Simon, you know, find out if things are still just as screwed up on that front." When Teal'c did not remove his hand, Blair reached for the pills and scooped them up, swallowing them along with half the cup of coffee. "Murray, you're starting to make me doubt you on the behavioral imperatives front."

Teal'c considered that for a moment. "I have given my word that you will take your medicine," Teal'c pointed out. "Until Jim Ellison can return and I can discuss with him the serious nature of your injury, I will not relinquish the task." Blair looked up and gave him an almost amused expression.

"Yeah, yeah, call it what you want. Mother henning is mother henning no matter what name you call it. And cultural references that link a man to feminine traits are so not a compliment."

"Why not?" Teal'c asked. Certainly women had different tasks from men in Jaffa culture, but to call a man womanly was confusing but not offensive. And were someone to call him as loyal or intelligent as Sam Carter, Teal'c would find great honor in the comment.

Even though Teal'c had removed his hand from Blair's shoulder, the question stopped Blair for a moment. He thought about it for a second before shrugging. "Because our society sucks in a totally misogynistic and chauvinistic sort of way." He grabbed his one crutch and pushed himself up, but Teal'c had to reach out to steady him as he wavered. "I will miss the money, but I'm actually kinda glad I'm not teaching today. Two or three hours sleep is normal for me, but two or three hours of sleep full of weird-ass dreams does not make for a happy Blair."

Teal'c remembered dreams from the days before his prim'ta when he had received his first larval Goa'uld, but that had been almost ninety years ago. The images of kelnoreem were not as disjointed or frightening as the dreams he remembered from childhood, and he did not want to consider what dreams could haunt one who was tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah.

Blair moved stiffly across the room and finally propped his crutch against the table and sat, phone in hand. His first call obviously did not reach Simon Banks because he engaged in conversation that Teal'c would have expected from two who were considering sexual relations. Blair's face lit with a mischievousness that Teal'c rarely saw on an adult human. O'Neill sometimes got that expression shortly before doing something that would make Daniel threaten him in many languages, but Blair did not appear to be verbally torturing anyone. That conversation continued for a few minutes until Blair went silent. Eventually, he called out Simon Banks' name with obvious joy and relief.

"Simon! You said you'd know something this morning."

Whatever the answer on the other end was, it obviously did not please Blair. He frowned, and Teal'c busied himself searching for food that he recognized as having grown. Since Blair shared this space with Jim Ellison, that was the only guideline he could use to determine which foods belonged to Blair.

"I'm not calling him, I'm calling you."

Teal'c frowned at the defensiveness he heard in the voice, but he tried to focus on his search. The apple, orange and onion were all easily identified, so Teal'c pulled them out and put them on a plate with a knife.

"Hey, this is me being cooperative. If O'Neill and Murray aren't playing by IA rules, that is so not my fault or Jim's fault."

Recognizing a traditional morning food, Teal'c added a bagel to the plate and returned to the refrigerator for something that would function as a spread.

"I didn't ask to have anyone stay here. Man, this is... Look, I'm just trying to..." Blair paused. "I know that! Do you think I don't know that, Simon? I'm trying to keep IA off his back."

Teal'c frowned and pulled butter and jam and cream cheese from the refrigerator. Under no circumstances could Blair be blamed for what had happened. Jim Ellison bore the majority of the blame in Teal'c estimation. O'Neill had aggravated the situation, and Teal'c suspected that his own presence was aggravating Ellison. If his senses were as acute as Blair claimed, the man might sense the larval Goa'uld residing within him. However, Blair had not initiated any conflict and had gone out of his way to defuse the situation. Obviously, the man on the other end of the phone did not agree. Blair listened in silence, his back growing stiffer by the second. He was radiating great anger.

"Man, my job at the university has nothing to do with this. He's a plagiarist, and as a teaching assistant, I have clear ethical standards I follow on plagiarism. That has absolutely nothing to do with the department or the investigation!"

Blair listened again.

"I didn't even know there was a connection to a murder, Simon," he shouted into the phone. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not in there to hear what's going on."

The next pause was longer, and Teal'c delivered the plate of food to the table where Blair could easily reach it. Blair frowned at the plate for a moment, or perhaps he was frowning at the words from the other end of the phone.

"Trust me, I will. I was fired from the university today, so you don't have to worry about me saying anything at all to him. Brad Ventriss and his high-priced lawyer can do whatever they want. I may have a few suggestions for things they can do to themselves, but since I'm not at the station or the university, I'm out of it. Look, just have Jim call when he can." Blair hung up the phone so quickly that Teal'c suspected that he was attempting to be rude to Simon Banks.

Sighing, Blair pressed his hands to his face for a long second before looking through his fingers. "Murray, my man, we have to talk about your food choices."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow and wondered whether he should point out that his food choices were far less significant than the conflict between Blair Sandburg and Simon Banks.

"Onions and fennel are used in foods, not as food themselves. Apples and oranges are good choices, though," Blair said as he started peeling the orange. "You don't get out much, do you?"

"Indeed not," Teal'c agreed. He sat at the table next to Blair and watched the young man slowly and methodically pull the peel off the orange.

"You want?" Blair asked, offering the apple.

"I am not currently hungry," Teal'c said, choosing to not mention the rule that the team not eat food that has been within the control of others unless absolutely necessary. After the events on Argos where O'Neill was drugged and accidentally infected with nanites which aged him to near-death, the prohibition was reasonable, even if it pained Teal'c to refuse to share food with young Blair.

"Your loss," Blair shrugged without taking offense. By choosing the orange, Blair did have a lot of work before he finally reached the fruit, and even then, he concentrated on pulling of small bits of white mesocarp. "What does your culture say about dreams?" Blair finally pulled as section of orange away from the others and popped it in his mouth.

Teal'c considered his answer carefully. Those who carried a Goa'uld could not dream, but that was not an answer he could give the young one. "We do not discuss dreams," he finally offered.

He was afraid that his answer would offend Blair Sandburg, but he simply nodded as if he understood perfectly. "I hear you."

"I have no objection to listening to anything you may wish to share," Teal'c offered.

Blair stopped nodding and carefully searched Teal'c with his gaze. "My mom always says that you have to trust your judgment with people... that if you wait to get to know someone before trusting them, that you'll never trust the right people at the right time. Then again, considering how quickly my mom moves on from one person to another, if she didn't trust quickly, she'd be pretty screwed. Every couple of months she got the urge to get up and move, you know what I mean?"

Teal'c certainly did understand such wisdom. "I trusted O'Neill within minutes of meeting him."

"Man, I so need to introduce you to my mom. She'd love you."

Teal'c inclined his head, accepting that compliment and waiting to see if his answer was enough to convince Blair Sandburg to trust him.

Blair used a thumbnail to force a seed out of an orange section, staring at it with great thoughtfulness. Finally, he looked up. "Do I let people push me around?"

Teal'c tilted his head and reflected upon possible answers. O'Neill and Daniel had both cautioned him against speaking the truth, even when others asked for it. Sam Carter insisted that both men were manipulative in their own ways and that truth was always to be valued. "You did not allow Colonel O'Neill to... push you around."

"So, that would be a nicely worded 'yes'," Blair said with a sigh. He pushed himself up from the table even though he had eaten less than half his orange.

"You should continue to eat."

"Later. Right now, I'm so dirty that I can't stand myself. Shower and then food. You've got to have priorities," Blair said with a smile, but it was not an expression that conveyed any sort of happiness. After a quick trip to his room for his second crutch and a change of clothes, Blair disappeared down the short hall and into the bathroom. Teal'c only hoped that his words had not damaged a young man who was already suffering.

Pulling out his cell phone, Teal'c dialed O'Neill's number.

"Yep," O'Neill answered his phone.

"I am reporting in."

"Everything okay with the kid?" O'Neill asked. Despite the fact that he had not apologized, Teal'c knew the warrior regretted his part in Blair's injury.

"He is physically exhausted and apparently the university no longer wishes for him to work there."

"Aw crap. The kid has luck about like Danny, doesn't he?"

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. There was an old Jaffa saying: The universe gave great burdens only to those willing to bear them. Daniel and Blair both appeared to fit that. Of course, O'Neill and Sam Carter were equally willing to bear great burdens. Not even he could claim to have avoided increasing his own difficulties in life. Another saying said that the burdens one chose always felt lighter than the ones chosen for you, and Teal'c had chosen his burdens. He could only hope Blair would chose his own burdens rather than continue to bear what Jim Ellison, O'Neill, and others placed upon him.

"Well, he wasn't kidding about his past. The State Department is having hairballs at the thought of him getting clearance. Apparently he's a significant risk and his mother is a monumental risk. Hell, after reading the report the general faxed over, I want to meet this woman. Hammond's still working on them, but it's not looking pretty. I hate to say this, but if the State Department won't budge, we're going to need to get copies of his research. Do you think he'd share if we asked nicely?" O'Neill did not have to add that if Blair did not share, he would steal the research. Teal'c could tell that from the tone he used.

"I believe he will."

"I hope you're right, T. So, Daniel and I are going to go pick up his loony friend..." O'Neill paused, probably because Daniel was loudly protesting O'Neill's characterization of Elizabeth Canarsee. "She's meeting us a little after 2pm."

"Do you require my assistance?"

"No, this should be a simple meet. Sam says we don't have any company in town and Kelso thinks the same. Even if the NID is sniffing around, they won't be able to get ahead of us, and we don't have any watchers here. So, we're going for unobtrusive. Or as unobtrusive as you can get when you're meeting a crazy woman who thinks the whole government is out to get her." Again, O'Neill's words caused Daniel to complain. "Yeah, well I'd be a lot happier if she agreed to actually come with us. The government is not actually evil, just parts of it. And trust me, she is not important enough for the whole government to be after her."

Teal'c listened to Daniel and O'Neill trade words on the probability of Elizabeth Canarsee's willingness to accept their assistance and her relative sanity. Despite the fact that Daniel was clearly on the verge of losing his temper, O'Neill continued to make derogatory comments.

Daniel finally resorted to Goa'uld to make a very unlikely suggestion about where O'Neill should place his head.

O'Neill chuckled. "I take it he's not offering me a chocolate chip cookie recipe?" O'Neill asked with clear amusement.

"He is not," Teal'c agreed.

"Cheer up, Daniel. At least we are planning to save her, if she'll let herself be saved. But I think we'd better do this without you Teal'c. No offense, but one look at you, and she's going to have uncharitable thoughts about the government again."

"I take no offense," Teal'c assured O'Neill. "I shall wait here until you return."

"Ellison isn't planning on coming back any time soon, is he?"

"I do not believe so. His people continue to investigate him."

"Good. The man needs some investigating." Teal'c did not answer even though O'Neill had nothing more to say for several seconds. "See if Blair won't agree to send us a few files. If he's out of work, we may be able to offer some compensation as an independent contractor even if the State Department has its collective head up its ass."

"I shall speak with him," Teal'c agreed. If Tau'ri soldiers needed Blair Sandburg's research, the young man would share, Teal'c had no doubt of that.

"Stay safe," O'Neill said in way of a farewell.

"I shall. Lek tol, O'Neill." The phone clicked off, and Teal'c closed his own cell phone and put it in his pocket. If O'Neill's plan worked, the team and Daniel Jackson's friend would shortly return to the SGC, and Blair would again be left in the care of Jim Ellison. If he was tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah, he would continue to struggle with the balance between life and death. Teal'c would simply need to impress upon Jim Ellison the need to care for Blair Sandburg with more honor. Once he had determined to speak to Ellison at the first opportunity, Teal'c found he felt much better about their trip to Cascade. Walking to the glass doors, he looked out over the gray city and waited for Blair to complete his shower. The young man would return to his bed, and the rest would wait until he had rested.


12. Chapter Twelve

"Murray, I really appreciate you hanging out here. I was so not in a good place last night." Blair leaned forward on his crutches and then shifted back again, rocking as though nervous.

"I am pleased to have been of assistance." Teal'c did not mention that he had already entered Jim Ellison's phone number into his cell phone, and he would be arranging a discussion with the man before leaving Cascade. To act so dishonorably toward one who had given his loyalty was unforgivable, but the failure of others to correct Jim Ellison's behavior was even more egregious. Teal'c would not be another who found it expedient to ignore the young man's distress.

"Man, you put a lot of trust in me, sharing your beliefs, and I want you to know that I'm not even going to try to look up your tribe. Whatever secrets you have, you have a right to them." Blair rocked back and forth a little faster. It was uncomfortable because Blair moved in and out of Teal'c line of sight to the road where O'Neill would be coming.

"I regret that you are unable to join us and share our secret."

"Oh man, me too. I mean, just the hints that O'Neill has dropped... I'm burning up with curiosity. Totally. I just hope that someone can actually use the stuff I'm sending with you." Blair glanced down at the notebook he had braced between the crutch and his forearm.

Teal'c tilted his head. "I am sure they will find your insights most useful."

Blair smiled at the praise, his rocking picking up pace a bit.

Teal'c just hoped that O'Neill could arrange payment because his understanding of American culture suggested that Blair Sandburg would be most uncomfortable if he had no source of income. Teal'c still did not understand the assignment of money and honor in this culture, but if Blair's work saved the lives of warriors in the field of battle, he should be rewarded far more than the men who competed with the ball in the wooden arena. Throwing a ball into a basket might be an interesting training technique, but the assignment of great accolades and wealth to such individuals was a mystery that neither Daniel nor Sam Carter had successfully explained to him.

A brown sedan pulled out of traffic and slowed until it stopped next to the curb, and O'Neill got out immediately. "Murray, thank god. You have to save me from the nerd talk." Sam got out of the front seat, an amused look on her face.

"We were only discussing the possibility of building a commercial system with 768 cores to allow data centers to consolidate applications, sir," Sam Carter said with exaggerated innocence as she stepped out of the car. "Hey Murray."

Teal'c inclined his head toward his team, grateful to see them return in good spirits. A woman with dark hair and skin got out of the back seat, her eyes carefully studying them. Clearly this was Daniel Jackson's friend. She walked as one who had never fought, but her eyes danced nervously around as though expecting an attack. She might have chosen to join them, but she still carried her fears for all to see. Daniel had gotten out and circled around the back of the car to stand by her side.

"Elizabeth, this is... uh, Murray." Daniel cleared his throat nervously.

"Sweet, Daniel. If Sandburg hadn't already figured it out, that wouldn't have given it away, not at all," Jack pointed out sarcastically.

"Oh yeah, like you were the king of subtle," Blair said, his voice equally as sarcastic.

O'Neill crossed his arms. "Hey, I can do subtle."

"When you're asleep," Daniel said softly.

Teal'c noticed that Elizabeth Canarsee relaxed as the men insulted each other. O'Neill stepped closer to Blair, and Blair held out the thin notebook he'd carried with him.

"Is this...?" O'Neill took it and opened it.

"It's not everything," Blair said almost apologetically, but given his willingness to share, he had nothing for which to apologize. "The individual tests aren't just mine. I can't give that away, not without permission. But if you're looking to control the senses short term, this should give you a head start."

O'Neill pursed his lips. "I'm still working on getting the Air Force to pay you for this," he offered, raising the notebook.

"No problem. The whole goal was to help people, you know?" Blair asked, shrugging awkwardly with his crutches.

O'Neill opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Teal'c was distracted by the sound of fast acceleration from the parking area behind the building. He started to turn, and he could hear O'Neill fall silent. By the time the white hood of a van appeared at the entrance to the alley, Teal'c had pulled his zat'n'ktel and had it concealed next to his side. However, he did not immediately fire, waiting for O'Neill's order or opening shots. Daniel shouted, a mere sound rather than words, and O'Neill called for someone to take cover. Teal'c had no cover immediately available from the fast-moving vehicle, but he did have a good line of fire if the van's erratic behavior turned dangerous.

The van turned the corner slammed to a halt right in front of O'Neill's car, the side already open, and Teal'c targeted it. Men in black jumped out and O'Neill's gun barked sharply. Teal'c immediately fired, his zat'n'ktel hitting one man so that his arms flew open and his body slumped to the ground, but more people spilled from the open van. The hum of other zat'n'ktel and the sharp snap of pistols filled the air, and Teal'c dropped to the ground, his own weapon still firing even though his leg burned with the heat of a wound.

New enemy were firing now firing from the building, and Teal'c could see O'Neill turn to answer the new threat, but Teal'c could not see how many there were. He could only continue to fire at the van. The concrete next to him sizzled as a zat'n'ktel discharged close enough to his hand that he could feel the tingle like a hundred pins prickling down his arm, but that was no more distracting than the hot bullet wound slowly seeping blood from his leg.

"No!" a woman screamed. Teal'c could see one of the enemy pull Elizabeth Canarsee to her feet by her braid, blocking any incoming fire by keeping her body in front of his own. Daniel had an acceptable angle for attack, but he did not fire, so either he mistrusted his aim or he had no remaining ammunition. Teal'c raised up on one knee to take better aim. If he hit Elizabeth Canarsee, he would not permanently damage her, an advantage O'Neill did not have.

O'Neill flashed a handsign indicating he was in significant trouble holding his side, and Sam Carter shifted to aid him. A zat'n'ktel flashed, and s he fell forward with a cry. Teal'c could see the electricity course through her body. Ignoring his fallen comrade, Teal'c targeted Elizabeth Canarsee and watched as the shot from his zat'n'ktel flickered between her and her attacker, the blue and yellow aura shining against the black fabric for a brief second before both fell to the ground moaning softly and still moving. A single shot was not designed to incapacitate two people, but both Elizabeth Canarsee and her attacker were moving slowly and painfully.

Dropping back down to the sidewalk, Teal'c focused on the van, firing several shots into the metal frame, hoping to either incapacitate or kill whoever was inside. A man stumbled out, and Teal'c raised his gun to fire, only to have the edge of a blast from a zat'n'ktel skitter across his outstretched arm so that it lost all feeling. Teal'c fell back, his heart racing, and his nerves screaming in pain as his brain mistakenly thought his arm was on fire. Two men rushed O'Neill's position, and from the lack of returning fire, Teal'c could only assume O'Neill had fallen.

Ignoring the pain, Teal'c reached for his zat'n'ktel, but could not force his stiff and trembling fingers to bend enough to grasp the weapon. One of the men from the building grabbed Elizabeth Canarsee by her arm, and suddenly Blair Sandburg was there, swinging his crutch like a man attempting to hit a baseball with a bat. His paltry weapon connected with the first man's back, and a bellow of pain answered.

The man Teal'c had incapacitated when he had held Elizabeth Canarsee hostage flung himself forward and tackled Blair so that both fell to the ground. With his heart still pounding painfully enough to send sharp jolts through his body with every beat, Teal'c pushed himself up and stumbled forward.

"Grab them! Grab them!" a voice called from the van. A siren sounded in the distance, but Teal'c found himself falling to the side, his left side still unable to bear his weight with the electrical charge making his limbs stiff and spastic. One of the enemy grabbed Daniel Jackson, dragging his unconscious body from behind the car while a second pulled a dazed and uncoordinated Elizabeth Canarsee. The man who had taken Blair Sandburg to the ground rose, but Blair used his second crutch to target the man's legs, swinging so hard that the man slammed into the side of O'Neill's car before he hit the ground again.

"They're coming!" the voice from the van screamed. Elizabeth Canarsee was struggling weakly and the man Blair had hit was crawling toward the van. Hopping on one leg, Blair nearly tripped over the crawling enemy as he grabbed for Elizabeth. He fell forward, but caught her leg on the way down, holding on desperately.

Another man came out from the building, and Teal'c forced himself upright, throwing his body to the side to take out this new enemy. They both fell to the ground, but the other man quickly recovered while Teal'c could not. His body still trembling from the zat'n'ktel charge, Teal'c could only watch as the enemy warriors grabbed Elizabeth Canarsee and Blair Sandburg, depositing them in the back of the van.

"Man, you are so going to regret this. You are going to—" Blair's voice was cut off as the van door slammed closed before the van accelerated wildly into the Cascade traffic, which had not even slowed for the gunfire.

Blue, gray, and yellow police cars pulled around the corner, but rather than pursue the van, all three stopped next to O'Neill's car, the guards pointing their weapons at Teal'c and O'Neill. O'Neill was not yet moving, and Teal'c did not think he warranted such attention when he was clearly unable to control his own body, but he could hardly tell them such as they yelled for him to show his hands.

While he feared that the enemy would escape before he could communicate his information, Teal'c decided that these guards were frightened and unlikely to listen to anything until they had assured themselves that they were not in danger themselves. Teal'c had no respect for such weak individuals, but he showed his hands and laid on his stomach as ordered, hoping to get someone to listen to him before the missing member of his team and the two innocents had been taken too far away.


The reality was far worse than Teal'c had anticipated. He lay on the ground, restrained, while O'Neill finally groaned his way to life and found himself at the end of a police weapon.

"For crying out loud. Haven't I done this once already? I really hate Cascade," O'Neill complained loudly as he held his hands up. "Teal'c? Carter? Danny?"

"I am here," Teal'c offered. He had lost his bandana around his head, and the guards continually stared, but that was the least of the current difficulties. "Carter is still unconscious and the attackers have taken Daniel Jackson."

"Fuck," O'Neill breathed softly. "We just can't take him anywhere." The guards pulled O'Neill upright and put him stomach down on the hood of a police car before restraining him with the metal cuffs they had also used on Teal'c. "Who's in charge here?" O'Neill called out loudly. The guard behind him continued to ritualistically speak words which were familiar to Teal'c from the various police shows he watched. They had already read Teal'c his rights. An ambulance pulled up, but the guard restraining O'Neill did not pause in his recitation as others directed medics to Major Carter.

"Damn it, I don't want a lawyer, I want my archeologist back!" O'Neill snapped. "Dr. Daniel Jackson has been kidnapped, so put an APB out for a white panel van, no markings, license plates started with 879." The guard continued to recite the rights, pausing after each to ask O'Neill if he understood each one. "I want to speak with Captain Banks of Major Crimes," O'Neill yelled for the third time.

"I have already requested his assistance," Teal'c offered, but the words did not calm O'Neill down. The guard stepped back, allowing O'Neill to stand and face him, and for a moment, Teal'c wondered if O'Neill would attack. He was certainly angry enough.

"My identification is in my pocket. I am Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force." His body was tight with anger. "The civilian consultant to—"

"And you just felt like shooting up the city?" the officer cut him off. If asked to offer an opinion, Teal'c would have said that O'Neill was going to take the guard down—even restrained the guard would be no match for him. However, a new car appeared.

"Captain Banks has arrived," Teal'c offered, hoping to forestall any further violence.

When a brown sedan pulled up, Teal'c's was unsurprised that Jim Ellison jumped from the passenger side, his hand hovering near his weapon even though there were clearly no enemy left. Captain Banks was slower to leave the vehicle, but he looked no friendlier than did Jim Ellison.

"Where's Blair?" Jim Ellison demanded of Colonel O'Neill, getting well within what Daniel Jackson referred to as personal space.

"Not in my pocket, Ellison," O'Neill snapped. "Eight armed suspects, five from a white panel van and three hiding in your building took Daniel and probably Canaresee and Sandburg as well."

"They did, indeed," Teal'c agreed, and Ellison turned to face him, fury etched into his face. Although Teal'c was still seated on the cold ground with his injured leg in front of him, he was not particularly impressed with such hot anger. A man was most dangerous when his anger was cold. The way Jim Ellison approached, Teal'c could easily disable or kill him with a single kick.

"What happened to Blair?" Jim Ellison demanded.

Teal'c lifted an eyebrow. "As I have informed the guards, Blair Sandburg, Elizabeth Canarsee and Daniel Jackson were taken by several individuals driving a white van."

O'Neill spoke up. "A white panel van with a license plate that started 879. Maybe you could get one of your people to put out an APB before they dump it and move our people. An even better suggestion would be getting me and my team out of cuffs so we can contact our superiors and start tracking these people... unless you'd like to waste more time." O'Neill took a step forward so that now he moved aggressively into Jim Ellison's personal space, but the detective ignored O'Neill and turned to his captain.

"Simon?" Jim Ellison asked, and Simon Banks nodded and offered a quick, "I've got it," before he returned to his car. Teal'c could hear him use the radio to alert others of the need to find the van.

For a second, Jim Ellison focused on Captain Banks, his hands curled into tight fists that he pressed against his legs. Jerking around, he challenged O'Neill. "If anything happens to Blair..."

"What? You'll drag him around until he breaks his other ankle?" O'Neill demanded with a derisive noise. Ellison's body jerked as though struck, and his fists tightened. However, he also reached into his pocket with stiff motions and pulled out keys. "About time," O'Neill complained as he turned to allow Ellison to remove them.

One of the medics came over to Teal'c, but Teal'c ignored him, standing on his own and offering his own restraints to be released. Jim Ellison did so quickly and without taking his eyes off O'Neill.

"What happened?" O'Neill asked for a report before picking up the bandana from the ground and offered it to Teal'c.

The healer was making comments about Teal'c needing medical assistance for his leg, but Teal'c ignored the man. "The attackers targeted Elizabeth Canarsee, pulling her toward the van first. I disabled the first attacker, but more came. Daniel Jackson was disabled and unconscious when they pulled him into the van. Blair Sandburg attacked using his crutch as a weapon."

"That sounds like Blair." Jim Ellison sounded weary.

"A crutch?" O'Neill sounded shocked.

"Indeed. He disabled one attacker with a swing, but there were too many. He was pulled in while trying to pull Elizabeth Canarsee away from another attacker."

"Kid has more balls than brains," O'Neill said softly. Jim Ellison did not respond, but he lost much of the color in his face. While the man had an unethical relationship with Blair Sandburg, he obviously did care. O'Neill gave the detective a sympathetic look before returning to the more immediate concerns. "Did Daniel look injured?"

Teal'c glanced over to where his confiscated zat'n'ktel lay on the back of a guard vehicle. He could only hope that O'Neill would understand the gesture. "He did not appear harmed." Teal'c looked back, and O'Neill gave him a nod. Message received. The enemy were using both human weapons and zat'n'ktel, so they were clearly connected to the Stargate program. The NID were the most likely to have access to the weaponry used, especially given their recent off-world operations. However, other groups may have traded for off-world weapons.

"Sir?" Sam Carter groaned and then pushed herself up on an elbow.

"Carter." O'Neill immediately headed for stretcher on which the medics had placed her.

"Sir, where's Daniel?" she immediately asked, her eyes scanning the swarm of guards and technicians who now crowded into the area.

"You know what happens any time we try and take him out for a nice little jaunt, Carter." O'Neill's face was grim. He walked to the back of the car and retrieved his the team's cell phones and weapons, his glare daring the closest guard to try and stop him.

"Oh no. Sir, tell me Daniel didn't get kidnapped."

O'Neill looked over at Carter, and the woman knew. "Next time, I’m putting a leash on him," O'Neill said with a sigh.

"Whatever you've put Sandburg in the middle of—" Ellison started, his anger stopping his words before he could even finish.

He might have continued, but Captain Banks returned, resting his hand on Jim Ellison's arm. "Jim, the kid gets in plenty of trouble without someone else putting him in the middle. I need a full report on what happened. We have all ports and major highways under surveillance, but this would be a whole lot easier if we knew who we were looking for." From the look Captain Banks focused on O'Neill, the man was not going to be easily distracted.

"This is a need-to know-situation," O'Neill said tightly. He pulled his car keys from his pocket and tossed them to Carter.

"And I need to know!" Captain Banks' responded in anger.

"No, you don't." O'Neill turned his back and started dialing out on his cell phone. Carter pushed herself up from the stretcher, ignoring the medic who tried to stop her. Teal'c walked to the back of their car and took a position near enough to stop the medic from interfering with her.

"Captain Banks, this woman had an irregular heartbeat just a few minutes ago, she can't just get up," the smaller medic complained loudly.

"Watch me," Carter said with a warrior's fierceness. She had already opened the trunk and started pulling out equipment.

"I can arrest you for interfering with a police investigation, and I will," Captain Banks warned.

"Only if you want to be arrested for interfering with a federal investigation," O'Neill snapped back. "Walter?" he called into the phone, shifting his body so that he again had his back to Simon Banks. "We have a Situation Yangtze, Cascade, Dr. Jackson plus two civilians. I need units on standby and see if we can't find out which slimy corner of the universe has stuck its head above ground so I can cut it off. Check with Mayborne. He knows a lot of slime." O'Neill listened for a second. "Keep an eye out for less common modes of transportation," he suggested. He gave Walter only enough time to agree before he hung up the phone.

"Sir, I have them," Carter said softly as she watched the tracking equipment.

"Okay, kids, time to go. Banks, get your cars the hell out of my way."

Simon Banks stepped closer. "Colonel, you are not leaving. You will give full statements and cooperate with this investigation."

Despite Captain Banks' clear frustration, Teal'c was more interested in Jim Ellison who was swallowing and staring down the road in the direction which the van had taken. "Situation Yangtze?" Jim Ellison asked, turning to face them.

O'Neill nodded sharply in Sam Carter's direction, and she moved the tracking equipment up to the front seat. Then he looked at Ellison for a second. O'Neill occasionally feigned ignorance of others' feelings and often did not care to address the emotions of others, but Teal'c knew that O'Neill recognized the extreme distress in Ellison's every move. His body was tight with anxiety and his eyes had dilated widely. "Look, Ellison, Just stay out of our way, and I'll get both our geeks back—all three of them. I don't like it when people steal my geeks."

"Situation Yangtze?" Ellison repeated. "The Yangtze as in the river that goes past Shanghai. You think someone took Canarsee or Jackson to get work out of them. Blair is caught in the middle of that, and you think I’m going to stand by?"

"I think it's their best chance." O'Neill turned his back and started for the driver's door. Teal'c backed quickly toward the closest rear door, watching Ellison and Banks. Neither man looked ready to compromise, and the guards' vehicles still blocked the street. O'Neill opened his door and looked at them over his open door.

"I will ram your cars. I'll even enjoy doing it," O'Neill warned.

"I'm going with you," Jim Ellison walked quickly to the rear door opposite Teal'c. Teal'c exchanged a curious look with O'Neill, but no one moved to unlock the door in question.

"Captain Ellison, there is no way in hell you're going with us."

"You aren't getting out of here unless I’m in the car, and I'm not letting you look for Blair without me."

"Damn it!" O'Neill slapped his hand down on the top of the car. "I don't have time to worry about your guilt, Ellison."

"Sir..." Ellison forced that word past tight lips. "Sir, I have ways of finding Blair."

"So do I. It's called a tracking devise," O'Neill pointed out.

Jim Ellison's jaw tightened, but he kept his gaze firmly locked onto O'Neill. "If they drop Blair somewhere, if they figure out he's not worth Shanghaiing, I can find him. I can—" Ellison stopped. For a second, he drew a deep breath. "I have access to information you do not, Colonel. I'm willing to let you take lead here, but I will not wait here while you look for Blair."

O'Neill looked over at him, and Teal'c considered Ellison. If Blair's notes were accurate, Ellison would have access to an incalculable amount of information once they located a facility or area. "He could prove valuable," Teal'c suggested. O'Neill sighed loudly as though frustrated with that answer, but he hit the button to unlock all the doors.

"Ellison, if you fuck up, your skin is going to be hanging from my office wall," he threatened, but Ellison didn't even bother to answer. Simon Banks was already shouting for the guards to move their vehicles and Teal'c got into the vehicle, trying his best to appear non-threatening as Ellison tensed and looked quickly down toward Teal'c's stomach. The man clearly knew that something was there, even if he did not understand what.

"It will not harm anyone," Teal'c assured him as he leaned back and tried to appear relaxed. Ellison looked up at Teal'c's face with undisguised shock at having gotten that response, but Teal'c focused on the front of the car.

"How good is that signal?" O'Neill asked, starting the car.

"We're at the limits of the range, and they're moving fast. We have to get going now, sir. North," Carter said. O'Neill didn't answer, but he did accelerate with extreme aggression, the tires screaming against the concrete as they took off in pursuit of their missing team member.


13. Chapter Thirteen

The car remained silent, the hum of Carter's machine and her brief instructions for O'Neill to turn right or left occasionally interrupting the silence. Jim Ellison continued to stare at the back of Carter's head, his hands fisted on his knees. Teal'c did not doubt that Ellison counted them among his enemies, so his willingness to accompany them spoke well of his bravery, even if the man still was not honorable in his dealings with Blair Sandburg.

"Ellison, when we catch up with them, you will take my command or I'll have Teal'c handcuff you to the car, do you understand?" While O'Neill's voice was firm and the tone did not betray any emotion, the fact that he had used Teal'c's real name certainly suggested that O'Neill was feeling great anxiety over Daniel's disappearance. On Earth, their resources were limited by the need for secrecy. O'Neill often commented that he felt more trepidation allowing Daniel on one of his rare dates than he did having Daniel attend a fertility ritual on some distant planet.

"I know how to take orders," Ellison answered. His voice was tight and angry.

"Then you need to stay behind us. I want you at the rear."

"No. No, I'm not hanging back. Your first priority is Jackson, so I'm going in for Sandburg," Ellison immediately objected. Teal'c knew that Ellison was correct that Colonel O'Neill would seek Daniel Jackson first, but he also knew that O'Neill would never endanger others because of his commitment to his team. Just as Teal'c had endangered the lives of his wife and son by turning against the false gods, O'Neill would endanger Daniel Jackson or the rest of them to complete a mission and follow his conscience, and to suggest that O'Neill did not have the judgment to act ethically was not prudent.

"Teal'c, do you have those cuffs?" O'Neill immediately asked.

"I do," Teal'c agreed, and Ellison's face reddened.

"I've been in more than one rescue operation, Colonel, both during and after the army." Ellison sounded more conciliatory now, but his face was still as obdurate as ever. Teal'c wondered if he was this stubborn because of O'Neill's involvement in Blair's injury or if this was his normal personality. If it was the second, Teal'c might be better off trying to convince Blair Sandburg to choose another tec'ma'te.

"With those senses of yours?" O'Neill demanded. Carter glanced over her shoulder toward Teal'c. She was clearly worried about O'Neill's usual lack of tact when dealing in issues which others wished to keep secret. When O'Neill had been as blithely inconsiderate of Daniel's wish to throw Carter a surprise birthday party, both Daniel Jackson and Dr. Frazier had spent weeks angry at O'Neill. However, Ellison might do something more dangerous than replace all O'Neill's MRE's with lasagna or schedule him for a series of vaccinations.

Ellison didn't immediately answer, but his fingers clutched at his knees until the knuckles turned white. "Yes," Ellison offered, and now his voice carried a wariness that made Teal'c wonder if the man truly might do something foolish. Trapped men sometimes did.

O'Neill made a derisive sound. "You sure as hell didn't go on active duty with a case of Post Combat Hypersensitivity Disorder. I don't know what historical crap Sandburg dug up..."

"Blair told you about this?" Ellison's voice slid from wary to furious.

"No!" O'Neill snapped. "After you acted like a dick, I had to wonder what you were trying to hide. I broke into your apartment and looked through his notes. Or Murray looked through his notes; I mostly went through your underwear." O'Neill smiled into the rearview mirror, a most unpleasant expression.

Ellison's jaw bulged. He turned to face Teal'c, but Teal'c only gazed back impassively.

"What exactly do you want here?" Ellison asked, his fingers still digging into his own knees. "Did someone really take Sandburg or is this your not-so-subtle way of reactivating my commission?"

"Your commission?" O'Neill was stopped at a red light, and that gave him time to turn and actually look at Ellison with shock. "What the fuck makes you think the military wants you back, Captain Ellison? Captains are a dime a dozen, and I have hundreds who've applied at my command. You wouldn't even make the first cut."

"Good," Ellison quickly snapped right back. "I sure as hell wouldn't want to work in any command under you. I've had my share of arrogant, manipulative, tyrannical officers."

"Tyrannical? If you want tyrannical, Ellison, I can introduce you to tyrannical!"

"Sir!" Carter interrupted. Both men fell silent. The light turned green, and O'Neill accelerated until the engine made a whining noise that a car did not normally make.

"Ellison," O'Neill started again, his voice slightly softer, "Sandburg seems to think your senses are useful, which is why I'm letting you tag along. But let's get something clear right now. I've been on a mission with a man suffering from P-Chad. If you go into one of your seizures or have a zone or whatever the hell you want to call it, you're on your own. The civilians have priority over you."

"Agreed," Ellison quickly answered. "But whatever this Post-Combat shit is, don't assume that's what I have."

O'Neill took a turn so fast that Carter scrambled to keep the equipment in her lap and Ellison grabbed at the seat in front of him. O'Neill just accelerated more. "I know that's what you have, Ellison. You and Sandburg can dress it up in pretty colors and maybe it's even useful to you, but you're here to play bloodhound if we lose the trail. That's it. Don't assume that I have any interest in you beyond getting my geeks back and getting the hell out of your backwater town."

"And I'll be happy to see you leave," Ellison responded.

"Sir, it's about two miles north-northeast." Carter pointed, and Teal'c studied the area. The buildings were warehouses and old shops with cracked parking areas--a mixture of peeling wooden structures and rust-streaked metal buildings. There were far too many places from which to observe or stage an ambush. Teal'c rarely saw such poorly kept areas on Earth. Chain link fences were mended with twisted wire and reinforced with cracking boards.

"Moving or stable?" O'Neill asked. He pulled onto a side road that led to the backs of several warehouses. Huge gates interrupted the fencing, most locked with heavy chains.

"Stable for several minutes now." Carter pointed. Just the other side of that building."

"Okay, we're going in." O'Neill stopped the car beside a dumpster and for a long second he sat looking in the mirror. Ellison still had his hands on his knees, and his eyes focused on the back of Carter's seat, not reacting to the awkward silence. Carter looked back at Teal'c, and he simply gazed back. Ellison very well might prove useless as backup. Even Blair Sandburg theorized that Ellison struggled with tactile sense during high-stress situations, leading to a number of incidences where he lost his weapon.

Logically, O'Neill should partner Teal'c with Ellison since Teal'c had the most extensive experience fighting without assistance. When he had first begun to work with the humans, he had struggled to train his instincts away from killing anyone who approached his back. As the Prime of Apophis, he had fought from ships and machines. When the rare mission required a more precise strike, Teal'c had gone alone. The goa'uld prepared defenses for armies, not for individual invaders. Teal'c had helped Apophis defeat many enemies that way. He had the skills required to function alone if Ellison proved unreliable.

"Teal'c, you and Carter head north. Ellison and I will take west. Priority one is getting inside and getting eyes on our people." O'Neill got out of the car and pulled out his weapon, holding it close to his leg as he trotted toward the alley that led to the target building. Ellison was out and following immediately, his own weapon held down to his side as he ran.

Teal'c quickly took point, his hand on his zat'nik'tel where it rested under his jacket. Carter followed, her face grim. "Let's hope they don't kill each other," Sam Carter said softly as she watched the other men vanish behind the building.

"They shall not." Teal'c considered that answer. "Not until we recover Daniel Jackson and Blair Sandburg."

Carter grinned at him. "I really hope that's a joke, Teal'c."

"As do I," Teal'c assured her as they moved into their standard positions for entering hostile territory. Unlike Jaffa, humans would be prepared for a small rescue team, and Teal'c moved silently once they reached the target building. A window provided an access point, but he could not reach it. Looking around, he could see a crate of sufficient size. Without even waiting for a request, Carter went to the crate and waited for him. He lifted his side with one hand, keeping his weapon pointed toward the building as they carried the crate into position below the window.

Carter took position crouching with her back between the building and the crate, and Teal'c leaped up onto it and peered through the dirty glass. The inside was dark. While keeping an interior dim was an excellent deterrent against invaders who would have to allow their eyes to adjust to the dark, Teal'c found that few humans chose the strategy. Daniel Jackson had suggested that fear motivated humans to turn lights on even when darkness provided a strategic advantage.

Teal'c gave the hand signal for Carter to stay in position and then he carefully pushed at the glass in the window. The glass was thick, and Teal'c pressed against a corner in order to force the glass out of the frame. However, the glass broke with a sharp crack. Teal'c ducked below the level of the window and listened for any sort of response. Carter was on one knee, her weapon trained on the edge of the building.

After a few seconds, she silently signaled, asking if he heard anything, and Teal'c shook his head and returned to the window, trusting Carter would warn him if the enemy came. Pressing against one side of the cracked glass, he pushed until he could get his gloved fingers around the smaller piece. It shattered at his pull, and he extracted the three largest fragments, handing them to Carter who put them carefully out of the way.

The larger piece came out all at once, and then Teal'c slipped through the window and into the dark building. Carter followed, and Teal'c led them past dusty offices, opening doors and quietly checking each. Nowhere did they find evidence of enemy or their missing people. At the end of the hall, an open door led to the main storage area. This main room was divided into squares by weak bars of light allowed in by dirty windows, and Teal'c focused on the two figures in the middle of the room. Almost immediately, he recognized O'Neill. From the way he was standing with his back stiff, he was angry. Teal'c moved out of the hallway and into the room.

"Sir? No Daniel?" Carter asked as she hurried around Teal'c.

"No, no Daniel, but if there had been a Daniel, Captain Nitwit here would have gotten Daniel and himself killed."

"I knew no one was in the building," Ellison practically snarled as he knelt next to a pile. Teal'c could see a familiar plaid shirt of Blair Sandburg's as well as the jeans and blue shirt Daniel Jackson had been wearing, and even Elizabeth Canarsee's clothing "Why the hell would they make them strip?" Ellison was fisting Blair's plaid shirt.

"To get rid of this," Carter said, holding up the recorder the tracking equipment had targeted.

"Damn it. Next time, shove that tracking chip somewhere that he can't lose it," O'Neill suggested with great vehemence.

"Yes, sir," Carter acknowledged. Her eyes scanned the building, and Teal'c stepped to the side and watched the exits. Carter would identify any clues far faster than he would. He did not know what to find in a place like this, so he would be unable to spot any anomalies. Ellison also seemed to be searching for clues. He stood and slowly walked a circle around the abandoned pile of clothing and equipment.

With one eye on those two, O'Neill pulled out his phone and called Walter, checking on the availability of more people to help in the search. Ellison continued to circle. He knelt down, and Carter was immediately at his side.

"Do you see something?" she asked. Ellison ignored her and crouched lower to the ground, his nose flaring widely.

"If you have a seizure, I'm not stopping to coddle you, Ellison," O'Neill warned, and from his tone, he was serious. He closed the phone without warning, but Teal'c had no doubt that Walter had long ago grown used to O'Neill's idiosyncrasies.

"An SUV drove through here," Ellison said, ignoring O'Neill.

"Can you tell how long ago?" Carter asked. She crouched next to him, her hand on his back. For a half second, his back rippled, and Teal'c thought that Ellison might shove her away, but then he focused on the floor again. Bending down until his face was nearly on the concrete, he crept across the surface of the floor.

"There's no dust on the tracks." Ellison stood up, and Teal'c watched as O'Neill's frustration slowly turned to curiosity. He watched as Ellison followed some invisible line on the floor, Carter right behind him. Ellison stopped again, and crouched next to a spot. Reaching down, he picked something up in his fingers and brought it up to his nose.

"His crime scene techs must hate him," O'Neill commented softly to Teal'c.

Teal'c turned a questioning look toward O'Neill, but O'Neill was resting his hand on his gun and watching as Ellison stared off into space.

"Detective Ellison?" Carter asked softly. He didn't respond.

"Great. That is why soldiers with P-chad aren't allowed on active duty," O'Neill commented, and the curiosity had vanished under more frustration. "Call an ambulance for coma boy, and let's get moving. The commander at Fairchild Air Force Base is coordinating with McChord to get a team out here, and we're going to meet them at Cascade PD.

"Blair Sandburg's notes suggest that if Jim Ellison is lost in one sense he may need another sense stimulated in order to break his concentration," Teal'c commented. Carter nodded and pulled out a small penlight she often used when looking inside various machines.

"Got it," she said, flashing the light across Ellison's eyes. "Detective, you really need to wake up now. If you've found something, we need to know before these guys get our people out of the state."

O'Neill made a derisive noise. "Out of the state is not exactly the worst-case scenario, here. I swear, I'm going to chain Daniel to a bed in the mountain. Sadly, I still think he'd manage to get himself in trouble."

Teal'c understood this need to recall the former troubles of their team member. Given the number of times Daniel had been targeted, the man had proved unexpectedly resilient. They all needed reminding of that fact. "Linea, Hathor and even the Ashrak assassin all targeted Daniel within Stargate Command," Teal'c pointed out.

O'Neill sighed and looked at him. "You just had to remind me, didn't you?"

Carter continued to flash the light in Ellison's eyes, and now she rested a hand against his cheek and stroked her thumb across his lower lip. The gesture was oddly sensual, but Teal'c understood her approach. The lips had a higher number of nerve endings than other skin, so the tactile connection should break his concentration on his sense of smell.

"Two minutes, Carter," O'Neill warned.

"Yes, sir," Carter agreed, still flashing the light back and forth. "Detective Ellison, Jim, we need you to stop focusing on the smell. We need whatever information you've found."

"Assuming he's found something and hasn't just gone into a seizure," O'Neill said softly. Then he stepped closer to them.

"I think he's responding, sir. His pupils are beginning to react to the light," Carter offered. Teal'c waited to see if O'Neill would still order them to leave Ellison. The man was not in danger, and his own people would likely offer better medical support if this was a seizure.

"Report, Captain," O'Neill barked so loudly that Carter dropped her light and it clattered against the floor. Ellison bolted up, his body going stiff as he went into a pose that the soldiers on base called 'at attention.' Almost immediately, he took a step back and looked around, scowling at O'Neill.

"Colonel," Ellison said, his voice tight with anger.

"So, did you find something, or were you just bored with our company?" O'Neill asked, but Teal'c could tell from the way the man leaned forward that he was hoping Ellison had something for them to work with.

"I smelled fish," Ellison offered. He brought a hand up and scrubbed it across his face in a gesture of great weariness.

"Fish?" O'Neill asked, and his tone was openly mocking. "This is Washington. The whole state stinks of fish."

Ellison lowered his hand and glared at O'Neill. "I smell fish waste."

"Excrement?" Carter asked, but Ellison shook his head.

"No, the remains from processing fish—internal organs, ground parts."

"You got that from dirt?" O'Neill asked.

"Yes, I got that from dirt. The senses are very useful. Blair always says they're better than a crime lab." For a half-second, Ellison got a fond expression on his face, but then he hid all emotions behind a mask of indifference.

"Okay, so we start looking at fish processing plants. That only narrows it down to about a hundred sites," O'Neill sighed as he pulled out his phone again. This time, he told Walter that the enemy was most likely going to use a boat to try and escape with the three captives. Teal'c knew that General Hammond would have the full force of the American military on the ocean, but he did not understand local geography or politics well enough to know if they were likely to be successful.

Meanwhile, Ellison had returned to his search of the floor and again knelt. Carter followed him, her hand resting on his arm this time. She asked him questions about what he saw and heard and felt, most of which he generally ignored as he reached out and picked up another small piece of dirt. This time when he smelled it, Carter kept up a running commentary about the receptor cells of the olfactory epithelium. When Carter had first learned of Ellison's condition, Carter had been fascinated with the possibilities, and listened with unabashed curiosity as Teal'c had described as much of Blair's research as he could remember. She was clearly attempting to keep him from concentrating too much on one sense.

"Peat." Ellison said before he brushed his hands off on his knees and stood up.

"Pete?" O'Neill asked, lowering his phone.

"Peat, like peat moss. But there aren't any marshlands in this area."

O'Neill's face grew thoughtful. "Could they have carried the peat with them, maybe driven in from a marshy area?"

Ellison was already shaking his head. "It smelled fresh... wet. We haven't had any rain lately so any dirt caught in the tread should be dry."

"They could have just gone through a car wash. I would have in order to keep the car from transferring any trace evidence." O'Neill might play the fool in front of goa'uld, but his intelligence equaled Daniel's or Carter's.

"Filtered water would smell different. There's no soap, no chlorine from the city purification system. This is fresh peat."

O'Neill put the phone to his ear again. "Walter, give me a reason why someone would have peat in the middle of the city." He listened for a second. "It might," he said slowly. He turned to Ellison. "Is the fish smell in with the peat or are they separate?"

Ellison tiled his head his eyes falling half closed for a second, and Teal'c could see Carter tighten her grip on his arm. "The smells are together. The peat smells faintly of fish parts," Ellison finally offered.

"They're most likely at the same place," O'Neill told Walter over the phone. O'Neill listened in silence, his face obscured by shadow. "Thanks Walter." He closed the phone and turned to them. "We're looking for a fish composting plant. There are two south of the city, so that's where we're going. The Cascade PD and the Air Force team can follow up on any other leads until we get back." O'Neill started walking toward the door, leaving the rest of them to follow.

Ellison shook his head. "I should have been there."

"While you would have fought well, you would have been unable to prevent these people from taking Blair Sandburg," Teal'c offered Ellison as they did follow.

Ellison glanced down toward Teal'c's leg. The pant leg was torn open just enough to see the deep hole in his dark skin, and blood stained the front of the leg. "I know you did your best..."

"It will heal," Teal'c assured the man. He had suffered far greater wounds, and while it was true that the leg would be vulnerable for a time, it would not bother him the way it would a human without a goa'uld larva to assist in the healing.

"I would have heard something. I would have known they were in the building," Ellison said, clearly blaming himself. Teal'c exchanged a look with Carter. Guilt was not a safe emotion when one had a task at hand.

"You can't have your senses turned up all the time," Carter said slowly.

"When Blair's around, I do," Ellison said, his jaw tight. And with that, he lengthened his stride, hurrying to catch up with O'Neill and making it very clear that he did not intend to discuss the subject any farther.

"Touchy," Carter said softly.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. Privately, he thought that the word applied equally to O'Neill and Ellison right now. Hopefully they would find their missing members before either man reached the end of his patience.


14. Chapter Fourteen

Blair ended up in the corner of the van stuffed between Elizabeth and the back of the driver's seat. Daniel was laying in the middle of the van; he started stirring, his hands twitching, and one of the kidnappers kicked at him.

"Hey, so not cool," Blair complained, wishing he still had a crutch to hit the guy. Before he could say anything else, a gloved hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him to his feet... or to his one foot anyway. His injured ankle had pretty much given up any last attempt to hold his weight The kidnapper's dull, black gun pressed into Blair's chest, which convinced him that he probably didn't want to complain right now.

"Listen, we were sent for Canarsee and Jackson. You're just some bystander who we're probably going to kill as soon as we get confirmation that you aren't important, so you don't want to piss me off. Understand?" The man had cold eyes that looked gray in the dim light of the back of the van. He moved his gun so that he pressed the barrel of it up against the bottom of Blair's jaw, and Blair was actually pretty proud that he managed to not piss his pants.

"Yeah, I understand." With every word, the gun pressed harder against his jawbone.

"Good." The kidnapper shoved the barrel of the gun into the soft part just under his chin hard enough to make Blair press back into the side of the van.

Daniel cleared his throat. "Jack's trying to get him clearance so he can join my scientific team. He's an anthropologist the SGC wants to recruit." Daniel was awake and sounding way too calm for a man who'd been knocked unconscious and kidnapped. Then again, if his life with O'Neill was even half as exciting as Blair's life with Jim, this probably wasn't his first time playing hostage.

The guy took the gun out of Blair's neck and aimed it in Daniel's direction. "Another geek, and not one with a skill that's useful when he's locked in a small cell." The bad guy sounded way too amused by that, but Daniel just glared as he pushed himself up so he was sitting on the floor.

"Take it easy. If O'Neill wants him, he may be useful," one of the others commented. He and the last kidnapper held onto a rail that went along the top of the van as they took a corner. Elizabeth groaned and pulled her hands up to cradle her head, and the guy with the gun pressed on Blair's shoulder.

Despite Jim and Simon's teasing, Blair did know how to shut up, and so he just slid to the floor without comment. His whole leg was throbbing now, but that didn't seem nearly as important as the threats about small cells and death.

"Jack is going to find you, and you're going to be looking at the inside of a prison cell for the rest of your miserable lives," Daniel commented calmly. None of the kidnappers seemed all that impressed by the threat.

Elizabeth moaned and rolled to her side and pulled her legs up. A few bleary blinks around the van, and she let her head thunk back down to the floor of the van. "Aw crap. I told you, Danny. But no, you're all 'the government isn't like that'. You and naive are best friends."

"The government isn't like this," Daniel said firmly.

"Um, Danny, these guys have government black ops soldiers written all over them. If you want to convince me that the government is not dangerous, I think you blew your chance." She laughed, but it was an almost hysterical sound. The laughter continued long past any dark humor, and her dark eyes shone with tears. Daniel reached over and rested a hand on her knee as she sat up.

"They aren't part of the government." Daniel looked up at the three armed men who loomed over them. Blair wasn't exactly the expert, but these guys were looking a lot like soldiers to him. He snorted.

"Nice, you two are ganging up on me, now," Daniel said with exaggerated weariness.

"Will... will Colonel O'Neill..." Elizabeth started, but then she stopped and caught her lower lip between her teeth. Blair remembered the terror from that first time he'd been kidnapped. Lash had grabbed him, and after seeing the bodies of Lash's victims, Blair lay in chains imagining himself dead in a bathtub, his hair floating around his face. God, he'd been so scared, but all he could think about was that he just had to hold on until Jim came. He'd had this absolute blind faith that Jim wouldn't stop until he came bursting through the door and saved him. What did Elizabeth have? She could only hope that someone else had a blessed protector big enough and scary enough to come to the rescue, and she'd get caught up in it.

"He's going to come charging in like the Hyksos army coming down on Dudimose I. Just you wait and see," Daniel promised her.

"God you're such a history geek," she said, her voice vanishing into a soft sob.

"Hey, he's right," Blair offered. "I mean, my roommate told me that O'Neill is the kind of guy who makes Rambo feel incompetent."

"Jim Ellison said that?" Daniel asked.

Blair shifted so that his injured leg was straight out in front of him. "Yep. He did some snooping and said O'Neill has this badass reputation. That he's not a man that you mess with if you like all your body parts attached to your body in the same order as when you were born." Blair glared at the kidnapper who seemed to be in charge. The guy had a square jaw and looked like the poster-boy for the marines.

He looked down and shoved his gun into a holster before pulling out a weird-looking s-shaped thing and holding it like a gun. "I think O'Neill won't find us until long after Canarsee and Jackson are safely stowed away. We'll have to see what my superiors want to do with you."

Blair refused to break eye contact. It wasn't like this was the first time he'd been threatened. Hell, it wasn't even the first time this week. Unfortunately the little voice in the back of his head kept whispering warnings about the fact that Jim just hadn't been at his best lately. He hadn't heard Ventriss' goons coming after him in the alley until it was almost too late. And no matter how much Blair tried to get him to talk or fixed lasagna so they could share a home-cooked meal... and then stare at each other silently over the plates. No matter how much he tried, Jim wasn't opening up. Jim had shut down like a nuclear plant about to blow, and that never led to good things with his senses.

"They wouldn't... Daniel?" Elizabeth really sounded panicked now.

"Hey, it's not like it'd be the first time I ended up dead," Blair shrugged. He was feeling too damn close to hysterica himself, but it was coming out a whole lot more cynical than Blair would have expected. Daniel stared at him in obvious concern, but Blair just stared at the knees of the kidnapper in front of him. He could kick the guy with his one good leg, but they had the weird s-shaped things that Blair was fairly sure were guns, and there were five of them. He didn't give himself good odds.

"They aren't going to kill anyone," Daniel said firmly.

"We'll just have to see what the big bosses say about that," the head-kidnapper said. The van jerked to a stop and the driver pushed aside the curtain that separated the front from the back.

"They're meeting us with the extra clothes. ETA, two minutes," he said.

The first kidnapper pointed the s-gun at them. "Strip."

Blair's brain went blank. Yeah, he intellectually understood the power of stripping a prisoner, but he had so totally never expected to face the cold reality of having it done to him. His hands clutched at his shirt instead of taking it off.

"No, nonononono," Elizabeth chanted softly. Her hands were wrapped around Daniel's arm so tightly that Blair could see islands of white where she was pressing into his flesh.

"You can't ask her to strip in front of all of us," Daniel said, and the confrontational tone from earlier was gone. Now Daniel sounded so reasonable and conciliatory.

"Yeah, yeah, I can." The guy raised the s-gun, and Daniel raised his hands in surrender, Elizabeth still clinging to one of his arms.

"I can do it," she whispered.

"You want us cooperative. Blair and I will cooperate, but that means you have to show us that there are rewards for cooperating. Just let her change by herself in the van. It doesn't make any difference to you, but it will make us a lot more willing to follow orders."

"I think you'll follow orders now," the guy said as he pointed the weird gun at Blair's face. The cold from the van was sinking though Blair's shirt and he stared up at the guy.

"Man, you've already told me I'm dead."

"Blair, it's not—" Daniel started.

"Whoa, hey," Blair interrupted him. "You don't need to start lying to me now. See, I figure you're the linguist and she's the computer genius. They'll keep you around long enough for Jack to find you and shoot them in the back of the head. Me? I'm an anthropologist. I'm not useful unless you have some really way-out tribe you want to understand or unless you're trying to track the changes in behavior patterns caused by urbanization. I tend to specialize in the tribal stuff myself." Blair crossed his arms and found himself suddenly very calm in the face of the cold, brutal truth. Jim was emotionally disabled right now, which meant he probably couldn't track them, and Blair just didn't have the right skill set to be of any earthy value to these people.

"I'm dead." Blair said the words, but he couldn't feel anything. He just didn't have the energy to care. "I'm dead because I'm only useful if I'm working with people, and you can't let a prisoner go off on an expedition. So, you can wave that gun around all you want, but the only reason I'm going to follow any order is if I'm getting something I want."

"Blair, this is not the time to get melodramatic." Daniel was already untying his tennis shoes.

"I'll get undressed. It's okay," Elizabeth reached for the buttons on her blouse with hands that visibly trembled. The main kidnapper looked from Blair to the others and back, not even trying to hide his confusion. Yeah, Blair wasn't exactly the typical hostage. All the people who had ever kidnapped him could probably get together and complain about his inability to just follow orders. Hell, Jim and Simon would join in on that conversation.

"You can both stop, because I'm going with the first plan. Either they let Elizabeth have the van to herself, or I'm just going to sit here until they kill me or physically pull my clothes off." He uncrossed his arms and then crossed them again when he couldn't figure out anything else to do with them.


Blair studied the end of the gun now pointed at him. It was weirdly cigar shaped on the end, and it didn’t have a hole for a bullet to come out. During the fight, there had been strange electrical discharges, so he was guessing this was some weird-ass high-tech weapon that wasn't technically supposed to exist.

"Yeah, yeah, threaten, bully, kill. I've been here before, and I let the bad guy kill me last time, too," Blair offered with a shrug.

"Maybe we should..." one of the other kidnappers started to say.

"Shut up," the main one snapped. Outside the van, the silence was broken by the sound of a car engine. The main kidnapper opened the sliding door and got out. Two of the remaining kidnappers pulled out their own weird s-guns and stood guard over them. Jim would probably say this was the best chance to escape, but then Jim would have a plan that didn't involve flailing and running, and right now that's all Blair could think of. With no weapons and a hurt leg, it wasn't a good plan.

"Seriously," Blair said to Elizabeth who had stopped at the first button of her shirt and was now pulling off her socks. "If you get undressed, I'm pretty much going to just sit here, so at least give them a chance to do the right thing before I get myself killed out of stubbornness." Blair gave her a weak smile, but she turned to Daniel.

Daniel frowned at him for a second. "Blair...."

"I'm dead either way. Hey, at least this way I get feel a little less worthless before someone shoots me in the back of the head." Blair noticed that two of the remaining four kidnappers looked at each other with more than a little concern. Right, so obviously some of them had not signed up for the 'execute the civilian' plan. If they didn't execute him in the next five minutes, he might be able to get one of them to help. Maybe. It was a long-shot, but it was better than nothing.

The main kidnapper returned to the open van door. "Jackson, you." He jabbed a finger in Blair's direction. "Strip. I want everything."

Blair looked at the guy suspiciously.

"We're letting your girlfriend have the van after we make sure you aren't bugged," the guy snapped.

"So I don't have to—" Elizabeth stopped, but that might have had something to do with the fact that Daniel was pulling off his shirt. He had way more muscle and far more scars than Blair would have expected from a linguist. Elizabeth stared at Daniel in shock, and then blinked into motion as he reached for his belt. "I'll be over here." She turned to face the corner of the van.

"Get moving." The main kidnapper raised his weapon in Blair's direction. "I really wouldn't mind having an excuse to shoot you."

"Yeah, yeah," Blair said as he pulled off two layers of shirts at once. "I have that effect on all my kidnappers." Blair threw the shirts at the guy. Blair worked on his pants, squirming awkwardly with his injured leg. Daniel had already managed to hand over all his clothes, and he sat cross legged on the floor of the van with his arms curled around his stomach.

"Glasses," the man said as he held out a gloved hand. Daniel hesitated for a second and then handed them over. The guy threw them to the side and the jabbed his gun in Blair's direction. "And you, hurry up."

"Hey, injured here. If you want me to hurry, grab that pant leg and pull," Blair said as he used his hands and one good leg to lift himself. He held his injured leg out toward the guy. For a second, the kidnapper just stared at Blair like he had grown a new head or something. Then, with far more force than he needed, he grabbed the cuff of Blair's pants and ripped them off. Now that Blair had a good look at his injured leg, he was so not surprised that it hurt. The skin above his wrapped ankle was puffy and white and his knee had swollen to nearly twice its normal size. And on the very center of the kneecap was a deep purple mark. Blair vaguely remembered falling on the street, but it hadn't hurt all that much until he'd seen it. Now it really hurt.

"You really banged that up," Daniel offered.

"Gotta love that Sandburg luck," Blair agreed. He really couldn't do much about the leg now, so he got a hand under the waistband of his boxers and started squirming free.

"Wilson, frisk Jackson and get him dressed," the main guy said. He reached forward and grabbed Daniel's arm and pulled him out.

"Yes, sir." One of the two sympathetic guards jumped down.

"We can't have him slowing us down." A new man appeared next to the main kidnapper. This one had a narrow face and a three piece suit the screamed either politician or insurance salesman. Blair stopped, his underwear around his knees. Great. They were going to shoot him like this, and wouldn't that just make for a pretty picture when Jim finally found him? They'd found a guy who'd been in his apartment for three days once. Blair tried to imagine what that guy would have looked like naked. Not pretty. An hysterical bubble rose and Blair couldn't fight back a bit of a giggle. He was about to get killed and he was worried about what Jim would think. Yep, he'd lost it.

"Look, if you're going to shoot me here, just fucking get it over with because I'm tired," Blair said as he raised his hands in an exaggerated shrug. The first time he'd died, he'd struggled so hard. The whole way down to the fountain he'd been talking to Alex, telling her that she had other choices, trying to get her to see that he didn't have to kill him. He'd even offered to go with her, but like she said, he would have just been waiting for a chance to betray her to the cops.

He'd struggled when she'd held him face down in the water, too. His knuckles had been bruised from trying to fight his way free. He'd hit the fountain more often than anything else. And then he'd been dead, only he'd felt Jim's spirit pulling at him, needing him. It'd been the last time Jim had needed him for anything at all. Blair had fought for life.

Now, though, he was telling these guys the truth. He was just too tired to fight when life seemed to just get harder with each passing day. He'd been walking upstream against a killer current, and he was just ready to fucking go under. He was just sorry that he wasn't good enough to take a couple of them with him—to give Daniel and Elizabeth better odds.

"Get the hand device," the one in the suit ordered. Blair watched in weariness as the main kidnapper turned away and went to get something that did not sound at all good.

"That won't work," Daniel said. Wilson must have finished with him because he was pulling on grey sweat pants.

"Sure it will," the kidnapper said as he came back with a really ugly gold and jeweled thing on his hand. "It runs on naquadah."

The politician/insurance salesman took the s-gun from the kidnapper, and then the kidnapper was reaching for Blair's injured leg. He held his hand over Blair's injuries, and the thing started to glow. Whatever else it did, it generated heat that sank deep into Blair's leg, relaxing the muscles.

"How? You have a symbiote?" Daniel demanded. Now that was a new word. And from Daniel's tone of voice, Blair was guessing that was not a good word, despite the Latin root.

The man in the suit gave Daniel a disgusted look. "Dr. Jackson, one only has to administer a little naquadaha and a whole new world of technological possibilities opens up."

Blair listened, struggling to put together any sort of hypothesis that would make sense of the facts he had. The weirdest fact was the way the bruising and swelling around his knee was fading like magic.

"You injected your men with naquadah?" Now Daniel sounded furious. "That's a heavy metal. It's poison."

"In doses too large, yes. But all medicine is poisonous in large doses, Dr. Jackson, and the benefits..."

"I've had naquadah poisoning. You have no idea the danger involved in exposing your men to this sort of material. The government sees lead poisoning as a major danger, and you're putting naquadah into people's bodies?! Doesn't that tell you just how crazy you've become?"

"And what would you suggest, Dr. Jackson?" The guy in the suit was sounding pretty angry himself. "Should we stand around and discuss the ethics of naquadah treatments while the goa'uld attack from space?"

And that was so not what Blair had been expecting to hear. Daniel shot him a concerned look before turning back to the suited guy.

"If we destroy ourselves first, it won't matter what the goa'uld do. But if you want to talk about planetary security, exactly how do you plan to control the situation when the naquadah drives your best men to paranoia and violence? How are you going to cover it up when they're standing on a street corner blasting everything that moves with alien technology? That's what naquadah does."

"In large doses." The guy with the suit was sounding more and more frustrated. "We need to protect this planet."

"Our ancestors defeated the goa'uld with hand tools—with axes and spears. You don't have to do this for us to win." Daniel pulled a sweatshirt over his head and then glared at the man.

"Get him in the car." The man turned his back on Daniel, and a kidnapper in black grabbed Daniel by the arm and pulled him away from the van so that Blair couldn't see him. Damn. Okay, Blair had been prepared for all sorts of secrets, but aliens and the potential for invasions had not even been a faint possibility in his mind. Either Blair had just fallen into the middle of the biggest governmental conspiracy in history, or all these people were insane. Right now, he didn't have enough evidence to prove or disprove either hypothesis.

Then again, Murray's behavior hadn't been even close to normal and Jim had totally focused on the other man. Blair found himself wishing he had a computer so he could look up some of those terms he promised Murray he wouldn't. He suddenly suspected that he might not be able to find any of the terms Blair had so carefully memorized in any of the linguistic databases.

"Is he ready to go?" the guy in the suit asked.

"He should be." The head kidnapper unwrapped Blair's ankle, and Blair could see that the swelling had vanished. He turned his ankle right and left without even a twinge.

"Get him cleared and in the car. We can't lose any more time."

Blair didn't comment as the kidnapper threw the ace bandage and then his underwear onto the growing pile of clothes. "Out," he ordered, and Blair scooted out, stepping carefully onto a leg that had been badly sprained just minutes ago. He hadn't even had time to finish being amazed before the kidnapper shoved him into the side of the van and frisked him and then checked places that Blair never would have thought to check.

"Man, don't I get dinner and a movie before you do that?" he asked, that same hysterical bubble threatening to rise up and strip him of any common sense he might still have. Things were just moving too damn fast for him.

"He's clean."

One of the other kidnappers shoved sweats at him, and Blair hurried to pull them on.

"Wilson, you check Canarsee and bring her to the car when you're finished," the guy in the suit ordered, and then Blair found himself between suit-guy and the kidnapper as they pulled him toward a limousine. Blair got shoved inside and sat next to a very grumpy-looking Daniel who was squinting.

"Aliens?" Blair whispered. Daniel looked at him with an expression that might have been pity or sorrow or maybe he was just really blind as a bat without his glasses. It was hard to tell.

"So, what now?" Daniel asked, his arms still around his stomach.

"Now we wait for your friend, and then we go back to our local base of operations and wait to find out what our superiors want to do. As you know, Dr. Jackson, we recently lost a number of our key people, and we need replacements."

"I won't help you translate anything," Daniel said firmly.

"Oh, I'm sure you will." The man gave a shark's smile. "Eventually. Once we get you to our permanent base, I assure you that Colonel O'Neill will not be able to track you. It will only be a matter of time, Dr. Jackson."

Blair leaned back in his seat and considered the possibility that he might be the lucky one. He was just facing a quick death. Blair seriously would not want to live knowing that he would eventually give in and help people like this. Oh, Daniel would hold out as long as he could, but Blair had been in Amnesty International. He'd read about what foreign governments did to people when they needed cooperation. Blair just had no idea that his own government was still involved in this type of illegal activity. From the way the guy in the suit was talking, he was part of the government, just a part that Blair had never, ever wanted to meet.

The limo door opened and Elizabeth got in. She was in the same sweats they were, and they had taken her hair clips so that her thick black hair hung to the middle of her back. She looked ashen. Blair scooted down on the long bench seat and she quickly sat between him and Daniel.

"Assholes," Blair said softly. Daniel flashed him a small smile. Elizabeth just looked like she might start throwing up. The car started out the double doors of an empty warehouse, the white van behind it. That's all Blair saw before the windows turned suddenly opaque and he found himself staring at solid black. Yep, he was so not going to get out of this on his own. These people were scary.

Blair thought about Jim, about how he had fought with Lash, the gun blasts shaking the old windows in the ancient building. He thought about Murray, who was big enough to intimidate anyone. He thought about O'Neill and his scary-ass military record. All Blair could do was hope one of them got a lead fast.


15. Chapter Fifteen

Blair followed the head kidnapper, his arm around Elizabeth from one side while Daniel supported her on the other. She still didn't have her color back, so she was almost as gray as the sweats they all wore. There were enough armed men around them that Blair didn't think they had a chance. From the sharp look Daniel had given him, he was thinking the same thing.

"Man, soldiers go into the service to do the whole protect and serve thing. How fucked up do you guys have to be? I mean, you've twisted protect and serve into terrorizing civilians. Totally uncool." Blair watched the guard to their right. Sure enough, the man flinched. Even though the flinching guard had the same military bearing that the rest all had, this one was so not happy about this mission. He had some Native People or Hispanic blood in him, and Blair was guessing that he knew what it meant to be picked on, to be targeted. If he could build up a little sympathy, he might... Okay, he might have a whole lot of nothing, but he couldn't just die without doing something. Oh, he could and probably would die, but he had to give it some sort of last ditch effort. "From soldier to murderer," Blair snorted.

"Shut up," the asshole in front ordered without looking back. They turned a corner and walked through a large garage-door sized opening in the middle of the warehouse wall. The smell inside was even worse than the smell outside, which was really saying something. This whole place smelled cat food and wet feet—it wasn't pleasant and it probably wasn't helping settle Elizabeth's stomach.

"Oh yeah, because you really have anything to threaten me with. Man, you're just waiting for permission to kill me. Exactly what leverage do you think you have?"

The guy whirled around, his face a mask of pure fury. "Just keep pushing it," he demanded. He struck so fast that Blair didn't even see the fist before it pounded into his stomach. His whole body radiated pain and he dropped to his knees. "We protect you candy-ass liberals. What do you do to protect this country? What do you do to protect this world? You fucking piece of shit."

Blair would have answered, except that he couldn't convince his lungs to actually suck air in, which made it difficult for him to talk back. Warm hands rested against his shoulders, urging him to stay down.

"You don't want to do this," Daniel was saying in that hyper-calm voice Jim always used on people who were about to jump off a building. Blair had heard him use that voice twice, and both times the guys still tried to kill themselves. One succeeded. Hopefully Daniel did better with that voice than Jim ever did.

"Oh, I really do," the kidnapper snarled right before Blair felt something hard poke the top of his head.

"We can't kill him here," another kidnapper said, and he sounded desperate. Blair's inability to breathe interfered with his attempts to laugh. The second kidnapper sounded way more panicked than Blair, and Blair was the one who was about to be dead... again. Unfortunately, he didn't see himself coming back from dead this time. Jim wasn't here to call him back, to breathe life into drowning lungs, to need him.

"This is the danger of naquadah poisoning. You're not being rational here. Blair's not a threat to you, and you haven't been given permission to hurt him. Your bosses will put you in the cell next to mine if you pull that trigger." Daniel was sounding pretty damn convincing, but a glance up toward the kidnapper told Blair that he wasn't really being convinced. The man gripped his pistol so tightly that Blair expected it to go off at any second, which would be pretty much fatal because he had it pointed at Blair's head.

"He's right." The kidnapper who Blair had identified as the soft touch stepped close. "Captain, you can't shoot him."

Captain Kidnapper backhanded the other guy, his gun hand flying in a large arc before he slammed it into the side of his head. The one who had tried to come to Blair's aid stumbled back, and the captain pursued him, screaming so incoherently that Blair was only catching every other word.

Daniel dropped to one knee beside him, resting a hand on Blair's back. "Blair, the naquadah causes paranoia and violence. Antagonizing him is just stupid," Daniel whispered, his eyes focused on the fight between the two kidnappers. It really wasn't much of a fight. The captain was punching at the other guy, while the other guy retreated as fast as he could and a third soldier clung to the captain's belt trying to hold him back.

Blair sat back on his heels and tried to stretch his stomach muscles. Fuck. That guy hit hard because even now, every breath caused throbs and twinges all the way down his body. He poked at his stomach a little, and from the pain that nearly blinded him, Blair was guessing that he was hurt a little worse than he should be for just a punch. He just didn't have time to worry about it. The open door was right behind them, and most of the guards were distracted. "Run," Blair whispered. He looked at Daniel in desperation when Daniel only tightened his fingers around Blair's arm. "Run." He pushed Daniel's hand away. Daniel glanced over at Elizabeth who had her arms crossed over her stomach in a pose that reminded Blair eerily of Daniel.

"You're hurt," Daniel replied as if that explained anything. The other soldiers were now dividing their attention between the prisoners and the odd fight that was going on with their fellow soldiers. One guard had his eyes steadily on them, his weapon trained on Daniel, but they could deal with one guard.

"I'll be right behind you," Blair insisted. He wouldn't be able to run fast or long, but he'd rather go down trying to get away than he would just lay down for these assholes. A half dozen shots in the back was way better than letting someone put a gun to his head.

Daniel leaned in. "You're hurt. He had brass knuckles on, so you may be hurt worse than you know. I'm half-blind, and Elizabeth is so terrified that she can't walk straight, so we aren't doing that much better than you are. We aren't running."

"It's our best chance," Blair said, but he said it just a little too loud, or maybe it was just his tone of voice, but the two guards who had been watching the scuffle turned their attention back to the prisoners.

"Let's get them to the cells. Captain Lewis can catch up with us later," the tallest of the men said, jerking his head toward the corner of the warehouse. Daniel got a hand under Blair's arm and pulled him up. Sure enough, Captain Lewis was still intent on beating the shit out of the friendliest of the kidnappers, but it didn't look like he was going to get his way. Two soldiers had gotten him to the ground and were basically sitting on him.

"Punch him in the kidneys for me!" Blair shouted to them. The two guys on Captain Lewis didn't react, but Lewis bucked into motion, struggling against the hands that held him.

"Shut up," one of the guards snapped, and he shoved Blair hard enough to send him stumbling forward just for good measure. Luckily, Daniel still had his arm, and that kept Blair from falling to the ground again. All this falling was so not good on his knees. And a little part of him worried that the alien device might not have totally fixed his injured leg, so he really wanted to avoid getting slammed around for a little bit.

"Let me," Elizabeth said, slipping her hand around Blair's waist. She actually gave him a weak smile before glaring at one of the guards.

"Oh man, give it up," Blair told her when she opened her mouth as if to complain to their kidnappers. Apparently she was one of those people who reacted way stronger when other people got hurt than she did when she got hurt. She glanced over at him, and Blair looked around at the men who were holding them captive. "If they had souls, they wouldn't be attacking civilians. I mean, forcing civilians to work for you, that's like the plot of some bad Cold War era novel with the evil Soviets enslaving scientists." Blair noticed that a couple of the kidnappers flinched from the description. Oh yeah, when all else failed, fuck with people's personal mythologies. Everyone wanted to be the hero, and figuring out that you'd taken the role as the villain in life's little dramas... that was hard on the ego.

"Blair," Daniel said. That's all he said, just Blair's name, but Blair didn't need to be a genius to figure out that Daniel was begging him to shut up. Begging didn't work for Jim or Simon or the kidnappers, so Blair didn't plan on letting Daniel get his way.

"Man, I have put my life on the line working with the police department, I worked every job from short-order cook to truck driver to teaching fellow, all to pay for my college, and now they think my life is worthless. They plan to ask for permission to shoot me." The kidnapper behind Blair gave him a good shove, and Blair ended up following Daniel and the kidnappers down a short hall with offices on either side. Elizabeth stayed at his side, and two of the kidnappers guarded them from behind, guns drawn. They didn't actually need guns since they looked big enough to break Blair in half with their bare hands, but bullies did love their blatant phallic symbols.

"Blair," Daniel warned again.

"Oh please. I'm going to be dead, so that gives me the right to tell them that they're soulless bastards, that they make their government look like a cheap copy of a Soviet-style gulag. I'm getting marched off to my death here."

"Oh Blair." Elizabeth whispered the words, horror making her hold onto his arm. "I won't do anything for them if they hurt you. They can go fuck themselves. They can fuck each other. I'm not helping murderers," she said firmly. Then she tightened her hold on Blair's arm and smiled at him. "Daniel and I are not going to just let them kill you."

Blair looked past Elizabeth to Daniel, but the man had a look on his face like he had just bitten into a rotten egg. Yeah, Elizabeth didn't see it, but Blair and Daniel did. These people were holding the power, and they were not about to let Elizabeth manipulate them. The only reason it had worked when Blair pulled his stunt in the van was because the big, head honcho wasn't around. The minute these guys got the okay, they were going to pull Blair out of the cell and shoot him.

"Jack will be here before we have to worry about it," Daniel said firmly. The guard in front stopped and pulled open a large sliding door like you'd find in a barn, and inside was a large room with a cell taking up about a third of the room. The other part had bunks, and a small sitting area with a television so Blair was guessing that the guards were going to be bunking in with them. That would make it easier for him to work on the guards, but it didn't give them much privacy. With a toilet and sink inside the cage, he was guessing that they weren't going to be getting field trips to a bathroom, either.

"Inside," one of the kidnappers ordered as he opened the cell door and stood to the side. Daniel went in silently, casting an unhappy look in the man's direction as he passed, Elizabeth and Blair following. Blair would love to say something else that made the guard strike out, that made the others question the ethics of how their bosses were treating prisoners. Unfortunately his brain failed him. He just crossed his arms over his chest and glared as the kidnapper locked the cell door.

"Jack is going to find us," Daniel said firmly. The very certainty in his voice made Blair miss the days when he felt that way about Jim. He had no doubt that Jim would turn the city upside-down looking for him, but the man was so emotionally shut-down, that Blair wasn't giving him good odds. "Blair, I am so sorry you got caught up in this." Daniel scrunched up his face.

"Hey, you are not to blame for this," Blair said as he sat on one of the two narrow bunks. "So, it looks like you and I are going to be bunkies," he pointed out to Daniel. Someone was probably going to end up on the floor eventually. He pulled on the mattress to see if it would lift off the frame. It would be safer that way. But the thing was bolted down.

Daniel shook his head and sat on the bunk next to Blair. "It's like the drama of my life just keeps spilling out onto anyone who even comes near." Daniel sounded so tired that Blair looked at him. They only had room for one fatally depressed hostage, and Blair had already filled the position.

Elizabeth sat on the other bunk and pushed her hair back, hooking it behind her ears. "Hey, I'm the one who went and hacked your bosses' computer. Of course, at the time I thought I hadn't gotten through. I thought they'd shunted my attack off into some secondary computer system they'd filled with all this fake intel about aliens and invasion and this weird version of Daniel Jackson who ran around saving the world. I never really thought you were the 'save the world' sort, Danny."

Daniel shrugged. Blair could almost feel the guilt rolling from him like a fog. Then again, Daniel had already admitted to feeling guilty over Steven Rayner's accident and Elizabeth's involvement, so it wasn't really a hard stretch to assume the man was way better at guilt than he probably should be.

"Man, no one gets to feel guilty about me, except for those assholes out there."

Daniel gave him a disbelieving look.

"Hey, I was getting myself kidnapped way before you showed up," Blair pointed out.

"And I went poking around on my own," Elizabeth added. "But when the boss shows up, I’m telling him that I won't do any work for them unless I see proof that you're free, Blair."

Blair didn't argue, but he didn't really think that was going to work either.

"I think the best bet is to work on two of the soldiers," Blair said. Daniel frowned, clearly not following the logic in that statement. "Oh man, did you not catch that two of the kidnappers are not nearly as good with this plan as the others?" Blair asked.

Elizabeth make a little amused sound. "Danny's not really all that good with people." She paused for a second. "Then again, neither am I. I think that's why we were friends in our undergrad days. We used to lie and tell people we were dating because neither one of us wanted to waste time on people when we could be poking around something really interesting—like a history book or a computer circuit board." She gave a weak and strained laugh.

"I wasn't that bad," Daniel defended himself, but he didn't sound like he was even convinced of that himself.

"Well, let me tell you," Blair said softly, "the guy who looks like he has some Native People or Hispanic heritage... he is so not okay with what these guys are doing."

"That's why he tried to stand up for you," Daniel interrupted.

"Totally," Blair agreed with a smile. "And the guy with the hair that's starting to turn gray is right there with him. They are so not into being the bad guys. Which means—"

"Someone convinced them they were the good guys," Daniel finished for him. "The NID is always saying that Stargate Command isn't aggressive enough. Infecting their own people with naquadah is pure NID. Morons."

Blair smiled at the evidence that Daniel was getting with the plan. Oh yeah, don't count the geeks out yet. "If we can get the others to pick on me a little more, those two may break away from their asshole buddies."

"That plan is going to get you hurt," Elizabeth said with a frown.

"It's the best plan we have," Blair pointed out. From the silence that followed, the other two agreed.


16. Chapter Sixteen

Teal'c reached out and grabbed for Ellison's arm, catching him a scant second before the man shoved Carter aside in favor of storming toward the warehouse they were observing. Ellison strained.

"Damn it, Chief. Just for once, keep your head down," he snarled.

"I do not believe Blair Sandburg can hear you," Teal'c offered, hoping to help calm Ellison. Carter was on his other side, her fingers stroking over his arm in an attempt to keep him from being lost in a zone. Ellison shook his arm, clearly trying to dislodge her, and Teal'c wondered if the man wished to zone. It did not seem reasonable, but then Teal'c had learned to not expect logic from those around him.

"And he wonders why I don't trust him," O'Neill sighed with exaggerated sadness. "So, are you planning on sharing what set you off this time, or should I just assume you're off your rocker?"

"Sir," Carter said, her voice heavy with disapproval.

Jim jerked, pulling his arm away from Carter, but Teal'c just tightened his grip. Only once Ellison discovered that he could not pull free did he stop. His gaze, which had been focused on the distant warehouse, now turned to the team.

"They hit him," Ellison said, and from his tone, he clearly expected that the words would inspire O'Neill to some action.

"Yeah, I figured they would. They're bad guys, Ellison. I didn't think they wanted to invite our geeks to tea." O'Neill gave Ellison a look that communicated very clearly his disapproval and his distrust. Ellison narrowed his eyes, and for a second, Teal'c wondered if the man would physically attack O'Neill. If he did, it did not bode well for his self-control. However, after a second of cold glares, Ellison looked back toward the warehouse.

"They need permission to kill Blair; he wasn't in their original plan," Ellison said tightly.

O'Neill nodded. The local base was already sending reinforcements, and the wise course of action suggested that they wait for such backup. On Earth, there were many civilians in the field of action, and the need for safety and secrecy made operations difficult. Obviously, Ellison did not approve of O'Neill's strategy.

"How long do we wait, Sir?" Ellison asked, and his tone made the term of respect sound profoundly disrespectful.

For not the first time, Teal'c wondered why Blair would choose this one to teach him of the warrior's path. As a tec'ma'te, Ellison was questionable. However, his temperament was not such that Teal'c would ever suggest that the man work with a tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah—a shaman. He would not wish for him to work with Blair Sandburg in particular. Blair believed that he had failed Ellison, but Ellison had given no sign of displeasure. To the contrary, he had acted in a way that indicated a deep bond. It was most confusing, and Teal'c wondered how confused the young shaman must be.

When Teal'c displeased Bra'tac as a young warrior, Bra'tac had been quick to voice or show his disapproval, and through that, Teal'c knew he had to make amends. However, when a student found himself struggling to understand the tec'ma'te, then he worried constantly about whether his master was displeased or not. Either Blair had failed to see that Jim Ellison was not displeased with him, which indicated a dangerous breakdown in communication, or Jim Ellison was displeased and was hiding it, which indicated a dangerous failure to provide guidance.

"We wait for backup." O'Neill's words were curt, and he too stared at the distant building. Even if O'Neill did not voice his concerns, Teal'c understood just how much he was worried about their own missing member.

"What's naquadah?" Ellison asked.

The three members of SG1 all stiffened. Teal'c watched O'Neill to see how the man might react to this breach in security.

"Wow. You know, I thought you were lying about being able to hear that far. Guess not." O'Neill shrugged.

"So, what is it?" Ellison asked again. He had stopped fighting Teal'c's grip, but he turned to look down at the hand on his arm. Teal'c looked over to O'Neill for permission, and O'Neill nodded his head. Teal'c took a step back but stayed close enough to intercept Jim Ellison if he attempted to go to the warehouse again.

"What are they saying?" Carter asked.

Jim looked over at her, and from his expression, he clearly didn't want to give them any more information than he had to.

"For crying out loud. We aren't the enemy here, Ellison."

"You could have fooled me," Ellison quickly answered. In truth, they had made Ellison's life difficult in any number of ways, but Teal'c could not find it in his heart to regret any of them. Ellison's treatment of Blair justified their actions.

"Naquadah is associated with a number of weapons that don't legally exist," Carter told him as she reached up to rest her hand against his arm again. Just once, Ellison shivered as though cold. "It really is important that we know what they're saying about it. Please."

Ellison clenched his jaw. It was clear that he did not approve of any of them. "At least one of the kidnappers has naquadah poisoning. He's suffering delusions."

Teal'c looked at O'Neill in alarm. After seeing the results of naquadah on even the peaceful Daniel Jackson, the thought of NID warriors suffering from such delusions and paranoia did not bode well. O'Neill and Carter appeared equally disturbed.

"Well, fuck. Isn't that just special?" O'Neill said with great sarcasm.

"Sir, this is a dangerous situation," Carter said softly.

"Ya think?" O'Neill snapped. He stopped and stared at the distant building for a second. "Let's just hope Danny keeps his head down until we can get there."

"It's not Daniel I'm worried about," Ellison said with great emotion. For a moment, Teal'c thought the man might again attempt to run for the warehouse. "Blair is antagonizing them. Damn it, Chief, stop being an idiot."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. In his time with Blair, he had never questioned the man's intelligence. He had a great many questions regarding his self-preservation, but that was to be expected in a tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah. "I do not believe Blair would do so without reason."

"You think he has a plan?" O'Neill frowned, and Teal'c understood that the man disliked the idea of Blair Sandburg trying to execute an escape plan from inside.

If Blair's plans were analogous to Daniel's, this was a thing to fear. Daniel's plans had included trying to stay behind on PB2-908, a planet that had been ravished by storms, simply to study a book. He had allowed Nem to scan his brain despite the danger of permanent damage, he had been nearly strangled on the world of Linea, he had imprisoned and starved the rest of the team while addicted to naquadah himself, and he had convinced O'Neill to allow him to try and disprove the divinity of the local leaders on a world where a Goa'uld in the body of an Unas had set himself up as a demon. Teal'c had been nearly killed during that plan. Knowing the quality of Daniel's plans, Teal'c had to hope that the similarities between Blair and Daniel did not extend to their abilities to plan.

"He has a stupid plan." Ellison turned his back on the warehouse as though no longer able to look at it without taking some action. "He has a plan that's going to get him killed. If anything, it sounds like Jackson is trying to put the brakes on it."

"Well that doesn't sound very Danielish." O'Neill gave a dark laugh.

"No, sir," Carter quickly agreed. "But if Blair's plan is too dangerous, Daniel will try to stop him. He'll know we're coming for him."

Pain flashed across Ellison's face so strongly that Teal'c believed, for just a moment, that he had injured himself. "He just keeps insulting these guys," Ellison said wearily. "He's calling them evil and soulless and comparing them to the KGB."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow at that. From his study of the culture, that would appear to be a major insult. Even O'Neill, who was normally a level-headed and circumspect leader, reacted badly to Russians. "Perhaps he sees some weakness that he is attempting to exploit," Teal'c offered.

"You think?" It was O'Neill who showed signs of hope. Ellison merely glared as though Teal'c had offered some particularly unpleasant news.

"He is... a shaman," Teal'c finished, not willing to offer the more sacred term in front of Ellison. It was an old superstition, one that Teal'c had never before subscribed to, but the elders spoke of how a tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah should never be identified to those who knew his name, and his name should never be given to those who knew he was tao qua ca tec'ma'te i cal mah. Those who had both pieces of information could call to his soul.

"A shaman?" Carter's eyebrows raised.

"Okay, I didn't see that one coming." O'Neill was looking at him as though he had just said something particularly odd.

"That way of the shaman crap is just that... crap," Ellison snapped. But Teal'c noticed that the man did not deny knowledge of Blair's title.

"Among my people, those who are... shamans... are revered for their ability to see hidden truths and understand people. Some say that luck walks with them."

"Bad luck," Ellison said with a snort. O'Neill nodded.

"Look, T, no offense, but that's just stupid."

"No offense taken," Teal'c assured his leader.

"Wait. Wait, the idiot has a plan. Oh Chief, that is the worst plan I've ever heard."

"What?" Carter moved a little closer, her hand still resting against him. Ellison closed his eyes, pressing them tightly together until wrinkles gathered at the edge.

"He's going to try and get some of the bullying guards to pick on him."

"Why?" O'Neill demanded. "Is he brain damaged?"

"He thinks he can make two of the guards sympathetic, that they're starting to question whether they're on the right side here."

"Turning operatives... that's a gargantuan task," O'Neill said, clearly agreeing with Ellison that the plan was not well thought out. "And if he's anything like Danny, he's probably trying to turn the ones who are most loyal to this NID dogma."

"Blair Sandburg is most observant of people. I do not believe he would prove as poor a judge of character as Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. In fact, Blair had been able to read his body language, interpret his facial expressions, and built rapport with Teal'c faster than Teal'c would have believed possible. O'Neill had gone out of his way to target both Ventriss and Ellison in defense of Blair, and Carter had been enthralled by his reports. While he and Daniel Jackson had similarities, their ability to form connections with others did not appear similar at all. From the stories Teal'c had heard, O'Neill had questioned Daniel's abilities and personal dedication when they had first met. He had actively disliked him and had learned to trust him only when Daniel chose to risk his own life rather than turn against the three surviving soldiers whom Ra had captured.

"It'd be hard for him to be worse than Danny," O'Neill sighed. "Hopefully our backup will get here soon because I don't think I want to test Sandburg's people skills."

"He doesn't have any, and he inevitably falls for the most dangerous woman within five miles, so his judge of character is not that good," Ellison confirmed. Teal'c did not pursue the argument, but he wondered how he and Ellison could have such very different views of the young man.

"What's he saying now?" Carter asked. She had a curious expression on her face, and Teal'c suspected that only her concern for Daniel prevented her from asking many questions about Ellison's senses and their reliability.

"He thinks the soldier who's part Indian or Hispanic is the most likely to turn. There's a second guy, older, hair starting to turn gray, he thinks that would be the best secondary target."

"What are they planning to do with this?" O'Neill asked.

Ellison stretched his neck and then grimaced as if in pain. "They're in a cell in the same room with the soldiers. They plan to piss the soldiers off until one of them beats the shit out of Blair. And if they don't beat the shit out of him, I will when I get my hands on him. This is the stupidest plan I have ever heard, and trust me, I've heard stupid plans. You should meet Sandburg's mother. She's the queen of stupid plans."

"Sir, with the soldiers having naquadah poisoning..." Carter allowed her words to trail off, but Teal'c could certainly follow her logic. A beating would likely lead to murder under such circumstances.

"Crap." O'Neill reached under his jacket and pulled out his weapon, checking it before replacing it. "If the geeks are starting to plot, we'd better get down there. Teal'c, you have point. Take Ellison with you and if he does anything like fall into a trance, leave him," O'Neill ordered.

"I'm not going to zone."

"I hope not, because these people will shoot you, and I don't have time to worry about our geeks and you at the same time." O'Neill gave Ellison a hard stare. "If there's any chance you can't handle this, you need to wait at the car because I will not compromise the safety of my team member because of your condition."

"My condition got us here." Ellison crossed his arms, his body screaming a challenge to O'Neill, and for a moment, O'Neill did not respond. Teal'c knew that the man had been surprised by Ellison's effectiveness, but that did not mean that he trusted Ellison. Sometimes it surprised Teal'c just how distrustful O'Neill could be, especially since the man chose to trust Teal'c, even knowing just how much harm Teal'c had inflicted on the universe as the First Prime of Apophis.

"Just don't fuck up now that you're this close," O'Neill suggested with very little emotion.

Teal'c turned toward the warehouse and ducked down, taking advantage of parked vehicles to close in on the structure. It took Ellison a couple of seconds to realize he had been left behind, and then he ran after Teal'c, keeping his body low and well within the shadows and cover provided. He moved like a warrior.

Teal'c approached from the south, the smell of the fertilizer making his nose itch, and he spared a thought for how Ellison was dealing with the scent. If he was having difficulties, he did not allow it to show as he knelt next to Teal'c. He tilted his head to the side and signaled to indicate enemy to the west. Teal'c inclined his head and drew his zat'nik'tel.

Ellison pulled out his own weapon and watched the area to the east while Teal'c silently crept forward. A man stood leaning against a metal fence, a cigarette hanging from one hand. The metal would conduct the zat'nik'tel charge, potentially lessening the impact and giving the man a chance to cry out a warning before he went down. This was not acceptable.

Teal'c studied the terrain, signaling for Ellison to remain in position as he slipped into the shadow of a white car. There was very little cover between him and the enemy warrior, and Teal'c watched, waiting for the man to turn his back. The end of the guard's cigarette glowed brightly as he drew air through it, holding it for a moment before blowing out the smoke. Then he dropped it to the ground and crushed it under his foot. The man shifted restlessly, turning his back for just a moment, and Teal'c darted out and grabbed the man by the head, wrenching his head to the side sharply so that he heard a loud crack.

Silently, the man fell to the ground, and Teal'c stepped over the body to check for any others who might have a line of sight to this guard. Seeing none, Teal'c grabbed the man by one arm and started dragging his body to a less obvious place.

"Let me," Ellison whispered as he appeared, grabbing the body and taking over the job of hiding it. "You're injured."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. His leg was not so injured as to prevent him from his duties, but he would not argue that point now. Teal'c moved forward, pressing himself to the side of the building while Ellison moved the body to a spot behind the white car. It would not remain hidden for long, but hopefully they would be finished quickly.

Teal'c watched Carter and O'Neill slip around to the far side of the building. The first priority was finding the hostages. Teal'c moved toward the warehouse door, resting his fingertips on the handle as he tried to listen for any movement within.

Ellison appeared at his side, and his head was tilted to the side in a way that was most disconcerting. He was obviously focused elsewhere.

"It's clear," Ellison finally said with a nod. Teal'c had a choice to either trust the man's senses or not. Gripping his zat'nik'tel, he turned the knob and pulled the door open, moving quickly through the door and sweeping the room with his weapon. It was silent.

This was the main room, and dirty skylights allowed bars of light to illuminate dusty shelves and a stained concrete floor. Ellison came in behind him and slid the door closed. "There are several people in that direction, and there's some sort of mechanical whine I can't identify." Ellison gestured toward the back of the warehouse. "I can hear Blair over there." Ellison pointed toward the corner nearest the main doors. O'Neill and Carter should be approaching from that direction, but they would have to search room by room. Teal'c decided to trust Ellison's assessment of the situation. If he proved unreliable, Teal'c would just have to trust his own skills as a warrior to outmatch any enemy he met.

Teal'c crept through the shadows, focusing on the two hallways created by a series of offices. He stopped at the entrance of the first hall and looked back at Ellison, but the man shook his head. Teal'c moved to the next hall and this time Ellison nodded. However, before Teal'c could move forward, Jim raised his hand, signaling for enemy and quickly following with the sign for two. Teal'c nodded and settled against the thin wall, waiting for the enemy to come down the hallway.

Ellison stood behind him and to the side, not close enough to make himself a target, but close enough to use the knife he had in his hand. Despite O'Neill's fears, he was clearly a warrior. Two men came out of the hallway, walking side by side. Teal'c targeted the nearest one, firing the zat'nik'tel so that the charge flared around the man's body for a second. Before he could drop, Ellison had moved in, grabbing the second in a choke hold rather than using the knife. The man struggled with Ellison, his fists beating Ellison's sides, but he couldn't yell out a warning with Ellison effectively blocking his airway. Teal'c stepped forward and grabbed the man, pressing into him so that his flailing was trapped between Ellison and himself.

The movement ended, but Ellison did not release the man for several seconds. Finally he nodded and took his arm off the man's throat. "He was faking it at first," Ellison commented as he dropped the unconscious body next to his buddy.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. To attempt a chokehold instead of slitting the man's throat was unnecessary and dangerous, and yet Ellison had. And he had proved his skill as a warrior even as he had put his judgment into question. Teal'c opened the door to the closest office, studying the undisturbed dust for less than a second before he gestured for Ellison to pull the bodies into the room. When Ellison dragged the second warrior past him, it occurred to Teal'c that the fallen enemy appeared to be of Hispanic or Native American descent. Did Ellison have so much faith in Blair's assessment that he would risk his own life to avoid killing someone who Blair Sandburg identified as a potential ally? And if that was true, why had he dismissed Blair's observations so completely? Jim Ellison was a mystery which Teal'c clearly did not have the tools to understand.

Ellison gestured for two more enemy coming from the main area. Teal'c quick positioned himself inside the dusty office, and Ellison followed, silently taking a position where he could back Teal'c up if the enemy came in. While the position was logical and Ellison was clearly a warrior of some skill, Teal'c wished that he had Carter beside him. He knew her moves, her strengths and weaknesses. He could trust not only that she was a noble warrior, but that he understood her. While he was beginning to believe Ellison was a warrior of some note, Teal'c had no faith in his own understanding of the man.

"It's O'Neill," Ellison said, nodding toward the door. Teal'c tilted his head and slowly eased the door open a crack. If it was not O'Neill, he would have little time to disable or kill any enemy. Samantha Carter was standing with her back against the wall, covering while O'Neill opened another of the office doors.

"Carter," Teal'c offered softly. Her weapon was pointed in his direction, and they did not need an accident.


O'Neill closed the door of the other office and looked at them. "So, whatcha doing here? I thought you'd check out the other end."

"Ellison says that the hostages are down this hall," Teal'c explained as he stepped out into the hall. O'Neill gave him an odd look, one that made it perfectly clear that he was questioning Teal'c's sanity in trusting Ellison, but he wasn't going to publicly voice any condemnation.

"Right, so let's find the geeks and go home before the cavalry gets here and starts playing target practice with the NID folks or the geeks try to get themselves out," O'Neill suggested. "After you." He waved a hand, inviting Ellison and Teal'c to take point. Teal'c looked at Ellison, waiting for him. Ellison frowned at him for a half second, but then he started moving quickly down the hall, not bothering to clear any of the offices as he headed toward the far end.

"This has the possibility to be so very, very ugly," O'Neill said softly to Carter. She replied with a simple, "Yes, sir," but they both continued to take rear guard positions behind them. One sharp crack, and the whine of a bullet past them, and Teal'c dropped to one knee and pressed himself against the door of an empty office where he had some cover.

"Incoming!" O'Neill called. He had thrown an office door open and was providing answering fire as Carter scrambled. Apparently the first door she had tried had been locked, and now she was moving backwards, trying to find an open door that still gave her crossfire coverage that complimented O'Neill's position. Teal'c sent several zat'nik'tel blasts down the hall, catching the edge of the hall with the electrical blast. If enemy were resting against the wall close to the edge, that would give them a shock, enough to make them uncomfortable.

Movement behind him caught his attention, and Teal'c turned in time to see Ellison break for the far end of the hallway, his back precariously undefended. Enemy gunfire peppered the wall and sent white dust flying into the air.

"Cover!" Teal'c called. O'Neill cursed colorfully, but he fired off several rounds, forcing the enemy away from the end of the hall.

"Ellison!" O'Neill bellowed. It did no good, Ellison was down the hall. "Teal'c!"

It took no more than that single word, and Teal'c understood the order. He ran close to the wall as he hurried after Ellison. If Ellison had found Daniel, Blair, and Canarsee, he would need backup. If he was chasing some random scent and their friends were still lost within the maze of this building, Teal'c would not want to be in Ellison's skin when O'Neill found him.

Only one door was open, and Teal'c positioned himself outside, listening to the voices within between rounds of live fire from O'Neill and Carter and the enemy they had engaged.

"Put it down!" That was Ellison.

"It's his fault!"

"This is your fault, now put it down, or I will fire."

"You can't kill me!"

"Oh man, he is so going to kill you if you don't put that down," Blair offered. "Seriously, you do not want to be dead."

"Shut up! Shut up! You, you drop your gun!"

Teal'c slid to the edge of the open door. Blair stood within a barred enclosure. Daniel was holding Elizabeth off to the side within the same enclosure. A large man held a human gun pointed at Blair, and Ellison had his gun pointed at the man.

"Cascade PD! Drop your weapon and put your hands on your head," Ellison barked. Even though the hallway was dangerous, Teal'c remained out of sight. The soldier with the gun pointed at Blair Sandburg was sweating, his eyes darting around the room even though his weapon remained steadily pointed at Blair.

"It's his fault. It's your fault!" The man turned to Blair, and the echoing blasts of weapons being fired in a small, enclosed space filled the air.


17. Chapter Seventeen

Blair stumbled back against the wall, and Daniel darted to his side, leaving Elizabeth Canarsee clinging to the bars of their cell and looking ill. The enemy warrior stumbled backwards, firing rounds into the ceiling. Ellison fired several more shots, clustered around the man's heart and head, and by the time the man fell to the ground dead, Teal'c would not have been able to identify him from the small area of his face that remained.

"Chief?! Blair! How bad is it?" Jim rushed to the cage, not even bothering to cover the door or check the room for other enemy warriors. Teal'c did not know if the man had seen Teal'c there providing cover or if he was simply a great fool. "Chief?"

"Hey, no problem. I've been shot way worse... remember when Dawson Quinn shot me? That hurt way worse." Blair sounded oddly cheerful, but Teal'c could see the expression on Daniel's face, and it did not support Blair's story.

"Just lay down," Daniel urged him, helping get him settled to the ground. Blair slid to the floor, and on the wall behind him, he left a long red smear of his own blood. Ellison pulled madly at the locked door.

"Chief. Chief, just hold on." Ellison put his weapon away and went to search the fallen warrior, no doubt looking for a key.

"Elizabeth, get me the pillows from the beds and pull the pillow cases off. Put the pillows under his feet and fold up the blankets and put them under there too. Hand me the cases." Daniel sounded so calm, but Teal'c could see his hands trembling as he took the while pillow case and pressed it to the wound in Blair's stomach.

Ellison failed to find keys on the dead body. "Jackson, where are the keys?"

"I don't know. One of the other guards had them." Daniel kept his voice soft, and he never looked away from Blair.

Teal'c did not like leaving the door unguarded, but in the current situation, he did not trust Ellison to be an effective guard, either. Teal'c had only seen this level of irrational behavior once. That had been Daniel when he had been near Sha're. The irrational and overpowering love Daniel had held for his wife appeared to be very similar to what Ellison was feeling now. Leaving the door temporarily unguarded, Teal'c went to the cage and pulled out a small amount of explosive he normally carried for this purpose. The team suffered incarceration far more often than Teal'c liked to admit.

"Stand back," he suggested as he pressed the clay-like substance into the space between the lock and the bars and then pushed a small priming device into it. Teal'c returned to the door and pressed the button. The explosive flared and popped. Ellison was there instantly. The lock did not immediately open, but after three or four massive pulls, Ellison ripped the door open, the burned pieces of metal clattering to the concrete floor as he hurried into the cell.

"You're going to be okay, Chief." Ellison pulled his jacket off and draped it over Blair as he sat on the floor.

"Ellison, give your weapon to Daniel Jackson," Teal'c ordered. Ellison did not even seem to hear. He had his head tilted toward Blair, and his fingers ran across Blair's chest and down to his stomach. Blair smiled up at him, reaching up to capture Ellison's hand for a second before he released it. Ellison's hand then continued on its path down to the wound, applying pressure to the rough bandage Daniel had applied. Daniel pulled his hand back, and it was covered in Blair's blood.

"Teal'c?" Daniel asked.

"We do not have control of the facility. Backup is coming, but the NID have many warriors. You need to arm yourself and help secure this area."

"Jack? Sam?" Daniel did not even attempt to hide his concern.

"They have secured the hallway."

Daniel's relief flashed across his face. No matter what difficulties had arisen in the team recently, the ties between them were still as strong as ever. Daniel turned to Ellison. "Ellison, you either need to back up Teal'c, or you need to give me your gun so I can," he said in a tone of voice that Teal'c most often heard when O'Neill was talking to children. Ellison did not respond. "Jim?" Daniel called.

"Oh man, now is so not the time to zone. Come on, Jim," Blair said, and he raised his hand to rest it on Ellison's shoulder. Ellison shivered, and then nodded. Pulling out his weapon, he handed it over to Daniel before surrendering an extra clip.

"Thank you," Daniel said. He removed the clip and checked on the ammunition before sliding it back into the gun and coming over to Teal'c.

"Chief, just breathe slow. Slow and easy. What is it with you? I leave you for one night, and you get yourself kidnapped and shot? Simon is going to have a fit. You're just trying to get out of grading, aren't you?" Ellison's words sounded humorous, but his tone was nothing but serious.

"It's bad," Daniel said softly, for Teal'c's ears only, but Teal'c suspected Ellison could still hear. "We have to get him medical help now."

Teal'c inclined his head in agreement, but until the area was secured, there was no way to secure any medical assistance for Blair. Daniel understood that.

"How long until backup?" Daniel asked. Teal'c noticed that Ellison lifted his gaze to them at that question.

"At least twenty to thirty minutes," Teal'c admitted. Daniel flinched and looked over at Blair and Ellison on the ground. Elizabeth had edged her way out of the cell and stood near Daniel, tears slipping down her dark face.

"Will he...?"

"He's a fighter. He'll be fine," Ellison answered her whispered question. "Chief, you're going to be fine. You still have to grade those papers, so you focus on that."

Blair gave a weak laugh. "No way, man. The university fired me, so the Chancellor can grade the papers herself or shove them up her ass. Can't say I care."

"Fired you?" Ellison looked over at them for some sort of explanation.

"They have placed him on leave pending an administrative review," Teal'c confirmed without taking his eyes off the hall. The gunfire had died down, but that likely meant that the NID was gathering resources for some sort of coordinated attack.

"Yep, what you told me about the Ventriss case just making my life hard? I guess you were right, man," Blair let his head fall back against the concrete.

"You like your life hard. You put up with me, don't you?" Ellison asked, and from the tone of his voice, Teal'c suspected the man was very close to crying. "You just hold on, and all this shit with Ventriss will work itself out. Joel is on the case, and he knows about Ventriss attacking you and the rape case. You know how Joel feels about bullies, so he's not going to rest until he takes Ventriss down."

"Good," Blair said, but his voice sounded distant.

"You have to stay awake for me, Blair. Come on, lecture me about the tribal customs of gang members or something."

"You hate lectures."

"No, I just like complaining about lectures more than I like the actual lectures. In fact, I enjoy my complaining quite a lot."

"Knew it," Blair whispered.

"Yeah, well you just focus on how much you're going to lecture me and how much I'm going to complain."

"Trying, man. I miss us, you know?" Blair's voice had a thready quality that Teal'c associated with a warrior in grave distress. Perhaps Ellison knew the same thing because he held Blair's hand tightly.

"Jack, it's time for you to pull out a miracle," Daniel whispered.

"Hey, we're both still here, there's nothing to miss." Ellison reached up to brush the hair back from Blair's face, but his fingers dragged blood across the young man's forehead, and he stared at it for so long that Teal'c feared Ellison may have had a zone.

Blair reached up and tried to grab Jim's arm, but his fingers brushed over Jim's sleeve before they fell limply to the ground again. "Nah. Haven't been together for a long time. I screwed up with Alex."

The words seemed to force Jim out of his trance. "That was my fault, Chief." Blair did not answer.

Teal'c had to relinquish his observation of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg when there was activity in the hallway. "Colonel O'Neill, is that you?" a voice called from afar.

"In the flesh. So, what slimy piece of flesh am I talking to?" O'Neill called back.

"It doesn't matter. I have a deal for you." The words echoed down the hallway.

"Should I tell you where you can put your deal, or just let you guess?" O'Neill called back.

"We only came for Canarsee. She's a problem for you anyway. After what she's seen, you can't let her go telling the world. We'll make sure that doesn't happen, so we have the same goals here, Colonel."

Daniel reached over and patted Elizabeth on the arm. Her lips were pressed tightly together, and she appeared to be a woman struggling between two courses of action: crying or striking out. Teal'c shifted so that he could better keep an eye on her since emotion rarely led to rational decisions in the midst of a fight.

O'Neill yelled back down the hall. "No, no we really don't. She's an American citizen with rights. You've heard of those, haven't you? They're the things that real soldiers fight to protect. Like a person's right to not get kidnapped and shoved around by morons who don't know what they're messing with."

"We are well aware of the stakes, more than you." The voice sounded angry now.

"Obviously not. You're the ones who pissed off our strongest allies."

"Allies who will do nothing to help defend us against the Goa'uld threat."

"Allies who put this planet under the protection of a treaty. Allies who can just as easily withdraw that protection. You're playing with fire, and you've already been burned. Makepeace is sitting in a jail cell with most of your off-world operatives. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're just kinda screwed." O'Neill sounded positively amused by that.

The enemy went silent for long minutes, and Teal'c checked on Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison. Ellison was bent low over his partner, whispering, his hand pressing the blood-soaked cloth against the wound. Even if he stopped the external bleeding, Blair would still be bleeding internally. However, Teal'c did not have any solution to offer him.

"Elizabeth, you know that hand thing the kidnapper had?" Daniel asked.

"With the red stone and the part that goes over the hand?" she asked.

Daniel nodded. "See if you can find it."

"On it," Elizabeth said, and she sounded grateful to have something to do. Hurrying over to the soldier's bunks, she started systematically searching through shelves and drawers, tossing clothing aside in her quest for the healing device.

"If we can find one, Sam might be able to help," Daniel said. Teal'c nodded. It was a good plan, if they could find a device and provide sufficient cover for Sam to reach the room. Blair coughed. It was a wet sound, wet and weak.

"Just lay still, Chief." For a second, it sounded like Blair tried to say something, but the sounds he made were not intelligible words.

Teal'c turned his attention to the situation where he could be of some help. There was a sound of a motor running in the main room, and Teal'c pressed Daniel Jackson back away from the door where he strained to see what was going on. "Colonel, if you don't send out Canarsee, I'll order my men to open fire."

"That's funny," O'Neill called back, "I thought they were trying to shoot us already. Of course, if they are, they're doing a piss-poor job of it."

The engine in the main room revved up. "This is your last chance, Colonel."

"Yeah, yeah. Bite me. I swear, what is it with you guys and ultimatums? Here's a newsflash: they never work."

Elizabeth looked up at that, clearly shocked at O'Neill's nonchalance, but after being threatened by Goa'uld, the NID had very little with which to threaten them. "He will defeat them," Teal'c offered her his reassurance.

"You hear that, Chief? They're kicking the kidnappers' asses. You just hold on. You're always telling me to listen to your voice, so you listen to me now. You stay with me." Ellison looked up. "Teal'c, you tell O'Neill to get a medic in here or I'm going out there and clearing the area for 911 personnel, you got that?" Ellison gave every indication that he was not joking, but even more distressing, Blair did not react to his partner's offer to embark on what was essentially a suicide mission. That suggested that Blair was either not understanding Ellison's words or he was too weak to protest.

"Jack," Daniel yelled.

"Keep your head down, Daniel," Jack yelled back.

"Jaaack!" Daniel responded. There was no answer from O'Neill, and Teal'c suspected the colonel realized that they had a significant problem.

The engine gunned in the main room, tires screaming against the concrete and then fading as the sound retreated. "Um, guys, what's going on?" Elizabeth whispered. She was on her knees in front of a military-style trunk, black clothes in either hand as she searched for a hand device.

"I do not yet know."

"Teal'c, we can't wait too much longer," Daniel said, looking back toward Ellison and Blair. Blair was motionless, his complexion white, and a large pool of blood had gathered below him.

New engine sounds approached, lower and heavier. The engine stopped and doors slammed. Yet another voice shouted. "Spread out in delta formation, we have friendlies in the field, so identify any hostiles." Boots pounded against the concrete.

"Identify yourselves," O'Neill called, and the pounding of boots paused.

"Captain Waterton out of McChord. Who am I talking to?"

"Colonel O'Neill, Cheyenne Mountain, authorization code Lima Niner Niner Whiskey Zulu."

The other voice quickly offered a code of its own. Clearly, the division out of McChord e had driven significantly faster than the law allowed.

"We're clear, people," O'Neill called, and Daniel was out the door and in the hall before Teal'c could stop him or advise caution.

"Jack, Blair's shot. It's bad. We need someone back here now. Right now!"

Teal'c stood back against the wall and listened to the calls--for a medic, for a stretcher, for intravenous fluids. O'Neill came into the room just ahead of medics with equipment. The moment O'Neill saw Blair, he retreated to the wall next to Teal'c and watched. There was no doubting that Blair was in serious danger. For a second, Teal'c thought that Ellison might interfere with the treatment because he did not wish to relinquish Blair's hand, even when the second medic attempted to move in, but then he leaned back against the bunk. But he remained on his knees, staring as they worked on Blair. His hands were streaked with Blair's blood, and blood splattered his clothing with dull red spots.

"I can't find one. I'm so sorry, I can't find one," Elizabeth said. She was still on her knees, piles of clothing and random personal items strewn about her. "I can't find one of those hand devices." Teal'c had no words of comfort to offer her, so he could only watch as a medic pushed Ellison farther back, attaching lines to Blair's arms before lifting him onto a stretcher. Ellison rose as the medics started carrying Blair toward the door. Teal'c stepped aside to give them room to remove Blair, his face slack and pale. Ellison was close behind them.

"Ellison, let them work," O'Neill said, reaching out to put his hand on Ellison's arm. Ellison's jaw tightened. "We can follow, but Blair needs them more than he needs you right now."

"No offense, Colonel," Ellison said slowly, "but you don't know shit."

"I know you're not getting in the back of that transport with Sandburg, Detective," O'Neill answered. "Carter's gone to get the car, and we'll follow them wherever they go."

"I have to..." Ellison started pulling toward the door, and Teal'c stepped into the man's path.

"You will not go with Blair Sandburg." Teal'c fully expected Ellison to strike out at him, but right now Blair needed medical assistance and Teal'c would ensure that Ellison did not interfere with that.

"Move," Ellison said quietly, but Teal'c could hear the danger in his voice.

"I shall not."

For a second, Teal'c was certain that Ellison was about to attack him. While he had no doubt that he could disable the man, he did not wish to harm him. While Ellison might be a very poor tec'ma'te, he clearly cared about Blair. However, after that moment of barely contained fury, Ellison appeared to simply give up.

"Fine, they've taken Blair. He's gone. Now, are we going to get the car and follow or am I going to have to shoot you?" Ellison demanded. Teal'c recognized the tone as sarcastic.

"Um, I actually have your weapon," Daniel pointed out.

"I'll improvise."

"Let's go figure out where they're taking him. Come on Ellison, this mission isn't complete until we get all the geeks back on their feet." O'Neill slapped Ellison on the shoulder. "Elizabeth, I assume you're still with us."

"After that, I plan to hide behind you for as long as you let me," she said as she got up from the floor. "Is Blair going to be okay?"

"We've got the best working for us," O'Neill said without making any promises.

"And I am the best person to know if he's stable, if he has a bleed, if there's anything going on internally. I know Blair's body better than a doctor—better than Blair himself. Colonel, we need to get to Blair now," Ellison said, and then he physically shoved past Teal'c. Obviously he would not tolerate being separated from Blair for long.

"You heard him, let's go find Blair," O'Neill ordered.


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