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Alchemy

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“In Egypt there grew up the belief that magical powers existed in fluxes and alloys and the art of manipulating the metals, and the knowledge of the chemistry of the metals and of their magical powers were described by the name ‘Khemeia.’ That is to say ‘the preparation of the black ore’ (or ‘powder’) which was regarded as the transmutation of metals. To this name the Arabs affixed the article al, and thus we obtain the word Al-Khemeia, or Alchemy, which will perpetuate the reputation of the Egyptians as successful students both of ‘white magic’ and of the ‘black’ art.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Standing at the condiments area of the Pod 4 basement cafeteria, Daniel Jackson saw a young man seated across the room. Daniel had noticed the man before. He always chose to eat alone with a book open in front of him. Every so often someone, probably a co-worker, would greet him and start a conversation. The young man with dark hair and olive skin would invariably remove his glasses, close the book and give the other person his attention, though not his active engagement. He would smile and nod, and politely respond to the person’s question or comment while clearly holding himself aloof from the interaction. After a while the person would leave and the man would return to his book.

Daniel had watched the man enough to question his own interest. It was apparent to him that the stranger reminded him of someone, namely himself. Daniel recognized that he behaved in exactly the same way, but that wasn’t the end of it. That they should both be resistant to socializing wasn’t the issue, a lot of people were, especially those choosing the solitary pursuits in which this institution specialized. No, it was the man’s eyes that drew Daniel to observe him. They were evocative blue, nice eyes, but there was a depth of sadness in them that froze Daniel’s insides. Even when the man smiled it was clear that underneath his heart was broken. Daniel knew that his own eyes were the same; he saw them in the mirror every morning.

Daniel took a deep breath and started over. The cafeteria was crowded at this hour, so if worse came to worse he could pretend that he just needed a seat. Approaching the small table where the young man was holding a large book with one hand and absently stirring his beef stew with the other, Daniel waited for him to look up.

“May I?” he asked, indicating the vacant seat.

The man didn’t speak, but put his fork down long enough to gesture acquiescence with an open palm.

Daniel placed his tray and his own book on the table and busied himself with re-arranging his lunch to a more convenient configuration. He was aware of the fleeting glances directed toward him over the top of the other book.

As he began to eat the other man pointed to the tome beside Daniel and asked, “Is that for work?”

Daniel nodded. “It was written by one of my supervisors and I’m trying to catch up with the rest of the department.”

The other man squinted at the cover. “Egyptian Squeezes? What, is that like some new cocktail?”

Daniel actually smiled. “No. Egyptian Squeezes are bas-reliefs of hieroglyphics pressed into paper. Since they aren’t as spectacular as the ones carved in stone they haven’t been as thoroughly studied. I’m reading about methods of preserving them, which is tricky since they’re more than 3,000 years old.”

The dark blue eyes brightened with interest. “Cool! Are you in the Middle East Department?”

“No, the Anthropology Conservation Lab. And you?”

“Ethnology. South America.” He extended his hand. “I’m Blair.”

Daniel took the offered hand and shook. “Daniel.”

To Daniel’s surprise Blair seemed to be taking the initiative in furthering the conversation.

“Have you been here long?”

“Five months, and you?”

“Six. It’s a pretty cool place to work, all things considered.”

Daniel agreed. “We could do worse. The Smithsonian Institution is the top of the line, even if we are in a glorified warehouse.”

Blair laughed and they began a lively exchange about their current projects, with tangents into other subjects. After a while Daniel looked at his lunch companion curiously.

“You obviously have an extremely wide field of knowledge. What’s your academic background?”

At that the other man’s face closed. He looked down and fiddled with his paper napkin. “I’d rather not talk about that if you don’t mind. Let’s just say that my chosen field of study was not well received by the University and leave it at that.”

Daniel sighed. “I can understand that. I was summarily ejected from the academic world because my own post-doc work was a bit beyond the mainstream.”

Blair looked at him again. “Really? I got booted before I finished my doctorate. At least you got yours first.”

Daniel grimaced. “Um, two, actually. But it doesn’t matter, does it? We’ve ended up in the same place anyway.”

“Man, I had to do some serious groveling to get this job. They’ve got me tucked away where the public isn’t going to notice me.”

“Me too. An old friend of mine had to call in some big favors to get me in here, and he had to promise that I would be a good little boy and not rock the boat.”

“Man, it really sucks, doesn’t it?”

“You can say that again.”

The two grinned at each other with newfound understanding. Then Blair looked at his watch and exclaimed, “Damn, I’m late getting back to work. Gotta run.” As he stood and collected his tray he stopped and looked at Daniel seriously. “It’s been nice talking to you, Daniel.”

“You too, Blair.”

Sitting alone again Daniel noticed that his spirits felt lighter than they had in some time. He smiled to himself as he finished his meal.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

After that the two found themselves sitting together at lunch several times a week. Sometimes they shared interesting things they were coming across in their work and sometimes they read in silence. One Friday at the end of their break Blair paused and looked up at Daniel, who was about four inches taller.

“Hey, man, you wanna go out for a beer later?”

From the look on his face Blair thought that his new friend was going to decline and say something like, ‘I don’t like beer.’ Then Daniel closed his mouth and started again.

“Yes. I’d like that.”

“All right. How about TGIF’s at eight?”

“That’s fine. I’ll see you there.”

On the way back to his work area Blair stopped by the bathroom to wash his hands. Standing at the sink he looked at his face in the mirror. He thought he looked thin and pale, and wondered when he had gotten so much older. He didn’t think that it had happened all at once, but the aging seemed to have progressed faster it did than for most people.

His hair was pulled back severely in a ponytail. Blair had intended to cut it, but for him that would be the symbolic moment of no return. He didn’t have much hope for the future, but he couldn’t bring himself to literally cut himself off from his past either. He never wore his hair loose anymore, though.

He studied his own face looking for answers. There hadn’t been any there yesterday, and there weren’t any there now. Blair dried his hands on a paper towel and continued down the hall.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

That night found the two men seated on stools, leaning heavily on the gleaming wooden bar. Daniel had a Guinness in front of him and Blair had chosen Newcastle Brown Ale. It was practically a special occasion, after all.

Daniel was saying with great animation, “It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job. I do. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s just that I would like to be a little more….”

“Active?” Blair suggested.

“Yes! Exactly. What I was doing before was very exciting. I was actually working for the Air Force, if you can believe it. Every day was an adventure. I was getting to use my body, not just my mind.”

“I know what you mean, man. Before I came here I was working with the local police department. Talk about an adrenaline rush.”

Daniel was surprised. “You worked with the police department?”

“Yeah. I was kind of like a consultant on social stuff. But Jim…” He broke off.

Daniel prompted, “Jim?”

Blair swallowed and went on. “Yeah, Jim. He was my partner, a detective in Major Crimes.” He peered at Daniel closely, trying to see if this information provoked any recognition in the other man. All he saw was an open face and interest in the sky blue eyes. Blue eyes like Jim’s, but a slightly different shade. He shook his head. “Anyway, he like, counted on me to watch his back, you know? It wasn’t just what I knew that was important, but what I could do, too. I was making a difference. I really got off on that.”

Daniel nodded emphatically. “Yeahyeahyeah! It was being needed for something more than arcane knowledge and accurate spelling. It was being part of a team where what was at stake was our very lives. People depended on me to do my part while they did theirs and no matter what, nobody got left behind. I’ve never had that anywhere else.”

“So why did you leave?” Daniel’s face fell and Blair tried to backtrack. “Hey, sorry, man. I shouldn’t have asked that.”

Daniel shook his head sadly. “No, that’s all right. I just had to leave. Part of it was exactly what I was just saying. I was becoming more of a soldier than an archaeologist. It was addictive in a way. I loved the action and the power that I acquired within the structure, and I have to admit that I had some anger issues to work out.” He grimaced self-deprecatingly. “I got to enjoy shooting a gun too much, helping to blow things up. I was trying to pretend that I was something that I’m not, rationalizing lying to myself and to others. Every once in a while something inside would cry out for me to stop, but I was caught up in the power trip.

“Maybe I would still be there, still be living that life, but then there was Jack.” Blair nodded encouragement as Daniel continued in a more subdued tone. “Jack was my friend, my best friend actually, but it went sour. We weren’t getting along anymore. We were fighting, saying things to each other that we shouldn’t. It was getting too intense. I know that we still lo…” he gulped, “loved each other, and that’s exactly why the distance between us was so painful. We needed to be able to trust each other completely, and that was getting shaky. I couldn’t face it anymore. I’ve never run from anything in my life, but I ran from him and here I am, for what it’s worth.”

As Daniel was speaking Blair’s face had gone pale. Daniel apologized, “I’m sorry to be dumping all this on you, Blair. I don’t know why I told you all that.”

Blair swallowed the grapefruit sized lump in his throat and answered, “Because even though what we’ve lost seems too much to bear, like there’s no hope left, we still cling to the need for one other person in the world to understand. It’s human nature. And because running away doesn’t solve anything, choosing to be alone doesn’t cure the pain of being alone. Because while we’re still alive we can’t totally give up.” The emotion that Blair was feeling was much more visible than Daniel’s, and Blair looked down in embarrassment. He whispered, “I miss Jim, too.”

While Friday night revelry went on around them Daniel and Blair sat staring into their drinks, each wrestling with the past and the present.

Eventually Blair broke the silence. “So I would ask you, ‘How about those Redskins?’, but I’m still a Jags fan. So is Jim.”

“I was never much interested in sports, but Jack got me hooked on the Avalanche. I used to ask him trivia questions just to see if he could give me the statistics for any given player in any given season.”

Blair asked, “Could he?”

Daniel’s eyebrows jumped. “Apparently. But he could have been making it all up and I would never know. That’d be just like him.”

After a moment Daniel snorted. “Aren’t we a pair?”

Blair laughed briefly in response. “Yeah. We should write a paper. ‘Models of Significant Relationships of Anthropologists and the Incidence of Depression’.”

Daniel sat back in mock protest. “Hey, it’s not that bad!”

“No, it isn’t. But it helps to let it out once in a while.”

“You’re right, Blair, it does. May I buy you another beer?”

“Hey, man, I never, and I mean NEVER, turn down a free beer. Bartender!”

Armed with fresh drinks, the two clinked glasses.

Daniel began, “Cheers.”

Blair continued, “Salud.”

“Nasdrovia.”

“L’Chiam.”

“Slaínte.”

This went on for quite a while.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

The number of artifacts held by the Smithsonian was so great that not all of them had been cataloged. This was one of Daniel’s jobs. A new group of storage containers had been brought to the lab and placed on the long tables against the wall. He carried one box over to his workbench and brushed the dust off the faded label that had been glued to the top probably over a hundred years ago. It read, ‘Egypt. Middle Dynasty. Pharaonic Jewelry.’ Intriguing.

Daniel cut the twine wrapped around the box and opened the lid. Removing several layers of delicate tissue paper he exposed the first item. As his blood ran cold he couldn’t suppress his frustration.

“Shit, shit, SHIT!”

There in all its glory lay a Goa’uld ribbon device in absolutely perfect condition. Daniel frowned menacingly at the object as if he could will it away. Knowing that these things were practically indestructible he removed it from the box and set it on the counter before digging deeper. Soon there were four of the offensive items marring the tabletop.

He leaned onto his stool and stared at them, brows pulled low. There was no getting away from it. He was cursed to have the Goa’uld follow him wherever he went. And where the Goa’uld went, the SGC was soon to follow.

He sighed and walked over to the phone. On automatic pilot he dialed the number that was so familiar to him.

“Hello. Yes. This is Dr. Daniel Jackson. May I please speak to General Hammond?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

The phone conversation was winding down when the door to the General’s office banged open without even a ‘by your leave’. A tall, silver haired man flew into the room.

“Thank you for calling, Dr. Jackson. You can expect someone there within the day. You’ll keep the objects in a safe place till then? Fine. It was good to talk to you, son.”

As he hung up the phone the other man shouted, “That was Daniel!”

“Colonel O’Neill, it’s good to see that the intelligence acquisition and distribution capability of my command is in good working order. Or should I say the gossip mill?”

O’Neill was red in the face and ignored his CO’s dry comment. “But sir, that was Daniel! Why didn’t you let me talk to him? Where is he? Is he okay?”

The General raised his voice to command level. “Colonel O’Neill! You will calm down immediately. Do you understand me?”

Chastened, Jack closed his mouth and gulped, but looked at Hammond with big, pleading eyes.

“Sit down, Colonel.”

The other man bounced excitedly in place. George could understand Jack’s agitation, but he really had to insist.

“Down.”

Jack lowered his lanky frame onto the edge of a chair and leaned forward. “Sir, what’s going on?”

Hammond took a breath and began the explanation. “That was indeed Dr. Jackson. He has been working for the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. for the last several months.” Jack appeared to be about to interrupt and the General cut him off. “He’s fine, Jack. I’ve known where he was the whole time and have kept tabs on him.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, sir? Why didn’t you tell any of us?”

“Because Dr. Jackson specifically asked me not to. The same reason you didn’t track him down on your own. He called just now because in his work he has come across some Goa’uld technology; hand devices. Apparently nobody else knows what they are, but I’m going to send someone out there to transport the items back to the base for inspection.”

O’Neill’s eyebrows rose expectantly.

“Yes, Colonel. You can go.”

The other man slumped in relief. “Thank you, sir. I really need to see Daniel. Talk to him.” Jack was at a loss to express the profundity of this desire. “I really need to, sir.”

The General couldn’t help but respond gently. “I know you do, Jack. It’s time the two of you talked. I sincerely hope that you can straighten things out.

“He’s at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, just outside of the District. Pod 4; that’s the fourth large section of the complex. You can leave whenever you’re ready and can arrange a flight. Give Daniel my regards, Colonel. Dismissed.”

The decorated Air Force Colonel wobbled quite noticeably on the way out the door and George watched him go with a heavy heart. For all the power of his office there were some things he just couldn’t fix. The relationship between these two stubborn, passionate men was one of them. If he could pull their ears and knock their heads together he would, but it was up to them to repair the best partnership, the best team, that he’d ever known. He said a silent prayer that it would go well in Washington.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Blair Sandburg often worked late. A combination of actually enjoying his work and the fact that he didn’t have anyplace to go, anyone to be with, kept him busy in his office until long after his co-workers were gone. Sometimes when his boss was late leaving she would swing by, turn out the lights in Blair’s office and physically lead him to the exit, but usually it was up to him to call it a night.

This evening was no exception. Blair was helping to analyze items brought back by an expedition to the Chilean Andes, including examples of lost craft forms, in an attempt to understand the ancient communities and support the effort to revive traditional cultural practices within their decimated modern remnants. As engrossed as he was, at about 10:00 his stomach growled too loudly for him to ignore. He decided it was time to go feed himself and get some sleep.

As Blair walked down the deserted halls his mind, as was its wont, wandered back to Cascade. He wondered for the ten millionth time how Jim was doing. Surely Simon would call him if Jim got into trouble; that was why he had left his number with the Captain after all. So things must be okay. Jim was probably getting along just fine without him. He had friends. He had spirit guides. His Guide and Shaman had done the hard work of helping him understand, accept and control his senses, but now he could get along as Sentinel on his own.

So caught up was he in this much repeated train of thought that he ran into the man around the corner before he even realized that he was there. Blair jumped back apologizing.

“Sorry, man. I didn’t see you.”

Then the figure before him began to register in his brain. He took in the fact that the man was dressed entirely in black and was wearing a Kevlar vest and a ski mask. Blair’s eyes widened, his mouth fell open and he took another step back as the man raised a gun with a long silencer extension.

When the weapon was level with Blair’s chest the man pulled the trigger, then calmly stepped around him as he fell against the wall and slid to the ground. Blair felt more surprise than pain, and then he didn’t feel a thing.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Dressed sharply in tan chinos and black leather jacket, Jack couldn’t decide whether he was more nervous or excited. He might be excited because he hadn’t seen or spoken to Daniel in six months, and that was about to change. Or he might be nervous because he hadn’t seen or spoken to Daniel in six months, and wasn’t sure what kind of reception he was going to receive. Either way the effect was the same; a myriad of butterflies flapped their wings against the inside of his ribcage.

He couldn’t believe that he had carried out Special Ops missions and faced down aliens without blinking, and here he was ready to turn to jelly because of one not-so-mild-mannered archaeologist. Well, he could believe it because this one archaeologist was the single most important thing in his life. Only problem was that he’d been a little slow on the uptake and hadn’t figured that out until it was too late. Was it still too late? Was there a chance to fix things? That was the reason for the butterflies.

The guard at the front entrance had relieved him of his side arm after it activated the metal detector, promising to return it when the Colonel left. Getting a busy signal at Daniel’s extension he had then politely given O’Neill directions on how to get to his friend’s work area. This involved a good number of twists and turns through two floors and seemingly miles of corridor.

Finally Jack found himself standing outside the door with the words ‘Daniel Jackson, ACL Assistant’. What, Daniel Jackson without the Dr? And an assistant? The mind boggled.

Then he heard a noise from within, sounding suspiciously like his best friend in the world crying out in pain. Adrenaline immediately jumping into overdrive, he burst through the door to find three men in black bending over Daniel, who was lying partially hidden behind a bench table. One of the men was holding a tazer to Daniel’s chest, causing his body to seize and arch up off the floor.

Growling, Jack took two steps into the room and then dived to the side as one of the men swung a gun toward him. Jack didn’t hear the shot, but a ceramic pot over his head exploded into dust verifying the occurrence. Frantically looking for a weapon Jack pulled drawers out of the cabinet he was hiding behind and hit pay dirt. There were tools in one of them; for what he couldn’t imagine but some of them had sharp points, which was all that mattered. He grabbed a handful and scurried around to the other side of the cabinet as one of the men loomed into view.

Jack squatted and leaned around the corner to throw one of the tools at his attacker. He aimed first for the leg, knowing that it wouldn’t be armored, and heard the man gasp as metal penetrated muscle.

Crouching behind the barrier Jack called out, “I’m a Colonel in the United States Air Force and security is on its way. Put down your weapons and give yourselves up.”

He didn’t hear the men speak, but some agreement must have been reached because a volley of bullets covered their exit from the room. As silence fell he heard Daniel groan and shift on the other side of the table. Checking that the coast was clear, Jack sprinted to his friend’s side.

Kneeling, O’Neill took inventory of possible injuries. One side of Daniel’s face was already turning into a purple bruise, and he seemed generally disoriented. Daniel’s eyes blinked rapidly, but he didn’t appear to be aware of his surrounding.

Jack touched his shoulder. “Daniel.”

The younger man flinched at the contact and began to thrash defensively. Jack grabbed him and held him still. “Daniel, it’s me, Jack. It’s okay, they’re gone. You’re safe now, Daniel.”

Daniel tried to focus on the man at his side, brows pulling down in confusion. Jack saw his mouth work in a motion that could have been his name. Then Daniel tried again and succeeded, croaking out, “Jack?”

“That’s right, Danny-boy. I’m right here. I swear, you get into so much trouble I can’t conceive of how you got along without me.”

Daniel shook his head slightly and stated, “Imagining.”

“Nope, ‘fraid not. I’m really here.”

Jack slid an arm under the other man’s shoulders and lifted him up to lean against his chest. Daniel sighed and seemed to melt into the warmth and support.

“So, Danny, you wanna tell me what’s going on?”

Daniel cleared his throat and leaned his head back to look up at Jack’s face.

“They wanted something.”

“Were they after the, you know, snake stuff?”

“No. They kept asking where lot EGT-537B was. I wasn’t lying when I insisted I didn’t know. They didn’t believe me.”

Jack tightened his hold on the still trembling man. “It’s going to be all right now. I’ve got you.”

“Jack?”

“Yes, Daniel.”

“I think I need to change my clothes.”

Jack wrinkled his nose but reassured him, “Yeah. Electrocution will do that. Just take it easy for now.”

O’Neill heard footsteps in the doorway and looked up to see a pair of security guards training their weapons on him. One of them shouted, “Put your hands where I can see them and step away from Mr. Jackson.”

Jack snapped back, “That’s Dr. Jackson to you, and I’m his friend, Colonel O’Neill, USAF. Three guys did this to him, didn’t you see them? All dressed in black? You can’t miss ‘em.”

The guard took a step forward. “I said step away NOW.”

Daniel breathed into his chest, “Do it, Jack.”

O’Neill lowered Daniel to the ground and stood, his hands raised. One of the guards kept his gun firmly aimed while the other spun Jack around and shoved him against the wall. After patting him down he announced, “He’s clean. No gun.”

“Well of course I don’t have a gun. The guy at the front desk took it away from me. I can tell you it would have come in handy when those intruders were torturing Dr. Jackson, here.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we had to make sure. There’s been a shooting.”

Daniel had managed to prop himself up against the wall beside Jack, and he gasped, “A shooting? Who?”

“A guy on the first floor. Sandburg. If you’ll excuse us we’ll keep searching.”

Jack yelled after them, “Hey, call an ambulance for Dr. Jackson, will ya?”

Daniel was staring blankly at nothing. He whispered, “Blair.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jim Ellison was plodding through yet another report when the phone rang. As Simon Banks came out of his office the detective was staring at the handset. Simon took in the shock on Jim’s face and headed straight for his desk.

“Jim?”

The other man looked up, blue eyes huge, and said softly, “Sandburg’s been shot.”

Simon turned and bellowed to his secretary, “Rhonda, call the airlines. Get Ellison on the next flight to D.C. It’s an emergency.”

+++++++++++++++++++++

 

Daniel was unsurprised to find Jack sitting at his bedside. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, and he had missed his friend’s solid presence so much it brought tears to his eyes.

Jack’s fingers slipped into the hair on his forehead and began to stroke gently. “Hey there, Danny.”

“Hey, Jack.”

“How’re you doing?”

“Fine.”

“Well, you will be anyway. The doctor said that the bruise on your face would fade eventually, as will the effects of the electric shock. She says you just need to sleep for a while to get your strength back.”

“Thanks for coming to my rescue when you did. Your timing was impeccable as usual.”

An odd look passed over his face. “Funny, I have the feeling that I’m really late. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going to come back to Colorado with me where I can keep an eye on you.”

Daniel frowned. “I don’t think so, Jack.”

O’Neill held up a finger. “Ah! I have one indisputable reason for you to bail on this place. You work in something called a Pod, Daniel. A Pod. ‘Nuff said.”

Daniel had to smile at his friend’s irreverent humor, but admonished, “We’ll talk about this later. I think I’m going to need my wits about me.”

Jack sobered. “Of course. And I don’t mean to pressure you. Well, I do but I’ll try not to. Okay?”

“Okay. Have they found out who those guys were?”

“Not a clue, but we will get them.”

“Jack, they said that Blair was shot. How is he?”

Puzzled, O’Neill asked, “Blair?”

“Blair Sandburg. Jack, he’s about the only friend I have here, and I really need to know how he is. Can you find out for me?”

“Sure I can, Danny. If it was the same guys that attacked you, maybe he saw something that could help.”

“Just make sure that he’s okay, that they’re taking good care of him.”

It was just like Daniel to be worried about someone else when he needed to be looking after himself. “I’ll stay with you till you fall asleep again, and then I’ll go check on him. Okay?”

Daniel smiled sleepily, “Okay.”

It wasn’t long before he nodded off, but Jack stayed where he was for a while, memorizing the face on the pillow. There was no friggin’ way he was going to let Daniel walk away from him again. The archaeologist didn’t know it yet, but resistance was SO futile.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jim Ellison was keeping a similar vigil beside another bed. The scene was pretty much Jim’s nightmare; Blair lying helpless in a hospital bed, connected to various tubes, with a machine breathing for him. He was trying hard not to zone out as he listened to every whoosh and gurgle even remotely connected to Sandburg’s body. He consciously focused part of his attention on the antiseptic smell in the air and the smooth metal bed railing under his hand. And of course he didn’t take his eyes off of his Guide.

Concentrating on his senses allowed Jim to avoid thinking. Thinking would have been too much under the circumstances, as it might venture into areas such as the nearly four years he had spent with Blair and the seven months he had spent without him. Thinking would lead him down the avenue of guilt and anger and loss. Thinking would take a man already dangerously close to the edge across that line.

Instead he listened to the hydraulic whir of the respirator as it drew in air, and the whistle of it being forced into Blair’s lungs. There was absolutely nothing he could do but sit there. It was up to Sandburg to wake up and make everything right. The doctors had assured Jim that Blair would wake up, that the surgery had gone well. He had waited this long to look into his friend’s eyes again, he could wait a little while longer. Except that it was taking all his willpower to do that.

A whispered echo of Sandburg’s name drifting into the room from the hall suddenly shattered Jim’s concentration. He cocked his head and focused on the sound.

A man’s voice was insisting, “Just tell me if he’s doing all right, for crying out loud.”

A nurse answered, “I’m sorry, you know that the hospital has strict rules about patient confidentiality.”

“Hell, I’m not asking for the guy’s sperm count, I just want to know if he’s going to make it. If he needs anything.”

Without conscious awareness Jim found himself opening the door and stepping into the hall.

“Thank you, nurse. I’ll take it from here.”

He turned to face the silver haired man with a sense that his casual, relaxed stance hid a very capable physical presence. The hair on Jim’s neck stood up.

Jim confronted the stranger, his eyes hard as steel. “Who are you and why are you asking questions about Blair Sandburg?”

Half expecting the man to bolt he was mildly surprised when he simply raised his eyebrows and answered, “I’m Colonel Jack O’Neill, USAF. Who are you?”

“Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD.”

The Colonel drawled, “Cascade, huh? Aren’t you a ways out of your jurisdiction?”

Jim took another step toward the man, flexing his shoulder muscles. “You didn’t answer my question. Why do you want to know about Sandburg?”

“Because a friend of mine is evidently a friend of his. He sent me to find out about Sandburg’s condition. I’ll report back that he has his own pit bull watchdog, but he’ll want more detail than that. He’s a detail oriented kind of guy.”

“Blair Sandburg was shot through the chest, nicking and collapsing his left lung. He was barely out of surgery when I arrived from Cascade and he’s resting now.”

The older man snapped sarcastically, “Thank you SO much for the information. Has he said anything yet? Did he get a look at the guy who shot him?”

Jim’s suspicion level jumped another notch. “Why do you want to know?”

“BECAUSE, Detective, unfortunately it looks like YOUR friend was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was MY friend who was the intended target of those bastards. They tortured him and likely would have finished him off if I hadn’t gotten there in time. I need to find out who they are so I can make sure they never touch Daniel again.”

Interesting. “Daniel?”

“Doctor Daniel Jackson, archaeologist, linguist, anthropologist extraordinaire. So do you know who did this?”

Jim relaxed slightly, but maintained his defensive air. “I don’t know, he hasn’t woken up yet.” Jim bristled and growled much like the said pit bull. “But I’m going to find out.”

“Well, you can just stay out of it. I’M the one who’s going to get the sons of bitches.”

“Is that so? And exactly how are you going to do that, flyboy? I’d like to remind you that I’M the experienced detective. I have seven years in Major Crimes and believe me, when someone hurts my… Blair… I consider it a very major crime. I have the skills and the connections with the local PD to get the job done.”

“Oh? You don’t even know why any of this happened. I have access to the classified information that’s going to be necessary to resolve it. And I assure you that I can do a lot more than fly a plane.”

The feral gleam in the man’s eyes said to Jim, ‘Special Forces’. His stance relaxed and he looked at O’Neill speculatively. The other man un-puffed his chest in response.

“Look, Colonel, why don’t we pool our resources on this? I want them. You want them. Does it really matter who gets them as long as they go down?”

O’Neill considered this. “That might work. There may be stuff that I can’t tell you, but I probably could use the back up.”

Then Jim heard the soft rustle of a hand against a sheet coming from the room behind him. He spun around to look at the door.

“Blair!” As he charged back into the room he barked at O’Neill, “I’ll talk to you later.”

Without even waiting for an acknowledgement from the other man Jim rushed to Blair’s bedside. He found his friend shifting restlessly. Jim leaned over and cooed, “Hey, Chief, you want to wake up now?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Blair didn’t really want to wake up. He didn’t feel so good. And he was apparently dreaming that Jim was there. Better to stay asleep. But the dream itself was prodding him.

“Come on, Chief, I know you’re in there. Open those baby blues for me, kid.”

Blair tried to comply and managed at some length to pry his eyelids, which were as heavy as bricks, ajar. There was that nice dream again. The perfect smooth planes and sharp angles of Jim Ellison’s face seemed to be floating before him. The face smiled with relief and Blair’s heart skipped a beat.

“That’s it, Junior. I’m glad to see you.”

Strangely, Blair was starting to think that maybe this wasn’t a dream after all. The setting was definitely hospital-like, and in a dream the pain in his chest would probably have woken him up by now. He was in a hospital and Jim was here? His eyes widened in astonishment.

“You were shot, Chief. Do you remember? But you’re going to be all right, I promise.”

He had been shot. He had a hazy recollection of that not-fun event. But what the hell was JIM doing there?

It seemed that his friend could read his mind. “You put me down as your emergency contact on the job application at the Smithsonian. The called me right away when you were hurt.”

Oh yeah. It had been a reflex of sorts. Jim just seemed like his next of kin, and was a hell of a lot easier to get a hold of than Naomi.

“I haven’t been able to find Naomi. If you can tell me where she is I’ll call her for you.”

Blair shook his head in negation and became very aware of the horrible feeling of a tube being down his throat. He tried to lift his hand to push it away, but Jim wouldn’t let him. He guided Blair’s arm back down to the mattress and then pulled away as though he had been burned.

“Listen, Sandburg, I know that you may not want to see me, and I couldn’t blame you for that, but I’m here to take care of you. You were shot and your lung collapsed, which is why you’re on the respirator now. Try to relax and don’t fight it. The Doctor said that they’ll probably remove it tomorrow, so just let it help you for now. You’re really doing well, so don’t worry. You’re going to be fine.” Jim lifted his hand toward Blair’s face and then dropped it away, much to Blair’s disappointment. “You’re going to be fine. You are. You’re going to be fine.”

There was a look in Jim’s eyes that Blair couldn’t really identify. It was like sadness, worry, pain, and something like desperation. He couldn’t get enough synapses firing to figure it out.

Blair noticed a movement behind Jim and let his eyes wander in that direction. It was a large black cat that dimly registered as Jim’s spirit animal, the jaguar. The feline was pacing at the far side of the room like a wild thing trapped in a cage. The agitation of the animal was evident even to Blair’s dulled senses. He frowned and watched the animal sweep one way, pivot, and then lunge the other.

Jim followed Blair’s line of sight, but obviously couldn’t see what Blair was seeing and was disturbed by that. “Hey, Sandburg, stay with me here.”

Blair tried to focus on Jim again but his cement eyelids were closing. Before he fell asleep, though, he felt a moment of worry. Something was very wrong with Jim, and that just wouldn’t do.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jack was extremely displeased to have been ejected from Daniel’s room by the nursing staff, especially since they had had no difficulty withstanding his fiercest glare. He stalked down the hall cussing under his breath.

A violent rattle of metal and glass attracted his attention. Even from the back Jack could see that it was Ellison shaking a vending machine to within an inch of its life. With the build that guy had on him, the machine didn’t stand a chance.

Frustrated at the continued lack of cooperation, Ellison smacked the front pane of glass hard enough to crack it under his palm. Whoa! Maybe a little intervention was in order.

Walking up behind the other man but leaving a prudent distance between them Jack interrupted, “Hey, Ellison. Better lay off or the local cops’ll have you for assault on an unarmed coffee machine.”

When Jim turned around Jack almost took a step back, thrown off guard as he hadn’t been in their earlier altercation. The detective’s face was an open book revealing deep distress, his eyes unfocussed and desperate. This was a man on the verge of flipping out.

Jack quickly considered the option of calling the paddy wagon, then decided to try and talk the man down. After all, his friend had been hurt in the assault on Daniel, which made him feel some responsibility for Ellison. In the end he took a step closer.

“Easy, Ellison. Jim. Is it Sandburg? Is he okay?”

Jim blinked at the mention of Sandburg’s name and started to calm down. “Yeah, he’s okay. It’s just, they made me leave him. We have the medical personnel in Cascade trained to let us stay together, but here,” he shook his head, growing frustrated again, “they made me…”

“Yeah, me too. Sucks, doesn’t it? Listen, do you have somewhere to stay?”

Jim shook his head slowly, his eyes brimming over with sadness. “Normally I would crash wherever Blair is. I know I said that he was my friend, but the truth is I don’t even know where he lives.”

Jack nodded his understanding and answered quietly, “I don’t know where Daniel lives, either. So how about we go get something to eat and find a place to sleep. The Holiday Inn Express Georgetown is a couple of blocks down from the Medical Center. It costs an arm and a leg, but then so do all the hotels in D.C. How does that sound?”

Ellison nodded in agreement, slung the strap of his travel bag over his shoulder and submitted to being led out of the hospital. Jack placed a Gyro sandwich from a take-out place in his hands and he ate it seemingly without noticing. Jack couldn’t quite figure this out. He had the impression that the other man was competent and intelligent, and yet here he was close to breaking down. There must be more going on that just his friend being shot.

Jack suggested they share a room to keep down costs, even though the SGC was covering his bills. This detective from Cascade and his anthropologist buddy had become part of the situation, and Jack would feel better keeping an eye on them.

The detective followed Jack into the room like a zombie and sat on the edge of a bed, staring at the wall. Cautiously, Jack knelt down in front of him and removed his shoes. Pulling back the covers he rolled the silent man into the bed and tucked him in. Jim curled into a ball on his side and Jack watched until he felt the man had gone to sleep.

Kicking off his own shoes and settling back against the headboard of his bed Jack sighed. What the heck had they gotten into now?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jim woke up disoriented. The sounds were all wrong, as were the smells and the light. Looking around it all came back to him. He was in Washington, D.C. because Blair had been shot. This was a hotel room. The man snoring in the other bed was O’Neill.

When Jim came out of the bathroom after showering and shaving O’Neill was awake and watching him carefully. When they left the hotel the Colonel was oddly solicitous and insisted that Jim eat breakfast before going back to the hospital. It wasn’t until they were devouring croissants and jam that it occurred to him that he didn’t remember leaving the hospital the night before or going to the hotel. The pastry turned to rock in his stomach. He was fine now, but he must not have been yesterday. He sincerely hoped that he hadn’t done anything conspicuous.

He looked at the older man next to him and said hesitantly, “Look, I don’t think I was feeling too well yesterday. Probably jetlag or something. Thanks for looking out for me.”

O’Neill waved it off. “No problem. It happens. What say we head back to the Medical Center?”

Jim was glad that they weren’t going to talk about it. He didn’t understand what had been happening with him lately and it made him nervous to think about it.

After getting off the elevator they first came to Jackson’s door. O’Neill stuck his head in and pulled it out again, frowning. “He’s not in there.”

Jim directed his hearing down the hall and around the corner. He said, “There’s someone in with Sandburg. Maybe it’s him.”

“Oh, I have no doubt that’s EXACTLY where he is. Of COURSE he would go wandering around the hospital when he’s supposed to be resting. Hey, wait a minute. How can you tell that from here?”

Jim tuned him out. He had heard Blair’s voice. Blair was talking!

Jim and Jack walked into Sandburg’s room and sure enough, there was someone sitting in the chair at his side. He was a handsome man with short brown hair and stunning blue eyes, and Jim was sure that he would be even more impressive in something other than a hospital robe.

And Blair, he was lying in bed smiling at his visitor. A jealous tremor stirred in Jim’s belly.

Jack put his hands on his hips and pretended to scold, “So what is this? An Anthropologists Anonymous convention? Isn’t anyone aware that this is a hospital and that injured people are supposed to follow doctor’s orders and stay in bed?"

The man raised his eyebrows with a grin and rejoined, “That’s rich coming from you, the original bad patient.”

Blair, beautiful life-support-machine-free Blair, looked weak, pretty much like you would expect after a gunshot wound and major surgery. He smiled at O’Neill around the oxygen canula secured to his nose and raised his hand to him. “You must be Jack. I’ve heard so much about you.”

Jack moved forward and took Blair’s hand. He quipped, “Damn, I hate when my reputation proceeds me. It takes away all the fun of shocking people,” but his brown eyes softened. Looked like Sandburg had made another conquest.

The other man held his hand out. “I’m Daniel and you’re Jim. I’m glad to finally meet you.”

Jim shook his hand and mumbled, “Thanks, same here”, but moved away as quickly as possible to take a position on the other side of Blair’s bed. He whispered hesitantly, “Hey Chief. You’re looking better.” Blair was looking up at him and it seemed that his face was glowing, though Jim thought that was probably a trick of his vision.

His voice rough from the irritating tube, Blair answered, “I am better. Especially now that you’re here.”

Jim pulled up a chair and sat in it before his knees gave way. There were so many emotions swirling within him that he couldn’t find anything to say.

Daniel explained, “Blair is doing really well. So well, in fact, that they removed the respirator this morning. If he keeps on improving at this rate they may even release him in the next couple of days. Can’t keep a good man down, right?”

Blair smiled and nodded weakly but never took his eyes from Jim’s face. Jim stared back at him, peripherally aware that the other two exchanged a questioning glance.

After a moment Daniel offered, “Well, Jack, maybe we should give them some time.”

That galvanized Jim back to functionality. They were going to leave him alone with Blair! He didn’t feel ready for that. When Blair had been asleep it was one thing, but now that he was awake it was totally another ballgame.

He cleared his throat. “Actually, since we’re all here maybe we should compare notes on what happened. Colonel O’Neill and I have agreed to work together to catch the perps who did this to you.”

Blair’s eyes widened incredulously. “Jim, you agreed to work with someone? Without a direct order from the Mayor?”

Jim couldn’t help but smile back, this felt so right. “Just this one time, Chief. I don’t make a habit of it.”

Blair started. “I guess I saw them first, but I can’t tell you anything. I ran into a man in black in the hall. He shot me. That’s it.”

Jim’s blood ran cold with fear. How could anyone have done something like that? Didn’t they know how special Blair Sandburg was, how important? How could they just take it upon themselves to dispose of his life so casually? The reality that Blair’s life could have been ended washed over Jim in a chilling wave. Of course he’d always known that was a possibility, but this time it had been so close.

Jim jumped at the feel of a hand on his arm. He looked up to see Blair observing him with a frown. Squeezing Jim’s arm, Blair whispered, “It’s all right. I’m going to be all right.”

Nodding numbly Jim moved his arm away. Everybody was staring at him. He cleared his throat and tried to swallow the fear. Getting the proceedings back on track, he asked, “So, Chief, you didn’t notice any identifying marks or anything.”

“Sorry, man. It all happened so fast, and he was disguised. I didn’t even realize that there was more than one.”

Jack added, “That’s okay. It was a long shot, anyway. I spent more quality time with them and didn’t see anything either.” He turned to Daniel. “How about you? What exactly happened?”

Jim found his curiosity and investigative zeal engaged by the other man’s story. The men had burst into Jackson’s office, roughed him up and asked where a specific ‘lot’ was. They used the tazer on him until O’Neill had arrived to drive them off. Jim was sure that he was hiding something, and noticed that he didn’t explain why the Colonel was coming from Colorado at that exact time. Coincidence? Both the men were holding back, being careful what they said.

Jim probed, “So who were they? You have any idea at all?”

The two exchanged a look (they did that a lot) and Jack answered. “We don’t know for sure, but there’s one place we always start when something like this happens. The NID.”

Curioser and curioser. Jim’s response was hard as nails. “When something like this happens? The NID? Want to explain that?”

Jackson stepped in, “There’s a lot we can’t tell you because it’s classified. I can say that at times through our work at Cheyenne Mountain we have acquired some article or information that the NID wanted, and they have shown very little restraint in trying to acquire it. The thing here is that we don’t know what the men were after. If we find that maybe we’ll find out who they were. I need to get back to work and look into what Lot EGT-537B is. The EGT probably indicates that it is from Egypt, but I’m unfamiliar with that kind of alphanumeric designation. We need to find out why they thought I had or knew about whatever it is.”

O’Neill interjected, “That’s true, Daniel, but you aren’t going anywhere until the doctors say you can. You rest up for a while and I’ll sniff around our old friends, see what they’re up to.”

Jackson almost whined, “Jack, I’m fine. I’m being released this afternoon. And since when do you listen to doctors anyway?”

“Since they help keep you from running around making a target of yourself. Just because their first attempt wasn’t successful doesn’t mean they won’t try again. Stay here while I’m gone, okay? We’ll go to the museum together tomorrow.”

The archaeologist sighed. “All right, Jack, we’ll do it your way.”

The older man seemed surprised by the easy acquiescence. “Okay then.”

“Right.”

“Fine.”

“Absolutely.”

Jim interrupted the odd exchange, “There are some people I want to contact too, but,” he gestured toward his friend, who had fallen asleep again, “I don’t want to leave him alone.”

Jackson volunteered, “I’ll stay with Blair.” When the Colonel raised his eyebrows he continued, “I’ll sit right here and rest, Jack, okaaaay?”

O’Neill nodded with ill-concealed displeasure.

Jim concluded, “So we’ll meet later to compare notes.” As he rose to leave he stopped and amended, “I understand about classified information, O’Neill, but if I’m going to solve this case I’m going to need as full a disclosure as you can give me.” He warned, “Don’t withhold essential details.”

O’Neill nodded steadily. “We’ll tell you as much as we can.”

Jim strode from the hospital room like a man with a mission. He had phone calls and visits to make, evildoers to root out, a Guide to protect and avenge.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

That afternoon Jack picked Daniel up from the hospital in a rental car. They swung by the hotel to get Jack’s things and then went to Daniel’s Dupont Circle apartment. Finally being alone together in such a private space made them both a little uncomfortable, and Jack prowled the apartment while Daniel fed and reassured his fish. Eventually they made coffee and settled at the dining table across from each other.

Daniel started, “So. Did you find out anything about the attack?”

“Not a damned thing. From what I can tell the NID actually isn’t behind it this time. I tried my damndest to keep them from becoming interested, too. Last thing we need is them getting in the way.”

“I guess I’m not surprised by that. I mean, if there was some technology they wanted, like the hand devices I found for example, all they would have to do is wait, as all things find their way to Area 51 eventually. And how would they know what was in the Museum Support Center anyway?”

“How would anyone? That’s the question. If it wasn’t the NID then who was it?”

“Maybe we’ll find some answers tomorrow at the MSC.”

Jack nodded than sat up straight. “But I’ll tell you what I DID find out. It’s about our friends Ellison and Sandburg.”

Daniel frowned. “Jack, you had them investigated?”

“Of course I did. Like it or not they seem to be involved. Do you wanna know what I found? It’s interesting stuff.”

Daniel though for a moment and then agreed. “I know that Blair has something in his past that he doesn’t want to talk about and I feel uncomfortable going behind his back, but I guess we need all the information we can get.”

“Well, it seems your buddy Blair was kicked out of Rainier University after he admitted that his dissertation was fraudulent. He publicly stated that it was a work of fiction. And get this, it was about Ellison.”

Daniel’s frown deepened. “What?”

“Sandburg’s dissertation was about how Ellison is what he called a Sentinel. Has superhuman powers or something, like in a comic book. Why would Sandburg do that, hmm?”

“Jack, I may not have known Blair long, but I’m sure he isn’t a fraud. There must be more to it. Can you get me a copy of the dissertation?”

O’Neill grinned in triumph and dug into his bag, pulling out a thick document. “I just knew you would ask that, so I beat you to it. It was hard to get, too. There aren’t many copies floating around. There was a big publicity push by a publisher that brought it all out into the open, but they only released excerpts to the press. Just so happens, though, that the FBI managed to get a copy from the publisher’s office and had it stuck in a file somewhere.”

He slid it across the table and Daniel picked it up thoughtfully. “I don’t know what’s in this yet, but you know Jack, there are reasons other than fraud that someone might publicly denounce their work.”

That brought Jack up short. It was a subject that Daniel knew all about. “Okay, I’ll keep an open mind. There is something strange about Ellison, but I wouldn’t have said he was Superman or anything.”

After a dinner from the Indian take-out down the block, Daniel settled into the sofa to read. Jack watched a movie on TV from the seat next to him. Without realizing it they relaxed into easy companionship as though they hadn’t been estranged for six months. Later, as Jack fell asleep in the bed made up on the couch he felt hope stirring in his heart.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Blair was awakened from his afternoon nap by the poking and prodding of a nurse, but was pleased to be told that he was improving quickly. As the woman left Jim slipped into the room and hovered by the door.

Smiling deeply Blair tried to get Jim to sit down and relax. “Come on, man,” he coaxed, “We haven’t seen each other in months. Sit down and talk to me.”

Jim moved across the room and sat nervously in the chair by the bed. His gazed flitted around the drab hospital room.

Blair demanded his attention. “Jim! Talk to me. What’s wrong? Are you all right? Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

“I’m fine. You’re the one in the hospital bed.”

Blair shook his head. “No way, man. This is me you’re talking to. Did you think you could hide anything from me? No way in hell.”

“Nothing to hide, Chief. You know, the local police don’t have any leads on who shot you and worked over Jackson, but I did get some interesting information on the two of them.”

While Blair was known as a consummate obfuscator, he didn’t have anything on Jim Ellison when he was intent on avoiding a subject. Blair knew that they would get back to it later.

“They are an interesting pair. I can’t figure out what a man with Daniel’s background was doing working for the Air Force.”

“They have a whole cover story about deep space telemetry research from a base beneath the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD station, but nobody really believes it. Like you say, an Egyptologist doing translations of radio signals? The base is super top secret and has experienced several emergency alerts over the last few years that are largely unexplained. I don’t know what they’re doing down there, but it’s a lot more dangerous than sitting and watching output from a radio receiver. The casualty rate is the highest of any stateside base.”

Blair nodded. “That jives with what little Daniel told me. How did you find all this out, anyway?”

“I still have some connections in the Army, Junior. You haven’t made a clerk’s day until you’ve asked for the gossip. I wish I had someone inside the NID, I bet they could fill in the blanks. Maybe I should call your friend Jack at Rainier.”

“Don’t, man. You could both get in a lot of trouble and besides, Daniel and his Jack will tell us what we need to know. It might be top secret for a reason.”

Just then an orderly bustled in with Blair’s soft, nutritious and easily digestible dinner tray. Jim took the interruption as an opportunity to escape before Blair could turn the conversation back to them. He began inching toward the door.

“Visiting hours are almost up, Chief, and they’re very strict about that. I’ll just leave you to eat and get your rest and I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Blair stopped him, “Jim!” When the tall man turned and finally looked directly at him Blair stated for the record, “We ARE going to talk. Don’t think we aren’t.”

He was dismayed to see his friend’s usually stoic façade waver. Jim whispered, “Whatever you say, Chief,” and slipped out the door.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

The next day Daniel led Jack through the halls of Pod 4 and Jack began his campaign.

“You know, you really should come back to the SGC. Your talents are going to waste here.”

“No they aren’t.”

“There’s so much cool stuff going on there, you can’t say you don’t miss it.”

Daniel shook his head. “I can’t argue with that, but there’s cool stuff going on here too, Jack.”

“Come on, Daniel. How can museum work compare with traveling to other planets, discovering their historical treasure troves?”

Daniel stopped and looked at Jack thoughtfully. Then he led Jack down a short hallway and used his employee ID card to open the locked door. They entered a room that extended into the distance, filled entirely with identical large, white cabinets.

Daniel turned to Jack and began, “Allow me to explain to you what I do.” He moved to a cabinet and pulled the double doors outward. Inside were a series of different sized drawers. He selected a drawer at random and pulled it out. Inside that were several pieces of ancient pottery sitting neatly side by side. Jack couldn’t identify the culture or time period, but they were obviously really old.

“Jack, this building and the others in the complex are filled with the treasures of Earth’s past and present. Between this facility and the Museum on the Mall there are over 500 scientists and research staff working to collect and preserve cultural and natural information. An incalculable number of artifacts are evaluated and stored here. One of the things I do for the Anthropology Conservation Lab is look over items from the museum’s backlog of uncataloged materials, analyze them, and write up the catalog entry for the ones that are worth saving.” He lifted an eyebrow wryly. “Perhaps you can appreciate that my superiors often find my descriptions excessively detailed, but I may be the only person to ever really try to understand a given piece.”

He nodded toward the drawers. “Then we determine the ideal conditions for preserving the item indefinitely; temperature, humidity, lighting, etc. They are stored safely but made available to the museum curators, researchers and other institutions.” He slid the drawer back in.

“Jack, the walls of this building are eighteen inches thick. It will survive most of what humans and nature can throw at it. What I’m doing here is helping to build a treasure trove chronicling the history of the human race on Earth, the precursor to all the other human civilizations we find out there. I think of it this way: thousands of years from now there may not be any people left on Earth for one reason or another. Maybe a scientist from one of those other planets will come to Earth wanting to understand who we were. Maybe he or she will find this building and its contents more or less intact.” Daniel’s eyes filled with emotion. “All the glory that was the human race will be laid out before them, the catalog entries stored for them to interpret. I can imagine the joy that scientist will feel at the gift we have left him.”

He closed the cabinet. “What I do here may not be as glamorous as traveling to other planets, but it is valuable. Just as valuable in its own way.” He led Jack back into the hall. “I feel incredibly lucky to have found a way to use my knowledge and skills meaningfully. You know how limited my options are outside of the SGC.”

As they walked Jack could only stare at his friend, heart in throat. This Daniel, doing this work, was so like the Daniel that Jack had first known. This Daniel was filled with the love of knowledge and culture. Of interpreting and sharing it. How long had it been since he had been able to experience that within the SGC?

Sure, it was more complicated than that. There was the whole protect-the-Earth-from-the Goa’uld scenario and the first contact scenario, and there was no question that Daniel was incredibly valuable in those capacities. But what about this part of Daniel, that needed feeding and nurturing? They had been wrong to think that the other aspects of his work with the Stargate project would be enough. They had been allowing this part of Daniel to die, and Daniel had allowed it. Jack’s love for the man burrowed even deeper.

They reached Daniel’s office and went in, finding the debris of the assault cleared. Daniel closed the door behind them.

Jack didn’t know how to respond to what Daniel had just shared with him, so he changed the subject.

“So why doesn’t it say Dr. on your door? You still do have those degrees fair and square.”

Daniel sighed and sat down on a stool. “I guess it’s a kind of camouflage. I’m better off if I don’t draw attention to myself or encourage people to ask questions. Mr. Jackson can be just another staff member. Of course my supervisors know some of my history, but they’re glad for me to keep a low profile, too.”

Jack walked around the room and stopped to fiddle with a caliper lying on a countertop. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Daniel as he asked quietly, “Daniel, are you happy?”

There was silence and Jack glanced at his friend to find him staring. Eventually the archaeologist answered evenly, “I enjoy my work. I have a quiet, academic life. I’m content enough.”

Jack needed to know. “But are you happy?”

Daniel’s face changed as a dam of pent-up emotion broke. There was an expression of deep and abject sadness on that beautiful countenance the likes of which Jack would never want to see. Looking beseechingly at him Daniel answered, “How can I be happy? I’m missing half my soul.” His voice dropped so that Jack couldn’t hear what he said next.

Jack moved a few steps closer. “What?”

Daniel looked up at him openly. “I said I’m missing you, Jack. How can I be happy so far from you? You’re my best friend, and for better or worse I find that I need you around to be happy. Lord knows I didn’t want to feel that way, and I’ve tried not to, but I don’t seem to have any choice.” He finished with a flicker of a smile that took the sting out of his words, “Damn you.”

Jack barely acknowledged the surge of exultation he felt at Daniel’s admission and leapt into the opening it created.

“I’ll move here, then.”

Daniel blinked in confusion. “What?”

Jack rushed on, “I’ll move here. Look, you know I’m getting too old to be gallivanting around the Universe. I could easily get assigned to a desk job in the D.C. area, maybe even advocating for the SGC among the political wolves in my flashy dress blues. Did you know I liked deep-sea fishing too? Well there’s plenty of that half an hour’s drive away. If Carter is ever going to get the chance to develop her command abilities I’m going to have to get out of the way and let her out of my shadow.”

He stopped and swallowed. “And all of that is just an excuse. I can’t be happy without you either, and I deserve to be happy. We both do. We’ve given enough and it’s time for someone else to save the world. I’m tired, Daniel. It’s time to save myself. I want to be where you are, wherever that is. I want us to be happy.”

The brilliant blue eyes had grown wide. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying screw duty and responsibility, or at least redefine it. I’m saying that I want to be near you. Preferably I’d like us to live together. If you don’t want that then I’ll get my own place and we can see each other on the weekends or whatever. I’m not willing to keep living without you, so if you don’t want to go back to Colorado then I’ll come here. It’s that simple.”

“You want to live with me?”

“Yeah. In whatever capacity you’ll allow. It’s up to you.”

Daniel leaned back and inspected Jack. “What brought this on all of a sudden?”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think. I may be slow, but I get there eventually. I know who we are. I know what I want, what I need.”

Jack put down the coffee mug that had found its way into his restless hands and went on reflectively, “When I was a kid we used to go visit my aunt in Des Moines, and she would take us to Riverview Amusement Park, home of the amazing piano playing chicken. There was a ride called the Cat and Mouse that we went on every time. It was like a roller coaster built of wooden scaffolding, but so ancient that it would rattle and sway when the car moved. Along with the up and down sections there was one place where you went straight ahead picking up speed and it looked like you were totally going to fly off the end of the structure and land in the river. At the last moment the car veered to the right and you plunged down the track instead. It was great.” He smiled in fond recollection. “We thought the whole way that this would be the time the car really did fly off, or the whole thing would collapse. As far as I know, though, the Cat and Mouse never had an accident until the day the park closed.”

Daniel’s brows furrowed. “This has to do with our relationship?”

“I guess it does. We have our ups and downs, Daniel, and sometimes the foundation seems shaky and it looks like we’re gonna crash. Ya see, our relationship is based partly on the knowledge that we’re safe and partly on the excitement of the risk, and we keep coming back for more. But no matter appearances, we’re solid. We can trust in our friendship, even if we have to take a sudden turn in a new direction once in a while. It’s a good ride, the best, and I don’t want to get off until the big guy in the sky drags me home for dinner.”

“You have been thinking about this. The roller coaster analogy is appropriate, though I’m not sure where the piano playing chicken fits in. But I think I understand what you mean. You’re talking about love, something not even we can control.”

“Got it in one. So wha’d’ya say? Are you freaked out by what I’m suggesting?”

Daniel shook his head slowly. “No, not freaked out. Confused. Stunned. Feeling like I shouldn’t even hope to have something I want so much, or it will be taken away. I just can’t believe you said those things, that you feel that way.”

Jack closed the distance between them and placed his hands on the table on either side of Daniel, surrounding the man within his arms. He leaned down and whispered against Daniel’s cheek, “Believe it.”

Jack felt sexual tension explode like a bomb in the small space between their bodies, and he knew for a fact that it wasn’t all from him. “Want you, Daniel.”

The answer was whispered as well, “Want you too, Jack. Want you so much.”

Daniel slid his hands around to Jack’s back and pulled him forward until his thighs hit the stool between Daniel’s legs. Daniel leaned into his chest and held him close. Jack did the same, enfolding the warm, solid body in all the love he felt.

Jack felt like crying, it was so good. What was it Daniel had said? That Jack was the other half of his soul? That was it exactly. Half of his soul had been returned to him and he couldn’t believe that he had ever been able to live without it.

As they clung together, the smell of Daniel’s shampoo in his nostrils, Jack couldn’t help but notice how hard he had become, how much he wanted to touch and caress and make love to Daniel right then and there, to complete the union. With his last ounce of control he admitted to himself that it wasn’t the right time or place. It wasn’t that simple. He pulled back so that they could look at each other.

Daniel’s face seemed to glow with contentment, with happiness even. He smiled softly up at Jack and warned, “You do realize that we’ll probably drive each other crazy.”

“Yeah. And? So? We’ll deal with it. It’ll be fun.”

“And you won’t want to throw me through a wall?”

Jack leered, “Maybe up against a wall. I may want to use my whole body to press you into a wall so hard your head will spin.”

Daniel’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “How hard, exactly?”

Jack groaned. “Good God, Daniel. If you’re not careful I’ll show you right here.”

The smoldering eyes told him that Daniel was thinking about it, then doubt flickered in. He asked, “Are you sure about this, Jack? Are you really sure? I need to know.”

Holding Daniel’s eyes Jack closed in again and brought their lips together. His heart pounding, he showed Daniel how sure he was. To have Daniel this close, to taste him for the first time, set Jack on fire. All that existed was the body, the breath of the man he loved and desired above all others. When he finally broke away he was panting.

Daniel’s eyes opened slowly to reveal glazed arousal. He purred, “Oh, yeah.”

Jack’s next words had to escape from between their again enthusiastically occupied lips. “Was there…any reason…we shouldn’t take this back…to your place?”

Daniel mumbled his response through the kiss, “Men in black, tazer, shooting.”

Those images cooled Jack’s ardor like a bucket of cold water. Daniel might still be in danger and they couldn’t get distracted now. He stepped back, face flushed. “Damn, Daniel, I forgot about that. I guess we should put this on hold and do some investigating.”

From his predatory gaze Jack could tell that Daniel already considered Jack his own personal property, but he said, “We are going to have to talk some more. There are things we said and did that we can’t just pretend didn’t happen.”

“You’re right, but it’s different now. Now you know I love you.”

Daniel took Jack’s hand. “I think I always knew that. But it is different now, in a good way. I want this to work, Jack.”

A lump rose in Jack’s throat. “I’ll do anything to make sure it does. You can count on that.”

Another wave of heat rose between them and Daniel stuttered, “Investigation. Public place.”

Jack agreed, “Restraint. Patience. Hurry.”

Daniel grinned warmly. “Okay.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

That afternoon Jim wheeled Blair out to a waiting taxi and took him to his small house in the ethnically rich Adams-Morgan neighborhood of DC. It was a little unsettling that the hospital felt that Blair would be better off at home, something about less chance of infection there.

With one arm behind Blair’s back, Jim helped him into the house and straight into the bedroom. Blair was aware that this was the first time that Jim had voluntarily touched him in the last few days. Jim steadied him as he removed his shoes, pants and shirt and slid into bed in his boxers and tank. Jim gently tucked the blanket in around his shoulders and asked softly, “Do you need anything, Chief?”

He thought, --Yes, I need something. I need you.-- Outwardly he only shook his head. Jim retreated to the living room and Blair gave in to sleep.

When he woke it was dark outside. Within moments Jim appeared beside him with a glass of juice and a couple of pills.

“Hey there. Time for another dose of modern western medicine.”

Needing only a little help in sitting up Blair found that he was feeling a lot better. After downing the juice he was able to totter into the bathroom under his own steam. The return trip was tiring, but he made it to the bed and sat on the edge.

Patting the mattress beside him he invited his hovering friend, “Come and have a seat, Jim. I won’t bite.”

There not being any conceivable excuse not to, Jim had to acquiesce. He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed leaving as much space between them as he could. Blair decided to start with something unthreatening.

“So, Jim, how is everyone? Simon, Megan, the others?”

“Simon’s the same as always. Connor went back to Australia about a month ago. She left her number with me if you want to call her. Joel’s doing all right, but he’s thinking about retiring. Rafe and H are really picking up the slack. They’re pretty much the star team right now. Everybody misses you, though. They keep asking when you’re coming back.”

“What do you tell them?”

“That it’s up to you.”

“And how about you, Jim? How are you?”

Blair saw a spike of defensiveness shoot through the other man. “I’m fine, Chief. Let’s talk about something else.”

Blair shook his head firmly. “No. No more putting it off. What is it that you don’t want to tell me? Is it your senses, have they been acting up? And remember, I may not be a Sentinel, but I can still tell when you’re lying.”

“I’m fine, Sandburg.”

Blair just looked at him, waiting.

Eventually Jim’s attitude deflated and he sighed. “There’s nothing really wrong with my senses, they’re just diminished. I can still hear and see better than everyone else, but nowhere near the level I’d gotten to when you were there.”

“How about zone outs?”

“Not really…”

Blair could tell that Jim was holding something back. “Jim? Tell me.”

“Well, I’ve just… I’ve had some episodes.”

“Episodes? What does that mean? Come on, man, don’t make me work for it.”

Obviously Jim didn’t like talking about this. He stood up and paced the length of the room then stopped.

“Sometimes I just sort of drift off. It isn’t a zone out exactly. Apparently I can function at a basic level but it’s like I’m just not there. I don’t remember what happened for a period of time. I’ve been on desk duty for a while because Simon doesn’t trust me on the street. It isn’t anything life-threatening, though.”

Blair had a sinking feeling in his gut. This was not good. “Like black outs? Jim, why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t Simon?”

Jim stood up rigidly straight. “Because I wouldn’t let him. I didn’t want you to come back because you felt responsible for me. This Sentinel thing is something I was born with and that I have to deal with. It doesn’t have to rule your life, and I don’t want your pity.”

Blair stared at him, seeing how much effort Jim was putting into holding himself together. He was shocked and dismayed at what he was learning.

“Pity? Is that what you think I feel for you?”

“You could. You’ve come out here and made a life for yourself despite what happened. Why would you come back unless you felt sorry for me?”

Blair patted the mattress again. “Come and sit down. Please.” Jim reluctantly retook his seat and Blair went on, “I worry about you, Jim. That’s not the same as pity. It’s because I care about you. You’re still my friend. Please tell me how you are, I need to know.”

Jim looked Blair in the face for a moment, searching his expression. He then went on quietly, “I feel brittle, Blair. Like I could shatter into a million pieces with the slightest touch. I feel like I’ve hit bottom, like I’m dying. Nothing matters anymore, and at the same time my emotions overwhelm me.” Jim swallowed and blinked back tears. “I feel lost and have no idea even where I’m trying to find my way back to.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me and I’m scared.”

The room seemed to be spinning. Blair cried within himself, --My god, what have I done?-- This was all his fault for leaving Jim alone. He had only thought about whether Jim The Sentinel could control his senses and get along as a Sentinel without him. Blair hadn’t thought that their separation would be as hard on Jim The Man as it was on him, harder even. Jim had friends but there was no one who could get as close to him as Blair had, no one who could help him. Jim was facing all this alone. He should have known. After all that had happened, he should have fucking known.

Jim must have sensed something of his thoughts because he looked up suddenly and went on, “I didn’t want to tell you this. It isn’t your responsibility. I don’t want you to come back because I’m a basket case. I don’t want you…” He faltered and fell silent, staring at his locked and clenched hands.

Blair choked on the words. “What don’t you want, Jim? You don’t want me?”

Jim looked at him again, a wild fire in his eyes. “No Chief, don’t ever think that. I want you. I miss you so much I can’t stand it. But it isn’t fair to you. You don’t owe me anything. All this time, ever since we met, it’s been about what I want. I wanted help with my senses. I wanted you to be there when I wanted you, and to be gone when I didn’t. I wanted your life to be dictated by my whims, and you tried to meet all my demands. I wanted to keep you strung along working on your dissertation, but I didn’t want you to publish it. I wanted,” he gulped, “I wanted to mate with the woman who fucking killed you. I wanted you to come back from the dead and you did. You always tried to give me what I asked for and you forgave me for asking. You gave me your life, Blair, and I took it. I didn’t appreciate it. I was only thinking about myself. You deserve better. You deserve better than me.”

Listening wide-eyed, Blair’s heart was in his throat. “Shit, Jim! That is so not what happened. I started out wanting to STUDY you. I referred to you as ‘primary subject’. But you gave me so much more than I ever imagined. You gave me your friendship. You gave me a home. You gave me your trust, man, and I KNOW how hard that was for you. I knew EXACTLY how you struggled to be open to me and I took it for granted. If I asked too much, then it was my fault.

“You have no idea how much it meant to me that you, the most amazing man I know, should let me in like that. I don’t mean amazing because of your Sentinel senses, though that is a big deal. I mean because you have such a deep core of nobility that shines through your sometimes-spiny protective armor. That nobility is your defining quality IN SPITE OF the pain you carry inside. That is so fucking amazing, man. That you opened up to me is the greatest honor of my life, greater than any academic degree could ever be.”

Sadness and longing radiating from his face, Jim shook his head. “No, Chief, I hurt you. You can’t deny that. I hurt you over and over again and I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, you did hurt me sometimes. But you know what hurt the worst? Leaving you. It broke my heart and even that was my own fault. I convinced myself that I had to go, that you would be better off without me. That was the biggest betrayal of trust yet. I shouldn’t have acted in the emotion of the moment. I should have waited for things to calm down and really tried to find out what would be the best for both of us. And it isn’t only you I betrayed. Don’t I have some kind of responsibility to the tribe too? How could I walk away from that?

“You want to know what I want? I want to make it right. I want to come home and try again, and not because I feel sorry for you, but because it’s my place. I miss you, Jim, so much. Can I come back?”

Jim was visibly shaking and couldn’t respond. Blair reached out and touched his arm and was surprised when the larger man flinched away. Blair felt a wave of hurt, and then reminded himself of what he had just been saying. He vowed not to react, but to respond.

He gentled his voice as if talking to a skittish horse. “Jim, why won’t you let me touch you?”

Though he didn’t answer right away Blair could tell that Jim was trying. The tremors continued as, staring at the wall, he forced out words. “Chief, Blair, I’m scared that if you touch me I’ll lose it. Your skin, your scent, it’s practically all I can think about. I need to touch you so much that I might not be able to control it. I might take from you what I need and hurt you again. I won’t do that,” he looked up with desperate resolve, “I can’t. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but it isn’t safe to get too close.”

“I don’t know what it is either, man, but I doubt that keeping the distance is the answer. I miss you like crazy but I’m not having the physical symptoms you are. I’m wondering if it isn’t partly a Sentinel thing, you know, the Sentinel being separated from his Guide. Either way I think the answer is to close that gap, to let us heal together. I trust you, Jim. You won’t hurt me, trust me on that.”

Jim shook his head in negation.

Blair felt a sense of acceptance come over him. “I know you’re scared, but you have to do it anyway. It has to be, Jim. This is beyond either of us alone, but together we can be whole.” He scooted toward Jim, closing the space between them. He placed a hand on Jim’s back and began to rub gently. “Release the need for control. Trust yourself and me. We can do this.”

Jim’s body was vibrating under Blair’s hand and Blair wondered for a moment if Jim wasn’t right. Could it be more than they could handle? But the answer was that they couldn’t allow it to be. They had come through worse, and this time all the answers were right here between them. There was no choice.

Blair reached up and cupped Jim’s cheek in his palm, turning Jim’s head to face him. When their eyes finally met they really looked at each other for the first time. What they saw took them a step beyond friendship and into fate. They were two people bound together. Only denying that could hurt them. Jim stared at Blair as though he were a total stranger and the most precious artwork at the same time.

Leaving one hand on Jim’s back he slid the other one around Jim’s shoulder and drew him close. The Sentinel’s trembling increased as he fought for control. Blair held him to his chest and murmured, “It’s all right. I’m here and you won’t ever be alone again. I’m sorry I left you, I’ll never do it again. It’s okay to touch me, Jim. I want you to. I’m strong enough to hold you. Come back to me now.”

Jim dropped his face into the crook of Blair’s neck but the rest of his body remained rigid and tense. The Guide continued, “That’s it. Relax into me, Jim. Let the fear go and let yourself find me. I’m here, Jim. I am so here.”

Slowly Jim’s hands came up to touch Blair in return, quaking with restrained emotion. “That’s good, Jim. Be gentle with yourself. Let yourself open up. I’ll keep you safe.”

The body leaned farther into Blair as the arms tightened their hold. Blair became aware that Jim was raggedly sniffing in the scent of his neck and tilted his head in invitation. The strong arms constricted further and Jim’s mouth opened to taste skin.

It was with a sense of awe that Blair felt the other man’s need. He was slightly overwhelmed by it and aroused, but his first thought was for what Jim required. Murmuring soft encouragement he shifted them back onto the bed so that they could lie down. The pressure of Jim’s arms around his body never abated, even as they relaxed onto the mattress.

As Blair lay on his back Jim settled so that he was leaning onto Blair, on the side that hadn’t been shot. Blair’s chest still hurt, but he wouldn’t say anything that might interfere with the moment. He stroked Jim’s back and arms, continuing the verbal reassurance.

Jim’s mouth and tongue moved over Blair’s throat, reverently licking and sucking as though he could draw the very essence out of Blair’s body.

“That’s it, Jim, taste me. I’m here. Smell me. I’m right here. Listen to my heart, to the blood in my veins. I’m strong. Feel my body next to yours, right where it belongs. See yourself reflected in my eyes. I love you, Jim.”

Blair wasn’t sure that the Sentinel could understand him anymore at a conscious level. He seemed to have moved into a place of pure instinct. But Blair thought that the Guide’s voice would be reaching him to some degree, and Blair wanted them the keep as much of a connection as possible.

Jim’s mouth moved up the side of Blair’s face until his nose could rub against the dark sideburn. Releasing the grip of one arm Jim pulled the band off Blair’s hair and carded it out with his fingers until it fanned around his head. Jim gripped a handful and brought it to his face to focus all his senses, taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing, on the loose curls. He groaned with fulfillment at the effect.

Lying enveloped by Jim’s limbs, which were claiming as much of him as possible, Blair appreciated the physical strength of this supreme male animal. He reveled in the feel of Jim’s hips rhythmically pushing a rock-hard erection into his thigh. Though he had high hopes for later he realized that at that moment it wasn’t primarily about sex, but about sharing every sensation the body was capable of. Blair admonished his own erection to wait its turn.

Jim released the hair he was absorbing and lowered his mouth to the base of Blair’s throat, latching on again as though for dear life. Blair growled softly so that Jim would feel the vibration and sure enough he responded by increasing the intensity of his exploration. Forgetting the need for control Blair urged him on with his hands.

Jim crushed Blair to him again, the barely restrained violence taking his breath. It was as though the Sentinel needed to be even closer, a primal urge to become one. Blair tried to soothe the beast by stroking and murmuring in Guide voice and Jim began to settle. His explorations grew more sensual and less frantic.

Even though Jim was still fully clothed and Blair wore his undershirt and shorts, Jim rubbed against him languidly as Blair lay passively conserving his energy. One arm pressed beneath Blair’s shoulders, Jim’s free hand roamed over Blair’s body brushing and squeezing every part indiscriminately, heating him to the core. When Jim’s hand closed over his groin Blair couldn’t help but to thrust up into it.

The wild Sentinel, who was Jim and wasn’t, growled and gripped him through the thin material. Jim’s leg crossed Blair’s thighs and pulled him more tightly into his own needy groin. Jim’s mouth continued to hungrily bite and lave the exposed neck and shoulders, dipping occasionally to nuzzle into Blair’s armpit.

Blair couldn’t believe the feelings flowing through his body. To be this close to Jim physically excited him beyond his wildest expectations. He needed it and wanted more. As he tried to burrow closer to the large man he willed his injured lung to hold off on the coughing fit that threatened to erupt. Nothing could be allowed to interrupt them now.

Jim released Blair’s penis and slid his hand around to grip his buttock. He turned Blair onto his side so that their groins pressed against each other and Jim began to thrust powerfully. Blair raised his leg and locked it around Jim’s back.

Gasping with desire as well as pain, Blair moaned, “Yes, Jim. That’s it. I’m Blair, your Guide. I’m here. Always here with you.”

Rumbling with need Jim locked his teeth into the soft tissue of Blair’s shoulder and reached around behind and between Blair’s legs until he could take his balls in his hand. Jim thrust forward and Blair came with a shout.

“Jim!”

Moving against him twice more Jim followed to orgasm, at the last moment releasing Blair’s flesh from between his teeth to emit a strangled howl. After a shared moment of ecstatic tension both men slowly relaxed.

Soon, though, Blair felt that Jim was still moving. His chest was shaking and when Blair angled his head for a better look he saw tears running down Jim’s face. Blair rolled onto his back, pulling Jim over with him to lie partially on his chest. Blair held Jim tenderly, caressing his scalp and back.

“That’s it, love. Let it out. Everything’s going to be all right now, I promise.”

After a few minutes the shudders of release, so unlike the fragile tremors of earlier, eased. Locked in a gentle embrace Jim let his mouth find a comfortable place to attach itself to Blair’s neck and drifted to sleep. As Blair began to relax into sleep himself he heard an odd rumble and opened his eyes. There on the foot of the bed lay the jaguar, stretched out languidly, purring with contentment. He smiled and kissed Jim’s forehead. “Good kitty.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

By the time Daniel and Jack returned to the apartment the euphoria of earlier had given way to nervousness. Daniel closed the door carefully and turned to face the man who was his friend, and suddenly, miraculously, something more. Maybe. The information they had gathered at the museum was neatly compartmentalized for later consideration. Right now there were more important matters at hand.

Daniel looked at Jack shyly over the tops of his glasses, while the other man held him in a warm gaze complete with crooked smile. After a moment Jack moved forward and gently pressed Daniel between his body and the door. Taking Daniel's head between his hands he sighed, “Daniel,” and then leaned in for a kiss. Apparently Daniel hadn’t been dreaming the declarations of earlier. Jack’s mouth on his began to quench a long held thirst.

The taller man held Daniel in place with his body and his mouth as his hands began to roam up and down Daniel’s sides and hips. The touch ignited Daniel’s need once again and his arms reached up to embrace Jack’s shoulders, his hands cradling the graying head. It seemed as though nothing else in the world existed except the love for each other that they were finally expressing. Their tongues explored hot, wet cavities, trying to reach ever farther into the other.

As much as Daniel was enjoying making out with Jack, he became aware of a burning sensation in his stomach that seemed to be expanding into his heart area. He broke the kiss and dropped his hands to Jack’s shoulders and pushed slightly. The other man simply transferred his lips to Daniel’s neck while his hands slid down to cup Daniel’s ass. Daniel felt himself start to hyperventilate. This was like an incipient panic attack that was growing in intensity.

Daniel pushed again and pleaded, “Jack!” When the other man still didn’t release him, he shoved for real, creating a space between them. He found himself clutching handfuls of Jack’s shirt and panting raggedly. He mumbled almost coherently, “Please, Jack. Sorry. Just. I mean. Wait.”

Jack’s brown eyes showed equal parts concern and fear. “What is it? I though you wanted…”

“I do, Jack. Just wait. Too much too soon.”

He broke away and walked into the living room, pulling the fragile threads of his control back together. Jack followed behind him and spoke sharply.

“Too much? You look ready to me.” He pointed to the bulge at Daniel’s crotch. Daniel cupped himself and felt the blood pulsing, but over the years he had become very good at ignoring his desires. He realized that probably they were both a little raw and sensitive at the moment and that Jack was feeling his hesitation as rejection.

He stepped forward and gave Jack a brief hug and quick peck on the lips, then led him by the hand to the sofa. As they settled in shoulder-to-shoulder and thigh-to-thigh, he tried to explain.

“Look, Jack, until a couple of days ago you were completely gone from my life, and we hadn’t exactly parted on the best terms. I was adjusting to that, or trying to anyway. Now you’re here trying to crawl into my skin with me. Don’t misunderstand, I want you in my skin with me. I do. But I can’t just turn off and on like that. I need to get used to you again. I won’t deny that there’s a deep inexplicable connection between us whether we’re together or not, but the surface connection hasn’t caught up with that. Do you, um, know what I ‘m saying?”

Jack looked down, nodding with embarrassment. He lay his broad hand over Daniel’s where it rested on his thigh.

“I’m sorry, Danny. I know I shouldn’t be pushing you. It’s just that I’ve needed you so much and I was afraid that this would never happen. I guess I wanted to go as fast as possible before something interfered to take it away from us.” Jack looked slightly teary. “I couldn’t stand to lose you again.”

“You won’t,” Daniel promised. He slid his arms around Jack and pulled them together until they were cuddling chest to chest. They just held each other for a while until Jack sighed and relaxed.

Jack whispered into Daniel’s neck, “What do you want?”

Drawing back until he could see Jack’s eyes he replied, “Do you think? Would it be all right if I touched you?”

Jack’s mouth twitched. “Oh, I think that could be arranged.”

Daniel took Jack’s hand again and led him to the bedroom, where he quickly stripped down to his shorts. Carefully following Daniel’s lead, Jack did the same. Daniel asked, “Would you lie down on the bed?”

Jack did so silently, positioning himself in the middle of the bed, face up, with his hands clasped nervously over his stomach. Daniel had to smile at the sight of Colonel O’Neill waiting for him like a blushing bride. He took pity and climbed onto the bed, settling himself astride Jack’s thighs. Neither of them were really talkers, so they just looked at each other and allowed the silent communication to take them forward, their hearts opening to each other in complete honesty.

After a minute Daniel leaned forward and softly kissed Jack on the lips, then sat up again. “I’m just going to touch you. Tell me to stop if you want me to.”

With luminous eyes Jack assured him, “Danny, I can’t imagine ever asking you to stop.”

Daniel smiled down at him and directed, “Close your eyes and relax.”

Jack did as requested and let his arms fall to the mattress. Taking and releasing a deep breath, the tension in Jack’s body began to bleed away.

Daniel looked at Jack and let himself stare. He committed to memory the changes in the handsome face that he seemed to know better than his own. Of course he had seen Jack in just his shorts before, in less even, but he had never been permitted to linger in his appreciation. Now his eyes traced the curve of muscle and bone across the broad shoulders and chest. He found he couldn’t be objective as he reviewed the strong arms and furry abdomen. Daniel didn’t care what anyone else might say, he was of the firm opinion that this was the most exquisite body in the entire world.

It appeared that he had mentioned that out loud, because Jack interjected, “Yeah, fine. But it’ll be even better when you make with the touching. You remember that? Wasn’t there going to be some touching going on here?”

Daniel admonished, “Patience.”

“Danny-boy, I think I’m all patienced out. If you don’t…”

Daniel lifted a finger scoldingly. “Ah! You’re just lying there passively and quietly, remember that?”

Jack opened his mouth again and Daniel stopped him. “Ah!”

Sighing dramatically Jack subsided.

Daniel smiled to himself. This seemed so right somehow. He was starting to take in the fact that Jack really was here and that thing that had always been so special between them was here too. He reached out and cupped Jack’s cheek. There was a roughness of beard stubble beneath his palm and folds of surprisingly soft, wrinkled skin under the fingertips touching Jack’s neck. He brushed his thumb over the high cheekbone with utmost tenderness. Jack’s head listed slightly in the direction of the hand, but otherwise he stayed quiet.

Daniel was finding himself almost overwhelmed with emotion at finally being able to touch what he had so long dreamed of. He fought back a rather embarrassing urge to bend down and just slobber all over that gorgeous face. But after all, this was touching-only time.

He carded his fingers through the unruly graying hair, memorizing the shape of the skull. He would have to do a phrenology reading on Jack later. That would be amusing.

Daniel rested his hands on Jack’s shoulders, reveling in the simple pleasure of feeling the bones through the skin. Jack, physical. Jack, present. Jack, love.

He slowly ran one hand from the shoulder down over Jack’s chest, brushing through the light hair, over a brown nipple, and onto the plain of the belly. While bringing that hand back up he repeated the action with the other hand, then again. His hands massaged, caressed their way down Jack’s torso over and over. One hand swept over bone and soft flesh, the other traced the sternum down the center of Jack’s body. The mat of hair tickled his palms. The nipples rose to points adding an additional sensual texture. Daniel’s hands cupped pectoral swells while his thumbs traced circles around brown areole.

After several minutes Daniel branched out, including the ball of the shoulder and the muscled arms in this petting. Daniel experienced Jack through his hands, taking in the other man’s essence and making it his own.

For his part, Jack lay limply with his head tipped back, mouth open in a stupor of pleasure.

Daniel stilled and brought one palm to rest over the center of Jack’s chest and simply felt the rhythmic vibration of the heart within. He inhaled deeply, understanding the unity of that heart with his own. When he broke the contact Daniel reached up to hold Jack’s face again, and leaned in for another kiss. Jack responded languidly, contentedly tasting Daniel’s lips and tongue. Daniel was aware of but didn’t react to the press of erection on erection as he inclined forward. The heat of their bodies formed an exquisite layer around them, holding them in safety.

Daniel sat back and shifted off of Jack, then whispered, “Can you turn over?”

Jack’s answer was no more than, “Mmmm,” but he forced his reluctant limbs to roll him to his side before collapsing face down. Daniel resumed his position over the thighs, and began exploring the back of Jack’s head and nape. When satisfied, he dragged his hands down the strong back, appreciating the power contained within the envelope of soft skin. Daniel stroked and massaged to find and trace every muscle and protrusion of bone.

Slowly a hunger began to grow within him, a desire for even more of the man under him. He tilted his hips forward slightly so that his cock pressed into the cleft between Jack’s cheeks, two thin layers of cloth separating them. As his hands kneaded skin, his groin made itself at home against the softer mounds of flesh.

Jack didn’t react more than a moan and a clenching of muscles, whether from a recently discovered well of patience, or because he was unable to move Daniel didn’t know. He loved having the ability to direct their interaction, having Jack at his mercy, so to speak.

The thrusts of his ardent cock against Jack’s rear grew in urgency, but Daniel began to pull himself back from the brink. This was still about touching. Daniel straightened his legs and lay forward, covering Jack’s body completely with his own. His genitals pressed between Jack’s thighs, he stilled and simply wrapped Jack in his arms, holding him with every ounce of tenderness he possessed. Jack groaned and sighed, and tuned his head to nuzzle Daniel’s cheek.

After enjoying the closeness for a while Jack whispered, “Let me turn over.”

Daniel lifted himself on his arms and legs, allowing Jack to wriggle onto his back. He lowered himself again and this time they wrapped their arms around each other. Jack sought Daniel’s lips and they shared a soft kiss, lapping at each other’s tongues. Daniel felt strong hands working their way down his back and wasn’t disappointed when they continued on to clasp his ass. He moaned into Jack’s mouth and twitched his hips forward, running his erection along the length of Jack’s. The older man spread his legs, allowing Daniel to settle between them and bringing them into an even better angle of contact.

Stimulation mounting, Daniel growled against Jack’s lips, “Love you, Jack. Love you more than anything.”

“Love you more.”

“No, I love you more.”

“Nuh-uh.”

Daniel thrust into Jack. “I. Love. You.”

Jack thrust up into him. “Back at’cha, rock-boy.”

Daniel wasn’t sure exactly how it happened, but all of a sudden there was no cotton separating them. His cock was rubbing skin with Jack’s, the two held together by Jack’s hand around them. He moaned and thrust again, completely losing the ‘touching only’ thread. There was nothing in the universe more important than getting closer to Jack. He pushed at Jack with his body and Jack pushed back.

Obviously his concentration had slipped quite a lot, because next he found himself pressed into the mattress by Jack’s weight. He thrust up. Jack thrust down. Daniel’s hands sought skin and hair, finding an abundance of both. Jack crushed his mouth against Daniel’s and there was no going back.

Daniel threw his head backward, gasping, and Jack latched onto his throat. Daniel thrust into Jack’s hand again and again, competing for dominance over the other hot organ sharing the space. Jack began to nip and lick and suck in a frenzy while Daniel insistently pulled his lover’s pelvis closer.

Jack croaked, “Daniel. Oh, god, Daniel. Yes!”

Daniel thrust into the heat a few more times and then was blinded and deafened by the explosion of his orgasm. He did feel Jack stiffen against him and pulse wet fluid onto their joined bellies. Daniel was aware that he was saying something, but couldn’t figure out what it was or even what language. All he knew was that he had never felt a more complete rightness in his life. He would never, ever lose this. Now that he knew, nothing could ever take him from Jack or Jack from him. They were one, fait acompli.

He smiled and kissed the side of Jack’s face where he had collapsed on top of Daniel. Then he kissed him again. Then he laughed.

Jack lifted his head to look at Daniel. “You getting loopy, Daniel?”

Daniel just laughed again and grinned stupidly.

The other man’s answering smile was impossibly tender. “You are everything to me, Daniel. Everything.”

In that case, all was well with the world.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jim didn’t wake until the next morning, when he was slightly surprised to find his head pillowed on Blair’s shoulder and his arm draped across Blair’s waist. He leaned up on one elbow and gazed down at the most beautiful sight it had ever been his privilege to enjoy. He had a vague recollection of how the previous evening had ended, and the concentrated scent of semen, his and Blair’s, filled in some of the gaps. The mere idea of sex with Blair, aided by the dark stain on the front of Blair’s boxers, caused his penis to begin to fill and Jim smiled in contentment.

Unfortunately he became aware of the discomfort of dried semen in his own pants. Reluctant to move from Blair’s side he nevertheless forced himself to crawl out of bed and practically swaggered to the bathroom. The shower water felt like silk on his skin and Jim couldn’t help but whistle happily.

Once clean Jim thought about getting dressed, but then he looked at Sandburg, sprawled in the middle of the bed, and opted for fresh shorts only. Grinning like the cat that got the cream he strolled out to the kitchen and began exploring. When he carried his tray of cereal, milk and fruit salad back into the bedroom, Blair was just emerging from the bathroom dressed in his bathrobe, rubbing the water out of his hair. Jim felt his face break into the widest smile of his life and was gratified to see Blair’s features light up in response.

Jim purred, “Come back to bed, Blair, and let me feed you.”

Blair’s mouth was hanging open in amazement at the change in Jim’s mood. As the smaller man perched on the edge of the bed and surveyed the breakfast offerings, Jim asked, “Did you think I might panic and run away this morning?”

Blair answered tentatively, “Ah, well, it wouldn’t be unusual behavior on your part, big guy.”

“All in the past, Junior. We’re starting over and I’m going to do my best to NOT be such a repressed asshole. I can’t promise that I’ll be what you’d call ‘normal’, but I’ll try.”

“That’s more than I would ask for, Jim.” Blair’s eyes shone. “You don’t have to change for me.”

Jim became serious in a heartbeat. “Yes I do, Chief. I want to be the kind of person you deserve. You’ve just saved my life again. You’re the only person in the world who makes me smile from deep down inside. You fill my heart. I love you, Blair.”

Blair looked like he might cry. “You stun me, Jim. I’m all choked up.” He swallowed and continued, “How’re you feeling?”

“So much better I can’t even tell you. My senses are all incredibly sharp. I feel more alive than I have in months. There’s still something shuddering inside, you know, and my emotions are all over the place. I don’t know whether to cry or to laugh, or maybe both at the same time. But I feel like a new man, because of you.”

Jim moved to the head of the bed and propped up some pillows. Patting them he directed, “Come up here, Chief. Breakfast in bed.”

Blair gingerly settled himself against the headboard and gasped slightly, one hand going to his chest over the gunshot wound. His heart rate increased in response to the sudden pain, then slowed as it passed.

Jim handed him a bowl of fruit, waited until he had eaten most of it and the cereal too, and then asked quietly, “Blair, about last night. I need to ask. Did I hurt you?”

Returning his intense gaze Blair reassured him, “No, Jim, you didn’t hurt me. Not any more than I could handle. Don’t think of me as delicate. You didn’t do anything I didn’t want you to do.”

Jim shifted closer and ran a finger over Blair’s cheekbone and down along the line of his jaw. “Good. I don’t think I was as careful as I should have been when you’re injured. It won’t happen again.” Jim didn’t regret anything that had happened, but he was a little embarrassed. “And I didn’t ask you if you wanted to, you know.”

Blair’s answering smile was sensual. “Hey, you didn’t hear me objecting, did you? It’s something that’s been a long time coming between us, and we both needed it. You wanna do it again?”

His own heart rate sped up as he intoned, “That would be a ‘yes’. In fact, later, when you’re better, I’m going to want you inside of me. As far inside me as you can go.”

The smell of arousal was confirmed in Blair’s suddenly luminous eyes. He opened his mouth but ended up having to swallow instead of answer. Eventually he croaked, “Um,” cleared his throat, “how much later?”

Jim smiled erotically. “Just as soon as you’re ready, Chief. But not before you can take it physically. I’m going to cherish you. I’ve learned my lesson.”

Blair leaned forward and hooked his hand behind Jim’s head, pulling him in until their lips almost met. He breathed, “I want you now. I’ve wanted you forever. Don’t make me wait any longer.”

Jim was surprised and excited by this response. “You’ve wanted me? You aren’t just… being generous?”

“Oh, man, how could I not want you? Look at yourself. You are the most perfect, gorgeous man I’ve ever seen. Your face, your body, the way you hold yourself. I’ve been hot for you for a long time. You’re the real thing, the whole package. And I love you, too.” He leaned even closer. “Let me make love to you.”

Blair brought their lips together into their first kiss. Jim’s insides melted into pure mush at the rush of hot emotion welling up within him. He held Blair’s head between his hands and deepened the contact, driving his tongue into the willing mouth. They tried to lick each other’s tonsils until Jim finally broke away, gasping.

“Sandburg, you’re so damn sexy. I want to make love. But I repeat, I won’t hurt you.”

Blair grinned mischievously. “Come on, man, use your imagination. It doesn’t have to hurt. I’ll let you do all the work, but I want you and I want you right now! We’ll be careful.”

Jim felt his resistance weakening. Like he could ever deny Blair anything! Unsure, he asked, “What would we do?”

Smiling like a maniac Blair moved very fast for someone recently released from the hospital. He scrambled to clear the breakfast tray away, setting it noisily on the side table, and then turned back to face Jim and the bed. Holding Jim’s gaze he let the robe fall open and drop to the floor.

Jim frowned at the large bandage across Blair’s chest, but was quickly distracted by the wonder that was naked Blair flesh. He looked his new lover up and down, taking in all the minute details of the variety of textures and colors making up the beautiful man. The soft, curly hair hanging to his shoulders around the masculine face and neck. The short, springy hairs forming a perfect pattern on the sturdy torso. The swell of thigh and calf muscles. The thick cylinder of flesh beginning to stand up from his groin. He could distinguish the scents of each patch of flesh and hair, and found himself drawn to the musky pubic thatch.

Blair’s voice broke through, “Jim! No zoning, and that’s an order.”

Jim nodded dumbly and closed his mouth. He waited for Blair’s next directive.

Blair took a step toward the bed then stopped, his startled eyes widening. He commanded, “Wait right there!” and sped to the bathroom. He was back in a moment with a tube in his hands.

“Are you ready, Jim?”

“And then some, Chief. But I repeat, I won’t…”

Blair interrupted impatiently, “Hurt me, I know. Trust me, Jim. You remember how to do that?”

Emotion closing his throat again, Jim nodded. Blair climbed onto the bed and arranged himself leaning against the pillows and the headboard. He eyed Jim, who was still standing by the side of the bed.

“Take your clothes off.”

Jim was glad to comply. Taking his clothes off entailed only sliding his shorts down his hips and letting them fall to the floor.

Blair groaned, “Oh, man, oh, man. Come over here.”

Jim knelt on the bed beside Blair.

Dragging his eyes back up to Jim’s face he asked seriously, “Have you done this before?”

“No, but I’m not totally ignorant. Anything is good for me, love. Anything you want.”

Suddenly Blair looked a little bit nervous, but excitement was clearly winning out. He held Jim’s eyes. “I… I need to prepare you.”

Jim turned toward the foot of the bed and positioned himself over Blair on hands and knees. His rear was presented a foot in front of Blair’s face.

Blair groaned again and grabbed his own cock, squeezing the base for all he was worth. Jim could hear the heart pounding in his lover’s chest and became concerned. He turned to look back at Blair, who glared at him evilly.

“What, are you trying to kill me here?”

Jim began to move off of his partner but felt hands like steel bands clamp onto his hips, holding him in place.

“Don’t EVEN think it. You stay right where you are.” He groaned again. “God yes, right where you are.”

Jim felt the breeze on his skin as Blair leaned forward and began to lick the backs of his thighs. Strong digits handled his ass and lower back, massaging sensually and deeply. Jim himself was starting to sweat from the stimulation and his genitals felt heavy dangling between his legs over Blair’s stomach. He wanted full body flesh to flesh contact right now, but this was Blair’s show and he forced himself to stay still.

His lover’s talented mouth moved to kiss his perineum, the sensitive flesh between his scrotum and asshole. The sensation was too much and Jim’s arms began to shake. Blair whispered against his skin, “Dial it down, Jim, or you won’t last. It’ll still be good if you aren’t quite so sensitive.

Jim did as he was told, lowering the touch dial a couple of notches until he could stand it without collapsing. After considering it he lowered smell and taste as well just to be safe.

Blair resumed kissing and nibbling the soft skin between Jim’s legs then reached out his tongue and pulled one of Jim’s balls into his mouth. As pleasure vibrated through him again he reconsidered the dial settings, deciding not to turn them down any more. He would have to learn to take what Sandburg could dish out.

After an eternity in hell/heaven Blair pulled back and blew a stream of cool air over his wet, heated flesh. Then Blair’s tongue flicked the pucker of his asshole. No one had ever, ever touched Jim this intimately. He liked it very much.

After the tongue had teased him for a while Blair pulled back again and Jim felt a fingertip, slick with lube, begin to massage the ring of muscle. Even at this early stage Jim began to relax, wanting more. Soon the finger gently breached him, reaching into his body where no one but his doctor had ever been, and that was a completely different thing.

Responding to the new sensations, Jim gasped and started to shake again, and Blair’s finger stilled where it was while he caught his breath. Blair’s other hand stroked his haunches and back while his smoky voice whispered endearments.

“Oh, Jim, you are so beautiful. Your trust means more to me than anything in the world. I’ll never let anything come between us again. I love you, Jim. I adore you and I want you. You are so perfect.”

The finger began to work its way in again, rubbing and loosening. Too soon it pulled out, but never lost contact with his skin as another joined it. The process repeated and sweat began to pour off Jim’s neck and forehead. He longed to see Blair’s face, but somehow the fact that he couldn’t without turning was also powerfully erotic. He was figuratively and literally in Blair’s hands, his most private parts exposed and given freely.

Jim lost track of time and of what exactly was happening until he heard his Guide’s voice again.

“Beautiful Jim, can you turn around and face me? Careful.”

Three fingers were still inside him but Blair held his arm down as far as it would go so that Jim could pivot without losing the connection. He settled over Blair straddling his thighs and took in the glowing face that he loved. They spared a moment to just look at each other.

Blair’s hand was still between his legs, the fingers gently massaging him inside. Jim’s joy was almost overwhelming, but he had to say something.

“Blair, everything I wanted before, thought I wanted, it was only covering up what I really needed. I could never say out loud how I felt about you in my heart, but impatience and dismissal flowed from my mouth like an open tap. I want you to know that none of that was what I really felt. It was my fear talking. What I needed all along was to belong to someone, heart and mind, body and soul.” His eyes teared with emotion. “I couldn’t believe that anyone would really want that much of me. But that’s what you’re offering now, isn’t it?”

Blair nodded mutely, concentrating fully on Jim’s words.

“I want to belong to you, Blair. I’m more grateful than you know that you want me. I’m going to try to show you, to tell you, how grateful I am. I think I can do that now because I hit bottom. I have nothing to lose. The pain caused by not saying what I felt, not telling you how much I love and need you is worse than any imagined fear. I can’t lose you again. I’ll do anything to keep you. Let me say this for the record. I love you, Blair. I need you.”

Blair swallowed and then responded, “You have no idea how much it means to me to hear you say that. I always knew that a lot of it was fear based, and I knew that in your way you loved and cared about me, but you never showed any sign that you needed me. Not that you would admit. Not even in these last months where you preferred to suffer in silence than admit you needed me. I thought it was pride, that you felt it would make you less of a man. And I… we couldn’t be together in any sense unless you could be vulnerable that way. You’re human and so am I. We need each other. That’s a beautiful thing, man, not a weakness. Thank you, Jim, for taking that step. Thank you so much.”

Jim leaned forward, holding his weight on his arms, and kissed Blair softly. “I am all yours, Chief. Heart and mind, body and soul. If you want me.”

Blair whispered back, “I want you. God how I want you.”

Jim sat back and picked up the tube of lube. When Blair reached for a small packet Jim crooned suggestively, “I know I’m clean, Blair, how ‘bout you?”

The dark head nodded. “Got checked.” As Blair’s fingers continued to caress his opening, Jim squirted cool gel onto his own hand, which he gently wrapped around the hot erection standing up from Blair’s body, eliciting a gasp from his lover, and began a slow pumping action to spread the lubricant evenly.

Touching another man this way should have seemed strange, but this was Blair’s body. Jim was fascinated by the ardency of Blair’s cock. Heat flowed through the protruding veins and it was thick and ruddy, hard and soft at the same time. Jim was in love with it already.

Smiling at the whimpering noises coming from his lover, Jim lifted his body and positioned himself over the organ. Blair’s fingers finally slid out of him and Jim lowered himself slowly. Jim was so well stretched and relaxed that there wasn’t even a hint of pain as they joined, not even to Sentinel senses. Jim sighed with relief as he pushed Blair farther into his body. This was it. This was what he had needed all those years and he hadn’t even known it.

Beneath him, Blair rocked his head against the pillow and murmured, “Jim, Jim.” His hands stroked Jim’s thighs tenderly.

His body came to rest against Blair’s, fully impaled. Their blue eyes locked in wonder and pleasure.

Jim clarified again, “I love you, Blair. I need you.”

The other man blinked back tears of joy. “I’m yours too, Jim. Please let me be yours.”

They grinned happily at each other, then Blair’s eyes turned sultry. “Ride me, Jim. Let’s have sex.”

“Don’t have to ask me twice, Chief.”

Jim lifted and lowered himself, reveling in the feel of Blair’s hardness sliding against his inner passage. Small noises began to escape from him as he moved. Just when he thought the pleasure of the connection couldn’t become more intense, Blair shifted his hips and his cock touched something inside of Jim that made him shout out loud. What the hell was that?

Blair informed him smugly, “That’s your prostate, big guy. Not overrated, is it?”

Jim shook his head in amazement and thrust down, looking for that explosion of sensation. He hadn’t had any idea that Blair could do this to him. He laughed out loud and did it again. Jim’s astonishment increased impossibly as Blair’s hands found Jim’s cock and began to fondle it lovingly.

Jim’s movements became more urgent as he drove them together. Blair responded by pushing up into him with each rhythmic lunge. Jim’s awareness expanded beyond his own pleasure to encompass his lover. Blair’s heart was pounding and his skin burning. Sweat beaded his body decoratively, glittering to Jim’s eyes like diamonds. Every molecule of Blair’s body was focused on Jim, was straining to drive farther into him. Nothing existed for Blair except the need to be part of Jim, who in turn wanted to take in as much of the other man as he could.

Jim’s rapture grew, his sexual need grew, until his body tingled inside out, from top to bottom. He was about to release any control he had maintained when a sound broke through to his rational mind. It was a wheeze and a rattle coming from within Blair’s body, from his injured lung. Blair was writhing beneath him either oblivious to the pain or ignoring it. Jim couldn’t allow that. He stilled his movement suddenly and Blair gasped in frustration.

“Calm down Chief. Take slow, even breaths. Your lung’s having a hard time, and you remember what I told you.”

Blair nearly snarled up at him, “God, Jim! Oh my god don’t stop now! Pleasepleaseplease!”

Jim could identify with the urgency and smiled down at his handsome partner. Without resuming the athletic coupling he concentrated on Blair’s phallus within him. He felt the throbbing and pulsing of blood and the need for release. He tightened his internal muscles in a fluid motion that kneaded Blair’s cock from base to tip. When Bair gasped and stared at him in amazement Jim repeated the action. Blair’s mouth formed an “O” and his eyes widened even farther.

Holding his partner’s hips stationary he continued the contractions, increasing the tempo as he became more proficient.

Blair turned red and gasped. His heart rate rocketed but his lung sounded better. Jim concentrated on driving his lover over the edge and was gratified when Blair threw his head back and silently shuddered. Blair’s essence pulsed into Jim in hot splashes that filled an emptiness in Jim’s soul, making him feel whole for the first time in his life. Who would’ve thought that this was what he needed to answer all those driving needs? A simple act of love with the man who had become his entire world.

Blair relaxed beneath him but his hands resumed their sensual handling of Jim’s genitals. One hand cupped and petted his balls while the other increased the pressure and pace of its pumping. Jim found and held Blair’s languid gaze as he moved toward his own release. He let Blair see his love and desire, even as he moaned through his orgasm. Blair’s hands stilled and they stared at each other as their breathing slowed.

Blinking, Jim tried, “That was…”

Blair agreed, “You said it.”

Jim lifted himself off of Blair and carefully lay next to him, bringing his hand up to brush the sweaty curls from the beloved face.

Blair beamed softly. “Heart and mind.”

Jim completed the pledge, “Body and soul.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jack and Daniel had to knock twice before the door opened. Jack blurted out, “Hey, we’ve been trying to call, but,” before he fell silent and joined Daniel in staring.

Jim was standing before them in jeans that where not entirely fastened, with a shirt hanging from one hand. Yes, the hard biceps and pecs and the flat abs leading to a narrow waist were distracting, but that wasn’t all. The man looked seriously different. There was a light in his eyes that definitely hadn’t been there before, and an air of confidence radiating vigorously from all that skin.

Jack and Daniel remained in the doorway but leaned in to watch Jim as he bustled toward the other side of the room, chatting cheerfully.

“Have you? Sorry about that. I turned the ringer off so it wouldn’t disturb Blair while he was resting.” He smiled blindingly. “Would you believe it? The kid doesn’t have any of the modern conveniences like an answering machine or voice mail.”

He reached down and flipped a switch on the phone, then pulled the shirt on over his head, in the process revealing even more of the intricate pattern of musculature.

Jack and Daniel’s heads swiveled as another voice chimed in, “That’s because I’m hardly ever here. The phone hasn’t exactly been ringing off the hook the last few months, you know. And besides, most civilized people now communicate by email.”

Their mouths fell open even farther. The man standing in what had to be the bedroom doorway appeared to have little in common with the Blair Sandburg they knew. True, Jack had only met him in the hospital where he had been looking exceptionally washed out and weak, but the change was a shock even to Daniel.

Clearly it was Blair. The height was right and the blue eyes were unmistakable, but there ended the similarity. This man was wearing boxer shorts and a white tank that revealed unostentatious but sleek muscles and a generous sprinkling of body hair. And then there was the nimbus of auburn curls that framed a face transformed by a deeply contented smile. His eyes shone with impishness as he teased the other man. He was positively glowing. It had to be said, no matter how clichéd, even with beard stubble he looked like an angel.

Jim put his hands on his hips and scolded, “And just what do you think you’re doing, Darwin? Get back in that bed right now.” He crossed the room in a few steps and wrapped an arm around the younger man, who had started forward into the living room. The order was apparently rhetorical because he made no attempt to reverse Blair’s trajectory.

“I feel totally fine, Jim. Stop hovering.”

As Ellison helped Blair lower himself into a chair he bent down and whispered, “That’s the painkillers and the endorphins, sweetcheeks. Don’t get over confident.” Jack and Daniel heard that perfectly clearly.

Jim settled onto the arm of the chair and ran his hand under the mane of hair to rest on the nape of Blair’s neck. Blair, officially the host as it was his house, noticed that the visitors where still standing in the doorway.

“Where are my manners? Come in, come in! We were just going to call you, weren’t we, Jim?”

“Of course we were, Chief. Take a seat.”

Closing the door behind them, the pair settled themselves on the sofa facing the other two.

Blair went on, “Yeah, we wanted to find out how it went at the museum yesterday. You did go, right?”

They nodded in unison.

Jim continued, “We’re ready to get going on this investigation. Those bastards have been on the loose for too long now. Time to stop fooling around and crucify their asses.” His eyes burned suddenly with a frightening ire.

Blair patted Jim’s thigh and didn’t lift his hand away. “Down, big guy. I’m sure that’s why Daniel and Jack are here. Let’s let the men speak.”

Jim and Blair fell silent and looked at the visitors expectantly. Jack and Daniel glanced at each other. Jack cleared his throat. Daniel spoke for the first time.

“It’s good to see you looking so much better, Blair. No one would ever guess you’d been shot.”

Blair lit up again. “That’s because Jim’s been taking such good care of me.”

The two grinned stupidly at each other and Jack and Daniel exchanged another look, this time with slight rolling of the eyes on Jack’s part.

O’Neill leaned forward and said, “Right. Let’s get down to business. We’ve solved one mystery and created another.”

Daniel took over. “Right. I did some searching for item EGT-537B and found the reference buried in a memo that I hadn’t even seen yet. The day before the attack I had just gotten a new shipment of uncataloged pieces, and the memo was stuck inside one of the boxes. It was apparently a last minute addition to the group and hadn’t been processed with the rest of them.”

Jim prodded, “Don’t keep us in suspense, Jackson. What was it?”

Blair frowned and slapped Jim’s thigh playfully. “Let him tell the story in order.”

“Well, the memo gave the item’s name as ‘The Wing of Aset’. The Wing of Aset, or Isis as the Greeks later called her, is a mythological reference. You see, the legend tells us that Osiris, Isis’ brother and husband, was murdered by Ra and his body parts were scattered and hidden all over upper and lower Egypt. Isis, in her determination to bring back her lover flew all over the region and one by one retrieved the dismembered pieces. Isis is often represented as kneeling with outspread wings in recognition of this feat. It has been claimed that the wings of Isis hold the power to reanimate the dead or to grant eternal life to the living.”

Blair practically bounced. “Cool! So did you find it? Was it there?”

Jack drawled, “Well, yes and no.”

Daniel dug into the shoulder bag sitting by his feet and brought out a wooden box about ten inches long and three inches wide. “We were speculating that perhaps the Wing of Isis might have been some form of transportation technology…”

Jack elbowed him in the side. Now it was Jim and Blair’s turn to exchange looks.

“… of a rudimentary, primitive sort. But what we found was this.”

He opened the lid to the box and stood to set it on the coffee table in front of the other two. Blair leaned forward to peer in.

“Dust? That’s it?”

Jack took up the explanation. “Dust. We thought of sending it back to Colorado Springs for analysis, but that might take longer than we have. Maybe you know of a lab around here that could have a discreet look at it.”

Blair looked up at the man next to him. “Jim?”

Ellison reluctantly let go of the smaller man and picked up the box. With a set, serious face he looked into the container then brought it closer to his face and sniffed. Finally, he reached in and extracted a pinch of the dust and touched it to his tongue. Looking up, he said, “It was a feather. Common, garden-variety feather. Don’t know what species. It was stained with some kind of die, yellow and red. At some point bugs got into the box and destroyed it. Their remains are in there too. Nothing worth killing for.”

Two sets of eyebrows shot up at the pronouncement. Blair interjected nervously, “Jim has a feel for this kind of thing. His guesses are usually fairly accurate.”

Jack shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. We know.”

Two sets of blue eyes looked back at them.

Daniel finished, “I read your dissertation.”

Blair’s eyes grew wide and his face pale. Jim rubbed his back and said casually, “It’s all right. No, Chief, it’s all right.”

Blair stared at him. “B..but?”

Jim looked at Jack and Daniel. “So that’s it? All this was about some old box full of magic feather dust? There’s nothing else?”

Jack shrugged. “Ya see, that’s where the second mystery comes in.”

Daniel clarified. “Actually there are several. In the first place how did anyone know that the item was there and due to be delivered to my office? What did they think was actually in the box? Why would they go to all this trouble to get it? And most importantly, who would care enough to risk killing for it? Certainly there’s a black market for Egyptian artifacts, but to try to steal one from the Smithsonian in this manner? That doesn’t seem likely.”

Blair considered this for a minute. “Well, it could be along the lines of what Jim said. Magic dust. Or magic at any rate.”

Jack prompted him, “Care to elaborate?”

Blair stood up and began to pace, ignoring Jim’s scowl. “I’m just thinking out loud here. The Wing of Isis has a reputation as a powerful magic symbol or implement. There are still people who take ancient Egyptian magic quite literally. They may believe that it will in fact grant them eternal life. That would be worth killing for.”

Daniel’s brows furrowed. “Or maybe they were expecting powder.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes and recited, “ ‘The very early Egyptians were famous for their skill in transmuting metals. They employed quicksilver in the processes whereby they separated the metals gold and silver from native ore. From these processes there resulted a ‘black’ powder or substance which was supposed to posses magical powers and was identified with the body which the god Osiris was known to possess in the underworld, and was thought to be a source of life and power.’ That was the basis of alchemy.”

Jack was skeptical. “Come on, who would actually believe in that crap?”

Blair had an answer. “Oh, there are the Rosicrucians and The Golden Dawn.“

Daniel added, “The Knights Templar or their successors.”

Blair sat back down. “The Freemasons.”

“Cabalists and Christian esoterics.”

“The Enochian, Hermetic, Greek and Chaldean magical traditions.”

Daniel nodded. “Etcetera.”

Jack sputtered, “Etcetera? There are more? That’s just nuts.”

Jim had to agree. “Come on, Chief. It’s the twenty-first century. Nobody could still believe in that stuff.”

Blair answered, “Well, probably most of the members of these groups wouldn’t. But, like, there are the inner circle die-hards, you know. And anyhow, there are things out there that sound unbelievable in the twenty-first century but are true anyway.”

Jack nodded. “Like Sentinels.”

Not to be outdone Jim added, “Or whatever it is that goes on under Cheyenne Mountain.” Then he changed the subject. “Chief, how do you know so much about this stuff?”

“Naomi, my mother,” he clarified for the newcomers, “was willing to try pretty much anything, but there were some things that even she disapproved of. The fact that Naomi avoided esoteric sects like the plague made me want to find out all about them.” He grinned. “Drove Naomi crazy. Anyway, I did look into it pretty thoroughly. Turned out it wasn’t my scene either, but from an anthropological point of view it’s all fascinating. Traditions handed down over thousands of years through closed, secret societies, totally unknown to the general public. It’s not just science fiction, man.”

Jack sighed, “So where does this get us? Say you’re right, Sandburg. If it is one of these nutcase groups, how can we find out which one? And we still don’t know how they knew about the thing either.”

Daniel offered tentatively. “I’ve been thinking about that. It has to be someone inside the MSC. Someone with access to the uncataloged materials or along the process of sorting them and sending them for review. The rest of the shipment to my office was documented through an email, but that add-on section wasn’t, which narrows down the possibilities quite a lot.”

Jim, who was now unconsciously rubbing small circles on Blair’s back, commented, “An inside job, eh? Then we’ll just have to draw them out.”

Blair queried, “You thinking of going undercover? Or setting a trap?”

Jim smiled again, but this time it was wicked. “I’m thinking a rat-bastard trap.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

The Colonel and the archaeologist decided to walk back to Daniel’s place from Sandburg’s apartment. They stopped for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, where Jack surprised Daniel by knowing exactly how to use a piece of flat bread as a fork. They ended up feeding each other bites of spicy dishes and surreptitiously licking each other’s fingers.

The evening was balmy and city life swirled around them, but it was as though no one else existed. They were so comfortable together, despite or perhaps because of the new direction their relationship had taken, that it seemed like a couple of years had dropped away. For now, anyway, the turmoil that had led to Daniel’s exile was like a bad dream from which they had finally awoken.

They were discussing their new friends as they arrived back at the apartment. It didn’t take any great observational skills to see that Jim and Blair had rather more than resolved whatever had been going on between them, too. They had both been slightly shocked by the openness of the other couple’s expressions of affection and closeness.

Jack asked, “So, we don’t do that, do we? We aren’t so…” He waved a hand in the air.

Daniel lifted his eyebrows and completed the question. “Sappy?”

“Yeah.”

Daniel was confident. “No, of course we aren’t sappy. We are responsible adult men who live within the confines of current standards of propriety. And we’re normal guys, who don’t participate in public displays.” Daniel sat down on the sofa and cocked his head. “Or maybe we’re just more repressed.”

Jack slipped off his jacket and shoes and ambled over to the couch. He climbed onto Daniel and settled straddling his lap. After carefully removing Daniel’s glasses and setting them on the side table he permitted his mouth to become reacquainted with his lover’s.

He asked softly, “Do you think, Daniel, that maybe sometimes we could be just a little, you know, sappy?” He nibbled on the rim of Daniel’s ear, eliciting a lovely nuzzling action in response.

“Well, Jack,” there was a hitch of arousal already in Daniel’s voice, “maybe once in a while we could be the slightest bit romantic. I actually wouldn’t mind telling you, showing you, how much you mean to me. Not all the time, of course. We have an image to maintain, after all.” Daniel tipped his head back and Jack moved down to taste his neck, feeling the pulse under his tongue.

Jack approved, “Right, so no flowers and chocolates.”

“I don’t know about that. I really like chocolate.”

“Chocolate is in, then.” Jack planted an open mouthed, wet kiss on Daniel’s Adam’s apple. “And maybe wine and candle lit dinners.”

Daniel groaned in agreement. “That…that would be good.”

Jack leaned until they were both lying on their sides facing each other. Daniel was heavy where he lay on one of Jack’s arms, but the other one snuck between their bodies to begin unbuttoning Daniel’s shirt, revealing morsels of skin. Daniel reached behind Jack and started to pull his shirt from his waistband, leaning enthusiastically into the task until…

… they fell off the couch, landing painfully on the hardwood floor.

After his ears stopped ringing from the impact of his head against the floor Jack suggested, “Bed?”

“Um, yes.”

Daniel scrambled to his feet and pulled Jack up as well. Jack grabbed Daniel around the waist and manhandled him in the direction of the bedroom. Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack’s shoulders and turned until he could push Jack backward through the door. Jack was about to flip Daniel onto the bed when he reconsidered. First things first.

“Clothes.”

They were equally speedy in removing every speck of clothing, though perhaps Jack had the advantage of already having taken his shoes off. They leapt together onto the bed and wrestled for position. Both were sweaty by the time Jack admitted that Daniel was on top. Not that it was a hardship.

There were so many things about loving Daniel that amazed him. One of them was this; that they were evenly matched physically and didn’t have to worry about holding back with each other, although Daniel was characteristically considerate of the older man’s dodgy knees.

With a last shove to Jack’s shoulders, ordering him to stay, Daniel slid down so that he was eye to eye, so to speak, with Jack’s burgeoning erection. To Jack’s delight, Daniel seemed perpetually fascinated by that part of his anatomy. Luckily, he was well to impressively endowed in that area, which helped relieve his insecurity at seeing his own body along side Daniel’s sleek, youthful one. After all, size matters.

Running one finger down the side of his object of scrutiny, the younger man commented seriously, “My what a lovely cock you have. A truly magnificent throbbing love machine, manhood, tool, boner.“ This had been another pleasant surprise. Daniel liked to talk dirty. Woo hoo!

Daniel went on, “Prick, phallus, woody, staff, manly unit.”

Jack couldn’t stop a snort from erupting from his nose. Daniel took his eyes off the erection and looked up at Jack.

“Manly unit? Did you just say that?”

Daniel objected with linguistic indignation, “I’ll have you know, Jack, the term is in popular usage.”

Jack chuckled, causing his cock to bounce and bob.

Daniel looked down and told it, “Manly unit.”

There was a slight pause before both of them burst into unrestrained laughter. Gasping for breath, Jack informed his friend, “Daniel, you’ve definitely been reading too much porn.”

Daniel was all sincere innocence. “Is that even possible?”

They laughed again and Daniel’s face did that thing that turned Jack’s heart to mush. He smiled that smile where the corners of his eyes wrinkled, his lips pursed and his cheeks puffed out. Jack had always loved that too rarely seen expression, and now he knew it meant that Daniel was thinking profoundly lascivious thoughts. Go Daniel!

Jack shook his head. “Hell, I don’t care what you call it as long as you do something with it.”

The predatory sparkle in his lover’s eyes intensified. Planting a quick kiss on the organ’s wide head he began to crawl back up Jack’s body, pressing their erections between them, stopping only when he could stick his tongue in Jack’s mouth.

After a very hot minute he queried, “Do something with it? What exactly did you have in mind, Jack? Maybe frottage?” He rubbed his hips suggestively against Jack’s. “Were you considering… fellatio?” He ran his tongue slowly around his open lips and Jack gasped at the erotic pulse that shot through him.

Daniel pushed Jack’s legs farther open with his knees and let his full weight settle, pressing Jack into the mattress.

Teasing Jack’s mouth with his lips and tongue he questioned further, “Or perhaps you were thinking of…” he skipped a dramatic beat, “penetrative sex?”

Jack groaned, synapses frying a mile a minute. But no, the verbal torture wasn’t over yet.

Daniel breathed into Jack’s mouth, “Homosexual intercourse?” Jack opened his legs wider, brought his knees up, and thrust into Daniel’s pelvis.

“Anal intrusion?”

This, the whole meal deal, was something they hadn’t done yet. The mere thought of it drove Jack absolutely crazy with desire. He groped at his partner, running hot hands over smooth, soft skin and digging into firm muscles. Daniel in turn kissed the hell out of him, and then calmed Jack with his hands. He sat up again, looking down with dark, aroused eyes.

“Do you want that?”

Jack nodded rapidly. That was a big yup-er! He croaked, “Yes.”

Daniel stretched toward the bedside table and rummaged in a drawer. Jack blinked in admiration as his eyes traced the perfect outline of Daniel’s elongated body from the armpit along the side of the ribcage, over the narrow hips and down the length of the muscular leg. He was sure that there was nothing he could have done in this or any other life to deserve the incomparable flawlessness that was Daniel. He wanted to bite into that flesh and eat him whole. He settled for skimming his palm lightly down the path his eyes had traveled, groaning yet again with desire.

Daniel found what he was looking for and rearranged himself to straddle Jack’s thighs. Jack was surprised and tried to open his legs again. How else was Daniel going to get to where he needed to go?

Daniel laid a hand on the flat of Jack’s stomach to hold him in place and lifted himself to his knees. He flipped the tube open and pressed the clear gel onto his fingers, then reached behind to touch himself.

Jack’s ability to speak was extremely limited at this point, but he managed to ask, “What’cha doing?”

The blue eyes locked with his. “I’m preparing myself so that your beautiful, hard erection will fit into my body.”

Okay, probably every drop of blood he had was now crowding into his penis. The quiet ones are always full of surprises. He reached for Daniel. “I want to.”

“And you will, many, many times. Now, though, I’m doing this for you. I want you to see how much I want you, Jack. I’m giving myself to you.” His body tilted as he hitched his hip to touch himself deeper. “This is our first time. You’re going to know that I’m yours. All of me.”

All of him. Jack didn’t argue. Another thing he had learned was that Daniel liked to lead in bed. He wasn’t into domination; he happily accepted it when Jack wanted to take over. It was just that this was how Daniel was. He had a strong sense of the sensual and the erotic, and the confidence to say what he wanted. Jack found that he was perfectly content to let Daniel orchestrate. As with most things, he was usually right.

As Daniel worked, Jack studied the torso towering over him; the sculpted chest, the small, supple nipple surrounded by smooth skin, the flat belly. Daniel’s cock bobbed above his own, of equal length but thinner. Like everything else about Daniel it was the ideal expression of grace.

Daniel squirted more lubricant on his hand and smoothed it meticulously onto Jack’s manly unit. His brows furrowed as he gazed speculatively at the glistening organ. Looking up at Jack as though over the rims of his glasses he quipped, a brief smile quirking his lips, “I’m ready to give this a try if you are.”

“Oh, yes. Ready. Very ready.” Then Jack grasped Daniel’s arms to still him and said with meaning, “I am ready, Daniel. I’m ready for you. For us.”

Daniel nodded and lifted himself up far enough to move over Jack’s erection. Jack positioned himself with one hand while the other caressed Daniel’s hip tenderly.

Then the younger man began to lower himself. Jack felt him push until the head of his cock broke through the outer ring of muscle. It felt like heaven. It felt better than anything had ever felt in his whole life.

Daniel grunted and froze, his hands braced on his thighs. Jack saw the grimace of pain that he tried to hide, then Daniel started pushing again too soon. Jack gentled him with hands and voice. “Slowly. Take your time, Daniel, there’s no rush. Wait till you want more, love. Wait till you want me.”

Daniel panted and fixed his gaze on Jack’s face. Gradually he began to relax, and then eased himself farther down. His progress was slow but determined. Eventually he let his weight rest on Jack with a sigh, holding all of him inside.

They sat that way for a while. Jack reached up, glad for his long arms, and caressed Daniel’s face, brushing through the sweat with his fingers. He then let his hands trail down his torso and arm, reassuring his lover with his touch.

Daniel blinked down at him. “I love you, Jack.”

“I know you do. I hope you know how much I love you, too.”

The smile quirked again. “I think we’ve covered that, actually.”

Jack grinned back. “Just so you know.”

“And, um, you know what else? I think I like this. A lot.”

Jack thrust up gently, moving inside of him. “You like that?”

Daniel nodded. “A lot.”

“Glad to hear…”

Anything else he might have said was cut off as Daniel rocked forward and back. Daniel was so tight around the sensitive organ that the pleasure was incredible. Daniel continued the rocking motion, a dreamy expression on his face. Then he stopped and leaned forward, stretching to find Jack’s mouth. After a loving kiss, he pulled back, letting Jack see that the special smile was there again. He whispered suggestively, “You wanna be on top?”

Yup, that was another affirmative. Jack held Daniel in his strong arms and rolled them over carefully, being sure to not break the connection. He positioned Daniel’s bent knees under his elbows and kissed him again. Their tongues stroking each other, Jack thrust into Daniel. Daniel moaned and Jack did it again.

A steady stream of, “Jack, yes. Yes. Jack, yes,” encouraged him to go faster, harder, deeper. After a while all sense of where he was and what he was doing was subsumed into an overwhelming feeling of unity with Daniel. Finally, after all the years and all the longing, they were one. They were one hot, sweaty, laughing, crying, shaking entity, moving together in shared exaltation. He didn’t want it to stop. He wanted to live this way for the rest of his life. But then the joy he was feeling burst out in a fiery explosion that obliterated everything else.

In time, after perhaps eons, he became aware of lying entwined with Daniel, the evidence of his lover’s joy sticky between them. Elegant fingers touched his hair, easing him into contented sleep.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

After the visitors left Sandburg had been fed, medicated and put to bed. He slept straight through until the morning, when he woke to find a big ol’ lummox of a fella wrapped around him. He was all set to lay some lovin’ down on the lummox but the clock was uncooperative.

Jim cleaned him with a cloth in the bathroom so as to not wet the bandage and this time when Blair washed his hair in the sink the extra set of hands made it a very pleasurable experience. He definitely needed to make a note of that for future reference.

After a quick breakfast the pair headed back to the hospital so that Blair could be checked over and declared to be healing nicely. Then they made their way out to the Museum Support Center to begin setting the trap, joining the others in Daniel’s office.

The first step was to figure out who might have found and then passed on the information about the Wing of Aset. Sitting at Daniel’s computer Blair hacked into the personnel records. With Daniel peering over his shoulder Blair identified all the people who worked in the dusty storerooms of unsorted stuff. He then narrowed it down to the people present when Daniel’s last delivery was being prepared, and further still to those who then had access to Pod 4. Since there had been no sign of forced entry they figured that someone must have been able to let the assailants into the building in a way that circumvented the security checkpoints. In the end they came up with one suspect.

Jim briefly looked over the personnel file and declared, “I don’t think so,
Chief. Try again.”

Blair looked at Jim curiously. “Why? Because she’s a woman?”

“Not just because she’s a woman, no. But look at her. She’s somebody’s grandmother.”

The file was that of one Marie Kormer, a 62 year old clerk in the Collections Management department. She had worked for the Smithsonian in some capacity for most of her adult life and had very little noted in her file except for periodic reviews that found her work adequate.

Blair grinned. “Ah-ha! That’s just what she wants you to think! This is practically the invisible woman, here. Who better to spy for the bad guys?”

Daniel added thoughtfully, “You know, it doesn’t say anything here about her private life. It’s possible that she has been a member of one of these organizations since she was younger. And also, we should keep in mind that there were priestesses in ancient Egypt as well as priests. The desire for knowledge and power isn’t gender specific.”

Jim held up his hands. “Okay, you’ve made your point. Colonel, what do you think?”

Jack frowned at the photo of a plump, matronly woman with tightly permed hair of indeterminate color. “Well, she’s not exactly what I was expecting either. Are you two sure about this?”

Blair shook his head. “We can’t be 100 percent sure, Jack. But she’s the only one who had access to everything. The log even shows that she was here the night of the attack. She didn’t leave until nearly eleven PM. It’s a lot of coincidence.”

Jack didn’t appear convinced, but he conceded, “Okay, I’ll buy it. I’ll have a full background check run on her, but in the meantime we can proceed.” He turned to Jim. “You on board with this, Detective?”

“We know she wasn’t one of the men in black, but it doesn’t take youth or strength to have set the hit up. I say we go with it for now. If she doesn’t take the bait we’ll have another look.”

Blair was tremendously pleased that they were accepting the conclusions of his detective work. He was also excited about his role in the next step of the plan, setting the trap. It was almost like the old days, him and Jim and the other detectives of Major Crimes pulling together to catch the bad guys. For a moment the nostalgia made him sad, but he brushed it off and concentrated on the plot.

Lunchtime found Blair and Daniel back in the building’s cafeteria. They stood with their trays accepting the concerned inquiries and good wishes of their co-workers. It was an extremely rare occurrence that museum staff should be shot or tortured, so everyone knew roughly what had taken place, if not the specifics.

The two drew out the socializing until a table was vacated directly next to one Mrs. Marie Kormer, then they excused themselves and claimed it. Blair waited until he was sure she had noted their presence, then he began.

“Hey, man, it’s cool that everybody cares, isn’t it?”

Daniel agreed, “Yes. It’s amazing how much people know about what happened. I don’t even understand it myself.”

Blair waved a fork excitedly. “So Daniel, finish with what you started to tell me before. Do you think it’s real?”

“I really don’t know. It appears to be. And obviously somebody thought it was. But it’s the only artifact of its kind known to be in existence so it’s difficult to tell.”

Kormer had stopped eating and her posture had turned rigid. Yes! It looked like they had been right about her.

Blair sat back in amazement. “The Wing of Aset. Is it true what they say? That it can…”

“Blair!” Daniel shushed him and looked around nervously. He then leaned forward and lowered his voice, though not so far that the woman couldn’t hear him. “Let’s not get into that. I’m edgy enough having the thing in my office as it is. I’m used to working with ancient artifacts, but this is so old and so valuable that I want it out of my hands as soon as possible. It gives me the creeps.”

“Really? So what are you going to do with it?”

“Well, it’s all right in my safe for now, but they’re coming to get it first thing in the morning.”

“They? Who’s coming to get it?”

“Um, I’m really not supposed to say. All very ‘need to know’. I don’t even want to think about it.”

Blair prodded, “Are you sure you don’t want to try and use it yourself? This is a great chance…”

Daniel was firm. “No, Blair. The sooner it’s gone the better.” He then changed the subject. “So how’s the intern they have filling in for you working out?”

Blair grinned. “Oh, he’s young and enthusiastic, I’ll give him that much. Do you know what he wanted to do? I’ve got this filing system, and he wanted to…”

The suspect had heard enough. She stood and walked away without even bussing the tray with her half eaten meal.

Blair winked at Daniel, who responded with waggling eyebrows and the dry comment, “The game is afoot!”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Jim and Jack stood at a water fountain in the hall outside of the cafeteria trying to look nonchalant. Jim was idly flipping through the pages of a newspaper grinning widely. Jack glared at him and snapped, “What?”

“It’s going well. We have ourselves a couple of real actors there. The suspect’s buying it hook, line and sinker.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Her pulse skyrocketed and she started sweating as soon as they started talking.”

Jim was having fun. He was aware that the fact that he knew all these things and yet hadn’t so much as looked in the direction of the cafeteria since they’d been there drove the other man nuts. O’Neill was obviously dying to question him but was holding back, for now anyway.

He snapped the paper smartly. “Heads up. The suspect is on the move.”

Jack bent to take a drink from the fountain but eyed the extremely average looking woman as she strode out of the door. Jim thought that Blair had been right in his evaluation. In her ordinariness this person was almost invisible. No one would look twice at her as she moved around the building in her standard ‘office worker’ skirt and blouse and sensible shoes. The two men, neither of whom enjoyed that type of camouflage, sauntered casually after her as she disappeared around the corner.

They watched her get into an elevator. Jim approached the closed metal doors and cocked his head, sorting through the rattle of gears and whine of tense cables to catch the telltale clicks as the car passed each floor. After a moment he turned to his companion.

“Third floor.”

As they pushed into the stairwell and raced up the steep flights, Jim had no problem hearing the muttered, “Just my luck. Ma Barker HAD to get off at the highest floor. Could she have gone easy on my poor knees? No, of course she couldn’t.”

They arrived slightly winded at the desired floor and it took Jim a moment to track the target. Then he murmured, “This way,” and led down the hall to the left.

Pausing at a corner he listened again. He heard the buzz of a touchtone phone dialing and filed it for later analysis. Then he listened in on the short conversation. After a minute he nodded and turned to walk back down the hall.

“Okay, we’re on for tonight. She reported what Sandburg and Jackson said to someone she called ‘Prime’, and he told her to let the team in the outer door at the loading bay on sub-level one at midnight. This is almost too easy.”

“Yeah, well the super-senses help. You’re a walking surveillance team all by yourself.”

Jim smiled and admitted, “Yeah. It does come in handy now and then. Shall we go find our better halves? Or is Daniel your better three-quarters?”

Jack grumbled something about no respect and Jim smiled again. The Colonel was more fun to needle than just about anyone he knew, and he could give as good as he got.

Jim felt a deep sense of relief at developing a friendship, and respect despite what Jack might say, with someone who knew what he was and accepted it. The last time that had happened was with Sandburg, and then the whole thing had been new to both of them. Jim was starting to think that this might be something he could live with after all.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

There was a whole afternoon to kill before the evening activities, so while Jack and Daniel stayed at the museum to keep an eye on things Jim took Blair home and attempted to put him to bed again. Despite the lingering pain and the fuzziness brought on by the meds, Blair was sick of sleeping through everything and would agree only to rest on the couch, and even then with the provision that Jim join him. Jim sat leaning against the arm of the sofa and cuddled Blair against his chest, their legs stretching out along its length.

Blair had barely snuggled in before he fell asleep. He woke in the early evening warm, cozy and encircled by a pair of loving arms.

“Oh, man, Jim! I’m so sorry. You must be stiff as a board by now. Let me move so you can get up.” He tried to wriggle out of Jim’s embrace, but the other man wouldn’t let him.

“Don’t you go anywhere, Chief.” Jim sighed. “I enjoy just being able to hold you. I’m trying to make up for lost time.”

“You sure?”

Jim tenderly pulled him back against his chest. “What do you think?”

Blair smiled with contentment and relaxed. He enjoyed the simplicity of their current connection, but felt he had to bring up a subject that was weighing heavily on his mind.

“Jim, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. It’s, well, it’s about what happens next. When we go back to Cascade, I mean.”

Jim agreed, “Yes, there’s a lot we need to discuss. A lot has changed since you left, but I didn’t want to deal with that until you were ready.”

“I guess I’m ready. I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to fit into your life now.” Blair snorted. “Hell, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to fit in my own life.”

“Well, Chief, that’s going to be up to you to decide. Hopefully up to us together, but the options are fairly broad. You see, I’m going public about my senses.”

Blair jerked upright and turned to stare at Jim.

“What? After all that happened NOW you’re going to go public?”

“Yeah. You see, I was wrong not to do it before. I was wrong to let you destroy your life to keep my secret. I was wrong and selfish and cowardly. I’m going to try to make it right.” Before Blair could question him more Jim went on calmly, “Do you remember what that publisher was telling you, about what a breakthrough piece of work it was? He was talking Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, wasn’t he? That wasn’t just because of bestseller potential, it was also because it was going to open a whole new field of knowledge to the world. Do I have a right to stop that for my own personal reasons? I don’t think so. I’m not the only one effected by this.”

He continued, “Think about it, Chief. I was on the verge of either committing myself or being committed to an institution when you found me. How many people do you think are sedated and in straightjackets right now because no one knew how to help them, or in the cemetery? Think of the people around the world who could be reevaluated and helped by your work. Think of the children that might be growing up worried about being freaks. We’ll never know how many there are unless people start looking for them. How can I let others suffer and lose their lives to madness just because I got lucky?”

Blair gazed at him in amazement. “You really mean this, man.”

“I do. And before you go thinking I’ve suddenly become a saint you should know that it was outside forces that got me started. Just a couple of weeks after you left I got a call to report to the Mayor’s office. The Chief of Police and the District Attorney were there when I walked in. The Mayor asked me point blank, yes or no, if I was what you said I was. I had to tell the truth. I wouldn’t have expected it, but they were fairly pleased by the news. They think it will reflect well on them and on Cascade to have a Sentinel working for them. The ironic thing is that it wasn’t long after that that my senses began to deteriorate.

“Anyway, they’ve spent these last few months going over my cases to make sure that the guys I put away won’t be able to appeal because of it, and it looks good.”

Jim looked at Blair seriously. “But that’s not all. I’ve been talking to your faculty advisors and your dissertation committee, too. They now know that you weren’t making it up and why you said that you were. Some of them weren’t all that surprised. There are still people at Rainier who think very highly of you. They just want you to finish revising it as you had planned to and then present it. I don’t think you’ll get much challenge over it at this point, especially after I gave them some demonstrations.

“So you can submit your diss and get your doctorate. They plan to release it in a totally different way than the last time. They’re talking about publishing it as science book and placing excerpts and articles in scholarly journals. I’m sure it will get some public attention, but hopefully not in the media circus kind of way, and maybe people will identify other potential Sentinels and the focus won’t only be on me. And if the worst happens, I’ll be ready for it this time. The publicity will actually give me a measure of safety I didn’t have before.”

Blair nodded. “So that’s why you didn’t mind that Daniel and Jack knew about you. Everybody’s going to know soon enough. When will all this happen?”

“I’ve been waiting. I needed to know if there was a chance for you to forgive me and come home. I’m going to need you more than ever once it becomes common knowledge. You’re going to need me to convince the skeptics. Uh, besides, it is YOUR dissertation. It won’t be published without your approval.”

“So if I hadn’t been shot, it would have all stayed on hold? My God, Jim! Why didn’t you call me?”

“Because I’m through forcing things on you. It had to be your decision.” The quiet confidence that had been emanating from Jim seemed to evaporate at this point. “If you hadn’t been shot, would you ever have, you know, called me yourself?”

Blair had to consider the question for a moment. “I don’t know, Jim. I think so. I wasn’t strong enough to go on living without you forever. I felt the need for you, as a Guide and as a man.” He grinned thinly. “But I’m glad I got shot. There’s a lot of work to do.”

Jim brightened. “You mean you’re up for this? You want to go ahead?”

“I am like so up for this. What you’ve described was my dream, I mean beyond my own selfish desire to get the letters after my name.” He bounced on the couch cushion. “I want to help people, just like you do. You are so beautiful and special, man. The world needs as many people like you as it can get. And if there’s help, then maybe there won’t be any more like Alex. That was just too sad.”

Jim’s body tensed. Any mention of Alex seemed to provoke a reaction like that. He would never be able to forget the outlaw Sentinel who had come between Blair and him and had succeeded in actually killing Blair. The broad-minded anthropologist mostly felt sorrow for the woman’s lost potential and humbled by how Jim, or his power animal, had been able to cross over and bring him back. But Jim would probably never release the guilt of allowing it to happen in the first place and of then continuing to be drawn to her by some Sentinel instinct he couldn’t understand or control. Blair wondered how Jim would react if they ever did find other Sentinels.

Jim answered stoically. “It’s not going to be easy, Chief. Not at any step along the way. I don’t know what’ll happen once it comes out. I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay with the department, or if we’ll have to give that up altogether. If you need to go on tour to teach people from your experience, then I’ll go with you. Who can predict what’ll happen? But once they understand about Sentinel and Guide, no one will try to separate us. We’ll be a team of two, forever.”

Blair leaned in to kiss Jim lightly on the lips. “That, man, is my very deepest dream.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Eleven o’clock found Jack and Jim accommodating themselves in a storeroom near the loading bay. They sat in silence, similar training preparing them to wait without moving for as long as necessary. After the initial strangeness Jack had found Jim to be a good man to work with. He relished the testosterone laden bonding of two military men on an operation. The only thing marring the picture was the dull expression on Ellison’s face when he was using his senses; vacant stare, mouth hanging open. Oh, well. No one was perfect.

The minutes ticked by quietly, giving Jack a chance to reflect on recent events. It was kind of ironic. Daniel finding Goa’uld technology in the nation’s largest museum collection was not a good thing. Daniel being attacked and nearly killed was a very, very bad thing. But on the other hand, they had brought Daniel and him back together, really together, which was about the best thing ever. Once they got this operation over with they could begin to think about the future, which was still somewhat a gray area.

Suddenly Ellison stiffened, signaling that something was happening. They each checked and readied their weapons. Because of the extenuating circumstances Jim and Jack had a special dispensation from museum security to carry arms within the building, but after long debate they had decided not to notify security or the police about their plan. There was just too much risk of the word being leaked to the wrong people. Dear Mrs. Kormer had been an unexpected surprise and they decided to only trust themselves for the time being.

Jim pushed the storeroom door open slightly and they prepared to move. The detective raised one fist and Jack froze. The signal was a reminder of their shared military background, but Jack briefly felt a flash of annoyance. He was a Colonel and the other man had been a Captain when he left the Army. Jack couldn’t help feeling that he should be leading. He should be making the decisions and taking the greatest risks. It was who he was. However, if he had learned anything over the years it was to take advantage of the special skills of his team members, and there was no denying the edge that Ellison’s mysterious abilities gave them.

Jim was concentrating on whatever it was he was hearing, but suddenly turned to Jack with widened eyes. He held up three fingers to indicate three subjects. Then he raised one finger and pointed in one direction, then in another direction, then in a third. Great, the enemy team had split up. They hadn’t been counting on that.

Jack whispered softly, knowing the other would hear, “You follow one and take him out. I’ll follow another. We’ll both head for Daniel’s office to intercept the third.”

Ellison nodded and disappeared into the corridor heading to the right. Jack crept down the hall to the left, his own senses sharpened to the maximum. He caught sight of a figure in black as it turned a corner and followed carefully.

Dipping one hand into his jacket pocket he pulled out the cell phone Daniel had loaned him and quickly dialed his friend’s office number, thinking to warn him of the third intruder. The phone rang, but no one answered. Jack frowned and picked up the pace. There was no point in drawing this out; that man in front of him was going down.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

As Jim and Jack went off to play on their ‘mission’ the two scientists settled in to wait in Daniel’s office, each submerging himself in a book. After only about ten minutes Daniel looked up to find Blair slumped in his chair asleep. He looked remarkably uncomfortable, not to mention in danger of falling off at any moment.

Daniel stood and moved a stack of folders off of a more sturdy, padded chair that had been hidden away in the corner. He then shook Blair gently and murmured, “Um, Blair? You want to move to somewhere more comfortable?”

Blair sat up straight and insisted, “I’m fine! I’m awake. No problem.” Then he actually opened his eyes, looking around in mild surprise.

“Yeah, you’re awake. But why don’t you sit over here anyway?”

Blair eyed the chair sleepily. “Well, yeah. I might as well.”

Daniel steadied him as he moved the few feet to his new resting place and sprawled onto the upholstery. He blinked up at Daniel a few times and mumbled, “Thanks,” then promptly nodded off again. Daniel smiled at his new friend and retrieved a spare lab coat to drape over him for added warmth.

Daniel tried to concentrate on the book, but kept glancing nervously at the wall clock. Of course Jack and Jim could take care of themselves, but still. Having had firsthand experience he was uneasy that his friends were planning to meet up with the men in black, even forewarned. Something could always go wrong.

After checking the clock for the hundredth time Daniel caught a movement in the doorway out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he was surprised to find Mrs. Kormer gazing at him mildly. Mildly except for the gun pointed directly at him.

“Uh, hello.”

The grandmotherly woman stepped into the room but kept enough distance so that Daniel couldn’t threaten her.

“Mr. Jackson, I had rather hoped that you would have shown the discretion to absent yourself this time. There was really no need for you to have been further involved in this, but since you’re here you will take the article out of the safe and give it to me.”

Daniel’s brows pulled together and he looked at the woman over the tops of his glasses, hoping to appear innocently puzzled. “The…article?”

“EGT-537B. Hand it over now and you won’t be hurt.”

“EGT-537B? I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The woman straightened her gun arm menacingly. “Do not be fooled by my appearance, Mr. Jackson. I am not stupid nor am I frail. I entrusted this mission to so-called ‘experts’ the last time, but this time I will make sure that we acquire the Wing. Stop stalling and get it now, otherwise I’ll shoot you and open the safe myself. You’d be surprised what information a clerk can gain access to. The combination was quite easy to obtain.”

She stood watching him expectantly and Daniel supposed that he had better play along and wait for an opening. Since he could now identify her as an accomplice to two counts of assault and attempted murder it seemed unlikely that she intended to let him live. Jack would absolutely kill him if he got back from his mission and found Daniel dead. That would not be a pretty sight at all.

He rose slowly with his hands out to his sides. “I, uh. You want me to open the safe?”

“Now please.” She gestured with her gun toward the wall behind him and to the left. Daniel backed up until he bumped into the wall, always keeping his eyes on the gunwoman. He reached back to feel the edge of the framed fire-safety instruction sheet and swung the casing away from the wall on its hinges. Gingerly, he turned to look at the combination lock on the safe door.

“Now, Mr. Jackson.” She sounded perfectly deadly.

Daniel was extremely annoyed at the way the evening was going so far, but was careful not to appear anything other than a timid scientist. He turned and began spinning the dial.

“I don’t know who you are, but you don’t really think this thing has magical powers, do you? I mean, it could bring a very good price from a collector, but is it really worth all the trouble you’re going to be in?”

Kormer sneered, “You have no idea of the value of the Wing of Aset. Money has nothing to do with it.”

The lock clicked on the first number of the combination and Daniel began turning the dial back. “I hope you won’t be disappointed with it. It really isn’t all that impressive.”

Suddenly the desk phone rang shrilly, making them both jump. Still as statues, the blue eyes and the colorless eyes held each other as the device sounded several times and then stopped. Then she lifted an eyebrow impatiently and waved the gun at him.

The lock clicked again and then the tumbler fell into the third slot. The door latch released with a snap and Daniel opened it to look inside. The only thing in there was a box made of heavy brown cardboard. Daniel was almost beside himself with irritation, mostly directed inward at this point. He should have considered the possibility that the situation would go this far and planned ahead to have a decoy stashed away.

He lifted the 6” X 6” box and turned to set it on the counter.

“Open it. I want to see it.” Kormer’s eyes shone with undisguised greed.

It didn’t take much pretending for Daniel’s hands to shake as he pried the flaps of the box open from their overlapping closure. As the first edge popped out he feigned a nervous jump that sent the box to the floor. As he bent to retrieve it, calculating the chances of successfully rushing the woman, she swung the gun toward him angrily.

At that moment a metal bookend flew out of nowhere, hitting her gun hand and knocking it sideways. Daniel took advantage of the diversion and launched himself forward, grasping the portly figure around the waist and slamming her to the floor, one hand pressing the woman’s wrist to the ground. He thumped her hand sharply against the floor and it opened, letting the gun fall free.

Daniel was slightly overconfident with his easy victory over the unimposing character and gasped at the severe pain of a well-aimed knee connecting with his groin. That was it, no more Mister Nice-Guy. Daniel leaned up, raised his fist and hit her solidly on the jaw, snapping her head back harshly. The woman went limp under him and Daniel hung his head, trying to breathe through the pain.

After a moment he looked up at Blair, who was standing next to him.

The younger man asked, “You okay?”

Peering up through watering eyes he answered dryly, “As a friend of mine would say, just peachy. Find something to tie her with, would you? Oh, and thanks for the help.”

“Any time, man.”

Between the two of them they hefted the woman into a chair and tied her in place with plastic packing cord. Then Daniel returned to the fallen box and scooped the topmost ribbon device, which had tumbled onto the floor, back inside and secured the lid. He calmly placed the parcel back in the safe and closed the door, ignoring the way Blair’s eyes followed his movements inquisitively.

Daniel and Blair slumped onto stools and grinned at each other sheepishly. Blair quipped, “And we thought the other guys were going to get all the action.”

Daniel’s lips twisted wryly. “Blair, I am completely serious when I say how very, very grateful I am that we subdued her. I would have heard about it until my dying day if Jack had had to rescue me from a senior citizen.”

Blair snorted. “Amen to that, brother.”

They waited in silence for several minutes until Blair looked at the clock and frowned. “They should be back by now, shouldn’t they?”

“I’m sure they’re fine. If I know Jack he’s probably savoring the chance to beat up on the bad guys. He’s a man who knows how to hold a grudge.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

They waited some more. Daniel was aware that their captive was awake again, but she hadn’t said anything and he wasn’t particularly interested in engaging her in conversation either. He checked the clock, not quite as worry-free as he had appeared to Blair.

“Oh, shit.”

Daniel looked up at his companion, who was staring over Daniel’s shoulder at the door. Swinging around, who was looming there but a ubiquitous man in black? Oh, shit was right. He stood and edged toward Blair.

The masked figure glanced from Mrs. Kormer to Daniel to Blair. The woman broke her silence by hissing, “Kill them, you idiot!”

Even with the mask on disgust was evident in the man’s attitude toward his bound co-conspirator. Sneering, he hissed, “You should have followed the plan. You know the penalty.”

With no further deliberation the man acted. He pointed the gun at the woman restrained in the chair and fired. A neat round hole appeared in the center of her chest, and with no more than a gasp of surprise she died.

Daniel tensed to counter-attack, but the gun was again pointed at him. By his side Blair was gaping wide eyed at the corpse and the assailant, who moved silently forward.

The man barked, “Where is it?”

Daniel answered more calmly than he felt, “It isn’t here, of course. It’s in a safe place.”

The gun swung smoothly to point at the center of Blair’s chest and Daniel tensed again, ready to shield his friend if necessary.

“Tell me where it is or I kill him.”

Daniel’s mouth hung open in consternation. Their leeway for bluffing was running out. “It’s, it’s…”

At that point the laws of physics bent to somehow allow both Jim and Jack to hurtle through the narrow doorway into the room at exactly the same time. Together they lunged at the enemy, knocking him to the floor. Daniel tackled Blair to the ground and pulled him behind the table. He heard Blair’s grunt of pain, but continued to shelter the other man with his body as the sounds of fighting and gunfire filled the room.

The noise ceased and Daniel raised his head to glance up apprehensively. He looked directly into Jack’s rugged, concerned face, which was flanked by that of Jim.

Jack and Daniel’s eyes met and held, wordlessly reaffirming that they meant everything to each other.

“Hey.”

Daniel smiled softly for Jack. “Hey.”

A voice complained from beneath him, “Hello? I’ll be all right, too, once you get the fuck off of me.”

Daniel rolled away from Blair and Jim was there immediately, running his hands over his partner as he helped him sit. After a moment Jim shifted his attention long enough to gaze at Daniel meaningfully. With sentiment obviously from the bottom of his heart, the Detective murmured, “Thank you.”

Daniel nodded. He thought that Jim’s opinion of him had probably just quadrupled. The fact was that Jim wasn’t the only person who cared about Blair, but Daniel wasn’t going to protest. The Sentinel could be a very valuable ally, should one ever be needed.

Looking up, Daniel took the hand that Jack offered and was pulled to his feet, ending up chest to chest with his lover. Jack cupped the side of his face and Daniel thought for a moment that the older man was going to kiss him, but then Jack stepped back and looked around, focusing on the dead woman in the chair.

“Seems you’ve had some excitement here, eh Danny? Wanna tell me about it?”

“You tell me what happened with you first.”

Jack filled him in while Jim, after stroking Blair and manhandling him into a chair, phoned security and the police. Apparently neither Jim nor Jack had had difficulty subduing the men they were following. Daniel’s story was slightly more exciting.

Soon the room was filled with all the different people needed to document a crime scene, and the four friends were herded to different corners for questioning. As Daniel carefully explained what had occurred his eyes met Jack’s across the room. His pulse quickened and he felt a thrill of excitement much stronger than the fear he had experienced earlier. He smiled and his love smiled back.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The aftermath of their operation was not entirely satisfying. They had two dead bodies and not much else. The men that Jim and Jack had incapacitated had disappeared without a trace. There was apparently another insider, one who had let the assailants in while Kormer was upstairs getting a head start, but beyond Jim’s assurance that it was a male they had nothing to go on. The background check on the woman had so far revealed nothing of interest, though they were still digging. The phone number Jim had identified was listed as never having been assigned.

The authorities were taking the double assault on the venerable institution very seriously and the investigation would continue, but for the moment they still didn’t know who was behind the whole thing and there was a good chance that they never would. For one thing, the police weren’t very open to Blair’s secret cult theory, and to be fair there was absolutely no hard evidence that it was anything other than a straightforward attempted art theft. The four principal players had been ordered directly not to engage in further detective work, and in truth they were ready to put it behind them.

That afternoon Jack and Daniel stood at the table with the brown cardboard box setting between them. Jack poked his finger into the jumble of metal and stones.

“Yup, there’s your basic brain fryer. I could’a lived without ever seeing another one of ‘em.”

Daniel got this sort of soft, sentimental look on his face that Jack had never seen before.

“Oh, I don’t know. I think I might have a special place in my heart for these particular brain fryers. They did bring you here, after all.”

Jack smiled with pleasure and ducked his head. He absolutely LOVED when Daniel said things like that, but he wasn’t used to it yet. He returned to the practicalities.

“I’ll take this back to the SGC as originally planned. I owe it to George to hell him in person that I’m leaving his command.”

Daniel’s face twitched like he had a secret. “Actually, I was thinking about going with you. I wanted to ask General Hammond in person if he would consider allowing me to come back.”

There was a slight ringing in Jack’s ears and he thought that maybe he hadn’t heard right.

“What?”

“I don’t want you to retire or transfer. I want to go back with you to the SGC.”

“But I thought you loved it here. I thought this was important to you.”

“It is. But you were right about my missing the action, and if I’m not mistaken you’re not quite ready to give it up, either. The Museum Support Center will still be here a few or twenty years from now, won’t it? There will always be more to do. We can come back when the time is right.” He frowned. “That is if there’s still a space for me at the SGC.”

“A space? Are you kidding? There’s a gaping hole, a chasm. We’re talking Grand Canyon, here.”

Daniel’s frown deepened. “You did replace me in SG1 didn’t you?’

“Oh, yeah. We picked up this kid who’s kind of like you except that he’s nothing like you. He was visiting Earth on a diplomatic mission when his home world apparently blew itself up.”

Daniel looked distressed. “His world blew itself up? The whole thing?”

“Yeah. The Tok’ra went by to check it out for us. Apparently they were experimenting with a powerful new explosive and had some kind of accident. There’s nothing left but smoking rubble.”

“My God, that’s horrible! And the guy who’s been working with you is the only one left? Is he all right?”

“Took it surprisingly well, I thought. But he’s heard so much about you that he’ll probably worship at your feet. And he won’t be the only one. Hammond has a whole new appreciation for exactly how lucky he got with you. He’ll roll out the red carpet.”

Jack had a moment of worry. “Are you sure this is what you want to do? I know you weren’t happy there for a long time, and it is the military, Daniel. It won’t change much. And besides, what if being there brings back bad memories for us? For example, what if being in the Gate Room reminds you of me shooting the android?”

Daniel stepped closer and touched Jack’s chest with his fingertips. “Jack, for me the Gate Room will always mean first and foremost a certain ‘Spacemonkey’ hug.”

Then he turned away and wandered a few steps before continuing. “There’s something I wanted to say to you about the incident with Reece.”

Jack jumped in, “You know I really am sorry that it worked out that way. I didn’t…”

Daniel interrupted him. “I know, Jack. I understand now what happened, all the other things that were going on that I didn’t know about at the time. I’m not still angry with you about that. This is something else. I wanted you to know that part of it was always that I was angry with myself.”

He sank onto a stool. “I was horrified with myself, in point of fact. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of, that I find difficult to come to peace with. What I did to Reece was just another one.”

“What you did to Reece? You tried to help her. You tried to save her.”

“I lied to her, Jack. I stood there and promised that I would take care of her, that I would protect her.” He grimaced bitterly. “I knew that for the outright lie it was when I said it. I could not for one minute protect her from anything, as was very shortly proven. But she was like a child. She was afraid and I told her she could trust me. She believed me. It makes me sick to think about it.”

Jack reminded him gently, “You were trying to save us all, Daniel. It was a brave thing and nothing to be ashamed of.”

Daniel looked down at his hands. “When was it that I became capable of sacrificing innocent lives without blinking? Some time before the Summit, I guess.”

“I’m more sorry than you can know that working with me has put you in the no-win situations that it has. To your credit you fought it all the way along. In fact, as I recall you didn’t end up killing anyone at the Summit. You almost got killed yourself trying to save Sarah. And you didn’t kill Reece, I did. That wasn’t your fault. Daniel Jackson is a man who cares about people. Hell, he cares about funny looking aliens, too. A lot of… beings… are alive and better off today because of Daniel Jackson. But if you come back you’ll be put in the position to choose between one life and another again. I guarantee it.”

Looking up at Jack, Daniel’s eyes narrowed stubbornly. “This break has been good for me. My thinking is clearer than it’s ever been. If I go back now I’ll fight even harder. I want to help those…beings. I want to help you and Sam and Teal’c and the Earth. But I won’t lose my humanity to do it. I refuse to. And I won’t let any of you, either. I’m going to argue with you, Jack. And a lot of the time I’m going to win.”

A broad smile lit up Jack’s whole face. “Nothing would make me happier than to lose a battle to you. Bring it on, Jackson.”

Daniel’s smile grew to match that of Jack, then he went to the phone to make arrangements with his supervisor. Jack started planning everything out in his mind. Of course when Daniel got back he would stay with Jack, just like before. He knew that Carter would try to be all ‘helpful’ in finding him another apartment, so Jack would have to firmly nip that in the bud. He had every intention of seeing to it that Daniel never got around to getting his own place. Neither of them would ever, ever, ever, ever be alone again.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Blair’s insistence that he needed to get outside and get some exercise finally won out and the four friends found themselves walking along the well-tended grass of The Mall. Jim kept his hand on the small of Blair’s back, both to offer support and to receive reassurance, while Jack and Daniel teased and played, punching and shoving each other flirtatiously.

In the deepening twilight they wandered slowly past the dark, low wall of the Vietnam Memorial, the glow from the illuminated White House to the right and far to the left the small, beautiful Jefferson Memorial. By the time they reached the Lincoln Memorial and climbed the steps to gaze on the majestic statue, Blair was ready to rest for a while. He and Jim sat with their locked hands sheltered between them. Several steps below them the other couple sat side by side, close enough that their shoulders could touch if one leaned toward the other to murmur a comment. They were all mesmerized by the magical glow of the tall, white form of the Washington Monument reflected in the half-mile long pool. There was something about the stately structures around them, shining in the darkness of the night, which awed and uplifted them.

Jim had been quiet and contemplative all evening, and Blair finally asked what he was thinking.

Jim squeezed his hand tighter and gazed out over the rippling water. “I’m not a religious man, Blair, you know that. But sometimes I wonder. Sometimes I could almost believe in miracles.”

Blair really wanted to hear more. “Miracles?”

“Yeah. Maybe not miracles. Maybe it’s magic. I was thinking about what Daniel said, about how the Egyptians believed that by mixing different metals magical powers were formed. That by combining two different things they were transmuted into something entirely new and dynamic. Today it would only be chemistry, but to them it was supernatural. I can understand that.”

He went on quietly, his eyes focused on some distant point. “I feel like that’s happened to me, Chief. I was one thing; Jim Ellison: cop, ex soldier, Sentinel. I thought that defined me. Then after you left I was melted down into more basic components. It was literally like being placed in a furnace and all those things that I thought were important about myself burned away. I was liquid, unformed.”

He turned to look at Blair. “Then I found you again. Somehow when we touched the essential me came together with you and I became something greater than I could ever have been before. I was reborn.“ Jim grimaced. “There I go sounding religious, but there’s nothing I can call it but miracle, magic, divine intervention, and I’m so grateful. I’m not reborn as the old Jim Ellison, but as Jim, partner to Blair, who has a whole new chance at life. Who I am now is inseparable from you. I can’t be that person without you.” He shook his head as though to clear it. “Does any of this make sense?”

Blair nodded solemnly. “Yes, it does. I feel the same way. It’s like two very different metals have been blended into a new alloy through some cosmic alchemy. You were always a wonderful person Jim, don’t ever think otherwise, and I was pretty good too most of the time. I liked myself. Then when we were apart my soul turned to dust. You wouldn’t have recognized me, Jim. Coming together again we’ve become something greater. We’ve turned into gold. That’s how I see us, our relationship: precious and powerful and beautiful. What are the chances that we should have found each other in the first place and both lived long enough to get to this point? It’s like maybe there’s some being that needs us to be together, needs what we can become and do to exist in the world.”

Below them Jack laughed at something Daniel said and a sparkling look passed between them. Blair speculated, “The same may be true for those two as well. They’re both strong individuals, but together? Is there any force in the universe that can stop them?”

Looking around to make sure they were slightly hidden by the shadow cast by a granite column, Jim slipped an arm behind Blair’s back. They sat together, aware of each other’s warm presence.

Blair went on, “The more I think about it though, the less I think it’s a miracle. Not that I don’t believe in higher powers, but most of this we’ve done ourselves. It may seem sudden to you because of your crisis, but we’ve actually been building up to it for a long time. Just think of what happened after, you know, Alex.”

“After you died.” Jim looked stricken and tightened his arm around Blair.

“Yeah, after that. I know you remember, even if we’ve never talked about it. And you’ve done a phenomenal amount of work while we’ve been apart. I’m so proud of you, Jim.”

Jim reflected on that for a minute. “I think the connection we made when our spirit animals merged saved my life, too. Later, in Peru, I had to make a choice. I could have joined with Alex and gone into darkness, but I was able to choose you. You were the light. It could have gone either way, Chief, I was weak, but in the end I couldn’t let you go then any more than I could let you go at the fountain. Any more than I could really let you go these last months.”

Blair squeezed Jim’s hand. “Exactly. We have choice in this. We’ve chosen to embrace each other and whatever that brings in life. I think that’s where the people who are looking for power through magic or money or whatever have it wrong. Power comes from within, from the choices you make. From your ability to be open to losing yourself, not knowing what you will gain.”

Jim looked at Blair shyly. “From love.”

Blair leaned into Jim’s arm and beamed up into his face. A breeze, perhaps the breath of the future, moved over his skin and through his hair. “Love. The most powerful force in the universe, man. With as much of it as we’ve got, we’re gonna work miracles.”

End

 

Story notes:
My apologies to the Museum Support Center for the liberties taken. My apologies to anyone involved in esoteric groups, also for the liberties taken. No offense intended, it just made for a good, mysterious villain.
While the myth of Isis and Osiris is ‘real’, the Wing of Aset was entirely my invention.
The passage at the beginning of the story, as well as the material quoted by Daniel, was paraphrased from “Egypt Magic – Antiquity of Magical Practices in Egypt. www.touregypt.net/egyptmagic2.thm” .