Dr. Sandburg Visits Cascade
Blair leaned back in his chair and stared at the hospital ceiling. “I am never coming to Cascade again,” he muttered to himself. Banks, Jim's old boss, turned a hard glare his way, and Blair tried to sink down farther in his seat.
“You can say that again,” a new voice announced, and Blair would know that annoyed voice anywhere. Blair tilted his head backwards and got an upside down view of Colonel O'Neill in full dress uniform, which was never a good sign. Sitting up, Blair twisted around to face him.
“This was not my fault.”
“Sure it wasn't. You came to a state known for being boring and having a lot of fish and you managed to land in the middle of a terrorist plot. That's not a problem.” O'Neill dropped down into the seat next to Blair.
“Oh man, it's a huge problem. Enormous even. But it is not my fault.”
“Keep telling yourself that, short stuff. So, I have to explain why we scrambled Air Force fighters over Washington. For the second time in a week, no less. The governor is starting to get paranoid about the President holding a grudge over the state going democrat last election.”
“Har har,” Blair said wearily. Life on his own planet should not be this exciting, and he definitely didn't have the energy to deal with O'Neill's pathetic attempts at humor.
Banks stood up, his six feet something looming over pretty much the entire emergency waiting room as he headed for them, but Colonel O'Neill looked pretty unflappable as he stretched his legs out in front of him. Personally, Blair felt flapped ever since Jim had introduced him to Banks. And boy, that introduction had not gone well.
Sitting behind his big captain desk, Banks had eyed Blair up and down. “You're on protection detail for him?” Banks' voice made it more than clear he considered protecting Blair far, far down on his priority list. Then again, Banks was a police captain from one little state, not someone who worked for the Stargate program and who understood the bigger picture.
“Yes, and given his habit of falling into trouble with both feet, he needs it.” Despite Banks' disapproval, Jim gave him an almost fond look, which wasn't something Blair expected. Usually military types were more exasperated around him. Of course, usually military types hadn't pissed off a dozen different intelligence agencies, gone on the run, and kidnapped Blair, and Jim had done all three. That actually beat O'Neill's record since the colonel had only done two of those.
“What about your... problem?” Banks came out from behind his big desk and gave Jim one of those knowing looks. Meanwhile, he kept shooting Blair these distrustful glares. In another lifetime, that would have bothered Blair, but he got glared at way too much by guys way scarier than Banks. Blair settled for studying the office of the one man who had stuck his neck out to try and protect Jim. He wasn't a profiler, but spending his days with people who were had allowed him to pick up a few skills. Banks was a rule-follower, a man who wanted clear lines. That made it even more surprising that he'd gone out on a limb to help Jim after Jim had been accused of treason.
“The senses are under control, Simon.”
“So you can come back to work!” Banks' relief was palpable.
“I have a new job,” Jim said, and this time he rested a hand on Blair shoulder. Banks' unhappy look targeted Jim this time.
“With the military?” he asked dryly.
Jim gave a shrug.
“The military you claim you hate?” Banks' anger was reaching a boiling point, and Blair subtly shifted back. When shit hit the fan, he was very happy to hide behind the military guys and girls. They made for pretty good cover.
Jim sighed. “I hated one particular officer who ran one corrupt unit, Simon. I would spork my own eyes out before I'd go back to work for that bastard, but this offer is different.”
Banks leaned back against his desk. “Christ, Jim. I saw you during your vice days when you were right out of the service. You were so turned around you were suicidally reckless and antisocial, and that's what you want to go back to?”
That surprised Blair. Jim was always together. Even when Jim was busy running from the entire federal government and taking Blair hostage, he was a very together sort of man. The idea of Jim falling apart contradicted everything Blair thought he knew about the man. Then again, he had only known him for a few days. It only felt like they'd known each other forever. Studying Jim's face, Blair could see the discomfort, the embarrassment at having those particular details rise to the surface, but he wasn't denying any of it.
Jim stiffened until he almost looked like he was doing some stupid military drill. “I took a job doing important work.”
“Protecting him.” Banks' voice dripped with sarcasm.
“Hey, I only look like a flake,” Blair defended himself. Jim's hand tightened on his shoulder, offering a silent support even in the face of Simon Banks. That meant a lot, especially considering that it had been a threat to Banks that had finally forced Jim to surrender. Jim cared more for this man than Banks probably suspected.
“Yes, you do look like a flake,” Banks shot back. But then Blair had experience with all sorts of posturing.
“Okay, maybe I do. But if I'm a flake, I'm one with two doctorates, a couple of masters degrees and a consulting position that gives me one of the highest clearance levels in the country.” Blair crossed his arms and let Banks chew on those facts. Both Banks' eyebrows went up and Jim twitched a little smile.
“He's not as innocent as he looks, and I already know how much trouble he can get himself into.”
Banks' eyes narrowed at that. But then Banks knew that Jim had been on the run from spooks and taken in by a military group, so it wasn't a long logical leap to assume Blair was involved somehow.
“A friend of mine has been running the protection detail, and he had a chance to get promoted onto a frontline team. I'm taking over the detail because I believe in it, Simon. I believe this is important work.”
Banks had sighed. Clearly he cared about Jim's opinion, but it was just as clear that he hated losing his friend without a better explanation. And a lot of that frustration had been transferred right onto Blair. So now, sitting in the hospital, Banks kept shooting Blair disgusted looks even though it was not his fault. Nope. In no way, shape, or form could anyone blame Blair Jacob Sandburg for the actions of a crazy man.
“Captain Banks,” O'Neill offered with a bright smile without needing any introductions.
A flash of confusion darted across Banks' face. “You have an advantage. I don't seem to know who you are.”
“Colonel Jack O'Neill. I'm Sandburg and Ellison's commanding officer. Nice city you have here. I think this is the second terrorist plot in about two weeks. You breed 'em around here?”
That was exactly the wrong tone because Banks looked ready to commit murder. And worse, there was no Daniel in sight. Blair counted on Daniel to smooth over all the rough edges that Jack tended to create when he tried having human conversation.
Blair rushed into the breach. “Hey, we're all stressed. Jim is okay, though, that's all we have to care about.”
O'Neill sat up and gave Blair his most colonelly glare. “You were kidnapped. Again. I'm starting to think we need to have a full marine unit on alert every time you go out for milk.”
Blair rolled his eyes. “Hey, it wasn't that bad.”
“It was that bad,” Banks said, which totally surprised Blair. He didn't expect Banks and O'Neill to team up this early, although given they were both testosterone-driven men with an unhealthy love of command structure, it had to happen eventually.
Banks went on. “Kincaid took a special interest in Sandburg. The doctor here seemed to think making himself the center of attention was a good idea.”
“Hey, I was trying to distract him from the fact that Jim was creeping through the ventilation system,” Blair defended himself.
Jack gave a sharp whistle that stopped Blair mid-word. “I know you know how to do a sit rep that does not including whining.”
“I wasn't whining.”
“Riiight.” O'Neill rolled his eyes. “Captain Banks, you're welcome to take a seat or we can take this back to the station.”
“I'm not leaving Jim,” Blair blurted out. He hated being banished from the room, but there was discussion of surgery and him not being a medical doctor and threats of hospital security involved with that decision.
“Why am I not surprised?” O'Neill sounded tired. “But I still need to know what happened and whether we have an imminent threat on the ground. I have a medical team ready to take Ellison out of here unless I believe this hospital is more secure than the police headquarters.”
Banks' stiffened. “We have Kincaid in a jail cell and most of his men are either dead or in cuffs.” Yep, the police had taken a bit of a black eye today. It wasn't every day that a group of neo-Nazi right-wing nutballs managed to take over a police station and terrorize the city. And the fact that it all happened on Banks' watch had made the man a wee bit cranky. “And there is an interview room here in the hospital we can use for a sit rep.”
O'Neill nodded. “I appreciate that, Captain Banks. I think I need to get the whole story here. I hope you know where they hide the good coffee.”
“I do,” Banks agreed. “But I want one thing to be very clear. We need to keep Kincaid in jail, so you will not do anything to exclude me from evidence or block our access to Sandburg or Jim. If we need them to testify, then we need them.”
O'Neill stood and seemed to really take some time to consider that request. “I will do my damnest to make them available. If it's short notice or we're in the middle of some FUBAR situation, I can't make absolute promises.”
“Agreed.” Banks held out his hand and O'Neill took it in a quick shake. Male posturing. Military male posturing. It almost amused Blair, only this whole thing was so screwed up that he had trouble thinking about anything but Jim and how close he'd come to losing the man.
“The room is this way,” Banks said, gesturing toward a staff door off to the side. Blair's gut ached at walking even a few feet farther away from Jim, but his job required him to do all sorts of things he didn't like, so he sucked it up and followed Banks.
“So, what happened?” O'Neill demanded as soon as they were settled around a tiny table in a room that looked more like a closet than anything else. Blair waited for Banks to answer, but O'Neill reached out and caught Blair's wrist. Starting, he sat up and looked at the colonel. “Blair, what happened?” That was O'Neill's 'Daniel tone,' the one he used when Daniel was hurting. Blair had sure never heard it, and the fact that O'Neill was offering some support made Blair ache. He didn't want O'Neill's support--he wanted Jim's. Actually, O’Neill being supportive felt a little creepy, like the world was ending or something.
“Um, Jim and I headed to the station to talk to his old boss, to make sure that Banks knew that he had chosen to take the job. He didn't want Banks worrying about him.” Blair glanced over, and he could see the strain in every tight line of Banks' body. The man did know how much Jim respected him.
“And?” O'Neill prompted him.
“I wasn't particularly impressed with Jim's new job,” Banks offered with a derisive snort. “I even tried to get him to come back to Major Crime.”
“He wouldn't,” Blair said softly. Sentinels walked boundaries, and the Stargate was the largest boundary on the planet... and the biggest danger. That was the war that attracted Jim's need to protect his people.
“Okay, what happened? Focus on the facts, Blair.”
The radio call had come through ordering every available unit to a location on the edge of the city.
“Simon? What the hell?” Jim had demanded as he sat on the edge of Rhonda's desk. “What is going on?”
Simon rolled his eyes. “The damn mayor and his drills. He did this when you were gone, Jim. He wants evidence that the rank and file follow orders, but I should have gotten notice of this.”
“Simon, do you want us to...” Henri Brown let his words trail off.
“I need you working your cases,” Simon said firmly. “If the mayor doesn't like how I run my unit, he can talk to me about it, but I'm not having you off on some damn fire drill.”
“And you want me to come back to this?” Jim asked with a touch of humor and a whole cupful of disgust. “Simon, I'd shoot the mayor inside a month.”
Banks rolled his eyes. “After several dozen patrol calls don't get answered, you won't have to kill him. People are going to start complaining, and you know how he feels about the voters liking him.”
“Man, local politics suck,” Blair muttered. Give him a village under the goa'uld threat any day of the week. People who had the security to get fat and happy always ended up sucking. It was like the old Lincoln quote--anyone can survive adversity but if you wanted to judge a man's character, give him power.
Banks spared him one dirty look before basically turning his back. Blair suspected he was not on Banks' Christmas card list. “Jim, we both know the military has more drills than the mayor could dream up on his best day.”
“I'm on a protection detail, Simon.” Jim gave Blair another fond look. “I don't think I'm going to hang around base much, and given how much trouble Blair can get in, I don't think I'll have time to drill.”
“Har, har, man. You're the one who took me hostage.” Blair's words made everyone's gazes fly to Jim. Okay, maybe he'd said that a little too loud.
“I'm blaming you for that.” Jim gave Blair’s hair a tug. “When I'm trying to avoid the authorities, I don't appreciate finding out that someone has the ability to track me through the forest without even so much as a map. It damages my ego, and you don't want to know the lengths I'll go to restore my sense of manliness.” The edges of Jim's lips twitched. And before Blair could defend himself, Jim had caught him in a one-armed hold and was giving him a noogie.
“Hey!” Blair shoved at Jim, trying to defend his own manliness while all Jim’s friends laughed. After a second, Jim laid off the noogie, and just pulled Blair close enough to drape a friendly arm over his shoulder. A comfortable and at-home Jim was definitely happier than and touchier than an on-the-run Jim. Blair thought about that, about all the times Jim seemed to find an excuse to leave a hand resting against Blair’s arm, even when Blair was tied up. Touchier might be debatable, but Jim was definitely friendlier.
“That is not what I said. Totally not,” Blair muttered.
“Seriously?” Henri Brown demanded. “You took a hostage? When you decide to go desperado, you really go whole hog.” The man gave a big belly laugh, but Simon's expression had turned a good deal darker. The second Henri caught sight of Banks’ scowl, he covered his last few guffaws with a cough.
Blair focused on Henri and his teasing energy. “Yeah, except he kept checking if I was too cold and giving me a sleeping bag so I could catch some sleep. Trust me, it was not like any kidnapping I've ever gone through.”
“And I was so good at kidnapping you, they offered me a job.” Clearly Jim was enjoying the teasing, even if Banks wasn't.
“So, are you moving over the military permanently?” Henri Brown asked.
“Yep, I am. You're going to have to solve your own cases, Brown,” Jim teased.
Brown grabbed his chest as if he'd been shot in the heart. “You wound,” he said dramatically.
Joel Taggart laughed as he crossed the room. Blair didn't believe in auras like his mother did, but he did get the sense that Joel liked people and he liked to laugh. Blair found himself smiling at the captain of the bomb squad. “I guess Jim has moved on to bigger and better things,” Joel said.
“Why do you say that?” Jim crossed his arms and gave every sign of being aggravated, but Blair could tell this was a game. Joel smiled wider.
“Because you wouldn't give this up for anything less. For one, I'm just happy you aren't planning a career in public relations.”
The shiver of horror out of Jim made his opinion clear.
Joel turned to Banks. “Simon, are you sending your guys out on this drill?”
“If the mayor or commissioner want me to send my guys out on a fool's errand, they need to give me a direct order. Did you send your guys out?”
“I was saved by a live fire test for the Christmas display. I have my guys over there making sure the company doesn't blow up the city.”
“I thought that was the fire department's job?”
Joel shrugged. “It is, but they have a conference that has them down to a skeleton crew. We agreed to help cover for them, so I sent my guys out.”
The two captains chatted, but Blair could feel Jim stiffen beside him. The man nearly vibrated from the tension and his eyes scanned the room suspiciously, which didn't make sense. This was his home territory. Well, unless by leaving he was emotionally severing himself from his home and his senses were reacting. Honestly, Burton had not included enough information in his manuscript for Blair to understand the instincts of an honest-to-God Sentinel. Blair leaned closer. “Jim?”
Jim offered a sharp shake of his head, a dismissive gesture clearly intended to put Blair off, but clearly Ellison had mistaken him for someone who could be put off.
“What is it?” Blair barely whispered the words, trusting Jim's Sentinel hearing to catch them.
“Nothing,” Jim said sharply enough that both captains looked at them, but Jim's body still trembled with emotion. Blair offered the others his best 'please don't stab me with your big-old spears look' and shoved at Jim's side.
“Problem?” Banks asked.
Jim gave another shake of his head. “It's nothing.”
“But we'll be right back,” Blair added, and he stopped even trying to hide the fact that he was shoving Jim back away from the group. With an eye roll and an affectionate look, Jim let himself be maneuvered to the far wall. Banks really was glaring murder at that point, but Blair didn't really care what a cop thought about his lack of manly manners.
“What, Sandburg?” Jim demanded.
“What? You're asking me what?”
“It's a word people use when they're demanding information, like why their partner is shoving them into a corner. And here I thought you were the linguist.” Jim gave him that world-weary look that he clearly intended as a way to verbally push Blair away. The new, suddenly-friendly Jim had officially left the building.
“You thought wrong. I'm an anthropologist. I study cultures, not verbs,” Blair shot back. “However, you are about to jump out of your skin, so I'm the one asking for information here.”
“It's nothing.” The mulish expression was not a good sign, and neither was the tight line of Jim's jaw or the way his arms were corded with muscle he was so tense.
“If that's nothing, I do not want to see something. Seriously, what has you wound up?”
For a second, Blair thought Jim was going to freeze him out, but then that ice seemed to crack a little. “I don't know. I just feel...” Jim clenched his jaw and tilted his head to the side as though struggling to hear something. From someone else, that line would have gotten a laugh and potentially a history lesson on the long tradition of belief in a sixth sense. But Jim wasn’t just anyone. He was a Sentinel.
“Okay.” Blair chewed his lip. “This could be something to do with you being a Sentinel.”
Jim gave him a dirty glare.
“No, seriously. Maybe something is on the edge of your awareness. Or maybe you're picking up on some danger.”
“We're in the middle of a police station, Chief. Exactly what danger would I be picking up on?”
Blair shrugged. “Earthquake? Alien invasion? Tsunami? I don't know. You're the Sentinel.”
Blair's story was cut off by O'Neill catching his wrist in his hand. Blair sucked in a breath as he realized he’d fallen into his own story, into this moment when he should have pushed, should have helped his Sentinel identify the sounds of the coming terrorist attack. Instead Blair had stood there and annoyed Jim, and now Jim had a bullet in his gut. Or several bullets, maybe.
O’Neill’s fingers tightened around his wrist. “So, he was hearing something, sensing something wrong before the attack?”
Simon Banks' hands tightened into fists. “So you know about Jim's senses.” He made it pretty clear that he disliked the very idea. Personally, Blair couldn’t get himself to care about anything… nothing. All he wanted was Jim back whole and safe. He’d never felt this sort of all-consuming fear before.
“He's one of my men. I make sure I understand anything that could affect their performance in the field,” O'Neill said coldly. “And if Ellison sensed something before the attack, that suggests that his senses are a factor in the field.”
Banks leaned back and gave Blair the hairy eyeball. “So, you think Jim is supposed to be able to magically sense earthquakes and alien invasions?” The dismissive tone of voice didn't bother Blair nearly as much as the sudden realization that he'd slipped on the whole alien invasion front. From the look O'Neill was giving him, the colonel hadn't missed it. Heat gathered in Blair's face as he tried to ignore that hard little lump in the pit of his stomach that he got when he really messed up.
“I wouldn't call it mystical as much as a set of skills that makes Ellison particularly good at his job.” O'Neill's voice had turned absolutely arctic. “And your presence here is a courtesy that I don't mind rescinding.”
The room went utterly still as O'Neill and Banks eyed each other, and Blair tried to shrink into the smallest possible space. This was not the sort of conflict he was good at. He definitely wished Daniel was here because the man had a talent when it came to getting O'Neill to calm the fuck down.
“It's your show, colonel,” Banks said with a poor grace.
“Considering how you guys run your show, that's a good thing.” Oh yeah, the not-nice colonel was out to play. Usually he saved those kinds of manners for goa'uld and visiting Russians. Despite the fact that Blair didn’t have the emotional energy to care if these two killed each other, he felt a moral responsibility to play peacekeeper, especially since he was the only one in the room who didn’t worship at the altar of testosterone.
“But man, Jim really takes the whole protection thing seriously,” Blair interrupted the heavy silence. “I mean, he told me he was having an urge to shove me in a box and sit on it. Colonel Reynolds threatened to shove me in a ration box all the time. All the time. But with Jim, I had the feeling that he was on the verge of actually doing it.”
Colonel O'Neill slowly turned his scary look toward Blair. “So instead he left you unprotected as he wandered off in the middle of a terrorist attack?” And that was O’Neill’s unhappy face. It looked frightening close to his ‘time to blow shit up’ face.
Banks gave a dark laugh. “Oh, I think Jim is going to come back to Cascade sooner rather than later, especially if you plan to blame him for this. He didn't do anything except rescue Sandburg and get himself shot in the process.”
“I accept that soldiers get themselves shot, and I have a lot of respect for a man who takes his job seriously enough to put his life on the line for his geek, but leaving Sandburg alone was an operational error. When men in my command make operational errors that leave their team at risk, they answer for that.” O'Neill gave Banks the sort of look that even Blair could interpret.
Banks’ eyes narrowed. “My men followed orders.”
“Your patrolmen followed stupid orders. That's not a good trait in any subordinate.”
“Hey, whoa. We're all on the same side in here, remember?” Blair asked. He physically put his hands between the two men, and after the fact, he considered that he might have made a tactical mistake because he earned matching sets of glares. Blair slowly shrank back into his chair.
“I'm not so sure about that,” Banks answered as he glared at O'Neill.
“Sandburg,” O'Neill said slowly, “why don't you give me a chance to speak to Captain Banks alone?”
“Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I'm scared that you're going to verbally burn more bridges than I know how to rebuild,” Blair answered with a snort.
O'Neill glared at Blair.
“Okay, fine. I'm leaving. No bloodshed,” Blair groused as he got up. He'd go harass some nurse about Jim's condition. Let stupid military-type people be stupid with each other. He had a partner to worry about.
Blair held Jim's lax hand. Surgery had gone even less well than Blair had feared. The surgeons had thrown around words like refractory hemorrhagic shock and infection and sepsis. Blair didn’t need a medical doctorate to know how serious it had turned.
Tightening his hold on Jim’s hand, Blair leaned close. “Oh man, you cannot die on me. Do you hear me? No fucking way. No way.” Blair had watched men die... men he cared about. One of the marines in his unit had caught a spear in the back of his leg right as they reached the Gate, and none of them had realized it was poisoned. They'd all stood around the Gate room laughing about the close call while Thompson laughed along, stripping off his gear. Medical had just appeared when he collapsed, his body convulsing and foam appearing on his lips. That first death had been the hardest to see.
Since then, Blair had watched both soldiers and civilians die. He'd held the hand of a woman who died in childbirth and he'd carried a child shot in the back with a staff weapon, only to have the child die in his arms.
He knew death.
He hated death, but he understood that fighting for a cause sometimes required a blood sacrifice, like an old, vengeful god. But he wouldn't give Jim up, not for any cause. The door opened, and Blair's eyes went to it, his hand reaching for the sidearm he wasn't carrying.
O'Neill walked in the room. “Geez, stand down, Sandburg. Three years I've been trying to get you to develop some sense of self-preservation, and you decide now's a good time to start?”
“Oh, we're going for witty retorts.” O'Neill's words might have been dismissive, but his gaze took in the wires and tubes and the pale form in the bed. “We have trauma experts coming in on the first military transport. In case that fails, Carter is bringing her Tok'ra hand-held toy.” O'Neill's voice lost all humor.
“You're breaking regulations by taking a goa'uld medical device out of the mountain?” Blair certainly didn't want O'Neill to change his mind, but this... this was more than he'd expected.
“He's one of us, Sandburg, even if he hasn't signed on the dotted line, yet. And after he nearly died protecting you, I plan to make sure he knows that, even if I have to blackmail him with the half-million dollar medical bill this is going to cost.”
Blair paled as the realities of the situation crashed in on him. Jim was technically an unemployed cop with no health insurance.
“Breathe, Sandburg. I was joking.”
Blair ran his fingers through his curls. “But... he... He doesn't have insurance. And he's not technically one of your soldiers, and this is all...” Blair waved at the machines, and his earlier panic attack about the idea of Jim dying mutated into a more generic sense of panic about the whole situation, about the whole world.
“Hey,” O'Neill caught Blair by the shoulders and held him. Up until that point, Blair hadn't realized that he'd let go of Jim's hand and stood up, but O'Neill's fingers pressed deeply into his upper arms leaving bruises. “I don't care if I have to tell Danny to forge Ellison's signature on the damn enlistment papers. He's one of us, Sandburg. We take care of our own... right?”
Blair nodded, the panic retreating back into the hard little shell that lived in the pit of Blair's stomach. O'Neill was looking at him very oddly, and Blair sank back down into the visitor's chair and ran his fingers over the back of Jim's lax hand.
“You're thinking I'm a basket case, huh?” he asked Jim, and he imagined the humor in Jim’s face as the man refused to answer directly. “Well, more of one because you never really thought I was exactly well-balanced, even before this.” Blair tried for humor, but the words came out sour.
O’Neill answered since Jim was still unconscious. “I think you're a man who's worried about his partner and probably feeling more guilt than he should.” O'Neill sighed and leaned back against the wall.
Blair looked up in surprise. Emotionally-supportive O'Neill was a little disconcerting.
“What? You think I haven't seen that look in the mirror, Sandburg? Danny is my partner. Danny. Dr. Daniel Jackson who got shot on a mothership we were supposed to be blowing up--who I then had to leave behind. Dr. Daniel Jackson who got addicted to the sarcophagus and who got raped by Hathor and stalked by every psychopath in the vicinity. I'm intimately familiar with partner-inspired guilt and fear, Sandburg.”
Somehow the kindness cut Blair more than Banks' cold disdain or the doctor's clinical objectivity about Jim's low chance of survival. He could feel his eyes get warm. The guilt hurt so much that Blair didn’t know how to carry this much pain. “I haven't even known him that long,” Blair whispered.
“Hey, I knew Danny less than a week when he convinced me that the right choice was to ignore my official orders to blow up an alien Gate. Considering that he was a drippy-nosed geek who kept talking about feelings and getting dragged away by enemy combatants, I'm surprised I didn't shoot him myself. But I didn't.” O’Neill looked oddly fond of that particular memory.
“Jim saw me,” Blair admitted as he looked down at the medical equipment covering the lower half of Jim's face. “I mean, I made all these jokes, but he just looked at me and knew I was in trouble, you know?”
“I do know.” O'Neill's voice was soft. “Some people, they're good at looking through the bullshit.” For a time, the sound of Jim's equipment filled the room. The various beeps and thumps of monitors and breathing machines and things Blair couldn't even identify made a softly cacophonous backdrop to the fear that squeezed Blair's heart.
Blair had almost gotten control of his emotions when O'Neill spoke again. “I know you're upset, but I do need to get some basic facts here. Let's take it slow, okay? Who invaded the police station?”
Blair took a deep breath as the face of a smiling asshole imposed itself onto his memories. Humans could be just as evil as goa'uld. “Kincaid,” he said, taking another breath as he thought about the man's hands grabbing him. “He's a white supremacist who wanted to blackmail the city into letting some captured militia men go.”
“Okay,” O'Neill said it slowly as if he couldn't quite believe the answer. It was a little crazy. “So, every police officer in the central station really did respond to a radio call ordering them to the edge of the city?”
Blair nodded. “Conformity pretty much at its worst.”
O'Neill snorted. “And for once, I'm agreeing with you. Following stupid orders makes you stupid.”
Blair nodded and wrapped his fingers around Jim's hand. “He got hurt protecting me because all those men left. He shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have put himself in the middle.”
O'Neill sighed loudly, and gave Blair a weary look that left Blair cold with impotent fury. “It's what we do, Blair. Teal'c, Reynolds, Ellison, me.” O’Neill sighed again. “The difference between a soldier and a mercenary is that the soldier protects something. It's what we do.”
Blair looked up. “I didn't want him to.”
“I doubt Danny appreciates it when I follow him into trouble, either. Tough. It's what we do, and you geeks can suck it up and live with it. Now, how did Ellison get hurt, Blair?”
Lowering his head, Blair allowed his hair to hide his face. He'd put himself in the center of trouble by drawing Kincaid's attention. After he’d been captured in the building, he'd hoped to spare Joel and Banks. A racist like Kincaid had enjoyed having those two African-American men at his mercy... he'd enjoyed it too much, so after Kincaid’s men had caught Blair trying to make a run for freedom, he'd made up the whole story about being a vice detective. It had distracted Kincaid so much that he had forgotten all about the black captains.
“So, Mr. Natural, I have use for a man like you,” Kincaid leaned close, his body language almost sexual as he pressed close, and Blair felt the cold press of fear seizing his heart. He didn't have a lot of illusions about what a white supremacist like Kincaid might do to a Jewish boy like Blair. But Blair only had to hold on until Jim rescued him.
“You do not want to do this. You're looking for trouble,” Blair warned, but with his hands duct taped together, he didn't have the leverage to stop Kincaid from pulling him out of the room.
“Is this the little shit that pushed the vending machine over onto Van Dyke?” one of the thugs asked as Kincaid dragged Blair toward the stairs.
“Yep. He's going to spend a little time with us,” Kincaid said with a grin that made Blair's blood run cold. As usual, fear made him stupid.
“If he hadn't tried shooting me, I wouldn't have dropped it on him,” Blair pointed out, although to be honest, the guy had shot at the vending machine, not at Blair. Blair had just been cowering behind the machine at the time.
“It's good to see you have a little life in you. You'll need it,” Kincaid said in a frighteningly cheerful voice as he pushed Blair into the stairwell and shoved him toward the stairs going up.
“You aren't going to have any life left in you at all when this is all over,” Blair muttered. Even if Ellison couldn't get to him in time, Blair figured General Hammond would send Reynolds and a unit of frickin’ Marines to kick Kincaid's ass. Jim had the satellite phone, so he would have called Hammond by now.
“You have more spunk than most of you mud people, I'll give you that.” Kincaid fisted Blair's jacket and pulled him to a halt as one of the other doors came open and two armed men rushed in.
“Gunfire on the sixth floor,” one of them said, his voice rasping as he panted.
Kincaid jerked Blair close, and Blair gritted his teeth as he felt their bodies press together.
“Probably,” the thug answered Kincaid.
“Our men aren't answering the radio calls.”
Kincaid looked down the stairwell back toward where they'd come from. After a second, he shook his head. “Well, the strong survive and the weak get killed or arrested, even when they have the pigs all tied up and ready for execution. They're on their own.”
Blair got lightheaded as Kincaid's words sank in. Kincaid had planned to kill them all--Banks who clearly cared for his men, Joel with his friendly smile and Rhonda with her soft one and Henri who loved to tease. Kincaid honestly planned to kill them all after tying them up, and if his men had been killed instead, Blair suspected Jim had a hand in that.
“Move,” Kincaid growled as he gave Blair a good shove that sent him to one knee. Before Blair could do anything, Kincaid jerked him back up to his feet and shoved him up more steps. Blair could hear the distant but distinctive whip-whirl of a helicopter, and he stumbled again, but Kincaid tightened his fists around Blair's jacket. The fabric pulled tight under Blair's arms, but he didn't have any sort of way to fight back. These weren't alien tribesmen he could cajole or con. And Blair's story about being a vice cop had gone over too well. Kincaid wasn't going to buy a story about how Blair was really an advisor for one of the most powerful military organizations in the United States. Yeah, Blair knew he didn't look the part. Totally didn't. But if Kincaid got him onto that helicopter, Blair wasn't sure what would happen. He had to find a way to stop Kincaid or slow him down long enough for Jim to catch up.
“We're leaving them?” One of Kincaid's thugs sounded shocked... yeah, like the psychopath abandoning his men was some sort of surprise. People were idiots.
“If they're strong, they'll find their own way out.” Kincaid didn’t sound like he cared one way or the other.
Kincaid swung the gun around to point it at his own man, and a silence descended. Blair took his chance. Striking out at Kincaid's knee, he tried to knock the man down the stairs. Instead, he missed and hit too low, which made Kincaid tumble toward Blair. Eyes wide, Blair couldn't get away as Kincaid continued to clutch at Blair's coat, pushing Blair down ahead of him.
With a heavy 'oomph,' Blair landed with the edge of a stair riser digging into the small of his back and Kincaid landed on him, a gun pressed to the soft spot on the underside of Blair's chin.
“Try that again, and I'll decorate the wall with your brains, Mr. Natural. I may like spunk, but I'll put a dog down before I let it bite me twice.”
Blair didn't dare breathe as the end of the gun pressed into the soft spot. Blair couldn’t even swallow.
“We clear?” Kincaid asked in a frighteningly calm voice.
“Yeah,” Blair agreed. There wasn’t much else he could do at this point. With another of those snake-smiles, Kincaid got up and pulled Blair to his feet. Before Blair could catch his balance, the stairwell erupted in chaos. Kincaid shoved forward, knocking Blair down again, and the thugs shouted. A gun went off, the sound echoing up and down the stairwell, and in the middle of it, Blair heard Jim’s voice.
“Sandburg, get your ass moving!”
Scrambling to get out from under Kincaid’s weight, Blair pulled himself free through panic. Hands still taped together, he struggled to get up the stairs to the next level, to the next escape door, and with every second, he expected to feel a bullet through the back. Instead, he reached the next landing, and his fingers closed around the cool steel of the door handle. He looked back only when he had the door open, and escape was in sight.
Below him, the wall was stained with blood, and one of Kincaid’s thugs lay in a twisted heap. Jim had his arm around a second thug’s neck, and he kicked a third man in the stomach as he tried to attack. Blair opened his mouth, time slowing as he watched Kincaid’s gun swing around. The gunshot tore through the thug’s stomach, but Blair could see from Jim’s stunned expression, that it travelled into him. Jim stumbled back, his hold on the bad guy slipping.
“Jim!” Blair screamed the word, and Jim’s blue eyes rose to meet him.
“Go!” he shouted, but Blair couldn’t. He couldn’t leave Jim. He wouldn’t leave Jim. “Go!” Jim screamed again, his voice desperate, but still Blair’s legs tried to turn, to carry him back to his partner. Instead, a dark form leaped at him from an impossible angle. Blair stumbled as a black jaguar screamed its fury at him. Fear sent him tumbling into the eighth floor hall, and the door to the stairs drifted closed just as a second gunshot echoed through the building.
Blair stood, caught between fleeing and charging back into the fight. Suddenly the jaguar returned, stalking through the steel door and screaming at Blair again, a snarl showing every white fang. Blair didn’t need any help interpreting the symbolism. He turned and ran down the empty, white hall.
“I left him,” Blair confessed as he continued to stroke Jim’s hand. The machines beeped and whirred the seconds away, but Jim didn’t wake up, and if the doctors were right, he might never wake up.
“You retreated when you had no way to help him. It’s what he wanted you to do,” O’Neill said. At some point, O’Neill had moved to Blair’s side, and he rested a hand on Blair’s shoulder.
“He sacrificed himself. Why did he do that?” Blair felt the tears slip free and fall down his cheeks.
“We have idiotically self-sacrificing partners, Sandburg. There’s not much we can do except try and minimize the chance that they’ll end up having to use that particular idiotic move. We keep ourselves out of trouble, and then they won’t feel the need to come running in after us, and in the case of Danny, that means I also keep him away from all damsels in distress, women threatening suicide, children, aliens in need of information, old men, or anyone else who might be willing to let Daniel commit hara-kiri.”
“He’s not that bad,” Blair said more out of a sense of loyalty than anything. Daniel was that bad, and as the person in the mountain who had known Daniel the longest, Blair knew it.
“Yeah, Blair, he is. But people like Daniel can’t help themselves.”
Blair scrubbed the tears from his face. He’d done this to Jim. By putting himself in the middle of the conflict with Kincaid, Blair had guaranteed that Jim would feel a need to rush into an impossible situation. He couldn’t hang back and wait for the cavalry to arrive when Blair had neatly offered himself up as a fucking hostage.
“What if he doesn’t wake up?” Blair asked softly. Just saying the words made something in his chest shrivel and ache.
“Don’t borrow trouble, Sandburg. Hell, I’ve gotten Daniel killed more than once, and he’s always pulled through. If nothing else, the Nox love you. We’ll shove you and Ellison through the Gate and let you sweet talk Lya.”
“The Nox way of life doesn’t allow for asking favors like that.” Blair couldn’t ask for that, not even for Jim.
“Give her that tragic face right there, and she’ll volunteer to fix Ellison. We’ve gotten out of worse scrapes than this. We’re not going to let some pathetic excuse for a homegrown terrorist and an even more pathetic police department win. Not against us.” O’Neill’s fingers tightened, pressing deep into Blair’s shoulder, but all Blair could do was sit and watch Jim as the machines monitored every weakening sign of life.
“How is he?” O’Neill stood at the door to the room, but after a quick glance, Blair went back to staring at Jim.
“The doctors said that sepsis is setting in. All they can do is support the organs and hope he heals.” Blair reported the words mechanically. He couldn’t let himself feel anything.
“Well now, some of us don’t give up that easily.” Janet’s easy drawl filled the room as she brushed past Jack, a chart in her hand and two more doctors trailing behind her. “Our men don’t die. They don’t have permission, and they know what I’ll do to them if they go dying without it.” Janet gave Blair a little nod and then focused all her attention on Jim. One of the other doctors immediately went for the machines, and the third started a physical examination of Jim. Blair stumbled out of his chair when a careless hip caught him on the shoulder.
“Sorry about that,” the nameless doctor said in an absent voice, all his attention on Jim.
“Let’s give the doctors a chance to do their work, okay?” O’Neill caught Blair by the arm and pulled him toward the door, but Blair caught the edge of the door jamb and set his feet.
“I’ll wait here.”
“No. You want me out of the room so I don’t see him die.”
“Oh for crying out loud. He’s not dying.” O’Neill gave Blair’s arm a solid pull and Blair lost his hold on the edge of the door. “However, if you go annoying Doc Frasier, you may die.” Blair lost the fight and found himself dragged toward the waiting room.
“Blair!” Daniel came rushing to his side as soon. “How is he?”
“Nice, Daniel, don’t even give him time to breathe first,” O’Neill said as he kept pushing Blair right on past him. “Eric, get Sandburg to eat something before we have to admit him.”
“Colonel Reynolds?” Blair stopped dead at the sight of his ex-marine escort. Seeing him here felt too much like he was giving up on Jim, like Jim wasn’t going to be around to watch out for him. Daniel moved toward Blair, but O’Neill caught him by the arm. Yeah, just like the military to just shove people around, like they didn’t have a right to sit by the bed of the man who got himself nearly killed saving you.
Reynolds awkward touched Blair’s arm, nothing like the way Jim’s arm would just casually find itself resting against Blair’s back or hanging over Blair’s shoulder. “Hey, doc. Let’s go get you some food, okay?”
Blair turned on O’Neill. “And why is Colonel Reynolds here?”
“Because you’re too much trouble for me to keep track of. There’s a new rule, you know. No one single officer can ride herd on more than one geek. It’s bad on our blood pressure.” O’Neill gave him one more shove toward Reynolds, and Blair would have ripped into Colonel Insensitive, but Reynolds caught his arm in a firmer grip.
“Come on, doc. You’re making me feel unloved here. You can lecture me about the chemicals used in modern food.”
Blair let Reynolds pull him toward the elevator. “I am not in the mood.”
“Then you can tell me all about how Ellison kidnapped you. I’ll tell you about this time in Texas when he got drunk and propositioned a patrol officer. At nineteen, that man could tie one on, at least once you got past the stick up his ass. Come on, we’ll swap stories.”
Blair didn’t have the energy to protest, but he also didn’t have energy to swap stories. Choosing the least objectionable thing he could find in the hospital cafeteria, he poked bits of salad and chunks of chicken around on his plate, rearranging them into random patterns as Reynolds described a young lieutenant Ellison right out of Ranger training.
“Hey, Sandburg. He’s going to be okay. Between Carter and Frasier, they can fix anyone.”
Blair abandoned his attempts to stack his cubed chicken into a goa’uld pyramid and looked up at Reynolds. “Then why am I here?”
“What?” Reynolds wiped his hands off on his napkin.
“If you’re so sure that everything’s okay, why am I here, exiled to the cafeteria, and do not obfuscate.”
“If I knew what that meant, I would be sure to avoid it.”
Blair narrowed his eyes. He was not getting distracted by a vocabulary lesson. “Why am I here?”
Reynolds sighed and tossed his napkin down on his plate. “You can’t sit in there and stare at Ellison.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I can.”
“No, you can’t. You have to get a break or you’re going to wear yourself out.” Reynolds leaned forward. “You drive yourself until you drop. This is a marathon, not a sprint, doc. You’ve got to pace yourself and not get so emotionally invested that this—”
“Thanks for the unsolicited advice.” Blair stood so fast that his chair screeched across the hard floor. Heading for the exit, he just wanted away from Reynolds. If Jim were awake, Reynolds wouldn’t be here, but he wasn’t. He was dying because he’d put Blair’s life first.
Blair heard Reynolds, and he started a sprint for the elevator. Behind him, Reynolds cursed and heavy footfalls came after him. Adrenaline rushed through Blair’s veins, and for the first time since being taken hostage by Kincaid, he felt like he was doing something. Okay, so the something he was doing was stupid, but still…. Bypassing the elevator, he slammed through the door to the stairs, and the echo of his own footsteps reminded him of the stairwell where Kincaid had dragged him. His imagination supplied the sharp metallic tang of human blood as he conjured the image the Jim lying on concrete steps... bleeding… dying.
Ignoring Reynolds, Blair bolted up two flights of steps and burst out into the hall so suddenly that a nurse squealed and nearly dropped a chart.
“Sorry,” Blair called over his shoulder as he headed for Jim’s room. He blew through the visitor’s lounge and slid to a stop a few feet from Jim’s door where O’Neill, Daniel, Sam, Janet and random doctors frick and frack seemed to be having a meeting in the hallway, their bodies pressed close together.
“Shit, Sandburg, under what theory of the universe was *that* logical?” Reynolds grabbed Blair’s arm, his face tight with anger.
Shaking his arm free of Reynolds, Blair focused on O’Neill. “What are you not telling me?”
“Nice job wrangling the geek, Reynolds,” O’Neill said dryly.
“At least he didn’t get kidnapped on my watch.” Colonel Reynolds answered in an equally dry tone.
“Well, not in the last month anyway.” For some reason, O’Neill transferred his glare to Blair as if he’d done something wrong.
“Oh no. You are not distracting me again. What are you talking about and how will it affect Jim?”
Daniel was the first to answer, muttering to O’Neill under his breath, “I told you that was a bad idea.” O’Neill spared a second to glare at Daniel. At this rate, O’Neill’s glarer was going to break.
“Sandburg, you’re upset and you haven’t been cleared after a hostage situation. Actually, you’ve had two hostage situations in a row, and that’s a record, even for you.” Once again, O’Neill had that creepy soothe-the-crazy-man tone going, the one he used with children and Daniel.
However, Blair wasn’t going to be placated, and he didn’t like O’Neill as much as Daniel did, which meant he wasn’t about to let the condescending attitude stand. He crossed his arms. “I’m not emotionally compromised.”
O’Neill turned his back on the others and squared off against Blair. “Really? So you didn’t just flee from your protection detail?”
“What are you talking about and how will it affect Jim?” Blair raised his chin.
“You’re a stubborn little shit, Sandburg.” O’Neill rubbed a hand over his face. “Frasier, do you want to….” He waved a hand in the air before turning his back on Blair.
Janet gave Blair a small smile and stepped forward. “Now you just remember what I said about men not dying on my watch. It seems like the sepsis has set in, and we don’t dare move Ellison, which is posing a bit of a problem.”
Blair’s mouth went dry. “Problem?” The word sounded strained and ugly when it came out of his mouth.
“Sam here brought a certain device to help Captain Ellison out, but any sudden and inexplicable recoveries could prove a little difficult to explain.”
“So you’re going to let him die?” Blair’s heart pounded painfully fast.
“Now hold on.” Janet drew up into her full height. Since she was such a short woman, that shouldn’t have looked impressive, but somehow it did. “I’ve never let a patient die in all my life. We’re discussing how to handle the aftermath and some people,” she glanced at O’Neill, “suggested that you’d throw up such a fuss about needing to move faster that Reynolds here was supposed to keep you busy down at the cafeteria.”
“Good job with that,” O’Neill offered Reynolds.
Reynolds snorted. “Short of shooting him in the leg, that was the best I could do.”
“Next time, carry a beanbag gun,” O’Neill suggested. Daniel planted his elbow firmly in O’Neill’s side.
“Men.” Janet rolled her eyes. “Now Doctors Williams and Borowski and I have some dazzling bullshit that we can use to blind anyone who comes looking too close. Sam, would you like to head into Captain Ellison’s room?”
Sam paused, a metal case in one hand, and Blair found himself staring down at it. It was Jim’s last hope—an alien device made by evil aliens who wanted to enslave humanity was Jim’s last hope. That’s what none of them were saying. Sam reached out and rested a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “I’ll do my best, Blair. Okay?”
Not trusting his voice, Blair nodded. Her best. Her best as in sometimes she couldn’t control the devices as well as someone who still had a symbiote. Her best as in he shouldn’t get his hopes too high because they might come crashing back down.
Blair had known Jim less than a week, and the thought of Sam’s best not being good enough was tearing at something vital in his chest, something that Blair couldn’t even recognize.
Surprisingly, it was O’Neill who came up and put his hand on Blair’s back, urging him to follow Carter into the hospital room. “Hey. Don’t underestimate Carter.”
Blair nodded. Janet came in the room along with Daniel, but the two random doctors waited outside the door. Blair saw them looking at a chart together as the heavy door drifted closed. O’Neill positioned himself in front of the door and pulled out a scanner. “We’re secure,” he said, his voice all business. Carter set the metal case on top of the tray table near Jim’s feet and clicked it open.
The hand-held healing device with its oversized stone rested in the middle of a Styrofoam lining, and she carefully pulled it out, sliding it over her hand. Wiggling her fingers, she seemed to get it settled in place before he glanced over at O’Neill. With a nod, O’Neill gave her permission to break one of the most critical standing rules of the SGC—never use alien technology outside the mountain.
Moving to Jim’s head, Carter held the device out, her face tight with concentration as the stone began to glow. The fear around Blair’s heart had just begun to loosen when all the machines around Jim began to wail warnings. Jim’s body jerked up off the bed, his body convulsing and his hands twisted into claw shapes.
Distantly, Blair heard Janet yell for something, O’Neill demand to know what happened. Carter’s shocked face seemed stained with blue, and then suddenly Blair wasn’t in the hospital at all. He stood in a forest bathed in blue light, and lying at his feet was a weary-looking Jim, his army fatigues in tatters and one of his hands dangling over the bank of a stream, the fingers creating new pathways for the water as it flowed over his flesh.
“Jim?” Blair whispered. Unfortunately, Jim looked very much dead.
"Jim? Oh god. Don't be dead. Don't be dead," Blair chanted as he dropped to his knees next to Jim's lax form. "And clearly this is a dream... either that or an alien abduction, but in cases of alien abduction, a change of clothing is rarely included." Blair checked, but Jim didn't have a pulse. He didn't have any gunshot wounds either, but Blair wasn't dealing with that. He needed to get Jim's heart started.
Kneeling beside Jim he started doing chest compressions. "Breathe, Ellison."
"You must call him, offer yourself to him, not issue orders, young one."
Blair looked up and a man in native clothing that reminded Blair faintly of the Nox was crouching on the far side of the stream. His clothing was fairly traditional for some South American tribes, and he wore red paint around his eyes and down in a stripe over his mouth, but still he had some of that otherworldly calm that Blair associated with Lya and her people.
"Hey, I'll do anything to help him," Blair said. Yeah, offering "anything" to a potential alien when in an unknown territory wasn't exactly smart, but at this point, he was desperate.
The man seemed to study Jim’s fallen body for some time. "Then offer yourself to him. Offer him your strength and your pain."
"I... What?" Blair was definitely more on the spiritual side than the average member of the Stargate Command, but this was a little beyond his ability to be Zen.
The man came leaned forward, resting his hand against the ground. "Give him your spirit, young one. This moment has come too early, but spirit calls to spirit." That was too cryptic, even for Nox.
"Whoever you are, you are definitely related to Oma Desala." The man shrugged, and that seemed suspiciously like an admission that this guy really did know her. While Blair definitely didn’t mean that as a compliment, he also knew better than to dismiss the danger. After all, he was the one who recognized that the Nox were more than they seemed. He was the one who recognized that the Salish gods were potentially more than just metaphor. Blair knew better than anyone else at SGC that sometimes primitive hid some pretty fucking scary secrets, and this guy was hitting every one of Blair’s threat assessment nerves. Despite what Reynolds and O’Neill thought, Blair did recognize a threat when he saw one.
As if reading Blair’s mind, the man gave him an enigmatic smile. "I am Incacha. I taught Jim to listen to his spirit, but he has lost many of my messages. You must teach them again. If you would share your spirit, you could save him."
"Fine. I'll share it. What do I have to do?" While Blair normally believed in non-violence, he was dangerously close to strangling Incacha. Well, he would if his gut wasn’t warning him that Incacha could kill him with a flick of a pinky finger.
"Give yourself to him. Allow him to give himself to you." Incacha rose and started walking away into the blue jungle.
"Wait. No. I don't know how to do that." Blair clutched at Jim's hand, and he could feel the silence of death starting to settle over them. "Come back!"
Incacha kept walking. With a desperate look at Jim's face, Blair left Jim's side and leaped over the stream. The air felt like a storm front coming in, the pressure pushing against Blair's skin as he chased the man. "Tell me how to do that!" When Blair grabbed for Incacha's arm, the man turned to smoke and slipped between Blair's fingers, the smoke cool against Blair's flesh. Incacha vanished as gooseflesh rose up Blair’s arm. "No. Tell me how to save him. Tell me!" Blair screamed to the treetops, but only silence answered.
Whirling around, Blair saw Jim standing, but rather than being alive, his body seemed more lifeless than ever, like an empty puppet dangling from strings. "Jim! Don't. Don't leave." Pain rolled through Blair's body, squeezing his heart into a single point of black agony, and from that point, something ripped through his chest so forcefully that Blair gasped. The smoke that rose from his body turned to a gray-silver wolf that ran for Jim, its tail straight out behind him. But in dream-logic, Jim was now very far away, his body fading. Blair stretched out toward Jim. If he couldn't catch him, he'd lose his friend. He knew that with all his soul. He couldn't let that happen, so he would either reach Jim or follow him.
Jim's body arched, and a black jaguar leaped from his body, screaming its anger as he ran for the wolf. It was angry the wolf endangered itself. It didn't mind dying, but the jaguar would stop the wolf from following. It would save the wolf at the cost of its own life. It would drive the wolf back to Blair, but Blair set his jaw and braced himself. He wouldn't let the wolf come home without Jim. In perfect dream-knowledge, Blair knew what he had to do.
The jaguar leaped at the wolf, hoping to pin it, subdue it, force it back. Instead, Blair willed the wolf to leap. Midair the animals collided, their bodies vanishing in a flash of light that sent a shockwave through the dream world. Blair flew backwards, his back hitting something hard. Suddenly, the silent jungle was full out sound.
"I have a rhythm."
"One milligram of..." and Janet was calling for some medical something-or-other.
"Come on, Sandburg. Clear the way for the doctors."
Blair found himself leaning heavily against the wall, his body as sore as if he'd just been on one of Reynolds’ forced marches.
"Doc?" Reynolds’ face appeared in front of him.
"Colonel, I think something's wrong with Sandburg." Reynolds got his hands around Blair's arms, but the contact grated against Blair’s nerves, like sandpaper against his skin.
"Reynolds?" O'Neill took several steps closer, and Blair could feel the wrongness of it climbing over his skin. Blair started pushing Reynolds away, intent on getting to Jim. The three SGC doctors worked around his bed, and Carter was gone altogether. Blair felt panic rise up as he tried to get to Jim’s side.
"Shit. Sandburg, stop it." Reynolds tried to hold him, but Blair shoved out at him and ducked under an arm.
"Grab him," O'Neill suggested.
Blair ignored them, pushed Janet to the side and reached out to grab Jim's arm.
"Oh no you don't. I'm working here." Janet tried to move Blair back, but Blair kept one hand wrapped around Jim's arm and the other around the bedrail.
The machines chirped faster and Jim's eyes fluttered opened.
Jim’s sudden consciousness temporarily distracted Janet who immediately refocused her attention. "Well, look who’s awake. Dr. Borowski?”
"I'm monitoring. He's showing full brain activity."
The words slid past Blair like water. He concentrated on Jim. As he watched, he could see the color return, and Jim reached up to pull at the tubes in his mouth and nose.
"Oh no you don't." Janet intercepted his hand and pulled it away.
"He can breathe on his own," Blair said, suddenly very certain. Jim's life flowed under his skin, and Blair could feel it. Lya often talked to him about the moment when all life connected--the moment when he would realize that it didn't matter who won the war with the goa'uld because as long as that life pounded through the veins of the universe, it was all one. Honestly, Blair thought she was a little nuts. True, all Nox were a little nuts, but they had really amazing technology, so O'Neill tended to endure their nuttiness a little better than some others.
However, right now, Blair could feel it. He could feel the universe, the life, the power under his skin, and somehow he knew that if he died in this moment, he would continue to pulse in the veins of the universe--even without his body.
"How about you let a medical professional decide that?" Janet said, and she was sounding cranky. Blair shifted to get farther from her and her power. It stained the pure notes of Jim that he could feel. Jim looked up at him, the tubes still silencing him, but his eyes wide.
“Oh man.” Blair breathed the words in a whisper as he realized that Jim had felt it too. Jim had been there in that blue jungle. Blair could see the truth of it in his gaze.
“Blair, I know you’re worried, but you need to move back,” Janet ordered, her hand going to Blair’s wrist.
Shaking his head, Blair ignored her. “I can’t. I can’t leave him.”
Turning toward him, Janet pressed close, and Blair could see her frustration carved in every line of her tense face. “Blair, the hand device didn’t work. Six minutes. He’s been dead six minutes. Now, I need you to give me some room here. Wait out in the hall.” Despite the fact that Janet was clearly furious, she whispered… not that whispering really worked around a Sentinel, and from the way Jim’s eyes were scanning the room, Jim was definitely alive, awake, and listening.
“Janet, he’s going to be okay,” Blair said.
Janet’s expression morphed into one of pure sympathy. “Of course he is, Blair. I told you. Men don’t die without permission, not when I’m in the room.”
“I mean,” Blair corrected himself, “he’s literally going to be okay now.”
O’Neill moved to the end of the bed, and Reynolds fell back to the doorway. “Sandburg, is there something you’d like to share with the class?” O’Neill asked. “Because that sounds suspiciously like the introduction to one of your Sandburg zones.”
“Man, this time, it’s not my fault.”
“Keep telling yourself that, but meanwhile, why don’t you tell the rest of us what has you suddenly so convinced that Ellison is fine?” All the sympathy O’Neill had shown earlier vanished. That was his Colonel Cranky face.
Blair glanced down, and Jim gave him the smallest of nods. “Incacha… you knew him… that was your Incacha, from Peru, wasn’t it?” Ignoring O’Neill, Blair focused on his partner.
Jim gave another small nod, his various tubes shifting as he moved.
“Incacha, the shaman from the report on Ellison’s downed helicopter?” O’Neill sometimes played dumb, but Blair wasn’t surprised that he recognized the name. The colonel read more of the reports that landed on his desk than he liked to pretend. Blair struggled to sort through his thoughts and put them into an order that would minimize the chances that the military brains in the room would instantly dismiss him.
Reynolds slipped out of the room, and Daniel slipped into his place standing right behind O’Neill.
“I’m pretty sure Jim’s Incacha was something more than a Peruvian shaman.” Either that or Peruvian shamans were keeping some pretty damn big secrets, and Blair was not discounting that possibility. Nope. He was, however, not mentioning that possibility because he really didn’t need to have O’Neill roll his eyes. “Carter started using the device, and then I was somewhere else… in a jungle.”
O’Neill crossed his arms. “Sandburg, you never left this room.”
Blair looked to Daniel for support. “Stop being an ass, Jack,” Daniel promptly offered. “Where were you, Blair?”
This was the tricky part because Blair didn’t actually know. “Good question,” Blair admitted. “But it looked like a jungle, only more like a dream jungle—not quite real. And Incacha was there sounding a whole lot like Oma Desala.”
“Aw, crap.” O’Neill ran a hand over his face. “What is it with these ascended beings and their geek fetish?”
“Nice, Jack,” Daniel said with a serious glare.
“Hey, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
“And when I mentioned Oma Desala, he didn’t seem surprised,” Blair interrupted before the Jack-and-Daniel show could get started. “He told me that I had to give myself to Jim, and there was definitely a transfer of energy.”
“A transfer of energy?” O’Neill sounded skeptical, but Blair suddenly had Janet’s hand down his shirt, which started him enough that he let go of Jim’s bedrail. It took him a half-second to realize she was listening to his heart.
“Do you feel okay?” Janet asked after she had listened for several seconds. “We need a nurse in here to draw blood. I want a full workup and blood to take back to the mountain for our own sorts of tests.”
“What? Whoa, hey, I’m not the one who’s in the hospital bed.”
Janet took a step back and eyed Blair with that expression that promised pain to anyone who disagreed with her. “Oh darling, you’re about to be the one in the hospital bed. Now, if you want me to believe you transferred life energy to Jim, that’s fine, but I do hope you’re prepared to let me poke and prod you until I’m sure you haven’t done yourself some damage.”
Blair looked over to Daniel with more than a little panic in his heart.
“Oh, no.” Daniel backed up, his hands held up as if to ward off some evil. “I am not getting in the middle of this.”
Blair groaned as he realized that he had just become Janet’s newest guinea pig. Something tightened around his hand, and Blair looked down to where Jim’s fingers twined his. Even if Jim couldn’t talk, he was still there for Blair. And now Blair could feel the shared energy dancing between them, warming their skin.
Blair’s elbow slipped off the arm of the chair, and since Blair’s chin had been resting on it, the rest of Blair nearly followed. Reaching out, he grabbed at the edge of Jim’s bed before he could land in an inelegant heap on the cold floor.
“Blair?” Jim sounded bleary and slightly disoriented, but at least he had the tubes out of his throat.
“Hey. Sorry I woke you up.” Blair pushed himself back into the chair. “So, are you feeling okay?” Jim looked a whole lot better, and the doctors were actually a little weirded out about how much better he was… except for Janet. She was just busy coming up with plausible excuses for the sudden disappearance of the sepsis and all symptoms of infection or blood loss. No wonder Janet and Sam were such good friends… they probably spent a whole lot of time comparing notes about how to explain the unscientific in terms that science people would believe.
Jim reached up and ran a hand over his stubbly face. “I think okay might be a little strong. Damn. Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?”
“It was a couple of bullets, actually. Well, a couple of bullets and a very bad reaction to a goa’uld healing device. I mean, whoa. Your body is not a fan of alien technology. Totally not.” Blair made a face. The hand device, not the sepsis, had actually been the cause of Jim’s six minute death.
“I’ll keep that in mind next time I get shot in the gut.” Jim let his fingers skim across the sheet that covered his midsection.
“Maybe we can just skip having any more life-threatening injuries.”
Jim grinned at him. “You got it, Chief. I’ll just duck faster next time.”
That easy humor popped a little hole in Blair’s carefully constructed calm, and he surprised himself with the anger that poured out. “What were you thinking, coming into the stairwell? You didn’t have any backup.”
“I was thinking you needed me.” Jim clenched his teeth so hard that the side of his jaw bulged.
“They weren’t shooting at me. You could have gotten me back later, but then you came blazing in with guns blazing…” Blair’s words trailed off. This sudden mass of fury seemed to rise up in his chest. “You just about got yourself killed.” He was so angry that he couldn’t keep talking, but then Jim reached out and caught his hand, pulling it close to his own chest.
“Yeah, I just about did,” Jim agreed softly. “And I would again.”
Blair shook his head, denying all of it.
“Blair, that asshole was lusting after you. I could smell it. But being a white supremacist, he wasn’t going to admit that. He was backed into a corner by his own feelings, and people are never rational when their fears and their desires back them into different corners. You have no idea what he would have done to solve that little dilemma, and I wasn’t about to stand by while you got raped or tortured.” Jim held his hand tightly.
“So you dangled yourself out there like bait?” Blair could feel his heart speed up.
Jim’s grin returned, but this time it was tempered with some disgust. “That was plan B. Plan A was me charging in, catching them off guard and taking them all down single-handedly.”
“Plan A sucked.”
“Yeah, it did. I was flying by the seat of my pants,” Jim offered, and somehow that admission made all Blair’s anger seem ridiculous. Jim had done his best. Jim pulled him closer, and Blair stood and leaned against his bed. “You know, when O’Neill warned me that you were a trouble magnet, I really didn’t think he meant it literally. I thought I’d have to keep tabs on you when we were on a mission, not when we were visiting the Pacific Northwest,” Jim teased.
As the fury and fear faded, Blair felt drained. “Actually, this is the second time I’ve been kidnapped in Cascade.”
“Clearly we need to avoid Cascade. How did you survive your undergraduate years at Rainier without a whole unit of bodyguards?”
“Very funny.” Blair made a face at Jim. “I almost lost you,” he whispered.
“I’m harder to get rid of than that.”
Blair sucked in a breath. Jim wasn’t harder to get rid of than that. He’d been dead. Doornail dead. On the other side of the veil. Dead. Blair felt an almost hysterical need to make a Princess Bride joke about almost dead, but he was guessing that was a side effect of the terror he’d felt at the thought of losing Jim.
“Blair, I get it.” Jim sounded gentle. “But I am okay now.”
“You looked so… You were….” Blair ran a hand over his face. “God, you’ve got to think I’m a real fruitcake.”
“You go to the psychiatrist every week without being ordered to. I already thought that,” Jim reassured him. The man was feeling well enough to be sarcastic—that was a good sign. “Feeling overwhelmed when you almost lost a team mate—that’s normal Blair. You’re okay.”
“I did lose you. I… Did you see it? Did you see the animals?”
Jim nodded slowly. “The wolf. Yeah, I saw the wolf.” Jim frowned, and for a second, Blair thought he might just shut down the way Reynolds did when the conversation got too serious. Instead he let his free hand ghost over his stomach again. “Maybe I was hallucinating and the story you told me about following a wolf to my camp when you first found me stuck in my head. Did I say something about the wolf when I was unconscious?”
Blair shook his head. “No. But I saw them. I saw a wolf and a jaguar.”
Jim seemed to think about that for a time. “A black jaguar. It was behind me, and I was walking toward the wolf and then it leaped through me.”
“No, it was in you. It was in you and it left you, and I could feel this sense of loss, like I was losing you and then I saw the wolf leap out of me.” Blair let his free hand fly wildly in the air. “Oh man. There are only about a million things that could have been. Shared meditation, visualization…”
“Hallucination,” Jim offered dryly.
Blair glared at him. “Out of body experience.”
“Really good drugs from a top-notch hospital.” This time Blair could tell that Jim was giving him shit.
“Partial ascension, alternate dimension,” Blair countered.
Suddenly Jim sat up in bed, grimacing when he did. “Oh shit. You’re talking about real things—things you’ve dealt with at your job, aren’t you?”
“Out of body experience?”
Blair grinned. “Oh man. Totally wild. The Nox have this religious ceremony, and if you can let go of your physical body, you can see the whole universe…” He gestured, pulling away from Jim for a moment. The loss of contact startled him so much he stopped, his hand frozen midair. Jim reached up and recaptured it.
“You left your body?”
Jim snorted. “You are never visiting the Nox again. I don’t even know who they are, but they are officially off limits. We are in a body for a reason, Sandburg.”
“Now you just sound like Major Reynolds. The Nox are wonderful people—evolved, spiritual, patient.”
“Willing to help you leave your body.”
Blair sighed and looked at Jim. He was fairly sure Jim was more open-minded than he was pretending. Incacha had said he once taught Jim, and Reynolds would pretty much implode before he’d go on a spirit walk. That didn’t mean that Jim wasn’t putting on a good front. “And I’m fairly sure that’s exactly what I did back in that blue jungle. I left my body and you left yours, using our spirit animals.”
“And I felt you.” Jim frowned and looked away, his body stiff with worry. “We somehow shared our life energy.”
“Wow. You’re really going there,” Blair said with more than a little wonder. “No one ever believes me, not until I work at them. A lot. Even Daniel gives me strange looks when I start going into spiritual truths.”
“I lived with the Chopec. I’m familiar with spirit walks, Sandburg. But if that’s what we did, then we joined on the spirit plane, Sandburg.”
“Totally.” Blair nodded.
“Think about it. We joined our life force. Did you just give me several of your years in order to heal me, or did you link yourself to me?” Jim looked back toward Blair, and now Blair could see the fear in those eyes.
“I… I don’t know. It’s not like I have an instruction manual.”
“Blair, think about it. If we’re joined, and one of us dies…” Jim grimaced.
“The other might get pulled to the other side,” Blair agreed. The second the words left him, he knew they were true. He could feel it. However, if that’s the price they needed to pay, Blair would pay it a thousand times over. “I think it’s a little late to worry, and I’m not even a little sorry even if we are linked.”
“Sandburg, I’m a soldier.” Jim sounded angry, but Blair just gave him a flat stare until Jim leaned back in the bed and closed his eyes.
“And you’re a consultant for one of the most dangerous government operations in the world’s history. Oh yeah, we have a great life expectancy between us.”
“Hey, given how you go rushing into things, I’m okay with the idea that if you die, I die. It gives you a good reason to keep yourself alive.”
“I rush into things?” Jim laughed, with ended with a grimace. “Have you looked at your recent track record, Chief?”
“I made a tactical decision. You went flailing into a fight with a terrorist armed only with a vending machine.”
“Any port in a storm, man.”
“A vending machine?” Jim’s voice rose in horror. “I had to listen while you took them on that merry little chase around the station. If I hadn’t been stuck three floors below you, I would have killed you myself.”
“Hey, it worked. I find that men who have vending machines fall on them are definitely less likely to keep shooting at you.”
“You’re going to give me a heart attack, and then we’re both going to die.”
“But not until we’re in our eighties,” Blair said firmly. Of course, that wasn’t reality, and Jim knew that as well as Blair did. They were in a dangerous line of work, and from the way Jim was talking, he was joining the SGC and all the danger that came with working on the front lines of an interplanetary war. As many times as Blair had stared death in the face, Jim might be on the fuzzy end of the metaphysical lollipop. “Do you really think we’re linked?” Blair asked, suddenly less comfortable with the idea.
“I wish I could say no. I don’t like the idea of you being that vulnerable, Chief. If someone puts a bullet through my brain, they’ve effectively taken you out.”
“I hate to break it to you, but I’m way more likely to get shot than you are. I sort of attract trouble. So if we are linked…”
Jim cut him off. “I can feel it. I can feel something tugging at me, some new pressure in my chest.”
“And you’re sure it’s not gas?”
“Yes, Einstein. I can tell the difference between gas and…” Jim’s voice trailed off.
“And what?” Blair asked after the silence drew on for too long.
“We’ll figure it out together,” Jim promised. “So, how long am I stuck in this bed?”
“You’re complaining already?”
“Yes,” Jim said firmly. “I feel fine, so being stuck in this bed is not making me happy.”
Blair imagined Jim stuck in Janet’s infirmary until the bullet holes healed. Oh yeah, Blair was going to be spending some time avoiding eye contact as Janet and Jim got their glares on. “Well, it looks like whatever we did works on infections, but a hole through the body is still a hole through the body. Besides, Janet has promised to scan us with every machine she owns to try and figure out what happened and whether it’s dangerous for either of us.”
“Great,” Jim said dryly, and he let his hands fall to his sides while still holding onto Blair. “Long periods of time stuck in an infirmary. This is going to be fun.” Jim gave Blair a narrow-eyed look. “You’d better keep me supplied with reports so I can get up to speed on all these people I’m not letting you near anymore.”
Blair snorted. “You’re turning into another Reynolds, Ellison.”
“Nope. I’m not. I plan to keep you safer.” Jim twined his fingers with Blair’s. “And that means you need to stay in your body.”
“I will if you will,” Blair offered as he settled down into the visitor’s chair without reclaiming his hand. Jim shook his head, but he was smiling, so Blair took that as a deal.
“Hey short stuff,” a voice called. Blair turned around to see Jack walk into the bar. Since Blair had gone out of his way to pick a bar that wasn’t close to the mountain, either this was a serious coincidence or O’Neill had gone through with his threat to put tracking devices on all the science staff.
“Great,” Blair said dryly.
“Aw. You’re making me feel unloved, Sandburg.”
“Feel away,” Blair invited him. Instead of getting insulted, O’Neill sat on the stool next to Blair.
“So, I hear your partner is running neck and neck with my record for annoying Dr. Fraiser.”
Blair snorted. After two weeks of being in a bed, Jim was about ready to start using IV needles as poison darts and staging an escape.
“So….” Jack let his word trail off into nothing. Blair gave him a sidelong look. With O’Neill, outwaiting him was always the best defense. When he was in a mood to annoy someone, his abilities were too impressive to combat. Blair didn’t know how Daniel handled him.
“You want to help me out here, Sandburg?” O’Neill leaned closer and gave Blair a meaningful look.
O’Neill narrowed his eyes. “Fine. I’ll just ask it, then. What the hell happened?”
“Let’s take this to a booth,” O’Neill suggested, sounding all military and a little unhappy.
Blair opened his mouth to respectfully decline, after all, he was enjoying getting a slow drunk on at the bar. Unfortunately, O’Neill got a hand under Blair’s arm and manhandled him back toward the corner of the room.
“Bully,” Blair complained.
“Yes, I am. Suck it up, put on your big-boy pants, and deal with it.” O’Neill deposited him in the far booth and then slid in next to Blair, forcing him into the corner.
“This is uncalled for. Totally uncalled for.”
“Really? Because as the second-in-command of the mountain, when one of my annoying geeks has a sudden change in the relative levels of annoyingness, I worry. I worry even more when he gets into a fight with his best friend.”
“Man, we did not fight.”
“Really? Have you told Daniel that because he’s nursing some pretty hurt feelings right now.”
“Then he is totally exaggerating. Totally. We had a difference of opinion.” That resulted in shouting and references to past relationships and psychological disorders, and yeah, maybe that had been a fight, but Blair was not admitting it to O’Neill.
“About Major Ellison?”
“About you,” Blair hissed, because that comment about Jim cut too close to the quick. O’Neill’s eyes went big with shock. “About you, about me, about Jim, about everything,” Blair added.
For a second, the bar was quieter than normal, and Blair realized he’d gotten a little too loud. Several of the people at the bar were giving them those little sideways looks people used when they were trying to not get caught being way too nosy.
“You do know you’re going to have to be more specific, right?” O’Neill pointed out.
Blair looked longingly at the beer he’d abandoned at the bar when O’Neill had shanghaied him.
“Don’t even think about it. Drinking is not going to make any of this go away.”
“Nope,” Blair agreed, “but it will definitely take the edge off how annoyed I am.”
“Come on, Sandburg. You lived with Danny for two years in college. You know how he gets when he’s all high on moral indignation. Whatever he said, you just have to let it roll off your back, just like I’m ignoring the fact that Ellison made a very pointed threat toward my favorite little geek. We all make allowances.”
“Jim what?” Blair mentally rewound that bit of conversation.
O’Neill shrugged. “Dr. Fraiser could barely keep Major Ellison in the bed after you and Danny had your little spat. She ended up having to sedate him, and when I went down to point out that while dedication to geek-sitting is appreciated, getting out of a hospital bed is unacceptable, he made a few pointed remarks about where Daniel could shove his attitude.”
Blair cringed. Fight or no, Daniel was his best friend, and he didn’t want his best friend getting upset with his other best friend—and this was where beer came in because Blair definitely felt about twelve years old even caring about stuff like that. It was like he’d just been regressed fifteen years and he was stuck in junior high again. He was too old for this shit.
“Come on, Sandburg. Confess. What did Danny say?”
Blair gave O’Neill a long and nasty look. “Ask him,” he finally suggested.
“I would only he’s doing the guilt thing where he throws himself into his translations and utterly ignores me.”
“Imagine that. It couldn’t possibly be because you annoy him,” Blair offered with his sweetest smile. Unfortunately, O’Neill was immune to the sarcasm. His own acerbic attitude inoculated him against it or something.
“I always annoy him. He’s not usually this tightlipped. So, since I don’t like you as much as I do him, and I might actually consider Chinese water torture on you, you might want to give me an answer.”
“Wait.” Blair frowned. “Jim heard and he didn’t tell you?”
O’Neill sighed and leaned back in the seat. “Blah, blah, in confidence, blah, blah, blah, won’t betray your trust. Your partner seems to like you, Sandburg. Now, enough with the changing topics.”
“Huh.” That was… that was shocking. Reynolds never made any bones about the fact that he was military through-and-through. If Blair asked him to not mention a certain cultural exchange of gifts, the man would give Blair a lecture about the need for accurate mission reports, like accurate fucking reports would win the war. But Jim had basically told his commanding officer off, and with Jim officially signed up again, that was an official commanding officer and everything.
O’Neill jostled him with an elbow.
“Fine.” Blair rolled his eyes. “Daniel might have made a few comments that I thought were a little out of line, and I pointed that out, and he brought up a few things from the past, and I brought up his relationship with Sara Gardner, and things went downhill from there.”
Blair grimaced. “College girlfriend. Slightly needy and clingy and totally not entirely well balanced.” Blair circled his finger near his temple to emphasize that part. “She might have been drop dead gorgeous, but the woman would break every ethical rule in the book and sleep with one or two professors to get her name in a journal.” Blair shivered as he remembered some of the conversations he’d overheard. Talk about dysfunction. “She saw this grand future with Daniel so that every time Daniel did something even a little bit non-conventional, like suggest that pyramids were alien landing sites, she pretty much ripped into him.”
“Oh.” O’Neill made a little huffing laugh. “When you geeks fight, you really go for the jugular. Well, at least she’s human. That puts her one step ahead of most of Daniel’s star-crossed relationships. So, what did he say to make you stretch that far back to really pull out the big guns?”
Clearly O’Neill was not going to take ‘fuck-off’ for an answer. “I told him that Jim didn’t want me going out on missions until he was back on his feet.” When Jim had mentioned that he wasn’t comfortable with Blair trotting around the universe without him, it seemed like an easy compromise.
O’Neill blinked, opened his mouth, closed it again, and then spent some more time blinking. “You took yourself off rotation because Major Ellison asked you to?” And that was disbelief in his voice. Disrespectful disbelief even. Blair braced himself for round two of ‘You’re giving up yourself for this stranger.’ Shrugging, Blair let his gaze sweep across the people scattered around the bar.
“You never listen to anyone. Not me, not Reynolds, not even the general, and one month into knowing this guy, you’re letting him clip your wings? I definitely need to find out what Ellison’s trick is.”
“Oh man, now that is pot and kettlish.”
O’Neill pulled an inch or so away from Blair. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Um, Vyus,” Blair said in a sing-song, but he did keep his voice down. Technically, mentioning the name of the planet where Daniel had found one more psycho to fall in love with was a breach of security. When O’Neill’s cranky face intensified, Blair wasn’t sure if that was because Blair mentioned good old Linea—Destroyer of Worlds—or because he’d mentioned it outside the mountain.
“Meaning?” O’Neill demanded in that tone that threatened extreme pain if someone poked the wrong spot.
“You sent Linea back to Vyus.”
“And, but, or, yet…” O’Neill waved his hand in a ‘go on’ gesture.
“Because Daniel wanted you to. You caved like the Carlsbad Caverns. One little look and you’re being all reasonable colonel.” Blair’s tone made it pretty damn clear that he didn’t consider O’Neill reasonable under normal circumstances.
“Hell yes,” O’Neill agreed with a snort. “Look, if there’s an equal choice with no tactical advantage in it for me, I’m going to cave to Daniel every time.”
“But… What?” Blair had definitely lost track of the conversation somewhere.
“Hey, when I need to win a fight, it’s because I tactically can’t afford to lose it. So, if I have to give in sometimes…” O’Neill frowned. “Okay, I give in a lot. But I get what I really need, and it keeps Daniel happy. That’s worth it.”
“But you’re giving in.” Blair definitely had misjudged something badly. He might have misjudged O’Neill… either that or he was really, truly plastered and imagining all this.
“And that’s what Danny said to you… that you couldn’t give in to Major Ellison without being somehow wrong. Yeah, that’s a Danny thing to say.”
“Man, do not talk like you have some great key to Daniel’s psychology.” Blair hated it when O’Neill acted all high and mighty, especially since Blair had not only known Daniel longer, but he’d lived with the man for almost two years. Poor students sharing a tiny apartment got to know each other really well, especially when neither one of them could afford to do much of anything except watch free TV.
“I do. It’s called a psych profile.”
“Sandburg, Daniel plays all shy and quiet, but when was the last time you saw him back down from anything? I mean anything at all?”
“Exactly,” O’Neill said, sounding more than a little triumphant. “People think I’m a pain in the ass with inflexible standards. Actually, I think my psych profile might have that very line in it. But Daniel is…” O’Neill whistled through his teeth. “He’s not good at being wrong. He can’t give up on something. He just can’t. So unless I have a solid tactical reason for shooting him down, I try not to.”
“Because of his psych profile?”
“Because I know my friend, and I know that if I put my foot down every time, I’m going to ruin our relationship. So I let things slide when I can.” O’Neill leaned closer. “Tell me you haven’t had to do that. Tell me that you haven’t let Daniel grab the reins and run for something while you stood back and nodded and prayed something didn’t explode in his face.”
Blair thought about the first time he’d seen all Daniel’s evidence about aliens and pyramids laid out on the table. Personally, Blair had thought the better paper would have been one on incredible coincidences, but no, Daniel had to press forward with his aliens theory.
“Exactly,” O’Neill said smugly even though Blair hadn’t said anything.
“So, you’re telling me that I should just let Daniel think I’m betraying my own ethics by letting Jim pull me off active duty?”
“Why did you pull your name off the roster?”
Blair thought about Jim’s impassioned plea, and even more importantly, he thought about the heart rate monitor that had slowly increased in tempo as Jim even considered the idea of Blair going off-world without him. “Man, Jim would give birth to kittens. Besides, I am so backed up in the office it is not even funny. I mean, I’m starting to think I should diagnose myself as a hoarder. Have you seen the shit I have piled up to the ceiling?”
“I can only hope you don’t actually mean shit.”
“Bite me,” Blair suggested.
O’Neill smiled. “So, you have two equally important jobs—field work and paperwork—and you’re choosing one based on Ellison’s completely irrational decision-making process and your need to not poke his inflexible preferences.”
Blair frowned. “Man, that makes it sound like I’m a total pushover.”
“It sounds like you’ve just joined my world, Sandburg,” O’Neill disagreed. “We should get double hazard pay for putting up with our partners, but as the more laid back half of our respective partnerships, we are stuck having to put up with partners who will be irrational. Illogical. Inflexible. And we will have to flex like mad so that when we do really need something, we can get our less flexible better halves to actually bend just a little bit.” O’Neill held up a finger and a thumb with no more than a quarter inch of space between them. “Daniel ran out to rescue a woman from suicide, even when it put him in the middle of an entire tribe that wanted to kill him.”
“Yeah, well Jim ran into a stairwell full of terrorists. Man, do you know how bullets ricochet in a stairwell?”
“Yeah, Sandburg, I do. But Daniel locked himself in a room with a woman known as the Destroyer of Worlds because he wanted some time to sweet talk her.”
“Ellison was ready to kill himself to keep the Chinese or NID from catching him. I mean, he was ready to eat his gun, and instead of stopping and talking to you, he decides the best course of action is kidnapping me and potentially killing himself. How is that even logical?”
“That’s nothing. Daniel helped deliver Sha’re’s baby even knowing that the second the child came out, the goa’uld bitch would be back. She could have grabbed him and handed him over to Apophis, and he wouldn’t have raised a hand to her.”
Blair frowned as he realized that Daniel and Jim had more in common than he’d realized. “So, you’re saying that they’re both stubborn enough to make a mule jealous and likely to put their own safety near the bottom of the priority list.”
“Add to that an overdeveloped sense of guilt for pretty much everything, and you’ve got them pegged,” O’Neill agreed.
Blair looked at the colonel in horror. “We are so screwed.”
“I’ll buy the next round of beers,” O’Neill offered before he stood up. Standing at the side of the table, looking down, O’Neill turned suddenly serious.
“Is he worth bending for? Is Ellison worth the compromises you’re making?”
“Is Daniel?” Blair countered.
“Every second of every day,” O’Neill agreed without even a hint of humor in his voice.
“So’s Ellison.” Blair said it firmly. “Are you going to give me any lectures about how I haven’t know him long enough to say that?”
“Me? Hell no. Daniel’s had me wrapped around his finger since about day three. You held out an entire week.” With that, O’Neill turned and headed to the bar to buy a couple of beers.
Tomorrow Blair would have to make up with Daniel and reassure Jim, who had clearly gotten more upset than Blair would have ever guessed. But tonight, tonight Blair was going to have a beer with a friend.
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